Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I am not a very good restaurant critic

Today I had a late lunch/early dinner at La Grolla, a pleasant, unfussy Italian place down by the St. Paul Cathedral. Accompanying me were two of the most fabulous mental-health nurses in the entire upper Midwest, Molly and Nicole. Since we were there at an off-time on an off-day, we had the place to ourselves for pretty much our entire visit. This might have been fortunate for the restaurant owners, as the conversation topics favored by off-duty mental health nurses tend to revolve around things that other diners might find distasteful. For instance, there was reminiscing about the time an angry psychotic patient filled the hospital coffeemaker with his own feces and it took a few hours before anyone noticed the peculiar “shit” flavor to that day’s blend. Also discussed was the case of the disturbed young man who masturbated whenever he got angry, making those charged with his care quite reluctant to help him make his bed in the morning.

These delightful anecdotes were enhanced immeasurably by the fine food La Grolla provided. I got the fettuccini alfredo and it was wonderful, even though there was perhaps a little too much of it. Still, it was rich and flavorful and certainly worth ordering just from a cost-benefit standpoint: it was only $7.95 and I’m still full seven-and-a-half hours later. Nicole got the gnocchi special and spoke kindly about it in the intervals when we weren’t talking about rudely released body fluids or the kinds of breasts men prefer. Molly liked hers too, but I’m afraid I can’t remember the name of what she got. It had a sort of pinkish sauce to it, though. It certainly looked really good, and I’m not the sort of guy who enjoys food in pink sauces.

As for wine, Nicole and I split a bottle of some sort of Cabernet Sauvignon while Molly had a glass of Merlot. I’m not sure of the brand or vintage of either because–let’s face it–I’m a lousy goddamn restaurant reviewer and I don’t know jack shit about any of this stuff. I’ll just say that our wine was very wine-like and quite red in color, while Molly’s was equally red and at least of an equivalent “winey-ness” to ours. This is largely a guess based on her comments and my own subsequent subjective interpretations, though. I certainly didn’t drink her wine. That would have been totally rude. I had my own, after all. I’m not one of these winos who swills down everyone else’s drink when they’re not looking. No, no: of course not. I am a gentleman. A gentleman who knows more about proper positioning of commas than he does about wine.

But back to the business at hand. Our server “Vince” was very good. Not only was he helpful with recommendations, he pronounced the Italian names of our dishes with flair and verve. Also, he laughed at our jokes, which shows–at the very least–a tolerant spirit. The decor of the place met with my approval as well. It was well-decorated, but low-key. So many mid-priced Italian restaurants try to beat you over the head with their “Italian-ness”, I feel. This place doesn’t do that. It’s understated and homey. And, as the sun started to go down, I noticed that the lighting was dim and romantic. This is good. Dim and romantic light usually shows off my hair to good effect.

But, of course, all pleasant afternoons must come to an end. Our meal wasn’t cheap, but since it wasn’t my turn to pay, I didn’t get too bothered by this. From what I could see of the bill, it seemed like they charged a fair amount for the services they provided. The prices were, as far as I could tell, equivalent to those at the Olive Gardens and Maggianos and Macaroni Grills that infest the suburbs.

So, in summation, La Grolla is a very good restaurant, so you should go there as often as possible. Get the fettuccini alfredo or get something else, you’ll probably like it. But, if you don’t, please don’t come crying to me. Because, if you hadn’t already noticed, I’ve got no business reviewing restaurants.

Awwww, shucks!

City Pages has pronounced me "Minnesota Blog of the Day". This means that February 28th will henceforth be a major holiday in my personal calendar. Not necessarily more important than Christmas or the Fourth of July, but definitely up there past President's Day, Memorial Day, Mother's Day, and Sweetest Day. I plan on doing all my business today dressed in kingly robes, with a bejeweled scepter and a fleet of well-bred hounds. I'm totally pumped about this.

But, seriously, thanks City Pages! And welcome, City Pages readers!

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree!

Tonight, I inhaled a dangerous blend of household cleaning products and was subject to strange and terrifying visions. As I lay on my couch, a sinister scraping sound awakened me from my fitful slumber. I looked up and, much to my dismay, I saw Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty peering down at me from a hole in my ceiling. His beady eyes glistened and sweat was shining in his mullet as he waited up there, giggling softly to himself.

“What the fuck are you doing in my ceiling, Tim Fucking Pawlenty?” I asked him, the churlish Democrat in me not quite stifled by the oddness of it all.

He curled a beckoning finger and threw down a rope ladder. “I didn’t vote for you, bitch!” I yelled at him, but he had already disappeared. I felt I had no choice. I clambered up after him, eager to give him a piece of my mind. I don’t like Tim Pawlenty, you see. I don’t feel he’s one of Minnesota’s better governors. Compared to him, former professional wrestler and current professional joke Jesse Ventura is a Rooseveltesque statesman.

When I made it up the ladder, I realized that I had gained entry into a bizarre new dimension. My apartment building had disappeared and now I was standing on a puffy cloud in the middle of a beautiful, endless sky. Other clouds floated around me and riding on each was a prominent Minnesota Republican. To the left of me was Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum; to the right was United States Congressman and Perpetual Tool Mark Kennedy. In the distance there was a whole constellation of right-wing luminaries: Michelle Bachmann was there, earnestly uninteresting Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten was there, and so were oh so many bloggers of that stripe.

I was frightened. Obviously, I could not speak my mind in such company. Gently, I asked Senator Sviggum, “Where are we going?” And what the hell kind of name is Sviggum anyway?, I added in my mind.

“To the Palace of Glory, my son,” he answered and I thought, I’m not your son, you goofy-named political hack. It had not yet sunk in how strange it was that we were all wearing glowing white robes and floating towards a gloriously-shining edifice of gold and alabaster. It was situated on the largest cloud of them all and surrounded by winged cherubim playing small harps. I might be wrong, but I think they might have been playing Lionel Richie’s “Hello”.

I said, “Oh. I don’t want to go there. I want to go back to bed.” Katherine Kersten hushed me then. She did it with what I felt was excessive vehemence, too. I just glared at her, though. I was sure that if I let slip the venom that was on my tongue, I would only be setting myself up for great and painful punishment. Play your cards right, I thought, and maybe you can get out of here without these Republicans eating your face off...

It wasn’t to be, though. Our clouds drifted up to the luminous gates of the palace and dropped us. There we stood, three hundred thousand Republicans and me, when blinding lightening flashed and tremendous thunder pealed. When it was over, three men stood before us, resplendent in shimmery futuristic leotards. One was, predictably enough, Karl Rove. The next was Grover Norquist, who is even less handsome when seen in person. The final one was–and I’m still unclear on why he was there–famed Star Wars bit-player and Hennessey spokesman Billy Dee Williams.

“Greetings, Republican minions of Minnesota!” Karl Rove announced and there was tumultuous applause from all. When it died down, Grover Norquist spoke up, “We shall now hear the day’s agenda from Winkie, the Talking Mud-Skink.”

That was when a small lizard sitting on Grover Norquist's shoulder started to speak in a gravelly baritone. “We will proceed into the great hall,” it said, “And then we will smoke a bunch of hash, eat some Ding-Dongs, watch some old porno movies Ralph Reed loaned us, orgy like a bunch of Romans, and then–when we’ve had our fill–we shall eat that Democrat’s face off...”

“The Mud-Skink has spoken!” Karl Rove boomed and then he led the way into the palace. I tried to hang back, but the stampeding Republicans carried me along with them. There was no escape. As soon as I realized this, my natural reticence disappeared. “I DON’T WANT TO BE EATEN!” I shouted into the uncaring crowd, “PLEASE, REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP OF MINNESOTA! PLEASE, DO NOT EAT MY FACE OFF!”

But it was hopeless. They were drunk with power and hubris. They carried me above them, whooping and whistling, into the vast bowels of their palace. I could see them licking their lips and tightening their bibs already. I was doomed. My voice hoarse, I roared to no one “HELP! REPUBLICANS ARE GOING TO EAT MY FACE! AAAAAAAHHHH!”

It was around then that I came to my senses. I’m alright now, but I think I’ve been reading too many blogs for my own good. Either that or I have to start cleaning my apartment with all-natural products.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Prepare yourself for the explanation for the least worthy blog post ever to deface the internet

First, re-familiarize yourself with the least worthy blog post ever to deface the internet.

Second, understand that I’ve just spent about three hours cleaning my apartment. Third, recognize that I often use harsh chemical agents to make sure that my living quarters are as tidy as possible. Fourth, realize that I am very susceptible to the effects of the aforementioned chemicals. Fifth, consider that I must have an acute and fully-functioning mind to provide decent content for this blog. Sixth, allow me to assert unequivocally that I do not have such a mind at the moment. I spent a whole thirty minutes sitting in front of the computer, my Windex-misted head throbbing, and a few sentences about my beautiful new belt were all I could come up with. And I’ve only gotten a little better since then. In fact, as soon as I finish this I plan on laying on my couch and spending some quality time marveling at the cracks in my ceiling.

Seventh, please accept my apologies.

Prepare yourself for the least worthy blog post ever to deface the internet:

I bought a new belt today.

It’s reversible.

Urinating on Wildlife

When I was a kid, my parents didn’t like to camp. This seemed an injustice to me until I tagged along with my friends’ families a couple of times and came to the realization that I, too, didn’t like to camp. There are a lot of reasons for this, but they all boil down to the fact that I feel the great outdoors gets obnoxious after awhile. Sure, I like nature and forests and hills and dells and whatnot, but it’s a relationship that requires some distance and a great deal of time apart. A few hours communing with mother earth is all I usually need, and then it’s right back to the paved and filthy city, with its indoor plumbing, ethnic restaurants, and foo-foo coffee drinks. I understand why people like to go camping, I just don’t share their enthusiasm.

One of the earliest hints that this form of recreation wasn’t for me came when I was still in grade school. It was towards the end of summer break and my friend Adam invited me to go off into the woods with his mom and dad. During the daylight hours, it was pretty cool. We got to eat a whole bunch of hotdogs, muck around in a smelly swamp, and ride our bikes in circles until we wanted to throw up. Thinking back on it, I guess the campfire was alright too. Kids always like to light things on fire and I was no exception. While the adults droned on interminably about the allure of the wilderness and the peace of the countryside, Adam and I were rolling unopened pop cans into the blaze to see if they’d blow up and attacking each other with flaming S’mores.

My problems started when the fire died out. Adam’s parents shooed us into our tent, told us to be quiet, and retired to their camper. I was unnerved. I had never slept on the ground before. My sleeping bag was itchy and smelled like our cat. It wasn’t warm enough and what if it rained? There would be just a thin layer of plastic protecting us from the storm. It didn’t seem like enough. And what if it was a lightning storm? A tree could get knocked right on top of us. We would then, I had to assume, die. I didn’t worry about dying in my warm, dry bed in St. Paul. Such things simply didn’t happen. Nor did was I ever concerned about a bear mauling me, a moose goring me, or a band of rural Satanists kidnapping me for a virgin sacrifice.

Adam, by that time already a seasoned camper, fell asleep right away, leaving me to my anxieties. I mean, what about depraved, inbred hermits with hooks for hands? Those were still a concern, weren’t they? And wolves! Didn’t wolves go foraging at night? Shit, I hadn’t even thought about wolves? Why had I agreed to come in the first place? Why had I volunteered myself to be eaten by wolves? Goddamn it, why wasn’t I back in the beautiful, safe city where there weren’t any fucking wolves or depraved, inbred hermits with hooks for hands?

I worked myself into quite a state. Before long, I had to pee. This only made me worse. I was a prissy lad: there was no way I could find my way to the outhouse in the sick sort of darkness they have out there and the prospect of just letting it go in the open air was deeply unappealing. There were insects out there, after all, insects that might just take the opportunity to creep up my urethra and render me sterile for life. And, for all I knew, I might just brush up against some poisonous plant that would cause my penis to wither up and fall off. I was still a child, but I was old enough to know that it would soon become my most treasured body part. It seemed unreasonable to expose it to the cruelties of the natural world.

Still, I needed to go. It only got worse and worse. Soon I was thrashing around in my sleeping bag and I could tell that Adam was stirring. Just get it over with, I told myself, and I marshaled all my courage. I got up, grabbed the flashlight Adam’s dad had lent us, and unzipped the tent. For a moment after, I was staggered by the pure and utter night out there. Unlike night in the city, which is electric and purplish, this was night for real: unbroken black all around. I tiptoed out into it, my unease defeated by my bladder. With the flashlight’s yellow beam to guide me, I shuffled over to a nearby grove of trees. Before I did anything, I turned off the flashlight. I wanted to be modest, true, but I also didn’t want any serial killers roaming the woods to know where I was.

What followed then was great relief followed by an even greater concern when, halfway through this unusually long voiding process, something on the ground started to hiss at me. I turned on the flashlight again and that’s when I saw a very angry and surprised raccoon. It was rearing up on its hind legs, baring its fangs at me. The hair on its head was soaked, which gave it a strange, altogether evil appearance. I didn’t look for long though: I let out the mother of all little boy screams and ran away. I don’t know how I found my way back to the tent, but I leapt through the flaps, wrapped myself in my sleeping bag, and laid there trembling, waiting for the raccoon to take its revenge.

“What happened?” Adam asked.

“I just peed on a raccoon,” I said.

“You peed on a raccoon?”

“I peed on a raccoon.”

“You peed...on a raccoon,” he said, and then he was asleep again, leaving me there alone with my panic. Sure, the raccoon hadn’t torn my throat out yet, but it was probably just biding its time, gathering its raccoon allies, and waiting for an opportune moment to strike. I knew how raccoons worked. They were vicious. They were the worst of the rodents. Plus, they carry rabies, so even if it didn’t kill me right out, I still be doomed to die a lingering, foaming-at-the-mouth death. How horrible the world is, I thought, how filled with horrible creatures that hide in the dark. I wanted nothing to do with it. I laid awake until almost dawn, convinced that sleep would only make me easier prey.

And that wasn’t even the worst thing. The worst thing was that I still had to go.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

To commemorate the anniversary of her birth, here are nineteen fascinating facts about Mel:

-- She’s the rare kind of friend who will actually tell you when the pants you’re wearing make your ass look like a baggy monstrosity.

– You probably cannot defeat her in a belching contest. Don’t even try.

– There was a time when she thought it was amusing to make fun of me for having sheets with little happy ducks on them. Once, she even thought it would be a hilarious prank to steal these ducky sheets and cook them in her microwave. It was a long and difficult process, involving a great deal of expensive psychotherapy and grievous emotional setbacks, but I have forgiven her for this.

– A few weeks ago my mother saw a picture I had recently taken of her and gasped, “Oh, that Mel, she just gets prettier and prettier!”

– Back in Iowa, she used to be in one of those ubiquitous, low-budget late-night commercials. It was for a diamond store, and I remember part of it involved her getting ready to sky-dive. I had seen it about a hundred times before I turned to my roommate Greg, and asked, “Is that Mel?”

– Small children adore her.

– She makes exacting demands on those she deems worthy of giving her a foot massage.

– No matter who else might come along, she owns the role of “Saucy Reporter” in Pal Joey.

– Dentists all across the world fantasize about having patients who floss and brush as thoroughly and regularly as she does.

– She can sing beautifully. She’s also pretty good at faking a Russian accent. However, when she decides to combine the two, the results can only be described as “horrifying”.

– One day soon, she will be western Washington’s premier massage therapist

– I cannot say this enough: I am sorry about our bathroom in Brooklyn. It was disgusting and filthy and utterly unsanitary. I am sorry that the bathtub was black with mold and I am sorry that the greasy shower curtain would sometimes stick to your skin. I am also sorry that you had to sleep in a corner of the living room. That was bad. Please forgive me. It was all Greg’s fault.

– She’s the one, more than any other, who I credit for helping me get over my hypochondria. And, for that gift, I owe her more than I can ever repay.

– I recall a time in Des Moines when she woke me up to drive her to the drugstore because she had fallen asleep with her contacts in. I groaned, rolled over, and looked up and there she was, staring at me with these enormous, bright- red, blood-filled eyes. “Eeeeek!” I said. For a second there, she was really, really scary.

– I also recall a time in Duluth when she very nearly convinced me to go and sit in a hotel hot-tub with two necking strangers. The idea was that my presence would unnerve them so much they’d leave and then we could use it.

– Finally, I recall a time in New York City when I fell behind her in the subway tunnel and, as I hurried to catch up, I saw a big city tough guy spin around to watch her go by. He looked her up and down, blinked his eyes, squeezed his hands into fists, and then he yelled “DAMN!” at the top of his lungs.

– For a couple of weeks, she lived with my parents in St. Paul. In that short time, she managed to disabuse them of the notion that girls are tidier than boys.

– Cats? She doesn’t really like them.

– I’d give up my CD collection, all my books, my computer, my cell phone, my left kidney, most of my right kidney, my liver, my pancreas, my spleen, my duodenum, my radius, my ulna, my Circle of Willis, and my full and lustrous head of hair for her. I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like without her. I have a thousand happy memories of her and I know I’ll have a million more before we’re through with this world. She’s a treasure, that Mel. If she was in Minneapolis or if I was in Seattle, I’d give her a hug. And then, when we were finished having our “moment”, I’d tell her she still owes me an apology for microwaving my ducky sheets. Because that was mean.

Ricardo Montalban, Herve Villechaize, David Bowie, and the whole Fat Albert Gang say "Happy Birthday, Mel!"

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Good people of South Dakota, hear my plea:

The first thing you all need to do is rise up to unseat a large percentage of your political leaders. Once this has been accomplished, you need to look into getting a new state song. Because–I’m sorry to say–the one you have really sucks:

Hail! South Dakota!
Written by DeeCort Hammitt
Composed by DeeCort Hammitt

Hail! South Dakota, A great state of the land,
Health, wealth and beauty, That's what makes her grand;
She has her Black Hills, And mines with gold so rare,
And with her scenery, No other state can compare.

Come where the sun shines, And where life's worth your while,
You won't be here long, 'Till you'll wear a smile;
No state's so healthy, And no folk quite so true,
To South Dakota. We welcome you.

Hail! South Dakota, The state we love the best,
Land of our fathers, Builders of the west;
Home of the Badlands, and Rushmore's ageless shrine,
Black Hills and prairies, Farmland and Sunshine.
Hills, farms and prairies, Blessed with bright Sunshine.

Allow me to enumerate my objections to this in a series of bullet-points

● The exclamation points in the title: I don’t see the need for them. Why couldn’t it be just “Hail, South Dakota”? Perhaps some booster-types might feel that “Hail, South Dakota!” better captures the excitement and forward momentum of the state, but they’re wrong and shouldn’t be listened to. However, I feel that even most of them, when pressed, would have to agree that “Hail! South Dakota!” borders on the hysterical.

● The first verse is essentially a series of escalating boasts that would make a gangsta rapper blush. “And with her scenery, No other state can compare”? Oh, really, Ms. DeeCort Hammitt? Aren’t you gilding the lily a little bit here? Idaho, California and Oregon all offer spectacular vistas, beautiful greenery, and top-notch recreation, yet their state songs are more circumspect about it. What are you hiding behind your cheery bunkum, South Dakota? Because that’s what I wonder when I hear a braggart who won’t shut up about their “Health, wealth, and beauty”...

● “Come where the sun shines” seems to be a blatant ripoff from the old standard “How High The Moon”

● “You won’t be here long, ‘Till you wear a smile”? Christ, that’s embarrassing. Even Kentucky, Delaware, and Oklahoma can do better than that. And from there, South Dakota goes on to give us a bunch of creepy master race doggerel. “No folk so true”, Ms. Hammitt? “To South Dakota. We welcome you.”, you say? Are you a state full of emotionally-dead pod people? Of unfeeling automatons? Is that the impression you want to put across? I doubt it. I seriously doubt it.

● Mt. Rushmore is not an “ageless shrine”. It is an oversized kitsch sculpture of a bunch of dead Presidents. No amount of poetic affectation can gloss over that fact. Best to avoid the subject altogether and focus instead on your state’s agreeable business climate, fine schools, low crime rate, or something like that.

● What’s with all the repetition in the last two lines? How come we’ve get to hear about your “hills, farms, and prairies” and “sunshine” twice? Were you trying for a subtle poetic effect, DeeCort? The trouble here is that you’re not a subtle poet. It just sounds bad. Someone should replace that “echo-ey” last line with something about how Tom Brokaw comes from there. Or maybe a little bit about how all of South Dakota’s fetuses are warm and safe. Make it a touch more contemporary, a touch “edgier”, if you know what I mean...

● I count three references to South Dakota’s “sunshine”. This is disingenuous at best. It seems clear to me that South Dakota, with the assistance of Ms. DeeCort Hammill, is attempting to confuse the American citizenry into thinking that it is, in reality, not South Dakota at all, but South Carolina, a state with beaches, palmetto trees, and actual sunshine. This is the sort of deplorable chicanery that has no place in an official state song. I call on all thoughtful, broad-minded and honest Dakotans to repudiate this monstrosity.

And then, when you’re done with that, I can think of a few other things you ought to repudiate.

Friday, February 24, 2006

I'm happier when I'm not reading George Will...

George Will has an editorial in today’s Star-Tribune
. I’m afraid I don’t care much for George Will. If he and I were ever in the same room, I’d roll my eyes and walk away well before he finished whatever dull pompous-guy anecdote he happened to be reciting. Life is too short to be wasted with someone like George Will, someone who’s never met an issue he couldn’t gum into mush.

But perhaps this is playing into his delicate patrician's hands. After all, he does think that liberals are less happy than conservatives. I’d hate for someone to think that I was a depressed, bitter man just because I think George Will is full of shit. Nothing could be further from the truth. I enjoy life so much I often wish I didn’t have to sleep. I’m as cheerful as any boy scout. Ask anyone.

Part of what helps me maintain this sunny disposition is my ability to ignore drivel. Consequently, I never read George Will. Life is just too good to spend with a hack like that.

Yet sometimes, in the interests of a deeper understanding of our good fortune, we must venture out into the trivial and mean side of life. Please bear with me:

To bemused conservatives, it looks like yet another example of analytic overkill by the intelligentsia -- a jobs program for the (mostly liberal) academic boys (and girls) in the social sciences, whose quantitative tools have been brought to bear to prove the obvious. A survey by the Pew Research Center shows that conservatives are happier than liberals -- in all income groups. While 34 percent of all Americans call themselves "very happy," only 28 percentof liberal Democrats (and 31 percent of moderate or conservative Democrats) do, compared with 47 percent of conservative Republicans. This finding is niftily self-reinforcing: It depresses liberals.

Meet George Will: the pundit who feels no shame in mocking “the intellegentsia” in one paragraph and then going and gloating over their findings in the next. What a toad. And I’m afraid I have to unleash my inner editor on the great scribe: “niftily”? My spell-checker says that isn’t even a word. Even if it is one, I don’t see why one would be compelled to use it. But I’m quibbling here. We should probably move quickly, so as to minimize the trauma:

Begin with a paradox: Conservatives are happier than liberals because they are more pessimistic. Conservatives think the book of Job got it right ("Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward"), as did Adam Smith ("There is a great deal of ruin in a nation"). Conservatives understand that society in its complexity resembles a giant Calder mobile -- touch it here and things jiggle there, and there, and way over there. Hence conservatives acknowledge the Law of Unintended Consequences, which is: The unintended consequences of bold government undertakings are apt to be larger than, and contrary to, the intended ones.

Conservatives' pessimism is conducive to their happiness in three ways. First, they are rarely surprised --they are right more often than not about the course of events. Second, when they are wrong they are happy to be so. Third, because pessimistic conservatives put not their faith in princes -- government --they accept that happiness is a function of fending for oneself. They believe that happiness is an activity --it is inseparable from the pursuit of happiness.

How learned. Calder mobiles, Adam Smith, and the Story of Job–all these put at the service of a specious thesis and a preposterous conclusion. First, it might be appropriate to wonder if conservatives are truly more pessimistic than us liberals, especially since just a couple of paragraphs ago he wrote that his happy Republicans also tend to be married and religious. Do religious people go along with Will’s pessimism theory? What about the blissfully wedded couples? Could it possibly be that the content conservatives are more content because they’re also more enmeshed in society?

As for that second paragraph there, his first two points make me want to become unfair and bring up conservatism’s glorious Iraq venture, while his last one is–if nothing else–a spectacular George Willism in its seamless blending of the pretentious with the groundless. Conservatives accept that happiness is a function of fending for oneself? Is that why so many of them get married and go to church? To fend for themselves? But we’re supposed to understand that as a dig against government, that wretched beast that we FDR-worshipping liberals sacrifice virgins to so that it’ll start to make our lives perfect one day. Now, I know a lot of liberals, and I don’t think there’s one who believes–even obliquely--that government can bring us happiness. I don’t think we make undue demands of government. We just wish it would stop listening to people like George Will.

From here he proceeds to get nasty:

Nevertheless, normal conservatives -- never mind the gladiators of talk radio; they are professionally angry --are less angry than liberals. Liberals have made this theera of surly automobile bumpers, millions of them, still defiantly adorned with Kerry-Edwards and even Gore-Lieberman bumper stickers, faded and frayed like flags preserved as relics of failed crusades. To preserve these mementos of dashed dreams, many liberals may be for-
going the pleasures of buying new cars -- another delight sacrificed on the altar of liberalism.

But, then, conscientious liberals cannot enjoy automobiles because there is global warming to worry about, and the perils of corporate-driven consumerism which is the handmaiden of bourgeoisie materialism. And high-powered cars (how many liberals drive Corvettes?) are metaphors (for America's reckless foreign policy, for machismo rampant, etc.). And then
there is -- was -- all that rustic beauty paved over for highways. (And for those giant parking lots at exurban mega-churches. The less said about them, the better). And automobiles discourage the egalitarian enjoyment of mass transit. And automobiles, by facilitating suburban sprawl, deny sprawl's victims --that word must make an appearance in liberal laments; and lament is what liberals do -- the uplifting communitarian experience of high-density living. And automobiles ... .

You see? Liberalism is a complicated and exacting, not to say grim and scolding, creed. And not one conducive to happiness.

This is, I’m afraid, George Will’s idea of humor. If conservatives have such low standards for the funny, it’s no wonder they’re so goddamn happy all the time. Nevertheless, there are a few charges in here that should be addressed. Because, in all honesty, I wasn’t aware that this was “the era of surly automobile bumpers”. Apparently, George Will considers driving around with a John Kerry sticker “surly”. Why is that? And why is it “defiant”? Sometimes those things can be a pain in the ass to take off. This doesn’t trouble well-compensated Republican-shill George Will, though, he just goes out and buys a new car whenever his bumperstickers become obsolete.

From here, it’s just a short leap to throwing up the caricature of the handwringing liberal. Here it seems to me that even Will himself is bored with this crap and just wants to get it over with. “Oh fiddlesticks,” he thinks, “I’m a hundred words short of a real column. What to do? What to do?” Then he clutches his sparsely-haired head, squints even more than usual, and decides to ramble senselessly about how liberals are too conscience-stricken to like cars. If we liberals are doomed to lament, conservatives must be doomed to wank.

And I like how he scolds us for having a “grim and scolding” creed. Nice touch, George.

You toad.

Fred Phelps: A Major-League Dickweed

Let’s not mince words: Fred Phelps is America’s most pathetic negative-attention media whore. There is nothing he and his brood of lumpy, functionally-retarded Kansans will not do to get on television. Now they’ve taken to picketing the funerals of dead soldiers to garner airtime for their rarified brand of Jesus freakery. According to their wacky cultist “logic”, our soldiers are dying in Iraq because God is angry with us. And why is God angry with us? Naturally, it’s because we’ve got too many gay people and because we fail to persecute them with the appropriate Pentecostal fervor. It makes perfect sense if you’ve got a gummy mass of badger shit for brains.

Of course, the Reverend Phelps occupies a space on the fringe of the fringiest fringe of the gay-demonizing scene. I doubt he has a single follower who isn’t a) related to him; b) severely emotionally-unstable; or c) both. They’re a total joke–if wearing bras on their heads and doing the mambo would get decent people screaming at them and news-crews interviewing them, they’d do that and screech all the while about how wee-baby-Jesus-in-the-manger inspired them to. It’s terrible that they’ve tried to ruin people’s funerals, but–let’s face it–they’re just a bunch of dumb hicks with an exotic, loathesome hobby. They’re a distraction. The real enemies of gay rights are the haters who at least pretend to be sane and the politicians willing to scapegoat and pander so that they can cadge votes from gullible people.

I’ve seen the Phelps crew in action before–in Greenwich Village, around the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots–and it was illuminating. They waddled around, waving their “GOD HATES FAGS” signs as a big crowd of people–gay and straight, of all races and ages–pointed at them and made mean wisecracks about how unattractive they were. At one point, a four-hundred pound woman starting dancing as she sang a hymn and we all busted out laughing. There was no hatred on our side and very little anger. What there was in abundance was curiosity, cutting wit, and cheap shot after cheap shot. Clearly, the Reverend Freddy would not get his sordid needs met this way. To satisfy his raging Christ-complex, he needed to up the ante. He must have figured he pissed a lot of people off with his Matthew Shepard funeral antics and–voila!–a scheme is born.

Once picking on dead homosexuals lost its novelty and newsworthiness, he had to find a more novel way to disgrace our species. I shudder to think of the frantic prayer sessions and speaking-in-tongues eruptions that must have preceded his decision to start bothering a new batch of grieving families. “Dear blessed JESUS!” I can see him twanging out, sweat spilling down his goofy troglodyte face, “Give me a SIGN! Shall I bring my OBNOXIOUS CLOWN BRIGADE to heap FURTHER MISERY upon the people who ACTUALLY CONTRIBUTE TO SOCIETY? Will it get me A NEWSPAPER HEADLINE, darling JESUS? That’s all I need to bring your KINGDOM down to EARTH, just my PICTURE in ONE MORE PAPER, my dear JESUS! AMEN!”

People like that–crazies, cretins and hucksters–have always been with us and, unfortunately, they won’t be going away anytime soon.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Sometimes I see things which can best be described as "sad"...

Last night, after all this Drinking Liberally business, I decided to stop into Little Tijuana for takeout. I really enjoy Little Tijuana: its fatty, Mexicanesque food and its punk-rock ambiance appeal to the scuzz connoisseur in me. Plus, it’s open very late and it’s only a mere block from Insomnia Headquarters. These are the factors that trump authenticity, subtlety and health-consciousness when it comes time for me to choose where to dine.

This time, however, I was very hungry and I just wanted to get my food and go. I wasn’t interested in eavesdropping on tipsy goth girls or seeing some drunken hipster vomit all over himself. Inevitably, when I’m in Little Tijuana, a hipster vomits. Its gotten to the point where I might take it personally, I didn’t understand that it’s against some unwritten rule to be there after a certain hour without at least three strong drinks in you. It’s perfect drunk-person logic, really: Whooo! I just swilled down a gallon of vodka! What should I do now? I know! Let’s go eat ten pounds of greasy (if oh so delicious) Mexican food! Unsuccessful dashes to the men’s room are inevitable under such circumstances.

I didn’t see anyone throw up last night, though. I sat in the chairs up front, waiting patiently for my food, and it was a while before I noticed the strange man sitting alone in the booth near the kitchen. He looked to be around twenty-five years old and he had a short, light thatch of hair above a pinched-up face with that blinked too often. He struck me as intoxicated, although I can’t say this for sure. However, he sure slurred his words when the waitress came around. “Are you waiting for someone?” she asked.

“Waiting?” he asked, seemingly baffled. “No..I’m not..waiting...I’m here..by myself...”

“Oh. Just kidding then,” the waitress said and then he sort of stumbled through the ordering process.

I thought, huh, and went back to reading the Onion. I had nearly forgotten about him when he started to shout. “YOU OUGHTA! YOU OUGHTA!” he boomed, “YOU OUGHTA get some...of that HAIR...out of YOUR EYES!”

Confused, I looked from him to the girl standing behind the register counter. She was wearing an engineer’s cap which pushed her jet-black hair down over her face. To me, it seemed that she couldn’t be more than sixteen, but she must have been older than that to have been working so late at night. She was, I suppose, very pretty, but in that “cute kid” way and not the “I’m gonna hit on this sexy chick” way. She also gave no indication of having heard her admirer.

That didn’t stop him, though. “BECAUSE you’ve got a HOTNESS to you!” he roared and she just went right on totalling people’s bills. I couldn’t tell whether she was actually oblivious or just pretending to be. Either way, it was the right approach.

“Fine...fine...fine...” he muttered after it became clear, even to him, that she wasn’t about to reply to his drastic and ill-conceived wooing strategy. The guy brought me my sack of food a moment later and I left, too hungry to feel any pity for anyone involved in the whole affair.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Liberals With Websites

Tonight I went out to the 331 Club to find out what all this “Drinking Liberally” business was about. I’m glad I did, because I got to meet many fine and talented bloggers of the left-liberal persuasion. The dapper Mr. Sponge was there, and it was a great pleasure to talk with him about Oklahoma’s curious history and the sham that is Minnesota nice. I also spoke with Moses, who plays a major role in both the bible and this blog. Also in attendance was this mighty Norwegian. I was happy to meet him after having read him for so long. I chatted also with Eva, who gave me a lot of helpful blogging advice. The nicely-hatted Spot, purveyor of some of the Minnesota’s sharpest writing, was there and mistook me twice for some guy named “David”. Finally, the Minnesota Observer was on hand, and–just from my few minutes interacting with her–it seemed obvious that, when our fiendish left-wing putsch is complete, she should be installed as Maximum Leader for life. Unfortunately, I was only able to speak briefly with Robin and Smarty, the Power Liberals, but they seemed like a sterling young couple. I shook hands with this Flash character, but we didn’t talk any. Regardless, I’m sure he’s an upstanding citizen and perhaps we will become better acquainted some time in the future.

There were others there as well. I regret that I didn’t get to meet them. Maybe next time...

Apparently, some “Al” fellow was supposed to make an appearance as well. He must have either been very late or completely invisible.

A quick update on the enormous, crap-smeared pair of underpants in my alley

Don’t let the fact that I haven’t posted about them in awhile lead you to believe that they’ve disappeared. Nope, they’re still out there. The winter has been hard on them, too. They’ve been dragged to the very mouth of the alley, where they rest in a grimy spot between the sidewalk and a construction site. The passing of time has made it so the shit smeared liberally across them is no longer distinguishable from the mud and filth that have been soaking into the fabric for a few months now. They have become a queasy brown color which–unpleasantly–helps them to blend in with the sidewalk concrete, making them barely noticeable unless you happen to be looking. I’ve probably stepped on them half a dozen times this week alone.

I just figured you’d all want to know that.

Yet another tale of scary Iowa

When I was in college, a kid a few classes behind me was walking home from a party when a black van pulled up beside him. A bunch of guys jumped out of it and beat him down to sidewalk. They started to kick him then, all of them, and when they were finished one yanked his leather jacket away while another held a gun to his head. “If you’re gonna do him, hurry up and do him,” a third said and after that there was a long time when no one moved. The drive of the van honked his horn and the moment was broken: the robbers dashed back through the sliding door, pulled it shut, and went speeding off down the dark and dirty street.

I was in criminology classes then, and the things I learned there helped me to keep this event in perspective. What happened to that kid was terrible, no question about it, but it was also a statistical rarity. Stranger-on-stranger violent crime is extremely uncommon everywhere in this country, and it’s even more uncommon in Iowa. There were reams and reams of data to reassure me of this. Furthermore, there was nothing in the incident that suggested a pattern, and nothing that would indicate that the victim was selected for any reason other than opportunity and convenience. For him, the old cliche about the wrong place and the wrong time became real.

This was comforting to know, especially since many people were very disturbed by the attack. We were rich kids slumming in a poor part of town–to a lot of us, it just made sense that we’d be victimized. For the most part, my classmates came from cul-de-sacs and bucolic farming communities; a vast majority of us were weak, sheltered, and drunk half the time. This crime, then, stoked a great deal of fear. Bloodthirsty thugs were on the rampage, some thought. Remorseless killers were after us all. None of us were safe.

I don’t want to seem dismissive, though: I think I understand why people are so terrified by random crime and I don’t hold it against them. A story of brutality is always going to be more compelling than the statistics which point out how anomalous such happenings are. We’re a narrative people, and the easy, terrifying myths of crime are always much more crowd-pleasing than the dull, textbook facts. When most any person hears about some violent awfulness befalling someone, it is the most natural thing in the world to consider it a kind a cautionary tale: this is the horror that lies in wait for you if you do this or don’t do that, if you go into those neighborhoods or forget these important rules.

Knowing all this, however, failed to make much of a difference when it came time for me to walk home alone from the library late one Wednesday night. My apartment was only a block away, but it was long, desolate, and barely-lit block. I crossed the busy avenue that separated my college from the city and started down it, already thinking of how that poor kid was assaulted less than a hundred yards from campus; how it happened on a weekday just like this one, on a lonely side-street just like this one. My sociological training told me that these factors were of little importance to my overall level of actual risk, but my regular mind had me glancing at every stray shadow, had my eyes chasing every single crack and whistle of the night.

No one will see you, why don’t you all the way home?, this side of my brain suggested, while the educated and reasonable me was busy regurgitating whatever friendly factoid it could come up with. It isn’t midnight yet, I told myself, the likelihood of falling victim to a stranger-perpetrated armed robbery increases after midnight. You are not in the lower socioeconomic bracket. The vast majority of stranger-perpetrated violent crime happens to those in the lower socioeconomic brackets. Financially-motivated violent criminals tend to choose their targets based on, in descending order, ease of approach and escape, possibility of great monetary gain, and a sense that their victim is helpless, drunk, vulnerable, or otherwise unlikely to put up serious resistance. I am a sober and penniless English major with my mean face on. Now, I have to admit that I’m not sure if any of these are true. True or not, they sure didn’t put my mind at ease. Especially not when the van came swinging around the end of the block and began a slow, steady creep towards me.

I almost turned right around and made a mad dash back to the library. I’m not sure why I didn’t. It might have had something to do with the undergraduate-criminologist in me shrieking out, What, you’re scared of a VAN? What are you, some kind of COWARD? Everyone in Iowa has a van! Your OWN FAMILY has a van! What a pathetic little VAN-O-PHOBE you are! I used to be very sensitive to ridicule, even self-ridicule. So I soldiered on, heading straight for the certain-deathmobile, commanding myself to be brave, steadying myself with snatches of Wright and Decker.

Oh, murderous people in your battered old van, I thought, don’t you know how statistically-unlikely you are to do me serious harm? You better not try, because that will seriously skew the data. You hear me, van-driving sociopathic killing gang? The authorities in the field have serious doubts that you’ll choose me as a victim! Don’t you do it! Don’t you prove them wrong!

I was sweating beneath my windbreaker. I was clutching my backpack as though I’d be able to use it as some sort of weapon if any shit came down. It was ridiculous. It was particularly ridiculous at the crescendo of my panic, when the van came close enough for me to notice its black paint-job and–not a second later–I got a glimpse of the ninety year old woman in the driver’s seat. Don’t kill me! Don’t kill me!, I was pleading on the inside, Don’t kill me, elderly woman! Please!

The tail-lights were lighting my red face up even redder by the time I realized that the danger that hadn’t really existed had just passed me by. I hurried the rest of the way home, popped myself a cold Diet Coke, settled into the comfy sofa my roommates and I had pulled out of someone’s dumpster, and gave thanks that I had survived all the not-very-perilous perils of the Des Moines night.

By the way, this same situation--with some subtle variations--would happen to me again a few years later in Harlem, of all places. That’s a story for another day, though.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The barber's cruel prank

Today I saw I man who looked utterly normal except for one thing. He was stocky, neither tall nor short, and he wore a conservative green button-down tucked into clean blue jeans. His glasses were of a sensible style and the face they rode upon was stolid, wide, and unremarkable. What was remarkable was his hair: he had the conventional close cut favored by regular guys who are just beginning to go bald, but there was a two-inch strip missing from it. From his forehead to the back of his neck, that hair had been shorn away, leaving him with a kind of reverse-mohawk. Compounding the strangeness, this ribbon of bare scalp wasn’t even centered on his head–it was a few centimeters to the side.

Now, from my time as a hospital employee, I know what pre-surgery shave jobs look like. This wasn’t one of them. This could only have been one thing: a bizarre personal decision or an angry barber. One swipe of the electric razor and all of a sudden complete strangers are writing about you on their webpages, wondering what you could have said to provoke such a thing. However, if this was the look he was going for, this gentleman is obviously an eccentric to be reckoned with. It’s easy to get an outré hair-style, after all, but combining an outré hair-style with a resolute suburban-Republican whitebread vibe takes some courage.

My money is on the pissed-off barber, though.

Gettin' creepy...

Lately, I’ve been wanting to do more with my fiction blog, but I’ve had trouble coming up with anything. This is because I forgot one of my writerly axioms: when in doubt, dash off a nasty little story about a sex fiend. I got this one down in about an hour and a half (and it shows the rush, to be honest), but I’m hoping that it’ll help open up the floodgates over there.

As unpleasant as it may be to admit, I sort of have a thing for peeping toms. Over the years, I’ve probably written about a half dozen stories about them. Also, this title is a peeping tom axiom that I found in a true crime book a few years ago. And, finally, the idea of people sneaking into other people’s windows finds its way into my fiction with a fair degree of regularity. Violation and invasion are, apparently, two of my favorite motifs.

It’s been this way for a long time. When I was a kid, my bedroom was on the second floor of our house and its windows looked out on the roof of our porch. I used to dream that there was a strange man standing on the shingles out there. He was so tall that he had to stoop to peer into the gap between my curtains and, when I knew he was looking at me, I had to try very hard not to move. With his eye always on me, he would take hold of the window and pry it up. Then, slowly and silently, his leg would come snaking through it. I remember he was barefoot, but not much else. That’s because I’d always wake up just before his heel hit the carpet, which was probably lucky for me.

I was a weird kid who read too many scary books. Now I’m a weird adult who writes too many scary stories. Oh, well.

How not to get your novel published, part one...

In the interests of upping the “practical advice” quotient of this blog, I have decided to inaugurate a series of posts geared towards helping the aspiring author. These are my people, after all, the striving creative types, and too often they suffer needlessly. They’re baffled by the publishing world’s caprices and–in their ignorance–they make all sorts of little blunders. These blunders then provoke rejection letters, which in turn inspire frustration, self-doubt, and–ultimately– discouragement. For a truly talented writer, this doesn’t need to happen.

As a low-level publishing functionary, I know all too well what I’m talking about. Too often writers think that they can just shove their toiled-over opus in a box, shoot it off to some agent or editor, and then reap the rewards their genius is due. You all need to disabuse yourself of this notion, because it will kill your dreams. Talent is the main thing, of course, but it’s unfortunately far from being the only thing. You can be the next Thomas Pynchon or Flannery O’Connor or Alice Walker but–unless your extraordinarily lucky or extremely well-connected–you’re still going to have to jump through many, many hoops. I want to help you do that without tripping too badly.

First off, it’s important that you recognize the main rule: the industry is set up to make sure that never-before-published authors stay that way. Trust me, it is a million times easier to reject a new writer than it is to encourage one. This is a very risk-averse field. To some, firing off a million “best of luck” letters is far preferable to the peril an unproven author represents. They can jeopardize career momentum and set the editor, agent, or publishing house up for ridicule, after all. Better to avoid them altogether. Exacerbating this mindset is the sheer number of manuscripts making the rounds at any given time. Your brave and unique vision is just a drop in the torrent that washes up into their mailboxes every morning. You can’t assume that your brilliance will be recognized by those (like me) employed to wade through it. You can’t assume that you’ll merit much more than a sullen glance, really. You’ve got quite a challenge ahead of you: you must stand out without screwing up.

One of the simplest, and most common, ways to screw up is to boast in your introduction letter. I can’t tell you how many manuscripts I’ve seen which the author has seen fit to preface with claims such as “you’re going to be blown away!” or “this is far better than that dreck in Barnes & Nobel” or “I’ve invented my own style–which I call Neo-Retro-Whateverism”. I don’t think I’ve liked a single one of these and I won’t pretend I wasn’t predisposed against them from the start. My reaction–and I’m sure this is the majority one–isn’t to think “Oh, wow! What a self-assured enfant terrible! I can’t wait to experience their powerful new voice!”. No, what I think is, “This person is full of shit”. You don’t want the person evaluating your book to think you’re full of shit. Try a variant of “Here is my novel. I hope you like it.” instead. Even if you’re not a naturally humble person, this approach comes off far better.

So, today’s lesson: be self-effacing and polite. Let your novel’s qualities speak for themselves. Don’t issue challenges or pronouncements to the publishing flunkies who will be reviewing it. Take my word for it: they’re an easily alienated bunch, often with their own raging artistic egos to defend. Come off badly with them and they’ll be tempted to take you down a notch.

That might not be fair, but it’s the way it is. Sorry about that.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The strangest R&B song ever recorded...

Can be found on this double-disc Sun Ra singles collection. It’s called–and I swear I’m not making this up–“I’m Gonna Unmask the Batman”. There are two versions of it. The first, featuring none other than living blues legend Buddy Guy on rhythm guitar, features Sun Ra’s band working up a groove that sounds like James Brown after several dozen whiskey shots while some guy named Lacy Gibson shouts “I’m gonna unmask the Batman! I’m gonna unmask the Batman! I’m gonna unmask the Batman!” Eventually, he begins to threaten Robin with a similar unmasking and then makes several semi-coherent statements about “sneaking up in that Batman cage” before the song fades out in a blur of honking saxophones. The next version is like a sort of demented musak version of the first, with Sun Ra jamming out on his Mini-Moog organ as some no-name singer mumbles the lyrics as though he’s reading them for the first time right there in the recording studio.

Oddly enough, these are two of the most “normal” moments on the whole compilation. There’s also an unspeakably bizarre doo-wop number, complete with a baritone voiced narrator intoning some nonsense about “a teenager’s letter of promises” and a jaunty ditty that wishes “a happy new year to you!” over and over and over again. And I would be remiss if I failed to mention the special guest vocal appearances by some character named “Yocahanon”, who bellows with Little-Richard-on-bad-psychedelic-mushrooms abandon about being “The One! From the Sun!” and his love for a certain “Hot Skillet Mama!” with lips just like a hippopotamus, a nose like an elephant’s snout and jaws hanging down by her knees. On another song (entitled “Message to Earthman”, by the way), he gamely sidesteps the problem of not having enough of a recording budget to put a cool echo effect on his vocals by simply repeating the last word of every line as though he was shouting at us from the furthest depths of space. That Yochanon, he’s a curious one. The mind reels to think of what he could have done had Sun Ra decided to turn him loose on “I’m Gonna Unmask the Batman”.

I love Sun Ra, by the way. He’s one of the greatest unsung geniuses of twentieth century music. I’ll have to write a longer appreciation of him one of these days.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

You know who the two coolest people in the universe are?

And the winner of the first annual Spot the Scott Stapp Imposter Contest Is...

No one. The false lyrics were numbers one and four. Number two was taken from the tune “Surround Me”, number three (which is so awesomely awful it boggles the imagination, by the way) is from “Justify”, and number five is a snippet of “Reach Out”.

I’m afraid I can’t award prizes for only spotting one of the fakes. My resources here are limited, you understand. I’ll just have to hold the all-expenses paid trip for two to Tegulcigalpa over until the next Insomnia Report contest.

Let me assure you, Mel, Mr. Sponge, and Greg: even though you lost, I don’t consider you losers. In fact, I would be much more concerned if you were able to pick up on the nuances that distinguish my bad writing from Mr. Stapp’s. It is clear that you are people of taste and discernment. You should be proud of yourselves. Give yourself all a round of applause, why don’t you?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Why do I continue to put up with this life-squelching frigid hellhole of a state?

If you’re in Minnesota, you might have noticed that it is very, very cold outside. So cold I thought my three block walk to the corner store would kill me. It felt like the liquid in my eyeballs was freezing. My sting stung; after awhile it seemed that the very next twenty mile-per-hour thirty-degrees-below-zero gust of wind would crack it apart and send the flakes of it dancing down the street. Once I got there, the place was filled with guys who were waiting for the bus. The owner usually doesn’t let them stand in there, but he must have felt that he couldn’t kick them out. “Colder than a motherfucker,” one of them said to me as I squeezed down the aisle.

“Yeah. It’s cold,” I said.

“Got-damn cold,” another guy added. “Ain’t fit for nobody.”

“That’s right. Motherfucker is cold,” said the first guy.

I nodded and went to collect the stuff I needed. I took it to the counter and gave it to the quiet Arab guy who ran the place, the guy who seldom says a word to me. Yesterday, though, he was voluble. “Cold,” he said and I said it back to him. He took my money and gave me my change. “Stay warm,” he said then and I told him it was impossible. I took my bag and snaked my way through all the people loitering around in their heavy coats and ski-hoods, pausing by the door for a second to pull my scarf up and savor my last warm breath before the journey home.

With my eyes like brittle glass and my forehead feeling like the air was a belt sander pressed against it, I hurried to my place. Along the way, I thought of several places I’d rather be. In no particular order, here they are:

1) Tuscaloosa, Alabama

My grandparents live down there, and every time I’ve visited them the weather has been quite pleasant. Sultry, even. I’m sort of an odd Minnesotan in that I really enjoy sticky, oppressive, sweat-all-up-in-your-buttcrack heat. I enjoy the South also–not the way they always get to pick our president, but the music, the food, the scenery, and the authentic friendliness of most everyone I’ve met down there. None of that “Minnesota nice” to be found in Alabama, that sick kind of quasi-niceness we wield so that strangers will get away from us quicker. Alabamans, by and large, are truly nice. They’ll ask you a question and be interested in how you answer it. They’ll have a conversation with you even if they don’t have to. That’s the kind of languid, easy-going behavior that you can expect from a place where you can stand outdoors without worrying about your fingers and toes falling off.

However, they do have an entire museum dedicated to a college football coach. And a billboard on the edge of town that declares “THE UN IS COMING TO TAKE YOUR GUNS AWAY!!!!”
I’m not so fond of that stuff...

2) Miami Beach, Florida

In Miami Beach, even the people who put your sandwiches together at Subway look like Venezuelan supermodels. This is off-putting at first, but you quickly get used to it. You also get used to everything being clean, gleaming, and geared to the super-rich. After a few days, it gets so that it doesn’t all seem shallow, fake, and ridiculous–it just seems like paradise. Sure, it’s a vain place and a superficial place and an absurdly body-conscious place, but there’s a reason for that. You see, you can have a body in Miami Beach, you can pamper it and flaunt it. In Minneapolis, you’ve got no choice: you have to hide it under sixty-four layers of clothes or else the elements will paint it bright blue and scatter it to the winds.

3) Muscat, Oman

Truth be told, I don’t know anything about Muscat. Think of everyone you know. Have any of them been to Muscat? It must be a unique place to visit. I bet they have at least one good hotel and, seeing as it sits on the southern Arabian Peninsula, it must be good and hot over there right now. Really, that’s all I need. Plus, I could come back to Minnesota in the summertime and people would ask me, “What was Muscat like?” and I could just smile mysteriously and say something like, “What happens in Muscat stays in Muscat” or “Muscat? Muscat is magical!” or “I’m afraid I can’t talk to you until my CIA handler properly debriefs me...”

4) Tegucigalpa, Honduras

My out-of-date travel guide says this: “...residents still gather under the shade of trees in the plaza to chat and meet friends. The people’s genuine interest in visitors and their security makes Tegus one of the safer cities in Central America”. Obviously, this is subtle travel-guide speak for “buy a plane ticket, Kevin, and leave that frosty Scandinavian nightmare behind...come to Tegucigalpa and let our friendliness and relative safety enchant you!” Honduras is also a major banana exporter. Bananas are one of my favorite fruits. Honduras and I are obviously meant to be together, don’t you think? I’m not embarrassed to speak of the sacred bond I share with Honduras.

5) Bruxelles, Belgium

I realize that Belgium isn’t particularly warm. Still, when I passed through it this summer, it struck me as the sort of place where you can still go down a shadowy street to meet a man in a bowler hat, who will–after the necessary bona fides are established–hand off to you certain documents that freelance operatives in the Eastern Bloc have gone to some risk to obtain. And I’d be lying if I said that this sort of thing didn’t appeal to me.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

An awesome Bad Singer Thursday contest!!!

As some of you may know (but will never admit), former Creed frontman and spectacularly bad drama-rock singer Scott Stapp has released a solo album. Ever since reading about it on Tbogg’s site, I’ve had the idea for a contest percolating in my head. I thought it would be fun if I took some excerpts of Mr. Stapp’s amazingly-bad lyrics and mixed them in with fake amazingly-bad lyrics of my own devising. Then, I’d ask my small and long-suffering readership to see if they can pick out the fake Scott Stapp lyrics. Sounds like a great idea, doesn’t it?

What’s that you say? It doesn’t sound like any fun at all?

Well, too bad because we’re doing it anyway. What follows are five mindnumbingly shitty song excerpts. Three of which come from Scott Stapp’s new solo album, two of which I wrote myself. Try to guess which ones are real and which ones are fake. Don’t cheat, either. If you get them all correct–who knows?–maybe I’ll even offer you a lame prize of some sort.

Although, if I were you, I wouldn’t get too excited about that part.

Anyway, here we go:

An old man walking down the road
Stopped beside me for help with his load
Told me, son, this world keeps goin’ round
Friends are lost, friends are found
Friends we love buried six feet underground

A wounded man sounds desperate when he's lost all his belief
Can you look into my eyes and say you won't betray me
We're running out of time
How precious time can be
I'm counting all the moments of the times you could have helped me”

I met a man in New Orleans wore a half suit with dark blue jeans
Kicked his heels together winked at me real nice.
I saw him from a mile away,
But in my state of mind I let him make his play
"Hey boy... have you seen the other side"
Yeah...in this man I saw the devil's hand so I looked at him man to man said
"This time it's gonna be a fight!"

Here I am, baby, wounded and betrayed
Wounded and betrayed
But you’ve got to know, I’m not afraid
No, I’m not afraid
You took my heart and ran away
So far away, so far away
But oh! baby I’m not afraid
Not afraid of you

So what am I supposed to do
When all I've got is God and you
I guess I'll trust the one I can't see
As I sit here on this park bench
Knowing what you are thinking
I wonder how you close your eyes to sleep

How come the world gets worse whenever Phil Collins is singing?

I was downtown today, taking care of some freelance editing business, when I stopped into a skyway fast food restaurant to get some lunch. This was around noon and the place was pretty busy, but I found a table by the window and began to take a nice leisurely meal. Whenever I get the chance, I like to eat downtown. I get a kick out of all the people in their nice suits scurrying everywhere. That sounds stupid, but it’s true. I could watch them for hours.

This was one of those crypto-fancy fast food places, so most of the people there seemed to have well-paying, if stressful, jobs. Their lunch hour, then, became their one daytime idyll when they didn’t have be in a frenzy about everything. A group of co-workers would come in and, as they stood in line, you could tell they were sort of frazzled and hungry. They didn’t talk to one another and they had impatient grimaces on their faces. It wasn’t until they were mostly finished with their food that they warmed up and started to chat with each other. Gradually, their conversations got more and more animated until the whole room was booming with a hundred overlapping business-person anecdotes. They smiled, they laughed, they flirted: it seemed to me as if they had forgotten all about their torturous mornings. What’s more, perhaps the fact that they’d soon have to return to their desks and cubicles for more of the same hadn’t sunk in yet. For the moment, though, they were feeling good. They were free, they were well-compensated, they were handsomely dressed, and they were eating starchy faux-ethnic foods. All was right with the world.

And then, from out of the background, came the unmistakable sound of Phil Collins. A pall fell over the room. Laughter quieted, conversation petered out, and all around me men and women were looking down into their empty trays with expressions that suggested nothing so much as children who’ve heard the whistle that ends recess. The end of their lunch hour was upon them. They had to return to the grind, they had to get back to the corporate battle they thought they had abandoned. Nothing could have underscored this more cruelly than Phil Collins, the man whose voice conveys better than anyone’s how miserable, dull, and empty life can be.

I’m afraid I can’t tell you exactly which Phil Collins track had this effect. It certainly wasn’t one of his better known numbers. Perhaps it was even a late-period Genesis song, I don’t know. I’m proud to say that I’m no Phil Collins expert. Besides, are there really variations in Phil Collins? Or is it more accurate to think of Phil Collins as a single, constant, changeless oppressive force in the atmosphere? I think the latter. Sure, I can tell the difference between “Sussudio” and “In the Air Tonight”, but the effect is the same in both cases: misery and despair.

I grew up in the eighties. As a result, I heard a lot of Phil Collins. I think this has crippled my generation in ways that we haven’t yet entirely figured out. Nowadays, when I think back on my youth, I imagine myself riding in my parent’s station wagon, listening to the radio play a “solid rock block” of Phil Collins hits. And I think, Jesus Christ, why couldn’t I have grown up in the 1970s or the 1990s or the 1930s or the 1810s or any other time when dreck this wretched didn’t sum up the zeitgeist?

The whole world could be at peace, all people everywhere could live in love and harmony, and drinking fountains could issue forth the finest French wines, and Phil Collins would still have the power to blunder in and spoil it for everyone. That’s not just bad music. That’s sheer malevolence. I got up from my seat in a hurry, threw away my food, and got out of there before the song was over. It was just too sad to witness another room–one of millions by now–that Phil Collins had filled with his voice and strangled to death.

More great moments in my psychosexual development...

There are two types of tenth graders: those who look forward to gym class and those who don’t. As hard as it might be to believe, I was in the latter category. Uncoordinated, cerebral, and contemptuous of the St. Paul School District for forcing me to throw balls and run around in circles when I could have been parsing the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, I was a through-and-through dork, the sort of kid a physical education teacher takes one look at and thinks “Christ, this is going to be embarrassing for everyone...” Even though I showed a peculiar aptitude for–of all things–badminton, virtually every other sport was just another opportunity for me to demonstrate before my peers my relentless ineptitude on the field of competition. Of all the mortifications inflected on me, none was more fraught than the swimming unit. Not only did I have to risk drowning and chlorine-induced rashes, I also had to be among my classmates–girls, even–without my shirt on. I was an excessively modest lad, and I was worried that my skinny and hairless fifteen year old body was somehow more objectionable than any other skinny and hairless fifteen year old body.

This anxiety was enhanced by the presence of a certain young lady who I had tender feelings towards. Let’s call her Phyllis. She was a tall, blond girl with a sharp wit and bad times in her past. I’m a sucker for that kind. It was a nightmare at first, attempting to be charming while almost naked. The quality of my banter took a steep decline, as I had to give most of my mind over to worrying about my physique and constant self-reminders not to stare at her thighs. She was a charitable thing, fond of the underdog, and she still spoke to me after our first swim day, an hour I spent with her along the edge of the shallow end, giggling like a freak as our teacher solemnly intoned the safety rules. As far as I was concerned, there was only one rule: don’t pop wood. A guy I knew pretty well–we’ll call him Larry–had broken that rule the year before and we were still talking about how gross that was. I didn’t want to be that year’s Larry. I needed to maintain control. Anyone who’s ever been a teenage boy can attest to how difficult this can be. Back then, a spring breeze coming at me from the right angle could do the job.

The amount of concentration I devoted to the task of remaining unaroused made it so that I never actually learned to swim. My floundering attempts at crossing the shallow end of the pool with the backstroke, the doggy stroke, the breast-stroke or whatever other dirty-named techniques they tried to teach me, were enough to earn only pained head-shakes from the teacher, who by this time was too used to my shit to try and inspire me anymore. I spent most of the time wading aimlessly with fair Phyllis, no keen swimmer herself, and gradually my wisecracks grew less frantic, my agitation grew less obvious. Not that I was the suave gentleman writing for you today, by any means. I was still a miserable and horny adolescent, still preoccupied with my swim class mantra: Don’t stare at her thighs, don’t pop wood, don’t stare at her thighs, don’t pop wood...

My fixation on these koans prevented me from noticing that I had a competitor for Phyllis’ affections. This was a boy I’ll name Frankie. Frankie was the class misfit, far more of a misfit than I ever was. He had a flat head topped with a greasy thicket of reddish hair, breathtakingly bad acne, and teeth as yellow as lemondrops. All of this, when combined with his unpleasant personality, conspired to consign him to utter social rejection. I was more than a few kilometers from cool myself and I rejected him, so that should tell you something.

But, as I’ve noted already, Phyllis wasn’t the type to make a loser feel like a loser. She was nice to Frankie, she nodded politely through his interminable conversations about the comic books he liked and how he longed to kill the popular kids, she didn’t discourage him with any outward displays of revulsion. This was all he needed, and soon he was creeping up to her while the teacher was forcing me to pretend to swim. I’d come back and hang along the rope of buoys past which I wasn’t certified to venture, listening to him babble and watching her enduring it. It wasn’t so bad, really. I liked watching her.

Besides, I didn’t dare interrupt. Frankie struck us all as unstable and it seemed prudent to remain off his list of classmates who he wanted to murder in horrible ways. When the teacher blew the whistle, we’d have to haul off to the showers together, and I didn’t put much past him: he could have tripped me, shoved me, stabbed me, or spread inaccurate and damaging rumors about my anatomy. We were rivals, after all. I didn’t want to provoke him unnecessarily. I knew it wouldn’t be long before the teacher called out his name and forced him to pretend to swim for a little while. When that happened, I was confident that I could succor her with my self-deprecating wit and my “non-crazy” demeanor.

This was pretty much our routine for the first week of the swim unit. We’d each take turns subjecting her to our atrocious, oblique wooing techniques for fifty minutes or so, and then we’d retire to the locker room. There, we might have shot each other a few dirty looks, but this was as open as our combat ever became. I tried to take the high ground; I resisted the temptation to put him down. In our quiet war, I cast myself as the hubristic superpower while he was the plucky-but-doomed rouge state. It was obvious that I was going to win, but I wanted to triumph with dignity. I imagined that would make my victory so much sweeter.

After a weekend to fine-tune my simultaneous seduction and not-popping-wood strategies, I returned to gym class with new confidence. Let Frankie throw his most exciting Dungeons and Dragons story at Phyllis, his most passionate homecoming-king-mutilation fantasy; she wouldn’t have time for it after being exposed to my unquenchable sang froid and my mysterious, brooding vulnerability. I was bad. I was the slickest tomcat in AP English.

Phyllis showed up in her new bathing suit that day, however, and wrecked all that. Phyllis was a very pretty girl, and her new outfit made that fact inescapable. Where she was once appealing, she was now awe-inspiring; where she was once intimidating, she was now terrifying. I took one look at her and was a giggling loon again. I don’t remember our conversation, but it must have been excruciating for us both. When the teacher called for me to come and demonstrate for him how little I had learned over the past week, I waded away with something very much like relief. I’m sure I noticed Frankie slinking through the shallow end to come and take my place. Stay away from that beautiful creature, I must have thought, she will soon be mine. Oh yes, I will make her my own.

As I thrashed across the water, the teacher rolling his eyes at me for the 1,392th time that semester, I was contemplating a new approach. Boldness was the key, I had decided. Phyllis had raised the stakes by making it plain how lovely she was, I had to follow her lead. I would bring my unease out into the open and compliment her on her swimsuit. I would set aside my nervous jokes and bad witticisms for once and take up the honesty gambit. What could be the harm, after all? Who doesn’t like to be complimented? And I felt our relationship had progressed to the point where we should move to the next level: confessions of our fiendish attraction for one another and then, from there, straight on to things I dared not even dream about.

I was trembling as I returned to her side of the pool. She gave me an odd look and I said, with the kind of smoothness that eludes me today, “It’s cold in here today.”

“Shut up,” Phyllis said, “Shut up and hide me.” She grasped my shoulders and positioned me the way she wanted me, then she crouched down behind my back, only her head visible above the water’s surface.

“What’s the matter?” I asked, with genuine bafflement.

“Do you know what he said to me?” she hissed and I knew, of course, that she was talking about Frankie, who had–I soon noticed--unaccountably wandered off into the deep end.

“What did he say?”

She moved closer to me to whisper into my quivering ear, “He said, ‘Boy, Phyllis, that swimsuit you have on is a lot better than the other one...’”

I turned to face her and she possibly mistook my shock and confusion for sympathy. I lost no time; I said, “Jesus. What a creep!”

“I know!” she said before she took hold of my arm and spun me around again. “Just shut up and hide me!”

I gazed across at his blotchy pink head bobbing in the distance. “What a creep. What a total creep.” I told her, but the whole time I couldn’t help thinking, Shit, you just dodged a bullet there...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Brain transplants...

The other day, in the bathtub, I was thinking about how different the world would be if doctors could transplant the human brain. Imagine that you’re an average guy in his mid-30s. You’re walking down the street, not bothering anyone, when suddenly a Cadillac Escalade hops the curb and–splat!--you’re crushed between its grill and the nearest building. Miraculously, your head is undamaged by all this and–since you’ve signed a form in your doctor’s office a few years ago–the ambulance whisks it to the hospital, where a crack team of neurosurgeons split open your skull, scoop out your brains, attach them to a fancy car-battery like device that keeps the neurons firing, and stick the whole thing in a freezer. A few days pass, and then a teenage girl suffers a freak aneurysm and dies while doing her homework. Now, since she signed a similar form to you during her last check-up and since keen computerized databases have matched you two, her body is brought by helicopter to the same hospital. Once the crack neurosurgeons are assembled, they go to work stuffing your brain into the teenaged girl’s body. After several hours, they give you a little electrical shock and you’re jolted awake. But what are you now? Are you a teenage girl? When someone looks at you, they certainly see a teenage girl. But you’ve been to college, you’re married, and you have a daughter of your own. What happens now? Do you go through life as a teenage girl, or as a 30-something year old man who just happens to resemble a teenage girl? Do you go back to your high-paying, professional job, knowing that your employees will have a hard time respecting the authority of a sixteen year old? And won’t the parents of the teenager want to continue being the parents of the teenager, heedless of the fact that their teenager is now a middle-aged middle-manager? And what does this do to the man’s love-life? Does he initiate a lesbian relationship with his wife? What if his wife doesn’t find this appealing? Even if she does, wouldn’t this be technically illegal, since her “husband” is only sixteen years old? It seems that the laws would have to be changed to allow this. But would the man-in-the-teenager’s-body have to wait until he was eighteen to vote? Would he have to re-take his driver’s test? And menstruation, wouldn’t menstruation freak him out? And how would he handle suddenly being hit on by acne-ridden boys at the mall? And even though I call him a “he”, isn’t “he” more of a “she” now?

Someday science might advance to the point where we have this capability. I think it would be best if we hammered all these questions out beforehand. To date, only really bad movies like “Freaky Friday” have tried to address the issue, and I can’t help but feel that their take on the subject is wholly superficial.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Sweet Daddy Lovedrops has risen from the grave to help you pick out the appropriate underwear for Valentine's Day

[Ed note: If you're reading this at work, you might want to stop. Just saying.]

But get this straight: Sweet Daddy Lovedrops is not a “zombie”. He does not hunger for your brains. He does not terrify the populace with the grotesquerie of his grim visage, worms and maggots crawling from his empty eye socket and gaping, fleshy holes where his nose should be and whatnot. He does not even smell unpleasant. No! Sweet Daddy Lovedrops smells like the rosemary and hyssop bubble bath he likes to use! And he is as handsome as ever! And he only hungers for a plate of foie gras, not your brains! Sweet Daddy Lovedrops is vehement in his disdain for your brains, not only their taste, but also their quality!

Eating your brains would only make America’s premier advice-dispenser and pop psychological authority incapable of performing his duties as an arbiter of truth and fount of plain-spoken common sense. No, the sad fact is that your brains lack the subtlety, taste, and discernment that Sweet Daddy Lovedrops demands in his meals. Were you to serve them with capers and a fine Bordeaux, I would still push them away as a small baby might push away a plate of corned-beef hash. And, since Sweet Daddy Lovedrops is not a small baby, you could not hope to wear down his steadfast resistance with gentle cooing, stuffed llamas, and threats of no pudding! Fuck you and your pudding! What can pudding possibly mean to a man who’s studied at the finest correspondence schools in Austria? How can pudding succor a man who has strived for decades to bring all the miserable, yearning masses the light of Unquestionable Truth? Pudding can’t succor such a man. And neither can your brains.

No, no: Sweet Daddy Lovedrops does not want to eat your brains. He wants to make them less pathetic.

But before I do that, allow me to share the story of how I died. It is a tale of simple, noble patriotism and it would tickle my fancy if it was made into a feature-film one day. You see, there exists in this world an anti-Sweet Daddy Lovedrops, a man whose very existence makes a mockery of everything Sweet Daddy Lovedrops stands for. This vile wretch takes transcendent wisdom and turns it into trite, homespun cliches; he takes thought-provoking ideas and turns them into treacly pap; he takes the Mighty Truth of the Ages and turns it into A Load Of Silly Horse-Hockey.

Some of you might have already figured out that I’m talking about “Dr.” Phil.

Yes, “Dr.” Phil, that Texas-twanging, bald-headed, country-mustached, multimedia celebrity piece of post-Freudian flotsam! How I despise him! And, dear advice-seekers, rest assured that Sweet Daddy Lovedrops is not the man to sit idly by and watch the Yearning Masses be succored by a pied piper who can only bring them suffering and shame. Just the other week, on his “television show”, I watched the gibbering homonculus tell a girl who had been stealing from her mother’s purse “To quit with all the what-have-you and get yoursef’ a job!”. And the audience applauded! Wildly! For something like two minutes!

Sweet Daddy Lovedrops would never lay a turd like that. He would tell that little girl that, yes, stealing is a moral transgression, but it is one which is but a feather in the wind compared to the hurricane of evil that is our lowly modern state. To say “do not steal” is as self-defeating as saying “do not breathe”, since just by living we take part in a grim charade of corruption, abuse, and misery. So, little girl, I’d say, take whatever you want from your mother’s purse, take the whole purse, it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. We are all just chalk-marks on a blackboard left in the asbestos-lined basement of hell’s elementary school.

After hearing that, do you think the audience would cheer? No, no they wouldn’t. They would sit and silently ponder and, in quiet solitude, decide that I am right.

This is the essential difference between me and “Dr.” Phil. And that was all I wanted to tell him when I traveled to his lair deep in the bowels of an abandoned salt mine somewhere just north of the Rio Grande. You see, I was naive back then and I thought that my accursed enemy would just shrivel up and vanish once he was confronted with his despicable charlatanism.

In this I made a tactical error.

After voyaging through miles of passageways, into and out of millions of dead ends and false paths, I began to feel like the mythical Jason in the labyrinth, pursuing my own personal Minotaur of Falsehood. But, just as started to grow weary of the chase, I found myself in his opulent study, a room of such grandeur that it made the grand palaces of the Turkmen empire seem like the dorm rooms of stoned college sophomores. At the sound of my footsteps resounding through the high-ceilinged chamber, the loathed villain raised his enormous, overripe melon head from his correspondence and sneered the way you’ve probably seen him sneering from the covers of a million vapid hardcover books piled high in the entryway of your local Barnes and Nobel.

“Who the hell are you?” he asked me.

The nerve, I thought. But I was dignified, even in combat. “I am Sweet Daddy Lovedrops, your avowed foe. Where I bring light, you bring darkness. Where I dispense wisdom, you vomit wicked lies. While I serve the truth, you serve only the Dark Lord Baal. Prepare to taste my fiery sword of universal judgement, you wretched beast!” I said, my soaring oratory echoing all over his gussied-up cave.

He rose up from behind his desk made of skulls and came towards me with his hand extended. “Pleased to meet ya,” he said, with the disarming “charm” that all who have done battle with him have commented upon.

“Touch me not, foul rapscallion!” I cried out and he just smirked. On his outstretched hand, a gristly finger curled, beckoning me to follow him. He turned his back on me and started towards a door set in the vaulted walls of his lair. “Where are you going?” I demanded.

“Got somethin’ to show ya,” he said, and he threw open the door. On the other side of it, there was only darkness, a darkness from which a curious shaking sound came, softly at first, but growing ever-louder as our standoff continued.

I crossed my arms over my chest in my steadfastest way and asked him, in such a way that suggested I wasn’t the least bit curious, “What’s in there?”

His grin then was something that will haunt all my worst nightmares for years to come. “Bunch ‘a rattlesnakes,” he said.

“I don’t believe you,” I told him.

“Got a buncha rattlesnakes. You scared of rattlesnakes, Wee Baby Lemondrop?”

“Sweet Daddy Lovedrops is not scared of rattlesnakes! The mere suggestion is absurd!” I declared.

“Come over here then!” “Dr.” Phil taunted, “These ones is special. They done glow in the dark...”

I must admit here that my curiosity was aroused. Herpetology has long been a pet fascination of mine, and–while I understand this is not the time nor place to boast of my accomplishments in that field–it is commonly accepted in most zoological communities that the Zimbabwean Reticulated Pit Viper has been given its own phyla category thanks to my tireless letter writing campaign. So you can imagine that my interest was piqued at the possibility of seeing the legendary “luminous” rattler.

I laid aside my natural caution and strolled straight up to the open door. In my mind I was scoffing at “Dr.” Phil’s awesome ignorance of the natural world. Didn’t he know what a biological find he had right there in his closet? Didn’t he understand the significance of it? What a fool, I told myself, what a poor, moronic fool. I wasn’t afraid to say it out loud, either: “You carpet-munching ingrate!” I called out as I peered into the darkness beyond the threshold, “Don’t you know these should be in government-accredited research facilities?”

“Yup!” “Dr.” Phil chuckled, and with one meaty, hairy palm he swatted me into the dank closet. Only it wasn’t a closet at all, but a very deep pit. And the rattlesnakes at the bottom of it didn’t glow in the dark at all. Not even a little bit. Oh, but how enraged they were when America’s foremost arbiter of knowledge fell upon them! And I wasn’t even wearing the special fang-proof boots I like to wear when I visit the desert Southwest! What a hideous oversight on Sweet Daddy Lovedrops’ part that was!

Suffice to say that what happened to me then did sting some.

But I did not come here to tell you a story of pain and defeat. I came here to criticize your panties. Because, truth be told, they just aren’t sexy enough. You might think they’re sexy, but–let’s face it–you have no idea what sexy is. You think that just because something is tight or soft or pink or revealing or whatever it must then be sexy. I’m sad to say that this isn’t true. It’s a damnable lie, in fact.

But don’t fret, my precious, for Sweet Daddy Lovedrops is here to tell you what sexy is. Sexy can be defined as the particle interaction between (a) the Barthesian “perfect observer” as laid out in the theory of semiotics; (b) a vector quadrant that operates in Euclidean geometry as a curved line, but can better be understood as a transverse operating arc in quantum space; and (c) naked bits. Put plainly, sexy is a positive value relation between an operant icon and a textual space within which certain identity discourses receive “encoded” signifiers.

Now, knowing that, it becomes perfectly clear that these are NOT acceptable underwear to wear on an evening when a young lady might plausibly expect romance:

It staggers Sweet Daddy Lovedrops’ imagination to think that any woman would want to cover her nether-pieces with something that can only be described as “doilyesque”. Look at the little bows, look at the frilly detailing running along the lateral perimeters, look at the swoony floral pattern this pair of underwear gives us in place of genuine substance. . If Sweet Daddy Lovedrops was engaging in the act of physical congress with a lady clad in this monstrosity, he would feel duty-bound to rise up from his expert lovemaking and–gently, yet firmly–request that she go into the lavatory and change into a pair of knickers more conducive to eroticism. Because, and not to put too fine a point on it, those are the sorts of underpants that can make the soldier in the purple helmet stand down.

This next pair is just as bad:

Ladies, heed Sweet Daddy Lovedrops’ advice: if you have a philosophy of life, or even just a witty “catchphrase”, you don’t need to have it embroidered in silk and riding on top of your cooter. You can just have it tattooed on your ankle or something. Because after Sweet Daddy Lovedrops removes your slacks with his teeth, the last thing he wants to be confronted with is the written word. Of all the things Sweet Daddy Lovedrops wants to apply to the flower of your womanhood, literary analysis is not one of them. If you have any bloomers of this sort, you should burn them immediately.

What follows here is a little better, but still not acceptable:

Here Sweet Daddy Lovedrops takes issue with the fabric. Sweet Daddy Lovedrops is of the opinion that clothing, even intimate clothing, should not be shiny. Cars are shiny, spaceships are shiny, modern windmills are shiny, neon lights are shiny, fiberoptic cables and salamanders are shiny, but love should not be shiny and neither should passion. These are solemn things, and they demand respect. It is clear that the proper obeisance cannot be found in underthings that look like something Rocky might wear.

Plus, as an aside, the color yellow reminds Sweet Daddy Lovedrops of his overactive bladder problem. And nothing kills the romantic impulse deader than an overactive bladder. You might just have to trust Sweet Daddy Lovedrops on that one.

Now, I realize that, at this point, you may be gnashing your lovely teeth together in anxiety because you feel you have no knickers to wear on Valentines Day. “Oh woe is me!” I can hear you crying, “I was sashaying around in these goofy pieces of intimate-apparel and the whole world was looking at me like I was a fool!”

There, there, sweetheart. We all make mistakes. Even Sweet Daddy Lovedrops. What’s that you say? You want to tell me about a mistake I’VE made? Goddamn it, I just got done telling you about how “Dr.” Phil threw me into a pit of rattlesnakes, didn’t I? How much more do you want me to abase myself? How much longer must I suffer? Can’t we just talk about YOUR problems for once? Can’t we just stop making everything about ME all the time? Is that too much to ask?

Now you’ve gone and got Sweet Daddy Lovedrops angry.

But, because Sweet Daddy Lovedrops is a mature, functional human being, he isn’t going to let his simmering rage interfere with his quest to improve your life. Ladies, listen to Sweet Daddy Lovedrops for once. Listen to him when he assures you that “undies” such as these are guaranteed to fill all your coital partners to the brim with unbridled, irresistible groin-centered lust vibes:

Mmmmmm! I wish you could see Sweet Daddy Lovedrops biting his knuckles at the sight of those puppies! Whooooo! Damn!

Sweet Daddy Lovedrops is generally a sober, erudite professional, but there are some things that can his get his blood up like nobody’s business. One of the things that can get the goopy prostate secretions flowing around in his vas deferens is the sight of a pair of baggy, ruffled, chastely-white ladies-pants! Oh, and don’t get me started on the beautiful bow! I call it a love knot, and I often wile away the quiet hours imagining myself tying and untying that sweet, silky pink ribbon as my fair consort whispers to me my favorite lines from the collected works of Eugene Ionesco. And, while this incredibly sensual tying and untying is going on, in the distance, a small man (but not a dwarf) is playing finger cymbals (but not castanets) and humming the melody to several famous Hebrew tunes (but not “Greene Koseene”). And maybe clouds will float by in the shapes of all my passed-on ancestors and descendants to be, clouds with big puffy smiles on their faces for the deep and abiding love my and my baggy-pantied sugar-muffin share. And maybe there will be a platter of broasted chicken nearby, in case we get hungry.

Now that’s what sexy is, my sweet readership. Shall we get another look at those mystifying, alluring underpants? Shall we? I think we shall! Here goes:

Hava NAGILA! Those are hot! Tell me if this is “too much information”, but Sweet Daddy Lovedrops has been forced to find a new position in which to sit, as the one he was in previously was the source of much discomfort due to the tangling of his pants with his sudden, uncontrollable erection!

It is getting to the pont where Sweet Daddy Lovedrops might need three minutes or so to himself. But, before that, allow Sweet Daddy Lovedrops to dispel the notion that he’s some sort of “sexist creep” with “fetishistic tendencies” who just “wants to put up pictures of ladies’ drawers on the internet”. Because nothing could be further from the truth. Sweet Daddy Lovedrops understands that both the sexes are in need of guidance when it comes to the question of romance. Men, actually, are in need of more. This is due to their innate stupidity.

However, they do have a much easier time when it comes to underwear shopping. Gentlemen must only remember one simple rule. When you’re in Wal-Mart, for God’s sake don’t buy this:

but buy this instead:

Because–take Sweet Daddy Lovedrops’ word for it--there isn’t a woman in the world who isn’t turned on by the sight of a man strutting across the bedroom in a fresh (or even not so fresh) pair of “tighty-whities”. This is a universal truth. This is one of the few matters where both science and religion are in perfect accord. I don’t know why it is so, I only know that it is so.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, Sweet Daddy Lovedrops has a hot date with the back of his hand and a vat of cooking lard.

[A note of explanation and apology from your regularly-scheduled blogger: First off, I am sorry. Second, if you’re new to my website, let me direct you to the previous installments of the Sweet Daddy Lovedrops Saga here and here. At first, I meant him to be a fairly straight parody of certain famous pop-psychology hucksters, but instead he became a kind of clearinghouse for my bad taste tendency. Don’t let him ruin your Valentine’s Day. Let the knowledge that Valentine’s Day is a fake holiday created by the florist/chocolate/fancy restaurant/greeting card cartel ruin it instead...]