December 2005 Archives

we all look alike to me

Two white dudesI used to wonder if the casting in the Rocky movies was nothing more than cynical race-baiting, but now I actually see virtue in it. Oh, the racial overtones still bother me, but now, having seen Cinderella Man, I appreciate the enormous narrative service Stallone did his audience by having a white guy fight a black guy: we can tell the fighters apart. And when Rocky's opponents weren't black—Hulk Hogan, Dolph Lundgren—they were distinctively freakish. This is not the case in Cinderella Man. Between the quick, incomprehensible editorial cuts and the parade of indistinguishable pasty white lugs wearing indistinguishable black shorts, I stopped even trying to follow the fights. Fortunately, they had a ringside announcer narrate who just hit whom and how much it hurt.

The film was a pleasant enough confection, but I'm at a loss to explain the critical love heaped upon it. A saintly, persecuted boxer/father/husband with a supportive wife photographed through gauze gets his One Big Chance to battle out of the Great Depression: a fight for the heavyweight championship against a man so evil, he threatens the wife with widowhood. Will our hero win? Will he and his wife climb out of abject destitution? Will the film conclude with the grudging respect of the vanquished opponent and end titles that explain what happens to our heroes next? Have you never seen a Ron Howard movie?

Always gratifying to come across a site that links to every one of Bob's Top Five Favorite Bloggers except me. Was it something I said?

god damn thee merry, gentlemen

Just when I thought I'd gotten out of the holidays free and clear, along comes a belated "I love you" from someone I don't know well and who I can't stand. This would be my sister. Not either of the sisters who visited me this year—the third one, known in my circle simply as "the bad sister." Let's call her Nadine.

In a family in which everyone bad-mouths everyone else and manufactures nonsense to be offended about, Nadine is the undisputed Queen of All Nonsense. Half of my communications from home are about who she's not speaking to and/or is not speaking to her. (No amount of my telling them "I truly don't give a crap. Please stop sharing." dissuades family members from holding a phone to their answering machine and leaving on my voice-mail the angry message a sibling had left for them.) As for me, I fall in and out of favor with Nadine without my doing a thing. "Nadine's furious with you," I'm informed, even though nothing whatsoever has been said between us since I was in favor. This year, apparently, I'm in and everyone else is out. This unwelcome status manifested in a large package arriving yesterday.

Nadine has taken up oil painting, and god help me, she sent me not one but two oil paintings. I'll grant that they're better than I can do, but that's an exceedingly low bar. From anyone else, I'd likely think them thoughtful, even touching gifts. From Nadine, though, all they inspire is one thought: only she would presume to claim wall space in a stranger's house.

I see a letter attached. Crap. How long will it take her to go negative? Answer: not long.

Rather than put sic after every mistake, I'll just note that this is verbatim.

My dearest brother,

People in our family have no clue to who their sister really is........
They still think back to the younger days of my youth, where many trials, lessons, and hardships were.

Although many in our family have not moved on from that mentality, I have.

For the past few years I have expanded my horizons and worked on things in my life I had always wanted to do such as Genealogy as well as my Oil Painting.

I remember as a child, and in 7th grade, the teacher wanting me to take an Art Class, and Dad refused due to the financial end of it.

I remind you, this is a Christmas letter.

Enclosed are two artworks for you dear brother...... Both painted with the hands that once cuddled you, and comforted your heart. You to have grown, yet others do not see the man that is before them. I do.....

Ah, my annual Yuletide "Dad was a bastard and everyone hates me but not as much as they hate you" card from home. It's like I never left.

harrison. james harrison.

No word yet on the inevitable lawsuit.

I wish they'd included the ovation that the Browns' fans gave Harrison. Not to mention all of Verron Haynes' (#34, the one who got out of the way) teammates mocking his cowardly move.

the six year war: maddie

Among my girlfriends, Maddie was the one most like me. Not coincidentally, she holds the John endurance record at six years. They were six crucial years of my life, too: 21 through 26. In as a boy, out as a man. In an angry ass, out a marginally less angry ass. And no one had more of an influence on that non-transformation than Maddie.

She's a genius, and she delighted in the myriad ways she was smarter than me. My mispronunciations—most famously, "the plan went AW-ree" and "they showed a lovely career MAWN-tudge at the ceremony"—became recurring jokes that spanned decades, and believe me, I'm not the one telling 'em. To this day, my serial inability to spell a-m-o-n-g without a U delights her like flowers delight other women. She was cruel as a cat. "Come on," she'd implore. "Let's play Concentration." This is exactly analagous to my challenging my dog, Ed, to thumb-wrestling. "Or let's do the Reader's Digest vocabulary test. I'll even spot you ten questions." There are only 20.

She was easily the angriest of my girlfriends. To use my favorite illustration, I must digress about a different woman:

I was telling Katrina about a date the night before, a first date with a woman for whom I had high hopes. When I got to the part about going downtown during rush-hour, she became concerned. "Tell me you weren't driving."

"Yes, I was."

"Oh sweet Christ. Did you honk your horn and curse out the window at people?"

"I don't know. Why?"

"My point exactly. You should know. I don't ever ever ever want you taking a girl into gridlock on a first date again. I'd known you for a year, and I nearly soiled myself from fright."

This assessment of my conduct is the norm. Maddie, then, has the following distinction: she is the only girlfriend to react to my enraged honking, cursing and finger-flying by reaching across my chest and leaning on the horn because the rage I had expressed wasn't remotely adequate.

I owe Maddie a lot. She supported me during my interminable undergraduate years, without complaint or much hope of ever seeing that money again, and I'm not sure why. Love, sure, but still. That's a lot to ask of someone. For my part, I tried to get through school as quickly as possible, loading up on 21-25 hours for six straight quarters, a laughable amount of information to process for someone routinely spotted 10 points in the Digest vocabulary quiz. When she came home from work, Maddie would help me with my Spanish flashcards, coming up with mnemonic devices to help wedge la aspiradora in some crevice of my feeble memory. She, of course, learned the language long before I did. "Oh, come ON!" she'd plead. "This one's easy! And you knew it a hour ago!"

I knew her facial expression well. Somewhere between sobbing and bloodletting mania, it was the exact same expression my engineer father had worn at 2am when trying to push me over the long-division hump. "I really need to get a paternity test," he said in my imagination.

"I really need to get a boyfriend who can find his ass if I cement-nail his hands to it," she said in actuality.

"How's that?"

"I said, what's dolencia?"

turn out the lights, the party's over

Immaculate receptionJohn Madden still maintains to anyone who'll listen that on the Immaculate Reception, the ball hit Steeler Frenchy Fuqua before Franco Harris caught it. The officials (not to mention a detailed study by a physicist) determined that the ball hit Raider Jack Tatum. The difference? In the rules of the day, the ball hitting Fuqua would have rendered illegal the most famous play in football lore. Madden and other Raiders cling to the Fuqua myth with the same irrational ferocity that W. clings to his appointed cronies and that Michigan alums cling to their "elite school" fantasy.

The first time I saw Madden was on Football Weekend VII in Miami. We staked out the Maddencruiser after the game, and we watched from 10 feet away as the big lummox boarded his bus. "THE BALL HIT TATUM!" I yelled.

I next staked out the Maddencruiser in San Francisco a year later. "THE BALL HIT TATUM!" I yelled.

Later that year in Pittsburgh: "THE BALL HIT TATUM!"

The next year in Kansas City: "THE BALL HIT TATUM!" Only this time, Madden stopped his ascent into the bus, turned around, and squinted into the crowd to look for the face of his cross-continental, cross-annum heckler. "YEAH, YOU HEARD ME! TATUM, MOTHERFUCKER! YEAH!"

Duly cowed by the magnitude of my evidence and the sagacity of my argument, Madden shook his head and retreated into his bus.

• • •

And with that, I note the passing of ABC's Monday Night Football. Some of the best moments of my life have been on Monday nights at the only game being played in the world, and I will miss it. Oh sure, there will be some bush league variation on ESPN next year with, God help us all, Joe "Nobody in the game of football should
be called a genius. A genius is somebody like Norman Einstein." Theisman in the booth. All the more reason to mourn.

"Yeah, Johnny, Daddy's dead, but look! Mommy remarried! Your new daddy is Joe Theisman! See, everything's fine. Here, listen while he prattles on about himself. You'll feel better."

- Click -

dating nurses

In my time I've dated two nurses and a physical therapist. Love means still finding someone desirable when they come home reeking of corpses and formaldehyde. Turns out I didn't love them all that much. Nevertheless, all three were similar personalities: emotionally detached. Downright unempathetic and callous. Although these qualities doubtless serve them well in professions where emotional attachment leads straight to burnout and therapy, in a relationship, I found them lethal. Has anyone else encountered this?

wanted: a better firewall

A wondrous thing about the Internet is that people from all walks of life whose paths would never otherwise cross get to share their views. The horrendous downside to the Internet is, of course, that people from all walks of life whose paths would never otherwise cross get to share their views. It's for this latter reason that I resent the Internet. Before the Internet, I'd never met a white supremacist or a Ravens fan. I'd never been told I have severe psychological problems; been condemned to eternal hell for my non-beliefs; or called a racist, sexist or homophobe, at least not to my face. Before the Internet, I had no idea how hateful poor spellers are. Perhaps it's a lifetime of corrections that make them that way?

This morning, though, it's my fellow Steeler fans who have me staring at the knife drawer. There's no way around it: they're morons. At least the fans streaming into my home are. Listening to a call-in show from Pittsburgh, if inflicted on a prisoner of war, would be a violation of the Geneva Convention. The fans make the same dumbass assertions, over and over, unabashedly flaunting their ignorance. And the DJs patiently make the same corrections, over and over, though surely they'd rather distribute open-handed slaps instead.

Fans of other teams—same thing?

wonder of wonders

Steeped in Catholic tradition as a kid, I thought I knew what a "miracle" was. It was turning water into wine, or walking on water, or God saving people from the killer hurricane He sent. Maybe it wasn't necessarily divine, but it should certainly have an element of the immortal about it, like the end of the Cal-Stanford game. Football fans don't need me to say which Cal-Stanford game. The miraculous one. If every game ended that way, it wouldn't be a miracle, now, would it?

Thrice. That's how many times I've heard ordinary childbirth referred to as a "miracle" in the last 24 hours. Most of my friends have been experiencing miracles, lately. Identical miracles. It's like Starbucks started selling mass-produced miracles along with the coffee mugs and dreadfully lousy CDs. Miracles are threatening to overpopulate and starve themselves out.

"When your dog did the exact same thing in your garage last year, was that a miracle?" I ask.

"You're so smug/self-righteous/pretentious," snorts the person claiming that cranking out one of the nearly quarter-million babies born every day is miraculous.

darlene love love

Darlene Love is on Letterman tonight, singing the only Christmas song worth a damn. So now you know.

XI

Sung to the tune of the Beverly Hillbillies theme

Lemme tell you the story 'bout a dog named Ed.
Couldn't find her ass if it wuz stapled to her head.
Eleven years ago today she shot straight out of the womb,
Soonafter that dang dog was saturatin' her bedroom.

Urine, that is.
Still doing it, too.

Well, next thing you know, little Ed's the last pup left.
Black patch on her cheek made her the sixth of the sextet.
Wagged at me and Heather but she growled at Uncle Mark,
"A great judge of character," I said. "Will you take a credit card?"

this just in! (about 31 times, in fact)

Kobe put up 62 in three quarters the other night, personally outscoring the entire Dallas Mavericks 62-61, but I didn't hear about it until it was over. Just like I didn't see Emmitt Smith rush for 316, Boomer Esiason throw for 522, or Randy Johnson's perfect game. What we have here is a grotesque failure to communicate. Someone needs to start an email system for alerting folks about breaking sports news. And when I say someone, I of course mean someone else.

on dorkass, on blitzen

Dorkass writes to observe that she, too, is #1.

A couple of readers have mistakenly assumed that Dorkass is one of the hallowed exes, and I'd like to set the record straight. No. Absolutely, unequivocally no. No, no, no, never, ever, ever. Ever. She wanted to, but...

[shudder]

carson nugget

This morning, I accidentally read about shrill non-scientists wanting to incorporate their Intelligent Design mythology into the science classroom. I promise it won't happen again.

This made me think of Johnny Carson. Specifically, it made me remember a bit he did in which he recited the entire history of the world in the four minutes it takes to toast an Eggo waffle. Even more specifically, it made me think of this line:

Galileo on the run,
thinks the earth goes around the sun,
says "It's in my telescope."
"No it isn't," says the Pope.

It was an amazing flurry of jokes, delivered machine-gun fire and nearly without stumbling. For posterity, here's the whole text. Johnny lowers the waffle into the toaster, draws a breath, and begins.

At that point, the waffle pops up, Johnny puts it on a plate, and he pours syrup over it to thunderous applause.

things i wondered today

Do the Mexicans working at Taco Bell think I'm a complete idiot for getting a "burrito" there?

Regarding unisex public restrooms: would women prefer I leave the seat down or up (hence vulnerable to the next guy)?

Are "outie" navels being made anymore, or has sufficient scientific progress been made?

If I order Ed to lie down in surf that's already up to her neck, is she stupid enough to actually comply? (Answer: a joyous yes.)

looking down from under heel

"I just know she's out there," says Maggie, having wrapped up a full day at work and rendezvoused with me for drinks before rushing home to prepare dinner for her husband, Larry—whom she married at 19, with whom she had kids by 21 and grandchildren by 42, who does not work because Maggie's new job as a secretary, coupled with the disability benefits he collects by faking an injury, allows him to stay home and watch TV all day. "I just know it! The perfect woman is just waiting for you to discover her. Don't give up."

Physician, heal thyself. There's a direct correlation, I've decided, between how much married friends obsess over my joining their ranks and how much their own marriages suck bilgewater. Unfortunately for Maggie, she obsesses profusely.

She's a giving, sweet woman whose sense of worth is perversely dependent upon her own complete subjugation. Larry is an increasingly bitter good ol' boy who lifts no finger except to find fault with his superiors—a distressingly inclusive demographic. Put the two of them together and you have a fluid give-and-take. She fluidly gives and he fluidly takes. I asked her once why she does every conceivable household chore, from purchasing the pot roast to scraping Larry's soggy carrots into the trash. "Well, Larry's a very traditional man, and he believes in traditional marriage roles."

"But if that's the case, wouldn't he have, like, a job?"

"Yeah. Well. He's a bit more progressive there."

It's an atrocious marriage. Exploiter and exploited, asshole and sucker. It physically hurts me to have them over and see my friend be demeaned. But that discomfort is nothing compared to when she manages to condescend to me about my own unmarriedness. It's all I can do not to pin her marriage on the wall and vivisect it for easier examination. Restraint is especially laborious when she implies that with a little luck and effort, I too can attain the lofty status that she enjoys. That is, of course, ludicrous. I want what Larry's got.

really. you can have it.

Actual recent conversation:

Maggie: "I just know she's out there. I just know it! The perfect woman is just waiting for you. Don't give up."

John: "Well, for us to meet, she's gonna have to lose control of her car, crash through the cement barricades and razor wire, fly over over my moat, and crash into my living room."

Maggie: "Oh my god. If you don't write that, I will."

John: "Huh?"

Maggie: "It's a great movie! The perfect woman literally crashes into the classic misanthropic hermit's life and turns his whole world around. It's romantic! I love it."


And so, gentle reader, this story idea is my Christmas gift to you. Go and write this dreadful movie. And when you market it, target people with no self-esteem whatsoever. They'll love it.

you hot. me love you.

King Kong Adrien Brody Naomi WattsYou know how it feels. You're the best looking guy in a crowded room. You spot the finest available specimen of womanhood; she pretends not to notice. You both smolder in silence, or perhaps you meet cute. You talk only once or twice, probably arguing about who's more stuck up, and then wham! Her parents take her to Bangladesh for an arranged marriage. Or Native Americans kidnap her and force her to hike through some really gorgeous scenery. Or a giant ape whisks her off to sleep in a bat cave. You know exactly what to do: risk everything to save her. Why? Because you're the two best looking people you know.

No? So why?

"Because I love her," you say, mouth clenched, eyes moist. But in a manly way.

I don't know if screenwriters ever get laid, but there's a preponderance of evidence that they've never been in love. I don't even recognize what they call falling in love. Where's the nausea? The imperviousness to all other forms of pain? The impossibility of relaxation? The hand-wringing over imaginary slights? The blue balls? The diligent face and leg shaving? The long, greedy, rapturous talks until dawn? The euphoria? The terror? The dropping of friendships? The urgent reading of their favorite books—books which you would never, ever otherwise pick up? The improved wardrobe? The mix tapes? The inability to think or talk about anything else? The beard burn? The recasting of deep-seated character flaws as adorable imperfections? The frustration with the limited bandwidth of the human ear, which keeps you from learning everything about this person at any acceptable rate? The glacial passing of time until you can see the person again? I could go on, but I think I've made my point: if you've ever been in love, how bloody hard is this to write?

Alas. Whenever I see love bloom on screen, here's the dialogue I hear in my head:

Male lead: "You hot. Me want put thing in you."

Female lead: "As I am contractually obligated to do so, I love you too."

So the government has been spying on you and me without probable cause, and the New York Times has been sitting on this story for a year. The only thing less credible than the Times' explanation for going public now`—on the very day of the Patriot Act renewal vote—is W's elusive, smirky "trust me." There are no good guys.

'tards needs editors

I don't ordinarily look at this page, not unless I'm doing some tricky design, but today I can't help myself. Did that cover really say "Liberals have hijacked science for long enough. Now it's our turn." ?

Pinch me!

pin the tail on the 'tard

Kids! Can you guess which is the satire?


politically.jpg


onion.JPG

king kong myths

Kong is an entertaining, over-the-top, two-hour thrill ride. Unfortunately, it's three hours long. It's a spectacular in parts, though, and worth seeing. I give it three stars and will now move on to what irritated me. I can debunk the following Kong myths:

Adrien Brody is an action hero. If I could take a baseball bat to any actor's skull, it would be his. Not since Ethan Hawke's arrival has a scrawny candy-ass acted this bad-ass. Watching him stirs something playground in me. When I see his writer character suddenly and inexplicably going Ninja on velociraptors, I want to just pummel the pansy.

Naomi Watts' performance is Oscar-worthy. She's great. But it's a one-note character and a one-note performance. It's the exact same slack-jawed note that Denise Richards hit, albeit poorly, in Starship Troopers.

This movie revolutionizes action films, just like the original did. No. It's a really well made popcorn movie, but what exactly haven't we seen before? This era's Kong is plainly Jurassic Park.

This movie revolutionizes special effects. Kong is really impressive, and the streets of New York are just brilliant. But there's no getting around the fact that a lot of this film looks fake, especially when live actors are superimposed on backgrounds (or CGI characters) and the focal length or lighting is inconsistent within a single shot. The human eye, familiar with how light works, knows it's not real. The film is never so fake as when they shoot Watts through heavy gauze and put her next to a digital (and very clear) Kong. Because of Peter Jackson Love, this film will win scads of technical awards, but the fact remains that Dorkass and I laughed out loud at its fakeness.

Kong is what happens when no one says no to a filmmaker. It feels indulgently long, and it is. Seemingly no idea was discarded. While in the theatre, I thought about Steven Spielberg's Jaws. On the set, the mechanical shark never worked (plus it looked incredibly fake), so a budget- and time-constrained young Spielberg was forced to compromise and show less and less of the shark. The result? Drastically heightened suspense. People were terrified by mere implication. Less turned out to be much, much more. With Kong, we have the opposite. No choices needed to be made, so they weren't. Take as much time and money as you want, Pete. If Jackson had filmed the opening scene of Jaws, we would have followed the shark for 15 minutes as it leapt through the air and rummaged through sunken ships, possibly learning English along the way, and then we would have followed Chrissie down the shark's intestinal track. But is that really better?

approval whore: the lost singles

A friend recently pointed out that three Approval Whore (AW) anecdotes have gone unpublished. Each occurred during the Dark Year, when I wanted out but wanted a place to stay in Redmond even more. Not coincidentally, each was particularly painful for me, as I had to swallow my rage, smile, and act as though nothing objectionable had happened. If you want to know what your pain threshold is, try that sometime. So here they are, in reverse chronological order.

Two weeks before breakup
I find a receipt for tickets to a New Year's Eve party to which I am most decidedly not invited. Crap. I'm not going to make it to the next tax year, am I? I wonder if the new guy would mind me crashing here? I say nothing about it, hoping to make it a couple more weeks, but soon I can't resist suggesting that she and I go away for New Year's, my treat. Crushed by anxiety, AW swallows her entire face.

Three months before breakup
Looking for a file by searching her laptop for my last name, I get a hit on "roses.txt." That's odd. I open the file and discover that she's gotten into my Hotmail account and meticulously copied and pasted the contents of dozens of 5-year old emails between me and an old flame. I say nothing, and man, it sure is hard not to use this nuke. Dorkass marvels at my restraint.

Six months before breakup
Awakening at AW's place in Redmond, I discover that she left her gate wide open and that my idiot dog, Ed, has disappeared. I don't blame AW outwardly, but inwardly I want to flog her for a) endangering my dog's life and b) cheerfully avoiding responsibility. Several hours of frantic dog-calling and corpse-searching are fruitless, so I make a flyer offering a $500 reward for Ed's safe return. I'm still hanging flyers when AW's neighbor calls and says he's seen the signs, and yes, he has my dog. We pick up Ed, and I give the man a $500 check. AW is aghast. "I cannot believe that guy took your money," she says, disgusted. "So rude." I stare at her and silently wait for her to finish assessing the logic and culpability of the situation. But she was quite finished. Alas, such is life on Planet AW.

• • •

It's amazing how fast you can dial down from the terror and hysteria about your dog being injured, scared, or dead. As soon as I saw that the little idiot was just fine, it was like a switch was thrown. Terror, off. Irritation, on. "Get your dumb ass in the car."

no wonders

I have an intense new peeve developing, oh yes I do. Once you notice it, it might be your peeve too.

The validation theory says that any manner in which, say, Adam is different from James will serve as a point of insecurity to James. This insecurity will compel James to demean the difference. So if Adam has a newer car, he's too material. If he has a pretty girlfriend, he's shallow. If he loves his career, his priorities are out of whack. If he believes in a different god, his every stumble is evidence of a spiritual failing. And on and on.

My peeve, then, is a subtle variation on this, and it can be neatly summed up in two condescending words: no wonder.


The loyal Microsoft employee, learning about any one of the million things I hate about Microsoft: "Oh, no wonder you dislike Microsoft." (It must not be that the company is unlikable.)

The love interest, learning about my family: "Oh, no wonder you [insert whatever my flaw du jour is]. You're broken!" (It must not be that her expectations are unreasonable.)

The Seattle person, learning that I live in the sticks: "Oh, no wonder you don't like Seattle. You don't live there, silly!" (It must not be that Seattle actually sucks.)


Now I'm watching for it. I'll be discussing, say, the new smoking ban with a friend, and we'll be disagreeing. Now, if they weren't my friend, they'd just dismiss our difference as the result of my stupidity/bleeding heart liberality/redneck conservatism. But I'm their friend, and to diminish me is to indirectly diminish themselves. An accommodation must be reached in which a) I am still a worthy person whose friendship is an homage to themselves and b) the insecurity-exacerbating difference between us is still diminished. Hence the beauty of "no wonder." It's a surgical strike, an invalidation-seeking missile. It's the hook on which they can safely stow the invalidating difference. It's line-item validation.

Whatever your metaphor of choice, it's also pretty insulting.



"What the Fucking Fuck?" awards 

  john howard

Last year, it was Aboriginal rioting in Sydney. Now it's 5000 drunken white guys attacking any Australian they think looks kinda Arab. Followed by the requisite looting and vandalism, of course. Australian Prime Minister Howard was quick to step up:

"I do not accept that there is underlying racism in this country."

Yep, at this point, I think you'd have to call the racism overarching.

• • •

As I verified the time of the Aboriginal rioting, I found this "news" account. Apparently the American monosyllabic right has exported AM radio overseas.

reader mail

The trolls have spoken. I'm not sure what you're saying, but you've said it a lot this week. Dejected Steeler fans wrote in lieu of therapy. Proud Michigan alums thumped their chests and misspelled super-confusing three-letter words like "its" and "too," but I'm not enough of a hater to point it out. Canadians proudly thumped their chests about, um, not being Americans. Creepy Kristin fans wrote because...well, I'm not sure what they hope to accomplish by writing me, really, but I strongly suspect it ends with "in her pants." The post in which I ripped my dead mother elicited not one negative mail, yet the post in which I said that Ethiopia was predominantly Islamic (based merely on the fact that the most widely practiced religion in Ethiopia is Islam) resulted in an outcry. Weirdos. Many shared my anger with Metamuville's serial pet murderer, one reader suggesting that I post my own cardboard sign: "Pets beware. Stupid owners not on leash."

And then there was the survey about which topics I should write more about. The usual suspects were there: Percy, parents, football, relationships. I think my favorite suggestion, though, was "More Dorkass stories," which curiously enough came from Dorkass's IP address. Anyway, I'd like to thank everyone else who took the time to fill that out.

• • •

Contest! Sunday I baked kolachi, a delicious pasty my Polish grandmother used to bake every holiday. (That's a sweet, cinnamony pecan filling wrapped in a sweet dough. It's great with coffee.) I'll ship a loaf to the reader with the best (meaning worst) first-date or breakup story.

spokavegas wrapup

Let the record show that Sue made it to Day Three before beginning a conversation with "Do you know what your problem is?" She was right about the problem, for once, too. I am too comfortable for my own good. I told her I'd redouble my efforts at manufacturing conflicts and crises.

• • •

It's time to hand out the award for most Spokesque moment. I slipped on ice and fell on my ass while still in my car. I heard J. Geils Band's "Centerfold." I heard "The Boys Are Back in Town." And I heard "Rock Me Like a Hurricane" twice. I heard a redneck call a Latino boy a "colored kid," which is wrong at just so many levels that it somehow became funny. I ate tacos at a (cough) Mexican restaurant called Señor Froggy's. I stayed in the only Japanese neighborhood on Earth with no wireless Internet connections. Moments, all. But for my money, when the DJ said he was going to play a gospel song and then rolled out "Jesus is Just Alright With Me," well, that just crystallizes Spokane.

• • •

This will be of interest to, at most, three people, and probably not even them. At left is my first classroom ever, humble Patterson 265. I couldn't resist standing behind the lectern once more. It's also where I met several friends who haven't yet succeeded in eluding me (including readers Katrina, Lynn and Mariko), several more friends who succeeded nicely, and two exes. The room fairly vibrates with history.

Patterson Hall 265

tom cruise, it's over

Today at the store I caught a glimpse of War of the Worlds on a nearby TV. I initially mistook Cruise for Adam Sandler.

Also an infantile delight:

Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey Newlyweds

frozen booger wonderland

Most people outside the Northwest (plus an alarming percentage of Seattle residents) don't realize that Washington is largely desert. The pine trees, snow-capped mountains and waters featured on postcards actually comprise just the western quarter of the state, and the rest is arid. I know it surpised the heck out of me. As I drove from Sea-Tac to my future home in Spokane that first time, I oohed and ahhed my way through the spectacular Cascade mountains and the Columbia River Gorge. And then two hours of ever-mounting horror ensued. Everything turned brown, barren, flat. I hit tumbleweeds. Coyotes prowled the interstate. "I. Have made. An enormous mistake," I thought.

Spokane wasn't as bad as all that, but it's still quite dissimilar from Seattle. Spokane gets seasons. Tons of snow. Scorching hot summers. The bitterest, most penetrating cold I've ever lived in. Until I arrived in Spokavegas Wednesday, I'd forgotten just how cold cold is. The shock absorbers in your car perform their designated task exactly as well as frozen turkey drumsticks would. Merely inhaling is like swallowing shards of broken glass. There be frozen boogers here. When you stick your hand out to grab the newspaper in the morning, you feel your skin tighten in that split second. Then the newspaper radiates icey cold as you read it. On the up side, Ed pees in 2.3 seconds here.

understatement of the year

"I am not afraid of execution," Saddam says.

Yeah. We know.

the romans had it right the first time

For lack of an alternative, yesterday I listened to talk radio, and I was horrified by what I learned: Christians are under a "relentless, genocidal assault" from the left. Oh, and the Democrats are funded "exclusively by leftist Hollywood kooks intent on destroying Christianity." Pass it on.

And count me in.

As for the raging "happy holidays" furor, to me it's all good. The terrorists have officially lost; we're back to getting our panties twisted up over the silliest, most pointless stuff imaginable.

the damp cardboard of metamuville

Not satisfied with holding forth and bossing about in person, the ROWFs (Rich Old White Farts) of Metamuville have taken to posting homemade signs by the side of the road. "PICK UP YOUR DOG DOO!" says a piece of cardboard nailed to a telephone pole. "NO WAL-MART!" says another, as if Wal-Mart is in the habit of building in communities of 300. "SLOW! BABY DEER!" hand-drawn letters on cardboard implore. "SLOW! TWO PETS KILLED!" says the latest cardboard directive.

Let's consider the last. Their pet is wandering the road and is struck by a car. And then apparently their other pet is wandering the road and is struck by a car. Is the speed of the cars really the salient issue, here?

sleep in heavenly peace

Many people romanticize the dead. Misdeeds are forgotten like credit card debt, and even the most hateful people are beatified. Like so many social niceties, this ability eludes me. Bitch in life, bitch in death, I say.

Which brings us to Mom.

In all fairness, my mom had a brutally hard life, and not coincidentally she wasn't much of a mother or human being. She was an orphan at 9, raised by cousins. She married my abusive dad and bore five children, three of whom estranged themselves from her. By age 8, I was taking photos of her battered face, as evidence. I thought this was normal. An impoverished single mother at 45, and with only a degree in home economics (!) to fall back on, she wiped butts for a living until she finally contracted cancer and checked herself into the hospital where she worked. Cancer, remission, cancer again. One morning, she was driving herself to her radiation treatment when a guy turned right on red in front of her vehicle, clipping her and sending her car careening off a 50-foot high bridge on to a rock embankment below. The impact pulverized several of her vertebrae—in between breakfast and lunch, her height went from 5'5" to 5'2". In addition to the aforementioned poverty and several flavors of cancer, now she battled paralysis and acute claustrophobia until her merciful death at 52.

Right. In her shoes, not many among us would be a great parent. You have to have your own house in order before you can help build someone else's. For that reason, I give her a pass. Although I can't pretend she was kind, I can understand why she wasn't.

But.

Like many mothers, mine nailed herself to a cross every Christmas. There was screaming. Bawling. Jealousy. Guilt trips. If we kids so much as spent Christmas Eve with Dad, cue the histrionics. One year, my brother and I spent Christmas Eve and morning with her, intending to head up to Dad's Christmas night. I knew I was getting a bike, and I had every intention of collecting. The theatrics were otherworldly. We were "hateful" for going. My brother, putting himself through school, spent a week's salary on a new phone for Mom. She opened it and snorted, visibly disgusted. "I wanted almond." We stared at her. "This is beige." I, meanwhile, had spent vast sums of grasscutting monies on a butcher block. Mom's knives rolled around freely in the utensil drawer, you see, and her doctor had warned that in her condition, any cut could be fatal. "What a waste of money," she snapped. "I already have knives." And on and on. While my brother and I played cards in the living room, thanklessly running out the clock until we left for Dad's, my mom bawled in her bedroom, at one point opening the door so that we could hear her better.

The next year, she slid into a coma on Christmas Eve. The Wailing Christmas would effectively be her last, the indelible yuletide memory of herself she implanted in her kid's memory. I've thought of her pathos every Christmas since.

The lesson has been lasting. I have an allergic aversion to my mother's sort of theatrics. Since I don't know when my own time is up, I try to treat every holiday and milestone as my last. Not for me. Not even for my loved ones. For my legacy. Who wants to be remembered every Christmas hence as a miserable, self-pitying, jealous person who's better off dead?

Merry Christmas, Mom. You always did find the perfect gift.

off-leash areas

For posterity:

Unattended children will be given an espresso and a free puppy

my testimony

I believe for every drop of rain that falls, a flower grows.

I believe that somewhere in the darkest night, a candle glows.

I believe for everyone who goes astray, someone will come to show the way.

I believe, I believe!

parents is crazy

Teaching at the college level is not nearly as satisfying or important as teaching kids. I'm fine with that. It's still a billion times more satisfying and important than explaining to yet another Microsoft "editor" why beginning a sentence with the word because is no different from beginning it with any other subordinating conjunction. (And then explaining it again using smaller words. Fruitlessly. And then going home and explaining it to Ed. Who gets it the first time.) Once a year, I replenish my soul in the classroom. Once a year is fine. It gives me the feeling of professional substance I crave.

The students with whom I stay in touch are the cream of the crop. By definition, my students are upperclassmen at a liberal arts school. Educated, bright, driven, well-read, well-rounded sorts. And from this pool, I cherry-pick the few I want to help out. And you know what? Despite all the filtering, they invariably disappoint me. Yesterday I found myself trying to cajole a fellow into bathing before his interview. And maybe not toking up during the drive there.

Now, I'm not saying that I didn't disappoint a few people when I was their age. Or beyond. Or now. This isn't about them; it's about me. I don't think I'm cut out for investments of the human kind. Whatever the altruistic stuff is that allows teachers to encourage and believe even after students have been flunked/fired/arrested/knocked up, I don't have it. Being disappointed by someone in whom I've invested is devastating. It feels almost like a betrayal of sorts. It wipes me out. And like I said, I get to cherry-pick students. I can't even imagine what it must be like for the blind trust that is parenthood. Any given kid must disappoint twelve times daily. Hats off to parents. You're made of sterner stuff than I. Do y'all just get jaded to it?



"What the Fucking Fuck?" awards 

  minette

From her travelogue.

He dove low and gave it a rub, and then looked at me. He made the international sign for "Want to rub it?" and I made the sign for "yes" and down I went. It was lovely, lovely, lovely.

I think it's about scuba diving.

justifiable homicide

I ventured into the outside world today, always a mistake. Christmas songs are out in force. Far from making my yuletide spirit bright or my año prospero, most only inspire me to insert gun into mouth—and not necessarily my own.

Any attempt to discuss the worst, then, requires that we narrow terms. For the sake of argument, I'm giving passes to the traditional Christmas carols of my youth. Why pick on "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" when Regis has two Christmas albums? But even he doesn't make bar. A truly awful Christmas song must meet the same critical test that slander must meet: above all, it must be heard. This leaves the most dreadful species of all: the insipid Christmas rock song. These are the songs guaranteed to ruin my day.

Jingle Bell Rock. (Any version) What started it all. The "muzak Kenny G." of Christmas songs—did "Jingle Bells" really need to be made even less interesting? As tempted as I am to include a picture of a miniskirted Lindsay Lohan singing this song, just to annoy Carla, I'm moving on.

Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time (Paul McCartney) Why, God? Why? Why, when this song already existed, was John Lennon the one gunned down?

The party's on
The feelings here
It's all because
This time of year
Simply having a wonderful Christmas time
Simply having a wonderful Christmas time
Don't cry poor children, sing this song
Ding, dong, ding, dong,
Ding, dong, ding.

Don't you feel better now, poor children?

Step into Christmas (Elton John) Miraculous in that it means even less than McCartney's song. Conceived as a quick cash-grab when Elton was hot in 1973, we've been stuck with this acoustic excrement ever since. I heard it twice today. Everybody now:


Step into Christmas
Let's join together
We can watch the snow fall forever and ever
Eat, drink and be merry
Come along with me
Step into Christmas
The admission's free

Do They Know It's Christmas? (Bob Geldof and Band-Aid) Written as a fund-raiser to relieve famine in Ethiopia, a predominantly Islamic nation. So no. No, they don't know it's Christmastime. At all.

P.S. They're called "books," and they don't hurt. At all.

annoying hit of the day

Actual google search that somehow found my page:

Kari Byron has a ring! Engaged? Married?
As an aside, who do these twits think the punctuation is for?

the cry list

Saintly Steelers owner Art Rooney had just died, and I was watching Frank Deford's benediction on TV. Maddie walked into our living room and stared at me.

"What. The. Fuck."

"Hmm?"

"You're crying."

"I am?" I wiped a tear or two from my cheek. "Oh. It's been known to happen, you know."

"Amongst warm-blooded animals, yeah."

"Get off my back. I'm watching this."

Pacing so as to gather momentum, she waited for Deford to wrap it up. Then she let me have it. "I was there when your relationship with Celeste fell apart. Absolutely no tears. When you told your family to take a flying leap? No tears. When you got fired? No tears. All the rough times we've had? Bupkis. When you broke your leg and severed your pinky? Nothing. Did you even cry when you took your mother off life support? Or when she died?"

"No. That was a good day."

"But when the old fart owner of the Pittsburgh fuckin' Steelers dies, look out, here come the water-works?!?"

"But he was a great—"

"AAAAAAUUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!
AUGH! AUGH! AUGH! I am so not in love with this man!"

• • •

Since that afternoon, my every conversation about crying has been a variation on that theme, so I tend to avoid them. It's not that I don't cry easily. It's actually frightfully easy—I could be crying in five minutes, if I wanted to be. All I'd have to do is pop in the Walter Payton edition of "SportsCentury" and watch the last twenty minutes, where poor Walter is dying and having to defend himself from vicious tabloid rumors. Or watch Magic Johnson's devastating 1991 press conference. Rips me up every time. And nothing triggers a response as reliably as anything to do with Ohio State's 2003 championship game. It was emotionally exhausting. I was there. I cried there. So did everyone else. And when I see the footage, I'm transported back to that feeling. Hell, I even teared up when the now-seniors left the field for the last time three weeks ago.

It's odd that sports figure so prominently in my Cry List. Even I know that's rubbish. It's not exclusively a sports-related list, though. Pretty much anything about the WW2 generation also gets to me. A sure tear-jerker: a videotaped interview with an elderly Frenchwoman who's describing Nazi occupation. She was under the porch, terrified and hiding from Nazi troops, when American GIs appeared. Her account gets me every time. If I read the part of my will that addresses what should be done with Ed in the event of my death, cue the tear ducts. And if I pick at Cheney scabs, that's guaranteed to do it. Which brings us to what inspired this discussion: me-sa going home. Commence scab-picking! Any trip to Spokane requires a full week of emotional bracing and is followed by a full week of emotional detox. I wonder if it would make Maddie love me more or less to know that a girl can, in fact, make me shed tears. Just not her.

harry potter and the prisoner from metamuville

"You know what I miss?" a character asks halfway through the new Potter film.

"Alfonso Cuarón?" I said to the screen.

Ah, there's that old familiar feeling. Waiting for this movie to end was like watching cheap paint dry on a rainy day. This film is a miraculous bore. It's miraculous in that it contains 20 minutes of activity, 2 hours 10 minutes of interminable, pointless conversation about that 20 minutes of activity, and exactly one plot point, yet they reportedly gutted the book. Given little recourse, I entertained myself by wondering what on earth they cut. Hermione finding the perfect shoes? Ron concealing zits? Dumbledore reading from the phone book? When I had wrung all possible interest out of that activity, I checked my cell phone to see if it has any games on it. It doesn't. Then I started thinking about what the final scene of Casablanca would be like if it occurred in the Potter universe.

"Louis, difficult times lie ahead."

Of what consequence is anything in this movie? Spoilers are impossible. There's a dance. Nothing happens. There's a competition we've never heard of, one with dire consequences. Nothing happens. There's a maze in which horrible things are said to happen to people. Something finally happens: shrubs move. Voldemort appears. Nothing happens. People are constantly promising that "dark times lie ahead." They must be talking about some future movie.

The first event in the competition: dragon slaying without the slaying. They talk about it for a good 30 minutes beforehand. And then Harry enters the arena. (Who'd have thought he, of all people, would enter? Everyone over 2. Yet they treat his surprise entry as a "Rosebud, I am your father" moment.) Now that it's finally showtime, they inform us that oh yeah, by the way, while Harry and Hermoine were hugging, the other contestants fought their dragons off-camera. Sorry! Harry does his thing. And then we talk about it for another 10 minutes.

The wonder.

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