Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Top Ten Wednesdays: How are we celebrating our anniversaries?

Special 14-years-of-making-other-people-sick-with-our-happiness edition!

14) Giving her the gift that keeps on giving: gifts that take batteries.

13) Renewing vows while father-in-law points ceremonial shotgun at us.

12) Holding hands while mixing meth in the tub.

11) Hiding in the bushes outside home of spouse’s new spouse.

10) Devising conspiracy theories to make wife feel better about blowing seemingly insurmountable lead to an inexperienced black guy with a Muslim name.

9) Telling Barack yes, yes, oh God yes we can!

8) Handing the kids $50 and telling them to not come back for at least 15 minutes.

7) Selling our reading glasses for a hairbrush and selling our hair for The Collected Stories of O Henry.

6) Giving Rodrigo the day off so husband can “clean the pool.”

5) Replying, “It’s today? Oh, fack me!” before spending night on the couch.

4) Robbing a bank together just like old times.

3) Filling out application for Wife Swap.

2) Having a beautiful candlelight dinner together on Second Life.

1) Getting ready to chuck all these years of togetherness to have a creature who will say “Ewww” when we kiss on our future anniversaries.

Monday, May 26, 2008

What exactly are you kids doing on my lawn?

I mowed my lawn for the first time in 2008 today. That may seem late to people who live in their fancy schmancy temperate climates, where you have things like "spring" and "warmth." Considering the last of the snow melted a mere five weeks ago and it was 45 degrees without the windchill, the fact that I even had grass to mow was a triumph of the human spirit and photosynthesis.

One of the joys of being both a homeowner and now a parent-to-be is that I can officially play the "it's mine" game when neighborhood kids leave stuff on my property. Even though I have found balls and other toys in the backyard before, I've never kept anything. As I pushed the mower along the back yard today, I spied something shiny in the shaggy grass. Reaching down, I retrieved a pair of handcuffs. They were not real ones, as they had a release lever on each cuff. But they were metal, quite sturdy, and girthy enough for an adult wrist.

What does it say about our culture that it's not enough for kids to just play doctor anymore? For all I know, my backyard turned into Fisher Price's My First Dungeon, with kids paying up to $300/hr in Monopoly money for some twisted playtime. And if Dateline NBC shows up on my property, do you think they're going to believe that these handcuffs were brought by children?

So my first official entry into the "it's mine" game is a pair of handcuffs. Which I only took for their moral protection. Because handcuffs should only be used in a loving, monogamous marriage.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Top Ten Tuesdays: How are we spending our stimulus checks?

Special expanded inflation edition!

11) Half a tank of gas.

10) Twelve hundred trips to the Dollar Store.

9) Investing in Uncle Ben’s hedge fund.

8) $29.99 on a shovel, $1169.01 in a hole in the ground.

7) Making double the minimum monthly payment.

6) Getting shirts for the kids that say, “My parents got a $300 credit because of me and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.”

5) Falling into the Bagdad Gap after falling out from Bagdad patrol.

4) Buying an engagement ring so we’ll get twice as much money during the next panic.

3) Putting it on In Default in the fifth race.

2) Bidding on genuine Road Warrior costume so we’ll look authentic when civilization collapses.

1) Stimulants.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Transcript of President Bush’s Address to Israel’s Knesset

Shalom. That’s Jewish for howdy.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you today. And thank you very much for the bagels this morning. Or as I call them, Jewnuts. Like doughnuts, but Jewier. I also have to hand it to you, you’re Zagnuts for security. This morning, someone asked me if I wanted lox on my bagel. I said no, because who’s going to steal a bagel? But I appreciate the extra precautionation.

We have a lot in common, Israel and America. The Old Testament. An appreciation of Schindler’s List. Jerry Seinfeld. And a distrust of brown people.

We’re really like buddies in an action move. I like action movies. Lots of action, not so much talking, and even when there’s talking, it’s talking about action. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you can’t solve anything by talking. You got to shoot your way out of a problem or else the bad guys win.

Like buddies, we get on each other’s nerves a little. I’m always asking you to accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, and you’re always throwing my pork in the garbage. Although maybe I’d be a little lighter if I kept that cashmere diet like you folks. Anyway, even when buddies disagree, they still have each other’s backs.

But there’s somebody else in my country who’s not your buddy. Not going to name names, but he’s buddies with the other brown peoples, because they all stick together. He wants to talk things out, like Oprah—who’s also brown. But did Mel Gibson ever solve anything by talking? Oops, bad example. Did Bruce Willis ever solve anything by talking? Or Clint Eastwood? Or Ariel Sharon? Sorry, I couldn't think of a Jewish action hero. You should talk to your buddies in Hollywood and get that fixed.

These non-buddies want to do apleasement. It’s from the Latin, apleasin, and it’s when you give someone too much pleasing. They say we should talk with these folks, negotiationalize with them, as if a bunch of words will make an argument. We’ve heard this kind of foolish thinking before. During World War II, a man—kinda brown—once said to one of the greatest heroes in American history, “You throw me the idol, and I’ll throw you the whip. No time to argue.” But when he got the idol, he just dropped the whip. That kind apleasement is dangerous and can fool even our smartest arch-, uh, archeol-, uh, scientists.

That’s why we have to stick together and be buddies, and keep their buddy out of the White House. Because the only way we’re going to have a peaceful Middle East, full of tolerance and integration, is if we shoot our way out.

Thank you. That’s English for however you say thank you in Jewish.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Top Ten Tuesdays: What corruption are we covering up in Iraq?

10) Use of performance enhancers at the International Waterboarding Championships.

9) Government officials taking two-year lunches.

8) Siphoning $1,000,000 of rebuilding money to spend one night with Demi Moore.

7) Coordinated text message strikes on American Idol voting.

6) Blackwater’s excessive enforcement of the “no sandals” policy at Bagdad night clubs.

5) Bringing pre-whacked Sunnis to Iraqi Whacking Day.

4) The Iraqi Secretary of State and Condoleezza Rice getting into an debilitating shoe-off.

3) Halliburton’s harvesting of virgin blood for Vice President Cheney.

2) Iraq keeps drunk-dialing Iran for hot Shi'ite action.

1) Um, it would just be easier to list what we’re not covering up.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Questions we already know the answers to, Pt. XXVI

From a birthing video we watched in our baby class on Saturday:

"Do you want to see the placenta?"

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Vegas 2008: The Tickle-ing

Prologue: Venus de Hairo

If a picture says 1,000 words, then the picture on my cell phone said everything you need to know about my trip to Vegas for my brother Tickle’s bachelor party. It was the torso of a naked man from neck to mid-thigh. The abundant follicle density told me it was the torso of Trapper, one of Tickle’s friends and a respected health care professional. Only a strategically placed Diet Coke bottle covered Trapper’s keeper.

It was not the first semi-naked man I had seen over the weekend.

Tickle’s Nine

Like Danny Ocean, we assembled a crack team of Vegas professionals for the bachelor party: younger brother, groom-to-be, and the glue holding the weekend together
Snake youngest brother, the youngest guy attending, and by far the most sane and mature
Z...the best man, the biggest man, and the straightest man
Hawkeye...Dr. Feelgood, the loose cannon who is a dangerous mix of beauty, brains, and pantslessness
Trapper...hairy, happy, and happening, The Cleaner who gets rid of the messes Hawkeye leaves behind
Double Down...playing the role of the guy who hates gambling and yet loses more money than everyone else
Smitty...Double Down’s Trapper, friendly and a generous laugher
Smoke...our local connection and the man who knows how to get things
Me...official chronicler and officially the old man at the club

Before we left, Hawkeye devised a roommate draft, creating a spreadsheet listing our ratings in various categories, from 1 (good/none/safe) to 10 (bad/exessive/dangerous). A few notable ratings:

Hair left behind
Double Down—1, freshly shorn
Trapper—11, SASQUATCH

Smitty—1, the new guy
Brando—8, old and angry

Gay tendencies when drunk
Z—1, almost too straight
Hawkeye—10, I apologize in advance

We secured the perfect lodging scenario: two regular rooms and one suite at the MGM Grand. The suite became our tenth team member, like a stadium supporting the home players on the field. It gave us plenty of space to drink, rock out, and get weird.

We Wear Short Shorts

I arrived late on Saturday, so I passed on gambling and headed straight to the suite, where everyone save Double Down and Smitty had gathered. As I exchanged handshakes and man hugs, I saw Hawkeye. He wore black biker boots, a black t-shirt, and a thin mustache that accompanied his long, trim sideburns. He had grown the mustache specifically to get a laugh out of us. “You look like the Dread Pirate Roberts,” I said.

Smitty and Double Down arrived shortly thereafter, with Double Down putting the “short” in shortly. I had not met either of them before, and for our first encounter, Double Down sported a pair of jean shorts cut so high, the pockets peeked out from below the cut. He also wore a white, see-through, mesh shirt that ended just above his manscaped navel. It was his version of Hawkeye’s mustache. I asked him where his rollerblades and headphones were.

Double Down was happy to attend the bachelor party festivities, but he was the least excited about coming to Vegas because he doesn’t like gambling. That’s a bit like deciding to become Amish even though you hate barn raising and love zippers. However, like so many others who come to this town, the sticky Web of wagering snagged him. He told us he had been playing blackjack (in his current outfit) and had been up $600 before crashing winding up $60 in the negative column. We all felt sorry for him. All of us had our own Gambling Icarus stories, tales of plastic chips stacked invincibly toward the sky, only to melt under the burning sun of house advantage. At least he looked fabulous while he was losing.

We departed to our separate rooms to clean up before going out. I luckily had drawn Snake Anthony as my roommate. My youngest brother is calm, cool, and collected, with the demeanor of a jazz drummer but minus the heroin habit. Tickle threatened to get our keys and still do things to us, but for the first time in my Vegas history, my middle brother would not be waking me up with his snoring.

When I returned to the suite, Double Down had changed into clothes more Gap display than Abercrombie spread. I was also horrified to see Hawkeye had shaved his 'stache. It would have been the perfect complement to the tasseled white loafers he wore. Hawkeye had arranged a special event for us: prix fixe drunkenness at a local dance club, where we could drink all the Ketel One vodka we wanted for one flat rate. At least when my liver went into shock, I would be in the company of doctors.

Upon hitting the club, Hawkeye and Trapper immediately hit the dance floor. The place was packed, and the light display above us periodically shot out flames. As I wrote the last time, Trapper is a dance machine, and I spotted him getting his groove on. He looked so completely happy that it inspired me. Normally when it comes to dancing, I am a wallflower. As The Lovely Becky often tells me when she tries to get me to dance, I need to unclench. Well, I unclenched. The combination of booze, Vegas, and Trapper got my feet moving and kept them going for several hours. It was merely a hint of things to come....

The Amazing Hawkeye

We packed it in after dancing and drinking our money’s worth. As we left the club, we spotted an empty fortune teller booth in the lobby area, a small alcove covered in red satin furniture, with only beaded curtains preventing us from entering. Hawkeye immediately ducked into it. He sat down, put his palms flat on the table, and lowered his head with menacing meditation. The rest of us went to work, telling passersby to come get a free fortune from The Amazing Hawkeye. I stopped a couple of women leaving the club and repeated the offer. “He looks like Criss Angel,” one of them said. I asked them if they were taking a cab and they said yes.

“Listen, I was skeptical, too, but this guy has a gift,” I said. “He told me I was going to be in an accident, and I swear, five minutes after I left, I was in one. Just a fender bender, but nevertheless an accident. He might tell you whether you should avoid a white cab or a yellow cab.”

“What about a blue cab?” they asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “That’s why you need to talk to him.”

They politely declined, but we did manage to convince one woman to sit for her fortune. Hawkeye took her palm and read it, staying silent for several minutes as he examined the lines. “Do you have two children?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said, “two sons.”

Peering at her palm intently, he said, “You will have a third...a girl. She will go to medical school, where she will study psychology.” He filled his voice with soothseering foreboding. “But she will not finish!”

Business socks, feats of strength, and potions of healing

The next morning, my phone rang. “Put your business socks on,” Tickle said. “It’s business time. Come down to the room, we have IVs.”

I arrived at the suite to see Z in a chair, a blanket over his legs and a tissue in his hands. Hawkeye, wearing a T-shirt with a giant airbrushed image of Michael Bolton on it, stood over Z, prepping his arm for a needle. Trapper held a saline solution IV bag, attaching it to a hotel hanger and hanging it from the folded-up rollaway bed.

“Oh my God,” I said. “You really have IV bags.”

“Of course,” Hawkeye said as if he merely was applying some Head On and mixing a Bloody Mary. After a little blood and sweat but no tears, Z had sweet hangover salvation flowing into his veins.

It was before noon but happy hour for Hawkeye. He mixed a Red Bull and vodka, clearly not his first of the morning. I abstained, as my liver was still trying to process the Kettle 1 that had given me happy feet the night before. Somehow we got on the subject of pushups and how many we could do. With it being Vegas, this led to betting on how many we could do. Hawkeye set his over/under at 48. Tickle took the under. Hawkeye stripped off his Michael Bolton shirt and, for reasons only known to him, his shorts.

Technically, Hawkeye was wearing underwear. But the tidy whiteys he sported were so tight, they formed a second skin over his pelvic area. It looked as if he had been twelve years old the night before and, a la Big, had woken up as an adult, still wearing boys' underpants. He dropped to the floor and began pounding out pushups. He nailed the first 30 without any problem, before stopping and holding himself up over the floor. With the same lack of explanation as the stripping, he spit a couple times before pushing on to 40. After another camel imitation, he did 41 and then collapsed.

Tickle, wearing a shirt with a giant picture of Elmo on it, set his at 38. My brother is in good shape, and his shoulders are wide enough that he could have won the Republican presidential nomination based on that alone. I took the over for five bucks against Hawkeye. Tickle pounded out his push ups without stopping, propelling himself off the floor and clapping his hands together for good measure when he reached 39. My first wager of the weekend had paid off.

The Saga of the Speedo

Tickle, Snake Anthony, and I had poker plans for Sunday afternoon. As a present, a bunch of us chipped in to buy Tickle a spot in the $540 tournament at the Bellagio. Snake and I chose much cheaper waters. This kept us occupied through the afternoon and into the evening. When we returned to the suite, the whole gang was there. Hawkeye sat in the IV chair, an IV in his arm, his Michael Bolton shirt off, and a Speedo barely covering his surgical tools. Naturally, we had questions.

Trapper began to tell the saga of the Speedo. He and Hawkeye had departed for the pool after we left for poker. Like a Terminator, Hawkeye immediately found his quarry among the crowd—Smitty and Double Down, already lounging in the sun. He walked up to them, removed the Michael Bolton shirt, and dropped his shorts to reveal a new black Speedo.

After adjusting his package to the point where he nearly broke Vegas’s already lax obscenity laws, Hawkeye selected the chaise longue next to Double Down and laid out completely spread eagled. Double Down showed me a picture. With Hawkeye’s tall, lanky frame in that pose and wearing that Speedo, he looked like an albino praying mantis that just finished marching in a gay pride parade. He looked so “appealing” that an older gentleman approached the group, complimented Hawkeye on his “banana hammock,” and offered to buy the boys beers. With the clarity of a Dateline NBC fan, Trapper declined, and eventually led the Speedo-clad and highly inebriated Hawkeye back upstairs.

Given the competition, attracting attention in Vegas is not an easy job. Yet people in the casino stopped what they were doing to gawk at the man walking past them wearing oversize Ray Bans, socks, shoes, and a Michael Bolton shirt that nearly obscured his black Speedo. Yes, Hawkeye had decided to forgo his cargo shorts and walk back to the room as if he was the most carefree Continental European in the world. Hawkeye also began asking, loudly and repeatedly, “Why is it so hot in here? It’s not this hot in Tor-on-to!” Note that he is not from Toronto. He and Trapper entered the hotel elevator as a middle-aged man entered with his teenage kids. Hawkeye, louder than ever, asked, “Why is it so hot in here?”

The father looked at him and said, “Man, it doesn’t have to be that way. Just take off your shirt.”

I’m going to remember that one when I take TBD to Vegas.

We Are the Chosen People, Yo!
The tale and Hawkeye's IV finished, our hero removed himself to the bedroom where he passed out. We decided to hang out in the room, drink, and play music for a few hours. Tickle, Snake Anthony, Z, Trapper, and I then had the weirdest experience of the weekend: we got into a serious conversation about religion.

I don’t really know how it happened. One minute, Trapper (clad in merely his boxers) and Tickle (shirtless) were taking the gayest pictures I have ever seen two straight men take who weren’t being paid money. The next thing I knew, we were discussing Catholicism and what it took to get into heaven.

Tickle is the most religious out of the three of us. I am a believer but lazy and disillusioned with the Church. Snake Anthony is an agnostic. At one point, Tickle was explaining that he couldn’t believe Snake Anthony would not go to heaven, even if he didn’t believe in God, because Snake is a good person.

“Dude,” I said. “What are you doing?”

“What?” Tickle asked.

“We’re in Vegas,” I said. “Why are we talking about this?”

“Because I don’t get to see my brothers very often, and I want to have a real conversation with them.”

It’s a very odd day when I find myself asking Tickle to not be so deep.

Our religious exorcism must have cured the demons in Hawkeye, because he rose from his slumber, ready to commit mischief. We all decided to get cleaned up and hit the casino at a fashionably late 2:00 a.m. Little did we know our religious experience was not over.

A group of guys approached our roulette table. Group is not really the right word. Posse dorkitas might be the better phrase. They were led by a guy who looked like the president of Marshall Mathers fan club. His baggy clothes probably weighed as much as he did, and he wore a baseball cap high and crooked over his hair.

The table had hit black about a half dozen times in a row until our Beastie Boi showed up. He put a bunch of chips on red. It hit. He bet red again. It hit. “Back to back!” he said in a Modern Homeboy accent.

We couldn’t help but laugh. This guy was trying so hard to be street, but he didn’t look hard enough for Sesame Street. I halfway expected this to be a gag for some TV show. On the next spin, as the ball was going around, he reached out and took some of his chips off of red. The wheel hit black.

“You gotta manage yo’ money!” he said to us. “That’s what my people do.”

We looked at each other trying to understand what he meant. His people? Dorks? Caucasians? Caucasians shamelessly pillaging African American culture?

He must have sensed our confusion, because he turned his baseball cap around backwards. The back had a white, stitched Star of David on it.

We lost it. We started yelling “Back to back” and “Manage yo’ money!” with every spin. Unfortunately, our friend MC Dreidel didn’t find our humor too kosher, and he and his posse left in a bit of a huff for the craps table.

“I feel kind of bad,” I told Hawkeye, “they’re at the craps table like some kind of gambling diaspora.”


Snake Anthony’s phone rang the next morning. I heard this sound on the other end of the receiver, like Charlie Brown’s teacher on meth after sucking an entire balloon’s worth of helium. It had to be Tickle.

Tickle had decided to talk in the same voice as the Eminem song, “Fack.” It’s a terrible song, which is probably why Tickle decided to do it. He kept his voice in a high, loud, nasal tone all morning.

“Do you guys want to eat?” I asked.


“Stop talking like that.”


Tickle, Snake, Z, and I went to the Spice Market Buffet at Planet Hollywood. Cruising the myriad options, Z stopped at the Middle Eastern section.

“They don’t have any lamb,” Z said.

“OH FACK!” Tickle said.

He increased to Category 5 obnoxiousness during lunch. At the table, just as Snake Anthony took a sip of his drink, Tickle said, “DRINK ALL YOUR PEPSI.” When I plopped a spoonful of ice cream into my mouth, Tickle observed, “YOU LIKE CHOCOLATE SAUCE ON YOUR ICE CREAM.”

After finishing our lunch and heading up the escalator, Tickle kept babbling a train of FACKs at Z. Without uttering a word, Z shoved Tickle against the wall, forcing him to slide against it all the way up from the buffet. “OW, FACK, THAT FACKING HURTS!”

Tickle thankfully collapsed when we got back to the room, but the damage was done. We all started saying FACK the rest of the weekend. In conversations, on the phone, in text messages. Everyone but Z. Even now, it randomly pops into my head.

Some days I really hate my brother.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Thongs

That night, after another day of poker, I joined Trapper, Hawkeye, and Z for sushi at the restaurant inside the MGM. Looking over the menu, Hawkeye mentioned that the spicy tuna maki roll sounded good and he was going to get it.

“Would it be weird if I ordered the same thing you did?” I asked.

“No, not at all.”

Digging out my coyest voice, I said, “What if I said, ‘I’ll have what he’s having’?”

“Yes, that would be uncomfortable,” Hawkeye laughed.

I went first with my order. When the waitress turned to Hawkeye, he looked at me with and said, “I’ll have what he’s having.”

A bottle of saki and a giant Sapporo later, a group of young women entered the restaurant. The only real way to describe how they were dressed is hoochied. I don’t really know how else to label a skin-tight cheetah print dress or a black dress with a cleavage plunging like a Himalayan crevasse.

Hawkeye leaned in close to us. “I’ll bet at least one of those girls isn’t wearing underwear.” Trapper and I disagreed. Hawkeye took out a crisp Ben Franklin and handed it to Trapper. “Hundred bucks if you go over and prove they’re wearing underwear.”

Admittedly, it was a dick thing to interrupt some folks just having a nice dinner. I could tell Trapper didn’t really want to do it. But a hundred bucks is a hundred bucks, we had been drinking, and fuck it, we were in Vegas.

Polishing off the last of his drink, Trapper took the hundred and approached their table. He also demonstrated why he’s The Cleaner. Trapper is, simply put, the nice mischievous guy. He is happy to engage in these childish pranks, but he’s so friendly and disarming in the process that no one seems to mind. “Excuse me,” he said to the ladies. “I am so sorry to bug you and ask you this, but my friend bet me $100 and I had to take the bet.” He held up the Franklin to prove the veracity of his story. “He thinks at least one of you is not wearing underwear. I say that you are.”

Without missing a beat, one of the women said, “I’m so sorry, but your friend’s right.”

Trapper looked crushed. “You’re kidding?” he said.

She waited a beat before saying, “Yep, we are.” They all laughed, grabbed the sides of their dresses, and snapped the straps of their underwear to prove it. Chapman thanked them. The woman said, “You know, we’re impressed you had the balls to come over here and ask that.”

Never doubt the power of Trapper. He has a kavorka that ensnares men and women.

Brando II: Electric Boogaloo

We left to meet up with everyone else and close out our last night at the MGM’s dance club. Inside, the place was pretty hopping for a Monday night. I discovered that the club made an outstanding vodka gimlet—my drink of choice when I planned on having more than one. I began sucking gimlets down like gas was $2.00 a gallon and I was a Hummer.

At some point in the evening, Hawkeye had acquired a plastic scooper, like a sugar scooper for baking. I have no idea where he got or what possessed him to have it, but he carried it around in his shirt pocket for the entire evening, pulling it out to scoop alcohol from other people’s drinks. He whipped it out and took a sample of my gimlet. He nodded in pleasure, took another sip, and left to sample drinks from anyone who would let him sip from their cups.

We made our way to the dance floor. With my dancing hesitation broken earlier that weekend and my feet heavily lubricated with drink, I began busting my moves. It should have stopped there. However, the club had these platforms you could dance on—about the size and height of a large, square coffee table. I don’t know if it was the liquor or Vegas or maybe pre-parental ya yas that I just had to get out, but before I knew it, my feet were on the platform. I was table dancing.

And not just dancing. I turned into Trapper from our visit to Vegas last fall. I moved with the sweet, blissful ignorance of Elaine Benes at an office party. More importantly, I beckoned anyone and everyone to join me. Women, men, the guys I knew, perfect strangers, it mattered not. I wiggled my finger to invite them and pointed to the empty spot on the table where they could dance. Most looked at me with the skepticism reserved for strange men offering candy from unmarked conversion vans. Others declined amid their laughter. But damn if several didn’t climb up and dance.

The boys were enjoying the show. At one point I saw Snake Anthony and Tickle, looking at me and laughing in disbelief. I gave them a thumbs up and kept dancing. I felt a kind of power. Here I was, setting dancing back hundreds of thousands of years, yet through the sheer combination of total conviction and not giving a fuck, I got other people to join. This was so not me, and not being me felt pretty good.

It wasn’t until I stopped dancing and discovered that English had become my second language after gibberish that I realized the true source of my power. Courage, thy name is alcohol. Even in my drunken state, I was thankful no one had filmed it. I would have been less embarrassed to admit I was a 40-year old virgin.

It’s not a Trip to Vegas Until You Lose Your Pants and/or Appendix

Nine a.m. came entirely too early the next day. I opened a bleary, bloodshot eye, believing that the whole evening had been a dream. Until Snake Anthony saw me and said, “Oh my God!”


We both got ready, packed, and headed to the airport. A text from Tickle informed us that a) Trapper and Hawkeye had missed their flight, b) Tickle had barely made his, and c) he had left half his clothes in the dresser and closet.

“Shit,” I said. “I forgot my pants, too.” I had neglected to check the closet and left my best pair of pants hanging. Snake Anthony realized he’d left his pants in there as well. And there’s nothing like coming home to your pregnant wife from a bachelor party in Vegas to tell her you’re missing a pair of pants.

Our loss paled in comparison to Tickle’s the following weekend, when my brother went to the hospital with terrible stomach pains. It turns out The People’s Champ had a loser of an appendix and had to have it out.

After finding out he was okay, I said, “It’s a good thing it didn’t happen in Vegas.”

“I know, that would have been terrible.”

“Although at least you would have had two doctors and plenty of IVs,” I said.

“True,” Tickle said. “FACK.”

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Top Ten Tuesdays: How do we know we're not in a recession?

10) eBay bidding has been brisk on our kidneys.

9) Government continues to give us free airfare and ammo to go abroad.

8) Only had to lease children to science.

7) After cutting him open, Alan Greenspan’s intestines said no recession.

6) Managed to keep home when the mortgage company couldn’t pay for our foreclosure.

5) Future is so bright, we told Microsoft to search for blow it out your USB port.

4) If it was a recession, we'd be making less than we did in 2001, not the same amount, silly.

3) Seeing robust growth in the fry, shake, and waistline sectors.

2) It ain’t a recession until The Decider decides it’s a recession.

1) Recessions are for the poor, old chap.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Friday Random 11: The Significant 22, Part 2

I didn’t think that, when I decided to write about the 22 significant songs in my life, it would be so significant to me. It started out as a fun little “greatest hits” exercise, and I figured the hardest part would be trying to keep the list to 22 songs. I didn’t expect it to turn into music therapy. Figuring out why I chose these songs made me look at where I’m at in my life, how I got here, and what I’ve learned about myself along the way. I hope this little couch trip has been entertaining and hasn’t made anyone feel like they should be charging $200 per hour to listen to this.

So here we go, the most significant 11 songs in my life.

11) “I Should've Known,” Aimee Mann. For a long time, I was kind of sexist about my musical tastes. It’s not that I wouldn’t listen to female artists—I had a number that I liked very much. It’s just that, when push came to shove, I didn’t really take them as seriously as male artists. Early on in my music fandom, this had more to do with female musicians not engaging in the pseudo-masturbatory fretboard wankery aimed directly at teenage boys. But my bias didn’t really change even when my musical horizons widened.

Aimee Mann changed that. I liked her work in Til Tuesday, thanks to The Lovely Becky’s inclusion of those songs on our mix tapes, and Mann got dork props by appearing on Rush’s “Time Stand Still.” Her first solo album, Whatever, turned mild appreciation into revelation. From the chorus of this impeccable pop song, she not only grabbed my attention, she made me realize that I had viewed female artists differently. That in turn got me thinking about how I felt about women in general. I’ve always believed in female equality, but I hadn’t really treated female songs, movies, books, and art equally. By recognizing how great Aimee Mann was, I realized how subtle that bias could be.

That’s a pretty big revelation to get from a five-minute pop song, and that’s why Aimee Mann is on this list. I also apologize in advance for the rest of this list being a sausage fest.

10) “In Between Days,” The Cure. As I wallowed in a miasma of guitar solos and double-bass drums and fantasy concept albums, I attended a Southern California high school that was all Boingo and Depeche Mode and The Cure. My friends listened to that stuff and mocked my appreciation for hard rock. That made me sink my heels in deeper to my metal dragon mount and ignore the wider world of pop music.

One day, talking to my friend from junior high school, Tom—a fellow brother in Rush and my former Dungeon Master—he mentioned that he had started listening to The Cure. I was all, No way. And he was like, Way. Had he been replaced by some Dep’d, cargo-pants-wearing pod person? Or did The Cure really not suck? I set out on my fact-finding mission by borrowing a copy of Standing on a Beach, throwing the tape into my stereo with skepticism stiffer than Robert Smith’s bangs.

Not only did it not suck, I found myself enjoying what I heard. When “In Between Days” played, I stopped the tape, rewound it, and played it again. And again. I loved this song. It was emotional and mopey like I expected, but catchy and even a little rocking. I made a copy of the tape and played it to death for the rest of the year, bought Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me when it came out, and even wound up seeing them in concert when I was visiting Tom.

No other song expanded my musical horizons like this one. It opened my ears to music I never would have tried.

Except for Boingo and Depeche Mode. They can still suck it.

9) “Pretty Vacant,” The Sex Pistols. Punk was a natural progression for me after The Cure, because at least punk was loud and heavy like my beloved heavy metal. My first punk exposure was The Ramones, who I liked very much. They were catchy, funny, and so dumb they were clever.

It was The Sex Pistols, though, that made me a punk fan. I knew plenty about the Pistols, but had never heard a single song until my friend lent me his copy of Never Mind the Bollocks my senior year of high school. I expected the Pistols to sound more like the discordant hardcore punk that the Pistols inspired. I was shocked to find that these were real songs, with memorable choruses and words you could decipher. Yet they also had the power of a Doc Martin kick to the head. I couldn’t get over the fury of this record. I had heard political music before, but not like this. “Holidays in the Sun” and “Pretty Vacant” in particular stuck with me, and I wound up with a new set of air guitar heroes. This in turn led to....

8) “Complete Control,” The Clash. I got into The Clash via the most un-punk manner possible: I checked out the best-of The Story of the Clash, Vol. 1 from the library. I wasn’t even wearing any safety pins when I showed my library card.

As much as I liked the Pistols, The Clash took my appreciation for punk to a whole other level. They had the same fury, but it was more focused, more meaningful. There was construction among the destruction. Unlike the Pistols or Ramones or most other punk groups, The Clash grew with me. Over the years as I played their albums, I’d pick up new nuances I’d missed: lyrical meanings or instrumental flourishes. The Ramones and The Pistols and most other punk groups were moments in time. The Clash were timeless.

The Clash became even more important to me as my political views changed in college, especially when I went to graduate school. There I was, studying American history and questioning a lot of what I had learned growing up. Here were The Clash, challenging what they had been taught. Even though this song is about the record industry and the punk movement, the idea of throwing off those who would control you meant a lot to me, because I had to cast off a lot of preconceptions to get to the place where I could think for myself. The fact that they put that message in a fiery, classic bit of punk rock made that lesson stick.

7) “Hammerless Nail,” New Bomb Turks. Of course, some songs stick with you because they perfectly capture a moment in time. That’s what this hyperfast bit of Columbus, Ohio, punk does for me.

I was living in New York City when this came out, just getting started in the working world and married life. Married life was easy, as it always has been with TLB. I also loved being in the Big Apple. The buzzing guitar in this song reminds me of getting out of work on a nice day and walking around Manhattan, soaking up the hustle and bustle of the big city.

But then there was working and what I wanted to do. My original plan had been to get a Ph.D. in history and become an academic. Seven rejection letters from the programs I wanted to attend got in the way of that. TLB already had a job in New York, so I hit the pavement and got what seemed like a dream job, working for the history editor at a publishing house. I got to talk to scholars I really respected and I liked the people I worked with a lot. I envisioned myself becoming an editor, and for a while, I was happy.

Unfortunately, I found that to be an editor, you had to like working with authors. Most of them were great, but the ones that weren’t ground on my nerves like nails on a chalkboard. They were needy, they were arrogant, they were demanding. Over time, they wore me down. The final straw came when I worked with a very talented but very difficult author. He had a touch of Ken Burnsitis, a rock-star mania gripping historians who had appeared in a Burns documentary, as he had. To be fair, he was writing a big, important, and widely acclaimed book. But he also wanted to be treated like a big, important, widely acclaimed scholar, before he had achieved any of those things. One request had been a research assistant to help him sort through hundreds of photo choices for the book. We didn’t have the budget for that, but in the spirit of soothing his ego, I volunteered to come over on a Saturday and help him out.

I showed up at his apartment on a hot summer day, where he greeted me shirtless. I sat on the floor and began going through hundreds of photocopies of photos and artwork, while he worked on the book. Halfway through, he excused himself, and suddenly his wife entered. She had this pixieish presence, with a very girlish voice and ethereal way of speaking. She proceeded to tell me how great he was and how important his work was and that we should do everything we could to make this book a success.

I thought, why the fuck do you think I’m here working with your husband on a fucking Saturday? Of course, what came out was a completely polite acknowledgement of his greatness, which made me hate myself even more. I decided to cash out my chips. Not only would I quit my pursuit as an editor, but to leave New York altogether. I needed a new change, and a move and career change seemed like the perfect elixir to cure my blahs.

But there’s a line in this song that captured another, key part of the story: Avoidance is my stock in trade, I do it almost every day, til the days go by in a haze of okays.

TLB and I left for Chicago, I got out of editing, and I started over. I went into marketing and advertising, and for a while I was happy. Until I started getting annoyed with clients, with some of the idiotic products I had to promote, with....sound familiar? As much as leaving New York and editorial work was the right move, my motivations were all wrong. I was naive and foolish for thinking a simple change of career and locale would magically cure my ennui. I realized that there has always been a large part of it’s not you, it’s me when it comes to my happiness, and that for every external thing bringing me down, there’s usually something internal acting as an accomplice. This song always brings that lesson home.

6) “That’s Entertainment,” The Jam. I am an Anglophile. I have been ever since I first saw Monty Python. But even more than my sense of humor, my taste in music tends to favor the British. Which is why one of my favorite bands is arguably the biggest British band to never make it in the states.

Along with The Clash, The Jam were one of the few early punk bands that managed to mature and change their sound without losing their edge. They kept the youthful energy and anger that led them to start playing music in the first place, but found new, more mature ways to express those feelings. This song is a perfect example. It’s acoustic, it’s quiet, it’s pretty slow. Yet it captures the disillusionment and discontent of its surroundings better than faster, louder, and snottier songs. I was always impressed at how The Jam pulled that off, and it showed me in my own work that you don’t have to hit someone over the head to kick them in the balls.

5) “Cut Your Hair,” Pavement. Oh, sweet irony, where would I be without thee? I have admittedly kind of grown out of Pavement, but they hit me hard at the right time. I had not, before buying Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, listened to music that was clever and funny. The clever stuff was usually serious, and the funny stuff tended to be a tad crude (like David Lee Roth).

Pavement managed to be both. I loved the wordplay, the jokes, the we’re-trying-so-hard-to-look-like-we’re-not-trying vibe. They were one of the first bands where I paid more attention to the lyrics than the music. This song in particular captured them at their best: writing a perfectly crafted pop song that skewers the industry that creates pop songs. If you didn’t listen closely, you could easily miss the joke. That’s the key ingredient in all great satire, and it’s the model I try to follow when I write.

4) “Valentine’s Day,” Bob Hillman. This song is Iowa City for me. I met Bob the second year TLB and I lived in The IC. He was a fellow Wouse—Workshop spouse—who came to Iowa so his significant other could attend the Writer’s Workshop. We went to see him play a local club. From the moment he started playing, I dug the cleverness, catchiness, and craft of his songs. He closed with this number, a song that should have been huge, a song that should have been used in a movie where John Cusack realizes what an ass he’s been and that he has to drop everything right now and go get that girl.

Bob and I became friends, and while I’ve always enjoyed his music, it’s taken on a different meaning for me since we left. When TLB and I came to Iowa City, we were both in transition. Moving to Chicago had been very beneficial in a lot of ways, but we weren’t really satisfied, especially TLB. The specter of infertility was already haunting us, and TLB in particular was being ground down by white-collar life. What we found in Iowa City—and what we needed even more than we knew at the time—was a community of great people who were in flux just like we were. On many an occasion, we all met up to watch Bob play a show and then drink with him afterward, talking about music and politics and writing. It was like being in college again, only now I wasn’t broke and had at least a clue of what I was doing.

I was very sad that our time there had to end, even though that was the natural order of things. But now when I play this song, I think of those nights and how happy I was that TLB and I took the plunge to move there. Even though I wish Bob had hit it huge and made enough money to buy Bushwood, there’s a selfish part that’s glad I don’t have to share my little memento of Iowa City with millions of other people. Although John Cusack really should use this in a movie.

(If you like the samples on Amazon, you can buy CDs directly from Bob.)

3) “I Am a Scientist,” Guided by Voices. Robert Pollard, the guiding force of Guided by Voices, was 37 when he became an indie rock star. He went from being a grade school teacher in Dayton to a rock savior, a guy melding British Invasion pop with the surreal creativity of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, all of it recorded with on cheap home equipment that made the songs that much more immediate and personal. No other songwriter of the last 20 years has cranked out as many gems as he has. If he had been from Athens or Austin and ten years younger when he was “discovered,” he would have been a household name.

More than being a great songwriter, he’s been an inspiration. Like I said, Pollard was already an old man in the rock game when he hit it big enough to quit his day job. By the time I saw GbV live for the first time, he was graying and well on the other side of 40. Instead of playing a cozy, VH1 Storytellers type of set that would have been age-appropriate, Pollard and has band of elder musicians proceeded to plug in, drink up, and rock out for three hours like they were 18.

It blew me away. As I’ve amply documented, I have had many self-imposed hang-ups about getting older, about making it as a writer, about being a success. When I started listening to GbV and especially after seeing them live, I realized how much unnecessary bullshit I had piled onto my psyche. None of that stuff mattered. If you wanted to create, create whatever you wanted, no matter how weird it was or how long it took. If somebody else dug it, great, if not, it didn’t matter as long as you were having fun. And if you kept working and kept having fun and stayed true to yourself, you might someday craft a two-minute diamond of a song that breaks you through long after most people thought you'd broken up.

2) “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” The Who. Most of these songs, while great on their own, are here for personal reasons. This song is here because it’s the greatest rock and roll song ever recorded, at least in my humble non-Rolling Stone opinion. It captures, as Spinal Tap would say, the majesty of rock and the mystery of roll. Epic, angry, amplified, political, and personal, it’s the rock anthem to end all rock anthems.

I see Pete Townsend as rock’s Shakespeare, the man who managed to be both accessible and wildly popular while keeping his work complex, deep, and adventurous. Imagine a song today being nearly nine minutes and featuring a long instrumental break in the middle becoming not just a huge hit, but one of the great songs of its age. Imagine the same song being unabashedly political, and yet being meaningful to liberals and conservatives. Now imagine that song being so timeless that it always seems appropriate, not matter how much things change or how much they stay the same.

It’s a case study of why breaking all the rules is necessary if you want to create something lasting, powerful, and original. And when I think of rock and roll, I think of this song.

And now, the number one...could I have a drum solo please....

1) “Walking on Sunshine,” Katrina and the Waves. The beauty of pop music is that it can say so much while still getting you to tap your feet. This ostensibly simple song is really an exploration of humanity’s place in the universe, grooving between the dark nihilism of Nietzsche and the blind faith of evangelicalism. The rhetorical and don’t it feel good? of the chorus challenges us to define good on our own terms, to find our own rays of sunshine on which we can walk toward perfect consciousness. Plus it kicks the crap out of Belle and Sebastian.

Okay, okay, the completely obvious number one....

1) “Tom Sawyer,” Rush. I have been a Rush fan for 26 of the 37 years I’ve been alive. In that time, I have loved and left a lot of bands. Being a creature of lists, I always have a running Top 5 bands in my head. Not only has Rush always been on that list, they have always been at the top of the list. Why?

The honest answer is I don’t really know. They tend to be a polarizing band. Their lyrics could be preachy and corny. Geddy Lee’s voice could range into dog whistle territory. In their efforts to evolve with the changing tide of music, they could do things like rap. Believe me, I know the criticisms of Rush much, much better than the critics of Rush.

Here’s the thing, though: Rush is the soundtrack of my life. When I heard "Tom Sawyer" and started listening to them, my family started moving around a lot because my father went back into the military full time. I continued those itinerant ways after I left college and got married. I’ve had arguably two constants amid all that flux: an enjoyment of boners and an appreciation for Rush. While most boners tend to blur into one lifelong erection, I can pop in any Rush album, play any song, and recall exactly what was going on in my life at that time. Not only can I not do that with any other band, I can’t do that with any other thing.

What’s more, their music lets me be a kid and grow up at the same time. They’ve changed their approach to music over time, leaving behind some of the youthful excess to craft more mature music. But even though they shortened their songs and Geddy Lee’s voice re-entered Earth’s atmosphere, Rush still retain a geeky adolescent energy, full of drum fills and guitar solos and screeching vocals about dystopian futures and adventures through black holes. They never lost what made them Rush in the first place.

More than anything else, that’s the lesson I have taken out of my love of rock music. I am going to grow up and mature and change. In fact, I should embrace those changes instead of fearing them and fighting them. But I should never, ever forget why I became a rock fan in the first place, and I should always keep this fountain of youth around, so that even as I get older, I never get old.

* * *

These two posts on these 22 songs have been the culmination of the Friday Random 11. I started writing music posts because I wanted to not only express my passion for rock, but challenge myself to express that passion in a creative ways. Since I started doing this in January 2007, I’ve written more than 42,000 words on my music collection.

That’s why, at least for now, I’m going to retire the Random 11 with this post. It’s been a great writing exercise for me—every week, I never knew what I’d write about, and it was really fun to find patterns in seemingly random songs. But I want to get back to writing more original material, and having one extra Friday a week to do that will help. I hope you enjoyed reading all those words as much as I did writing them.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Embarassing personal revelations still to come

I had hoped to finish either the Vegas recap or the second half of the Significant 22 songs by this morning, but I'm playing catch up this week on work and sleep. They are both mostly written, so I will definitely finish both this weekend.

Thanks to everyone for the blogoversary wishes. Hard to believe I've been doing this for three years already.