Monday, January 31, 2011

A Wake

Say what you will about other things, but the Catholics know how to throw a wake. Of course, being a Catholic myself I'm prejudiced, and I admit I don't have much experience of the mourning ways of non-Catholics, so maybe all I should say is that wakes are a good thing. I'm not saying death is a good thing, but it is inescapable, and a wake is a great thing when the inevitable does occur.

I went to another wake yesterday ("You go to a lot of wakes," a friend of mine said; well, I live where I've lived practically my whole life, I'm getting older, more and more people I've known are dying, the ultimate fact of life). The wake was for a great man I have known pretty much my entire life. I saw people there I see regularly and some people I haven't seen in twenty-five or thirty years. So, in a weirdly social way, wakes can be enjoyable, even fun. Of course they're sad, and in cases of young or sudden or tragic deaths, they can be quite painful. But the sympathetic, empathetic, sheer camaraderie aspect of the wake can be quite soothing and uplifting.

I love the more recent trend of having posterboards and posterboards filled with pictures of the deceased. As you're looking at these while waiting in line to "view" the dead body of the person, the pictures are a great reminder of the vitality, fun, and love of the person. The pictures can also help you identify family members you haven't seen in a long while but will soon be greeting in the receiving line.

As a getting-older-by-the-day middle-ager, thanks to wakes I'm given a glimpse of what's to come in my life: an older woman told some friends yesterday, "All I ever do on the weekends anymore is go to wakes." And she said it with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders. So, social life in my older days taken care of: wakes.

Unfortunately, as always, you have to keep the ego at bay when you go to a wake. You start looking around while waiting in a long line and all kinds of selfish thoughts start to creep in if you're not careful: there'll be twice the line at my wake; better make sure that sexy picture of me in my prime is right on top of my effects so it definitely forms the centerpiece of one of my posterboards; make mental note to establish a flower allowance--from now on, anybody I know who dies gets an arrangement at their wake so that when the time comes, there will be so much flora at my wake people will think a new rain forest has sprouted in Cleveland, Ohio; trim nosehairs more regularly. Adieu adieu, all's vanity.

Some of my favorite wake stories all involve one particular wake. An older man who had lived a great life had passed away. Having been to two devastating wakes the previous two weeks for young suicides, I was a bit relieved--this particular wake was going to be one of the more celebratory, not so painfully sad ones. However, I went with a couple friends with rather distinct personalities. One was a non-Catholic going to his first ever wake. A usually jovial, super-social person, this guy was all tense: what do I do, what do I say, what's it like (and I'm thinking, this will be a piece of cake compared the last two I've been to). Another of the friends I went to the wake with was just plain nuts--afterward he was convinced that one of the daughters of the deceased, a sister of our friend, had been hitting on him during the ten minutes we were at the wake. Pretty unlikely, John (God rest his soul--his wake a few years ago was one of the heaviest for me). Anyway, we wait in line and when it comes time to greet the widow, I say a standard, "I'm sorry for your loss," because what else do you say? And she fired back, "Not as sorry as I am." Just how do you respond to that one? "Oh no you're not?" Threw me for a loop. Well the next day I hear the story of the good friend who showed up just as the wake was supposed to be ending. Unfortunately, he thought the wake still had an hour to go, so he felt bad there was no else there and tried to stall by making painful small talk with the grieving family who had been standing there for 4+ hours and just wanted to sit down and get something to eat. Finally they had to tell the guy, it's over, we're outta here. He told me all of this the next day. What he didn't tell me, and what I found out later, was that the whole time he was making stalling small talk, his fly was inadvertently down. When I then related that piece of news back to him, he nearly crumbled out of embarrassment.

One of the funniest and best baseball stories I ever heard was at a tough wake, told by one guy to another, the two of them obviously not having as tough a time at the wake as I was having. Life goes on.

Years ago I saw a great cartoon: a woman in a flowery dress, leaning over the casket in which another woman wearing the same dress lies in repose, says to the corpse: "Bitch."

And then there's the classic joke--what's the difference between an Irish wake and an Irish wedding? One less drunk.

From the ridiculous to the sublime. One of the few things I miss most from teaching is hearing this choir, especially singing this beautiful song. Take a listen. 

I'm Goin' Up Yonder--Glee Club and Choir of Laurel School by spitoutyourgumblog

Friday, January 28, 2011

Totally SFW

I know it's the weekend, but I have to work tomorrow, so work is on my mind. But as always, so is altruism. It cracks me up when I get an e-mail attatchment or see some blog warning NSFW: not safe for work. How are they to know you don't work in a strip club or something? Anyway, for those of you privileged enough to work in a place where you have access to the Internet (not me, man; where I work we actually work), I am providing you here with several beautiful, even awe-inspiring images to wile away your work contemplating, and they are 100% safe for work. I promise. Indulge your sense of sight.

Thank me later.

Working Is No Problem--Pylon by spitoutyourgumblog

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Veni, Vidi, Vici-Leaks: Excerpts From The Diary Of Envia, Vestal Virgin No. XVII

XII/XIX/XLV, B.C.: My name is Envia. I am a Vestal Virgin. I am XVI years old and am now in my second decade of being a VesVirg--no more school for me, just work, which I love. Tending the sacred fire is like the best. Great for the complexion, btw. Okay, so some wild-haired guy named John or something gave me this diary when I was out alone gathering kindling. He said it was an "early Christmas present," Pagan God knows what that means. I know he's the kind of guy the Vestalium Maxima always warns us about, but he seemed so nice. I hope to write often, but engraving tablets isn't the easiest thing to do, you know, being a busy VesVirg (that's what Vixenia calls it; the VM would have her buried alive if she knew; we'll keep it our little secret, won't we, Dear Diary?) and all.

XII/XXIV/XLV, B.C.: Okay, can I tell you just how sick I am of all these Roman boys snickering and smirking and leering every time they see (or probably just hear of us) us VesVirgs? We're sacred priestesses, Pagan God dammit! If I hear one more joke that starts, "Do you know how many Vestal Virgins it takes..." or "Did you hear the one about the Vestal Virgin at the Bacchanalia..." I might just set someone's toga on fire. Doesn't seem to bother Vixenia at all. She just giggles like a plebeian school girl. The VM says she's going to shorn Vixenia's hair extra close if she keeps it up, which only makes Vixenia giggle more.

I/VI/XLIV, B.C.: Happy New Year, Dear Diary! So everyone knows we VesVirgs guard and maintain the sacred fire, but we have other duties, you know. We are entrusted with the safekeeping of important people's wills. Well, the other day I came upon Vixenia and her BFF Strumpetia actually reading one. Ceasar's! My Pagan God I almost had a heart attack. They swore me to silence, though. It seems that Caesar is spurning his wife Calpurnia and giving all to that wicked Cleopatra! Yikes. I said that in good conscience we should alert Calpurnia, but Vixenia got this dirty look and just giggled. "Girl," she smiled most unVesVirg-like, "with this little tablet it's gonna be all Vidi, Vici, Veni for me with Julius! Pagan God I love a bald man in a toga, don't you?" "That's sick, Vixenia," is all I could say. "Oh, I bet she's got a thing for Cassius," Strumpetia said, looking at me. "She's rather too lean herself." "You guys!" I pounded my foot. "We're Vestal Virgins, hello!" "Really?" Vixenia laughed. "I thought it was vestigial." They laughed harder. "Do yourself a favor, girl," Strumpetia said. "Don't skip the life fandango when you're in your prime. Just keep your chaste mitts off Marc Antony. That bad boy's all mine. I'd like to lend him more than just my ear, if you know what I mean!" Pagan God and Goddess! I had to visit the little girl's vomitorium after that exchange.

II/XIII/XLIV, B.C.: Well, they're gone. Sixteen of my fellow Vestal Virgins left for the coast (Amalfi, natch) this morning. I guess my essay on "Why I would like to be immortalized in a pop song MM years from now" just wasn't good enough. The VM told me last week I was the alternate, and don't think I didn't think about torching Bustia or spilling the beans on Vixenia or Strumpetia. But I guess I'm just too good. I'm the XVIIth most notable Vestal Virgin. So I've got that going for me, at least, which is kinda nice.

III/X/XLV. B.C.: Still a bit bummed, Dear Diary. Waiting for something to happen here, but it never does. Oh, VM, I'm stuck inside of Rome with the Amalfi Coast blues.

III/XV/XLV, B.C.: I was in the collegium, teaching some of the younger Vestal Virgins how to rub two sticks together when the VM came in and announced that Caesar had been killed. I'll never forget that moment, or this day. Poor Vixenia. She'll be crushed when she finds out days from now. And Strumpetia. How wrong she was. I never liked Cassius. Brutus, you? How could you? But the fire needs stoking right now, more than ever, I guess. And that's my job. For life.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Atonement: Maybe Pittsburgh Doesn't Really Suck

Bless me, my readers, for I have sinned. Yes, I've been lax in blogging lately, but that's not my sin, just the consequences of a lot of work and some nights out. Though maybe my present tiredness is the reason my guard seems to be down a bit, to the point where I'm confessing the fact that my lifelong hatred of Pittsburgh mainly stems from jealousy and that in reality I can make no definitive claims (a rarity here at spitoutyourgum) that the Three Rivers City does indeed, well, "suck" seems to be the technical, if somewhat uncouth, term.

I realize that with such an admission my proud, card-carrying status as a native Clevelander might be revoked immediately and permanently. I realize that utter scorn from friends and strangers on the street might be my lot from here unto eternity. I realize that the next time (assuming there will be a next time) I enthusiastically chant, "Here we go, Brownies, here we go! Woof woof!" I stand open to charges of insincerity, if not downright treason. I realize I realize I realize. But the truth is, with the Pittsburgh Steelers headed to yet another Super Bowl (sue me, Roger Goodell, for using the trademarked phrase without the expressed written consent of the NFL), and the Browns breaking in yet another new coach, I cannot, in good conscience, proclaim once again or ever again, the general and all-inclusive suckiness of Pittsburgh. Oh I'll still hate all things Pittsburgh (you can kill a man's spirit but you can never take away his hatred, thank the devil), but I can no longer live the sham/shame that my hatred stems from anything else but sheer jealousy. My God, the Steelers have been to seven Super Bowls already and could be 7-1 in them in a mere two weeks.

I can hear my detractors now: "Don't water down your hatred for Pittsburgh until you've been there." Well, nearly ten years ago I did visit Pittsburgh for an afternoon/evening. Besides totally driving through and past the downtown before I realized it, the city was fine. It pains me to say it even had better record stores than Cleveland. It's not paradise, but it's not a hellhole either. No reason to hate it, basically. I mean, if the situation were reversed and the Browns were regular Super Bowl participants and winners, Pittsburgh wouldn't even be a blip on my emotional map. At the age of twelve to hate Terry Bradshaw and the Black and Gold was completely natural. At the age of nearly fifty, it's irrational (though I admit I now completely respect the quarterback Bradshaw while fully despising the buffoonish TV personality Bradshaw).

So, while I'm at it, I might as well make a few other cringe-worthy confessions in the hopes of wiping clean some obviously karma-whacked slate in my life. I cried watching The Joy Luck Club. America's "Ventura Highway" sounded great the last time I heard it on the radio. I've always kind of liked Bill Bellichi(c)k (however he spells his last name). I prefer cloudy days to sunny ones. I thought Magic Johnson was a superb TV talkshow host.

There! Clean slate, no? Enjoy your umpteenth Super Bowl, Pittsburgh. Totally disregard that westerly wind blowing through your town the next two weeks, feebly chanting, "Here we go, Packers, here we go!" It's only a jealous Clevelander letting off envious steam.

P.S. I've still got a spine, mind you. I am never rescinding or qualifying my utter hatred for mushrooms (they weren't discovered in Pittsburgh, were they?). Ever.

Fine Print: No loss of any bet was the cause of this entry. Sad to say.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Riding the School Bus

The greatest youtube video of all time:

I love the laugh of the boy. I love the cool, calm way the girl reacts, that instant, "I'm not doing anything" demeanor of only the best kid pranksters. I love the space-walk quality of the air time she achieves. I love the fact that it's a girl, reminding me of so many of the girls I taught. And I love the fact that nearly twenty years after writing it, my school bus poem (one of my greatest hits, as far as audiences are concerned) has finally found appropriate visual accompaniment. I was stuck behind a school bus one day on a two lane, no passing road. I was in a hurry; the bus was not. I noticed a kid in the back seat looking out the window at me, and I imagined what was going through his mind watching me getting more frustrated at each stop the bus made (seemingly every fifteen feet).

Riding the School Bus

I'm bouncing in the back seat
waiting for that big bump
candy wrappers on the floor
Tootsie Pop cherry red
riding the school bus
the long yellow school bus
and you can't stop us
'cause you gotta stop yourself.

It's the law
and we know it.

Riding the school bus
the long yellow school bus
me and all my friends
we're laughing at the little kids
we're laughing with the girls.
Big bus driver
looking in his mirror
riding the school bus
the long yellow school bus
bouncing in the back seat
waiting for that big bump
hit my head on the ceiling
giving you dirty looks
out the back window
and you can't stop us
'cause you gotta stop yourself.

It's the law
and we know it.

And I'm still bouncing
dancing with my head
laughing in the back seat
riding the school bus
the long yellow school bus
head out the window
spitting on the yellow line
stealing Susie's lunch box
flicking Ronnie's ears
making crazy noises
dancing with my head
bouncing on the back seat
waiting for that big bump
candy wrappers on the floor
Tootsie Pop cherry red
pulling on the back door
watching you stopping
all red and mad
all red and mad
all red and mad.

Riding the school bus
the long yellow school bus
leave my drawings on the seat
stumble up the aisle
give the driver a smile
see you all tomorrow
riding the school bus
the long yellow school bus
taking my sweet time
walking 'cross the street
and you can't stop me
'cause you gotta stop yourself.

It's the law
and I know it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

That Montana Dental Floss Must Work Wonders

First the facts, then we'll see if you come to the same obvious conclusion I have.

In the last month or so the hits on this blog have skyrocketed, from a handful a day to a couple bushels. Nothing to make Drudge allege a left-wing conspiracy, but enough to make me happy. With a little investigation, though, I've found out that the majority of hits are due to two posts I made last May concerning my root canal, find them here and here. I guess people searching for information re root canals are finding their way to this humble cyber abode. I could be happier, but you take what you can get.

In addition, as of yesterday, in the last thirty days I have received at least one hit from 49 different states in the Union. The only holdout? Montana.

Some of you uninformed skeptics out there (just a statement of fact, not a judgment) might conclude that maybe Montanans don't have computers or Internet access. Well, I've received hits from countries I've never heard of, so I can only assume Montana is indeed wired.

Are Montanans actively boycotting this blog? Unless they're all bowlers, metal detector fetishists, or vehement anti-Cleveland sports fans, I tend to doubt it.

Hence, the only conclusion to be drawn: the dental floss in Montana must be so good, and so widely used, that Montanans never need root canals, thus they haven't found their way to this blog, as it seems nearly everyone who does find his or her way to this blog lately has some root problems.

If you recall, back in 1974 Frank Zappa had (for him) a big hit with his song (which Big Brother is preventing me from playing here for all of you), "Montana," in which he claimed,  "I might be moving to Montana soon/Just to raise me up a crop of dental floss." Well, obviously, if Frank indeed didn't make the move and the planting/harvesting, somebody did. And what a crop of dental floss it must have been. No need for root canals in Montana; ergo, no Montana hits on spitoutyourgum.

And so, for the first hit from a Montanan I receive, I'll bundle up a bit of Cleveland dental floss and Fed Ex it out your way, just so you folks can have a good old laugh on all of us sad, missing teeth Clevelanders. BTW, what's the difference between Billings and Butte? That's not a joke, I'm just curious, although I hear Butte has the superior orchestra.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Nothing Says Love Like A Doormat

Well it's holiday time again in the retail world. Not Martin Luther King, Jr. Day but Valentine's Day. Barely twenty-four hours after buying my last Christmas present (some things take time), yesterday I found myself in a home furnishing store. As I was idling at the cash register waiting for the clerk to ring up my orange mango soda (we don't need to discuss why I purchase my lunch beverage at a home furnishing store these days), my eyes strayed to a corner near the door where I saw this sign: Valentine Doormats. Thankfully the sign sat upon a stack of, well, doormats with hearts on them. I say thankfully because in my cloudy mind (from waking up at six on a Sunday morning to go work retail) for a second I thought the sign was marketing directly to me some support group. Just as I was ready to ask the clerk what time the group met and did they provide free donuts, she snapped me out of it by asking if I were a member of the chain's rewards/bonus/frequent shopper's club. Tough choice, if one had the time for only one.

Valentine Doormats--makes me want to form a once-a-year bar band to sing heartbreak songs in dives this time of year.

Makes me want to sponsor a bowling league team and outfit them in burnt pink shirts.

Makes me want to join a Dungeons and Dragons cabal.

Now thank God they weren't also selling Martin Luther King, Jr. doormats. That would be horrible, and the cause of much rancor, boycotting, and legal action. But shouldn't love--dear Cupid--be so protected? Where's the love when we as a people can stand by idly and let love (all we need) be trampled upon so indelicately?

Take a stand fellow lovers: unless you can wear it, eat it, or say "awwwww" over it, don't purchase any item this Valentine's Day Season with hearts or the word "love/luv" on it. Respect love.

Walk All Over You--Mark Kozelek by spitoutyourgumblog

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Bull Crap: I Fell Asleep A Gemini And Woke Up A Taurean

What the hell's going on up in the heavens? I work like a dog for a few days, go out and have a delightful late Christmas party with friends last night, settle down to getting re-acquainted with my blog this morning, and what do I find out? The universe has changed. Well, fine, I reason; I'm a Gemini, I'm at home with the mercurial nature of life and even kind of embrace it (though, as a true Gemini, it's taken a bit longer for me and my twin to acclimate to life's little whims). "But hold on there just a minute, my pushme-pullme friend," the cosmos wags its celestial finger at me, "you're no longer a Gemini. Now you're a Taurus." My God, I think it would be easier dealing with the fact that I'm now an Albanian hermaphrodite trying to decide between the convent or dental school than a Gemini who's now a Taurean.

I settled down my confusion long enough to go the bastion of zodiacal wisdom, the Washington Post, to discover what my new life has in store for me. In a very convenient chart found here, I learned the following. In a nutshell, as a Gemini I used to have the ability to "communicate effectively and think clearly" (well, the communicate part is up for debate, but I think any even casual reader of spitoutyourgum will agree wholeheartedly with that "think clearly" part), but now as a Taurean I value "stability, loyalty, and dogged determination." What the hell? I've gone from Socrates to Radar O'Reilly in one (very good) night's sleep? Say it ain't so, Sydney Omarr (nee Kimmelman, FYI). Talk about a leopard changing its stripes! The cosmos expects full-fledged, thought-we-were-Geminis to wake up one morning and embrace, let alone value, stability? Stability! No problem, and this afternoon I'll also cure the common cold and invent a dollar changer machine that actually accepts any dollar bill on the first insertion.

You know, yesterday I saw a car with the vanity license plate "OPR2NST"; made me want to seize the opportunity then and there to let the air out of its tires. Kid stuff, now. What I'm doggedly determined to do today is hunt down Jeane L. Dixon (nee Lydia Emma Pinckert, as if she were born in a Jane Austen novel) and communicate effectively my displeasure for the way she's led me on many a wrong path all these years. Is there a lawyer out there who specializes in astrological malpractice?

Oh shit, now my twin (who's just waking up; he's about an hour behind, always) is making rumblings about "bulls are kinda cool; let's try this Taurean thing out for a while, okay?" It's gonna be a long day, no need to consult my horoscope on this one.

Bullshit Detector--Chris Mars by spitoutyourgumblog

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sentiments For Sale

Years and years ago I bought a used copy of Flannery O'Connor's The Complete Stories. Whatever few bucks I paid for it I've received back seventy times seven times over; it's one of the great books of the 20th Century. I also received a little bonus for my few dollars: along with the receipt from the original purchase of the book at some university bookstore, the book is inscribed thus:

For Belle;

I often think about Belle and even Boomer. In fact, I've written not one but two poems about them, mixing faux come-ons to Belle and sympathy for Boomer (anybody who would sell some Flannery isn't worth your time, buddy). Alas, I wrote the second Belle-Boomer poem because I had somehow lost the first one. And wouldn't you know it, I've lost the second one as well. Hundreds of poems written, and those two are the only MIA ones I can think of. The poems must not have been that good, though the subject matter is great.

I've been thinking more and more about Belle and Boomer lately as I now find myself working in an establishment that deals with all sorts of used items. It seems that Belle and Boomer are hardly unique. Sadly, to me, there are a lot of Boomers out there--people whose loving sentiments inscribed in books to significant others are literally sold out. And plenty of ruthless Belles, people who throw sentiment to the wind and hawk whatever they can for a few bucks. Now, as always, there's a context I'm missing. Maybe Boomer was a jerk and Belle had to rid herself of all things Boomer (as Bob says, "I can't even touch the books you've read"). Maybe it was a genuine mistake--in cleaning out stuff, Belle inadvertently threw out her beloved copy of Flannery, complete with Boomer's cryptic but so-loving "Ding!" Or maybe she liked Flannery, but just couldn't abide owning a copy inscribed by that quasi-stalker Boomer ("I will not go through life betrothed to a guy who calls himself Boomer," she cries to her best friend while packing up books to sell. "Besides, he can't even tell the difference between a semi-colon and a comma."). Who knows the real stories behind all the Belles and Boomers?

But these things break my heart a little: one person's heartfelt sentiments so carelessly tossed aside. Do us all a favor--if you're going to sell some stuff, go through it and remove any sentimental traces. I almost shed a tear the other day when I picked up a copy of an anthology of Cleveland Poetry from fifteen years ago, a book that I was so proud to have one of my poems published in. In beautiful script, this copy was inscribed to two friends from some couple, who also included a page number in their inscription. This is too good, I thought to myself as I hurriedly flipped the pages. This unknown couple writing to another couple has directed them to my poem. But no, my poem was thirty pages away. I could find no relation between the poem on the designated page and the couple; it didn't seem as if one of them had written the poem. It all saddened me terribly. How could people have the heart to sell these kinds of items, items that were picked out for and inscribed directly to them (as Blaze says, "ain't it a cold, cold world?")?

Worse are the items that show up inscribed from the writer/artist themselves! Personally inscribed! Now it kind of breaks my heart when I see a copy of one of the books I taught sold by one of my former students (yes, the actual book the student read in my class; yes, I've checked; no, I've never claimed to be neurosis-free), but I can't imagine the sadness that would ensue if I found a book I'd written and inscribed to somebody dear being hawked for $5.98 at a used bookstore (however much I love and am grateful for used item establishments). On my employee "hold" shelf right now is an out of print used CD from a Cleveland legend, personally inscribed to some callous idiot. I'm thinking of buying it and (after ripping it to disk) sending it back to the legend, just to apprise him of who his friends are, and aren't.

It's not just loving inscriptions that are sold like so much useless dross. I'm amazed at what turns up in books that people sell--invoices, to-do lists, directions (a fellow employee supposedly found a birth certificate in a book a few weeks before I started working there). The prize goes to a piece of torn-out notebook paper I found the other day (that day, to be precise). On the bottom half of the small piece of paper that was otherwise covered in half-crossed out items to buy at the grocery and clothing stores, was a, I assume, rough draft of a "coupon" for a body massage, the details of which are a bit too risque for this staid blog (though I could have offered some grammatical tips to the writer in exchange for a shoulder chop or two). The kicker is, as far as I can tell from the rather cryptically-written list, the would-be coupon had two male names at the top; either some two-timing is going on here, or the would-be masseuse couldn't really decide whose back to, um, scratch.

Anyway, I'm not here to start up some lo-tech used wiki-leaks thing. I'm just, as usual, sharing some of the amazement with the world I encounter, and offering a little warning: be careful of the stuff you get rid of--some stuff warrants selling, other stuff, if not keepsake material, warrants trashing.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Push or Pull: A Matter of Gender?

The other day (and why is it always the other day, not that day?) for reasons I can't go into (i.e. National Security purposes) I found myself at Wal-Mart with a few idle minutes. Before I knew it I was knee-deep in a curious study of shopping habits that might just reveal some deeper male-female differences. In an admittedly small sample group (and anyone wishing to fund further study, let me know) I noticed two men pulling their shopping carts through the aisles. There were certainly a few men who chose the more traditional method of standing behind the cart and pushing it, but I saw no women pulling carts--all the women were pushers. Got me thinking, as most such nonsense does.

Could it be a macho thing? Does standing beside your shopping cart at the front and pulling it create a greater feeling of masculinity than standing behind it and pushing it? Not to my eyes, but then again, the few times I shop and require the need of a shopping cart, I'm always partial to pushing. It brings me back to my younger days helping mom at the grocery store (we never used the term supermarket). Usually I was the gofer, being sent into the thicket of Heinen's to bring back easily found items like a loaf of bread or a couple mega-cans of Hi-C. If mom didn't need as much help, or she wanted to be free of my pesky presence for a few minutes, she'd send me to get cereal. Now is there a greater small thrill or bigger conundrum for a little boy than choosing the week's cereal? My God sometimes I'd stand in the cereal aisle for minutes upon minutes weighing all the options, which basically boiled down to balancing two important but not always mutually inclusive factors--taste and prize. A not so scrumptious cereal may come with the most awesome prize. Can I tolerate eating that cereal for a whole week or maybe two (sometimes it seemed the best prize/worst cereal came in the largest box) just for the thrill (usually a pretty momentary one) of digging down into the box, claiming the prize, and then seeing if it actually worked or matched the fun promised on the outside of the box? Little did I know such philosophical thought-juggling at such a young age was the seed-sowing for spitoutyourgum. Anyway, sometimes mom let me commandeer the cart and navigate through the aisles. In those instances I took great pride in obeying all traffic customs, like I was some big rig driver (I even signaled my left turns with an outstretched arm and made beep beep sounds when I had to back up). Time passed, though, and I realized I was ready for bigger challenges when I flipped off two old ladies pushing their carts the wrong way in the frozen food section.

But back to my point. Is there something inherently masculine about pulling and feminine about pushing? Would men rather pull, women push? Does childbirth naturally incline women to push? Is there anything similarly unique to males that inclines them to pull?  It seems that only wives get stuck with the "pushy" tag, not husbands (although I'm sure the phenomenon exists, and maybe is not really such a phenomenon). Is the phrase "pull your own weight" essentially a macho one? I don't know the answers, but watching two guys pull shopping carts, which seem to be made to push, has me wondering.

Would you rather push or pull? Of course, context is required to answer that question. Most doors, it seems to me, are more convenient to push than to pull. For a couple years now I've been bothered by a door in a remodeled place. It's a pull door but something about it makes me think it is and should be a push one. Every time I have to use it I'm jolted a bit. Turns out, I realize now, it's a men's room door; maybe the remodelers were trying to make a point (I'll have to check out the adjacent women's room door next time I'm there to see if it's push). In considering all of this I came upon the beatific realization that homes offer the ultimate balance of masculine pull and feminine push--going in, the storm door pulls, the big ornamental door pushes, how quaintly balanced (it was a full five minutes before the beatific gave way to the practical and the mechanically disinclined engineer in me realized that two pull or two push doors in such close proximity wouldn't make any sense). Why don't all those "strongest men in the world" competitions have guys push airplanes instead of pull them? Wouldn't it seem more appropriate to push rank on someone rather than pull rank?

Well, I believe I've pushed this idea further than it warrants. Time to pull myself out of this morass and push off. Two guys in a Wal-Mart can really push all the wrong buttons in me and pull me way off course.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Happy 76th, Elvis!

Yes, the King would be/is 76 today. You might be thinking, thank God he died when he did, if for no other reason than to spare us all the sight of him performing at a Super Bowl halftime these last few years. But he couldn't have been worse than The Who last year.

It's hard to believe, but the live Elvis was in the public consciousness for a mere 23 years; the dead Elvis has been around for 33. Compare that to the nearly fifty years Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, and Bob Dylan have been breathing in the public eye. 

I've read a lot about Elvis (there's no greater yin-yang reading experience than Peter Guralnick's two volume bio--vol. one, Last Train to Memphis, is one of the happiest, most joyous reads there is; vol. two, Careless Love, one of the most depressing; and Dead Elvis by Greil Marcus is pretty amazing, though in need of an update), but to me the best Elvis writing is still "Where Were You When Elvis Died?" the obituary by Lester Bangs. Five pages of amazing writing. And thirty-three years later you still can't argue with this line: "We will never agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis."

Here are a couple of interesting Elvis tributes to listen to while you celebrate the day. One from a would-be Memphis crypto-legend and another from God knows who.

I Wish I Could Meet Elvis--Alex Chilton by spitoutyourgumblog

Candy Bars For Elvis--Barry Tiffin by spitoutyourgumblog

Friday, January 7, 2011

69 Days Until St. Patrick's Day (Thanks Frank)

"Says I, 'It's past me ankles! Of course I can't make it into work today.'"

"Na to worry. O'Noahra's workin' on the ark."

"Two more hours of this and we won't be needin' to wade to the men's room no more."

"Drink up, boys. Closin' time's when it reaches me nipples."

"And they want to make this a dry county."

"Give us your paddle, Hannigan. You've had one too many."

"No Gatorin' without a life preserver now, McConnell."

"I said a dry martini!"

"Am I drunk or are those the cutest gills you've ever seen?"

"There are no seats at the bar. Would this atoll be okay?"

"Yeah, McGinty can sure hold his beer. But when he's gotta go, he's really gotta go."

"If this were snow, I might need me hat."

"Bloody Limeys."

"Ye certainly opened the floodgates with that one, O'Reilly."

"Here's to another successful Venice Theme Night, boys!"

"Fish, yes. Chips are gettin' a wee bit soggy, tho."

"I take it darts in the basement are right out tonight, eh Fitzgerald?"

"I'll hear no more of ye global warming natterings, Mulligan."

"There's a sea of people here tonight."

"God bless the first ape who learned how to drink with his hands instead of his feet."

"Sump pump? We've got Himself over there sucking up everyting in sight."

"Roll Tide!"

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Convenience Compromises Soul: Mixtapes Ain't What They Used To Be

I realize others have addressed this subject 999,999 times before (and, odds are, 499,999 times in a more insightful way), but maybe there's a prize for the millionth time. The art of making a mixtape is now, thanks to technology, merely/barely a science, and a pretty pedestrian one at that. Later today I'll be making a mixtape (actually burning a CD) for a friend, though "making" is a stretch, more like compiling. I'll be so pretentious as to say I used to curate a mixtape; now it's not so artful. I blame technology 100%.

I've long said I'm an evangelist when it comes to music. Few things give me more pleasure than passing along good music I've discovered one way or another. I've made hundreds, if not a thousand or two, mixes for friends in the last twenty-five years or so. A good majority, I'll boast, have been received well (though I remember years ago a student asking me to exchange tapes with him; he was a rough hockey player, so the tape I made him was pretty loud and clangorous; imagine my surprise and oops factor when he gave me a tape filled with James Taylor and John Denver songs).

When I first started making tapes in the mid-eighties, like some anal DJ I'd actually write out the track lists first, with running times, to be sure I could fit the selected songs on each side of the tape. There's nothing like adding up a bunch of time numbers (3:43 + 4:18 + 2:37 etc.). Then I'd line up the albums (vinyl only in those days) and follow the script. Either the crazy math got to me or I finally saw the light of intuitive feel, but soon enough I'd just gather up a bunch of albums and start assembling the tape by feel, which is the true way to go. You might think you'll play a certain song by a certain artist after the one you're currently taping, but midway through the song you realize, no, another song by a totally different artist will segue more perfectly. And so on. That's probably the main difference: in today's click and drag world, you don't have to/get to actually listen to the songs you're putting on tape/disc--you simply compile them. Sure you can look at the list of songs you've assembled and play with the sequence, but nothing beats the immediate inspiration of hearing a line or riff or whatever and instantly thinking of another song that will complement the first one, or comment on it, or send the tape off into a completely different direction--flow or soul, basically. Organic vs. robotic.

Time, as usual, is a main factor. Now you can compile a mix in a matter of minutes: click on twenty songs, order them with minimal thought, insert disc, click burn, and voila. To make a ninety minute mixtape way back when took nearly two hours to create. You not only gave the other person great music, but your precious time, as well. And speaking of time, ask any tape maker from the heyday of mixtapes and he or she can instantly rattle off a dozen or two tape-enders, those short, minute or so songs you'd squeeze in at the end of a tape side (and oh the nervous thrill of seeing if/praying that your chosen shortie [say, "Run It" by the Replacements, at 1:12 one of my favorite go to tape-enders] would fit before the tape ran out).

Space is another element lost with technology. Being anything but a neatnick, I remember fondly the stacked lines of CDs and albums that would clutter around my stereo system while I was in the midst of a mixtape binge. Now it's just a clutter of playlists clogging my desktop. Ho hum.

Ho hum, here's a mix for you, nothing more than a little more carpal tunnel syndrome damage in it for me. As opposed to, here, here's two hours of my life, an aerobic workout for my ears and synapses, clutter endured, and heartfelt tiny penmanship (lest we forget the easy, print-the-playlist option vs. the challenge of writing out the entire playlist in cramped but hopefully still legible handwriting between the minuscule lines of the already small cardboard tape insert)--here's a piece of my soul, basically.

Which only proves I'm old, but at least I've got an idea for another great theme mix: anybody interested in a Luddite mix?

He's Making a Tape--Wild Billy Childish and the Musicians of the British Empire by spitoutyourgumblog

Monday, January 3, 2011

Could They Be Talking About You?

I've always been a bit hazy on the sanctity of the whole attorney/client privilege, and these days with the Patriot Act poking into what people buy at bookstores I'm a little more leery about sharing the following, but I'm going to throw caution to the wind, so to speak, and let you in on this phenomenon, because ultimately it might involve you, and I like to offer my readers help in their personal lives as much as I can. The book pictured above, The History of Farting, is a very much real, in print, and pretty good selling little impulse item we keep stocked near the cash registers at my new place of employment. As you might imagine, with the long lines around the Christmas season and post-Christmas sales season, and with customers buying a lot of items, casuing them to stand at the register for a couple of minutes, the farting book is a steady source of amusement. For me, the entertainment value wore off quickly enough; no more do I respond with such witticisms as, "Oh, that book's a real gas," or "That book stinks," whenever a customer picks it up and starts to laugh. "One of our bestsellers," is about the only thing I have to say by now.

To be honest, I've never opened the book myself. While I am on record waxing eloquently about a particular fart, I am not all that interested in the overall history of wind passing. That said, my interest has been piqued by what is pretty much a common response when there are two or more friends or family members gathered together at the cash register. Invariably one person will see the book, start to chuckle, pick it up and show it to another person, and say something like, "We should get this for Uncle Frank," or "This has Patsy written all over it," or "This is perfect for daddy's stocking." Now while I might be thankful that it is these friends/relatives of Uncle Frank, Patsy, daddy, et al. who are standing in close proximity to me rather than Uncle Frank, Patsy, daddy, et al., my heart goes out a bit to Uncle Frank, Patsy, daddy, et al. Do they know they have a reputation for being either an uber farter or someone who might appreciate a book about the history of farting? Maybe they have a medical condition (ah, the phrase "medical condition"--an instant get-you-off-the-hook one if there ever was one). It's to the point where every time a customer holds up the book and refers to some Uncle Frank, Patsy, daddy, et al., I get a mental picture of some Uncle Frank, Patsy, daddy, et al. with his or her ears aflame, squirming on some couch somewhere trying his or her best not to "let one go."

On particularly busy days, when the fart book is garnering lots of attention and eliciting myriad chuckles at the expense of absent Uncle Frank, Patsy, daddy, et al., my sympathy starts to slide into neurotic empathy. Could someone, at some other hip store, be picking up the same book at this very instant and substitooting my name for Uncle Frank, Patsy, daddy. et al.? How does a socially and interpersonally conscious person broach the subject that he or she fears he or she might be a member of the Uncle Frank, Patsy, daddy, et al. club? "Honey, do I fart too much?" "Say Bill, would you say I have a wind problem?" Oh the torture!

Thus, on this universal the-holidays-are-over-so-settle-in-for-winter's-long-evil-haul-and-get-back-to-the-tedious-humdrum-that-is-our-lives day, January 3, I decree that this day, the first Monday after the holidays, be National Make Good With the Notorious Farter In Your Life Day. He or she's been made fun of enough lately, I have to believe, what with parties, get-togethers, and stockings stuffed with The History of Farting (my God, I just realized, what if Uncle Frank, Patsy, daddy, et al. show up wanting to exchange a History of Farting book because "I got two of them in my stocking, go figure"? I might just break down in sympathetic overload). So, if you're guilty of poking some fun at Uncle Frank, Patsy, daddy, et al., today is the day to beg forgiveness. And if you are a Uncle Frank, Patsy, daddy, et al., don't be upset if someone comes to you confessing their sins.

The Wind--Nolan Strong and The Diablos by spitoutyourgumblog

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Well, barely 36 hours into the New Year and my resolution list lies in tatters like my Edwards In 2008! signs. But I had to work both New Year's Eve and New Year's Day (ah, employment) so I think I'm entitled to a bit of a do over. Anyway, being a devout Gemini, I have both a public and a private list of resolutions for 2011. While the private list is available for a mere $49.99 (plus $6.00 in service fees), I now offer you gratis some of the highlights of my public one:
  • Shit or get off the pot. Either get the damned Bigfoot costume darned and make a commitment to more daily walking, or shred the thing and re-enter the crop circle arena.
  • Plain M&M's only in 2011.
  • Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me annual resolution: Broker a deal by any means necessary to ensure the unbeatable Obama-Palin ticket for 2012.
  • As a corollary of the above, try to hook Biden up with a job in my new workplace.
  • Write fewer list blogs.
  • Annual charity work resolution: Do what I can to help Scarlett Johansson through the difficult aftermath of her ruined marriage.
  • Dreadlocks.
  • Get them all off my back and finally join their damn fantasy curling league (hairdressers are such a high maintenance lot).
  • Do my part to bring back tightie whities aka men's briefs.
  • Make "etiquette" the new buzzword of '11.
  • Check in regularly on Larry King.
  • Keep all nine chest hairs well-groomed.
  • No. 1--lift seat; No. 2--seat down.
  • Simple formula: more travel = more TSA patdowns :)
  • Oops, pay closer attention to which resolution list I'm cutting and pasting from.
  • Reveal my love of Bob Dylan's music more openly.
  • Maximize the day--trim Plain Dealer reading time from eight to six-and-a-half minutes daily.
  • Be here now nowish.
  • More Lenny, less Squiggy.
  • Push the envelope in thinking outside the box so I can stay in the loop 24/7 and be able to bring to the table my true self and send the message that I am creative.
  • For once in my life, let me try some pepper on that.