Saturday, July 26, 2014

JUST LIKE REAL LIFE--ONLY MORE SO

   Beginning in the Middle

   Happy endings are for flower dancers in banquet halls or deep sea divers in search of ancient wreckage. Happy beginnings arrive even less often. So rare are they that when they knock, we often groan and pretend to be out of town. We even treat such false starts as maudlin acts of deceit, things to scorn rather than to embrace. As to the middle? En medias res goes back all the way to Homer, so it should be good enough for our purposes. 
   From inside the fetid comfort of my sleeping bag I felt a nudge against my shoulder. Wanting sleep to continue protecting me from whatever might be crawling along that basin, my mind mumbled and I turned away from it. Before long came another nudge, this one a bit more harsh. I reacted against this intrusion into my sanctuary with a sharp slap of the fist against the inside of my zipped up comforter. The final kick came hard. My ribs screamed. The cold hunger I'd been repressing yawned from my stomach to my elbows. Before I could free myself to see what was attacking me, strong arms hoisted me up and tore the sleeping bag down to my shins. 
   Sure. 
   Of course. 
   Yes. 
   Cops. Two big white and blue police officers dispatched to ease the consciences of the twinkling Christmas tree homes, homes with their fireplaces blazing, their stereos clanging, and their occupants peeking down the embankment where I stood with two of the Valley's finest specimens prodding me with questions and night sticks.
    The strong arm of lunacy had been nursing my head and shoulders with its graveyard touch for weeks as I wandered from beneath bridges to atop office buildings, from the stenches of man-made shelters to the dank operations of hospital waiting rooms. Over the previous months, I'd found myself standing or sitting or lying in all those places and others, never quite allowing myself to gain a clear picture of my condition. To see myself right would have been like that horrible scene in The Elephant Man where the captain brings in the ladies and gentlemen in all their finery to gaze upon the poor wretch, the final act of maddened cruelty being to shove a mirror under Merrick's nose so the deformed beast had to look upon himself in horror.
   I had been avoiding mirrors for some time.
   The cops tore through my pockets while pretending to frisk. Out fell my battered wallet, down went half the bagel I'd grabbed from a hotel lobby. The worn razor I used for dry shaving bounced off a stone. I'd not removed my glasses when I retired, so they went down with the rest of my meager belongings. 
   "Mind telling us what you're doing here?" said the bigger of the cops as his comrade continued to pat me down. 
   "Sleeping," I said. "Or I was."
   "We can see that," said the junior partner. "What we want to know is why here?"
   "And don't tell us you're homeless," said the bigger man. "Or we'll lock you up, sure at shit."
   I had no interest in being locked up, sure as shit or otherwise. I said, "Just on my way home. Address is on my licence, if I can pick it up."
   "We'll tell you when you can pick it up," said one of them. "We had a complaint that there was a dead guy in a sleeping bag down here. Know anything about that, bub?"
   I shook my head.
   "Probably this guy."
   "Yeah, probably. Look, pick your stuff up and get out of here. It's Christmas morning, for God's sake. And clean yourself up. You got an odor, bub."
    They stood back and waited with folded arms while I gathered everything I owned into my sleeping bag. I rolled the bag into a canvas carrier, strapped that over my back and across my shoulders, and lumbered up the embankment, cutting through a green winter lawn. When I turned around, the cops were walking back to their patrol car. 
   I could easily have gone back down into that damp but not wet basin and resumed my slumbers, but my habits at that time were to keep moving at all costs. Unless I was eating, sleeping or smoking--the latter always with what I hoped was an air of purpose--I was moving. My feet tramping on inside my too-tight black slip-ons, getting me on my way to elsewhere, that was what felt right, that was what kept my mind from imploding, what kept the jokers from jumping out of the card deck and dancing all over my face. 
   My watch band had broken weeks earlier, but the face of it still kept time. It was just after eight in the morning. A nearby hospital had a coffee machine that gave out free cups, cups which were intended for the people waiting for treatment or the friends of the same. I'd benefitted from the services of that coffee machine several times over the previous weeks and even though I suspected the gruel was decaffeinated, it would still be warm and that would feel normal for a change. I also intended to make use of their restroom. I had acquired a travel bottle of shampoo and body wash and, it being Christmas, I had a personal obligation to better myself. The only risk in any of this was the slim chance that a certain security guard there--a fellow who did as much of his job as possible from behind the wheel of his golf cart--might hassle me, but I was empty and the coffee would soften the crust of that half bagel I'd been saving.
   I walked through the front doors and nodded to the chaplain who sat behind the service desk. The chaplain and I had developed some sort of understanding. He would always pretend to believe I had some valid reason for being there and I always went along with that theory. "Have yourself a cup before you go up, sir. Merry Christmas to ya."
   I smiled back at him and walked down the hallway toward my real friend the coffee maker. I filled the eight-ounce cup with black joe and beelined for the men's room. 
   Once inside I dropped my pack to the floor. With every passing day, the straps of my pack cut deeper into my skin, just as every day the pack felt heavier, just as I felt more depleted. My standard weight is 160. I didn't hop on the hospital scales, but I calculated that I had slipped to just below one hundred. To gain weight, one must take in more calories than one burns off. To lose weight requires the opposite. On that Christmas morning I had been on the bum's diet for four-and-a-half months. 
   I made a point of not looking in the mirror as I dipped my head beneath the sink's faucet and let the cool water gush over my hair and head. I even managed what felt like a smile as the cool water trickled down my face and neck. I uncapped the small shampoo bottle with one hand and grabbed a stack of paper towels with the other. I had a fair lather going when I heard two voices move by the other side of the closed door. I'd already moved the "wet floor" sign outside the door to discourage visitors. It was one thing to sneak in a cup of coffee while trying to look normal. It was quite another to be caught taking a whore's bath in the hospital men's room. The voices faded and I went back to my duty.
   My own dread of being discovered invariably outweighed my impulse to luxuriate with the glorious feeling of getting clean, so I ducked my head down again under the faucet, worked the suds out of my hair, used the paper towels to dry the strands as fast as I could, and even allowed myself a quick glance of admiration. The bags under my eyes weren't quite as heavy as my own pack. I was going to need a fresh razor soon. And I could see--in the two seconds I permitted myself--that I was going to need to eat that bagel very soon.
   I ran my small black comb through my hair three quick yanks, hoisted my bags back over my aching shoulders, snatched the coffee off the marble deck, and turned to leave. As I put my shoulder against the door, it pressed hard against me. I didn't quite fall, but I staggered back a pair of steps, somehow not losing a drop. 
   I heard the voice before I saw the man who owned it. "What the hell you doing here, boy?"
   The security guard knew he had me. In his heart, in his head, in his inner voice that wondered why he had to work Christmas Day while others cleaned themselves in public restrooms, in all these places and others, he knew he had me. 
   I had not come all this way to be "had" by anyone. I said, "What I'm doing here is visiting a friend of mine. Barbara Caldwell. She's in room 2319."
   "Naw, she ain't. Ain't nobody by that name in this hospital."
   "There's one person with that name, you moron. Unless you're pretty damned sure of yourself--and you don't look as if you are--you'd better check it out before you do something else stupid. Well, go on, dumb ass."
   "What you say that name was?"
   "Ah, for Christ sake. Get out of my way."
   I pushed by him with all the strength I could muster, which was not much at all. He slipped out of the way just in case I might have been one of those eccentric millionaires who dresses like a hobo just to throw everybody off. Since I had no idea who was really in room 2319, I turned down the hall, nodded goodbye to the chaplain, and stepped back outside just as a warm December rain exploded over the parking lot. The half-smoked cigarettes in the outdoor ashtray were going to get soaked. 

KEY LARGO

   The bruises to my ego no doubt will fade, just as the cuts to my moral cranium will blend back to normal, but despite all my protestations as to what a monumental artistic and popular success is that movie known as Key Largo (1948), as it happens, Lisa Ann, known to loyal readers as the long suffering roommate, may have been closer to the truth when she pronounced the movie "Very stupid." She called it a "vanity movie," the equivalent of some weak and overdone story that tried to sell tickets based on the glam and glitter of stars Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Edward G. Robinson. "I have been to musicals," she declared,  "on a brick and mortar stage that were more realistic. The costume designer was only interested in the women looking perfect and the men looking dapper throughout the wind-machine hurricane punctuated by that overpowering music score (Max Steiner). There was no duress in this movie except the delivery of the lines."
    "Did you feel bad about the Indians?" I asked.
    "Of course, I did. The Indians were not given proper attention. If you're going to call them out with any importance, you need to explain why you're calling them out, especially with Indians."
   She was not impressed that one of the Seminoles was played by Jay Silverheels.
   "They did not get the respect they deserved. Do you realize how many people at the time watched that movie and said, 'Stupid Indians.' Back in those days, the American Indians were viewed very poorly. A lot of the popular conceptions of Indians comes from movies like this. It really reinforces the stereotypes."
   The last time I watched Key Largo was fifteen years ago. I loved it. A friend of mine and I walked around together sparring back and forth as McCloud and Rocco. "What's one more Johnny Rocco in the world, more or less?" Or "Why don't you show the storm your gun, Rocco?" "Yeah! More! That's what I want." Or even "You filth." Or especially, "What I believed was that we were fighting to save a world in which there would be no need for a Johnny Rocco." 
   Then again, lots of movies have great dialogue. 
   "There's no symbolism, no moral parallelism, no point to any of it," she said with an indignant swing of her head. 
   I don't quite hold with this degree of vitriol about the John Huston-directed film. But I have learned to listen to the LSR, because to not listen often feeds my detriment. Sometimes I even think hard about what she says, especially when we disagree. 
   I don't quite agree with the "no symbolism" argument. But maybe that's just a semantic distinction. Think of it instead as personification. Just as the mountain in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (also directed by Huston, also starring Bogart, and also from 1948) was itself a character in the movie, so was the storm in Key Largo a central player, an invisible heroine bent on trying to crush the villains, even if she had to wipe out everyone else to get the job done. On the other hand, that sort of contrivance may strike contemporary audiences as corny, maudlin, or just plain stupid. 
   I'm even willing to grant that the performances by Bacall and Bogart were self-serving. And if the Nora Temple character had little to do besides fawn over old memories and romantic visions of the impending future, I can only counter that I found more depth in her gaze than in the theatrics of any one else in the movie.
   As to the cast, Robinson's Johnny Rocco truly terrifies, at least to my way of thinking. That may be why some people don't go for this film with the enthusiasm I brought to it. After all, Rocco threatens to shoot an old man for praying, murders a cop in the coldest of blood, ridicules a returning war veteran, dangles Scotch in front of his concubine just for meanness, and plans on flooding the American economy with counterfeit currency. He is, according to the movie, exactly what we were fighting against in World War II.
   That's a little bit of a problem. If you want to argue that the parallel is Rocco to Mussolini or Hitler, it doesn't quite float. Oh, both sides of that coin were hell bent on conquest and may indeed have been pure evil, but the writer and director did pull back from making that parallel clear, probably from fear of pissing off too many Italian-Americans. (And if you doubt that theory, remember that in "The Untouchables" TV show, not even al Capone himself was portrayed as Italian, and for precisely the same reason.) 
   Again, to give Lisa Ann her credit, certain aspects of the movie do fail to hold together. Too much of the struggle does come across limping rather than charging and those fifteen years since I last saw Key Largo have had their effect on me. Perhaps I've succumbed to a stand-off between fatalistic Phil and moralistic Mershon. I don't know. Let us just say I liked the movie a bit more than she did. And even if you reading this remain true believers of the justified mythology of the brilliance of Bogart and Huston, you may do well to consider that some heroes exist in small part for purposes of self-criticism.
    Hoping you are the same.

Friday, July 18, 2014

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WENDY

   The long-suffering roommate and I have come to something of a meeting of the minds when it comes to our regular intake of video impulses. For morning diversions, she prefers the local Fox "news" station, followed by a celebrity talk show hosted by a dynamic African American woman. I have chosen to not interfere with this, mostly because in the evenings, I prefer the alleged "news" brought to us by the billionaires who own a national liberal network. She has tolerated this with a mix of grimaces and laughter.
   Because both Lisa Ann and I do most of our work from home, we each find ourselves subjected to the other's personal tastes in television watching. Just as I was initially stunned into a combination of desires to run screaming from the room and yet simultaneously to just surreptitiously gawk, Lisa Ann likewise found the admittedly self-righteous posturing of my media heroes to be so overbearing that she could not imagine why anyone would allowing such elitist snobs near them. 
   There is some continuing value to both points of view.
   Both of us have been more than a little surprised to find that we have absorbed somewhat in excess of a fraction of the other's entertainment predispositions. In other words, I now no longer slip into apoplectic fits whenever the local anchors pause from their assessments of Lindsay Lohan's latest shenanigans to explore the vicissitudes of "entertainment news," as if that would be a switch. I actually kind of like the regular crew of misfits and I especially favor the deprecations toward the network itself, as when the weatherman quips, "This is Fox; we have no standards." Likewise, I find myself loving "The Wendy Williams Show," the program which immediately follows the local media explosion. Wendy is quite remarkable. Just turning fifty as I write this, she looks great, she's smart as a whip, and manages to subtly ridicule some of the more self-important guests and features. Plus she obviously connects with her audience, to whom she refers as her "Fabulous co-hosts." In short, she radiates charm and wit and I have no trouble understanding why Lisa Ann adores her. 
   The reason I like Wendy is because she helps me in my efforts to maintain irrelevance. For instance, I haven't the slightest idea who Aaliyah is or was and I find that not knowing this increases my own personal self-esteem. Other people whose names I've heard on her show who I could not pick out of a two-person line-up include Channing Tatum, Melissa McCarthy, Chris Pine, Ryan Gosling, Zooey Deschanel and Sandra Oh. At the same time it kind of kills me that I do know a little bit about Shakira, Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore and Jessica Alba. I'll be undergoing electro convulsive therapy this fall to have those recollections scrubbed. 
   The people I enjoy are the folks who make virtually no contribution to popular entertainment culture and yet who possess what is, to me, a complete disregard for staying au courant while eschewing any self-conscious anti-hip posing. So I like Keith Olbermann (now on ESPN2), Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart, Amy Goodman, and a slew of so-called TV and movie stars, some young (Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Jennifer Garner), some middle (Brad Pitt, Sharon Stone, Andre Braugher) and some older (Jack Nicholson, William DeVane). What I cannot tolerate and never will is the idea of being relevant at a time in our collective culture when relevancy itself has become irrelevant.    
   Nothing--or very little--that gets the glitz and glamour treatment today will be around in the group consciousness in three years, much less in decades to come. To an extent, that has been the way things have always seemed. After all, when pop stars of my generation had hits, no one expected songs like "Satisfaction," "Maggie May" or "Behind Blues Eyes" to last the ages. And yet for some people my age, those songs retain something beyond nostalgia, even though I personally could easily go the rest of my life without ever hearing a lot of the so-called classic rock that people half my age seem to favor. 
   So instead of slipping some stream dream music into my ear bugs this afternoon, I will write this article, realizing as I do so that my own relevance may be slipping away. That is one condition I can easily embrace. The best way to insure longevity nowadays is to be as irrelevant as possible. By that measure, I may have a marvelous future.
   But one thing is certain: while today's scantily clad manipulators of popular taste go the way of the milkman delivery system and dime per box Cracker Jacks, Wendy Williams will still be a force with which to reckon for years to come. Happy birthday. And "How you doin'?"



   

Thursday, July 17, 2014

ORDEAL MEAL

   My job was to teach English to the Teabaggers. 
   But we'll get to that in a moment. 
   Lisa Ann, my long-suffering roommate, tried explaining to me that her references to "booger pies" (which you may recall from our last visit--True Midwestern Humor Story from the Streets of Arizona) were more metaphorical than real, or more abstract than concrete, or more gaseous than solid. The problem, of course, was that the seeds were already in the ground, the children had begun foresting through the snotweeds, and the green grocers had already placed their orders. This is one of several reasons Lisa Ann likes to tell people I'm reactive. Actually, her word for me is "knee-jerk." Who could fail to love such an appellation? 
    "Let's order pizza," she announced. 
    I love pizza. Thick, pan, hand-tossed, with or without anchovies, heated, chilled, iced, diced--they just don't make bad pizzas when it comes to the buds of my taste, unless of course that pizza has been dipped in barbeque sauce, a matter to which we will shortly return. So when Lisa Ann suggested, "Let's order pizza," I felt the impulse to leap up onto the sofa, tear off my shirt, thump my chest and holler like a medicated Tarzan. Suspecting a trick, however, I resisted the impulse and instead smiled back at her, a querulous finger tapping my chin, the words choking in my esophagus. At last I managed to say, "Pizza?"
   "Pizza," she replied in a confirmatory tone.
   "Pizza?" I asked yet again.
   "Yes, pizza. You know, dough, sauce, cheese, toppings, comes in a flat box delivered by guys with gages in their ears. Pizza."
   Free association runs rampant in our house, so I should not have been all that stunned by her suggestion. After all, she had already conjured the notion of imaginary "booger pies." How much of a stretch of the mind did it take to reach out and seize the somewhat more realistic mental image of a pizza pie? Besides which, I was hungry. 
   After a brief discussion about the sizes, types and toppings, I speed-dialed our pizzeria of choice, informed the dear woman on the other end that we very much would enjoy the two pizza dinner box with pasta and bread sticks please thank you bye. Before I could disconnect, the receiver of my call added the unhappy news that this particular evening they had employed but one solitary driver and that he wasn't a very good driver and therefore our wait time would approximate eighty-five minutes. When one's skin is crawling like the flesh of a withdrawing junkie for the filling sacraments of the delectable pizza pie, eighty-five minutes feels more like an hour fifteen, but I said that was fine and so we sat and waited while our feet--and the feet of our two dogs and two parrots--tapped on the floor as if Patti LaBelle and Keith Moon were jamming in the living room.
    Right on schedule, the gaged (engaged?) delivery boy arrived, took our money and gave us the rectangular box within which lie (or lay; I've never been certain which) our collective salvation. Over the heads of the inquiring puppies and around the vibrating cages of the squawking birds I navigated the delicate box, at long last arriving at the stove top where I set the warm box to rest for a thin moment as we paused to anticipate the sensory delight.
   You can imagine our collective disappointment when after each of us took a hearty mouthful we shortly spat out the contents back onto our plates and shook our heads in stunned and repulsed disbelief.
   Lisa Ann shouted, "This shit tastes like barbeque!"
   Indeed it did. It tasted suspiciously and strongly like the last pizza we had ordered from this kitchen of disappoint, something called the Smokehouse BBQ Pizza That Never Should Have Been. But that had been weeks earlier! Surely they would have washed the pan by now!
   Apparently not. Our current order of two panned pizzas called for onions and Canadian bacon toppings. Nowhere on the list had we requested the dreaded whisked-on barbeque sauce from the bottom of a rancid barrel of moldy pickles. Yet there that taste sat, lingering on our curling tongues as we spat hither and yon, guzzling Coca-cola to wash away the vile thickness of poison. 
   The pasta and breadsticks were just fine.
   If there were such a thing in our home that could be called a standing rule, that rule might be that I am the person who calls up and complains about poor service. Perhaps because the original idea had sprung from her own lovely mind, Lisa Ann took telephone in hand and called the pizza place.
   "Hello, Barbara," she said. "If that is your real name." Lisa recited our telephone number and the woman calling herself Barbara asked how she might help us this evening.
   "Usually we call you to explain how wonderful your food is."
   "But not tonight?"
   "Not tonight. Barbara, dear, these pizzas your guy delivered in eighty-five minutes tastes like barbeque sauce. I simply loathe barbeque sauce."
   Then this Barbara woman did something just a wee bit odd. She took on the resolved tone of one who has heard a similar complaint more times than she cares to recall, sighed and said, "We'll send you out a new pizza right away. What would you like on it?"
   "No barbeque sauce, that's one thing. Maybe just a pizza like they used to make in the 1970s? You know, thin with pepperoni and cheese instead of all these stupid new things like the floorboards of a Camaro or the elephant foreskin-stuffed crusts? Just a plain old delicious pizza?"
   The pizza arrived with a promptness that was only exceeded by its mesmerizing aroma and Pavlovian responses. We finished it off, saving only a few bites for the birds and dogs. 
   There was still the matter of the uneaten pizza. Somehow the idea of giving it back to the delivery boy hadn't crossed our minds and neither of us had been raised to throw away perfectly detestable food, so what were we to do?
   It was then that Lisa Ann thought of our neighbor. The woman next door hasn't a husband, but she does have what might be well described as a house full of people, many of them her very own children. "Honey, would you be interested in a pizza? We ordered a little more than we needed. Eyes bigger than our bellies, don't you know?"
   The neighbor laughed and said that their bellies were a whole lot bigger than their eyes, so by all means send it over. 
   Lisa Ann wrapped the offending gruel in aluminum foil and handed it over the wall. If the sounds that came through the concrete block walls were any indication, it was well-received--and gone in seconds. 
   As I write this, it is the following day. No medical examiners have arrived to disgorge bodies from next door, no ambulances have tagged any toes, and no police have busted down doors, so it would appear our friends next door survived the Ordeal Meal in good health. Perhaps one day one of them will write a song about it. 
   In any event, I was going to tell you about teaching spelling, grammar and other rudiments of placard creation to the vocal members of a right wing extremist group, but it appears that I shall have to find some other type of transition element to make the shift appear unmechanical. Until then, we shall digest in peace and safety, all that comes our way, excepting only barbecued pizza refuse, while stepping carefully around or beside the darling snotweeds leaning heavenward in search of southwestern rainfall. Hoping you are the same. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

TRUE MIDWESTERN STORY HUMOR FROM THE STREETS OF ARIZONA

   Many of you have inquired about Lisa Ann, my long-suffering roommate, so I thought I would give you an update. Lisa Ann has developed this neat little trick to control the dogs whenever I leave the house. This trick works well, so feel free to steal it for yourselves, although there is a part of this story you cannot steal, so be sure to make that distinction.
   We have two dogs: Cody and Sarah. They are kind of like the animals in that episode of the original "Star Trek," where the one nice dog goes through the transporter and what comes out is the exact opposite kind of dog. Cody is big and goofy and lovable and a wee bit simple. Sarah is small and angry and hyper-protective and smarter than I am. A lot smarter.
   She is not smarter than Lisa Ann. Lisa has developed this plan because when I leave the house, if Lisa Ann stays behind, the two dogs go completely psychotic. They jump on the furniture, bite one another, bite her, bite the piano, growl at people apparently only they can see. And Sarah is the real instigator. Cody could not care less what I do, but when Sarah acts up, he's afraid he's missing out on something, so he pretends to be as outraged as she actually is. 
   Now for reasons I do not fully understand, both dogs calm down whenever they see Lisa Ann using the telephone. When she speaks into that cell phone, it is as if those two dogs had been shot with a tranquilizer gun by the head zookeeper on Devil's Island. They freeze in place, their muscles uncoil, and they cock their heads in that quizzical look so endemic to troublemakers everywhere. In short, they go back to being the sweet precious mutts we imagined them to be when we first brought them into our modest and vulnerable little home. 
   So earlier today I had to go out to get the mail. We keep the mailbox key on a lanyard--which I thought was just a stretch of rope, but it's a lanyard. Whenever I reach for that, Sarah the devil dog thinks I'm grabbing for the leash, so she starts spinning and flopping and kicking her legs in the air and flinging drool and stirring up Cody, who again figures he's missing out and so he carries on alongside her. Well, I do have to get the mail eventually, so Lisa Ann, once I'm out the door, she starts talking into her phone. Most of the time she's just making a pretend conversation. Now today, when I returned from the mailbox, I hear her saying something about making a booger pie. Obviously--at least I hope obviously--these were just words she was making up for the benefit of the dogs, but the idea of a booger pie was kind of intriguing, so after she hung up--you know, on the imaginary caller--we started talking about the various benefits of such a thing as this booger pie. 
   "Lots of protein in boogers."
   "Seriously?"
   "Sure. Plant protein."
   "No kidding?"
   "Sure. You've heard old people say to little kids that they've got a beanstalk growing up their noses? That's based on science."
   "I don't believe it."
   "It's true. The seedlings--"
   "I guess those would be the hard little boogers?"
   "Right. The ones kids specialize in. Kids haven't learned the social skills about sneezing into their hands or the crooks of their arms, so when a kid discharges a booger, he just lets it fly. That seedling booger ends up on the ground. A certain amount of those make it to soil. It rains. The sun shines. Photosynthesis happens. Before long, the damn thing sprouts up and the very same kid is walking along with his mother and he sees the very plant to which he himself gave birth. He says, Mommy what's that? Mommy screams Don't touch that! That's a snotweed! And it turns out she is exactly right."
   "Bullshit!"
   "Bullshit bullshit. It's true."
   Then she looks on the Internet. Right there she finds something called a Tradescantia ohiensis. That's snotweed to you and me. 

   So remember, the next time you tell a kid to wipe his nose, you're not encouraging hygiene. You're messing with the very cycle of life!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

YOU COMPLETE THE STORY

Awake in a Sleeping Bag

begun by Phil Mershon
completed by (your name here)

   He woke up in a sleeping bag out in the middle of a field. A woman lay in the bag beside him.
   “What is going on?” he asked himself aloud. The woman coughed from deep in her chest and went back to sleep.
   The man looked around. They were in a bright blue sleeping bag. Both of them were fully dressed. The glare from the top half of the sun cast long tree shadows across the field. A solitary road ran to the north of them. He had no memory of the woman snoring beside him. He pressed her shoulder.
   “Hey, you! Wake up! Wake up, whoever!”
   She rolled towards him with her eyes closed.
   “Hey! Wake up!”
   Her eyes opened one at a time, one green, the other the same. She turned those green eyes towards him. “Are you going to kill me?” she asked.
   “Kill you?” the man said. “I’ve never seen you before! What are you doing here? Who are you?”
   She pulled the lip of the sleeping bag up to her face, peeked down at herself, and once satisfied that she had not been violated, replied, “Have we met before?”
   The man looked at the woman’s face, searching for clues. She put a finger to his chin and turned his head. “Don’t look so close,” she said “It’s first thing in the morning.”
   He reached into his jacket pocket and extracted a candy mint, which he handed her. He took one for himself. “Morning breath?” she asked. He nodded.
  They nursed their candies in silence.
   When the candy was gone, the man said, “I’ve never seen this place before.”
   “Nice bag,” she said. “Is it yours?”
   “No. I don’t know. Just who are you? How did either of us get here? Are you a drunkard?”
    She smiled as if she had lemon under her tongue. “Paulette, no idea, and I don’t know but probably not.”
   “My name’s Rock,” he said.
  “It is not!”
  “Yes it is.”
  “That’s a funny name.”
  “Tell that to Rock Hudson.”
   “Dead.”
  “Or to Rocky Balboa.”
   “Fictional character.”
   “Well, that’s still my name. Listen, Paulette, you must have some idea how we got here. What’s the last thing you remember?”
   “Before this morning? I used to live in Connecticut, but that’s been years ago. Say,” she said. “You don’t suppose we’re dead?”
   The man patted himself. “I don’t feel dead. Unless confusion is a symptom, I’d say not dead.”
   The woman opened a compact and recoiled. “I look a mess.” As she tussled her hair, she continued. “I meant maybe this is the afterlife?”
   “You not one of those, are you?”
   “One of what?”
  “You know.”
   “I really don’t.”
   “I guess I don’t either. I wonder if this is total amnesia?”
   She snapped shut her compact and shook her head. “Not total,” she said. “I still remember what amnesia means.”
  “Maybe you’re a comedian?”
   “Do they still say comedienne?”
   “Paulette, I have no idea.”
   “You made up the name Rock, didn’t you?”
   “Yes.”
   “Same with me. Paulette just sounded pretty. Since I don’t know any different, I thought I’d call myself that.”
   “There’s a chance that might be your real name.”


Now it is your turn. Write the conclusion.

Here is some old news from Christmastime, 2004. 

The Lack of Wisdom of the Solomon Agreement: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third District has upheld the right of colleges to bar military recruiting on their campuses due to the military’s hiring policy which discriminates against gays and lesbians.

Tuition Break for Kerik’s Nanny: Eight states now offer in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants: California, Illinois, Kansas, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington. Some say this provides the opportunity of higher education to a very needing group, while others argue it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars. All eight states require the student to sign an affidavit pledging to seek permanent residence in the U.S.

Gee, and he looked Like Such a Nice Man. It turns out that former DHS nominee Bernard “Burface” Kerik maintained a social relationship with the owner of a New Jersey construction company reputed to have ties with organized crime. Won’t somebody call Sonny Barger and tell him there’s an opening in D.C.?

Liberalism Then and Now: John Lukacs, professor emeritus of history, writes in last week’s Chronicle of Higher Education: “During the 19th century, liberalism…meant political and economic individualism, an emphasis on liberty more than equality, a reduction and limitation of the powers of the government. From the beginning of the 20th century, liberals…accepted and advocated the spread of equality, meaning more and more legislation and government bureaucracy to guarantee the welfare of entire populations.”


Monday, July 7, 2014

FORTY-SEVEN HAIR MISTAKES YOU ARE MAKING RIGHT NOW!!!

   I am not making this up. In the early 1990s I read a moderately interesting cross-interview between Norman Mailer and Pat Buchanan. The editor who arranged the event hoped to demonstrate how the far right and far left meet at opposite points of extremity. Naturally, the interview proved no such thing, except on one very specific area. Can you guess what that topic was? It was not globalization, overpopulation, pollution, taxation, the intelligence community or prayer in public schools. Nope. The issue on which these two men of opposing views joined together was immigration--specifically folks migrating from south of the border up north here with all us yankees. 
   To be fair, part of Norman's intrigue with Buchanan came from the (dare I call it) naive opinion that Pat was somehow opposed to the immorality of corporations, i.e., that he is some sort of right wing populist. I may be forgiven for suspecting that what Mailer actually admired was Buchanan's lack of effete snobbery, his gruffness, and his thoroughly unselfconscious laugh. From the interview, which either appeared in Esquire or Mother Jones, it was clear that the admiration only went in one direction.
   Buchanan, of course, didn't give a damn about undocumented immigrants other than as a means for whipping his educated working class supporters into a frenzy over something. For Mailer, the issue had real teeth. He felt the U.S. government tolerated a degree of importation of human workers from Mexico and Latin America to provide cheap labor and to make anemic the American labor movement by turning the sons and grandsons of Cesar Chavez against the offspring of Jimmy Hoffa, and vice versa. Buchanan just felt that exporting jobs outside the United States made bad economic sense, although exactly why this was so he chose not to say.
   My own opinion is that neither man probably considered either himself or the other to be a racist. Both men were always loud and often deliberate in their offensiveness, yet they approached their targets (or their targets sought them out) in the spirit of equal opportunity cretinism. 
   When I listen to white trash middle class illiterates making statements into the television cameras about the need to turn around buses full of "illegals and send them back to Obama since he's the one who invited them here in the first place," my immediate visceral reaction lacks a certain tranquility that I prefer to cultivate. Instead of placing flowers into the barrels of their rifles, I envision myself ripping the antiquated smirks off the faces of the twenty-year-old barbarians who stand at the border shouting "Go home!" while demanding the young pricks say how they would feel if the jackboot was on the other foot. Or maybe I would ask how they would like to meet Leonard Peltier (if he ever gets released from his unjust term in prison). Leonard might want to tell these Caucasians that the deal is off, everything west of Manhattan is now Indian territory, and whitey has three days to pack two suitcases and get out of town. Or maybe I would just smile into the faces of these mad dog militia men, kick them in the shins, pull their hats down over their feet (Bugs Bunny style) and kick them across their own beloved border. Wonder how well those armed domestic terrorists would get along with the Federales? 
    Don't know if you've noticed, but a whole lot of people who hate President Obama have a big sack of race hate they're carrying around. They will never admit to this, at least publicly. In fact, they will be the first to mock the suggestion. They'll say, "So everyone who disagrees with the administration is a racist?" 
   No. Of course not. The only people who disagree with Obama who are actually racists are those who disagree without knowing what they are talking about. Oh, and the others are the ones who tell "darkie" jokes. There may even be some overlap. 
   For the record, here are the four principles of Barack Obama's Comprehensive Immigration Reform proposal:
1. Give law enforcement the tools they need to make our communities safer from crime, enhance America's infrastructure and technology, and strengthen our ability to remove criminals and apprehend and prosecute threats to our national security.
2. Provide visas to foreign entrepreneurs looking to start businesses here, help the most promising foreign graduate students in science and math stay in this country after graduation, and reunite families in a timely and humane manner.
3. Enable undocumented immigrants to have a legal way to earn citizenship so they can come out of the shadows. The proposal holds them accountable by requiring they pass background checks, pay taxes and a penalty, go to the back of the line, and learn English. 
4. Stop businesses from exploiting the system by knowingly hiring undocumented workers. The proposal holds companies accountable and gives employers who want to play by the rules a reliable way to verify that their employees are here legally.

   That is all quite lofty and not without a bit of self-righteousness in the language, language, by the way, which was taken from the White House website. But can your average reactionary Republican goosestepper take any comfort in the words of someone he suspects of being a Kenyan-born Nation of Islam communist terrorist working for both the FBI and the ACLU? Isn't Obama secretly behind all our immigration problems? Didn't he work the phones from his hiding place in Libya from whence he contacted every Guatemalan citizen by cell phone, inviting one and all to walk two thousand miles north through freezing heat to find a nice tar shack in the Texas border towns? Well, maybe not quite.
   In 2004, the W. Bush administration had 10,000 Border Patrol Agents. In 2010, under Obama, the same organization had more than 20,000 agents. Also, twenty-five percent of all agents of Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) now work on the southwest border of the United States, the largest percentage of all time. The Department of Homeland Security (which oversees ICE) has completed all but three miles of John McCain's beloved "danged fence" along the U.S.-Mexican border. Aerial surveillance is at an all-time high. Year for year, Obama has seized more currency, confiscated more drugs, and retrieved more weapons than any time during his predecessor's reign of incompetence. And, contrary to what the spell-check deficient members of the Tea Party Militia would have us believe, the Obama team has actually increased exports to Mexico, a move that could conceivably have a positive impact on the Mexican economy and therefore lessen the need for people to migrate in the first place. 
   Despite all this reasonable reassurance, there remain more than a few quivering white penises who are convinced that Hispanics and other people of color are taking over. Until the 1970s, most foreign born inhabitants of the United States were either Italian, German or Canadian, which is to say White. But in 2012, of the 41 million foreign born inhabitants of this country, the largest group (28%) were from Mexico, followed by India, China, The Philippines, El Salvador, Cuba, and Korea. In that same year, approximately 25 million people living in the United States self-identified as being Limited English Proficient, meaning that they were more comfortable speaking and writing in a language other than English. The most popular alternatives were Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese. 
   I spoke today for more than an hour with a ninety-year-old American man of Japanese descent. He had lived most of his life in California and shortly after the attack at Pearl Harbor in December 1941 this man was interred in a concentration camp in California. He mentioned there were roughly 20,000 people in this camp. Two years later, he was released and immediately joined the U.S. Army. He was shipped first to Italy where he worked in what he modestly claimed was a low-level intelligence position. After Truman dropped the bombs on Japan, my friend was sent to Tokyo to work on riot control. Apparently there had been little need for his help since riots did not occur. However, he said something interesting about this. He said, even after the abdication of the Emperor, whenever he walked the streets in uniform, he always made sure to have a Caucasian officer with him for fear he would be shot by U.S. troops who would have assumed he was impersonating an American soldier. 
    The longer I live the more I am persuaded that no significant improvements have occurred in my life-time. Yes, same-sex marriage is making great strides and black people can still occasionally vote and the earning power of women is better now than it used to be. But there are still young adults on campus telling "queer jokes," voter suppression is all the rage, and women are still not making as much as men. And some of us still hate the other guy because of the color of his skin or the language of his mouth. 
   I am so damned tired. Aren't you?


Saturday, July 5, 2014

WHAT YOUR AREA CODE SAYS ABOUT YOU!

   The recent revelations regarding Facebook manipulating its billions of users by tampering with the "news feed option" left me yawning, not because social organization is unimportant but because of a key rule of social media. That rule is this: When the product is free, the product is you
   It does not matter that people do not read the "Terms of service" agreement. What matters is that some people are quite funny on Facebook. Here is a recent example.



Seriously, got a new tire this morning. I was so friggin stressed out over the whole ordeal, it's a wonder I lived to get to the tire store. Anyway, the spare is 13 years old. Thirteen! But I got a new tire on and the old tire is in the dustbin of rubber history, or the spittoon of hubber wristory, or a new Agatha Christie mystery, or something else. It's gone and the new one is shiny and sweet.
UnlikeUnlike ·  · 
  • Lisa Ann Goodrich Terzo Since our buddies, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, retired and NPR hasn't replaced them with anyone since 2012 I had a dumb idea. Maybe WE can be the new Click and Clack. I mean, we're funny and know what tires are now. Ok...well no....we can barely figure out which side the gas tank is located.
  • Phil Mershon Our first caller, Mag Wheels, has an interesting question. Are you there, Mag? Hello? Well, what Maggie wanted to know was can a 1969 Dodge Charger with a hood scoop get better mileage than a 1977 AMC Gremlin? The answer, of course, is no.
    56 mins · Unlike · 1
  • Lisa Ann Goodrich Terzo I beg to differ, Phil. I have been present for street races between 1969 Charges and 1977 Gremlins. The hood scoop has NOTHING to do with winning the race. (It is the color of the car and lack of primer paint.)
  • Phil Mershon Funny enough, that rule ONLY applies when the vehicle is in San Diego--hence the name San Diego Chargers. So remember, friends, if you have any questions about automobiles, or anything else, that can be answered with a yes or a no, send us a FB message right here right now.
  • Lisa Ann Goodrich Terzo Or you can simply contact NPR and ask what time slot they have planned for us. I am guessing 3 am EST.
    50 mins · Unlike · 1
  • Phil Mershon That was our OLD time slot. Now we are booked for 2:47 - 3:05 AM EST, right after "Know Your Seagulls" and "Sleeping with Bach," except leap years, when the frogs jam the frequency.
  • Lisa Ann Goodrich Terzo (Phil likes to blame everything on frogs.) Which lends itself to our next visitor from West Bend, Iowa, who asks " Hi, my name is Diane with a "D" and I recently had trouble with my brakes on my 1995 Civic. After removing my platform shoes I still had the problem with the brake pedal. The sound that would come from the floor-board was sort of a squishy croak sound"
  • Phil Mershon Let me ask you this, Diane with a D. Is the D actually just the lower half of a sideways smiley face? Wait, that's not my real question. My real question is: do you reside any where near what a more enlightened age might have referred to as a swamp?
  • Lisa Ann Goodrich Terzo Diane (with a D): well, they did start work on a new soy-bean-tofu-manufacturing plant close by, but the papers said it was completely natural and GMO free. Could that be it? That GMOs have something to do with it? I mean, seriously...I drink SILK milk!"
  • Phil Mershon  Here is what I think. I think that the hopping amphibians in your neighborhood have a mixed aversion to both GMO foods and music by Vanilla Ice. If you find that your brake pedal is, as it were, under pressure, the culprit is likely to be related to a mass self-immolation of suicidal tree frogs.
  • Lisa Ann Goodrich Terzo  Well Diane with a D, Phil always likes to talk about frogs. I would like to talk to you a little bit about your relationship with your spouse and how he feels about your obsession with platform shoes. I mean...seriously...most men feel they make...See More
  • Phil Mershon While we wait for Diane with a D to formulate her answer, we have an interruption from Bertha Galore of Harvester, Mississippi. Bertha wants to know if there is anything she can do to increase fuel consumption when she has her John Deere tractor in overdrive.
  • Lisa Ann Goodrich Terzo Well for starters, Phil, I would say that she add a combine and harvest corn from a flooded field full of frogs. If she gets the darn thing back to the barn, she would be using twice the amount of fuel than she would be mowing the lawn at the Mississippi Courthouse each Tuesday.
  • Phil Mershon Very sage and parsley advice, dear Satchmo. How you come up with these brilliant and erudite answers with such startling aplomb I will never know, will I?
  • Lisa Ann Goodrich Terzo Stop using big words no one understands and pick up line 3 and find out what the hell Diane with a D's answer is.
  • Phil Mershon Diane says that she only wears her clogs on icy runways in North Dakota in the winter time, so she can't believe THAT has any bearing on matters. Au contraire, mon seour, says oui.
  • Lisa Ann Goodrich Terzo Ok. hang up on Diane. And take the next caller. This show is only 42 minutes long.
    9 mins · Like
  • Lisa Ann Goodrich Terzo And I have to pee
    9 mins · Like
  • Phil Mershon I can't type my responses in under 42 minutes. Anyway, if you have a question about cars, frog repair, or the answer to next Thursday philosophic discussion about the nature of falling trees on Saturn, or you happen to be driving a Saturn that has been crushed by a tree, give us a call at 1 eight hundred BAD AUTO, that's 1-800 426 9918, hello, you're on Bad Auto.
    7 mins · Like
  • Lisa Ann Goodrich Terzo Many thanks to our listeners and especially my co-host, Phil Mershon, who can be reached at Philropost & Philmer and an undisclosed and REAL phone number for more personal advice that he will dispense when I am not in the room. Good-Bye for now! 
    4 mins · Unlike · 1
  • Phil Mershon