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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Trivial Pursuits

The New York Times crossword puzzle took up 70% of my laptop battery as it sat idle this morning, so you can blame the shitty essay you are about to read on my recent obsession with this idle pastime. I could have used this time to work out some difficulties I’m having with a Scarlatti sonata. I could have worked out at the gym a few minutes more in a vain attempt to hold off my almost-certain heart failure as a result of a life spent in the pork aisle of the butcher shop. They say that an addiction is anything you can’t stop doing. Tomorrow I will not do the crossword puzzle to prove how strong and addiction-free I am.

But I did the damn puzzle again today and I can’t get that time back. I can go home and recharge my laptop but those 30-40 minutes of puzzle solving are gone forever and all that I have to show for it is some red ink on a bit of newsprint—and I’m still three clues short of finishing. Some people justify doing crossword puzzles because they say that they are exercising their brains. If that is true then puzzles are the moral equivalent of wearing spandex tights with leg warmers and doing some retarded jazzercise class instead of just going out for a bike ride—which is the physical fitness moral equivalent of reading a Shakespeare play.

I can picture Domenico Scarlatti sitting down at his piano every morning with a cup of coffee and some staff paper cranking out sonatas like other people do crossword puzzles. He wrote over 500 sonatas for piano. Every one of his works that I have heard or learned to play has been a delight. Almost all of Scarlatti’s sonatas are written in one or two movements and vary in difficulty from those suited for novices to the musical equivalent of the Sunday Times crossword puzzle.

These essays that I write take about the same amount of time to compose as it takes me to do the crossword. The same amount of time it takes me to drink a cup of coffee. As much as I love music I'm not compelled to write music. This may be due to the fact that I am a late-comer to the world of music. I would like to have more training but I personally know many professional musicians who have less formal training than I and who have never let that get in the way of their pursuit of what they love.

For the past several months my piano and I haven’t exactly been on speaking terms. We live in the same apartment but we haven’t had much interaction. I think that I get discouraged because I’m not a very good player which makes about as much sense as not studying French because I don’t speak it perfectly. I have recently turned over yet another new leaf and I have started practicing diligently. Whenever I do sit down at my piano to play I can never understand why I ever stop playing. I love playing and I’m not that bad.

In the time it takes me to do a crossword puzzle I can dust off a Bach Goldberg Variation that I learned before and return that piece to my repertoire. A Scarlatti sonata in A Major is one of my favorite pieces to play and even after many months of neglect my fingers find the right keys—most of the right keys. Sometimes I lapse on this point but I have always felt that what I lack in musical talent I can make up for in determination.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Robothon 2004

Imagine going back 250 years in time with your laptop computer and showing Voltaire how to do research on the internet. As earth-shattering as that experience would be for the French titan of the Enlightenment I can think of something that would have a more profound effect on modern day scientists. Star Trek never ventured to put forth an episode dealing with the phenomena of which I am thinking. That would be too far-fetched even for the dorky new Star Trek. Technology has made tremendous strides in the past 50 years but this development isn’t even on the horizon. Robots will never teach gym class.

Think about it. You can get a PhD through a correspondence course. There are books on tape, video instructional methods for just about everything, but you cannot replace a gym teacher with a machine. I think back on the mind-numbingly complex tasks performed by my seventh grade gym teacher, Mr. Piles. First, he had to ascertain what season of the year it was to know the corresponding ball to throw out into the prison yard. After that he had to sit in his chair and read the sports section of the paper and whatever comics his mind was capable of absorbing. Do you really think that you could program some machine to do that?

I mention this because I am sitting at the Seattle Center watching Robothon 2004, a robotics festival for the whole family--assuming that your whole family is made up entirely of middle-aged, white males with bad haircuts. I fall into that category myself so I have to write this essay in a hurry and get the hell out of here before somebody sees me.

I can’t knock these guys too much because without a bunch of dorks who spend their Sundays indoors jerking off at a robotics festival, I wouldn’t have this wonderful laptop computer. If left to the likes of my underachieving ilk, civilization wouldn’t have paper, let alone a pen to write with. This is the division of labor that is necessary to build an advanced society. You have the people who create the technology that makes all of our lives easier and more fulfilling, and the people like me who make fun of those other people because they wear sandals with socks. Both elements of society are of equal importance and without one of them the world would be an uncivilized hellhole.

The world also needs gym teachers; not to teach us about physical education but to teach us about natural selection. Why bother teaching kids about evolution in biology class when they just spent the previous hour in gym learning first-hand about survival of the fittest? After an hour of playing tackle football against kids who have been held back for the past three years in the seventh grade, the concept of a benevolent deity is going to be a pretty tough sell, and you can forget about creationism. The flip side of the adage, “There are no atheists in the foxhole,” says that there are no seventh graders who still believe in God after having the wind knocked out of them by a kid named Butch Taylor who outweighs them by fifty pounds. Butch can also legally drive a car.

Friday, September 24, 2004

The Joy of Ichiro

“Ichiro changes your mind about what is possible,” was what Raul Ibañez had to say after Ibañez tied a major league record with six hits in the Mariners 16-6 rout over the Angels in Anaheim. Ibañez seemed to wave off the importance of his stellar performance to pay tribute to his Japanese teammate—a very Ichiro thing to do. Ichiro had four hits of his own and needs only ten hits in ten games to tie George Sisler’s record of 257 hits in a single season, a record which has stood since 1920. Ichiro has ten more games to break what has to be one of the longest standing records in professional sports.

Ten games to get ten hits is all but a shoe-in for the first Japanese position player in Major League Baseball. Two days ago Ichiro’s prospects seemed anything but possible. After a tough series with Oakland the Mariners right fielder needed 21 hits, an uphill battle at best. 11 hits later along with two intentional walks in 13 at-bats and now it’s a much different picture. He went from almost written-off to almost a sure thing in three games, not that I have ever stopped believing that Ichiro can do just about anything on the field.

Back at the beginning of the season when Mariner’s manager Bob Melvin coached Ichiro to look at more pitches and take more balls, he was all but dismissed by a lot of fans. While batting .290 people were saying that pitchers had figured him out. After the All-Star break Ichiro went back to hitting his way and his way is now .374 and rising. He also has 35 stolen bases to compliment the fact that he is one of the best right fielders in baseball.

To go along with the fact that he is one of the best players in baseball, I would say that he is undoubtedly the coolest guy on the field. His cool signature shirt sleeve tug that he does before every pitch would be annoying for anyone but the best hitter in the game. On Ichiro’s first road trip to Oakland after he joined the Mariner’s in 2000 some fans threw coins at him in the outfield. After the game reporters asked him about the unruly behavior and he said that he thought the coins had fallen out of the sky. Now opposing fans study him like a book, a really good book. After a hitting clinic he put on against the Chicago White Sox last month, the opposing fans gave Ichiro a standing ovation after he reached first safely for the fifth consecutive time that evening. Standing on the bag taking off his batting elbow pad, Ichiro looked around in confusion as to what all the hubbub was about.

About all Ichiro has said about the possibility of breaking Sisler’s 84 year old record is that it was a different game back then. He still speaks little and always through an interpreter even though you just know the guy probably has as good a command over English as he does over a high fastball. Ichiro doesn’t talk trash and what is more refreshing is that he doesn’t spew out a lot of phony false modesty. What he does best of all is get hits.

He gets hits in a way that is probably revolutionizing the way children look at hitting. He is right handed but bats left to get him closer to first base at the end of his variety of swings. Ichiro’s repertoire of swings includes a golf shot which was made famous while he was still playing in Japan. He actually hit a ball that the pitcher had bounced in the dirt in front of the plate. He has a ferociously fast slugging swing that he rarely pulls out. He uses it as a sort of statement. When Ichiro faced National League pitching ace Kevin Brown for the first time he hit a home run on the first pitch Brown delivered. Somehow you knew that that wasn’t an accident. A lot of Ichiro’s swings look like delicate tennis backhands. In the first at bat of the 2000 All-Star game held in Seattle, Ichiro beat Randy Johnson to first base—the first time I had seen a runner beat the pitcher covering first base. Johnson shook his head in disbelief.

What I have always admired most about Ichiro is the fact that he only is 5’9” (my height) and 160 pounds (I have 20 pounds on him) yet he is one of the best players in the game; this in an era of almost daily reports of steroid use. I was a small kid and I could never hit well. I wish that I had Ichiro as an example when I was a kid. We always just tried to hit the ball as hard as we could. It was always the bigger, fatter kids who hit the ball over the fence, Ichiro has taught us that it’s OK to dribble the ball down the line and beat the throw to first.

When Ichiro does break the season hits record he won’t talk trash, he won’t mumble something awkward, phony, and modest—à la Barry Bonds—just expect something you don’t get in sports much in this era. Ichiro embodies something that I haven’t even heard anyone mention since I was a kid playing sports and now it seems almost quaint and corny. It’s called sportsmanship. Remember that?

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

If I Were a Rich Man

What would you do with one million dollars? If I had a million bucks I’d phone the pay number to get the last fucking clues to today’s NY Times crossword puzzle. I need a four letter word for lost and it begins with an ‘A,’ and what was the name of the skipper on Gilligan’s Island? If you want my opinion I think pop culture references in the Times crossword puzzle suck. The phone call is only $1.20 but I would never call unless I had a million dollars. What sort of pathetic loser would call a crossword puzzle help line? That’s sort of cheating, isn’t it? Only a millionaire would be a big enough loser to pay for clues to a crossword puzzle. Rich people are all cheaters anyway.

So what I’m saying is that I would feel too stupid to call the crossword puzzle help line even if I had a million dollars. So tell me what good is a million bucks? It’s not worth the paper it’s printed on if I can’t finish this puzzle today.

I guess that I could go see movies at night instead of being a cheapskate and only hitting the matinees. But there are too many loud, punk kids in the theater at night so a wheelbarrow full of cash wouldn’t help me there, either. And don’t tell me that if I was loaded I could buy the large popcorn. I don’t do popcorn at movies. It’s not that I’m grossed out by the “butter” that tastes like salted crank-case oil. I just hate it that you can only get the crank-case oil on the top handful of popcorn and the rest of it is bone dry. Tell me how you work that problem out, rich boy?

If I were a rich man I could always buy that fancy albacore canned tuna instead of the ghetto, lower grade stuff, but I don’t really like tuna much. I only buy it because it keeps forever just in case a hurricane hits Seattle or I come home drunk and hungry and there is absolutely nothing else to eat besides a can of tuna. If I come home drunk and hungry and there is absolutely nothing else to eat besides canned tuna I probably won’t give a shit if it is fancy albacore tuna or the low-grade crap. Being rich is turning out to be a lot less interesting than I thought.

I was waiting until I hit it big before I fixed my car radio but I broke down and took care of that. I didn’t want to miss any of the thrilling games of the dead-last Seattle Mariners. I guess with a million dollars I could get my car painted but what is the use? It will just get dinged-up being parked on the street. Even if I had a million dollars I wouldn’t piss it all away on a paint job for a car that is just going to get bumped repeatedly by soccer moms going to see the Space Needle.

I could finally pay the $11 and go to the top of the Space Needle after over five years of literally living in its shadow. Now it has sort of reached the point where I just want to be able to say that I’ve never been up to the top of the Space Needle. I think that I’ll save that experience for the end of my life. I’ll wait until the very end of my stay here on earth and then I’ll pay the $11 for the elevator ride, or whatever the price will be when adjusted for inflation. I’ll ride up, step out of the elevator, I’ll say, “Man, what a view,” and then I’ll croak. I think that I’ll be able to manage that without being a millionaire.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Superstore Haj

For the past few months I have been looking at a full-page ad for a huge electronics superstore that runs daily in the Seattle paper. The superstore lies somewhere out in suburbia. There is a map to the store in the ad. The map means nothing to me, as I have never been on that particular stretch of highway. It is in or near a city whose location I couldn’t say is north, south, east, or west of where I live in downtown Seattle. I have never been compelled to drive anywhere just to make a purchase. If I want something I walk or ride my bike downtown and buy it, but I kept looking at the ridiculously low prices in the superstore’s ad.

How could I sit idly by in my urban smugness while spindles of 100 recordable CD’s are being sold for under ten dollars? A five megapixel digital camera goes for $297! Who cares that I don’t know what the fuck a megapixel is, this is just too cheap to pass up. Laptop computers for $649 and software packages for $0, yes $0, after rebates.

On some days I simply ignored the ad. On other days I felt vulnerable, I felt that perhaps my laptop needed more umpf, more power, more memory; I had to have more something, damn it, and I didn’t want to pay a lot of money for it. My normally anti-consumerist façade withered under the daily onslaught of $24 wireless routers and 160 gigabyte hard drives for $59 (after rebates).

What held me back for so long was the frightening suburban address. I would have to go by car to trade my legal tender for obscenely low-priced electronic gadgets. I asked people around me if they had ever been to this strange and wonderful place in the suburbs. No one I talked to had actually been there but they all had second-hand accounts of wondrous purchases made by friends of friends, their lives made fuller and more meaningful by prices well below the suggested manufacturers’ retail. Fear of driving denied me the superstore’s low prices and insanely large selection. Fear of driving kept me huddled in my urban bunker of high prices and complete absence of mail-in rebates.

But what if I went with someone else, what if I used the buddy system to find this suburban Mecca of high tech wizardry? One intrepid bargain-hunter may be defeated by a maze of suburban freeways and interchanges but surely two college-educated shoppers could make it to the pot of gold at the end of this asphalt rainbow. I grabbed a thick wad of cash and drove out of my inner-city over-priced ghetto.

It was raining, so the traffic was more of a mess than usual, and it is usually awful. It was also the one day that the superstore didn’t run its full-page ad with the map so we had no idea where we were going. I was vectored in via cell phone by a superstore ground traffic controller. 45 minutes later the superstore appeared like a vision, a vision with plenty of free parking. As we walked inside we resisted the urge to high five each other. I was focused on one thing: An external hard drive for my music-gorged laptop.

A group of attractive young female employees welcomed us as we entered. I think they were the superstore solid gold dancers. I was directed to the external hard drives by one of the five thousand or so employees of the superstore. Within minutes of entering the superstore I had a 160 gig external hard drive under my arm; but why stop there?

To make this already too-long story shorter, let me cut to the end. As I walked around in electronic wonderland I realized that I had lived this long without the appliance under my arm and that I could live a little longer without it. I put the hard drive back on the shelf. With the $227 I saved by not buying the hard drive I bought a $10 toaster and a DVD of The Godfather. I watched the movie last night and the DVD is damaged. There is no fucking way I would ever go back to electronic Mecca to return the DVD so I’ll just write it off as learning a lesson about trying to save a few bucks by going to a soulless superstore in suburbia to shop. I haven’t used the toaster yet.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The War in Iraq

Like most of the other stuff I put up on this page, this essay is more for myself than for public viewing. I just want to be able to look back and be able to read how I felt at a given moment. Ten years from today I will know that I was totally against this war. I think that history will prove once again that war was an extremely poor choice in dealing with a political challenge. I wrote this essay in about twenty minutes and I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t the most articulate argument I have ever posted. I have opposed this war from the beginning. It seems obvious that it has been a disaster that has caused the stature of the United States to plummet around the world.

We are more than a year and a half into the war in Iraq. The fighting is now worse than ever, to the point where we seem to have lost control over Baghdad itself. American contractors are being poached at a rate of several every week, and any Iraqis showing the least bit of cooperation with the U.S. occupation have put themselves in grave danger. American soldiers definitely don’t have it very easy, but it’s an all volunteer army, right? Just how we will be able to continue this occupation without a draft goes beyond my concepts of what citizenship is all about.

This war didn’t bring a lot of surprises for me. I was against it from the beginning for the same reasons I am now. I never believed Iraq or Hussein were much of threat to the U.S. I never believed that terrorism has been much of a threat. I have always felt that the war on terrorism should have been waged almost exclusively on a clandestine front. That is assuming that we had a working intelligence organization in this country, which we don’t. We should be reading things in the paper like, “Osama bin Laden and 30 of his top lieutenants died last night in what is thought to be of natural causes,” instead of hearing that 50 more U.S. soldiers have died already this month in the lost cause which is Iraq.

This war has shown our weaknesses and our strengths. It has shown that our intelligence organizations are completely incompetent. We should have prevented 9-11 from ever happening and we didn’t. We were ill-informed on the whole question of weapons in Iraq. The Abu Gharib prison scandal was entirely the fault of our intelligence community. Any fucking idiot knows that torture and abuse yield lousy intelligence, yet they pursued this course in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I never thought the invasion was a good idea but after we sat back and allowed Iraq to be looted in the first weeks after the fall of Baghdad I knew that the neo-cons running the war didn’t give a shit about rebuilding Iraq. These same architects of war were not the least bit concerned with rebuilding Afghanistan after we removed the Taliban. They have displayed the same lack of focus in rebuilding Iraq except where matters of oil are concerned. If you read the papers you will see that we are doing poorly on both fronts.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is constantly being asked what he would do in Iraq. What he would do? It wasn’t his idea to invade a sovereign, predominantly Muslim nation. What is Bush’s plan? It was his idea. Bush doesn’t mention anything beyond childish pipe dreams of instilling democracy and freedom n Iraq. I don’t have any figures on this but suppose 90% of Iraqis don’t want us in their country. How can we shove freedom down their throats?

I would guess that the standing orders for U.S. troops in Iraq are to lay low and stay in their compounds until after the election so as not to incur heavy casualties that will make Bush look bad. I think this is why we are seeing a lot more air strikes lately as they can be carried out with not much risk to U.S. personnel. Iraqi civilian casualties have never been the slightest concern to most Americans.

We are going to lose in Iraq, make no mistake about that. Kill one insurgent and you create 10 terrorists as one Iraqi recently said. At this point I think the only way we can restore order in Iraq is by using a very heavy-handed military approach tantamount to genocide. A better solution is just to leave Iraq which seems politically impossible at this late stage of the game. We will leave, and when we do Iraq will spiral into chaos. Of course, it would be easy to consider the situation there as already being chaotic.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Nothing Funny About Gun Control?

WASHINGTON – As the clock counts down on the decade-old ban on selling and buying assault weapons, gun manufacturers’ phones have been ringing off the hook. “People are excited. They’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” said one gun maker.

Who are these people who get “excited” about guns? Do they love guns? If you love guns then I guess it’s safe to say you are a gun nut. Excuse me; can you please point your laser sight somewhere else besides in my face? What is that you say? It isn’t loaded? Yes, we are all Americans and as an American it will soon be our legal right, once again, to own AK-47’s, a TEC-9 handguns, and Street Sweeper shotguns. I’m sure the gun fanatic people are all law abiding citizens, if by law abiding you mean that they have never been caught. After they get these new assault weapons you can bet that if they are ever caught they will never be taken alive.

Liberals say that there is no need for these weapons, that they serve no purpose for hunters or sport shooters. No purpose? Have you ever been rabbit hunting? Let me tell you something about rabbits. There is nothing in nature more dangerous than a wounded rabbit. A wounded rabbit will keep coming at you. A wounded rabbit will never quit, ever. Maybe a thrill seeker like you would want to take insane risks by using a standard hunting rifle but when I’m out for rabbits I want a Colt AR-15 with a 30 round magazine and a MAC-10 in my holster just for back-up. I’ll be able to sleep at night knowing that grenade launchers will be legal once again.

Even if you do put down a rabbit with your wimpy firearm there are other dangers out there. While you are patting yourself on the back for the fine shot you made and reloading, you could be attacked by other members of the rodent family. With my Galil assault rifle I can take out everything in a fifty meter perimeter around the rabbit. Weasels, squirrels, chipmunks, gophers, ground hogs, you name and I’ll make sure they are neutralized. Children play in these woods; doesn’t that mean anything to you?

Assault weapons with folding stocks, flash suppressors, bayonet mounts, over-sized magazines, protruding pistol grips, and grenade launchers will make our parks safe once again for all of us. This past decade we have conceded our forests to the rodents. People like me have been too terrified to enter any wooded area. Hell, I won’t even leave the house these days. The liberals haven’t given us the fire power necessary to defend ourselves. That is all going to change tonight at midnight when the Assault Weapon ban expires. It’s going to be open season on a menace that has had all of us bent over a proverbial stump with our pants around our ankles since the Crime Bill passed in 1994. It’s time to stand up, pull up our pants, and take aim on these sodomizing vermin. The good news is that with an assault weapon you don’t need to aim, just point and spray, and like they say in the NRA literature, “Let God sort them out.”

Too good for the comments box;

I think I'm figuring out something about the American male psyche, Lefty: The appearance of function - often comically exagerrated - is more important than function itself.

So the entirely functional, cheap and rugged Jeep is replaced by the expensive, too-big-for-that-alleyway Hummer. Fit, attractive- but small-breasted - women are ignored while their sisters sporting gravity-defying plastic boobs straight out of a Warner Bros. cartoon get ogled mercilessly.

So how, Lefty, in that climate of excess can you expect to defend your home and property with something as unmanly as a .38 revolver? You can't. The way to protect the ones you love and the stuff you love even more is - as Hollywood has instructed us over and over again - to strip to the waist, oil up your torso and mount the porch of your house with a howitzer barrel cradled in your ropy forearm, spewing a barrel flame the size of a kerosene-dipped flaming cat every time you pull the trigger.

Kevin M.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Finding Your Inner Child

FINDING YOUR INNER CHILD MAY SCARE THE LIVING CRAP OUT OF YOU

I love kids. I always have. I love kids but I’m going to tell you something about them that is going to freak you out. I am going to tell you something about your children that will rock the very foundation of the way in which young people are perceived in this country. Here is the secret: Little kids see dead people. It’s true; I saw it in a movie.

Think about that the next time you see one of those “cute” yellow school buses drive by packed with “cute” kids. Study their faces as they look out at the world. All this time you have thought that the kids on the bus were making crazy faces at you. That’s what kids do, right? Wrong. Kids are making crazy faces because they are freaked the fuck out over the zombie that is walking beside you that you can’t see but they can.

All this time we as adults have assumed that kids have these wonderful imaginations that makes them do the wild things that kids do. That isn’t it at all. Watch a group of kids playing and try to envision the living dead that surround them. You’d be doing wild and imaginative things, too, if you were side-stepping creatures from beyond the grave. Where ever you find irrational, erratic behavior, brain-dead, flesh-eating zombies are not far away.

Why do you think that kids cry for no reason? Do you think it might be because of the dead guy walking next to you holding a severed limb? Seeing something like that might upset me if I could see it. Have you ever noticed that kids never run in a straight line? That would be because they are dodging the zombies—a fun game if you don’t have a problem with zombies. Personally they give me the creeps and I’ve never even seen one.

I don’t ever remember seeing dead people when I was a kid so I don’t know if this is a relatively new phenomenon of if we just forget about it when we get older. Maybe we just block it out of our memories like other bad things from childhood, like being an obnoxious little shit for about ten solid years. I vaguely remember being an obnoxious little smart-ass, I just don’t recall many of the details.

There is supposed to be some way that you can cure kids so they stop seeing dead people, but I walked out of the movie early like I always do if I’m bored and don’t feel like investing two hours in a dumb story. It is kind of like how most of you haven’t kept reading this far. It is a real time saver just to stop some activity that is a total waste of your time which is why I always leave the best for last in my essays. You cold stop reading but then you’d miss it. I won’t be doing that today because this is the end.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Local Hero

LOCAL HERO: AN INSPIRING SPORTS STORY FOR THE AGES

This story begins back during my senior year of high school. I had been struggling with a four year battle with drugs and alcohol…no, wait, that was my senior year of college. That’s another story for another day. It was the end of the football season my senior year at Riverdale High School. I was the star tailback or halfback or whatever the fuck you call the guy who throws the ball and who gets to date the head cheerleader, or president of the cheerleaders, or cheerleader captain, or whatever the hell you call her. She was beautiful—and stacked. So that was me. I was really popular, too. You can ask anyone.

I hadn’t been playing well since the accident. If you want to get totally technical, it wasn’t really an accident but that’s the story I’m sticking with. “My story” has kept me out of jail this long so I’d be an idiot to admit to anything else at this stage of the game. Anyway, where was I? The accident or whatever you choose to call it affected my play on the diamond or the gridiron; I’m losing my train of thought here.

So like I said, I was dating the cheerleading queen that year. We were out one night and we had been drinking. Not like the drinking on the epic level that I would later do in college but that’s another story—let’s just say that we had a good buzz on. There were other cheerleaders and football players with us on account of how enormously popular I was back then.

We decided to go to a drive-in movie, me and what’s-her-face the general manager of all the cheerleaders. I really, really loved her. Anyway, I locked her in the trunk of my convertible so I wouldn’t have to pay for her to get in the drive-in movie. I know that sounds mean but it’s totally standard procedure for hick kids. What I failed to remember at the time was that there was already a body in my trunk, but that’s definitely another story. The body had been there for a couple weeks because I was so busy with football practice that I didn’t have time to dump it in the quarry like I was instructed to do by that fat Russian guy I did odd jobs for back then. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not perfect. A guy screws up once and he hears about it forever.

Evidently, decomposing bodies give off a lot of methane, which isn’t exactly good for people to breathe. I think that’s how she passed away but it’s not like we had an autopsy or anything because once I realized what had happened I made a b-line for the quarry and there were two splashes instead of one, if you get my drift.

So you can imagine what losing your girlfriend and being about a half step away from an FBI investigation did to my football career. I think you will all agree that I had every right to be a little distracted. Just because I started dating her best friend the very same night of the “accident” doesn’t mean that it didn’t hurt me to lose her. I’m really sensitive about losing people close to me even when it is about 99% my fault that they died in the first place. Sometimes that even makes me feel worse. And let me tell you, an FBI investigation is never fun.

We had barely made it into the state championship game against Springfield High. It came down to the last play of the game. I threw a long pass and then I ran deep into the end zone and waited for it to come down. It was like slow motion. In the movie version they actually used slow motion which made it look really real for me.

So we won State that year and my case was thrown out of court for lack of evidence. Sometimes I wish that I could go back to those simpler, care-free times.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Get a Room!

GET A ROOM!

There they are, right across from you, a not-very-good-looking middle aged couple who act like they just learned how to make out. You can try to ignore them but they are right there. At times like these I wish that I had a little weapon that I think might pull the couple apart. At times like these you need a curious seven year old kid. Little kids are totally shameless about staring at people.

Some woman was downtown shopping the other day in a wheel chair. She had some sort of funky erector set contraption holding her head up, but I didn’t get a good look at it because I politely looked away. Not this little boy who was a few feet from his parents. Unrestrained by adult concepts of politeness he allowed himself a good long look. Hell, he could have drawn diagrams. He was staring at the woman so intently that you could practically see the thought balloon above his head saying, “What the fuck!”

I wish I had that kid now because I would have him go over to the humping couple, stand two feet away, and stare a hole through them. Maybe a little kid staring right at them, along with a few poignant little kid questions (Mister, why your finger there?) would be enough to encourage the endless-love couple to get a room.

You can never find an obnoxious little kid when you really need one so the four of us will just sit here and try to enjoy our dinner. “I wonder how many weeks before the election the Republicans will pull Osama bin Laden out of their hat or decide to put Saddam Hussein on trial...Oh for the love of God, I wish someone would turn a hose on those two. GET A ROOM!”

The plates are cleared and we finish our wine. We’ve been here for over an hour and the humping couple was going at it before we sat down. They are still going at it. The only explanation for their behavior is that maybe he took one of her estrogen pills by mistake. Here they are making out, waiting for his Viagra to kick in but instead he is growing breasts or whatever it is that estrogen does for men. If we listened closely we would probably hear him saying things like, “Nope, I still don’t feel a thing, nada, zilch.” But they persevere--these two are not quitters.

Somehow you think that if they did have a room their actions wouldn’t get beyond PG-13 standards so they are just saving themselves a few bucks by making themselves a public nuisance. We finally get up to leave and they are still doing their impersonation of a coed hockey fight.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Fantasy Island

WELCOME TO FANTASY ISLAND (FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE USA)

I am constantly being told by Bush supporters that they think he is a good man. How they have come to this conclusion is a mystery to me. Apparently it is a mystery to them because they stutter and grope for an explanation when asked to explain his goodness. All I can see of our president is a self-serving child of privilege who has sought with every public move of his career to strengthen the position of those already wealthy and connected in America. Bush struts around on a pretend ranch like Marie Antoinette in her fake farm at Versailles, as he tries to live out his fantasy that he is a regular, hard-working guy.

He showed a complete lack of magnanimity as president after an election that he didn’t win. His style of governing, which completely lacks compromise, he calls having the power of his convictions. Although he clearly lost the popular election by a half million votes, he rules as if he won a mandate from the people. In the words of Gil Scott Heron: Mandate My Ass.

He has called the fat tick of American society--our top 1%--“job creators.” Bush has given them more of an advantage to amass even greater riches at the expense of the bottom 25% of the populace. The jobs the American elite are creating for the most part are not enough to lift a lot of people out of poverty, as those ranks swelled by 1.4 million last year. The Bush plan of creating a culture of ownership points to a society where the top 1% do a whole lot of the owning. U.S. citizens in the lower 25% income have seen their wages drop by 16% over the past 25 years while working longer hours with less time off for vacation than any industrialized nation.

The biggest Republican fantasy is that most people I know who admit to being Republican also think that they got to where they are today by their own hard work and determination. They have forgotten about the public aid they received. They can’t remember the inexpensive and high quality public education they were offered. They have a collective sense of amnesia concerning their own upbringing in working class households with good, stable union jobs. My own childhood neighborhood was made up almost entirely of union workers. Every family I knew had health insurance, stay-at-home mothers, stability, and almost every family owned their own home.

The Republicans now view public entitlements as fit only for parasites, those citizens not capable of making it ow their own hard work and gumption. Welfare is only for the lazy and indigent. They have forgotten that probably the single greatest leap in the prosperity of this nation came after our soldiers returned from WWII. The government granted them the G.I. Bill to get a college education and Veterans Administration guaranteed loans to buy houses. My own father took advantage of both of these welfare programs.

So many of us today live in a fantasy world in which we believe an SUV is a necessity for the outdoorsy lifestyle we live even though most SUV owners never actually drive off-road. We live in a fantasy world in which we don’t think that driving fuel efficient automobiles is cool or necessary. We attach status symbols to horse power instead of mileage. John Kerry calls his energy plan “The great challenge of this generation,” the challenge of weaning ourselves from Middle East oil which Republicans would probably view as fantasy. Kerry’s plan will call for sacrifice, innovation, and a return to alternative energy plans scraped 20 years ago by Ronald Reagan, a president who saw things like solar power as fantasy or science fiction. The Republicans’ fantasy is to continue with an ever-increasing level of consumption with no thought to the consequences, with no thought to the future.

The most absurd Republican fantasy of all is the War on Terror or Terrorism or whatever it is they are calling it this week. They say that the war is of paramount importance to the survival of America, that it is a war of good versus evil, that it is a desperate struggle with an enemy both vast and far-reaching. This is being told to us by a group of men who never fought in battle and then swallowed hook, line, and sinker by a constituency who, for the most part, are choosing not to serve in the military or send their children to fight in the Middle East. I love the words of one 25 year old chicken hawk who claims to be a Republican who strongly supports the war but says that he doesn’t want to drop out of school to enlist. He said he might get the “bug” later. This is a war of good versus evil yet he needs to get a “bug” to actually participate?

I only hope that enough American voters will reject the Republican fantasy and help this country return to the conservative values of cooperation, sacrifice, taking care of all of our citizens, and tolerance.

Friday, September 03, 2004

A Peacefull Demonstration

There will be no death or destruction in today’s essay. No animals will be harmed in the production of the 500 or so words you are about to read. It has been a long time since over 250,000 cheery teenagers were killed for the sake of a few laughs on this page, but I haven’t completely renounced violence as a comedic tool. While I have sworn off of abject genocide, I realize that a dead bird here, an electrocuted beautician there starts to add up to a sizeable body count if I write every day. I have decided to remain prolific in my writing without being profligate when it comes to beings, both human and otherwise.

I have decided that when I sit down at the computer to write an essay I will always have in mind, “How would Gandhi write this?” Gandhi was the father of non-violent protest, a man who refused to harm even a fly. I will emulate the spirit of this man of peace in my essays. There is a funny paradox about Gandhi. He was a completely non-violent man—eveyone knows this—but he hated cats. True story: One day I was driving behind Gandhi down 2nd Avenue on the way to work when I watched him actually drive up on the sidewalk to run over a stray cat. The man was an absolute saint—hated cats.

I happen to like felines so you will never see me purposely drive up on the curb to do harm to a cat. Perhaps I should ditch this Gandhi kick I’ve been on lately—dirty cat-hater. I need to find another peaceful model for my writing. There must be a way to write so as to demonstrate effectively without throwing a rhetorical brick through the plate glass window of a Starbucks, because property damage—even to a Starbucks—is also a form of violence.

You are probably asking why I don’t emulate the Dali Lama in my style of writing. Only someone who hasn’t heard the Lama’s nightclub act would ask that. Although a man of peace, he has without a doubt the foulest mouth on the comedy circuit today. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Lama is funny as fuck; I just don’t work that way myself.

A whole lot of carnage has taken place here at Leftbanker in the name of humor. I can’t undo any of it; I can only apologize and try to evolve into a more caring, more compassionate essayist. I will seek to uplift where I once sought to offend. I will focus only on the beauty of the world and avert my eyes from ugliness. Why write about a dead bird when eagles proudly soar overhead? Instead of slouching through alleyways I will skip merrily down sunny lanes. There is certainly no crime in skipping. I would venture to say that no one has ever skipped to, or away from the scene of a crime.

From now on I’m going to continue with biting social satire but I’m going to do it in such a cheerful manner so as to make Kathie Lee Gifford look like the Grim Reaper. You want feel-good? I can do feel-good. You want puff pieces? I’ll puff your brains out.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Every Day is a Good Hair Day

I have an announcement to make to my readers. I have kept this a secret for many reasons with one of the main reasons being that I don’t wish to provoke jealousy or give any of you the irrational idea that you could have what I have. Give it up, people, you just have to live with what you were born with and that’s that. It isn’t as if I asked for this and, to be perfectly honest with you, sometimes it is a curse. So don’t be too upset that you don’t have what I have. I have fucking beautiful hair; ask anyone who knows me.

I try to boost the confidence of other people who don’t have my natural gifts in the hair department. Just the other day I caught one of the young personal trainers at my gym primping in the mirror in the locker room. I sneaked up behind him and said, “You have beautiful hair.” He about jumped out of his skin. Compliments on your hair or any other body part are things you just don’t want to hear in a men’s locker room.

Having beautiful fucking hair comes with a heavy price tag. Sure, I was born with a wonderful gift but maintenance is both time consuming and tough on the pocket book. I spend $400 a week on my hair, not including shampoo, conditioner, root lifter, spritzer, mousse, spray, gel, and pomade. The $400 is just what I spend at the beauty parlor that I go to five days a week. They are closed on weekends. This may seem like a lot of money until you see my hair. When you see my hair you will agree that this is money well-spent; I’d call it a bargain.

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that having great hair is no big deal if you can afford to shell out $400 a week. Do you actually think that I just write a check and “poof,” I have great hair? Think again, morons. It takes an incredible amount of work to have what I have. Most of you wouldn’t have the stomach to put up with what I put up with to have hair like mine. And besides, I don’t write a check; I do direct deposit.

Every weekday, rain or shine, I get up at 5 a.m. and make the one hour commute up north to Dolores’ Academy of Beauty and Nails. Dolores has been dead for years so Irma has been doing my hair since Dolores’ was electrocuted by a shorted-out hair dryer. So Irma washes and conditions my hair before my daily styling. When everything is perfect I go and sit under a dryer with the rest of the girls. This is the difficult part because you have to remain absolutely still for exactly one hour. I pass the time by gossiping and catching up with current affairs in People and The National Enquirer. I, like all of the other clients of Dolores’ Academy of Beauty and Nails, am an information freak.

I know it sounds exhausting, and it is. But when I walk out of that little corner of the strip mall I can walk with my head held up high because I know that I have fucking beautiful hair.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Dead Bird (a eulogy)


There is a dead bird in the alley by my apartment. How did you meet your end, dead bird? Perhaps you went naturally, maybe in your sleep. Do birds sleep? Maybe you got a little too intimate with a power transformer and fried out your randy innards? Perhaps you were brought down by a child’s slingshot? Your tragic demise was mere entertainment for a bored child. As pointless as that death may have been it’s better than thinking that some homeless guy killed you for food.

You had to take the easy road in life of eating out of dumpsters and begging for French fries at the hamburger joint up the street. Maybe you were the first bird to die of heart disease—nice going, dead bird. You probably didn’t even bother building a nest or doing any other bird-like endeavors in your city-dwelling life. I’ll bet that you just laid your eggs in a trash can. Nothing like rushing the kids out of the house before the garbage truck comes around on Tuesday. “I hear the truck coming, kids. It’s time you learned how to fly.” Great parenting skills, dead bird. You were a credit to the species.

Dead bird, you are still lying there. Dead bird, you are still dead and you’ve been rotting there for weeks. Dead bird, you are really grossing me out. I think I’ll walk a different way tomorrow.

Thank you for teaching me so much about life and death, dead bird. Out of gratitude I almost picked you up and put you in the dumpster, but fuck that. Dead birds freak me out because of all the diseases you guys carry. Like I’m going to risk getting West Nile Fever just to do you a favor. I don’t even know you. If you had died out in the woods like a normal bird you would be peacefully covered in leaves by now instead of sitting there in the alley in a feathery, greasy wad. There is no one to blame but yourself.

I hope that when I leave this world I don’t leave behind a rotting carcass in the alley that will be seen by people taking a short-cut to the coffee shop. I haven’t been too obsessed with dignity in my life—everyone who knows me can back me up on that statement, I once parted my hair in the middle—but I wouldn’t mind a few shreds of that dignity stuff when I die. If I am denied this final scrap of dignity will one of you please toss my carcass in the dumpster? It’s the right thing to do, people, and what goes around comes around. I’d do the same for you.