An Award-Winning Disclaimer

A charming little Magpie whispered this disclaimer into my ear, and I'm happy to regurgitate it into your sweet little mouth:

"Disclaimer: This blog is not responsible for those of you who start to laugh and piss your pants a little. Although this blogger understands the role he has played (in that, if you had not been laughing you may not have pissed yourself), he assumes no liability for damages caused and will not pay your dry cleaning bill.

These views represent the thoughts and opinions of a blogger clearly superior to yourself in every way. If you're in any way offended by any of the content on this blog, it is clearly not the blog for you. Kindly exit the page by clicking on the small 'x' you see at the top right of the screen, and go fuck yourself."

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


When I was an undergraduate in college, I wrote and published a book in an attempt to garner public support for law enforcement. My main goal was to bring awareness to the fact that a police officer dies in the line of duty in America every 52 hours, and that there have been approximately 16,000 police officers who have fallen or have been felled since the whole American shabang began. I also wanted to promote a positive image of law enforcement in America, and to stand with young, broken widows and widowers, and fatherless or motherless children.

Of course, when you try to do this, you make some friends, mostly the uniformed kind. You also make a lot of enemies.

Before and after my book was published, I was (and am) a frequent editorial contributor to our two main Philly papers. I always request that my email address be printed along with the letter, because I like to hear what people have to say, whether it's positive or negative. In 2003, I wrote a long column in the Cincinnati Enquirer following a controversial arrest and I received such a tremendous outpouring of support from law enforcement officers all over the country, and I was quite moved.

It doesn't always go like that, though.

Rabid fans of local cop-killer and media darling Mumia Abu-Jamal have threatened to burn my house (and neighborhood, for that matter) down. I've had my life threatened numerous times and, at a Barnes & Noble book signing in a quaint little suburb, I was assigned uniformed and plainclothes police protection after a threat was called in to the store. After I get something in print, I always expect at least one nutjob to stand up and say "hello!"

I haven't written an editorial since July 27th, and so the email that popped up in my inbox this morning was surprising. Sometimes, unemployed people with chips on their shoulders spend their weary days trolling through the depths of the internet and find old articles of mine, and then, out of the blue, I get hate mail. It's like Christmas in October! Here's what this one said,

"FOAD you cop loving fascist goof. Oh yeah, you are also butt fuck ugly."

This is a typically eloquent example of the sort of emails that I receive from folks who disagree with my views on certain issues, mostly surrounding law enforcement, as you can tell from the choice adjective, "cop loving." Or is "cop loving" a verb? I guess, when used in the aforementioned manner, it's more a descriptor. Anyway, this email will go down in my own personal history as the first piece of hatemail in which I actually had to look something up to understand it. God bless the Urban Dictionary.

fuck off and die!
I wish rns would just F.O.A.D"

Nice. Apparently, I can order a mug from Urban Dictionary emblazoned with the definition of "F.O.A.D." And I might just do that, too.

After looking up F.O.A.D. I then, of course, had to look up what "rns" means. Don't you hate it when a word inside a definition requires a definition?

Turns out that RNS is an acronym, too, (and it would be really helpful, people, if, when utilizing an acronym, you put periods in between the letters to identify it as such) which could stand for any number of things, including but not limited to:

Regulatory News Service

Royal Numismatic Society

Radar Netting Station

Respiratory Nursing Society

Ruth Newman Shapiro Regional Cancer Center


Really Neat Stuff, Inc.

I doubt any of these acronyms are the one meant in the Urban Dictionary definition. It's hard to picture someone seriously saying, "I wish the Ruth Newman Shapiro Regional Cancer Center would fuck off and die."

After thinking about what I should do, I went to the website where the email supposedly originated, and I found a different email address for customer service. To my shock and chagrin, I found that the website where this email address came from is Canadian! Do you believe it? And Michael Moore tried to convince us all that they were the model society! I sent the following email, with the offending email pasted below it:


I received an unsolicited, unsigned email this morning from (not the real email address, people) in which I was told to "fuck off and die," via the acronym "FOAD." I have pasted the email below for your perusal.

I have also forwarded a copy of the email to my attorney and I hope that you will conduct an investigation to determine the perpetrator who, I hope, will be dealt with appropriately.

Thank you,
My Real Name"

Don't I sound like I knew what "FOAD" meant all along? And don't I sound all scary with the mention of "my attorney?" Of course, we all know that I'm far too poor to have an attorney, but it sure sounds good. Imagine-- sending that from a business account. How stupid do people have to be?

Of course, he's at least smart enough to know what FOAD means. I thought he had just misspelled "TOAD."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cell-Phone Ditty

O, I do sincerely hate the AT&T store,
A visit there always makes my asshole sore.

They rob you and rape you and, o! how they hate you,
For interrupting their coffee-break, at eleven-o-two.

They hit you with charges and extras and fees,
They'll stomp on your balls while you're down on your knees.

And they know that they've got you for two more long years,
As they shove bluetooth headsets and such in our ears.

I tried to avoid them by shopping on E-bay,
For a refurbished Treo, way back in the day.

But it liked to shut off and take frequent naps,
I thought it would pass, just a phase now, perhaps?

But, no, the phone showed it had a mind of its own,
And it died a few deaths in a constant dead zone.

So I'm back to the store with tail between legs,
While for a small bit of lube my raw asshole begs.

And while I've got a sleek, cool new friend on my belt,
My dignity and pride has sustained a nice welt.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Very Sticky End

Every city is known for notorious acts of crime, violence and degradation. Philadelphia, in case you didn't know or are from some other country, is no different. We've blown up mobsters on the front porches, we've blown up MOVE in their own home, we've executed policemen as they've lain on the sidewalk, helpless on their backs, we've killed each other in the streets for well over a hundred years.

Philadelphia may not have any real celebrities, except for our weathermen, but we do have our celebre villains. Now we can add the name James Davis to the notorious and blood-stained list.

James Davis was arrested on September 26th by officers from the PSCPA for wrapping a cat in duct-tape. Apparently, said feline was troubling Davis by wandering around on the lawn in front of his parent's house. Davis could have solved this particular urban problem simply by saying, "Shoo, cat!" But he didn't. Now, he's in jail awaiting trial. He faces the maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and two years in prison. Personally, I think he should be duct-taped, smeared from head-to-toe in Fancy Feast and be thrown inside the Philadelphia Zoo's tiger exhibit, but that's just me.

Obviously, James Davis lacks the coping skills that most of us possess, coping skills which enable us to identify and respond to problems or issues in a normal, unsociopathic way. I wonder what other kinds of fucked up shit this guy has done in the past, before he burst onto the local, dare I say national, scene? Can you imagine how he might deal with a pair of Mormon solicitors at his front door?

I'm glad the sonofabitch is caught, and that this cat (named "Sticky" by the apparently whimsical PSCPA folks) is going to be adopted by a non-nutcase and given a great shot at the good life, but, beyond that, I really can't bring myself to give too much of a shit about this case. It's a water-cooler story, for sure. Everybody in Philadelphia knows who Sticky is, and soon they'll all know who James Davis is: the man with the duct-tape. I accept the value of water-cooler stories-- they give people who might not ordinarly know what to talk about something legitimate to talk about.

"Hey, didja hear about Sticky?"

"Oh, man, I know. That's really fucked up."

Boom, you're in! That's office culture for you. If you can't talk about the Phillies, you can at least talk about Sticky.

The case highlights a couple of things in particular that mystify me about our society. First of all, we really do have a morbid fascination with people who do incredibly sick shit. Serial killers, rapists, duct-tapers, we're obsessed with knowing their motives and their rationales-- why did they do it? How could they do it? We long for the days when, after death, the brains of the criminal element would be removed and studied for any perceived abnormalities-- perhaps that little divot in the temporal region?-- because we know there has to be something in there that separates them from us. Right?

The woeful tale of Sticky the Cat also brilliantly illustrates how much more we culturally love animals than humans. The tipster who narced on James Davis is looking at a $2,000 reward from the Citizens' Crime Commission if Davis gets convicted, which seems like a pretty sure thing since he's already confessed. Over the weekend, Philadelphia Police Officer Samuel Rivera was trying to stop a reckless Lexus while on his bike, and the driver of the Lexus deliberately rammed Rivera, throwing him to the ground, and sped off into the night. The reward for information leading to this asshole's arrest? $1,000.

(The Lexus' license plate contains the letters "HBZ," if anybody gives a shit.)

I am also struck by the tremendous outpouring of affection for this cat Sticky. I suppose it has a lot to do with the picture they took of him, all wrapped up in his little duct-tape coccoon before sedating him and cutting it all off. That picture was splashed all over the city, all over the country, in fact. I wonder if people would have been so engaged in this story if there had been no picture, or only a picture taken after the tape had been removed. We're a have-to-see-it-to-believe it, and I think we're also a have-to-see-it-to-be-affected-by-it culture, and I wonder where that comes from. Maybe it comes from our inundation of media-- constantly being bombarded with images that are too nuts to fathom. When news was delivered solely in print or on radio, we had to take the writer's or the broadcaster's word for it. Now, we need the evidence up front, or we're not buying. Or adopting.

It's funny-- when I first saw the image of Sticky all wrapped up tightly in duct-tape like some kind of feline mummy, my first reaction wasn't a lump in my throat or a sympathetic tear or a longing to punish James Davis for his bizarre and cruel actions. My mind wandered back to being a 10-year-old camper at a creative arts day camp. I was in a barn with a friend of mine named Josh who was three years older than I. Like so many kids, Josh enjoyed relating jokes, and he had one for me that he whispered in my ear.

"Hey, I got a question for you. Why do you wrap a hamster in duct-tape?"

I looked at him.

"I don't know," I said, "why?"

"So it doesn't explode when you fuck it!"

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mea Culpa, My Bad

As I sit down to write, the sun is setting. Ordinarily, I don't give too much of a shit about this particular, ever day occurance. A couple of weeks ago, though, when my wife and I were vacationing in Maine, we went to the tippy-top of Cadillac Mountain and watched the sun set, and I gave much more of a shit about the sun setting than I had in quite some time.

Tonight, I give a shit about the setting sun because I know it's going to be the last time I'll eat a drop of food until it sets again in twenty-four hours.

Yes, it's Yom Kippur, and I ask your forgiveness.

I know I can be an insensitive, brash bastard and I have an incurably big mouth, and I have no doubt that, at one time or another I've said something in the inglorious archives of this blog, or the last one, that upset you. Maybe I even did it deliberately, because sometimes I can be a spiteful, snarky little bitchwhore. Maybe you were put off by my urging you to rally around the cry of "Keep fucking that chicken." I don't know. I know I pissed some random person off about my post about staying in love. Well, I ask your forgiveness for all the times I've set you off, or made you cry, or that time where you got so incensed at what I'd written that you kicked your poodle down the stairs.

My wife and I atoned for our personal wrongs tonight, and we kissed and we hugged, and that felt really good. I hate having to atone to my wife, because that means that I haven't been the perfect husband, but then, of course I'm not. And she's not the perfect wife. The crumpled tissues I find in between the sofa cushions tell that tale. She told me that, in the true spirit of Yom Kippur, you are not supposed to say, "I'm sorry," you are supposed merely to ask for forgiveness. It's not an easy thing to ask for, like a dime or a piece of Juicy Fruit, but it feels good and humbling and warm to do so. You should try it, at the risk of sounding like your rabbi. Or your mother.

Sometimes I think that my heart will fall apart if I think too much about all the rotten things that are littered through the past of my life, even the very recent past. There aren't so many misdeeds, just mostly bad words. My tongue is sharp and cruel when it has to be, and sometimes when it wants to be, and it has always been my primary means of defense. And offense.

Yom Kippur can be dangerous if you really let it get to you. Your mind can take you to all kinds of unpleasant places, if you let it. Not only will you start to get extremely sad by thinking about all the people whom you've wronged, upset and angered over the past year, but you'll also inevitably start amassing negative thoughts about all the deedledicks and whorebuckets who have hurt you, too. And then it starts getting all cyclical and negative and just plain bad. Yom Kippur, if well observed, though, can be like flushing the toilet after a violent, vitriolic shit. It's pretty fucking cleansing. It's Roto-Rooter for the Jewish Soul.

There a certain person out there to whom I should be asking forgiveness, but I won't be. I wonder how God feels about that, if He notices at all. My boss randomly asked me if I believe in God and I just stared at her. I suppose, if I do believe in God, I believe in a God who thinks you're a shit for not asking forgiveness from your former best friend, and loves you anyway. I believe in a God who looks at streaming web porn, too. I believe in a God reads blogs, because they're funny and inconsequential and mean and sometimes better than the newspaper columns. I believe in a God who thinks it's okay to sit on your ass watching TV and be sad on a rainy afternoon, even when the rest of the street is out mowing their lawns and trimming their hedges. I believe in a God who knows that Yom Kippur is better in principle than in reality, but fasts anyway.

I believe in a God who wears a shirt and tie on Sunday, even if he has no place at all to go.

I also believe in asking for forgiveness, even though it's hard and messy.

I hope God can forgive me for not asking for forgiveness from my friend. He probably will. After all, He created humans, and nobody knows how fallible and petty, stubborn and stupid they are more than He does.

Friday, September 25, 2009

40 Whacks

People often complain about "Saturday Night Live's" crutch-like reliance on stock or recurring characters for cheap laughs, and I'm one of them. "Saturday Night Live" blows. However, lots of other higher-quality sketch comedy shows employ the well-loved device of the recurring character, even the most lionized of sketch shows, (well, I still lionize it), "Monty Python's Flying Circus" used recurring characters. One of my favorites was Graham Chapman's stodgy, uptight colonel, who frequently interrupted sketches in a low, smooth baritone, curtly commanding,

"Right! You there! Stop that. Stop it. It's silly," chomping down on that last word, as if it is the highest insult Chapman's character could conceive. Silly-- the highest insult to common decency, and the Crown. Chapman famously (well, it's famous to me) recites the following:

"Now then. Nobody likes a good laugh more than I do. Except perhaps my wife. And some of her friends. Oh yes, and Captain Johnson. {Pause.} Come to think of it, most people enjoy a good laugh more than I do, but that's beside the point!"

Oh, Graham... we miss you down here.

I like to think of myself as someone who enjoys a good laugh, too, but sometimes I find myself adopting more of the Colonel's attitude about things, and that worries me a bit. Is becoming disapproving and dour what happens as we age? Probably, and sometimes my sensibilities and my morals quite simply get in the fucking way of me having a good time.

Take, for instance, my reaction when I read on that there is a new rock-musical out, based on the case of Lizzie Borden. I was not amused.

In case you're not familiar with old Lizzie, she was a young girl who, in 1892, butchered her mother and her father with an axe. I suppose I should say "suspected of having butchered" because she was actually acquitted at her trial, though popular sentiment still regards her as guilty.

She's about as famous, or infamous, as it gets. There's probably only two women in the late 19th century who are more famous than Lizzie Borden, and their names are Queen Victoria and Clara Barton, and at least the latter two are famous for slightly better reasons than Lizzie. When I was a little boy, I can remember reciting a little poem about Lizzie Borden on the floor of my parent's bedroom. God only knows where I heard it, I have no idea.

"Lizzie Borden took an axe,
And gave her mother forty whacks,
And when she thought the job was done,
She gave her father forty-one."

Charming, eh?

The fact that I, in 1985 or whenever the hell it was, even knew who Lizzie Borden was or what she did proves that her grisly act has a long tradition of being celebrated in song and story in this society, and that's kind of what I'm on about today. The thought of making a rock musical out of her case kind of sickens me.

"It sure is hard not to like "Lizzie Borden" a rock musical being presented with wall-rattling glee at-- ah, savor the incongruity-- The Living Theater" writes Neil Genzlinger, of the New York Times. From what he writes, the four actresses involved in the endeavor are unquestionably talented, and I'm not questioning that. What I am questioning is, are they wasting their talents on a musical that maybe shouldn't have been written.

I realize that people will write musicals about anything. I mean, Jesus Christ-- there's an Anne Frank musical, but that's a blog post for another day, I suppose.

It's no secret that we like to glorify crime in this society, but we mostly like to come down on gangsta rappers, who effusively espouse the virtues of doggy-stylin', cop-killin', and bitch-slappin'. And, why not? They're an easy target. If there's one thing America loves more than glorifying violence ourselves, it's picking on young, black men who glorify violence. But aren't we being the least bit hypocritical when our society at large does a pretty bang-up job of making heroes out of violent felons. Hollywood is the biggest perpetrator of this. "Bonnie & Clyde" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." The Hollywood machine has also churned out, in true, hallmark excess, four films about notorious bank-robber and cop-killer John Dillinger-- one in 1945, one in 1973, one in 1991, and, of course, Michael Mann's latest romanticized opus, "Public Enemies" starring Johnny Depp, this time in minimal eyeshadow.

There's no musical about Dillinger, though. Yet.

We love to lionize butchers and murderers through music, too. Take Woody Guthrie's legendary song, "Pretty Boy Floyd," another ode to murder and mayhem. And there are those who like to proclaim, in lyrics low, that they're, "Baaaaaaad, like Jesse James."

I don't want to sound like a thin-lipped prig, but sometimes I can't help thinking that there isn't much of an evening's sport to be made out of people who shoot policemen in the head or cut their parent's legs and arms off. I also think that white culture needs to stand up and at least recognize how guilty it is of perpetuating the shameful myth that cold-blooded murder is cool, and worthy of seemingly endless rolls of film. If we don't stand up and ackowledge our obsession with blood and gore, if we just sit back in the dark and laugh and clap at the Borden quartet of talented female singers who belt out the song "Why Are All These Heads Off" then we are living in a most regrettable fantasy world, where we absolve ourselves of the responsibility for perpetuating a culture that celebrates violence and the violent, a world where Graham Chapman's colonel would almost surely have stopped the sketch long ago.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

An Open Letter to My Banjo

Dear Goodtime Open-Backed Five-String,

Why are you so hard to play?

I mean, I really like you a lot, but I'm not very good at you. I don't know how long it takes one to become proficient at the banjo-- I guess a lot of it has to do with aptitude and the amount of time you're willing to put into practicing-- but I'm far from proficient.

I've had you since just after Thanksgiving of last year, and I can still only play six chords, including G, which doesn't require any ability whatsoever, being an open chord. So I'm not sure if G even really counts.

Don't get me wrong-- I like you. I really like you. I like the way your round part sits on my right leg and I like the way you feel when I bring you close to my chest. I even like the way your strings make lines across the fleshy tips of the fingers on my left hand. Does that make me an S&M guy? Maybe I should get you a black, leather banjo bag with studs, seeing as how I'm your bitch and all.

It's funny, Goodtime, here I am, blogging about how I can't play you, and you're sitting not four feet away from me, leaning against the Friedrich air-conditioner. If I wasn't blogging, if I wasn't writing you this pointless open letter, I could walk right over to you, unzip your bag, tune you, and practice. Maybe I like blogging more than I like banjoing. Funny how similar those two words look when put right together. Banjoing. Blogging. Weird.

I even sought out a banjo instructor, someone who could teach me what to do with you. I left him a voicemail in late July. I don't think he's going to call back. It's just as well, really, I don't have the time for banjo lessons-- I'm far too busy for that. You know, with blogging and stuff.

I can play "All Used Up" by U. Utah Phillips on you. The same song I've played on you since I first learned it, probably in January. I can play other songs on you, but only "All Used Up" actually sounds like the real song, and that's because it only uses three chords. I was able to figure out the chord transposition from guitar to banjo all in my head, without any sheet music, just by listening, and I suppose that's because my brain is pretty musical, in spite of the significant dearth of formal training. I guess it's no accident that this is the same brain that has enabled me to fake my way through singing principal roles in the Gilbert & Sullivan operettas "Patience," "H.M.S. Pinafore," "Ruddigore," and "The Pirates of Penzance" with rickety, self-taught sight-reading skills. Ah, my brain. Sometimes it gets me into more trouble than it gets me out of.

And I'll do the same thing when the next one rolls around.

But, getting back to you, my dear, round banjo, I can't really fake my way through you. I've reached the plateau of where I can go with you and my "Idiot's Guide to the Banjo," a gift from my well-intentioned mother-in-law. The problem is, I'm not an idiot. If I were, I could probably play the banjo by now, because I would follow the book step-by-painful-step, religiously, as if it were the pages of King James or the Song of Songs itself. Unfortunately, I'm no idiot. I over-think and over-intellectualize. I analyze. I mire myself in doubt and pity, and I do not give you the attention you deserve. I'm like a little boy who lets his father walk the puppy he begged for incessantly.

Throughout my life, I haven't been really, truly great at much-- certainly I've never been any good at any job I've ever held. I'm reasonably confident of my acting abilities, but not much else. Writing? I don't know. Maybe, but, truth be told, I could build a summer home out of the sheaf of rejection-letters I've received since age 15. And so I never really had any delusions that I would be really great with you, banjo, but I at least wanted to be okay. Fair. Someone who could maybe show up at an Open Mic Night, bang out an Ola Belle Reed ditty or a Stan Rogers maritime song and be at least thought to possess normal intelligence.

But maybe that's not in the cards.

I don't come from a musical family, so I suppose it's not much of a surprise that I founder and fumble when I hold you against me. My great-grandfather, Sam, was that incongruous yet charming combination of Jewish tailor and folk-song balladeer, back in the dusty, sepia days when such things as that were possible. He recorded a song called, "Sammy Made the Pants Too Long," and, apparently, it was a hit, at least in South Philadelphia. When he wasn't selling three-piece suits or wool slacks in his shop, he could sometimes be spotted under a tree in a small park, playing his banjo or his mandolin effortlessly, perhaps with his tie loosened and his shirt-sleeves rolled up, maybe a derby or a straw hat beside him on the grass.

How I wish I could have gotten to know Sam. The man who made the pants too long. The man who strummed and hummed under the trees of the past.

How I wish I could get to know you, too, my dear banjo.

Maybe I get all nervous and weird when I hold you because I love you.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Moonwalk Over Here, Baby, 'Cuz It's DEAR APRON TIME!

Yes, that's right, chilluns. The time has come to take some letters written to Dear Abby and give them a right good lashing with the churlish, acrimonious tongue of Dear Apron.

Good times... good times.

DEAR APRON: For 15 years I was a happily married homemaker with a wonderful husband. "Duncan" and I attended church together, frolicked through the fields, even exterminated rodents together. He was my best friend. It was bliss.

Last year I found out my father had had an affair with Duncan's mother the year I was born, which makes him my half-brother! The news was too much for my husband. He had a fatal heart attack not long after.

What should I put on his gravestone -- "Loving Brother" or "Loving Husband"?


I'm sorry-- you've just found out you were getting the deep-dickin' from your half-brother for fifteen years, and you're fretting about his goddamn epitaph? That's your biggest problem? I hate to be those people who go, "Honey, you need therapy," but, honey, you need therapy.

But, okay, if you really want to know what you should put on his gravestone, how about this,

"Here lies poor Duncan,
I loved him like no other,
Fortunately, he wasn't my un'can,
He was, however, my fucking half-brother."

That should do it.

P.S.-- Did you really frolick through the fields? That's gay.


I'm in a relationship with a man I met online who lives out of state. He has been to see me a dozen times over the last three years. We say we love each other and want to spend the rest of our lives together. But over the last 18 months I have realized we have NOTHING in common -- and our views on life, policy and politics are completely opposite.

For three years we have talked every single day, mostly about how much we love each other. It's when we try to have a real conversation we start to disagree. He says we're entitled to our own opinions, and I agree, but I can't help but wonder what kind of future we could have together when we cannot discuss anything but how we feel about each other. -- SECOND THOUGHTS IN ANAHEIM


Why do people always think that they have to "have things in common" with their lover or spouse? Do you think that both of you loving mint chocolate ice-cream and the musical "Carousel" is a great basis for a long-term relationship? Just because you're both members of the NRA doesn't mean that you're going to walk blissfully, hand-in-hand towards the sunset together, it just means you have a higher likelihood of mistaking the other for a burglar at 3am and blowing his goddamn head off with your legally-registered Glock.

You want something in common with your spouse? Go marry your half-brother.


"Ingmar" and I have been married -- on and off-- for 12 years. We have married each other twice. Ingmar loves "big" women.
The last time we separated was three years ago, after I lost 105 pounds. I lost the weight because my doctor said I had to for health reasons. When I first met Ingmar, I let him know my large size was not normal for me and was a result of some medications I was on.

After my weight started dropping, Ingmar told me I "grossed him out" and I was starting to resemble a "little girl." We have had no physical contact in four years, and we sleep in separate rooms. He often goes off by himself for two or three days at a time. I know he isn't involved with another woman because he can't do anything anymore and he's not willing to fix it.

I feel like a roommate instead of a wife. We don't eat together, watch TV together or kiss anymore. Although I care for my husband, I'm not in love with him anymore. But I'm scared of going out in the "dating world" again. I'm 46 and no longer a "spring chicken," but I crave affection. What do I do? -- AT A CROSSROADS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA



That's the pseudonym you came up with for your piece of shit husband? I'd love to know his real name. Please tell me what it is so my life may finally be complete.

As for you, I don't know what to tell you. If I saw you in person, I've got a pretty good feeling that I'd be "grossed out," too, though probably not for the same reasons Ingmar is. (Ingmar... that kills me.) I don't know if the "dating world," as you call it, is such a hot idea for you either. Here's my advice.... um.... got any single half-brothers?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

No God-Damn Trespassing

I really did a job on my father back when I was younger.

People who know a little bit about my family would probably most often point to my sister as the one who put him through the wringer most-- cutting school, smoking cigarettes, getting a nose-piercing, slamming boys, mouthing off to my mom, getting into all sorts of trouble-- she would certainly be the most obvious choice for most troublesome child of the pack.

But I was worse.

When I was fifteen, I decided that I wanted to own a retired police vehicle. He was immediately dead-set against the idea, and I spent the next six or seven months diligently convincing him that it was a great idea. I realized that, in order to persuade my father to do my bidding, I had to think like my father or, if that was too inconceivable, at least I knew I had to think like a father. I employed carefully-constructed strategem, focusing on the attributes of ex-police cars, such as their comfort, their dependability, their safety, their affordability, and their regular maintenance by fleet mechanics prior to their decommission. I cited National Highway Transportation Safety Administration statistics on crashworthiness, officer fatalites and injury rates in police vehicles as opposed to civilian fatalities and injuries in civilian models, as well as cars that were popular with normal teenagers my age.

The first car I tried to convince him to let me buy was a 1978 Plymouth Fury, which looks like this:

Pretty hot, right? I wanted this car for two reasons, both of them completely impractical:

1.) It was a historically significant vehicle, the last 440 cubic inch, 4 barrel carburated, V-8 engined Mopar police car ever made. Which is a totally retarded reason for a skinny, teenaged Jewish kid in suburban Philadelphia to want a car, but there we are.

2.) It was the kind of vehicle driven by Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard, the only show I ever watched on television as a child that wasn't a Britcom or Masterpiece Theatre.

My father asked me several questions about this car, all of them pretaining to safety features that this vehicle lacked, such as anti-lock brakes and airbags. In 1996, this vehicle was eighteen years old, and my father thought perhaps we should go a tad more modern. Now, the car's 31 years old. I still want one.

And so, defeated and dismayed, knowing no Plymouth Fury would ever grace our driveway, I set my sights on a car that I knew my father couldn't say "no" to, the 1991 Ford Crown Victoria, which looked like this:

Almost makes the Fury look sexy, don't it?

I selected this car because it was the last of the old style of police cars, square and boxy, the style I liked. In 1992, Ford restyled the Crown Vic to the shape of a jelly-bean and I didn't much care for that. Chevy restyled their Caprice, basically the only other modern cop-car offering back then, in 1991, and it looked like an upside-down bathtub. The pre-1991 Chevrolet Caprice was out for a couple reasons-- they never had airbags and, to the best of my knowledge didn't have anti-lock brakes either. Also, in 1990, Chevrolet put the seatbelts for the Caprice on the doors instead of mounted on the B-pillars, rendering the seatbelts completely ineffective in a crash. In fact, a state trooper was decapitated by his seatbelt in a horrific crash, I read while doing car research. No, thank you.

When all the research was carefully presented to my father (my mother would conveniently leave the room to do laundry or re-tar the roof whenever this discussion would come up) he nodded his head, looked up and me and said,

"Well, it's better than that fuckin' Fury."

And, with that, we commenced our search for one. My father called me on the phone one day while he was at work and I was home from school.

"Mummy!" he said, his customary greeting for all of us.

"Yeah?" I answered.

"Where are you?"

Keep in mind, we didn't have cell-phones in those days. He'd called the house number.

"Where am I? I'm in the fucking house-- where do you think I am?"

"Oh! I don't know! Listen, I found a place that just sells ex-police cars, it's about 1/2-an-hour from my factory. I'll take you there on Saturday and see what they have."

My heart leapt. My sixteenth birthday had just passed and I had roughly $3,400 in my bank account left over from my Bar Mitzvah extortion scheme. It was time to get me some wheels. I imagined what this place would look like. I pictured a sprawling, paved lot, filled with shiny, gleaming retired squad cars in all different shades of blue, glowing white, austere black and military browns and greens. Dodge Diplomats, Ford Crown Vics, Caprices-- maybe there'd even be some state police vehicles or detective units or FBI cars with nicely-appointed interiors, too. I imagined tie-bedecked salesmen, perhaps retired cops looking for a new source of income, filled with exciting war stories, about their own careers and about the history of these beauties, done with their halcyon days of police work and ready to be gently let out to pasture in the hands of an appreciative young teen.

Well, it wasn't quite like that.

That Saturday, my father and I drove into No Man's Land together, and I stared at the sticky-note with directions scrawled in his foreigner's handwriting and I dubiously eyed street-signs as we seemed to be driving farther and farther from civilization. Carefully, we made a right turn down a dirt and gravel road and passed through a chain-link fence with barbed wire on top and a handmade sign that said, "NO GOD-DAMN TRESSPASSING." We drove slowly past two run-down trailers and one commode, lying on its side between some rocks.

"This isn't the place, is it?" I asked, knowing full well in the pit of my stomach that this was, indeed, the place. My father put his Pontiac Bonneville into park in front of a burgundy Plymouth Gran Fury from the mid 80s with no tires and three bullet holes in the front windshield. It had no driver's side door. Underneath the bullet holes was scrawled the price: $800.

"Well, at least they're going to have things within our price range," I said to my father, making one of my few attempts at optimism.

"Stay in the car for a minute," my father said to me gravely as he opened his door and got out. An impossibly fat bastard in Depression-era overalls, filthy combat boots and a greasy combover intercepted my father as he walked up to the trailer marked with a small sign that said, "Sales." I watched them talk for a minute or two and tried to read their body language. My father gestures a lot because he's not from this country or planet and this guy in the overalls stood absolutely still, except for a brief moment when he spat out a thick stream of chaw on the fender of a Chevy Caprice that was, presumably, for sale. I was petrified of my surroundings, I knew people like me died in places like this, and I didn't know what to make of their body language, so I just closed my eyes and waited for the shots to ring out.

My father opened the door of the car and I opened my eyes and turned my head to him, expecting to see him bleeding and/or a muffler protruding from his anus.

"It's okay, mummy. Come out, let's look at some cars."

"What about him?" I said, motioning ever so slightly to the "salesman" who was, at this moment, fidgeting with his genitals.

"Who? That fuckin' farmer?" my father said, customarily a little too loudly for my liking. I shushed him vigorously, fearing for our lives. "He's fine. You have relatives like him. Come on."

An hour later, my father was behind the wheel of a 1991 Ford Crown Victoria, with me in the passenger's seat. Miraculously, we were allowed to take the car on a test drive, but I was too scared to drive it. My father was more than happy to oblige. He stomped on the gas and, before we knew it, the car was up to 90mph.

"Wow!" my father exclaimed, "this thing is fuckin' fast!"

The car was listed for $3,000, but my father talked them down to $2,700. They said they'd paint it for another $100, and he agreed. I don't see how he couldn't have, even though the decals had been ripped off, you could still very obviously see "DELAWARE STATE POLICE" all over the doors.

"What color you want 'er?" the salesman asked me, looking me up and down as if he were about to propose marriage. Or something like it.

"Um..." I looked around the lot and saw a Chevy Caprice in a bright, sparkling blue. It was, I think, the only car on the lot that wasn't covered in three inches of dirt.

"Just like that one."

"'Kay," he said, adjusting his shit-covered John Deere cap. "Deal."

My father nodded to me, which was my signal to take out the envelope containing $3,000 in cash, more money than I had ever held, or seen, in my entire life. I took the envelope out with my gaunt hands shaking and trembling like my Great Uncle Ed's did when he tried to eat cereal. This would be the perfect opportunity for Salesman Jack to pull out a shotgun from inside his overalls and kill us both. I at least thought he would grab the entire envelope, but he didn't. He took the money, didn't even count it.

"Let's sign some fuckin' papers," he said to my father, and the two of them went inside the trailer. I resigned myself to the likely possibility that I would never see my father again. I stood there, looking at the car I had just bought with a mixture of elation and fear. Would this big, hulking thing end up killing me? I couldn't conceive that such a huge car would fit down the small streets where I lived. How the hell would I ever park it? I hit the orange barrel during my parallel parking test, knocking it right down to the ground.

"You're good," the instructor said to me. And I didn't even have to give him a handjob.

After a couple minutes, standing there on the gravel road, looking at my ex-police car, another fat fucker came waddling out from the other trailer, I assumed to relieve himself in an outhouse or one of the cars on the lot, but instead he came over to me. His teeth were a crooked mess, tobacco and coffee stained, and his breath smelled like a mixture of pipe detritus and duck vomit.

"That yours?" he said, motioning to the Crown Vic behind me.

"Um.... well, soon, I guess," I stammered, not wanting to say the wrong thing and make him mad.

"Nice," he said. He had overalls on, too. This was, I guessed, the uniform of this particular neighborhood, like fitted pink dress shirts in Chelsea.

He began to talk to me about Vietnam. I don't remember how we got onto that particular topic, but I'm reasonably sure it wasn't me who initiated. He told me that he was "over there" and that he had killed a "good number of them yella sumbitches."

"Wow," I said. He stood very, very close to me and I was very, very close to wetting myself.

"And this fuckin' gov'mint, when you come back-- they don't do nothin' to set yer ass right, you know what I mean?"

I didn't know what he meant.

"I know what you mean," I answered, convincingly nodding my head.

"Now, I can't even order fuckin' Chinese food without wantin' to kill me a yella person. You know? They teach you to go out there and kill yella people, kill yella people-- but they don't never teach you how to STOP killin' yella people!"

There was a long pause as he stared at me, waiting for me to say something. I stared back. I was sure I could out-run him, or maybe I could shove my keys into his eyes first, but that would require getting even closer to him. He took a step towards me for some reason when a German Shepherd, who was chained to a fence in the background, started barking at something. His eyes bugged out and he turned his head towards the dog.

"Goddamnit. Ike! Shut the fuck up, y'hear! Shut the fuck up, Goddamnit!"

The Vietnam vet gimped his way over in the direction of the dog, and I shakily took out my father's keys, the ones I was going to use to gouge out this nutjob's eyes, and opened the door to his Bonneville where I sat like a stone until it was time for me to be called into the trailer to co-sign on the title, which I did, with a greasy "Hooters" pen.

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Mein Fuhrer! I Can Walk!"

In case you haven't heard, scientists are now able to make paralyzed rats walk again. The National Association for the Perambulation of Paralyzed Eeking Rodents (NAPPER) has passed a unanimous motion rejoicing in the landmark medical event, hailing it as the scientific community's most valuable achievement since its ability to genetically engineer munster.

Lab workers and researchers have been using rats and mice and guinea pigs and other small furry things that nobody cares about 'cause they're nasty for dozens and dozens of years. I know PETA pretends to give a shit about the civil rights of mice, but I'll guarantee you they'd start shooting the little wriggly bastards if they were armed and locked in a small room with fifteen thousand of them.

Personally, I think doing pharma and stem cell research with ugly little buggers like rodents is a great idea. Just don't come near my dog, you white-coated geeks, or you'll get one in the nuts.

I wonder, though, just how far researchers go with these rats and things. I mean, when they first brought out Viagra-- you see where I'm going with this. Were Viagra and Levitra tested out on impotent little mice? Are there impotent mice? I have no idea.

That's one of the wonderful things about blogging, I think. You start to consider things you never gave a moment's consideration before, all in the noble pursuit of churning out semi-entertaining grog for folks, most of whom you've never met.


So, getting back to limp-doodle vermin, how exactly is that done? Do researchers call up their mousie suppliers and say,

DOC: "Hey, Tom, it's Dr. Schmenkmann over here at Bristol, Meyers, Squibb. Do you have any mice over there that are, um, not... getting..... any?"

RAT GUY: "Well, what do you mean, Doctor Schmenk?"

DOC: "Well, you know-- any rats or mice that are just kinda.... not... in the action, as it were?"

RAT GUY: "You mean fags, sir?"

At first I thought that the lab dudes would sterilize the mice, but that wouldn't work, because then they'd never know if the medication was working or not, they'd have to reverse the sterilization process. I mean, these sonsofbitches did actually paralyze perfectly healthy mice and rats in order to do the stem cell research on them.

And, really, like I said, I'm okay with that. When my wife and I had our first duplex, you cannot even begin to fathom how many of those pink-nosed motherfuckers we annhiliated, and it wasn't in the goddamn name of science either. I don't care what these queer bastards do to our little furry friends. Attach car batteries to their nipples-- waterboard them. I don't give a shit. Just cure cancer before my mommy gets it.

(God forbid, n'yah mean?)

I hate those stupid commerials for New Jersey Public Schools they run (on Philadelphia channels, inexplicably, like we're going to see that shit and go, "Damn! Let's move to Cherry Hill, honey!") on TV. One of them takes place in a science lab, and there's this teacher, who looks like a blonde Moe, and he's talking about how dedicated he is to science and experimentation and shit, and I want to yell at him and say, "You're one of the highest paid public school teachers in the country, dickcheese-- that's what you're dedicated to."

But I don't, because my wife already thinks I'm crazy enough. I don't need to start yelling at the TV to belabor the point.

Then there's this black kid and in one shot he's in the lab next to the teacher and they've both got two little beakers of bright blue liquid that they're holding up to the light, apparently to examine. I'm sure there's Berry Blue Kool-Aid in each of the beakers, and I silently think to myself that the commercial would be much funnier if the kid and the teacher clinked beakers and drank the shit down, then expired dramatically onto the lab table-top, wretching up blue fluid and bile all over the camera lens.

That's the kind of science I can get into. That and giving mice mega hard-ons.

As you can probably tell, I wasn't very much into science as a kid. I didn't understand it. I thought the Periodic Table was like a tip calculator for teenage girls and that I would learn all about it Health class, but I didn't. Instead of receiving a pity pass from my Chemistry teacher, I received a pity A. Wholly unnecessary. Physics was different. I attended for two days and then dropped out.

Just like the police academy.

Astronomy and Geology were much more my speed. I won't even address Biology, during which I colored black and white ditto sheets containing sketches of amoebas and lichen and, in college, where I went to class maybe 30% of the time and received a D.

And so it was that I would never enter a career where I would be giving mice the power to walk or attain erections.

I've never met a scientist myself, but I want to. I want to meet someone who experiments with animals and gasses and shit. Someone who probably has crazy hair and a personality disorder and a collection of fucked up neckties. I want to meet a really weird bastard and call him "my scientist friend" when I tote him around with me at parties. Obviously, once I have a scientist friend, I'll start going to parties.

"This is Jodphur. He's my scientist friend. He works for Glaxo and he discovered this supercool enzyme that turns ferrets' dicks red."

I want a scientist friend badly. I like the friends that I have, but none of them are scientists, that I know of. Of course, they could be, like, back-alley, basement-type scientists. You know, like how I do amateur G&S, they could do, I don't know, amateur science. But it can't be weird shit, like raping cats with frozen garden hoses in their garage, you know? I want a scientist friend, not a nutcase friend. I have enough of those.

Speaking of which-- did this post start out being about impotent mice?

Group Therapy

My aunt Ruthie doesn't come around much, but, when she does, we take notice.

Living in Australia as she does, it's challenging to make the trip to Pennsylvania, especially when you're a round, short woman in your mid-sixties. But she manages, and I'm glad she does. She has a mountain of rotini curls atop her head, a genuine, toothy smile, and a voice that sounds just like my father with a helium addiction. Because, in Hebrew, there is really no "th" sound, we call her "Rooti" and it's appropriate, because she certainly is fresh and fruitty.

The dinner conversation was certainly swinging by the time she got to her tale of a group therapy session she attended after the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

"Everybody was in therapy then!" she said, laughing. I sometimes am driven to inquire whether she's serious about some of the flip comments she makes, but it would ruin the mood, so I don't.

"We were all there, there was a man who was in the war... not doctor... eh...." uncertain of a word, she turns to my father. "-- eh, ma azeh in English...?"

"Nurse, Rooti. Fuckin' nurse," my father offers helpfully, extending his knowledge of the English language like an olive branch.

"Ah, okay. Nurse. He... was in the war, and was with a doctor, and there was an explosion, yeah? And the doctor, he died right away, but the nurse was not hurt. So he was in the therapy, okay, because he was.... you know... he lived."

"Survivor's guilt," my wife, the psychiatrist's daughter, helps out this time.

"Yeah!" nods my aunt, grinning her comforted smile. She is ready to continue. "So, there was also this Romanian woman, who was totally controlled by her husband-- just like my mother was by your grandfather," she says to me. I am instantly hurt by this statement. I know little about my paternal grandparents, whether because of my father's reluctance to speak about it or because of my prior disinterest, but, tonight, I want to know more about their relationship. Again, though, I am silent. I don't want to ruin the mood.

"So, this Romanian woman was agoraphobic, so her husband had to drive her to all the group therapy sessions! It was so funny! And there was this soldier there who sat there like a Chief, you know, with the arms crossed in front of him, and he said nothing the whole time, and finally I started yelling at him one day. Really yelling! 'You asshole! You just sit there! Why don't you say something sometimes!' But he just sat there smoking his pipe."

I looked at this woman as she was telling this story. I looked at her teeth and her curls, her rings and her ringlets-- this woman who is my father's sister, who I first met when I was fifteen years old, and had only seen one other time between then and now, at my wedding, and I tried to picture her, in the 1970s, yelling at some shell-shocked Israeli soldier in her hinge-squeak of a voice. It was hard to imagine.

"And then there was this man from Morocco, and we all knew he had this very dark secret. But nobody knew what it was, because he, it was very hard for him to talk about it. But, we all wondered, what could it be? Finally, at the end, he talked and it turned out that he.... liked to fuck....


My entire family burst out in hysteria at the dinner table. I had my head in my arms, pounding one fist on the table. When I looked up, my wife was laughing with her hand covering her mouth. My oldest sister was wiping tears away from her eyes. My father was smiling, shaking his head, either at his sister or at the cow-fucker. My mother giggled like a little girl, listening to older kids telling a naughty joke.

"And he couldn't do it... with a woman!" my aunt added, for good measure.

We laughed for a long time about that one. I love my aunt Ruthie. She's a little like a three-year-old in certain respects-- she's small, and cute, and you never know what the hell she's going to say. Last time she was in America visiting, she told us a story about an attractive sports reporter in Australia who entered a soccer team's locker room, "and they were masturbating!" she exclaimed, except, the way she said it, it sounded more like, "ehnd they vere mister-bating!" With her voice scaling new octaves and her eyes popping out to the lenses of her glasses, she is the consumate story-teller, as long as it's obscene. You know you want to hire her out for your next black-tie affair.

Unfortunately for Ruthie, this tendency to be inappropriate and humorous can sometimes tend to make people not take her very seriously. Admittedly, it's hard taking her seriously when you ask her a question about the Yom Kippur War and she replies with a story about a Moroccan cow-fucker. Maybe, though, it's what we really want to hear. After all, it's been very serious around my family's house lately, with my sister getting pregnant, getting married, basically shotgun style, and immediately thereafter having her son, maybe levity is what we all needed on Friday night-- a little group therapy for us, too.

Of course, Ruthie isn't just a naive humorist-- she's the secret-keeper, too. An all-knowing mystic from a land before time, a land before Israel. She knows the family stories that my father doesn't know, or doesn't tell. She knows about the tragedy surrounding my grandmother's first, very brief marriage, she knows about how my grandfather mistreated my grandmother, and blamed her for all of his failings, occupational or personal. I am sure that, some mornings, when she wakes up and goes to get dressed in her little one bedroom unit in Australia, she sees four pair of children's shoes, all perfectly shined and buffed, waiting for her, her sister, and her two brothers-- all prepared the night before, and ready every morning by my grandmother. Every morning.

She tells these stories, too, and I want more of them, but I think she worries about saying the wrong thing, and upsetting my quick-to-anger father, so she mostly keeps it light. And I guess that's okay. I did get to find out where my family is really from, a small town in Iraq called "Amara." She also remarked, before being quickly cut off, that my father was extremely popular with the young, Israeli girls. But I already knew that. I didn't know that she tried tirelessly to teach my father English in preparation for his Toefl exam, but that he refused to learn and constantly made jokes to distract her.

"He would make jokes and make me laugh, and then I would get so angry at him, because he wouldn't leeeesten!" she said, as my father's face contorted in displeasure.

"What are you talking about? You didn't teach me fuckin' English!" he yells.

"Yeah, I know! Because you wouldn't leeeesten! How did you pass the Toefl test anyway?" she asks him.

"How did I pass? I showed them my ass, okay? Jesus!"

"Some girl probably took the test for him," my mother offered.

"Yeah," Ruthie nodded her head, "probably he cheated."

My wife and I stayed at my parent's house until 10:30, which is unprecedented, largely because the two of them are in bed and snoring by 10:00 but, when we left, we left feeling good. I was happy because I got to spend time not just with Ruthie, but with my family. I got to learn and laugh and think and remember. And I guess that's what makes a good group therapy session.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Measuring Up

Have you ever compared yourself to someone else and found that you don't measure up?

Well, stop it, you fucker.

Looking at your life through the distorted mirror of the lives of people you know is a dangerous trap, and it is one that will drive you insane-- slowly or quickly, depending upon your current mental status-- and such comparisons have the propensity to damage not only your self-esteem, but irreparably harm relationships that you hold dear.

I suppose that it is human nature to do this. I suppose we are all conditioned to compare ourselves to people of similar ages and see how their situations in life compare with our own. I'm married, are my unmarried friends happier? I don't have kids-- are my friends with kids more fulfilled than I? I sit behind a desk all day, are there other people out there whose jobs are more rewarding? Are there people out there who socialize more (99.4% of the population, probably), drink more (ditto there), laugh more, write more, get paid more, have more sex, do more drugs, take more chances, get more applause, see more continents than I?

Well, yeah. Of course.

The thing is, though, I don't care.

I hope you don't care either. I hope that all of us can walk through the doorways and into the rooms of our own lives and throw off the blanket of insecurity that threatens to smother us as we think about the choices we didn't make, as we look at the people we know, as we think back about decisions and actions and inaction, as we remember. It's not easy, I know. After all, there are people who went out on exciting first dates last night and got laid, and it wasn't me. After all, somewhere in some alleyway in some town somewhere, a dashing young cop chased a gunman down during an intense foot pursuit, tackled him, threw the cuffs on him, and removed the danger from society. And it wasn't me. After all, some lucky bastard just acquired a literary agent, and some luckier bastard just toasted the release of his new book, and neither of those lucky bastards were me.

My question is, "So?"

What can I do? What in the hell can I do about any of that? Can I sit in my house and look at my wife and my dog and my mortgage and my choices and resent them for preventing me from becoming what I feel I might have the potential to become? Who would I be if I did that? I don't want to be that, whatever that is.

The unfortunate thing about Generation-X, which I think I'm a part of, I don't know-- it's hard to keep track, is that we were raised to believe that we can be anything, be anybody, do anything. We were all raised to be trophy-winning athletes (present company excluded) and we were all told that we are special, our bodies merely vessels for infinite possibility. Regrettably, what that breeds is contempt for the status quo within us. That sort of attitude fosters an unquenchable longing for the libation of overachievement. Our current relationship cannot possibly be enough-- we're better than that, aren't we? We need a better car, a bigger house, a cooler job, smoother skin, a newer fucking iPhone with 3G, then 4G, 5G-- God only knows how many G's there will be over the course of the next few years. We're constantly checking out "the competition" never realizing that they're far more valuable as our friends.

I'm realizing every day that life is short, and that it really doesn't matter what you accomplish in terms of publication or approbation, noteriety or piety-- as long as you're good to people. I don't always succeed that that, but I try. Would the world have been that much different if I had been a cop, or a lawyer, or a professional writer or an actor? Maybe, but I doubt it. And who cares anyway? I'm just me-- tall, awkward, skinny, rambling, frequently embarrassed, painfully shy, usually inappropriate, married, dog walking, PT Cruiser driving, overdressed and underpaid me.

And why would I wish for anything different? I don't believe in comparing myself to others, just like I don't believe in unicorns, faeries, or Oz.

I do most definitely believe in spooks, though. They come out and scare the bejesus out of us every time we cast doubt on who we are.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Their Stodgy Old Cuteness

I think it's probably pretty likely that, when most Americans think about English culture, if they ever do, the word "cute" wouldn't immediately leap to mind as an appropriate adjective to describe the British. We tend to think of them as stuffy, boring, uptight-- that's the overwhelming American stereotype (sorry, Sebby-Debs, but it's true). Our minds turn to pomp and pomposity. If we're old enough, we think about the Coronation. If we're not quite that old, we think of Charles and Diana's wedding. If we're younger still, we think of Diana's funeral and, any way you slice those memories and television broadcasts, the word cute is still pretty far afield from what we perceive is the English way.

As many of you know, I am a dedicated anglophile, and my condition as only worsened with age. I first suspected the English of being a cute culture when I began my love affair with Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. There, W. S. Gilbert created an adorable world of parliamentary faeiries, sailors who never swear (well, hardly ever), pirates who are duty-bound and weep when they hear someone is an orphan, police officers who are sensitive and sentimental, and Japanese people named "Pish-Tush," "Pooh-Bah," and "Yum-Yum."

Could this notoriously bombastic, proper, conservative British gentleman with silver-colored sideburns and walrus mustache, clad in his dark frock coat and beaver top hat be harboring the trappings of a cute culture in disguise? Mate his precious characters to Arthur Sullivan's sparkling, glittering, whimsical melodies and there can be no doubt.

If you are wanting for further evidence of the covert cuteness of British culture, go into a bakery there and order a cupcake. Just remember to call it a "fairy cake."

Speaking of food, last night my wife and I were fortunate enough to visit a supermarket located in the next town over, you know, where the "goyim" live! She confronted me upon my arrival home from work and announced that we had "NO FOOD!" in the house. Concerned as I was by this bold pronouncement, I was loathe to venture out to the supermarkets located in our Jew 'hood, as yesterday was the day before Rosh Hashanah, and every Jew in the neighborhood would be at the supermarket, haggling over the expiration dates on their mackrel coupons. I couldn't deal with that.

"Let's go to the market in the goy neighborhood. Deal?"


While we were at this supermarket, we wandered into the "ethnic/foreign" food aisle. You've been there. Lots of Goya products-- frijoles, rice-n-beans, taco shells, and then there's the plethora of soy-and-soy-related sauces, bean sprouts, shrimp-flavored chips, ramen noodles, and the odd Indian meal. And, even in the goy market, there was gefilte fish and matzah, for the wandering Jews who happen to wander in.

"Oh my God, Bobber-- look at this!" my wife squealed. "They have a faggy British section!"

My wife always knows just what to say to me.

I stared in disbelief. Kippers. Fucking kippers. Unbelievable.

There was HP Sauce, which I had read about in "The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4," back when I was basically the same age. There were Jaffa Cakes, which I had heard referenced in the British mockumentary "People Like Us," a brilliant and almost totally forgotten-about show that I discovered on BBC America in college. There were Ryvita crackers, which Sybil offered to the health inspector in an episode of "Fawlty Towers." There was salad cream, unforgettably offered by Basil to an unctous little bastard in the dining room of another episode of "Fawlty Towers."

Basil: "We don't have any salad cream. The chef made this freshly this morning."

Boy's Mother: "He likes salad cream."

Boy: "That's puke, that is."

Basil{through clenched teeth}: "Well at least it's fresh puke."

As you can probably tell, I was in Brit Heaven. All of my fond, warm memories of the books, TV shows and films I enjoyed as a boy were coming back to me in that supermarket last night.

"Well, we have to buy something from this section," I said to my wife.

What recession?

I settled on the Jaffa Cakes. I don't know why-- I guess because "People Like Us" was the last British program (ahem, "programme") that my wife and I watched together, in which WPC (that's Woman Police Constable, for you yanks) Jane Thorpe offers some Jaffas to her male partner on the force. It's her solemn duty to offer the male constables tea and cakes, apparently.

As I looked over the box of Jaffa Cakes, (soft, cake-like circles with a dollop of orange jam half-covered in chocolate) I couldn't help but laugh, right there in the supermarket, thinking that the conclusion I had begun to form about the underlying cuteness of British culture way back in my early obsessional days with G&S was still true today. Here's how the Jacob Fruitfield Food Group (which is based in Ireland, by the way), advertise Jaffa Cakes on the box:

"10 Spongy Cakes with the Squidgy Orange Bit."


I'm sorry-- the squidgy orange bit?

Wait. It gets better.

With this box, you get "Bigger Jaffa" and "NEW recipe with lots more orangey centre yippee!"


I don't know how the English culture, by and large, feels about its inherent cuteness. I suspect it makes certain members of the population a tad uncomfortable. I can imagine Sir William Schwenck Gilbert, all 6'4" of him getting hot underneath his celluloid shirt collar at being referred to as "cute." Maybe only his Lucy could get away with that, but I suspect it's one component of British culture that often flies beneath the radar.

Look at the Japanese-- stern-faced businessmen in black suits walking around with "Hello, Kitty" cellphone charms attached to their Nokias. Cuteness is out there, folks, and it's not just for children. We lose many things in this world when we grow up, and I think that's what J.M. Barrie, another Englishman who was often moved to flights of cuteness, was fighting against as his immortal Peter Pan shouted out, "I WON'T GROW UP!" He was fighting against the loss of cuteness that we so often suffer from as we age. It doesn't have to be.

But, in America, it so often is. Americans, especially men, feel this extraordinary lust for machismo. We need to drive fucking trucks. We need to wear camo. We need to drink 74 ounces of coffee in the morning. We need to eat breakfasts referred to as "The Lumberjack." We need to wear boots, even if we don't work outdoors. We need to wear scruff. We need to scratch our asses and our balls.

I don't know what that's all about, but that's what we're all about. So I guess I'll just sit back with my Jaffa Cakes and enjoy the squidgy orange bit while I sit cross-legged on the sofa with a cup of tea and Utopia, Ltd. plays merrily on the record player.

Join me, if you please. I'll even save you some McVitie's Hobnobs. Be careful, though-- "one nibble and you're nobbled."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Keep Fucking That Chicken

On the evening news last night, veteran New York reporter Ernie Anastos jocularly advised weatherman Nick Gregory to "keep fucking that chicken" during a brief, on-air banter exchange. While Anastos and Gregory chuckle incessantly, co-anchor Dari Alexander stares pop-eyed at the camera for a full two seconds, looking like somebody just stabbed her in the neck with an icepick. While you all know I don't post goddamn YouTube clips on this website, if you haven't yet seen it, go check it out. You'll be very happy you did.

It's chicken-fucking good.

I don't want you to get worried about the remainder of this blog post-- it's not going to be a meaningless diatribe about censorship and the media, or freedom of speech, or whether this crazy bastard ought to keep or lose his job-- I don't really give much of a shit about any of that. Let the other bloggers and pundits (that's the word, people, by the way-- if I hear one more person say "pundints" I'm going to seriously beak-fuck somebody's chicken) discuss the more esoteric, mundane and predictable issues surrounding this little gaffe. You and me? We're going down a different road.

I see Ernie Anastos' comment in a different way than perhaps many of the viewers who have seen this video clip on Facebook (thanks again, Adam-- you're my No. 1 Chicken Fucker) or YouTube or Google Video. I see Ernie Anastos as speaking to all of us on a more humanitarian level-- he's saying something, not just to his weatherman, but to all of us, and he's saying it in language that we can all understand and relate to.

He's telling us not to give up, and I like that.

Life isn't easy, in case you've forgotten that, or have yet to experience it yourself. You will, and, when you do, I want you to know that things get better. Of course, they get worse, too, but, if they didn't, we'd never realize when things got better, would we? That's a theme I'm borrowing from Richard Nixon's resignation speech, but it's just as timely today, and I think old Dick Nixon would have appreciated and related to Ernie Anastos' social commentary, too. It was definitely language Nixon would have appreciated.

We love slogans in this country, and if there's one type of slogan we love more than anything, it's the slogan of encouragement:

Don't give up.

Rock on with your bad self.

You go, girl.

Just do it.

Keep it up.

You can do it.

Semper Fi.

Do or die.

And now, the latest pat-on-the-tuchus to enter our great American lexicon:

Keep fucking that chicken.

Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to answer Ernie Anastos' bold, new, stirring call to action. Will you keep fucking that chicken with me?

Yes, you will.

You will not despair when life gets you down. You will not give up when myriad of difficulties and tribulations stand in the way of achieving your goals. You will not become frustrated or defeatist or discouraged. You will not quit. You will boldly rise with me, steadfastly lower your trousers, and diligently keep fucking that chicken, because that, my friend, is what makes us Americans.

We don't have much sometimes in this world, but we are fortunate enough to have visionary people in our midst like Ernie Anastos, people who are not afraid to lend a supportive word when on the path of righteousness we trip and stumble.

These are challenging times in which we live. America is fighting a war in two nations, we are facing economic despair from which we are only beginning to recover, we struggle with issues or class, identity, religion and race in this country. Now, more than ever, it is time to take stock of who we are, what we want, and who we will become in the days, months and years ahead. There will be obstacles in our path, but as long as we keep a clear eye and our face towards the sun, we can reach our goals better and stronger than we were before.

Keep fucking that chicken, my loves. Keep fucking that chicken.

Well, Spank the Dog and Serve Me a Salad, It's DEAR APRON TIME!

You know, if I thought more about it, I could probably make my Dear Apron columns scheduled to be on the 2nd Monday of every week, so you'd know when one was coming-- but where the fun in schedules? I like 'em random-- like chance encounters with C-list celebrities.

And now, without further bullshit or calories, it's Dear Apron time, with insincere apologies to Dear Abby.


I am a 58-year-old woman who has just been dumped by my 55-year-old boyfriend for a younger woman. She is 18, and if that isn't bad enough -- she's my daughter. They are now living together.

For more than a year we functioned as a family. We had regular game nights and took a family vacation together. Because of their betrayal, I have lost my daughter, my boyfriend, the two people I thought were also my best friends, and my family all at the same time. I don't know anyone who has had this happen to them, but unfortunately there must be some out there.

How do I go on? How do I maintain a relationship with my daughter when she is living with my ex-boyfriend? How do I accept what has happened without approving of it? There is so much wrong with this I'm at a loss for rules or tools to handle it. -- IN CRUSHING PAIN IN OREGON


I'm not going to lie: this is hot.

I'm sorry, but it's hard for me to answer this question without thinking of this dude nailing your tight daughter doggie-style over the sink in the downstairs bathroom while you're in the living room setting up the Monopoly board and looking for your reading glasses.

I'm sorry-- what were we talking about again? Tank-tops?

Look, let's level with each other, okay, Crushing Pain (may I call you "C.P."?) Your ex-boyfriend's got a great thing going on, n'yah mean? You're very jealous of your daughter's attractive physique and her willingness to use it to get the attention she desperately wants, and I understand that. Hey, C.P., you're a washed-up old sag-bag, and that's hard for you.

Here's what I think you should do, though. In the future, to avoid getting hurt like this, try running your prospective boyfriends' names through the NCIC database, the FBI's online resource for criminal background checks, that way you should be able to avoid associating, and sharing your bed, with pedophiles.

But, who are we kidding? You're never going to date again after this anyway.


I'm 19 and finally getting my life together. I have already experienced a lot emotionally and physically. I have recently started on the path to sobriety, but there are two problems. In the city where I live there is nothing to do after 10 p.m. if you're not a drunk. My friends from childhood not only do not support me but tell me I should just have a drink.

I know you should keep yourself surrounded by people who will lift you up, but these people have been my close companions for many years, and I don't think I can dismiss them that easily. Please help me. I like how my life is right now, and I need to know how to stay focused.


I'm confused. You say that, "in the city where [you] live there is nothing to do after 10 p.m. if you're not a drunk" and you sign your letter "Drunk or Sober? In New York" which leads me to believe that you live in New York City. And you're trying to bullshit me into believing that there's nothing to do in New York City after 10 at night if you're not a drunk? Honey, you've got to be fucking kidding me. The goddamn Broadway shows don't even let out until 11:15.

Oh, wait-- maybe you live in Albany. Is that really a city? Well, if it is, then maybe you've got me there.

In any event, living in a shithole like Albany is no excuse for being an alcoholic. That bored after 10 p.m.? Read a book. Play with yourself while shoving a mustard bottle up your ass. Invent the cure for underarm cancer. Get a fucking life, will you? Stop looking for excuses on which to blame your own pathetic failings and non-existent willpower.

And your friends from childhood aren't really your friends unless they support you. And they all have AIDS.

DEAR APRON: Please tell me your position on this. Are adult children supposed to take an aging mother with them on vacation? If not, what is a gentle way to say no when the parent invites herself? Please help us. -- UNSURE IN OHIO


Oh my God, I don't believe it! Two letters from the same family in one day? I mean, this is the 18-year-old daughter who ran away with mom's ex-boyfriend, right? I can't believe it! Now she wants to go on vacay with you guys? Well, I guess she's reconciled her feelings about your relationship.

Dude-- threesome!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My Masonic Apron's AWESOME GIVEAWAY!

Hahaha! You clicked to read this post thinking I had some cool promotional item to give away to a randomly-selected reader in order to drive up my readership statistics.

That's funny!

Yeah, I don't have shit for you.

What I do have, though, is a blog post-- because that's what a blog is supposed to contain, right?


Have you ever stopped for a moment to consider what is on your desk, and what those objects might say about you and your own personal little world? Personally, I'm a little afraid of revealing to you, gentle reader, all of the items that are sitting here in front of me, but I think I'm going to, because I think you deserve to know. Not only that but, I think, most of you know me well enough by now to know that I believe in an overabundance of disclosure.

I think it brings us closer together.

Ready? Here we go:

I'll start with the obvious-- the computer monitor. It's a 19-inch Westinghouse flatscreen that we purchased as an "Open Item" from Worst Buy a few months ago when my wife's butt-monitor of the Bush, Sr. era finally blitzed out. I had been advocating for a flatscreen monitor for months and months prior to that event, ironically, to conserve desk space. You'll see why that's ironic soon.

On our desk also sit two boxes of checks. I'm always petrified of running out of checks. We don't usually run out, we usually just lose them. Even though most of our bills are paid in cyber-space, we still use checks to pay the mortgage and the car payment. There are three hundred checks in the two boxes on the computer desk.

A huge Mag-Lite flashlight. I bought this flashlight many years ago, for one reason: because it's a cool cop-like toy. It's the kind the police used in the 1970s to beat the shit out of suspects when they couldn't reach for their nightsticks in time.

There's a pedometer, too. When my wife and I go out walking or hiking, she likes to know how far we've gone, for reasons of personal gratification. We always forget to attach it to her waistband whenever we go walking or hiking.

My "Pirates of Penzance" score and libretto. Hopefully I will remember to take this to work with me today so I can use 15 minutes of my 1/2-hour lunch break to practice my recitatives, and the Act II finale so I won't look like a complete asshole at rehearsal tonight.

Lots of Post-It-type notes. Some contain online ed. class log-in information, things we want to remember, some are discolored. It's obviously not a very efficient system for remembering things, because I look at some of them and don't even know what they refer to. And they're in my handwriting.

The Boob-Frog. The Boob-Frog is a very long, sock-monkey-looking creation that my wife made, though it definitely more resembles a frog. It has two extremely large, bulging eyes that easily conjure up images of two honkin' titties, thus rendering it "The Boob Frog." It lies inert and prone on our desk, looking rather like a worn-out, empurpled prostitute on her lunch break. I mean, come on-- it's not like she'd be practicing "Pirates" on her lunch break.

A stuffed gingham turtle. I don't remember the story behind this one, but he's cute. He has two purple beads for eyes and a brown patterend shell. I like him, but I don't really know what he's doing here. I hope he doesn't get corrupted by the Boob Frog while I'm at work.

The digital cameras. Yes, there are two, because we're card-carrying members of the Bourgeoisie, and we like it. My wife's is huge and contains pictures from the infamous barn dance and less infamous wedding we attended this past weekend. The smaller camera is mine and it contains dozens and dozens of pictures from our vacation to Maine, including but not limited to pictures of us taking a spin in a real Model-T, me drooling over a 1950 split-window VW Beetle at an antique car museum, some old guy in a blue Speedo doing stomach crunches on the beach, a guy in a kilt, and my wife clutching onto the side of a sailboat for dear life on the Atlantic Ocean. All pictures have yet to be uploaded.

My Norton Anthology of American Literature "Shorter Seventh Edition." It's 2,874 pages.

A 1/64th scale replica of a VW Beetle with a picture holder attached to it. The picture that used to be in it was of me and my wife after I had just proposed to her on the porch of Mark Twain's house in Hartford, CT. The Mexican painters moved it and the picture fell off-- but I just spotted it on the dresser across the room. There, I've put it back. CUTE!

A container holding approximately 8,436 pens, most of which are probably non-functional. There's also a pair of chopsticks in there, I guess for the as-yet unmaterialized instance where we consume Chinese food while watching a TV program on Hulu. Maybe the season premier of SouthLAnd? (October 23)

A couple of random, overflow pens managed to escape from the holder and are on the desk, scattered, including my personal favorite from the Pennsylvania Resource Organization for Lactation Consultants. A nutjob who used to work in my office was also a lactation consultant and she left sixty of those pens at work when she quit. Wanna prank 'em? 610-873-9828. Tell them you're uncontrollably geysering and it's coming out chocolate.

Two free tickets to the Antique Auto Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania. My wife makes her monthly car payments to a credit union in Mechanicsburg, PA and they just sent her these tickets, out of the blue. Finally, something free that we can actually use, and that we will enjoy. If they don't get lost in the vastness of the desk clutter.

Two bottles of nail polish-- Black Peal and Bogota Blackberry.

There's a scrap of pink fabric with little back dresses on manequins sticking out of the top desk drawer. It's mostly on the desk top, so I guess it counts as something on our desk, even though it just looks like the desk drawer threw up.

And, finally, under a chenille lampshade made by my wife which sits on top of one of our auxillary speakers, all of our mortage and closing papers from our homebuying extravaganza. The folder's too big to fit into our filing cabinet, so, um it's on our speaker.

Once, in a graduate level education class, my professor said that you can tell a lot about a person by opening up the trunk of their car. I looked down, carefully averting my gaze as I had learned in years and years of math classes.

"What about you, son?" he said to me. I looked up at him.

"Um," I stammered, "I'll pass."


P.S.-- Still want that giveaway? Come here and take all this fucking shit off my desk. Except the "Pirates" score. You can have that once I'm off-book.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Wife, The Sell-Out

My wife is a lot of things.

She's small, and she's cute. She's funny and intelligent and she wears clothes with lots of fun colors. She pulls it off. She looks great in vintage glasses, too-- not like the chicks who are trying too hard with that shit.

Now, my wife is one more thing: she's a SELL-OUT!

But, um, not in the bad way. And not in the whorey way either. Although that'd be hot. Kind of.

She's selling her crafty wares on her blog-- and not just any crafty wares, she's selling hand-made, customizable I-Spy bags.

Don't know what an I-Spy bag is? Well, quit sitting there looking goddamn stupid-- hop on over to her website and find the fuck out, you crazy donkey, you!

Come on, if you're American, you love to buy stuff, so why not buy an I-Spy bag? Canadians like to buy stuff, too, right? Just not guns. Anyway, the I-Spy bag is definitely stuff, and it's definitely not a gun. It's the perfect gift for a child, especially one who won't shut the hell up on a long car ride. They're great for adults of normal intelligence, or anywhere on either side of normal. Just ask me. I'm livin' proof, Cletus!

I know, I know-- you didn't expect such shameless promotion on my blog-- I who shun pictures and advertisers and consumerism... but, hey, this is my wife we're talking about. And we have a goddamn mortgage payment to make, too.

So, scurry your little self on over to my wife's blog and plunk down some cash for a super-cool, hand-crafted I-Spy bag. I'll give you a big kiss on your tuchus if you do.

If you cover your ass in Saran-Wrap, that is.

The I Don't Give a Fuck List

I've decided, today, that there are a lot of things in life that I don't give a fuck about.

I've decided, today also, to list those things, because I am extremely pressed for time, and I am also very sorry for not having had time to post a substantive blog this morning. I don't know why I ran out of time, but I did.

I now implore your pardon with my List of Things I Don't Give a Fuck About:

1.) Kanye West

The next time you interrupt someone, I hope it's a carjacker and he shoots you in the face.

2.) Jay Leno

Your show moved to a new time slot? Go fuck yourself.

3.) Taylor Swift

Aww-- did the mean black man with crop circles in his hair hurt your wittle feelings?

4.) Joe Wilson

The next time you interrupt someone, I hope-- oh, wait...

5.) Patrick Swayze

Yeah, sorry. I just don't. And, if I hear another soundbite of "Nobody puts Baby in a corner" I'm going to break off my own left arm and stab myself in the eye with the jagged ulnar bone.

6.) Acne

I'm over it, Zit. Bring on the pus, Gus. I just don't care anymore. A regular uniform of sweatsuits can't be far behind.

7.) Whether or not the recession is "likely over."

Ben Bernanke, why don't you just shut the fuck up?

8.) Marc Jacobs

The New York Times calls him the "Now Man." Do we give a fuck about that? Highly dubious.

9.) Barack Obama's dog

Remember when we gave a fuck about that? I don't.

10.) The deplorable situation of death row prisoners in Japan.

NPR tried to entice me to give a fuck about that in a news report last week. It almost worked.

11.) Dan Brown

Why do I think that at least 85% of bloggers are better writers than Dan Brown? Including the ones who only post YouTube videos.

12.) Injured professional athletes

I'm so sorry you injured your wrist doing that touchdown dance. Maybe you can make a sling for it out of a few dozen ten thousand dollar bills.

13.) Meredith Vieira

Don't worry, honey-- I wouldn't forget about you.

14.) All of the other things I should be doing instead of blogging.

Hey, it's work-- it'll still be there tomorrow.

15.) Pop culture

Now that my former best friend who works for MTV doesn't speak to me anymore, I never have to endure another conversation about inane assholes and idiots, charlatans and harlots in the entertainment industry that I don't give a fuck about.

16.) Swine flu

If you were a real illness, you'd be called the fucking Tiger Flu or some shit, man. Come and get me, piggie sickie!

17.) The Number 17

Eat me, One-Seven!

18.) People who are related to me but aren't my immediate family.

I have no time for you, uncles and such. Sorry. Thanks for the wedding gifts, though.

19.) My clothes

I don't think I own a shirt or pair of trousers that doesn't have some kind of stain on it, or isn't wrinkled or outdated. So? You going to arrest me, Marc Jacobs?

And, finally, the thing I give a fuck about the least:

20.) People who don't like my blog.

Follower 43, I don't know who you are, or what I did or what happened, but I just don't give a fuck.


Kate Gosselin's new haircut-- definitely number 21 on the list.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My First Barn Dance

I attended my first barn dance on Saturday night. It was the event held prior to my friend Sara's wedding. Those of you who are hardcore My Masonic Apron readers might remember Sara-- I talked about her on my second ever post on this blog, which amnesiacs and the un-hardcore can read all about here.

While the wedding was beautiful and sweet, the barn dance could have gone better for us. My wife showed up in an Anthropologie dress, I showed up in a wool sport coat, shirt, tie, courderoy pants and a silver pocketwatch chain. I realized I would probably be the only person there with a pocketwatch, but I thought, as this was part of a wedding celebration, people might be wearing ties. They weren't. Not even those western bolo ties preferred by used car dealers and Kentucky-fried mayors.

Held as this event was in rural Vermont, I should have expected that our attire would be considered overdone, but not extra-tasty-crispy. It was okay, nobody made us feel out-of-place or ashamed, not even the manish-looking, probably autistic young woman in filthy jeans and a repair-shop sweatshirt who kept fondling our dog throughout the party. Oh, yes-- Finley was there as an invited canine guest. He cowered under the table and chewed vigorously on a goat bone.

Yes, there was shish-ka-goat.

Now that I have experienced my first barn dance, I feel like I should impart some of my accrued wisdom to you, in case you happen to be invited to one and you don't know what to wear or how to act. It is my hope that, if some lost Googler out there types in the boolean phrases "barn dance" and "etiquette" they'll be directed here first. So now, without further ado, y'all, My Masonic Apron presents:

So, It's Your First Barn Dance

1.) Leave the Anthropologie clothes and sport coats at home.

Trust me, you will be much happier and much more comfortable in a pair of Carharts and a blue denim work shirt. Boots are preferable to shoes, with or without slatherings of animal feces.

2.) If you see a cooler, do NOT open it.

It may not contain cans of soda like you think. It may contain a half-eviscerated goat carcass.

3.) If something is pleasing to you, do NOT clap.

At a barn dance, if a "speech" is made or if you like the band, screaming and howling is the preferred method of approbation. Clapping is a sure-fire way to instantly feel gay.

4.) Gender is NOT to be assumed.

When square-dancing with children of indiscrimate age and gender, do not presume that the "lady swingin' to the left" is actually a lady-- it may just be a beautiful-looking, awkwardly-proportioned boy with mounds of angelic blond curls. To be certain you will not give offense, refer to all guests as "Hey!"

5.) Square-dancing is NOT for novices.

I don't know how one learns how to square-dance, but it isn't at a square-dance. And it especially isn't at a square-dance where the caller is a sixty-year-old drunk woman.

6.) There's always another party going on nearby.

Bored with the festivities inside the barn? Take a walk outside by the cornfield and you'll spot several other tertiary parties going on in full swing-- like the one inside the bed of the tan Chevy Silverado where two or three buds might be sitting in lawn chairs drinkin' cold ones and smokin' cee-gars. Someone might even be getting high inside the port-a-potty. And there's always a game of horse-shoes going on, which is especially engaging to watch because the participants are all very far gone.

7.) Expect the unexpected. Facial hair.

Steel yourself for the very real possibility that you might have to engage in conversation with a young man whose face bears Civil War-era sideburns and a walrus mustache. You may even encouter a gentleman with a beard that doesn't connect to either sideburns or mustache, it sort of just hangs there in liminal space, like a neutron star.

8.) Your hamburger has a name.

People in Vermont are very proud of the food that they grow, kill, cook and serve. Get to know a little bit about the animal which you are about to consume. It had a story, a personality and, yes, a name. So, learn a little-- it makes dining a much more personal experience.

9.) You will want to take the children home.

While most of the adults are dubious-looking at best, the children are beyond adorable, even the ones of indeterminate gender. But remember, you can't take them home with you-- their real parents need them to fetch beers from the fridge and goat bits from the cooler.

And, of course,

10.) It's your first barn dance, and you're going to look like an asshole.

Don't worry about that, though. There's always your second barn dance.

Friday, September 11, 2009

More Mercury, Please

You might not have guessed it from the foul-mouthed, simmering tomfoolery exhibited on this blog, but I am, in the real, three-dimensional world, a very meek, mild-mannered person.

Those few of you who actually know me personally know what I mean. The thought of me confronting someone or having a public outburst of any consequence is admittedly funny, even to me.

Being meek and mild-mannered, I tend to wait in lines a lot. Impatient people don't wait in lines. They have ways of circumventing lines. They'll either slam their item down and leave the store in a disgusted huff-- a duff, as it were-- or they'll find some other way to achieve their all-important goal of not waiting anymore. Maybe they'll shout at the flustered checkout girl, "Common, will ya?!" as their bluetooth headset flashes with equal impatience and insistence. Sometimes, they'll even budge. I mean, eeep! Don't these guys remember the cardinal rules of the 8th grade cafeteria lunch line? There were pearls of widsom hidden deep within the anonymous brown gorp on those pale pink and green melamine trays.

Today, I went to the pharmacy to pick up my asthma medication and nasal spray, items that all Jewish males are required by law to take. Because these are chronic medications that I will be no doubt shackled to for life (I'm your boy, Glaxo bitches!) the pharmacy tech knows which bag to grab the moment I walk in the door. Most people are on first-name terms with their baristas or their bartenders. Me? I'm tight with the drug lady. I forked over my overzealous co-pay and, as I was shoving my debit card into my wallet, I suddenly remembered that I hadn't yet procured a wedding card for my good buddy who's getting hitched in Vermont this weekend (we're leaving soon).

"Do you carry greeting cards here?" I asked the pharmacy tech. She actually laughed at me.

"Yeah," she said, between guffaws, "right where you walked in."

I turned and stared at a huge display of greeting cards, just where she said they were. I guess I couldn't blame her for laughing at my total lack of observational prowess-- my family has been coming to this pharmacy since the 1970s, and nothing has changed there since then, except that the soda fountains are no longer operational. In fact, I read my first Playboy there. And was caught by the pharmacist, an elderly man who threatened to call my mom. I mean-- who told him to put the nudie mags where eight-year-olds could reach them?

"Oh," I said, sheepishly retreating behind the greeting card rack to find an inoffensive and ungloppy wedding card. I picked a blank one pretty quickly, but it wasn't quick enough, for, when I came back to the counter, I found that I was forced to wait in line. Only behind one person, though. It will be fine.

The one person I was behind, however, was not just a person. She was the person. She was the epitome, the very living essence of the person, the singular person you never, ever, ever, ever want to be behind in line. She didn't have Hershey stains on the seat of her trousers, or an oozing, infected hole in the back of her neck with a couple of hatchlings inside waiting for the return of their mother with dinner, but she was, well, a cheapskate who was there to complain.

"Is that young kid working tonight?" she said. This was the foreplay leading up to the main event.

"Uh, no, he's back in school now," the pharmacy tech said.

"Oh. Well. Here's the thing...."

Oh, Jesus, I thought. I wondered briefly what "the thing" could be, coming from "the person." Could it be that they mixed up her Lopressor with crystal meth? Did they sell her super-absorbent Depends when she only needed "regular moisture control?" Were her PVD medical stockings the wrong shade of "Flesh?"

"I specifically asked him to sell me a traditional mercury thermometer, and he sold me a mercury-free thermometer. For $12.00. Now, I didn't realize that it was mercury-free at the time, but I took that thermometer home and I used it over and over and over again and that thing won't go above 98 degrees."

Well, maybe you don't have a fucking fever, my little cupcake.

"Now, I only use mercury thermometers, because they're the best. And I don't know what kind of item that kid sold me. I mean, maybe it was packaged a very long time ago, and it had just been sitting here....."

The pharmacy tech inspected the box.

"No, it says here "December, 2008."

"Oh, well, I don't know... the thermometer says 'Made in Germany' so, you know..."

No, I don't know. What is that supposed to mean? Is that somehow evidence supporting her contention that the product is defective? Are Germans somehow notorious for manufacturing faulty no-mercury thermometers? I should ask my sister-- she knows about every product that's ever been recalled since the 1984 Ron Popeil Flavor Injector, Pencil Sharpener and Enema Kit.

"Oh, well actually the box says "Grand Rapids, Michigan," she said after more closely inspecting the box. I was in awe of this woman. All she wanted was her goddamn $12.00 back, and yet she somehow felt it necessary to conduct this elaborate and ridiculous song and dance. I couldn't help admiring her, though, for being who she was. She was someone who appreciated the minutae of life, this sweatsuit and windbreaker wearing, bespectacled, frizzy-haired seventy-year-old customer standing in front of me, making my life miserable because her thermometer didn't have enough poison in it.

"Well, all I know is that it won't go about 98 degrees. It won't budge. It absolutely doesn't move." She shoved it in the pharmacy tech's face. "Here! You try it."

"Um, I'm not putting that in my mouth. That's okay."

"All I'm saying is that I have checked this thermometer against my mercury thermometer and this one is definitely off!"

Wait a minute, Mrs. Mercury-- you already have a goddamn thermometer with mercury in it? Then why were you trying to buy another one? Do you have a collection of them? I pictured her house briefly in my mind, and then I quickly shrugged off the mental images. I pictured a cocktail party, with dozens of cats everywhere, jumping on all the guests and shitting in their coat pockets and I pictured her behind the basement wet bar, in her sweatsuit and pink windbreaker, mixing all the drinks with mercury thermometers as cocktail stirrers. And now you know why I avoid parties.

Finally, the pharmacy tech looked over this woman's shoulder at my pathetic corpse standing behind her, immobile, clutching my measly wedding card.

"I can just ring that up for you," she said, barely hiding a smirk. "Do you need a bag for this?"

I caught that evil glint in her eye and I broke out into a smile. Barely able to suppress my laughter as I snatched my receipt I choked, "Nope!"

Waiting in line, an interminable line, sucks. It just feels like your life is draining out your shoes. But I realized this evening that some things are worth waiting for. I knew I had to get out of there soon or I was going to crack up right there in front of this poor, disheveled lunatic, and I just had to fight to control myself. I turned around to leave as the old crone shook the thermometer vigorously and reported,

"Well, it's moving now, but I'll bet it won't go up!"

And as I threw the store's door open, I heard the pharmacy tech laugh, right out loud.