Tuesday, May 31, 2005

"Deep Throat" Revealed

Exciting news day today with the revelation of "Deep Throat." He was revealed to be W. Mark Felt, who was the second ranking FBI official in the early 1970s. Deep Throat was known for having provided reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein crucial information that helped the reporters expose the Watergate scandal and -- through a genetic fluke -- having a particularly sensitive clitoris at the back of his throat.

Monday, May 30, 2005

A New Leaf

I grew up in an anti-social family uninterested in the social interaction important to other families in our suburban sprawl neighborhood. We were the ones -- you know them -- with the overgrown, weedy lawn and rusted lawn ornament left over from a past resident who gave a damn. Our neighbors were ghostly phantoms. We heard their noises and occasionally saw glimpses of them; but their world was not ours and we floated by each other silently and disconnectedly.

Then I moved out, and went to school, first in Chicago then in New York. While one of the beautiful things about urban life is the jammed-in shared existences residents plod through side-by-side, anonymity is a treasured and cultivated commodity. In my seven years in New York I lived in four different apartments and, setting aside three years of school, I never knew a single neighbor. I said the occasional "hi," perhaps. But mostly I just looked through my peephole to see if I could make it to the elevator without human contact. I never wanted to live in a doorman building because, jesus, you have to talk to those guys every fucking time you leave or enter the building. What's worse, every holiday season you have to pay them for stalking you and knowing your every coming and going. Screw that. Those perverts can scam someone else, thank you; walk-up living was fine with me.

Then I got married and we bought a house. It's a rowhouse physically connected to all the other houses on the block, so we don't have the suburban lawn buffer that I grew up with. Instead, our front door is literally 15 feet from the next front door, which is 15 feet from the next front door.

When we moved in about 10 months ago, I continued scurrying in and out of the house like a horseshoe crab. I still saw neighbors and apparitions. But now, something has changed. In the last two months, two rowhouses on our block have been purchased by people who are, well, exactly like us. And it turns out that a third rowhouse has been occupied this whole time by another couple exactly like us. Exactly. All are young couples, childless, either married or on the verge of it. Clueless about gardening. Worried about the decrepit state of our old houses and wondering how to pay for their upkeep. John Kerry stickers still on our bumpers. Committed to the city, but wondering where we will school our inevitable kids. Here we all are, on the same capsizing but persisting boat.

And I like it.

Suddenly, I'm not peering through the peephole hoping I can dash out without human interaction. Suddenly I'm walking the dog for 20 minutes instead of five. Suddenly the idea of a block party doesn't sound like an anesthetic-free root canal.

What's happening to me? Am I losing that urban steel that kept me insulated from the world for so many years? Or have I found a new kind of urban steel -- one based not on anxiety and fear but on community? Time will tell. Right now, I'm seeing if I can get my new friends to come de-weed the jungle that's sprung up in our backyard. That's what friends are for, right?

Sunday, May 29, 2005


Apologies to the following Google/Yahoo searchers:

1. "Pamela Anderson's Big Tits" -- Sorry to disappoint. But if you come back and are good, I'll post a picture of my tits.

2."political onanism" -- Why, man? Why?

3. "cross dresser site blogspot.com" -- [silence]

4. "I fuck mather" -- Does former Banality Fair alum Cotton Mather's wife know about this? Oh, wait. That's a typo.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

They Came On Bikes

Driving around downtown D.C. this afternoon was a disaster. The city has been overwhelmed by a plague of motorcycle riding Vietnam Vets, biker babes, and wannabe stragglers who are choking the main downtown thoroughfares with obnoxiously loud hogs. At one point, Elsa growled in disgust at them, and seemed to want to crush one dwadler. Elsa is my car, and she can be a bit high strung. Especially in unfamiliar crowds.

Every Memorial Day, thousands of bikers descend upon my lovely city. I don't get the connection between Vietnam, POWs and motorcycles. Mostly the bikers I saw were just cruising around slowly, cutting across traffic with reckless abandon, and just trying to be seen. And frankly, I don't care what the connection is. All I know is I was driving back to my house, and suddenly it was like I took a wrong turn and ended up in Sturgess. At one point, this woman actually flashed a minivan with Maryland tags carrying a family of five. In honor of those who didn't come home from 'Nam, I guess.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

So, What's It For?

I really don't know anything about female orgasms. Wait, that didn't sound right. Well, it may be right, but that's not what I meant. I mean: I don't know anything about the biological signifigance of the female orgasm. Nor have I really had reason to. But, I came across this fascinating article in Slate about the recently-published book "The Case Of The Female Orgasm," and it captured my attention. Well, the attention of the nerd in me who gets caught up in epistemological knots and overanalyzes things.

Apparently there is some sort of divide in the thinking about whether or how the female orgasm has a purpose. The adaptationists believe that the female orgasm serves some sort of biological purpose, physically aiding a woman to conceive children. Then, there are the "byproductists," who argue that the female orgasm is kind of a beneficial evolutionary left-over with no biological purpose. Elisabeth Lloyd, author of TCOTFO, reviews numerous studies and concludes that the byproductists are right: the female orgasm is the cool run-off of evolutionary/developmental processes. Lloyd shows somewhat persuasively that a female orgasm is probably just fun.

I always assumed the "byproductists" were right. I never tried to draw a parallel between the male and female orgasm. In fact, I thought us guys had been cursed with the biological burden of mixing our self-perpetuation (through children) with a shorter and probably less satisfying orgasm (unless you're some sort of tantric master). I am actually now rooting for the adaptationists to be proven right. If the female orgasm does aid conception, it would -- in an abstract way -- bring a nice reproductive symmetry to male and female orgasms, albeit one of minimal utility unless people are having sex to procreate. And, there is the fact that I ultimately find meaning and connections a smidge more satisfying than randomness.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

To The Great Cereal Bowl In The Sky

When I was a kid, my mother nicknamed me Tiger. I am not sure why. Maybe it was that time I ran down and ate a wild boar when I was eight. Whatever, the nickname didn't stick. But, because of it, I had a special affinity for Tony the Tiger. I ate Frosted Flakes all the fucking time. They were grrrrrreeeeaaat! All that healthy sugar goodness. I'd eat a bowl and be jacked up for the whole day.

And so it was with great sadness that I read today that Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice of Tony the Tiger, died. I don't watch much daytime or morning TV, but it seems like you don't see a lot of cereal advertising these days. Certainly not commercials featuring the cool cartoon characters shilling cereal that we grew up with. Back when I was a kid, I'd do anything a cartoon character told me to do. I robbed a 7-11 when I was nine because of some mixed messages in a Chilly Willy cartoon. (As you can see, I had a normal childhood.)

Although Tony the Tiger was a favorite of mine, he was not my favorite cartoon cereal pitchman. No, that goes to Sugar Bear (now named "Golden Bear"...PC bullshit...), who pitched Sugar Crisps (now called "Golden Crisps"...PC bullshit...). He was this hipster, suave bear who was always having his delicious cereal jacked by a variety of miscreants, such as the Sugar Crisp Fox, the Sugar Crisp Snake, the Sugar Crisp Crook and the ever nefarious Granny Goodwitch. When that happened, he'd basically beat the crap out them and get his Sugar Golden Crisps back (singing his jazzy tagline, "Can't get enough Super Sugar Crisp/It's got the crunch with punch!"). Except Granny. Her, he'd just rob or trick. What a gentleman.

Any favorite cartoon cereal pitchmen/pitchwomen?

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Compared To What

I was hanging out with a buddy of mine last night who recently started dating a doctor.

"What kind of medicine does she practice?"


"Well, that's different."

"Man, it is the greatest shit."

"What do you mean?"

"Like the other night. She was holding my hand, and began rubbing and saying, 'Your skin is so soft.' Then, she took my face and started going on and on about how smooth it was. Since she spends her whole day prodding, probing and touching leathery, wrinkled 80 year olds all day, it makes me seems fresher. "

I knew what he meant. When I lived in New York, I had a brief fling with a social worker. She dealt with abused and neglected kids. The first and last date, we were having drinks, and I had her in hysterics. About eight or nine times, she said, "You're so funny."

I'm not that funny. I mean that funny. She spent her days managing emotional pain and impossible situations. An overwhelming number of them. That night, by a fire place at Merchants, about two thirds of the way through her third merlot, it -- days, weeks, maybe months worth -- was all coming out through her mouth in throaty laugh.

It was bit too heavy though. I remember the moment I thought it was time to move on. About three hours later. Her dog was going absolutely nuts, biting at the door knob, tearing at the pine. Maybe he thought I was strangling her. "Ignore him. He's just really possessive." Then, she started laughing and laughing. Then crying. "I'm sorry." "No, its cool, really."

Some people get off on melancholy. At that time in my life, I was only in it for the kicks. I stood for an hour that night -- that magical time of the morning between 2 and 3 -- waiting for the 1 train going uptown, just breathing in and out and trying to keep it simple.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Killing Me Softly With His Song

I recently found out I had a cavity and needed to get a filling. But, my dentist, Dr. L, is a pro. Had my first cavity in many years three years ago, which he filled with a dexterity and skill that thoroughly justified his inclusion on the Washingtonian's annual list of the best dentists in D.C.

It is because of his skill and cheery demeanor that I tolerate the mindnumbing banality of his offices. The corny "Born to Golf, Forced to Work" placard and similar posters. The picture of his perfect kids with their perfect collie. The easy listening swill that plays when I'm at his offices, which you all know I hate.

But Tuesday, Dr. L went too far. I was in the chair. The drill was whirring. Michael McDonald's "I Keep Forgetting" was playing over the office speaker system. Ok, fine. Then, Dr. L started singing. Ok, not fine. He was horrible. The novocaine was insufficient to numb the pain in my psyche.

I am particularly qualified to make this assessment. Among the few skills I have is this: I do a mean Michael McDonald impression. It is somewhat of a mystery as to how I learned that I have this skill. But, have it I do. In fact, when I was living in New York, this friend of mine and me used to do a terrific version of the Michael McDonald-Patti LaBelle duet "On My Own." My friend did a spot on Patti Labelle impression. Man, that dude could sing.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

On Charity

I like to think of myself as a reasonably charitable person. I'm unlikely to be anointed a saint, but I'm no miser with the generally good fortune that's come my way. My wife, however, is on another planet -- a planet called The Planet of Absurdly Large Charitable Donations. A few years ago, when we lived in New York, we were both associate attorneys at big-time law firms, making big-time money. For a couple glorious years, we received blush-worthy year-end bonuses.

I took those bonuses and put them toward my student loans. As a result, I was able to pay off my loans in an amortization-friendly three years. My loans were my charity.

My wife, though, liked to give away her bonuses. The vast sums that flowed into her checking account each December flowed out in a flurry of magnanimity. Early in our relationship, I knew I was in for something special when we took a mid-December jaunt to F.A.O. Schwarz in midtown Manhattan, so she could spend some of her bonus dough on Toys for Tots. We left with two shopping carts full of Schwarz schwag.

Things have changed. I'm now in the brown, dull, practical confines of government employment. She now serves the public interest. Neither the government nor the public interest pays well.

So, our old profligacy in handing out our money has been held in check by necessity. Nevertheless, my wife is still a frustratingly and wonderfully charitable person. And I'm still looking around for loans to which I could apply any financial windfall that happens our way.

A few nights ago, a man rang our doorbell. We don't get many unannounced visitors, especially at night, so the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. My wife and I opened the door together and saw a stranger on the other side. He was an African-American man of about 40, holding some brochures and envelopes, wearing a tee-shirt decorated with a graffiti-style "New York."

"Hi there, you folks just moved in, right?"

No, actually, we've been here for a year. Our neighbors just moved in, though. Maybe you're thinking of them.

"Maybe. My name's Fred Little, and I'm the pastor over at the First Baptist Church on 13th Street. Right across from the Safeway."

Okay, great.

"We're doing a fund-raising campaign for the homeless shelter at the church. You've probably seen it." He handed us a piece of paper with the name of the church and some information that we didn't read. "For this weekend, Safeway is matching all donations made by the community, and I wonder if you can contribute."

Sure. Just hold on. I walked over to my wallet, pulled out a $20 bill and gave it to him.

He handed us another piece of paper, with a long list of handwritten names, addresses, and modest contribution amounts. "We don't need your address, but we're doing this with the Red Cross and they'll want to send you a tee-shirt." My wife wrote our names and address on the paper.

He took back the pieces of paper. "Thank you so much. There's going to be a fund-raising event this Friday, from 5 to 7. You should stop by. There will be activities for kids and other fun things."

Thanks, we'll try. Good luck.

I clicked the door shut and locked the deadbolt. As we walked back to our couch, I started to feel creeped out. The name of that church doesn't sound right. And I have never seen a homeless shelter over there. Why didn't he let us keep the piece of paper he have us about the fund-raising? Now that I think about it, the address on that sheet of paper wasn't even the address of the church. If the Red Cross is involved, why wouldn't there be some printed material? A brochure we could actually keep? Why did he think we had just moved in? Did he want to talk only to people who had just moved to the neighborhood, rather than longer-time residents who could spot inconsistencies and inaccuracies in his story?

Now I felt positively icky. I said to my wife, "I'm not so sure about that guy."

"What do you mean? He was a nice man. A pastor."

"Something didn't seem right." We watched TV and went to bed.

The next day, I walked by the church on my way to work. The name of the church was totally different from the name that was on the piece of paper, and the pastor's name on the sign out front was not Fred Little. I scouted the church grounds. There was no sign of a homeless shelter.

We had given a con artist $20. I spoke to my wife later and explained why I thought we'd been taken. She agreed, and added, "If you hadn't been there, I would have given him $40."

A couple sawbucks is not the end of the world, even in our post-law firm existences. But the experience left me with a bunch of feelings, most of which were really unpleasant. It's not fun to be a mark -- especially not an easy one.

But other aspects of the interaction made me feel worse. We live in a predominantly black neighborhood in the throes of what some call gentrification. Two parallel cultures are striving to coexist, one well-established but under pressure and one incipient and bearing the trappings of power. On one hand, there are long-standing black churches and corner stores. On the other, there are white people with granite countertops and Volvos. The two groups live side-by-side, commingled physically. But they rarely interact socially. The "enlightened," liberal whites who come to the neighborhood wring their hands with guilt about what they're doing to the neighborhood. Oh my, gentrification is forcing families to relocate, breaking up the local community. Am I contributing to this destructive process? Can I justify this process economically? Does my arrival bring with it a capacity for additional tax revenue and economic development that will benefit everyone? I don't know -- maybe I'm rationalizing. I'm confused. But the confusion isn't enough to stop them. It hasn't been enough to stop us.

I can't be certain about the man who came to our door. Maybe he was an assistant pastor, and that's why his name wasn't on the sign out front. Maybe all the oddities in his story could be explained away if he were here to do it. But I doubt it. I believe, confidently, that he was not at all what he said. I believe he knew that as white newcomers (my wife is actually Indian, but might as well be white for this purpose), we would be unlikely to know details about the black church around the corner. He knew we would probably go the extra mile -- give the extra $20 -- not to be seen as the destroyers of the community. He knew we would trip over ourselves to show how "enlightened," liberal, and community-minded we are.

And he was right. We didn't pause for a moment during his sales pitch, and we didn't hesitate in giving him our money. For my wife, I think it was an instance of her charitable optimism. She wants to see the best in people, and she wants to live her life founded on the principle that people are inherently honest and good. So she wanted to give to the man. I, however, am a cynical man who often thinks the worst of both other people. But I can't stand the thought of others thinking the worst of me, and I'll overlook an awful lot of evidence in order to make sure they don't. So I wanted to give to the man.

In this particular situation, I doubt I would have avoided feelings of ickiness no matter what we did. If I had vetoed the donation, I would have been wracked with guilt about whether I had made the right call. Did I just tell a legitimate fund-raiser for a homeless shelter that we -- a couple of lawyers in an expensive house -- could not give him anything? Instead, I gave the money and now obsess over the apparent fact that I was manipulated and deceived.

Live and learn, they say. The problem is, I'd probably do the same thing again.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


An apology to the person who did a Yahoo search for "how to catch a yard thief" and somehow ended up at Banality Fair. You were no doubt disappointed by what you found. But if you do come back, here's a suggestion: land mines.


It's been almost two months since I sent my crappy short story to ten literary magazines. For a while, I bemoaned the fact that I had heard nothing.

Now I wish they'd stop sending me their cruel, heartless hate mail intended only to remind me what a talentless hack I am.

I've gotten three responses. The good news is that, apparently, all three publications are perfectly willing to accept my money, as all three have included subscription request forms in the self-addressed, stamped envelopes that I conveniently provided to them. The bad news is that I do not know how to write a good short story.

Now, now. No need to pipe up with, "No, Spiral! You're a great writer! Getting published is tough, and even the greatest writers have to deal with the inexplicable mayhem of the literary world." Fact is, no one reading this blog has ever read my fiction. For all you know, the story I sent out begins with "It was a dark and stormy night" and ends with "… and the world exploded and everybody died." Or, it may even begin with a ridiculous sentence like this: "Like every man, I remember the precise circumstances of my first waking orgasm." (Okay, that is really how it begins.)

I have no audience for my fiction writing right now, which may be why I am doing virtually no fiction writing. My writing class ended a month ago. I can't possibly post anything serious on line, because that would create the risk of someone saying that something serious I've written sucks. For similar reasons, I'm afraid to show my wife or anyone else anything beyond the casual, underdeveloped thoughts I post here. I haven't even gotten a handwritten "You suck" on the form letter rejections I've received.

One mystery has been solved, however. Returning the first page of your story is a rejection. One of the form letters I received said, "Thanks, you suck, and we're enclosing the first page of your story so you can keep track of which story we're rejecting, and thus which story sucks the worst." Despite that note, they didn't enclose the first page of the story, which seemed odd. How do they know I've only sent out one story? Can they tell I'm an unschooled beginner who has spent 33 years building up to that little 15-page sputtering ejaculation of cliches and triteness?

Anyway, I have to get back to my self-pitying.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Frenchified Bad Rock

I was hanging with a friend of mine at my house the other night, drinking scotch, rapping about the state of the world and listening to some music. At one point, I popped in a psychedelic 60s French rock CD (made reference to it before in this post), and, for the first time, I actually paid close attention to some of the lyrics.

My french is passable, but I have never bothered trying to understand the lyrics of the songs. I was more into the funky music and kitchy cooleness of it. Whenever I have a cocktail gathering at my house, the album sets a nice, hip -- but not too pretentious -- vibe. In addition, I love listening to people singing in foreign languages over interesting music. It makes the experience more sensory and existentialist; you are just digging on the sounds. It is for this reason that I have a pretty extensive collection of 1970s African rock (in which you'll find the two greatest song of all time in Joseph K's opinion: (i) "Yuda" by Dackin Dackino and (ii) "Netsanet" by Mulatu Astatke; unfortunately, the former is a pro-Mobutu Sese Seko song, but I pretend they're singing about another Mobutu, whose a virtuous blacksmith or something) .

Sometimes, not understanding is a good thing. Because the songs on my 60s French rock CD were -- lyrically -- awful. The first song on the CD is a rock out by Johnny Hallyday called "Mal." It was only the other night that it dawned on me that it was a rip-off of Deep Purple's "Hush." Musically anyways. Both songs are about a guy pining away for a lost love. Yet, Hallyday's crooning about how torturous the love was makes him seem especially 1000 times whinier. After paying attention to the lyrics, I felt like slapping him with a glove.

Another re-make that falls well short lyrically is by Eileen, "Ces Bottes Sont Faites Pour Marcher." In the abstract, the notion of a french woman redoing Nancy Sinatra's classic seems cool, and the actually singing -- while somewhat flat -- is haunting. But, it turns out the lyrics are not exactly the same. The chorus of the original is "These boots are made for walkin'/And that's just what they'll do/One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you." The song is about a woman -- treated wrong by her man -- empowering herself, becoming fierce and strong. In sexy boots.

In Eileen's version, the chorus goes something like this "These boots are made for walkin'/ And you're going to regret it/when I put on these boots to leave you." My response to hearing something like that from a woman, "You know, if you are going to make those types of lame pronouncements, go ahead and beat it. And I never liked those damn boots anyway."

The best song on the album is not a lame remake, but an original song by David Alexandre Winter called "Qu'est-ce Que J'ai Danse!" which loosely translates into "Why Was I Dancing?" I finally paid attention to the lyrics. It's about a guy dreamily recounting how he saw this beautiful woman and somehow ended up dancing the night away with her. He returns home alone, and wonders if was all a dream.

There is absolutely nothing about the song that I can relate to. Here is how this all would have gone if Joseph K had been in the same situation as Winter: Joseph K's at club. Sees attractive woman dancing. Goes to dance with her. At end of evening, they decide to go their separate ways. Joseph K wakes up the next morning, makes some toast and reads the sports page. Joseph K does NOT dreamily recount the dancing the previous evening. Or the evening for that matter. Especially, if Joseph K did not get laid. Joseph K's song about his thoughts and feelings the morning such a night would be titled, "Why Does My Toaster Burn Everything I Put In It?"

Lyrical deficiencies notwithstanding, if you come across "Pop A Paris" in your record story, it's still worth picking it up. Especially if you don't understand French.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Good Music

I've seen the Cialis commercial many, many times, but I just realized that the music in the commercial is incredibly catchy. Its kind of this bluesy, redemptive tune. There is a twangy guitar. An teasing refrain. Good stuff. If a CD of it came with a prescription, it'd almost make me want to be impotent. I wonder if the person who composed the song wrote it exclusively for the commercial. If s/he did, s/he captured the joy of long-lasting, chemically-induced erections perfectly and deserves a Grammy or some sort of award.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


This is the first in an irregular series of apologies to folks who did web searches and unexpectedly ended up here, no doubt disappointed by the content. This week's apology is to the person who did a search "super hairy bushy women" and ended up here. I appreciate yeti women as much as the next guy, but that's not really what we are about here, is it? Or is it?

Makin' Bacon Or Surviving The Wild

A couple of nights ago, I was channel flipping, when I came across a show on MTV called "Trippin'." The show follows a tedious and shrill Cameron Diaz and her celebrity "friends" as they go on eco-tours of various locales. The noise pollution that comes out of Diaz's mouth almost negates the pro-environment and conservation agenda she is rightfully pushing. "Nepal is, like, so AWESOME." Can someone gag her with a spoon already.

This week, she embarked on a two day hike in Wyoming with: (1) Rebecca Romijn, (2) some no-name extreme sports cipher and (3) DMX. Casting the clearly disturbed DMX on a show where there would be a lot of hiking and camping was pure genious. He began the episode by sleeping excessively, and complaining a lot. To his castmates. Hours on his cell phone complaining to his wife. Then, once the trip began, DMX began complaining almost immediately about the hike.

Cameron: Isn't it, like, so beautiful up here?

Extreme Sports Cipher and Romijn: Yeah, it's awesome...totally...so worth it...totally... real cool...totally...

DMX (rasping and out of breath after a mile hike with a 650 foot ascent -- I have paraphrased and added emphasis to faithfully recreate his hip hop intonations): NO-IT'S-BUH-HULLShit. Not sure why I'm here. Don't understand why I am here. I-DON'T-NEED to see this view in person. I could have seen this shit on-a-PO-OST-CARD and been fine. That's what I really want. What I really want.

Later, after a night in a tent, DMX explodes out of the tent in a blind rage. He mumbled something about the woods and maybe bears. Shortly thereafter, we see him on some militaristic satellie phone. I thought at first that he was calling in an airstrike on another campsite on some nearby butte. Instead, he was calling to complain some more to his wife. He was awesome.

As an avid hiker, I found that he raises some good points about hiking/camping safety. I am totally unprepared for "what if" scenarios. It's all existentialism with me; map out a ten mile route, walk and see.

The only time I faced anything remotely resembling a dangerous situation was when an ex-girlfriend and I were on a hike in the Congaree National Swamp Monument in South Carolina. There were many critters there. A lot of swamp deer, which are like regular deer except with tattoos, strong accents and more grit. We came across a lone, very lost emu (really lost, emus are native to Australia, not South Carolina). A lot of gators that we didn't see, but knew were lurking on the gorged lake that was right next to one of the paths we were traversing.

At one point, a family of feral pigs darted across our path. With this, my girlfriend had enough, and insisted we turn around. I kept insisting that it was cool, but frankly my plan to take on the feral pigs if they attacked was primitive to say the least: I was going to kick those fuckers into hams.

I do a lot of moutain hiking too, and have yet to see a bear. I am pretty disappointed because I think seeing a bear would be awesome. Perhaps one of them would offer me a trout and we'd form a close bond, like Grizzly Adams did with Ben the Bear.

Where I hike, most of the bears are black bears, which are mostly shy and afraid. But, if they attacked, my plan for dealing with that situation is just as shitty as my feral pig attack plan. I won't go into any details, but let's just say it involves a pen knife and a lot of distraction (I once described the plan to a friend in detail, and she laughed at me for an hour straight).

I guess I don't bother coming up with a contingency plan for worst case scenarios when I am out "in nature" because I am pretty convinced that (i) that shit happens infrequently and (ii) I don't ever imagine myself being one of those poor schlubs to whom that random shit happens. The reality is when it comes to surviving nature, generally the odds of suriving it safely are on your side. But, frankly, if I actually do get killed by a pack of feral pigs or something equally random when I am on my next hike, don't be sad. Rest assured, I would have thought it was pretty funny, in a dark, ironic way.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Life Of The Times

I was talking to a friend the other day about the movie "Crash," when they told me that they wouldn't watch the film because "the Times gave it a bad review." Here on the East Coast, the "Times" being referred to is of course the New York Times (most East Coasters probably consider the Los Angeles Times an able tabloid or a fictional newspaper Julia Roberts worked for in some movie).

My friend suffers from a phenomenon that afflicts many an East Coast thinking person: at least part of their lives is programmed by the writers and opinion-makers at the New York Times. Whether it is wines, books, vacations, or ideas, many people I know draw comfort and inspiration from Times scribes. In many ways, it has become a living cultural bible. Whenever I've been at a cocktail party -- you know, the kind that feature wine and cheese as opposed to beer and chips -- stories in the Times magazine have formed the basis for many a forced, new conversation. "Did you happen to catch the article in the Times magazine about evangelical computer game designers? It was fascinating, you see ... blah, blah, blah." Once I was at a function talking to a pretty woman, and she was going on and on about this Spanish rioja that she "absolutely had to buy because the Times recommended it." I was *this* tempted to say, "You know, I read in the Times that making out with me reduces wrinkles."

I guess I am one of "those" people. I read the Times every day, mostly on-line. On Sundays, I occasionally buy the actual paper, and find peverse pleasure in reading it front to back over many long, marginally wasted hours. My relationship with the paper is complex: (i) it is one of the best sources of information and news in the world, yet (ii) I feel like I have to read it not to lose my status as a self-styled thinking man. But, at the end of the day, the news stories are no different that what I read elsewhere. At least substantively. Or even stylistically, as all newspaper journalism these days features bland writing and unthoughtful dialectics.

In my opinion, the Times distinctiveness and influence arises largely from its impact on culture, thought and taste. I often wonder about the people who read the Times reviews -- be they movie, book or theater reviews -- and are influenced by them. Do they really agree with the critics or agree because they feel they have to? It is that question that makes Times reviews or recommendations subversive in a way. The Times critics, obviously aware of their import, take this empowerment as a license to veer wildly into pretentiousness. Take this line from A.O. Scott's review of "Crash:" "[Director Haggis's film demonstrates that] [n]o one is innocent. There's good and bad in everyone ... That these bromides count as insights may say more about the state of the American civic conversation than about Mr. Haggis's limitations as a storyteller, and there is no doubt that he is trying to dig into the unhappiness and antagonism that often simmer below the placid surface of everyday life. "

The state of the American civic conversation? Dude, you review movies; I don't go to movie reviewers for essays into the human condition. No doubt, reviewers like Scott are trying to not only emulate but expand upon the work of the great New Yorker movie critic Pauline Kael, taking their reviews beyond the literary to the socio-political. But, Kael's genious was in being able to communicate a thought about a movie vividly, not just thoughts in the abstract or self-styled "great thoughts." Take this description by Kael of a scene from the movie "Platoon:" "the men are attacked in their foxholes and the bursts of fire are like a light show in the middle of a nightmare." That is exactly what I saw, but more beautiful.

I am not afraid to admit that my favorite movie reviewer is Roger Ebert. He is fat, homely, and popular. Moreover, his writing is mediocre at times. All of these factors damn him among the high brow literati. But, he has a real love of movies and filmmaking. He watches the movie as a member of the audience, not from above the audience. And I find that I like him because I agree with him, which I realize may be an absurdly simplistic prospect to most self-styled intellectuals. Until, of course, there is a feature on Ebert in the Times magaizne, rediscovering him as some sort of purist, retro-visionary type. But, until then, I am ahead of the curve, I suppose.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Behind The Ball

I am still recovering, physically and emotionally, from attending the Washington Wizards game last night. Unbelievable experience. It is the first time since the Reagan administration that Washington's basketball team actually won a playoff series. The energy in the arena last night was intense. As was the beer (headache is only now subsiding).

The reason I like sports in not only because of the sports themselves, but also the personalities who bounce, throw, catch, or kick the balls. One of the big stories in Washington was the suspension of one of their better young talents, Kwame Brown, for attitude reasons. He basically feigned illnesses and missed practices because he was upset with how the team was treating him. His excuses were outrageous; at one point, he skipped practice because he claimed he had the shits.

Kwame Brown was the first high school player to be drafted first in the NBA draft. He was -- and still is -- really just a kid emotionally, trapped in a man's body. When he first entered the league, Michael Jordan was the president of the team, and later a player. Jordan subjected Brown to homophobic, intense abuse in an effort to "motivate him." Lonely and overwhelmed, the then teenage Kwame was never the same after Jordan -- a basketball hero of his -- called him a flaming faggot in front of his teammates for not performing to Jordan's standards. Jordan might have been the greatest basketball player ever, but he was -- and is -- also a gambling addict, a philanderer and an all around cock.

My favorite Wizards are Etan Thomas and Michael Ruffin. Thomas is a 6-10 dreadlocked bruising center and aspiring artist. He's known for penning verse regularly, and is a big anti-death penalty activist. I have mixed feelings about the death penalty issue, but it is still cool to see a deep thinking athlete doing what he belives in. I am not quite sure why I like Michael Ruffin -- he's not particularly good or noteworthy -- except perhaps that he shares the same last name with David Ruffin, the troubled yet talented singer from The Temptations.

My other two favorite athlete-personalities are a current and a former Redskin. The current Redskin is Darnarian McCants, a backup wide receiver who is also an artist (painter). He is also known for being humble; at least as of last season he drove a 1999 cherry red Volve S70. As opposed to his teammates who drive tricked-out SUVs or luxury cars. I remember watching some fluff piece on the Redskins and their cars. When they showed Darnarian's car, the other Redskins they asked about joned on him for several minutes. Darnarain is also notorius for having briefly dated Viveca A. Fox. She later dumped Darnarian for 50 Cent. I am sure that gave his teammates ample additional bases for joning on him some more.

Finally, there is former Redskin Dan Turk. One year, during training camp, he and his brother (Matt) set up a hot dog stand outside the camp. In a another fluff piece for the Redskins, a reporter did a piece on the hot dog stand. It wasn't doing great business until defensive tackle Dana Stubblfield ambled up and ordered a dozen hotdogs. For himself.

Dan Turk's career with the Redskins ended after he screwed up a critical play. Dan Turk was a long snapper. He basically made $300,000 to toss a ball between his legs to a punter or holder on place kicks. Aside from practice, his job entailed him coming into a game maybe 5 or 6 times a game to engage in rote physical activity. During a playoff game against Tampa Bay in 2000, he muffed the snap on a potential game winning kick. He was cut from the team almost immediately.

I don't think he ever played football again. He died of testicular cancer a couple of years after muffing that snap. I am sure that every time Dana Stubblefield chomps down a dozen hotdogs in one sitting -- no doubt a regular occurence -- he thinks of Dan Turk.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Move

"There you are," T said walking into my new office. All of us had moved offices last week. T was no longer sitting right next door to me. He was far off on some distant corridor. But, apparently not far off enough.

"Yep," I said lifting my head up from reading a document.

T walked behind my desk, grabbed a handful of venetian blinds, and bent them towards him. "Your blinds have these little holes too, isn't that something?"

He was right. The blinds on the windows in my office had a bunch of tiny holes in them. Somehow I had forgotten to alert the press to this development.

"Yeah, T."

"Its crazy, isn't it? I mean they are blinds. They are supposed to block the light out. But, these blinds let some light in. That is not the purpose of blinds."

"What's the problem with a little bit of sunlight coming through your blinds?"

"I hate the goddam sun," T said. He actually spit that statement out. Using words and actual spittle. It was then that I noticed he was incredibly pasty. And, he also had a pair of largest sunglasses I have every seen hanging from a plastic necklace around his neck. These were no ordinary sun glasses. I think it was technically a visor. You could have used them as a windshield on a Cooper Mini. Apparently, he hated the sun so much he wanted to block it out for all of us. And with that thing around his neck, he just might succeed.

"T, I don't get it. You had a windowless office before. If you hate the sun, why did you move to an office with a window, where you ran the risk of getting some sun?"

"I don't think it is fair to assume, necessarily, that when you get a window with an office that you will get blinds that don't block the sun."

"But, isn't the point of moving to a window office --"

"Moreover. Moreover, I don't think..." At this point, I tuned out on T's response and started checking my Yahoo mail account. Why am I getting more and more Christian dating service spam?

"I hear you, T. So what are you going to do?"

"I am going to complain to Ms. J and see if I can get real blinds to block out the sun. Otherwise, I'm going to Home Depot to see if I can find on of those contraptions people put in their cars to block out the sun when their car is parked. I'll lick the sun thing one way or another."

When he said that, I honestly thought for a minute that we all might be doomed.

The move had been a multifaceted endeavor that involved contractors doing a bunch of work, and then a complex movement of people across floors. Not suprisingly, it had been a failure.

My life has become a lot easier over the years because I stopped giving a shit about most things. The move and my new office and painting and carpeting and blah, blah, blah. That stuff all fell into what I call the "fuck it" category. But, that was not true with some of my other colleagues, and the move began to drive them slowly insane.

Take S, who was supposed to be moving into my old office. She began scoping my office about three months before the move. She came in with a tape measure one day as I was on a conference call.

"Mind holding this?" She said handing me one end of the tape measure.

"Sorry, hold what?" said one of the people on the phone.

"That was someone who walked into my office," I said to the people on the phone.

S continued, "Pull it out there...that's it...no, stick it there...hold it...yes, yes, that's good."

"Pardon," one of the people on the phone said. I was in a fucking Three's Company episode.

(*editor's note* I have no doubt this last sentence gets us some cool google search referrals)

"S, please, can you do this some other time?" She sighed loudly and walked out of my office.

"Well, Mr. K," one person on the call remarked,"I am impressed with your ability to multitask." Giggles.

She came back though. The following week. This time, she brought a friend. They measured the dimensions of my office and took detailed notes on a clipboard. They measured all three dimensions of the office, counted ceiling tiles. It was an involved and distracting progress.

I thought it was over, but, she came back two weeks later. Measured the office again. Then, a couple weeks after that and measured it again. On the fifth visit, I finally had enough.

"S, why do you keep coming back to measure the office?"

"I have to be sure. I have a lot of furniture and need to get precise measurements."

"I can assure you that the office has neither shrunk nor grown since the last four times you measured it."

She stopped measuring, but kept coming by, getting more and more anxious as the move date came. Not because she was worried about her office size. She was anxious, because it was a three days before the move, and I hadn't packed.

I looked up one morning and saw her chewing on her fingernail, looking around my office pensively. "You aren't going to move are you?"

"Look, S, I am. But, I'm busy. I'll get to packing in time."

The next morning -- two days before the move -- it was no longer the fingernail. She was chewing on her whole index finger. Silently, while standing in my doorway. I was reading something, looked up and there she was. She walked off after a minute. On the one hand, I hadn't done anything to pack so maybe that could cause some concern. On the other hand, she was silently chewing on her finger in my doorway and therefore clearly nuts.

The day before the move, as of 10AM, I still hadn't packed. I was busy, but part of me wanted to see if S would stick her whole fist into her mouth this time. She didn't.

"You're not going to move, are you?"

I could have been nice and assuaged her concerns. "You didn't hear? I'm not moving."

"What?" S ran off down the hallway.

I turned to my packing. About an hour later, I heard S coming down the hallway, talking loudly to Ms. J, the office manager. "I'm telling you he TOLD me he wasn't moving. Come see for yourself."

When they came into my office, it was half packed, and I was putting some files into a box.

Ms. J said, "Looks like he's moving to me. Did you tell her you weren't moving?"

"No," I said.

"I could have sworn you said you weren't moving," S said.

"Did we even talk this morning?" I asked.

"I think I am going nuts, but I could have sworn you said you weren't moving. Seriously, I must be losing my mind"

Awareness is the first step in diagnosing and treating a problem. I shrugged my shoulders, shook my head, and continued packing.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Three Cool Things

I am known to my friends as a crazy sumbitch, who lives life with a carpe-diem, devil-may-care, je-ne-sais-quoi, shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits kind of recklessness. Sometimes I do insane things like wear a non-collared shirt to work. Other times, I might even forget to log off my computer at the end of the day. Once, I ate a whole 16-ounce bag of Doritos in one sitting. Another time, I told the McDonald's cashier that the carton into which my fries had been placed was inadequately filled, and I demanded that she add more fries to it. Yes, if you want to come with me on this crazy ride called life, you'd better strap in. But if you're not ready for that, and you want just a taste of the complete mayhem that I live every day, you might appreciate learning of three cool things I've recently discovered.

Here's the first: Neccos. You remember them from your youth, I'm sure. They are quarter-sized wafers of sugar in various bright colors. Each color is supposed to correspond to a particular flavor, but damned if I can identify any correlation between the intended and the actual flavors. I was standing in line at the drug store about a week ago when I saw a bunch of Neccos wedged in between the Sprees and the Sweet Tarts. My dad used to buy Neccos all the time. He always kept a roll on the console between the front seats in our car. I ate them because he did. When I saw them in the drug store, the part of my brain that regrets the passing of childhood took over and I bought a roll. Ah, yes, the chalky goodness of pure, chemically flavored sugar. A few days later, I bought two more rolls, and I've already plowed through them.

Given our general cultural obsession with the retro and the campy, I thought I might find a whole Necco subculture on the internet. But there doesn't seem to be one. No fan sites at all, as far as I can tell. The company that makes them -- the New England Confectionary Company -- does have a website, but I couldn't find any hipster irony on it at all. Strange. Get on board before the corduroy-and-Puma brigade: Neccos are cool.

Here's another endorsement: Flowers. Sorry, all you manlier-than-thou losers who believe plants are fit only for trampling and/or smoking. Flowers are cool. I mean, seriously cool. Flowers planted in seed form by my wife and me about three weeks ago are sprouting like little children. It's so exciting. Every day, I come home from work and see if I can find any new developments. I want to keep a little growth chart for them on the stone edifice behind them. These flowers are doomed though, and not just because I am a terrible gardener. They're annuals and will be dead and gone in six months. My dream is to plant perennials. We might go shopping for some this weekend. We'll need some hardy fuckers, of course, what with our abusive and militantly ungreen thumbs. Next year, we may be doing rock gardening. But, regardless of our success, flowers are just damned cool.

Third endorsement: Backpack. This new website is really cool. It's kind of a web-based PDA, but more flexible and … cooler. It just launched a couple days ago, apparently. I've already started using it a bit. It's the kind of digital thing that even analog freaks who fetishize office supplies will love. Kind of a flickr for words (though you can put images in too).

There you have it. Want to live like a rock star? Eat Neccos, plant flowers, and keep your to-do list on a web site.

Monday, May 02, 2005


*Update* -- see a picture of Kate Stelnick, the 115 pound cutie who ate the six pound burger as mentioned below, here. So greasy, so sexy. She even has her own web page. And, get this: Ms. Stelnick donated the gift certificate she won for eating the burger to help the victims of last year's tsunami. She is the greatest woman ever.


I was having lunch with Banality Fair alum Cotton Mather last week, and we decided to go to a steakhouse near our office that has great burgers. They are huge and, when coupled with fries or white cheddar mashed potatoes, can induce a food coma. Cotton digs them so much, that he refuses to eat the delicious (and free) cornbread for which the steakhouse is also known. "I don't want the bread to interfere in any way with my enjoyment of the beef," he explained. I think Cotton likes meat more than any person I know. The minute his baby gets teeth, it'll be out with the pureed peas, and in with beef brisket.

But I am not sure he likes beef this much. A Pennsylvania eatery, Denny's Beer Barrel Pub, has a 15 pound burger on its menu. According to the linked story, the "burger comes with 10.5 pounds of ground beef, 25 slices of cheese, a head of lettuce, three tomatoes, two onions, a cup-and-a-half each of mayonnaise, relish, ketchup, mustard and banana peppers — and a bun." I wonder what they use to slather on the 7.5 cups of condiments. A mop?

The restaurant had previously offered a 6 pound burger, which had been first conquered by a 115 pound female college student in February. See this to learn more about my love for thin, yet gluttonous women. When another restaurant tried to trump Denny's Beer Barrel Pub by offering a 12.5 pound burger, Denny's Beer Barrel Pub responded with its 15 pound beast-burger.

According to a the guy who owns the restaurant, it's a real deal. The burger costs $30, but, "it can feed a family of 10." And then eventually kill them.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Out of Singles

Spiral Stairs and I headed up to Atlantic City yesterday as part of a bachelor weekend for a friend of ours. This morning, around 1AM, we found ourselves with the rest of the group at a strip club, where I found myself at first feeling typically awkward.

I have been learning more about stripping and the world of strip clubs from stefanie's blog, but no amount of reading will lessen the weirdness I feel in a strip club. I haven't been to many in my life. The first times I went was when I lived in New York. I had this friend named Mike, who was a minister's son. Mike once dragged us to this place called "Medallions." To this day, my friends and I never talk about what we saw and what happened at Medallions. In the ten minutes we were there, we witnessed acts that may qualify as war crimes under the Geneva Convention.

The few other places I have been to have been far more mellow, but it was never my idea. In fact, I always tried to get the fellas to do something else. One time, I said something to the effect of, "Look, let's forget going to the strip club, and just go and watch the game somewhere and grab a beer." Mike responded, "Why don't we do that while also seeing some breasts." The logic of Mike's point was overwhelmingly persuasive to the rest of the gang.

What do I mean by feeling "awkward?" Uncomfortable. Like a fish out of water. Except I am not a fish and breathe air. And a fish out of water would eventually die. What a stupid expression. Anyway, when I am in a strip club -- always at the insistence of friends -- I find myself wanting to be anonymous. A few years ago, my brother dragged me to a strip club in D.C. I saw a Borders nearby. I excused myself, went to the Borders and bought a Harpers. I sat in the corner of the place drinking an $8 Heineken while reading a long essay about dictionaries while my brother and a friend of his fed a variety of women stacks of singles. It was a pretty fascinating essay. Then, this drunk guy sitting next to me started talking to me. He was from South Carolina, and was at the strip club because it was his son's bachelor party. He then started weeping silently about his ex-wife. I told him about the dictionary essay. It was a weird night.

I am not afraid to admit this: I am intimidated by strippers. In a lot of ways, I can be an indomitable person. Not in the strip club. I like powerful women. I like sexual women. And I am not a moralist about the issue. But, the kind of sexuality strippers wield overwhelms. It is powerful, yet also too remote and unfamiliar. It's that, as well as the possibility that they find themselves stripping after a overwhelmingly sad or painful early life. I can't tune it all out and just appreciate the grind. My mind focuses on the "who" to the exclusion of the "what."

Yet, last night, over time, the experience became pretty tolerable for me. Same reaction from a couple of other dudes in our group who share my unease at strip clubs. As we drove home today, we discussed why, and it may have been this: we were in New Jersey where strippers are not allowed to be nude if the place serves alchohol. So all the women were basically just dancing around in lingerie. I guess that makes them more exotic dancers than strippers, but I admit I am not sure about terminology here.

The dancing was just as suggestive as at a regular (?) strip place, but somehow the extra clothing tempered the vibe. Was it the extra clothing? Why should the appearance or non-appearance of a breast affect any of the issues I identified above? That explanation was so arbitrary to us. But obviously right in a way; when we all inventoried our money this morning, none of us had anything smaller than a $20.