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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

A Baseball Bat Can't protect You from Everything

I was 16 years old and living on the Pacific island of Oahu when I first heard about tsunamis; hicks from the Midwest--where I grew up before that—just called them tidal waves. I thought the Japanese word sounded cool and the idea of it scared the living shit out of my coastal-dwelling young ass. This was the same summer that I saw the movie Jaws, so every time I went in the ocean I subconsciously hummed the theme music to that movie about a psychotic, man-eating shark while visions of being swept out to sea filled my head. And let’s not forget about jellyfish: the silent killers. The ocean is pretty much filled to the brim with death and destruction. I would avoid the ocean completely but it is fun to play in and nobody cares if you take a leak in it.

I don’t think that I was a particularly nervous kid but The Wizard of Oz also scared the shit out of me. It wasn’t the witch or the flying monkeys that bothered me. You could take care of those problems with a baseball bat. What freaked me out was the tornado. Whenever there was a tornado warning broadcast on TV, even if it was miles away, you would find me down in the basement squatting under a table with a few cans of food in my lap while the rest of the family was going about their business upstairs like the fools they were. Better safe than sorry was my motto.

I have learned to live with my irrational fear of big waves and big sharks. I actually learned to like twisters. I have lived most of my life within spitting distance of one ocean or another. I have spent a considerable amount of time in, on, or under water so it’s not like I have been paralyzed with fear. When I haven’t been in the water I have penned countless doodles involving blood-thirsty sharks or stick people villagers trying to mind their own business as huge waves are about to crash down upon them.

I’m an atheist, but if you want to call the recent tsunami that killed tens of thousands of people an “act of God,” I’m not going to argue about it. God is just a word that people use for things they don’t understand, or a means to come to grips with the infinite. I have little interest in religion or outer space. The ocean has always been vast and strange and infinite enough for me. Religion is a way to make man humble. I have never felt more humble than the times I have been out in the ocean alone at night. It doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank, or what kind of car you drive, when you are a mile offshore swimming alone you are just another link in the food chain. Even if you have a baseball bat handy you are still pretty far down on that chain. Praying won’t do you much good either.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Ode to a White Suburbanite Gangster

Backward hat facilitates oral sex
I can tell just by the way you wear a ball cap on your head sideways that you are a man of taste and refinement. The sideways cock of your hat lets women know that you are a devastating sexual animal, and the kind of man who leaves others of his gender feeling horribly inadequate. The sideways hat shows that you are not like the masses of uniformed conformists who dare only to wear their hats with the front in the front. The Man dictates to all that hats must point to the front, but you thumb your nose at convention; you don’t play by the rules. You are different. Besides, all your friends wear their hats to the side.

With your baggy pants you yell out to the world that you refuse to live within the arbitrary constraints of life—like waist sizes and inseams. When you walk it looks as if there is a five pound steaming loaf in your drawers, and who knows, maybe there is. Maybe there is, because you don’t live to be a slave to the restroom—that’s for bitches.

The heavy gold chain that you wear around your neck must have set you back at least three paychecks before you were fired from the landscaping company for breaking the leaf blower. The Mercedes Benz hood ornament on the chain tells the world that you are an outlaw who no longer has need for a landscaping job. You will make a fortune on the illicit sale of drugs as soon as someone will spot you a dime bag, which you will in turn sell to your little brother at a comfortable profit. You all about “doin’ bidness.”

But no one will spot you a dime bag, and your little brother already warned you that he will tell mom if you try to take the money he got for his birthday from your aunt. So you have no cash money, but what does that matter to a gangster like you? You, who are content to stand around for hours on a downtown street corner being loud and trying to act threatening. You and your homeys throw gang signs to each other until your bus comes. All gang activity is put on hold so that you can get home to watch Malcolm in the Middle because that shit cracks you up.

Much like your unconventional ways of dress, your speech blazes new trails far from the beaten path of grammar and syntax. Your speech is free of the normal rules that confine and limit language. There is beauty in your simple language of about 50 words and a series of unintelligible grunts that come from the new poetry of hip hop.

You are truly an original. You are the new American archetype, from the same mold as the cowboy—never mind that in reality the cowboy was a filthy, uneducated agricultural worker. You are exactly what America needs to regain our hegemony in world affairs. Stupid, violent, and inarticulate are the foundations of the character of the hip hop gangster. So many aspects of our culture promote these values that I am confident that we will soon be the dumbest and most violent society the world has ever known.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Diary of a Seattle Male Call Boy Prostitute

Sex sells. You heard it here first. I just read that someone digitally masquerading as a London call girl snagged a book deal on the merits of her anemic blog. I came across her web page a while back, before she got the book deal. All I could think was that if she fucks like she writes I hope she hasn’t quit her day job. She writes about sex with about the same enthusiasm as the 65 year old Mexican grandmother from my earlier post. I seriously doubt she is a hooker at all but someone who simply knows how to grab prurient readers by the short hairs. Now she has a book deal. Bitter? Not me.

Sex sells, so I’ve been told. Two can play that game and I’m sure there are lot more than two people writing fictitious accounts of their “lives.” I can never understand why so many people care to read about other people’s not-very-interesting sexual encounters. If it’s uninteresting you want, then that’s what you’re going to get. It’s time to tell you about my life.

This is a website about a male call boy, me, but not a call boy for boys, and not one who caters to pathetic old hags who can’t talk someone into greasing them for free. This is a website about a call boy who gets paid to get dirty with beautiful and disease-free women, because that’s what people want to read about. There are probably a few people who wouldn’t mind reading about a call boy who has sex with old ladies, but they probably aren’t big spenders, so who wants to fill the demographic need in that market? Not me.

Just last night I got paid to have sex with four hot women—all at once. In call boy parlance we call that a fivesome. In France they call it a ménage à cinq, and not only is a doctor’s permission required, but hotels make you put down a damage deposit for the steam cleaning. I don’t mean to brag about my performance but one of the gorgeous ladies ended up in the emergency room. She has to wear a patch over one eye for the next two weeks. Is that sordid enough for you?

I was paid one million dollars for my efforts, but since I was in Paris I was paid in Euros which meant I had to jump the turn-style at the metro station to get back to my hotel. Bad exchange rates are an occupational hazard of male call boys.

Next week I am off to Las Vegas to work the game show hostess convention. Instead of money I usually get paid in merchandise. I don’t mean to sound jaded about my work but if you’ve seen one Victoria’s Secret model bound and gagged you’ve seen them all—and I’ve seen them all bound and gagged, in fact, I did the binding and gagging.

It isn’t all glamour being a male call boy. I have to buy Viagra in bulk at Costco. What I really miss in this line of work is cuddling. Most super models don’t like to cuddle. There won’t be any cuddling next week when I have a gig working the glory hole in the women’s bathroom at the Academy Awards show.

What could be better reading than a blog about a male call boy who gets paid to do the wild thing with famous women? I can’t mention any names because of contractual obligations but I can make anagrams of their names. Is an anagram that thing that is the same backward as forward? Wait, that’s a palindrome. Anagrams are when you mix up the letters to make another word. I’m not smart enough to do that and if you have read this far you are probably too dumb to figure out who I’m talking about. Let me just say that last week I was paid to have sex with someone whose name rhymes with Brickney Beers. And hey Moprah, your check bounced.

A Tortilla Is not a Potato Omelet!

I know it isn’t a world hunger size problem but I have been grappling with the Spanish tortilla for some time now. I am a fairly accomplished cook so if I prepare a dish two or three times I feel like I have it down. Not so with the Spanish tortilla. The tortilla is a very tricky species.

I ducked into a restaurant on Capital Hill last week which was featuring the food of Spain on their revolving menu. In the past I have been happy with the meals that I have had at this place. I ordered the tortilla. I even asked the waitress if this was a good call on my part and she reassured me that I was making a good choice. What I got was a potato omelet with a side of potatoes. Someone at that restaurant needs to take a trip to Spain to see first-hand what a tortilla is all about. A Spanish tortilla is not an omelet with potatoes inside.

A Spanish tortilla isn’t to be confused with the Mexican staple with the same name. A Mexican tortilla is a bit of maza harina, mixed with a little water, rolled out, and baked. The Spanish version looks like a pie made with eggs and potatoes. Like a piece of pie, you cannot make a Spanish tortilla to order in a restaurant. It is a fairly involved affair that takes at least 30 minutes if the potatoes have been prepared in advance. Restaurants in Spain have their tortillas displayed on counters or in glass cases. When you order they slice a piece off and throw it on a plate.

The potatoes must be cut thinly and sautéed in olive oil until they are tender. When the potatoes are ready you add in the beaten eggs. The tortilla must be cooked on both sides which requires flipping the whole thing in mid preparation. I have found that the easiest way to flip the tortilla is to turn it into another pan. Some people finish the dish in the oven to insure that it has cooked through thoroughly.

I topped my tortilla with caramelized onions for strictly esthetic purposes. I was fairly happy with the finished product. The problem now is that I have a 12 egg pie in my refrigerator—a cholesterol claymore mine. It would probably be safer to store plutonium in my apartment. I can actually hear my arteries hardening like the creaking timbers of an old ship. I can’t help myself, because a Spanish tortilla is something that I get a craving for every so often and I always give in. Instead of making this dish it would probably be easier to take another trip to Madrid.

Friday, December 17, 2004

A Pauper's Grave

I wish that I knew exactly how much time I spend working to fix my computer and how much time it “saves” me. If I were to add up all of the time I have spent waiting for my computer to do something, and all of the hours I have toiled fixing something that is screwed up, and the countless days of trial and error figuring out how to work this damn thing, and if I took all that time and applied it to some useful task I could probably be a pretty good juggler by now. I could have learned some cool cards tricks. I could be playing the banjo right now instead of bitching about my computer in this essay.

You can make a good living as a street artist if you can juggle, do cards tricks, or play a mean banjo. Instead of entertaining passersby on a street corner I toil away as a slave to a thin slab of plastic and silicon chips. I feel like some Neolithic hunter-gatherer who has to spend 22 hours a day chasing around my food which consists of a skinny little lizard and a handful of berries which may or may not prove to be fit for human caveman consumption. A more industrious caveman would just win his skinny little lizard and potentially-fatal berries in a game of three card Monty and then take the rest of the day off.

This essay was inspired by a vicious little computer bug I picked up a week ago. It is an ad ware file that my spy ware program was unable to delete. I began a search and destroy mission deep in the bowels of my computer. As I searched I came upon stuff I thought I had eliminated months and even years ago. It was definitely time to do a little house cleaning on my laptop.

Sometimes when you do some really thorough house cleaning you go too far. It is kind of like if you had an illegal immigrant maid cleaning your apartment and she threw away the title to your car because she thought it was junk mail—not that any illegal immigrant would be that dumb. I basically threw away the title to my car and the deed to my house, or whatever the moral equivalent to that is when you just go around randomly deleting files from your computer’s hard drive.

I came home a little after I had deleted the files and my computer looked like a house plant I had watered with battery acid. “I’m sorry, was I not supposed to water the plant with battery acid?” So now my expensive computer is lying dead on my coffee table. Results of the autopsy were inconclusive but the cause of death was cited as human error. Viewing hours are between 1 and 3 p.m. In lieu of flowers please donate to the charity of your choice.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Hot Sexy Coeds in Heat

I have a terrible truth that I have kept a deep, dark secret for long enough. The time has come for me to unburden myself of the crushing guilt I feel every day that I remain silent. I have been living a lie and it is destroying me little by little. For too long I have been content to live behind the anonymous façade of the internet. It has been too easy for me to live out my fantasy life by telling the readers here at Leftbanker things about myself that are sometimes a slight exaggeration and sometimes are shameful lies. The time has come for me to come clean and tell everyone the truth.

For years now I have led my readers to believe that I am a strapping, athletic man, a sportsman and patron of the arts, an erudite and urbane cosmopolitan. When I say that nothing could be further from the truth I mean that both figuratively and geographically. The truth is that I am a 65 year old, 270 pound Mexican grandmother who writes these fantasies from the village of Barriga Grande in the state of Durango, Mexico.

I don’t mean this as an excuse for my mendacious ways but lots of people on the internet live out their delusions of grandeur. The web is full of tough-talking neo-con shit bags who wouldn’t look another dude in the eye when they pass them walking down the street. On the web these right-wing dorks write about the military might of America as if they actually had anything to do with it. Loudmouth know-nothings who haven’t done a single bit of service for their nation question the patriotism of others who oppose their bellicose view of U.S. world domination.

I never meant anyone any harm by the make-believe world I created for myself here at Leftbanker. All I ever wanted was for people to like me and to generate a little bit of a popular following. I failed miserably even on that account. My readership is in the toilet, but this assumes that I even have a toilet. The sad truth is that my village doesn’t even have a toilet—we share one with the neighboring village of Nalgas Cerradas.

How can I ever regain the confidence of my readers? The only way to regain the confidence of my readers is to first get some readers and then work on the confidence regaining part. I have decided that instead of being an urbane gentleman or a Mexican grandmother I will be a barely-legal blond love goddess. My measurements are 33-45-41. Wait, I think that was the combination to my locker in high school but I’m so dumb you could talk me into just about anything, and I do mean anything, if you know what I mean, Do you know what I mean? I’m not sure I know what I mean because I get confused easily when I’m only wearing a bikini and it’s too hot to wear even this little thing. Did I mention that my parents are gone for the weekend?

I see that the traffic on this page has increased to 10,000 hits a minute. I guess now is the time to regain your confidence by letting you know that I’m not a nubile 18 year old tart but a 65 year old Mexican woman who is missing three fingers and half an ear from a burro accident. I may have the shape and disposition of a pot bellied stove but I could teach you a thing or two about getting’ freaky so just stick around here at Leftbanker and you may learn a thing or two.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

You'd Better Let a Man Handle It

On a spectacular summer evening in Athens like this one I couldn’t imagine anything going wrong. I wanted everything to be special. I was going out with someone I sort of dug and I had planned everything a couple days before. I thought that I was being the macho, alpha male, type-A guy by taking care of the details. There was nothing to worry about; I had it all under control.

We started out with a nice dinner in the old Plaka section of Athens which lies directly below the Acropolis. I had been through the Plaka on a hundred occasions and I knew every nook and cranny, every alley and patio. This is important because women like dudes who know their way around. Dinner was perfect as it always was when you stuck to Greek food. Even the wine was good. The odds of getting a good Greek wine back then were about the same as winning a coin toss. After dinner I had a little surprise planned that I thought would impress my date.

I led the way as we walked across to the far west side of the Acropolis. We were going to see the Acropolis Sound and Light Show. I bought tickets and we found seats in the outdoor theater along with a group of about 30 other people. As we settled back in our seats, the lights to the theater went out, and classical music began playing over the loudspeakers. The Parthenon and surrounding ruins began erupting in spectacular flurry of colored lights. I immediately sensed that I had scored some major points by my choice of entertainment for the evening.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I was a real take-charge kind of guy who could hail a cab and negotiate a good price, order dinner in Greek, and then finally turn a kitschy tourist attraction into a night to remember. I’m not gay but just the thought of me was making me hot. How could any mortal woman not be totally enthralled by such a go-getter? Women of the world, surrender! Resistance is futile.

The initial barrage of lights and music dimmed down and we both waited in anticipation of the next thrill to come our way. That was when the historical narrative about the history of the Acropolis began. At least I think that was what they were saying because it was in fucking GERMAN! To English speakers, German sounds kind of funny. My date looked over at me and positively burst out laughing. I practically had to carry her out of there. Maybe there is a culture on this planet where guys score points with the babes for being dipshits, but I haven’t made it to that country yet. I should be granted honorary citizenship and made Minister of the department of “Don’t Worry, I Got It Covered.”

Monday, December 06, 2004

A Little Time, A Little Gas, and a New Country:

Another Greek Memory

The first major road trip that I took when I arrived in Greece was also one of the more memorable weeks I spent in a very memorable three years of residence there. I took countless trips in Greece but this one still stands out clearly in my mind. Writing this has helped to jar loose from my memory some things that I didn't know I still carried with me. I wish that I could remember more.

If I'm not mistaken, this is the first time that I have ever written that I did something twenty years ago. I was in Mexico a couple years ago and I was talking with an old guy and he asked me whether or not I had ever visited his village before. I knew that I had so I thought back and I was shocked when I told him that it had been twenty years since I was there last. That was the first time I had that thought but this is the first time I have written it down. I’m now old enough to have done things twenty years ago.

I haven’t been back but I can only imagine that life in Greece isn’t quite as idyllic as when I moved there twenty years ago. Greece back in those days was a country without a single American fast food restaurant. This type of foreign investment was illegal. The fact that there were no McDonald’s was fine by me; I loved Greek food right from my first Greek salad. I loved pretty much everything about living in Greece and I couldn’t wait to see more of the country. My fantastic girlfriend came to stay with me that first summer and we were ready to see the country.

During her first week in Greece she and I were introduced to an important aspect of Greek life: A general strike. The Greek workers at the air base where I worked also went on strike. Because I was new I was considered “nonessential” so I was told to stay home until further notice. I took “home” to mean “within the internationally recognized borders of Greece” so I thought this was a great opportunity for a road trip. My friend, Chris, and his Greek girlfriend, Marina, would be joining my girlfriend, Eileen, and me for a trip of unknown length and a destination to be determined on the road.

I had about six months of intensive study in the Greek language before I arrived in Greece so I pretty much hit the ground running, linguistically speaking. I had a pretty good rudimentary grasp of this very difficult tongue from the beginning, a language that very few non-Greeks bother to learn at all. I was invariably asked if I was Greek when I was speaking with a local. They assume that any xenos who speaks any Greek, no matter how roughly, must at least be of Greek heritage. My friend Chris had studied Greek with me back in the States and would go on to master the language better than anyone I have ever met who has learned Greek as an adult.

On about our second day in Greece Chris and I learned the severe limitations of the Greek we had learned. We had spent most of the day in Athens walking around tirelessly with the intent of getting hopelessly lost. By the time we had thoroughly accomplished the getting lost part we had already stopped three or four times for coffee. We had mastered ordering coffee in Greek by now, something that we had never studied in our stateside class. We stopped to have lunch at a taverna buried deep in a residential neighborhood, far from the tourist path.

When we were handed the menus we quickly realized that we had absolutely no vocabulary for food. I couldn’t read a single item. We explained to the waiter that we didn’t know anything on the menu. He may have encountered this problem before because he didn’t hesitate to take us both back to the kitchen and showed us everything they had to offer. I remember having chicken, kotopoulo (blogger doesn’t permit Greek letters), and I also remember that I asked to take one of their menus. Chris and I studied the menu like a test. I was always able to read menus after that first day.

Before I moved to Greece I already knew that I loved snorkeling. We were terrific swimmers in my family and I had lived briefly on the island of Oahu when I was in high school. I would spend entire days bobbing up and down along the coast exploring every coral reef and rock formation. To this day I prefer the freedom of only being burdened by a mask and fins to the SCUBA diving with all of the gear and thought that goes into that sport. If whatever I am looking at on the ocean floor is less than 60 feet down I can get their on my own lung power.

The Aegean is a wonderfully clear body of water. The lack of plankton makes it even clearer than Hawaii’s waters. In some places you could watch a coin drop forty feet to the bottom. We brought along our snorkeling gear on this trip just in case. I would never leave my snorkeling gear at home on any of the trips I took in Greece.

I think we had a little more than a week before we were supposed to report back to base. Practically no one had a telephone so it wasn’t like they could call you and tell you to come back early if the strike ended. Chris and I figured that we could just about drive around the entire mainland of Greece before we were considered AWOL. We loaded the car and got a very early start on our road trip.

After about three miles of driving Marina said she needed to stop for a cup of coffee. At the end of my life, when everything has been tallied up, I will find that about 30% of my life was spent getting coffee. It is, without a doubt, my favorite drug and the one I cannot live without. I wanted to get out of town and see the country but you can’t drive around under-caffeinated, that shit will kill you. I was always amazed to watch Marina drink coffee. In her very Greek fashion she would put about a third of a cup of sugar in each of her cappuccinos.

Before you know it we had finished our coffee and we may have even made it out of the Athens city limits before stopping for another. We were going to drive up the western part of the mainland along the Ionian coast. We spent a few hours walking around the ruins of Delphi but I was anxious to get to the coast and do some swimming.

I don’t remember much about most of the drive but every thing was new and fun for me during my first summer in Greece. Having Marina along on this trip really unlocked a lot of doors figuratively and in one sense literally, which I will tell you about. If you are lucky enough to have a native host come along when you travel around a foreign country it is like the difference between trying to find a place by reading directions and going somewhere you have been before.

We decided to stop for the night at Parga, on the Ionian coast. Marina had heard that it had some great beaches and that was enough for the rest of us. In the months that I had known her she hadn’t steered us wrong. If we didn’t like Parga we could always drive somewhere else.

The sun was just beginning to fade when we crossed over the bridge which spans the inlet to the Amvrakikos Gulf. As the sun set the temperature went down, and a thick bank of fog rolled in off the sea. The last few miles before Parga we passed through a creepy olive grove of strangely gnarled, centuries-old trees that seemed to appear like ghosts in the headlights. The haunted appearance of this grove of olive trees was probably a side effect of Greek coffee overdose. I drove through the ghosts and found a hotel in Parga.

The next morning we had breakfast in our hotel and finally made our way down to the beach. The sea was completely calm and as clear as the sky. Walking down the hill I could see the underwater terrain off the coast of Parga. It looked like a huge avalanche of boulders had rolled down the hill and sunk in the crystal clear water. The shoreline was a zigzag of small coves with cliffs looming over each one.

We rented a little paddle boat and spent the better part of the next three days underwater. I set new personal free-diving depth records. Of all of the underwater places in the world that I have visited, Parga remains my absolute favorite. I couldn’t get enough of the underwater caves, arches, and amazing rock formations. The underwater visibility was better than anywhere I have ever dived. I was as happy as an otter.

One afternoon we decided to dry out from the hours and hours we spent in the water by exploring the Venetian fortress that sat perched on top of the hill overlooking the village and the inlet. We packed a picnic lunch of wine, roasted chicken, bread, cheese, and fruit and headed up the cobblestone path to the entrance. When we arrived at the gate we saw that it was secured by a heavy lock and chain. We thought briefly about sneaking in but this was a fortress and was built not to be breached. We were simply four more foreign invaders who were left standing outside the citadel. I am one of those rare breeds who has no problem with giving up, so I was ready to eat the lunch right there in front of the fortress and get back to the water. Marina told us to wait at the gate and she walked back down the hill.

Twenty minutes later Marina was back with the key to the gate which we opened and then locked behind us as we entered our private Venetian fortress. If there is a better way to spend an early summer day than discovering a deserted 17th century Venetian fortress with a beautiful woman, feasting on Greek food and wine in one of its towers overlooking the Ionian Sea, then I haven’t come to that part of life yet. Over the course of a very good life I can look back and say that was a really good day.

Friday, December 03, 2004

A Greek Memory

I don’t know who had the idea originally; it could have been me but that doesn’t matter. The only thing that did matter was that it was a great idea. I was living in Athens, Greece while doing my service in the United States Air Force. I was insuring your very freedom while living a life of luxury back when the dollar was strong and the Greek drachma was exceptionally weak. Those days of the hegemony of the U.S. dollar are about as faded as the memory I am about to recount.

We all had apartments in the communities of Glyfada, Voula, or Vouliagmeni which lie directly south of Athens. My apartment was at the very top of the hill of Glyfada, beyond which there was only mountain. I had a wonderful two bedroom, top-floor apartment with a staggering view of the Saronic Gulf and the Islands of Aegina and Poros. Sitting in my living room looking out at the Aegean Sea was better than watching a good movie. I don’t think I let a single day go by without saying to myself that I had it made. Standing on the deck of my apartment, looking out at the sea, I was literally on top of the world.

I paid around $100 a month for this spectacular apartment which was incredibly reasonable, even on an enlisted guy’s wages. Everything else in Greece was equally as inexpensive for us and we lived like kings. We had the best of two worlds: American dollars and access to American products at the Base Exchange (BX) as well as everything Greece had to offer--and it had a lot to offer. We lived incredibly uncomplicated lives, free from telephones and television. We were exempt from the hounding of the American marketing juggernaut. No one gave a shit what kind of car you drove. You couldn’t have bought a new car even if you wanted one. Greece was like our Walden Pond except with ouzo, souvlaki, and a steady stream of gorgeous Scandinavian tourists all summer long.

Summers were fantastic. I always tell people that you simply must visit Greece during the summer while you are young and free enough to appreciate all it has to offer. You need to swim naked with your girlfriend at a nude beach while your body is still worth showing off. You need to dance all night in an old windmill converted into a disco. You need to amaze Europeans at the beach with your skills throwing and catching a baseball or a Frisbee. Summers are fantastic in Greece but the winters are cold and grim. How do you make it through the winter in your fabulous apartment with lousy heat?

U.S. service people had been skiing in Greece before my friends and I got there but we took it to a new level. Lift tickets were about $1 so skiing was an obvious choice for winter entertainment. What we resented was the two hour drive up to the Mount Parnassos ski area. I don’t know who had the idea originally but we decided to go in together and rent an apartment in the village of Arachova which lies at the foot of the mountain.

Arachova is an extremely picturesque Balkan village that clings to the lower slopes of the mountains looking down on the Gulf of Corinth. If you drive a few turns around the mountain road from Arachova you can walk around the ruins of Delphi, something we used to do late at night when the tourists had left, the watchmen had gone home, and we could have the place to ourselves. The village had a couple of souvenir shops for the occasional tourist bus that would stop on the way to Delphi. There were a few tavernas and a small store or two and that was about it for Arachova which is somewhat of a metropolis of a village in this isolated little corner of Greece.

The apartment we had the first year was a small place directly above the family who rented to us. We had to pass through their place on the way up the stairs to our unheated little affair. Our landlady, Zoë, would enter the apartment at will and usually timed it when we were in various stages of undress. She would totally freak out upon seeing our electric heater. Even when we offered to pay the entire electric bill for both apartments she would point to the heater and rattle off a string of obscenities in Greek that I hadn’t yet learned. I think she must have thought the heater was plutonium-fueled. For our frugal landlady the use of electricity was as painful as passing a kidney stone.

The next winter we had a few more people interested in kicking in for the rent so we needed bigger and a little better accommodations. My Greek was decent so I volunteered to go up before the ski season and find a place to rent. My younger brother, who I hadn’t seen in a couple years, dropped in out of the sky to visit at about this time so he made the trip into the mountains with me. I couldn’t imagine a better initiation into Greek life and culture than my brother experienced in his three week stay.

Before we left I made a trip to the BX to pick up the items that fuel the underground economy in the vicinity of every overseas U.S. military installation worldwide. Nothing has extricated more servicemen from tough jams, nothing has greased more outstretched palms, nothing has spread more goodwill towards Americans overseas than cartons of Marlboro cigarettes and Johnny Walker Red Label scotch. Had I been more of an entrepreneur I could have made a bundle selling my consignment of booze and smokes on the black market but I just used my ration to grease palms and open doors.

We left early in the morning and steered my old Subaru wagon on to the National Highway north. Gasoline was cheap on base but expensive at Greek stations so I always carried a couple of plastic five gallon gas cans in the back along with a lot of other survival gear essential for anyone who often lived out of his car. I had blankets, a Bunsen burner, always at least one change of clothes, a flight suit and boots (just in case my country called), shampoo, deodorant, coffee, top ramen packets, water, and, most importantly for and old car, duct tape.

My brother was full of questions about Greece and one of the first things he asked me about were the tiny altar boxes scattered around the roads of Greece. I called them “Yorgo boxes,” in honor of the most popular name for Greek men. Yorgo boxes were small shrines erected along the sides of the road where a Greek had been killed in a traffic mishap. Greeks are notoriously bad, violently aggressive drivers so there were Yorgo boxes all over the place. We called the National Highway “Death Race 2000” after a lousy sci-fi film I had never actually seen but I can’t imagine is worse than the National Highway.

It was a cold and rainy day and we had reached about the half-way point to Arachova when I pulled over to the side of the road next to an abandoned construction site. Under the cover of the first floor of the unfinished apartment building I lit up the Bunsen burner and brewed a couple of cups of Greek coffee. My coffee addiction was fierce even then and I couldn’t go more than a couple of hours without a fix. It always seemed like camping, and to me camping has always been a good thing. I felt like one of the gypsies whose camps we passed on our way up to the mountains.

I don’t remember but it is safe to say that on this day we probably stopped in the village of Levadia to buy a couple of spanikopitas at a great little bakery. This was something I did on every trip I made up this way. Spanikopitas are phyla dough pastries filled with spinach and cheese. From Levadia it is only another twenty kilometers or so up the mountain to Arachova. I had an appointment with an older guy named Stavros in his souvenir shop.

My brother and I entered the shop and Stavros led us to the back to some chairs near a wood burning stove. He made us another cup of strong coffee and he offered us some really strong Turkish cigarettes. I have never smoked but I always obliged in these kinds of circumstances simply to be polite. It is a very European thing to offer everyone around you a cigarette when you pull out your smokes. The caffeine and the nicotine certainly helped me to speak Greek better but we didn’t get down to business until we had discussed how everything had gone for us since we had seen each other last.

I gave Stavros a carton of Marlboros and a fifth of Johnny Walker. He immediately poured out shots of the whiskey even though it was only about ten in the morning. We finally got around to the subject of an apartment. He introduced us to a guy named Costas who would show us around. Costas was the best connection I ever made while I lived in Greece. If you wanted anything done he was the guy to ask. He could get you a deal on a kerosene heater, show you a cool backcountry ski run, and drink Metaxa brandy with you next to a blazing fire in the local bar until three in the morning on top of running the local ski shop.

I was skiing with Costas one day when a terrific storm hit the mountain, dumping several inches of snow every hour. It isn’t often that you get the opportunity to ski powder in Greece and we were getting in as many runs as we could. They finally shut down the lifts and closed the mountain and advised everyone to start making their way back down to Arachova. The driving was treacherous. I had to lead the convoy of cars and buses down the mountain in my sure-footed Subaru equipped with tire chains. I could only see a few feet in front of the car and on several occasions I drove right into huge snow banks. It took me over six hours to make the trip down to the village which usually took about twenty minutes.

I met Costas’ wife at the taverna in town later that evening. I asked her if he had made it down safely. She said that he was still up on the mountain, but she didn’t appear to be the least bit worried. When I ran into Costas later the next day he told me that instead of wasting his time trying to drive down through the storm he and a couple other stranded skiers had broken into the ski chalet up on the mountain that was owned by some wealthy Greek. They spent the night there drinking his booze in front of a blazing fire. The next time I was stuck in a blizzard I would stick close to Costas.

Through Costas I was able to find a two bedroom apartment. The only catch was that the bathroom was a few steps away across an enclosed courtyard. I can’t even remember what the place cost but it was definitely within our budget. I was working a schedule of six days on with three days off in a row. I would be spending almost every one of my days off up here in Arachova. Out new place had a big kerosene heater and could sleep about eight not-very-picky people.

This was no condo in Vail but it had its charms, the most appealing of which was the fact that we were the only xenos, or foreigners, in the village after the tour buses pulled out. For nightlife we frequented the only two bars in the village. As much time as we spent in these bars we kept to a simple rule: no matter how many white Russians we drank, it didn’t matter how many ouzo shots we downed, we still would wake up and make the first lift of the day. I remember being so morbidly hung-over one day and trying to ski in an almost complete white out that I couldn’t tell if I was going forwards or backwards.

Before that season began I had to go to Germany for some sort of refresher training. About the only time you made money as an enlisted guy back then was when you made a move. You got paid X to move, and if you spent less than X you kept the balance. We practically made a living out of spending less than we were allotted on our moves. For any sort of temporary duty assignment (TDY) you were paid a per diem amount. On this trip to Germany I used my per diem to buy new ski gear at the giant BX near Frankfurt. The trip to Germany that fall not only paid for my top-of-the-line ski gear but it also broke up the agonizing wait for the beginning of the ski season in Greece.

The snow came early that year and we were skiing before Christmas. The ski conditions at Mount Parnassos were generally pretty terrible. I got pretty good at skiing on ice and very wet snow. The Gulf of Corinth weather was trapped in the east in this dead end of mountains. Whiteouts were common, high winds would sometimes almost halt your downward progress, and making turns in the slushy snow or glare ice was often a big challenge. Not that any of us cared much. I can’t ever remember having a better time than on those perfect days when a big group of us skied together. We would put a bottle of apelkörn--a Germany apple brandy--in the snow at the top of a run and do a shot before skiing down to the lodge.

On the rare occasions when the sky was completely clear, Mount Parnassos was hard to beat. Sitting on the lift chair at the top you could see the mountain ranges of the Peloponnesus and down to the Gulf of Corinth. On days like these we would catch the first chair in the morning and ski so many runs our legs would collapse. We only went during the week to avoid any crowds so we practically had the place to ourselves. With these perfect conditions we wouldn’t even stop for lunch. After taking the last chair up we would wait for everyone else to ski down, even the lift operators. We felt like trespassers as we made the last run down, watching the sun set on this little corner of the Mediterranean. Thoroughly exhausted we skied right up to my Subaru wagon which was the last car in the lot.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Medical Marijuana...

for the terminally sanctimonious

In the Supreme Court’s deliberations over the use of medical marijuana Justice David Souter said that making exceptions for patients to use the naturally occurring plant could open the door to “widespread marijuana use.” I got a good laugh out of that line. Did Souter et al go to college? Is college a requirement for employment on the Supreme Court? Is there a college besides Brigham Young where pot use isn’t “widespread?” Is it “widespread” at BYU?

A woman representing some organization with the word ‘family’ in the title (almost always a sure sign of sanctimonious narrow-mindedness) suggested that people who claim to need medical marijuana should use some other drug instead. She must have ties to pharmaceutical companies who have nothing to gain by medical marijuana which is literally a weed and can grow in the cracks in your sidewalk. Look at the potential side effects of any manufactured drug and they will make marijuana seem healthier than drinking water. Why do I have the feeling that the family values soccer mom is some sort of Stepford Wife whose outrage against pot really starts burning after her fifth martini?

Instead of making decisions based on hysteria and ignorance I propose that the entire Supreme Court fly to Amsterdam for a couple of weeks and see first-hand what happens when a city liberalizes its marijuana laws. Make sure you leave the judicial robes at home, ladies and gentlemen of the court. Try to have some fun while you are there, and remember Justice Thomas, you are there to investigate decriminalized marijuana, not state-sanctioned prostitution. That will be the focus of another trip, I promise.

The only crime issue I noticed during my visits there is that bike theft may be a problem because every piece of shit $40 bicycle is secured by a chain that would keep the Queen Mary II safely moored during a typhoon. The only marijuana problem I encountered in Amsterdam was my inability to roll a joint from lack of practice--not that I ever was very good at it--but I only had to ask assistance from one of the locals sitting beside me at the coffee shop.

Who are these people who are so vociferously opposed to marijuana? Every single person I know either uses it, or doesn’t use it and couldn’t give a shit if anyone else does. I may make fun of stoners, but I certainly respect their right to smoke pot and watch Beavis and Butthead reruns. I can’t imagine someone objecting to anyone smoking pot, let alone a terminally ill cancer patient, but I learned tolerance by living on a dorm floor where I had to put a towel under the door while I studied in my room to block the pot fumes wafting down the hall.

I feel that marijuana use remains a criminal offense solely because it can be used as a means of punishment for people who have committed no other crime. It is like pulling over a driver who hasn’t done anything wrong and then citing him for a broken tail light. Marijuana laws aren’t about protecting citizens, these laws exist as another means to control people.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

End of an Era

My Ass

In the wake of the recent announcement that two of the three major networks are losing their news anchors I saw this ad in the paper.

WANTED: TV ANCHOR PERSON
SALARY: ASTRONOMICAL
QUALIFICATIONS: MUST BE ABLE TO READ

The retirement of Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather is being treated like the passing of two heads of state. I don’t think that I have ever watched the evening news unless I was out for a laugh. There isn’t anything funnier than seeing Dan Rather parading around in a safari vest pretending like he is a reporter. I think he must have seen an old movie in which a reporter wore a safari vest so that’s how Rather gets into character. Tom Brokaw is probably a little bit less of a jackass than Rather but I really wouldn’t know. I can’t recall ever watching one of his newscasts. I have never felt the need to hear either of their comforting voices in times of national peril. In those times I am too busy trying to get informed to watch TV.

The nightly news, for which we are supposed to feel such gratitude, is a one half hour broadcast, the last time I looked. Remove the commercials and you are down to 22 minutes or so. If you were to read it out loud it would take you about that long to read one main feature story in the New York Times. If the particular news story that Rather/Brokaw/Jennings is reading doesn’t interest you, the option of turning the page isn’t available with television. Watching TV news is a very inefficient use of your time if you are looking to become informed. Television news is usually third-rate because they are generally only concerned with stories that have cool video, which is why Americans know so little about health care and economic issues.

Do you really think that you are better informed because you watched the World Trade Centers fall down about 1,000 times? In case you forgot, TV news was positively obsessed with the OJ Simpson trial yet this “story” barely rated coverage in newspapers.

The most trusted name in fake news, The Daily Show, constantly points out the disservice to the American public being done by network news. TV lacks the attention span to cover any news item weightier than a car wreck or a celebrity drug overdose. TV is not really conducive for broadcasting the news which is why I think you should only turn on your set to watch The Simpsons or The Sopranos. To get your finger on the pulse of the situation in the Middle East I would suggest that you switch the channel from the news to the station playing the Rambo movie where he kicks ass in Afghanistan.

Entertainment masquerading as news seems to be one of the main forces in the great political divide in this country. The airwaves are full of kooks of every political persuasion dealing out misinformation while they spew out extreme, ill-informed opinions on every subject under the sun. For the life of me I can’t understand how anyone could be entertained by a broadcast of the Rush Limbaugh Show, ditto that for Al Franken’s thing on Air America. I’d rather listen to a two hour drum solo and I’d probably learn more about politics with that option. I find it sad that while America comes to grips with the loss of two news readers, most people couldn’t even name a real journalist.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Why Can't Everyone Be Just Like Me?

I drove my car for the first time in several weeks the other day. I didn’t go very far, the whole driving experience was brief, perhaps 8 miles total. I could barely justify putting the face-plate on my car’s mp3 player, but I did, just because I want to get my money’s worth out of that little extravagance I installed this summer when my radio died and I needed a new system to listen to baseball in the car. There is no baseball on the radio in these grim months so I quickly became bored with my new toy and turned it off. I have never really liked to listen to music while driving.

I worry about leaving my car abandoned for weeks at a time but it always starts right up and runs well after the periods of neglect. A bigger problem than anything mechanical with my car is simply remembering where I parked it the last time I drove. When I do find it I spend a minute or two removing the accumulation of club flyers and take-out menus from the windshield wipers. On this day I had to practically dig the car out of the pile of leaves and branches that had fallen during the last big windstorm. A few weeks ago I had the apartment landscaper hit my vehicle with his leaf blower for a free car wash.

I had to get gas along the way which cost $2.05 a gallon—not that I give a crap how much gas costs. I wish I knew the exact date of the last time I put gas in my car but I think it must have been sometime in early September. I have never figured out my car’s gas mileage but I think a more fitting measure of fuel economy would be to calculate my weeks per gallon (WPG). Most people I know probably can’t tell you what kind of car I drive—if they are even aware that I own a car—but they can sure tell you what my bike looks like.

There is a local business that I frequent one or two times a week. It is run by an immigrant guy who is probably around my age. Every time I am at his place he is there and every time I ride by I see him working. He is open seven days a week and he works every day. The other day I saw him unloading supplies for his business out of the trunk of his brand spanking new Acura coup. Instead of the normal response of thinking “Nice car” all I could think was, “You work seven fucking days a week so you can own an expensive car? Take a day off and drive a piece of shit!” To each his own, as they say.

Maybe you wouldn’t trade your car for mine and I wouldn’t blame you. I probably wouldn’t trade my cardio-vascular system for yours, so we can call it even. I think that you are either a bike person or you aren’t. I think that it is sad that we haven’t done much in this country to convince more people to become bike people. My favorite thing about Amsterdam, what I like more than the incredible architecture, what I think is cooler than the pot bars and the red light district, is the fact that everyone rides bikes. The city is defined by bicycles.

I remember sitting out on the steps of my beautiful town home hotel late one evening in Amsterdam and watching as the late night bike commuters pedaled by. Every cyclist who passed was really cranking, these weren’t people out for a leisurely ride. Ride like that every day and you are going to be pretty fit. One of the side effects of so many people riding bikes in the Netherlands is that you quickly notice that just about every woman in that country has a great ass. Drive a car and your ass just gets bigger.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Shop, Shop, Kill, Kill

THOUGHTS ON HOLIDAY SPENDING

SEATTLE, Washington – Area retailers called the first day of the Christmas shopping season, or Black Friday, a ‘madhouse’ and were relieved to hear that there were only 49 shopping-related fatalities this year, far bellow body-count predictions. “With less than 50 deaths you can’t call it a massacre so it was worth it as far as sales figures go,” reported one Alderwood Mall employee adding, “What really got massacred was our inventory. It was a beautiful day.”

Other areas of the country had less peaceful conditions at their shopping centers. At the D & M Mall in Salt Lake City, Utah desperate shoppers disguised as elves opened fire on a group of 30 department stores clerks, killing them all and making off with the store’s entire supply of HALO Xbox games. A spokesperson for the department store said that the marauding elves had “shot themselves in the foot” because they would not be eligible for the $25 mail-in rebate on the HALO games. The spokesperson was killed later in the day when an improvised explosive device (IED) concealed inside a giant candy cane was detonated near his desk.


So I made up some of this but the part about the shopping scene described as a ‘madhouse’ was on the front page of today’s Seattle paper. Without the presence of heavily-armed National Guard troops the situation at area malls could very well have turned into a bloodbath.

Christmas shopping is the most important time of the year for retailers, as you will hear about a thousand fucking times between now and the end of the holidays. You will listen to a parade of economists explaining the need for a huge shopping season in order that the United States of America shall not perish from this earth. They will say in so many words that if you don’t shop, we will all die. It is as if our entire economic system, or our entire way of life is based on the Christmas shopping season. It is like how people in pagan cultures would pray for bountiful crops. I have heard these economic prayers every year of my life.

What you never hear is the flip side to the shopping coin. What benefit is there to the individual and to society if someone chooses not to shop? Surely there must be some advantage to consumers for living within their means, of not over-extending themselves at Christmas, of not maxing out credit cards to be paid back at 18% interest, of actually SAVING money during the holidays instead of going bankrupt. You never hear these stories in the news; all you hear is how well or how poorly the shopping season is going.

The next time you hear some retailer talking about how desperately important the X-mass shopping season is to our economy think about where a lot of those dollars are going. If you think the people at Wal-mart give a shit about the U.S. economy you haven’t been looking at where most of their inventory is manufactured. With its utter dependence on Chinese manufacturers and plans for 1,000 retail stores in China, Wal-mart sees America as merely a quaint little colony in its vast imperial realm. What is good for Wall-mart is not necessarily good for America; many would argue that Wal-mart is bad for America.

Wal-mart is one of the country’s biggest employers but most of its jobs are low paying and offer little in the way of benefits, so a dismal holiday shopping season would mean a loss of jobs we can probably live without.

If you hear that this shopping season isn’t setting any records you can find solace in the thought that many consumers are choosing to pay off debts rather than falling deeper in the hole...or maybe they just have something better to do than shop.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

En Memoriam

I saw a whole NY street filled with cheerleaders at the parade so I dug out two previous works and spliced them together.

Every year more than 200,000 teenagers are killed in cheerleading accidents in America--more than any civilized country on earth. Australia has over 250,000 cheerleading deaths annually but most of those are alcohol-related so they pretty much have it coming to them. This horrible slaughter of our nation’s best and brightest (and mostly sober) goes largely unreported in the mainstream media.

OK, I made up that part about there being 200,000 cheerleading fatalities but even a single death is unacceptable. Well, that’s not entirely true either. If no one dies in a cheerleading accident then you have to wonder if the kids are really trying out there, you know, pushing the edge of the envelope and all. I think that somewhere between 1 and 200,000 deaths is an acceptable amount of casualties to raise team spirit. Less than one death showing a lack of commitment and over 200,000 deaths could cause serious public health problems like a cholera epidemic. Try having team spirit in the middle of a cholera epidemic. It ain’t happening.

I can live with 200,000 dead cheerleaders a year. It’s a risk I’m willing to take for so much pep because pep is short for peppy and peppy is something you can’t put a price tag on or wrap up in a body bag. Peppy is what separates us from the animals. Not all animals because I saw a nature show on TV about otters and they were sliding down a snow bank into the water and that looked pretty peppy to me. I mean animals like cows that are never peppy and just stand around all day and eat grass and crap and that’s why we eat them. You don’t see people eating peppy little otters or cheerleaders. That would be gross. That would make me sad, but eating a big rare steak makes me happy.

I was watching ESPN and some college basketball game was on. The cheerleaders looked so incredibly upbeat. Upbeat, sure, but what if one of them died? What then? Can you even imagine a world without cheerleaders? Wake up, America! Wake up before it’s too late! Perhaps it already is too late. What have we done?

Only moments ago you were shouting words of encouragement to the team. Things like "go team" and "steal that ball" and "For fuck’s sake, can you at least pretend to play a little defense?" Now your mangled corpse lies sprawled on the gym floor, your little hand still clutching a pom-pom. But wait. You're moving. Thank goodness, you're alive. No, it's just that gross nervous twitching thing that dead things do. Can we get this body out of here? We still got another quarter to play.

The game must go on. Nobody knows that better than the lifeless heap with saddle shoes the janitor is dragging feet-first out the fire exit. What a trooper, a real team player, right up until the fatality. There will be a burial, stop being so impatient. This is the week of the state finals so right after that we'll take proper care of the body. A week or two won't make any difference, what with as cold as it's been lately.

On a recent visit to our nation’s capital I visited the National Cheerleading Memorial on the Mall. It was a bitter cold winter day. I walked past the memorial teary-eyed, and read the names of the fallen: Britney, Brittany, Britni (How many ways can you spell that, for Pete’s sake?), Tammy, Bobbi, and a lot of other names that all end in a vowel. I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and wished that some guy like Tom Brokaw would write a smarmy book to recognize their obvious contribution to our modern society. The silence is practically deafening.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

What Do You Expect for Free?

“His writing is the moral equivalent of a really bad, really long drum solo.” …Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“How do you say ‘Not Funny’ in French?” …Seattle Weekly

“Never have I found the words ‘The End’ to be so comforting.” …Vegetarian Times

“My only hope is that through the miracle of recycling, this website will end up as something remotely useful…like a drink coaster.” …National Review

“If Police Academy VI were a blog, Leftbanker would be the sequel.” …Entertainment

These are just some of the reviews for this website that came out this past week. As you can see most of what was said was less than favorable and I didn’t even bother to post the reviews that contained death threats. I think that my lack of popularity puts me in good company. I am encouraged by the fact that Van Gough didn’t sell a single painting in his lifetime and had to resort to donating body parts to pay for art supplies. I already own a computer so I won’t need to trade an ear to continue my work.

Call me thin-skinned but a barrage of lousy reviews, more than a dozen death threats, and a brick with a note attached telling me to stop writing, tossed through my window are enough to put me in a bad mood. To add to these insults, someone burned me in effigy in my own yard. I don’t have an actual yard but they burned something that bore a passing resemblance to me near the dumpster behind my apartment building. I thought that the effigy made me look unfairly fat. The worst part is they stole my favorite shirt out of the dryer to make it. How can you not take that personally?

I don’t mean to change the subject but I have something that I think needs saying since no one else seems to have the guts to say it. There really is nothing funny about bulimia. Now this is completely off the subject but nothing rhymes with bulimia. I guess leukemia sort of rhymes with bulimia but leukemia is even less funny than bulimia and if it was funny I would never stoop to cash in on the humor content of a disease that kills thousands each year. No one actually dies from bulimia but it is still gross and I wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot mop handle, comedically speaking.

As a comedy writer I spend hours pouring over medical journals in search of diseases or conditions that, under the right circumstances, could be funny. Spend about ten minutes looking at medical books and you will come to the same conclusion I have: The human body is disgusting. If you disagree with this assessment, if you feel that all of God’s creatures and everything about them is beautiful I have two words for you: number two. Or how about ‘upchuck?’* Game, set, and match.

I was going to write a long essay about the Palestine Liberation Organization’s struggle to find a successor for Arafat but finding humor in that arena would be harder than finding a shred of human dignity in an episode of “The Price is Right.”

*In my original draft I wrote ‘upchuk’ and my spell-check pointed out the error. I was impressed that ‘upchuck’ was even in the dictionary.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Tears of a Clown School Dropout

or
ORANGE HAIR, BLUE BALLS


Good, evil, highbrow, lowbrow, snob, and slob; we all have these things within us. The idea of polar opposites is clearly illustrated in my apartment by two objects that sit side by side: my computer desk and my piano. In the competition for my butt, my desk chair beats out the piano bench by a wide margin. If I spent as much time practicing the piano as I do looking for humor on the internet I’d be the next Glenn Gould. I love Bach but I love video clips of little kids hitting their fathers in the nuts with a football even more. In the battle for my soul the wiseass has a commanding lead over the musician. The inner me would rather scrawl a funny limerick on a bathroom wall than perform with the local symphony. I am what I am.

I am athletic but I would rather make you laugh than beat you across the finish line. I would especially like for you to cross the finish line in front of me if the finish line was a length of neck-high piano wire. Try putting on the gold medal when you don’t have a neck, Mister Competitive. That shit would be funny, but only if in the next scene your head was back where it belongs. I’m a wiseass but I believe in nonviolence, unless it’s cartoon hyper-violence, with no consequences except a good laugh.

As a kid I used my skills as a wiseass to defend myself, not that I was ever shy about throwing down and kicking butt. As an adult I have attained a certain amount of skill as a martial artist, although I would rather make fun of the bully than choke him unconscious. For the most part my smart-ass armor has allowed me to keep my martial arts sword sheathed.

Ask women what characteristic they most desire in a man and 99% of them will say a sense of humor. This in itself is funny because although I have a certain talent for making women laugh I have never (to my knowledge) had a woman throw herself on me because of my wit. To be perfectly honest with you I’d have to say that my life has had a decided lack of women throwing themselves on me so go ahead, throw yourselves. I speak Spanish so I could go the rico-suave Latin Lover route but I’d probably fuck that up by over-doing the accent just for a cheap laugh. Come on, do I want to get laid or do I want to get a laugh?

Do you think that rodeo clowns get a lot of action? Are there rodeo clown groupies who go crazy for guys who fend off 2,000 pounds bulls with a bicycle horn? I think being a rodeo clown would be perfect for me because I could mix my macho side with my anything-for-a-laugh side. Or maybe I could play piano and tell jokes like that one extremely unfunny guy whose videos they peddle on TV? Maybe I could be the world’s funniest porn star? We all love sex but screwing in front of a camera crew has to be the most ridiculous thing in the world. How about a Latin rodeo clown porn star? You’d think that if they already have transvestite midget porn they could open up one more niche in their market. I’m just asking for a chance. I already have a bike horn that vibrates. Honk, honk, buzz buzz.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Arafat Est Décédé

It doesn’t matter who you are. You could have been a revolutionary leader your entire life, complete with camouflage headdress and a pistol on your belt. You could have led a life completely devoid of levity; you could have spent every waking moment committed to your cause. You may have sent men to do battle and ordered the death of innocent women and children. Who cares if you were the one that put your struggle at the front of the world’s stage because in death we are all stripped of any dignity we may have still been preserving and rendered into feed for the world’s humor mill.

History will be the judge of Yassir Arafat but that won’t stop all of us from putting in our opinions. I loved the part where after a few days of speculation concerning the PLO leader’s health, a French military official gave this brief statement to the world press, “Monsieur Arafat n’est pas décédé.” The news of his demise wasn’t greatly exaggerated but no matter what you think of the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, I think that if before I die someone announces publicly that I am not dead then I would have to say that my life was a success.

Perhaps it is Arafat who laughs last. After all, even if I, as a humor essayist, reach Arafat’s stature, I doubt that upon hearing of my demise readers of Leftbanker will shoot AK47’s into the air or burn tires. My greatest hope is to live long enough so that when I enter into the void people will simply ask, “I thought he died years ago.” Most people will probably just say, “Left who banker?” Life is hard, death is cruel and, according to my sources, this is all we got.

People cling to religion with the hope that faith will allow them to side-step the absurdity of dying. Sorry folks, religion isn’t going to shield you from the indignities of death. One of the most religious men the world has ever known, the Ayatollah Khomeini, spiritual leader of the Iranian revolution, had tens of thousands of mourners at his funeral. As Khomeini was carried to his final resting spot men fighting to be near the deceased cleric knocked over the pall bearers and the body landed on the ground. For this I should lead a life of piety? The Pope has been dead for years, yet the Cardinals in Rome keep doing this horrible Weekend at Bernie’s thing with him, so if you think religion will give you some dignity at the hour of death you’d better think again.

I’m always afraid that I will die unexpectedly, without time to sanitize my life. I’m afraid I will be struck down and someone will find the music for Titanic prominently displayed on my piano. I want people to see that I was working on a Bach prelude or a Chopin mazurka right before I checked out. I want time to take out my garbage which is filled with empty vodka bottles. And yes mother, I always wear clean underwear. I hope Arafat had time to delete all of the naked pictures of Britney Spears off his computer before he left this earth.

Perhaps someone could start a business called Death With Dignity. Subscribers to this service would have a chip implanted in their bodies and at the moment of death the people from Death With Dignity would launch into action. They would locate your corpse and make sure that you don’t look ridiculous while another member of their team is dispatched to your living quarters to sanitize your apartment, removing any embarrassing objects and cleaning the place up so others don’t see that you were living like an animal. It is one thing to live like a slob but when company comes over you have to straighten up a little.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The New and Improved Me

I’m nothing like I used to be. Do you remember how I used to be? Wasn’t I just awful? The things I used to do! The way I treated people! I can’t believe how mean I was back then. Sorry about your cat. That was the old me, now I’m a completely changed person. The difference in me is like night and day. I’m a much better person and I think everyone would agree. I should get some sort of award for most improved person. Nice kitty.

Not to obfuscate my problem in abstruse medical jargon but before I was what psychologists would call a “shit heel.” I was only looking out for number one and guess who was number one? I was #1 and according to the doctors looking out for number one—me—was not making me happy. Sure, I was making a ton of money. It goes without saying that my sex life was completely off the charts and probably completely illegal anywhere but in the Red Light district of Amsterdam. So what if I could snap my fingers and have my enemies brought to their knees. The doctors told me that I wasn’t happy. I didn’t believe the first few doctors who told me this; I had them killed.

But deep down inside I think that I always knew that something was missing. My excesses made Michael Jackson look like a Buddhist monk. I should have known that I had gone too far when Michael Jackson brought charges against me, alleging that I groped him when I had him over for a sleep-over at my palace. When MJ says you are a pervert you should probably stop and listen. Instead I paid him off and accelerated my decadent lifestyle. I tried to convince myself that at least I was boosting the economy.

As I led my armies across the steppes of Asia, playing polo with the heads of my vanquished enemies, I tried to block out the lamentations of their widows and the cries of their orphaned children--my new 40 gig I-Pod® made this easier. Slowly I was becoming dissatisfied with my way of living and I didn’t exactly know why. I once derived so much pleasure from watching a village burn while a Kenny G song played through my headphones. Now I look at the flames rising above the rooftops and I think, “What is the point?” and, “What the hell happened to Kenny G? Is he dead or what? I hope I didn’t do it by accident.”

I tried to ignore the warning signs of my behavior: high blood pressure, trouble sleeping, lack of communication with loved ones, and war crimes tribunals. I started to take notice of my problems when I narrowly side-stepped a Mossad assassination attempt and later I was forced to flee to Brazil to avoid a firing squad in The Hague. Safe from extradition I carried on with my decadent ways, but a sense of emptiness continued to gnaw at the heart of my being. I thought I could counter my existential dread by clear cutting a Pennsylvania-sized swath of the Amazon rain forest just for fun. It was fun but I still didn’t feel right. I had a problem, a problem a new squadron of F-20 fighter aircraft couldn’t cure.

My new doctors, who had witnessed the fate of the last group of my personal physicians, assured me that I was completely normal, so I had them imprisoned. Under torture they told me that my problem was that I was a selfish prick. I thanked the doctors for their honesty and they said “you’re welcome” and that I could pay their receptionist by check or credit card. It was time to let the healing begin so I began by ordering an extra ration of gruel for my grandfather who I had thrown in prison some years before. I was told he had passed away but I still felt good about my gesture. It’s the thought that counts, right?

Now I’m all about Toys For Tots, Make A Wish, Big Brother, Guardian Angels, Boy Scouts, Little League, Sunday school, mentoring, volunteering, donating, sharing, giving, caring, and loving (but not in any sort of inappropriate, nonconsensual manner, like before). Now I am the benevolent type of dictator. Although I still pillage and plunder, there is no longer pleasure for me in these anti-social acts; I just don’t like paying sales tax.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

How Do I Love Thee: Rating Your Stalker

First let me begin with a brief history of love. Forgive me if the dates aren’t exact but have you ever tried working with fact checkers who have been outsourced to a customer service center in Huancayo, Peru? The company is saving a bundle so they tell me not to sweat the small stuff like accuracy. Has anyone in the office seen the Quechua/English dictionary?

1200 A.D. Troubadours in the south of France disseminate the idea of love through popular songs. Men other than troubadours plagiarize their songs and hook-up right and left.

1600’s Shakespeare raises the bar on romance and mushy-ness with his sonnets and plays. Because copyright laws are invented men are forced to actually express themselves to women in their own words. Most men don’t even bother and hence there is born a huge market for a 24 hour sports channel for guys with no charm. Until technology advances to meet this need guys who don’t have dates stay out of trouble by waging world wars and doing yard work.

1945 The greeting card is invented and men are off the hook again. Cards are sold in the same aisle of the store where you find beer and snack products. This is even easier than ripping off lines from the troubadours. A lot of women seem to think it’s cute and heart-felt even if the cards often come with slurred signatures and covered with Cheeto stains.

1980 Men’s notion of love founders on the barrier reef of modern society. In response to this alienation the rock group Air Supply releases its love anthem, I’m All Out of Love. Are men truly “all out of love?” Many people feel this song to be the height of kitsch but it proves to be a turning point in the way in which men would express their romantic ideals. The intense outpouring of feeling resulting from the Air Supply tune leads directly to the birth of stalking—the new romance.

But this isn’t a history lesson. This column is directed to the female readers.

Women, do you ever feel that your stalker isn’t really trying very hard? I mean, how committed do you have to be to call someone on the phone a few times a day and hang up? Maybe loser-boy shows up at your work and screams out “If I can’t have you then no one can,” as he is escorted out of the building by security. Yawn. If only you had a nickel for every time you’ve seen that one before.

Christo covers the Reichstag in a paroxysm of creative energy and all your stalker jerk can muster is a poorly-written note left under your car’s windshield wiper? Maybe it’s time the two of you had a talk about where this relationship is going. Let him know that you felt a tinge of jealousy when you heard that the blond tramp in the temp pool has a stalker who sends her a bouquet of flowers every day. Admit to him that you actually pulled a bunch of orchids out of the dumpster and took them home. One girl’s stalker garbage is another girl’s center piece. It’s stalker envy, it’s pathetic, and you’re sick and tired of it.

Other women show off their restraining orders like jewelry. The lame antics your stalker has been pulling aren’t even worth the effort, unless he’s willing to go down to the courthouse and wait in line for you. His brand of obtrusiveness is about as threatening as a shy Girl Scout selling cookies. If he really wants to get your attention he should try 24 hour surveillance, seven days a week, rain or shine. He should send disturbing letters written, if not in blood--which is just totally gross--then at least in red ink. If he’s old school perhaps a self-inflicted tattoo. Or how about a tasteful gift once in a while; something practical like a nice sauté pan with a lid? Is that asking too much?

Where is the commitment? Where is the obsession? He doesn’t even call in the middle of the night like any other self-respecting creep but phones between 6 and 8 in the evening like some love-sick telemarketer. It’s time to lay down the law with this sicko. Either he needs to bring his stalking to a new level or you're going to fix him up with one of your desperate single friends. Let’s see how much energy he has for bothering you when he has to help his new girlfriend paint her kitchen or take her cat to the vet.

The End of Politics

Not only has Bush won a decisive victory but the Republicans have an even greater majority in the Senate. Congratulations. I don’t expect Bush to care what almost half of this nation feels about our political situation since he didn’t have much regard for it during his first term in office. That’s the way democracy works in this era. Fantastic, I’m OK with that.

I expect our troops to enter Fallujah any time now and I imagine that it will be bitterly contested and there will be a lot of civilian casualties. That hasn’t seemed to bother many people before. One aspect of war we definitely are good at is the heavy-handed approach. Let the bombs fly. I only ask one thing. I ask that the people who voted for Bush, especially the wealthy who have benefited most from the fruits of this rich country, I ask you to send your children into the armed forces so that they can do the work of your president in defending this country.

Recruitment is way down and our military can certainly use the skills of your well-educated, ambitious children. Many of them will die but what we stand to gain is worth it--that’s why you voted for Bush. It is a time when we all must make sacrifices. Maybe you will be one of the lucky parents whose child returns with only severe injuries.

Not only am I not a Christian but I am an atheist, yet in the aftermath of September 11th I thought the best policy would have been to secretly hunt down the perpetrators and overtly inundate the Middle East with American goodwill. Turn the other cheek is the way one person put it. I was wrong, you were right. I have already performed my service in the military and I am too old to go in again. It is time for you to do your part.

This is the last thing I’ll write about politics. What station carries Rush Limbaugh here in Seattle?

Monday, November 01, 2004

Identity Theft: I Should Be so Lucky

Identity Thief Wanted:



Ideal candidate should be an inch, perhaps two over six feet tall, handsome but not a pretty boy, intelligent, urbane, witty, charming, a good dancer would be a plus—in other words, all of the things I’m not.

To all the prospective identity thieves out there beware: mine is hardly worth stealing. You're better off fixing up the one God gave you than moving into my condemned space. Just think of this essay as the moral equivalent of those “No Radio Inside” signs people put on their car windows to prevent break-ins.

Do people who steal other people’s identities then have to take on the responsibilities of two people? Yikes! I can barely keep up with the one I have. I can’t imagine any reward big enough to get me to renew my driver’s license twice. Can you keep two identities without having a cleaning lady come in at least once a week? Do you have to get her two Christmas gifts even if one of your identities is Jewish? Do you have to pay double car insurance or does one policy cover both people? I have been driving without insurance for a while so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If in spite of this warning you are determined to steal my identity, at least make an attempt to do a better job using it than I did. Stay in school (graduate, law, or clown), cut down on red meat, say no to drugs, and try to be a rock star so you can get more girls than I did (although becoming a rock star will be difficult, at best, if you say no to drugs). I will be happy to show you around my life for a couple days to get you up to speed. Can you start tomorrow? If you start tomorrow you can go to court for me and take care of that trumped-up shoplifting charge.

While you are at it you can repair everything in my life that I’ve messed up. My doctor says my cholesterol levels are “epic.” Sometimes “epic” is a good thing. The movie Titanic was epic but I think my doctor meant it as a bad thing and not staring Leonardo DiCaprio. I think he meant that my cardio-vascular system is due to hit a vast arterial iceberg any time now.

I’m sure you are better at stuff than I was. Maybe you were the star of the high school football team. Even if you were a loser like me, when you start being me can you tell people you were a sports hero in high school? Pretty much everything I do leaves a lot of room for improvement although I think I’m a pretty good parallel parker. Do you think there is any chance I could make a living parallel parking in my new life? Maybe after you’ve fixed up my life you’ll move on and I can come back to a new and improved identity. Be sure to write down somewhere how many touchdowns you made in high school so we can keep our stories straight.

Under new FCC regulations I am allowed to keep my old phone number if someone steals my identity so if you have any questions you can reach me on my cell. I’m overdrawn on my bank account but I’ll leave my checkbook on the table by the front door just in case you want to make a deposit. I was going to ask you for your identity but then I got to thinking that anyone who would rather have my identity must have had a really lousy one. I think I’ll just make up a new identity out of thin air and run with that one for a while.

Make yourself at home and have fun. Sorry there isn’t anything to eat around the house and don’t forget that rent paid after the third of the month is late and must be accompanied by a $70 late fee.

P.S. The rent is late and must be accompanied by a $70 late fee. Can you return the DVD’s? I think they are overdue. If a guy with a funny accent named Igor Something-Something-inski shows up at the door you should be polite to him and work out a payment plan for the $2,000 I lost betting on college sports last weekend. Have a wonderful life!