Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Mysterious Pup Of The Greatland Parking Lot

I like to lie on the floor. I do.

Much to the consternation of the wife, I often enjoy stretching out on the floor and relaxing. Is it the flat surface? Feeling close to the earth? I couldn't say. I can tell you that it puzzles her to no end, though. All these years of slowly working our way out of the protoplasm, learning to walk upright on two legs, going to job interviews, and the best I can do is lie on the floor.

I do understand dogs better now, though. I remember how annoying it would feel when the family dog would follow me around from room to room when I just wanted some privacy. Wherever I settled, the dog would inevitably follow and then lie down somewhere nearby where it could keep an eye on me. If I left, the dog would get up and follow.What I didn't understand was that the dog merely wanted the company. This finally sunk in when I found myself following the wife into the computer room, much to her annoyance, after which I'd stake out a piece of floor and then curl up on a chosen patch. "What are you doing on the floor?" she'd ask. I had no explanation. I just went where the humans went.

Anyway, about a week or so back I'm doing my floor thing in the computer room. Now at the moment the wife is going through a very heavy Shane MacGowan phase. You know, the Pogues guy. And this has manifested itself in many forms, the least of which consists of collecting the original recordings. In fact, a friend of hers who did her share of rock photography back in the day gifted her with this lovely 8 X 10 print of him which she promptly framed.

But did not hang.

Thought there were moments, usually after the 117th playing of Sally Maclennane, when I wanted to hang him.

So it has sat awaiting its assigned place for some time now, leaning against the door of the computer room.

You see where this is going, don't you?

Well, I'm changing position on the floor when, like some vengeful celtic god, the framed portrait falls glass side down on my head.So it's like that is it, MacGowan, I thought to myself. You're obviously as fond of me as I am of you. Enjoy this while you can.

My forehead took the brunt of it and I was merely scratched up a bit, with only one bandage pressed into service for the minimal bleeding. What this meant, though, was that we had to hunt down a similar frame. Which you'd think would be simple.

But, no.

Each of the Target stores we visited (because that was where the original had been purchased) had frames that were close, but always just a little off: an inch here, an inch there, dinged, broken, scratched, etc. I could tell MacGowan was enjoying my frustration. All those songs about whiskey and beer I'd had to endure for the last six months were starting to play in a loop in my head, over which floated this sinister toothless Irish cackle. Ah, keep it up, boyo, keep it up, I told him. Your day is coming.

Finally, the last Target we visited was a "Greatland" store. It shone out like a beacon. If the frame could not be found at Target's last, best hope for humanity, then it was all over. Now just what the difference between a regular Target and a "Greatland" Target is, I'm not exactly sure. It implies a microcosmic America just beyond the doors, with shoppers of all races and creeds spending their money in one great, collective express lane of 12 items or less. Give us your frameless, your cheap, it seemed to promise, your huddled masses lying on the floor.

And, indeed, the Great Land did not disappoint. There, amongst its bountiful harvest of baby tees and electronics, was our frame. Not perfect, but close enough to get MacGowan off my back and on the wall, where he belonged. Not laughing so hard now, are you, Mr. Pair Of Brown Eyes ?

And that would have been an end to it, except for one final thing.

As if to remind me how all this had gotten started, just before we were about to get back in the car, I noticed a small red stuffed dog that fit into the palm of your hand lying on the ground.You don't want to go lying on the ground, I told him, picking him up. Take it from me.

From his position, I could tell that he'd fallen out of the SUV next to us, likely from where the child's seat was.I tucked him neatly into the driver's side door handle, leaving the owners of the vehicle to wonder how he'd managed to migrate from the backseat to the outside of the front door. Life had thrown a mystery into their laps that they would long ponder and, whenever they would begin to doubt the existence of miracles or when their hearts would grow cold with the winter's chill of their own mortality, they would remember the mysterious pup of the Greatland parking lot and nod their heads, ruminatively.

The child, on the other hand, would understand instinctively what had happened.

The pup was lonely and wanted the company.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Building Blocks Of Achievement!

Of course, the “Please Kill Me” hat was not the first time my creativity had been rewarded.

There had already been many instances of my artistic perspective causing consternation amongst management. I remember when we had the hallways papered with cheery aphorisms like “Nothing Is Achieved Without Enthusiasm,” I returned to my desk one day and posted a sign which read “Nothing Is Achieved Without An Aneurysm.”

I thought it would catch on. It really did, I thought, more accurately reflect the company’s work ethic, namely that the employee who sacrifices the greatest amount of their personal life will go the farthest. They often spoke out of both sides of their mouth on this issue, insisting that they were concerned about employees achieving the proper “Life/Work Balance,” while making it plain in other ways that the raises and promotions were reserved for those individuals who stayed late enough to miss their family’s dinner or who were willing to sign their weekends over for the good of the enterprise.

Under these circumstances, it was established early on that I would not be rising very far through the ranks.

This is where the morale building that I mentioned previously comes in. At one point it was thought that if the artificial boundaries between management and labor were removed by designating all workers as “associates,” it would go some ways towards fostering some team spirit.

Needless to say, it didn’t last very long. The only reason to become a boss was the incentive of knowing that you could then abuse your underlings. Once you removed that, there was very little impetus left.

Most of the time, the company fell back on the tried-and-true bribe method. The bribe could be an additional day off, or a gift card, or a small trophy. How these were handed out were usually geared to positive comments e-mailed by co-workers.

Recently an announcement was made to the effect that management understood that not all employees had jobs that lent themselves to this sort of system and, as a result, many of the same people seemed to win. So it was decided that a fairer one was required.

Hence, the “Building Blocks of Achievement” program.

Now, remember what I said about Kindergarten? Well, these were no mere metaphorical, ambition-oriented blocks. These were actual building blocks.

Each of us received a base with two large Lego-style blocks upon it labeled “Building Blocks of Achievement.” The idea was to acquire more blocks, like merit badges, named “Innovation,” “Excellence,” “Leadership,” etc. This was done by having people nominate you for said block. At the end of the year, a grand prize would be awarded to the individual with the most blocks.

On the sample nomination form, suggestions were made as to how one could determine a co-worker’s suitability for being nominated. For example:

Jane Doe is always there for questions and assistance. Her devotion during the day to the development of the team is commendable; she completes her own work by working late at night and almost every Saturday.

I may have to buy my own blocks.


One of the things I’ve learned after nearly 20 years of being engaged in corporate culture is that school really doesn’t make any sense until you’ve entered the working world. Only then can you appreciate how all those years of sitting behind a desk has prepared you for sitting behind a desk.

And I’m not talking about College, particularly. Or High School, for that matter.

No, I’m talking about those formative years. The years of lumpy paste, finger painting and construction paper.

I’m talking about Kindergarten.

It takes some getting used to at first, but eventually you come to terms with the fact that all of this looks strangely familiar. The cheery sloganeering in large letters on every wall. The ice cream sundae rewards for a job well done. People who talk to you loudly and in small words.

Most of this is done in the name of morale. There’s nothing dearer to the heart of large companies than exercises that are intended to build a sense of teamwork among the rowing crew. The preferred tools for this are usually available for a reasonable fee at your local arts and crafts store.

I remember one time, recently, when we were encouraged to make our own hats. Tables were laid out with scissors and glue, sequins, glitter, and assorted hat frames that employees were encouraged to let their imaginations run riot over.

Determined to work towards a “personal best,” however, I opted to create my own headgear out of some simple things I found at my desk. By merely stapling together two sheets of paper and cutting a fringe along the edge, I had something approximating a party hat.

On both sheets of paper, however, I had written in large letters in black magic marker “Please Kill Me.”

A slow murmur seemed to build in my area, almost impossible to hear at first. People kept getting in and out of their chairs until, eventually, my supervisor paid me a visit.

“Your, uh…hat…”


“Some of your fellow employees aren’t happy with it.”


“I’m just letting you know. I’m not telling you to change it. I’m just letting you know what they think.”

“Ok. Thank you.”

I suddenly began to see images of my friendly fellow workers marching towards me with torches and pitchforks.

“There’s the hat!”

“I can just make out the fringe!”

“Satan loves magic marker!”

So I kept the hat on for a while longer until finally removing it and retiring it to my overhead cabinet. Not long after this, I found myself inexplicably transferred to another section of the enterprise.

Once again, I had helped to build team morale.

Next: Building Blocks of Achievement!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

War On Terror: Over!

But she’s got a new hat. – Waylon Smithers

That’s right! Mission Accomplished!

Welcome to the "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism"!

Apparently, the folks at 1600 Pennsylvania took time out from exposing CIA agents to take a look at the war’s poll numbers. Not good at all, no.

So what do you do when you need to goose sales? You come up with something that looks new but is actually the same old thing. Comic book companies have known about this one for years.

In one of many wonderful quotes from an interview with an administration official reported by the NY Times, they practically come out and say it: "We need to dispute both the gloomy vision and offer a positive alternative."

How did this conference go?

"You know, ‘war on terror’ just sounds so...9/11. We need to jazz it up, y'know, like an iPod commercial, something the kids can relate to…"

"How about iRaq?"

"That’s good, that’s good…but it has to sound contemporary, like we’re sending Tony Hawk into Baghdad."

"I’ve got it! ‘The Struggle Against Violent X-Tremism’!"

The same official also explained that part of the reason for the switch is that "the struggle is beyond military and intelligence, and a 'let's get 'em' component."

What’s this? No more "Bring ‘em on"? Say it ain’t so, George! You’re stripping away whatever masculinity this country’s got left! Surely you’re not letting those wussy critics of your misguided foreign policy get to you? S’gettin’ like a feller can’t believe in nothin’ no more. Shucks, Lulubelle!

So remember, when you go down to your local recruiting office, don’t ask to join the "war on terror." They’ll laugh your uncool, outdated ass right out of there. Ask for the (deep breath, now) "global struggle against violent extremism."

Who are they kidding? They’ll never get all that out of Bush’s mouth unscathed. It’ll turn into the "globular struggle against extreme violencity!"

Maybe it’s just as well they didn’t approach the comic companies for help. We could have ended up with the "Struggle Against Infinite Crisis."

Hey, that makes more sense.

Rick Santorum has ruled out a Presidential run in 2008, he says, thereby giving you folks a few more years to figure out what stuff you want to bring to Canada. I see that Jon Stewart is taking a bit of liberal heat for having him on The Daily Show and handling him with kid gloves. From what I’ve read, Stewart did everything but offer him a foot massage.

I didn’t see it, but I’m sort of glad I didn’t. How hard is it to get your guests to consent to being tarred and feathered, anyway?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Are You In Pain?

It’s funny how quickly you can fall off the edge of the Earth.

In my case, it only took 12 hours to go from business as usual to a 103 degree temperature that fought back against anything I threw at it: the usual pain relievers, cold compresses, cool baths. Every time I thought I’d managed to gain some ground, the thermometer would put the lie to it.

And I say falling off the Earth because to me, the worst thing about these sorts of illnesses isn’t necessarily the discomfort and increasing nausea that operate in sync with the rising temperature, as awful as that is. It’s the general air of unreality that takes over. You watch people going about everyday things and can’t figure out why or how they manage it. Commercials for food make no sense. There’s a foggy windscreen between you and what you think you remember the world is like. It all becomes so alien that you wonder if you’ll ever understand it again.

And all you want is to understand it again, desperately.

If this seems a little melodramatic for a run-of-the-mill viral infection, I apologize. I can be stoic about these things sometimes. But this just felt so different, so awful, in fact, that I managed to reach the bargaining with God stage during the trip to the Emergency Room. Just get me through this and I’ll stop eating crap, I’ll exercise more, I’ll pay better attention to my health, which seems paradoxical when you consider that another part of you only wants to get back to the place where fatty and greasy foods look appealing again.

I was in no shape to visit my regular doc, so he thought I should pay a visit to the closest Emergency Room which, thankfully, isn’t far. A neighbor did the driving, as neither she nor the wife thought I should be behind the wheel, and I agreed.

If you’re hip to the ER trip, you know how it can feel like the ultimate bureaucratic nightmare. Each step, from the Check-In, to the Triage, to actually getting seen, takes forever and moves in the slowest of incremental steps. In a way, when you finally do get a room it’s even worse as you get hooked up to a saline drip and lose any mobility you had. Which means the only entertainment you have is reading and rereading the one sign in the room. In this case it was a small poster that asked, in a concerned font:


Beneath was a series of faces, not unlike the infamous Mr. Yuk! of poison warning fame. The first was a smiling face, but then the faces grew progressively more agitated until the one at the end looked ready to call it a day. The idea is that you can point to the face that most closely reflects your own pain situation, so that the doctor can suggest the proper pain management. If anyone had asked me, I would have borrowed a felt-tip pen and drawn little x’s over the eyes of that last unfortunate.

Of course, the sobering thing about the long wait inside is that you become acquainted with the sounds of the other patients who are much worse off than you. The shockingly skinny woman whose diarrhea won’t stop and so they lay down absorbent padding underneath her. She says something about the Oxycontin not working any more. The yelling from another room during an exam, as the nurses say, "We haven’t even done anything yet!" and you pray that you’ve got a few years before you end up in that room. The easy camaraderie between some of the patients and nurses that suggests that these visits are fairly frequent.

Am I in pain?


But not as much as them. And maybe not as much as you.

So maybe I’ll stop complaining for now.

Friday, July 22, 2005

A Madness To My Method

With my fellow students already neatly arranged in the Rectangle Of Judgment, if not entirely recovered from what they had just witnessed, Selma Dombrowski began to question her reluctant class.

Many of them were not quite sure what the piece had been about; others were quite sensible and even-handed about what they thought of it; and a handful offered some very erudite explanations that had not even occurred to me. I filed these away for later just in case someone happened to ask me what it was I’d meant.

I won’t say The Star damned me with faint praise – he was quite fair about it and even gave me some credit for artistic bravery. But I could tell that at the heart of it lay a certain reluctance to admit that this piece of mine merited the same round-table routine that his had received. Who was this man with the paper bag on his head? What did he know of life, of suffering? Ripping up the script…hmmph. Who was going to clean that up?

There was one other little painful episode to come, however. Seated by his side was his ever-present sidekick, a tall, gangly and kind fellow we’ll call Al. Al had a great sense of humor and so, when it was his time to pronounce judgment, he declared, “I just think he’s nuts!” which got a terrific laugh from the class and especially from me. He did so well with it that later on, after a particularly obtuse bit of elucidation from someone, he said “I still think he’s nuts!” which got an almost bigger laugh. The Star shot Al a sideways glance as if to say, “Et tu, Al?” He had not only lost his singular claim to being the only student whose work was worthy of detailed explanation, but his sidekick had joined the enemy camp of the paper bag.

He must have retained a strange shred of respect for me, however, as he later asked me to try out for a production of William Saroyan’s The Ping-Pong Players that he was directing. This, however, is a tale for another time.

What I can tell you is that The Star did indeed go on to make a name for himself on the stage and screen. He changed his name and began to show up in bit parts in films. I remember being astonished when I caught a quick cameo of him in a Woody Allen picture. I couldn’t imagine being more successful than that.

He really hit it big, though, when he signed on to a syndicated TV show that developed a rabid following and even spawned conventions for its fans. There were websites devoted to him and his convention appearances were very popular. Eventually there was an action figure made of him. I remember my surprise when I ran across it during a periodic toy store run.

I picked it up and had to admit they’d done a fair job with the likeness. As I gazed at it, the doll’s features began to subtly swim before my eyes and change until it was once again shooting that sidelong glance at Al, as the Rectangle Of Judgment sat in mute approval. We had all witnessed a seismic cultural shift that day. Art had been kicked out of the Academy and packed into a brown paper bag like a school lunch, years before yams and chocolate syrup were even a glint in Karen Finley’s eye. I allowed myself a brief fantasy: an action figure with a paper bag on its head, accompanied by a handful of tiny accessories – water pistol, record player, and tiny script.

I wondered if he ever thought of me. I would later run into Al more than 30 years later teaching Hebrew at my synagogue, but I didn’t have the nerve to ask him about what had transpired that day. Would he have even remembered it? Or would he have said, without missing a beat, “You know, I almost didn’t recognize you without the paper bag on your head.”

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Blackboard Jugular!

I was about to put the paper bag over my head as the Yoko Ono track began to play.

Wait a minute. Let’s back up.

Before we continue, it would probably be helpful to examine some of the radical developments in psychotherapy that occurred during the tail end of the ‘60’s and the beginning of the ‘70’s.

R.D. Laing became notable for theories that held that madness and schizophrenia may not be illnesses at all, but a kind of healthy reaction to the stress and crises of life. He considered the possibility that patients were going through a learning process, almost a shamanic journey, that would allow them to return better integrated than before.

Arthur Janov’s “Primal Scream” therapy attempted to help patients by getting them to feel and express the sadness and pain they’d long suppressed. This involved having them scream until they reached a point where they could finally experience their real pain and, having finally lived through it, they could then release it.

It was Janov’s “Primal Scream” therapy that attracted John and Yoko Lennon. Upon completing the treatment, the couple recorded a pair of remarkable solo albums that reflected the experience.

The Yoko album especially fascinated me. It had all the power of rock ‘n’ roll, along with wild improvisation and incredibly creative guitar pyrotechnics from John. I listened to it a lot.

So when it came time for me to put together my dramatic monologue, all of these things sort of melded together into a sort of performance piece that I imagined was in the spirit of Yoko’s notion of conceptual art.

It was, in the context of this class, an unusual presentation.

I had one of those school record players wheeled in, you know, the kind that look like industrial appliances? As the track began to play (this one featuring Yoko with Ornette Coleman on trumpet), I strode over to the blackboard and wrote the word Knots, the name of the Laing work I would begin to recite portions of.

Knots was an unusual, poetic attempt to follow the endless complications of the human mind, for example:

They are playing a game.
They are playing at not playing a game.
If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me. I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game.

But before I began the recitation (which I had memorized), I put a paper bag over my head (another nod to Yoko?). The paradox was that I held a complete typed script in my hands in front of me the entire time which I could not see.

This was the first time Selma Dombrowski had ever seen a student in one of her classes present a monologue with a lunch bag over his head. I have to think she was intrigued.

As the musicians reached a crescendo of sound, with Yoko screaming full tilt, I then withdrew the water pistol I’d hidden on my person and shot it at the chalk title I’d written on the blackboard, eliminating it. This was, I decided, the high point of the work. It would be up to my fellow classmates to crack its arcane code.

I resumed speaking until I finally reached the last two lines of my recitation, and the book:

The statement is pointless
The finger is speechless

Having concluded, I took the script solidly in hand and ripped it to pieces, scattering the pieces over the heads of my fellow students like confetti, many of them seemingly unable to move.

My cogent reflection on the nature of modern communication, or lack of it, was now in their court, awaiting judgement.

There was a deathly silence.

I could almost palpably feel the class longing for The Star to return to center stage, bringing with him all the traditions of the theatre that he represented and championed, turning the universe right-side up once more. As for The Star himself, although he seemed slightly dazed by it all, his jaw was firmly set as if he had already begun to assimilate whatever lesson was here to be learnt.

“Well,” said Selma Dombrowski, brushing aside a few errant pieces of script, “I think it would be interesting to hear some opinions about this.”

Conclusion: A Madness To My Method

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

A Raisin In The Stunned

Selma Dombrowski’s drama class consisted of 20 to 30 students whose desks were arranged in a rectangle around the room, leaving the center of the room open for performance, a theatre in the square, if you will.

Often we’d do readings of plays, with students taking turns portraying the characters and pauses taken to discuss relevant portions of the text.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience in a classroom, but occasionally it’s obvious that someone in the class really has some talent, not just some skill but something that is probably going to influence their career choice.

In our class we had such a one. Let’s call him The Star.

I don’t mean this in a derogatory sense for he was actually a very nice fellow. He never lorded his obvious talent over the rest of the class, but it was impossible to ignore the fact that he was light years more accomplished than the majority of us, who were more likely to end up making shadow puppets than dazzling audiences on Broadway. The stentorian tone of his voice, his facility with language, just the way he carried himself had most of us convinced that he had probably been reciting Shakespeare as he exited the womb.

One day, with no little excitement, Ms. Dombrowski announced a new class project. Each one of us would be required to come up with a monologue which we would perform before the class. It could be a pre-existing piece, or something we’d written ourselves. But every one of us had to come up with something, which was not particularly good news for those of us who had stage fright issues. Nevertheless, the project was on and there was a good deal of conjecture about what The Star would come up with. His selection would automatically become the bar to which our other, far more modest, projects aspired.

Of course, there was also the issue of what to come up with for myself. What were my strengths, my weaknesses? Should I trust in the mask of Comedy or Tragedy? What was my motivation?

Various schemes percolated in my teenage brain as my debut drew near, but before my turn at bat, The Star was required to reveal his selection. He did not disappoint.

Lorraine Hansberry’s celebrated A Raisin In The Sun is the story of a struggling black family who must decide what is most important to them. In fact, a recent revival of Raisin (featuring P. Diddy no less) ended up winning two Tony awards last year. It has many dramatic moments that stand on their own and The Star had selected a monologue that closed Act II, one that was delivered by Sidney Poitier in the film version.

This particular monologue is a tour-de-force of suffering, pain, and hope. The Star gave a truly accomplished and mature performance of it using all the weapons in his arsenal, i.e., stentorian tone, etc., as he pounded the chair with every line. He almost seemed at times to actually be channeling Poitier, as much as any 18-year old Jewish kid could.

When he was finished, the class practically awarded him a standing ovation. Ms. Dombrowski even went around the room asking each student about their reaction, something she had never done for anyone else.

But it would not be the last time she did it. There would be one other performance she would deem to be of sufficient quality and innovation to warrant such treatment.

They had no idea, as the applause for The Star dwindled away, what was coming.

Next: Blackboard Jugular!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Curtain Time

I have always had a very nostalgic feeling for the theatre.

In fact, everything involved with putting on a show has always felt like it’s been in my blood, the make-up, costumes, the brotherhood of actors and the gambling with an audience. I’m surprised I haven’t tried to do more with this enthusiasm, though I suppose a difficult case of shyness probably has something to do with it. There’s just something about the idea of a box with a curtain in the front, opening to reveal a world that could be anywhere that soothes and excites me. I just love it.

I’m not sure where this comes from. My actual stagework has been, to put it kindly, limited. I did the usual sort of school plays. I was one of the King’s children in The King And I and actually had a line: “Walk on water?” I did a short A.A. Milne one-act play called The Man In The Bowler Hat which was extremely funny and I remember garnering my share of laughs. I debuted as a semi-professional as one of the workhouse boys in a local production of Oliver! For that audition I sang a Mad Magazine parody of California, Here I Come! called Cleopatra, Here I Come! that went on to say:

Caesar’s dead, but don’t be glum!
(something something), night time and day!
I’ll woo ya, sing to ya!
Hear me, Cleo, when I say that

I would gladly walk a mile
Just for your Egyptian smile
Open up that River Nile!
Cleopatra, Here I Come!

And that, incredibly, got me the job.

I realize looking back that I have sublimated this basic urge to perform in a number of ways. Going on the radio was a sort of theatre for me, with the same feeling of preparing a show backstage and then opening the curtains. The musical performances I’ve done have felt the same. The adrenalin just gets flowing when it comes to organizing something for an audience, something that, if not Art, at least carries with it the imprint of its maker and the aspiration to be something more than the sort of entertainment you could find anywhere.

And, of course, it is not lost on me that this very thing you are reading is once again another form of theatre. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks, I suppose. In another age, I like to think I would have been a vaudevillian, doing sketches in baggy pants with buxom chorines.

All of this is merely prelude, though, to the story I really mean to tell. The story of my greatest performance, witnessed only by a handful, but which I like to think haunts them still. To tell it, we must travel back to a nondescript high school in the Philadelphia suburbs circa 1970. To understand it, well…

You may decide, like those who were temporarily trapped that day in the jewel box of my imagination, that some things were never meant to be understood.

Next: A Raisin In The Stunned

Crepescule With Karl: Rove Extra

As you've no doubt heard by now, President Smiff has rejiggered his definition of what it takes to get fired from his staff.

Having "something to do with" the leak, which previously seemed to be a sack-worthy offense according to Resident Bush, is no longer the litmus test. You now have to be found to have "committed a crime."

"Bush Narrows Leak Pledge: I'll Fire Criminals," declared the Chicago Sun-Times. You must admit, this is quite a concession on the part of an administration that's practically based itself on criminal activity.

Hell, they've made campaign promises based on it.

Over at the Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington writes, "So we now officially have a direct statement of what will come to be known as The New Bush Doctrine: 'If someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.' Of course, it would be hard for this 'someone' to continue to work in Bush's administration, since this someone would be in prison. But I guess the 'restoring integrity to the White House' President is assuring us that, were it even possible to work out an arrangement whereby the offender could continue to fulfill his White House duties from a federal penitentiary, this president just cares too much about integrity to allow that kind of thing."

The Post also pulled the best question from yesterday's White House press conference for its banner:

Q: What is his problem? Two years, and he can't call Rove in and find out what the hell is going on? I mean, why is it so difficult to find out the facts? It costs thousands, millions of dollars, two years, it tied up how many lawyers? All he's got to do is call him in.

MR. McCLELLAN: You just heard from the President. He said he doesn't know all the facts. I don't know all the facts.

Q: Why?

MR. McCLELLAN: We want to know what the facts are. Because --

Q: Why doesn't he ask him?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll tell you why, because there's an investigation that is continuing at this point...

If M.C. Escher was a White House spokesperson, this is what it would sound like.

Fred Grimm of the Miami Herald contributes, "Imagine what Karl could do with Karl.

Oh, what a spectacle that'd be. Karl Rove has transformed three war heroes into a fake, a stoolie and a terrorist sympathizer. He remade a Texas grandma into a low-down lesbian. Just think what Karl could do with a sleazy miscreant like Karl Rove for outing a CIA agent."

And syndicated columnist Mark Shields, in a piece entitled "How Dumb Do They Really Think We Are?" ponders the Republican explanation for Rove's behavior:

"It is true that Rove did talk to Matt Cooper. But he was not trying to smear Wilson and thus silence a formidable critic of Bush's Iraq policy. No, Rove's only motive was to make sure that Cooper and Time did not publish something that could turn out to be false. This is a side of the man...we have not seen before -- selflessly saving gullible newsmen from publishing anything inaccurate.

Imagine how busy Rove must have been during Bush's 1994 race for Texas governor, when his campaign was accused of launching a whispering campaign in East Texas about Democratic Gov. Ann Richards' affinity for gays. Try as he must have, Karl just couldn't stop the circulation of those ugly rumors.

In 2000, George W. Bush's campaign was accused of spreading the vicious charge that Bush's main rival, Sen. John McCain, was unstable because of the time he had spent as a POW in isolation. You just know Karl must have been speed-dialing reporters, valiantly trying to kill that slander."

See? This is why we have to wait until all the facts are in!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Conservatives Say The Darndest Things!

Apparently I wasn't that far off after all.

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Thanks to Andrew Sullivan, Orcinus, and leftinsf for the tip.


I would be very surprised if anyone was caught off-guard by last week’s revelations in l’affaire Rove.

If there is anyone out there who is still confused as to how the same folks who genuflect so piously before the altars of Truth, Freedom and The American Way could lie, twist the truth and smear the names of the good, let me explain something.

All you have to remember is that, as far as they’re concerned, they’re engaged in a holy war. As such, any means are justified when applied towards this end. The laws of Man are nuisances to be endured and are to be treated as such in the light of God’s Holy Word.

They’re building a landing strip for the Lord and woe betide any who slow their march towards Armageddon.

Twenty years ago I watched a small mob of them, armed with talking points from the Moral Majority, infiltrate and destroy the community radio station I volunteered at.

They were ugly, inside and out, having long ago dispensed with the humanity that was no doubt nothing but an encumbrance to their elevated, spiritual selves. They were bitter and twisted creatures with the expressions of the brainwashed on their sad and sallow faces.

They studied Robert’s Rules Of Order for possible loopholes through which poison could find purchase. They lied when it suited them and misled as a matter of policy. They worked diligently towards a single-minded goal that would be rewarded in the next life.

By the time they were through, they had dismantled things that had taken years to build. They destroyed other people’s efforts without consultation or conscience. Already dead inside, they resented any signs of life in others and devoted many hours to extinguishing them whenever they were discovered.

When questioned about why they seemed so committed to eliminating everything about the station that people valued, especially greatly reducing the variety of music it was known for offering, the ringleader declared, “We’d rather not play any music at all.” See? We don’t like any music, so you can’t accuse us of targeting anything in particular.

I have to admit that this statement, which has stayed with me for 20 years and which astonishes me now every bit as much as it did then, has come to personify for me the essence of conservative thought. You have a complaint about how we’re destroying part of civilization? Very well.

We’ll destroy all of it.

So none of this is new or surprising to me. I watched them go through these motions at close range and got to see them operate. Nothing’s changed except the surprising progress they’ve made and the frightening amount of power they wield.

So get on board the Jesus train, folks, while there’s still time.

You don’t want to end up on that other train.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Cheeseborgie, Cheeseborgie, Cheeseborgie!

Perhaps it’s isn’t necessary to point this out, but I more or less define myself as a Liberal.

I’m down with the program. I’m down with the giant anti-capitalist puppet head protests, the grudge against Big Oil, and I believe in global warming.

But to paraphrase Emma Goldman, if there’s no cheeseburgers at your revolution, then I don’t want to be part of it.

I have many vegan friends who have managed to quit meat for various reasons, some for health reasons and others because they simply don’t believe in it anymore.

I’ve never been able to reach this plateau. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that if the terrorists ever want to break me, it wouldn’t take much more than a salty, greasy cheeseburger.

In my defense, I should say that I eat much less of this sort of thing today. I do try and avoid it now, but there was a time when I haunted the fast food emporiums. I could tell you what the free toys were in the kid’s meal at McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King on any given day. When we still had a White Castle here, I was a daily visitor.

The other day the wife and I sat down and watched a good hunk of that McDonald’s documentary by Morgan Spurlock, Super Size Me. You know, the one where he eats nothing but Mickey D’s for a month and demonstrates the health problems it can cause in only 30 days.

Now certainly, if anything is going to turn you off eating fast food, it’s this thing. You’re introduced to this guy who claims to have eaten 19,000 Big Macs and you just want to swear off the stuff for life. And certainly it made me think twice of all the damage I’d probably done during those years of ingesting it so enthusiastically.

Well, the next day we run into this documentary about hamburgers, the type the public broadcasting stations run when it’s Pledge Week. It took you all over the country to see all these various hamburgers and how they were made. There were cheeseburgers with green chilis from New Mexico, hamburgers topped with peanut butter, and cheeseburgers from Memphis that were deep fried in 90 year old grease. Each one seemed to get progressively more obscener, until we got to the Butter Burger, which was a cheeseburger that was finished off with a huge glob of soft butter smeared on the bun before being placed atop the burger.

They showed you people sopping up hunks of the burger in the melted butter that lay in pools on the plate.

"We’re never going to get to go there…are we?" I asked.

"This is like porn for you, isn’t it, dear?" the wife said.

I excused myself quickly and got in the car. I drove until I found a Wendy’s and pulled into the parking lot. I ordered, not a single, nor a double, but a triple burger with cheese. I had only had a triple once before, but somehow I sensed that nothing less would do. When I got it I sat down, quickly removed the lettuce and any other offensive looking vegetables, and salted the meat. Then I bit down, every mouthful a greasy, salty explosion of ecstasy that was probably shortening my life with every swallow.

"Better?" the wife asked when I wandered back into the house, my shirt tails half in and half out of my pants, stained with grease from where I’d wiped my fingers.

"Better," I said.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Today Is The First Day Of What's Left Of Your Life

I was listening to an interesting interview with Iggy Pop the other day in which he said that he saw his career as a series of seven-year cycles. He declared that he had just entered his last one, as he will be 65 when it ends and it will then be time to reconsider his options.

But for now, he said, "I’m a loaded gun."

I suppose all of us have these kind of life markers, even if they’re not as evenly spaced as those of Mr. Osterberg. It may be a change of career or change of location, perhaps meeting someone who changes your life or having children.

I still haven’t any idea how I got as old as this so quickly. It’s true what everyone says: Life is short. Much shorter than you ever realized. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, etc. Seize the damn carpet.

I may not have accomplished much, but considering how completely disinterested and disenfranchised I’ve felt where the rest of humanity is concerned, it feels like a small triumph to have gotten this far. I could never see a place for myself or a road that might lead there. I’ve drifted like a cork bobbing on the water. I had no interest in where I would end up. And somehow I made it to 50.

Well, knock on wood.

Of course, now I understand that part of it was depression, which clouded my ability to see any future for myself. And that’s sort of under control now. But I do have certain regrets and questions about what might have been. With the wall visible in the distance, it’s time to, like Mr. Pop, reconsider my options.

The wife and I took the day off today to go to our respective doctor appointments. There I was in the waiting room with the new bifocals, like any other middle-aged man. When I was ushered in, I told him how the depression seemed to be creeping back some and how the CPAP machine didn’t seem to be helping me as much as it did at first and how I felt a renewed sense of fatigue.

This is how it begins, I thought. The home stretch.

I can understand both those who eventually become tired of fighting and those who fight for every last ounce of breath.

On the way home I listened to a Tom Waits tape and, after being astonished at the fact that it was now 30 years since its original release, I thought about how easy it used to be to wallow in its booze-and-ciggie sadness.

While it was playing, I passed a billboard advertising Pennsylvania roadtrips that declared, RELEASE YOUR INNER KEROUAC!

It made me laugh for all kinds of reasons, which I’ll leave to you.

Watch out, folks. I’m a loaded gun.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Republicans Gone Wild!

As Dave Letterman would say, It’s A Festival!

The Karl Rove fiasco has thrown the Republicans into a sort of Ultimate Spin Cycle which has no relationship to the world as you and I know it. The reason for this is that Truth – yes, that quality that has the same effect on Republicans as garlic does on vampires or salt on snails – has reared its ugly head in the public arena.

Faced with very little wiggle (i.e., lying) room, the standard Republican defense has been mounted: HE DIDN’T DO IT.



You may recall that this was the defense for lying about the WMD’s that got us into the war. It’s worked gangbusters for them so far. So the usual mouthpieces have been trotted out, not to defend Rove so much as to attack Joseph Wilson, the same stratagem that placed Bush’s non-service next to Kerry’s heroism in battle and somehow convinced the public that it was Kerry who was found wanting.

But there are signs that this approach may be wearing a little thin with the American public. The numbers supporting the war keep going down, as do those supporting President Smiff.

The White House Press Corps is actually asking questions about the Rove affair. Over and over again! As if they’re interested! And Poor Scotty McClellan is stonewalling like a man possessed, as if deathly afraid that Rove's cask of Amantillado will be exposed any minute now.

And with desperation in the air, the Bushies are starting to act like drunken students on Spring Break. We’re being treated to behavior that is setting new standards for embarrassment. Even for Republicans.

Here’s Ann Coulter:

“The real story…was not that Bush lied about Saddam seeking uranium in Africa; the story was Clown Wilson and his paper-pusher wife, Valerie Plame. By foisting their fantasies of themselves on the country, these two have instigated a massive criminal investigation, the result of which is: The only person who has demonstrably lied and possibly broken the law is Joseph Wilson.”

Here’s the Wall Street Journal:

“Democrats…are baying for Karl Rove's head over his role in exposing a case of CIA nepotism involving Joe Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame. On the contrary, we'd say (he) deserves a prize--perhaps the next iteration of the "Truth-Telling" award that The Nation magazine bestowed upon Mr. Wilson before the Senate Intelligence Committee exposed him as a fraud…For Mr. Rove is turning out to be the real "whistleblower" in this whole sorry pseudo-scandal.”

Fox News’ John Gibson fired off a column entitled, “Karl Rove Should Get A Medal.”

You get the idea.

But this Mother Of All Spins seems to be having some kind of effect on Republicans everywhere, as if a screw has come loose in the usually well-oiled machine and nuts and bolts (especially nuts) are flying crazily through the air. Sensing the possibility that the free ride might be coming to an end, something inside them is telling them to grab for the brass ring and go for broke. After all, you only live once!

Republican Congressman Peter King told an interviewer, “Joe Wilson has no right to complain. And I think people like Tim Russert and the others, who gave this guy such a free ride and all the media, they're the ones to be shot, not Karl Rove.”

Well, I’m with King on this one. Seems to be that the next logical step after outing a CIA agent for the purposes of intimidating a political opponent is to just line reporters up against the wall and shoot ‘em. So I can’t argue this.

And Rick “I Belong In A Sanitarium” Santorum released his new book which, with blurbs from Dr. Laura and James Dobson, looks right on track to becoming the new Bible of the American Taliban. His recently unearthed comments about how the liberal attitudes of Boston were responsible for the epidemic of child abuse by priests is continuing to win him friends in the Northeast.

They can’t behave themselves for long, this crew. It’s like holding your stomach in at the beach. Sooner or later, you just have to let it all out.

And that’s when the sentencing usually starts.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Rove V. Weird

I’ve had some people comment on my predilection for referring to my marriage partner as “the wife” and they wonder whether this isn’t too distant or formal a manner of address. Why not a first name or, at the very least, something just a little friendlier than the plainclothes dowdiness of a term that identifies her strictly by her legal relationship to me?

There is a reasonable explanation for this. Long before this project began, the wife and I had a long talk about what would and wouldn’t be acceptable behavior here. Among the subjects discussed was how much I would be allowed to reveal about her, her likes, her dislikes, her daily activities, her hopes, her dreams, her turn-ons, her ambition to eventually go into real estate, etc.

It was decided that we would basically treat her activities as if she were working “undercover,” as it were. Since I would mostly be writing about myself, it wouldn’t be fair to drag her kicking and screaming into the same commitment (though this does bring back memories of our wedding day).

However, even being as careful as I was, I managed to land myself in a bit of matrimonial hot water recently. It turns out that the wife had been discussing what I’d been up to with a friend when they happened to mention something I said about her here, in this blog. This upset and irritated her and I was quickly called on the carpet.

“I thought we agreed that you would be extremely careful about what you revealed about me!” she told me, obviously upset. “Now, honey,” I said (I am something of a sweet talker, to be quite plain about it), “there is no way anyone could read what I write about you and connect it to you. It doesn’t make any sense. I’m very careful to disguise your identity.”

She stared at me rather perplexedly. “Careful? How can you say you’re careful?” she asked me, nonchalantly eyeing the rolling pin she keeps in the kitchen for occasions such as this. “It doesn’t take a lot of brains to figure out, especially if you know us, that when you’re talking about "the wife" you’re talking about me!”

Now I could tell she thought she had me here with her legal mumbo jumbo. But I had long been prepared for just such an emergency. “Sweetheart, at no time have I ever referred to you by name, ever! I have only ever called you "the wife"! If someone has somehow managed to extrapolate your identity from my perfectly innocent reference, I can hardly be blamed for that!”

“If someone has leaked your identity,” I continued, “I want you to know that I am the first person who wants to know who it is. I hold everyone involved with myself to the highest degree of ethics and if someone who might be me has been involved in this kind of activity, I will fire myself immediately.”

“Further,” I told her, “the idea that I had anything to do with this is simply ridiculous. I’ve talked with myself on numerous occasions about this and I have every confidence that I have not, technically, broken any laws.”

“I also have a set of talking points here,” I said, handing her a sheaf of papers, “explaining how I am perfectly innocent and your complaints are nothing but partisan politics as usual.”

Despite my confident defense, it appeared as if her eyes were straying a little too greedily towards that rolling pin again.

“Can you hear yourself?” she asked exasperatedly. “You’re not actually saying anything!”

“That’s just the sort of partisan sniping I expected from you,” I said. “Now I’d like to answer more of your questions, but I think the best way to get to the bottom of this is not to discuss it while the investigation is ongoing. This press conference is over!” With a great flourish, I swept our collection of spices off the spice rack and walked briskly in the opposite direction of the threatening, omnivorous pin.

Hearing footsteps rapidly gaining on me, I declared, “Any further questions should be directed to my lawyer!” before breaking into a full run and yelling "9/11! 9/11!" to anyone within earshot. Negotiations continued long into the night, but I think I can confidently say that things have returned to normal and that I have, once again, managed to finesse my way out of what could have been a disastrous development for me and my administration.

I always do.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Video Swatchdog!

In home video news, today sees the release of a Director’s Cut of John Waters’ Cry-Baby on DVD, along with an old favorite of mine from the 70’s, Night Moves, an Arthur Penn film noir updated with ‘70’s angst.

Every once in a while the amount of stuff in the DVD pipeline reaches critical mass and I have trouble keeping track of the upcoming DVD’s I want to keep a eye out for. So here’s a handy guide for me:

In August: On the 9th, the little seen Scott Spiegel low-budget horror flick Intruder finally makes the trip to DVD, with Bruce Campbell’s name prominently displayed on the box even though he’s only got a cameo. A must for Sam Raimi fans who are offered the rare treat of seeing Raimi in front of the camera. Plus, Eb and Mr. Kimball from Green Acres as a pair of bumbling cops. Need we say more?

On the 16th it’s multi-disc set time again with an Astaire/Rogers box and the sixth season of The Simpsons in a Homer head-shaped box!

In September: On the 13th, Rumble Fish returns to DVD with a Special Edition, while Mike Leigh’s Naked, with a remarkable performance from David Thewlis, appears as part of the Criterion Collection.

On the 20th, it’s time to break into the piggy-bank: we start with the budget re-releases of Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula, the Paul Morrisey horror flicks originally released as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and Dracula, respectively. Their Criterion versions now out-of-print, this is a welcome development for those of us who wanted to own them but balked at the $40 price tag. I mean, Fellini is one thing…

The Man Who Fell To Earth shows up again, this time as a Criterion disc with all manner of extras and commentaries. Jeez, I feel like I just bought that Image double-disc version that was supposed to be the last word on it. Sigh. There’ll be a third box of Ren and Stimpy cartoons, collecting material from the 4th and 5th seasons which may be a hard slog for all but the most die-hard fan. And we cap this expensive day off with the Martin Scorsese documentary on Bob Dylan, No Direction Home. This home video release will actually predate its premiere on PBS, as well as include more material than will air in the TV version.

On the 27th, it’s the 1951 version of Scrooge with Alistair Sim that I think the wife is going to insist on.

In October: On the 4th, it’s The Fly: Special Edition (discussed previously here). There's also the release of a huge 15-disc Hitchcock collection which might finally get me to plunk down the dough for such a nice, convenient hunk of favorites. On the 18th, it’s The Big Lebowski: Collector’s Edition, with the option of a more expensive gift set that’ll include a pack of Big L playing cards, coasters and a bar towel! It feels very strange to have witnessed the trip this movie’s taken from being dismissed as a so-so addition to the Coen Brothers catalog to becoming the object of rabid cult worship that it is today. Who’da thunk it? And on the 25th it’s a Super Super Ultra Deluxe Edition of The Wizard Of Oz, with fans given the choice between a 2-disc and 3-disc edition. Toto, I think we’ve maxed out our credit card!

Those are the highlights for me. Yours may differ, of course, as I am a cranky old creature of habit who is loathe to stray from the familiar.

I expect you, dear reader, to be more adventurous.

Monday, July 11, 2005

My Gold Star

It seems to me that the world is fairly evenly divided: you’re either the sort of person who gets gold stars or you’re not.

You can call it sour grapes, I suppose, as this observation comes from someone who’s always considered himself to be on the non-gold star side of the fence. In fact, I can recall one time that my parents were called into my school, not for anything I’d actually done, but for what was referred to as “an undesirable attitude.”

Can you imagine anyone having a problem with my attitude? I swear it’s true, though.

My father, never more uncomfortable than when called upon to defend something I said or did, found himself for once in his favorite place: arguing with the guy who runs the joint. This was the sort of thing that always truly delighted him, that got his engine going. There was nothing my father liked better than finding the chink in the armor of whoever “ran the joint” and then driving a stake through his heart, whether it meant arguing over the discount coupon for a box of donuts (these arguments usually ended up with the manager giving him the box for free in the hope that this appeasement would encourage him to leave) or, better still, staring down the principal of his crazy kid’s school.

No doubt he’d dreaded the confrontation and assumed he’d have to sit through a litany of my misdeeds, until the moment that the guy who ran the joint said the magic word “attitude.” I can swear that, no sooner had the word finished being pronounced, my father began to sniff the air as if he now sensed blood in the water. You could almost see his pulse begin to race as adrenalin flooded his now endorphin-infested bloodstream. You see, if the principal had something concrete to complain about, if he’d brought to the table something like vandalism or tardiness, he’d have won my father over. Being intimately familiar with my general behavior on a daily basis, he was only too willing to believe I was capable of anything.

But to drag him out here and make him take time off from work and then deliver a complaint about my “attitude”? I could already see the gears turning in his head. Can you see an “attitude”? Can you hold it in your hands? To my father, an eminently practical man, it was like arguing about the discount coupon for a box of invisible donuts.

Before my father had even had a chance to reply there was a subtle exchange of glances that lasted only a moment, but in that moment the guy who ran the joint had been bested. And he knew it. Somehow, inexplicably, in a turnabout that had happened so fast the principal was probably grasping his desk for balance, the hunter had become the hunted.

Like Clarence Darrow, my father rose from his chair with an air of supreme confidence that I had rarely witnessed in anyone, before or since. “Well, you see,” my father began, the principal already crestfallen behind his now sad and pitiable desk, its veneer of authority having completely evaporated in the face of what was only the beginning of the onslaught, “I could understand it if, you know, my son had done something you could show me…” The principal clearly had no idea who he’d been dealing with. Here he had called in a parent he’d assumed would share his disdain for undesirable attitudes, as the adults he saw on a daily basis surely did. Instead, he’d called his own doom down upon his head in the form of a man who, for some reason, seemed to be arguing with him with a passion that wouldn’t have been out of place at the Scopes trial. As far as my father was concerned, at this moment I was both Leopold and Loeb. At this moment, Plato himself would have been hard pressed to defend the existence of the human soul.

It was the last time either of my parents would ever receive a complaint about my attitude problem. Well, from that school anyway. It was the day that the principal learned that he’d had no idea what an attitude problem really was. And it was the day that my father imparted to me his most valuable lesson: The guy who runs the joint is always wrong, and the donuts of Life are never unattainable, so long as you have passion and are willing to embarrass yourself in public.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

My Own Private Gitmo

I’m sitting in the back room (which faces the inebriated neighbors), typing and enjoying my Lipton’s Iced Tea.

I’m not supposed to have caffeine, you know (something about my being excitable enough as it is), but sometimes I just need that tea taste. And the Sweetened (No Lemon) is my favorite, unless you count the Extra Sweet they make, which is hard to find in these parts. When I find it, I buy it in bulk.

You could put an aged and esteemed glass of wine of exceptional vintage and a bottle of Lipton’s Iced Tea side by side and tell me I could only have one of them and there’d be no contest.

When the temperature climbs, it’s usually time to switch from the hot decaf tea to the decaf iced tea, augmented by the occasional Lipton’s because, well, life is for living. There is something about the caffeine, too, I’ll admit. A sort of mild buzz of well-being that lasts for a few hours. I can’t imagine it can stay legal too much longer.

So I’m enjoying my caffeinated treat and doing my best to mentally tune out the neighbors. Normally, people look forward to the spring and summer months because they can open up their houses, let the weather in and enjoy what Nature has to offer.

We, on the other hand, know that when the weekend comes, it’s going to be a crapshoot as far as the noise level of the neighbors goes. As I mentioned earlier, the 4th of July is a given and accepted blow-out. But the unfortunate truth is one never knows whether or not any given summer weekend will be a quiet and relaxing one or a horrible nerve-wracking one. As I write this, I’m listening to the steadily escalating hyena-like cackling of Camp Alcohol's demure hostess and the drunken hillbilly-like hollering of her guests, accompanied by some Clear Channel wet dream radio station whose announcer sounds like he’s talking from the other end of a long tunnel.

I have a little more caffeine.

So we have a choice of letting the breezes in the windows and subjecting ourselves to the neighbors, or shutting the house up and doing our best to drown them out. The wife’s upstairs trying to deal with it by lying down and playing her own music. I’m dealing with it by slowly developing an ulcer and typing.

Even when peace and quiet reigns next door, however, we still cannot open the bedroom window during the pleasanter seasons. And the reason for that, believe it or not, is 9/11.

The wife and I were married in June of 2001. The previous owner of our new home told us that the only thing that might bother us was the next door neighbor to the side who happened to be a Vietnam vet. He had a habit of standing on his front lawn and staring at people for long periods of time. She, the previous owner, told us she just learned to ignore it.

So we weren’t living here very long when 9/11 happened. Between the wedding and that day, we saw for ourselves that she was right. The side neighbor did have a habit of staring at you, soundlessly and without moving a muscle. It was, as she said, unnerving at first but you gradually learned to accept it, the way you would a birdbath or a pig-shaped mailbox.

On 9/11, we were both sent home and we sat in front of the television most of the day, scared to death and just happy that we both managed to be home and in one piece.

It wasn’t until the sun went down that we noticed something odd.

There was now a bright light, the sort you might see coming from the tower of a prison camp, blazing from the upper story of the side neighbor’s house. It was directed in such a way that it pointed directly into our bedroom window.

Under the circumstances we found this to be an acceptable, if a little eccentric, bit of paranoia. After a few weeks, we figured, he’ll calm down and things will return to normal.

But the weeks passed and the light continued to blaze in our window, as if to ward off potential suicide bombers or sleeper cells. We tried many different ways of living with it until we finally just closed the window and shuttered it, permanently. We broke out the fan.

And from that day to this, that light has faithfully burned. It wasn’t long after this that the new neighbors moved into the back, installed their chain-link fence and giant flagpole, and embarked on the series of improvements previously described. They found to their joy that this ever vigilant flame was useful as a backyard party light.

Imagine it on a night like tonight, its all-seeing eye blazing forth like the torch of the Statue of Liberty upon our drunken neighbors’ backyard, its security tower effect only heightened by the half-prison camp, half-amusement park appearance of their continually upgraded home, each new addition punctuated by the sound of newly emptied bottles and bad songs from the 1980’s, one Vietnam gazing into the abyss of the other.

Meanwhile, the wife and I keep the lights low and speak quietly in the hopes that we won’t be discovered.

Which is why I tell people that the terrorists may not have won, but they did manage to close our bedroom window.

And they wonder why we grow the hedges so high.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Brain Teasers!

When bin Laden talks about the "evils" of the United States and why it must be attacked -- it sounds like John Kerry in his 2004 presidential campaign.
- Rush Limbaugh beating and torturing his listener's brains, Gitmo-style!

For all the blather about (retiring Justice Sandra Day) O'Connor's moderation and pragmatism and motherly instincts, Mommie Dearest signed on to the most monstrous opinion in the history of the court, Stenberg v. Carhart, which proclaimed a heretofore unnoticed constitutional right to puncture the skull of a half-delivered baby and suction its brains out — just as the framers so clearly intended.
- Ann Coulter's brainless punctured skull continues to speak!

I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts.
- Senator Rick "Brain? What Brain?" Santorum

Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.
- Bush's Brain Karl Rove begging the question, "Who's Got Rove's Brain?"

I've Got The Screaming Santorumimi's!

Senator Rick Santorum is back in the news again.

This time, the cheerful and cleanly scrubbed Senator from Pennsylvania (we're so proud) has ruffled some feathers with the release of his new book, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, a sort of "What I Believe" for the conservative nutjob set.

Not satisfied to be remembered as the politician who compared homosexuality to "man-on-dog" sex, Santorum seems determined to prove that he's no one-hit wonder.

Here's just a few gems from what will no doubt prove to be this summer's big beach read:

On public schools: "By asking the right question, we can see that when it comes to socialization, mass education is really the aberration, not homeschooling...It's amazing that so many kids turn out to be fairly normal, considering the weird socialization they get in public schools."

On those crazy two-salary families: "In far too many families with young children, both parents are working, when, if they really took an honest look at the budget, they might find they don't both need to, or at least may not need to work as much as they do..."

On women in the workplace: "Here, we can thank the influence of radical feminism...The radical feminists succeeded in undermining the traditional family and convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness."

On self-improvement: "The notion that college education is a cost-effective way to help poor, low-skill, unmarried mothers with high school diplomas ... move up the economic ladder is just wrong."

On the obvious link between slavery and abortion: "This was tried once before in America...But unlike abortion today, in most states even the slaveholder did not have the unlimited right to kill his slave."

On Hillary Clinton: "When you look at the politics she would change, her 'politics of meaning' boil down to little more than feel-good rhetoric masking a radical left agenda."

Thanks to Rick, now you know just what that radical agenda is: Forcing women into the workplace instead of encouraging them to homeschool the kiddies, a must if we are to keep kids out of the public schools where they will then be indoctrinated into the ways of "man-on-dog" sex!

Did I mention that he's the third most powerful man in the Senate?

Did I mention that his name has been seriously bandied about as a potential Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate?

Did I mention he's serious?

Anyway, the battle has been joined on the book's Amazon site, where sarcastic Libs are having a field day with the choicer passages of Santorum's "Profiles In Sewage." Surf on over and join the fun!

Amazon, strangely, seems to have passed on the review I contributed, so here it is for your delectation:

"As a fellow Pennsylvanian, I have to say that I think it’s great that Senator Slantorum has provided a voice for the loony and confused. The distinguished Senator’s first volume of advice to the brainworn, "It Takes a Village, or: How I Went Nuts!" is an inspirational tome that will fit perfectly underneath the short leg of my pool table.

It’s all here: Women: Feh! Gays: Oy! Man-on-Dog Sex: Bring It On! The somnambulant Senator Skanktorum explains it all to you, and in little words even Conservatives can understand.

And ooooh, that Hillary! Who likes her? Not Senator Smacktorum! She’s a woman and worse, she’s (grrrrrrr!) a Senator, too! Just like him! How the hell did that happen?

I’ve read this book three times already and feel ready to turn myself into the authorities, so long as they send me to Gitmo, that paradise on Earth where prisoners enjoy the tropical sun, gourmet meals, and kidney punches.

In a world of fake screwballs, Senator Spamtorum is the real thing. He’s made a real convert out of me with this initial, and very promising, offering. I give it 3 Jesuses out of 4, subtracting 1 Jesus for the bit about slavery and abortion which is just, y’know, nuts."

More compassionate conservativism from Fox News' Brit Hume re: yesterday's bombings:

"I mean, my first thought when I heard -- just on a personal basis, when I heard there had been this attack and I saw the futures this morning, which were really in the tank, I thought, 'Hmmm, time to buy.'"

Thursday, July 07, 2005


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Forward Into The Past!

Regular readers are no doubt aware that the Management is of the opinion that the greatest records ever made were generally produced between the late ‘70’s and mid-‘80’s.

Which is why we mention that Simon Reynolds has put up a site for his book Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-84 that might be worth checking out from time to time. It’s a little threadbare at the moment, with the exception of an interview with Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside, but promises footnotes, news, and links in the future. You can also zip over to Reynolds’ own blog from there, which is worth a read.

I should mention that you’d do well to order or otherwise get hold of the U.K. edition, which is out now, as opposed to the truncated U.S. version coming out next year.

Someone wrote a note to the wife describing the Donovan show they just attended in Connecticut. This particular fan approached him with some old singles for him to sign, to which Don replied, “Ah, yes…we called these ‘45s’!” Indeed we did. Some came with pretty covers, too. Donovan’s usually came festooned with his traditional antediluvian/psychedelic lettering, which is why I still remember being traumatized by the sleeve of Celia Of The Seals, with its graphic photo of the aftermath of a seal clubbing and the smiling perp responsible.

Four of his greatest albums have just gotten the expanded edition treatment in the U.K. and they come from what was arguably his most fertile period. All of the albums, Mellow Yellow, Sunshine Superman, Hurdy Gurdy Man, and Barabajagal, come with exceptionally well-written notes that place Donovan’s contribution in context and paint a larger, more appreciative picture of the man than the usual flower-power figurehead he’s made out to be. Siren Disc has them all available for $10.99 each if you’re interested.

Speaking of outmoded technology, perhaps you’ll be able to glimpse a 45 or two on the set of MTV’s latest cranial insult “The 70’s House,” which premiered last night.

This time the idea is that 12 young people must live in a house that’s equipped as if it were the 1970’s. That’s right, no Internet, no cell phones, no cable TV.

And the only video game they’ve got is “Pong.”

Good lord. However will they manage? However did we manage? I hope there’s a paramedic on set.

And London may have gotten the Olympics, but Bono got his pants back.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Oh Say, Can You Shut Up?

We live, as I’ve said, in a very quaint community where the 4th of July is celebrated in a nostalgic, small-town way. The annual 4th of July parade is a source of civic pride and every year, people line the sidewalk with portable chairs as churches, banks, cub scouts, and local politicos are paraded past them in cars and flatbed trucks, along with a seemingly endless procession of fire engines. It’s about as Norman Rockwell as it’s possible to get, I think, in America 2005.

After the parade you get a short breather until it’s time for the 5-minute drive to a local school where the fireworks display takes place. Terribly tinny versions of “God Bless America” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” play through ancient speakers as the modest display is received with polite applause. They must have had a few extra bucks in the fireworks budget this year, though, as the finale was more impressive than usual, a real shoot-‘em-up that left the sound of thunder echoing in the surrounding valleys.

And, of course, the annual sprint-to-the-car at its conclusion is more exciting than many officially recognized sports that I could name.

But to be honest, most of these activities pale beside the one yearly 4th of July celebration that, to us, really commemorates the spirit of Freedom and Liberty that the holiday is all about.

I’m talking about our backyard neighbor’s Annual 4th Of July 48-Hour Drunk.

This event, which takes place like clockwork every year, is always the one that marks the year’s halfway point for us. I should explain that these neighbors have been very ambitious regarding the small space they’ve got to work with and ever since they’ve moved in, a non-stop series of construction projects and upgrades have taken place: brick walking paths, twinkly party lights, a hot tub (which they once used in the middle of winter), a barbeque pit, and the list goes on. It’s as if their great dream is to create a Jimmy Buffett theme park in their backyard. Perhaps they believe that if they build it, he will come.

Having done all this work, though, they can hardly be faulted for wanting to show it off. And so, early on July 3rd, the activities begin: the radio is cranked up loudly to the worst possible music they can find, many friends are invited over (the louder, the better) and finally, there is the Ritual Opening of the Alcohol.

The purpose of the alcohol seems to be to enable the already loud and obnoxious guests to increase their volume enough to be heard above the horrible music pounding out of the radio. In the great tradition of Potato Sack Races or Passing an Egg with A Spoon, this contest is usually a draw, with the two contestants eventually blending into a numbing cacophony of rude and throbbing noise.

This contest begins to peter out around 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning on July 4th, giving the neighborhood a brief respite before they begin the cycle anew some 6 hours later. Say what you will about them, you have to admire their endurance. Many of the guests don’t seem to have gone home at all, as they hoot and holler indecipherably patriotic sentiments like “Screw you, you soopid…son of a…blitch!” and the ever-popular “Arrrrrggghyblaaaaaghhh!”

It’s hard for mere words to convey the effect of hearing Steve Miller’s Fly Like An Eagle playing at maximum volume while drunken partygoers scream obscenities from a hot tub and vomit onto brick walking paths. You simply have to experience it to understand why, when it comes to celebrating our country’s founding, this annual celebration simply has no peer.

Finally, like any 4th of July, the day concludes with a sort of aural fireworks: the sound of hundreds of emptied beer bottles tumbling into recycling containers like a waterfall of tinkling glass. Only then has our Holiday truly concluded, as we bundle up our flags in anticipation of next year’s festivities. Another year of Independence has come and gone, but 2006 will be here before we know it, bringing with it more bad music, more beer, and, yes, more additions to the world’s smallest backyard.

Like America, it is limited only by our vision.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Bifolklore Of The Vienna Sausages, or: A Grim Fairy Tale

At the risk of these musings turning into a countdown to my officially becoming "Over The Hill," I must admit that the signs of aging have started to come upon me thick and fast.

I know this because with each day I seem to become more thick and less fast.

I called a friend the other day whom I hadn’t spoken to in a long time and learned that he, too, was about to start using a CPAP machine for sleep apnea. Apparently these are becoming standard issue once you pass a certain age, like driver’s licenses. Can’t complain, though, as breathing through the apparatus is probably good training for the many operations and hospital visits I suspect are around the corner.

I debate the merits of various (prescribed) drugs with friends and we all know what they are and what they do, our conversations sounding increasingly like the ones we hear from the senior citizens at the Deli.

Where we also seem to be spending a lot more time, by the way.

We go shopping for a birthday card for my father-in-law who has recently turned 88, god bless him. I can’t help but peek at the "So You’re 50!" cards, though, and am rewarded with jokes about my rapidly approaching inability to drive a car, have sex, or eat without drooling down my shirt.

Youth culture seems an increasingly distant and obscure collection of signs and passwords that I no longer comprehend.

"Did Your Favorite Groups Play At Live 8?" an online headline asks me. You must be joking. My favorite groups have either died, retired, or gotten a proper job. All I hear now is the metallic clang of vandal swords as they push their way through the city gates.

The young thing on the cover of the wife’s Victoria’s Secret catalog has her legs drawn up to her chin as if to say, "I’m trying to make this as easy as possible for you, old man," but I can’t imagine what the two of us would talk about afterwards.

And now, the coup de grace :

I have crossed the River Styx, children.

I have entered the enchanted kingdom of the line bifocal.

There is no more obvious and universally identifiable sign that one has given up the fight than that tell-tale scratch across the lens that declares, "Decrepitude, you have won. Deterioration, you may have what’s left. To the victor goes the already irreversibly spoiled."

The eye doctor had originally recommended these "progressive" lenses that provide areas in the lens to aim your eyes at, depending on the distance involved. This sounded far too complicated so I went for the old line bifocal, the alternative being two separate pairs for distance and reading, respectively.

Call me Prufrock. I grow old, I grow old.

And you know about the trousers.

It’s funny, though. I always thought I’d be someone who would navigate these life passages with dignity and acceptance, as I made my way through nature’s inevitable stages.

Turns out I’m not. But you should see the grace and humor of my 88-year old father-in-law. We should all be as sharp and intelligent and funny when, or if, we are lucky enough to reach those isles. I’d like to be like that.

A friend e-mailed me about Live 8, saying he expected to see the wife and I down there popping aspirin and acting a quarter of our ages. I told him that we now snort Metamucil, but I appreciated the kind thought.

Actually I can’t speak for the wife, who shows every sign of being her father’s daughter when it comes to not going gentle into that good night.

As opposed to her nitwit husband, who seems anxious to be turned into Soylent Green as soon as possible.

Remember, I’m tasty when used with a spreadable snack!

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Mask Of Zorrow

I’m trying to keep a smile on my face. Honest, I am.

But this week, “that monotonous gasometer” (as Joyce referred to the sun) has been brutal. I stick my head in the air vent with the A/C going, but that’s just a temporary fix. I still feel like the house is the only thing between me and what I’ve decided is deadly nuclear radiation trapping me inside. Probably all of those War Of The Worlds commercials.

There was good news from Canada and Spain, though, as the rest of the world continues to make life in America 2005 look more and more like a roadshow production of The Crucible. But you knew we’d pay for it.

And so today came the news of Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement.

And now Knucklehead Smiff gets to make the appointment.

And Rehnquist doesn’t feel too good, either.

It’s a beautiful day in the conservative nutjob neighborhood.

But I’m trying, folks. I’m trying.

It’s interesting the different masks we use when we talk to people, depending on the person or the topic or the situation.

Sometimes you have to dig deep to find that brave and civilized face. Other times, even when things are at their worst, it seems to come from some effortless and magic place.

What is that magic thing? That spark?

Either way, I guess it was all eluding me today, at least going by the reaction of one of the cafeteria workers I walked past today.

The mask must have slipped, because as we drew up close enough to speak as we passed, he looked at me and said, “Hey…it’s Friday!” Obviously my face didn’t seem very TGIF to him and he wanted to remind me that, hey, things could be worse.

So today he had the spark, which is ok.

Mine’ll be back. It’s easier to believe it when I see evidence that it’s still out there, somewhere.