Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hey Kitty, What's Your Name?

I am on record as being a steadfast non-lover of cats. Not a hater, mind you, just a definite, allergic, non-lover. So unless something um, cataclysmic occurs, I will never possess a cat or have to name one. And yet, I like a good challenge. So when I came across this quote from the English writer Samuel Butler--"The severest test of the imagination--is to name a cat"--on the same day--yesterday--when my horoscope said, "Tonight: Let your imagination rock and roll," I just had to take the plunge.

Now I'm not exactly sure why Butler finds naming a cat such a profound test of one's imagination, I mean, "Scat" seems to work fine for me for all cats, but in the interest of playing along, I pushed my imagination a bit and I think I've come up with some pretty imaginative, and, depending on the specific cat's look and personality, pretty apt cat names. So, please, feel free to use any of these suggestions when naming your next cat.

  • Allergen
  • Sneeze
  • Hives
  • Galore
  • Hep
  • T.S. Lloyd Webber
  • Newmar
  • GladIdon'tliveinChina
  • Felix Fermin
  • Harry Brecheen
  • O'Clysmic
  • Go Away
  • Lazy
  • Catullus
  • Chicago Fog
  • Bobo
  • Curiosity's Prey
  • 'skills
  • Tim
  • Canary Eater
  • Mandu
  • apult
  • Kibbles'n'Bits
  • Gene Hackman
All good names, I think you and Samuel Butler will agree. But after much deliberation and rocking and rolling my imagination to three encores, I've decided that if I ever do come into possession of a cat that needs a name, I'm going to name it
  • Dog
Dr. Horse-Jack, That Cat Was Clean

Monday, March 29, 2010

Let's Kill Jane Austen

Can't say I've ever contemplated murder before, but then again I never contemplated the dangers of a "sivilized" life until I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and now it seems Mark Twain has got me thinking again. I recently came upon this quote by Twain: "It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death." The "her" here is none other than Jane Austen.

Now I am no Twain scholar, and I can't say if this is a context quote, spoken by a character in one of his novels or stories, but I'd like to think it came from the heart. Not because I despise Austen or truly wish her dead (an easy enough statement, I guess, seeing that she has indeed been [naturally] dead for nearly two centuries), but because I love Twain's candor and I find this particular sentence so wonderful. "It seems a great pity" sets you up perfectly for the wham bam at the end of the sentence. Understatement perfection.

As I said, I have nothing really against Jane. I've read and taught Pride and Prejudice several times, and it's a fine book and a delight to teach, especially to girls. Fine book, not the be all and end all as some people seem to claim. I've vented my rage before at the proliferation of P&P sequels and spinoffs and other Austen-themed "literature." Enough already. But brace yourself: the 200th anniversary of the publication of her great novels and of her death are coming up in the next few years. Something tells me the Austen flood is not even close to cresting anytime soon. Now there are even zombie and vampire books concerning Mr. Darcy et al. So, not so much because of Jane the person (by all accounts a fine woman) but because of Jane the Influence, I hereby mark, with the obvious blessing of Mark Twain, Jane Austen for death, by murder.

The textbooks all say that a true murder requires three things: motive, opportunity, and means. I believe the motive is clear (Jane Austen must die for the sins of her Influence on the unimaginative, push-button world of 21st Century popular fiction; hell, with the proper non-uptown jury, I just might be acquited), the opportunity is now within my reach (after years of secreting vats of elbow grease, the girls in the R&D wing of spitouyourgum assure me they're tweaked out--the time machine is ready; though I have made the decision to bring Jane here rather than for me to go back to early 19th Century England--mainly because britches and me don't mix), and after careful consideration, I've decided on the means. I am not a violent man; I realize that coming from somebody confessing his murderous intents before the deed is done, this sounds doubly absurd, but it's true. No gruesome death for Jane, I can assure you. At first I mulled the possibility of using George Carlin's recipe for the perfect murder: lift one person up by the ankles and use that person to clobber another person ("two dead bodies, no murder weapon; police sift for clues") and while the thought of clobbering Jane Austen with, oh, for example, Gertrude Stein, Rush Limbaugh, Henry James, or Martha Stewart certainly gets the old endorphins high-fiving each other, I worry about my chronically bad back. Then I came up with the even more perfect--and certainly more literary apt--means: death by induced/provoked suicide, or, um suicide by persuasion.

It's really quite simple, I think. Fire up the time machine for a quick jaunt to England circa 1810 (just before Jane begins her amazing run of churning out literary masterpieces fine novels, thus eliminating all of her horrible influence) and whisk Jane back to 2010 with the promise of a world without chamber pots and with a seemingly unlimited supply of pasteurized milk (Google "Jane Austen, bovine tuberculosis" for the connection). I believe that with the proper "touring guide" she'll be writing one of her heartfelt letters to one Dr. Jack Kevorkian within a fortnight.

I'll begin our tour with a tea party, as in a Tea Party, a thronging gathering of blood-thirsty rabid anti-government refuseniks. That should roil Ms. Austen's apolitical sense and sensibilities a bit. Then, while plying her with a steady diet of pasteurized milk and microwaveable scones, I'll take her to any dance club in any major American city. Next we'll plop down in front of the television for a marathon session of channel surfing through episodes of Wife Swap, MTV Teen Cribs, The Bachelor, Deal or No Deal, various Housewives reality shows, Everybody Loves Raymond, and VH1 Classic's That Metal Show, to name a few. After a couple days zoning out in front of the boob tube, I'll take her to a chain bookstore where first I'll have her peruse People, US, In Touch Weekly, and OK!, then I'll turn her loose on the inevitable table of all things Austen-ized. Then we'll repair back to my manse, via some public transportation, for a night of video games and cooking up some yummo Rachel Ray meals. By morning, I am sure, if she doesn't coo softly in my ear, "You'd look great in britches, Mr. Spitoutyourgum. Let's ditch this world for mine. Um, bring some of that milk along, though, will you?" then she'll be holding a salad fork to my face and demanding where I keep the valium. At which time, it's time for the coup de grace: I throw her my dog-eared copy of the P&P Cliff Notes and ask her if she could clarify a few things for me. Then I just step back and await the results from the morgue. If 2010 America doesn't do in Jane Austen, she's a more amazing woman than I've ever given her credit for. In which case, I'm hunting Twain down.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Self-Promotion 4.20.10

Despite the vehement protests of the Tea Party set, grumblings from the DAR, warnings from the CIA, and chilly quiverings from the UFC, the intrepid folks at the Shaker Heights Public Library have invited me to read poetry at 7 p.m. on the auspicious date of Tuesday, April 20, 2010, along with my good friend Joe Toner and a guy named Max Stark (along with his son), who I vaguely remember from when Joe and I started reading poetry nearly twenty years ago. Go here and scroll down to 4/20 for the details.

While I realize that reading my verbiage via digital media is a pleasure ancient Romans would have killed for, I can humbly say that seeing and hearing me live is truly priceless (btw, Ticketmaster is handling the ticket sales, though I'm sure if you show up at the Bertram Woods branch [map below] at 7 the night of the reading, the nice people there will let you in gratis). I am sure the night will be filled with guffaws, knee-slaps, choked back tears, wonder, amazement, obfuscation, titillation, profundity, borderline plagiarism, recognition of self in at least one of many extended metaphors, dizzying revisitations of childhood, a hailed taxi, and paeans to high cholesterol foodstuffs. And that will be just my introductory remarks.

Hope to see you there.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

It Might Have Been 24 Years Ago Today

Recently I was talking to one of my former students who is currently enduring her first year of teaching. She was regaling me with the usual tales of first-year teachers: 95% madness mixed with a couple doses of sheer bliss. When I made the statement, which I truly believe, that although the first year of teaching may be the worst, it is also, in some ways, the best, she nearly fainted. "Why?" she managed to ramble in about fourteen syllables. I really couldn't explain; there's just something really exciting about it that can't be replicated or explained, I guess.

But I remember...

I know it was second semester, maybe around this time of year. I was teaching seniors at an all-boys high school, and I'm sure at least half of my students looked, maybe even acted, older than I was. It was a composition class and the boys were writing argumentative essays. As I was also expected to make the boys give a speech (yes, you can use audio/visual aids), I combined the two. We came up with a list of debatable (in both senses, as you'll see) topics and split them down the middle: one student would write and give a speech about the pro side, another student the con side. Abortion, drinking age, death penalty--we covered them all. Including the pros and cons of censorsing pornography. Naturally, you can see where this is heading; unfortunately, a certain naive 22-year-old first-year teacher didn't.

So they've written their essays and we're spending a couple days listening to speeches. Nothing major, a quick five-minute speech. I think it was a Friday. Spring break had to be looming. For about the tenth time in the year I thought I was completely burned out. In my mind, I was coasting. I didn't really have to teach--just sit in one of the desks at the back of the room, listen to the speeches, fill out the speech evaluation form rather leniently, and stumble into another life-saving weekend.

Then it was Marvin's turn. After all these years I remember Marvin. One of the happiest, most smiling kids ever. Not a great student, but a true pleasure. It always amazed me how giving out grades is one of the truest examples of the fact that everything is indeed relative. You call the kids up to your desk individually and show them their grade. One kid practically hugs you in supreme relief when he sees B-, another kid acts as if the recipe for chocolate just disappeared for all time when he sees an A- (true story, that first year, I had a kid kneeling at my desk, hands folded in supplication, begging, yes, begging me to change his grade from an A- to an A). You got the feeling that Marvin was happy as along as the grade wasn't an F. His C+ or whatever was cause for rapture.

Anyway, Marvin had been assigned to write and speak in favor of censoring all pornography. I ho-hummed in the back of the room, wrote Marvin's name on the half-page evaluation form, looked at the clock and calculated to the minute how soon I'd be napping. Marvin sets up behind the podium I had managed to secure for the speeches, opens his folder, and with the most infectious, Marvin-patented smile of all time, and in his happy-go-lucky "Hey Dude" voice begins his speech with this grabber: "Would you like to see your loved ones in pictures like these?" At which point he starts slapping already-masking-taped full color glossy photos of the most graphic, raunchy concupiscent dalliances this side of Larry Flynt's darkroom. His fifteen male classmates erupt in howls of laughter as Marvin works his way across the blackboard (did I mention this is a Catholic boys school, where there's always the possibility that the priest/president of the school is showing some big would-be donor through the halls?) slapping up the smut. I was never a sprinter, but I think I reached my all-time speed clambering out of the desk, hopping over bookbags and stretched out legs, to get to the blackboard where I followed in Marvin's filthy footsteps ripping down the smut from the left side of the blackboard as he was still pasting more of it up toward the right. It's all a blur, but I think I ripped up as I ripped off the pictures, praying--more fervently, I must admit, than the usual Hail Mary I commenced class with--that Fr. President would not choose to invite his guest to "drop in on the boys" just then. Oh for videotape.

When I reached the end of the blackboard, with a mountain of shredded porn in my hands, Marvin was there waiting for me, with that glorious, angelic devilish grin of his. What could I do? It was Marvin. After the laughter finally subsided, and Marvin was given his scraps back to dispose of anywhere but in my classroom, he gave the rest of his speech, of which I can't recall a single thing. I'm sure I docked him a couple points on the "made appropriate use of audio/visuals" section on the evaluation sheet.

I'm sure I told the story to every subsequent class that ever had to make a presentation, with the stern warning that any use of inappropriate material would warrant a no-questions-asked trip to the principal's office.

That's as close of an explanation as to why the first year of teaching is both the worst and the best that I can provide.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I Was Counting On Something A Bit More Exciting

I live for the years that end in zero (0). Not only do I get to engage in arguments with cranks about when the new decade starts (I don't give a damn; whatever the person says, I argue the opposite), but I also catch a helluva case of Census Fever. I've always been partial to counting, and from my earliest days I was fascinated with the idea of counting everybody in the USA. I used to picture everybody lined up single file like first graders heading to the bathroom and some stern authority figure with a long finger very studiously ticking off the entire population: seventy-nine million four-hundred-thirty-six thousand seven hundred forty-two, seventy-nine million, four-hun--get back in line mister--dred thirty-six...

And, like most people (I assume) with nothing better to do than blog regularly, I revel in arcane and meaningless statistics. I anxiously look forward to years of census data trickling out from Big Brother's counting houses, telling US who we are. Little surprise then, that I was rabid with excitement about this year's count. I managed to convince my landlord to allow me to tend to the census form for this domicile when it arrived; he shrugged and said sure, and even gave me a $.38 discount on next month's rent for the effort. Well, sad to say, I think he overspent by about $.37--the effort to fill out the census form was minimal, and quite disappointing to boot.

What a let down. How in the hell is anyone going to get a detailed, accurate view of the citizens of this great country from a census form that asks little more than name, age, and race (I don't want to cry reverse discrimination, but how come Filipinos, Japanese, and Chamorros [hunh?]--fine people all, I have no doubt--among other races get their own individual boxes, while I'm forced to check the box that says White? If nothing more, I would think in these times Uncle Sam would want a headcount of all the Irish-Italians like me out there, just so he knows who the really tempermental bastards in this country are and where they live. I was tempted to check the box that says "other race" and in the space provided write, "the one held somewhere in these great United States where guys run two miles down hill and stop for a beer every half mile or so.")?

Also, I don't get the logic of sending out the form in early March, telling me to fill it out "immediately" and then a week later--like today--sending a postcard reminding me to fill that form out already--when the form states that "The Census must count every person living in the United States on April 1, 2010" (italics mine). What, am I, along with 300 million or so fellow Americans, supposed to be clairvoyant? Does this give me the right to go to wakes on April 1, bend over the body in the casket and whisper, "You lied on your Census form"? And what fool came up with April 1 as the be all end all date for this count?  Question 2 asks me if there were any additional people staying at this residence on April 1 (italics theirs). How do I know now if I'm going to get lucky on April Fools Day or if some long lost gypsy relatives are going to show up or Bob Dylan decides to hang out for a few days or if the "your shipment will arrive in four to six weeks" promise I received on the mail order bride application I submitted last week is just an outside guess to cover their asses and my Chamorroan spouse shows up on March 31?

But enough grousing about what is on the census form. What about what isn't? Here are just a few of the questions I suggest would spice up the census form and enable all of us to get a much more detailed, accurate picture of our nation circa 2010:
  • How many paranormal entities currently reside in your abode?
  • If you could choose any three, assumed living, as of 4/1/10, Americans to reside with you, who would they be?
  • On April 1, 2010, how many distinct voices did you hear inside your head?
  • How many separate food, beverage, and medicinal products that are past their expiration dates still take up shelf space in your domicile?
  • You don't still listen to cassettes, do you?
  • Assuming you do use a Q-Tip daily, on April 1, 2010, which of your ears was waxier?
  • Essay question: Tell us something embarrassing about your next door neighbors.
  • If you're not a Jehovah's Witness, how do deal with them when they come a-knocking?
  • Draw a map of the world. Put an X where Chamorro is.
  • If you live in the Cleveland Metropolitan area, tell us how miserable you are.
  • Since O.J. has been incarcerated, have you done anything to find the real killers?
  • Paper, plastic, or inside your coat?
  • If Twitter had a different name, would you be more open to using it?
  • How many dust bunnies were present in your house on March 31, 2010?
  • Are you going to eat that whatever it is in the styrofoam container in your fridge?
  • Can you count past 300 million? If so, call us at 1-866-872-6868.

Monday, March 22, 2010


...just one more reason to spitoutyourgum regularly. Check this out to see some more funny "motivational" posters.

Now the question is, as far as I'm concerned, did George himself protest and request the correction/apology, or did one, some, or all of the 15 women notice, belatedly, the error of their initial thanks? I mean, was George walking around proud as a peacock, "That's right, I am the man!"? Can't claim I'm perfect, but it does show the need for some thinking when proofreading. Some more funny corrections can be found here.

My decaf-despising/fearing friend Johnny came up with another one the other day, which leads me to believe he might be one of the greatest spontaneous poets alive. While describing to me a beautiful woman he had seen, he said, "And she had hips that wouldn't..." and here my mind sat on the word "quit" like it was a hanging fastball, but Johnny, not messing with the cliched, said, "wait." Hips that won't wait. Quite a thought. You're on your own finding a link for a site with hips that won't wait.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Feeble Attempts At Writing A Caption For The Uncaptionable

  1. Riding in Frank's back seat is cool, way cool.
  2. Get out and help me back up. I gotta couple of blind spots here.
  3. 350 miles per can of freon. Beat that, Toyota.
  4. Turn what where?
  5. Honey, why are you always so cold?
  6. Just put it on your lap. The last time I opened the trunk it cost me a whole rear windshield.
  7. My other car's got a jacuzzi.
  8. Hybrid? I got your hybrid right here.
  9. Marmaduke, not again!
  10. That's not funny. Don't even joke about moving to Alaska.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sought Poem: Self Help

They call them "found poems": grocery lists, graffiti, refrigerator door notes, etc. that poets find and find, well, poetical and then publish as is, deeming the mundane poetic. Of course, if you cheat and actively go looking for a found poem, then the result isn't quite a found poem, but something I guess I'll call a "sought poem." Seek and ye shall find. A couple years ago, after spending enough time shelving books, I was struck by the creative energy that goes into titling self-help books. I guess that's the most important aspect of writing/marketing a self-help book, the title, because basically you're just trying to sell the same thing over and over again, aren't you? I mean isn't the gist of all self-help books simply, get your shit together?

So, in need of a poem for a reading I was scheduled to give, I sought, actively. I spent a half hour combing through the self-help section writing down good titles. Then I spent a couple hours, more time than I had imagined I would (as far as I know they don't make a self-help book about streamlining the sought poem process), typing up the titles and arranging them into a somewhat coherent narrative. The spectacular result is below, a poem made up of nothing more than the titles of self-help books. I added some appropriate punctuation and might have taken a liberty or two with tenses, and maybe elided a title or two, but for the most part, the poem is nothing but book titles. I hope I amuse you, and maybe even nudge you a little further along the way to getting your shit together.

Why Your Life Sucks (And What To Do About It)

How Now,
Quirky Alone.
Welcome To Your Cross:
Full Catastrophe Living.
Cinderella Was a Liar.

Still Sexy After All These Years,
If The Buddha Dated
Jared the Subway Guy,
Pissed Off?
Angry All the Time?
Get Out of Your Own Way.
Improve Your Mood With Food.
Always Talk to Strangers
The World is a Waiting Lover.
Normal is Just a Setting on the Dryer.
Life is Short, Wear Your Party Pants.
When Good Men Behave Badly,
Squeeze the Day.

Dealing With Relatives?
Make Peace with Anyone.
I Married My Mother-in-Law,
Honeymoon With My Brother.
We Love Each Other, But …
Wild Women Talk About Love,
What Happy People Know,
Cool Stuff They Should Teach in School:
Mating in Captivity
Eating, Drinking, Overthinking
Self-Defeating Behaviors
Undercover Sex Signals
Controlling People
Raging Gracefully
Authentic Happiness.

My Reality Check Bounced.
What Should I Do With My Life?
Don’t Panic,
Refuse to Choose,
Stop Getting Dumped.
Kiss and Run,
Wear More Silk.
Think Like a Guy.
Date Like a Man.
I Know What You’re Thinking:
Why Can’t You Shut Up?
All Men Are Jerks Until Proven Otherwise.
Toxic People.
Don’t Use My Sweater Like a Towel.
Help, I’m In Love With a Narcissist.
Rescue Me, He’s Wearing a Moose Hat.

You Don’t Have To Take It Anymore.
It’s Not Me, It’s You.
Change Your Life in 30 Days,
Hip Tranquil Chick.
What to Say When You Talk to Yourself:
What’s Right With Me.
I am Diva.
I Used to Miss Him…But My Aim is Improving.

Don’t Call That Man,
The Sociopath Next Door,
He’s Just Not That Into You.

Why Men Love Bitches?
Dental Floss for the Mind.
Why Men Marry Bitches?
Dating Sucks.
Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget?

How to Make People Like You?
How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends?
How to Make Anyone Fall in Love With You?
How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk?
How to Change Anyone?
Get Anyone to Do Anything?
Pull Yourself Up By Your Bra Straps!
Stay Alive All Your Life,
No Opportunity Wasted.
It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys.

You’ve Got to Read This Book:
The Complete Idiots Guide to the Art of Seduction.
A Virgin’s Guide to Everything
Straight Up and Dirty.
The Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Jump Into Bed?
Why Do I Love These People?
Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress,
Do I Look Fat In This?
What Would Jackie Do?

Your Own Worst Enemy?
The Joys of Much Too Much?
Coming Apart?
How Far Will You Go?
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway!

My Hero,
If It Hurts, It Isn’t Love.
I Love You, Let’s Meet
Gently Down the Stream:
A Weekend To Change Your Life.
Never Be Lied to Again.
Life Could Be Sweeter
Loving Someone With OCD.
Think Yourself Rich.
Expect a Miracle

Chris Smither-Help Me Now

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Alex Chilton, R.I.P.

What is it about the holidays? Vic Chesnutt dies on Christmas, and now another one of my fractured heroes, Alex Chilton, dies on St. Patrick's Day. His star-crossed career has been told ad nauseam, and I won't repeat it here; check out a couple links here and here and watch the video below if you need the history. From the Box Tops to Big Star and into a stop-start solo career, more than anything, to me, it was Alex's voice that lingered long after you were finished listening (and often that time had to wait a long time, because once you start listening to his music, you tend to want to listen for hours). From the that-can't-be-a-teenager-singing-like-that gruff glee of the Box Tops' "The Letter," to the snarl ("Don't Lie To Me") the ennui ("Back Of A Car") the aching glory ("September Gurls") the fragility ("Thirteen") and the desperation ("Kanga Roo") of his Big Star music to the decadence ("Bangkok") the darkly humorous ("No Sex") and the empathy ("Come By Here") of his solo work, whatever mood the songs he was singing called for, Alex could master, but always with some kind of distinctive touch. He might be the only singer I can think of who could vocalize a chip on the shoulder. Great songs, great voice.

I saw him once, December of 1987. All I had on me for him to autograph was a paycheck stub. "You want me to sign that?" "Well, yeah, it's just the stub, not the check." "Oh," sounding very disappointed as he scribbled what apparently is his name. I owe him a couple months, at least, of Karmic paychecks for the pleasure his music has afforded me over the years.

Alex Chilton-Come By Here

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Beam Me Up, Whoever You Are

Have you heard this? For nearly the last two weeks, there have been just about nightly sightings of UFOs over Euclid, Ohio--just east of Cleveland and only a couple miles from my own home base (check the link--video of the weird lights). I've got a few theories on what's drawing the ETs to our wonderful metropolis on Lake Erie. Maybe the universe is finally getting wind of LeBron James and wants a peek. Maybe they think that since Cleveland is supposedly so miserable we're an easy target for an invasion: surely the rest of Earth won't mind if we (the aliens) take over this miserable little place. Maybe the visitors come from a truly parallel universe where everything is the reverse of what it is here on Earth. Thus, to them, Cleveland would be paradise. Maybe they've heard about Malley's bacon, covered in chocolate! Maybe they revere potholes.

Whatever the reason, I've decided that as long as their probes aren't too obtrusive, they have me back in time for the NBA Finals in June, and they don't ask me about the Kentucky Derby in 1987, I'd happily go along with them for a ride. In fact, last night it was so clear and pleasant out, I stood in the backyard and peered up at the sky Euclid-way for half an hour, hoping for at least a sighting, at best a ride. I really want to see a UFO sometime, just so I can be like all those others who've seen one and are so serious when you ask. "Yep, I've seen one," kind of like somebody saying they've seen an animal eat its young: yeah, I'm privileged, I saw it, and unless you've seen it too, we have nothing to talk about because you just don't understand.

Anyway, if this truly is cyberspace I'm scribbling in, then this is my open invitation to aliens from across the universe: drop on by, I'd love to see you sometime.

The Holy Modal Rounders-Mr. Spaceman

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My Ingenuity Knows No Bounds, I Says

First of all, it was the missus who left the little door open and then got too cute with the big yellow pole at the ATM machine. Then she tells me to fix it. How, I says. Use that imagination you're always boasting about, she says. Fine, I says, then five minutes later I says, There. What the hell is that, she says. I'm not driving with that stupid thing on my car. I hear the bus is good transportation, I retorts. Besides, she adds, That's my favorite Metallica disc. It's your damn car, I counters, And your broken fuel door. You fix it, I challenges. Thirty minutes of banging around the garage later, and cuss word combinations I never thought of before, she comes back in and admits, You win, but get a different CD, I can't give up my Kill 'Em All disc. So I start rummaging through her CDs. Every one I pull out she protests, No, not that one. I love that one. Even Go Go's discs and Oingo Boingo ones she hasn't played in decades. Finally I plucks out The Carpenters' Greatest Hits, Volume 3 (Volume 3, mind you) and she caterwauls, No, that will make me look so uncool. What, I questions. You know people are going to be looking to see what CD it is, she explains. I can't be driving around with a Carpenters disc taped on my car as a gas cap. People will think I'm a nerd. The car will keyed everywhere. And that Toto disc you so vehemently refused me to use, I protests, that's not going to get you car bombed in the hipper parts of town you cruise through? Use one of your discs, please, she whimpers. Well, that's the kind of question posed to me that can paralyze me for weeks, I ponders. Just what is the correct CD to tape to your car (yes, my spouse's car, but still, and I do drive it from time to time) to use as an ad hoc gas cap? Because she's right, I figures. People will be taking a peek to see what disc it is, and I'll be damned if I'm going to be caught, or let my other half be caught, sporting an uncool disc-as-gas-cap. Jesus, I hems and haws for hours, picking through my CD racks, conjuring all the permutations of having a Velvet Underground disc versus a Wire disc versus a Sun Ra disc versus a Doc Watson disc taped to the back of my wife's car. The onus of cool, I tell you. I can't recount the deliberations I ended up having with myself, for fear of lapsing into insanity. Suffice to say, two days of no sleep later I finally crossed the Rubicon and taped a Lightnin' Hopkins import, disc 3 of 4, onto the car. Whatever, she sighs.

Whatever. Three weeks later, I'm driving her car to get smokes. It's balmy out. 94 degrees. Sunny as hell. Pollutant Index way up. I'm stopped at a light, the sun beaming right down on the CD, sending off blinding reflections all over the intersection. And then, God strike me dead if I lies, one sun ray laser beam struck just right, and out from the gas tank comes Lightnin' singing "Automobile Blues." I got the coolest jerry-built car in the world. Thank God I didn't go with Oingo Boingo, I concludes.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Entertaining The Thought

Mondays the mind wanders. For some reason I found myself thinking today about chucking it all and moving to Mexico and starting afresh as an ice-fishing guide. It was cold and foggy today and my back ached, so I made the decision to entertain the thought. Now when it comes to entertaining, I am no reclusive Boo Radley, but I'm not exactly Jay Gatsby either. I'm a moderate entertainer. So I decided to use up one of my five roast beef sandwiches for five bucks Arby's coupons on the thought, even planning to treat the thought to one of Arby's delicious apple turnovers as well. Alas, the thought was a fleeting one; it stood me up and left me alone at Arby's trying to give away a free roast beef sandwich to the nice elderly couple who couldn't hear each other.

Entertain the thought. One of those nonsense phrases we throw around and don't think much of, unless we choose to entertain the thought of just what it means to entertain a thought. Luckily, I was a precocious lad when it came to thoughts: At the mere age of twelve, when I was just embarking on a long career of golf caddying, one of the golfers asked me if I had ever entertained the thought of standing still while he tried to make a five dollar six-foot putt. I pondered the question while forecaddying on the next hole. Why not entertain the thought, I thought. So I started telling the thought some of the best school yard jokes in my repertoire. Well, by the next green the thought was still doubled over in laughter, so I thought the thought must be a good one. From that day on my statuesque poise on the green was legendary. Buoyed by the experience, I started entertaining all kinds of thoughts. Granted, the entertainment at the time was quite adolescent, naturally, but the seed had been planted. Entertain those thoughts, young man, like the happiest vaudevillian this side of the Catskills.

It was a golden age of entertaining thoughts: the harmonic convergence of my teens and the free-wheeling, expense account 1970s. I wined and dined, danced and pranced, serenaded and joked myriad thoughts. In the spirit of the times, I flagged down even passing thoughts, chatted them up, and wound up treating them to three-day benders that woke us in Juarez struggling to recall each other's identity. Stray thoughts, deep thoughts, fanciful thoughts, even just-a thoughts all lined up for the entertainment they knew I could provide them. My reputation as a thought entertainer became so formidable that a kind of telepathy set in, which got me into a bit of trouble when other people started accusing me of stealing their thoughts. I then was forced to explain that it wasn't stealing; their thoughts simply wanted to become my thoughts so they might join the party.

Then the bubble burst. Karmic IRS regulations enacted in the 1980s put an end to my extravagant entertaining ways. Soon I was forced to host thoughts with nothing more than a couple slices of bologna, a deck of cards, and a Tijuana Bible. What doesn't kill us only makes us more inventive entertainers, though. Through these lean times I honed my shadow puppet skills, tongue rolling, and gift of gab. Go to Vegas for cheap thrills, the thoughts soon realized, visit Dan for eclectic, thought-provoking (a kind of meta-entertainment for thoughts the most profound ones treasure), non-generic entertainment. Soon thoughts were lining up again for a night of Camus and Cloves cigarette smoking, an afternoon spent watching the Amish, dawn ambling empty mall parking lots re-telling the plots of Charles Bronson movies. One memorable day I decided to entertain the thought of taking up Zen Buddhism by challenging the thought to a friendly stare down. Six hours later, our eyeballs dry as a latter day Chevy Chase movie, we broke up laughing, hugging, blinking madly, Alas, over some green tea I had to confess that while I enjoyed the time, Catholicism was still my girl. Why even last night, as the thought of turning fifty in a few years assailed me (some thoughts you don't even think about entertaining, you just batten down the hatches and turn off the phone), I did manage to entertain the thought that maybe it was time to become a daily bow-tie guy. I cranked up some Bach on the Victrola and concocted a batch of Gin Rickeys and proceeded to have a rather pleasant evening with the bow-tie thought until a chunk of plaster broke off from the ceiling above me, plopped me on the head, and awakened me to the fact that the thought was an agent of Satan. Luckily I was sprinkling, rather liberally, some garlic in my GRs, so I threw some at the thought and it hissed away.

Now of course, like all veteran entertainers, it hasn't all been SRO nights of Standing O's for me. I've had my share of clunkers. There was the time I thought it would be appropriate to entertain the thought of entering the Iditarod with a meal of fried seal and a fifth of Yukon Jack, which only resulted in thoughts like will my cranium, mouth, and intestines ever be the same--thoughts only a masochist would entertain entertaining. The thought of volunteering for Sarah Palin's Wassilla mayoral campaign sent me to a drive-in showing of Shanghai Surprise, where even after a barrel of buttered popcorn and two large boxes of Sno-Caps I just couldn't be coaxed into joining the thought in the backseat. We parted rather un-amicably at the restrooms, as the thought ditched me while I was inside throwing cold water on my face.

But I believe it is those kinds of entertaining gaffes that help qualify me so uniquely for the career change I have decided upon (after entertaining the thought with a night of Scrabble and bratwursts): Thought Entertainer Consultant. If fops can make a living by planning weddings (which, let's face it, last an afternoon, maybe an evening, too, at best), I certainly can scratch by on assisting people to entertain their thoughts (which can last a lifetime!) appropriately, cost-effectively, merrily, and mutually-satisfactorily. So, please, if you routinely experience the ignominy of your thoughts deserting you with big yawns, twiddling thumbs, or even looks of horror on their faces, or if you just want some whimsical tweaking to your overall thought-entertaining arsenal, simply e-mail me your thoughts. For a negotiable, but always affordable fee, I will present you with an array of exciting, satisfying entertainment options. Think about it.

Tony Clarke-The Entertainer

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Titles Longer Than The Poems: Three Haiku

Mixing My Orientalisms With My Mafiaisms: A Haiku Koan After Further Pondering My Viewing Of The Godfather Marathon On AMC

Why would anyone
Not risking taking gunshot
Leave the cannoli?

Of Apples And The Trees That Bore Them: Conclusions Reached On This Day Of Mourning

Funeral and wake
Doubtless, knowing their daughters,
Two wonderful men

Wishing I Could Determine The Exact Hour Of Standard Time I Lose And The Exact Hour Of Daylight Savings Time I Gain Back, Or Vice Versa, Whatwhichever: Not Buying The Enforced Arbitrariness Of Springing Forward And Falling Back

Sun rises sun sets
Heedless of our tinkerings
I want my hour back

Friday, March 12, 2010

Anti-Social Media?

Yes you learn something every day, but how much of it would you rather not learn? Today, for instance, I took the opportunity provided by the sunny warm weather to traipse around the shopping plaza during my break. I soon came upon one of our regulars, Deborah (pronounced de-BOR-ah; true), furiously working her thumbs over her cell phone. Feeling sociable, because it was warm and sunny, Friday, and payday, I thought I'd strike up an innocuous conversation. "Texting a tweet, DeBORah? Or does one simply tweet? I mean, is 'texting a tweet' redundant?"

She looked at me like I had scurvy. "Actually, for your information, I'm actually exting a bleat."

"Okay, " I smiled, "don't mind me." I had spied my friend Johnny and wanted to see if he still wasn't fucking with decaf, but DeBORah quickly snapped her phone shut and started walking toward me; I suddenly wanted a blizzard and sub-zero temperatures.

"You don't know what a bleat is, do you? Or Qwitter?"

"Well, I used to work on a goat farm, but I, um quit."

"Funny not. Qwitter's the new anti-social media that's taking the anti-social community by storm."

"There's an anti-social community? That doesn't make a whole lot of sense now DeBORah, does it?"

"I'll tell you what doesn't make sense: the term social media. That's redundant. But we're rebelling. There are more and more anti-social media springing up every day. Qwitter's been around like three weeks. It's getting kind of old."

Johnny was getting in his car. I was trapped. "So tell me about Qwitter."

"If I do you have to promise not to join. It kind of ruins it. But anyway, you bleat, not tweet, on Qwitter. Only 67 characters allowed. You bleat about how everybody and everything sucks. Then you have to wait 120 seconds before you ext it, basically cancel it. You hope nobody sees it and desponds to it."

"You mean respond?"

"No, despond, actually. Every desponse you get is a point. The person with the most points at the end of the day loses, and has to quit. Get it?"

"Do I have to?"

"Wait a minute. I have to update my FacelessBook page. Let no one know I'm talking to a dork."

"Thanks, DeBORah."

"Come on, you'd be perfect for anti-social media. On your FacelessBook page you post everything that sucks about your life, everything you can't stand, like music and books and movies, and list all the tattoos and piercings and cool stuff you don't have and all the names of the people you haven't or don't want to hook up with ever and all those people who aren't your friend. After my post on my blog about how much I hate skinny vegans, I got like six thousand not friends. Tyler was so mad at me she called me for like a week."

"What's the name of your blog? Maybe we could link to each other's. Mine is spitoutyo--"

"I don't blog, okay? I b-l-a-h-g, blahg. I'm down to like three hits a day, it's great." Her phone made a weird noise, kind of a synthetic, dub version of Iggy Pop's "I'm Bored." "Wait a minute." She popped open the phone and read something. "OMN! I gotta run. You have restrooms in your store don't you? Not the automatic flush kind, I hope?"

"What's going on, DeBORah?" Her excitement was palpable, and quite infectious. I started power walking to keep up with her as she hurried toward the store.

"It's a flush mob. eyecontactlessingeorgia just sent out a flush mob alert."

"Flash mob?"

"Flush mob. You ask too many questions to ever be really anti-social, you know. A flush mob is when everyone all over the place rushes to the nearest public restroom and flushes the toilet for like half an hour. That's why automatic flushers suck. It's too much work moving around to get the sensors to flush. OMN, this is so boring I love it." We were now in the store and DeBORah was sprinting to the women's room.

"OMN, DeBORah? What's that?" I called after her.

Just as she was pushing the women's room door open, she turned around and frowned a most beatific frown. "OMN. Oh My Nothing!"

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Directions There There

Now listen, these might not work too good if it gets overcast, but you should be ok. Now turn around here and head that way, right, left. That's east, basically. Go up about a mile until you see a guy named Virgil. Hunh? Don't worry, you'll know him. Just past him you come upon a donut shop. Signal like you're going in but keep on going. Just in case. Now after the big transformer towers stop, at Koone Road, I think, you'll see Lefty's Hardware anyway, you need any nails, by the way? Well, about half a radio commercial past Lefty's, you'll want to veer right. Don't. The car will fight you, trust me, but make a left instead. Eventually you'll see a sign that it's Malinger Road you're on. Hunh? Eventually, like five or ten miles. Now that's when you want to start looking for the smelling salts plant. Roll your window up, by the way. On the other side of that is a kind of truck run-off path. Avoid that or don't. Don't really matter. Just make sure you go right at the first casino billboard. The first. If you miss it and go right at the second, well, send me a postcard from hell, is all I'll say. So right at the first casino billboard sign, route 45 or 167 or one of those kinds of numbers. If you're equipped with cruise control, engage it; you got a nice little trek ahead of you. Just don't fall asleep like Honore did. Getting the new arm tomorrow, matter of fact. Be able to gut fish like nobody's business. Now round about the time you start feeling creepy on this road, but goddamnit before you start fearing for your life, make a left. Any street, don't matter. Well, it do if you turn at the street with the charred mattresses on the corner, avoid that one, but all the others are safe, or not unsafe, might say. Don't matter 'cause you're fixing to hit a parallel street, the Onaway Expressway. Can't miss it. And if you do you'll notice by the rumble strips and glass shards. Anyway, you want the lane for the Expressway going south, which is the one marked 17 West. Don't ask, just merge quickly. Now around the third bend to your left, don't bother counting right bends, that's a exercise of concentration no one needs, but just around the third bend to your left you'll see a kind of ad hoc dirt road off ramp. Take it. Now just up the rise you'll come to some woods. If the gate's up, just nudge it going slow, about ten or so, and you'll be fine. Don't bother closing it, neither. Fletcher'll get it, in time. And don't mind the bumpiness, those shocks you got'll take it. Now follow that path, Ernie says it's a road, but I'm kind of partial to naming it a path. Anyway, follow that until you're on your second decade and despairing of ever seeing your loved ones again. Right about then, say two more quick Mary's and I swear on my daddy's head you'll hit macadam again before you reach that second hour of our death, amen. Now then's where it gets tricky. About a quick beer down the road there's what used to be a flashing red light. Used to be, being operative, before them Stoney kids shot it out. Now it ain't red nor flashing, but by then it should still be daylight out and you'll see it, or what remnants there are. Take a hard right there. And never mind the one way signs pointing at you, that's just there to scare away the literates. If you see a cop, hook 'em horns and continue coasting. At the second Stuckey's, and it comes up fast after the first one, believe it or not, make a u-ee and then a quick right down Lesser Main. You'll see some working girls so you know. Continue on Lesser Main till it turns into Hardly Main then soon after that you'll see an access road near some train tracks. Jog right there, but after crossing Dry Creek sprint if you value your windshield. Next thing you know your check engine light will come on, which disregard totally. It's just the big magnet Brick buried there twenty years ago. It'll go off after your next car wash. Two point three miles after the check engine light comes on, you're there. Well, not there there, but the filling station, Brick Muller's, only Brick's dead and his son Jeffy runs it now, which is another tragedy best left untold. Anyway, by then you'll need a full tank to get to the there there. And then, well, hell, get Jeffy to focus if he seems to be wandering a bit, you know, use your fingers to point at your eyes or something, and he'll be able to tell you how to get to the highway straight away. Got it? Now don't text or sound your horn at the bovine, and you can't miss it.

Meat Puppets-We're Here

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tres Bien Amie

Pardon my quite possibly butchered French, but today I must use the language to celebrate the birthday of Amie (French for friend), my childhood beloved mutt (alas, no digital images; you'll just have to imagine the craziest dog you'll ever not meet). Amie was born the runt of the litter 36 years ago today, which in dog years means she is quite long dead. In sheer pre-PC little girl innocence, one of the girls into whose family Amie was born named her Little Black, after her right front paw, which unlike her three other white ones, was black, like her coat. The mythology is that the same little girl also accidentally dropped the little puppy down the stairs once; I certainly hope that is true because it would go a long way in explaining just how Amie (my sister, who received the puppy on her 14th birthday as a gift from my aunt, much to the chagrin of her sister, my mother, named Amie Amie) became one of the most paranoid and goofy dogs of all time.

The little pooch could bark up a storm, but never out of anger or a sense of protecting the family manse; her bark was omnipresent, her bite non-existent. No, Amie barked only out of her own fear. Except when she was too scared to bark and then she would whimper and quiver as if Noah himself had just denied her passage onto the Ark. You'd have thought the end of the world was nigh whenever we had to force Amie to get in the car and go for a ride. In her later years, as she developed gray hair and a beard (I'm telling you, as lovable as she was, Amie was a basket case), and her primary care fell to another runt of the litter--yours truly--I would be awakened at night by the whimpers emanating from Amie as she suffered through some kind of nightmare, her legs whirling dervishly as she slept. I'd have to call her name out several times to wake her so I could get back to sleep. Of course, the nights she slept soundly were the nights she'd jump up onto my bed and find the most comfortable spot (after about ten minutes of fidgeting) for her to fall asleep--usually right on my knees, which in turn caused me to have to somewhat violently stir her when I needed to roll over in the middle of the night. Although it was dark, I can still see the look poor put-upon, paranoid Amie would give me when I had to wake and evict her from pitching her tent on my knees, a look that said, et tu?

She loved to fetch a tennis ball, though, and in her younger days even loved the indoor variety where we'd set up some couch cushions in the hallway for hurdles and she'd fearlessly hop them chasing down the ball. Outside of such fetching or baking her black coat in any available patch of sunlight or licking the remnants of my father's ice cream dish, Amie didn't do much else except sleep and get scared.

In addition to celebrating her birthday, I always think about Amie this time of year, like today when the snow continues to melt rapidly. One of my least cherished boyhood chores would be to take a stick and an old red children's snow shovel we had and traverse the grounds on a day like today and de-manure the lawn. One would think dog crap would be a little quicker in bio-degrading, but no. I chalked it up to Lent and looked forward to even sunnier, warmer days when I would be throwing or sandwedging old tennis balls off into the distance and watching Amie scamper after them. Only in a kennel of rabid curs would Amie ever sniff Best In Show, but she was my only boyhood dog, and I wouldn't trade her for all the pure-bred labs in the world.

Happy Birthday, Amie, you paranoid pooch.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

One Picture = Priceless

Lord knows I don't ask much from the media. But I want this: a picture of these two icons, Bob Dylan and Muhammad Ali, today. Call Ken Regan, the photographer who took this shot back in 1975, and get him to get Bob and Muhammad together for another picture. Nobody's getting any younger, and these two are each pushing 70. Their faces, long past their pretty prime, are still works of art, and they need to be documented. Are there two more powerful, symbolic, mythical figures of a world--the 1960s--that still fascinates us and yet is quickly receding to memory and history than Dylan and Ali? Although I graciously offer my services to tag along and interview them, or better, simply hold the tape recorder as the two of them talk, somehow I feel that with Bob's legendary reticence and Muhammad's tragic loss of his verbal prowess, there wouldn't be much conversation, at least not much that these two would want to share with the public. But that's fine with me. I just want a classic, close-up photo of these two giants, in their older age. Something to study for years to come. Somebody get that picture now.

Monday, March 8, 2010


I actually started writing this before I learned of the earthquake in Turkey; I mean no disrespect. Furthermore, I believe my relationship with Turks is impeccable (the least of which because I don't think I've ever consciously interacted with a Turk). Anyway, in the continuing lattice of coincidence that is my life, Turks have been on my mind lately. Over the weekend I indulged in my annual surprise Godfather marathon, courtesy of AMC. There is no better TV ritual. Among other great revelations and insights gleaned this viewing, I decided what will be, if I ever become cool enough to be able to pull it off, my signature line for leave-taking, be it a phone call, a visit with friends, or simply leaving working each day. In Part II, the great character Frank "Frankie Five Angels" Pentangeli ("the old man had too much wine") after not being treated properly at Anthony Corleone's First Communion party (Ritz crackers instead of canapes; a non-Italian band that mocks him; having to "wait on line" to see Michael, who ultimately refuses to do anything for Frankie about the Rosato brothers) signals his exit from his disappointing meeting with Michael by calling out to his number one goon, Cicci, "Cicc', a porta! (Cicci, the door!)" Now that's the way to take your leave, commanding with a flourish your flunky to get the door for you, even if, in my case, the flunky would be totally imaginary.

In Part I I was struck by the character Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo (that's him, pictured above). He's the real bad guy here. He brings drugs onto the scene. He tries to kill Don Vito Corleone. He viciously kills the beloved heavy Luca Brasi. Eventually he gets his in Louis Restaurant, via Michael and the toilet-hidden gun. But he's "The Turk." Yes, he's part Turkish, and he deals in poppies, and supposedly in the novel his nose is like a Turkish scimitar. But he's "The Turk." There's a long history of using "Turk" as an insult, a derogatory term, for specifically lower class Turks and more generally for anyone who is brutish. Even our nation's beloved bird, the turkey, was named so out of derision (see a concise and informative discussion of the derogatory uses of the word Turk here, among other places on the web). It might be un-PC, but I think it's no coincidence that this ultimate bad guy, back in the 1940s, was called "The Turk."

So anyway, today my shift at work ran from 3 a.m. to 11 a.m. on account of our annual inventory. Nothing like setting the alarm for a 2:30 a.m. wake-up call. All through my tedious work-morning, I was subjected to somebody else's tastes in music, which can be one of the ultimate tortures: stuck at work on the graveyard shift and having no sayso in the musical selections. Luckily, the music wasn't all that bad today, just a few clunkers. The one song that stood out, though, (in addition, of course, to a dawn playing of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," which never fails to surprise and amuse and entertain) was the old classic, "Big Rock Candy Mountain," by Harry McClintock, most famously heard on the O, Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. A gorgeous, witty ode to a hobo's paradise (the cops have wooden legs, there are cigarette trees and lakes of stew and whiskey [Cicc', my car!]) the song's story has been told many times, and I'm sure better than I could ever do. But the line that sturck (sic, how's that for a coincidental typo?) me this time, naturally, I guess, was, "you sleep all day where they hung the Turk who invented work." Oh my god, what a line. Now some web lyrics sites render the line, "hung the jerk who invented work," which to me is either a case of bad ears (I can only hear "Turk") or PC bowdlerizing. "Turk" just is more apt, given the supposedly early 20th century composition of the song (McClintock claimed he wrote it, the courts decided it is the creation of that greatest of all songwriters, Mr. Public Domain). Despite its derogatory nature, the line is just so much more poetic with Turk rather than jerk. I love the idea of one bad guy having invented work and getting his comeuppance, ala Virgil "The Turk" Sollozzo, on, of all places, the Big Rock Candy Mountain; singing along at four in the morning while at work never felt so right.

Cicc', a porta!

Harry McClintock-Big Rock Candy Mountain

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Dreams Don't Look Out Of Reach

There still might be several inches of snow on the ground here, and of course, misery abounds, but Cleveland's got one thing nobody else has: the home of Pere Ubu. And last night at the Beachland Ballroom, the iconic band delivered a hometown treat, playing their first album, 1978's The Modern Dance, in its entirety. Who'd want to live anywhere else?

I'm not sure if front man David Thomas's heart was completely in it (he said the band was only doing this for the Beachland's tenth anniversary and "for a lotta money," and as for all the banging and scraping of weird things he did on the original recording, "I don't do that stuff anymore"), but a three-quarter Crocus heart is still pretty amazing. Thomas, sporting a buttoned-up dark raincoat the entire night, which made you leery he might flash the audience at any time, looked great, as he's more slimmed down than I've ever seen him. Crocus Big-boned, not Behemoth, maybe. Instead of looking like a neurotic/possibly psychotic Jackie Gleason prowling the stage, Thomas, now almost svelte, and grayer and balder, seemed to amble the stage with a world-weary perplexity, a strange amalgam of Lenin, Brimley, Nofziger, Ives, Huston, Davignon, and Hackman. And while some sound issues certainly disturbed him, muddying up his vocals at times, he seemed to be in a good and fittingly nostalgic mood, offering interesting "tidbits": the lyrics to "Laughing" were ripped off from the movie Badlands; "Chinese Radiation" was inspired by the "fact" that Cleveland in the late 60s contained more Maoists than anywhere outside of China; Sting once told him, in a squeaky voice: "I really dig your band"; "and he really sounds like that," Thomas added.

Despite the fact that the only other old-time member of the band playing last night was guitarist Tom Herman, it was almost like being transported back to 1978. After opening with the always seismic "Final Solution," the band played the entire Modern Dance album, then came out for encores of "30 Seconds Over Tokyo," "Heart of Darkness," My Dark Ages," and "Heaven," a song Thomas said could have made Ubu UB40 if they'd only repeated it eighteen times. Delivered with a little less mania and power than back in 1978, maybe, the songs still make you scratch your head and wonder why nobody seems to be making music this challenging, informed, smart, and yes, even artful, that still rocks so deliriously, anymore.

A great night to be in Cleveland. Thanks, David. And Josh and Emily too.

Pere Ubu-Heaven

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What Sort Of Man Reads The Cover Of Cosmo?

When I was a golf caddie I used to forecaddie on the 15th hole, take out one of the golfers' wedges, and hit range balls that had errantly made their way to the 15th back to the range. When I was a school teacher, I got to power trip by commanding kids to spit out their gum. When I was a magazine editor, I got to pig out for free at PR soirees. As a retail bookseller, I get to peruse the covers of hundreds of magazines each week before putting them out on the racks. Every job has its small perks.

Fridays are great because that's when all the gossip rags come out, so I can quickly catch up on all the pertinent celeb news with glances at various covers. I learn that Katie is desperately trying to get out of her prison-marriage to Tom, or, the next week, or sometimes even the same week, different mag, I learn that Katie and Tom have never been more in love. I feel I've lived through every step of the way with Kendra and her pregnancy and first few months as a mother. I've ping-ponged back and forth with Jennifer and her romantic disappointments. Just from cover photos and headlines, I've learned I hate Kate Gosselin. I love checking out the woodworking magazines every month because their cover models, white males, 40+, balding, zero fashion sense, myopic, in need of diets, are so incongruous compared to all the other cover models of all the other magazines (even the ice fishing magazines--yes, and yes plural--seem to put a little thought into putting semi-hunky ice fishermen [could they be re-touched models?] on their covers). Hip Hop Weekly, which I swear for a few months, despite its name, was a bi-weekly, informs me of the latest trials--literal--of all my favorite rappers I've never heard of. Heeb, the Jewish humor magazine, makes me laugh but also feel very protective due to the angry Jewish (I assume) guy who comes in every once in a while and scolds us for carrying such an offensive magazine (my former boss was the Picasso of dealing with such irate customers; she walked the guy around the magazine section and politely pointed out that we carry magazines that offend all sorts of people; we're an equal opportunity offender). I marvel at the chutzpah (and continued existence) of New Beauty magazine, a periodical devoted solely to the subject of cosmetic enhancement.

But until we start carrying a Bob Dylan daily magazine, or Bacon Illustrated (you laugh, there's now a magainze--Culture [get it?]--dedicated solely to cheese [somebody sound the cheese alarm!]), my favorite magazine arrival each month has to be Cosmopolitan. To look inside the magazine would be overkill: the cover each month provides all the entertainment one man needs. The folks there must be walking conceptual thesauri, because from what I can tell, every month they run the same articles, but the cover headlines are always slightly different. Basically, it's lose the fat and have incredible sex (not that there's anything wrong with those activities, but come on, month after month? can't we just learn about Natalie Portman's wood-working or ice-fishing skills once in a while?). I swear every month there's some sort of "17 Things That Will Drive Him Wild In Bed" article. Now I've long been on record as offering my precious time--gratis--to be the so-called "lab rat" for these articles (surely, Cosmo must apply the scientific method to such articles: "No, not that. Nope, nothing. Yes. Oh yes. Write that one down, quick. That's definitely one more incredible thing you can do with your ear lobe that will drive him bonkers in bed"), but I'm still waiting for a reply.

This month's cover (above) is nothing new, outside of boasting just about the most normal picture of Lady Gaga I've seen. But what caught my eye, and my mind, as this is the first Cosmo cover I've thought about for more than thirty seconds, is that "50 Things To Do Butt Naked." Where to begin? Would any reader of Cosmo, supposedly someone in the market for 37 Naughty Things To Do With A Dictionary That Will Make Him Your Minion For Life, actually need a list of things to do naked? Does anybody? Shower, sleep, have sex, pick up a couple extra bucks posing for drawing classes and--if you're one of those people to be found at nudist camps--play a lot of volleyball? What else? Not what else is there (granted, human imgaination is pretty boundless), but what else of interest? Oh, thanks Cosmo, I never thought about crocheting, doing my taxes, or frying bacon (look out for those greasy splashes!) in the buff. Draw the curtains, honey. Or, better yet, open those curtains wide! I certainly hope the fiftieth thing to do is sit around and make up silly lists. I expect, in the interest of fair play and safety, next month Cosmo will run an article about the five things you should never, ever, do naked. I would think wood-working with table saws.

Then there's that "butt naked." Seems to me it should be "buck naked." Butt naked sounds either redundant or, if you think about it, possibly mis-leading. Butt naked could refer to anyone merely in the act of shooting a moon, no? Buck naked sounds truer--stark. Turns out, after a little investigating, the is it butt or buck naked debate has been going on for a long time. Nobody, as usual, knows for sure where when how the phrase(s) originated or which came first, though each one has its supporters, so to speak. I prefer buck. But I can see why Cosmo would leap at the chance to put the word butt on its cover. Something tells me if those ice-fishing magazines ever ran a similar article, they'd go with buck.

Enough. Back to work on my magnum opus: fifty things to do with spit out gum that will drive her wild in the ice-fishing shack.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Exclusive: Flo the Progressive Girl Is the Offspring of Madge and Mr. Whipple!


As per some law, I must disclose the fact that this blog received as a gift a pre-publication reviewer's copy of a book set to be published on May 1 (strict laydown date): Poke Me In The Belly One More Time And I'll Tell The Whole World Your Darkest Secrets: My Life Among The Wild And Kinky TV Commercial Spokespersons by The Pillsbury Doughboy (published by Ronco Press, 428 pages). Now normally I wouldn't even think about helping a has-been celebrity hawk his ghost-written, titillating-but-ultimately-not-too-revealing "memoir," but seeing as this is the first gift this blog has received and what started as a quick perusal on the can led to a two-day marathon cover-to-cover reading, I feel I must bestow upon this book the first-ever five-pieces-of-chewed-out-gum review. This book is a must for anybody who has ever even glanced at a television commercial one time, anybody with any empathy, and anybody who appreciates a tautly-written, first-person narrative.

Who knew that silly doughboy was so introspective, so literate, and so, shall we say, experienced? And now that he's finally willing to spill all the beans in this poke-and-tell, well, we all are the beneficiaries. Speaking of beans, did you know The Jolly Green Giant was about as jolly as they make them, especially when the Keebler elves invited him over to "knead the cookie dough"? It's all here, in graphic prose that would make William S. Burroughs simultaneously blush and turn green with envy. How about Charlie the Tuna being so smacked out on the bottom of the ocean floor he couldn't remember if he was a hope-to-be Starkist or Chicken of the Sea tuna? Mr. Clean? Dirtier than a hermaphroditic bi-sexual sailor on shore leave in Bangkok with three-months' pay who's just discovered the meaning of the word amoral. Cap'n Crunch? A polyglot choirboy, life-long celibate, and devoted Scientology convert. The revelations here are endless, jaw-dropping, and fully foot-noted. Doughboy has single-handedly lifted the schlocky celebrity tell-all genre onto his little sloped shoulders and hurled it crashing through the rarefied tinted windows of that cafe called art. Safe to say, if James Joyce had been born into a world that had television and he had made commercials for sneakers or reading glasses, the best he could have ever hoped for would be to have written a book this good.

I must, however, go into detail here about what for me was the emotional center of the book, because it's so personal, for me. Full disclosure: Before succumbing to the melancholy, tomboyish charms of Buddy Lawrence on "Family," my first TV-crush wasn't on Jan Brady or Laurie Partridge, like the rest of my co-horts, but Madge.

Yes Madge, the sassy Palmolive manicurist ("you're soaking in it") captured my young lad heart with an iron--though quite smooth--hand. So knowing, so in command, so worldly; Madge was everything a young boy could ever conjure about the ways and means of love. And so, reading the long chapter about Madge's trials, tribulations, and ultimate triumph broke then re-glued my heart. It goes like this (minus Doughboy's impeccable prose). For many years in the 1950s-70s Madge lived a quite idyllic life with her husband, Mr. Whipple (yes, the store-keeper of "Ladies! Please don't squeeze the Charmin"), in a small town.

They lived in a cozy colonial just a short walk from the main thoroughfare where Mr. Whipple's grocery store sat catty-corner from Madge's manicurist shop. The only fly in the ointment of their domestic Eden was the occasional snooty attitude of a TV commercial director and the fact that despite their fervid attempts (Madge, obviously, ruled the amorous activities, adventurous activities, to hear the Doughboy tell it, though Madge was vehement about one thing--she always nixed any and all of Whipple's mad gooses), they were childless.

Then, in the late 70s, the snake entered their garden, in the form of that nosy, Cardigan-wearing, fake-accented, widowed hussy, Mrs. Olson (of Folgers coffee fame).

Apparently, Mrs. Olson had worn out her welcome in several other small towns, plying her coffee-in-the-guise-of-unwanted-marriage-counseling-schtick, and ended up moving in right next door to the Whipple-Madge house, obviously unaware that two TV commercial stars in one small town, let alone one street, are more than enough. Well, one little spat between Whipple and Madge over cleaning out the gutters sure enough brought Mrs. Olson over with her coffee pot of doom and the requisite film crew. Within months the marriage was irrevocably damaged. Quick trips next door to hang curtains for the widow soon escalated into a full-blown extra-marital affair, as Mr. Whipple at last discovered his I'm-the-man, I'm-in-charge-here masculine sexuality. Visitors to Mrs. Olson's house found the place teeming with hastily-discarded, wrangled cardigans. Horribly-accented cries of "Oh yes, squeeze the Charmin, Whipple, squeeze the Charmin!" and "My, Whipple, you're mountain grown too!" were heard up and down the block. Madge could stew in it for only so long. One day she just packed her Palmolive and upped and moved.

Little did she know, though, that after all these years, Mr. Whipple had finally delivered the goods. Just as she was settling into a studio apartment of her own two states away, Madge discovered she was with child. Luckily, upon birth, the child, a girl, instantly evidenced her mother's perky, survivalist genes, and not those of her wimpy, betraying father. Madge cackled her knowing laugh as she held her baby for the first time, and in honor of her own take-what-life-gives-you-and-make-the-best-of-it attitude, she named her baby Flo. Sixteen years and a few weeks later, newly-licensed driver Flo, grooving to some Romantics on the car radio, took her eye off the road for a second and ended up fender-bendering one dual-personality Sam Breakstone/Dunkin' Donuts "time to make the donuts" baker guy, who was not too thrilled. The insurance man who came to process the claim, though, made quite an impression on Flo, and the rest is history.

Monday, March 1, 2010


As I wrote in yesterday's post, I had a delightful evening the other night at my nephew's birthday party. Around the dinner table, we engaged in a pastime that I'm sure is becoming pretty universal at family and friend gatherings: relating funny videos we've seen on youtube. I've been wondering lately why there don't seem to be as many jokes going around, and I'm thinking maybe the Internet, especially youtube, has something to do with it. Why go through the effort of making up jokes and passing them around, when a good chuckle can be had searching sites like youtube? I especially like the clipped language that goes along with it all. "How you I find that video?" "I don't know, just type in 'hamster in model hair.'" Anyway, my nephews, great teens as they are, tipped me off to this one:

Now that's pretty funny on a few different levels. But it got me thinking about bugs, and my history with them. One of my earliest memories is kneeling down on my bed to say my goodnight prayers and kneeling smack dab on a wasp. A wasp sting on a kneecap is not a pleasant experience for a four-year-old. I don't know what it says about my lifelong relationship with prayer, but I know for sure that ever since then, I've hated any kind of creepy crawly thing. Swallowing bugs is awful (see below for Marlon Brando handling the situation with a little more aplomb than the TV reporter; I've been having trouble getting these videos to appear here, so to see it go here), but in some ways getting a mosquito in your eye is worse, I believe. The swallowing is way grosser, but it's kind of over rather quickly. Getting a bug out of your eye seems to take forever. And long gone are the days when you'd count your mosquito bites with pride.

Luckily I haven't had much bad luck with spiders in my life, but I do remember one, I think it was a spider, who freaked the hell out of me. I was living down South at the time, and obviously not accustomed to the ways of the creepies down there. I saw a spider on the floor and immediately and with not too much worry moved to step on him. Well, just as I raised my foot, the thing leaped up (much too quickly and forcefully to have been on a web) to at least the height of my face. A minute later, after peeling myself off the far wall and assuring the neighbors that my shriek did not mean I was possessed by the devil (this was below Mason/Dixon, remember), I could still see the leaping spider sitting on the floor, no doubt laughing his little ass off, I'm sure, if I had dared to get close enough to look at his face. I grabbed my trusty hardback Webster's (a good hardback Thesaurus might have been more appropriate, but alas, Fellhower [you'll meet him in the poem below] burned my Thesaurus one in night in college when I wasn't there; I still have never gotten the full story). With dictionary in hand, I crept slowly across the room to the vicinity of the helicopteringable spider. When I got close enough, and now worrying if the thing could jump vertically, diagonally too, I launched the hefty tome not at the spider but above him (mama didn't raise no dummy). Sure enough, as the spider caught wind of something coming at him, he jumped straight up again. Unfortunately for him, the gravity-obeying book met him halfway and gave him a rather swift elevator ride back down to his hardwood doom.

Enough. I'm getting itchier than hell here. After the jump, though, if you're really brave, you can read a very old, nasty poem I wrote about cockroaches and college.

Bono: "Am I bugging you? I didn't mean to bug you."