Saturday, December 31, 2005

The men of Erasure say, "Happy Birthday, Rog!"

Be you in San Francisco or Florida or Philadelphia or Salt Lake
City or Houston or Dallas or Chicago or Fresno or Atlanta or
Baltimore or Boise, remember to party responsibly...

Friday, December 30, 2005

Closed-Captioning the Playboy Channel

Back in my down-and-out days in New York City, I went
on many job interviews. For the most part, these were
dispiriting episodes that involved sitting before some stone-
faced human resources character as they agonizingly un-
covered my utter lack of practical skills. One, however, was
quite different. This was the time when I went to talk to
someone about maybe becoming a closed-captioner for the
Playboy Channel.

The Playboy Channel, by the way, used to be closed-caption-
ed at an undistinguished looking house on an unsung street in
the middle of Maspeth, Queens. I rode the “G” train up there
in my hand-me-down suit and I stood outside for a long time,
squinting at the street number and then squinting at the add-
ress scrawled on a small slip of paper. When I was finally
certain that they were the same, I fixed my hair, went up
the steps, and rang the bell.

A few seconds later, a guy a few years older than me opened
the door and gave me a couple of once-overs. “What, are

“I’m here about the job,” I said.

“Ah, so you’re sellin’ yourself, right? Am I right?”

I nodded in my shy, Midwestern way and he shouted, “Well,
we don’t want any of that!” Laughing, he slammed the door
in my face. I sighed and waited there for a moment and,
sure enough, he opened the door again and beckoned me
in. “C’man, c’man,” he said, “I was just kiddin’ with you.
You’ve got to talk to Jimmy, right? Jimmy the Owner?”

“I guess so,” I said as he brought me into a living room
filled floor-to-ceiling with electronic equipment of a sort
I had never seen before. There were lots of flashing lights
and long rows of tiny dials, slots the size of professional-
grade tapes and a hundred inscrutable gauges.

“Fancy, huh? I’m Norman. I do odd stuff around here.
Where you from?”

“St. Paul. In Minnesota.”

“Barely heard of it. Not a lotta Jews there?”

“There’s a few.”

“A few. I’m from Passaic.”

“My mother’s from Paterson originally.”

“So you know. I’ll tell Jimmy the Owner you’re here. He’s a
Lebanese, but he’s alright. Be straight with him and he’ll like
you.” Norman told me and then he disappeared down a narrow
hallway. Left alone there, I took the opportunity to gaze at the
heaps of machinery around me. It was all very baffling. It
occurred to me then that, from the outside, the house looked
like any old house, while the inside looked like some sort of
super-clandestine spy operation. There was no furniture,
only the barest sort of carpeting, and whatever decorations
the walls held were too dull for me to take notice of them.
However, I didn’t get much time to snoop around before
Norman came back and said, “You can go back now. He
ain’t doin’ anything.”

I did as I was told and came to a small office. There, an
olive-skinned man sat behind a 1950s-style military-
surplus metal desk. He had a shock of impossibly-black
hair and he was wearing a button-down dress shirt much
too small for him. They way it bulged and stretched over
his big, blocky body made me think of a still frame from
the middle of one of Bruce Banner’s transformations into
the Incredible Hulk. “Hello,” he said, “I am Jimmy. The
Owner. You are Kevin, no?”

I said yes, shook his mighty hand, and sat down across
from him. What commenced then was perhaps the most
rambling job interview ever held anywhere at any time in
human history. It started out with a brief discussion of the
beauty of Lebanon and then segued right away into a ser-
ious, focused talk about Long Island’s endemic traffic pro-
blems. Somewhere after that, I must have mentioned why
I thought I was qualified for the job, but I remember more
a long, detailed lecture on how the Clinton Administration
was the best thing to happen to the closed-captioning
community since cable television. I also remember him
saying at one point, apropos of nothing, “My philosophy
of business is that it’s like a family. Except that a business
makes money.” From there, we detoured for awhile onto
the subject of how much of a blessing it is to have a house
full of daughters and then spoke casually for a few minutes
about whether the Mets would always be such shitheel
losers what with that Mike Piazza. Finally, he told me
that–hypothetically, were I hired–he’d start me off
doing some Playboy stuff (“since the dialogue, it’s not
so much, you know?”) and, if I proved myself with that,
he’d gradually work me up until I was handling one of their
more challenging clients, the Surgery Channel (“They’ve
got all these words for the body parts, you see. Most
people, they don’t know them.”). This was, of course,
assuming I was hired. He gave me an indulgent smile and
then told me that, a lot of times, you go to one of these fancy
new Manhattan restaurants and they serve you only a little
bit of food and expect you to pay fifty dollars for it. “That, to
me, is the ridiculousness of this country,” he explained. Then,
and fairly abruptly, Jimmy the Owner stopped talking, put
his hands together, and looked hard at me. His heavy eye-
brows bundled together and his nostrils let out a slow, sig-
nificant breath. When it was over, he rose up and asked,
“Tell me, kid. You want to have a look around?”

I said I did. He then led me to the captioning room. It was
here that I made the curious discovery that the Playboy
Channel, in the late parts of this last century, happened to
be closed-captioned by a small army of incredibly-attractive,
22-25 year old, post-art school women. They all sat at sep-
arate television screens, their fingernails clicking on keyboards
and their ears encased in puffy, high-fidelity headphones.
Even though they couldn’t hear us, Jimmy the Owner at-
tempted to introduce me to several of them. “This is Simone.
Simone does this modern dance. Here we have Annalisa,
Annalisa is a sculptress. She makes the sculptures, you know?
Ahhh! You see Sue Quan! She is a film-maker!”

It was all quite overwhelming. After “meeting” several of
these women, Jimmy the Owner decided that I had seen
enough of the captioning-room. “Now I will introduce you
to Kenneth!” he declared and pulled me, still stunned and
gape-mouthed, down the hall. We soon came to a room
than the first room I had been in. Here a bespectacled
African-American presided over a thousand knobs and
buttons and whatever else. “Kenneth, this is Kevin!
Kevin, it is Kenneth!” Jimmy the Owner said and we shook
hands under his benevolent gaze. “Kenneth, you will tell
Kevin just what you have done here,” he urged, at which
point Kenneth proceeded to tell me, in awe-inspiring detail,
just what goes into your average closed-captioning venture.
I didn’t follow any of it, but Jimmy the Owner lapped it up.
As I nodded and strained to make my face seem intelligent,
I could hear him behind me, echoing the words he was par-
ticularly fond of: “digital streaming interface” and “slow-speed
playback” and “transverse algorithmic patterns”. When he
had his fill, he grabbed my hand, pumped it up and down,
and said, “I have to attend to some matters. It was a
pleasure. We will be contacting you. It was a pleasure.
Norman will be showing you out.”

Norman, indeed, had appeared in the room just a moment
before. Jimmy the Owner clapped him on the back before
disappearing from the room. “Nice to meet you,” Kenneth
said as I was guided out of his lair.

“Did you understand a word of that? You can tell me,”
Norman said as we made our way out to the front room.

“Not very much,” I confessed.

“Not very much. I love it. They’re going to hire you.”

“You think so?”

“Listen to him. I know so. Get outta here,” he said as
he opened the door. I thanked him and went out. He
was right, too. Three weeks later Kenneth called me up
and offered me the job. I didn’t take it, though. By then
I had found one that I thought would be a lot better. It
certainly paid me more, and it gave me dental benefits. I
was excited to get dental benefits. At the time, apparently,
I’d rather have had dental benefits than get paid to sit in
a stuffy room with a bunch of beautiful artsy women,
closed-captioning the Playboy Channel.

I didn’t have my priorities together back then, I guess.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Mom-safe post #1: Kittens are Magic!

KITTENS! What a joy they are to behold–these
adorable kittens at play! See how they frolic? See
how they scamper? What delightful kittens! Oh,
how I would like to cuddle them, how I would like
to give them sweet kitten-appropriate names,
names like Mookie, Pookie, Tuggle-Bear, and
Count Von Kittensley the Third! Awwwwww, kittens!

Kittens are sweet. Kittens are tender. A kitten
doesn’t care about those liquor stores you robbed
that you love it, feed it, and pick up its vomit every
now and then. You see, a kitten doesn’t know words
like “repeat offender”, “menace to the community”,
or “incorrigible sociopathic felon”. Even if a kitten
did, it would just look up into your face and mewl
softly until you scratch its belly! Kittens are for
everyone!

No culture on earth is known to eat kittens!
This is either because they’re soooooo loveable
or because they taste really bad! No one knows
for sure!

Do you think that if humans were kitten-sized and
kittens were human-sized that the human-sized
kittens would keep us and take care of all our needs
and let us sleep for twenty-two hours a day? Or do
you think that the human-sized kittens would take
the first opportunity to pounce upon us kitten-sized
humans, bat us around for a while, kill us horribly,
and then carry away our bruised and gruesome
corpses as an offering to their mates? I don’t know
the answer to that one, but I sure am happy that
kittens are kitten-sized!

Kittens! Kittens! KITTENS!

Smarter than babies, quieter than puppies,
cleaner than guinea pigs, softer than fish: don't
you want to go out and get yourself a whole
teeming bushel of kittens? I think you do.

What time is it? It’s kitten-thirty.

It’s always kitten-thirty.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Grave danger in Insomnia Reportland

My parents are now fully appraised of this website. Because
of this, I feel it necessary to make a few changes around here.
No longer will you see things like this, this, or this. Oh, no:
not with the chance that Mom might read it and, horror of
horrors, ask me about it the next time I visit them. So I’m
going to clean up my act around here. From here on out, I
will discuss three subjects and three subjects only. They are:

1) How wonderful my Mom and Dad are and what an ex-
cellent job they did raising me

2) Kittens! They sure are cute!

and

3) How I’m eating well, exercising regularly, not working too
hard, and finding as much time as possible to attend stimulating
cultural events.

I realize that this change might take some getting used to.
Still, I’m sure you understand that, in the long run, this
needs to happen to keep my afternoons at the family home-
stead as pleasant, relaxing, and un-awkward as possible...

Monday, December 26, 2005

Before Christmas, I learned that the father of my oldest,
come several serious health problems, so this came as a
shock to everyone. It is a terrible, sudden thing and there’s
nothing I can say or write to make sense of such a loss. I
would, however, like to express my deepest condolences to
his family while explaining a little of why we were all so lucky
to have known this man.

He was, to me, more like an uncle than just the father of my
friend. When I was growing up, it was like I had two families.
I had the one who that was actually DNA-linked to me and
then my friend’s family, who always made me feel welcome
and gave me many of the life experiences that made me who
I am today. They let me tag along to their picnics, parties,
and church functions and they were always ready with en-
couragement and good advice. Without their generosity and
their wisdom, I would be much less than I am today.

My friend’s father was content to be a quiet kind of guy most
of the time, but if you got him talking, the funny stories and
the dirty jokes would come spilling out of him until it was two
hours after you were supposed to be home and your stomach
hurt from laughing so much. He was, quite simply, a great
storyteller. He could make the simplest anecdote a fascinating
thing. He could reminisce about digging a latrine back when
he was a boy scout and in his words would be the kind of detail,
humor, and observational skill you won’t find in most novels.
Usually, though, you’d be laughing so hard you wouldn’t notice
that you’d been given a gift, that he had just showed you once
again how all life can be full of wonder and weirdness and comedy
if you just knew how to find it. He was a living example of how
the truest art is often found in people who wouldn’t call them-
selves an “artist” even if you threatened them with hot knives.
As someone with pretensions of being an author, I am humbled
to have known someone like that. It is one of the blessings of
my life that I was able to sit on a St. Paul porch and just listen
to him.

I know that, when the first shock and sadness has abated some,
I will always smile when I remember him. The storyteller is
gone, but the stories never will be. The ones he told and the
ones he inspired with his warmth, wit, and spirit will carry on
forever. And, because of what he taught us, they will only get
better with each telling.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

This Proves Something Conservative!

This nation faces only one truly unprecedented problem
and it has to do with our leisure time. On the one hand,
we’ve reached the point where we can expect great stret-
ches of it, while, on the other, most of us don’t really like
to do anything. So we’re forced to fill these gaping holes
in the day with activities that merely pass the time, that
kill the empty hours without ever becoming thrilling, en-
lightening, or even really edifying: watching television,
buying things, drinking to excess, and feasting on onion
blossoms and mayonnaise-drenched bits of hog flesh.

I’m not saying this to be disparaging. I enjoy the same sorts
of pursuits and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them.
However, I recognize that a culture with such a sedentary set
of hobbies is prone to sudden, inexplicable fancies. If we’re
hopelessly dull, we don’t let it interfere with our love of
novelty. This is a country always on the lookout for new
ways to be bored. Think of it: the Rubik’s cube, Friends,
Sudoko, Quaaludes, X-Box, Texas Hold ‘Em, etc., etc., etc.
We have endless ways to get through the languors in our day,
but there is always room for more. Recently, in fact, a small
band of noisy, resentful people have invented a brand new
diversion to take even more of the edge off our already well-
sanded lives. It’s called the “This Proves Something Conser-
vative!” game.

Currently, only the cognoscenti play it. You have to know
about certain sites deep in the sewers of the internet to watch
it being done. Either that, or you must listen to talk radio.
Sure, more and more, it’s creeping up into mainstream
editorials and news channel talking-head shows, but it
remains largely a cult phenomenon. I don’t see why this
has to be so. With a little push, it could become a nationwide
pastime on the level of Mad-Libs. The rules are easy to learn,
after all, and the fun to be had is unlimited. Here’s what you
need to do:

1) Find a news item.

2) Describe, with as much passion and venom as you can
muster, exactly why this item corroborates some point of
right-wing ideology.

Some players may choose to reward extra points for truly
awe-inspiring displays of chest-thumping moral outrage or
especially-impressive intellectual dishonesty, but this isn’t
required. I do, however, think that the game is more fun
when bonuses are granted for attempting to wring conser-
vative “wisdom” out of more challenging subject matter.
This will always be subjective, of course, but I can’t see why
a player unwilling to tackle anything other than articles about
Barbra Streisand should be considered as skilled as one willing
to find the true soul of conservatism in feature stories on
Jessica Simpson, exposes about overcrowded chicken farms,
and cover articles from Cat Fancy magazine. In others, there
should be a difficulty quotient. Let me explain what I mean:

Tier One–“Softballs” (0-5 points)

These are the news articles that even the laziest conservative
can churn out fifteen thousand angry words about. They
typically concern some subject that most right-wingers have
a strong knee-jerk aversion to. Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi,
Nadine Strossen, Hilary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter,
John Murtha, Cindy Sheehan, Jacques Chiraq, Kofi Annan,
and Sean Penn are some of the figures who appear regularly
in this category. There is a basic, easy-to-learn script about
these characters and most accomplished Conservatism
Provers have internalized it to the point where they don’t
have to explain why these people are bad anymore, they
just cite the right-wing consensus as though it was evidence.
The same can be said for softball subjects–war, anti-war
protests, anti-war protestors, the ACLU, the Patriot Act,
patriotism, Republicans, Democrats, Europeans, Middle
Easterners, the economy, the culture, our history and our
future–there is a well-established, tried-and-true script
for all of these and to Prove Conservatism from them all
you must do is apply it. You need little creativity and
even less flair. For this reason, this sort of material might
be good for beginners or bloggers, but the real heavy-hitting,
innovative game-playing is being done at more rarified levels.
The following article is a good example of a softball:

Gang-bangers, celebrities mourn Crips founder

Now I realize that some of you might consider it bad
taste to pick on someone’s memorial service. If this
is the case, you clearly aren’t ready to Prove Conser-
vatism! What is important to a true-blue Conservatism
Prover isn’t taste, tact, or common decency. No, no:
the game is the thing, everything else falls into place
somewhere far behind. Mocking funerals, calling
decorated veterans cowards, japing at the misfortunes
of your opponents–all this is encouraged if a few points
can be scored from it.

Any committed player can’t help but salivate at all the
brities, a callous mass murderer being remembered fondly.
There is so much room for righteous grandstanding that it’s
hard to know where to get up on it. I myself would start

“He’s no different from any other human being. We

Uh-oh. When faced with statements like these, a person
dedicated to the Proof of Conservatism can do only one
thing: hold them up as an example of what all liberals
everywhere are thinking. To score full points on this
challenge, I must blithely suggest that everyone to the
\left of John McCain feels that cold-blooded killers are
“no different from any other human being” and should
be considered just poor souls who have “made mistakes”.
This, however, would only whet my appetite for cheap
potshots. Soon, I would turn my sights on the even less-
coherent Rick Hayes:

“...what can a black man do, what can he do in society,
to get another chance at life?”

This would stir me to florid Limbaughisms, in which I
would patronizingly state the obvious in order to sneak
by something dubious. “Oh, well, Mr. Hayes, someone
might begin by not gunning down four innocent people...”
I would pronounce, all omniscience and ego, and from
there we’re just a hop, skip, and a jump away from
Proving that, since some guy at some funeral said
something dumb once, liberalism is a morally-bankrupt
philosophy, not to mention a vile stain on the fabric of
America.

You may note that there seems to be a few steps miss-
ing in that formulation. That’s the wonder of Proving
Conservatism–you don’t have to be strictly Socratic.
Once you’ve found something absurd, obnoxious, or
dim, you’re most of the way there. All you have to do
then is blame it on “liberalism”, which is really simple
since the term itself has been pre-defined to mean that
which is absurd, obnoxious, or dim. Noting yet another
way that liberals and liberalism are asinine is the most
basic form of Proving Conservatism. The assumption
is that liberals are lying idiots, therefore conservatives
are smart people with unshakeable integrity. This may
not hold in the real world, but if you’re one of those sick-
ening truth fetishists, this hobby likely isn’t for you.

Tier Two–“Tongue Twisters” (5-25 points)

As pleasurable and gratifying as blaming liberalism for
every ill-advised comment is, one cannot stay at this
simple level forever (well, actually, certain people can,
but I’m feeling enough of the holiday spirit not to name
names). Any player with ambition is impatient to pro-
gress to the next level, a level where the Proving of
Conservatism is a much more tortured process. Here
we must bravely leave behind our safe, certain form-
ulations and take that chilling leap into the land of Just
trate how this is done:

Blair Turns on EU Critics

The difficulty here is in the glaring contradiction a good
Conservative Prover must resolve in order to restore
harmony to his or her world. In the accepted schema,
the European Union is a bad thing, yet Tony Blair is a
good thing. The former is creeping global socialism and
a bunch of funny-speaking bureaucrats getting together
the latter is our stalwart ally in the War on Terror. What,
then, to do when a good thing goes and advocates a bad
thing? Do you sink your fangs into Blair’s pasty neck and
risk opening yourself up to charges of being a defeatist
weakling who doesn’t care about the very future of
Western Civilization? Or do you abstain from your
solemn duty to bash the EU and chance turning yourself
into yet another apologist for leftist one-world government
types? These aren’t very good options, I’m afraid. Yet
you also must resist the temptation to try and sail be-
tween this Scylla and Charybdis. Crafting your argument
too finely will only undercut your position. Subtlety is a
losing move in this game. Nothing conservative has ever
been Proven by being delicate. Boldness is what is called
for, boldness and a willingness to ignore what needs to be
ignored.

This is why the proper way to play the game here is to
length about how Blair, like Bush, is a man of grand ideas
who is being mercilessly picked apart by small-minded,
politically-motivated enemies. You must elide all that
uncomfortable business and construct some sort of Ayn
Randian superman saga where the noble visionary is
assailed at eery turn by the petty demands of lesser
beings. Don’t worry about seeming like some sort of
occult Francophile–gratuitously insult the French a
couple of times and you’ll clear up this charge. Throw
in some stray phrases about how the prime minister
has been galvanized by Bush’s courage and you’re
golden. You’ve made no sense and the implications
things you say you believe, but that’s one of the glorious
secrets of the game. It’s the noise that’s important, it’s
the posturing and the shit-flinging. Many of the Conser-
vatism’s greatest Provers, in their spare time, can be
found in wilderness preserves, watching what the mon-
keys do. A monkey is under no obligation to fling their
shit consistently. A monkey does not bother to study
the implications of where their shit lands. That is the
beauty of being a monkey.

At some levels, “This Proves Something Conservative!”
seems like an intricate dance, while at others it is more like
a monster orgy at Devil’s Island. True players embrace this
aspect of the game. With this in mind, they stride proudly
into the sport’s final proving grounds.

Tier Three–“The Twilight Zone” (25-5000 points)

You think you’re the slickest thing ever to get a three-hour
talk radio slot? Oh yeah, you’ve got the ideology down cold,
you can find Proof of Conservatism where even George Will
wouldn’t dare to look for it. You’re like that obnoxious kid
in sixth grade who could find Waldo in five seconds flat and
couldn’t resist pointing him out to all the other, slower kids
who were still squinting at the picture. You’re smug about
it, although you’re smart enough to mask it behind sly self-
deprecation and a tissue-thin concern for your fellow man.
You’re no empty-headed talking-points generator. No, sir.
You’re an intellectual. You know, you just know, that conser-
vatism is the most common element in the universe, found
in abundance everywhere. Well, then, perhaps you ought
to go truffle-hunting for some ideological points in this
article:

Moose Captured After Son Plays Saxophone

Not so easy, is it slugger? Read it again if you have to.
Is anything coming to you? Sure, perhaps you want to
pounce on that game officer and his nanny-statish con-
cern for the public’s safety, but that’s a sucker’s move,
a mistake a rank amateur might make. You don’t want
to be put in the position of taking a strong stand against
the public safety, do you? Of course you don’t. You
consider yourself a solemn protector of the public’s
safety. I mean, that’s why we need all those wiretaps
and secret prisons and “coercion” techniques, right?
You could evade all these quibbles and try to hypo-
crite your way out of it by deriding this guy’s politically-
correct moose-coddling, but that won’t satisfy the great
longing within you to be Right, will it? You’ve got bigger
fish to fry than some game warden, after all.

Therefore you must turn the tables. You must play the
trump card in every Conservative deck: the elites-are-
being-mean move. You will present these people as proud,
honest, hard-working red staters. You will point out that
the boy’s baritone sax playing proves that “the arts” aren’t
completely neglected in the flyover parts of the country.
You will talk about the spirit of cooperation and good-humor
that the citizenry of Sioux Falls embodies, so unlike the
effete, smothering atmosphere you find hanging heavy
over the country’s coasts and cultural centers. And then,
because “This Proves Something Conservative!” cannot be
accomplished without an attack, you will begin to sputter
angrily about how liberals in their twee enclaves belittle
and mock these simple people. “Oh! A moose, how quaint!”
Zelda and Biff Liberal are saying in their austere modern
home somewhere in Boston, “Look how the savages are
dealing with their moose problem!” And then they chuckle
softly, drink some more wine, and go out to see a play where
people stuff American flags up their bungholes. Because no
liberal anywhere has ever seen a moose. No, all they see is
weekly Bush-effigy-burning rally. Your thesis, then, must
be that the people in the article are gentle, noble Moose-
fearing people, whereas other people not in the article are
callous, snide Moose-fearing-people-haters who wear
berets and periodically enjoy gay sex.

It’s not pretty, but it’s what you have to do to win the
game.

Flopsy the clown says, "Happy birthday, Cathy!"

Don't worry about that soft squeaking sound you're hearing
at night. That's just me under your bed, making balloon
animals...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Who's this dude with his hand in my pocket?

The other day I was coming back from the coffee-
shop down the street when some weirdo stuffed his
hand into my coat pocket. I was listening to my
headphones and daydreaming pretty seriously, so
I didn’t notice when he snuck up behind me. By the
time I was aware of his presence, he was already
feeling around in there. I spun around and he stop-
ped, at which point we had the following enlightening
exchange:

ME: What the fuck? What the fuck?

WEIRDO: Ssssssorrry...

ME: I mean, what the fuck? What the fuck was that?

WEIRDO: I’m going. I’m going. I’m cool.

He then brushed by me and hurried on down the road. He
was tall and skinny and he smelled quite bad. I figured he
was drunk and had no idea what he was doing. Otherwise
he was the worst pickpocket in the history of the universe
and, if that was the case, he deserved my pity more than my
abuse. All he was going to get out of that pocket was a handful
of boogery kleenex anyway, so no harm done.

This is, by the way, the second in my series of "crazy people
accosting me on the way home from the coffeeshop" posts.
The first is here.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Chang and Eng say "Get well soon, Tara!"

When your head cold clears up, you can come to the Mutter
Museum in lovely Philadelphia and have a look at our fused
liver!

"Hey, you! Over there! Marry me, why don't you?"

It is possible that one day I will get married. Just in terms
of statistics and demographics, it seems very likely. This
means I have to be prepared. If I want eternal wedded
bliss to live up to its reputation, I need to find the best way
to begin it. When I “pop the question”, I want the moment
to be unique, romantic, and–most importantly–unrefuse-
able. I want my lovely and gentle intended one to overflow
with joy, to have a moment that she will be unable to re-
member without tears for decades to come, or at least until
we both die in a horrible snowmobiling accident. I’m not
going to be one of those guys who gets down on his knees
on the Jumbotron at a Vikings game. Nor do I want to take
the safe and easy route, the “special night in our favorite
restaurant” cliche that every other batty lover tries. My
future bride deserves more than that. She deserves a
proposal that will encapsulate in an instant all the special
wonder that is married life with me. To this end, I have
come up with several opinions and I would appreciate it
if you, my small and far-flung internet audience, would be
so kind as to pick out the one you think is the best.

Hypothetical Marriage Proposal Number One: “The
Emergency”

For this approach, I will need a Perkins. Preferably a
Perkins just off a major highway in a second or third
ring suburb. Those tend to be the Perkins with the more
“homey” atmosphere, rather than the sleek, urban
Perkins experience we in the core cities enjoy. I want
this to begin as an evening that puts my intended at
ease. I will rub her sore feet, I will serenade her with
pretty songs from the soundtrack to “West Side Story”,
and I will purchase her flowers. Perhaps the flowers I
purchase will be peonies, but I cannot say this for sure
yet. The flowers will be seasonally appropriate, though,
of that she can be certain. When she is at her most re-
laxed, I will then casually bring up the possibility of a
dinner at Perkins. Now if I know my hypothetical in-
tended, this is an offer she will not refuse. Perkins
provides only the finest entrees from the American
heartland, plus it also has quesadillas. I enjoy quesa-
dillas.

But it is not my enjoyment that is at issue here. Especially
not when I’ve worked so diligently over the days before-
hand to set up this special evening. You see, prior to her
arrival at this Perkins, I have been frantically arranging
all the details, coaching all the participants, and practicing
my lines. For her, it will be yet another dream date to
Perkins in the company of her committed and charming
man, but to me it will be the culmination of at least three
days of intensive planning and labor. Here’s how it will go.

We will arrive at the selected Perkins and the host/hostess
will, after I display a certain hand-signal, direct us to a seat
near the center of the restaurant. She will also ask if we
would care for anything to drink. After making sure that
the free-refill rule is in effect at this Perkins, I will request
a Diet Coke. My lady fair is free to ask for anything she likes,
as I have already made it clear to her that I will be paying.
We will then have a fifteen-to-twenty minutes of lighthearted
banter, during which I will order the quesadillas and she will
order her own favorite dish, which I predict will be a chicken
and mushroom omelette. And then, when the server comes
by to check on us, I will say, “Oh! These quesadillas are so
GOOOOOD!”, which is the restaurant’s cue that zero hour
is upon us.

Three to five seconds later, a man–my confederate--two
tables over will create a distraction, the nature of which is
to be determined. He may stand up, holler out something
inappropriate, and then sit back down again. Or maybe he
will loudly drop a bowl of soup on the ground. Or maybe
he’ll just bark like a dog. I’ll think of something, I assure
you. The important thing is the distraction. My beautiful
love-kitten will look away from me for a moment, giving
me time to take the ring I have previously purchased from
Sears and place it between my tongue and my gums. Then,
when her attention is focused once again on me, her future
husband, I will pretend that I am choking upon an errant
bit of quesadilla. I hope to take acting classes, so that I
may be as convincing as possible. My eyes will bug out,
my hands will claw at my throat, and I will say “Gaaak!
Gaaak! Gaaak!”.

This is when I will fall to my knees before her, thus cleverly
assuming the proposal position. Another confederate will
then rush to my aid, administering me the Heimlich Man-
euver before her terrified gaze. On the third thrust from
my second accomplice, I will spit the ring into my out-
stretched hands and then offer it up to my glorious bride.
“Here...take it...it’s for you, my gentle lamb!” I will gasp
out before I “pass out” at her feet.

I hope to wake up to the applause of the entire restaurant
and a blushing, brand new fiancee.

Hypothetical Marriage Proposal Number Two: “Perfor-
mance

Art”

This one is a little simpler, but it still requires that I find
a Russian midget and a giant who can play violin. Here, I
must pretend to lose my voice about a week before the
chosen date. At the same time, I’ll be acting more and
more agitated around her, as though there’s something
incredibly important I need to tell her, something crucial
and profound that my tonsil infection is preventing me
from getting across. With any luck, my mounting frust-
ration will rub off on her and, by the time my plan has
reached its final stages, she will be delirious with worry
and stress. What is Kevin trying to tell me?, she’ll won-
der, Whatever could he want? But she’s playing into my
hands. Romance, after all, is just that which happens at
the point where utter mystery meets the vaguely compre-
hensible.

Eventually, this will all come to a head on a Tuesday
evening. I will be wild and inconsolable and she’ll be
confused, distraught, and–perhaps, just perhaps–a
little hopeful. When I feel things have reached a sort
of climax, I’ll hold up my hands to silence her and walk
over to the telephone. Without taking my gaze off her,
I will dial a certain number and then push a secret series
of buttons. This will be what alerts the Russian midget
and the giant who can play violin, who will be waiting for
my call in a classic Volkswagen parked around the cor-
ner from my apartment. When they get the signal, they
will come briskly to my door and ring the bell.

Before letting them in, I will bring my sweet-smelling
lavender-orchid girl to the couch and beckon her to sit.
Then, I will wave the Russian midget and the giant–who,
by the way, can be of any ethnicity–into the room. One
of them will be carrying a portable tape recorder, which
he will place on the coffee table. Then, as the giant begins
to play a lilting tune on his violin, the Midget will begin
to recite a series of very moving Russian poems. When
they have created the appropriate ambiance, I will hit
“play” on the tape machine. From the speakers will
come a familiar voice.

“Hello, young lady, I’m Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former
Secretary General of the United Nations, and I’m here
to tell you that love is a magic thing,” Boutros Boutros-
Ghali, former Secretary General of the United Nations
will say, “It is all around us, like air. Unlike air, however,
it takes another person to make love real. When two
people get together and find love, the whole world smiles
upon them. As former Secretary General of the United
Nations, this is something I know. I also know that you,
young lady, have been blessed by these feelings too.
And so has Kevin, standing silently by your side, he too
knows the powerful feelings love brings. This is why I
feel compelled, as a private citizen and former diplomat,
to ask you something that he cannot, as a temporary
medical condition has rendered him mute. The question
is this: will you, sweet thing, marry Kevin? Will you?
Will you? Will you?”

And then, just as Boutros Boutros-Ghali wraps up his
speech, when the drama in the room is at its apex, the
midget will stop reciting and the giant will stop playing
violin. I will fall to my knees then, bring out my trusty
Sears ring, and hold it aloft. “Meow!” I will say, my first
word to her in a week.

Licking my lips, I will eagerly await her reply.

Hypothetical Marriage Proposal Number Three: “The
Ceremony”

This is the most complicated of my ideas, but also the most
sensual and, for that reason, it holds a certain appeal. Allow
me to set it up for you:

I drive my lady love to a secluded, preferably-wooded area
for a session of “heavy petting” under the glorious, twinkling
stars of the North Country. With the soothing, erotically-
charged music of Johnny Mathis serenading us, I will go to
great lengths to ensure that she is, as they say, lost in the
moment. It is necessary for her to have her eyes shut,
because–as we furiously make-out–curious happenings
are afoot. Five to seven figures in blood-red robes are
slipping out from the underbrush to surround our car. Some
are armed with pitch-forks, some are fitted out with scary
goat-horn helmets. Silently, menacingly, they draw nearer
and nearer.

At this point, I will look away from my sweet paramour for
a moment and cry out in elaborately feigned shock. “Oh
my God!” I cry, “Satanists! Run, honey, run!”. This is
when I throw open her door and push her out into the
night. It is very important that I do this before she re-
alizes what is happening. Under no circumstances is she
to escape the Satanists. If that happens, the whole plan is
shot. They must seize her and spirit her away (gently, of
course) to a secluded cabin. As she is being carried through
the woods, she may perhaps look back at the car. For this
reason, it is important that the remaining Satanists be ass-
aulting me. It would be cool if one of them could actually
be pulling me through the window of the car. I don’t know,
though. Perhaps that’s a little dangerous.

Anyway, at the cabin, my special girl will be forced into a
will be a nice locked chamber. There will be attractive
tapestries, comfortable furniture, and perhaps even a
folding table laden with the refreshments she likes. She
will be kept here for a few hours, so I suppose I should
also arrange for a television set or a radio or something.
After all necessary preparations are finished on my end,
a “High Priestess” makes her way to my darling angel’s
cell. The High Priestess must be spooky, but not overly
so. Maybe she could be wearing a fright-wig and some
greasepaint, but I don’t want her completely horrifying.
Her job is to tell my gentle sparrow that the ceremony is
to begin soon, and that she must put on the garments that
Baal has commanded her to wear. These will be robes of
available at Joann Fabrics. If my she-consort refuses or
puts up any sort of fuss, the High Priestess will use her
status as a fellow female to convince her. I realize that
this may be difficult. By this point, I imagine that the poor
thing might be out of her mind with concern for me.

Let’s assume that she reluctantly agrees to put on the outfit
given her. Let’s further assume that she allows herself to be
brought back through the woods by her Satanic captors.
These are, I’m sure you’ll understand, great logistical chal-
lenges that I fully admit I haven’t worked out quite yet. I
would, of course, like to minimize the “kidnapping the love
of my life and holding her against her will” aspect of this
event, but some things just can’t be helped. Unfortunately,
for romance to bloom, bizarre and questionable behavior
must often be countenanced.

Putting all that aside, imagine the Satanists leading my
winsome beloved to a clearing deep in the heart of the
wilderness. Here there will be a massive bonfire and as
many dagger-wielding devil-worshippers as I can muster
for the occasion. In the center of this awful gathering will
be an enormous inverted cross, which I will be tied upside-
down to. Weather permitting and assuming that I’ve been
faithful to my exercise regimen, it might make sense that
I be naked for this part of the plan. Or at least clad in the
skimpiest loin-cloth possible. Care must be taken, however,
to assure that the bungee cords holding me to the cross do
not chafe my wrists and ankles. I didn’t get into this to get
chafed.

As my tender lady-friend is brought screaming and crying
to the cross, the Chief Satanist–who will be denoted by the
black-piping on his robes as well as his elaborate goat head-
dress–says to her, “You must SACRIFICE this OFFERING
TO SATAN! You must STRIKE him from the VERY EARTH!
The GROUND must be SOAKED with his BLOOD!” The crowd
of lesser devil-worshippers will be chanting as this is going on:
they’ll be saying something catchy like “Kill him! Kill him!
Kill him!”.

It is my hope that my dearest one will balk at this command,
even when she is handed a keen and very long knife with
which to cut me open. Because, really, the plan sort of de-
pends on her complaining at least a little so that the Chief
Satanist can bellow out “SILENCE!!!” and quiet down all
his lackeys. After a few moments, which should only be
filled by the terrified sobbing of my soon-to-be-fiancee,
the Chief Satanist will ask, “Have you, pathetic offering to
SATAN, anything to say before your feeble life is released
from the chains of your putrid body?”

This is when I, to use the lingo, “pop the question”.After I
whisper out the necessary phrase, the Satanists will again
to start to chant, only this time they’ll be saying “Marry
him! Marry him! Marry him!” as the Chief Satanist reaches
inside his robe to bring forth the sparkling, magnificent ring
that I had the salesgirl at Sears pick out earlier in the day.

The look on her face, I think, will almost as good as her
inevitable acceptance of my offer of holy matrimony.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Golden Mushroom

Tonight (or, more accurately, this morning), I had a curious
dream. In it, I was visiting Seattle, but it wasn’t the real
Seattle, it was a Seattle that exists solely within my head.
This Seattle had an old-fashioned steam-engine that you
could ride around in, and I boarded it with the wise and
tolerant Lady Mel and the dapper, suave Gregory J. We
had a plan, I think, to take it to Vancouver, but the con-
ductor said the farthest he went was to Snohomish County,
so we rode it there and then, after becoming appalled at
how “ghetto” the Snohomish County of my subconscious
is, we headed back to Seattle. Somewhere in the midst
of all this my hair grew at a rapid pace and in a strange
pattern, giving me a head that resembled an enormous,
listing mushroom. Mel, because she’s just as incredibly
honest and caring in my dream life as she is in the real
world, took me aside to a quiet part of the train and told
me that my hair was making me look like an incredible
idiot that she was embarrassed even to be seen in Sno-
homish County with me. Gregory J., in his subtle way,
nodded his agreement. Fortunately, the train pulled up
to a large strip mall that happened to have a “Great Clips”
as one of its anchor tenants. I told my friends that they
should go on without me and I ventured on alone to the
barbers’. However, this was no ordinary Great Clips.
In the Pacific Northwest, apparently, Great Clips are
intimidating, high-fashion, avant-garde places. I walk-
ed into the sparsely-furnished, quasi-Bauhaus room
and wandered around for awhile before anyone noticed
me. Everyone was sitting in space-aged barber chairs
to leave when a stylist–who bore a strange resemblance
to notably-attractive film star Keira Knightley, by the
way–came out of a back room, took one look at me, and
said “Oh my God! You’ve got a Golden Mushroom!”.
She then ran up to me and started to prod my hair, ex-
plaining as she did “I’ve always dreamed of working on
one of these!”

“It makes me look like an idiot, though,” I explained,
somewhat lamely.

She made me sit down in a space-aged chair and began
to circle around me, sometimes snipping at me with a
pair of very large scissors. “Oh no no no no no,” she
said, “You can’t deface a Golden Mushroom! You can only
hope to tame it!” I made another feeble protest, but she
wasn’t having any of it. She made a few more desultory
swipes with her scissors, and then she started to wrap
tinfoil around my face. “What are you doing?” I asked
her, but she ignored me. Eventually, I couldn’t see any-
stuff. This was hot and stifling, as you can imagine, and
nor was it the conservative hair cut I was looking for.
So I started to scream. I screamed and screamed until
I realized that my screaming was the sound of my alarm
clock and it was time for me to get up and do something
with my day...

Friday, December 16, 2005

A Touch of Self-Censorship

If you happened to be looking at my other site between
roughly 1:30 and 2 this morning, you would have seen
something I’m not proud of. I wrote a stupid little story,
posted it up there, and then thought better of it. I’ve
taken it off now, and I sincerely hope no one got the
chance to read it. It was awful. It was cruel and dim-
witted and, worst of all, it just wasn’t funny enough to
get away with it. I can usually spew out reams and
reams of bad taste without a qualm, then merrily stick
it up on the internet for everyone to see without a single
worry that someone out there will be distressed or dis-
gusted by my sense of humor. This piece bothered me,
though. I didn’t want to be associated with it. I’m a bit
ashamed to have created it.

The problem, I think, is that I tried to make a joke out of
gross brutality. This is a tendency in our current popular
culture that I don’t want much to do with. I fully admit
to being fixated on violence. I am fascinated by crime,
revenge, and human awfulness. Many of my stories, both
here and elsewhere, are violent. Yet one has to be careful
when it comes to that kind of stuff and comedy. Too often,
it comes off as crass and nihilistic. It comes off as a childish
attempt to shock. I want my attempts to shock to be mature,
I guess. Perhaps that’s an absurd way to be, but it’s probably
better than trying to get people to laugh at the worst things
the world has to offer.

Although, in all honesty, I’ll probably dust it off one day
when I’m hurting for material. I can probably just take
out a sentence or two, clean up a few bits, and then not
is, after all.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The terrorist and the waiter

Ali Hassan Salameh was the sort of terrorist you don’t hear
too much about these days. As much a jet-setting playboy
as a bloodthirsty militant, he led the lush life in various swank
Mediterranean hotspots whenever he wasn’t working as the
operations head of Black September, a Palestinian terrorist
outfit closely linked with the PLO. In fact, it is thought that
Salameh–the son of a wealthy anti-Zionist–was being groom-
ed as Arafat’s successor: his charisma, his confidence, and
his apparent comfort with extreme violence made him a big
player the Palestinians' low-level war with Israel. Secular,
suave, and profligate, Salameh wasn’t one of the bearded,
Koran-quoting zealots we see standing in front of shoddy
backdrops on fuzzy videocassettes dropped into Al-Jazeera’s
mailbox. He was more Carlos the Jackal than Al Qaeda; he
was as comfortable on the beach at St. Tropez as he was
plotting hijackings, bombings, and massacres.

One such atrocity that he was intimately involved with
was the hostage-taking and subsequent murder of eleven
members of the Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 Munich
games. Afterward, he authored and supplied the weaponry
for a scheme that, if it hadn’t been foiled at the last minute,
would have used surface-to-air missiles to shoot down Golda
Meir’s plane as she landed for a conference in Rome. Not
long after this, Salameh’s network of agents managed to
discover the identity of an Israeli spy named Baruch Cohen,
who was subsequently murdered in a cafe in Madrid.

The powers that be in Israel, who had begun to target
Palestinian militants for assassination following the Munich
stacles to this, however. He was well-protected by his body-
guards and his ability to slip in and out of various Middle-
Eastern and European countries, true, but a bigger difficultly–
and an even bigger impetus to have him done away with--
came from his cozy relationship with the CIA. Middle-
East station chiefs bent over backwards to turn Salameh
into a CIA “asset”, even going so far as to offer him three
million dollars of American taxpayer money. This rankled
the terrorist’s sense of propriety, however, and he refused
to speak to them after they dared to make such a base
attempt to curry favor with him. The Middle-Eastern
station chiefs couldn’t even win their way into his favor by
offering him a “blank check”.

For many in Israel, killing Salameh was a top priority. He
was tracked through Paris, Geneva, Zurich and finally up
into Scandinavia, where Israeli intelligence received a
report that he had taken refuge in Lillehammer, Norway,
a bucolic and modestly-sized town north of Oslo. A team
of agents was quickly dispatched to scour the town for the
from a courier named Kemal Benamane. They shadowed
this young man up from Oslo until he met up with another
Arab in a Lillehammer cafe. Although some members of
the assassination team were skeptical that the man
Benamane met was indeed Salameh, the Arab was placed
under tight surveillance and the plan went forward, even
as Israel was undergoing another crisis–a hijacked Jap-
anese aircraft that many thought was going to be crashed
difficult due to this unfolding drama, the Israeli agents
did manage to get approval for their plan to kill Salameh
in Norway.

On the evening of July 21, 1973, the agents trailed the
man they thought was Salameh and his young, pregnant
companion to a local movie theater. Afterwards, the
couple caught a bus back to their neighborhood, where
two men leaped out of a white Mazda and began firing at
the man, who collapsed on the sidewalk as the car raced
off into the night, leaving the pregnant woman there
screaming over the dead body of her husband. Israel
would have had its long-due revenge, if only for the fact
that the pregnant woman’s husband wasn’t Ali Hassan
Salameh, but instead a well-liked Moroccan waiter named
Ahmed Bouchiki.

In the uproar that followed, Israel temporarily suspended
its program of foreign assassinations. Salameh, however,
went on much as he had before. He helped to mastermind
an attack in the Athens airport that involved terrorists
opening fire at passengers waiting to board a flight to Israel.
He also was involved in a failed plot to take hostages at the
Saudi Arabian embassy in Paris. Eventually, he even re-
kindled his relationship with our government, becoming
the official representative of Yassir Arafat in talks with
the then-director of the agency. Later, he would save
Henry Kissinger’s life by warning him of an assassination
plot. After marrying a former Miss Universe, the CIA
paid for his honeymoon in Hawaii and helped fulfill the
terrorist’s lifelong dream of visiting Disney World. These
were Salameh’s salad days, perhaps, but Israeli intelli-
gence hadn’t forgotten him, much less forgiven him. He
was killed by a car bomb in Beirut on January 22, 1979.

---

I find this story interesting for a number of reasons. For
one, it helps us to see that the disputes in the Middle East
are somewhere around a million times less simple than the
caricatures we see on FOX today. American officials were
happy to get in bed with a man who had facilitated the
murder of countless innocent Israelis. Israel, for its part,
had sent its agents roaming across Europe with orders to
kill various PLO heavy-hitters in an operation that seem-
ed more like something out of a mobster movie than the
actions of a modern, enlightened government. Of course,
the PLO needed to be dealt with harshly at this point in
its history, as factions affiliated with it were responsible
for inflicting incredible cruelty on ordinary Israelis. This
is a saga with few heroes and no easy answers, an ugly
part of history that doesn’t lend itself well to the old good
versus evil narrative.

But I think there are lessons for us here, as Americans in
2005, living in the midst of our own ugly part of history.
Like the United States in September 2001, Israel in 1972
was deeply wounded by a band of fanatics. In both cases,
the response to that wound became a problem in itself.
Israel’s approach–targeting terrorists for assassination–
was perhaps more elegant in execution and honest in its
aims than this country’s actions 30 years later, but it still
proved to be a flawed strategy. The murder of Ahmed
Bouchiki was a grave error and a great human tragedy,
of course, but it also was a major setback for Israel. By
trying to avenge itself with such a heavy hand and by
failing so grotesquely, the Israeli defense forces allowed
themselves to be painted by people far and wide (many
of whom had no sympathy whatsoever for Palestinian
militants) as a sinister force, as just another assortment
of bad actors in a region teeming with them. Moral stand-
ing counts for a lot in conflicts of this sort.

However, Israel was in a hard spot. A harder spot, in fact,
than most anyone in this country can imagine. Wedged
between larger nations all-too-willing to go to war with
them and besieged by guerrillas and terrorists, Israel was
perhaps not in the position to have a leisurely and dispassion-
ate discussion of these matters. Certainly, the Israeli
government had the obligation to pursue Salameh and those
like him. They had proven themselves to be a menace to
Israelis and Jews everywhere and needed to be dealt with
aggressively and, perhaps, violently. Yet I remain uncom-
fortable with the path the Israeli officials chose. Part of
this comes from how the “Wrath of God”operation, as
they named it, seemed to conflate vengeance with Israeli’s
security. They wanted to strike back at those who struck
at them, of course, and this seems reasonable up to a point,
but a question nonetheless arises: when does the cycle stop?
Palestinians kill Israelis then Israelis kill Palestinians and
then they start all over again. Everyone loses in this pro-
cess, of course, and perhaps the government of Israel only
exacerbated these troubles with its actions in the early
1970s.

America in this century is a much rougher beast. Our
leadership is far more incompetent and dimly ideological,
our citizenry is less engaged, our war machine much more
vast and promiscuous. Few nations are in the position to
make greater mistakes. Few mistakes could be greater
than our current debacle. Oh, I know that to say that in
some quarters is to invite derision and Mau-Mauing from
like to jump on any criticism of our Middle East policy as a
personal affront to the brave and newly-liberated Iraqi
people. While their sensitivity would be touching if it was
even remotely sincere, I’d prefer to disregard them and
keep the discussion limited to those viewpoints with at
least a patina of intellectual honesty.

Actually, however, I’m not sure whether I disagree with
the Bush Administration’s response to the September 11th
attacks or its distressing tendency to use the destruction
of the World Trade Towers as a justification for its own
pre-existing agendas. If security has been tightened and
intelligence has been improved since that catastrophe,
that’s surely a good thing, although it wouldn’t surprise
me if our quasi-elected leaders were more of a hindrance
than a catalyst to that process. Regardless, it is possibly
quite naive to consider the war in Iraq a “response to 9/11".
It may be more accurate to say that this war is a geo-political
move that most likely would never have happened without
the Al-Qaeda attacks. Because, even all these years on, the
reasons for our panicked and self-defeating rush to topple
Saddam Hussein remain unconvincing and cloudy.

It seems to me that our administration’s moves in the Middle-
East combine all the worst aspects of Israel’s “Wrath of God”
operation–its secrecy, its intelligence failures, and its delib-
erate confusion of revenge with security–with other, even
more damaging flaws. We have approached this problem
with a recklessness that is breathtaking. We have acted
with passion where we should have acted with cold blood,
we have whipped ourselves into a frenzy of nationalistic
exceptionalism when we ought to have cooperated, and
we have lied to ourselves and the world at moments when
the truth was crucial. And now, with our reputation likely
to be tarnished for generations and much of our fearsome
power trickling away into the desert, we pat ourselves on
the back for being brave, for being right, for being Ameri-
cans. But what have we done? Have we made ourselves
safer or just given ourselves a more lasting and politically-
convenient spate of nightmares? Have we promoted
democracy or are we just trying to rehabilitate the concept
of empire? Have we avenged the dead or exploited their
memories? Is this the way we defeat terrorism or will we
remember all this as the way we defeated ourselves?

And now, with our elected officials as eager as ever to cloak
themselves in the bravery of those killing and dying for their
bold schemes, it seems obscene that none of them have the
courage to answer those questions, much less learn from
the history the claim to be the proud defenders of.

---

For the facts in this post, I relied mainly on Simon Reeve’s
book One Day In September. I also used the Wikipedia
entries on Salameh and the "Lillehammer Affair" , which
pointed me to this thesis written for the Marine Corps
Command and Staff College, a paper that, although also
a secondary source, corroborated Reeve’s version of this
episode from a much different perspective. If anyone is
aware of any factual errors in this post, or has a differing
interpretation of these events, kindly let me know. God
knows I’m no expert on Middle-Eastern affairs.

(P.S.: Apparently, Steven Spielberg is making a movie
about the Munich incident and its aftermath. I hope that
it does the people who died that day justice and I hope it
spurs a renewed, more rigorous interest in these matters.)
---

You have been warned...

Pithy day will come to an ignomious end tomorrow, when it
is crushed beneath the weight of an epic post about
Middle-Eastern affairs.

I'm afraid I'm not kidding.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Half-naked man on the light-rail line

Yesterday I was riding the light-rail train into downtown
when a chubby fellow near the front of the car began to
disrobe. He took off his winter jacket, his sweater, his
shirt, and his undershirt and he laid all these down on his
seat. Then, naked to the waist, he began to wander the
car as he mumbled avidly to himself. Public-transport-
ation crazies are nothing new to me, but this guy didn’t
give off that vibe. He looked like your everyday middle-
manager, only topless and jabbering in the midst of a
few dozen strangers. And he didn’t like it when the old
talking!” he grunted at them, “Stop talking you!”. For a
moment, I thought he was going to attack them, but just
then the pre-recorded voice came on and announced the
Nicollet Avenue stop. The bare-chested man looked up,
returned to his pile of clothes, and carefully put them all
back on before the doors slid open. Then he darted out
and disappeared into the lunch-hour crowds.

Trenton, New Jersey feels put-upon and unloved

The last time I passed through Trenton–which was, to be
honest, something like six years ago–their town motto was:
“Trenton Makes, The World Takes”. Isn’t that a strange
tagline for a city? It’s like they’re trying to pass themselves
off as a burly, working-class father who grudgingly allows
his sons and daughters to go off to art school. “Oh, yeah,
that’s nice San Francisco, you’ve got a great ballet there.
Yeah., you sure do. You too, Paris. Boy, I’m glad I worked
twenty-two hour days in the steel mill so that you kids could
prance around on a...what? What’s that? Nothing! I was
just talking about the steel mill again. You know me, always
going on about the steel mill when Berlin wants to talk about
his new experimental installation gallery and Miami’s got a
fashion show going on. Just ignore your old dad. All he did
was put food on your table and clothes on your back, but
that’s fine, that’s fine. Why don’t you tell us some more about

The sad irony, though, is that they don’t make much of any-
thing in Trenton anymore.

Decide for yourselves...

Is this edgy political commentary or naked bigotry?

Heroin Chic

When I was in college, the movie “Trainspotting” became
really popular among the underground hipster set at my
school. In it, we see the wacky and upsetting misadventures
of a bunch of young Edinburgh junkies. Totally failing to pick
up on the story’s criticism of their nihilistic and unhappy lives,
a small group of stoners I was friendly with decided that it
would be cool to do smack. After all, the people in the movie
did it and they were attractive and charming right up until the
credits rolled. It may have been mostly bravado and exagger-
ation, but they told me that they planned to spend the weekend
shooting up so that they could “better understand” the film.
This made perfect sense to them.

The punchline: this was the middle of Iowa and there was no
heroin to be found anywhere. All the dealers they knew told
them they were crazy and all the ones they didn’t thought
they were the most obvious narcs ever.

Today is pithy day!

Because I’ve been pretty long-winded recently, today I’m
going to try to keep all my posts short. No elephantine
analyses of the human ass or weirdly protracted dirty
jokes
for me this Wednesday, no ma’am, I promise this
will be a Wednesday of brevity and exactitude.

Don’t worry, though. The elephantine analyses of the
human ass and weirdly protracted dirty jokes will re-
commence tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Bad Life and Premature Death of Stanley Tookie Williams

I believe that on February 28, 1979, Stanley Tookie Williams
shot a young man named Albert Owens to death inside a
southern California 7-11 store. I don’t doubt that he boasted
did, in fact, “laugh hysterically” when he recalled his dying
victim’s last moments. I also believe that, less than two
weeks later, Stanley Tookie Williams shotgunned to death
Tsai-Shai Yang, Yen-I Yang, and Ye Chen Lin at the hotel
they owned. I have no trouble at all accepting the position
that Stanley Tookie Williams murdered four innocent, hard-
working people so that he could steal less than $250 from them. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be surprised if this cold- blooded, dim-witted killer never felt a moment’s remorse for any of the many vicious and inhuman things he did. Nor would I be surprised if his “redemption” was contrived for his own aggrandizement rather than a genuine change of heart. I don’t think Stanley Tookie Williams was a decent human being. I don’t think that he was an innocent man caught in a racist frame-up. I don’t think he should have won the Nobel Prize. I don’t think his children’s books in any way mitigate the pain he caused. But all the same, I think that the state of California was wrong to kill him. I do not believe in the death penalty. One of my qualms with it is that it turns monstrous people into martyrs. Stanley Tookie Williams did not deserve the drama that attended his final days, he deserved to fade into old age and pass into death in a cell somewhere, forgotten by everyone. We elevate worthless men when we deem their cruelty spectacular enough to merit these great demon- strations of the state’s power. A bloodthirsty wretch is a bloodthirsty wretch, after all, and it’s probably better to keep them in cages than to shuffle them through a grand pageant that solves nothing, that only plays on the sym- pathies of the softhearted and stokes, yet never satisfies, the lust for vengeance in others. It always surprises me that those others–many of whom don’t trust that the government is competent enough to plow the snow or carry the mail correctly–have faith that the justice system can decide who deserves to die. Who to kill and who to let live is a question that only sociopaths like Tookie Williams ask themselves, judges and juries should hold themselves to a higher standard. We want our courtrooms and execution chambers to be where we exorcize evil from our society, but we’re not doing this, we’re just muddling our way through a shameful and fu- tile ceremony. We look weak when we kill these paltry villains, we make it seem like we’re at their mercy. Understand that I’m not insensitive to the appeal of re- venge. If someone I loved was hurt by someone like Stanley Tookie Williams, I would want my Stanley Tookie Williams to die. I would want to do it myself and I would want to make it as painful as possible. This is human nature, I think. What has to be recognized, however, is that it not the most admirable part of it. My rage may be understandable and it may even be just, but the state should remain a colder thing. Passions of this sort are dangerous when they’re enshrined in law. So Stanley Tookie Williams is dead and nothing is better. Stanley Tookie Williams is gone and the world is just as cruel as it was before. This is America, of course. Here we love our weapons, even when we truly don’t need them. One day I hope we will realize that our security blankets harm us more than the cold night ever could. Monday, December 12, 2005 Please Allow Sweet Daddy Lovedrops To Address All Your Romantic Concerns If I had thirteen cents for every time some gloomy-faced dude stopped me on the street to ask, “Sweet Daddy Lovedrops, how do I get women to notice me?”, I would have more than enough money to buy one of those fancy-new “I-pods” what with the video screen and all. But Sweet Daddy Lovedrops is not some greedy, business-suit sort of relationship consultant, like your Dr. Phils and your Dr. Lauras and your other such Oprah-ish pop psychology figures. Sweet Daddy Lovedrops is a different animal entirely. Let me tell you a little something about Sweet Daddy Lovedrops: Sweet Daddy Lovedrops dispenses his ad- vice free of charge to all those yearning millions out there who are baffled by the mysterious congress that takes place between a woman and a man. The joy of spreading eros among the con- fused and forsaken is reward enough for Sweet Daddy Lovedrops. This is why I will now, for once and for all, answer that question above, a question that has vexed even the greatest philosophers and poets of the age. Like some timid ground squirrel hidden beneath the underbrush of ignorance, superstition, and cant, I shall pull forth the elusive truth and hold it up to the purifying rays of knowledge. The cloudy will become clear, the concealed will become certain, and the occult will become actual when–with the help of science–I reveal to the masses the simple secret all heterosexual men have been pining to learn ever since roughly around their fourteenth birthday! And does Sweet Daddy Lovedrops do this for personal aggrandizement? Does he do it for his own daytime television show? Does he do it to see his stunningly-handsome, elaborately-mustachioed face upon a stack of books piled near the information desk at every Barnes and Nobel from Seattle to Miami? He does not. Unlike a certain physically-imposing, Texas-twanging “life strategy” coach who will remain anonymous, Sweet Daddy Lovedrops has no ulterior motive. My ulterior motive is your inner peace. It’s true. I had those words tattooed in a ring around my left nipple so that I can remind myself of it when I’m in the shower... But I seem to have drifted from the point. The point is that I have conducted an extensive, statistically- valid, and personally-exhausting survey of 594 inmates at the Shakopee Women’s Correctional Facility in order to determine exactly what the feminine population is looking for when they look at a man. These were ladies of from all ages, races, back- grounds, and controlling offenses who were asked (by my crack staff of graduate students and Manpower temps) what they con- sidered the most important factor in a quality mate. Clench up gentlemen, for the results are as follows: 79.443%: The “Buttocks” 17.4%: Pool playing ability 9.99%: Jesus as personal savior 8.2%: Fresh breath 4.9%: A compelling collection of antique weaponry 1.5%: A fishtank with a shark in it 0.8%: Cool scars 0.2%: Wit and/or charm 0.2%: A “Johnson” to be reckoned with 0.2%: The Mojo Hand 0.1%: Fire in the belly, gleam in the eye 0.1%: Cigarettes 0.04%: Vague Toby Keith resemblance Could the answer be any clearer? To win the attentions of the lady demographic, we as men must first attend to our backsides. We must sculp them, shape them, louver them and paddle them into the shapes which womenfolk find ap- pealing to the eye. Just think of it with me. Think of the last time you were in a bar. Let’s say, hypothetically, that this bar is named “Slugger’s”. Slugger’s is packed. It’s a Saturday night and you’re feeling good. You’re in your best shirt, the one with all the blue stripes in it and you’re going to score tonight. You know it. You know it so much that you feel no worry as you sidle up to the prettiest face in the joint. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that this is a 22-year old blonde who is in the last year of dental hygienist school. Her name is Veronica. She is an angel, in her salmon-pink halter- toppy thingie and those sort of horse-riding-type pants that, you know, kind of hug the hips in a way that kind of, you know, emphasizes certain aspects of her. But where was I? Oh yeah! You slide in next to Veronica there at Sluggers and you, smooth as a sushi dookie, say to her “Excuse me, miss, but may I buy you a drink?” And then–I know it hurts, but just imagine it–she looks you up and down and says, “Ummmm, I’m sort of meeting somebody, you know?” What the hell happened? I can hear you asking that even over the empty and silent void of the internet! Well, according to the gals at the Shakopee Women’s Correctional Facility, it more than likely has something to do with your ass! You’re either toting far too much in the way of ham-hocks back there or else you’re trying to make do with some pitiful, bony pseudo-butt. You’re disgusting to them, with your uneasy-on-the-eyes rear view. Look at yourself, in your stupid striped shirt, trying to be debonair with that husky and drooping thing hanging south- ward on the reverse-end! Hell, yeah! And don’t think you don’t also sicken Sweet Daddy Lovedrops, Mister Fumbledy-Bum! I can’t even think of it anymore! I need to take some “me-time” to erase the vision of that shapeless, indecent, cottage-cheesy thing you’ve been hauling from failure to failure! It’s the size of Dr. Phil’s ego, isn’t it? It is! You ought to be ashamed. Take this time to reflect on what a miserable waste of 52-inch waist Dockers you are, you gruesome loser you... .... .... .... I’m back now to tell you that you don’t have to settle for it anymore. You can change. You can be better. With a little will and a lot of effort, you can march back into Slugger’s and offer up to Veronica a breathtaking posterior, a rump to make her fall madly in love with you, a hindquarters of such glory that it shall completely cover over the insipidness of your thought and the darkness deep in your soul. How?, you might ask. Well why don’t you just shut up and let Sweet Daddy Lovedrops tell you how! Damn! Step One: You Need To Buy Yourself Some New Pants This is an unquestionable Fact of the Universe: your pleated pants diminish your fuckability by a factor of six thousand. You need to cut them up and use them as rags to clean out that grimy orangish substance under the rim of your toilet. Do the same with all the khakis you’ve got that are stained by the grease from the jalapeno-flavored potato chips you can’t keep yourself from eating. And those “stonewashed” jeans with enough room in the back to fit a 737 engine: those must go also. I realize that this will probably decimate your wardrobe, but sometimes destruction must be endured–nay, even encouraged–to foster life anew. There must be a purify- ing fire which you, a dazed and glassy-eyed novitiate, must stumble through willingly in order to emerge on the other side the man you wish to be, the man who has cleaned the junk from his trunk, the man with the top bottom. So, by all means, go to a fancy clothier and issue forth the following proclaimation: “I am sick and tired of being shot down and I am at last willing to purchase apparel which hangs gracefully and flatteringly over the delightful con- tours of my gluteal region! Is there anyone who will help me?” You’d be amazed at the response you get once you assure others that you are on the positive road to recov- ery. Sales people will come flocking and, at the end of the day, you will find yourself blessed with such an abundance of new pants that world will seem to glow with a secret light meant only for you. But you aren’t quite ready to go back to Slugger’s yet, sport. Oh no, you aren’t. No way. We have much more work to do... Step Two: You Need To “Work Out” A Little, You Lazy Wretch Pardon me for sounding like a personal trainer. Sweet Daddy Lovedrops is not a certified physical trainer. Sweet Daddy Lovedrops does, admittedly, hold lapsed memberships in several area sports facilities, but he is no “Billy Blanks”, he is no “Tai Bo” champion. No, Sweet Daddy Lovedrops is simply a concerned citizen, one of the few out there without a series of video-cassettes and a set of free weights to hawk on late night television, I’m afraid. So Sweet Daddy Love- drops must make a legal disclaimer. Sweet Daddy Love- drops assumes that you do the following exercises at your own risk, without pre-existing medical conditions such as diabetes, kidney failure, or the common cold, and that you will not hold Sweet Daddy Lovedrops liable for any injury up to and including death. With that out of the way, let’s start a few sets of basic Gluteal Crunches. To do these effectively, you need to find somewhere between twenty and one hundred small, oblong pieces of wood. Doorstops, rulers, chair legs, fence posts, or whatever else is easy at hand. What you must do then is to insert one of these objects lengthwise be- tween your butt cheeks. This will, of course, be uncom- fortable, but perhaps you should have thought of that before you went hog-wild on all those Cheetos and the Butternut-Swirl ice cream treats. Now you must break the stick. You cannot use your hands or your feet or your satanic powers. You must use only your gluteal strength. When this is accomplished, you must pick up the two pieces of whatever it is that your ass just broke and repeat the exercise for each of the halves. This you must do until the rod or baseball bat or whatever else is broken down into small, easily manageable pieces. Then you will perform this process again and again until you simply can’t do it anymore. When you’re covered in sweat and your ass is full of splinters, you may have a sip of a “power drink” before you gather up all the scraps of wood and bringing them to Sweet Daddy Lovedrop’s house. He uses them in his garden, you see. Anything you can do to help out Sweet Daddy Lovedrop’s garden is greatly appreciated. After a few weeks of this, your ass will be roughly half-way acceptable. Don’t cut and run yet, though. Don’t try and weasel out of the only worthwhile thing you’ve ever tried to do. Oh no, you’ve got more work ahead of you. You’ve got to get to the point where you can shift a manual transmission Volkswagen with just your buttcrack and your steely resolve. This takes time. This takes effort. Think of Veronica, why don’t you? Of course, she’ll pro- bably be old and married and driving a minivan by the time you’re in good enough shape to talk to her, so maybe you ought to think of all the Veronicas of the future, the Veronicas that await you in the next life. Aren’t they pretty? Don’t they deserve all you can give them? Don’t they deserve to be hit on by someone with a pleasingly- shaped ass? Don’t they? Why do you always have to be selfish all the time? How can you go through life thinking of no one’s needs but your own? This brings me nicely to the final piece of my easy-to-follow three point plan: Step Three: You Need To Enroll In One Of Sweet Daddy Lovedrop’s “Gettin’ Down To Business” Seminars, Held Frequently At A Hotel Conference Room Somewhere Near You... Because, honestly, what were you thinking in the first place, walking up to a stunning, intelligent, decent, and glamorous creature like Veronica with some dumb line like “Excuse me, miss, but may I buy you a drink?” You don’t think she hasn’t heard that eighty-four million times already? Dammit, you want to stand out in her mind, and not just as that dude with the ass the size of a Staten Island landfill! If you had been to one of my informal, casual discussion groups ($195.95
for the half day session, $299.95 for the full day,$650.00
for the deluxe package), you would know never to walk
into Slugger’s armed with such weak shit. Had I been able
you would have known that the best course of action would
be to strut up to Veronica and start pounding the bar with
your fist until you’ve fully captured her attention. Once
this has been achieved, you’d know to say–in the loudest
possible voice so as to prevent any chance of her not hear-
ing, understanding, and believing–something suave, some-
thing subtle, something like this: “Look at you! I don’t care
what you say, I’m going to buy you a Mango-Appletini as a
reward for being The! Sexiest! Woman! In! This! Place!”

Is $195.95 too much to pay for the look of sheer awe that will spread across Veronica’s flawless face? Is$299.95 too
much to pay for the conversational skills necessary to “seal
the deal” with this wonderful young woman? Is \$650.00
Lovedrops: The Answer To All Those Questions You’re
Too Dumb To Ask”? I’m afraid that, if you’re being honest
with yourself, you must respond in the negative to all those
queries.

And isn’t being honest with yourself what romance is all
about? That’s just something for you to ponder right there...

Sweet Daddy Lovedrops has become tired. He is going to
sleep now, but even in an unconscious state he is still
eagerly awaiting your check, money order, or Mastercard/
Visa number. He knows that you will make the right
decision. He knows that you know that you are blind and,
furthermore, he knows that you know that the best way
to not be blind is to admit that he knows what you need
to know.

That is all. Remember, be good to each other.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Some Fridays Are Stranger Than Others

There are two kinds of weekends. Those where you find
yourself drinking transparent decaf coffee with a bunch of
pimply, mohawked fifteen year olds in a thrift store/punk
rock venue located somewhere in the industrial outskirts
of St. Cloud and those where you don’t. When your week-
end winds up in the former category–and I think Tara can
back me up on this one–there isn’t really much you can
think besides, “Wow, here I am drinking transparent decaf
coffee with a bunch of pimply, mohawked fifteen year olds
in a thrift store/punk rock venue located somewhere in the
industrial outskirts of St. Cloud...”

Friday, December 09, 2005

This "Sicilian Wrap" Is Filled With Whipped Death

Today, in the cafeteria where I work, I bought something
that billed itself as a “Sicilian Wrap”. Now, I live in Minn-
esota, where it is wise to lower your expectations when it
comes to ethnic foods, especially ethnic foods that have
been sitting in a plastic box on a shelf of a cooler in the
basement of a large institution. And I must further admit
that the “Sicilian Wrap” didn’t LOOK particularly Sicilian.
From what I could tell through the aforementioned plastic
packaging, it just looked like a bunch of meat and cheese
bundled in a green tortilla with some iceberg lettuce and
a few slices of past-its-prime tomato. So I wasn’t expect-
ed the unique flavors of the Mediterranean to wash over
me with every bite of it or anything. All I wanted from it
was for it to be more edible than the usual egg-salad or
“blue-cheese” chicken wraps they usually foist upon the
public. I was actually a little excited about it, I have to
admit. I might have even thought, “Oh boy! A Sicilian
wrap! Finally, a healthy and delicious entree for me!”

But, yet again, my innocent and beautiful dreams were
soiled by the horror and misery that is reality. The first
bite of my “Sicilian Wrap” was fine, even pleasing. The
finely-sliced luncheon meat within contrasted gently
with the vaguely pesto-flavored wrap, producing a
melange of mouth sensations that was both compelling
and comforting. From there, however, it all went to shit.
On my second bite, I noticed a distinct–and distinctly un-
pleasant–tang, but I discounted it. I was still in my “honey-
moon phase” with this wrap. I was very hungry and I was
blind to its true nature. It wasn’t until shortly after my
third bite that the scales fell from my eyes: this “Sicilian
Wrap” was slathered in mayonnaise.

I like to think of myself as a tolerant man, but there are
certain things I just cannot abide. One of them is mayon-
naise. It is the most foul condiment ever loosed upon the
earth. Like Republicanism, it corrupts everything it touches.
In a way, it is awe-inspiring: never before have nature and
science come together to produce a substance so gruesome.
It has the consistency of mucus, it looks like semen, and it
tastes like the scrapings from an old goat’s colon. That so
many people enjoy this wretched viscous sludge is convin-
cing proof that the world is a chaotic and cruel place. I
would rather lick the old puke off a frat-house toilet lid
than eat a dish with mayonnaise in it. I would rather pull
out my own eyeballs and invite a swarm of bees into the
bloody sockets. I hate mayonnaise.

And this “Sicilian Wrap” didn’t just have a few subtle dabs
of it. No, no: whoever made it had chosen to pour entire
gobs of the stuff right down the middle. The room spun
around me as I saw the murky white pool just inches be-
I felt something slimy break free of the far end and trickle
down my wrist. It just goes to show the way one’s life can
drastically shift in a single instant: one moment I was my
happy and normal self, but in the next I had actually eaten
mayonnaise!!! When the waves of nausea subsided, I found
I still had the presence of mind to throw the accursed thing
in the trash. I was out five bucks, of course, but I was no
longer hungry. Mayonnaise does that to a person. It takes
away their will to perform basic biological functions. Look at
the decline of our culture and look at the rate of mayonnaise
consumption: I think you’ll find the data is startling.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

A cartoon for your entertainment and edification...

Can be found right here...

How my routine visit to the dentist might have gone if I was very weird...

I went to the dentist today. She took out all my teeth and
replaced them with shiny gold ones. I imagine that this has
enhanced my dignity, but chewing is more difficult than you
would expect. Also, since it’s the holidays and all, I couldn’t
justify spending thousands and thousands of dollars on solid
gold teeth. No, I wanted to be frugal–I chose to make do
with space-age plastic teeth that were merely gold plated.
This seemed to me to be a reasonable compromise between
economy and style, but–looking in my mirror now–I realize
that the gold isn't so much gold as kind of a beigeish-yellow.
Nowthat’s cool, I guess, but I’m not sure why I didn’t just
drink a pot of coffee a day and take up smoking for awhile.
Becauseunder certain lights–namely florescent, neon, soft
indoor, hard indoor, and natural–the effect is pretty much
the same. Think of a legal pad and that’s the color. A “canary”
kind of thing, which–don’t get me wrong–is a wonderful and
aesthetically-appealing color, but still isn’t exactly what most
people would think of when they say “gold”. And I definitely
asked for gold.I don’t remember going into the dentists’ and
teeth!”. Why would I do that? There’s no street cache in
canary teeth, is there? Maybe there is. I had my heart set
on the gold, you see, I just didn’t have an adequate op-
portunity to research other colors.

Where I was before I got off into the whole color issue? Oh
yeah, I was going to tell you about my problems chewing! And
chewing used to be so easy! I’d just put food in my mouth and–
bam!–the next thing I knew, it’d be chewed! Not anymore, I’m
afraid, not with my fresh new canary teeth. Let’s say I’ve got
a bagel, right? And let’s say I want to eat that bagel. Now-
adays, I’m going to have to rip off a very small bit of it and
knead it in my fingers for awhile. This tenderizes the bagel,
you see. Because if I just try and gnaw the bagel as is, my
gums are going to gush blood and my teeth are going to get
stuck in the dough and before I know it I’ve got a choking
throatful of gory bagel bits and “gold” plated teeth to deal
with. So I must tenderize the bagel. When I’m done with
that, I sort of gingerly put the pre-tenderized bagel piece
on my bottom teeth and slowly mash it up for awhile: five
minutes, ten minutes, as long as it takes. I’ve found that
the trick is to avoid using the jaw and to have the tongue do
most of the work. What I do to this hypothetical bagel is mor-
sel is whack it with my tongue until it breaks up enough to
slip down into my stomach without causing too much trouble.
This is tiring. And it isn’t just bagels, either: it’s pizza, it’s
burgers, it’s fishsticks, it’s nougat, it’s home fries, it’s Cobb

But perhaps you’ve heard the saying: he who changes his
teeth changes his whole existence. I’m quickly coming to
understand that as more than just another morsel of Lith-
uanian folk wisdom. My family is from Vilnius, you know.
There we sit about a great fire, singing songs of peaceable
women and wild men, eating breaded salmon, and playing
an ancient game that involves rocks and sticks and little
baskets of dirt. What tales I could tell you of Vilnius! Oh,
sweet home on the Baltic, I long to walk your cobbled alley-
ways again, to feel the glory of your architecture and culture
beating anew within my frail sparrow’s breast!

Oh.

What was I on about just now? No, before the Lithuania
business. My teeth? Oh yeah, right. That’s right. I re-
member now.

I miss my old teeth.