Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Why Kathleen Harris Belongs in Hell

NB: I recognize that yesterday's post, as well as today's, is a bit heavily political. Frankly, I'm thinking through some things as I prepare for the upcoming election. Please put up with these posts, if at all possible. If not, check out today's other post, in which I offer something a little bit lighter. I promise that I will soon be returning to the regularly-scheduled program.

As if I didn't already have enough proof of my geekiness, here's another little tidbit: I like to vote. No, scratch that. I love to vote. Oddly enough, I didn't vote until 2000, because that was the first election in which I felt that one of the candidates stood miles above the other. I felt like this election was a battle between good and evil (with a jester thrown in, if you count Ralph Nader). I wanted to be on the side of the angels.

By the time I got to the polling station, it was dark, and I wandered around, trying to find the entrance. I finally found an unlocked door around back. Lit by a single, unshaded lightbulb, it was completely deserted. As I slipped in, I imagined that I had joined the French underground. Voting felt dangerous, serious, meaningful. I was hooked.

The next year, I moved out to a more rural region. The polling station was in a church, and I was able to walk there. As I strolled down my street, past the brick houses and manicured lawns of my neighborhood, I felt like a productive member of my society. I felt moral, and useful, and decent. In short, I felt the exact same way that I used to feel when I was a little kid and I went to church.

When I discussed this feeling with my wife, she listed all the traditional criticisms of voting: my vote doesn't count, the candidates are all the same, nothing ever changes, and so forth. Still, when I talked her into voting with me, I think that she felt the same excitement that I did. Something important connected us to our country, our history, and our government. It was awe-inspiring and, in a way, religious.

I know that this all sounds excessive, and perhaps somewhat treacly, but before you reach for your insulin, let me finish. Given my deep appreciation for voting, I have a serious problem with anyone who interferes with the democratic process. For this reason, I hereby nominate Kathleen Harris for a hot seat in the eight circle of Hell, the spot reserved for false counselors. Her maneuvering against the hand-counting of ballots in Florida during the 2000 presidential election was, frankly, criminal. More to the point, it was a betrayal of her position as the Florida Secretary of State, the people of Florida, and the Democratic process.

Lest it seem like I'm only targeting Republicans on this, it's worth noting that Democrat lawyers in the same election attempted to discount absentee ballots, which would probably have benefitted Bush. It's also worth noting that gerrymandering (or "creative redistricting," if you prefer) knows no political boundaries. The same goes for the Electoral College, which might have been useful in the 1800's, but now is about as outdated as bundling, tallow-rendering, and blacksmithery. Frankly, with crap like this going on, it's no wonder that my wife questioned the value of her vote.

Ultimately, electoral reform is not a party issue or a candidate issue. It is a democracy issue. If we want to convince people of the value of their votes, then we need to make those votes valuable.

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Highly Offensive Alternate Reading

Sexy Losers is wickedly, brutally funny. However, it comes with a warning: if you are likely to be offended by cartoons depicting necrophilia, incest, bukkake, masturbation, and a wide variety of other highly-charged sexual material, then you really, really, really shouldn't click here. If, on the other hand, you enjoyed T-Shirt Hell, then your soul is already lost, and you'll probably get a kick out of Sexy Losers.

Click here if you want to start at the beginning. The writing and art improve over the comic's run.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Wild Rice

Okay, I'll admit it--I'm a little slow on the uptake. However, I recently saw the light. After watching her stomp around the public stage for almost six years, it has finally occurred to me.

Condi Rice is a lesbian.

A few weeks ago, when I first realized this, I felt like a genius. It was a eureka moment, and several key things fell into place. Within a few hours, though, I realized that this was so obvious that someone else must have realized it. Sure enough, a quick google search confirmed that this particular theory is fairly popular, and has been bolstered by a fair amount of friend-of-a-friend anecdotes.

Now, of course, this is merely heresay. Nothing in the above paragraphs is definitive, and none of my "evidence" could be admitted in a court of law. However, it brought an interesting thought to mind: if Condi were gay, how would she handle it? Would she openly admit her sexual preference, demanding that the rest of the country deal with it, or would she couch her sexual preferences in nineteenth-century stereotypes like "I never found the right man" or "he got away." Might she just claim that she was "married to her work?"

Historically speaking, the most likely response would be none of the above. In all likelihood, Condi would vehemently deny all accusations and proceed to sponser initiatives and legislation that would demonize lesbianism and outlaw Birkenstocks. She'd publicly attack the Indigo Girls, imprison Ellen DeGeneres, and make leg-shaving a legal requirement. While I know that this prediction seems extreme, frankly, it fits closely with the traditional gay Conservative response to homosexuality. To put it bluntly, gay conservatives always seem to be at the front of the torch-bearing mob attacking their own lifestyle.

When I was a kid, jokes used to come in waves. For example, there was a string of Challenger jokes for a while; another time, we all told James Brady jokes. Well, for a while in the early eighties, Bob Bauman jokes were in vogue. Bauman was a congressman from Maryland who had been caught soliciting sex and "oral sodomy" from a sixteen year old male prostitute. Thinking back, I feel a little guilty about making fun of poor congressman Bauman--after all, the guy was just looking for some fun, for which he lost his entire political career. However, it's worth noting that Republican congressman Bauman had gotten elected to office as an ultraconservative touting a return to traditional moral values. He had loudly and consistently spoken out against homosexuality, and had received a 100% rating from Christian Voice, a conservative group.

And how many other ultraconservative homosexuals have attacked their gay breathren in order to gain power and prestige? Off the top of my head, I can think of two--Roy Cohn and J. Edgar Hoover. Of course, homosexual activities were only one of many things that they demonized in their quest for power, but it still seems pretty strange given their own preferences.

While I was thinking about Ms. Rice, the Foley scandal broke. In the time since, Republicans have tripped all over themselves trying to blame everyone for Foley's fall from grace. Apparently, the pages were to blame, alcohol was to blame, and a priest who may or may not have molested Foley was to blame. The reality that seems to be eluding the Republicans is that nobody is to blame. Foley is gay, and is, apparently, in a relatively stable relationship with Dr. Layne Nisenbaum, a Washington-area dermatologist. This is the simple fact of the matter, and there is no shame in admitting it.
Of course, there is also the fact that the objects of Foley's ham-handed flirtations were underage, and there is simply no excuse for that. Nor, for that matter, is there any excuse for Foley's repeated and vehement denials of his own sexuality. And, while we're at it, it's worth noting that Foley's crusade against child molestation, which inspired George Bush to call him "A SWAT team leader" against child sex predators, was utterly merciless. Ironically, it looks like Foley might be prosecuted under some of the laws that he sponsored. Presumably, he will seek greater sentencing leniency than he offered to other predators.

I can't help but contrast Foley's behavior with that of Gary Studds, who died on October 14. In 1983, Studds was censured for having had a relationship with a male intern ten years earlier. Studds, who had long wrestled with the question of whether or not to openly admit his gay identity, stated that he was, in fact, a homosexual, and that the relationship had been consensual. He also noted that the intern had been over the legal age of consent. In spite of his censure, Studds was subsequently re-elected to Congress six times, finally retiring in 1997.

It seems to me that the main thing standing between gay Republicans and mainstream acceptance of gay Republicans is...well, gay Republicans. If you're gay, and your political party refuses to accept your lifestyle, then perhaps you need to ask yourself if loyalty should cut both ways.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Few Hours of Time Wastage

If you haven't read Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, please do so with all deliberate speed. The author, Mil Millington, is an obnoxiously anti-American* Brit, but nobody's perfect. Besides, he's funny as hell.

*I define "obnoxiously anti-American" as anybody outside the United States who repeatedly, and inaccurately, criticizes the fine citizens of this fair country. Castigating Americans is my job, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let some bad-dentistried, foul-smelling, kidney-munching, Queen-worshipping Englishman do it. Keep American jobs in America!**

**I just realized that footnote number 1 is actually longer than my original post. Interesting. Also, when you visit Mil Millington, be sure to drag your cursor over the picture of Margret.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Failed Seekers

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine shot a policeman and a security guard.

It's odd to write that. It makes me seem more dangerous than I am, so I should probably be a little clearer. Will Morva and I weren't best buddies, or anything like that. In fact, we hadn't even talked to each other in about a year or so. Still, he spent a Christmas with my family, and he and I would shoot the shit whenever we saw each other, so...yeah, Will was my friend.

The Will I knew was a dreamy, flaky, head-in-the-clouds kind of guy. Whenever I wandered through downtown Blacksburg, I'd generally find him outside Bollo's Cafe or Souvlaki's, sipping a cup of coffee and reading a book. We might sit and talk; he'd tell me about whatever idea he was exploring, and I'd tell him about school. He'd ask about my sister, who he went to school with, and we'd catch up.

For the last few years, Will experimented with living outside the capitalist system. For him, this meant not signing a lease, getting a regular job, or owning property. He'd stay with friends for a while, moving from couch to couch. Sometimes, he'd camp out for extended stretches of time. Meanwhile, he'd read obsessively--his particular interest was native american culture. He'd try out different odd ideas, like not wearing shoes or only owning one shirt. Generally, he tried to live his life like an experiment, avoiding the pre-chosen list of traits that define "normalcy."

I think Will tried college, but the structure chafed at him. Over time, so did his attempt at living outside capitalism. He discovered that it is almost impossible to live under the radar for extended periods. He ended up borrowing lots of money. In an attempt to pay up, he tried to rob a convenience store in the summer of 2005.

The robbery attempt was one of the stupidest things I've ever heard of. First off, he and a friend decided to rob the store with a rifle and a shotgun. Frankly, the idea of reaching across a counter to collect money while holding a long-barrelled rifle on someone is a little bit beyond my imagination. I guess that Will planned on having his accomplice grab the money while he held the rifle on the clerk, but even that strikes me as a little stupid. Maybe it could have worked, but I don't think so.

Will's second mistake was showing up at the convenience store after it closed. Apparently, the clerk was cleaning up shop for the night when his would-be robbers knocked on the door. Noticing that they were wearing ski masks and black clothes and holding guns, the clerk decided not to let them in. They, apparently, knocked with increasing intensity while the clerk called the police. Everything about the robbery was amateurish, bordering on almost slapstick. In fact, if I tried, I couldn't design a crime that better demonstrated Will's flaky mentality. Simply put, the guy just wasn't cut out to be a criminal.

Will was caught in a field nearby. He was arrested, arraigned, and jailed in the Montgomery County Courthouse pending his trial.

A year after his robbery, Will still hadn't gone to trial. One day, he complained to his jailers about pains in his wrist and ankle. He claimed that he'd sprained them falling out of bed. The police quickly arranged to take him to a nearby hospital; because of his injuries, they didn't give him ankle chains or tight handcuffs. Once at the hospital, he asked to go to the bathroom, where he tore a toilet paper dispenser out of the wall. He subsequently used the dispenser to knock his police escort out. He then grabbed the policeman's gun and handcuff keys. He freed himself and fled the hospital. In the course of his escape, he shot a hospital guard, who subsequently died.

Will spent most of the next day hiding out on the Huckleberry trail, a 5.75-mile path that leads from Virginia Tech to the New River Valley Mall in Christiansburg. At one point, a Sheriff's deputy, Eric Sutphin, attempted to detain him. Will shot the deputy and fled. Later that day, searchers found him hiding in a patch of weeds. They arrested him and returned him to jail, where he has since been tried and found guilty for the original robbery, and is currently awaiting trial for his escape and the subsequent murders. In Virginia, Will's crimes are capital offenses, and he will probably be executed.

For me, the most incredible thing about all of this was watching the transition of my friend from a gentle, goofy dreamer into a double murderer. I'd like to believe that Will was insane, partially because it's pretty much the only thing that can save his life now, but I have to face the fact that Will's escape attempt shows a lot of calculation and cunning. No, the truth of the matter is that my friend is gone. I realized this when I went out to get some groceries during the manhunt. My sister and my daughter were napping in the basement, and I checked the locks on the doors before I left. I never do this. As I drove to the store, I realized that I was afraid that Will would stumble across our house and take my sister and daughter hostage. Somehow, I'd crossed the threshold from concern to fear.

To Be Continued

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Anorexics

I've been trying to lose weight lately. When I try to drop pounds, I generally find myself obsessing about every aspect of my health, which leads me to think about anorexics. Say what you want about them, but you have to admit that anorexics have an encyclopedic knowledge of weight loss, not to mention a lot of willpower. Their ability to resist food so completely amazes me, particularly when I am so easily tempted by the sesame chicken at the local Chinese joint.

Last year, I read Branded by Alyssa Quart (it's a terrible book--don't waste your time). In it, she looks into Pro-Ana websites, which offer tips on eating disorders and support for "extreme dieters." At the same time, I read the results of a recent study showing that a constant state of low-grade hunger actually helps people live longer.

So, as Pro-Ana movements collide with studies validating hunger, I think we'll see more and more Ana-envy, or jealousy toward people who have the willpower to starve themselves. In a crass, blatant attempt to get in on the ground floor of this trend, I offer the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Anorexics, tools that people can use to improve their lives and get ahead in business.

1. Cut Your Problems Into Smaller Pieces:
As any Anorexic will tell you, you can't eat a whole apple. Hell, nobody can eat a whole apple, except for maybe, you know, Meg Ryan or someone like that (I'd kill for that bitch's metabolism!). Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, nobody can eat a whole apple. However, if you cut it into smaller pieces--voila! problem solved. Best of all, 1/156th of an apple has, like, almost no calories at all. Oh...this works for other things, too.

2. Attack From Multiple Angles:
Of course, you can starve yourself. Then again, everybody starves themselves. However, if you really want to bring out the bones, you need to get serious. Run twelve miles a day on a 300-calorie diet. Keep your house freezing cold--shivering helps you burn fat when you're sitting still. Remember, your problems, like your buttocks, won't disappear on their own. In the workplace, you can use this technique when you find yourself competing with colleagues. Simpletons just do their own jobs well; anorexic thinkers go the extra mile--they sabatoge their coworkers and sleep with the boss.

3. Inspiration:
Nobody gets to the top on their own. We all need a little inspiration from our heroes, which is why pictures of Callista Flockheart, Lara Flynn Boyle, and Mahatma Gandhi so often grace the refrigerators of Anorexics. Who's on your refrigerator? Let your hero inspire you every day.

4. Warnings:
Heroes only get us so far; villains take us the rest of the way. Every anorexic knows that if Calista's not doing it for you, try Roseanne. Something about seeing the swollen face of total dietary surrender makes it easier to feel full on three skittles and a half cup of crushed ice. In the office, use the image of your enemy to remind you of your goals, help keep you on track, or improve your aim at the urinal.

5. Willpower:
Willpower can accomplish anything, from building the pyramids to helping you rid yourself of those irritating problems like menstruation. What do you use your willpower for? Just remember, wishing won't do it; willpower is the only thing that will get you into a children's size nine or the corner office.

6. Creativity:
Stuck in rehab with no scale in sight? Try trading clothes to discover who's the heifer! As every anorexic knows, there are plenty of ways to skin a cat. The difference between being number one and feeling like number two lies in finding the hidden solution to your problem, no matter what that problem is!

7. Obsession:
There's no substitute for single-mindedness. If you want to reach the top, you can't focus on minor concerns like family, ethics, thinning hair, or longevity. Pain, misery, the failure of your relationships, and the destruction of your body are mere distractions, drawing your attention away from the things that really matter. Let the losers worry about the details; you've got a job to do!

So there you have it. Seven simple steps that will help you halve the distance between yourself and your goals. Don't thank me--thank an advertising industry that has taught young girls to divert all their power, skill, and intelligence into self-destruction.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Suck It Up, You Pussy!

A few years ago, my friend Josh, and I were hanging out, drinking beer, and joking about child molestation. Right in the middle of a particularly good Catholic joke, Josh's hyper-liberal, blue-haired, punk-wannabe roommate came in. This roommate, who we'll call Adam (because that's his real name), proceeded to yell at us because our jokes were offensive. He shrilly called us on the carpet, demanding to know if either of us had ever been molested. When we didn't respond, he told us that we had no right to tell sodomy jokes unless we had been abused. After this tirade, he stormed out, leaving the two of us feeling...raped. Now, I can't talk for Josh, but I attended a repressive Catholic boys school for a couple of years and had some experiences that...well...I don't really want to discuss. More to the point, I didn't want to wave them around like a flag for the sole purpose of arguing with Adam.

A few years later, I was teaching a class on satire. When discussing Mac Flecknoe, I discussed how John Dryden "rabidly" attacked on a colleague. One of my students, Maggie, raised her hand and said, with a perfectly straight face, that her aunt had died from rabies. I was initially taken aback, until I noticed that Maggie had started smiling. She explained that she didn't really know the aunt, and had found the discussion amusing.

It seems to me that people have increasingly taken the position that self-righteous offense is the ideal all-purpose response to any joke. The reasoning here seems to be that jokes can hurt people's feelings, so we should avoid any humor that smacks of controversy. Unless, of course, we belong to the offended minority, in which case we are "speaking out" and "owning our pain."

Frankly, this is total and complete bullshit.

Let me break it down for you. Imagine someone--we'll call him Crankster--who's mother was Jewish, but converted to Catholicism. His father was Episcopalian, and also converted to Catholicism. Now, Crankster was raised Catholic, but always had a strong awareness of his Jewish roots (the whole Episcopalian thing doesn't matter, because Episcopalians aren't funny). Now, as an adult, Crankster stopped going to church, making him a lapsed Catholic. So, can Crankster tell Catholic jokes? How about Jewish jokes? What about Episcopalian jokes (assuming he could find the elusive Episcopalian joke)? Can he only tell Jewish jokes when there isn't a full-blooded son of Abraham in the room? What if a priest walks into a bar where Crankster is telling a Father Nelson joke? Should Crankster stop telling the joke or should he just ask for an impromptu confession? Should he just get down on his knees?

Maybe this is a logic problem: If Crankster is on a train going West out of Cincinnati at 60 miles per hour and he's telling a Catholic joke...

Who is the final arbiter of taste and political correctness? Is there a U.N. commission on humor that Crankster can apply to in order to get a permit allowing him to tell Jewish jokes? Should he just whip out his genealogy when he gets called on the carpet, or does the fact that he's circumcised get him an automatic pass?

The bottom line is this: every joke is offensive to someone. Every joke. If you don't believe me, ask a severe autistic what he thinks of knock-knock jokes. Blonde jokes, Polish jokes, husband jokes, wife jokes, dirty jokes, Catholic jokes--regardless of the joke, I'm sure you can find someone who will take offense, if not for himself, then for a Catholic he knows, or a great-grandfather who was Polish.

So, unless we go with the whole U.N. commission on humor thing (which, by the way, was a joke) we're left with two choices. We can either stop telling jokes, in which case the world will be a colder and less enjoyable place, or we can all take a deep breath, pull our heads out of our asses, and recognize that humor is a way of relating to others, sharing ideas, and dealing with pain. And, yes, making fun of priests.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Ten Things the Marshmallow Companies Don't Want You to Know

1. Marshmallows are fattening.
2. Marshmallows have no nutritional value.
3. Marshmallows are made from the souls of Norwegian infants.
4. Every time you eat a marshmallow, an American job moves overseas.
5. Marshmallows are bland.
6. Marshmallows fund death squads in Sierra Leone.
7. Cool kids don't eat marshmallows.
8. Marshmallows oppose electoral reform.
9. Marshmallows cause marsh gas, which is destroying the ozone layer.
10. Idi Amin's second favorite food was marshmallows (Pol Pot preferred caramel cremes).

This message has been brought to you by the National Alliance of Gummy Bear Manufacturers.

Monday, October 23, 2006

But What About the Polyester Shorts?

Okay, I've come up with an awesome idea:

Adult P.E.

No, I'm not talking about Pilates, weight training, or distance running. I'm talking about kick, dodgeball, touch football, softball, freeze tag, and playing with a really big parachute. I'm talking about the world of elementary school, updated for people who are old enough to have forgotten the petty humiliations of childhood. I'm talking about big red balls flying at your face. Not like that.

I'm talking about fun.

This is such a good idea that I was sure someone had already come up with it. However, when I googled "Adult PE," I only got information on spinning classes and something called "cardio pump," which sounded both painful and vaguely sexual. I saw no mention of tetherball or HORSE, or all the other fun things that we did when I was a kid. Maybe I wasn't searching in the right places, but I'm starting to think that nobody's doing this.

Of course, there are tons of physical education activities out there, but so few of them offer the community aspect of P.E. For that matter, most of them seem gender-separated. Women take spinning, dancing, and so forth while men take martial arts and golf (Very few women take martial arts. Those are defense classes, and, no, kicking the shit out of a guy in an H.R. Pufinstuff suit doesn't do much to stimulate good cross-gender relations). Even team sports are usually segregated.

P.E. would be about fun, not self-development, competition, or any of that other crap. This wouldn't involve learning a new skill or playing for the best Rugby team in the division. This would involve relearning how to knock someone out in dodgeball or flip a parachute. This would be, by definition, a total, glorious, waste of time. With cardio.

Think about it: for a few bucks a week, you could take classes with people in the same shape as you, so there's no problem with picking people for teams. We'd hire retired P.E. teachers to recreate the vague lesbian tinge that most of us remember from our childhoods. We could have P.E. for committed couples, P.E. for singles, P.E. for Hasidic Jews, and so on. It would be a great place to meet significant others while getting into better shape.

I'm a genius...and the world's best "Simon Says" player.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Gathering My Scattered Pieces

At about 5:00 this morning, my wife brought my daughter into our bed. The kid was in no mood to sleep, so she kept kicking me and laying her ice-cold feet in the middle of my back. By the time I got her to doze off, my alarm was blaring. I hit snooze a few times, but ultimately had to face the cruel truth that it was time to get up.

I was running a little late, but found myself unable to get really motivated. I mixed a big mug of Nescafe Cafe con Leche with enough sugar to put some steel in my spine. Starting to get energized, I took my vitamins, chugged a glass of psyllium husks, checked my e-mail, and put in my contact lenses.

By this time, my wife had gotten fed up with my daughter and had fobbed her off on my sister, who was sleeping downstairs. This lasted for about fifteen minutes before my sister came upstairs, ready to start the day. Usually, I have to drag her out of bed to drive me to work; today, she was leading me around the house. With her help, I gathered my watch, my pedometer, my cell phone, my breakfast, and all the papers that I need to grade.

As I was leaving the house, caught in that dreamy space where reality has soft edges and the caffeine still hasn't kicked in, I thought about all the things that I needed to eat, do, gather, and check before I could leave the house. I thought about the cell phone that I use to keep track of time and keep in touch with my family, the pedometer that I wear so I can obsess about my health, the contact lenses that help me see, the vitamins that keep me healthy, and the caffeine that gets me going on some mornings. I considered my huge, ugly toggle coat that keeps me warm now that Fall is starting to kick in, the breakfast that gives me energy, and the e-mail that connects me to everyone in my life.

I wondered where I end and these other things begin. I can't function without my health, my eyesight, or my food, so can I really claim to exist separately from my vitamins, my breakfast, or my contacts? How about my coat or my cafe con leche? Part of me is in Massachusetts when my aunt reads a message I sent her. Part of me is wherever you are right now.

Maybe this morning routine of picking up all the things for the day is really just a matter of gathering my scattered pieces.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Third World Convenience Foods

Nota bene: I know the term "third world" is politically incorrect. However, neither "underdeveloped" nor "periphery" really captures either the meaning or the intent that I have in this post. While we're at it, "God's little blind spot" is difficult to prove and is, maybe, a tiny bit offensive.

When I was in sixth grade, my dad took my mom and I to a conference in Mexico City. Before we even got off the plane, we were heavily cautioned to avoid drinking tap water, eating street food, and generally doing anything that would bring us into contact with intestinal parasites. My father and I, of course, ignored this totally, while my mother was extremely careful. The upshot was that my mom ended up with a nasty case of the Quetzocoatl Two-step (we got tired of the phrase "Montazuma's Revenge" and experimented with our own terms). My father came out unscathed, and I had one terrible morning that I attributed to my first-ever hangover. God bless sangria!

The point here is that, when I was a kid, we took it for granted that American food was better tasting and better for the body than food produced in "underdeveloped" countries. We stood at the pinnacle of food technology and our sterilization procedures were top rate; they, on the other hand, brushed their teeth in slit-trench sewers and were known to eat cats and dogs. Clearly, God was on our side.

Flash forward twenty years, and I now find myself scouring Southwest Virginia in the search for third-world convenience foods. For example, my current caffeine-laden breakfast drink of choice is Nescafe Cafe con Leche, produced in--you guessed it--Mexico. Why do I love Nescafe Cafe con Leche? Well, I can tell you in three words: milk, sugar, coffee. These three ingredients comprise over 98% of my favorite breakfast drink. The three other ingredients, soy lecithin, sodium phosphate, and sodium citrate, are, at least according to Wikipedia, not harmful to me. The same cannot be said of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and partially hydrogenated oils, which, along with sodium caseinate, comprise the top ingredients in most American-made breakfast beverages.

How about foods? Well, the ingredients in MTR's Paneer Makhani, one of my favorite Indian-made convenience foods, are tomato, water, onion, cottage cheese, sunflower oil, butter, ginger, cashews, salt, clarified butter, garlic, coriander, sugar, red chilis, cumin, turmeric, copra, green chilis, cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves, and cloves. The only thing I didn't immediately recognize was copra, but I just looked it up. It's dried coconut meat. There aren't any artificial additives, petroleum-based preservatives, heart-attack causing oils, or other assorted poisons. The same is true of GITS Indian meals, as well as the malaysian sodas I buy, the thai popsicles I've gotten addicted to, and the weird Hong Kong beef jerky that the international market carries. (Don't tell me that the Chinese eat cats and rats and dogs. I don't give a shit. As long as they lay off the high fructose corn syrup, I don't care if I'm munching on Rin-Tin-Tin. La la la, I can't hear you...)

Don't get me wrong--I love junk food. I love grease, fat, oil, lard, butter, meat, and all the other natural ingredients that are sure to kill me. I just have a problem with the man-made ingredients that make my food taste like baboon ass. For example, I love honey and sugar, but despise high fructose corn syrup because it tastes like shit, causes diabetes, and is slowly being sneaked into pretty much every food on the face of the earth. Ditto partially hydrated oils, which cause heart disease. Call me shortsighted, but I don't mind if my food is bad for my body, as long as it tastes good and isn't a poison.

Why does America use so many artificial ingredients? There are two reasons, actually: convenience and cost. Apparently, artificial sweeteners and chemicals are cheaper than natural ingredients. This, however, doesn't really explain why all the products that I've mentioned cost the same or less than their American competitors. Perhaps American avacados are unionized?

I think that the real culprit is convenience. Foods that are produced with the assistance of a chemistry set tend to last forever, while natural ones go bad. The mexican guacamole I buy, for example, needs to be eaten or frozen within two weeks of purchase, while my Indian convenience foods have to be consumed within a year or two of purchase.

Now, I don't live in a cabin in Montana, so I am, admittedly, a little unclear on the whole "eternal food" idea. Why, exactly, does my food need to have an expiration date that is years past my own? More to the point, why does America, with one of the greatest transportation infrastructures in the world, need to include so many preservatives, while Mexico doesn't? Seriously, one of my friends who visits Mexico regularly has told me that there are places where burros are still the primary freight carrier. Yet, somehow, Mexico doesn't need a huge list of preservatives to make sure that its food is fresh. Ditto India, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam...France, Italy, England, Germany...and all the other countries that restrict the use of these food additives.

I guess they're just uncivilized; maybe when they're ready to join the modern world they'll embrace high fructose corn syrup. In the meantime, I'll be shopping at the international market.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Brazilian

I hate the Brazilian. More to the point, I have an undending jealousy of the blessed people who are lucky enought to date (and, wonder of wonders, marry) women who consent to brazilian waxing. In fact, I would rather that I had never heard of this strange and wonderful technique, as my knowledge of its existence has only brought me longing and misery.

My wife and I generally get along, which means that, although we disagree on some things, we can usually find a comprimise that is mutually acceptable. The Brazilian, alas, is one of our few, but persistent, sticking points. I think that the Brazilian might be one of the most wonderful things ever. In fact, in some of my more grandiose moments, I wonder if it might be the reason that God gave us wax in the first place.

My wife, on the other hand, thinks that the Brazilian hurts and itches. In that order. Okay, that's an understatement. My wife tells me that "hurts" is to the Brazilian what "minor boo-boo" is to getting disemboweled. And, in terms of itch, she likens it to rolling around in fiberglass insulation on a hot day while embracing a member of ZZ Top.

So, I get that it's kind of hurty and itchy. Still, sometimes love hurts and itches. And sometimes it burns when you pee. But we don't talk about that, because love is too important to be measured by meaningless, relativistic concepts like "pain," "itching," and "requiring a pencillin shot."

If I seem a little unyielding on this particular position, it is because the Brazilian is one of those few things that I really missed out on. Living in Southwest Virginia during my twenties, I found that I was lucky if the women I dated were willing to occasionally perform basic maintenance "down there," let alone adopt exotic styling regimens. Half of them
apparently thought that a thick, unkempt bush was their token nod to feminism; their reasoning seemed to be that shaven legs and makeup didn't matter, as long as their nether-region looked like Jo-Jo the dog boy.

The other half of my dating pool seemed disinclined to acknowledge that their vaginas were attached to their bodies. Sure, they were willing to indulge the sins of the flesh (in fact, some of them got downright indignant if I hesitated to commit certain really fun sins), but they'd be damned before they'd perform any activity that might make sex look unspontaneous. Often this ended in incredibly complex trade-offs and transactions. For example, one girl friend agreed to shave, as long as I accepted a few simple terms. It was great, but I'm still paying off her student loans.

At the same time, thousands of miles away, my future wife was indulging in waxing, shaving, piercing, and any number of bizarre and exciting fetish activities. Let's be honest; she was checking off items on her sexual to-do list. I have no problem with this, of course. After all, I, myself, had a lot of fun during my own years of sexual adventurousness. However, I like to think that I retained the open mind of my youth and brought it to my current relationship. To put it another way, just because I indulged certain unorthodox activities with a relative stranger who no longer means anything to me doesn't mean that I don't want to perform the same activities with my eternal lifemate and the mother of my child.

It's not like my wife really needs a brazilian; to be honest, I'm generally pleased with her tonsorial routine. I mean, there was this one woman I dated...well, let's just say that it looked like she had Buckwheat in a leg lock. And, to be honest, I don't really have too much to complain about. My wife has offered to undergo a Brazilian if I will do the same.

I'm still thinking about it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Something to Watch

Last night, I watched the Ali G interview with David Beckham and Posh Spice. It's one of the funniest things I've ever seen. If you haven't watched it yet, check it out.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Suburban S&M: An Introduction

When I got married, my wife's ex-roommate bought me a straitjacket.

I know how strange that sounds, but it actually makes a fair amount of sense. After I saw Cecil B. Demented, I got a little obsessed with straitjackets. In much of the film, Stephen Dorff sports a canvas straitjacket. He wears it backwards and open, giving him a little bit of a Colin Clive in Frankenstein look. Basically, he rocks a straitjacket.

I, of course, wanted one. In the interests of full disclosure, and as a not-so-subtle Christmas present hint, I mentioned this fashion preference to my girlfriend, who thought it was a fantastic idea. She, of course, mentioned it to her roommate, and the rest is history. Fast forward a couple of years, and I find myself opening a box a day or two before my wedding, only to discover a bright red leather straitjacket.

Okay, I really appreciated the idea, but a bright red leather straitjacket? Not so much. Whereas a canvas straitjacket is cool and retro, a red leather straitjacket is just plain kinky. Also, it looked a lot like the jacket that Michael Jackson wore in Thriller. Still, it was a gift, and I didn't really know what to do with it, so it sat in one of the closets in our house for a couple of years.

A few months back, my friend Jules revealed to me that she'd become involved in an S&M group. This has proved an endless source of conversation, as we've talked about the other people in her group, their respective families, and the ways that they've managed to make their lifestyle choice work. Recently, she moved in with one of her S&M friends, and they decided to construct a dungeon in their basement. As she was telling me about her plans, I realized that I had the perfect gift for her.

Jules got the straitjacket in the mail a couple of days ago and called me to rave about it. She loved the color, the smooth leather, and the wonderful new car smell. She told me that she's already thinking about ways to use it.

I love it when regifting works.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Gittin' Hitched in the 5-4-0

Note to new readers and people who haven't stopped by in a while: This is a really long story that I told as three posts. I have republished them so that they now appear in order.

Recently, I was talking to someone from Chesapeake, Virginia. He kept referring to his home town as "7." When I asked him about it, he said "757, yo. I'm representin'." Representin' a wealthy bedroom community? Ugh.

While I understand regional pride and the need to show off your loyalty to your home, I want to reiterate that he's from Chesapeake, a suburb of a resort town and a naval base, a burg with all the identity of a Wendy's and all the charm of an industrial park. Seriously, Chesapeake is sort of like Norfolk's foreskin; it's a little extra leftover piece, which could easily be excised.

Me, I come from 540. Generally, there isn't much need to represent 540, as most of the people in Southwest Virginia don't leave. Moreover, as many of my neighbors don't look beyond their families when searching for life partners, the clan aspect becomes pretty redundant. In terms of East side/West side, well, there's East side, which is Southwest Virginia, and West side, which is West Virginia. However, nobody really makes much of a big deal about the whole thing. We don't communicate much, as most Southwest Virginians don't write letters, and many West Virginians don't know their letters.

This isn't to say that there aren't feuds. The Price family battles with the Flintchums over real estate, while the Pickles hate the Tickles because of a clerical misunderstanding. The Noonkesters distrust the Raines' because of a little legal misunderstanding, while the Linkouses (Linkii) are envious of the Quesenberrys, because the Quesenberrys have fully functioning frontal lobes. And, of course, the Hagas envy the Linkii because the Linkii have uncrossed eyes and don't sport gills.

All kidding aside, the McCoys came from here, and the Hatfields don't live too far away, so I guess that Southwest Virginia has had its fair share of a fussin' and a feudin'. Today, though, the only real leftover from the old family clan days is the area's heavy degree of nepotism, which my wife and I discovered when we got married. Since neither of us is particularly religious, we decided to ask a friend to officiate our wedding. However, the Commonwealth of Virginia requires that a minister either have an official congregation or post a $500 bond if he or she wishes to officiate a wedding. By the time we figured this out, we had already decided to have our wedding at Fairy Stone State Park. We'd bought the food, gotten the clothes, hired the band, ordered the booze, and gotten a hairdresser. More to the point, we still didn't want to hire some random minister or lawyer to officiate the wedding.

On to plan B. We decided that we would get legally married two days before the wedding, but would count our official wedding date as the day in the State Park. The next step was choosing a town hall to get married in. We initially considered Roanoke, but decided that we weren't really too excited about standing in line with a bunch of pregnant sixteen year olds on their lunchbreaks. Besides, Roanoke's town hall is an ugly white concrete building with no charm whatsoever. Christiansburg's town hall was a little more relaxed than Roanoke's, but was also ridiculously ugly, and we decided against it on purely aesthetic grounds. Finally, we chose Pearisburg's town hall. Built in 1851, it was a nice brick building with white columns, a box hedge, and ambiance to spare.

About a week before our planned wedding date, I called the Pearisburg town hall to ask about the procedure for getting married. When calling a town hall, one usually gets a harried civil servant who is rushing to finish the phone call. This was a little different. When the phone rang, a woman with a molasses-thick accent answered.

"Giles County."

Jaaaaahhhles Cownny? "Uh, yes, I was wondering about getting married at the courthouse."

"We don't marry people at the courthouse."

Shit. I'm going to get stuck with a Unitarian minister. "You don't bailiff or a justice of the peace?"

"Nossir. We got a minister on call."

"Really. Well, okay, do we need to make an appointment?"

"No, the minister's always around. There's just one problem."

Let me guess: he's inbred. "Yes?"

"The minister's a woman."

"Oh, that'll be fine."

"Yew sure?" The voice sounded suspicious. "Yew sure yew want a woman marryin' yew all?"

I thought about pointing out that I was planning on marrying a woman, which would seem to suggest that I have a high regard for the fairer sex. On the other hand, this didn't really seem like the time to get obnoxious. "Yeah, that'll be fine. When are you open?"

"Eight AM to five PM. Yew sure about this?"

What is this lady trying to tell me? "Is the minister okay? Does she have any problems I should know about?" Gills? Permanently crossed eyes? Is she a Haga? A Linkous?

"Naw, she's fine. It's just that she's a woman."

"Well, I'm sure that will be okay. Thanks."


When I told my fiancee about the phone call, we laughed for a while, but soon forgot about it.

To Be Continued

Thursday, October 12, 2006

AMAAAANDA! (Gittin' Hitched in the 5-4-0, Part 2)

Two days before our appointment with destiny in the State Park, my fiancee and I picked up our friends Jen and Joey from the airport and drove out to Pearisburg. Jen and Joey live on the West coast, and had been traveling for about thirty hours, so they were a little punchy. They slept for most of the ride, waking to find themselves outside the Pearisburg Wal-Mart. My fiancee, of course, told her Pearisburg Wal-Mart story, which involved a couple of straw-chewing hillbillies called her a "Shpic" for playing Mexican rap in her car. The store lived up to their expectations; Jen and Joey commented that they had never seen so many illiterates in such a compressed space.

Pearisburg is a sleepy little town in the middle of a large, forested mountain range. According to my fiancee, Jen hadn't really believed all of her stories about Southwest Virginia. Looking into their eyes, I could tell that they were starting to see the light, although they agreed that the courthouse was beautiful. When we walked into the county recorder's office, I felt a little bit of the time warp feeling. The room was pale blue, with a wall of windows, covered with venetian blinds. It had flourescent lights, fans pushing the lazy air around, and formica counters. Clearly, Giles hadn't updated much over the last seventy years. I was pleased, however, to notice that there was a whole bookcase of leather-bound scrapbooks with titles like "Deeds 1840-1845" and "Marriages 1990." I liked the idea of our marriage certificate residing in one of those scrapbooks, instead of in a filing cabinet, microfilm spool, or computer. First, though, we had to get married.

There was a middle-aged, blonde haired woman waiting at the main counter. As we came in together, she surveyed our group and snarled "Y'all here to get married?" My fiancee and I said yes, to which she replied "All of ya, or just yew two?" When we told her that we were the only two getting married, Jen and Joey were banished to a waiting area/storage closet down the hall. We later found that they bolted from the room because of a combination of unpleasant odors and uncomfortable furniture.

Once Jen and Joey left, the woman, who was apparently in charge, called out to one of her employees: "Amanda!"

From down the hall, a lazy voice. "Whut?"

"Whuchoo doin'?"

"Filin'." (Actually, Amanda had a rich drawl, so it sounded more like "Faaaaahhhlin'."

"We got some people lookin' to git married."

"'Kay." Spoken with roughly five syllables.

Amanda came into the main room and led us to her office. It was a smallish room with an L-shaped desk, on which sat a huge, 1980's-vintage electric typewriter. There then commenced a ten-minute interlude wherein Amanda tried to start the typewriter. Finally, she called out to one of her fellow workers: "Miranda?" Muh-RAAAAANNN-duh?

From another room: "Whut?"

"Come in here. I need some help with mah typewriter." Amanda smiled at us. "Miranda's rill good with the technological stuff."

Miranda looked like a cross between Amanda and the office manager. She had Amanda's round face and brown eyes, but had the same blonde hair as the other woman. Walking over to Amanda's desk, she flipped the switch on the back of the typewriter. When that didn't work, she turned on the power strip on the floor. As the typewriter hummed to life, Amanda beamed at us: "Didn't I tell yew that Miranda knows all about that electronic stuff?"

Over the next forty five minutes, we watched in amazement as Amanda hunt-and-pecked her way through our wedding certificate with two-inch-long lacquered fingernails. All through the process, she kept up a steady chatter. Apparently, Miranda was her first cousin, and had gotten her the job. Amanda was pleasant, though, although we had to repeat every name three or four times while she misspelled it. Generally, we enjoyed the experience, although we were amazed when she handed us the certificate. She'd managed to mangle my father's name (which is the same as mine), my mother's middle name, my fiancee's father's name, and a few other entries. After I mentioned these mistakes, she broke out a bottle of liquid paper, telling us "I go through about three or four of these lil' suckers a week." She whited-out my father's entire name on all five carbon copies of the form and rewrote it in broad, loopy, almost unintelligable handwriting. Watching her massacre my wedding certificate, I smiled and said that I'd take care of it for her. She seemed relieved to hand it over. A few minor changes here and there, and we were ready to go.

The next step was paying for the forms. As Amanda told us, the basic cost was thirty dollars, plus three dollars for every copy. We wanted five copies, so the whole cost was $45. When I told her this, she told me to wait a minute while the computer worked out the math. When the computer agreed with me, Amanda shot a wide-eyed look and told me "You're rilly good with the math." I, of course, smiled modestly and silently thanked Mrs. Betts, my high school algebra teacher.

To Be Continued

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Cat Lady (Gittin' Hitched in the 5-4-0, Part 3)

Having paid for our wedding certificate, all that remained was for us to get married. We asked the blonde lady how to get to the minister's house; she told us that we couldn't walk there, but that it was only a couple of miles away. Basically, she assured us, we need only take a left at the Dairy Queen, drive to the end of Jackson street, and "stop when we get to the cats." With those cryptic directions, we were on our way.

I didn't really have any time to get nervous about my wedding. Although I'd budgeted about three hours for the whole process, Amanda's leisurely typing had eaten up most of our afternoon. By the time we left, it was about 3:45. We had to get married by the minister and get back to file our certificate by 5PM, or we'd have to return the next day. Given the number of things we had to do before the wedding, I wasn't sure that we'd be able to return, and I really wanted to be married before our actual wedding day. Of course, the real reason was that my fiancee's parents were in town; if they found out about our "legal wedding," we would have to explain a lot of difficult things to them, deal with their critiques of the situation, and bring them along with us. None of these was particularly attractive, so we were a little stressed on our way to the Minister.

Jackson Street is only about a half mile long, and dead ends in an unpaved cul-de-sac that features a huge plywood cross covered in Christmas lights. We couldn't drive too far into the dead end, as it seemed like the entire road was covered in a patchwork fur cloak. As we parked and the ratty coating moved, we realized that we were surrounded by a huge herd of kitties. Feeling like Tippi Hedren in The Birds, we nervously got out of the car and slowly approached the house. The cats were friendly enough, and slowly parted for us. It was like I was Moses and the Red Sea was covered in fur. Nearing the porch, we caught the attention of a couple of kids sitting on the steps. The girl, clad in a t-shirt and a pair of shorts that looked like they'd been sprayed on her ten-year old form, grabbed the hand of a young boy with a saggy diaper. They stood up and she called out to us "Y'all here to git hitched?" When we said yes, she turned toward the house and hollered with all her might, "Gramma, some folks here to git hitched!" She then went into the house, leaving us to hang out with the cats.

As we petted the horde, we noticed that all of them were screwed up in some way or another. One of them was missing a paw, another had piebald chunks in his fur, and yet another hobbled as he scurried up to us. They were all nice, except for one who had his tongue hanging out. We later learned that this unfortunate cat had "got hisself hit in the face with a truck." A few minutes later, with the cats all whining and begging to be petted, we were called into the house.

According to the little girl, they were in the process of cleaning out the closets. Apparently, this involved taking everything in the house and putting it in the middle of the living room floor. Later, my wife would compare notes with someone else who had been married by this minister; she would find that this particular cleaning operation had been going on for at least three years. Still, it was a great house, and the minister was really nice. She had a "butterfly bush" out front, which was covered in flowers, and she married us in front of it. Of course, she had to stop halfway through to tell her grandchildren to stop annoying each other, and we occasionally had to push a kitty out of the way. Afterward, as we filled out the forms, we asked her about the cats. As it turned out, she took care of any strays that people dropped off at her house, and occasionally raided the death row sections of the local animal shelters. When we asked her how many cats she had, she told us that there were "about thirty or forty who live near the house, and a couple hundred who live up in the woods." She had, apparently, built a log cabin "cat condo" up in the woods and filled it with furniture. She trekked up every day to feed her auxiliary cat herd. We would later discover that the minister was famous for her generosity toward injured cats, and people came from all over Giles county to drop off their unwanted felines.

The minister got us in and out, so we were able to get back to Amanda and her office by 4:45. We filed the papers, got our copies, and took off our rings, as they would be a dead giveaway that we were laready married. After briefly wandering around downtown Pearisburg, we went to the Mountain Lake hotel, where Dirty Dancing was filmed, to meet my new in-laws. My new mother in law immediately asked us why we were covered in cat fur.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

I'm Not a Pervert; I Just Play One on TV

My mother in law visited last week. She lives in Oregon, and came to help us celebrate my daughter's first birthday. A minor consequence of this visit was the fact that my study became her bedroom, making it very hard for me to post.

I've got somewhat mixed feelings about Jane. On the one hand, she voluntarily chose to live in Northern Virginia for over twenty years, and still has a little bit of the superior attitude that is standard for that region. On the other hand, when she lets the attitude drop, she can be a lot of fun to hang out with. Also, she truly adores her granddaughter, likes cooking, and has a moderately bent sense of humor. My wife suggests that, if I continue to dread her visits, then they will continue to be a lot of fun. In all fairness, it's worth noting that this was an outstanding visit.

One thing my mother-in-law said, though, has stuck with me. When I was driving her to Richmond for her flight out, she told me that, in her opinion, most of today's societal ills are due to the fact that the media tends to publicize perversion, extreme viewpoints, and violence. She argued that this overexposure has encouraged people to become perverts, lunatics, and thugs. In other words, when the TV tells us about the bizarre activities and beliefs of others, we feel encouraged to adopt those activities and beliefs.

Well, having read a few "mature" magazines from the 1950's, I'm pretty strongly convinced that mankind needs little education in the art of kink. For that matter, it's worth noting that a large amount of what we would characterize as fetish clothing was standard underwear in the Eisenhower era. Still, though, I think that this misses the point--and, yes, my mother in law had a really good argument in some ways. The media, does, in fact, publicize the lunatic fringe, the sexually adventurous, and the grotesquely bloody. However, I'm not convinced that the world is really a more dangerous place than it was forty or fifty years ago. I think that we just know a lot more about it than our grandparents did. For my grandfather to get the level of news coverage that I experience, he would have had to buy "True Detective," "Crime Scene," and other violence porn. Today, he'd only have to watch CNN.

While we're on the subject, it's worth noticing that it is almost impossible to escape the parade of freaks and nuts that the media churns out. I know why these people end up on the tube--extremism sells. However, I can hardly blame my mother in law for thinking that people are learning extremism from the TV. As hard as I try, I can't escape the parade of lunatics and fringe-dwellers. Why do I need to know that Richard Gere story? Why do I need to know that my president is a fundamentalist? Will I benefit from knowing that a German girl was held in a basement or that a German couple was guilty of vampirism or that a German man consumed another German man?

Actually, never mind. Clearly, some of this knowledge will probably come in handy, at least when I'm making travel plans.