Trickle Down Terrorism

NOTE: The following was originally written around 2004, performed on live radio on KSCO AM1080, and posted online (at a now defunct site) shortly thereafter. I just stumbled across it today. It’s astonishingly prescient, and as such makes me look smarter than I probably am. Unfortunately, we seem to have done it to ourselves, and brought the American Dream closer to its end than toppling two buildings and killing 3,000 people ever did.

On the upside, we may end up with that “stronger, more responsible society” I allude to, if we do the right thing moving forward.


Television has done a great service to the criminal population, by sharing secrets that you previously had to be sent to prison to learn.

I learned on CSI: Miami that burning a body to ash will destroy all DNA evidence, and that mixing drain cleaner with vanilla yogurt will create a topical poison impervious to metal detectors that will leave you with incredibly smooth skin. Spend an evening watching a little Law and Order and COPS, and you’ll learn everything you need to know about crossing the border, hiding your pot and building bombs that look like cell phones.

I feel compelled to extend this service to the terrorist population, by sharing a few insights that otherwise may not be taken into consideration, and to help get you focused not on dropping skyscrapers and bridges on innocent people but rather on lifting the wallets of American consumers so they can’t do what they love to do more than salute the flag: spend money on crap they don’t need and can’t afford.

It should be clear by now that flying airplanes into buildings or mailing anthrax to the editors of our tabloid press is not the most effective ways to undermine the United States. Oh sure, you’ll get lots of press and it’ll make you a martyr, get you a stable of virgins in the afterlife and a herd of goats. But it’s an extremely high-profile undertaking, it’s regionally localized, and it calls attention to your intentions, which might be satisfying in the short term because you can gather all your Mullahs around to see yourself on America’s Most Wanted, but is really counter-productive in the long run if you’re serious about undermining your enemy’s way of life. All it does is piss us off and force us to hold the Olympics where the building used to be. We sell t-shirts to commemorate the event, and record songs to raise funds for the families of victims, and small companies make millions selling cheap American flags that attach to the passenger windows of our SUV’s. In the long run, it’s a boon to the economy.

If you really want to cause real harm to a capitalist economy, you need to be much more subtle.

Driving airplanes into our buildings to destroy America is like burning the Flag to destroy America. It confuses the symbol for the thing, the sign for the signified. Buildings are symbols of our economy, but they are not our economy. Our economy is our economy: the flow of money, the free and liquid investment in new business and new technologies. It is the healthy personal portfolios of families with long and stable work histories, the promise of a comfortable retirement before 70, the ability to educate our children in a better way than we had for ourselves, and enough pocket money to buy new CD’s and DVD players and hamburgers and wicker toilet seats and other miscellaneous unnecessary crap that keeps the populace at large employed as fry cooks and cashiers and bagboys and truck drivers and middle-managers and cleaning crews and bank tellers and meter readers.

They say that the introduction of the Mediterranean fruit fly into California was a subtle act of agriterrorism, aimed at slowly undermining the agricultural industry and the nationwide distribution of food by destroying the ability of trees to pollinate over the course of decades.

This is what I call Trickle-Down-Terrorism, and frankly it’s where I’d like to see more terrorists focus their efforts.

Imagine finding a way to appeal to the base desire of the average investor to create not a long-term plan, but a short-term killing; to get millions and billions of dollars invested in absurd shell-games and ponzi schemes, to actually get those ponzi schemes publicly traded, to have Wall Street recommend millions of middle-American families and young professionals and retirees to invest their futures there, and then take it all away from them in a weekend.

Imagine finding a way to bring one of the oldest, largest, most highly visible international corporations and entry-level employers into its first quarter of fiscal failure. Feel the shudder in the foundation of fiscal stability, see the panic in the eyes of under-educated food service workers who support families on minimum wage pushing the buttons with the pictures of food on them as their hours are reduced, smell the fear on Wall Street as another Blue-Chip stock tumbles for the first time in history. Watch as the truck drivers who deliver the goods have fewer runs to make, the packaging factories have less to manufacture, the napkin and straw and cup wholesalers scale back their shifts and their workers go on aid to keep their children in overcoats and galoshes. Taste the impact as our faith in fundamental American Capitalist Icons is shaken to the core. And imagine the satisfaction of having created a climate in which this company consciously put itself into this situation by making the decision to sell more of its popular product for less than it pays for it, to satisfy a selfish and self-absorbed, short-sighted consumer public who insist on cheaper faster food with no conception of where the goods come from, how much they cost to purchase or package or ship or prepare.

The beauty of trickle-down terrorism is, it’s something we can handle.

They tell us that all we need to protect ourselves against high-profile terrorism is a roll of saran wrap and some duct tape. The good silver kind, not that cheap red stuff. (And just for the record, magic transparent tape won’t help you at all. It’ll make your wrapping job look great, and you can write on it [Dear terrorists, I’ve taped my front door shut. Please go away.] but it won’t keep the anthrax out.) All it takes to protect yourself is a bag of Doritos and a Gloria Estefan T-Shirt. I don’t know why, but they say that our enemies will not have this insight; and so we will win.

Defending myself against high-profile terrorism just makes me a boy in a bubble.

The way I figure it, if terrorists start focusing on trickle-down acts, maybe we’ll finally stop doing it to ourselves. It doesn’t take baling wire and zip-lock baggies to fight trickle-down terrorism. It takes forethought and maturity, it takes responsibility and social conscience. It takes being willing to pay fair prices for quality products, which employ American families in responsible companies that offer real health care. It takes a willingness to pay $1.49 for a hamburger instead of insisting on .99 cents, so that McDonalds can remain strong and continue to make entry-level jobs available to workers of limited resource.

I’m ready for trickle-down terrorism. I can benefit from trickle-down terrorism. I’ll be in a better, stronger, more responsible society if we need to rise to the challenge of trickle-down terrorism. Defending myself from trickle-down terrorism keeps me from investing in companies shilled by talking sock puppets.

And that can only be a good thing.

That’s it. That’s all I got.

My neighbors are moving.

I’m very disappointed to announce that my neighbors are moving. Not just one set of neighbors, mind you, but both neighbors. The folks on the left, and the folks on the right.

Now, contrary to what you might think, this really has nothing to do with my quality as a neighbor. In fact, I’ve been told that I’m a damn fine neighbor. I’m always fast to accept cookies promptly as they exit the oven, on a number of occasions I’ve been kind enough to return most of the magazines that were accidentally delivered to my box, and it’s been my pleasure for several years to make my front patio available to anyone that wants to nurture flowers, trees, bushes, or anything else that’s green that I might neglect to death. And just the other day I graciously accepted a donation of a spanking used piece of exercise equipment, that would otherwise be sitting in my neighbor’s home, the source of guilt and anxiety simply by virtue of its disuse and a symbol of a poor investment.

I was doing her a favor.

And I needed another place to hang dirty clothes. The stationary bike, the Nordic track and the weight bench are all full.

My neighbor turned this stair stepper over to me the other day before she even knew for sure she was moving. She claimed she didn’t have room for it, and never used it. I’m convinced it has nothing to do with her concern over the growing spare tire I’ve been sporting, after this, our winter of inactivity.

I know this, because my wardrobe has been carefully selected to hide this new addition to the family. Sweatpants and shirts that don’t tuck. A closet full of ’em.

Anyway, I get my exercise kicking out the footrest on my recliner, and hollering at the television. I’m angry at the crappy quality of American game shows, and the crappy quality of British game show hosts. Have you seen this Weakest Link? “Scariest Woman on Television” my ass.

“Whose intelligence has no beginning? Where is the village that is missing its idiot? Who’s one eggroll short of a poo-poo platter?”

Ooh, I’m so scared. Give me a break. You want a scary host, give that show to Denis Leary. Give it to Dennis Miller. Hell, give it to Dennis Franz. But please, this broad is about as scary as a cranky small time bureaucrat who just got passed over for an annual COLA. Dumb as dirt, but still holding you by the short-hairs ‘cuz she’s the only one who can sign off your Jury Duty.

Since I’m on the subject, by the way, I have to say that this new show, Fear Factor, is really bringing me down. This is like Jackass with lovely prizes. [can I say ‘jackass’ on the air? ‘jackass’ is the name of the show. if I’m not allowed to say ‘jackass’, let me know.] American game shows have always been about skill and knowledge. You got your Jeopardy, your $64,000 Question (scandal notwithstanding), your Millionaire and your Win Ben Stein’s Money. You win prizes here in America by knowing which philosopher studied with Pliny, the name of the guy who discovered the source of the Nile, or the price of a beautiful dining room set and a lifetime of free rentals from RugDoctor. Now, all of a sudden, not only do I have to watch some idiot on MTV volunteer to get kicked in the naughty bits by a mule in the name of cutting edge entertainment, but I got a whole new show where I watch people win money being the one who can handle getting kicked the most times.

I might as well move to Japan, where skinny guys win money trying to knock fat guys off a greased balance beam into a wading pool full of scorpions with the bumper from an Isuzu in an effort to win a can of chocolate flavored cheezwhiz.

I might as well move, because I’m losing my damn neighbors and I’ve hardly got any reason to stay here any more. Hell, I work for a dot-com, so my career’s wildly stable, and my kids are old enough to fend for themselves.

I was born and raised in this lovely little bedroom community of the Silicon Valley. So was my Father. My children’s family, on their Mother’s side, goes back to the original Mexican land grants. And I’m renting my home, because I’ve never been able to afford to purchase a home here. And I’ve watched my rent go up 47 percent in the past 5 years. 47 freaking percent. And now, I watch my neighbors priced right out of being able to justify paying $1400 bucks for a 30 year old apartment that has an ocean view if you climb out the bedroom window and stand on the dumpster.

I’ve grown up listening to Johnny-come-lately residents, folks commuting the forty minutes from the fog to the smog, complain about traffic and crowding and tourists and prices. People who claim “I’ve lived here ten years, and I’ve watched this place go to hell with all these new people moving here. I’ve got mine, close the damn floodgates!”

If anybody ought to be able to say “close the damn floodgates” it’s me.

So I’m losing my neighbors. That’s the important point in all this. They’ll move away to Oregon, or Idaho, or Utah, or wherever a person can still afford to make a home for two, three or four spouses and a passel of kissing cousins. I hate to see them go, because they’ve been fast and loose with the cookies and casseroles, and because God knows what kind of freak show is going to end up moving in after them. It’s a slim chance I’ll get another neighbor that will quietly put up with me screaming and yelling while watching America’s Funniest Home Rescues or Nordic Strong Man Alligator Wrestling. I’ll probably have to start watering my own plants, and I may have to learn how to make something besides frozen potstickers.

So I’m going to abuse this on-air privelage to say so long to David, Stephanie, Terri and Richard, Tessie, Hannah, Paisley and Lincoln. I’ll miss you, and I’ll never forgive you all for leaving me.

Now, if anybody knows of any hot young co-ed lesbians looking for a place to live, have I got a place for you.

One on the left, and one on the right.

That’s it. That’s all I got.

FOOTNOTE: Original publication date – sometime in 2002. Who moved in? The woman who became my lovely wife (she’s the one in the green). Things worked out pretty good, eh?

Excess Chinese

I love all the cool stuff that comes with being in a First World country.

I love the big cars, the expensive but plentiful gas that goes in the big cars. I love the fatty foods, and the huge portions of fatty foods. Just the concept of leftovers is enough to make me smile.

And I love disposable stuff. I especially love disposable versions of stuff that never used to be disposable. Like disposable Tupperware. Remember when Tupperware was worth something? You coveted Tupperware, like a family heirloom, and you wrote your name on the bottom with an indelible marker. I was sure Tupperware was going to be the currency of the post-apocalyptic future, after the bomb, or Y2K.

Nowadays, there’s no need to hang onto anything. We have the privelage of throwing out the stuff that used to be valuable. Our children have no need for our air-tight heirlooms, our fried chicken time capsules, our precious plastic household hand-me-downs, or our time-honored wisdom. So we make even Tupperware a thing to throw away, to use once and bury, like a prophylactic, or a diaper, or a prom date.

Yes, the things that we once thought had value are now disposable garbage. Mind you, we could nevertheless buy some good “permanent” Tupperware, and use it for decades ourselves. Or give it to the Goodwill when we no longer need it. But the beauty of our new disposable Tupperware is that we still get to participate in our culture of consumer excess, yet not be bogged down with owning “things”. We aren’t really enraptured with our “stuff”, you see, we aren’t really addicted to our “crap”, and we can prove it by throwing it away. And we don’t feel guilty, because, of course, it’s intended to be thrown away. To give it to someone else is to give them our trash… and how offensive is that?

Or so I thought. Today, I found myself at Mr. Chau’s Chinese Fast Food. Don’t ask why.

Are you familiar with Mr. Chau’s? Mr. Chau’s looks tempting. The campy little animated Mister Chau entices me from the television with promises of tasty fried rice, chow mien and sweet-and-sour pork baking under a heat lamp behind a sneeze guard in a converted Dairy Queen. So I loaded up, once I finally got there, on a huge steaming pile of boneless beef ribs, or pork ribs, or chicken ribs, or cat ribs, in sauce the color of something for which there is no color in nature, sauce the color of a traffic cone.

It was pretty, mind you, but it wasn’t natural.

The smell sucked. The sauce sucked. The rice sucked. And the meat, if it was meat, sucked. Sauce the color of a traffic cone, it seems, is warning you to eat elsewhere.

Now as it happens, while I’m trying to force this crap down, I observe this homeless guy come by the garbage can outside the restaurant two or three times, checking for anything anyone else may have had too much of. He didn’t have a sign, and he wasn’t sitting on the ground outside a coffee shop, but he didn’t pull up in a Lincoln Navigator, so I know he must be homeless.

So in a fit of newfound humanitarian empathy, it occurs to me that since this food is virtually inedible anyway, I could leave it in a disposable ozone-safe Styrofoam take-out container with a new spork, a pair of plastic chopsticks and a half-empty envelope of brown salty sauce on top of the garbage can for this guy to find when he comes back around, because while I may not have a lot of spare change, I do have plenty of crappy Chinese fast food.

All of us, somewhere, have too much of something we don’t need. There is, in general, an obscene amount of crap. We are a country of excess.

It’s just a distribution problem.

The point is that I learned that I can fulfill my humanitarian obligations and address the issue of distribution by leaving behind the inedible leftovers of crappy Chinese fast food in disposable Tupperware on top of a dumpster. One man’s inedible leftovers are another man’s 3 square meals. You see, while it is indeed possible for one of us to have too much crappy Mr. Chau’s Chinese Fast Food, we cannot, collectively, have too much crappy Mr. Chau’s Chinese Fast Food.

And no matter where I am, no matter what kind of crappy half-eaten entrée, used sneakers or tattered blankets I leave behind, there will be someone out there who can use them. How awesome is that? I get to participate in our capitalist consumer culture, I get a meal, I get to complain about the quality of my excess food, I get to not finish the meal, and I get to feed a homeless guy. I can do my part simply by giving away the crap that isn’t good enough for me, and I won’t even notice.

There really is enough for everybody. And even disposable things, sometimes, are worth passing on.

Is this a great country or what?

That’s it. That’s all I got.

Snap Into A Slim Jim

Y’know, I’ve long held that people are idiots.
But that’s easy to say. What’s hard is finding a good tool for proving it.

One of the gauges with which I measure the idiocy of people is television. More so than movies, and more so than music. Eminem’s success notwithstanding.

Of course, there’s some movies on television. And some music, too. Then there’s music in movies. All that probably skews the results.

But this isn’t science. It’s inference. And I’m okay with that.

Now, before I start, let me acknowledge that we haven’t resolved the question of whether TV reflects our culture, or directs our culture. Do we like the things that we like because we see them on TV, or does TV just show us what we already like? Do we respond to the commercials because we are the idiots that they think we are, or because we are turned into idiots by the subtle influences of mind-numbing, homogeneous pablum, and we become the consumer drones they need us to be?

What we do know is, it works. If it didn’t work, if the demographic suppositions about television shows were wrong, and the ads that were running during the show didn’t really appeal to the people watching the show, the products wouldn’t sell, and they wouldn’t waste millions of dollars running the ads, and the ads would disappear. The fact that they are pumping millions of dollars into those ads infers, if not proves, that people are idiots, because they must be responding to the ads; because these marketing execs may be foul, but they’re foul and smart. They’ve got this crap down to an art.

So if the ads you see on TV are designed to actually appeal to the mentality of the people that are watching the show, and you see a “snap into a Slim-Jim” ad on Big-Ass Time Wrestling Federation Smack Down Thump-fest Mania, and again later on America’s Funniest Home Rescues, you can freely assume that the same kinda people that watch Big-Ass Time Wrestling Federation Smack Down Thump-fest Mania watch America’s Funniest Home Rescues, and that they are assumed to like Slim-Jims.

You won’t see Lexus commercials there. You won’t see Macy’s ads there. You’ll see Daewoo and Kia ads there. You’ll see Bryman School of Orthodontic Assistantship and Dog Washing ads there. You’ll see K-Mart ads there. And if you’re seeing these ads, if you’re watching these shows, you, my friend, fall into that demographic.

Of course, if this were science, we’d ask for causality. In other words, if what I believe is true, it infers some mechanism by which the advertisers can measure the relationship between showing a particular dumb-ass ad, and the increased sales of their dumb-ass products. And although certain paranoid delusionals may argue to the contrary, nobody really knows what you’re watching on your television. So they can infer, from an increase in sales after the launch of an ad, that the ad works.

But how can they know?

Focus Groups.

Those mysterious, privileged groups of select citizens, chosen to best represent a cross-section of our diverse culture, ushered into plush screening rooms where super-secret cuts of unreleased commercials, films and television sitcoms are beamed onto a silver screen, and extensive, revealing personal profiles are assembled from interviews and delicately structured questionnaires.

So I’m in the mall the other day, and this pimply faced kid with ill-fitting loafers and a wrinkled dress shirt with the folds from the package still in it walks up to me with some hand scrawled notes on a lined yellow pad on a dirty clipboard, and he asks me how I’m doing.

We quickly assess my age, my general income, and will I answer a few questions and watch a little TV for an easy five bucks, all paid for by GM?

Pay me to watch TV? Have I died and gone to Heaven?

So he takes me into a little office in the back of the mall and into a small room with one door, a VCR and TV, a computer monitor, and a two-way mirror, and escorts a fat chick in a black dress in to join us.

Suddenly, this is looking kinda kinky, and five bucks is looking like not enough money.

The two of them ask me a bunch of questions, and then inform me that they want me to watch some commercials to gauge my response.

I see a yogurt commercial, an applesauce commercial, one for a Chevy car, and an Advil spot.

“Do you remember the car commercial?” they ask.

Yes, I respond.

They ask me what car it advertised. Malibu, I say. Or Monte Carlo. I’m not really sure.

He sighs. “Let’s look at the ad again” he says. We look at the ad again. I have failed.

It was the Impala.

“Now do you remember the car?” they ask again.

Impala, I say.

This time I pass.

They want to know how the commercial makes me feel, on a scale of one to five. One is good. Three is neutral.

I pause.

“You can just say three” he says.

Okay, three. I just want my five bucks.

They ask how I feel about the character in the commercial. One is good. I can relate to him. Five is bad. I think he’s a “loser”.

“You can say three” he tells me.

Okay, three. I just want my five bucks.

Finally, they hand me three sheets of paper with a list of words. “I was supposed to ask you about these earlier,” he says. “I forgot. Just check off the words that match how you feel about the commercial. You can leave a bunch blank if you want. It doesn’t really matter.”

I check some off. He gives me five bucks.

I’m not sure if GM knows any more about their Impala ads. But I have five dollars I didn’t have before, and I don’t even feel dirty.

But the cool thing is that now I have a new insight on my tried and true mechanism for gauging the idiocy of the American populace, and I feel a little better. Because, you see, while the commercials that play during my favorite show may suck, and may be offensively belittling to their apparently intended audience, they don’t necessarily reflect the nature of the actual audience.

When you see the Chevy Impala ad, what you’re seeing is what the fat chick and the pimply kid thought a 40-something year-old guy with bad knees and no money who doesn’t want to buy a car might want to see, after they’d hurried him up to answer the questions so they could get to the food court and grab a Squishy and a Cinna-Bon. So now I can watch Big-Ass Time Wrestling Federation Smack Down Thump-fest Mania and America’s Funniest Home Rescues and know that I’m not necessarily the kind of person who buys curly fries and shampoo because the Ho in the commercial is bump-grinding to Eminem in short-shorts and a halter-top made out of baloney.

I might become that person if I see it enough. But I didn’t start out that way.
The television doesn’t necessarily reflect our idiot culture. But it may very well direct it.

Because, don’t forget, the audience is still a bunch of idiots. My mind hasn’t changed on that.

We just may not have been born that way.

And I’d have paid five bucks to know that.

That’s it. That’s all I got.

Skateboard Pants

Sometimes there’s no love lost between me and skateboarders.

Yeah, sure, already I hear the ludicrous freedom cry of “skateboarding is not a crime, yo”. But ya know what? I don’t hear the bicyclists, the tennis players and the golfers whining and moaning that they don’t get to practice their sports against the side of Civil War monuments, over the tops of memorial park benches and alongside my $20,000 SUV parked outside of the Starbucks. And you don’t hear them crying “Until you build me a mountain bike park, I’m just gonna keep riding up and down the flower beds of the City Arboretum, dude!”

“Skateboarding is not a crime”. You know what? Neither is taking a dump, you punk, but it’s a crime when I do it on the sidewalk in front of the boulangerie at the strip mall, okay?

But that’s not what’s bothering me today. This is not my problem with skateboarders.

It’s not that I don’t get the sport. Hell, I was in one of the first skateboard clubs in Skate City USA (Santa Cruz, Cali, baby) back in 1972, when boards were fiberglass and a handstand was the epitomy of trick. I can appreciate the complexities of their particular brand of athleticism, some of the subtleties between the various tricks they pull. I actually like watching those kids throw themselves into the half-pipe, to the screams of tattooed boys making devil horns with both hands, and the screams of dozens of scantily clad teenie-boppers with Britney Spears breasts.

In fact, I like watching that a lot.

I see the pride in their eyes when they’re cracking a double-ollie half-grind fakie 360 with a moonwalk nose manual. These kids work hard at learning these tricks, and I should have so much patience figuring out how to program my damn DVD player. Hell, I can barely drive and program my cell phone at the same time… God help me if I try to pop a backwards Casper half-and-half and a nose grab all at once.

So you know what pisses me off? I’ll tell you what pisses me off.

It’s those damn pants.

Now I’m not talking about the “loose fit” look here. I’m not talking about your “roomy cut husky boys” dungarees.

You know that crease under your butt cheek that would hold a pencil if you stuck it under there? I’m talking about the pants that hang somewhere South of there. I’m talking about the “hanging below the cheek crease, crotch between your knees, gotta walk bowlegged with one hand holding ’em up got pockets on my knees” baggies. I’m talking about the “put down your backpack and bend over at the waist just to reach the change at the bottom of your pocket for a Mountain Dew while you hold ’em up with the other hand” kind of baggies. I’m talking about the “how the hell are they staying up if you didn’t actually sew them to your underwear” kind of baggies.

You’ve seen these kids, walking down the street in front of you, effectively mooning you on the way to getting their lips pierced shut, looking like they got halfway through getting ready to take a crap when they realized they were out of Mountain Dew and had to get to the Seven Eleven.

Why do I have to stare at this kid’s bony butt hanging out of his Ben Davis Baggies? Why do I have to be privileged to see which pattern of boxers he decided to put on this morning? Why should I have to observe his skid mark skivvies hanging out over his waistband like some kind of freakish twilight-zone beer belly on the backside?

There is nothing as sexy as a guy who looks like he just took a huge dump in his diaper, walking like a penguin with his legs bowed to keep his pants above his knees. Are there really little girls who look at these boneheads and say “Ooh, check out the underwear on that one”?

Are there really little girls who say “I wanna get me a man who has to use BOTH hands to hold his pants up”?

Do they really say “I like a guy who can’t get his knees far enough apart to ride a bicycle”?

Yeah, yeah, I know, youthful rebellion. These pants are an extension of the “trashing private property is not a crime” mentality … this is the “taking my pants off in public is not a crime” mentality … the “screw you, the world owes me whatever I want so kiss my butt” mentality, borne of an utter and complete disregard for other people’s property and privacy, and my right not to have to look at your freakin’ Underoos.

Maybe my real fear is that this is going to catch on… that these poor misguided children will never grow out of it, and one day I’m going to find myself being represented by an Attorney who walks bowlegged up to the Bench in a three-piece suit, one hand on my People’s Exhibit 13, the other hand holding up his pants, his boxers billowing out like a flowing silken sign that says “I’m a complete ass, Your Honor, please send my client to the chair.”

Take it from a guy who spent years in super-bells, parachute pants and M.C. Hammer boxer pants with an elastic waistband. You look like a freakin’ moron, you’re gonna want to burn these pictures, when I was in high school kids with pants like that rode on the little bus and wore a helmet to recess. You’ve adopted a look once reserved for Homeless people, special kids and plumbers.

And grinding the finish off the new Art Nouveu railings in front of City Hall doesn’t make it cool.

Congratulations. Those pants are a crime.

That’s it. That’s all I got.

Die, Little Timmy! Die!

I heard once that the Spam company was trying to get people to quit using the term ‘spam’ for unsolicited email. They gave up… ‘spam’ is just too universally accepted as a term for anything that you receive that you don’t really want.

Like a fruitcake, In-Laws, or a drip that requires penicillin.

Or Urban Myths.

You know about the Urban Myths. You get them in email, with the subject line that says “Happy story… forward this to a hundred friends, and make a difference in a little boy’s life, and happy good luck will follow you all your days.”

Little Timmy is dying a slow and painful death from some obscure South American toenail disease he contracted while swimming in the ball pit at McDonalds, and his last wish is for me to send a list of sappy affirmations previously turned down as too saccharine for Hallmark, and not funny enough for Jack Handy, to 10,000 of my closest friends in the next 24 hours, and if I can also see my way to sending him a book of matches from every nudie bar between here and Las Vegas the Doctors in the toenail ward will donate all their earnings to the SPCA to save a blind kitten.

Every day I have five or ten of these waiting for me at my desk, in amongst the real important mail. It won’t quit. We just change the name, change the disease, and it’s a whole new story. Next time, it’s Tommy, not Timmy. It’s ringworm, not toenail rot. We can’t let these stories go. We love the myth. We love the fantasy. We won’t let Timmy die.

And the kicker, the real pisser about this whole thing, the aspect of this that convinces me that I haven’t been nearly careful enough in choosing who I hang out with, is that these are coming to me from my friends. People who say they like me. People who, I’m pretty sure, wouldn’t toilet paper my house or leave bags of burning dog crap on my front stoop, but they send me these things because they really believe these stories. What kind of a moron falls for this crap? What kinds of idiots have got me in their address books, that I continue to receive this kind of drivel?

We never used to have these kinds of problems, back in the dark ages before the Internet. Actually choosing to have a subscription to the National Enquirer was the only way you knew that someone was taking up a collection to buy Wolf Boy plastic surgery. They didn’t just drop by the house and slip it in with the bills in an envelope that had an IRS return address, and if you opened it you were automatically signed up to receive another ten Wolf Boy stories in the mail every day. I never had my privacy jeopardized because a coupon book from the neighborhood Quick-E-Mart arrived in my mailbox, and a midget jumped out, ran in the kitchen, stole my address book and started mailing coupons for hookers and farm sex to all my friends. Not before the email.

Ah, the internet. Brave New World technologies that will turn the old school on its ear, and reinvent the way people interact and share and grow and learn and live and love.

Brave New World my ass.

Well, we may have to stick with the Internet now. Too late to do anything about it, everybody wants it, everybody has to have a website, nobody writes letters any more, nobody makes a damn phone call any more, nobody buys Playboy any more, nobody masturbates in the bathroom any more.

I guess I’ll have to get used to unscrupulous mass-market-mailing companies sending my unsolicited advertisements. I dealt with it in the pre-internet days. I’ll deal with it now.

And I guess we’ll get used to the anarchistic, adolescent sexless computer geeks who get their rocks off writing code that brings small business to its knees so they can have their fifteen minutes of fame among their anarchistic, adolescent sexless computer geek friends, because their computer virus corrupted more flower shop’s address books than their buddy’s computer virus.

But this crap from friends I don’t have to stick with. I want someone to write a computer virus that will automatically remove me from the address books of anyone stupid enough to send me this kind of crap, and make me forget that I ever thought these people were smarter than a bag of doorknobs. A virus that will bring an end to this inane waste of time, and destroy the myth. A virus that will kill Timmy. Let go, little Timmy. Let go! Put me out of your misery!

Death to the little boy with the rotten toenails, that’s what I want. Is that asking so much?

That’s it. That’s all I got.

Christmas Hair

The plastic Christmas tree is a vast improvement over the natural tree.

[One], I didn’t have to kill it.

And [B], I don’t have to deal with spiders crawling out of it in the middle of the night and eating my brain.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Yet I still feel guilty somehow, like I’ve committed the ultimate Sin against Holiday Tradition by taking the Holiest of Family icons and replacing it with plastic. Plastic is fine for the baby Jesus on the front lawn … it’s even better if you light if from the inside with a 900 watt searchlight that you can see from space. Baby Jesus projected on the clouds like some kind of holy Bat Signal.

But plastic is somehow innately wrong for the tree.

I don’t miss wandering around the supermarket parking lot inhaling diesel fumes, lost in a maze of cyclone fencing, trying to pick out the best dried-out tree nailed to a wooden two-by-four cross like some kind of weird evergreen crucifix.

And I don’t miss hunting it down myself during my one annual trek to the local hills where snaggle-toothed hillbillies who spend the balance of the year raising punkins charge me seventy-five dollars a foot to watch me cut down my own tree with a dull saw.

But I do miss loading all my kids in the car, cruising from one crowded grocery store parking lot to another in search of the cheapest five feet of decrepit, uneven, rapidly decomposing wad of Tannenbaum, struggling not to let them adopt every 24-inch bare-assed little Charlie Brown shrub we stumble across.

I do miss sliding around the muddy hillside in white tennis shoes, trying to remember whether it was the Noble Fir, the Ponderosa Pine or the California Silver-tip Gravenstein Sierra Madre Mark IV that was under sixty-three dollars a foot and wondering why I ever thought I’d be able to identify any one of them by sight anyway, as the kids mark the latest perfect tree with a coffee cup we find on the trail and then promptly forget which of the hundred-and-ninety-seven acres held that flawless specimen because they instantly find another more perfect tree two minutes later.

And although I don’t miss its crappy little combustible needles all over my living room, turning up in my socks for the next six months like forgotten Easter eggs that you don’t find until after you’ve spent a week emptying cans of Lysol behind the refrigerator and asking your friends if they smell what you smell, I do miss the smell of a real tree, the daily watering, and the odd little dance the two of us do as we cha-cha around the living room trying desperately to find the side that won’t embarrass us with its bald spot.

There is something oddly comforting about the tree giving its all, standing sentinel in my living room for three weeks in its Sunday best. There’s comfort and tradition in the process of hunting and gathering, of communing, of pruning and decorating and lighting and watering and nurturing, watching the tree go to the extreme to bring me and mine happiness and holiday spirit. There’s distinction in seeing the branches and the trunk slowly showing through the thin spots, as it dries and droops and drops its needles in a protective circle around the perimeter of the ceramic town with the plastic train, something you don’t get with a plastic tree, no matter how many automotive air fresheners you hang on it. There’s wisdom, and history, and sacrifice in watching the tree slowly going bald.

Buying a plastic tree is for people who think that it’s the tree itself that’s important. It means forgetting about the process, and focusing instead on the thing, and missing the forest for the trees.

Speaking of which, I had a woman ask me once if I would ever consider getting a hair transplant. Asking a man to consider getting a hair transplant is like asking a woman if she’d consider getting breast implants.

What’s wrong with my hair? Isn’t my hair good enough for her? Has she been looking at somebody else’s hair?

Oh, sure, of course, she says, I love your hair just the way it is, she says. It’s just, well, wouldn’t you like to have a little more hair?

Maybe she’d like me to have big thick hair? Is that it? Like that guy at her office? Or Michael Landon? What’s the matter, Kelsey Grammer isn’t good enough for her? Bruce Willis not man enough?

Look, I’m not happy about the Friar Tuck reflector on the back of my head, the inverse Yarmulke around which my remaining hair circles like a group of whispy gray children playing ring around the sunburned scalp. I have to admit I considered the transplant for a few minutes. I even considered the weave.

I didn’t consider the comb over, or the can of hair. Somehow making a hat out of my own hair holds no interest and fools no one, and having to walk like I’m balancing a book to keep the brown Christmas flocking from sliding off my head just makes me look like a prima donna. Cheez Whiz is for crackers.

But buying the plastic hair, or even rearranging the landscaping, puts the focus on the thing, and forgets about the process. I have no desire to cover up the evidence of my wisdom and experience. I don’t want anyone to forget about the journey of years and pain and failure and disappointment that got me here. Those plastic trees, they may be convenient and look pretty, but they’ve never been alive. They haven’t suffered. So don’t ask me to deck myself in aluminum and fiberglass.

Just quit being such a shallow lazy bitch, and take the time to adventure into the woods and hunt me down. Spend a little time slopping around in the mudflats that are my history, dammit. Go to the trouble of breathing a little diesel fuel and getting lost in a cyclone maze, do a little comparison-shopping to understand why it’s worth it to overlook that uneven spot. Go ahead and hang an old coffee cup on me, so you know where to find me when you’re ready.

You can just turn my back against the wall when company comes over, and spread a sheet around my feet.

Oh yeah. Merry Freakin’ Christmas.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.


Halloween is over.
It’s almost Thanksgiving.
Then Christmas.
Then New Years.
It is, as I like to say, the beginning of the end.

This time of year is, in fact, a season that particularly pisses me off. It’s a series of events that illustrates just how much of our culture and society is really all about just what unrefined, frightened, lonely social animals we are.

We build up for twelve months toward the one major holiday of the year, Christmas (or Kwaanza, or Chanukka, or whatever you celebrate during that season) and it becomes a watershed moment of the year as regards your relationships. Yeah, sure, there’s some religious pretext, there’s all that crap about “good will toward men” or whatnot. But really, what you do is you take stock of your friends and relationships in a very digital way. You prioritize them, in dollars and cents, as to who this year during this month is worth the most effort and expense, energy and attention. It forces you to re-evaluate the most intimate aspects of your life. It gives you an opportunity to reflect on which relationships are showing a worthwhile Return On Investment, and which ones may have run their course. And admit it or not, you use it as a guide to gauge how you rate on the lists of the folks around you.

This is followed by New Years Eve. A holiday which is made somewhat less entertaining by my encroaching sobriety, because drunk people are significantly less appealing when you are not among them. So few of them are as cute as Dean Martin.

New Years is, of course, the personal commitment holiday. After suffering through Christmas (or Kwaanza, or Chanukka) has forced us to evaluate our personal lives and relations, New Years gives us the opportunity to reinvent the things we’ve come to realize aren’t working for us, in an effort to ensure better, more valuable and rewarding relationships and intimacies. To make us more attractive to others.

We’ll treat our significant others better (to reduce the likelihood of being left without a mate). Eat better (to make ourselves healthier and more attractive to potential mates). Excercise more (to make us more attractive to our significant others). Get a better job (to make us more attractive to our significant others). Masturbate less (to save our seed for the procreation that nature demands). Write our great American novel. Be more selfish. Be less selfish. Get laid. Buy a pig.

There is always some apparently significant personal change that needs making.

Then there’s Valentine’s day.
Six weeks into the new you. A month and a half into the first year of the rest of your life. 45 days into the more exciting, healthier, more well rounded relationships you had mapped out.
How’s it going?

This is a poser of a holiday, invented in a smoke-filled room during a meeting between executives at Hallmark and the calendar publishers of At-A-Glance. I know it’s not a real holiday, and I’m willing to bet that “Saint Valentine” was no saint. Probably named after Rudolph Valentino, for all I know.

Frankly, i don’t freakin’ care. What I do know is that, just like Christmas and Chanukka and Kwaanza have been reduced to mere working models of intimate interaction, Valentine’s Day has become little more than the day we reflect on how poorly the new plan is working out.

Unless of course you’ve actually been lucky enough to stumble into a close relationship that appears to be exclusive. Better say thank you! Thank you for not leaving me alone, worthless, and without company. Here’s a card! It has a puppy on it!
Please don’t leave.

Got no-one to send a card to?
Then you probably dropped the ball on that “I’m gonna reinvent my life, goals and relationships” thing.

No big deal, you might say, as you don’t need anyone. You’re whole and complete on your own.
Yeah, right.

We humans are social animals. Our relationships, our family units, our religions and our holidays are about social organizations. About filling our innate need for companionship, reproduction and survival. It’s about all of us being so afraid to be alone, we structure our whole social calendar around guaranteeing it won’t happen. And about being so afraid to admit it, that we hide it behind holidays, white sales, and the seasonal offerings of gifts in exchange for, and appreciation of, just a little intimacy and companionship. We have turned the calendar year into a microcosm of that struggle; a twelve month cycle of family events, relationship evaluations, personal re-inventions, and other endless pursuits of intimacy.

All of which comes to a head over the course of the next six insane weeks, carrying the highest depression ratio of any calendar season.

And it all begins with Thanksgiving, a time when we give thanks to the Universe for not making our heads explode during the past year. Thanks for keeping our cars right side up, our flies shut in front of crowds, for keeping us from guzzling sour milk straight from the carton, and from eating our young. Thanks for all the minor little victories that should have gone without notice, lost in the radiance of success and love and fulfillment but instead were thrust into the limelight of primacy by virtue of the very lack of success and love and fulfillment over the course of the past year.

Thanks for keeping me breathing for the last twelve months. It’s the least you could have done.

Or maybe I just need to get laid.

That’s it. That’s all I got.

Too Much Truthiness

I figured out what I want in life. I’ve struggled a long time with this, and more than once I’ve thought I had it all figured out. Today, I’m proud to announce that I finally got it. And it’s not that complicated.

I want too much of a good thing.

That seems easy, right? I’m not asking so much. But I’ve discovered that it’s way more complicated than I ever imagined.

The trick, you see, is in knowing which good thing you want too much of, ‘cuz you’re not gonna get too much of all the good stuff. It just doesn’t work that way. In this life, you’re gonna get too much of one, maybe two good things. Tops. So you gotta choose carefully, and wait for the right moment. You use your one chance for excess on “too much pecan pie”, and you’ve blown your chance at the “too much sweet lovin'” option. Then you’d be pissed.

Now excess isn’t hard to come by … We get plenty too much of the crap we don’t want… excess crap is easy to come by. You never hear anybody saying that they’re not getting enough of the crap.

“Hey, Doc, listen, about that prostate exam. You know, once every two years just ain’t enough for me. Whaddya say we lube up, and we check that bad boy again? Mmm, Hmm.”

No, we got plenty of excess in the crap department. We have way too much Geraldo Rivera, don’t we?

We’ve got plenty of boy bands… really. There’s plenty. Or there’s just the one big one… I can’t tell. I like that one boy band… you know, the one with the cute boy with perfectly sculpted beard thing.

He’s dreamy.

We have too many people who think they can explain to one another what’s happening up on the screen. I don’t go to the movies to listen to the lady behind me translate the film for her ESL movie buddy.

We have way too many stand-up comics who think they can carry a sit-com.

Traffic? Too much.

Missed opportunities? Too many.

Too much of that ‘You Go Girl’ stuff. Really. That was never a good idea.

Inequity? Yup. For some of us anyway.

Irresponsibility and selfishness? Too much.

Entitlement? More than we deserve.

So we set aside all the crap, all the stuff we’re likely to get too much of without even trying, and we say “we have plenty of that stuff. Don’t need any more.” Then make a big old steaming pile of whatever’s left over. That’d be the good stuff, right? Anything that’s not crap, that’s good. We can’t have too much of that.

Too much clean air? Hard to imagine.

Too many options? I don’t think so.

Too much good conversation? Impossible.

Too much time just sitting and watching the ocean with someone you love? Not likely.

Too much ice cream? Not a problem.

Unless it has a stupid name. Ice cream should be named what it is. “Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream.” Simple, to the point, self-defining. I know what I’m getting.
“Chunky Fatso Garcia Mondo Surprise.” I don’t get this. I don’t know what that is. Don’t do that to me. I don’t need my ice cream named after drug addicts and animal parts. We have too many cute ice creams.

Which brings us to the point that not all the crap in the ‘good’ pile is the kind of thing you want too much of. There’s the things we put in the “good” pile, the “not crap” pile, that seemed like a good idea, that seem like it would be good to have too much of. But we’re wrong there too.

Too much Spice Girls. Especially Sporty Spice. She did nothing for me.

Too much Jim Carrey. Seemed funny at first. Now he’s just a prick.

Bicycle pants and leg warmers, or any other nostalgia for the Eighties. I don’t have to explain that.

Too much political correctness. Everybody can’t be right.

Too much reality television. First it was a voyeuristic turn-on. Now it’s just embarrassing and disturbing.

Too much Porn. At this point I’m just bored, and I can hardly hold a pen.

Too much truth?

That’s the tricky one. Generally, it appears we really aren’t interested in the truth at all.

To paraphrase the immortal Jack Nicholson, “we can’t handle the truth.”

“Does this make me look fat?” “Do I look like an idiot?” “Are you working late again tonight?”

We don’t want honest answers to these questions … there’s a silent, unspoken understanding that these kinds of questions are blatant requests for a lie. The truth just pisses you off, when you hear it.

“You have a fat butt, you moron, and I’ll be home late ‘cuz I’m at the office boinking the cleaning lady.”

Some think that’s too much truth.

I’m not so sure. One thing I do know, what I want in life is too much of a good thing.

Which good thing? It’s a toss-up… pecan pie, sweet lovin’, or truth. They’re all right next to each other on the scale of good… but if I have to hold out for one, I’m just not sure which item on the ‘good’ pile I’ll hold out for.

If I’m lucky, I can work this like the Quick Check at the grocery store… I’ll find me a babe who’ll give me too much good lovin’, and whisper me the truth while feeding me pecan pie. If it comes in a package like that, then it’s just one thing, right?

Until then, I guess I’ll settle for an evening of “America’s Funniest Home Rescues” and a quart of “Sticky Mickey Hunka Chunka Burnin’ Love Handle Surprise”. I’ll be on the couch.

Leave my excess on the porch.

That’s it. That’s all I got.

Llaves Sus Manos. Dick.

Common courtesy is an oxymoron.

It’s bad enough that there are crazy old men with access to biological weapons. What I don’t need is my fellow citizens subjecting me to microscopic toxins just by being slobs.

So I’m at the mall, in the bathroom of one of the large chain stores, which will remain nameless but it rhymes with Schmervyn’s, and I realize that I’m not alone.

This is not what bothers me.

Apparently, somebody is doing some heavy lifting in one of the stalls. Somebody’s having a tooth pulled in one of the stalls. There is a series of sounds the likes of which I haven’t heard since hiking through a mud flat, trying to pull my stuck feet out while wearing a pair of snowshoes. It’s that sound the cranberry sauce makes when you’re trying to bounce it out of the can.

Yet this is not what bothers me.

Somebody is dumping a can of chunky soup into the bowl in that stall, and this is not what bothers me.

What bothers me is that as I’m standing there scrubbing my hands up to the elbows like a freakin’ surgeon, the stall door opens and out walks some red-faced guy, who proceeds to nod cordially at me in a ‘Hi how are you’ kind of way, opens the door and walks on out into the store without so much as waving his hands over the sink.

This is what bothers me.

I stand there, with my newly clean hands, my surgeon’s hands, holding them fingers up and palms toward me as though I’m waiting for someone to slip a pair of gloves on me, and I stare at the door handle.

You know how, in those Hitchcock movies when the actor who’s about to be hit by a safe is staring at something ominous and threatening, and it seems to unhinge itself from the background and swoop towards the camera while the rest of the world just fades out of existence?

That’s what the door handle did.

I realized, standing there with my surgeon’s hands, that there was no way I was getting out of that bathroom without touching that handle.

I started running a number of scenarios through my mind’s eye… I knew the door only swung inward, toward me, that I couldn’t just push it open and make my escape. I imagined trying to grab the handle with my elbows, but if you’ve ever tried holding a cat out in front of you with just your elbows, you know how impossible this is.

Okay, maybe that’s just me. But I’m sure you can imagine what I mean.

I imagined opening the door wide, then leaping back, washing my hands really quick, and making it back somehow through the doorway before the door shuts.

But that’s just stupid.

And yes, it occurred to me that I could simply grab one of the paper towels and use it to open the door. But there are no paper towels, only a wall mounted inverted jet engine that theoretically dries your hands but really just fools you into standing there rubbing your palms together in the draft until the water simply evaporates, and is of no use whatsoever in drying your face, because although it looks like it should swivel up, apparently someone thought that welding it in place was a good idea, so you have to kneel down in front of the thing as though you’re praying to it, but there are only two kinds of people who are comfortable either praying to technology or being on their knees in a public bathroom and I’m not either one of them, so that’s not the option I ever take, and although I try valiantly to yank the damn thing from the wall, I can’t figure out how I’d use it to open the door anyway, so it’s of no help whatsoever.

After a few minutes, luckily for me, someone previously out on the retail floor feels the need to use the facilities and opens the door to come in, and although I’m a little embarrassed to be found walking toward the door with a paper seat protector in my hand, I merely smile, shove it in my pocket and slip out the door before it swings shut.

But I am not free.

I look around at the other shoppers, any one of which could be the perpetrator of my nightmarish entrapment in the restroom, and they are looking around at the millions of dollars worth of goods on the shelves of Schmervyn’s, and they are touching them, holding them, lifting them, fondling them, transferring their germs and sweat and dirt and, as CSI:Miami has taught me, their epithelials, which are the dead skin cells that make up most of the dust floating in your house and settling on your furniture which is just gross and is why I wrap my pillow in a towel, and I am put in a mind of those news-magazine shows that throw black lights on hotel rooms to show us the gallons of bodily fluids left behind by previous guests, and suddenly I could swear that all of Schmervyn’s is glowing like a Pink Floyd poster in my 10th grade bedroom, and I just want to wrap myself in duct tape and sandwich baggies.

As I look around Schmervyn’s I realize that it’s the little things that count. Little things like sticking around long enough to make sure a second flush isn’t required rather than leaving a little floating calling card for the next visitor as though marking your territory, like being thoughtful enough to quietly squirt the crap you just coughed up out of your bronchitis-infested lungs into a napkin rather than seeing if you can hit the wastebasket from across the room without taking your feet off the desk like you’re in a Saloon, like washing your hands before going back to work at the CinnaBon stand.

I am not obsessive-compulsive. I am not paranoid-delusional. I am not a Nancy-boy.

But a little common courtesy goes a long way. Life is tough enough thanks to the big hairy dangerous real scary cranky old men with missiles and vials of nasty bugs that make your parts fall off. So I do my best to keep my body parts, its appendages, its cells, its fluids, to myself and the occasional rare brave soul who volunteers to share them with me. I learned how to use a four-way stop, I don’t blow my nose with my finger, and I don’t stand in the middle of the aisle at Safeway with a stupid look on my face when there’s plenty of room over next to the cold cuts.

And I really don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect others to do the same.

Is that so much to ask?

That’s it. That’s all I got.