Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Holiday Hiatus

I won't be posting for the next week or so, as I will be in
glamorous Seattle. Have yourself a splendid holiday and
please, if you're not too busy, take a moment to enjoy the
lowbrow potty humor below and the even lower-brow
bad sex scenes over here...

Five Filthy Bathrooms

#5– An interstate rest stop somewhere south of Lexington,

When I was growing up, my family used to take long road
trips to obscure parts of the country. We were on our way
to Columbia, South Carolina when I decided that my bladder
could be ignored no longer. As my father is of the “must
make good time at all costs” breed, my only recourse was to
whine as obnoxiously as possible. He held out for a few dozen
miles, but eventually my keening wails got the better of his
conscience and he agreed to let me out at the next wayside
rest. This turned out to be a scrubby patch of land with an
unpainted hut-like building sitting in the center of it. By this
time, however, I was in such a state of need that its sinister
appearance caused me no chagrin. I raced in and promptly
upset approximately a hundred thousand flies. The swirling
tornado of them blinded me and I very nearly stumbled
straight into the hole in the floor that led straight down to a
fetid, gurgling pit containing years and years of Southern
excretions. I stood teetering at its edge, more than a little
baffled. Where was the toilet? I was a sheltered child: I had
never done my business this way before. Even though I was
fit to burst, it took me awhile to feel comfortable enough to
do so. While I was waiting for the flood to come, the mass of
flies parted for a moment and I could see, on the other side
of the room, a perfectly-bored hole in the wall. Through it,
I could see the ladies’ side of the building. A prurient thrill
shot through the seven year old me. If my parents weren’t
outside waiting for me and if I could stand the smell, I could
wait in there and peep on peeing Appalachian girls. The idea
only appealed to me for a moment, but it appealed to me
nonetheless. I am not proud of this. I zipped up and dashed
back to my father’s idling van, blushing a bit and feeling that
the world had more in it than I was capable of discerning.
It was quite a few years later that I learned about gloryholes
and the sordid goings-on at certain rural rest-stops. Think-
ing back on it now, I can hardly believe that anyone would
put up with the flies.

#4– A falafel joint slightly east of Times Square, New York

In the summertime, the city used to show movies in the park
by the big, old library. I can remember going to them with the
dapper, gentlemanly Mr. Greg and the lovely, charming Miss
Andrea. It was a pleasant way to pass an evening, except for
the one time I had too much soda and could no longer hold it.
Manhattan can be murder on people who need to take a piss.
I took a gracious leave of my friends and went scampering
around the streets like a whipped ocelot. The McDonald’s
and the Ray’s Pizza were mobbed: I ducked in and ducked
out without satisfaction. It seemed better to keep moving
than to suffer standing still. The con-job electronic shops
offered me no solace, nor did the intimidating boutiques. I
dashed down a long block where every storefront was hid-
den by metal shutters. At the end of the street, however,
light poured onto the sidewalk. I fought my way towards it,
coming at last to a grimy window where a cone of sweating
lamb-meat spun on an electric skewer. The place was empty
and so I charged inside, rushed up to the counter, and im-
mediately began pleading with a tall Mediterranean man
holding a long knife. I don’t remember what I said, but my
crotch-clutching, hopping-up-and-down act must have gar-
nered his sympathy. “Down there, my friend,” he said, using
the tip of his blade to point at a dark stairwell. I thanked him
and stumbled down there, flailing along the rickety, uneven
steps to a concrete hallway with puddles on the floor and
mold on the walls. Bare light bulbs hanging from a ceiling of
dripping pipes and frayed cords led me along a path that got
narrower and darker the further and further I went. It was
like something from a cheap horror film. All around me I
could hear the whooshes and whispers of people in the build-
ings above, muffled and distorted to the point they became
frightening. The way curved and angled so many times it
felt surreal. It felt like I had walked for miles. Before it was
over, my urge to piss had been largely supplanted by an
urge to find out just where the hell I was going. Soon the
passage straightened out and I was walking towards a
closed door partially blocked by an olive-skin man smoking
a slender cigarette. He looked up from the floor and asked,
“Bathroom?”. I nodded and he pushed open the door, “It
is bad. I am warning you,” he told me as I brushed past him
to go in. And he wasn’t lying. It was bad. The sink was full
of brownish foam and the toilet was tilted forward and drool-
ing its cloudy contents onto the floor beneath it. The room
looked like the kind of place a legendary, unappreciated
punk rocker would go to die. A thousand layers of graffiti
on the walls, a hundred varieties of filth on the floor. I took
care of my business with a distant sense of unease burgeon-
ing within me.. “You see what I am telling you?” the man
asked as I went out. I could only agree with him, smile
politely, and walk on. The way back to above ground seem-
ed a whole lot shorter than my trip to the depths. Up in
the real world again, I bought a gyro and devoured it as I
went strolling, calmly now, to where I had left my friends.
It was a delicious thing. The meat was spiced just right and
there wasn’t too much of that yogurt sauce I don’t like.

#3– A public outhouse in the South Campground of Inter-
state State Park, Polk County, Wisc.

If I am to be perfectly honest, I have to admit that there
wasn’t anything extravagantly disgusting about this toilet.
Yes, it stunk mightily and yes, the sloppy heaps of woodsman
dung visible down the rusty hatch rose up to heights that
were, it must be admitted, uncomfortably close to the toilet
seat. This is repulsive, of course, but it is not unusual, es-
pecially where Wisconsin State Parks are concerned. In
Wisconsin, they take larger, fouler dumps than are generally
seen in civilized parts of the nation. It would be wrong to
hold this against them. You see, it has to do with their un-
quenchable hunger for cheese curds. They can’t help it.
But I didn’t come here to write about Wisconsin, I came
here to write about nauseating toilets. What made this one
a notable ordeal was the context in which it was used:
during a weekend-long bachelor party amid the glory of
nature. Despite the splendor of its setting, this bachelor
party had all the standard elements in place: massive amounts
of alcohol, lewd banter, and awkward moments at sleazy small
town strip clubs. “Whoooooo!” was also said, repeatedly. I
am a lightweight, though, and manful drinking turns me into
a queasy, dirty-minded babbler who has to micturate every
third minute. This is problematic when your only place to
do so is a lightless, noisome room without running water.
All through the night I was feeling my way back and forth
to that horrid little chamber, each time just a tiny bit more
in the bag. You would think that the booze would fortify me
some, but it actually had the opposite effect: the more intox-
icated I got, the more of a dainty daffodil I became. It also
didn’t help that I was well into the process of making myself
physically ill: my gorge rose higher and higher with each visit
I made and somewhere far into the night I decided that, upon
further trips to the loo, I would hold my breath. This was a
bad call on my part, however, since this only made my light-
headed and prone to smacking into the gruesome, bug-
flecked walls of the place. What’s more, I could never keep
from breathing long enough and I always inadvertently
wound up taking a big, huge gasp of poo-flavored air as I
was fumbling with my fly. Once or twice, I almost passed
out. Even in my deficient state, I realized that falling un-
conscious in such a place–while it might serve as an amusing
story later–was not what I wanted to do. I wanted to be in
the open air, around the campfire with the guys, going
“Whoooooo!” with abandon and tittering like a five year old at
the word “vagina”. It took all I had to stay upright and fight
my way back to them, only to swill down more rum and hurry
right back. Oh, the travails I have faced in the name of male
bonding! The fires I have been forged by! A small price to
pay for the masculinity I now can call my own...

#2– A men’s room on the second floor of the Goodwin-Kirk
dormitory, Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa

Back in my college days, they used to take all the first-year
students and squeeze them into the rattiest dormitory on
campus. This place, packed to the gills with drunken eighteen
year olds, was so wretched that I can hardly believe I “lived”
there for a nine-months. The rooms were the size of a kitten’s
nipple and the architecture was the sort that even Stalin would
deride as too cold and too inhuman. But what made my par-
ticular floor even worse was that all the jocks lived there.
All night I could hear them in the corridor as they hollered
their moron banter at each other, through the walls I could
listen as they grunted their way through the impregnation
of yet another moaning, cow-eyed cheerleader. When they
fought, the whole building shook with the sound of it: one
meathead smacking another until the Residence Advisor
came by and suggested that they stop. They were beefy
boys from puny, small-minded towns who didn’t cotton to
anyone who failed to worship them. And, it goes without
saying, they were hard on the bathroom. By this I mean
that they absolutely demolished it by about five in the
afternoon every Friday which, since the cleaning lady
wouldn’t return until Monday afternoon, meant that the
facilities would remain a Boschian vision of sin and misery
all through every weekend. They would tear out pictures
from porn magazines and put them in the bottoms of the
urinals. To these beefy dimwits, it was edgy and sophis-
ticated humor to them to pee on glossy naked girls, but
those of us with even the barest sense of decency would
either fish them out or use one of the toilet stalls instead.
The only problem was that they were even harder on
these. I’d wake up on Saturday and pad out into the wreck-
age to make my morning ablutions, only to be faced with an
evil dilemma. The first stall, typically, would be filled with
vomit. I am not the sort of man who can make water into
another man’s vomit. This meant I would have to move on
to the next stall, yet this one would be overflowing because
of all the condoms caught in its drain. The third stall held
no relief, either, because this was where they kept the
Monster Shit. The Monster Shit?, I hear you asking, what’s
the Monster Shit? Well, let me tell you about the Monster
Shit. The Monster Shit turned up every few weeks, when-
ever one of those corn-fed dullards excreted something they
felt especially proud of. Those boys took dumps like Dick
Cheney tells lies: tremendous, sickening, and–more often
than not–dangerous. They would post up signs all over the
dorm, telling people to come and gaze upon the grandest
turd ever released. So not only was the morning visit to
the bathroom complicated by absolute squalor, it was also
made difficult by the fact that there were dozens of people–
of all genders, majors, and subcultures–milling around,
straining for a glimpse of the Monster Shit. There was
little a bookish, shy boy could do besides scurry off to the
less-devastated facilities on some other floor.

#1– Tompkins Square Park, Alphabet City, Lower

It is wise to avoid the restrooms in New York City’s parks.
When I first moved there, I was vaguely aware of this rule,
but still it had no real resonance to me. By the end of my third
day in the city, however, I learned to trust the sort of folk
wisdom that somehow passes from the urban jungle all the
way to the bucolic midwest. You see, I was scouring the East
Village for a job and the hours of outright rejection had start-
ed to make my bladder tingle. I was left with an unpleasant
choice. I could either (a) throw myself on the mercy of those
who had just gotten through denying me gainful employment,
(b) catch a subway back to my Brooklyn walk-up and hope
that I could hold it that long, or (c) use the men’s room in
Tompkins Square Park. My pride wouldn’t allow for (a) and
my courage wasn’t enough for me to attempt (b), so I made
a beeline for (c). Even at the time, I knew I’d regret it. An
aching groin has made many a person tread heavily on ground
they’d otherwise avoid, and I’m no different. Now, a word
about Tompkins Square Park on weekday afternoons in those
years: it was full of drug dealers, derelicts, and weirdos of a
sort you just don’t see in cities with fewer than five million
people. Weirdos biting their own ankles, weirdos chasing
pigeons with knitting needles, weirdos who will set fire to
their own eyebrows for half a dollar. The big league for
street psychos, in other words, and these are just the folks
relaxing on the park benches. The bathrooms are another
story entirely. I stepped in and the first thing I saw was a
smiling man who, as far as I could tell, had no legitimate
business in there. He was just sort of lurking. He had
gleaming yellow teeth and a scabby face; his hands were
deep in the pockets of his dirty pants, pants that stopped
a full half-foot before his feet began. I gave him my pitiful
version of an intimidating glare, and went off towards the
toilets. With the lurking man grinning at my back, I decided
that it would be prudent to avoid the urinals. The only
problem was that neither of the stalls had doors. At least
this made it easy to tell that the first of them was occupied.
On that stained and battered bowl sat an enormous fat man
with his jeans bunched at his ankles, his head was thrown
far back and his mouth gaped up at the ceiling. He quivered
when he breathed. I remember how hairy his legs were and
how they horrified me. I moved on to the next stall over,
vacant except for a couple of spiders, and thought soothing
thoughts until I was able to pee. What helped me accomplish
this, interestingly enough, was the steady trickle of water
falling into the sink. A bearded, haggard dude was there
with his shopping cart parked under the paper towel dis-
penser, assiduously cleaning his hypodermic needles under
the faucet. So here I am, this guileless Minnesota kid, be-
tween a smirking freak, a snoring, half-naked giant, and an
obsessive-compulsive heroin addict. It was a vulnerable
position to be in. I stood there, begging my miserably slow
leak to stop, expecting every second to be stabbed, groped,
or worse. It didn’t happen, though. I finished and beat a
retreat without even bothering to shake it off. This was,
and will always remain, the least relieving piss I have ever
taken. And, to top it off, I didn’t even wash my hands after-

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Gun Lovers

I knew this girl who got shot in the face. She was laying in
a meadow with her boyfriend when a farmer who lived
down the way say her hair in the grass and mistook her for
a gopher. The bullet hit her in the cheek and went straight
through her mouth, grazing her tongue and snapping her
jaw before passing out her other cheek. When the farmer
saw what he had done, he threw down his rifle and had a
heart attack, leaving the boyfriend panicking in the middle
of nowhere, the old man near death in the distance and his
girlfriend spitting up blood at his feet.

A couple of years before this, I was acquainted with a guy
who got no respect from anyone. He was a high school kid
six times more awkward than most, acne-ridden and un-
attractive and obsessive. When people weren’t ignoring him,
they were making fun of him and it made him terrible. He
was hung up on the concept of revenge. There was this movie
that was popular around then: it was about an angry man who
went around shooting and beating up the people he thinks
have wronged him. This kid watched it over and over again.
One day, so the story goes, he came to school and told someone
to look in his backpack at the shiny silver pistol he had brought.
Wouldn’t it be great, he asked, if someone made that movie
come true? Wouldn’t a high school be a perfect place for it?
He never did it and we were never sure if the story was true
or just more teenaged bullshit, but a year later he got suspen-
ded for trying to run people over with his truck.

I think about him when I think of this other guy I knew, an
intense guy, a funny guy but still obviously a guy with some
issues to work through. He told me that if he wanted to kill
himself, he would definitely do it with a gun. Any other way
would betray a lack of seriousness. Pills just make you go to
sleep and hanging was too unreliable, too flighty. A gun was
the way to go. A gun gets the job done, he explained. He also
wanted me to know that he wasn’t one of these assholes who’d
do a thing like that shut up in a closet or out in the woods
somewhere. No, put the barrel right up under his chin and
pull the trigger right in the middle of a busy sidewalk. That
way, he reasoned, he wouldn’t just die, he’d also ruin a whole
bunch of stranger’s days.

Truth be told, though, I’m not sure why I remember that guy
when I should be remembering another guy, the son of my
music history teacher, a kid I saw around sometimes, a golden
boy on the hockey team. There was a night that he broke into
someone’s apartment with his friends, looking to steal some
stuff, but it all went bad. They woke up the man’s 12-year-old
sister and he came rushing into the room to see why she was
screaming. That’s when the golden boy shot the working man
dead. They put him away for twelve years. A promising future
and one fatal mistake and cracks beneath the surface of the per-
fect family–you know the closing argument cliches. He’s
probably out by now.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

I Like Ahmad Jamal

These days, I can’t get enough Ahmad Jamal. I’ve got him
playing while I write, while I read, while I work, while I walk
to the grocery store, while I clean my bathroom, and while
I fiddle around on the internet. When I’m tired and it’s time
for me to sleep, I put Columbia’s new reissue of his Epic &
Okeh recordings
on repeat play so that it’s going as I drift
off. I now have strange dreams of demented, knife-wielding
men in frog masks chasing me down the bulk foods aisle of my
local organic food hippie coop
while “Poiciania” tinkles gently
in the background. It’s a weird juxtaposition.

Ahmad Jamal himself would hate it, I think. Everything he
plays makes sense, all his juxtapositions sound natural and
flowing. His music is so precise and so intently structured
that it often sounds like something other than jazz. On one
of his albums
, he plays a version of “Autumn Leaves” that to
me seems to predict some of the structures and habits of
electronic club music. The beat that bassist Israel Crosby
and drummer Vernell Fourier lay out shifts compulsively,
but remains so tight a gnat couldn’t slip through it. It isn’t
just “support”, it’s the heartbeat and breath of the song.
Over this, Jamal lays down his thoughts in suspenseful
flurries of notes that alternate with quick, singing choruses.
There is a premeditation here that is rare in jazz, and also
a sense of thrill and spectacle that many of the snob gate-
keepers of the form would prefer to deride as show-bizzy
affectations. “Premeditation”, to these people, was always
synonymous with “contrivance”, just as aiming to please
was construed as pandering to the mob.

Jamal’s uncomplicated talent for bringing pleasure to
his listeners (which shouldn't be read as suggesting that
he performed uncomplicated music) was largely what
kept him a marginal figure in critical-acclaim terms. He
was, for awhile, derided as a “cocktail” pianist, a “lite jazz”
maven, and–in an insult that tells more about the critics
than their subject–as a “mere entertainer”. Time has been
kind to Jamal, though, and cruel to his detractors. His music
still feels fresh and alive, while their writing comes off as the
ponderous intellectualizing of those who long to impose their
own inner dramas on other people’s art. Jamal has acquitted
the mere entertainer marvelously: in his work you have a
man who loves what he does and who makes it easy for
you to love it too.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Ah, to be a passive-aggressive Minnesota Republican...

Do you understand how persecuted I am? Do you know
what an ungodly torment it is to live in a place where many
people completely fail to agree with you? Every day–every
single day!–I must leave my comfortable home in my com-
fortable cul-de-sac and travel on steadily deteriorating roads
to offices and streets and restaurants where people who think
differently than me wander around acting like that’s absolutely
alright! In fact, some of these creatures, are actually proud
of holding viewpoints which are not mine! They speak up
as though they think they’re right, as though they don’t
know in their heart of hearts that they’re utterly, hideous-
ly and unAmericanly wrong! I don’t know how much longer
I can take it. I’m beginning to think I might have to escalate
the icy stares I sometimes shoot the guy at Starbucks who
wears all those Wellstone buttons.

And the bias! Can I vent for a minute about the smothering,
hateful bias that permeates every square centimeter of this
state? Why, just yesterday, in a weak moment, I opened up
the local paper and read a letter to the editor which strongly
implied that the President does not know how to run the
country! Imagine that! The President from my Party!
What’s more, there was a cartoon on the same page showing
him–and this is the President of the United States of America,
the greatest and kindest and most amazing country the world
has ever seen, mind you–with BIG EARS! Why do these
people hate so much? Where does their unholy fury come
from? Is it stupidity or out-and-out evil? How can they look
at themselves in the mirror after a day spreading such
noxious and contrary opinions? One day I’m going to cancel
my subscription. That’ll teach them to stop being such one-
sided, Stalinist, anti-decency President criticizers!

I try to get most of my information from people who agree
with me in all things. That way I know I’m not getting
slanted news. If I had to rely on the pitiful, socialistic,
success-hating “mainstream media”, I’d only have a vague
feeling inside that Democrats are traitors, Muslims want to
kill us all, the United Nations wants to take my guns away,
and gay people will want to marry my cat if we give them
any more rights. However, thanks to the internet and the
input of people who see things exactly the way I do, I now
have tons of evidence for all these truths and more! Thank
you internet! You have given me the mental weaponry I
need to defeat these henious, duplicitous, scheming, idiotic,
cowardly “moonbats” in all the debates that I imagine my-
self having with them! Man, just the other day I fantasized
myself whipping the rhetorical ass of that one lefty down in
marketing! He was left there almost crying after being faced
by the superior reasoning and ruthless logic I wield in my

And let me tell you something else: my tax burden is too
high! And the French aren’t very nice people! And neither
are the Germans, usually! But they’re better than the
French! The British, however, are good! They’re our allies!
I hear that they have a bad tax burden over there too, though.
I’m sure Tony Blair will be getting to it as soon as this war
blows over, though! He seems like the kind of guy I’d like to
have a beer with, that Tony Blair. I bet we’d have a good time,
there in Buckingham Palace. I can see us now, sitting there,
drinking beer, making fun of those goddamn French! And the
Germans, if they’re being bad that week! And that bitch from
the legal department, who told me that one time I should stop
talking about international stuff since the furthest I’ve been is
Wisconsin! That bitch! Oh, I’m sure Tony would put her in
her place with that accent they all have. Me and Tony, we’re

We’re eventually going to kick ass over there in Iraq. We
just have to get all these whiners and peaceniks and the
blame-America-firsters to shut the hell up and get behind
the cause of democracy and freedom for once in their spoil-
ed, pampered little lives. This is why I make it a personal
point to treat even the mildest criticism of the Pentagon as
a vile assault on the character of Our Armed Forces, every
member of which I love unreservedly and support whole-
heartedly. Do you think we could win a war with an army of
Democrats? No, of course not! They’d be too busy bawling
for Hilary Clinton to come save them! The terrorists would
laugh at them! Even though the terrorists and the Demo-
crats are good friends! That’s how terrible the terrorists are!
Sometimes I wish a terrorist would try to break into my
house. You better believe that I’d show that Islamofascist
piece of you-know-what the business! I tell you what, you
give me ten minutes alone in a room with an unarmed, tied-
up, and not-too-physically imposing terrorist and I’ll teach
him a little lesson about American values! Hell, yeah! Fan-
tasizing about punching terrorists gets me PUMPED! I can’t
wait to fire up the internet and learn how many more of them
we’ve killed!

U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Let me take it down a notch right now to tell you just how
much I love this rich, bountiful, beautiful, God-kissed
country of ours. Here’s a place where all it takes to succeed
is hard work and good values, a land where everyone can pull
themselves up by their bootstraps and make enough money
to own whatever they want. This deep and soul-nourishing
love of mine extends even to Minnesota, although I generally
exclude Minneapolis and most of St. Paul from it. The rest
of the state is fine, however. Particularly Anoka and Dakota
counties. Those are my favorites.

But, as everyone with two brain cells must know, the entire
country is a glorious and awesome place which everyone in
all the lesser countries of the world should envy and respect.
Except for Taxachussets and California, where even Arnold
Schwarzeneggar can’t keep a reign on all the weirdos. San
Francisco is the worst. Sometimes I imagine a great earth-
quake shaking San Francisco right into the sea and finally
ridding us of all those smug latte types, gay activists, tax-
and-spenders, and other assorted flotsam. Wouldn’t that
be great? Wouldn’t it teach all those anti-religion, anti-
patriot, anti-everything-good-and-proper losers a little
respect, if they all died horribly? It would serve them right,
I think. Death to liberals! Die, liberal, die! Die! Die! Die!


Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to Target and pick
up some bathroom spackle and a box of tampons for my

A Linguistic Interlude

You know what’s kind of weird when you think about it?
That pretty much everyone in America would understand
what you were talking about if you said, for instance, that
you were going out to the bar in “a wifebeater and a pair
of jeans”. Isn’t that odd? Somehow the language has
transformed the term “wifebeater” so that it no longer
has to describe a violent, abusive man. Now it can also
describe a piece of fabric. It seems to me like a pretty
cruel name for a kind of shirt, actually. I mean, is do-
mestic abuse so banal that we can name articles of clothing
after it? Doesn’t that imply that something is wrong with

Another expression that gives me pause is “going postal”.
I think we’re getting farther and farther away from the actual
source of that term: heading to your place of employment
with a bunch of automatic weapons and shooting everyone
in sight. But, according to the unwritten rules of slang, I
could legitimately say I “went postal” if I got into a passive-
aggressive snit at work because Barb in Accounting ate the
last doughnut again. In fact, it is more flattering to me to
think that I’ve “gone postal” than to think that I’ve thrown
a temper tantrum. So this is one of those modern colloquial-
isms that allows us to feel better about our bad behavior by
draping it in a faux-rebellious nomenclature. What’s that
you say? I just threw a bunch of paper clips on the floor,
stomped my foot on the office carpeting, and refused to
clean up the coffee-maker even though it was my turn? I
can’t help it! I just go postal sometimes, I guess! But you
don’t. What you do is act like an asshole, which is entirely
different. The only circumstances under which the term
should be applied are (a) you work in a post office or (b)
your disgruntled antics at work involve actual firearms.
That’s just the way I feel about it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Hustlers and Midwesterners

I can remember an evening when my friend Greg and I
had some time to kill. We were meeting some girls for
dinner; we had come across to Manhattan early to hunt
around in the used record places and thrift shops down-
town. The restaurant we were going to was somewhere
in the neighborhoodless area where the West Village
bleeds into Chelsea, that place where the streets first
straighten out into the grid that went on for the next
two hundred blocks. Before heading over that way, we
wandered through the Meatpacking District all the way
to the Hudson piers.

For some reason, I wanted to wander out onto one of
them–a weedy, concrete strip that jutted a hundred or
so feet out into the oily, slow water–and look over at
Jersey City. This was back in that strange age of mine
when I considered a glimpse at a beaten-down New
Jersey town something worth going out of my way for.
I was a connoisseur of urban monstrosity, I had a fetish
for decay. With Greg trailing along, we went out to the
cyclone fence at the far end of the pier and gazed through
it at the sun setting amid the grimy buildings over there,
the sad skyscrapers and the sooty spaces in-between.

There were a few other people on the pier, many more
were milling around the patch of land that it poked from.
I don’t know when it first occurred to us that most of
these were boy prostitutes. They hung around in packs,
wearing denim jackets over bare chests, smoking pot and
drinking from paper sacks. Some laughed loudly, like
transvestites, while others whispered and let their hands
make quick gestures I couldn’t translate. Most of them
ignored us and, once I figured out what they were, I did
my nervous best to ignore them. Still, I wouldn’t say
that we were objects of curiosity. Maybe it was odd that
we weren’t trying to pick any of them up, but turning
tricks in New York forces someone to see far odder things
than that on a hourly basis. We certainly weren’t of their
profession. I mean, that much was obvious. We were too
old. We were both twenty-three.

Greg mentioned that we should probably go on if we didn’t
want to be late. I nodded my head and, with leaving the
boys behind, we hurried across the busy street flanking the
Hudson and started back towards the tamed parts of the
city. It weirded me out all through our fine dinner, though.
In the night out there, runaways were climbing into cars
with strange men, children were becoming decades older
than me after just five minutes in the back of a Lexus.
On the subway back to Brooklyn, I wondered at it as hard
as I could. Who were these kids? Who was paying for their
bodies? The city was always posing those questions for me
then. It hit me hard every day: lives a million miles from
mine were right down the street, areas of existence I could
barely fathom bumped up against me everywhere I went.

It might seem strange, but I miss that sometimes. Minne-
apolis is a bubble. Minneapolis seldom forces you outside
yourself. Here the world can be what you assume it to be
and you don’t have to worry about someone screaming out
how wrong you are with every corner you turn. I don’t
know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

It could have been porn but--alas!--it was just another Republican...

Hurting for material the other day, decided to take a
stroll through the right-side of internet land. There I
came upon this site. Before I clicked on it all I saw
was its url:

Which of course you’re supposed to read as “Minnesota
Democrats Exposed”, but–for reasons I’d rather not
dwell upon–I read it as “Minnesota Democrat Sex
Posed”. This piqued my interest. Even though I
wasn’t sure why a Democrat Sex Poser would be want
to be associated with a bunch of conservative Repub-
licans, I’ve been around the blogosphere long enough to
know that curious alliances pop up with surprising fre-

But I hesitated before I clicked the link. Just who was
this Sex Poser, after all? I’m a blue-dog Democrat all
the way, but even I wouldn’t want to see just any old
member of my party Sex Posed. In fact, I can’t think
of a single elected DFL official who I would care to look
upon in their primal altogether. Amy Klobuchar? I
like her well enough, but we’ve got more of a platonic
constituent type thing going on. Betty McCollum?
Sorry, but she’s not my type. RT Rybak? Hell naw.
Mike Hatch? Don’t even go there...

Happily, there are still countless unsung Democrats who
would make fine Sex Posers. In fact, I would argue that
my party is perhaps the most suitable for a Sex Posing,
with the arguable exception of the Greens, who tend to
be younger, healthier and more “emo”. Would you want
to see a site called “Minnesota Republican Sex Posed”?
Of course you wouldn’t. And just the thought of a bunch
of libertarians lounging around with engorged genitals
and glassy eyes is enough to make my stomach flip.

So, anyway, I clicked on the link and was sorely disappoint-
ed. It was just a bunch of gossip, tin-horn muckracking and
dull partisan what-have-you. And to think that, if only for
a brief shining moment, I believed that it might be possible
to see a naked person on the internet.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Is it laziness or is it DANGER?

For reasons beyond my control, I failed to post yesterday.
Honestly, though, I don’t feel OBLIGED to post every single
day. I’m not charging money to visit this site, you know,
and if you don’t find anything new or remotely interesting
here I’m sure there are thousands of other blog out there
that would appreciate a visit from you. Not that I don’t
appreciate your attention. I do. I love every single one
of my readers with a passion that borders on the inappro-
priate. I want to give you all slobbery kisses and suavely
touch your butts as we slow dance to Jodeci at a seventh-
grade Sadie Hawkins evening. Yet I also want you people
to have no illusions about me: I’m not a very reliable
blogger. Come to me for fresh content every single day and
you will be disappointed. I will do my best, but I make no

Yesterday was particularly galling, because I had written
a post of such sheer brilliance, of such awesome insight and
clarity that just the simple act of placing it upon the world
wide web wouldincrease the average American lifespan,
cure clinical depression, and bring about the utter destruction
of the Republican Party. It was that good. Unfortunately, my
computer ate it and you’re stuck with this dreck instead.

But it wouldn’t have been so bad if my computer had just
been content to destroy my post. No, no: my computer is in
league with a certain covert Satanist/Stalinist army that
operates out of Pierre, South Dakota. Every time I come
close to revealing the Glorious Truth to you, my loyal reader-
ship, my old, clunky Hewlitt-Packard desktop sends a secret
message to their coven/commune summoning them to my
home, where they beat me with sticks, carve pentagrams into
my walls, and force me to confess my deviations from party
orthodoxy. I hate it when they do this, and I wish they’d
stop, but they’re a powerful band and I hear rumors that
they actually control a lot of the UPN’s programming schedule.
So they’re not to be trifled with, I’m afraid. I was reminded of
that last night as they cavorted through my home, tossing
around my precious china, bad-mouthing kittens and estab-
lishing the worker’s state.

It’s a problem I’d like to avoid as much as possible, so from
here on out I’m not going to even bother with the Glorious
Truth anymore. I’m going to stick with what I know best:
dusty old Jazz albums, frivolous nonsense, and interesting
facts about contemporary grammar. Won’t that be exciting?
You bet it will!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

My day? Shitty, thanks for asking!

I had a shitty day today. Not one of those broke two
limbs, went bankrupt, and found out that all my friends
secretly hate me sort of shitty days, mind you. I wasn’t
that unlucky. Instead, I had one of those shitty days
that creeps up on you. It begun with a discreet under-
current of malaise, followed by a steady accumulation
of boredom, which eventually gave way to full-scale
gloom and angst. By around eight in the evening, I
finally understood what I was dealing with: a shitty
day in full bloom. Everything around me seemed
more annoying, more dire. The phone rang with a
horrible shriek, strangers and their strangery ways
pissed me off so much that couldn’t help but suspect
that the problem was with me. Foods tasted unsatisfy-
ing and the diversions I would normally pursue to
cheer myself up seemed futile and self-deceptive. I was
in a funk, the sort of mood that would lead the younger
me into a full-on brooding session. Now that I’m a
mature adult, however, moping and listening to the
Cure strikes me as distasteful. I couldn’t do it. I had
to brazen my way through my shitty day with a stiff
upper lip. When people asked me how I was doing, I
told them “Fine!” with a firmness that left no room for
questions. When people tried to joke with me, I joked
back. Lamely, but I tried. I think I did a pretty good
job. I don’t have shitty days all that often, so I’m sort
of rusty on how to handle them.

Maybe I should’ve written another story about the
President of the United States. This one, I remember,
made me pretty happy for awhile. Upon reading it
again, though, I realize that this might be part of the

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Man, I just voted my ass off...

Earlier today, I took a stroll down the street to a flat, 1950s-
style church where I participated in the glorious and noble
system of democracy that we in America enjoy so thoroughly.
And, because I know the whole world is eager to hear who
I cast my ballot for, I've come home to tell you all about it.

For Mayor of Minneapolis, I chose Peter McLaughlin. This
was a hard decision, honestly. The choice was essentially
between two left-leaning, DFL-affiliated, tall municipal
dudes. I went with the challenger, but not because I bear
the incumbent any ill-will. He's done an alright job, I
think, but not an extraordinary one. He tells people what
they want to hear and he likes to grandstand, sure, but
that's what being a politician is all about. I'm a little wary
of what I consider the Rybak Is Gonna Give You Good
Vibes mode of governance, so I went with his opponent,
who seems like a smart fellow. He probably won't win,
though, so I'll have to learn to live with ol' R.T.'s slightly
grating enthusiasm for another four years. Oh, well...

As for my city council person, I voted for Robert
. I like him enough, and even a vicious beating
with sticks and knives couldn't make me vote for his
opponent, the self-righteous and ineffective Dean
Zimmerman. Put me on the schedule for the standard
Green Party mau-mauing, because I'm well past weary
of their warmed-over, holier-than-thou hippie act. That
sounds mean, I suppose, but you'll forgive me, won't you?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Unquiet Nights In Clichy

With my poor French and my agonizingly-slow dial-up
connection, it has been difficult to keep up with the un-
folding violence in Paris and other French cities. The BBC
news page has reliable reports, as does the International
Herald Tribune. Also, here is an interesting perspective
from Jerome at the European Tribune blog. What I’m
taking from these sources is that, while the situation in
the poor French suburbs is obviously quite serious, we
should be careful what significance we take from these
events. Of course, the violence will give the rightists
around here and opportunity to bash two of their favorite
bete noires, the French and Muslims. They will likely unite
in proclaiming these episodes as proof that Islam is evil,
the French are spineless, and the only way is the U.S.A.
way. As usual, they should not be listened to. They don’t
know what they’re talking about.

For one, I don’t see much reason to blame these riots on
Islam. Many or perhaps most of the people going wild in
the streets come from Muslim families, to be sure, but
they strike me as hooligans first. Their religion has very
little, if anything, to do with it. The people who are watch-
ing their cars get set on fire and the families afraid to go
out at night are Muslim too. Angry, unemployed kids are
getting their pathological kicks, and to blow this up into a
grave face-off between civilizations is a dumb mistake.
Clearly, the French need to address the problems of un-
employment and alienation among their immigrant
communities, yet they’d be wise to avoid the feverish
paranoia and apocalyptic wet dreaming the far-right

Violence of this sortamong impoverished and isolated
communities is far from unknown in the United States.
Our society, so far, has survived them all. One needs to
take a nuanced view of these things, I think. Of course, the
people destroying property and attacking the cops need
to be arrested and locked up for awhile. Of course, order
needs to be restored. However, it is best to try and under-
stand why these events happen. Once this is understood,
people in authority should work to prevent them from
happening again. If it takes stricter laws, so be it. If it
takes more education programs and better job oppor-
tunities, then that must be done also. Demonization,
moral approbation, and fear won’t do anything but deep-
en the divides in society.

The Protest Grind and My Sordid Family Secret

For a very long time, a committed group of activists have
held weekly protests at the headquarters of Alliant Tech-
systems, a large Minnesota-based defense firm. You can
read a recent article about them here and look at their
website here. I take a keen interest in their impres-
sions and activities, but not because I admire or agree
with them. They seem to be well-intentioned and pass-
ionate people, and I’m sure they have kind souls and
big hearts, but they strike me as ineffectual at best and,
at worst, deluded. Their vigils and civil disobedience, to
say nothing of their overripe rhetoric, seems to me to be
little more than that same stale protest-as-therapy thing
that leftists perennially waste their energy on. They come
out, chant some silly slogans, and go home feeling better
that they’ve registered their disapproval at the violent,
sick world they can’t substantially change. It’s an outlet
for them, and a harmless one, but the war machine will
keep right on rolling no matter how much they may dis-
like it.

Yet I don’t feel that what they’re doing is wrong. I don’t
resent them or imagine them to be traitors or, as two
right-wing blogs put it, "losers" or "moonbats". They want
this country and this society to be better than it is and I
respect them for that. It is often far more patriotic to pro-
test than it is to accept or let slide. I might not agree with
them and I might not get along with them if I met them,
but I certainly wouldn’t want to silence them or cast
callous aspersions on them.

You see, I have a somewhat more personal investment in
this whole issue. My father was, until his recent retirement,
a high-ranking manager with Alliant Techsystems. What
this means is that my entire upper-middle class upbringing
and virtually all the comforts I now enjoy have been bought
with bullets and bombs. As much as I hate to admit it, I
owe the defense industry a lot. My expensive education,
the top-notch health care I received throughout my child-
hood, and my current lack of financial worries–these are
all mine, thanks to unrestrained Reagan-era Pentagon
spending. It is one thing to hate the vicious American
military-industrial behemoth, it is quite another to realize
that it has underwritten your whole charmed life.

As a result of this, I’m more than a little skeptical of a bunch
of people who have spent almost a decade calling my dad a
warmonger. My father is a very gentle man, a funny man
and a man who taught me to be kind, generous, and accep-
ting. He’s the sort of guy who would rather shoo a mouse
outside than let the cat eat it. It’s sort of hard to square
this with his job, which involved overseeing the develop-
ment of devices that could only be used to kill people. I
don’t like to hear that he might have blood on his hands. I
don’t want that to be true. I love my father very much.

The world is not as simple as protest songs make it. Hu-
manity isn’t going to wake up any time soon. It’s taken
centuries to build up the cold, destructive system we’re
caught up in and no amount of righteousness is going to
undo it now. Many self-styled activists, I feel, are mo-
tivated too much by an erroneous guilt-and-redemption
script. They think that if they can somehow just convince
their opponents to feel as guilty and ashamed as they do,
the whole house of cards will come tumbling down. Wicked
people will learn how wicked they are and the energy from
that transformation will renew the world. The hand-
wringing liberal guilt of the enlightened cadre will bring
about a fresh new society if only enough people come to
share it.

This is not the case. Responsibility is scattered far and
wide nowadays. Imagine the unthinkable: this rag-tag
band of a few dozen peaceniks actually manage to con-
vince Alliant Techsystems to divest from the implement-
of-death business and become a coffee-maker company.
Raytheon would quickly pick up the slack, I assure you.
And if the "Alliant Action" team redoubles its efforts from
there and takes another ten years to turn Raytheon into
a Peruvian-sweater wholesaler, there will still be a deep,
deep bench of similarly sinister defense contractors wait-
ing in the wings. So maybe they’ll turn their attention to
the "demand" side of the equation for awhile, camping
out in front of the Pentagon and holding candlelight
parties by the White House. Maybe here they’ll feel
like they’re making progress for a few years, but then
something will happen to get the electorate scared
again and all their earnest efforts will be wiped away by
one executive order. It’s a rigged game, a long, frantic
road to nowhere.

So what’s a concerned citizen to do? I have no fucking
idea. That’s the depressing thing. The freedom that we’re
brought up to believe is the purest in the world has become
a handful of bad choices and an array of deceptive fantasies.
There may be no way out of this mess we’ve made.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

"Conservative Comedy" and the Right-Wing Niche

According to my daily paper, a "conservative comedian"
was in town tonight. I’m afraid I didn’t make it to the
show, but not for the reasons Mr. Slagel would prefer. I’m
a leftist, you know, and, while it might be true that my
miserable nanny-statist worldview would shrivel up and
blow away when confronted by the incisive commentary
and biting wit he wields, that’s not why I stayed away.
No, it’s just that I had better things to do. I had to shave
my tongue and fondle my freeze-dried bat collection and,
when I was finished with that, it was too late in the evening
to do much else besides blog. Oh, well...

Truth be told, I don’t care for stand-up comedy of any
sort. I can’t even watch the big names on television any-
more. It strikes me as an awkward sort of art form, one
person standing up on a stage trying to make a roomful
of strangers laugh. That’s more like a nightmare to me than
an evening’s entertainment. When it’s good, it merely passes
the time, but–when it’s bad–it’s embarrassing for everyone.
I just can’t watch it anymore: too often it’s just some poor
schmuck standing in a spotlight, grasping for even the most
slight of sympathy giggles. That’s not a career to me, that’s
more like existential torment.

That being said, I hope I can assure everyone that I’m not
a humorless liberal. I think that no one should be spared
when it comes to jokes: conservatives, liberals, homosexuals,
heterosexuals, women, men, minorities, majorities, Muslims,
Christians, Jews, Buddhists, cashiers, corporate attorneys,
Southerners, Northerners, the Irish, the Italians, the Poles
and the frickin’ French-Canadians. They’re all fair game and
there’s something funny about everyone, no matter who they
are. Nor am I somebody who thinks that a conservative, as a
rule, can’t have a sense of humor. There are funny conser-
vatives in my family. I’ve worked with funny conservatives.
Political philosophy and wit are independent aspects of one’s
character. They don’t really have much to do with one

So, getting back to the "conservative comedian"–he doesn’t
strike me as too hilarious. I checked out his website and his
blog, but found nothing especially amusing at either place.
His problem seems to be that he emphasizes the "conser-
vative" before the "comedian". Having a well-defined plat-
form seemsto sap him of the freedom he needs to be truly
funny. He doesn’t want to tell jokes as much as he wants to
make points, which is fine, but it doesn’t come across as com-
edy. He’s operating under the impression that simply dress-
ing up the standard right-wing opinions with grand exagger-
ations and cheap gags qualifies as comedy. Seven billion blogs
already do this, though, and many of them do it better. Per-
haps I’m letting my ideological predilections cloud my judge-
ment, but I wasn’t impressed. The only laugh I got out of his
material was an unintentional one:

Politically, I am a Libertarian, although those on
the Left side of the aisle take the most offense to
my humor, and would categorize me as Repub-
lican or Right-Wing. That misunderstanding; coup-
led with my penchant for testing First Amendment
boundaries, and the big fad that swept college cam-
puses throughout the nineties called Political Cor-
rectness; is why you've probably never heard of me.

Oh, Tim, I can think of several other reasons why I’ve
never heard of you. But never mind...

What interested me the most about the concept of a "con-
servative comedian" was what it implies about conservatism
in 2005. Put plainly, it seems to be becoming more of a
marketing category than a political movement. Now there
aren’t just conservative churches and conservative web
forums, there’s also conservative dating services, con-
servative book clubs, conservative ice cream companies,
and–in case anyone forgot–a conservative news network.
I find this interesting. Does this mean that "conservatives"
(in the current, nationalist/rightist sense of the word) are
backing away from their claims that they represent the
mainstream of America and are instead coming to consider
themselves a mere subculture? My impression is that
"conservatism", as a self-appointed identity, requires a
steady diet of reassurance. Conservatives tend to feel iso-
lated and oppressed (in fact, I would argue that conser-
vatives like feeling isolated and oppressed, but that’s a post
for another day), and one of the ways they foster this sense
is by winnowing down their sources of information and
entertainment so that only the ideologically-correct view-
point reaches them. This, of course, limits them somewhat,
creating an opportunity for like-minded people who wish to
cater to their fellows’ desire to close themselves off to the
mainstream (to them, "liberal") media.

This is the real joke. A group of supposedly enlightened
people so cowed by ideas and opinions they feel superior
to that they have to retreat into a tailor-made cultural
niche that promises not to disturb their prejudices.

Although, come to think of it, that’s not really funny

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Wednesday Night's Alright For Fighting

Earlier this evening I talked with my good friend, the lovely
Ms. Mel of Seattle. For some reason, we wound up on the
subject of prison. It was agreed that I wouldn’t do well there.
You see, in prison all sorts of muscle-bound sociopaths come
up to you and say vicious things right to your face. But there
you can’t run back to your blog and post up a couple witty
comebacks. No, no: you have to fight them. If you don’t,
they’re going to spend the rest of your sentence stealing
your scrambled eggs and buggering you with mop handles.
And–I can admit it–I’m not much of a fighter. I’m hardly
the most physically imposing man out there and my thirst
for violence is trumped by my much greater thirst for sar-
casm and fine cappucccinos. This means I’ll have to abstain
from doing anything seriously illegal, which is kind of a drag
since I’ve always thought I’d make a pretty good burglar.

But the conversation did get me thinking back to my old
glories on the field of honor. You see, like most American
males, I have found myself embroiled in fisticuffs on sev-
eral occasions. Three occasions, to be precise and I’m
proud to say that my record stands at 1-1-1. Now, with
an excellent showing like that, it’s understandable that I
wanted to retire early so as to preserve my statistics as
something to show off to my future grandchildren. But
since I don’t have any grandchildren yet and because
I’m unwilling to wait the necessary 25-30 years it might
take to produce one, I think I’m going to share these fond
reminisces with you, my six or seven beloved readers...

If you don’t mind, let’s talk about my grand victory first.
This is the most sepia-toned of all my battle memories, if
only because it’s the oldest. Yes, this was near the end of
my grammar school years, back in a time when I was en-
trusted with the most serious position a sixth grader can
be given, that of crossing guard. It was my duty to shep-
herd no less than eight naive, vulnerable children across
two slightly busy streets to the safety of Randolph Heights
Elementary School. I discharged my responsibilities with
pride and diligence, and my crossing guard career was for
the most part unremarkable. There was one cold winter
morning, however, when trouble arose.

This came as I was standing at the intersection, waiting
for my young charges to assemble. A boy from my class
came up to me and demanded that I give him my flag.
Now, this young man (named "Gunnar", incidentally)
was among the few in our class to be deemed unfit to
take the school patrol oath. He was mean, shabby and
unreliable. He only showed up to school on the days when
his parents were sober enough to make him go and, when
he was there, he just sat there picking his nose and
hollering out swear words.

There was, of course, no way I was going to give him my
flag. There was no telling what he might have done with
it. He might have used it to lead my helpless children into
the path of a semi-truck. He might have thrown it down
the sewer grate. Whatever evil he chose to commit with
it, I knew that it would–in the end--reflect poorly on my
crossing guard abilities, so I told him to go away with all
the eleven-year-old authority I could muster. Instead of
obeying me, he grabbed my flag and tried to wrest it away
from me. I pulled back and so he pulled harder and soon
we were both rolling on the frozen ground, the flag caught
between us. After a few seconds of this, I was able to get
on top of him and, from there, extract the flag from his

It was here that I did something I’m not entirely proud
of. With my honorably vanquished adversary laying at
my feet, I raised my flag up in the air and brought it down
hard on his head. I immediately regretted it. I had seen
this move on television, of course, but in the passions of
the moment I forgot that it was generally employed to
disable or kill fully grown adults. Its use on a pre-adoles-
cent was, perhaps, extreme. Oh shit, I thought, I probably
just murdered him...

He didn’t die, though. He held onto his head and glared
up at me for a long time, moaning and calling me names.
Then, slowly and carefully, he stood up and went limping
down the street. I didn’t see him in school that day or for
a couple days after that, but he returned eventually. I was
glad. I had begun to worry that I gave him permanent
brain damage or something. I have an over-developed
sense of guilt about some things.

Following this momentary lapse into crossing guard brut-
ality, I kept my nose clean for a couple of years. Eighth
grade, though, was a hard one for me. Boys are at their
foulest stage then, and I was subject to a great many taunts
and insults. Most of these were directed at my hair, which
I wore at the time in an enormous, bushy white-man afro.
At the time, this wasn’t a retro-hip fashion move, it was just
dorky. I was a bit of a dork, I’m afraid. Most of my bullies
were content just to steal my textbooks and throw their
chewed-up gum at me, but one had a more violent streak
to him. His name was Jason and he was older than the rest
of us. The reason for this was because he was as dumber
than a hunk of horsemeat and wasn’t capable of advancing
past middle school.

This, of course, frustrated him quite a bit and one of the
ways he relieved the stress of it was by tormenting me. One
day he waylaid me as I was hurrying down the hallway to
the lunchroom. I was late for some reason and there was no
one there to rescue me when Jason and his contemptible
toady (whose name I no longer recall) leapt out, seized me
by the arms, and pulled me down a lonely corridor.

"Where’s my fuckin’ money?" Jason asked me.

"What money?" was my reply, because I clearly hadn’t
loaned him any money. We weren’t on lender-borrower
terms at the time.

It was the wrong answer, though, because it drove my
enemy into a rage. As his toady held me fast, he began
punching me up and down my body, shouting "MY
MONEY! MY MONEY! MY MONEY!". The strange
thing about getting hit repeatedly by someone twice
your size: it doesn’t really hurt very much at the time.
There’s just a little discomfort as you think, Hey, this
guy’s hitting me. I struggled, but it didn’t do any good.
I didn’t get away until the toady, who had at least the
semblance of a conscience, let me go and told Jason to
lay off me. Jason didn’t agree with his associate, how-
ever, and punched me in the face. I punched him back,
but it just glanced off his shoulders and made him laugh.
So I hit him again, in the neck, and he responded by
grabbing me, throwing me face first into a bank of lock-
ers, and then stepping on my back as he walked away.
This was the fight I lost.

No matter: it has a belated happy ending. Years later,
when I was in college, I was back home for spring break
when my friends and I threw a big party at my house.
Somewhere in the middle of it, we ordered a whole bunch
of pizzas and Jason was the one who delivered them. I
remember opening the door to him in his pizza man uni-
form and being speechless for a moment. From the look
on his face, he recognized me too. "Oh. It’s you," I said as
I took the tip we had intended to give out of the handful
of money I had collected.

"Hi," he said sheepishly as I gave him the exact change. I
took the pizzas and slammed the door in his face. All the
psychological damage he had done to me as an adolescent
evaporated at that moment. Today we could probably go
out for beers and get along fine.

Just a year or two prior to this I had fought my last fight.
And it wasn’t really a fight at all. It was more like a tussle.
I was a junior in high school then, and one of my closest
friends was a guy named Kris. Kris was from the Bronx
and he partook of that strange New Yorker charm that
allowed him to seduce girls by banging into walls and
telling dirty jokes about cats fellating their owners. Now,
he was always a great guy, an true mensch, but I’d be
lying if I said I wasn’t sometimes jealous of him. He was,
after all, just as big a dork as all my guy friends, yet he
managed to work this into a fairly successful ladies’ man
act. It could be galling.

After school one afternoon, a group of us were driving
around aimlessly when we saw some girls we knew. We
pulled over to talk to them for awhile and perhaps even
made plans to get together later that night. Kris was in
the back seat and he was sticking his head through the
window to chat them up. He was probably talking to them
in a fake Eastern European accent, which was something
we all did back then, for reasons long since lost to the
passage of time. He was amusing them far better than
I ever could and, from my spot in the front seat, I quickly
grew to resent this. To reclaim some of the attention I felt
was rightly mine, I pushed the button to roll up his window
and managed to catch his head between it and the door-
frame. The girls gasped. The guy driving the car at the
time started to laugh. Kris, however, calmly extracted
himself from the door and then, without a word, hit me
as hard as he could right on the nose. My head snapped
backwards and smacked into the windshield and then, after
an awkward silence, we began to apologize to each other as
frantically and as profusely as possible.

He’s still a great guy, that Kris, and I sometimes see him
around. I consider our fight a tie, though, and he probably
wouldn’t agree with me.

An Insomnia Report Exclusive: The Good People of France Aren't Too Keen On The Bush Administration

It is my good fortune to have an older brother who is well-
placed in the scientific establishment. His work is of a na-
ture that his current employer, a certain government
agency, considers it worthwhile to shuttle him off to far-
away world capitals to discuss the findings of his group
with his counterparts in other nations. Essentially, he gets
paid to go to Rome, London, and Berlin to advance the
glamorous causes of Science and Advancement and Human
Endeavor with his like-minded fellows across the globe. For
me, his markedly-less brilliant relation, it means that I can
visit these places for little more than the price of a plane
ticket, since his employers are picking up the hotel tab. This
translates into long spells lolling around in arrogantly-chic
cafes and wandering the narrow, twisty streets of cities
where even the trash receptacles are older than my home-
town’s most historic buildings.

When I went to Paris this past summer, I felt that it would
also be a good opportunity to get a first-hand glimpse of the
other side of the great, gaping Franco-American divide. I
took it for granted that there was such a divide, simply be-
cause you hear so much about it these days. It’s common
knowledge that the French "hate Americans", that they
ridicule our stupid pop culture and cast snide aspersions at
our tremendous power. In a lot of current discourse, mainly
conservative current discourse, the French are cast as an
exaggerated version of the stereotypical Volvo liberal.
They’re snooty, sanctimonious aesthetes lacking in physical
courage and personal hygiene. They’re prone to surrender-
ing and they get excited over incredibly pompous things.
They’ll spit in your face if you don’t speak their weird, mum-
bly language, but that’s just because they’re upset that they
have to give their terrorist-coddling government 134% of
their wages in taxes each year. These sorts of opinions are
common currency among that bleating jingoistic set that’s
so influential nowadays, but is there any truth to them? Or
is it that these people’s sad, shrill worldview needs an endless
supply of Not-American-Enough villains to keep from found-
ering in their sea of utter bullshit? I suspected the latter, and
a visit to Paris did nothing to dissuade me from this position.

Let me tell you about the French. There are sixty million of
them. So, of course, in a population of that size, you’re going
to have some assholes. Fortunately enough, I didn’t meet
any of them. Everyone I spoke with was wonderfully plea-
sant and engaging. Now, you hear a bunch of talk about how
their waiters are impossible and how the philosophy of cust-
omer service hasn’t crossed the English channel yet. There
is, perhaps, a touch of validity to this. A French waiter or
waitress gets paid, as a salary, just as much or more than
I do. As a result, they don’t have to suck up to strangers
for tips. So if they want to give you the cold face for what-
ever reason, they’ll go right ahead and do it without much
compunction. But I never felt anyone was rude to me. This
might be because I have a more stringent definition of what
rude is. If a waiter tells me that I’m the goofiest-looking
piece of shit ever to darken his restaurant, that’s rude. If
he tells me that he’s not going to give me the glazed duck
special because I’m not worthy of it, that’s rude. But if he
declines to make pointless chit-chat with me or forgets to
act as though the universe itself sparkles out of my asshole,
that’s not rude. That’s efficiency. That’s acting as human
being among other human beings, not the humiliating
master-servant relationship we get such a kick out of
here in our supposedly classless society.

But I’m not here to talk about waiters. I’m here to talk
about the French, specifically Parisians. They are, as a
whole, no more unpleasant to outsiders than New
Yorkers. They’re a rushed, overwhelmed, well-dressed
bunch who have better things to do than listen to a sun-
burnt man in a fanny pack beg for directions in a lan-
guage they rather not speak. Of course, most of them
speak better English than the average citizen of Wis-
consin, but you’ll never know that if you corner them
on the street and start jabbering at them in our un-
lovely tongue. From what I could tell, they hate that.
Stutter out a few words of half-assed French, however,
and they’ll gladly speak with you in English for as long
as you choose to keep up the conversation. They re-
quire that you attempt their language, but they’re
merciful enough to cut you off before you torture
their vowels into oblivion. That’s one of the things I
like about them, actually: they love their language
enough to resent having it mutilated. Maybe they
sometimes go overboard with it, but I can understand
the impulse.

So, the French: their wine is better, their buildings are
classier, their children are more educated, their pants
fit more snugly, their vacations are longer, their chol-
esterol levels are lower, their prescription medicines
are cheaper, their senses of humor are more refined,
and their women are sexier. All these I take to be in-
arguable facts of existence, except for perhaps the last
one, which might be more of a personal fetish on my
part. No one–least of all the French--would argue that
their government is flawless or that they don’t have
some massive challenges to face (unemployment, the
difficulty in integrating new immigrants, an aging pop-
ulation), but nor should one dismiss their accomplish-
ments and their potential. Those ideologically opposed to
state intervention in the economy like to predict dire con-
sequences for France and the rest of the European comm-
unity, but speculation like this is most likely just wishful
thinking of the oddest sort. In a global economy, Europe’s
financial collapse wouldn’t be good for the United States.
Maybe it would prove a point various thinktank wonks
never tire of making, and I suppose that might be a plus
on their resumes or something, but I imagine that real
pain would be felt on both sides of the Atlantic.

But that probably won’t happen. There will slumps and
renewals, times of prosperity and times of trial–just like
they’ve had for centuries and centuries now. Over there,
they’re less vulnerable to babble about the "end of history".
They’ve been through so much more history than us, after
all. One of the things they’ve learned from it is how to tell
their periods of ascendance from their periods of decline.
Here in America, a great many of us haven’t figured out
which is which yet. They talk of glory and mission while
we humiliate ourselves spectacularly again and again, they
get misty with pride as we sink further into the mud.

It would be a mistake, I think, to say that the French are
unduly smug about this. From what I could gather, they
tend to think of America as a very large puppy. There are
times when the puppy is adorable, times when it’s helpful,
and–more often recently–times when it pisses all over the
carpet. They’re nervous about America now because it
doesn’t seem to be growing out of it’s shredding-the-
newspapers-and-biting-the-neighbors-phase. They want
to contain the puppy. They want to discipline the puppy,
yet their ability to do so is limited. The puppy doesn’t
listen to them anymore. All the puppy does anymore is
mock their fondness for fine cheeses and deliver self-
righteous lectures about the War on Terror. It has grown
up indecent and they’re more disappointed than truly
angry. They’re worried about the puppy. They wish that
the puppy would get over this surly, rabid business and
go back to being the cuddly, exuberant thing they onced
loved. The French could devise the most compelling case
ever to prevent the puppy from mauling the mailman, but
the puppy would just make a couple of cracks about how
they’d all be speaking German if it wasn’t for it and, with
that, consider the matter settled.

When I left for France, I was modestly concerned that the
people there would consider me just another flea that’s
hopped off the puppy’s back to infest their fine country,
but this wasn’t the case. If I may overextend another
metaphor, Americans in Paris get treated more like people
who have to wear adult diapers because their bowels erupt
at inappropriate times. They keep their distance. If we find
our way into their space, we’re handled with their famous
delicacy. They have tact after all: only the most declasse
are just going to come right out and tell you that you have
a half-ton of crap in your pants. If you get into an extended
conversation with a French person, they’ll never mention
the sewery smell you can’t help but give off until you bring
it up yourself, confessing once and for all that you aren’t a
Canadian with explosive diarrhea at all, but an American,
an American dammit! Then they’ll nod their heads, make
a quick commiserating sigh, and discuss your embarrassing
malady with you until the wine runs out.

But that’s sort of an exaggeration, though. Yes, everyone I
talked to in France had nothing but nasty things to say
about George W. Bush, but he’s not their president. Their
dislike is sort of distant and abstracted. American liberals, I
think, hate him with much more passion. One reason for
this is because he makes us look bad. We’re personally
tainted by his ascendance and his continued legitimacy, we
become anxious to prove ourselves better than our l
eaders. Once we cross a border, there is an urge to re-
habilitate our country’s good name to the people of the
rest of the world. This is stupid. You have to get over it.
Yes, the French are going to judge you poorly because you’re
an American. While they’re doing that, they’re probably also
judging you poorly because of your shoes. At least you can
do something about your shoes, but there you are, telling
Pierre and Marcel and cute Genevieve from Bordeaux about
how hard you worked to get John Kerry elected. But you’re
boring them. You’re just putting a new twist on the old
Ugly American mold: you’re still putting the U.S. of A. at
the center of the universe and assuming that everyone
else is dying to hear your apologies for it. They don’t care.
If you want them to consider you different from the average
run of self-obsessed Americans, show them that you know
the names, parties, and general outlook of more than two
French office holders. Then they’ll want to talk to you. It’s
sort of selfish to demand that they spend all their time
bashing our politicians, especially when Jacques Chirac is
such a fecund source of material.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

No good blog post could ever possibly begin with the following sentence, but that's not going to stop me...

So the other day I was at Target, buying batteries, when I
saw something interesting. I was waiting in the express
check-out lane behind a woman who looked to be in her
mid-50s, and she was having a terrible time. As the per-
son in front of her was being rung up, she lingered near
the rack of impulse-buy magazines. First, she grabbed a
copy of People. After flipping furiously through it for a
couple of seconds, she threw it down on the conveyor belt
and turned her attention to the latest issue of Us. A quick
glance at a page or two of paparazzi shots convinced her
to buy this magazine and not People, which she stuffed
back into the rack with a certain violence. However, she
then let her eyes linger too long on a copy of In Style.
Furtively, she slipped this magazine in with the rest of
her purchases, which were–if I recall correctly–a pack-
age of legal pads and a pair of fingernail clippers. The
person at the head of the line was having trouble with
his credit card, so this gave her ample opportunity to
question her choices. She decided against In Style. She
changed her mind about People. She changed her mind
about Us also, but then she must have felt that People
alone wasn’t enough so she brought back In Style. She
seemed comfortable with this for approximately eighteen
seconds, and then she tentatively reached out for Us one
more time. She opened it, closed it, opened it again, and
finally slapped it down on top of the other two magazines.
Now, upon committing to all three magazines, she turned
her attention to the candy display. She pounced upon a
bag of Skittles and fondled it for a moment. Finding it not
to her liking, she groped a bag of Reese’s Pieces instead.
One of these ended up on the conveyor belt, but shortly
thereafter she found the Peanut M&Ms. They were hiding
under the staggering variety of gums and breathmints, so
they weren’t immediately apparent. She seized three bags
of them, placed them all on the conveyor belt, shook her
head at the gluttony of it, put one back, put the Reese’s
Pieces back, chose the Skittles instead, put the Skittles
back, placed a package of breathmints on the conveyor
belt, placed the package of Skittles on the conveyor belt,
put the Skittles back, placed another package of breath-
mints on the conveyor belt, shook her head again, and took
two more packages of M&Ms. By this time the credit card
trouble had been resolved and the cashier was starting to
total up her merchandise. I was greatly relieved by this.
Not only had she already exceeded the ten-item limit that
our presence in the express lane demanded of us, but her
behavior was making me vaguely anxious. I’m not sure