Friday, March 31, 2006

Coming to you from a remote outpost on the farthest fringes of civilization...

Otherwise known as St. Paul, Minnesota, where I'll be spending the weekend babysitting two vile and ill-behaved drool machines (as well as a passel of non-personal-space-respecting Siamese cats). This may mean less posting than usual, as internet service is spotty out this way and most of my time will likely be spent guarding my ancestral hut from roving bands of nomadic cannibals. It's hard and violent work, but don't worry about me. I grew up in this godforsaken land, and I speak fluent St. Paullish. I should be fine if I just keep my wits about me and my trusty longbow within arm's reach. It's important not to let the natives around here smell the Minneapolis on you. That'll only agitate them and before long they'll be barking at you in their impenetrable East Metro dialects about how you have to wait "soooooo loooooong" to get services in restaurants over there and how they heard on the radio that it's getting so dangerous that you can't barely go outside. I want to avoid that sort of conversation. Blending in is necessary to keep these people from bashing you over the head with their clubs...

Bad things will happen if you don't support my run for Congress, this is but one of them...

If this congress thing doesn’t work out, I still may have a viable career as a country-music lyricist. My excellent showing as a Toby Keith impostor is all the proof I need. With the Republican ascendance (perhaps waning, but still...) And the intractable bad taste of the nation at large, I can only assume that this is a booming field. Flip through your radio dial one of these days: what do you hear on 99 out of 100 stations? Moaning twangy men and shrill, frosted-blonde women making unappealing noises about trucks, the “honky tonk”, heartbreak, and the open road. These are motifs I feel I can work with, even though I’m the sort of guy who’d probably get his ass beat if he stepped into any self-respecting “honky tonk”. I’m not one of these honky tonk men. I’m more of a latte man. I can admit this, and I don’t think it’ll adversely affect my chances of becoming the Ira Gershwin of “down home” music. After all, you’d be surprised at how many red state icons are hardly power-tool competent. Most televangelists wear makeup and some of those NASCAR drivers are almost midgets. Given this, I should be fine if I just remember to wear a big ol’ cowboy hat and some of them boots they got.

And let me be utterly clear. When I say “country music”, I ain’t talking about that hipster country business. I got no time for this history-conscious, thoughtful, musically-respectable what-have-you. I’m talking top-40, Shania Twain, beer commercial music all the way, people. I want my tunes to be hummed from Bouge Chitto, Mississippi to International Falls, Minnesota. From Charleston to Bakersfield. I want to be inescapable to every I-podless long-distance motorist in America. It is my dream to insinuate my songs of woe and rural whimsy into the collective consciousness, where they’ll endure as cloying melodies and facile turns of phrase for decades to come. And, of course, there will be money, big money, enough money to fill the back forty of the beautiful, beautiful ranch I will soon be able to afford.

You think I’m being unrealistic? You doubt my country hitmaker potential? Well, then, get a load of this lil’ weeper, which I call “Panhandle Sunrise”. You might notice that the title is clever, because it can refer to any panhandle–-Oklahoma or Texas or even Florida. All of those areas can consider it a local tune. Could Tim McGraw pull that off? I’ll answer my own question here: no, Tim McGraw could not pull that off. He doesn't have what I like to call “poetic subtlety”.

Anyway, without further ado, here is “Panhandle Sunrise”. Prepare to cry your ass off...

Sugar, you’re my drivin’ wheel
You’re my gas pedal
Got to tell you how I feel
Flower, you’re my petal
Whether I’m watchin’ TV or flyin’ down the highway
I’m thankin’ God that you’re there beside me

Because you’re gentle as Jesus and almost as wise
And, woman, you look as good as a panhandle sunrise

Sweet bear, you’re my morning sun
You’re the first morning dew
You got me on the run
And, baby, I’m runnin’ at you
Whether here or there, up or down, near or far
I got to be gettin’ back to wherever you are

Because you’re gentle as Jesus and almost as wise
And, woman, you look as good as a panhandle sunrise

(There should be a slow, sultry slide guitar solo)

Because, woman, you’re gentle as Jesus and almost as wise
And, darlin’, you’re looking as good as a panhandle sunrise
A panhandle sunrise
A panhandle sunrise...

Alright. I’ll give you a moment to dry your tears and collect yourself. Perhaps you’ll want to call that special someone or an old flame and let them know how much they mean to you. Or maybe you’ll want to hug someone. I’ll leave you to it. I’ll be here when you get back.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

I'll be the world's first semi-anonymous congressman!

My congressman, the debonair and Scandinavian Martin Sabo, has recently announced that he will not seek another term. Because his district is one of the safest Democratic seats in the country, this has touched off a frenzied, interparty battle to become his successor. Candidates are coming out of the woodwork to get the DFL nod, which would then, presumably, lead to a comfy sinecure in the House of Representatives.

Interestingly enough, this news comes at a time when I’m looking for a new job. Becoming a member of the United States Congress would be quite a step up for me, but I’m sure I can handle it. After all, Gil Goowhatever got the job and he’s no great thinker, either. I mean, have you seen his website? If you need someone to hook you up with a tour of Washington, D.C., Gil’s your man. If you want a trenchant analysis of the challenges facing our economy in the 21st century, maybe you ought to look elsewhere. Not to me, of course, but the travel agent shit I can handle. And my Washington tours won’t be boring civics-class affairs like I imagine Gil the Pill’s are. Mine are going to be sexy. The hippest clubs, the swankiest restaurants, the best record stores–that’s what my constituents are going to see, not a bunch of dull jackasses droning on and on about Jeebus knows what.

Yes, I’m afraid I must depart from modesty for a moment to declare that I’m going to be the best fucking congressperson Minnesota’s seen since Prince.

What’s that you say? Prince has never been in Congress?

Well, shit, I guess it’s all me then.

But I have to be honest with you. There is a problem. It’s not money, either: I’ve got a lot of credit cards and I’m willing to sell my parent’s house if that’s what it takes. No, the problem is more technical than that. You see, I don’t like filling out forms, especially official forms. It’s just a thing with me. They make me anxious. And I imagine there are a bunch of documents that need to be taken care of before one gets to be in Congress. This is bullshit, if I may speak frankly. I want to represent you, The People, not some stupid carbon form. That’s just the way I roll.

It’s too bad, because I’m already prepared to issue a series of campaign promises. Here are just a few of my pledges to you, my future constituents:

1) I will put together a snazzy website featuring a picture of me shaking hands with fully costumed Shriners. This website will also have at least one photograph of me walking in a sunny park with a plasticine, beaming, helmet-haired wife. I currently don’t have a wife, but it’s a little-known fact that major candidates are issued a suitable spouse as soon as they make it past the primary process.

2) Do you remember that vampire who was running for governor before the law caught up with him? If he ever returns to Minnesota, I will do battle with him. What’s more, I’ll defeat him and make him my minion for all eternity. I take a hard line on vampires. Especially vampires in politics.

3) My campaign will be comprised mainly of cheap, sophomoric jabs at Gil Goobersnot. I realize that we’re not even in the same district, but that isn’t going to stop me. This is a key part of my maverick appeal.

4) Once in Washington, DC, I assure the people of Minnesota that my entire staff will be required to wear matching space-age grey jumpsuits. They will also be required to refer to me as “The Admiral”.

5) I will only serve, at most, 26 terms in office. After that, I feel it’ll be time to step aside and let the younger generation have it’s say.

6) My official slogan: “If the House of Representatives is a prison, Tom DeLay is my bitch. And he’s all out of cigarettes...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A feminine product problem..

During a phone conversation last night, the glamorous and wise Mel made what I consider a controversial pronouncement. It created a grave disturbance in my mind and, when there’s a grave disturbance in my mind, the only place for it to go is here on this blog. So I ask you, my sterling readership, to comment on my dear, dear friend’s strange, outrageous opinion and, if you can, assure me that it is a position only she and she alone takes. Because, deep in my heart of hearts, I fear that her frightful belief might be utterly common and unremarkable. If this is the case, the problem will not be hers, it will be mine. It may sound unchivalrous, but I would far prefer the problem to be hers.

Alright. I can hear you out there. You’re say, “Kevin, how the hell can we reassure you when we don’t know what this appalling opinion is? Jesus Christ in hot pink Hummer, you’re neurotic!” Well, I was getting to that. There’s no need for you to get testy.

Mel’s opinion–and I tremble even to write it–was that bachelor men, living alone, should have boxes of tampons on hand in case any of their lady guests begin to menstruate during their visit. There you have it. Frightening in it’s ramifications, isn’t it, ladies and gentlemen? In case it didn’t sink in the first time, let me write it again, this time in italics: my beloved friend Mel is on record advocating the position that bachelor men ought to have a reserve supply of tampons ready to provide their menstruating female callers.

Well, I’m sorry ladies who have been to my apartment and any ladies who might be in my apartment in the days to come: Kevin-M has no tampons. He has no sanitary napkins, no feminine pads, no Kotex, no Summer’s Breeze, nor anything of that sort. This is not because I don’t care for your comfort, though. I want you to be as comfortable as possible. It’s just that--and here is the point I was trying to Mel last night--it seems to me that my owning an entire array of absorbent doo-dads would likely have the opposite effect. To illustrate this, please consider the following scenario. I am entertaining a charming and delightful woman. Her name, for argument’s sake, is Natalia. I have served her the finest wines of Poland, played for her many of my favorite CDs, set my dimmer light to “low”, and told her a series of anecdotes so amusing that tears of joy have coursed down her delicate, lovely face.

But all is not right with fair Natalia. Since we’re all adults here, I feel I can be frank: while I’m playing host to Natalia, Natalia is playing host to Aunt Flo. Since she’s a discreet, almost shy young thing, I must rely on my sensitive and keen understanding of the female mind and body to detect her distress. She would never bring it up herself. And, of course, we simply aren’t at the stage in our relationship when I would ask her “questions” about “herself”.

But, in this case, I feel I must make an exception. I lean over her, gaze deeply into her eyes, and–with the utmost discretion–I inquire of her, “Sweet Natalia, my Ukranian flower, are you experiencing the miracle of your fertility right now?”

“Yes, Kevin, it is true!” she cries out, in that luscious accent of hers.

I nod with understated sympathy. I pat her hand and coo reassuringly into her upturned ear. Then, without another word, I step out of the room and hurry to my supply closet. Natalie, the poor darling thing, assumes that I am leaving her in peace so that she can attend to her XX-chromosome issues in privacy. But I’m afraid she’s mistaken, because not a minute later I come barging back into the living room, holding aloft a sealed and fresh tampon. I have selected carefully from my hidden stockpile and chosen the “Tampax” brand medium-flow model. Tampax is the industry leader, and my mother raised me with enough couth to know that it’s impolite to assume that a woman is suffering “heavy” flow. I’m a caring guy, after all. I long to attend to all Natalia’s needs.

“Here you go!” I cry out, trying my hardest to make this embarrassing biological intrusion seem as trifling as a whisper in church. “The bathroom’s down the hall to your right!”

Stunned, Natalia takes my proffered she-device. She tries to stammer out her thanks, but she’s just too distressed and confused to manage it. “There, there,” I tell her, “I know how it is for your kind. Take your time. I’ll be waiting when you come back.” The flirtatious purr I put on this last sentence would, under normal circumstances, be irresistible to any woman. But these are not normal circumstances. Because I have introduced the poison of suspicion into Natalia’s pure heart.

Why does Kevin has tampons?, she’s asking herself as she repairs for the lavatory. Whatever can he use them for? Is he secretly married? Is he some kind of perverted tampon fetishist? I’ve got a couple of them in my purse, but I can’t use them now! He’ll be hurt if I don’t use HIS tampons! God, what a disgusting sicko! Oh, and I thought he was so NICE!

Why would I want Natalia to think this way about me? Answer me, because I myself have no idea. I’m worried, however. You see, I’ve known Mel for about ten years now, and she’s only been wrong two or three times. Over the course of our friendship, many of the peculiar things she’s suggested (pleated pants make one’s ass look repulsive, the best way to meet women is to talk to them, Totino’s Party Pizzas are bad for your intestines, etc., etc...) now seem like self-evident truths. Will her Tampon Maxim become one of these?

I hope not, but I don’t know. I just don’t know.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The way the world won't be saved...

I’d like to discuss this story in the Star Tribune. It concerns the attempts of a few students at Macalaster College–an institution I grew up just a few blocks from, by the way–to ban Coca-Cola products from campus. The reason for this, as far as I understand, is to punish the company for its alleged behavior in Colombia (among other places). Anti-Coke activists believe that Colombian Coke bottlers are complicit in the murders of several labor organizers, as well as guilty of abusive practices towards their employees. Coke, for its part, maintains that they are innocent of these charges and claim that their workers are treated better, paid more, and allowed to unionize in greater numbers than the average Colombian laborer.

So who do you believe? I don’t know. It wouldn’t surprise me if certain people in Colombia’s Coca-Cola organization are guilty of using their country’s endemic violence to do away with their opponents, although I haven’t seen any compelling evidence to support this. It would surprise me, however, if it was Coke’s actual policy to kill labor leaders. Still, stranger things have happened, and often they’ve happened in Colombia. My concern here is not the truth (of lack thereof) of the claims. I’m not competent to judge that. What I want to remark upon are the problems inherent in these sorts of campaigns.

First off, in America even people on the left are used to viewing themselves as hubristic super-consumers. If they hear of some company behaving badly, many people’s first instinct is to call for a boycott of that company’s product. Religious fundamentalists do this, anti-choice activists do this, organized homophobes do this, and–lest we forget–anti-globalization leftists do this. It doesn’t seem to me to be the best way of effecting social change, though. As far as Macalaster students are concerned, the ones who want to take a stand against Coke will perhaps be less tempted to backslide if there aren’t any pop machines on campus, but the rest of them will probably just keep on buying it wherever they can find it. As the article says “The issue is more symbolic than financial. There are only about two dozen vending machines and four fountain-drink locations on campus.

And, of course, everyone knows that the goal isn’t to dry up Coke’s profits. It’s to give them an embarrassing public-relations issue so that they can be shamed into reforming. I’m skeptical as to how effective this can be, though. I would think that the usual response to a public-relations black eye would simply be some public-relations make-up applied over it. It is naive to think that a few student activists and agitators will ever wield enough clout to get a major American corporation to change its actual practices, especially if you take the Coca-Cola point of view that no institutional wrongdoing has occured. At most, they can only annoy it into spending a few hundred thousand dollars worth of damage control money. This is not cynicism, nor is this something I celebrate, this is simply reality.

I should say that I am sympathetic to these students. They’re trying to make the world a better place, and that’s admirable. They’re at that stage where they’re beginning to pick up on the great, vicious complexity of the world and their reaction is understandable. At that age, it feels better to throw yourself into futile fights than to give up and simply let injustice rule so much of life. The problem comes from when they fix on these forms of resistance I consider “painless protests”. Corporate mendacity is, after all, ubiquitous. No matter what these kids buy, they probably buy something that exploitation and unfairness lets us have on the cheap. Why should Coca-Cola be singled out when Pepsi is, in all likelihood, just as bad? Shouldn’t every item in their dorm room and every stitch of clothing on their body be subject to a similar ethics discussion?

A Coke boycott is a consequence-free way to register your disapproval with capitalism’s rapaciousness. These students could, I suppose, refuse to wear any clothes made by people who aren’t making a fair wage. This would make their wardrobe prohibitively expensive. And, if they feel Coca-Cola is a cruel and violent entity, I imagine they probably feel that the U.S. Government is even worse. Why don’t they stop paying their taxes then? Because they’d have their wages garnished or they’d be thrown in jail. It’s so much easier just to say you won’t drink Coke. No one will bother you for that, and you’ll probably have much nicer teeth to boot. But you shouldn’t get so full of yourself that you’ll be quoted in the daily paper saying things like, “But the truth is that they need us, we don't need them. ...No union leaders have been assassinated in Colombia since this campaign began. That to me is proof we are having an impact.” Because then you’re just insulting all the brave Colombian people risking their lives to bring peace to one of the world’s most violent nations. You, after all, are just a bunch of privileged college students in St. Paul who are declining to drink Coca-Cola. It is an act of extreme American arrogance (and, yes, people on the left are infected with this too) to imagine that your consumer decisions, however virtuous, are making the world a better place. It’s a lot harder than that, I’m afraid, and you spit in the face of the people you claim to support when you pretend otherwise.

If you believe the charges against Coca-Cola, and you want to help the people of Colombia, you ought to make a personal decision not to drink their beverages. You shouldn’t act as though this makes you more virtuous than the Coke-swilling masses, though. You’ll just irritate people and make the left look bad if you do that. No, you should carefully save up all the money you would have spent on soft drinks and then, when you’ve got a few hundred dollars, you should send it to some group or agency in Colombia that is working to bring the rule of law, peace, and democracy to that country. Otherwise you’re just making a huge show of a tiny sacrifice and then deluding yourself that this is all that's required of us to salve a bleeding world.

The fake Toby Keith revealed...

First, however, I would like to thank all my contestants. Mel, Tara, and Greg, you are wonderful and lovely people. I am proud to be able to call you my friends. You have enriched my life immeasurably and have each worked, in your own way, to make into the person I am today. Without exception, you are all witty, generous, wise, insightful, and beautiful human beings with incomparable senses of humor and stellar fashion sense.

This is why it pains me to say that none of you are very good at correctly identifying Toby Keith lyrics. Greg came the closest in his correct identification of #3, but I’m almost certain that he was led in this direction by Tara’s earlier parenthetical guess. However, none of you accurately picked up on #5 as a Kevin-M original. You all felt that I was the author of the much less subtle and less heartbreaking #6 which is, alas, something that sprang from Toby Keith’s own mind. As did #1, #2, and #4.

It’s really too bad none of you won, because I was thinking of offering the victor a two week, all-expenses paid vacation at the Insomnia Report Getaway Villa, which is located on a dormant volcano on the leeward side of the isle of Capri. There you would have had access to the services of: Boris, my personal massage therapist; Cindy Quan, my “heart-smart” master chef; and Montez, my devoted driver/bodyguard. Although, if Greg won, I’d probably just send him to Liberia to hear General Butt Naked preach.

Better luck next time.

I miss Madrid...

Even though I was only there for thirty hours, I miss it still. This, interestingly enough, was the same amount of time that I had gone without sleep when my plane landed at Barajas airport. A day and a half before, I woke up in Paris. I spent the day saying goodbye to the Left Bank before my brother and I made our way to the Gare du Nord, where we caught the night train to Berlin. Why I had to go to Berlin to catch a plane to Madrid is a good question, and one I’m not sure I have an answer to. Regardless, I would have preferred to sleep in our compartment, but a strange Finnish man who smelled awful and wanted to tell me all manner of stories got on in Bruxelles and kept me awake all the way through Germany. I parted ways with my brother at the Zoo Station and went on to the Ostbahnhof on the east side. I spent that afternoon in a Kreuzberg hipster cafe, trying to kill my weariness with cup after cup of strong coffee and bouncy Europop tunes. This fortified me enough to get to Tegel airport, where I was politely manhandled by security (“You vill spin around, yes? Spin farther, please! Goot! Now you may go!”) and bundled onto my plane. Now, at last, I’ll be able to sleep, I thought. But it wasn’t to be. I was in a curious state: even though I could barely keep my eyes open, I was still too excited to sleep. I was going to Spain, after all, a magic place and the expected climax of my European adventure. For a long time, I’ve imagined Spain the way many Americans imagine Ireland, as an avalon, a place of immeasurable beauty, history, and romance.

So when I stumbled out of the terminal, it was like I was in a dream for two distinct reasons. As wondrous as it all was, I probably wasn’t in the best frame of mind to hail a cab. I remember standing near a lonely curb, thinking, If there was cabs, they’d be around here. But I don’t know. I’m in Spain. Maybe they do it differently. Then I turned to look at oncoming traffic and saw something like fifty taxis coming at me in what seemed to be slow motion. Sweet Jesus, I thought, look at all those cabs! They drifted towards me and it was good they were moving like the road was molasses, since I was standing right in their path. A chorus of car horns erupted around me and then I was surrounded by stocky Spanish men, all of them shouting “Señor! Señor!” This was quite confusing, but soon enough one of them reached out and shook my hand. “Ay Señor!” he cried as he took my bag from me. He led me to his taxi and opened the door for me. “Lo siento, señor, estoy muy cansado...” I explained while he was stuffing my luggage into the trunk. It was a shame he couldn’t hear me, really, since this was the only coherent sentence I would form for quite some time.

The cabbie squeezed into the front seat and asked, “Adonde?

La Plaza del Sol, por favor...” I said, trying not to dwell on the fact that--besides the fact that it was “a few steps” from this landmark--I had no idea where my hotel was.

Que?” the driver called back, as he mashed the gas and sent us hurtling into the night.

Si,” I said, watching the ghostly orangish suburbs snap past our windows.

Que?”, the driver asked again, “La Plaza del Sol?

This was the kind of conversation I could handle. “La Plaza del Sol,” I repeated. I liked the sound of it. I could have carried on like this for the whole ride, just saying the name over and over again, had the driver not finally been able to convey to me that there was no Plaza del Sol in Madrid.

Plaza del Sol o PUERTO del Sol?” he asked, with rare tact for a taxi driver.

I used the rearview mirror to stare into his eyes for a second and then I got it. “Si, si. PUERTO del Sol. Lo siento. Soy Americano. No me comprende nada...

Verdad?” he asked.

Verdad.” I answered. He laughed then, and I laughed too, and we laughed for a long way through the outskirts of town. After awhile, we got off the freeway and started whipping down the wide streets of the city itself. Madrid doesn’t look stereotypically “Spanish”, but I was transfixed regardless. If there is any one word to describe it, that word has to be “alive”. Madrid past midnight is more electric than most places ever become. The avenues were streaks of headlights and the big buildings crowded them close, glowing with neon and ringed by crowds rushing back and forth. My slow mind was astonished. I have lived in New York, I’ve seen New York in all it’s exultation and that’s probably the only thing that can approach the energy running through Madrid at night.

I was well past the point of worrying that I looked silly. I pressed my face right up to the window and stared out at it. It was chaos, but the good kind. There were people everywhere, and every kind of them, too. Tall blonde women and taller African kids, Arabs and East Asians, long-haired boys in soccer jerseys and cute girls in cocktail dresses–it was a great snarl of humanity, noisy and glorious. Madrid is unlike other European capitals. In Madrid, it’s not the architecture that captures your attention, it’s the street life. This isn’t to say that they don’t have their share of spectacular buildings and quaint backroads, it’s just that the people–with their exuberance and their variety and their sheer number–can’t help but upstage all that.

Looming over one of the roads we raced down was a giant neon sign for the Olympics. The very next day, Madrid’s bid to host them would be turned down in favor of London’s. I figured that this would be a good topic for taxi talk, so I ventured to say, “La Olympics. Madrid o no?”. My Spanish was execrable and my pronunciation was worse, but the driver was kind to me.

La Olympics?” he asked, “No me comprende. No hablo ingles.

De nada. Ingles es malo.” I said.

He started to laugh again. “Me gusta. Ingles es malo. Me gusta, Americano...” he said between his giggles.

The closer we got to the center of the city, the thinner the roads became. Here the crowds were so close I was surprised our side mirrors didn’t knock them over. Traffic was heavy and slow, but I didn’t mind. I didn’t even look at the meter. I could have ridden around all night. I had a pocket full of Euros and a bad case of sleep deprivation.

It didn’t come to that, though. Before long, we coasted into a teeming square and he pulled to the curb. “Puerto del Sol,” the driver said and he hopped out to dig my bag out of his trunk.

I went after him with a fistful of bills. He gave me my bag and I handed him all of them. It was a lot of money, but he had driven me a long way and I was too awestruck to calculate a proper tip. “Gracias, Americano,” he said. He clapped me on my back before hurrying back to his cab and taking his place in the endless trail of headlights pouring down the street.

I was standing on a concrete island. All around me, men and women were laughing as they went tottering tipsily past, locals and tourists, young and old, the glamorous and the ordinary. The lights were brighter than the daytime and there was music coming from everywhere. The air was hot, much hotter than the nights I’m used to and I lingered there dumbfounded. This is Spain, this is Spain, I was thinking. There I was, in the heart of the nation of my dreams, and I was suddenly quite emotional. It was so beautiful, more beautiful than I could have guessed.

In that whole long moment, it didn’t matter that I had no idea where my hotel was.

Insomnia Report Sunday Edition: Insightful Commentary on Current Events

500,000 gather in L.A. to protest draconian immigration bills: holy shit, that’s a lot of people right there...

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Insomnia Report Sunday Edition: Tackling the Hard Questions

Pantsless, shapeless, bald 1970s cartoon icon Ziggy: what the hell was up with that guy?

The Insomnia Report Sunday Edition: Not Afraid To Be Controversial

The Sopranos: I’d rather watch maggots crawling in a puddle of diarrhea than watch that show.

The Insomnia Report Sunday Edition: Making Sense of Your World...

Fact: in the Liberian Civil War, one of the most vicious and murderous warlords was a man named Joshua Blahyi, better known to posterity by his fearsome nom du guerre, General Butt Naked. Allegedly in contact with Satan since the age of eleven, General Butt Naked claimed to have performed a human sacrifice before every battle, which he would then lead wearing only a pair of gym shoes and a machine gun. His fighters, for their part, were stoned teenagers and children who were known to attack their enemy of the day wearing bright floral dresses and carrying “dainty” purses.

General Butt Naked has since found the Lord and is now a preacher in Monrovia.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Is he Toby or isn't he?

I’m pleased to announce the second official Insomnia Report “spot the fake lyric” contest. The rules are simple. Below are six song lyrics. Four of them are by Toby Keith, two of them I wrote myself. Figure out which ones are mine, and you win. What do you win?, you might ask. Well, putting aside the dubious assumption that proving your familiarity with Toby Keith’s songcraft isn’t a form of “winning” in itself, perhaps I’ll even come up with a real prize this time. Don’t bank on it, though.

Using the internet is, of course, forbidden. Leave your guesses in the comments section below. Voting will continue through the weekend and closes whenever I wake up on Monday.

Yeah I'm in love with the girl in the four-wheel drive
Chrome steel bumpers and red step side
She has a large time in her large machine
Man I wonder how she gets up in that thing
It casts a big shadow sittin' in the sun
She's got it revved up rockin' ready to run
And someday soon I'm gonna climb right up
And take a little ride in her big ol' truck

I looked up, I looked down
I ain't seen her since the second go-'round
Somebody said they seen her headin' out of town
Now she ran away with a rodeo clown

Now they got Saddam sitting out there in Baghdad
Sitting on some oil and thinking he’s real bad
Gonna tell the stars ‘n’ stripes to piss up a rope
But I’ll tell you now, listen here,
Ol’ Saddam’s out of luck when them French are his only hope
We’re rolling out of Afghanistan
Gonna finish what Schwartzkopf began
Ooooooh, you got it coming
You got it coming, Saddam!

What we've got here is a touching situation
You smile as if you've read my mind
A pair of "I love you's" gently ends this conversation
'Cause matters of the heart can't be defined

Woman, you’ve been hurtin’ on my memories
You’ve been gone too damn long (too damn long)
I ain’t no kid, I’ve been around
But I never thought I’d see an Oklahoma freeze

If I was Jesus, I'd come back from the dead
And I'd walk on some water, just to mess with your head
I know your dark little secrets, I'd look you right in the face
And I'd tell you I love you, with amazing grace.
Ooh and I'd lay my life down for you (woooooh)
And I show you who's the boss (woooooh)
I'd forgive you and adore you
While I was hangin' on your cross
If I was Jesus.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Ten dirty words that shouldn't be...

1) PENETRATE: This word takes a wholly pleasant activity and makes it sound a military campaign. It’s too clinical, too needlessly aggressive: you might as well talk about “deploying” your “platoon” to the “breach” and “exchanging fire”. I firmly believe, in the interests of a more peaceful world, we ought to agree to replace this martial mindset with expressions that recall sea exploration, a la Jacques Costeau. No longer shall there be any “penetration” or “insertion” or even–the most ghastly of all–“entering”, but instead we will speak warmly of “piloting the love submarine” through the “warm currents” into “the Marinara trench”. Note how poetic all that sounds, how romantic. You can thank me later.

2) STROKE: This is a perfect example of what I’m getting at. The word itself has nothing to do with its object. You can stroke something and have it be a perfectly family-friendly act. That adorable puppy, for instance, or your own jaw. Stroke away, stroke on: no moral censors can rain their condemnation on your wild and shameless stroking because there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Just as no one will gawk at you when you fondle your car keys or gasp in horror when you let your participles dangle.

3) FLACCID: I really like this word. It’s a great insult. If I were to say, for instance, that Bill O’Reilly’s new book is utterly flaccid, I’m not only casting aspersions on his opinions and writing ability, I’m also slyly implying that he’s impotent. You can’t beat that.

4) SUPPLE: Nowadays, this word is ONLY used to describe parts of the female anatomy. What else is supple? Is a felt hat supple? Is a banana? How about those kittens? Are they supple? No, we’ve made it so that only breasts and thighs and asses are supple. Were I not so into all those things, this would seem like an unfair limiting of a pretty nice word.

5) SUCKLE: This is a filthy, horrid word which should only be used in private with those you love. The word “suck”, however, continues to teeter on the threshold of idiomatic dirtiness. What keeps it (barely) in the “clean” camp, strangely enough, is the expression “that sucks”. This used to be a vulgar thing to say, but now even the Teletubbies can squeak it out and no one raises an eyebrow. “Suckle”, on the other hand, is irredeemably nasty. That’s part of the magic of our language, that the addition of a simple “-le” can add new dimensions of smut to a word.

6) MOIST: Back when I was growing up, I knew a girl who hated the word “moist”. The filthiest profanities were fine with her, but if you described something as “moist”, she’d cringe and make a face like the spit in her mouth had just turned to pure lemon juice. As soon as we figured this out, there was no stopping us. We’d loudly and repeatedly point out the moistness of any damp object we came across. “Gosh, these cookies sure are moist!” or “The dog’s been out in the rain and now he’s all moist!” or “Be sure to moisten your hands after you use the toilet!”, on and on and on for something like three years. Man, were we funny back then or what?

7) FINGER: Back in college, the process by which our archaic internet system would check whether someone had any new e-mails was called “fingering”. So you’d be sitting in your dorm room with the cute girl from your art history class, studying the Rococo period, and you’d be at the computer and she’d say “Could you finger me?” and you’d giggle nervously and she’d giggle nervously and then, as she read her new messages, you’d stare longingly at her for as long as you could get away with.

8) NAUGHTY: The word “naughty” is obnoxious. It’s also kind of a paradox. If you say, “Oooh, I’ve been naughty!”, you probably haven’t been naughty at all. Truly naughty people wouldn’t say the word “naughty” even if you threatened to confiscate their sex toys.

9) MOUNT: As a verb, not as a geographic designation. You know why no one says “I mounted the staircase and retired to bed” anymore? Because somewhere in our evolutionary coding, the human race grew tired of being giggled at by our collective thirteen-year-old brother. That’s true. Ask a scientist.

10) SCREW: This is an eroticized term that should be rendered chaste once more. When you screw something into something else, you use an implement to spin it around and around until it burrows into the post or board or whatever. That’s just basic carpentry. When people have sex, however, they might do all manner of things, but they rarely spin. For one, our country is seriously out of shape and spinning while engaged in the act of romantic congress takes a certain athleticism that most people lack. If your love life involves a whole lot of spinning, you are either (a) lying or (b) urged to e-mail me at insomniacreporter-at-hotmail-dot-com. But I digress.

Adieu, dear sponge...

Unfortunately, it looks like Mr. Sponge over at Minvolved is hanging up his blogging keyboard. This is really too bad. His site was always a good read and I will miss it very much. However, you can’t keep a good sponge down for long, and I’m sure we’ll all be hearing from him again.

But let me just say how shabby and pitiful it is to make threats against somebody’s family just because you happen to disagree with them. That’s the sort of behavior indulged in by the worst sort of bed-wetting, basement-dwelling goons. You know, the type who need the internet and an assload of stupid resentments to make themselves feel like men. What did this sort of spineless fucker do before they invented the world-wide-web for them to spew their idiocy into? Well, as Mr. Sponge makes clear from his farewell post, they must have molested donkeys.

Maybe the donkeys are resting easier now that their arduous, awkward lovers have moved on to newer hobbies, but that just means the rest of us are far worse off...

My many math teachers, part three: Geometry

Mr. P. was the sort of teacher you don’t see too often these days, at least not in this country. There’s just no place for his kind in this lawsuit-happy, self-esteem-centered age. He didn’t give a shit about our feelings. He didn’t give a shit about nuturing us on our educational journey. We were in his class to learn geometry, goddamn it, and we could all drop out and get jobs at the gas station if we didn’t like it. If you asked him, he’d probably take the position that every pedagogic theory developed since WWII was a bunch of touchy-feely vomit which could only create a nation of pampered assholes who didn’t know dick about Euclidian equations. In other words, he was an instructor of the old school. Every day, he stood there before us and lectured. Discussion wasn’t a part of the curriculum until he had finished, dammit, and even then you better hope your question was a good one because it was widely known that Mr. P. was far too busy to teach us the baby math we should have figured out way back in fifth grade, for Christ’s sake.

We all loved him. He was a beast and probably a lunatic, but at least he cared. He was funny as hell, too, even when he was threatening us with bodily harm. Elaborate promises of violence were his specialty. My best friend Eric was his favorite target for these. Once, following a test that even the most brilliant of us failed to score about a 46 on (and no, he didn’t grade on some simpering moron curve, either), he stopped Eric on the way out of class. With a big grin lurking inside his beard, he called out “Eric! May I kindly have a moment of your time?”

I lingered by the door. This was going to be good. “Sure, Mr. P,” Eric said, all youthful guile.

Mr. P. lifted his foot off the floor and pointed at the sole of his shoe. “Do you see this heel, Eric?” he asked.

“Yes, Mr. P.” Eric replied.

“You see this heel? You’re seeing this heel right now?”

Eric nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Well, Eric,” Mr. P. said, his grin growing more and more evil by the moment, “You better get a good look at this heel. Because if you fail another one of my tests, you’re going to be pulling it OUT OF YOUR ASS! Do you understand me?”

“Uh-huh” Eric said and then he hurried to catch up with me. As soon as we were well down the hall, he whispered to me, “That was awesome.”

And indeed it was. It was almost as good as when he caught Eric and I talking during one of his lectures. That time, in front of the whole class, he grabbed my friend’s ear and growled, “Eric, the next time you feel like you have something to say while I’m talking, I’m going to take my cigarette lighter and SET YOUR EAR ON FIRE!”

That remained his high watermark for in-class explosions. He approached it pretty much semi-weekly, however, so we remained entertained for the entire semester. He was always threatening to force something large UP SOMEONE’S ASS! Or telling the preppy girls that they ought to spend less time making up their faces and more time worrying about WHAT GOES INTO THEIR HEADS! It was great. No one skipped his class, because if you did, you might miss his latest eruption. If it was a deliberate strategy, it was a brilliant one: engage the kids with a combination of fear, morbid curiosity, and your own unmedicated volatility.

In an era when our students are falling behind the rest of the developed world, perhaps its time that the Mr. P. approach be resuscitated.

Or maybe not.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Is that all you've got, Gil?

If you haven’t already, you all ought to mosey on over to Mr. Sponge’s place and read his editorial on Congressional Republican clone Gil Gutwhatever’s fundraising appeals. While I’m as distressed as anyone at the depths our elected leaders will sink to scare money out of silly people, there’s a part of me that’s heartened whenever I see the Republicans beating the dreaded “ACLU-Nancy Pelosi-Move On” drum. If it wasn’t for fearmongering, these people would have had to find honest work decades ago. Even though the Democrats sometimes aren’t any great shakes themselves, at least they’re not so dependent on the largess of timid bigots, FOX news brainwashees, and the rest of that “angry man” pants-wetting crowd

My many math teachers, part two: Algebra

Mr. K. spiked his coffee with something strong and foul-smelling. I saw him twice a day–once in homeroom, when he’d be irritable because he wasn’t drunk yet, and then again in third period, after the magic of his flask had taken hold. He was a squat, jaundiced man with coke-bottle glasses and the least convincing comb-over in Minnesota. He spoke in a slurry growl that occasionally, and with no warning, shot up several octaves so that he could exclaim “Whooo-hoo!” for reasons that were lost on us. A plane crash in Africa? Whooo-hoo! A war in Iraq? Whooo-hoo! A delegation from the Board of Education sitting in on his class? Whoo-hoo!

He was entertaining, but he sure as hell didn’t teach much algebra. His strategy was to let us chat for the first ten minutes as he sipped his nine-parts-whisky-one-part-coffee concoction, and then tell us to shaddup, shaddup already. From there, he would proceed to wobble on up to the front of the classroom and command us to open to page 233 of our workbooks. With an impressive array of profanity and various utterances that made no sense to anyone, he would scrawl out the answers to questions one through eleven on the blackboard. Even to callow adolescents, this was agonizing to watch, so we preferred to whisper among ourselves as he went through this ritual. It was important, however, that we jot down what he was doing up there, because once he’d come to the end of his computations, he’d usually wander back to his chair, stare blankly out into space for awhile, and then assign us questions one through nine as homework.

Once he reached for the chalk ledge, missed by a few feet, and fell to the floor. The class watched him wiggle there like a half-squashed beetle until he finally pulled himself upright, squealed “Whooo-hoo!” and went on with his lesson. One days when he didn’t want to risk getting out of his chair, he’d stay slumped behind his desk with our assignments from last night strewn in front of him. He’d pull one out at random, hold it right in front of is glasses, and bellow out that student’s name. The poor kid then had to go up and stand in the fermented stink of his breath as he grunted and raved about all the errors he or she had made. It was futile to point out that the homework he was clutching belonged to somebody in the next period or even to mention that you had just copied down what he had put on the board the day before. All you could do was wait for it to end, steadily getting tipsy in the 100-proof wind coming off of him.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The way to be afraid

This past weekend a young man from West Virginia was shot in the head during an armed robbery. This crime has been attracting a great deal of media attention, in part because of its random viciousness and in part because of where it happened–in Uptown, a well-gentrified neighborhood that surrounds a busy shopping and entertainment district. The man, his mother, his sister, and a friend of the family were returning to their car after a meal at a Thai restaurant when they were attacked. No one resisted, but the mugger opened fire anyway. A day later, Michael Zebuhr died from his wounds.

When such a terrible crime happens, it is easy to lose sight of how rare they are. Violent crime has been increasing throughout Minneapolis lately, but this should not be reason to panic. Yes, there are certain risks to living in an urban area, but they are commonly exaggerated by people with an axe to grind or a candidate to elect. There are risks, after all, in a lot of things. Driving a car in rush hour traffic is risky, putting new shingles on your roof if risky, going deer hunting is risky and yet people do all these things without excessive fear. Why should living in the city be any different? Most people, even those living in the urban core, have little danger of becoming a victim of violent crime. Automobile and household accidents are more likely to maim or kill us than criminals are.

Yet there is an extra dimension to crime, an element that renders the prospect of it more frightening than all the banal terrible things that happen every day. It is this resonance–stemming from the malice of others, the breakdown of social controls, etc.–that makes the subject of crime so prone to misperception and political manipulation. Crime is a broad social phenomenon, and it always fails to hew to any particular ideology or prejudice. Furthermore, crime itself and the fear of crime don’t often maintain an exact correspondence with one another. So much of the media coverage and commentary on these cruel events is geared to stoking the latter at the expense of a nuanced understanding of the former.

While a little fear may be helpful if it brings about caution, too much fear is debilitating. You won’t be a good driver if you’re always terrified of getting into an accident. By the same token, you won’t be a happy urbanite if you’re always obsessing over all the bad things remorseless others might do to you. This doesn’t mean you should go around blithely ignoring the reality of life in the city, it just means that you accept the risks and go ahead and live your life. These risks are, for most people under most circumstances, fairly negligible, so why shouldn’t the fear be also?

This isn’t just an academic issue for me. I live less than two miles from where this murder took place. On the night in question, I was walking the side streets only blocks from the scene of the crime. My neighborhood regularly posts the highest number of robberies in the entire city and my street is occasionally home to a low-level band of drug dealers. Last year, a brutal double murder happened less than a hundred yards from my back porch. I have nearly been mugged twice (once in Brooklyn, once in Minneapolis), have witnessed a foiled mugging, and have daily interactions with all manner of unstable street people. Do I want to move? Not particularly. I love my neighborhood. I’m close to everything here, my friends and my favorite places to go, and I don’t need a car to get around. Am I afraid to live where I do? Not any more than I have to be. While I may be at a higher risk of becoming a victim of violent crime than someone living in a suburb or out in the country, this risk is still quite low.

What happened to Michael Zebuhr was an atrocity. This senselessness of his end will of course inspire fear. It would be best, I think, if this fear could in turn be the impetus for support of his bereaved family and friends, assistance to the police officers charged with catching his killers, and a greater effort to ensure the safety of all the city’s residents and visitors.

My many math teachers, part one: Pre-Calculus

Mr. B. was a spry old guy who liked it when his students called him by the nickname his platoon buddies had given him in the Korean War. Grey and tiny, he had a jolly face with bright eyes and a quick smile. Zest came off of him like sweat, but it was apparent even to a roomful of adolescents that this joie de vivre was, at least in part, due to him being a bit of a pervert.

At first, it was a scary to be in his class. Pre-Calculus had a reputation for being an unpleasant brand of mathematics and it was widely known that Mr. B. subscribed to that “let the students teach each other” philosophy of education. This meant that he’d pick a problem out of the textbook, call a random student up to the blackboard, and have them struggle with it for as long as it took. The prospect of this was troubling to me. I was a shy lad, with all sorts of mathematical deficits, so I figured that the class would quickly become an extravaganza of public humiliation. It didn’t work out this way, though, at least not for me. Within a week or two, it became clear that Mr. B. only wanted a very specific sliver of the class to report for blackboard duty–namely, the pretty and well-developed girls.

There were about four of them and they each got a whole lot of experience working through differential equations. Mr. B. would sit among us, the males and the late-bloomers, beaming, lecturing, and offering enthusiastic encouragement. This little habit of his was so obvious even a roomful of fifteen year olds noticed it, but we didn’t consider it that outrageous. After all, most of us boys enjoyed staring at these girls’ asses as much as he did, while the girls who managed to evade his attentions got a free hour to sleep or do their nails or whatever. Naturally, none of us brought his behavior to the attention of the administration.

One time, he made me help him take his boots off. It was early in the morning, and I dropped by his classroom to hand in some late assignments when I found him bent over in his chair, grunting and wheezing. “Hi, Mr. B.!” I called out and he jerked upright.

“Oh, he-hello, Kevin,” he said, and it took a moment for the strained grimace on his face to ratchet up into usual smile.

I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. I put down my homework and turned to go. “Well, see you second period!” I declared, but his voice rang out again before I could make my escape.

“S-s-say, Kevin?” he asked. “Could you give me a hand with something?”

“What is it?” I asked, looking at the clock and fidgeting like I had to get to glee club or something.

In my memory, a slight red glow came to his withered cheeks. However, this may just a post-hoc embellishment on my parts. “C-c-could you bend down and untie my boots?” he pleaded. I felt I had no choice. This could make the difference between a C+ and B-. I reached down and, as furtively as possible, yanked at the frayed laces until they came loose. I stood up then and walked backwards to the door, ready to bolt at a moment’s notice.

“That good?” I asked. He was leaning back, his smirk firmly fixed now, and he was scraping his heavy boots off onto the floor. I remember he wore thick, wooly socks. “Y-yes-s-s...” he said, “Oh, yes-s-s...”

I must have thought something like, Well, that was fucking weird, before I pushed open the door and fled for homeroom as fast as my feet could carry me.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Thirteen Terrible Words

1) SIGNAGE: As in, “does our store have adequate signage?” “Is our signage clear, readable, and engaging?” “How about our signage? Does anyone think we need more signage?” When I worked in retail, this word was the bane of my existence. It was beyond my meager understanding as to why we couldn’t just say, “Are our signs good enough?” or “What about our signs?” or “Do we need more signs?” or something, anything that didn’t totally deface the English language.

2) VIBRANT: But only when it’s used to describe a person. This is just a personal preference on my part: flowers, cars, dresses, roosters, and psychotropic medications can be vibrant, but you yourself cannot be. Neither can your friends, family, lovers, enemies, or favored political candidates. I don’t know why I feel this way, but I do. And maybe this is off-topic, but doesn’t “vibrant” sort of sound like a 50s sci-fi movie name for an evil, radioactive mutant vibrating plant? “Oh no, Professor Lockley! The Vibrant has breeched the safety perimeter! We’re doomed!”

3) DISORIENTATED: Even though my spell-checker doesn’t agree, I must assure you all that “disorientated” isn’t a word. If you use it, you should stop. Immediately.

4) UTILIZE: “Our corporate strategy committee utilized the performance guarantee process to ensure accurate delivery of non-salary rewards”. Why didn’t they just “use” the performance guarantee process?, I can hear you asking. Because they’re corporate dickweeds, that’s why. “Utilize” my ass.

5) MEMBER: When it’s used as a euphemism for “penis”. I don’t like the idea of having a “member”. It makes me feel like I’m a club or a fraternity or something. “Now that you’ve met the chairman, would you like to meet the member?” “The member and I butted heads in conference last evening...” “Do you have a motion you would like to submit, member?” I could go on with these all night, but I think you get the point.

6) ANGST: It’s too overused these days. And it doesn’t have enough vowels in it.

7) MUFFIN: Later in the week, I plan on submitting a list of neutral words–like “erect”, “thrust”, and “submissive”--that have been co-opted by their sexualized meanings. For me–and not for me alone, I hope–“muffin” is one of these words. Laugh at me if you must, but I find it quite difficult to ask some strange woman in a bakery if I can sample her fresh, moist, warm, banana-cranberry muffin. Am I alone in this? Does this mean that I’m a depraved pervert? Maybe. I also had a dog named “Muffin” when I was a small boy. It was an adorable, if ill-behaved, thing. I’m not sure where that fits into all of this.

8) VAGUE: I’m usually fine with this word, except when someone chooses to pronounce it “vag”. When that happens, I’m afraid I’ve been known to get a little snotty about it.

9) DISADVANTAGED: This is one of those well-intentioned words that only ends up making the people it is trying to describe seem less real. For the sake of poor people everywhere, I think we should start calling them “poor people” again.

10) COMMODIOUS: As I understand it, this word means “big” or “with a lot of space”. The trouble comes when I hear the first syllable and think “commode”, or “place where you take a shit”. So, when someone says, for example, “My! These pants sure are commodious!”, I don’t think “These pants are big!”, I think “You could take a shit in these pants!”. This may be just me, though.

11) WHOPPER: Burger King has fucked up this word for everyone. Every English-speaker on the planet should agree to stop “utlizing” it today. Also, while we’re at it, Burger King should start calling their signature sandwich a “disgusting piece of processed meat slathered with foul sauces and squeezed between two limp, low-grade pieces of bread”.

12) PENINSULA: Peninsulas are, quite often, very pretty places. For this reason, it’s too bad that the word we’ve been given to describe them sounds like it would be better suited for a rare breed of lizard. To my ear, the “penin” clashes horribly with the “sula”, rendering the whole term a displeasure to speak, hear or even read. In a perfect world, peninsulas would be called “Unoceanitas”. It sounds a lot better, don’t you think?

13) FOIBLE: This word is just too inexact for my taste. This guy’s foible is that he likes to fart in the tub, that guy’s is that he can’t say the word “muffin” without giggling. Fine and good, but what about the guy who considers his habit of drinking sheep’s blood with his breakfast merely a foible? To put it another way, what’s a foible and what’s an outright sick bastard thing to do? Is there any agreement on this, or must we submit to the whims of personal interpretation and postmodern relativism? Such ambiguity cannot stand. Otherwise our language stands in danger of losing its reputation for simplicity, elegance and relentless clarity.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Just a droplet in time's bottomless bucket of dumb...

Sometimes I find myself wondering how Bush will be remembered fifty years from now. Of course no one can predict such things, but it seems to me that he has little chance of being viewed kindly by history. I imagine that he will always be cherished by his ever-dwindling coterie of apologists and ideologues, yet I suspect that as the nation grows out of his odd reign, their practiced rhetoric will only grow feebler, their intellectual parlor games more risible. Our grandchildren will come to our nursing homes and ask how we could have ever elected such a man and many of us will lie and say we had nothing to do with it. Only a paltry few will still have the shamelessness left in their old bones to thunder about how all those history books are “biased” and the Bush Administration really was the crowning age of the republic.

To a large extent, Bush’s place in history–at least in the short run–will depend on what the conservative movement chooses to do with him. At the moment, it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll make him over into another Reagan, always their favorite repository for misty-eyed nostalgia and factually-weak hagiography. The professional rightists appear far more inclined to dump Bush onto the pundit’s scrapheap as a sad example of someone who, for whatever reason, failed to execute their faultless and grand vision. Bush is too tainted for them, he’s loathed by too wide a spectrum of people. The conservative movement is, in strategy at least, a practical entity. Saving their own skin is far more important than preserving their former figurehead’s vanity. They’re not going to tie their snake-oil business to a leprosy-ridden barker. With Bush set to leave office, and with the 2008 elections promising to be difficult and contentious for all sides, they’re going to be too busy to devote much time to their spent vessel, especially one with an abiding popularity problem and a not-too-stellar track record on virtually everything.

However, we can expect that, when liberalism and the Democrat party once again find themselves ascendant, the rightist opinioneering squad will mount a full-court press to convince America that the Bush years were a sepia-toned era of peace, prosperity, and honest government. This will be, to say the least, a hard sell, but if nothing else they’ve proven themselves capable of selling a lot of atrocious shit. You can expect a lot of hot air being farted around by well-dressed guys who couldn’t get a job at Stuckey’s but somehow became foreign affairs analysts on Fox news, plus the standard Hugh Hewitt-style hackery where tinhorn pundits, with their charming disregard for irony, declare any person or organization who refuses to worship Bush to be atrociously biased and not worth a moment’s time. However, they’ll have to coordinate this with the main show: endless and furious attacks on their array of enemies.

And this is, pleasantly enough for liberal Democrats like me, the best Bush can hope for–to be a beacon of lost glory for the right in their interminable rhetorical war. With any luck, the nation at large will have caught on to these people’s shabby tricks by then and their attempts to turn Bush into their twangy Che Guevara figure will even further sully him to posterity. At that point, both the President and the claque that reached their apotheosis in his administration will spiral downwards into that cultural space somewhere between infamy and obscurity.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

An Insomnia Report retraction...

A few weeks back, I made some intemperate comments about La Bodega, a nominally-Spanish bar/restaurant in my neighborhood. Specifically, I complained that they played horrible music at inexcusable volumes, that their drinks were ludicrously overpriced, and that the clientele annoyed me with their obnoxious middle-American banality. Furthermore, my drinking partner that evening, the witty and vivacious Tara, chimed in to point out that, for reasons which remain unclear, the cocktails had been given smutty names like “Throw Me To The Floor and Do Me” and “I Am A Level Five Sex Offender”. Over the course of that wayward evening, we came to the opinion that–despite their genuinely tasty dessert offerings--only a great and cleansing fire could save La Bodega from becoming yet another example of Minneapolis’ hideous and declining nightlife.

While it is true that we are stern and exacting judges, on occasion mercy has been known to move our hearts. So last night we deigned to give La Bodega another chance. You see, when big-time girly drinks are on the agenda, there are few places as well-situated as La Bodega. Despite this, the place was completely empty when we drove by. It didn’t even look open. Figuring an empty lounge would allow us to purchase fruit-flavored beverages and pursue intensive conversation with minimal hassle, we decided to venture inside. After ascertaining that it was, indeed, still open for business, we found a table and set about noticing all the positive ways the place had changed:

1) The music was now being played at a decent volume, with the volume up enough for it to be heard, but not so loud that it might cause permanent sterility in laboratory chimpanzees.

2) The cocktails were no longer given cutesy-gross names like “I Want To Take Off My Pants And Show You What God Gave Me” or “I Am A Five-Dollar Crack Whore”. Now their titles better reflected both common decency and their actual ingredients. However, they remained quite expensive.

3) The bar area was no longer crammed with bellowing former fratboys and their juiced-up, enhanced-cleavage paramours. There was, in fact, no one but us and the server in the entire bar area.

Taking all these improvements into account, I must now take back my earlier condemnation of the place. If you find yourself in Minneapolis and in the mood for a mixed drink, you could do a whole lot worse than La Bodega. I can personally recommend both their flan and their electric lemonade. But, if you’re of the mind to stop by, you better hurry: a bar on a busy intersection that’s completely empty at midnight on a Saturday night probably doesn’t have a long future ahead of it.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Squeaky & Me

Not many of you know about my de facto pet, Squeaky. We’ve been living together intermittently for two years now, and we’ve grown pretty close over that time, despite all my attempts to kill him. He’s a quick, dirt-colored mouse who gets into my apartment when the weather outside is bad. I remember when I first made his acquaintance. I was pouring myself a bowl of cereal in my kitchen when he ran out from under the stove, raced straight at my feet, stopped short, hesitated for a moment, and then raced back the way he had come. I was too sleepy to have much of a reaction. At the time, I was unsure whether it was a living creature or just an unusually mobile dust bunny. His existence was confirmed a week or so later, when he darted out of my bedroom closet while I was doing my nightly push-ups, scurrying past me as I was struggling upwards. I’m afraid I didn’t give him a very dignified welcome. I went “Aaaaah!” and fell flat on my face.

For a long time, I resented him too much to give him a name. Eventually I settled on Squeaky, for the noise he liked to make as he chewed on the lining of my easy chair. He was a low maintenance pet, all things being considered. He tended to drop by in the dead of night, and only when I had freshly-spilled crumbs for him to eat. There were stretches where I forgot about him, only to be faced with another one of his dramatic entrances when I least expected it. He liked to bolt out from underneath my furniture and frighten me. For my part, I liked to throw things at him. Over the course of our relationship, I’ve broken a flashlight, two plates, and innumerable CD cases in my attempts to punish Squeaky for not warning me when he’s about to make an appearance.

One day last winter, my landlord put up a sign by the mailboxes warning his tenants that mice had been seen. Beneath the sign was a stack of glue traps we were suppose to take and set up in our apartments if we had been troubled by them. I took a few and arranged them with great cunning all around my apartment. Take that, I thought, take that you evil fucking mouse. It didn’t occur to me until I was laying in bed that night how cruel those traps were. They were just a bunch of glue on a piece of cardboard. The idea was that the mouse would get stuck there and either a) slowly starve to death, b) die of panic, or c) be whacked to death by your broom whenever you got around to it. That’s just sick. I wanted to kill Squeaky, true, but I didn’t want him to suffer. I climbed out from under my blankets, fearing that my change of heart might have come too late and Squeaky had already been fatally adhered. Luckily, he wasn’t. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I had pasted poor Squeaky.

As I threw those traps away, I devised a sort of truce with my mouse. I would immediately desist any and all attempts to make him die if he just abided by three conditions:

1) Stay out of sight when I had company

2) Never scurry over my bare feet when I’m walking to the bathroom in the morning

3) Refrain from climbing up onto my countertops.

Despite the essential fairness of this decree, I’m afraid Squeaky had broken all of these except one within a week of my declaration of conditional detente. In all honesty, I must admit that he did have the decency to abide by the first rule. The others, however, were apparently beyond him. When he emerged from my toaster one horrid evening, I decided that I could no longer afford mercy. I had no choice. I was compelled to issue a fatwa against Squeaky.

And I was as resolute and steadfast as any dim-witted, born-again President. The very next day I was at Target, buying the most elaborate and humane mouse-beheading contraptions they had. I got a whole bunch of them, and I also got some gourmet peanut butter to use as a lure. Oh, if only you could have seen how I strategized the best way to bring about Squeaky’s demise! The pattern of traps was a thing of beauty, based as it was on not only my understanding of general mouse psychology, but also upon my insight into my particular mouse’s quirks and preferences. There was no way he could escape my mighty judgement. I went to bed that night excited to be finally exercising my rights as a higher mammal.

Squeaky was a slick bastard, though. He resisted the temptation of my very expensive, organic peanut butter. But how long could he hold out?, I asked myself the next morning as I inspected my dozen empty traps. Not long, I assured myself, not long at all. In this, I misjudged Squeaky. He evaded all my snares until the bait in them started to reek and I had to throw every single one away. I won’t lie to you people: there was anger then, the justifiable anger that arises whenever a beautiful plan is foiled, but there was also a new respect for Squeaky. He was sharp. He was subtle. He was a worthy adversary.

Clearly, I could only hope to best him through my greater strength. I resolved to use brute force to bring the whole “Squeaky affair” to a satisfactory conclusion. Whereas my old plan was perhaps a trifle too delicate to be effective, my new plan would succeed because of it’s elegant simplicity. I would wait for Squeaky to make the first move. When he did, I would spring upon him armed with whatever happened to be close at hand. There would be brief tumult, a modest amount of violence, and then inevitable victory. I could raise up Squeaky’s smashed and battered body then, a wee corpse I would treat with the utmost respect. The only question that remained was whether it would honor him more to devour him raw or to have him bronzed into a trophy.

But this didn’t come to pass, either. The weather became nice and Squeaky went off to wherever he summers. We moved on with our lives, Squeaky and I. I never forgot about him, though, and I know he felt the same about me. Because a few months ago he returned. He’s a little greyer now, a little slower, but he’s the same evil rodent who jumps out to scare me when I’m going about my business. I won’t say that I was glad to see him, but I won’t say it was completely unexpected, either. What Squeaky and I have is just too deep to be easily sundered.

We have a bond, that mouse and I, that will endure until the day I finally kill him. Or until the day he dies of old age inside my walls and stinks up my entire building.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Idle thoughts on narcissism and genius...

Today I was thinking about the concept of narcissism. It’s a fascinating thing to me–that sort of vulgar self-love thrown up like a threadbare blanket over a profound and boundless self-loathing. Narcissistic people are, by definition, contradictory. They’ll blather on endlessly about their accomplishments, their successes, and their brilliance, but they don’t really believe in any of it. They’re dead inside and they hope that if they can just bully and bluff others into buying their line, they’ll come alive somehow. It must be a sad way to be, when your entire self-image is dependent on others believing your bullshit. That is, to me, the worst way to be hollow, the sickest way to be a slave–to need so much more regard than the rest yet to be unwilling to do anything honest to achieve it.

But do I have the wrong idea here? It brings up an interesting question: where does narcissism end and true accomplishment begin? When you encounter some guy who babbles on about his keen mind and his rare gifts while he hops from job to job and can’t even pay his electric bill, it’s easy to call him a narcissist. But what about someone who is truly distinguished, yet can’t shut up about it? It’s tempting to call such a person a “genius” and ascribe all of their unpleasant behaviors to that. Can you be a narcissist and a genius at the same time? It seems to me like you can. But, if this is true, isn’t it also true that narcissism could be an impetus to genius? For most narcissists, their sense of inferiority turns them into liars and blowhards. For some, however, it inspires great works of art, brilliant mathematical formulas, new multinational corporations, whatever. Or am I confusing two very separate forces here?

Is narcissism always pathological? Or can a narcissist “prove” him or herself and, in doing so, stop being a narcissist? My feelings are that the demands of bringing something authentically great into the world–be it a symphony, a novel, a business, or a theory–are antithetical to the shabby nature of narcissism. On some level, a poet must be sensitive. Is a narcissist always too dense and egocentric to fill this role? Likewise, an entrepreneur must be willing to work long and hard. Does the narcissist’s emotional laziness preclude this? A revolutionary physicist has to be a disciplined, rigorous thinker. How can this possibly co-exist with the sloppy intellectual tricks that define narcissism? I realize I may be extrapolating from inaccurate romantic notions of genius or narrow psychological understandings of narcissism, but the question remains: are there benefits to narcissism? If not for the narcissist in question and the people who have to suffer his or her presence, for society at large?

What do you think?

I want a vasectomy and I want it now!

I don’t like to talk too much about my “day jobs” here, but I will say this: I work in a place that houses disturbed children. I don’t have to have much contact with them, as I mainly push papers around and fiddle with the computer programs, but they’re there. If you want to know what it’s like, think back to when you were thirteen or fourteen years old. Think about that one kid in your school who was always doing something hideous. The fat boy with the holes in his pants who stole your lunchbox or the bulemic girl with the heavy eyeliner who threatened to have her brother stab you to death. The kid who sat in the corner of class, scribbling swastikas in his notebook. The kid your principal has reported to the FBI as a possible school shooter. The eight year old cat murderer and the sixteen year old drug dealer. I don’t know what form this kid took in your school, but your school must have had one or two. Think of that kid for a second. Now think of twenty-four of those kids being locked up together in a very confined, very bad-smelling institution and little to do besides play “UNO” and watch American Idol.

My main complaint is that they’re so fucking loud all the time. My next complaint would be that they’re incorrigible brats who make me want to stick my head through my computer monitor. It seems horrible to think that I may one day be involved in the creation of one of these ill-mannered, vile-tongued beasts. That’s why I’m sending out a plea over the internet: someone please come and sterilize me. I don’t want to run the risk of creating a juvenile delinquent of my very own. Sure, I understand that not all children are unable to control their urges to bite strangers or set buildings on fire, but that seems like academic knowledge after you’ve spent a whole eight hour shift listening to a few dozen of this kind all screaming at each other at once.

I will supply the gardening shears and a ball of twine. You will bring a strong anaesthetic and a rudimentary understanding of the male genitalia. I’m not asking for an accredited medical professional here. I just want it done with and done with quickly. I’m prepared to walk funny for a couple of days if I can just be sure my future will be free of those awful, awful little creatures. Hack it out and be done with it, that’s what I say...

But maybe I shouldn’t make these sorts of decisions after I’ve had a bad day at work.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Blinkie Works Blue

Back when I was still in school some friends and I were hanging out at the state fair. After gorging ourselves on footlong hotdogs and striking out with the 4-H girls, we hit the midway just as it was getting dark. The gaudy bulbs came on and rained loud colors on the test-your-skill booths and the rickety rides. Past the grimy arcade tent a large crowd had formed. Shadowy figures were milling around in the glare of spotlights. When we got closer, we saw that everyone’s attention was focused on a big cage. One end, the nearer one, was open and there an old man sat on a stool, grimacing and smoking with a cashbox in his lab. Past him was a long expanse of gravel that led to minivan-sized tank of cloudy water. Poised on a seat above it, in front of a brightly painted banner than read “DUNK BLINKIE” was an African-American man in clown makeup. In one hand, he was holding a naked doll that resembled one of those racist lawn jockey figurines of yesteryear. With the other, he was making rude gestures.

“You white people are sorry. Jes’ sorry,” he was saying, and it was clear from the drift of his voice that he was quite drunk. “I don’t even know why I’m triflin’ with your kind...”

My friends and I found a spot right up near the front and watched as Blinkie held the doll up to his ear. “Whas’ that you say, Lil’ Jim?” he asked it. He pretended to be listening to it for a moment and then he thrust it out at arm’s length, its backside pointed at the spectators. “Lil’ Jim says ya’ll can kiss my black ass!” he cackled. Out in the crowd, my little band shared a knowing glance. It was clear that this man was going to become a hero of ours.

That’s when a thin, shaved-head kid came up and gave the smoking man some money. This guy was about our age, with a bright red face and a plump girlfriend smiling shyly behind him. The smoking man handed him a baseball and he took his position on the painted “X” on the ground. I remember him calling smart-aleck comments back at his date, basking in the applause of the people who had been standing around for longer than we had.

Blinkie just smirked at him as he warmed up his arm. The kid winked at his girl, spun around, and went up into his wind up. “I ain’t afraid of you, boy. You too ugly,” the clown crowed and it messed up the kid’s concentration. His throw went wild and bounced off the roof of the cage. Half the audience whistled and clapped, while the other half just went “Awwwww...”

“That your girl?” Blinkie asked, “She want a taste of chocolate up here?”

The kid waved a mock-threatening finger at him before the smoking man handed him another baseball. “Damn. You ugly,” Blinkie taunted from his perch and the kid retorted with some stammered, incoherent curse. “And you stupid too,” the clown added, just before the second throw missed the target. A titter went through the audience. A few of us booed the kid, but Blinkie didn’t seem to notice any of it. He was talking to his doll again.

“What you sayin’ there, Lil’ Jim?” he asked it. After the doll had said its piece, he waved it at the kid and roared, “Lil’ Jim suggests you kiss my black ass!”

The kid tried to fire back another insult of his own, but Blinkie cut him off before he could finish. “I can’t even hear your weak shit, white boy. Al’ight? I can’t even hear it...” With the kid fumbling for his last baseball, the clown turned his attention to his girlfriend, who was trying in vain to hide herself behind her date. “You put up with that fool, honey? Let me tell you, a boy who throws like that ain’t never gonna give you what you need. You got to step up to the chocolate right here...”

By this time, several spectators were gasping. A few were hurrying small children away. The rest, however, were applauding Blinkie’s every line. He didn’t take this well. “Shut the hell up. Shit. I’m tryin’ to get somethin’ started here...” he muttered.

The kid had become legitimately annoyed. With his face a shiny purple, he hurled the ball as hard as he could, but it just bounced off the banner. Blinkie looked at where it hit and made a dismissive sound. “Get out of here. I’m sick of you,” he said, his voice heavy with disgust. The kid’s girlfriend grabbed his arm and pulled him away, smiling all quivery-like as if she was about to cry, and they disappeared into the night.

“She may pat his back, but she sure ain’t ever gonna give him a piece,” Blinkie observed, “Ugly sumbitch who throws like that. Shit.”

What followed was a long stretch of time in which everyone wanted to see someone else get up and aggravate Blinkie afresh, yet no one wanted to volunteer to be that person. The crowd pressed closer and some of the braver ones shouted out things, but no one had the courage to try and dunk the clown. He seemed to sense this. If anything, it only made him more offensive. “You know what white people are good for?” he asked at one point. “You know? Do you white people know what white people are good for? Do you? Do you?” He waited until we had quieted to his satisfaction and then he waved his doll in the air again, shouting “Kiss! My! Black! Ass! That’s what you white people are good for!”

We applauded his every pronouncement until a beefy guy stepped up and gave the smoking man his money. “Awww, shit!” Blinkie growled, “Here come a redneck. Shit, man, you know what you can do?”

“Kiss my black ass!” a good percentage of the audience shouted out.

Blinkie nodded. “They know. Gotdamn redneck. Hey, redneck! Is it true rednecks like to suck other redneck’s dicks? Is that shit true?”

“I’ll show you!” the redneck shouted as he threw the baseball right at the target. It went a little low at the last second, however, and just brushed the bottom edge of it. The audience let out a collective gasp of relief, but Blinkie remained unperturbed.

“You kiss my ass,” he said, holding up his doll once more, “And then you kiss Lil’ Jim’s ass. Because you a sorry piece of shit, redneck. I don’t even care anymore...”

The redneck tore the next ball out of the smoking man’s hands and hurled it hard. He missed again, though, this time by a lot. The whole crowd jeered him; we cast our eyes up to Blinkie for his next Solomon-like utterance.

He didn’t disappoint, either. “You got to suck some redneck dick,” he said, “Get you arm workin’ again.”

“You’re going down!” the redneck bellowed and we hissed at him.

“Kiss my black ass, redneck,” Blinkie grunted, pointing at his doll’s back end, “Kiss my black, black ass. Kiss it. Kiss it good, you redneck you. Kiss my black– ”

He didn’t get to finish this tirade, however, because the redneck’s last baseball hit the target straight on and sent him tumbling into the water. As his nemesis went strutting around his fists raised over his head, Blinkie sank to the bottom and floated slowly back up. The audience made an outraged sound, the sort of sound theatergoers make when someone’s cell phone goes off during a Shakespeare soliloquy. Besides the redneck’s triumphant whooping, there was silence as the clown broke the surface of the water, climbed up the little ladder set into it, and–with tremendous and not at all ironic dignity–took up his position again.

The audience broke into vehement and sustained applause. Blinkie just glared at us, though. He waited until we had tired ourselves out with this and then, shaking his soaked doll dry, he said “Fuck you all. And fuck all your mothers too.”

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Left-Behind Left

When I read this story in the City Pages, I couldn’t help but think of my own experiences as an undergraduate English/Sociology major at a small midwestern university. You see, I have a lot of qualms with my education, and in many ways I feel cheated by it, but I’ve always been reluctant to write about it. These days there’s a whole lot of bullshit being spread around about colleges being “liberal indoctrination camps” or whatever. I have no interest in playing into that nonsense. Those are cheap attacks from cheap ideologues and no one ought to take them seriously. The problem with humanities departments isn’t that they’re too liberal, it’s that they’re not liberal enough.

Now, understand this: I took dozens of classes as an undergraduate and the lion’s share of them were taught by self-proclaimed left-wingers. It was pretty much taken for granted that some monolith named “Western Civilization” was history’s premier oppressor and that every canonical cultural artifact it has produced bears the taint of its racism, sexism, classism and militarism. For the most part, I had no problems with this orientation. It is a perspective with a fair amount of truth to it and certainly a necessary one to learn. Also–and this is crucial–most of my professors encouraged respectful debate and seemed genuinely interested in fostering discussion and dialogue. What bothered me was not the departments’ philosophical underpinnings–although there is much to these that I do not accept–but the manner in which it was brought to us.

Put plainly, we were given “leftism” as a defeated, dead worldview. Right-wingers like to tell scary stories about the menace of an all-powerful, well-funded, and endlessly seductive “left”, but a few semesters in any cultural studies program should put their cold, grey hearts at ease. Because this left is a relic, a butterfly pinned to corkboard. Underneath all the interminable articles about the pedagogy of the oppressed and the transgressive hermeneutics of so-and-so was one unmistakable message: the world is vile, spiteful, and mean; you, however, can rise above it if you just start having the correct thoughts. The academic left is all about personal virtue. Its main message is one of retreat. Society has failed them, but they still have Toni Morrison and a handful of French theorists, so they give up on what actually matters and busy themselves with their own egos.

This does not strike me as particularly progressive. If anything, it’s depressing and alienating. It is ridiculous to imagine that these programs produce ardent, lifelong leftists. More often, people graduate from them thanking God that they no longer have to put up with another windy treatise, no longer have to write another paper about how the “voice” of some “Other” is being “stifled” somehow. I’m happy to have escaped that business. I’m happy, also, that my liberalism somehow made it through unscathed. In much of academia, they seem to want you to think that being on the left requires pessimism, humorlessness, and defensive self-righteousness. Once I made it out, I rediscovered that this need not be the case. We can be liberal and proud, liberal and hopeful, liberal and engaged in the full breadth of life, not just fixated on the ivory-tower turf we’ve claimed. This is what needs to be infused into the liberal arts departments across the country, I think. A sense of engagement in the world, a love of life in all its variety and complexity, an appreciation of beauty and brilliance–with these the long-disgraced humanities will start being human again. That’s when they’ll start being a threat to all these right-wingers. Because, at the moment, all the bad-faith complaints and knee-jerk raging of the neo-McCarthyites calls to mind nothing so much as a lion preparing to feast on a gnat.