December 2007 Archives

reader survey: next

I'm having an acute attack of honesty. Internally, anyway. The time has come for me to abandon the writing project that's I've deemed "next" for the last, oh, five years. I need a new next. This space seems as fertile a breeding ground for ideas as any, so I put it to you: which of the topics or themes posted here do you think merit bloviation into a larger, if not actually better, piece of writing?

While we're at it, I added an unrelated bonus survey.

white man's overbite

I've always dismissed the chatter that Obama is somehow not "authentically" black. I stand corrected.

gall.wife.ap.jpg

good santa

From the other end of the spectrum comes Sarah's graphite drawing of Ed. Someday I hope to be able to look at it without getting all weepy and disgusting.

ed drawing 009.jpg

That's a 2x3 parchment. Sick talented, isn't she?

bad santa

For me, Christmas is, like Mother's Day and Hanukkah, mostly a holiday celebrated by other people. I don't particularly belong anywhere. If I have a girlfriend, I spend it with her. Failing that, I'd rather be alone. Sure, I could fly home and spend it fending off the various viscousnesses hurled by my family. Next. I could spend it with any number of friends. Their invitations are warmly welcome, and it's lovely to be remembered. But I also know going would just make me feel tacked on to someone else's holiday. Nah.

That isn't to say that I don't participate. I enjoy baking kolachi, as well as buying and receiving gifts. Allie tells me I'm impossible to buy for. "Anything you want, you already have," she grumbles disapprovingly, sometimes wondering aloud why other people are off the hook when it comes to exchanging gifts with me. Yet she always comes through with gifts I never knew I wanted. This person knows me and cares enough to wrack her modest brain until she imagines up something that will delight me. The most touching gift of all, that.

The opposite of touching? Getting crap. Token gifts. When one friend started dating a guy who had a small child, I gave her an elaborately equipped picnic basket, the idea being, of course, either romantic or family excursions. And what did she give me? A Rubik's Cube. My interest in Rubik's Cubes waned around 1985, although I admit to a more recent fascination: what on earth made her look at this in a dollar store and think of me? I gotta say...I'm still interested.

The all-time such statement was made by the Approval Whore. It was at Christmas, in fact, when I decided the relationship was over. For months I'd heard my girlfriend obsess over getting just the perfect gifts for her mother and new friend. I'd listened. I'd advised. I'd helped. And when Christmas Day came around, she conferred on me a bunch of crap she's scooped up the day before at Tuesday Morning, a local thrift store. I remember bath towels that felt like burlap. And an ugly wooden ship that she'd hastily repaired. The contrast with her intense planning for others was striking. None of these monuments to how little she cared about me survived to see the new year. She did not notice.

Better to get a card than such a monument, don't you think?

paying it forward

Allie's toddler, Lily, was seated next to me the other night, showing me her vast collection of stickers. On one of the stickers was a brown cow.

"Lily, do you know where milk comes from?" I asked.

The look on her face was familiar to me. A plastic jug, you effin' moron. But then she brightened. "A COW!" She pointed to the cow.

"That's right. And do you know where chocolate milk comes from?"

She clearly had never considered this, so I went on.

"Brown cows."

She nodded. That made plenty sense.

"Don't listen to a thing he says, Lily!" her mother injected. "Just because he believed this until he was 10..."

This is true. This, dear reader, is what having much older siblings is like. Chocolate milk comes from brown cows. Ellomenopee is the 17th letter of the alphabet. "Poles" are so called because we descended from tadpoles, not apes. Nazi Germany was ruled with an iron fist by the Burgermeister Meisterburger. And so on.

I was a disaster at school. Yet I can't resist re-perpetrating such disinformation on poor Lily. I like to think of myself as more evolved than my siblings, but sometimes I wonder.

Oh, and skim milk? Comes from skinny cows.

desecration

Every Christmas, I bake loaves of kolachi for a few folks. Kolachi is a Polish pastry; the recipe is my immigrant grandmother's. You slice its loaves into one-inch slices, each of which is a spiral of dough, pecans, sugar, butter, and cinnamon. I tell you this so that you can be properly horrified by the following.

Sarah told me last night that she likes her kolachi best when covered by a fried egg, its runny yoke oozing into the pecans, cinnamon, etc. Positively vomitous. And I thought Sue was weird for putting hers in a toaster.

Grandma is spinning like a lathe.

election 2008: the stank town hall

I considered sending the major Presidential candidates a debate invitation, then publishing their responses here. That's where the plan completely disintegrates, of course: getting responses. It occurs to me, though, that at this late stage of the primary game, we already know the responses by heart.

Stank: Sen. Obama, how will you meet your campaign promises and both fund social programs and balance the budget?

Obama: A good question, one weighing heavily on my mind since back when I opposed the war in Iraq from Day One.

Stank: Is that it?

Obama: Day. One.

Stank: Sen. Biden, this is what you called "clean and articulate?"

Biden: I'm just going to stop talking to media altogether.

Stank: Good call. Sen. Clinton, how come you dropped your maiden name when you started running for office? Is that like when Joe Theisman changed the pronunciation of his name to rhyme with "Heisman?"

McCain: Are you ever going to ask a Republican a question? I haven't been treated this bad since I was a prisoner in Hanoi. Maybe you'd better write that down. That's "H-a-n-o-i."

Clinton: As for my maiden name, I experienced that experience. Which reminds me, it's time for the nation to experience the experienced.

Stank: Jesus H. Christ.

Huckabee, Romney: Yes?

Stank: False alarm. I was just swearing.

Huckabee, Romney: Despite our mutual, lifelong affinity for oppressive zealots, we suddenly and publicly support your right to do so.

Stank: Really.

Huckabee, Romney: No, not really.

Stank: Mr. Guiliani, how do you respond to charges that you're a cutthroat, vindictive assh—what are you writing there? Why are you adding me to a list of names? I'm right under Dan Fogelberg?!

Guiliani: Please. Continue with your question. Oh, and 9/11.

Stank: Um. Mr. Kucinich, have you seen the aliens lately?

Kucinich: We did lunch just yesterday.

Stank: Finally, an honest politician.

nurture v. nature

There is a demographic in Seattle, I note, that does reliably make eye contact with strangers: little kids. Really little kids. Sometimes they stare until they get your attention, and if spoken to, they usually beam. At what point do locals lose this delightful capacity? 4? 5?

You know you're from Seattle when toddlers make you look like a self-centered asshole.

waiting for the extra-special edition

The original Star Wars (albeit the Special Edition) has been running in high def on HBO this month. I watched it. I cringe at all the added CGI clutter, and I wince at Greedo shooting first. These are not new sentiments. I do, however, wonder why, if you're going to "fix" a movie, you don't fix these things that I first noticed as a kid:

  1. In Leia's ship at the beginning of the movie, we hear the ominous sound of metal clamps latching on to the ship. Immediately cut to outside, where the clamps are nowhere near the ship yet.
  2. When Luke and Leia are running from stormtroopers, you plainly see squibs on a door, right before they explode. I know it's not as cool as adding dinosaurs, but this would have taken two seconds to fix.
  3. When at the end of the movie Vader and two wingmen fly out of the Death Star, they bank with uncanny synchronization....almost as if they're mounted on the same stick.
  4. English characters on the gauges Obi-Wan tampers with? Really?
  5. When Luke heroically returns and Leia runs up to greet him, he excitedly yells "Carrie!"
  6. Speaking of whom, Lucas left the worst special-effect of all: Carrie Fisher trying to give R2-D2 a warmly glowing smile in the final scene. Scared me as a kid. Scared me more as an adult.

• • •

I went looking for a photo of Carrie Fisher's terrifying smile and instead found this page from a children's coloring book. I offer no further comment.

  1. Books seem less heavy if you lower your arms below the surface in the hot tub.
  2. If you're on page 12 and you grab 45 pages and turn them all at once, you avoid a bunch of really boring crap.
  3. For someone who doesn't mean offense, Bettis sure says "No offense to so-and-so" a lot.
  4. Bettis set a Super Bowl record for bear hugs given and received.
  5. Books seem even less heavy if you lower them into the water altogether.

long way down

longwaydown.JPG

I was excited when I heard that the Long Way Round formula was being taken to Africa. Two friends, two motorcycles, 18,000 miles. Surely, after Africa, no part of the world could compare. And I maintain that'd be true if the filmmakers hadn't sabotaged Long Way Down with bizarre, self-indulgent choices. I was quite disappointed.

I don't want to see the directors. I don't care about their story, their homesickness, their trucks, their visas. I don't care about Ewan McGregor's glory-hounding wife, and every moment I was watching her learn to ride a motorcycle (or play in the surf in the McGregor Family Vacation Video I unwittingly purchased), I was excruciatingly aware that this was less time I was seeing Africa. I did, however, very much enjoy the montage of her wiping out. I'd buy a DVD of just that.

Every bit as bad was the pacing of the trip, although at least McGregor exhibited some self-awareness in this regard. In order to make deadlines, they seldom left the freeways in Libya and Egypt, and the footage they shot bears a striking resemblance to any Football Weekend road footage I've ever shot: road, road, road. They met no people, tasted no food, heard no music, and could have just as easily been, for our viewing purposes, in Yuma. Watching people ride motorcycles in a straight line for 3000 miles is not all that compelling, it turns out. They went to these countries yet managed to miss them altogether.

The middle three episodes are blissfully wifeless and slow down to point where the boys get off their motorcycles and interact with the locals. These episodes are worthy. Ethiopia was stunning, lush, gorgeous. And Rwanda and Botswana were eye-popping, I-have-to-go-there revelations.

The two highlights for me: the boys stopped at the equator, where there was an obligatory sign. They cut a hole in the bottom of a bowl of water and floated a toothpick in the bowl. 20 yards north of the sign, the toothpick spun counter-clockwise. 20 yards south, clockwise. I had no idea this effect was that precise.

Meanwhile, in Tunisia, they stopped by a set from the original Star Wars—the exterior of Luke's home. The place was crawling with fans, not one of whom noticed McGregor posing next to a poster of himself. In a miniseries about wasted opportunity and not experiencing where you are, this was apt indeed.

Long Way Down will air in the U.S. in July, 2008.

reshuffling the enemies list

In the sixth grade, my grades plummeted. Never before had I brought home Cs, Ds and Fs, and never would I again. Mom was livid with me. I told her it wasn't my fault. This teacher hated me; she was unbelievably unkind. Mom, a grizzled veteran of four children before me, wasn't buying what I was selling. "Get your act together," she cautioned. "Now."

Then mom went to Parent/Teacher Conference night and met Mrs. Meague (Pronounced meh-GUE) for herself. She came home, sat on the edge of my bed, and swallowed hard. "I apologize. She does hate you. Just get out of the sixth grade."

Mrs. Meague couldn't have been older than 25. Framed by fake red hair feathered in the "Farrah" fashion of the day, her face sometimes made me recoil. I say this not to be unkind but to explain, as best I can, the probable source of her contempt for children. Her deep-set, sullen blue eyes were too far apart and perpetually half-closed, and I've seen healthier-looking noses and mouths on prize-fighters. The net effect was a contorted, sometimes stomach-turning ugliness. The ugliness was heightened by the fact that Mrs. Meague never, ever smiled. Not unless a kid fell down a flight of stairs or something.

I'd say that she was old-school or new-school, but the fact is I've never met anyone like her, before or since. Some teachers are product-oriented. Some are process-oriented. Mrs. Meague was punishment-oriented. On the wall was a demerit chart. On the chart we were all listed, and you could see how many demerits your classmates had accrued. Not doing your homework? A demerit. Talking in class? A demerit. Failing a quiz? A demerit. A rumor that you threw a snowball? A demerit. Taking too long to get back from the bathroom? You'd better believe that's a demerit. If you got five demerits, you had to serve detention. Ten meant you were suspended. I did a lot of time.

Mrs. Meague also gave us the good side of the room and the bad side of the room. If in her estimation you had failed or misbehaved, you were made, in front of your peers, to move your desk to the bad side of the room. I only made it to the good side so that she could order me back.

I was as good a kid as I'd always been, but somehow I was always the butt of her jokes. Personal hygiene and my limited wardrobe weren't uncommon themes. At the year-end sixth grade assembly, awards were handed out. We had the Good Sport award, the Class Brain award, the Hardest Worker award. Me? I got the Nobody's Perfect award.

CUT TO: INTERIOR—JOHN'S LIVING ROOM
TODAY

I've been in a pissy mood lately. When I get angry, I run down my Enemies List, see what its members are up to, and generally look for ways of tossing grenades into their lives. Right in the middle of the list is Mrs. Meague. She wasn't hard to find on the web. Neither was her son.

I found a court document in which none of the following was contested: he got in trouble at school for fighting with several other students. When called to the principal's office, he threatened the principal and called him a "faggot," among other things. The secretary called the police, and when the female officer arrived, the kid swore at her and stomped on her feet. He was arrested on multiple charges. For this, Baby Meague was suspended a mere 10 days. I know this because his mother sued the school district to get the suspension overturned.

Allow me to recap. Me: no swearing, no epithets, no fights, no threats, no assaulting an officer of the law. Yet detentions and suspensions abounded.

Congratulations, Mrs. Meague. All these years after I last swallowed my own vomit when looking at your face, you shot to the top of the list.

marital arts

Not willing to wait for the Long Way Round sequel to air next fall, I ordered the DVD from England. More on that later.

The following incidents occurred within a half hour last night.

In Long Way Down, Ewan McGregor greets two office workers he hasn't seen in three years with a cheery "Are you married yet?" Irritating.

Then McGregor's wife declares that she, who's never even ridden a motorcycle before, wants to come along and ride off-road with the boys through Africa. Apparently she didn't get enough camera time in the last series. I don't know. What I do know is that this completely disrupts the dynamic of the show. Everyone's uncomfortable, clearly not wanting to tell McGregor what I was yelling at the screen about his wife. Beyond irritating.

Then I called Miss Sue to ask if she wants a half-loaf or full loaf of Christmas kolachi this year. She chose a half-loaf, then in the same breath asked if I'm getting married anytime soon.

Sigh.

Cringe.

"No. Things—"

"Goddammit, John. What is your problem?"

I looked at the phone. "Sue, do you realize we're only 42 seconds into this call?"

"Yeah. Well. What are we going to do with you?"

earthquake!

The second story Eve reminded me about also took place 10 years ago.

A bunch of us gathered at her house every Thursday night for "Simpsons night." I'm not proud, but that's the fact of it. Simpsons and Seinfeld. On this particular Thursday night, around 8:15pm, her living room floor went all wobbly for a moment. Before anyone could even move, the earthquake stopped. No buildings fell in Seattle that night. No injuries occurred. It was over before it began. Except on TV.

The local TV news crews went crazy, pre-empting the entire night of TV. We heard a breathless report from a woman in Moses Lake, who said she was doing dishes...and the dishwater moved! In Kent, a breathless grocery clerk was stacking cans...when a few cans fell! Someone was videotaping a local band when the stage trembled...and the lead singer smiled nervously, not sure what had just happened! In Kirkland, a woman reported that her chandelier had clinked...and dust fell! And a local reporter stood beneath the Space Needle, where nothing actually happened...but might have! I am not making these five stories up. I don't need to. I memorized them, because the local NBC affiliate showed them some 20 times each. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. A few of us piled into my Jeep and drove downtown to the TV studio.

I pounded on the door. No one answered. We all started pounding on the studio windows. A guy started buzzing Wagner's "Flight of the Valkyrie" on the intercom. All we lacked were pitchforks and torches. Finally, the station manager poked her head out.

"FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP RUNNING THAT STUPID CRAP!" I pleaded.

"What ever happened to Must See TV?" someone else asked.

"It's a big news story," she replied meekly, obviously nervous.

We blew. "AAAUUUUUUGHGGGGHHHH! AUGH! AUGH! AUGH!"

They reran Seinfeld in its entirety. I was very proud.

on frozen okra

I'd like to apologize unreservedly to my Southern readers for my having offended their delicate sensibilities by mentioning that I have in my possession frozen okra. A thousand pardons. Y'all do realize that fresh okra isn't exactly commonplace in Seattle in December, right?

And because y'all didn't ask, my shoulder is feeling better. Thanks.

finally, a use for okra

Here's my week: moaning pitiably on my couch, depleting the DVR, with a bag of frozen okra on my acromioclavicular joint. Stupid gravity.

bounty, part two

Continued from Friday's post

Turns out that you don't find out about a price on your head from faded posters nailed to sides of buildings. You find out from near-strangers. "Did you know that some guy is offering 30 grand to kill you?" It's quite the conversation-starter. Of course, that level of publicity pretty much guarantees it's bullshit, but still. When your execution for hire keeps coming up in casual conversation, it does get your attention.

I called an old friend and told him what was going on. The friend's not a criminal, but he certainly knows his share. "If anything happens to me..."

"It's taken care of. Don't worry."

"OK. Here's a map to his house."

Eve, meanwhile, was deliriously happy with the new guy. I was appalled at our relative lots in life. "How come he gets laid and I get the death threats?"

Jim soon quit his programming job and made a complete career change to being a writer in my division. He started dating my second-best friend, the person in whom I'd confided much about about him, Eve, and death threats. I was seriously angry. Within five minutes of her telling me she was dating him, I was dropping her off at her condo. She was frantic. "What! You mean this is it? Forever?"

"Yes."

"You can't control me, John. You try to control me, but I have to learn things for myself!"

"OK. Get out and go learn things."

And then, desperate, she played what she thought was her ace in the hole. She invited me to come inside and sleep with her.

Just how many levels of creepy can one come-on have? As I drove off, I stopped counting at five. Sometimes you just have to stop counting, go home and delouse yourself.

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