Thursday, December 22, 2005

Play Cole: The super spectacular video groove machine

What is Play Cole? What isn't it? It's not food or a monster. It's not a blind man's secret rage. It's not a raincloud or a puppy dog's breath. And it's not your kid sister's sticker collection.

No, Play Cole is actually a group of people who write, direct, produce, edit and act in short films. That group includes:

Jon "Won't eat eggs" Clarke
Andrew "Anybody hiring?" Torres
Me "You talkin' to me?" Me

I planned on writing something about how long we've been doing this (11 months), if we plan on doing more (yes) and what we hope to achieve (immortality). But I'll let the films speak for themselves. Hope you enjoy. We've got a bunch more in the hopper that we'll be posting ASAP.

Watch Play Cole now!

PS: Look for me in "Straight Man" and listen for me as the voice of God in "The First Commandment." Then, get tired of me as I camera-hog future Play Cole films. Viva la France!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Cataloging Christmas

Psaur has posted a cool piece written by Mike O'Shaughnessy called The Twelve Pages of Christmas. In it, Mike recalls the manic, post-Thanksgiving Gen-X'er joy of hunting through the toy section of a 1979 Sears Catalog. The catalog was a talisman for 10-year olds, offering four-color photos of every gadget and game we could ever hope to unwrap at 6:15 on Christmas morning.

After I read Mike's piece, I tried to remember the pages that got my pulse pounding. The genius of the Sears Catalog was in its scope -- the sheer range and number of gift ideas turning individuals into nagging automatons by attrition. I would stare at those pages for hours, circling items with my Bic pen as I nervously chewed the cap. Things I wanted got one circle. Things I really wanted got eight or ten emphatic rings of ink.

You could trace my pre-pubescent flounderings toward teenhood simply by sampling the placement of ink circles on the backs of catalogs from '77-'82, beginning with the Six Million Dollar man action figure and ending with a Real Electric Guitar. (I got the action figure, but my parents balked at the guitar.)

I couldn't remember any of the stuff I coveted in the catalog until I did a Google search (my 12,753th). Lo and behold, some guy has posted a 1979 Sears Catalog up on Flickr.

We all had our favorite pages. Here, mine would be the Sears Video Arcade Cartridge System (who named this??), a licensed Atari knockoff, and the two subsequent pages of game cartridges. (Actual copy: "These Cartridges reprogram the Video Arcade give you a new set of games." The copy writer must have been 50 and very, very confused by it all. See pages 651-653.

Close behind the Console on my list of most heavily inked pages was probably the page featuring the Atari 400 home computer (p. 654). Headline: "Put an electronic genius to work." All 16K of genius. Actually 16K and a cassette tape drive provided game quality that was leaps and bounds over the 4K or so offered up by the Console. My friends and I used to play around with the Atari 400 at the Fairmount Fair Sears.

I'd type:

10 Print "Brian"
20 Goto 10

And smile as my name scrolled endlessly down the screen.

Also on display at Sears' new computer department: The useless 2K Timex Sinclair, the Texas Instruments TI-994 and, shortly after, the Atari 800. The 800 had 48K, an optional floppy disc drive and a real keyboard. Oh, the text-based, fantasy adventure bliss!

Note: Nerd that I am, I have recently download a complicated set of emulators just so I can relive computer classics like Tunnels of Doom, Exodus: Ultima III and almost every Atari 2600 game ever made.

Another great set of pages: RC cars and gliders (pages 648-649). What was it about the concept of radio control that made me lose control of myself? I imagined mounting spy cameras on the glider and snapping aerial pics of unsuspecting neighbors, or filling the assumed bomb hatch with firecrackers that could somehow be ignited and released with the touch of a button, to rain down upon the heads of my enemies.

I finally did get an RC glider and was so excited that I assembled it in early January. There it sat, awaiting an early spring on the brown shag of my bedroom floor, until my sister stumbled onto it and crushed one of the the Styrofoam wings. I can still recall the sudden guilt in her eyes as she started to cry, just as I'm sure she remembers the startled outrage in mine as I started to cry.

The glider was dead before it ever got off the ground.

Luckily, my friend Mike got the same glider for Christmas and, being more patient, waited until the snow melted before assembling it. His dad took us to our elementary school playground one Saturday in March to send it on its maiden flight. The glider launched by means of a 25-foot rubber band that you staked into the ground. You then hooked the other end onto the nose of the plane, walked backward about 100 feet or so and released. The incredible tension created by the thick rubber band would catapult the glider up to 200ft, according to the starburst on the box.

That particular Saturday was windy. I think Mike's dad even suggested that we wait for a nicer day. But we were in no mood to be fucked with. Mike staked the rubber band into the half-frozen stretch of grass that separated two adjacent baseball diamonds. Then he picked up the radio control as we paced backward with the plane.

It was over so fast that the experience existed only as a flash of excitement and a moment of dumb realization. The glider took off, shot straight up to a height of around 75 feet, then looped back upon itself and took a nose dive straight into the soggy grass of left field. Both wings snapped forward, dropping the amputated fuselage onto its decalled back.

The microscope (622-623) was another big one for me. The model I got was a reflecting microscope with a 300x max magnification. It came with a set of stained specimens: fly wings, parameciums, onion peels. But the real fun was in trapping all sorts of liquids and bits between the frosted slides and peering into another world. Plant cells were all square and neatly stacked, like bricks with little brown nuclei. Amoebas were blobby and shifting. Blood cells clumped like Cheerioes.

At the other end of the spectrum: the telescope (621). The idea of seeing the rings of Saturn was too much to bear. I had to have a telescope. Had to.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Santa's out

I guess the theory behind low budge, viral advertising is that guys like me laugh and spread the word. Well, it worked. Here's a great series of ads for "mother" (whatever that is) that asks you to vote for "Chris Rodriguez" to replace Santa this year. Don't think these are necessarily new, but they're not as old as the awesome 70's art direction suggests.

Vote for Chris Rodriguez

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Pizza man

I've worked for three different pizza shops in my life. My first Job was as a pizza delivery boy for Dominoes. My name tag read: "C. Manson." Nobody ever complained, unless their pizza was late.

I've made pizza, cooked it, cut it, sold it over the counter, delivered it, dropped it, stole it and threw it out at the end of the night. I know a little something about the pizza business.

When I worked at a pizza shop in the mall, we made the sauce in a big plastic bucket. After pouring in all the ingredients, we'd roll up our sleeves and stir it with our bare, hairy arms. All the way up to the armpit. We were actually trained to do this. When we were done, we'd use our other hand to slough off the sauce on our mixing arm back into the bucket.

Our boss, Angelo, encouraged us to use his office to have sex with any girls who were willing. He was the horniest man I have ever met. He told my friend Joe that, when he was younger, he fucked a rump roast. He actually bought a rump roast at the grocery store and checked into a motel with it. My question was: "What did he do with it when he was done?" I can only hope he left it on the bed.

I've had plenty of crazy pizza bosses. One was a coke head who used to line his office floor with pizza bags so he could crash during his shift. Another was a short, sweaty, stocky guy from Alabama whose enthusiasm for all things pizza bordered on psychosis. Another was an ex semi-pro pool player who used to have poker games in the back after we closed. One guy assured anyone who would listen that he had trained in special ops and knew all sorts of ways to kill a man. He had nicotine-stained teeth and awful, gamey breath.

Then there was the pudgy, buck-toothed galumph who used to give us daily updates about his new pet: a baby alligator that he kept in his bathtub. "It freaks my girlfriend out."

One day I asked him how his alligator was doing. "Ah, dude," he moaned, "You wanna buy an alligator?" It was getting bigger, he complained, and it kept him up all night with its 'barking.'

What did I know about any of these managers? I was seventeen: to me, they were adults.

Imagine a group of misfit drunks and potheads fishtailing around Syracuse, over lawns and curbs, through filthy, slushy side-streets, backing into parked cars, causing accidents and spraying shattered windshield glass all over West Genesee Street. That was our pizza delivery squad.

One delivery guy, Bob, was a 50-year old, 300-pound professional clown who looked scarier than John Wayne Gacy. He lived downtown, was a Mason, and drove a beat-to-shit Dodge Omni. Bob had a certain prisonyard authority about him. One time when he and I were washing pizza pans, Bob scowled at me and snapped: "Slow down, kid. You're fucking it up for the rest of us!"

Bob always had a little bit of coke on him. Once in a while, he'd leave a line of it on the sink in the employee bathroom and gesture to us with his head to go hit it.

At that same shop we had a manager and two assistant managers who would trade night shifts after the boss left. The assistant managers made less than the delivery guys. So they started to steal at night. Actually, we all started to steal. We'd type in a phone order, then delete it and write the information down on a piece of paper. Then we'd deliver the pizza, collect the money and split it with whichever assistant manager was working that night. Both the assistant managers' last names started with the letter '"R," so we called our little operation "R&R Pizza." We never got caught.

One night a drunk customer got all pissed off about something. I wasn't working that night. Apparently, he wanted to beat the shit out of this skinny, younger delivery guy we called Fergs. Fergs liked everybody. He wasn't really that bright, but he was gentle and friendly. I can't imagine what he did to make this drunk want to kill him, but the guy started chasing him around the parking lot and into the shop. Fergs ran into the back and the drunk started following him, only to be stopped in his tracks by Bob, the 300-pound clown. "You're gonna have to go through me!" he shouted, crossing his arms. From what I heard, the guy just sort of deflated and turned around and left.

I hung around the pizza business for too long. It was an easy gig and it paid better than a mall job. I delivered my last pizza when I was 24. A few years ago, I drove past the old pizza shop and discovered that it has since become a Chinese take-out joint. I wonder if there's still a skinny, faultering little line of coke, camouflaged on the white porcelain sink?

I will now attempt to make qner industries the #1 search result on Google for the phrase "buckle fucker"

OK, here goes:

buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker buckle fucker

It might take a couple of days to register, but join me in crossing my buckle-fucking fingers!

Monday, December 12, 2005

There was that one time

We shot squirrels with BB guns
We stayed up all night trying to build a video game on the TI994a
We egged houses, then ran away from cars we imagined were chasing us
We found mud-caked porno mags in a trash heap near the old big woods
We happened upon a hog nosed snake with a toad in its mouth
We got called into the guidance counselor's office for picking on a kid
We got called into the principal's office for picking on a lunch lady
We got put in a police car for messing up a construction site
We got put in a police car for lighting off homemade fireworks
We threw molotov cocktails into the woods, but they didn't work
We got drunk on a purple mix of liquor and ran around outside
We stood on bull hill with cups of keg beer and laughed about our teachers
We got chased off the golf course by rent-a-cops
We staged a pudding eating contest with one contestant
We did nitrous oxide balloons on a winter night
We dropped acid and yelled at a next door neighbor
We dropped acid and thought Al died in the back seat of a locked car
We sang karaoke at a sports bar
We took two girls to a motel using a fake ID, then got kicked out for jumping on the bed
We dipped coins in Basic H and thought it made them uncirculated
We stuck our fingers with a needle to look at the blood under a microscope
We sat around and came up with headlines for a tabloid newspaper
We watched endless episodes of The Simpsons, Seinfeld and Get a Life
We took the English club to a Stephen King lecture
We wrote poems and taped them up on the wall
We skipped class and watched Nightmare on Elm Street
We ran to the reservoir and did wind sprints at the top
We sucked weight by running up and down the steps in the pool room
We beat up a kid, then ran away from his older brother
We got up on the school roof and took a bunch of playground balls
We played four square at camp
We tricked a kid into eating jack-in-the-pulpit, then got chewed out by a camp counselor
We ate lunch at China House and goofed on the menu spelling
We burned all of our schoolbooks in a bonfire
We had a party with a bunch of sorority girls who mostly ignored us
We got chased by a cabbie
We got stoned and watched Fritz the Cat
We wrote fiction all day
We made a video tape of skits called "Missing Rob"
We went to the Poconos and filmed "Grandpa is a Mean Old Bastard"
We got in a sudden, drunken scuffle with each other a apologized the next day
We talked about beat writers
We went to a Dolly Parton restaurant and watched a staged battle between the North and South
We went to a seafood restaurant, and I afterward I threw up behind a fleet of trucks as you fell down laughing
We played evil Jenga with girls from work
We stayed up all night playing caps

You remember that, right?

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Three short stories

Story #1: A crack in the case
Detective Eddie Fulman frantically pushed his way through the crowded police department and burst into Sergeant Brick's office.

"Sarge," he rasped, catching his breath. "I think I got a lead on that McGruder case!"

Sergeant Brick glared at him over a mess of paperwork that cluttered his desk.

"A lead?" he barked. "We caught that bastard three weeks ago! Where the hell you been?"


Story #2: The mystery of the missing locket
When Sheila awoke, she knew something was amiss. She'd dreamt last night that a strange man in a black fedora had broken into her house and crept around the bedroom as she and her husband slept.

While she knew it was only a dream, Sheila couldn't shake the image. It had felt so real. Too real.

Wiping away the remnants of her fitful slumber, she sat up in bed and looked at her night stand.

"My locket!" she cried. "It's gone!"

Just then her husband walked into the bedroom. "I found it," he said. "You left it in the bathroom again."

Story #3: The greatest story ever
Timmy pulled the blanket up to his chin and smiled as his father closed the book.

"That was the greatest story ever, dad."

His father tousled Timmy's hair. "Glad you liked it. Now go to sleep."

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Death of the joke

Remember when the joke was an American tradition? Up until around the mid-80s? No more. We don't have time for the pastoral, 20th Century structure of the joke anymore. This form of storytelling has gone the way of the Members Only jacket. Today, it's all quick observations and shock humor. The joke is dead. And I say: good riddance.

I always hated the joke. You had to listen and follow along with a phony grin of expectation as some putz took you through the build up. ("There's this salesman, right? Right?") You had to remember pertinent details. ("Did I say he had a wife? Well, he did; he had a wife, right?") Jesus, get to the point. This fucking joke's been going on for two minutes and I have my doubts about the punchline. Plus, the story's not so great. You're trying to tell me that a salesman with a buxom, nymphomaniac bride needs to spice things up by visiting a toothless gypsy?

Then there was that annoying change of tone in the teller's voice as he closed in on the punchline. (Here it comes!) And you sort of coughed out an obligatory chuckle, maybe repeating the punchline so the jokester realized that, yes, you understood and now wanted him to please stop bothering you.

I had a friend in high school whose father told long, rambling jokes that never seemed to go anywhere. After a while I realized that he just wanted to keep your attention for as long as possible. It was a form of control, disguised as a joke. I always felt like Woody Allen in Annie Hall during those times, when Alvy Singer had to endure that terrible comic in the checkered sports jacket. (How long can I sit here with this smile plastered on my face? Look at him, mincing around. He thinks he's so cute.)

My friend's father apparently considered himself a master storyteller, as opposed to, say, an insufferable prick. He'd even assume the voices and gestures of the many, many characters that inhabited his "jokes." It was an experience that was at once grotesque and mind numbing.

So now that the joke is dead, please let me be the first to dance on its grave. Goodbye, conversation ender. So long, homicidal thought provoker. See ya in hell, you stilted, empty-headed, watch check-inducing time stealer. You won't be missed by me.

It all reminds me of a story I overhead during a seminar in Boise. It seems there was this curvy blonde secretary, right?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Fancy pants words

This was inspired by an AIM convo I had with Dave.

Want to seem smarter than you are? Try dropping a few of these polysyllabic (5 consonants) power punches.

Juxtaposition: My favorite college word. I tried to get it into every paper I ever wrote. "Hemingway JUXTAPOSES Macomber with Wilson to punctuate the protagonist's impotence." Oh, I smell a B+!

Ululate: It means to wail. I haven't had the chance to use this one yet. Perhaps at the next funeral I'll lean to the guy sitting next to me and whisper: "She's really ululating up there."

Postmodern: PoMo for short, it's a true, blue buzzword of the hipster set. It's traditionally used to describe art that refers to and comments upon earlier or other works of art. But you can use it almost anytime, in any context. Nobody will call you on it.

Phallocentric: Used to describe objects or attitudes that are male centered, usually to the oppression or exclusion of women. College-aged feminists use it to describe their salad dressing.

Misunderestimate: A Bushism. Use it ironically when you're making a sarcastic comment about the President's inability to speak. Then pause and say: "Wow, that was very postmodern of me."

Gestalt: This one is probably falling out of favor, but it's still a good word to use when you're not sure what you're talking about. No need to define it here, just be sure that when you say it you hold your hands up as if offering your audience an invisible globe.

Mendacious: Means untruthful. Don't use it: Just wait for someone to say "mendacious lies" and note that they just said the logical equivalent of "truth."

Filibuster: It's what I hope the Democrats have the balls to do come January. Use it casually, like when someone is running off at the mouth. "You wanna stop filibustering, here?" It usually throws them off long enough for you to run away.

Voluble: Someone who talks a lot. Sounds a lot like valuable and can be used to score passive aggressive points against your boss. "I find your daily meetings quite voluble." Your boss will actually thank you.

Modus Operandi: The way someone operates in a given situation. Bookend it with "whole" and "if you will" to sound casual, like the phrase just came to mind: "That's his whole modus operandi, if you will."

NAME-ian or NAME-esque: As in Dickensian and Kafkaesque. Shows you're well read or tuned into elite culture. Make up your own combinations (Pynchonesque, Koontzian), just be sure to always precede the word with "very."

You know what? I've run outta steam here. Please add your own.

Groton Street, 1993

Those were the days of Nirvana and Lou Reed and Dinosaur Jr. and The Ben Stiller Show and GG Allen on Springer and In Living Color and William S. Burroughs and Dharma Bums and Paul's Brutarian mags in the bathroom and Jimmy's drunken, happy grin and the time I tried to convince Jen that not making your bed was more in tune with the entropy of the universe and therefore wiser, and she scoffed and that pizza shop across the street (Hollywood?), where I called Jim "disheveled and fidgety," and that later burned to the ground and Jack Danielson's, where you got free food on Friday's as long as you were drinking and Murphy's, with it's great Jukebox and the occasional party at the apartment with occasional girls and the scent of weed and Paul's macaroni-and-cheese-and-ground-beef and the Spin Magazine written by the cast of SNL, when the cast of SNL was cool, and Report to Hell and scraps of poetry covering an entire wall and that horrible kitchen that we all tiptoed through and that massive snowstorm that buried cars up to their antennas and gave us another reason to drink and those nights I drank too much and forgot how I got home and watching Jim smash his microphone stand on the raw, stained carpet and exclaiming that I want to try heroin and accusing Mike of dying his hair blonde and talking about Ginsberg in a bar full of meatheads and wrestling with Michelle on my bed in the afternoon and all the insanity of a long, rambling, breathless sentence that was coming to an end, but that we delayed a while so we could be the people we wanted to be just a little longer.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A post for men only.

Last Friday, I had a ten minute cab-ride conversation with a male and female friend about the differences between how women and men communicate. It's a big issue because, while we speak the same language, we don't process what we hear the same way. Not by a long shot.

I am presenting our conclusions here. Fellas, get your notebooks out. (That is, if you even know how to write, you insensitive jerks!)

Solutions are not the solution
When a woman is telling you about a problem, say, at work, most men make the mistake of offering a solution. "Why don't you tell your coworker to stop acting like that?"

Such knee-jerk offerings are often met with a heavy sigh and/or roll of the eyes. "You just don't get it, do you?" they reply. And we feel stupid, because, in fact, we don't get it.

My fellow idiots, the next time you find yourself at the receiving end of such a complaint, try the following:

Her: "Cindy constantly undercuts me in meetings. It makes me so mad!"

You: "I'm sorry to hear that. Cindy is obviously deranged. It must be hard working with a deranged person like Cindy. I can imagine you feel hurt by her actions, and I empathize with you. It would hurt me too. Let's take a moment to quietly feel that hurt together. You deserve better than that. Much better. I'm sorry if my voice cracked a little there. I just can't stand to hear about such injustice, especially when it happens to someone as wonderful and talented as you. Perhaps Cindy has a bad relationship with her mother. Tell me about your relationship with your mother."

Of course, you're walking a fine line here. Such a strategy can quickly backfire if she concludes that you are wuss or a sarcastic asshole. Which brings me to my next point:

Men are surface listeners, women are interpretive listeners.
Say you tell a guy friend: "I went to the store and bought some tomatoes that were on sale."

In all likelihood, he'll conclude the following: "He bought some tomatoes that were on sale."

Let's look at the same exchange with a woman.

Her: "So what did you do today?"

You: "I went to the store and bought some tomatoes that were on sale."

She might interpret this as: "He went to the store. That shows initiative. And he bought tomatoes, which means he knows how to cook. A man who cooks is a man who knows how to take care of himself and the people he loves. That's good. And the tomatoes were on sale: he's good with money! Unless he bought inferior tomatoes just to save a few cents. Would he do that if I were dating him? Would he dare try to pawn off some rotten tomatoes on me -- maybe hide them in a sauce -- just to keep a few nickels? What kind of a person would do that? A real man would get the good tomatoes. What a rat. He probably wouldn't make a good father. Next!"

And all this happens before you manage to blurt out your next Cro-Magnon sentence. Which might be something about socks or peanut butter, or some other inanity that we men find ourselves going on about.

Let's run through this tomato scenario again and see if we can improve the outcome.

Her: "So what did you do today?"

You: "I thought some more about how unfair it is that Cindy is being mean to you at work."

All this leads me to my point: Men are from Mars and women are from some other planet, like Jupiter or Mercury or someplace. I wish there was some sort of self-help book I could buy to help me sort these differences out.

That's all I have to say. A lot of this probably isn't news. Or even new. I may have heard these points on TV or in a standup routine. I don't know, I have a bad memory. Ladies, I hope I haven't offended you by posting this. Or offended you by calling you "ladies." I was just trying to share my feelings. Even if they were of the typically male chauvinistic variety.

Seriously, I'm sorry. No, you're right. I know. Yes, I am a jerk. I see that now. Next time I'll think before I...What's that? I didn't...But...

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Message boards

Ever read a message board? They're hilarious. So full of passion, anger and LARGE CAP FLAMING. You can almost feel the Dorito-flecked spray of fanboy spittle.

What's interesting is that, as a message post gets longer and more populated, it begins to take on a predictable pattern. It's like a sociology experiment: a mini community asserts itself and posters take on well defined roles within that community. They don't mean to -- we all want to believe that we bring a unique perspective to the discussion. But it's seemingly unavoidable.

Here is an example of a message board pattern.

FOUNDER: I have an opinion that I want to share about the subject at hand. Didja ever notice that while most people think this, it's actually not this but the other thing?


DISSENTER: Your point is ridiculous. It's obviously this, because of these points. Nice try, but you're way off.

FOUNDER: Don't say my point is ridiculous. I was merely offering an OPINION, which is legal in America. You should try to have a reasonable discussion instead of just attacking me. But no, you're too stupid to be reasonable.

MEDIATOR: Sheesh, guys. This is supposed to be a discussion. Can we quit the name calling and talk like adults?

-A flower in the woods reflects all the light of midnight stars.


SARCASTIC ANTI-FLAMER: Ummm. Flamer? You should really learn to spell if you're going to question our intelligence. This is an adult discussion, so you really shouldn't pipe in until you're 18, OK? And by the way, when you WRITE IN ALL CAPS, IT'S REALLY ANNOYING.


ANGRY ANTI-FLAMER: Flamer, you are such a little fuckhead. Why don't you do us a favor and go beat off to animal porn, you dickless wonder.


MATURE ANTI-FLAMER: Hi all. Just wanted to say that you should ingore Flamer. He's just looking for attention. If you ignore him, he'll eventually go away. Now, back to the discussion. ;-)

SUPPORTER: Well said, Mature Anti-Flamer! :-)

INTELLECTUAL: Founder, you state that while most people assert this about the subject at hand, the truth is actually the other thing. Let me clear a few things up for you. For years, the other thing was proposed as a viable alternative to this, but if you read THIS AUTHOR, you'll find that he conclusively rules out the other thing in his FANCY TITLED ARGUMENT. Furthermore, this is the real truth because of A, B and C.

FOUNDER: I still think it's the other thing.

MEDIATOR: You both make good points!

-A flower in the woods reflects all the light of midnight stars.

FLAMER: This message has been deleted by the administrator

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

These church doors only open in the front, buddy.

The Vatican has released a nine page document on gays in the clergy. The conclusion: You can become a priest if you're kinda gay, but not if you're Carson Kressley gay.

According to the document, men with a "transitory problem" (a brief dalliance in seminary school, for example) can be admitted to the priesthood, as long as they've been non-gay for at least three years. Men with "deep seated" homosexual "problems," however, should not be admitted. The Vatican provides no definition for "deep seated," other than the cheeky connotation of the term itself. Very punny, Catholic Church.

Why the document? The Vatican is reacting to the wave of child molestation problems that have plagued it of late. They figure that by winnowing out actively gay priests, they'll solve the problem of molestation. This despite the fact that experts find no link between homosexuality and child abuse.

Finally, a poorly-defined solution to a faulty supposition!

I love the tortured logic of the church.

It's not just that they insist on viewing homosexuality as a choice.

It's not just that they concoct various degrees of homosexuality, assign values to those categories and then fail to define the illusory differences.

It's not just that they insist on equating homosexuality with criminal sexual behavior.

It's that they go through all these machinations, these twists and turns of language, simply to preserve the perceived intent of words written in a book more than two-thousand years ago.

But clearly the real problem is that the document leaves a gray area around what constitutes intractable, and therefore unacceptable, gayness. Perhaps there should be a test of some sort that is designed to separate the merely curious from the chronically fabulous. Something like this:

  1. Have applicants recite the following and calculate level of lisp: "Christ once slumbered in sheepskin sheets."

  2. Q: Who deserves sainthood more: Mother Theresa or Bette Midler?

  3. Q: Jesus: Hot or not?

  4. Q: Which of the following is not one of the seven deadly sins: Avarice, Gluttony, Love Handles

  5. Q: If the Sacred Host transforms into the literal body of Christ upon consecration, does that mean it's Atkins friendly?

Friday, November 18, 2005

A trip worth taking

Q: What does the movie depicted on the left have in common with Dick Cheney?

First, go to "The Lantern Fishworks," read this post about Cheney, and scroll down and read the first comment by psaur.

Next, go to Diary of A Man Out of Time and check out MooT's comparison. It's a match!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Jurassic Beer

I wish I could find bee trapped in a bit of amber from the Jurassic Period. I'd cut open the casing and dab the bee gently with a fine brush. Then I'd dip the brush in a small vial of malt water and wait.

With luck, a small quantity of dormant yeast, harvested from the bee's proboscis, would take hold in the liquid, consume the simple sugars and begin to multiply. Before long, I would have a viable colony of prehistoric yeast.

Yeast, like all living organisms, evolves over time. Which means the colony in my vial would be different than any yeast available today. It would be closer to the yeast that Betty Rubble might use to bake a cake for Bam Bam's birthday.

What would I do with the yeast? Why, make beer, of course.

I would call it "Jurassic Beer." It would be an ale, most likely. And it would probably taste like dinosaur shit. But it would be mine.

I would drink it all and lie down to take a nap inside a sensory deprivation chamber. Then, filled with the yeast from another time and high on ale, I would perhaps begin to de-evolve into a proto-human, very much like William Hurt in "Altered States."

I'd break out of the chamber, now a primitive humanoid and still quite drunk, and lope around New York City in search of my favorite prey, a small deer-like animal. I would settle for a dog that looked something like that. I would fall asleep on a street corner. Later, I would awake, hungover and still de-evolved, and screech as a large yellow animal with circle legs whizzed by.

"What is this strange place?" I would ask myself in a crude illiterate way that sounded something like: "Bwa deru blah?" I would somehow make my way to Brooklyn, not knowing it was Brooklyn, then break into a dwelling. The dwelling, ironically, would be my own apartment. Exhausted, I would collapse in my own bed and dream of proto-women.

The next morning I would get out of bed and look around. Somehow, my hairy foot would step on the TV remote and on would pop a daytime talk show: Maury Povich. I would squat in the living room and watch the strange images magically flicker before my uncomprehending eyes. The show would teach me my first words. I would learn to say "talk to the hand!" and "don't judge me!" Eventually, I would learn to use the phone to call for pizza. The delivery guy would look like a fellow proto-human, and I would try and communicate with him. I'd stuff some green paper into his outstretched palm, and when he asked for a tip, I'd say: "Talk to the hand."

Weeks would pass. Now fluent in English, I would stumble over an old pay stub and learn where I worked. I'd shave my body to look like Maury Povich, then take the subway into work, enter my office and start writing copy.

I'd present a headline to my boss. The headline would read: "The mobile phone to take, wherever life takes you." My boss would complain that it was a little expected, and I'd pound my chest and smear the wall with feces. He would relent and the headline would end up on a postcard. The postcard would be mailed to six million people and sales would increase by 45 percent. When my boss told me the good news, I'd scratch my ass.

I would lunch that day at Han Bat, ordering the bibimbab and a Coke.

I would get married and have 2.5 half human/half proto-human children.

At 65, I would retire and receive a gold watch, which I would eat.

I would die three weeks later of gold watch poisoning.

No one would learn my secret.

Ten million years later, X-boxorg, a half-human/half-computer superbeing, would find a remnant of a beer bottle in a vast wasteland that was once Brooklyn. The petrified label would read: "Jurassic Beer." He would dab the glass shard with a futuristic brush, cultivate the yeast with his mind and brew beer. Into a sensory deprivation chamber he would go, emerging as a proto-human.

No one would ever learn his secret.

Somewhere, in a bit of cracked amber, the prehistoric bee would awake, raise his little hands up in a gesture of sassy innocence and say: "Don't judge me!"

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Blog Rant #2: Unintelligible design

Is there an editor in the house? Yeah, this is long but I think you'll like some of it. The idea of religion is interesting to me. If you find yourself getting bored, go to Chris Diclerico's excellent blog, where he has video of a tiger fighting a crocodile. Seriously, his blog is amazing.

Onto my rant:

Brimstone and Voters, Over in Dover
In an extraordinary show of rational groupthink, citizens in Dover, Pennsylvania voted a school board out of office last week for its endorsement of "intelligent design," a Conservative Christian counterpunch to just about everything science has ever taught us.

This is a hot topic these days. The Christian Right is trying to mandate that biology teachers in high schools across the country read a statement to their students that first introduces intelligent design as an alternative to natural selection and then recommends Of Pandas and People, a book that explains the theory.

The vote to oust the spineless school board shows that people in Dover understand the separation of church and state. Students can get all the Bible theory they want at church -- schools are for learnin', not prayin'. It also suggests that they recognize this seemingly small concession for what it is: yet another attempt by an activist administration to restore our religious fundamentalist heritage.

Sound far fetched? Let's hear one concerned Christian's reaction to the vote:

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city...And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there."

Any guesses who said that? Why, it's none other than one time presidential candidate and resident Torquemada, Pat Robertson, who seems to be calling for a little divine wrath, Bruckheimer style.

Robertson: Making shithouse rats everywhere more secure about their sanity.

Of course, Robertson doesn't represent the views of your average Christian. But he does represent the views of your average Bible, which is full of stats about plagues, murder, hatred and retribution (Sodom had a high Earned Retribution Average). And if the Right has its way, we'll all one day be required to acquaint ourselves with Moses's famous blog, Deuteronomy.

Those crazy Christians just won't give up.

This could become the Scopes Monkey Trial all over again. Only now, instead of trotting out the irrepressibly charming William Jennings Bryan to deliver a hand-fanningly bombastic denunciation of science, the Right is attempting to take on evolution mano a mano in the classroom by turning faith into an academic pursuit. "It's simply an alternative scientific theory," claim vacuously grinning proponents, "and should therefore be taught alongside natural selection."

Actually, intelligent design is nothing more than a 2,500 year-old idea that has been dressed up in a rented lab coat.

Here's why it's dumb.

Intelligent design: What it is and why it's dumb.
Intelligent design is the creationist's argument du jour against Darwin's theory of natural selection and the big bang theory. Not that it's new. The idea started way back in ancient Greece with the Pre-Socratics, was later developed into the teleological argument by Thomas Aquinas and was dusted off and expressed as the watchmaker analogy by 18th Century Christian philosopher William Paley. It has since been resurrected and tweaked by the Christian Right, despite being goofed on by generations of philosophers and scientists. But at its core, the pro-God argument hasn't changed much through the years, and it can be summed up using Paley's definition, which goes like this:

Suppose you are walking through a field and happen upon a watch. After observing it's complexity and function, you would reasonably assume it couldn't have formed by chance -- a watchmaker must have designed it. Similarly, the universe is so complex that it is reasonable to assume that it also has an intelligent designer -- i.e., God.

Any questions? No? Good, now let's all pray to the mighty watchmaker in the sky.

To appreciate the differences in thinking that inform the two ideas, it's worth taking a quick look at how each came about. Here's a quick recap:

Natural selection
1831: Darwin travels to Argentina and the Galapagos Islands, where he studies the resident flora and fauna, interviews natives and unearths fossils. Eventually, he comes to the conclusion that differences in the same species of creature found around the world suggest the idea that organisms adapt to climate, geography and competition. From this he concludes that slowly, over perhaps millions of years, man evolved from a lower life form as a means of survival in an ever changing world. He returns to England and publishes several well-regarded books, earning enough "fuck you money" to take whatever gigs he wants. Then, despite having laid the groundwork for genetics, Darwin marries his cousin and they spend the rest of their lives avoiding awkward family gatherings.

Intelligent design
1802: Paley looks at his watch and comes up with analogy that explains everything in the universe.

Darwin poses for the June 1836 issue of "Great Beards Monthly."

Intelligent design, in all its forms, has been taken on by philosophers, scientists and drunk guys in bars. One obvious problem is that the argument is used by creationists to prove the existence of God as he's known to Christians (White beard, sandals, long robe). Nothing about the argument supports this: it doesn't prove a single god (lots of watches, lots of watchmakers), a being with supernatural powers (when was the last time you saw a watchmaker assail a city with locusts?), a First Cause creator of the universe (someone had to make the watchmaker) and certainly not a being who would want to hang around with guys like Pat Robertson.

A second problem is that natural selection is simply a better argument, since it relies on all that evidence lying around. Where is the evidence to support the claim that watches can't -- given millions of years -- form on their own? Nowhere, that's where, Father.

That should end things: Intelligent design is merely a diverting faith-based brain teaser that has no place in the classroom.

But no. Recently, the Christian Right has adopted the language of science to modernize its argument, introducing the concept of "irreducible complexity." This is supposed to account for the criticism that intelligent design is an argument from ignorance.

The idea is that, even as natural selection attempts to simplify life to a series of naturally occurring causes, at some point you hit a functional biochemical system that cannot be reduced without causing it to cease functioning. Remove one component and the system becomes inert. Add to that the second law of thermodynamics -- that processes tend toward disorder and lower energy -- and you have a problem. How can a jumble of useless gunk assemble and ascend to a state of higher energy on it's own? My mother used to ask me that on Saturdays.

Take a mouse trap, for example, says Christian science guy Michael J. Behe. It has a function: to catch mice. But without all of its parts in place, it's just a piece of wood and some wire. So how could it ever have existed prior to its completed state? How would it have survived? It runs counter to the evolutionist idea that small, successive changes account for increasingly complex life forms.

Kenneth R. Miller has an answer. It might not be a functioning mousetrap in any prior state, but each part could have a workable function: As a paper clip, key chain, fish hook, etc. In other words, as they evolve, organisms change function as well as structure.

Whereas religious fanatics can threaten scientists with God's wrath, scientists have a less effective threat: The wrath of Khan.

There are plenty of other pseudo-scientific claims for irreducible complexity, and an equal amount of superior counterarguments. At the end of the day, irreducible complexity is simply another in a long line of desperate yeah-but-what-abouts from people who want to vote Jesus back onto the island.

And though the argument has taken a more sophisticated turn lately, remember that for every reasonable-sounding creationist proposition, there's a guy who wants to destroy your city if you disagree.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The final countdown

In less than an hour I will have completed the weeklong experiment in gastronomic deprivation known as the Cabbage Soup Diet.

If I never eat another bowl of cabbage soup again in my life, I will have considered my time on earth a success.

From now on, it's corned beef and anything else.

I don't even want to hear, read or speak the word cabbage. The very hint of a dream of a whisper of the word causes my esophagus to make like an epileptic python.

I might not even take cabs from now on. Too close.

But, I have managed to lose some weight. I stepped on Becky's scale last night and registered 198. That's thirteen pounds less than what my doctor clocked me in at a month ago.

And now it's time to gain it all back in the most delicious way possible: The giving for which we give thanks -- Thanksgiving. "Please pass the turkey." How I long to say those words. "Another piece of apple pie?" Yes, yes. Oh God, yes. Sweet potatoes. Stuffing. Gravy. Glazed carrots. Buttered rolls. Mashed potatoes. Beef jerky, fried chicken hearts, this keyboard -- anything but cabbage!

I want to eat everything listed in the song "Food, glorious food." Even saveloys, and I don't know what those are. Who cares? Bring 'em on. Unless they contain cabbage, of course.

I should have a giant bowl of macaroni and cheese under my chin right now as the clock draws toward midnight. And I should be holding a huge wooden spoon.

But I'll probably watch what I eat, at least for a little while. I told my self I'd lose forty pounds. So there are promises to keep.

And pounds to drop before I eat.
And pounds to drop before I eat.

So all that's left now is the obligatory "after" picture. So here it is: Me having a smart vegetarian dinner at Zen Palate.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Thought I'd have caved by now, did you?

"That crazy bastard won't make it through his ridiculous diet," I can hear you saying. Literally. Well, this bastard might be crazy, but he's got perseverance! (Him being me, and you being all smug.)

That's right, buckos and buckettes -- I am more than halfway through my week-long Cabbage Soup Diet!

And now that I've improved my eating habits for nearly four days, allow me to lecture you on the importance of moderation.

Look at you. Bellying up to the all-you-can eat buffet to pluck your Salisbury steak and scoop your glistening piles of cheese-drowned macaroni. Feeling the dull vibrations of panic as an unshaven suburban troglodyte lumbers between you and the half-empty tray of franks and beans. There is more to life than a three pound plate of starches precariously balancing a corn muffin. The sun does not rise and set on your precious bacon double cheeseburger. Have you ever tasted an apple? I mean, really tasted one? It's not that good, but it's good for you. And that's my whole point: Apples aren't that good.

I was once like you. Gluttonous. Slothful. But for the past ninety-one hours I have become temporarily better. Temporarily much better.

So eat your Doritoes and your Hot Pockets. Oh, and be sure to wash it all down with a can of carbonated corn syrup. Meanwhile, I will spend the final days of my diet reveling in the self-righteous universe of the recently converted. And that is all the sustenance I need.

I can't fucking wait until Monday.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Fad Diet

Yesterday I started a one week diet that is supposed to help you lose 10-15 lbs. It's called the "Cabbage Soup Diet," and it works by effectively starving you for seven days.

Here's how you do it. First, cook up a giant batch of cabbage soup, using celery, green onions, onion soup mix, diced tomatoes, V8 Juice, bullion and, of course, cabbage. For the next week, the soup constitutes the base of your diet. You are to eat as much cabbage soup as you like, whenever you're hungry.

In addition, the diet prescribes an ever-changing list of daily foods you must eat along with the soup. Day one is all the fruit you can eat, except bananas. Day two is all the vegetables you can handle, minus a few select varieties. Day three is a mix of days one and two. On day four, you eat bananas and drink skim milk. Day five: Steak. Day six: Steak and tomatoes. Day seven: Brown rice and vegetables.

The science behind the madness: While you are stuffing yourself on soup, apples and greens, you are in actuality consuming very few calories. Full stomach + Few calories = Starvation, without those bothersome Stabbing Hunger Pangs. Just seven torturous days of cabbage soup aversion therapy.

This is truly a fad diet.

I am well aware of this.

I am also aware that the cabbage soup diet is scorned by respectable nutritionists (respectable nutritionists being nutritionists who have successfully graduated from college but were still unable to get into med school). That doesn't bother me. The average American is so overfed that he could stop eating for two weeks without doing any lasting damage. An actual doctor said that.

Why the crazy diet? The last time I went to the doctor, I weighed in at 211 lbs. That's a whole lot of Q'ner. The doctor told me I had to lose 40 lbs.

I asked him: "Any suggestions?"

"Exercise your mouth less and your body more."

Thanks, doc. Is a personal check OK?

Q'ner a few years ago: "Hey, good lookin'!"

Q'ner a few weeks ago: "Whatcha got cookin'???!!!"

Anyway, I'm feeling a bit too lazy to get to the gym. Or to start jogging, bicycling or any other "ing" that requires me to break a sweat. So I'm going the quick fix route. My reasoning is that by dropping 10-15 lbs. in a week, I'll have the motivation I need to transition to a more reasonable, long term eating

Let me have my fantasy.

So here I am, finishing off day two. Let's start the exciting, blow-by-blow coverage:

Day One: It's go time!
On Sunday I buy all the ingredients for the soup but fall asleep (with a belly full of Indian food) before I can make up a batch. So on Monday for lunch I order butternut squash soup from Pret and eat some mixed fruit. That night I cook up the soup and eat three bowls. It tastes pretty good. I then eat a bunch of strawberries and hobble to the bathroom as the cabbage tears down my intestinal tract and slams up against the inside of my clenched rectum.

Interesting experiment: Eat a handful of cabbage, then drop another handful of cabbage from shoulder height. See which one hits the floor first.

At midnight, I turn off the light and climb into bed. Then I climb out of bed, turn on the light and funny-walk to the bathroom. This is going to be a challenge.

Day Two: This was still a good idea!
When did I start disliking vegetables? In my mind the directive to "eat as many leafy greens as you'd like today" means eating no leafy greens. That's how many I'd like today. But I have to eat something besides the increasingly unattractive bowl of soup that I tucked in my bag this morning, so I resolve to find some palatable veggies.

At 11:30, I microwave the whole tub of soup and start chowing down. My officemate Nick remarks that the soup smells pretty good.

"Wanna try some?" I ask.


Instead, Nick opts for a delicious sandwich. I scoop up another spoonful of my luke-warm, anemic sludge and tell him that his lunch smells good, too.

After finishing half of the container, I run to the men's room. In the stall I come to the realization that food and poo are the twin obsessions of the fad dieter. You're constantly thinking about various kinds of one while producing various kinds of the other. I finish, stand up and sit back down for round two of a six round bout. At some point I notice an odd, burning odor. Is that the smell of emulsified fat exiting my body? Or am I perhaps already delusional from malnutrition?

I leave work for a smoke and decide to go to the deli, which offers an all-you-can eat buffet. I peruse the isle as hordes of cheerfully plump New Yorkers fill jumbo to-go boxes with fried chicken, braised pork, beef, tuna, sushi rolls, mashed potatoes, tofu triangles and crab salad. What can I eat here? Most of the vegetables are drenched in butter, oil, bacon or all three. I spot a steaming pile of broccoli and cauliflower with nobody around it. "Mmmmm" I think, lying to myself.

At 4:00, I reheat my container of soup and eat another few bowls. I leave at six for Brooklyn. The ride home is long. I feel cold and uncharitable. My intestines are in a constant state of adjustment.

I exit the train and go to the store to get a baked potato. This is the big, day-two indulgence listed in the diet. A single baked potato with butter. I arrive home and toss the potato in the oven and set it to broil. A few minutes later, my apartment fills with smoke and the scent of burning mozzarella. For the past year my oven has served one purpose: to reheat slices of pizza. I've been meaning to clean it.

My potato should be nearly done by now. And most of the smoke has cleared out of my apartment. I opened all my windows and shoved a towel under my front door so the smoke wouldn't alarm the rest of the building. I feel like a kid doing bong hits in his dorm room. I must go now to savor my flavorless potato. I'll provide an update in a few days. Wish me well.

Monday, November 07, 2005

When girlfriends attack.

Well, not so much attack but appropriate the remote control, which to an alpha clicker feels like nothing less than a full on gator roll. My girlfriend, Becky, doesn't watch a lot of TV. I do. But today she got the remote early (during a weak moment, when I was printing pictures on my computer) and wouldn't give it up.

The result? Nearly six hours of medical miracles, malignancies and malpractices courtesy of the Discovery Health Channel. Turns out she's fascinated by elephantine tumors, exploding cysts and third-degree burn victims.

But this isn't about exploring the wonders of modern medicine. I can hear her oohing, awing and ewwing as I surf around on the Internet in my bedroom.

"Look, honey!" she shouts, and I walk in and watch as a group of surgeons cuts a 200 lb benign tumor from a 120 lb woman. The tumor encases the woman like a giant nut sack. It contains, we learn, enough blood to fill five normal adults. Two surgeons slice it away, cauterizing the ropy arteries that connect the mass to her body, then flip her over to finish the job in just under 18 hours. She is a filleted, inert husk wearing an oxygen mask, and will now require, explains the narrator, "several skin grafts" to cover the 40 percent of her that is exposed and oozing. The group wrestles the tumor off the table.

"Gross," Becky says.

I agree and return to my computer, feeling weak.

Next up: Terrifying disfigurement. Becky calls for me again. "Brian, you have to see this." I press pause on my keyboard and the little animated guy in my flash game hangs in midair. I peek around the corner.

"Jesus, what the hell is that?"

The TV explains: A young girl from Afghanistan was pouring lamp oil into a stove when her robe caught on fire.

Ye Gods. The flames turned her skin into something like candle wax, which melted down her ears and face, fusing her chin to her chest and her left arm to her side. When they first show the girl she looks like a monster. Thick scar tissue pulls on her face such that her eyes and lips are stretched downward. For a year after the accident, she couldn't close her eyes to sleep. Her right ear looks like a fist. Afghan doctors wrote her off, but her story got out to an American surgeon, who flew her to the States and is now explaining the procedure.

I'm committed. I have to see the little girl get better. I can't live the rest of my life with that image.

The surgeon goes to work. First he cuts a line straight across the mass of scar tissue under her face, releasing the trapped chin. Next, a dozen skin grafts, reconstructive surgery on her ear and more skin grafts. Then, more skin grafts. I'm amazed at how brave the little girl is. She makes friends with everyone at the hospital and begins learning English.

After a year of painful procedures she looks like a little girl again. I'm relieved. She's staying with the surgeon and his wife and has begun going to school. There is some initial awkwardness as the new students look her over, but soon they accept her and she makes more friends than I ever had at that age.

The surgeon and his wife briefly consider adopting her, but realize she has a family waiting for her back in Afghanistan. So they take her back. The little girl's parents cry when they see how much their daughter has improved. The surgeon hugs her goodbye and boards the plane for home. It's a beautiful, bittersweet story. Roll credits.

"Ugh," says Becky. "After all that, she has to go back to Afghanistan, where women are oppressed and she'll live in poverty."

"She wanted to go back, remember?"

"No, she wanted to see her family. But she looked miserable in those video clips in the village."

"But now she knows English and has people in the US who love her." I'm getting desperate. "Maybe she'll move there to go to college or something."

"Yeah," Becky says skeptically.

It's like we just watched a movie and are arguing over it's genre. I want it to be an inspiring story about the triumph of the human spirit. Becky's going the horror route, one of those movies where everything seems to resolve itself before revealing a final, tragic "Whah-Whah."

I leave to get some shopping done and pick up dinner.

"You're gonna like this next one," Becky promises as I put the takeout bags on the coffee table. She's cuddled up in my Ikea chair. I should have brought her some popcorn and a Coke.

The title comes up on the screen: "When surgical tools are left behind."

Becky laughs. "Don't go by the title."

I'm halfway through my chicken korma when a laconic Hispanic woman begins telling her story. (Bored Hispanic accent): "The doctors, they opened my breast to check for a tumor. It was benign, but later that night my breast grew the size of my head. And the breast, it was purple. I went to the doctor and when he removed the bandages it just exploded." I lower my fork as she clarifies: "The stuff was thick and red, like red Jello. The doctor, he gave me an antibiotic and told me it would be OK. But I awoke that night covered in a thick slime, you know? Like a slimy slime all over my body."

"Alright, turn the channel!" I yell.

Becky fumbles with the remote, giggling.

"C'mon, turn it to anything, I don't care, just turn it. Please. Hurry."

She turns it to a shopping channel. Fine, that's a safe home base. We can watch a platinum-blonde woman hocking fake jewlery in the right-hand corner of the screen while Becky hunts for more appetizing fare.

After dinner, I go back to my room. There is more: Children who age prematurely, a guy whose grapefruit-sized scrotum leaks a "cup to a cup-and-a-half" of pus every day. A fifteen year old girl who screams as she gives birth to her first child. I'm not going back in there, but I can hear it all from my room.

Later, Becky emerges from the living room. "Forget that Freddy Kruger stuff," she says. "Medical procedures -- now that's real horror."

Friday, November 04, 2005

Bushoxofin Chewables!

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I'm the CEO of a major oil company and a member of Families For America, a Christian Conservative worry group. I once felt that securing the Middle East, a land that contains both the location of Christ's imminent return as well as vast reserves of petroleum, was a win-win situation. Then I took a Bush Blueberry Chewable. Now I feel we should also invade Spain, France, Brasil and Florida. You know, just in case Christ wants a place to vacation before Judgement Day.
Billy Ray Whitman, 63

Please note that Bushoxofin Chewables aren't for everybody. If you already approve of the Bush Administration, it is recommended you not take this medication. Otherwise, you could end up like Billy Ray Whitman or, worse, Tom Delay.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

You might say that his "ass" was "glued" to a "toilet seat."

A few news sources are carrying this story: A man got stuck on a toilet seat in a Kentucky Home Depot after some little bastard smeared the seat with wacky glue. Now he's suing because the head clerk ignored his cries for help for 15 minutes, thinking it was a hoax. The victim's account of the ordeal is so carefully worded, you might almost think he consulted a lawyer before speaking to the press.

Now, one would hope that your typical staff writer would be champing at the bit to relay this story, considering all the fun word-play you could have with it. But I must say, I was let down by the first two accounts.

CNN filed its version under Law. It's handled in a nuts-and-bolts tone. No delicate puns. No bathroom humor. Professional, save for one play on words that the Web site administrator probably couldn't resist: The URL includes the string /toilet.suit.ap/. Get it?

The London Free Press also handles the story professionally, allowing only the following indulgence: "Hardware retailer Home Depot finds itself in a sticky situation..." (Italics mine)

How sad. A story like this deserves something more. But what? I searched around a bit, finally finding this account, on The story is the same as the one on The London Free Press, but the staff included this lovely picture. Thank you, Russian news outlet.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Books and authors I can't get into.

I'm not saying these books and authors suck. I'm just explaining why I can't get into them.

But some of them do suck, though.

In any event, please enjoy my first official blog rant.

A) Authors I won't give a fair chance.

I won't read John Grisham. I don't care about taut courtroom thrillers. I don't need to read insider lingo that could only be written by an ex-lawyer. He might be a good writer for all I know. I won't even spend two hours watching any of his movies.

Tom Clancy loves his military shit, but I don't. I can't even follow the plots in his movies. Was that the same guy from earlier who warned that other guy about the leak? I don't know, both were 50-ish white guys wearing navy baseball caps.

Michael Crichton. I'm probably not even spelling his name right, but I don't want to look it up. I started the book Timeline a while ago, but the writing was just so awful. Martin Amis pegged it: He's not writing books, he's writing book-length screenplays.

That chick that writes that stuff about relationships? I don't like her.

B) What was I thinking?

Stephen King can tell a story. He's good at plot. But that dialogue is some seriously stilted, phony shit. I didn't notice that when I was sixteen. If you once read and enjoyed The Shining, do yourself a favor and don't read it again. Just savor the memory.

I picked up Books of Blood, by Clive Barker, which I last read in 1993. I used to think it was great, literate horror. But now I think it's overwritten, cliched melodrama.

C) Postmodernists

Mason Dixon is a masterpiece. It says so right on the cover in a New York Times quote. I've tried to break the seal, but I can never get past the first thirty pages or so. And then there are like 700 pages after that! And there are only eleven periods in the whole book. Maybe I'm not smart enough for Pynchon. I think I can live with that.

David Foster Wallace can do the tangent like nobody's business. Broom of the System is supposedly more approachable than Infinite Jest, but I can't force myself to pick it up again. It's sitting on my bathroom floor. I'm at the part where a cockatiel starts speaking all this mixed up literate babble. I know it's a metaphor for something -- maybe DFW's writing. I tuned out after a chapter about a guy who wants to eat himself so fat that he takes up more and more of the universe, thereby making everyone else closer to him. This is his prescription for avoiding loneliness. If you find that sort of writing cerebral and cute, read Broom of the System and tell me how it ends.

James Joyce, the grandfather of the postmodernists, was a genius. Dubliners is perfect, written with a "scrupulous meanness." Not a single superfluous word in any of the stories. Then, he lost his Irish mind. Reading Ulysses is like trying to eat a hamper full of laundry. I shouldn't lump him in with guys like David Foster Wallace, though. That's wrong. Maybe I'll try Ulysses one more time.

D) Other heavyweights

The Wind Beneath Her Feet, by Salman Rushdie, rang false. He's writing about a pop star and you get the feeling he's out of his element. It's like a bookish, foreign exchange student explaining his take on Kurt Cobain to you at a party. All the terminology is a little off and his sense of humor edges toward corny nerdiness.

Has Philip Roth lost a little something on his fastball? Portnoy's Complaint was hilarious and dark, but The Human Stain is colorless, mannered and allegorical. I couldn't get into it.

E) New writers

Jonathan Safran Foer starts out Everything is Illuminated with a bang. The narrator is from the Ukraine and he writes in hilariously broken English. That lasts for four genius pages before the story lurches back in time to tell a whole lot of back story. That wouldn't be so bad, but the change in tone is annoying. It goes from being quirky and different to writing that is so self-consciously beautiful, you can almost hear it being applauded by writer's workshops across the country.

I was so excited to read Middlesex after having read the brilliant Virgin Suicides. But get to the point, Eugenides! Talk about back story: this guy presents a brilliant premise -- a hermaphroditic narrator -- then spends over a hundred pages on a romantic telling of his Greek grandparents coming to the new world. I'll try it again. I really want to get to the hermaphrodite's story.

A Million Little Pieces has one of the best cover designs ever. James Frey wants to be the next big thing. He famously dissed Dave Eggers. He boasts about how he got clean of drugs through sheer determination. His prose short, hard and repetitious. But his true story starts to sound bullshitty after a while. The supposedly real-life characters sound like they were heisted from a crime drama. And they all die in the end, meaning no one can contact them to verify Frey's harrowing time spent in a rehab clinic. I didn't buy his story. He sounds like a rich kid talking tough. A much, much better rehab book is "Dry," by Augusten Burroughs. It's funny, dark and truthful. This isn't any of those.

Well, that's my first official blog rant. Hope you enjoyed my bile. I might change my mind about some of these books tomorrow. Just try and stop me. We blog ranters are a fickle bunch, all angry one minute and rabidly fanboyish the next.

My girlfriend says I'm a curmudgeon. Maybe I am. But on the other hand, Bah!!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Forget everything you know about zombie movies

If you know nothing about zombie movies, learn as much as you can, then promptly forget everything you've learned. (The easiest way to forget, as I understand, is to have a friend drop a coconut on your head.)

After completing these steps, go look at the video stills of We Are Going to Eat You, a horror movie with equally horrifying production values, which was shot by my friend Psaur back in, as he notes, 1984 or 1985.

Now that's a zombie movie.

Ah, 1984 or 1985: Reagan had just begun his second term, or was a year into his second term. Pepsi was red-faced after burning Michael Jackson during a commercial shoot, or Coke had just released the disastrous New Coke. Clara Peller asked the nation: "Where's the Beef," or Microsoft released Windows 1.0. You remember 1984 or 1985.

A quick check on reveals no record of We Are Going to Eat You. Was it too controversial? Or is it not there because it was just a video shot by some 15 or 16-year old Long Island kids? Look at the stills and judge for yourself.

UPDATE: As Mo'sh points out in the comments, the film was shot on Super 8 film not video. And Mo'sh was involved, too. I was so transfixed by Psaur's enormous zombie head that I forgot it was an ensemble piece. You can see more stills on Psaur's home page: Don't Parade in My Rain.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Halloween Horror

Becky and I did a little pumpkin carving today. This is my masterpiece. I call it: "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!"

Carlin clip

The other day, Jon and I were talking about how George Carlin has gone through three stages in his standup career: Hippie dippy (60's - early 70's), smart observationalist (late 70's - late 80's) and crank (early 90s - present). Of course, we were oversimplifying. Observational humour has been at the foundation of his comedy since day one, and the angry tone of his more recent work is really just a hardened version of the pranksterish iconoclasm of his hippie dippy days. He's always been Carlin: he's just becoming more so.

Something we didn't include in our classification is Carlin's consistent brilliance with words. Just take a look at the promo for his upcoming HBO special. I can't think of any writer who could sum up the current generation with this kind of poetic perfection.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Remote Controlled People

A Japanese telephone company is developing a remote control device that can be used to control humans. They suggest that the new technology could be used to enhance video games, but we know better.

Writer Yuri Kageyama tried out a prototype of the device, which uses a special headset that deploys low voltage electric currents into the cranium via a remote joystick.

From the article:

"I found the experience unnerving and exhausting: I sought to step straight ahead but kept careening from side to side. Those alternating currents literally threw me off.

The technology is called galvanic vestibular stimulation -- essentially, electricity messes with the delicate nerves inside the ear that help maintain balance.

I felt a mysterious, irresistible urge to start walking to the right whenever the researcher turned the switch to the right. I was convinced -- mistakenly -- that this was the only way to maintain my balance.

The phenomenon is painless but dramatic. Your feet start to move before you know it. I could even remote-control myself by taking the switch into my own hands."

Disturbingly awesome. Awesomely disturbing.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


As my faithful readers know, I am a fully licensed and accredited psychic. Occasionally, I like to drop a few predictions just to keep my skills up. You probably remember the post in which I foretold the prognostication of a certain groundhog before he even poked his head up. ("I see him seeing shadow," I bellowed. And I was right! And so was he! Six more weeks of winter. Bleah!)

Sorry folks, but I've got to tell the truth, however uncomfortable it be.

But enough! Here is a new batch of my famous and never wrong predictions, presented for your smirking skepticism, which is soon to be humbled approbation.

Let's start with a warmup one:

Fur of newt
Gill of bat
Tell me, spirits
Where it's at!

PREDICTION: Harriet Miers will withdraw her Supreme Court bid.

Any doubts? Check this out. Surprised? Not me. I never am.

OK, let's look deeper into the future. Deeper. Images grow watery. They are still in flux. Events, not yet transpired, whip about the vast prairie of outstretched time. Deeper I gaze. I look very serious, but also very handsome. There is a bit of product in my hair, but not so much that it feels stiff to the touch. Deeper. Further. Handsome. I stare.

Here goes:

Ear of fish
Foot of slug
Tell me the future
So I don't have to shrug!

PREDICTION #1: I, Brian Kunath, will try and shed some unwanted pounds. It will be difficult. The feast of Thanksgiving will prove a speed bump, as will the holidays that follow. But I will try. This time I will.

PREDICTION #2: I, Brian Kunath, will stop smoking. Seriously. No fucking around this time. I will briefly consider getting the patch, but my ego will prevail and I'll quit "cold turkey." Later, I'll wonder if that strategy was erroneous. Perhaps. Perhaps.

PREDICTION #3: The gym, four times a week. Why not? It's right next door to where I, Brian Kunath, am employed. I know it's easy to want to go home after work, especially when it gets cold out. But if I am to fulfill PREDICTION #1, I must first fulfill this prophecy.

And now the future obscures. All future light and sound draw back with a great swirling, sucking sound until I am deposited again in the here and now, drenched in the sweat of success. I am exhausted and will sleep for several hours under my desk at work. Prognostication is a rough beast to wrestle.

As for my predictions, just you wait. After all, it's all you can do -- you who know only the past and present. I pity you. Sometimes I do.

Professor Plimpton speaks!

Thanks for your comments on the latest "my life" post.

Now to comment on a few of the comments in this, a "new" post:

First of all, check out the new photos from Dave W, who was the first to post a comment. Great stuff, as usual.

Psaur gave us a sample (and critical review) of the lyrics that you'd find on the Gary Cleanberg CD, which sadly is no longer available for purchase. Yes, Psaur, it should have come with rubber gloves. The kit itself wasn't very sanitary.

Thanks to Mike, one of the musicians on the project, who furnished a sample of my spectacular vocal work as Plimpton. He also got in the musical intro for Plimpton, which is great because it promises a level of quality that is never quite delivered. If you missed it, here it is. Does it make sense? It shouldn't.

Finally, anonymous wasn't lying about the blowjob in the bar. It wasn't me who got it. I ended up talking to her friend, the smart one, while Cleanberg got his pipes cleaned by the fun-loving drunk one. Rats!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Just back from San Fran


Great vacation out in San Fran. Just got back. I'll post about it soon, and I'll even include some pics.

Until then, here's a top-o-the-head rundown:

San Fran is like a smaller, friendlier, prettier and more manageable version of NYC. Wanna go to Chinatown? There's a nice little gate that you walk through to enter that part of the city. Ready to leave? Walk two blocks east or west. The cab drivers tell you things about the city. One reset his meter because he got off course a little. They talk to you! They listen to Air America and offer political opinion. When you tell them where you need to go, they know where to go without requiring consistent direction. And they talk to you!

Some quick highlights:

  • Anchor Brewing Company: We did a tour of the great brewery. A tour that ended with a comprehensive tasting of all their selections.

  • Asia SF: "Gender illusionists" entertained us, while serving up a fantastic meal.

  • Zeitgeist: A surly biker cook prepared bratwurst and cheeseburgers while we drank pitchers of local brew on a picnic table in the courtyard.

  • Brew pubs: Lots of them.

  • Alcatraz tour: Touristy? Yes. Amazing and informative? Yes and yes.

  • Sourdough bread and seafood: Check.

Lot's more to discuss. And when I have more energy, I'll do just that.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

My life from 1994 to present, part III

1999: Special Ed.
In April, I packed up my Ford Ranger with whatever would fit in the truck bed and drove from Raleigh to Piermont, NY, where my old college friend Dave was living at the time. I remember it raining a lot on the way up. I fishtailed off the Beltway in DC and then blew a tire on the Jersey Turnpike. I'd brought $400 with me to New York and had already spent $80 of it on a new tire.

I stayed on Dave's couch the whole summer, hunting through his railroad apartment for loose change and going to Manhattan in the day to find work as a writer. I'd rattle around midtown in my truck, desperately trying to locate a parking spot ten minutes before an interview. I went to about a dozen headhunters and dropped off my "book," which was an old, paint-streaked leather art case my artist friend Kerri gave me. I got turned down again and again. One headhunter gestured to a stack of beautiful portfolios in her office and explained how poorly my book rated in comparison.

"If you're serious about this, you'll take a portfolio-building class at NYU or SVA. It's really the only way anyone will give you a chance."

"Of course, I would need a job to pay for something like that," I said. I'd been living on pizza and tap water for the last month. She smiled, lifting a hand to adjust her square-framed glasses, and told me to come back after I took the course.

I kept answering the want ads. I played a little poker at a local bar called the Sidewalk Cafe, winning, then losing, then losing again. During the week, the bar offered skinny glasses of Sam Adams for a dollar. Dave and I would get there at three or four in the afternoon and hang around until whenever. He was a writer, too.

I set up my computer on Dave's kitchen table and wrote a few online self-help articles for various dot-commers, getting paid anywhere from nothing to $100.

Some afternoons, we'd pop a Ritalin pill (Dave had a prescription--he called them "cuckoo pills," or "kooks," for short), and then go to our computers to peck out crazed fiction for hours. One of my stories was about a bitter magician who'd lost an arm in WWII ("The nub poked out of his sleeve like a fat summer sausage"). Another was about an old, morphine-addicted ex-Nazi officer who was haunted by drug-induced hallucinations from his criminal past.

I'd write a couple of stories, then take another kook and write some more, until the inevitable cuckoo pill crash hit, putting me down for ten hours of twitchy sleep. I had no sleep pattern. Sometimes I'd awake, slick with nervous sweat, as hot afternoon sunlight spilled through the living room window and onto my face.

Meanwhile, Dave was trying to start up a company with a couple of friends. His plan was to produce and sell instructional kits to schools that specialized in teaching basic life skills to mentally challenged adults. By the time I'd arrived, he'd already begun the first kit: A comprehensive CD-based course that would teach kitchen safety to institutionalized men and women who were just functional enough to get work as a restaurant janitor or dishwasher. I decided to join the team.

As the only one of us who had ever worked in a restaurant, it was agreed that I would act as chief factual consultant for the project. My first job was to review the structure of the program. The syllabus, which Dave had set, comprised a series of challenging lessons, such as why it's important to wash your hands, and how mopping up spilled liquids helps us all to avoid taking a nasty fall. It looked pretty solid to me.

The all-inclusive instructional kit contained a booklet, a map of a hypothetical restaurant kitchen (drawn by Kerri from my recollections as a waiter) and a CD that featured the character "Gary Cleanberg," as voiced by Dave. The idea was that Gary and his friends would spend a fun, fact-filled hour or so outlining the essentials of kitchen safety and cleanliness. We figured an hour provided enough instruction to render employable the kind of people who required months of patient classroom study to learn how to count change correctly.

In addition to my consultant duties, I also played the part of Professor Plimpton on the CD, who was a safety expert with a vaguely Bostonian accent and a penchant for making withering remarks about Gary Cleanberg's intelligence. ("Here's a couple of dollars, Gary. Why don't you pop out and get me a cup of kava-kava tea? And treat yourself to a couple of Snickers bars while you're at it.")

I was provided no script and had to improvise most of my lesson, which consisted of me posing questions like:

"You see that someone has dropped food on a countertop. What should you do?"

To which I would invariably answer: "Ask your supervisor."

I figured we couldn't get sued for providing false or dangerous advice if every correct answer was: "Ask your supervisor." I must have said that phrase ten times throughout the lesson, and just to be sure, I ended the whole segment with: "And remember: Always ask your supervisor."

The narrator was voiced by Seth, a friend of Dave's who drove a Hazmat truck and whose father had once been a D.J. (Seth soon dropped out of the project--mysteriously disappearing from the CD after the first ten minutes).

Though the course material was disorganized, the facts questionable and the narration abandoned, the CD was full of cool sound effects and catchy songs that drilled home key learnings. One such lesson was sung to the tune of Iron Man, by Black Sabbath. It went something like:

        Always wash your hands,
        In a dirty house or by a dingy lake.

Of the hour allotted to the entire kitchen safety course, twenty minutes were devoted to reminding students to always wash their hands.

But the real creative coup was the addition of original music. Dave and I convinced two musician friends of ours, Mike and Jim, to write songs for the CD. I can only hope that some of the lyrics to those classics find their way into the comments section of this post.

After the CD was complete, Dave packaged the whole thing and sent out notice to a catalog that sold educational aids. The project was complete. We sat back, popped a couple of kooks and waited for the orders to come pouring in.

It never happened. Dave did eventually manage to sell one copy, but it didn't pay for the expense of the two-dozen kitchen saftey kits he'd produced. Those sat in a box in his own kitchen (which, by the way, was filthy) and were subsequently trotted out to impress potential girlfriends.

With no job prospects coming from the city, and no money from our joint venture, I figured I had to get some kind of job. So I drove to a brewpub about 20 miles north of Piermont and applied for a waiter position. I went one day -- got trained by a 20 year-old girl who kept talking about a party she was going to that night -- then came home and found a message on the answering machine. A financial magazine needed a writer. Was I available for an interview? Yes I was.

To say that the job sucked would be an understatement. But I'll say it anyway.

That job sucked.