Thursday, November 30, 2006

Superman Is an Asshole

NB: If you have a hard time reading these illustrations, please try clicking on them. Thanks!

Has it ever occurred to you that Lois Lane, ace reporter, would have to be a moron to miss the fact that Clark Kent is Superman?

Did you ever detect a homosexual undertone in Archie Comics?

Did it ever seem to you that Superman was a little heavy-handed with his so-called friends?

Did you ever wonder if there was anything going on between Batman and Robin?

How about Batman and the Joker?

In Mythology, Alex Ross plays with the notion of superheroes and gods. He uses his art to explore how the golden age comic book heroes constitute America's Mount Olympus, expressing both our ideals and our weaknesses. The flip side of this equation is Superdickery , a website that uses hundreds of golden age comic book images to show how our nasty little subconscious leaks out, often in the pages of comic books. If you get a chance, wander through this website. You should especially check out the subliminal homosexuality in "Seduction of the Innocent." For me, it was fun to discover that my golden heroes sometimes had secrets hidden inside those faaaabulous costumes.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Stickin' It to the Man

Every so often, I come across a group of people who make me proud to be a human. My friend Alex told me about this site. It features this organization (in the loosest sense of the word) named "Improv Everywhere." Apparently, they gather small groups of people and perform guerilla improv in highly inappropriate places.

On this one, they got 80 people to dress up in blue shirts and khaki pants. These people then wandered into a Best Buy store, where they wandered around randomly helping strangers. This, of course, completely wigged out the store staff, who were convinced that the group was planning a heist, a la The Thomas Crown Affair, protesting something or other, or showing their allegiance to a religious cult.

What really interests me is the incredibly negative spin that the Best Buy management put on the whole thing. Granted, this store was located in New York City, and store managers in urban centers can benefit from a little paranoia. However, the managers' inability to look beyond their narrow conclustions, even when it became clear that the improv people were there to have fun, ended up creating some real problems. There's a point where paranoia becomes its own punishment, and these pinheads seemed to tromp right past that line.

On this one, they synchronized the ringers on a whole bunch of phones, turned them in to the bag check at the Strand, a huge bookstore in New York, and then proceeded to call the phones in certain patterns. Ultimately, it yielded a cellphone "symphony" that amused many of the employees and customers, but caused a manager to go ballistic.

I think that what I love about this group is the beauty that they bring into the world, combined with the fact that this beauty, in turn, becomes a Rohrshak test for its audience.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Another Logic Problem

A couple of weeks ago, I offered the first ever (as far as I know) pornographic logic problem. The winner was Will, from Kiss Yourself Goodbye. His prize was a packet of "Wacky Packages" stickers, scourge of my '70's childhood:

The runner-up was Glamourpuss, of The Pole Affair; Puss mastered the puzzle, but Will was a little faster.

Thank you both for playing!

This week's puzzle involves groupies. Last night, the European rock sensation Tin Monkey played in Happytown. Of course, all the young girls had had their tickets for weeks, but a few of them wanted something more memorable than just a band t-shirt. They wanted a night with the band.

The lads, of course, were more than happy to oblige. This time, though, they decided to spice it up a bit. They decided to have a contest to see who could have sex the fastest. The groupies, of course, were eager to join in the fun. Unfortunately, though, the boys in the band were a little drunk, so they weren’t too particular about their partners. One of them actually hooked up with a nun! Also, in their haste, each of them made a serious mistake. One even had unprotected sex with a girl who was sporting a cold sore!

The next morning, none of the boys could remember who had sex with who, but each recalled some small details of the evening. Based on these details, can you help them figure out what happened? If you do it fast enough, maybe they’ll let you tour with the band!

1. The bandmember with the Jehovah’s Witness took exactly 30 seconds longer to finish than the one who inadvertently had sex with the groupie’s belly button, who took exactly 15 seconds longer to finish than the one who had unprotected sex with the girl with a cold sore.

2. Ian took exactly 30 seconds longer to finish than the band member who “pleasured” the girl in the kilt and fishnet stockings. The kilt fetishist, on the other hand, took longer than Rick.

3. The band member who had sex with a nun, who somehow ended up with carpet burn, took exactly 15 seconds longer than Izzy, who paired up with the Jehovah’s Witness.

4. The band member who accidentally ended up with a bloke took exactly fifteen seconds longer to finish than Wrongo, who hooked up with the girl whose clothes were covered with band patches.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Homemade Advertisements

Okay, today I'm making two embarassing admissions. First, I mallwalk. Yes, it's shameful, but true--in an attempt to lose some of the weight that I gained after quitting smoking, I wander aimlessly around the mall, making friends with the octegenarians who, inevitably, outpace me as I push my daughter's stroller around. Don't you dare judge me...

The second admission is that my local shopping center, the New River Valley Mall, is a little run-down. It contains a lot of locally-owned non-franchise businesses. In fact, the devotee of Mallrats might refer to it as "the dirt mall." Still, I like it, and the locally-owned businesses make for some interesting advertisements.

The local pretzel store, Pretzels Plus, is a small chain. Most of their advertisements seem like something right out of the 1970's. They're badly arranged, the colors on the photographs are off, and the slogans are cheesy. In an attempt to enter the 1990's, Pretzels Plus is now selling an iced-coffee beverage, that they advertise in bright blue tones. While I admire their attempts to diversify, I have to note that "Ice Rage" sounds like something that happened to the Donner party, not something that you'd want to put in your mouth.

Across from Pretzels Plus, there's a nail salon. I like it alot, particularly given the amazing amount of character that it displays. It's run by a Vietnamese family that has a flair for Buddha-influenced interior design and a laissez-faire approach to the English language. Outside the store, the neon sign reads "Nail Trix":

Of course, on the window to the left of the entrance, it reads "Nails Trix":

Inside, age and an unwillingness to pay for replacement letters has produced this interpretation of the word:

The overall effect is stunning:

The local martial-arts studio specializes in self-defense in real-life situations. They have a nice term for it:

You just keep fighting reality, boys.

Finally, one local kiosk has chosen a pretty impressive name for itself:

Not to be a prick (I know--too late), but is there anything less "stylin" than the word "stylin"? Of course it doesn't help that this is a cell-phone cover store:

And one last image for you:

I try to avoid mocking the mall people because, well, it isn't nice. But this is a special circumstance. In case you can't read it, the man in this picture is playing "Silent Scope." This is a particularly fun, and realistic, first-person shooter game. In it, one shoots various enemies with the help of a scoped sniper's rifle.

I love this game, and don't have any problems with people playing it. But take another look at this man. No jewelry. Woodland camouflage. Relaxed posture.

He's not playing. He's practicing.

And on that note, I bid you a good evening.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006


My wife and I have discovered a new nemesis: the lotion people.

In the mall, there's a cart that sells lotion--it's called mystic flame, or eternal spark, or something like that. At any rate, it seems to be peopled by low-paid exchange students with bright, shiny personalities. Seriously, these kids have the kind of creepy, in your face happiness that one usually expects from Mormons and Hare Krishnas. They're like Moonies, but they aren't selling god, and I can't understand how they can be so buoyant when they're just foisting lotion on total strangers.

Actually, I don't mind the over-the-top, saccharine happiness all that much. What I really hate is the fact that they feel obliged to attack passers by with lotion and the exact same sales pitch:

Bright-faced young person from Latin America or Eastern Europe: "Excuse me, Sir, do you mind if I ask you a question?"

Me: "No, go ahead."

Bright-faced young person from Latin America or Eastern Europe: "Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet?"

Me: "Not completely."

Bright-faced young person from Latin America or Eastern Europe: "Good, because you might want to try our new...blah, blah, blah...made with cow placenta...yackety-shmackety...incredibly rich...yadda, yadda, yadda...would bring Lenin himself back from the dead..."

The other possibility is that the smiling young moisturizer zombie approaches me with an open tube of lotion, asking if I want to try a free sample. Of course, I wouldn't mind lotion, but I have absolutely no intention of buying a tube of the crap. More to the point, I feel a little weird about people entering into my comfort zone with what is, essentially, lube. I know that this is probably my problem, but it doesn't change my irritation. What I REALLY want to do is make an incredibly rude suggestion, in the hopes that the kids will take their lotion elsewhere. However, my wife keeps telling me that unzipping my fly and shouting "Grease it up, Svetlana!" will probably get me kicked out of the mall and possibly arrested.

These kids have turned the middle of the mall into an official no-fly zone. I now find myself staring at walls, the floor, ANYTHING, in order to avoid eye contact. I'm not sure how, but this live-action Bennetton ad has made me feel like I'm wandering through a tent village, circa 1933. I don't want to make eye-contact, lest they ask me if I've got a dime. Ugh.

Manufactured emotion tends to affect me this way. When I listen to Christmas Carols, I can't help it--I have to critique the orchestration, the singing, and the questionable lyrics. When I see frighteningly earnest, disturbingly cheery kids, I immediately think about cults. When I see inspirational posters, my mind travels to Despair, Inc. It's not that I'm opposed to inspiration, or honesty, or Christmas Carols. Rather, I just get an itchy feeling in my colon when someone tries to manipulate my emotions. It ends up making me behave poorly, which makes me resentful.

Mostly, I just wish the little bastards would keep their lotion to themselves.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Probing the Mystery Hole

For about a year, my wife worked for a publishing company in Roanoke. There were numerous problems with her job, including massive disorganization, an editor-in-chief who was a raging alcoholic, and various people who were perched on the narrow edge between insanity and homicidal insanity. However, there were also good points.

One of my favorite things about her job was the access it gave us to various weird tourist attractions. As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of home-town tourism, and the people at my wife's work had made a living out of finding strange and unique places to visit. One day, my wife burst through the door, yelling that she'd found a place we just had to visit.

"What is it?" I asked.

Her smile widened. "The Mystery Hole."

After I determined that she wasn't coming on to me (she can be a little oblique sometimes), we immediately made plans to go. On Saturday, we woke up at the crack of 10, gassed up the car, got some bottled water, and pointed ourselves toward West Virginia. It was a beautiful day, and we relaxed into the drive. It's about an hour and a half from our house to Anstead, West Virginia, where the Mystery Hole is, and much of the drive follows the path of the New River, which is, oddly enough, the second oldest river in the world.

As we passed into West Virginia, the mountains became sharper and more defined. It was absolutely gorgeous. However, as much as we enjoyed the twisty highway and beautiful scenery, we were happy when we finally got to the Hole. The roads in West Virginia are very steep, and my old Mustang wasn't really enjoying the extra exertion. Added to this, my wife suffers from about a billion different allergies and, as much as she enjoyed driving with the top down, she was starting to have a hard time breathing.

Even before we took our tour into the unknown, the Mystery Hole was worth the trip. It was encased in an old quonset hut with a broken VW bug poking out of the side. A row of American flags decorated the top of the hut, and the walls were painted with flashy slogans and various flourishes. It looked like both sides of the sixties--the hawks and the doves--had staked their claim to the building.

The audience was almost as exciting. It was a mix of kids and adults, locals and out-of-towners. John Deere caps mingled with dreadlocks; maybe it was the garish painting and the carnival air but, for a moment, everyone looked like a freak. We went inside to catch our breath, buy our tickets, and look through the gift shop.

The tickets were a couple of bucks each, but the store was out of T-shirts, which was a real bummer, as I really wanted a shirt that said "I've been inside the Mystery Hole!" or something similarly tasteless. It would have been really cool if I could have gotten it in prison orange. Anyway, we bought our tickets and waited with a growing crowd of kids in the parking lot for the next tour into the hole itself. This gave us time to peruse the signs warning people with heart problems from taking the tour. In spite of ourselves, we started to get a little excited.

Finally, it was our turn. As we walked down a long flight of stairs, the tourguide kept up his patter, a story about the "discovery" of the Mystery Hole that seemed to owe equal parts to oral storytellers and circus sideshow barkers. As we went deeper into the hole, we passed the little scares and visual jokes that are part and parcel of any good house of horrors. Yes, brothers and sisters, there was a blacklight room and wood carvings. There were mannequins and skeletons. And, yes, it looked like a 16-year old's room, circa 1978. Suffice to say, it was a total blast.

In time, we found ourselves in the Mystery Hole itself. And, as much as I'd like to be a smartass and tell you that it was all cheesy and ridiculous, there were times when I had to stare at a fixed point because my sense of balance started to get out of whack and my heart sped up. I saw water flow uphill and a chair, with a woman in it, balance on a wall. I saw plumb bobs stick out of the wall at me. And, although I knew how it was done, it still freaked me out a little.

When it was all over, we were pretty hungry, so we went to Tudor Biscuit World, a chain restaurant that sells fast-food Southern Cafe cooking. It had real ham biscuits and proper southern string beans, overcooked to perfection. My wife got the pot roast and I seem to remember pie for dessert. I decided, then and there, that fast-food Southern cooking was a brilliant idea, and that I was glad I didn't live within sixty miles of a Tudor Biscuit World, as I'm not sure my waistline could take the punishment.

So there you have it. If you ever find yourself in Anstead, West Virginia, be sure to drop into the Mystery Hole. Hopefully they'll have T-shirts in stock when you come by. Even if they don't, you still won't regret the trip.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Loading Mercury With a Pitchfork

Okay, I really didn't intent to write about poetry two days in a row, but Richard Brautigan's been on my mind. He's one of my favorite poets, partially because a lot of people think that he wasn't really a poet at all. Basically, his poems sound like prose, and his prose sounds like poetry. Here's one of my favorite Brautigan poems:


Fuck me like fried potatoes
on the most beautifully hungry
morning of my God-damn life.

Kinda hits you hard, doesn't it? Even if it's not your favorite kind of poetry, it really gets to the heart of things. In a few lines, he just plain nails the intensity of sex, the way it can be so sustaining.

Here's another one:


The thought of her hands
touching his hair
makes me want to vomit.

Not the prettiest poem ever; again, though, it really hits that feeling you get when a relationship ends. The nausea, the hurt, the feeling that you really want to let it go, but can't.

While we're on the subject of relationships,


I talked a good hello
but she talked an even
better good-bye.

You ever been there? I can't imagine a better way to put that feeling.

Okay, here's one more:


Signalling, we touch,
lying beside each other
like waves.
I roll over into her
and look down through
candlelight to say,
"Hey, I'm balling you."

That one just makes me laugh.

Anyway, all of these come from one of his collections, Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork, but you can find many of his poems here. Maybe, like me, you won't enjoy him at first, but will find that he sticks in your brain, like a catchy commercial or one of Barry Manilow's songs. You might find yourself playing with his words and giggling at his intensity. I hope so.

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Giving Thanks

After a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat, I was wandering around a couple of my favorite blogs today and I took a peek at Claudia's. She put up a copy of Alice's Restaurant, by Arlo Guthrie, and it relaxed me, brought back some good memories, and generally put a smile on my face.

It also reminded me of a couple of my favorite American poets. One of them is Shel Silverstein. If you only know him from Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Giving Tree, then you're really missing out. Silverstein was also a prolific lyricist (he wrote "A Boy Named Sue"), and writer of adult poetry, much of which was published in Playboy. If you're interested in reading some of his adult offerings, click here. You should particularly check out "The Devil and Billy Markham"; although it's lighthearted, I think it ranks with "Young Goodman Brown" and "The Devil and Daniel Webster." Best of all, it's funny as hell. Funnier, actually.

In the meantime, here's one of my favorites. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

"Father of a Boy Named Sue"

Yeah, I lef’ home when the kid was three.
It sure felt good to be fancy free
Tho I knew it wasn’t quite the fatherly thing to do.
But that kid kept screamin’ and throwin’ up
And pissin’ in his pants til I had enough
So just for revenge I went and named him Sue.

It was Gatlinberg in mid July
I was gettin' drunk but gettin' by
Gettin' old and going from bad to worse
When thru the door with an awful scream
Comes the ugliest queen I’ve ever seen
He says my name is Sue. How do you do?
Then he hits me with his purse.

Now this ain’t the way he tells the tale
But he scratched my face with his fingernails
And then he bit my thumb
and kicked me with his high-heeled shoe.
So I hit him in the nose, and he started to cry
And he threw some perfume in my eye
And it sure ain’t easy fightin with a boy named Sue.

So I hit him in the head with a caned-back chair
And he screamed, “Hey Dad, you mussed my hair!”
And he hit me in the navel and knocked out a piece of my lint.
He was spittin' blood. I was spittin teeth.
And we crashed through the wall and out into the street
A-kickin and gougin' in the mud and the blood and the crème de menth.

Then out of his garter he pulls a gun.
I’m about to get shot by my very own son.
He’s screamin' about Sigmond Freud and lookin' grim.
So I thought fast and I told him some stuff
How I named him Sue just to make him tough.
And I guess he bought it, cuz now I’m livin' with him.
Yeah, he cooks and sews and cleans up the place.
He cuts my hair and shaves my face.
And irons my shirts better than a daughter could do.
And on the nights that I can’t score,
Well, I can’t tell you anymore.
Sure is a joy to have a boy named Sue.
Yeah, a son is fun,
But it’s a joy to have a boy named Sue.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Opening a Jesus Franchise

Warning: this post contains discussions of a religious nature. It touches on issues of faith and advocates the condemning of certain people to eternal Heck. Moreover, it also offers an opinion regarding the perspectives of the Almighty Whoosawhatsit, whatever His/Her/Its name may be. If this is not interesting to you, or if you feel uncomfortable with such a discussion, please feel free to click here to visit a less controversial site. Thank you and good day.

I have a confession to make: I admit that this is a little sick, but I really like it when people try to cash in on Jesus Christ. Part of this is because I'm amazed at the level of creativity that this inspires, and part of it is the fact that (in my opinion, at least) these guys are going to end up horking demon dick in the bitter flames of eternal perdition.

Wow, I sound a lot like Jonathan Edwards there. Let me rephrase. First off, I have a sneaking suspicion that God has a great sense of humor. Regardless of whether you pray to Jesus, Allah, JHVH, Buddha, Manon, or L. Ron Hubbard, you have to admit that God loves a joke as much, or more than, the next deity. From Platapi (Platapuseses) to Avacados to Rod McKuen's career, to the enduring popularity of Jeff Koons, there is endless evidence that God pretty much keeps the world around for shits and giggles. With that in mind, I like to think that Kevin Smith's Buddy Christ and South Park's Jesus character give the everlasting a nice hearty chuckle or two.

That having been said, I'm not so sure that God, whatever form It happens to take, really enjoys it when people try to make a buck off sincere manipulations of Its image (or images). In other words, I'm pretty sure that somebody is going to have to answer for the overpriced gift shop in St. Patrick's cathederal (185 bucks for a rosary! Are you fucking kidding me?!?). I also have a feeling that all the people who create commercials, billboards, and other coercive properties in Jesus' name will be facing some fun times in the afterlife. I visualize them sitting around the campfire with Osama Bin Laden, Amy Semple MacPherson, and other false prophets, smelling the stench of their own burning flesh and trading stories of cashing in on the Almighty. Good times.

One of my favorite Jesus selling sites is Sporty Christ. Okay, apart from the fact that "Sporty Christ" sounds like a new Speed Stick deodorant scent, it's pretty catchy. Added to this is the fact that the statues on this site are so soul-crushingly sincere that you have to wonder about the poor little tykes who keep them in their rooms. In all likelihood, most of the recipients of these statues probably hide them, throw them away, or blow them up with M-80s, but there's a small percentage that keeps the figurines on the dresser, where Football Jesus can inspire them all day. I just wonder about the internal dialogue that little Billy has as he goes into a game. Is it a humble soul-baring self-interrogation in which he determines his worthiness to play, or does he ask God's help in tearing off the motherf@#%ing head of the opposing quarterback?

Another one of my favorites is The Biblical Action Figures Collection. I love this one. Who needs to fiddle around with Superman and Darth Vader when you can give Job boils or recreate David kicking the shit out of (excuse me, "righteously smiting") Goliath. Best of all, the size of these toys can make you feel like God. After all, who else has the option of pushing all of humanity around like pawns on a chessboard?

I mean, apart from George Bush.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Two More Profoundly Disturbing Sites

The first site, Life Gems is kind of nice. Apparently, Life Gems can take the carbon of your loved one and turn it into a beautiful diamond, a keepsake that you will remember forever. Of course, your loved one has to be dead first.

And, well, cremated.

The creepy thing is when you imagine Great Aunt Carol, a partially-completed tennis bracelet dangling from her wrist, pinching your cheek and saying "we need to fatten you up."

The second site, Man Beef, is a spoof that was taken off the web. However, I actually believed it for a while. It was so intricate, so beautifully explained that it sucked me in.

Once I realized that it was a joke, part of me tried to figure out how to make it a reality. Come on--is it really any worse than cremating your mom and wearing her around your neck?

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Some Fun Local News

My wife told me about this one a couple of days ago. Apparently, Pam Semones, a Christiansburg policewoman brutally misused her power. While this might not seem too uncommon or impressive, the degree to which the officer in question broke the law is truly astounding.

The story begins with Wendy Covington, who accused her husband, Gary, of having an affair. Gary, who sounds like a real charmer, took umbrage at this, and proceeded to beat Wendy until she was unconscious.

She was holding her 22-month old child at the time.

When she came to, Wendy called the police. Covington was quickly arrested and taken from the scene. Enter Pam Semones. Officer Semones showed up after the arrest and demanded that she be given control of the investigation. Semones then put Wendy Covington into her police car, where she told the battered wife that she would "arrest [Wendy] for abusing [Gary] and would do whatever she could to take Covington's children away."

Over the next few days, Semones continued to harass Wendy Covington, intercepting Wendy's request for a restraining order, forcing Wendy to pack Gary's bags, and bringing him by the house to pick up his things, in direct contravention of a magistrate's order. Semones also kidnapped Covington's children from the Women's Resource Center in Radford. While Semones transported the children to Gary Covington, the Radford police detained Wendy, accusing her of kidnapping her own children.

Confused? Here's the upshot: Officer Pam Semones is Satan. I know that this might seem too bizarre for words, so click here to get the full article from the Roanoke Times. Now, my wife knows Pam Semones, as they worked together for a while. Apparently, this isn't the first time Semones has worked outside the law. However, it is certainly the most egregious. And the best part? The woman Wendy Covington (accurately) accused her husband of sleeping with guessed it, Pam Semones.

How the hell do people justify this kind of behavior to themselves? I know that I'm insanely naive, but I can't imagine the kind of moral twists and turns that Pam Semones must have gone through to be able to look herself in the mirror. Ugh.

Well, here's the upshot: Wendy Covington is currently suing the Town of Christiansburg for $40 million. I hope she gets it.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Two of the Most Disturbing Sites I've Ever Seen...

...Are rated G.

The first is Rolling to Recovery's Colossal Colon. Now, I know how important colon cancer awareness is. In fact, I drink psyllium seed every day to protect myself against the scourge. However, I'm not sure that a gigantic section of intestine is the way to go. Still, there it is. As the sponsors note on their website, "Visitors who crawl through the Colossal Colon will see examples of many colon diseases, including Crohn's disease, diverticulosis, ulcerative colitis, hemorrhoids, cancerous and non-cancerous polyps, and various stages of colon cancer. Actual colonoscopy footage was used to ensure that the Colossal Colon was as realistic as possible."

Well, as this picture shows, it's pretty realistic, although I can't help but think of the lyrics to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds":

Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly,
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.
Cellophane flowers of yellow and green,
Towering over your head.

The second most disturbing site I've ever seen involves a really tall guy who dresses like Peter Pan. I generally try to avoid making fun of people (really, I do!), but Randy Constan's Peter Pan Page is extremely upsetting. Listen to the version of "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" that sounds like it was arranged by the villain in Saw. Cringe at the humiliating images that Randy has posted. Gaze into his soulless eyes. Try not to stare at his penis.

Feel the pain.

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Some Fun Things to Check Out

Okay, I'm sure that everybody already knows about Strong Bad, but if you don't, be sure to check in on him. My favorite is still the Strongbad Dragon drawing lesson.

A lesser-known site is Rather Good, although, again, most of you are probably already familiar with it. Even if you've never heard of it, you may have seen the Spongmonkeys, who shilled for Quiznos. Their debut song, We Like the Moon is available on this site.

Anyway, Rathergood is bizarre, coarse, yet very innocent. I like to imagine that it was put together by the insane half-brother of Strongbad's creator, who spends all his time in a cage in the basement. Some of my favorites on the site are the Kafka-cum-MTV A Frightened Boy, the trippy Mark Llama, the twisted humor of Mr. Stabby, the fast humor of Pandas, and the charming filth of the Naughty Hedgehogs. Don't stop with these, though! Wander around the site and see what other tidbits you can retrieve from the sick mind of Joel Veitch.

Have fun!

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Uncommon Courtesy

For some reason or another, I've always viewed the South as the last repository of good manners. Perhaps this is because the South prides itself on its manners, or maybe it's because of the long pedigree that manners seem to have in the literature of the South. Maybe it's just because everybody just talks more slowly down here. However, recent events have convinced me that the time has come for the South, or at least my little corner of it, to surrender the mantle. The time has come to admit that the South is peopled with intolerant, immature, agressive louts.

From South Cacalacky to Silver Beach
A few years ago, my then-girlfriend Angela and I visited her mother, father, and great-aunt in South Carolina. As soon as I entered the house, Angela's mom had me in a chair and was shoveling food in my mouth. Seriously, the whole operation was creepily reminiscent of Lawrence Olivier in Marathon Man. She started off with leftovers from breakfast; within an hour, she was force-feeding me food that had been in the freezer since the Nixon administration. During the seven days (and twenty pounds) that I stayed with Angela's family, Angela's mom rarely gave me a moment's respite. I was eating constantly, and not always willingly. I also noticed that every time I stepped into a room, Angela's mom would offer me a seat. I appreciated this a lot until I realized that Mrs. H refused to let me stand up.

Later that same summer, we visited my friend Billy's parents on Cape Cod. Now, Billy's mom is old-school Boston Irish, which means that she was half in the bag by the time we got to her house at 6 PM. Glaring at me through an alcoholic haze, she snarled "Siddown!"

I complied.

She gave me the evil eye. "Ya want some blueberry pie?" she sneered.

I nodded, not trusting my voice.

"With ice cream?"

"Yes, ma'am." She practically threw it at me.

I ate it quietly and quickly--blueberry pie is among the many culinary delights of the Cape, and is almost always amazing. When she noticed my empty plate, Mrs. C practically yelled at me: "You want more?"

I smiled. "Yes, please."

She refilled my plate and slid it over.

After this interaction, I assumed that I had somehow pissed Mrs. C off, or that I just brought out the demon in her. However, when I saw Billy two days later, he told me that his mom had asked after me, and was wondering when I would be coming back. I told him that I thought I had pissed her off. Billy gave me a funny look, replying, "No, she really liked you. A lot."

Thinking about it later, I realized that Angela and Billy's moms were actually not all that different. Although Mrs. H was charming, there was never the slightest question that her gently-worded offers were, in fact, orders. On the other side, for all her brusqueness, Mrs. C took it upon herself to see that I was fed and well cared for while I was under her roof. Based on this summer, I started to reconsider my concepts of courtesy.

Remember My New River Valley
One would think that the halcyon vales of the New River Valley would be a haven for polite, kind folk. Miles from any city, far from the madding crowd, it would seem the perfect setting for genteel manners. One would imagine the local gentry, tipping their John Deere caps to each other as they pick up their Skoal and Big Macs.

One would be wrong.

I believe in holding the door when somebody is nearing an entrance at the same time as me. I know that this is old-fashioned, but I was taught to be courteous, and some of my mother's lessons stuck with me. As an inveterate door-holder, I have grown accustomed to the rude looks and sneers of the people I courteously allow to pass ahead of me. My wife, on the other hand, lacks my sanguine, relaxed sense of justice. One day, she was holding a door for someone at the library. As the woman passed through, she made the mistake of giving my wife a sneering look of superiority. Bad move.

My wife hauled back and slammed the door into the woman's ass. As the offending shrew went sprawling, my wife yelled "Next time, say 'thank you,' bitch!"

My wife is the coolest person ever.

Road Warrior
About a month ago, I was driving up interstate 81 into Roanoke with my sister and daughter. Two people ahead of me, a SUV and a Hooter's delivery van, were in a rolling roadblock. Both were going about 60, which was five miles below the posted speed limit. I was about one car length behind the Hooters van, and I flicked my lights to indicate that I wanted him to pass or get out of my way. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a white van slid into the tiny space between the Hooter's van and my car, nearly running me off the road. After I caught my breath, I laid on the horn for about fifteen seconds. The guy in the white van slowed down to fifty miles an hour. For the thirty minutes remaining in my trip, I tried to pass the white van. He would let others pass, then would slide ahead of me. There were times when he careened across four lanes of traffic to cut me off. I started to wonder if I was going to make it to my destination alive. One exit before I had to get off, I pretended to pull off, and the white van veered ahead of me. Once he was firmly inside the exit lane, I swerved back onto the highway. As I drove away, he flipped me the bird and shook his fist out his window.

New York
This last summer, my wife, my daughter, and I wandered around New York together. Oddly enough, we found that New Yorkers were almost insanely courteous. Our previous experiences had taught us that, while New York was generally not as aggressive as its reputation would suggest, it was still far from polite. This summer, however, we found that it had an almost Jane Austen level gentility. Everywhere we went, people opened doors, held elevators, and gave us smiles. The final straw was when I was on a subway and a Jewish lady in her seventies offered me her seat. I didn't want to be the shmuck who took an old lady's seat, so I tried to pass George to my wife. Smiling, she said "No, I'll stand."

I stared daggers at the love of my life. "No, really, honey, you look tired. Have George and sit down."

She smiled sweetly. "No, I need to stretch anyway. You sit."

The yenta tapped my arm. "Sonny, really, sit down."

I tried to save the last shreds of my dignity. "Really, ma'am, I appreciate it, but I'm fine."

"Of course you are. Come on, sit, sit!"

There was no way out of this. Feeling like the biggest asshole on the face of the earth, I took the old lady's seat. We talked for the rest of the ride, and she told me that she remembered how hard it was to juggle kids and bags on the subway.

Of course, I know that people were only nice to us because we were carrying a cute kid, but this isn't the first time that I've noticed that people in New York are surprisingly kind to each other. After a few days of this treatment, the rudeness of Southwest Virginia was an unpleasant shock.

I'm not sure what's going on with courtesy, or why our daily lives have become a Mad Max in Thunderdome foray into barbarism, but I'm getting a little sick of the rudeness around me. Maybe I have to take lessons from my wife.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Day I Caught a Glimpse of Little Elvis

In Southwest Virginia, the big city is Roanoke. This, of course, is a little odd, as Roanoke has a population of just over 300,000 people. Still, it has an international airport, two ballet companies, four malls, a few hospitals, some museums, and a couple of interesting tourist attractions, so I guess that it could be worse. I mean, it's not Muncie.

One of my favorite hobbies is playing tourist in my own hometown. I buy a travel guide, list all the interesting things to see, and seek them out. When I started doing this a few years ago, the first thing on my list was Miniature Graceland. I read about it in Moon Guides' Virginia Handbook, by Juilan Smith. He wrote: "Miniature Graceland is [...] the product of hours of loving work. Don and Kim Epperly have filled their modest backyard with doll-sized replicas of major buildings in Elvis' life, topped by Graceland itself, complete with car museum."

Clearly, I couldn't resist. However, a place like Miniature Graceland deserves special treatment, so I saved it for the very end of the milennium. On December 31, 1999, accompanied by my sister Ella, my friend John, and John's creepy friend, whose name I've (mercilessly) forgotten, I traveled the hour down 81 to Roanoke. We started our pilgrimage at the Roanoke Star, which is the largest neon star in the world. Supposedly, Elvis also visited the star on a trip to Roanoke. Regardless, the star gave us an opportunity to take lots of Soviet-style pictures of ourselves and marvel at what, truly, is a huge eyesore. While up there, we also noticed what we thought was a group of Amish driving a compact car. On closer observation, though, we realized that they were only Mennonites.

On the way back down Mill Mountain, we stopped in on Graceland. I think we drove past the place a few times, as it is, essentially, the side yard of a non-descript house in a very non-descript neighborhood. Finally, though, we found the place, parked, and silently piled out of the car. Reverently, we approached the shrine. The first thing we saw was the statue of Elvis. The Epperly's had, apparently, decided that any shrine to Elvis needs an idol. There's was a full-sized gold replica of the man himself. However, when we got nearer we realized that the statue appeared to be a mannequin of an asian man with a huge pompadour and a lot of gold paint. Unwilling to let reality get in the way of style, however, we acknowledged that this was a true stroke of genius, dropped a dollar or two in the little gold-painted collection box, and went on our merry way.

Miniature Graceland was, to be honest, kind of a disappointment. While we enjoyed taking pictures of ourselves from forced-perspectives, the joy of impersonating Godzilla in Memphis quickly dissipated, particularly as we noticed that Miniature Graceland was...well, a little seedy. The grounds were overgrown, the house needed a paintjob, and the Barbie dolls that the Epperlys had put in the little buildings were somewhat threadbare. On further reflection, however, we realized that the Epperlys had, actually, captured the true spirit of Graceland: seedy, overgrown, a little tacky, and in need of a fresh coat of paint.

Happy once again, we went to a Vietnamese restaurant, where we had our last official meal of the milennium.

I've since returned to Miniature Graceland, and found it to be even more overgrown and seedy. However, on the bright side, Don Epperly's son Mike has taken control of Miniature Graceland and is in the process of rebuilding and refinishing the houses. So there's hope for mini-Elvis after all.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Career Gays

A selection of recent headlines:




Entertainment Weekly recently ran article about being gay in Hollywood. It discussed the fact that several stars, including Neil Patrick Harris, T. R. Knight, and Lance Bass have decided to publicize their homosexuality. The general argument was that homosexuality is no longer career suicide, and, in fact, could even help a young actor. As the author, Mark Harris, wrote, "Suddenly, all those platitudes about how coming out of the closet can destroy a celebrity's livelihood seem like threadbare justifications. And those gay celebrities who keep fighting to pass as straight look like embarrassing antiques."

I'd like to agree with Harris, but I'm not sure he's right. Frankly, I think that homosexuality still carries a stigma. I would, however, argue that the stigma now lies, at least partly, in the increasing use of sexuality as a career tool, rather than as an expression of one's personality. This becomes particularly clear when one reviews recent celebrity admissions of homosexuality:

Neil Patrick Harris: You have to give Doogie credit. Like Lance, he could have come out of the closet when his career was on the skids. Instead, he waited until he was a cast member on a mid-level ensemble comedy. However, he loses a grade for coming out in People magazine, and for pimping his sexuality for a couple of measly pop-culture recognition points.
Coming Out Grade: B

Lance Bass: Let's face it: Lance Bass is a washed-up, no talent boy toy who has massively outlived his cultural usefulness, not to mention his fifteen minutes of fame. However, when he came out in People magazine, it provided a considerable boost to his career, allowing him to cling, white-knuckled, to the public consciousness for a few more embarrassingly self-serving seconds. Of course, nobody was surprised by Lance's admission, but everybody had to be nice to him because he was no longer a talentless scrawny white guy. He was now a talentless, scrawny white guy who liked dick.
Coming Out Grade: C

T. R. Knight: This guy has handled his coming out with grace and style. Part of this is because coming out wasn't really his idea; he was, apparently, the focus of an argument between Isaiah Washington, who called him a "faggot," and Patrick Dempsey, who defended him. Of course, you can imagine the conspiracy theories--people imagining that Knight was the wishbone in a Dr. McDreamy/Isaiah Washington lovers' quarrel. Still, Knight handled the very public explosion of his personal life with class.
Coming Out Grade: A

Ellen DeGeneres: I can't say anything bad about Ellen. In fact, I think that doing so is, officially, against the law in three states. In all honesty, though, she's funny, open, talented, and had the guts to come out of the closet when it was controversial enough to cost her a sweet job. My only criticism is that, between Anne Heche and Portia DiRossi, Ellen's bed has become a stepping-stone to fame. Seriously, she's like a lesbian Robert Evans; screwing Ellen is now, officially, a solid career move for fading blond actresses of a certain age. Still, that's not her fault, and I can't blame her for taking advantage of her position as an official lesbian martyr-cum-spokeswoman.
Coming Out Grade: A+

Cynthia Nixon: Cynthia started off strong; when she left her husband and two kids for a woman, she responded to reporters' questions with grace and aplomb. She simply stated the truth of her relationship and noted that she did not want to discuss it further. My problem with Cynthia is that now, two years later, she seems inclined to discuss the fact that she doesn't want to discuss the fact of her sexuality. Make up your mind, Miranda: either you want to whore out your personal life for a career boost, or you don't, but you can't pretend you're above the fray when you keep re-entering it.
Coming Out Grade: Initially A+, Lowered to a B+

Rosie O'Donnell: Good God, where to begin? I love Rosie. I love her big, scary, cartoonishly Irish-American personality. I love her frightening mood swings. I even love the fact that she seems to be making a career out of playing Lenny to Barbara Walters' George in the all-female production of Of Mice and Men.What I don't love is her deliberately misleading and somewhat creepy Tom Cruise fetish, and her determination that all of the rest of us have to be in on her private life. You're here, you're queer, Rosie, and I think it's time you got over it.
Coming Out Grade: B

I look forward to a day when gay men and women are a fully-integrated part of American culture. I hope that the time will come when society doesn't feel threatened by them, and also doesn't feel obliged to treat them like Faberge Eggs. I dream that the time will come when homosexuality will be viewed like brown eyes, blond hair, or attached earlobes; in short, I want homosexuality to be seen for what it is: a very small, probably hereditary, part of individuality. However, our culture won't get there on its own. Gay public figures need to learn that, while homosexuality shouldn't be a stigma, it also shouldn't be a fad. We all are what we are; let's get over it.

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