Thursday, April 28, 2005

Best New Blogger

There is an intelligent, funny and electrifying new blogger on the scene, and I highly suggest you check out her page, bookmark it, maybe leave a comment. Her entries have a common theme and don't cover a diverse group of topics, but she's still awesome, and yet refreshingly demure.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Apparently, I'm Worse Than I Thought

If you watch TV, you understand the following:

1. If you've been sad a couple of times the last week. Or month. Or year. You may be depressed. Or suffer from social anxiety disorder. Paxil will help. Didn't you know that? That little bouncing ball seems happier, doesn't s/he with some of those pills? Why not you? Look at the bouncing ball.

2. Heartburn? Once, maybe twice in the last year? You could be burning the lining of your esophagus. Nexium may be the way. Otherwise, the net time you swallow, the food could slip through a hole and bounce into your spleen or something. Are you listening?

3. Not sure about the size of your penis? There is a natural way to enhance that called Enzyte. Take it and, who knows, your wife may serve you ice tea with a bigger smile and your golf game may get better. Frankly, my submediocre golf game could use the boost. Otherwise, no comment.

According to a recent Washington Post story, a recent study has shown that doctors and patients are being influenced by drug company ads. The study concluded that patients who go into doctor's offices and describe the symptoms of depression may be told to try non-drug alternatives for treatment. But, the patients who describe the same symptoms and mention a particular drug (e.g., Paxil) they have heard about that may treat the condition are more likely to get a prescription for that drug.

It raises the question of whether (i) the drug company ads are bad because they lead to overprescription of drugs or (ii) these drugs are underprescribed because doctors and patients are unaware of their potential benefits.

As a naturalist, anti-medication sort, I tend to think the former, but it remains to be seen how the drug ads will ultimately affect the health of the nation (nevermind the drug companies' pecuniary benefits from these ads, which is obvious).


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

What Glorious Crap

I've really lacked interest in politics ever since, oh, I don't know, about 9 p.m. on November 2, 2004. So my posts here have instead concerned important matters like books about death,'s depressing opinion of me, and even, at the urging of my numerous fans, insights into my more personal, intimate side. And also how cool it would be if we all got together and played Dungeons and Dragons in live action.

I must, however, now make one small political point: If the Democrats cannot emerge within the next few months as a healed and vastly strengthened party, then they are hopelessly inept dolts and I will pledge my undying political support for Ross Perot. Let's do a quick, totally unresearched and half-assed review of what's been going on:

- Republicans, giddy-drunk with power, have gone overboard with a Social Security plan that makes the majority of Americans crap their pants.
- They're now pushing, relentlessly, to abolish the filibuster as to debate on judicial nominees, a "nuclear option" that even a majority of unsophisticated American cretins recognize is a bad idea.
- Tom Delay has, inexplicably, pulled back his cape and disclosed that he does indeed have knobby little horns, a forked tail, and breath bearing the rotten stench of the tortured souls he has eaten as sustenance in his rise to power. And he seems proud of this.
- The Shrub's approval ratings are sinking faster than rapidly sinking approval ratings. And they're doing so on nearly every issue.
- A gay male hooker was a White House press correspondent.
- Further entrenching the GOP as the party of homosexuals, the newswires are aflame with pictures of the Shrub having passionate gay sex with the Saudi Crown Prince. (Why else would two grown men be holding hands?)

Some of those points are more important than others. But here's a serious one: The Republican party is wallowing in its own excess, so slap-happy it is to finally have what it has always wanted in its bony little fingers -- total control of every branch of the U.S. government. They're behaving like dogs that eat and eat and eat until their stomachs are distended and they puke up partially digested Alpo. Just like a dog must be slapped away, or prodded with an branding iron, when he cannot stop himself, so too must the Republicans be dealt justice.

Do I trust the Democrats to capitalize on all this glorious crap? No. That's why I've prepared my Plan B: "Ross Perot: Don't Call It a Comeback. He's Been Here For Ears [sic]." The problem is that, in these soporific post-election months, no prominent Democrat wants to step forward and be the firebrand. Any Democrat who is interested in the presidency is hanging back, fearful that American cretins will have their fill of him or her too long before the presidential election cycle begins. Besides, there aren't any charismatic Democrats left.

Ross, take me away.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Mean Chimps

Once, when I was traveling in Quintana Roo in Mexico a few years ago, I thought long and hard about stealing a spider monkey from an animal sanctuary. Not because I am some sort of animal activist who wanted to liberate animals held in captivity. No, it was because of the brief, intense friendship I'd developed with Tina.

I had just survived almost being choked to death by a python (the picture of it around my next was not worth it), and was already on edge, when this furry, small creature swooped down from the trees and straight into my arms.

"She really likes you," Manuel the guide said. And he was right. Once she had swung into my arms, she refused to let go. She wrapped her arms around me and buried her head into the crook of my right arm. Sandy, one part of the lesbian couple that had given me a ride to the sanctuary, tried in vain to wrestle Tina from me. Sandy didn't say much to me after that.

I briefly explored my options for escaping with Tina. I could probably run through the teenage crocodile pen to my right, hop the low fence beyond it and run through the bog a couple of miles until I hit the north-south highway between Cancun and Belize. It was early morning and chilly; the crocs were lethargic and wouldn't have the juice to attack. I'd actually held a two year old only croc twenty minutes earlier, and it was pretty chill.

Once clear of the sanctuary, Tina and I would hang out together, traveling around Mexico for another week or so. Then, I'd hide her under a baggy sweatshirt before boarding the plane and sneak her into the States. The plan was reckless and romantic.

Manuel pulled out a banana, and my friendship with Tina was over as fast as it began. She took the banana and then took off up a tree.

Its probably not a bad thing I never ran off with Tina. I was in San Diego most of last week, and the big local story there was about a decision not to press charges after a vicious chimpanzee attack that happened last month. A couple was bringing a birthday cake for their former pet chimp Moe (who was at the sanctuary because he'd bitten a woman's finger off when he lived with the couple), when they were attacked by two adolescent chimps that were jealous of the attention Moe was getting. Some details about the story stand out:

  • The viciousness of attack: Apparently chimpanzees have three times the strength that humans do. That's suprising to me, because they seem so slim, cute and sinewy to me. I would have thought that while they could outdo me when it came to tree climbing, I could probably kick a chimp's ass. Wrong. Knowing that explains how the victims injuries could be so severe. St. James Davis had his face half bitten off, his foot bitten off, his fingers all bitten off and his balls ripped off. His wife LaDonna had a finger bitten off. St. James is in an induce coma to manage the pain while doctors still labor to save him.
  • The stupidity of the victims: What happened to the Davis's is obviously sad and tragic. But, some parts of the story seem incredulous to me. Apparently, the attacking chimps (Buddy and Ollie) started thrashing LaDonna first. St. James heroically pushed his wife under a table to save her. But, then, according to some news accounts, St. James tried to reason with the chimps. Reason? "Listen Buddy and Ollie, calm down. There is plenty of cake for evertyone." If a bunch of angry chimps were attacking me, I wouldn't be trying to use logic with them. I'd be grabbing rocks, throwing punches or kicks, anything to scare them off. A chimp may be three times as strong as me, but I am pretty sure I am a better boxer, which might give me an advantage (remember the "Rumble in the Jungle?" Foreman was clearly stronger than Ali.). I am not sure that Buddy or Ollie would know how to handle a good jab.

Now, Tina was nicer and didn't seem the jealous type, so maybe she wouldn't have freaked out like these chimps. And, she was a monkey and not an ape (as chimps are), so maybe there are some behavioral differences. Although a van I was driving in when in Tanzania many years ago was once attacked by a bunch of angry, rock-throwing baboons (which are monkeys), so who knows. Chimps are clearly not meant to be emotionally fucked with or reasoned with or kept as pets by lay people; they are meant to chill in the wild or or star as lovable sitcom sidekicks.

Friday, April 22, 2005

A Horrifying Trauma

Here's the scene: You are at an ethnic restaurant. It doesn't matter which kind, as long as the menu includes words that you cannot pronounce confidently. You are with a group of people you work with. The waitress takes some orders and makes her way to you. Looking at you expectantly, she asks, "What can I get you, sir?" You have a choice. Do you stumble through the difficult-to-pronounce italicized foreign words, thereby risking humiliation in front of the native-speaking waitress and, perhaps, your more worldly colleagues? Or do you stick with the convenient English translations helpfully provided after the foreign words, possibly revealing yourself to be a culture-less cretin who watches football and burps? What do you do? What do you do?

As difficult as it is to believe, I faced such a horrifying situation two days ago. (Condolences may be posted below.) It was a Mexican restaurant, but not a restaurant where your choices were "taco," "burrito," or "enchilada." No. The choices included words like "ceviche" and "cochinita" and "zarape" and "camarones" and … My god, I want a hamburger.

I chose English, ordering a "shrimp salad" instead of an "ensalada de camarones." Some of my colleagues fought gamely through the italicized foreign words. But here's the part that really struck me: Whichever choice the orderer made, the waitress would repeat the order back the other way. In other words, if you ordered the "pressed chicken sandwich," the waitress would say, "Oh, the torta de pollo con mole. Excellent choice." But, if you ordered the "en-chee-lah-duh duh poy-yo," the waitress said, "Oh, the chicken enchilada. Terrific."

Either way, her response was calculated to make us feel stupid. If we tried to say the foreign words, her English translation effectively told us, "You just butchered those words so badly that I must now speak to you like a small child. Good boy." If we used the English translation, her translation back to Spanish implied, "You dumbass American, can't you even try to respect the culture that created the foods you are about to shove down your super-sized gullet?"

So, basically, I was depressed for the rest of the day. Full of camarones, but depressed.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Year Book Signatures

I used to feel kind of cheap going around and asking people to sign my yearbook. Often, it was a numbers game, where you were trying to get as many signatures as possible. Consequently, you had no idea what people would say in the official record of your school year. My big ego and fear of what people actually thought of me made this a terrifying experience. Continuing on the "showing more of myself in the blog" meme, I give you a sample of signtaures/notes from my class yearbooks:

1983/4 (3rd/4th grade)

  • "Don't be dum nex yeare." The irony aside, this guy had the coolest cough in the class. A deep, chesty, vibrato cough. I think he had asthma. We used to chase him around with sticks just to hear it.
  • "Joseph K is the BEST." My healthy sense of self and ability to judge talent was apparent early on.
  • "L.J. is the BEST." Nonsense from my unoriginal, delusional best friend at the time.

1984/5 (5th grade)

  • "It's nice to know there are friend's like you." Who was teaching grammar at this school?
  • "Thanks for being a good friend." I wonder if he would have written that if he knew that I used to fantasize about making out with his twin sister.

1986/87 (6th grade)

  • "To a friend who shares a fascist mind with my commie mind." I don't think either of us knew what those ideologies were, but that they sounded cool. Not as cool as being anti-triclavianists. But, still cool.
  • "To Joseph K, tu es 'un sourire' dans la classe. Tu es tres intelligent et quelquefois un petit peu embetant. Mais, je suis tres contente d'avoir fait la connaissance de cet eleve genial." This was from my french teacher. Just between you an me, I think she had a 'thing' for me.
  • "Your ugly face and big mouth has made this year more exciting." This was the same guy who made the comment a few years before about not being dumb the next year. I think he had a 'thing' for me.
  • ""Joseph K, I really don't know you very well. But thanks for saying stupid things to me. I always loved your ties." This girl would later try to strangle me with her purse for reasons that escape me now.

1989/90 (11th grade)

  • "My future opinion page editor. And to think that I'll have to continue to put up with your bullshit journalism." Prior to becoming the opinion page editor, my friend N and me were the pollsters for our high school paper. We'd be dispatched to find out the buzz among the student body on important issues. Our polling technique was not scientific, per se. Basically, we go out during journalism class, play ping pong for the hour, and survey ourselves and the guy who loaned us the ping pong balls. A lot of "33% yes, 33% no and 33% not sure" results. There were many questions about the accuracy of our results. I got elected to the opinion page editor position, which is yet more evidence that democracy doesn't work.
  • "We gotta fight for de motherland. Keep fighting the invisible enemy." This guy was Dutch, and I am not. Who are Holland's invisible enemies? The Danes?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Yet Another Personality Test

I was talking with a friend about the blog, and she claimed that I don't really show much of myself in my blogging. She's right, but whatever. Fuck it. I carry emotions in my back pocket in real life, why should it be different here.

In any event, in an effort to show slightly more of who I am, I am passing along this cool, and somewhat accurate personality test. Here is my "type" as determined by the test:

free enneagram test

Take the test and let us know what enneagram you get.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Plant Life

Yesterday was my thirty-third birthday. Our primary celebratory activity was the planting of a tree in our miniscule front yard.

It's a Japanese maple, "bloodgood" cultivar. If any of the words following "It's a" in the preceding sentence made sense to you, then you are far beyond where I was 48 hours ago. I knew that trees are tall plants. I knew that there exist trees called maple trees, which are prized for their tasty syrup, which they extrude in the form of squeezable corpulent black women. I knew that on those rare moments when my feet are not on pavement, concrete, or brick, they are on a stain-causing and structurally unstable substance called "soil."

Here's my concern about the tree. My wife and I do not exactly have green thumbs. We barely have thumbs. A houseguest recently gave us a beautiful pot of pansies, blooming and firmly planted in a sample of the aforementioned "soil." My understanding was that these flowers would last more or less forever, as long as we watered them and potentially transplanted them into a larger amount of "soil." Well, that was a mistake. In the space of two weeks, the pansies have become droopy little wilted shreds. If they're not dead, they're in a persistent vegetative state. We found out that the houseguest who gave them to us is returning in a couple weeks, and we're in a scramble to determine what to do. Do we replace the pansies? Do we 'fess up to our ineptitude? Do we clock our guest over the head with the pot when she comes into our house, so she'll be unconscious and unaware of the plant's death?

The only plant I've ever had that had any significant lifespan was a three-inch cactus that I had in college. The beer-humidity in my room kept it alive and kicking, I suppose. That bad boy lasted a couple years.

Everything else green I touch dies. I stay away from people on St. Patrick's day.

So why the hell did we buy a tree? Not only did it cost over $100, but it is now inextricably tied to the event of my birthday. At my wife's request, I took some photos of it after we planted it. She wants to take pictures of it on each succeeding birthday, to track its growth. But here's what I see: On my 34th birthday, I'll go out there and snap some pictures that confirm little change. It will still be a sickly young plant fighting hard against the cruelties we will have imposed on it. On my 35th birthday, it will still be stunted in growth, and its branches will be falling away. On my 36th birthday, I'll be photographing kindling that has come to rest in a small pile in the "soil."

We named the tree Mabel. Poor Mabel. She has no idea what she's in for.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

My Assistant

W calls me Mr. K. I have told him many times that he can call me Joseph. In fact, I did it again the other day. "You know, you can call me Joseph." He didn't even look up from the video pinball game he was playing. He stuck out his arm, handed me a paper and said, "Sign this travel voucher, Mr. K." I signed it and tried to hand it back to him. He didn't stick his hand out to receive it. I left it on his desk.

I was actually pretty fortunate he'd done my travel prep and voucher. Until recently, he had been on "light duty" on his doctor's orders due to "stress." He's often out at doctor's appointments, at least once or twice a week. And, usually, they are scheduled the day after his band's gigs. When he was on light duty, he was only permitted to pick up phones. Since he doesn't pick up anyone's phone but his own as a matter of general course, he was effectively limited solely to talking to his friends while he was at work.

T, who sits next door to me and works with W too, made the unfortunate mistake of actually probing about the light duty assignment. I barely talk to T, but he has managed to slip in a lot of uncomfortable information about himself in the few conversations we've had over the years. "So, Joseph, a big Virginia fan? I remember the glory days wtih Ralph Sampson. My first wife left me for a plumber and told me when I was watching the Cavs take on Duke. Sampson scored something like 25 and had 11 rebounds that game. It was really something."

T's homelife still sucks. "The cherry blossoms are something, aren't they? I used take my daughter to see them every year. She doesn't talk to me anymore." While he was saying all that, I emailed a friend and asked him to call me. The phone rang just in time; T looked like he was about to cry. "T, I gotta get this."

Exploring the crevices of the bureacracy seems to be therapeutic for T. He actually went to W's supervisor and asked for further information about the light duty. W found out about it, and yelled with an unchecked fury (feeling that T was questioning the legitimacy of the change in duty). T is kind of a mild-mannered guy, but rose to the challenge ("I have a right to know whether this is authorized!" I thought it was kind of cute.). I thought they were going to kill each other. To my disappointment, the argument dissolved into non sequiturs and fizzled out.

The light duty wasn't a huge change from what W normally does. He generally spends most of the day on the phone. Sometimes at his desk, but he's usually on his Nextel pacing the halls. In fact, he's almost as elusive as the mythical yeti. He's so rarely at his desk, that those of us who work with him have to rely on a network of spotters around the office if you need something done immediately. One of us will send out a query that we are looking for W. When he's spotted, someone will say, "Quick, I saw him at the copy room on the north side." Then, you run off with the work you want to give him in hand. Usually, you are too late.

When he's walking around on the cell, he's usually talking to, laughing with, and yelling at Earl. Earl is in the band with W. Often, I feel like I am actually in a "Behind the Music" episode; W likes to pace and talk about band business on the cell right outside my office. The band is fraught with much internal strife and beef. From what I can gather from the conversations I hear, W's bandmates, particularly Earl, aren't too good about rehearsing. "Yeah, that motherfucker Earl was not only late, but was fucking up the notes. What? I can find a keyboard player anywhere, you know what I am saying? I don't need no motherfucking Earl. Hold on, I got someone on my other line. Earl? What the fuck was last night? Your grandmother is always fucking sick. She's old. We gotta think about the band and the future, dog. Listen, Earl, you sitting around with grandmother is not going to make her feel better and is not going to help you hit those notes."

W works for Banality Fair alum Cotton Mather as well. We nicknamed W "the General." Because for six months straight, he ordered General Tsao's every day. He never had a menu. He'd just open the phone book, calling nearby Chinese restaurants (changing it up for variety I suppose), and yell at the people on the other side of the phone. Actual conversation overheard: "No Tsao's? What kind of damn Chinese restaurant is this? What? Tsao's. I don't know. For me, it is Z-O-S, who the fuck knows. And throw in two orange sodas. Hello? Motherfucker." I wasn't completely surprised when I heard the General developed type 2 Diabetes recently.

A few months ago, T came into my office and said, "You heard what happened to W. It's really something." "Listen, T, I'm real busy." I was about to finish up a game of freecell. "I'll make this quick. You notice W hasn't been around." The General had been absent.


"Well, I was at the fax machine the other day, when there was this fax addressed to W. I thought I'd pick it up for him. So, I did, but not before I took a look at it. It was a picture of a baby sleeping surrounded by stuffed toys. With the words 'this is your son' written on the top."

"T, seriously --" Here it goes. His wife gave him syphillis or something.

"Wait. So, I hand it to W and say to him that he has a really cute son. W started tearing up and said the baby had been stillborn a year ago. He says, 'She's still trying to "f" with me.'"

Later that same day, I actually saw W at his desk. I gave a mailing I had to get out to another assistant to do for me.

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Literary Mafia

I received my first response from a literary magazine. The problem is that I can't tell what they are saying.

Last night, I didn't get home until after 10. My wife and I had gone to see a play. ("The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia." If you're interested in sitting around with 200 drooling octogenerians and watching people talk graphically and quite literally about fucking goats, that's your play.) We came home to the usual pile of mail slipped through our mail slot. The obsession about awaiting responses from literary magazines that I wrote about recently has largely given way to quiet resignation, so I mainly scanned the mail for bills or free stuff. Then I saw an envelope that looked eerily familiar. Yes, flower stamp. Yes, laser-printed address label addressed to me. Yes, literary magazine return address. My God! It was one of the SASEs I enclosed with my submissions.

I shoved my wife aside, scampered to the dining table, and ripped the envelope open. Inside, I found two pieces of paper: A photocopied subscription request form for the magazine, and the first page of my story. There was no handwriting on either. No note. No letter. I picked up the torn envelope and peered inside. Did I drop something? Was something stuck to the glue on the envelope? No.

I suddenly had the willies. Is there some kind of literary magazine code I'm unaware of? Does sending back the first page of your story mean something? The creepy feeling I was left with was approximately the feeling that Woltz must have had in the Godfather when he woke up and found his prized horse's head in his bed. Clearly, this was a message. They severed the head of my story and sent it back me. "Don't fuck with us, Stairs. We'll take your prized story and slice it to pieces. And by the way, want to subscribe?" I spent the rest of the evening looking over my shoulder, waiting for literary magazine thugs to bust through my door demanding my computer, which they would smash over a chair and tell me to stay off their turf.

So I'm not quite sure what to make of it. I assume they are done thinking about my story, since they used up the one SASE I provided. Perhaps the subtle message being sent, Coppola-style, was that my story doesn't fit with their vibe, and therefore I should buy a damn copy of the magazine and read it before submitting again. I don't know. But they're on my shit list now, and I won't be submitting to them again. That should teach them.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Poll Says: Prez Not Sexy

According to a recent Esquire poll of 11,000 women in 15 countries, President Bush rated -- on average -- a "2" on a 1 to 10 sexiness scale. Apparently, there wasn't a huge variance in the range of sexiness scores he got either, ranging from a rating of 1.4 from Dutch, German and Australian women to a high of 2.2 from Indonesian women. American women rated him somewhere in the middle.

This may get me banished from the Progressive Blog Alliance, but I am pretty shocked by the ratings. A "2?" That seems pretty low. A 5 would be basic sexiness to me (which would mean not smelling, not talking too much, etc.). A 2 means "repulsive." I am not sure where I'd rate. Maybe a 10 in Togo, because I am still convinced its not a real country so I can be as sexy as I wanna be in the eyes of these fantasy women.

Is it the looks? Like most heterosexual men, I have this view of other men's looks: (1) there are clearly handsome men (5-15%), (2) there are clearly ugly men (5-15%), and (3) the vast majority of men (70-90%) fall into a category I call "nondescript." These men may be attractive. They may be unattractive. They just don't stand out enough for me to expend the energy to make a call one way or the other. If asked to process or assess the way nondescripts look, my mind just says, "eh, fuck it. Sports. Hookers." I would put Bush in the nondescript category, perhaps on the high side, since even some very liberal women I know think he's good-looking. At the same time, some think he looks like a frog. Sports. Hookers.

Back to the larger issue: his resounding unsexiness. Maybe its his personality. He's a goofball. Some women find being a clown attractive, but I don't think they'd go so far as to call it "sexy." I stopped making fart jokes in high school when on dates, realizing a direct correlation between them and not getting laid.

Or maybe its not so sexy to invade countries on unsubstantiated claims. But, I don't know about this. Attila the Hun seemed to get a lot of chicks when he was thrashing most of Asia.

Agree with the survey results? Disagree? Thoughts?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Goat Head

You ever wonder about people that you meet only once but who left an impression on you? I was wondering the other day about this one kid I met ten years ago. I don't know what his name was, but let's call him Moses because he brought the truth.

When I met Moses, he was chewing on a cooked goat head. He was wearing a dirty bandage on his ear.

The goat head was from a barbeque we were having. There were twenty friends and me staying at a lakeside resort in East Africa, swimming, drinking, living. Earlier that day, I had been dispatched with a buddy of mine to go get meat for the barbeque. We drove around until we find this goatherd with a robust looking flock. We paid for a goat, and the goatherd told us to pick one. They all looked alike. One of them was kind of doing its own thing and had a bad attitude. We picked him because we thought he wouldn't be missed by the others. On the ride back to the resort, the goat was rather well-behaved. And pleasant. I think he actually laughed at one of my jokes. I turned to him at one point and said, "Its a shame we're going to have to eat you." He bleated and licked my hand. He tasted damn good.

Moses explained that his left ear got bitten off by a wild, marauding group of dogs as he had been sleeping on the beach the night before. The dogs had been terrorizing the resort that week we were there. I'd had first hand experience with them. A day earlier, my girlfried at the time and I had been walking hand-in-hand towards the beach, when the pack of crazy, rabid dogs (about ten of them) came charging right at us.

As I pondered how to protect us both, she wrenched her hand free and lept through a window of a building we had been standing near. She then shut it behind her and locked it. I stood staring at her in awe, as the dogs ran by, thankfully ignoring me. When she finally unlocked the window and climbed out, I asked her why she closed the window THEN LOCKED IT behind her as if the dogs would have otherwise opened the window, broken into the liquor stash, made martinis and then, eventually, have gotten her. She shrugged her shoulders. She wasn't very bright.

So, there he was, Moses. When we first saw him, he was earless, clearly very high and chewing on what little meat there was left on our goat (We later named the goat "Martyr." Marty for short. We missed him as much as we enjoyed Marty). The grease from the goat head dripping down Moses' chin.

We'd been playing truth or dare. About twenty of us. It was a scene and pretty out of control. Moses busted in, giggled a lot and just issued dares. All of which involved him demanding that the girls make out with him. The only one who took him up on it was my then girlfriend. When I asked her WHY SHE MADE OUT WITH A GREASY-LIPPED STRANGER, she just shrugged and said she thought that was what she was supposed to do. Again, she wasn't that bright. I never kissed her again.

At some point we lost track of Moses, and I never saw him again. I was talking with a friend of mine who had been there that summer evening when we hung with Moses. She knew him actually fairly well. She told me he died a couple of years ago. That made me sad.

Monday, April 11, 2005

True Or False?

Spiral Stairs and I were talking about the site last weekend, and we agreed that we would love it to be more interactive, with more comments and extended dialogues in the comments section. To facilitate that, I'll be starting a periodic feature we'll call "True or False." I will lay out 2-3 absurdist stories. They may all be true. They may all be false. Some may be true and some may be false. Today, I begin with the first installment. Post your guesses in the comments section and good luck parsing the real from the fake.

1. Idi Amin was going to be visiting the United Kingdom in the late 70s. Before he left for London, he wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth II, which he addressed to "Dear Liz." In the letter, he demanded that they have good food ready (imported if necessary) and waiting for him because he had heard the food in England was bad. Also, he demanded that "Liz" arrange a meeting with the leaders of Scotland and Ireland so that Idi could meet the leaders of other revolutionary movements against British imperialism. While in England, he had crepes with Michael Caine. True or false?

2. The Chinese dish General Tsao's Chicken is named after the great general named -- surprise -- General Tsao. Legend has it General Tsao was the hero of the 3rd century War of the Red Cliff, helping two warlords named Sun Quan and Liu Bei defeat the powerful Cao Cao. Outnumbered and facing defeat, General Tsao's forces beat back a massive attack using moxie, courage and sweet, crispy strips of chicken. Cao Cao's forces realized that they might be able to defend themselves against General Tsao's chicken with hot mustard, but only after it was too late. True or false?

3. In his youth, former President Gerald Ford once worked a summer as a Park Ranger at Yellowstone National Park. One day as he was making his rounds, he was confronted by an enormous grizzly bear. The bear was angry and hungry. Ford scared off the bear by covering himself with his own feces and dancing the Charleston. The same grizzly bear is reported to have eaten a baby later that day and was later shot by other park rangers. Since babies often soil themselves, there are some that speculate that it was probably the fact that the baby couldn't do the Charleston that doomed him. True or False?

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Sigfried & Roy Threat

A former NFL placekicker named Cole Ford was arrested recently for shooting at Sigfried & Roy's Las Vegas compound. A court-appointed psychiatrist recently concluded that he was mentally incompetent and unfit to stand trial based, in part, on this summary Ford's views: "While watching Siegfried and Roy, he had a sudden realization that what was wrong with the world was linked to the illusionists' treatment, dominance and unhealthy intimacy he saw them having with their animals."

The psychiatrist is clearly wrong. Ford is clearly compentent. And, right. I know. I've been to a Sigfried & Roy show.

My Sigfried & Roy story is really long, but I'll get to the key part of it that supports Ford's comments. My friend J and I were the good kind of drunk laughing our way through the troubling and incomprehensibly weird show, when the big finale came. It involved making this enormous elephant disappear.

The elephant seemed confused and unhappy. I remember downing the last of my Long Island Ice Tea and sensing trouble. I wanted it all to be over. So, the elephant disappears, and we thought, ok, its over.

But, then, someone in the audience starts pleading, "Bring it back!" It turned out to be one of the many Sigfried & Roy dancers (as I said, its a long story and I'll describe the experience in further detail in future posts). Sigfried egged on the person on,"You vant to zee the elevant? Hmmm?"

Suddenly, fireworks and smoke, and the elephant is back on stage. The place exploded with music and a manic energy. The Sigfried & Roy dancers are doing a convulsive twist-like dance. Flashing lights and a song with unoriginal lyrics. About bringing back an elephant.

J and I were sitting in the orchestra section right next to the stage, and the dancers' sweat was practically dripping on us. But, it wouldn't be the only thing that would threaten to drip on us.

When the elephant had reappeared, Roy was sitting on top. Roy wears a massive cod piece that is never explained. The elephant's eyes spoke to me. They said that he didn't want to be in a casino auditorium with some weird guy's enormous cod piece rubbing against his back. With manic dancers taunting him.

The elephant started walking around the stage, slowly and mournfully. It was probably remembering its freewheeling youth, where he roamed freely in Indian jungles. Eating vegetation, being existentialist. He didn't want to be shuttled around a stage revealed, hidden, sung about. And, I think that night, he decided that it had it.

Just as the elephant was next to J and I, it unloaded a stream of piss. J and I were sitting next to some senior citizens, and we looked at each other and silently came up with a Darwinian escape plan. If that piss came any closer, we would dive over the old folks and let them take the brunt of the elephant piss. They had lived their life, and the subsequent shame was more appropriately borne by them.

We were all saved, however, when one of the elephant handlers started hitting the elephant with a stick. The elephant shifted its weight to the other side of the stage, pissing on the folks sitting there. It was appropriate, because those patrons seemed to think the magic was all real and not give a shit that the elephant was being exploited. Now, they knew what the elephant thought about that.

The handlers beat the elephant with sticks more forcefully, nudging it offstage, and the show was quickly ended. As the lights came up, the Sigfried & Roy theme song came blaring across the sound system. I was affected by the events of that day, forever afraid to stand underneath an elephant. J was affected too. I've caught her singing that damn Sigfried & Roy theme song now and then.

I want to be clear: I don't condone shooting at anyone for any reason. My point is that the guy is not crazy about how the exploitation of these animals for our shallow entertainment is wrong. Maybe not reflective of "all that is wrong with this world," but wrong nonetheless. Ford should probably be in jail, not in some mental insitution, because of his beliefs. If I'd been Ford, I would not have shot at Sigfried & Roy's house. Instead, I would have thrown an infected ham at it, and say "train this, boys."

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Subversive Sounds

I was making my way through the morning with a surprisingly crisp efficiency. Surprising because I had a mild hangover. Poker night last night. Ms. Spiral Stairs had taken a pound of flesh and a spleen from me at the last poker night, a few weeks ago. Last night, I only suffered a flesh wound. Despite an audacious bluff that eventually blew up in my face. I was saved at the end of the night by several good hands of Guts. Randomness, if nothing else, was on my side.

Frankly, I don't recall drinking that much or feeling that buzzed. Maybe my brain was just mad at me for wasting it. Whatever. I got up lightly around 8:30 and went to go get the car inspected. A breeze. Book store next; they had what I was looking for. Next stop: the grocery store.

I was standing in line behind a man who had unloaded seventeen items on the checkout belt. It was a fifteen item line. My anger at this act of insolence was more intense than usual; I wanted to tie him up, cover him in the lime pepper marinade I had and leave him on a fire ant hill. But what if the ants didn't like lime. What else did I have? Fuck it, where is that plastic grocery divider thing. I'll smash him with that.

Then, it hit me before I hit him. Air Supply. Had the store been playing that and similar starchy crap the whole time I'd been there. Yes, they had. As had the inspection station; it was their fault that Bob Seger had somehow burrow his way into my grey matter. Supertramp's "The Long Way Home?" At a Borders? Isn't that a fireable offense for whoever put that tripe on?

Easy listening shit. It was being employed as a numbing agent, emploring us dullards to stay, get comfortable, consider some of the stuff we may be seeing for the first time. It had been subversively shaving bits off my soul.

"Don't push me, woman!" the guy behind me yelled at the person behind him. The music was getting to him too. I throw him a knowing smile or at least what I thought a "knowing" smile might look like. "What the fuck are you smiling at?"

The music was unbearable once I became aware that it was playing. And I had to endure fifteen more seconds of it than necessary because of the fucker-in-front-of-me's sociopathic rule-breaking ways.

"Nice day, huh?" the guy in front of me said. Is he for real? Where is that damn plastic stick they use to separate people's groceries, I'd show him.

"Yeah, should be a nice weekend." Did I just say that? What was this music doing to me?

The minute I got in my car, I popped the trunk, opened the CD changer and fished around looking for something to cleanse my head of the songs in my head. It may have been the first and last time I ever wished I owned a Pantera record. I needed something hard, uncomfortable to listen to.

What did I have? Jazz? What's with all this jazz shit? Did I fancy myself some sort of sophisticate? Funk? Too accessible. Ray Charles?!? Dammit.

I put the "hardest" CD I had in the car in the changer and turned it up. It was a collection of late 1960s French psychadelic rock. David Alexandre Winter blared through my speakers singing nonsense, "Qu'est-ce Que J'ai Danse!" It was good enough. At least I wouldn't have to hurt something.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Burning Vick

By all measures, Michael Vick is a supremely talented athlete. But, I always find the PR story that teams and agents try and put out about their clients as interesting as their exploits on the field. Who is Michael Vick the handlers want us to see?

He's a smiling wholesome presence in Nike commericials. And, according to his official Atlanta Falcons web page, Michael Vick is not only the greatest quarterback to ever play the game but:

"As a part of's 'Jocks to GIs', he had a GI email pen pal overseas during the war with Iraq that he communicated with in the spring of 2003. He and SSgt, USAF Angela Geist from Lawrenceville, Ga., shared emails and life experiences."

As to this community service effort, I say this: I hope he wasn't also sharing his dick with SSF, USAF Angela Geist. Because, if he is, chances are she could get the "burn;" a story broke today that Vick may have given a girlfriend of his herpes a couple of years ago.

I had this one friend of mine in school who almost got exposed to the burn but was saved by having an honest and forthright woman tell him she had it. They had met at a party and retired to her place. She was beautiful, in that bright airy way. He had decided that night that she could be a long term dream.

The clothes discarded, they lay in bed, when she told him, she had herpes.

"So," I said to him, "That was good of her to tell you. So, what did you do? Hug her? Comfort her? It must be tough for her to live with it. And her honesty is admirable, even if it should have been expected."

"Nah, bruh. I got the fuck out of there. The drawers went up. And, I think my pants actually put themselves on me. I got from her appartment to the Atlantic Avenue subway stop in about 23 seconds. I was going so fast that I think I went backward in time."

If you know you have the burn, why not let your partners know? Shame? Someone can't be that cowardly. Vindictiveness? Are you trying to get back at the world because you got and have to live with the burn. There has to be some sort of reason, even if you're a junkie. It's one thing if you are asymptomatic, but still...

If the story about Vick is true -- especially about him knowing he had the burn and pushing to have unprotected sex with her -- he should be hung by his thumbs.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

I Like Beer

I like beer. A lot. In fact, I think the only people I like more than beer is my family. And, that is because I have to. Sorry to the rest of you, my current and future friends, I will like beer more than you. To you reading this, I'd trade you for a bottle of La Fin Du Monde without hesitation. But, you probably have a favorite sweater that you like more than me, so we're both shallow and, therefore, even.

If you like beer too, you'll probably appreciate this site as much as I do: Rate Beer. If you type in the name of virtually every beer that is brewed anywhere in the world in the search window at the top right, you'll get a review.

The reviews are fairly sophisticated, with reviewers sounding much like a learned wine taster would. Take this review one of my favorites that I purchase regularly Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: "pours a light amber colour with little head. The nose is hoppy, with some light fruits, grapefruit, lemon, and a very faint musky nutty aroma which keeps this from turning into lemonade. The palate was carbonated with a refreshing zesty finish. A nice light beer."

Classy. My review would have been. "Tastes good. I want more."

What I especially love about the site is that it reviews crappy beers with the same erudition, seriousness and rigorous analysis. Take this review of Budweiser: "Pale and watery, with a slight baking soda taste. Clean and somewhat refreshing if there is nothing else, but definatly "king" because of marketing. To think of all the independants who have gone belly up or lessened their brews or sold out because of the overagressive mercahndising of this beer...While not bad, not good either!"

Crappy spelling aside (like I should talk -- spell checking is for obsessive-compulsives and communists), I think its fair to say that this fellow wasted the three or so minutes he took to write a thoughtful review of a what is visually and in effect a bottle of carbonated urine.

This review of Pabst Blue Ribbon amused and troubled me: "The first time I have ever tasted this beer. Light yellow color. The head is very large initially and retains fairly well considering it’s a macro. Unbelievably disgusting oceanic aroma (sea water, salt, seaweed) along with light grains and corn. Watery, corny flavor with hints of light grains and sauvignon blanc. Terrifying. "

Lots of sexual imagery. Replace the word "beer" with privates, and this could be a review of what went on (and went wrong) in a college frat room when some of the guys had too much Pabst. Leaving that aside, this reviewer is such a dandy. Being "terrified" by a Pabst is like being terrified by a little girl grimacing at you.

Anyway, one can spend hours on the site typing in any beer you have had or are curious about having and get some good or at least amusing reviews, an overall rating, availability, alcohol content, etc. You have to become a member to get more than the latest three or four reviews, but even as a non-member the site is a resource.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Life is a Toilet

Some of you may recall the self-deprecating crap I posted about a week and half ago about submitting a short story to a few literary journals for the first time. "Woe is stupid me," I said. "What I put on paper is nothing more than shit-turned-ink, and no literary publication worth its weight in fecal material would publish anything I write."

Well, let me tell you: That was a bunch of bullshit. Self-deprecation is a tool I use to hide my raging megalomania. Okay, maybe it's not raging, but it's there. To wit: Every day for the last week-and-a-half I have dug through my mail for hidden envelopes bearing letters saying, "Christ almighty, your short story was so fucking good we can't even operate the telephone right now." I've been checking my cell phone voicemail (since I put my cell phone number on my submissions), waiting to hear, "Great Caesar's Ghost, we can operate neither a computer nor pen-and-paper because we are so smitten by your story!" I've also checked my e-mail regularly for a message stating, "Holy jumping Jehosephat ..." You get the picture.


I've gotten one lousy e-mail from the Indiana Review advising me that my literary scrap heap arrived in their mailbox. I guess that's good news.

Now, the savvy ones of you are thinking: "What a dork. Literary magazines take weeks to get back to anyone, regardless of who it is or what they wrote." And that may be true. But beneath all the self-deprecation, my secret hope was that someone would open my envelope, absent-mindedly scan the first couple sentences, set down his cup of coffee for a closer look, finish the story, and immediately pick up the phone to make sure his journal gets first dibs on me.

Again, nothing. That appears not to have occurred.

Secret hopes make the world go 'round, right? So now my secret hope is that someone, somewhere, has read my story, and was so absolutely flabbergasted by it that his life has ground to a total halt while he tries to summon the strength to scratch out a response ... Just a word, scrawled in the shaky hand of a madman ... "ACCEPTED."

In the time it's taken to write this, I've still received nothing. Nothing. What a bunch of crap this life is.

Monday, April 04, 2005

K On Lipstick

After a brief, unscientific survey of my friends, I have collected indisputable evidence that men have little to no interest in lipstick. In fact, I'd say most are anti-lipstick. I advance this theory: lipstick is an aesthetic device that appeals almost exclusively to women, not men. I, for one, have never found myself saying, "You know what drew me to her? Her lips were a refreshingly unnatural color, like pomegranates." No, I have always be drawn in by a firm, robust intellect.

Unlike other make-up which may conceal skin flaws, I find no purpose to lipstick. It is purely an aesthetic device that has only ancillary usefulness. I have heard that it can double as lip balm. But, if you need lip balm, wear lip balm or vaseline.

I like my women to be natural, make-up free. Only one of my girlfriends was ever a huge lipstick fan. I didn't like kissing her. I felt like I was making out with a clown. Consequently, I felt like the line between the literal and the figurative was too thin.

The worst experience I ever had in my life ended up with me having some stripper's cheap, greasy lipstick smeared on my forehead. One of my friends handed me a bunch of napkins and said, "Man, wipe that ho's lipstick off your head." I wanted to punch him in the throat; it was his fault the group of us were stumbling up 8th Avenue towards 41st, stunned and disgusted on a late February evening. Me, rubbing my head maniacally.

When I have been out on dates, often I'll go for drinks at first time. By about the second drink, but sometimes its the third one, if she's been wearing lipstick, it's slowly been transferred over sips from her lips to the glasses. Then, a test: does she reapply or does she let them be? If the former, a waxy thin wall has risen up between us. If the latter, I make excuses to get closer.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Zimbabwe Election Shock: Mugabe Wins!

In a victory that has shocked the world, Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party has won the recent parliamentary elections. Given the amount of electoral fraud that appears to have occurred, it is shocking that ZANU won only 78 of the 120 parliamentary seats. I guess the key was to make sure that the results didn't appear too fake.

Mugabe is one of my favorite despots. He has brought a refreshing sense of political irony to Zimbabwe. He helped the country liberate itself from colonialists, then he ran it first as a single party socialist state, then as a democratic farce. At the same time, he has managed to cripple and discredit what had been one of Africa's most promising economies. His presidency has been the perfect storm of ineptitude -- bad for Zimbabwe socially, politically and economically.

Yet, I have a soft spot for the old kook. Maybe its because Mugabe played a key role in a fictional series I wrote about a failed and inept Joseph K congressional run in 2001. The fictional Jospeh K campaign had been geared towards unseating his long term Democratic congressional representative who had held the seat in K's district for many, many years. Mugabe had been brought in briefly as a campaign adviser because of his expertise in dealing with "single party states." I also hired Kissinger as my foreign policy adviser. From there, it all kind of got weird. Some exerpts:

1. "Hired Henry Kissinger as new foreign policy adviser today. Apparently needed the work (thought the guy had gig at Harvard's Kennedy School of Gov't? Odd). He moved into the campaign headquarters in the afternoon. Pitched his first idea to me over lunch: "Bomb Laos." Told him it was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard. Kissinger spent the rest of the day sitting around in his boxers, eating pudding and sulking."

2. "Mugabe, Kissinger and I got up early this morning and started playing Sim City. Kissinger was up first, and he tried to set up a military-industrial complex. For all of the technical sophistication of his industrial city, Mugabe and I couldn't help laughing at the fact that he couldn't seem to design a functional sewage system. Mugabe noted, 'In a city where they manufacture high tech goods, you think you would be able to stave off cholera.' When Kissinger got up to pee at one point, Mugabe took over the controls on the Playstation and wrought a deadly monster attack using one of Sim City's options. Kissinger was crestfallen when he returned. Mugabe simply shrugged and said, 'Well, that is just the inevitable end result of your city's imperialist ways, Henry.'

But, the agrarian city Mugabe set up after Kissinger was done was not exactly a success. He uncreatively called it Mugabeland. His citizens complained regularly about the 80% tax rate and rioted over the lack of basic necessities, like electricity and parks. Mugabe argued that the citizens were ungrateful, and probably had been brainwashed by Western propaganda."

3. "Went bowling with the campaign staff. Brian got all excited when he bowled a 200. We derided him for being a show off. Kissinger got mad because we kept making fun of the fact that he bowled with a nine pound ball (Mugabe: 'Henry, you need to constructively engage a gym.') and went home early looking like he was about to cry (apparently Mao Zedong gave him a really hard time about his girlish bowling style went they went bowling together in the 70s and he never got over it). "

4. "Mugabe becoming real liability. Some of his Zimbabwean war veteran friends have started squatting in neighbor's yards claiming its their land (odd since this so-called Zimbabwe is supposed to be in Africa). Neighbors not happy; posing potential threat to my support in the suburban yuppie, predominantly white constituency. Also, caught him drinking directly from the milk carton for the fourth time yesterday. Must fire him."

5."Dropped Kissinger and Suzy off at Landmark Mall to handout leaflets. When I returned to mall to pick them up, Suzy was mad. Apparently, Kissinger kept getting lost and paging her over the mall loudspeaker. Eventually, she found him chewing out a cashier at "The Great Wall" Chinese fast food place, arguing that he personally shouldn't have to pay $2 for an egg roll because the liberalization he and Nixon brought to China in the 70s was priceless. 'Where is the gratitude?' he kept yelling over and over. Suzy ended up buying the egg roll for him."

6. "Sadat did some research and confirmed that the district has voted Democrat in almost every election since the 1950s. Effectively, it is a one party district, which would undermine my plan to run as an independent. He also did some research on my former campaign manager, Mugabe, and apparently the guy also knows even more about single party politics than democracy. After some cajoling, Mugabe finally agreed to rejoin the campaign as a consultant. He asked if he could move in with me at the campaign HQ. I lied and told him that his hunky good looks would be a distraction to the young single staffers who are now living and working there. 'I know, I know,' he said, 'it really is a curse.'

I asked Mugabe what steps I should be taking to position myself against the long-time incumbent congressman. He responded, 'Can't you just shoot him?'"

It was a long series (used to send it to a group of friends via email in my pre-blogging days) that eventually went nowhere and fizzled out. A bunch of weird characters, stupid policy ideas, and Joseph K as a clueless, inept egomaniac (i.e., being himself). Perhaps I'll post it on Banality Fair in its entirety as a serial over time.