My Muscle-Headed Muse

I think Barry Bonds has become my muse. Every time I read an article about him, another limerick pops into my head:

Barry Bonds put himself to the test,
To beat Babe Ruth’s tally his quest.
To be home run king,
He would try anything.
So what if he grew some huge breasts?

For more on the Barry Bonds limerick challenge, read the post here.

I’ll Admit, I Was Wrong

I’ve often asserted that I’d rather have my teeth drilled than listen to Jerome McDonald’s WorldView on WBEZ, with its stultifying earnestness, glacial pacing, and overall tone that the world’s in a baby carriage headed down a San Francisco hill. Now, I have to take that back. Today began the excavation work for a new crown, and to cover the whine of the jackhammers and take my mind somewhere else, I tuned in the show on the dentist’s Walkman. At least I could listen to McDonald’s guest talk distractedly about Filipino insurgents and pretend I was in a college lecture hall miles away.

Unfortunately, when Milosz Whatshisname came on and gave his thoughts on the Berlin Film Festival (which I swear is what he talks about every single time I’m unfortunate enough to be within earshot when he’s being broadcast), the choice was not so cut and dried. If I’d been able to see the controls through my protective eyewear, and I hadn’t had half a hardware store hanging out of my mouth, I would’ve sought out traffic reports.

“Recut Madness”

I’ve made some teasing references in the past weeks to a book coming out in the near future. Well, that near future is finally almost here. The cover art was sent to me this week for my final approval (with the caveat as usual that it was too late to make any changes), and if I could figure out how to manage pdf files, I could try to post a copy of it. But that will probably come some time in the future.

“Recut Madness” is a book of vignettes from famous films that imagine what they might be like if they were written from a partisan point of view–if the Jews really ran Hollywood, say, or if Bill O’Reilly and Jerry Falwell did. Laptop technology exists now to re-edit films to a consumer’s own tastes , right? Well, if that consumer had a bias toward the extreme right or left, these are the scenes that would emerge. In a way, it’s like Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, but this time I’m rewriting familiar stories to make fun of both sides of the aisle. (Of course, many right wingers read my previous books and assume that they have found a compadre in arms who will share their screeds about feminists, liberals, vegans and everything else they hate. And they’re perfectly entitled to their reading of those stories, no matter how much of a caricature it makes them seem.)

“Recut Madness” emerged from a version of “The Wizard of OZ” I was working on last year, that imagined the story as a Republican dystopia–incompetent leader, terrorized populace, a scarecrow who wouldn’t come out of the closet, that sort of thing. After a few conversations with my agent, we decided it might be a good idea to expand the book to include other movies, just in case someone hated OZ or actually liked the president (I’m not sure I’ve ever met a whole lot of either one, but it’s good to listen to your agent if you want them to work hard for you). I was skeptical at first, but after three months’ work, I had a pretty big collection of recuts. It came out much better than I expected, and I’m damn glad to be back with a book to sell. It’s good to be back in the game again. Maybe this time I can spin the experience out as long or longer than last time.

One of the great things about working on the book is that I got to watch many great movies again to verify that scenes were as I remembered them. I didn’t have time to watch most of them in their entirety, but I have a nice list now of movies to put on my watch list. I did get to watch “Triumph of the Will” for the first time, but I didn’t have to take many notes, as I found numerous neo-nazi websites that transcribe the movie scene by loving scene. When time permits, “A League of Their Own” and “High Noon” are two I’ll be queuing up.

So if I’m lucky, during Sunday’s telecast of the Oscars, someone receiving an award will pipe up with some stupid remark about how Hollywood really reflects America’s values, and up yours George Bush, and movies really serve a positive role in society, or some other self-aggrandizing claptrap. Such preening self-importance can only serve to piss off a good portion of the audience, and that can only be good for sales.

A Case for Rex Koko

Sent to me yesterday by DVA:

BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) — Two clowns were shot and killed by an unidentified gunman during their performance at a traveling circus in the eastern Colombian town of Cucuta, police said Wednesday.

The gunman burst into the Circo del Sol de Cali on Monday night and shot the clowns in front of an audience of 20 to 50 people, local police chief Jose Humberto Henao told Reuters.

One of the clowns was killed instantly, and the second died the next day in hospital.

“The killings had nothing to do with the show the victims were performing at the time of the incident,” Henao said in a telephone interview. “We are investigating the motive.”

With an entrance fee of under 50 cents, Circo del Sol de Cali attracts mostly poor Colombians. It pitched its tents in Cucuta, near the border with Venezuela, earlier this month.

“The clowns came out to give their show, and then this guy came out shooting them,” one audience member told local television. “It was terrible.”

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to confirm if this story is true. It may be just another web hoax designed to make clowns look bad, the types to have underworld connections or paramilitary links. This is NOT true of all clowns, of course, but people will try and spin it as if it is.

Dibs Do’s and Don’ts

Now that Chicago has dug itself out from under its only measurable snowfall of the year, we get to enjoy the sight of everyone’s broken lawn chairs in the street marking dibs. Visitors might be forgiven for thinking we’re extra proud of our street debris (like we get a whole lot of visitors in the ‘hoods in February anyway). For a portfolio of photos of dibs markers, click here. Did you know a cardboard box filled with snow counts as a dibs marker? Neither did I.

I’m not a fan of dibs marking, but on the other hand, I’ve got a garage so I don’t really care. But my wife heard a story this week from a woman who shoveled out her car and set up her dibs markers. I don’t remember what it was–an aquarium, an old bidet, a human skeleton, whatever. Later in the day she comes home and finds that someone has tossed her marker up on the lawn and replaced it with their own. It’s not even a new car, mind you, it’s just a new dibs marker. Undettered, the woman knocked that crap out of the way and parked her car in the space.

The next morning, she finds a note on her windshield asking, “Why did you ignore our markers?” And then, the genius wrote his address on the note! If you haven’t had your morning coffee, I suppose a dose of blind rage and righteous indignation will fill the bill. The first woman goes up to the house and knocks on the door and confronts the bozo about claiming he shoveled out the space and put up his marker fair and square.

His forthright comeback? He blamed his wife for doing it. And his wife was within earshot at the time.

Dibs marking. A true test of character.

I’m a Pack Rat, Fair Enough

Have the beer goggles kicked in yet?Anybody who’s seen my office knows that I have a hard time throwing things away, but I think I may have reached a new low. Sometime ago, someone who knows that I love board games gave me a used copy of RISK. I recently looked through the box and, right between Irkutsk and Kamchatka, I found a weird cache of papers. The game apparently had been the house copy used in a bar near Bloomington, Ind., and Indiana University. I’m pretty sure it was from a place called the Crazy Horse, “Bloomington’s Beer Authority”, since someone’s paycheck stub is inside. There’s also an unused tube of Blistex and a name tag for the Butler National Golf Course, where this bartender Gene also worked. Then, there are 30 or more small slips of paper and napkins with girls’ phone numbers written on them.

So of course, you get to thinking, should I phone up these girls and pretend that I’m Gene, you know, GENE, the bartender from the Crazy Horse, yeah, THAT Gene, and say that, y’know, I just got into town again, and if, y’know, you wanna party or somethin’, Tiffany, that maybe we could get together and have some fun. Yeah, I know it’s been ten years, but y’know, I never forgot you, you’re one crazy chick, and hey, remember about all those games of RISK I let you win….?

And then I realize I don’t have an hour to spend on a prank, and throw the little slips away. Crap. Gotta go pick up the kids from school.

Clown Name Generator

Follow the link here to be christened with your very own nom de cirque. If you click on it numerous times, you’re bound to get a terrific alias with which to run away with the circus to avoid the authorities who want to question you about the mysterious death of your wife.

Movie reference, anyone?

Smoke Em If You Got Em

On Sunday, the front page of the Trib editorial section had a weird piece of nonsense about the “issue” of Barack Obama’s smoking habit. The normally sensible Charles Madigan strung together a patchwork of non sequiturs that made me think I was reading a tract directed at junior high kids rather than the rational thoughts of an adult. The thrust of Madigan’s argument was:

1. Smoking is bad for you.
2. The president is a role model, and might encourage others to smoke.
3. Addicts don’t belong in the White House.

After some comments mocking Eastern European countries and their smoking habits, Madigan stated that Obama wouldn’t be able to govern the country because, as a smoker, he wouldn’t be able to stand up to Big Tobacco:

The last thing we need is someone on the campaign trail who cannot answer questions about tobacco honestly because he is, himself, addicted, no matter how much he tries to minimize the frequency of use.

Personally, I’d rather have a smoker in the White House than a dry drunk. And if you want to talk about political addicts, how about the politicians who consistently raise taxes on tobacco products? They themselves are addicted to the taxation shell game of exploiting people who are addicted to tobacco. If there were more smokers in politics, maybe they’d have a little pity and try to find another captive audience on which to balance the budgets.

What I can’t figure out is why Obama decided to wait until now to stop smoking. Not enough stress in his life? Burned too many holes in his coats? Hell, I say let the guy have a cigarette so he can relax and think a minute (something else missing from the White House).

What I think Obama should do now is have a formal B&W portrait taken, like one of those old Hollywood glamor shots of Gary Cooper or Claude Rains, of him in a very tailored suit, with a burning cigarette in his big, graceful hands. It would be a way to say, “Y’know what? I’m human, I smoke, and frankly I like it. All the image doctors tell me to stop–probably more insistently than my medical doctors–and I’m tired of it. I’m not going to die of cancer in the next four years, I’m a young man, and I want to do my job. And if needs be, I’ll step outside the Oval Office on the porch and smoke there, just like every other Joe in an office. Just leave me alone to have a drag once in a while. I promise I won’t start a fire in the Lincoln Bedroom.”

(I don’t want any lectures about making light of the dangers of smoking. My father smoked for 30 years and died at the age of 50. I got to watch its effects up close. Of course it’s bad for you. But to worry whether it can affect a president’s job is asinine. Find something substantive to judge him on.)

Barry Bonds Limerick Challenge

I had no idea when I suggested it that the subject of Barry Bonds would beckon the muse Calliope into the hearts of my pals. More than likely, it’s because his name is so mellifluous and works well in the limerick form–“Da da dada da Barry Bonds“, or “When Barry Bonds dada da Da“–and because his colossal head is so freakish that it reminds people of Renaissance paintings of Baby Jesus with the features and limbs of a fat 30-year-old.

But whatever the reason, 12 limericks have been submitted, and Barry hasn’t even reported for training camp yet. We could have an entire chapbook ready by Opening Day!

To read the entries or submit your own, click here.

“The Boredom-Killing Business”

In the course of writing my new book, I’ve had to rent a lot of old movies and double check facts and dialogue and such. So a few weeks ago, my wife and I watched “Network”, starring William Holden, Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The movie is 30 years old now, and practically quaint in its depiction of a world dominated by four–yes, four–competing networks. In 1976, Fox wasn’t even a glint in Rupert Murdoch’s eye. Then again, maybe he saw this and said to himself, “Hey, there’s an idea.”

The premise is probably familiar to everyone–a struggling TV network puts on sensational shows with no concern for what it might do to the audience. It’s familiar, because you’ve been living it. Although today, if anyone watched Peter Finch screaming, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore,” instead of a rush to fling open the window, there’d be a shrug, a grin, and a comment on how he’s ranting to save his career. And the other elements included in the NewsHour, like Sybil the Soothsayer and the Hollywood Tattler, plus the live studio audience, aren’t shocking in the least. Like I said, we’ve been living it.

Still, it’s a terrific movie, with a punchy script by Paddy Chayefsky. Would any screenwriter today describe someone’s position on a policy as “intractable and adamantine”? It sounds even better when it’s said by a weary Robert Duvall in a tuxedo. Would anyone have an actor describe a psychotic dream as “a cleansing moment of clarity”? Equally marvelous are Finch, Holden and Dunaway, who’s 35 in this movie but looks stunning. (Things do drag when Dunaway and Holden are trying to sort out their love affair in the final third. I walked the dog during that time.)

One line in particular struck me, because it’s at the same time both accurate and inadequate:

“Right now, there is a whole generation that never knew anything that didn’t come out of this tube!”

Thirty years ago, this was true. Today, there’s a generation that doesn’t know anything that’s not from a computer, never had fewer than 200 channels at its fingertips, and doesn’t do anything without a cell phone plastered to its ear. Chayefsky might not have his technology exactly right, but about being “in the boredom-killing business,” he was as accurate as TV’s Sybil the Soothsayer.

And a few more chewy quotes (think of the raving Peter Finch while you read):

“Television is not the truth! Television is a goddamned amusement park!”

“We’ll tell you anything you want to hear. We lie like hell.”

“You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here, you’re beginning to believe that the tube is reality and your own lives are unreal! You do! Why, whatever the tube tells you: you dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even think like the tube! This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name, you people are the real thing, we are the illusion.”

Now surf over to another site, before you get bored.

A Bears Fan Sticks By His Word

My friend in Indianapolis sent me this news item a couple of days ago. Because his email had no source for the story, I thought it was apocryphal. (Note to Indiana readers: “Apocryphal” means “made-up”.) But now that it’s in the mainstream press, I guess it was for real.

Bears Fan To Change Name To Peyton Manning

Lost Super Bowl Bet Leads Die-Hard Fan To Take Name Of Colts’ MVP Quarterback

I guess it just proves that Bears fans are good hearted and true, live up to their promises, and say stupid things when drunk.

When my Naptown friend asked me whether I would be die-hard enough to change my name, I told him yes, and that I was already in process of doing so.

My new name? Blomey Yafugginoosier.

Sounds rather mysterious, no? Like a courier or double-agent in a spy novel.

How Cold Is It?

It’s so cold that the hoses for our washing machine froze solid on Sunday night, inside the house! **ba-dum-dum–cheee** Of course, I only figured this out after I took the back of the washer apart and started messing with wires and solenoids and other things I can’t put back together. The manuals always tell you to check the hoses first, but I didn’t listen. I wouldn’t have guessed that the little corner of the basement, where the drywall doesn’t quite fill the gap with the exterior wall, would turn into a freezer if it’s covered and insulated by a suitcase.

Sorry Johnny, but it IS that cold.

Post Super Mortem

I don’t know what to say about the Bears loss in the Super Bowl, other than that it was a game they could have won. Unlike most years, the game wasn’t a blowout, and despite the numbers that kept accumulating to show a lopsided contest, they were only down 5 when Rex Grossman tossed the beachball down the sidelines that got picked off. Yeah, they got manhandled by the Colts, but the score was still close, and the defense still did OK in the Red Zone in spite of their seeming eagerness to get there.

So, without a doubt, they screwed a pooch they didn’t have to. And wait til next year? Sure, fine, whatever. It ain’t gonna happen. Between trades, injuries and other NFC teams likely to improve, the Bears can’t assume anything for the near future.

* Sure liked Prince and his Hattie-McDaniel-meets-Dick-Tracy-Gangster get up. Did he have a band or were those just stagehands back there? Like those Japanese stagehands that dress all in black so you are supposed to ignore them. And boy, didn’t his equipment look a lot bigger when that back-lit sheet went up?

* Thanks to the loss, I owe a friend of mine in Naptown a pizza. AND, I have to go down there to serve it. There must be a Godfather’s down there somewhere, right?

* My favorite crowd pic: David Spade in a baggy in the rain. If someone set that bag on an old man’s doorstep, lit it and rang the doorbell, it’d be Halloween again.

* Memo to the new commercials suck. Bring back the monkeys.

* Memo to Budweiser: Your best commercial last night was the one with the gorillas. By far. CareerBuilder, take note.

* In the past two postseasons, I’ve been lucky enough to watch my favorite teams exceed expectations. The White Sox won, the Bears lost, and the Tigers never bothered to show up.

* And now it’s only eight days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training. To get in the spirit, go here and join our Barry Bonds limerick contest. Winner gets the cream and the clear, but I won’t tell you where.

Sticking Up for Pee-Wee

This morning NPR broadcast some story (I wasn’t listening closely) in which the reporter interviewed an overworked sheriff, and then said he and his partner have to police an area “the size of Rhode Island.”

And it struck me that this is our default measure for any type of vast space in the news: the area is always “the size of Rhode Island,” and it’s almost always un-policeable or unmanageable somehow. “Ranger Danger has to protect against poachers in an area the size of Rhode Island.” “Sheriff Yakima has to watch for illegal aliens in an area the size of Rhode Island.”

Rhode Island now is less a state than a unit of measurement. Distance is measured in miles, weight in pounds, and area in Rhode Islands. (Huge vertical distances are still measured in Statues of Liberties.) It’s bad enough to be mocked for being the teeny-tiniest state, but why should RI be dehumanized to the point of abstraction? Why should it be implied that “an area the size of Rhode Island” is wild, lawless, and bleak? Why should the state get slapped around by a lazy, cliche-spewing reporter? (And how useful is the cliche anyway? More people have visited Disney World or Manhattan Island or the Astrodome, so why not use them as a yardstick?)

Every time this stupid cliche is used, I think Rhode Island ought to charge a royalty. Maybe they could change their state motto to “As Big As Rhode Island”, but it’s not like the journos would get the joke. And they should use their royalty money to start buying up land in Massachusetts, with an eye toward annexation.

Cave Dwelling

So I’m approaching the two-month anniversary of having lungs full of oatmeal and dragging my carcass around in the cold like a character in a “Droopy” cartoon. How did I celebrate this milestone? How else? By camping out in a cave for two nights.

While some Boy Scout troops concentrate on rocketry or sports, ours has a passion for camping. This can prove to be difficult in the winter months, but there are ways around the inclement weather. One is to bury yourself deep underground in an onyx cave in Wisconsin. Many people are aware that caves can keep a constant temperature year-round. What many people DON’T know (including our troop) is that this is not universally true, especially if you get placed in the part of the cave adjacent to the vent shaft blasted into the rock quarry on the neighboring property. This tends to let the frigid air drift down the cave floor, directly into your sleeping bag like floodwater. As long as you don’t mind sleeping with all your clothes on, this wasn’t a problem. With outside temps around 0* on Sunday morning, the situation was a little less pleasant. I was curious what the temp was by our campsite, but wasn’t foolish enough to check until the final morning when we were ready to pack up. Then, I didn’t bother mentioning to anyone that it was about 38* inside our part of the cave. Next time, we’ll have to remember to tip the concierge better.

Still, it was quite a time. The boys got good and muddy from climbing down little holes and seeing where they led. I even crawled through one that went about 30 yards. That was enough for my old bones. I was worried that the whole experience would be torture for Number One Son, who has complained about claustrophobia for some time. But the only part he balked at was climbing down the tight shafts. He was fine hanging out in the cave in general, and didn’t have much more trouble sleeping than the rest of us. Which is to say, he had trouble. But hey. Stiff upper lip and all that. The staff fed us well and organized hikes, contests and Bingo games to keep things going, and our troop is a good bunch of boys in most any conditions.

There was an arcade on the property, next to the dining hall, which became a hang out and a place to warm your bones. With pool tables, video games, an air hockey table and an old Husky dog, it was a typical Wisconsin tavern without the beer and smokes. At 10 am, the jukebox began playing Zep’s “Black Dog” and I had a cosmic vision–that across the state and indeed the entire Great Lakes region, “Black Dog” was likely blaring out of the jukebox in every other tavern, road house and supper club at that very instant!! Wow, dude!!! Such an epiphany sent a chill down my spine. Very 60s. Only this time it wasn’t caused by MDA but lack of REM. The sleep thing, not the band.