Friday, April 30, 2010

Something's Fishy In The Hate Department

Full disclosure: I don't know an algorithm from a purple hibiscus (or was that a red one?). But when I read this story last night about some Internet algorithm that determined the Cleveland Indians are Major League Baseball's most hated team, I knew something was wrong. Far be it from me to call into question some nerd's algorithm, but the results of his "step-by-step problem-solving procedure" (thanks American Heritage Dictionary) are as nonsensical as the phrase Al Gore Rhythm. On a good day, I'd chalk up the whole thing to a seriously rabid monkey wrench in the works, but on a bad day (this being) I've got to suspect conspiratorial foul-play (more on that later).

Now those of us who are lifetime fans of the Tribe have a lot to mope and mutter about the last couple of futile seasons, but it's nothing a Tribe fan with any sense of history hasn't dealt with before. We're passionate, so we get upset when the team stinks and management seems to be blundering right and left, but we don't hate our team. And that's the point. If we don't really hate our team these days, who else possibly could? Nobody. The Indians haven't done a thing for several seasons now to make people other than Tribe fans hate them. Are you going to tell me fans anywhere hate the Indians these days as much as Red Sox fans hate the Yankees and vice versa? Impossible. There's just no way real baseball fans across the country hate the Indians more than any other team. It's like saying you hate Ringo Starr. What's the point? It makes no sense. I need to see your work, Mr. Algorithm man.

Sure the racist logo rightfully angers people, but that has nothing to do with hating the team now, does it? If so, that algorithm is batting about as well as Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore are these days.

I'm sorry, but today I can't just let this algorithm thing slide away on an excuse of ineptitude. The way I see it, this story/algorithm is akin to the recent Forbes Magazine's rating Cleveland as the most miserable city in America. Ladies and gentlemen, I know you'll think I'm foolish when I say this, but I'll be in good company with all the other proved-right-and-how prophets: There is a vast, right-wing media conspiracy to turn the city of Cleveland into a ghost town (well, ghostier than it is; please stay, LeBron!). In fact, the more I ponder the question, ghost town is just the start. Those right-wingers want to, well maybe not eradicate Cleveland, that would be a bit harsh I assume, but negate the city.

Fact: the only thing that makes the state of Ohio interesting every four years when a national election rolls around is Cleveland and its county, Cuyahoga. Without it, the state is solidly red. With it, things get interesting. Now I don't want to get political in this goofy blog, and I'm not saying I'm a fervent Obama supporter, but let's face it, to many people the thought of Obama winning in 2012 makes Armageddon, universally enforced veganism, and the extinction of television all seem tolerable. Negate Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, and the prospects of Obama winning re-election dim quite a bit.

So, this little anti-Cleveland media assault. It's a miserable city and everybody hates the baseball team--that's just the start. Over the next two-and-a-half years I am certain we'll see more and more of these surveys and algorithms besieging this fair city. Just watch. Soon Fox News will report that Cleveland is America's stupidest city. Drudge will claim that all the census data from Cleveland never showed up to the counting place. Rush Limbaugh will foam at the mouth and declare the city is more irrelevant than dead. Eating Well magazine will state that we are the unhealthiest city. Conde Nast Travel magazine will make the case that there's nothing in Cleveland worth seeing (yes, Joakim Noah is a plant, 2012's Joe the Plumber). The Weekly Standard will write an open letter to America demanding that it forcibly make Cleveland and Cuyahoga County secede from the Union. Sarah Palin will denounce Cincinnati, but everyone will realize she actually means Cleveland.

Clevelanders, we're a target of a vast conspiracy of hate to negate us from the 2012 elections. Let's have fun with it. Let's revel in our misery. Let's stay away from Progressive Field in droves until the 2012 season when Saint Jude finally answers my 40-year novena and the Tribe wins it all, giving real baseball fans something to hate. By my calculations, the World Series victory parade will take place on election day, so we won't care less what happens politically. Win or lose, Obama will always be a White Sox fan; and I'll always hate him for that.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Wisdom Of OnStar

I drove a new car up from the Deep South over the last few days. Smooth ride. The car has OnStar, my first experience with it. At first I was a little nervous about having some mishap and being forced to use the Big Brother device and winding up sounding like some panicky fool on a commercial. I had no intention of using it for directions, as I am one to disdain technological help for a task that is easy enough the old-fashioned way; in this case, looking at a map. Besides, I've always had the utmost trust in those interstate signs that point you the way to the next big city. But as the hours and miles rolled away, I kept looking at that starred button and wondering. How wise is this thing? I couldn't resist.

The voice was pleasant enough, a woman's that instantly got me trying to picture the person beyond the voice. A sexy librarian, crossworder, dying to let her hair down. She asked me my destination and without hesitation I said, "Self-awareness." "Hmmm," she kind of chuckled, which immediately made me want to change my spoken destination to "your place." "You're one of those, aren't you?" "One of what," I innocently asked, all the while trying to decide whether she was a white or red wine gal, or maybe a no-frills six-packer. "A seeker, not a driver." "You get one of us often," I asked, and suddenly had to jerk the car back to my lane. "About one a week. I can handle it. Are you Catholic?" I thought of saying, "No, Muslim," just to flirt, but then I thought, who knows, maybe I'll see flashing red lights in a minute, so I replied honestly: "Yes." "Who's your favorite saint?" I wasn't expecting that one, so I goofed, not being able to readily recall the patron saint of bloggers, and instead reflexively said, "St. Patrick." She chuckled definitively, I swerved to avoid a semi, and she said, "Easy enough." The next thing I knew a computerized voice, sounding like a guy who hadn't fantasized about anything since the night Reagan was elected in 1980, started giving me directions. Within five minutes I had reached my destination--a tavern with a big Guinness sign out front. Touche, I thought, parked the car and went to wet my whistle.

Two hours later I was back on the road and pushing the button again. "Satisfied?" she began. "Quite." "What now?" "Purpose. I'm trying to find purpose." "You and everybody else," she said. "Bachelor of Arts or Sciences?" Naturally I wanted to scream, "Bachelor of bachelors, where do you live," but I kept my cool. "Arts." "When a movie of a great book you haven't read is coming out, do you read the book first, or go see the movie first and decide whether you want to read the book after?" If I hadn't been distracted by a Dodge driver flipping me off for cutting him off, I would have blurted out, "Get me to the nearest wedding chapel and meet me there with a bathing suit. We're going to Bimini after the ceremony." As it was though, I simply stated, "Read the book first, always." "Got it." Then the neutered voice came on and directed me to a lonely South Carolina intersection, where a scraggly old man stood holding a cardboard sign that said, "Will clean your windshield for literary enlightenment." I power-rolled the window down and disclaimed, "I'm lousy with the French Symbolist poets, otherwise, shoot." "I'm a biblioholic," the man muttered. "Well, not really. I don't buy and hoard books, I just read them. To dangerous degrees. My doctor said the next book I read will kill me. So I tried. Six weeks off the damned things, but it's no use. I can't live like this. Don't want to. I'm going out with a bang, but which bang? That's my dilemma. Ulysses or Gravity's Rainbow?" Now it was my time to hmmm and prod. "You want to die mystified but somehow content, or terrified but laughing your ass off?" "Jesus Christ," the old man shook his head. "That's a tough one." "As are those two books," I replied. "The best ones usually are." "What the hell," he said, "terrified and laughing my ass off sounds like how everyone should go. Gravity's Rainbow, hunh? Thanks." "No problem. Enjoy." "Oh," he said. "I lied, I don't even have a squeegee." I laughed heartily. "You'll love Pynchon."

Wow. The next several hundred miles flew by after that exchange. But as I neared my destination, I kind of got nostalgic for that wise voice, so I hit the button one more time. "The unexamined life deserves no thousand mile drive," she greeted me. "What now?" "Home," I said. "Just help me find my home." The directions took me right to my mother's house. I pushed the button again. "What's your problem," not mean, playful rather. "I don't live here." "You didn't ask for directions to where you live, you said home." "And..." not quite seeing her point. "Robert Frost didn't know Jack. Home is where your mother is, wherever."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The poetry reading was a rousing success. If you missed it, be very sorry. If you were there, my deep gratitude, and apologies, if necessary. I'm off on a mini-vacation, but will return next week, with plenty of fodder (I'll be alone in a car for 17 hours; the mind's gotta get in gear a bit, I would think) for more regular posts than this last hectic couple of weeks. In the meantime, enjoy some old posts and this little tidbit about... dear old friend Machiavelli Smurts, who claims I changed his life with one little snarky comment. A few weeks ago I had the occasion to call Smurts about a joint venture we were kicking around for this summer: see which one of us could go the longest posing in the manner of Rodin's The Thinker sculpture directly underneath The Cleveland Museum of Art's Thinker sculpture. Anyway, Smurts, who purports to be a much busier man than in reality he is (the posing thing was his idea), didn't take my call, so I had to deal with his voicemail: "On purpose or by accident, you have reached the electronic answering device of Machiavelli Van Halen Smurts III. Please leave a detailed message, and I will call you back when I find the time." Now obviously the entire "outgoing" message is absurd, but for the first time in thousands of similar messages from dozens of people, I was struck by that admonition to leave a "detailed" message.

"Detailed?" my message began, "you want a detailed message? What kind of Fascist directive is that? Call me, asshole. Detail that. And there's a comma, signifying a pause, between me and asshole, asshole. What kind of details do you need? With today's phones, the caller's number is already there for you, and the time they called. Anybody you know is going to obviously tell you what they need to tell you, and anybody who doesn't know you either has their own agenda and thus will leave what details they want, regardless of your instructions, or they're somebody you don't want to know, let alone call back, so telling them to leave a detailed message is just inviting more aggravation on your part. Cut the pedantic, totalitarian BS and just tell them to leave a message, if they so choose. By the way, the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe--a relative of yours, Mach?--said, 'God is in the details.' He was talking about art and design, not phone messages. There are no atheists in foxholes, and no gods leave phone messages. So change your life, and if not that, change your outgoing message. Bye."

Turns out I was just calling Machiavelli Smurts to share an oldie but goodie joke: What do you call a dog with no hind legs and steel testicles? Sparky. So when he didn't call back, I didn't think much about it. But my gosh, two weeks later, when Machiavelli Smurts did call back, I was hardly prepared for the onslaught. Naturally, I was blogging at the time he called (nobody interrupts my devotion to you, dear blogee) so I got to hear what he had to say via his excited, and, well, obviously detailed message:

"Dude, you've changed my life. You're amazing. The message thing. The detailed message thing. I was paralyzed for like two days after I heard it. It really made me question everything. Well, not everything, but a lot. You're so right. Not only is it obnoxious to tell people to leave a detailed message, but it's pointless. I did a detailed analysis of my incoming phone calls, and, for empiricism's sake, I took a closer look at how I leave messages. Now you know I catalogue every phone call I make and receive, don't you? That's part of the reason I don't have time to read your blog, let alone make anyone's birthday party. Do you realize that 90%, with a margin of debatableness of +/- 4.5%, of my phone calls are practically 100% meaningless? Ergo, the overwhelming majority of phone messages, given and received, are utter nonsense. Forget god, man, the devil is what lurks in the details of nonsense. Example, and this is a mere ordinary example, nothing extreme. 'Mach, dude, I'm in the beer cave at Speedway. What's the name of that new malt liquor you were telling me about? Call me back before I freeze.' I mean, really, I don't need those details. We're all getting older. There's less and less time to spend in frivolous conversation, especially when it's a monologue delivered to somebody's else's recording device. Besides, the whole 'detailed' thing is so bland. I've been experimenting. I've asked people to leave vague and ambiguous messages. I've suggested they leave messages totally irrelevant to me. I've invited people to leave cryptic messages. Heavily accented messages, nostalgic messages, fire and brimstone messages, Victorian era messages, messages as if they were Jane Austen, messages as if their mouths were filled with Malley's bacon, covered in chocolate!, all sorts of messages that are anything but 'detailed.' Dude, I've never had so much fun and gained so much enlightentment from listening to my voicemails. I'm this close to doing away with cable for good. I can't thank you enough."

So I've improved the life of someone's life which was in need of improving. I deserve a few days off, I believe.

The Replacements-Answering Machine

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Twas The Night Before Pay Day

No, it all worked out fine, Mama. Fred towed that massive gas grill that never cooked right down to the pawn shop with Marlene's ten speed, but when he got more money than he thought he would he started hankering for steaks rather than the microwaveable White Castle burgers we were planning on, but then he realized we'd have nothing to grill the steaks on, and heaven forbid Fred ever broils his steaks, so he had one of his little brainstorms right there in the doorway of the pawn shop, went out and detached the front wheel of the bike, pawned it, went next store to the Wal-Mart and bribed the greeter there with the money he got for the bike tire to secure the use of a shopping cart for a few hours, jerryrigged it up to the bike, rode over to Sam the butcher's and bought the steaks with the pawned grill money, rode back home and laid the shopping cart on top of that old stone bird bath everyone else had forgotten about, cooked the steaks on it, and we had the best grilled meat we've had in years. Then he napped and got up at midnight, rode the bike and the shopping cart (I had cleaned it real good) down to the ATM where the direct deposit was waiting for him, returned the shopping cart to the Wal-Mart (it's a twenty-four hour one) locked up the bike and walked three blocks to the Speedway for his shift, worked a full day, bought all our lotto tickets for the week, and a two gallon container of gas for the truck, walked back to the pawn shop and got the bike tire out of hock, put it back on the bike, stopped by ACE cash checking to pay the phone bill (it's turned back on now, duh, sorry about being incommunicado these last couple days) and just to surprise me he rode back over to Sam's (one-handed as he was holding the gas can in the other, Fred's got good balance) and picked up some more steaks, stuffed 'em in his pants (after paying, of course) and rode back home straight to the truck which he dumped the gas in, drove on down to the ravine where he knew he'd find him an old battered shopping cart, threw it back in the truck and drove home back to the bird bath which he's cooking them steaks on right now with the new shopping cart. Oh, I got to hang up now, Mama, them steaks look like they're all cooked. I told you I found myself an ingenious one this time, didn't I? 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Strike Me Blind If I Understand This 1040 Thing

The path of least resistance, my favorite stroll, demands that today I grumble about taxes. Fine, let me be like the millionth person, I'm sure, who wonders, what the heck is up with the deduction for being blind? Now I certainly have nothing against the blind, and like most sighted people I'm terrified of the prospect of losing my sight, but really, why is blindness the only disability that's mentioned on the tax form, and which, I assume, is the only one that qualifies for a deduction? If I were deaf, paralyzed, a multiple amputee*, or a native of Pittsburgh, I'd be suing the IRS for my little piece of the deduction pie, I can asssure you. And shouldn't the question of whether you're blind be in Braille? Maybe it's a trick question. Maybe the IRS figures anyone who can read the question and then answers yes is obviously not blind and thus a liar; straight into the audit pile that return goes (reminds me of a little teaching trick I used to employ at the beginning of the school year: on the first vocabulary quiz, about two minutes into it, I'd suddenly blurt out in my best affronted, authoritarian voice, "Hey, keep your eyes on your own paper." The four or five hapless souls who jolted immediately and looked up at me with guilty eyes were the ones I had to keep an eye on for the rest of the year).

Every year I think about writing on the form, "I'm color-blind. Does that entitle me to maybe 10% of the deduction blind people get?" Unfortunately, the Federal tax form doesn't specify the use of a particular writing utensil, while my Ohio form, which doesn't ask the blindness question, requires the use of black ink only. Now if the Federal form required black ink, I think I might get a benefit of the doubt token deduction if I use green ink and write in the color-blind plea.

Did Oedipus get tax relief after blinding himself, or does the IRS not accept self-inflicted blindness?

I had to know more about this issue, so at the risk of permanent brain damage, I decided to actually look through the tax booklet for the explanation of each of the lines. Let me just say, if James Joyce had read one of these booklets cover to cover, he would have ripped up his manuscript of Finnegans Wake and declared, "What's the use? It's already been done, better than I could ever do." Anyway, in the thicket of the tax form explanations, I found this, and I quote, "If you were born before January 2, 1945, or were blind at the end of 2009, check the appropriate boxes on line 23a." Leaving aside the blatant agism here, let's examine that sentence with regard to the blindness issue. Did anyone, like me, laugh out loud at the phrase "blind at the end of 2009"? I can just hear the auditees pleading their cases now: "I'm telling you, Mr. Auditor, it was a helluva New Year's Eve party. Ask anyone who was there, they'll tell you, I was definitely blind at the end of 2009." Or what if you were blind at the beginning, middle, or close to the end of 2009, but not at the very end? I mean maybe you've been blind for years and finally for Christmas 2009 all your friends pitched in and purchased you an audience with a snake handler or some other certified faith healer, and lo and behold, on December 31, 2009, you were cured of your blindness. You deal with your blindness for 364 days of the year and you get screwed out of your deduction? Doesn't seem right, Mr. President.

* Having mentioned amputees, I feel I should get this off my chest. I've been living with this horrid case of jealousy for at least five years now, and maybe by confessing it, I'll be able to rid myself of the guilt. At the bookstore, we used to have daily meetings in the morning right before we opened up. One day, it must have been a Tuesday, somebody was showing us all the new books that were coming out that day. One of them was the book by the hiker who had gotten trapped under a rock and eventually had to cut his arm off to free himself and thus go on living. On the cover was a picture of the guy, sitting on a rock, smiling, and prominently showing his prosthetic arm. Somebody asked if the book was being discounted, like most of the other books that were anticipated big sellers. As the guy in charge checked his printouts, he said he thought it might be 25% off. Just then a co-worker, Scott, who obviously had earned his nickname of Super Scott, said, "It looks like he's already 25% off." Chortles aplenty for the truly un-PC, off-color joke. And damned if at the time, and still years later, I wasn't/am still not ticked off I didn't think of the line.

Okay, enough. I'm going to go say a rosary in thanksgiving for having all my limbs and my eyesight, and another one in penance. Trying to be amusing can be so taxing sometimes.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How To Behave At A Poetry Reading

Kneeling in praise is optional, but deeply appreciated.

As you can see from the announcement on the right, I will be reading my poetry in exactly a week. The buzz around town is enormous: Leon Bibb has reserved seats, LeBron is lobbying David Stern for the Cavs to have an off night that evening, and Malley's Chocolates is pondering concocting a blueberry wrapped in bacon and covered in chocolate delicacy for the occasion. And so, in anticipation of the frenzy, I feel it is my duty to go over a few basic "suggestions" for the proper comportment of one attending a poetry reading.

First, the event, naturally, is free, but as Emily Post makes clear, gifts of neither small nor large but medium, say tens and twenties, unmarked bills is kind of de rigueur; and it goes without saying that poets don't have time to make change, so if you bring a fifty or hundred, be prepared to part with it. Polite applause after each and every poem read is mandatory, but a bit blase. Cries of "ole," coupled with hula hoops tossed stageward, and public avowals of treating the poets to a nice dinner (two drink minimum) in the near future are all pretty standard displays of affection and gratitude toward poets these days.

If one doesn't quite "get" a given poem, or loses one's concentration during a poem, usually due to one's involuntary swooning at the poet's dreamy blue eyes, simply ride it out to the end of the poem, offer one of those learned, I've-just-been-provoked-into-thinking-about-life-in-a-totally-new-way-and-my-life-will-never-be-the-same-again "hmms." If nothing more, this small auditory recognition of the poet's genius will cow the person sitting next to you, who is probably equally lost, into getting with the program and offering a similar "hmmm" at the conclusion of the next poem, so that by the end of the evening, each poem read will culminate with a group "hmmm" that will make the poet feel as if he or she is the wisest person in the world (a state of mind all poets dwell in, but to receive the collective "hmmm" power from the usual crowd of 15-20 hearty souls can help ward off the poet's eventual madness for a good 'nother six to eight months).

All poets carry sharp, hefty rocks in their trousers; yawn once at your peril and you'll discover why.

After the reading, feel free to approach the poet, but under no circumstances say anything like, "I thought poems were supposed to rhyme," or "Great stuff, bard boy," or "My uncle used to rhyme a bit in his periods of lucidity," or "I guess they give away those poetic licenses in boxes of Cracker Jacks these days, hunh?" Instead, say something like, "Your eminence, genius is too small a word for you."

If bored senseless, envision the poet at the podium envisioning the audience naked and hang your head in shame, or, if you're feeling cocky, start winking at the poet unabashedly.

Concentrate hard so that you remember one line from the poet. Afterward, recite the line to the poet and say, "Now that line I remember."

Have fun, but in this case, not too much fun; we'll be in a library after all.

Monday, April 12, 2010


So one of the big secrets emerging from the new unauthurorized Oprah bio is that she and John Tesh were an item way back when and that he dumped her? One of the world's richest and most powerful persons, let alone women, and this is the big revelation? Pretty vanilla, no pun intended. Though it does offer the possibilities of coining a few words compliments of that great sounding word--tesh.
  • to physically try to touch someone and not quite connect: I just wanted to reach out and touch the hem of Liberace's cape, but I wound up teshing him; he sure does flit around quickly.
  • a genre of unusually vapid music: When the moment is too intimate for easy listening music, just put on some tesh.
  • fat-free, sugarless vanilla ice cream: I'm on a diet, just a tiny scoop of tesh for me, thank you.
  • to be the whitest guy at the party: Oh my God, I was in over my head at that bash; no goatee, no tattoos, no dance moves, silly shoes, and I was drinking Amstel Light--boy I really teshed out there.
  • to incite absolutely no fear in your date's father: I totally teshed that guy; he said, "Bring my daughter home in time for her to fix my lunch tomorrow."
  • non-descript buttocks: You call that a tush? More like a tesh, if you ask me.
  • an exam that in reality was pretty easy: Man I pulled an all-nighter for that test and it turned out to be nothing but easy true and false questions, a total tesh.
  • a duel involving nothing more than two guys with impeccable hair smiling at each other until one breaks down. When I dissed his taste in music, he challenged me to a tesh, but since I was having a bad-hair day I had to demur. Dude got me there.
  • a sandwich consisting of two pieces of white bread: Sorry, I thought I had some peanut butter or mayo or tuna or even some butter, but I don't. Can I make you a tesh?
  • an exclamation of success between two high school nerds when one successfully manages to photoshop a college ID enabling them to gain access to a University library: After looking approvingly at the newly laminated faux ID, Jared looked at Morris and simply said, "Tesh!"
  • to be someone's lover then dump them years before he/she becomes one of the world's richest and most powerful persons: Old Sally sure pulled a tesh when she dumped Bill Gates the night of the senior prom.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Just Nonsense, Not Blasphemy: The Sermon On The Mount Crib Notes

From a reputable matchbook cover I recently purchased a guaranteed "treasure trove" of genuinely authenic historical documents for $.99. Among the goodies that have managed to stay out of the greedy hands of the Vatican Library, The United States National Archives, and the Kremlin, are a scribbled note, obviously shoved under a door, from a nine-year-old Harry Houdini ("Help, I'm locked in this closet"), feeble attempts at writing a limerick beginning with the line, "There once was a man from Prague..." in Franz Kafka's handwriting, which, at the bottom of the page, concludes, "Not one good rhyme exists for Prague," and, in the flamboyant handwriting of Fee Waybill, a phone number under the cryptic heading, "Bobby D's (unlstd)."

But certainly the most significant find in the lot is a piece of parchment that proves, contrary to centuries of Biblical scholarship that states that there is no evidence in the Gospels of Jesus ever writing, that indeed Jesus Christ was quite the scribe. For what this document is is none other than Christ's notes to Himself, or crib notes, for his seminal speech, the Sermon on the Mount, aka, the Beatitudes. Luckily, my boyhood fascination with Aramaic came in handy for translating the one-page document, which, despite the years, still bears a rather clear "JC" signature at the bottom. Rather than get the folks from Sotheby's on the blower, I offer my historic discovery to you, free of charge. Without further ado, here's a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the practical, conscientious historical figure of Jesus Christ (yes, Jesus made use of bullet points way back when):
  • make sure the guys (Thaddaeus and one of the Jameses, I think) who prepare the tele-tablet inscribe it big enough (Good Dad, after you turn 30, your eyesight really nosedives)
  • gently remind Peter that when he tests the acoustics of the Mount, simply to repeat the word "check"; none of his goofy "I am the Rock!" histrionics--this is a serious speech; I don't want the crowd too riled up from the start
  • that said, maybe open with a joke? that one Bartholomew told the other day? a Pharisee, a Sadducee, and a fair-to-middling Samaritan walk into a bar mitzvah...
  • check with Jonas of Grammaria re the correct pronunciation--is it blessed, one syllable, or BLESS-ed, two?
  • stop dithering, just go with gut/in the moment feeling re including that last one: "Blessed are the fair-skinned redheads (redundant?), for they will not burn in Heaven's glorious light"
  • keep an eye on Judas that he isn't hawking some easily shrunk t-shirts like, "My wimpy parents are inheriting the earth and all I'm getting is this lousy t-shirt"
  • once again, re-assure Thomas this is a good speech and will get decent reviews in the Jerusalem Gazette
  • don't forget the extra handkerchief; we'll be on a Mount--nosebleed possible/probable
  • cadence, cadence, cadence
  • politely invite the late-comers standing in the back chatting to move up to the front, assuring them all that someday they'll make really good Catholics
  • remind Dad early enough this time about the weather
  • Own It!--naturally, in a non-possessive way

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What To Wear When Reading (Men's Edition)

This tidbit from David Markson's This Is Not A Novel, page 134:

The editor of Novy Mir began to read a prepublication copy of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in bed.

And then found himself so impressed that he not only got up but put on a suit and a necktie to finish with what he felt to be the requisite respect.

Now there's a courteous reader. I can't say I've ever considered what to wear when doing some reading (or really, doing just about any other activity), but I like the idea of dressing appropriately when bending the spine on a given book. Now admittedly my sartorial acumen is next to nil, but I'm a pretty decent reader (although I did come to it a bit tardily; my mother recounts the anecdote--which despite my steel-trap memory I don't recall--that once as a young boy, bored, I asked her what there was to do; she told me to read a book; I--allegedly--replied, "But I've already read ONE!"). And so, as best as I can, I will try to provide a fashion guide (for men only, God knows I could never presume to suggest what a woman should wear, for any occasion) for the appropriate reading of various authors.

  • Wiiliam Faulkner--bourbon-stained jeans, a workshirt with cigarette burns, and boots carrying the faint stench of barnyard animal manure
  • J.D. Salinger--khakis and a button-down Oxford shirt untucked in the back
  • Ernest Hemingway--essentially, and at least, a jockstrap
  • Dan Brown--an EPA-approved Haz-Mat suit
  • Edgar Allan Poe--an ill-fitting shirt with ruffles
  • David Foster Wallace--baggy shorts, flip-flops, and your favorite t-shirt
  • Jane Austen--a thong
  • Emily Dickinson--the suit you plan to be buried in
  • Thomas Pynchon--camouflage pants, Chuck Taylors, a Dead concert t-shirt, and one of those propeller beanies
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez--a pair of eccentric, open-flyed boxers
  • Vladimir Nabokov--a Pith helmet, a butterfly net in one hand, and jailhouse coveralls
  • Gertrude Stein--some flannel and a pair of steel-toed workboots
  • Herman Melville--swimming trunks, or, if you would prefer not to, go naked
  • Marquis de Sade--vinyl
  • Virginia Woolf--an overcoat of one's own
  • Mark Twain--second-hand overalls
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald--a tailored green shirt
  • Dr. Seuss--Geranimals
  • Sigmund Freud--a cocktail dress
  • spitoutyourgum--something, please

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Time Travels

I confessed last week that I wanted to use my new time-travel machine to effect the murder of Jane Austen, but I don't want you to get the notion that I'd only use if for nefariously violent purposes. I'd also just like to visit, take in some historically significant moments (to me at least) in a you are there sense. I'd like to see the then Cassius Clay throwing his Olympic Gold Medal into the Ohio River. I'd like to accompany Walt Whitman as he visited injured Civil War soldiers in Washington, D.C., and stand with him on a street waiting for Lincoln to pass by just so he could wave at the President. I'd like to see Babe Ruth pitch. I'd like to accompany a runaway slave as he made his way along the Underground Railroad. I'd like to sit at the dinner table when the Marx Brothers were all kids, things like that. I guess if I had to pick one or two Big Moments in U.S. history to witness, I'd say just being at Appomattox and watching and listening to Grant and Lee, or standing behind the wooden fence at the top of the Grassy Knoll in Dealey Plaza as JFK rode by.

Religiously, I'd have to go with the pick of a guy I used to work with, who said he wanted to be there on Pentecost because whatever happened must have been amazing for those scared apostles to emerge from there ready to risk their lives to go out over the world and evangelize.

But for sheer whimsy, I want to go to the Tenere Desert in Niger in February 1960. I'll just quote my 1989 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, page 122:

The tree most distant from any other is believed to be one at an oasis in the Tenere Desert, Niger Republic. There were no other trees within 31 miles. In Feb. 1960 it survived being rammed by a truck being backed up by a French driver. The tree was transplanted and is now in the Museum of Niamey, Niger.

Oh, those French drivers. I don't know, but something about this "record" and its absurd anecdote, whenever I think of it, which, believe me, isn't too often, makes me giddy with delight in human nature, humans in nature, the human comedy, fate, absurdity, and just life itself, I guess. To actually witness this little quirk of life would amuse me for the rest of my life. To read more about the desert and the tree, click here. That's all.

Pere Ubu-Flat

Monday, April 5, 2010


This one's for you, Kozak.

The best job I ever had was being a golf caddie (not caddy; I must admit I never knew which was the correct or more correct spelling, until just now when the venerable A Dictionary of Modern American Usage by Bryan A. Garner informed me caddie is correct; caddy is a "box or container"; though The American Heritage Dictionary says either one is acceptable for the "golfer's assistant" word; I always preferred caddie, not liking that -y spelling, y being the hermaphrodite of the alphabet; nothing against hermaphrodites, I just like the -ie rather than the -y). As the weather here lately screams golf and America's second greatest (nothing beats the Kentucky Derby, of course) sports event, The Masters, gets ready to commence, my thoughts naturally turn to memories of growing up on the links, hauling golf bags or chasing after carts, raking traps, tending pins, looking for lost balls, and ultimately just having a great time.

When I was still a pretty young caddie, probably thirteen or fourteen, and had just moved up to carrying two bags, doubles, I had a rather unfortunate experience. One of the bags I was carrying belonged to a golfer who wasn't very good. Nothing out of the ordinary there. So on the 13th hole he hit his drive into some woods. We walked in to find it (unlike the other novice caddie who became a semi-legend when, doing as he was told and following his golfer everywhere, he started to follow the guy into some woods; "Give me a break, son," the golfer turned to him, "I'm just going to take a leak."). Well, still being a bit dwarfed by the two big bags on my shoulders, I didn't see a tree root and tripped and fell straight down. Embarrassed as hell, I got right up without bothering to check for any damage. We found the ball, the guy kicked it out in the fairway, and I got into place beside the ball and put his bag down for him to select a club. He started to reach in for a club then jumped back and shouted, "There's dog shit all over my clubs!" Realizing immediately what had happened during my fall, I instantly jumped back to see if there was also dog shit all over me. Luckily, there wasn't. The guy, not too happy, obviously, about incurring a dog-shit-mottled set of clubs and bag along with his penalty stroke for an unplayable lie, quickly and angrily grabbed my nice white towel, a caddie's #1 tool, and vigorously rubbed his clubs and bag clean. He then threw the towel back to me, as if I wanted it. Luckily I was still a shy lad and didn't blurt out what my young but lightning quick mind was thinking: a rather appropriate comment on the state of your game, don't you think, sir?

In time, I grew to be a pretty good caddie, though one less apt to hold his tongue. One of the guys I caddied for many times over the years, a very good golfer who was a bit cynical and mean-spirited at times, once asked me what the wind was doing. Naturally, in response, a caddie bends over, rips a few blades of grass out of the turf and drops them to the whims of the wind. In this case, the blades, like Newton's apple, fell straight down. "The wind appears to be blowing down, sir."

Half the fun of being a golf caddie was going out in a loop with another caddie. One of my favorites was a guy named Sydney. He was one of the legendary "adult" caddies, he must have been about fifty or so at the time. Sydney had caddied for years. He weighed about 72 pounds and had about five teeth, and he had one of the greatest smiles and laughs I've ever known. And I could listen to him for hours. He'd tell me all kinds of stories about his experiences being a lookout on an ice-cutting ship or being an assistant to a medical examiner. Few experiences in my life were as enjoyable as standing on a hill watching golfers tee off a couple hundred yards away on a beautiful day and listening to Sydney tell me autopsy stories. One day we were out together and the guys he was caddying for kept hitting their balls into sand traps. Now raking a sand trap and trying to keep up can be quite a challenge, and it gets old pretty fast during a round. Well, on one of the last holes, one of his golfers hit his tee shot into yet another trap. We were on the tee, not more than a few yards from the golfers. As soon as that ball landed in the sand, Sydney leaned over to me, and in a not so quiet whisper asked me, "What the hell they think I am, Lawrence of f-----g Arabia?" I think I finally stopped laughing about that one just last week.

So many great times. So many great stories and people. Maybe some day I'll tell you about the fart on the 14th hole that changed my life. For real.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Streets Are Talkin' Dennis

I am not a rumor monger, and with a devoted readership in the dozen(s), naturally I feel a responsibility for reporting nothing but the truth here. Maybe it's been the heat, though, but the streets around me have been talking for days now, namely a juicy tidbit with ramifications not only in the neighborhood but I would humbly suggest the world, too. After sitting on this ort of knowledge for a few days, honestly hoping either it would prove false or that someone else might report it first (hey Drudge, where you been on this one?), thus removing the onus of revelation from me, I now find it my duty to report what I know. The streets talked and the sidewalks, tree lawns, and even the back alleys have confirmed, so to press we go.

In retrospect, it seems like a no-brainer putting two and two (or, more literally, the quid and quid) together: One week President Obama takes U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Cleveland, OH) for a ride on Air Force One and soon garners a much-needed yes vote for health care reform from the up-to-that-point definite no Kucinich. The next week or so, longtime Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens ("the last liberal") makes noises about retiring. The media starts the round-up of potential nominees. Well, you heard it here first, just what deal was struck on that Air Force One ride--Dennis Kucinich ("the next last liberal") will be Obama's nominee to succeed Stevens, making him, Kucinich, the court's first ever Irish-Croat and undoubtedly the shortest male (he does tower over Ruth Bader G., of course) ever to serve on the high court (Obama's into these kinds of firsts, you know). While I'm sure the news of the nomination will cause a general media whiplash, upon closer inspection, it makes complete sense: by replacing a liberal with a liberal, the court keeps its balance; Obama, who has supposedly lost much of his luster with the far left, not only placates them by putting Kucinich on the court, but also eliminates his main challenger for the Democratic nomination in 2012 (only Dennis would have the chutzpah to challenge Obama seriously in 2012, right?); it should be a very easy confirmation process--the Republicans aren't going to fight a Stevens replacement too strenuously, especially one as contentious as Kucinich, who of course would mobilize the whole Shirley MacLaine, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins brigade; no, the Republicans would just fold up their tents in the face of that kind of sound and fury and concentrate the fight on future, weightier nominees. Besides,with the state of the economy and everybody screaming about government spending, having a justice whose robes would measure about a quarter of the size of Kennedy's or Scalia's would be a great PR move. Justice Kucinich taking his seat the first Monday in October, 2010--take it to the bank, folks.

Hot Chocolate-Rumours

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Happy Easter, Frank

No fooling, here's a combined Easter weekend, beginning of the baseball season treat (?) for you all. A number of years ago my good friend Frank called me up to ask me if I'd seen him on TV. I hadn't. It seems that for various reasons, he wound up at a Cleveland Indians game wearing an Easter Bunny costume. He was all over the news. I chuckled, but the mind started to reel. Soon I had delivered to him his own nastily-inspired short story, "Easter in October." If you click on the jump button, and if you can deal with the late-90s Indians references, you can read the whole sad story of a guy with too much stadium beer in his system.