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Friday, May 28, 2004

Annual Sex Issue

How can I put this delicately for my readers? I will start at the beginning. Our species is called Homo sapiens. Homo isn’t that kind of homo, that is the Greek type of Homo, this is the Latin Homo which means man--and not necessarily someone who dresses flashy and makes for a nifty side-kick for the female lead in a romantic comedy. Sapiens is Latin for knowing, which means that we are the only species that knows how to make aerosol cheese. The male in our species is designed to deliver the seed. We will call this seed “baby juice.” To deliver the baby juice the male is equipped with a screw. Scratch that, that’s too dirty; let’s call his equipment a bolt. The female has the garden where the baby grows. The entrance to the garden we will call the nut.

The male of the species must somehow find a way to talk the female into letting him insert his bolt into her nut. I won’t go into some of the sickening and pathetic ways men carry this out but to the young women just beginning to date: consider yourselves warned. Often this insertion is merely for practice as neither party involved wants this process to lead to babies. This practice is called fornication by some but is generally known by the familiar term of "humping."

Unless the people in marketing have been less than truthful with us we know that what makes a woman desirable to the man are incredibly large breasts and what makes the man desirable to the woman is the brand of light beer he drinks. I don’t know which sex has it tougher. Is it harder to undergo painful breast enhancement surgery and then have to carry them around the rest of your life or is drinking crappy light beer more of a cross to bear? Is there a third choice?

If this all seems too sordid and messy for any of you, don’t be alarmed. The good news is that we have made the decision to outsource a lot of the sex taking place here in America. Instead of doing this sort of time-consuming and dirty manual labor, we have farmed out these tasks to strung-out runaways and guys who ride on the lead float in the Sexually Transmitted Diseases Day parade. Thanks to pornography we now have more time for prayer here in America.

The reason the Lord blessed us with sexual pleasure in the first place was not to allow our animal instincts to run wild. He gave us sex to sell crappy light beer and kitchen floor cleaners that will make your home sparkle. If we use sex to actually pleasure one another it will water down its ability to sell paper towels.

Not one of my better essays so I will leave you with a true story and a picture. They are doing a bunch of work in front of my building. It has been a total pain in the ass because there is no parking on both sides of the street for the entire month they will be working. In the midst of all of this mayhem in the street, I walked up to a supervisor (he had a clip board and wasn't working). I told him I appreciated all the effort but all I wanted was free cable TV. He didn't think it was funny either.


A lot of trouble for free HBO. Posted by Hello

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Closed for Repairs


Why can’t you be more like me? I’m perfect in every way and you aren’t. To say that you aren’t perfect is probably the biggest understatement in the history of human communication. So what’s your problem? Maybe you don’t have enough iron in your diet? Try drinking more water. Sleep less. Study harder. Get your act together. Did you know that there is a surgical treatment for that? Have you considered a transplant? Braces? Implants? Reduction? A wig? How about a comb-over? I’m glad I’m not you, that’s all I have to say. Nope, I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes. Speaking of shoes, what exactly are those things on your feet? Are they corrective?

Let’s be honest; you need a lot of work. I’m not talking about a little fine tuning; I’m talking about a major overhaul—top to bottom. I’m talking about putting your big butt in dry dock, scraping your hull, and rebuilding you from bow to stern. Let’s have crews working around the clock, Monday through Friday, and Saturday’s until noon. Union workers will certainly cost more but you need professionals on this job; not a bunch of unskilled scabs who’ll just make things worse if that’s even possible. I’m not sure that is even possible. My imagination just isn’t good enough to imagine a worse you. Maybe somebody else can try—perhaps a science fiction writer.

Look at me and then look at you. I’m not going to say “If I did it so can you” but you’re going to have to start trying at least. I won’t say your condition is hopeless but Hope isn’t exactly your closest friend these days, is he? In your case I think someone left Hope out in the alley with a fractured skull. Someone call 911. Is there a doctor in the house? A priest? Christ, just get me a shovel; I’ll take care of it.

It’s time to roll up your sleeves and just get started. They say that there's no time like the present, but in your case I'd say a better time would have been about 20 years ago when you really started going downhill. What happened to you? You were such a cute kid. Now look at you. Yikes!

Forget about that; there isn’t time to dwell on past mistakes. Grab a broom and start cleaning up this mess that is your life. There is a mop and bucket on the back porch. Just throw them away when you’re finished. I’ll be back in a few weeks.

It’s about time. That wasn’t so hard, was it? You look great. I love what you did with your hair. You look taller; I'm glad someone got you to finally stand up straight. Your vocabulary certainly has improved, and your grammar, too. Anything would be an improvement over the old you. You had nowhere to go but up. You hit rock bottom and started dynamiting your way even lower. You made rock bottom look like a room with a view. But that was then and this is now. You cleaned up rather well I would say. Congratulations. Can I call you sometime?

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Eat or Die!

I am what you would call an eater. I eat things. I eat small plants and animals whole. I cut larger plants and animals into smaller, more manageable parts before eating. I eat cute little animals, and I eat ugly fruits and vegetables, and vice versa. If humans have been known ever to have eaten something I will eat it. I will eat things which no man has eaten before. Raw, blanched, blended, steamed, boiled, stir-fried, poached, scrambled, stewed, simmered, tossed, frozen, thawed, and chilled are just a few of the ways I will eat a plant or animal. Sometimes I will mix two or three of these techniques together to stuff my face. Variety is the spice of life. Spice is also the spice of life.

If you don’t eat you will die. Try not eating. You will die. Life will throw out your scrawny carcass when you starve to death but death will eat you right up, bones and all. Death has an incredible appetite. I don’t want to die so I eat. Death is often only a bagel with cream cheese away from where I am sitting in this coffee shop. Death circles like a vulture…waiting…waiting for me to slip up and miss a meal, waiting for me to screw up and starve to death. Death is patient. Death asks to borrow my paper. Death reads the box scores. Death sees that the Mariners are in last place at 15-28. Death smells death and leaves me to finish my bagel. Death instead goes to circle the Mariner clubhouse. I sigh with relief but cut it short because I remember that sighing with your mouth full of food is impolite. A near-death experience is no reason to lose your manners.

Death is relentless and so I eat relentlessly. Death never sleeps. It is difficult to eat while you sleep which is why people die in their sleep. My solution is to dream about eating. I’m not dead yet so maybe I’m on to something. Death does not play fair; nod off for a second and death will be all over you like a cheap suit. I nap with a ham sandwich in my hand. You can’t be too careful.

They say that eating too much can kill you. Not eating will kill you faster than eating too much and besides, while you are killing yourself by eating too much you can watch TV. There are worse ways to go—unless you don’t have cable in which case I would rather be eaten by sharks.

Sharks gotta eat too. And what about worms? If we don’t die what are they supposed to eat? We are trapped in a seriously vicious circle. Just thinking about it makes me hungry. I am hungry all the time so I guess you could say that everything makes me hungry. Go ahead and laugh but I would suggest that my survival instinct is just stronger than yours. About the only thing that doesn’t make me hungry is eating. Eating keeps my mind off hunger.

It's time for lunch. It never ends.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Outsourcing Responsibility

It’s Sunday morning here in America. In Seattle at 8:30 A.M. people are out getting coffee. Some look like they are dressed to go to some sort of religious ceremony while most are just dressed. Lots of work-out clothes—not that they are actually going to work out but these are easy clothes to slip into in the morning. The farthest thing from most people’s minds is the war in Iraq. This is definitely a lower case kind of war—the only kind we have known since World War II here in the U.S.A.

I rarely overhear strangers talking about the war when I’m out. The war is something people see on the TV or a newspaper headline at best. The war in Iraq doesn’t directly affect most of us. It is a testament to the wealth and power of this nation that we are able to wage a war half-way around the world so casually. We haven’t been asked to make a single sacrifice so that the world may have a free Iraq, or to eliminate the WMD, or whatever reason we are there killing people.

If you are solidly middle class you don’t have to worry about your child serving in the military. Our “all volunteer” army is an army of economic conscripts pressed into service by a faltering economy. Getting your ass shot off in Iraq is more often than not what some soldiers are forced to endure if they want to better themselves by going to college. The fierce fighting and increasingly heavy losses in Iraq are enough to convince a lot of potential recruits that a long life of crappy jobs at home in the safety of America is preferable.

This same lower and powerless tier of our society is the first one to bear the brunt of an investigation into a complete lack of leadership in the Abu Garib prison scandal: Outsource the fighting and the blame—how tidy. The first person to go on trial and to be sentenced for the abuse at the prison should have been the brigadier general in charge. She claimed she wasn’t allowed into that part of the facility. My response to that would have been, “What the fuck are you talking about? You are a brigadier general in charge of this prison. No one can tell you where to go or not to go. Guilty.” After this I would go after the CIA and civilian contractor interrogators (I’m really sick of hearing about civilian contractors having anything to do with operations). After all these people are found guilty then I might start worrying about the grunts in the pictures.

This war is very, very real for a lot of people—even some very unlucky Americans. We need to decide whether or not we are a nation that stands for human rights and decency or not—black and white. This doesn’t seem like a gray area to me. Leadership starts at the very top.

If you think that a bunch of Army E-4’s could run a prison like some S&M whorehouse from hell--all on their own--you don’t know how the military works. If you learn nothing else in the military you learn how to follow orders. The military isn’t famous for teaching people to improvise or think on their feet.

The idea that Iraqi prisoners are less than human started with our president saying that our opponents have no souls. Next we have a Secretary of Defense who thinks that torture is an acceptable form of interrogation if the suspects are terrorists. By the time this shit rolls down hill--as they say in the military—to the enlisted ranks you have a recipe for disaster. That disaster has already been cooked and served to the world, a world we have tried to convince that we are on the side of freedom, human rights, and human dignity.

Westlands

My flight from Seattle was on one of the clearest days I have ever flown. Mount Rainier was absolutely stunning out of the port window. I was straining to try and see individual climbers on this treacherous peak that has already claimed the life of one climber this season. Whenever I fly over this vast expanse of rugged mountainous terrain that makes up our western edge I think about a friend who walked the entire length of it from Mexico to Canada. I’m not much of a walker but this summer I’m going to hike a lot more. I plan on mountain biking as much as I usually do, so this means I’m going to have to get out of town a lot more often.

I spent the past weekend in Phoenix, Arizona. It was sunny and very warm as you would imagine. I took a short hike up into the desert foothills on the outskirts of town. It was only a couple miles, but there was enough of an elevation gain to give commanding views of the valley that holds the entire city. I have traveled around quite a bit in this part of the country and I am already making plans for a more extended hiking trip in southern Arizona and the adjacent Mexican state of Sonora this fall. I stepped a few feet off the trail to take a picture of the charming saguaro cactus you see posted below.

On the plane I had been reading Cormac McCarthy’s final book in his border trilogy, Cities of the Plain and was feeling nostalgic for this part of the country where I had spent a very happy part of my youth. His writing had me chomping at the bit to break off into the desert and head for Mexico. I wanted to eat tortillas and beans and make a camp fire. I was sorry that I didn’t have time to make a proper foray into the desert but I thoroughly enjoyed this short day hike with my brother-in-law, a great guy who always laughs at my jokes (and I at his).

Yesterday I took a short hike in the Cascades directly east of Seattle. We pulled off at a random forest service road and found the trail head to McClellan’s Butte. Don’t quote me but I think that the picture below is of this snow-capped mountain that tops out at 3,200 feet. There were only two cars at the trail head and both parties were finishing up as we started.

A couple of summers ago I was sitting on my camp stool with my feet in the river featured in the picture you see below. I was smoking a cigar and reading David Guterson’s novel East of the Mountains. In the book the protagonist was driving east from Seattle along Interstate 90 and describes the mountains that lie on either side of the highway where I was now sitting. He mentioned McClellan’s Butte. I looked up and it was right there in front of me and I took a picture. I have spent a lot of time in this area of the Cascades and I have seen trail postings for the butte but I never knew exactly where it was until Guterson pointed it out to me. He’s obviously spent some time in this area.

We put on our packs and started up the trail in a fine mist that didn’t even penetrate the forest. I didn’t bring rain gear and didn’t really feel like hiking in the rain anyway. I did bring my camera, binoculars, and birding book. My friend brought a thermos of coffee. We both were too lazy to go climbing somewhere. I felt slightly hung over and skipped my work-out at the gym so I was just looking to breath in some fresh air and pump a little blood through my veins.

We sat down in a weird-looking hollow that was like something out of the Lord of the Rings. The mist gave the place and even more haunted feel. We drank coffee and listened to an owl hoot. We hooted, it hooted back, it came a lot closer, and hooted again. We didn’t see it in the dense forest, and I couldn’t identify it by its call--so much for my career as a birdwatcher.

We called it quits after a few miles and so never reached the snow line that was supposed to be at 2,700 feet (I love standing in snow at this time of year). I usually don’t get let off the hook so easily with this guy who walked from Mexico to Canada. Sometimes it’s good to just get out in the mountains. It’s always good to get out in the mountains.


Posted by Hello Looking towards Mexico from Phoenix


Posted by Hello McClellan's Butte--25 minutes east from my apartment in downtown Seattle.

DON'T YOU WISH YOU LIVED HERE? Posted by Hello

Friday, May 21, 2004

Of Classics and Kitsch

To demonstrate the merits of having a common, shared cultural literacy, a study was done some years ago. In the study a man was who was dressed as a tourist--complete with camera and a map--was sent on to the streets of Boston to ask for directions. The directions he was given by Bostonians were long and drawn out. The locals had to assume that he didn’t know anything about the city. When the researchers sent another man out to get directions they dressed him as a businessman with a copy of the Boston Herald under his arm. This time the directions the locals gave were short and to the point because they assumed he knew his way around and just needed some minor clarification.

This study was cited in the book Cultural Literacy: What Every American should Know; the point of the book being that if we all have a common cultural literacy we can speak in a sort of short hand. The book goes on to list what sort of cultural background all Americans should share. As an example of this shared cultural literacy in action I would cite the recent movie and book, Cold Mountain. Without at least the faintest of familiarity with the events of the American Civil War and The Odyssey of Homer the book and movie would come across like hearing part of a conversation out of context.

The problem is that with every passing year more and more of our shared consciousness is related to kitschy pop culture. The line-up on prime time TV has edged out the classics of literature as our cultural heritage. This language of pop culture, the lingua franca of this era, is one that I now speak haltingly and with a heavy accent. There isn’t much in the way of popular music that I even recognize, let alone enjoy. I go to fewer and fewer movies these days unless they have subtitles, and TV is pretty much the dark planet as far as I’m concerned. Just to see what I have been missing I will cite a few of the offerings from today’s line up of prime time TV:

Dr. Phil
Totally Outrageous Behavior & World’s Craziest Videos
Dude, where’s My Car?
Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls
The O’Reilley Factor
Golden Girls

I think you get the idea. I would send for help but I don’t know who to call. To get an analogy of my lack of understanding of pop culture the folks doing that study in Boston would have to send a Martian out to ask for directions.

All of this stuff is made for immediate consumption and has the shelf life of ripe bananas. Our shared intellectual consciousness is not only off course, it is rudderless and adrift in a strange sea. How are we supposed to talk to one another with so little shared cultural and intellectual experience? I wrote about how Haitian Kreyol, the language of Haiti, has been mutating at such an alarming rate due to its lack of grounding in a written form. The language people speak there today will be difficult for Haitians 50 years from now to understand. I feel our own culture is mutating at a similar rate. I will look at a copy of People Magazine when I am at the check-out counter and I will have no idea who is on the cover. I looked at The Onion this morning and I had no idea who Jessica Simpson is so I didn’t understand the gag. Not understanding a satirical humor magazine is not the greatest of losses but these things add up and take their toll.

People are lining up to see the blockbuster new movie about Troy yet I would guess few people know anything at all about this mythical city and the war that raged outside its gates for ten years. From now on the myth of Troy will be defined by this shitty movie instead of The Iliad of Homer.

I realize that writing this makes me a pretentious gas bag but here it is. The good news is that the wonderful new Seattle Library opens this Sunday.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Making Adjustments: Hot Peppers and Hitchhiking

Gasoline is now over $2 a gallon and I have a funny feeling that it's going to stay at that price. I personally couldn’t give a shit if gas went to $5 a gallon. I drive so little that gas doesn’t factor into my budget. I probably spend more money on jalapeño peppers than I do on gasoline over the course of a year. Maybe I should use another item for comparison as I spend a lot on peppers and I actually had to learn how to pickle jalapeños myself to save money because the price of pickled peppers is prohibitive and prevented consumption.

Pickling peppers is not that big of a deal. Just buy a bunch of fresh jalapeños (which are inexpensive) and make a gallon of brine from white vinegar, water, and salt. Add the peppers to the brine and heat this on the stove until just before it reaches a boil. Pour this into a big jar and let it sit for a couple weeks. I may be omitting something here and you run the risk of getting botulism so don’t quote me on this recipe. If you don’t hear from me for a week or so please kick in my door, remove my botulism-filled carcass, fumigate my apartment, sell whatever stuff I have, and send the money to the botulism foundation.

My point is that like the high price of pre-pickled peppers, the rising cost of gasoline should be sending a signal to everyone that adjustments in behavior should be forthcoming. I don’t expect people to take chances with life-threatening diseases like botulism just to save money at the fuel pump but there are other things you can do. If we all put our heads together I think we can come up with some viable alternatives to the present energy situation. Let me begin.

HITCHHIKING I think that hitchhiking should be radically encouraged. I always pick up hitchhikers when I’m driving. I have regretted picking up some of these people. One time I picked up a guy when I was driving alone in northern Washington. I was on a backpacking trip and the guy was standing at the entrance of North Cascades National Park. I thought he was a fellow backpacker but it turned out that he was some sort of goofy drifter.

I wasn’t the least bit concerned for my personal safety; the problem was that the guy stank to high heaven. There is only one road through the park so I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of him. I couldn’t very well say that I was going left at the next intersection because there isn’t an intersecting road in the park for miles and miles. I didn’t want to tell him I was stopping somewhere along the road because I was afraid he would hang out with me. I was screwed and I knew it. I just tried to breathe through my mouth. When we did part company I gave him some food. I also gave him some money that I could only hope went towards personal hygiene items.

Since this essay lacks much of a point let me digress and tell you one of my favorite hitchhiking stories. I had just spent a year in Peru where hitching factored into a lot of my traveling around that country. That was the year I read On the Road and I was eager to hitch everywhere. I had spent countless hours in the back of trucks with a load of produce, sharing the view of the Andes with a bunch of campesinos who were always envious of my sleeping bag and rain poncho.

When I got back to the States I spent a month or so in Montana with my older sister who relocated there to teach school on a Crow reservation. I needed to get back home to Indiana so I decided that I wanted to hitchhike. I probably spent three times as much money hitchhiking as I would have spent on a plane ticket but I wasn’t doing it to save money. I loaded my pack, put on respectable clothes, and put out my thumb. I was a clean-cut kid so rides came easy.

Everything was going well until I got just east of Denver. It was fairly early in the morning and there were few cars. None of them were interested in stopping. After about two hours of this I was cursing my foolish idea of thumbing back home.

Finally a car stopped a few hundred feet in front of me. It was a 1974 Plymouth Barracuda with two guys in the front seat. At first I thought they were messing with me. I thought that they were going to wait until I hustled up to the car and then drive away. The passenger door opened and I got into the back seat. My sense of smell told me that they were both shit-faced drunk. I put on my seat belt and we drove east on I-70.

After a few miles of swerving down the interstate I asked the guys if they were OK. I offered to drive and to my surprise they agreed. I told them to pull over at the next exit. When we were making the switch I noticed that the tank was low. That’s when I learned that they were almost flat broke. I was happy to have a ride and itching to drive their fine automobile so I put in a couple bucks for the fill up. They asked me if I would buy a six pack of beer. It was nine in the morning and I thought to myself that I could use a beer myself. Remember, all of you, that drinking and driving wasn’t against the law back then.

I learned that my new drinking and driving buddies had been boozing in a Denver bar a few hours previous and had decided to drive to Florida. How they planned to get there with no money didn’t seem much of a concern to them as they drank my beer and quickly passed out in the back seat. I didn’t really care to delve too deeply into their personal lives and I was content to have a cold can of beer between my legs and a couple hundred horse power at the push of a pedal.

I don’t think I have ever driven that fast for that long any time in my life. Kansas was blurred by the speed if it is possible to blur 500 miles of wheat and fence posts. I got hungry at one point so I pulled in at a restaurant. I locked my pack in the trunk, took the keys, and went in for a meal. I left the two drunks sleeping in the car. I felt bad so I bought them something to eat at the convenience store. They ate it and immediately passed out again.

It took me something like 16 hours to get home. I stopped a block or so from my mother’s house and got out. I felt this bit of subterfuge was necessary as I didn’t want these dudes knocking at her door. I woke them up and gave them directions back to the highway. I had no idea how they were going to manage without me. They had about two gallons of gas left in the tank, no money, and no firm plans for the rest of their trip. Vaya con diós, amigos. Thanks for everything.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Hooray for America!

Pandering to the Audience


Maybe I’m just too caustic to garner much of a reading audience here on the internet. It seems that you have to stroke people either one way or the other to get people to read your web page (Either that or say you are a woman and thus attract at least 500 readers who are waiting for you to say something dirty. As I’ve said before, I’m not looking for a demographic with their pants around their ankles.). Either you have to be a big fat right-wing blow-hard or you have to be a big liberal jack-ass or you have to be an extremely soft, non-political writer to keep people coming back for more.

We are all creatures of habit; we are all looking for that which will make us more comfortable in our established beliefs. We like people who tell us what we want to hear, not someone who makes us uncomfortable with the beliefs we hold, or challenges us in any way. That is too much work. Just sooth us by blowing smoke up our butts. Those Chicken Soup books have used this technique of blowing smoke up people’s butts and turned it into a publishing juggernaut. Who am I to knock that?

I would like to write a list of some of my views that is sure to endear me to the reading public and establish, once and for all, what a swell guy I am. Just read the bold print and you’ll think I’m ready to host a daytime talk show, a sort of Kathy Lee Gifford of the internet. Who doesn’t like Kathy Lee, besides me, that is? Can’t stand her. (The only single thing that Howard Stern has ever said or done that has made me laugh was when Kathy Lee complained about sharing the cover of TV Guide with Stern. Howard called her a vagina surrounded by an idiot.)

My firmly held beliefs:

I like babies! Can someone please shut that kid up; the game is on.

I think people who hurt kittens are bad! But what if the kitten attacked your baby? That kitten must die, I think we can all agree on that. I’d be the first one to pull the switch.

Moms are good! Is Whoopi Goldberg a mom? If so then I will have to make some sharp qualifications to this one.

… Dads, too! I guess it pretty much goes without saying that there are plenty of dads out there who are complete shit heels so take this one with a grain of salt.

Family—I’m all for it! As long as at least two time zones separate you and your family.

Say no to drugs! Of course I’m not talking about cigars and booze. I’m talking about real drugs. Just say no, for heaven’s sake, unless you really need to kick back and relax. I also highly recommend smoking pot if you are camping in the desert.

I go to church! When I’m in Europe and the church is at least 400 years old and I still have a picture or two left in my camera after taking pictures of the red light district and the topless beaches.

Baseball is the American pastime! No irony here except for the fact that the f@#king Seattle Mariners are in last f#$ing place. It’s enough to turn a baseball fan towards cricket or soccer or something.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Mangled Priorities: Brainiac Nation

I know that I kid around a lot here but today I would like to tell you about something that is quickly reaching the level of a quiet catastrophe in American society. I have several friends who suffer from this debilitating condition that is completely ignored by both the media and the medical community. It is a problem that the powers-that-be would love nothing more than to just sweep under the rug. I am talking to you today about male pattern baldness.

Male pattern baldness ranks only behind minor weight gain in young females as the leading cause of death in the United States. Wake up America! Open your eyes and look around and you will see men, lots of men, who are losing their hair. I’m not an expert in this field but I don’t see why we aren’t desperately funding technology in order to combat this killer. Why aren’t we pouring money into research for worthless potions men can rub into their scalps to stimulate hair growth? Are you telling me that we can put a man on the moon but we can’t make wigs for men or scalp paint to allow the appearance of hair in men with hair loss problems?

I went out the other day to get some answers to this problem. I took a look at our society, a very good look. I have found that we are just too obsessed with improving our minds to give much thought to our appearance. The public library has turned into the newest meat market. You actually have to pay a $10 cover charge to get in the door so you can check out books and meet other hyper-intellects like you.

What if you were a young girl in this country and you were suffering from the crippling disease of very minor weight gain? What if all you wanted was a diet plan but at the magazine stand every cover of every magazine for women only had ideas for how to write the great American novel or countless stories about how to become a symphony conductor? Now you may begin to understand how these young women feel abandoned by our brains-obsessed society where the only thing that matters is how many books you check out from the library or how many research papers you turn in every month.

What are we waiting for America? When a young 122 pound woman says “I feel fat” this is not something we should ignore. This is a desperate cry for help yet do we have diet food available, do we have weight loss ideas in any of our print media, do we supply any sort of gimmicky exercise equipment? Hell no we don’t. All we do is shove some French literature in her face as if that is going to do her any good.

I have decided that I am going to take it upon myself to do something about this problem. I am going to start an organization; I am going to start a club for men to directly address this situation. I haven’t figured out the name but Scalp Club for Men perhaps or maybe Coiffure Club for Men. I seriously doubt that I will make a penny in profits in this culture that cares only for intellect and not one hoot for appearance. I don’t care about making money, I just want to help.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

All that Glitters: Catching Fish in America

What if there was a sports car that you walked by every day that was obviously incredibly expensive and this incredibly expensive sports car had really expensive-looking after-market alloy rims? Would you stop and admire this car and its bright, shiny wheels? Would you stop and stare slack-jawed at someone’s bright and shiny expensive jewelry? Don’t feel silly because this is the response that these products are designed to elicit. Luxury items operate under the same principles as fishing lures. Stupid fish!

Fishing lures are bright and shiny to attract fish and make them bite. We humans are much more sophisticated than fish because we won’t bite on a cheap Casio watch like we will on an expensive Rolex. Both of these watches perform their functions equally as well but the Rolex catches bigger fish with larger breasts.

Most people couldn’t tell you if Bach was born before or after Mozart but they can give you price approximations for every model of car sold in this country. People know that a Range Rover costs more than a Ford Focus, a Lexus more than a Hyundai. We are constantly told by the marketing people how much all this stuff around us costs and that buying it matters. Your job as a citizen--according to advertising--is to go out there and earn the money necessary to buy these bright and shiny objects so that you to can start catching fish. Get off your butt and start working!

As a civilization we reached the point of almost absolute material comfort some time ago. We have homes that are warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We are way beyond hunger. Adequate food and shelter are relatively inexpensive to purchase. We all spend ridiculous amounts of money on items that simply afford us a certain degree of status. Take a look around at what you own and you will probably find lots of items that either have no utilitarian value or that represent some sort of silly luxury. We have luxury bottled water these days. What a world!

There is a commercial on TV in which a distinguished older woman is hawking gold coins. She is mostly trying to sell you on the investment value of gold but then she asks that you take the gold coins in your hands and feel them. I’m not kidding. She is making an appeal to the exact same part of the brain that makes a fish go after a lure. Please don’t hold the coins in your hands unless you want to have a guy with fish guts on his shorts pull the hook from your mouth and throw you in an ice chest.

Like the fishing lure, luxury products quite often represent an illusion. The fish thinks that it is going after food but the lure is a mere illusion of food. As I mentioned earlier, we humans are much more sophisticated than the lowly fish and what our luxury products represent is much more complex than food. The shiny rims on the sports car, the Range Rover, the Rolex all offer the illusion of an array of messages: power and sex for the most part. We are cagey little critters, we humans. Happy hunting!

Monday, May 10, 2004

Anatomy of a Wise-Ass

I never thought much about writing back when I was in high school. I found English to be incredibly boring thanks to an incredibly boring teacher who was forced to teach something if he wanted to live out his dream of coaching a really lousy high school football team. I can also blame my teenage ignorance of writing on the fact that class was right after lunch. I don’t know about you but that has always been my nap time. I don’t remember but I probably beat up the kids in the creative writing club so I didn’t learn anything about it from my peers.

Most of the time in writing class—when not asleep—I spent constructing elaborate fantasy scenarios for the downfall of my high school, complete with sketches. The young Leftbanker entertained ideas so disturbing (funny as hell to me, disturbing to child psychologists) that in this post-Columbine era would surely earn me a few months in juvie. We didn’t have the internet back then so I kept my disturbed thoughts to myself, thank God. And I dreamed.

I dreamed of the day when I would posses a fortune large enough to allow me to purchase my high school and turn it into a huge public toilet for bums. More of a public outhouse if you want to get technical as I was going to do it on the cheap and just cut holes in the roof. I imagined a bunch of bums with diarrhea sitting above the auditorium during a pep rally. Not very sophisticated as far as humor goes, but hey, I was in high school and didn’t I already mention what a lousy student I was? If you want sophistication go find the class valedictorian.

I sketched out an exhaustive array of natural disasters that would destroy my school including tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, and even a meteor impact. A meteor is even more unlikely than a hurricane in the Midwest, but a kid has to have hope. The absence of hope is despair. I suppose that I fit in fairly well back then. I didn’t hold any malice towards students or teachers; I just hated the physical structure and confinement of school.

If I had to define my social status and identity in high school I would have to say “A little wise-ass who, if you mess with him, will either start swinging or totally humiliate you with sarcasm in front of your friends.” I know what you are thinking and you are absolutely right: I was a terrible kid—think of a mix of a young Groucho Marx and Joe Pesci from Goodfellas, part class clown part sociopath.

At the huge state university I attended I was able to find the anonymity that I felt was so lacking in high school. I found privacy in my anonymity. The big college campus allowed such diversity, and my own eccentricities, that I was finally freed from the prison- yard atmosphere of high school, an atmosphere where I was forced to use my wit like a home-made shiv to insure my survival. I didn’t need the protection of my class clown status.

I remember taking a required freshman writing class. The professor was old and tired and boring. About the third day of class he gave us an assignment for an in-class essay to evaluate our writing skills. Being the not-very-original guy that he was he used something from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book I had read. He wanted us to describe a penny in minute physical detail. Yawn. Our Zen-inspired professor thought this would purge us of the preconceived notions we had about writing and we would burst forth with a whole new concept of what the written word was all about.

I wrote a completely smart-ass essay having to do with what a lame statement it was for people to donate pennies at those charity jars near the cash registers. The professor said I didn’t follow his directions and gave me a C. I dropped the class. I gave up writing and being a wise-ass for a long time after that. I did pretty well in college but I hated academia just as much as when I was in high school.

to be continued...

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Voice of the Great Satan

Good morning, Iraq. How is everyone doing? Good. I know a few of you are a little upset, a little agitated over the prisoner abuse thing that has recently surfaced. Sorry about that, our bad, won’t happen again. Can’t let a few low-ranking bad apples spoil an otherwise trouble-free invasion and occupation now can we? Can’t imagine where these soldiers got the idea to abuse and humiliate prisoners. Our CIA confesses to full deniability, as usual. You’d have to torture those guys to get them to admit any wrongdoing, and as much fun as that would be that’s not how we do things (except to other nations).

Who’d have thought that a culture like yours, a culture that showed not the slightest hint of indignation (Some of you actually cheered) when some Arab Muslim maniacs flew a couple of planes into our World Trade Center towers killing thousands of innocent people would get so bent out of shape over American barbarities? I guess it’s a little difficult these days to tell who is the kettle, who is the pot, who is black, and who is calling whom what, what?

Justice will be served, let us assure you. We have a saying over in the land of the Great Satan: Shit roles down hill. This means that a few minor players in this scandal will be punished severely. This is much easier than going after the higher ups who are truly responsible. I know you want these people executed but that isn’t how we do things in this country. Actually, that is how we do things in this country but we normally only execute young black males who don’t have access do decent legal representation.

The weak are the easiest people to punish, wouldn’t you agree? Look at how you treat women in your culture. It’s like 125 degrees in the shade yet you insist that women walk around all day wearing HAZMAT suits. Over here in the Great Satan all a girl needs is a tattoo and a G-string and she’s ready for a night on the town. Speaking of little tramps, how about some music?

Now, for what you have all been waiting for, Britney Spears and her smash hit Do You Want to Put Your Hand Where My Hand Is? from her new CD Look at how flexible I am, I can touch my toes. Do you like my new mini skirt? Look at me when I’m talking to you!

I don’t know about you but that squeaky little voice really gets my blood boiling, if you know what I mean. You, too? I think that we probably have more in common than either of us could imagine. You are fundamentalist religious fanatics and so are we, at least the folks who dreamed up this war. Most of the infidels in America opposed bombing the shit out of a sovereign nation from the beginning. Atheists lack the moral clarity to kill thousands of innocent people (We like to call that collateral damage). You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet or whatever it is we are making of Iraq. If I had to guess what we are making in Iraq I would say the American West Bank.

Time for another song. This time it’s Justin Timberlake with his monster hit Drink Pepsi, it’s really sweet and tastes really good..

I think that Justin really gets at the heart of this whole matter. What this war is really all about is a Pepsi for oil trade in which both sides benefit from a free exchange of precious fluids while a handful of business leaders make out like Ali Babba and the 40 thieves. After all, we did call this war Iraqi Freedom. That would be the freedom to buy Pepsi and sell us oil. What other kind of freedom is there?

Friday, May 07, 2004

Fast Food for Your Brain

Idiot's Coffee Mug
Taking a cue from the pioneering filmmaker, Morgan Spurlock, whose Super Size Me chronicles the danger of a month-long binge on McDonald’s food, I have decided to watch two shitty movies from Blockbuster® every night for an entire month. I’m just kidding. I have way too much respect for myself to pull a crazy stunt like that.

“That which does not kill you makes you stronger.” I never really bought that over-quoted quote from Nietzsche. Think about it, a fucking ice cream cone doesn’t kill you and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t make you stronger. I think he was speaking about adversity. I think he was talking about getting your arm hacked off in a sword fight or something. I don’t see how that makes you anything other than a one-armed man. Can someone e-mail Nietzsche and have him clarify this for us.

I do like that quote enough to borrow from it pretty heavily. I have something that I would like to share with all of you in the form of a Nietzsche-esque quote: “That which does not bore you to death makes you more boring.” This aphorism has the same flaws as Nietzsche’s line but I use it because people think they understand his quote and thus will understand my meaning. Of course, being half-eaten by a shark doesn’t bore you to death and almost certainly makes you more interesting—at least in my book. There isn’t much on this earth I find more interesting than sitting around drinking beer and exchanging shark attack survival stories.

For the purposes of this essay we will assume that Nietzsche’s quote makes sense and “That which does not kill you of boredom makes you more boring” is also true. What I am really talking about, specifically, are the new movie releases at the video store. Every title looked like one of those awful movies that they play on airline flights (I suppose “awful airline movie” is being redundant). Fluffy, entirely inoffensive (except to your intelligence) crap unfit for anyone over the age of nine, yet there was a line at the check-out. I walked out empty-handed and quickly remembered why I don’t rent movies very often: I’m just not that bored.

Let’s face it; you’d have to be terminally bored to rent something like Legally Blond II, any movie with Sandra Bullock, or similar thought-free piffle. Here is the really terrifying part: When people are renting these awful movies this means that what is on network television is even worse. It is true; there is entertainment lower down the entertainment ladder than Sandra Bullock movies.

Even though I have no intention of doing my month-long binge of lousy movies, I have a pretty good idea of what the result would be. An overdose of lousy movies will probably turn you into a person who likes Sandra Bullock movies, which is the intellectual equivalent of high blood pressure, diabetes, gonorrhea, and whatever else McDonald’s food gives you.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

10 Commandments Update

Can't Obey'em if You Can't Read'em
The funny thing is that if you go to the Microsoft homepage they already have an updated version called Commandments 3.0 for Windows™. I downloaded them this morning. Below is the fine print, the stuff that you animals never bother to read because you are “too busy” so you just click on “I Agree” and navigate back over to the online poker game.

Honor your mother and your father. In the era of the dead-beat dad do we really need to honor our mother AND our father? Honor your mother and you can pretty much ignore dad—unless he is going to buy you a pony or pay for your ski trip. I’m not saying that you have to exactly go overboard on the honoring mom thing either. Use your own judgment.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. This whole ‘covet’ business has got to go. How can you covet your neighbor’s goods and his wife? I don’t even know what it means to covet, but if you can covet both someone’s wife and goods then it is either demeaning to women or perverted. Let’s just do ourselves a favor and drop both of these commandments altogether.

Thou shalt not steal. This is a really dicey one. Does scalping tickets constitute stealing? Stealing is such an ugly word for taking a few extra Sweet & Lows at the coffee shop. I think that if you got God, Allah, Apollo & Zeus, and YAHWEH together in one room they would all agree that stealing cable TV is not such a bad thing. Ditto with downloading music. Is it stealing if you eat your roommate’s leftover to-go food in the refrigerator? This whole “thou shalt not steal” is a big can of worms so let’s just dump that one.

Thou shalt not bear false witness. Who invited the lawyer when they drew up the commandments? Your honor, I would like that commandment stricken from the record.

Thou shalt not commit adultery. Adultery, that seems like a good thing not to commit, but in this day and age, if you want to get lucky, you can’t be too choosy.

Don’t take God’s name in vain. How about this V g A o I d N? That’s God’s name in vain. If that’s a sin then sue me.

Thou shalt not kill. That seems like a decent idea. Personally, I’m all for it, 100%, but I’m an atheist. If you ask hyper-religious born agains, they will all say that the death penalty, and killing in wars, is okely dokely because the Bible says so. Who am I to question the morality of born agains? Let’s lose that one, too. Lock and load, and let's all remember to run serpentine.

Keep the Sabbath holy. Isn’t football on Sundays? ‘Nuf said.

There is but one God. As an atheist this is really the toughest one for me. It’s like the Thou shalt not steal thing for thieves; it sort of takes away your livelihood. I’m not against this one if you happen to believe in God, so we’ll make it optional.

So that’s it. The 10 Commandments boiled down to Honor your mom unless she tells you to stay home and you have a really cool party to go to, and There is but one God, unless you have other thoughts on this matter. I can live with those rules. See you in heaven.

Monday, May 03, 2004

I Don't Think We're in North Carolina Anymore

Over the past few weeks I have been conducting an informal survey when I go out. I have been asking Seattle guys what the acronym NASCAR stands for, exactly. Every guy that I have queried knows what NASCAR represents; it represents a bunch of guys in gas-guzzling cars driving way too fast (even for hicks) around a big oval track lined with hicks. I was prompted to begin this survey after reading an article in the newspaper about the possible construction of a NASCAR track in the Seattle area. Maybe the people thinking about building the track should reconsider the demographic they are working with here in America’s upper left-hand corner.

Every guy I asked started off confidently: “North American…,” or, “North American Stock Car…,” and “North American Stock Car…American.” As their voices trailed off they usually tried to change the subject. Yeah guys, I already know that Bush is a lousy president but I want to know what NASCAR means. I seriously doubt that there is a male over the age of seven in North Carolina--who isn’t a choreographer--who doesn’t know what NASCAR means. Of course, there probably isn’t a male over the age of seven in that state who doesn’t have a ring imprinted on his back pocket from his chew can. Whether or not choreographers chew tobacco is the subject for another essay. Today I just want to know what the fuck NASCAR means.

After interviewing about 30-40 pansies, my friend, Curtis, finally came up with the answer, but he doesn’t count because he’s just a geek who could probably name the deputy secretary of agriculture or the exact latitude and longitude of the Salomon Islands. Just like we would all get beat up in a bar in North Carolina for not knowing what NASCAR means, Curtis would get beat up for naming all of the vice presidents.

It is so completely taken for granted that the NASCAR acronym--like NATO--is common knowledge, that in today’s sports section there is an article about yesterday’s Auto Club 500 NASCAR race that doesn’t bother to decipher the initials. If you want to know what it means I don’t think you should ask a hick. You may as well ask him what those fifty stars mean on that piece of cloth hanging on that pole.

I’m now five paragraphs into this essay and I finally know what it is about: We are all a bunch of effete liberals. Sure, we probably could all change our own oil but then we’d agonize for hours over how to get rid of the old oil. We’d argue over whether or not synthetic oil is ultimately better for the environment. I’m just a big, fat, effete, liberal sack of manure. Makes you want to just sit down in front of the TV with a beer and watch a race.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

(My) Safety First

“Women and children first!” I thought that I was fairly clever for coming up with that line, back when I was on that infamous cruise ship, the one that hit the piece of ice. Before that it was “every man for himself.” I was nine years old at the time and weighed-in at about 65 pounds—not much of a match for the swarthy guys coming up on deck after abandoning their posts in the engine room. Before that, no one had thought much about honor when it came to disasters like a ship sinking in freezing water with not nearly enough life boats to go around. I can’t believe that my quick-witted appeal to chivalric orderliness actually worked and I’m still here today to write about it.

What I didn’t think about back then was that every time I looked both ways before crossing a street, with every helping of vegetables I finished, with every disease epidemic I side-stepped, I was aging myself right out of the proverbial lifeboat. A plea for “women and children first” would leave me--at very best--second.

It’s been quite a few birthdays since “women and children first” would have assured me a comfortable seat on a lifeboat. Wearing a diaper and a bonnet are so far beneath my acceptable levels of dignity (and they are low) that even treading water in the freezing ocean rates higher. Perhaps this “women and children” thing partly explains the frighteningly high number of female impersonators on cruise ships plying the North Atlantic these days. I’ve never been able to walk in heels, especially on deck in bad weather, so that option is out.

I’m not quite honorable enough to go down with the ship so it’s time to come up with a new safety plan for when the “going gets tough” because “the tough get going” also leaves me dog-paddling far from shore. I need a new strategy for my personal survival and I think it will take more than a catchy phrase.

I have decided to look towards the animal kingdom for my personal protection. I’m not going to try using something like an attack dog; I have decided to go more state of the art. Borrowing from the natural defense mechanisms of turtles and porcupines, I have designed a pair of protective suits that I can wear that will assure my blood doesn’t get spilled. I have made one suit out of razor blades and another out of barbed wire.

Both suits performed well in tests. They not only fended off muggers and wild animals but they even kept all but the most persistent Amway salesmen at bay. Before you unfold the big banner that says “Mission Accomplished” I have to point out that the barbed wire suit makes me look fat and I can’t find a pair of shoes to go with razor blades. I don’t care how safe something is; I have to look good.

In the end I decided on doing what everyone else I know does. I now have two Hummers with blacked-out windows: One for my driver, two bodyguards, and me and another for an accompanying infantry platoon. This “Latin American Junta Leader” style is a little out of date but it still commands respect when I pull into the video rental place. “Move it or they’ll open fire” isn’t quite as catchy as “women and children first” but it is remarkably effective.