Clowns KKKick KKK ass!

Artwork by Deane TaylorYou say you don’t like clowns? Well, that puts you in good company, as in THE KLAN!!!!

Saturday May 26th the VNN Vanguard Nazi/KKK group attempted to host a hate rally to try to take advantage of the brutal murder of a white couple for media and recruitment purposes.

Unfortunately for them the 100th ARA (Anti Racist Action) clown block came and handed them their asses by making them appear like the asses they were….

“White Power!” the Nazi’s shouted, “White Flour?” the clowns yelled back running in circles throwing flour in the air and raising separate letters which spelt “White Flour”.

“White Power!” the Nazi’s angrily shouted once more, “White flowers?” the clowns cheers and threw white flowers in the air and danced about merrily.

Check out the whole story at Asheville

And to all the joeys out there…Keep On Honking!

Via Cynical-C blog.

Ah, Youth!

With their parents out of town for a week, some boys in Lombard, Ill., decided to put their empty backyard to use, and built a 60-foot waterslide off the back of their house. If that sounds as dangerous as it does awesome to you, check out the video by clicking here.

For once, a video of teenagers doing reckless things on the web that doesn’t result in massive injuries.

Via Gaper’s Block.

Happy Birthday to Me

Today’s my birthday, but I will not use this space to troll for compliments, cash or free dinner coupons (I already used one last week at Jury’s). The occasion does motivate me to list a few other notable achievements that took place today, which combined with my birthday should be all the evidence you need to quit work early today and hit Attitude Adjustment Hour at the gin mill of your choice:

* The birthdays of Ingrid Bergman, Charlie “Bird” Parker, Elliott Gould, Peter Jennings and Michael Jackson.
* Fall of the Incan Empire (1533) and the old Soviet Communist Party (1991)
* According to Hoyle Day! Edmond Hoyle’s Short Treatise on whist was published in 1742.
* The invention of Chop Suey in NYC in 1896.
* National Plastic Surgery Day!

NatLamp Writers Panel Discussion

Last night I had a very interesting time down at the Hideout. Three writers from the golden age of the National Lampoon were there at that charming little dive by the Streets & San Garage to talk about that groundbreaking era of comedy. (The fliers called it a historic gathering, and for comedy geeks it probably was.) Anne Beatts, Chris Miller and Brian McConnachie were gathered to talk about the embryonic stages of the 1970s comedy revolution, hosted by Josh Karp, who wrote a book a few years ago about the magazine.

I went alone, b/c I couldn’t think of anyone who would want to tag along. Of course, I wouldn’t be the only guy there alone—out of the 100+ in attendance, I think the biggest group I saw was about four. There were a lot of solitary middle-aged guys there who remember the first time they were truly shocked by something funny on the page. Like the guy with the loud shirt and bad breath next to me, who somehow bonded with me and had to tell me repeatedly which of the NatLamp magazines, books and records he had in his basement somewhere. There were also a fair number of folks in their 20s and 30s who were listening and learning.

Not wishing to appear too much of a fanboy, I didn’t bring anything along for the writers to sign. Maybe I should have. Then again, it would be very difficult to get my hands on the old magazines that featured their writing, buried in the basement somewhere as they are. PJ O’Rourke signed my copy of the 1964 High School Yearbook Parody some years back, but these three didn’t really contribute to it, so that didn’t seem right.

Anyway, humor was in the air. Which means that everyone aside from Beatts, Miller and McConnachie was trying to be as funny as the writers were. So it goes. The moderator, such as he was, gave each writer 30-40 minutes to talk or read stories on their own, which made for a slow start. Anne Beatts was the first to speak, and while she certainly has the professional credits, I’ve never found her to be excessively funny. Or let me say, her byline in the NatLamp was not one that I raced to read. Kenney, O’Donoghue, O’Rourke, Miller, Hendra, Beard, McConnachie, Kelly—roughly in that order—were the names I looked for. Last night, she read a long story about getting noticed enough to contribute to the magazine, wanting to cheat with O’Donoghue while her boyfriend was in Europe, and dropping acid on the day that Jim Morrison died. It was a memoir, obviously, so she didn’t bother to make it funny, but the constant “I said-he said” and the lionizing tone of it made it a chore to listen to. What would O’Donoghue say to all the attempts to lionize him last night? Something obscene and hilarious, no doubt, ablaze like a Viking ship.

McConnachie looked like a bemused professor, and was very funny and concise in his comments. He came from an advertising background but had been gently fired, as was done in those days, and gravitated to the NatLamp offices because that seemed like the place to be. He was never as manic as everyone else there, but he said the others kept him around as a potential ally for any of the internecine duels that would flare up. He said he often hung out in the offices where John Belushi and many ex-pat Chicagoans were working on the “NatLamp Radio Hour” and the various stage projects being worked on. When these people moved on to “Saturday Night Live”, he said “the air seemed to go out of the offices” and the business of humor became a lot more tedious. McConnachie brought along a rare treat last night: an audiotape of a song from an off-Broadway musical idea called “Moby!” It featured John Belushi as Capt. Ahab, lamenting his fate as he sang, “I’m the loneliest man at sea.” Completely hilarious, and well sung besides. The panel agreed that Belushi was an intensely smart man and a great judge of talent, and his death shook up a lot of comedians. “When Doug Kenney fell off his mountain in Hawaii,” McConnachie said, “it was like a bolt of lightning from heaven. When Belushi died, it was just stupid.”

He then read a short story he said was written specifically with Chicago in mind, with a title something like “Father Ding-Dong of the Nincompoops,” about a prizefighter who becomes a priest but can’t learn to stop swinging when he hears a bell. It was one of the funniest things I’ve heard in a long time. I should go back to read his old material, which the 15-year-old me dismissed, because I’m sure I missed a lot.

Finally Chris Miller got to speak. He still has a full head of hair and a rakish laugh and smile, but there’s a gut attached to his skinny frame that looks like he’s a suicide bomber strapped up for work. He told the longest stories of the three, but also the funniest, and read an old NatLamp story called “Conversation Piece,” about having sex with an eager telephone receiver. Seeing a man at retirement age, reading with gusto a filthy, filthy, hilarious story—it gladdened the heart of many a juvenile person there that night. His graphic and absurd stories about his fraternity days seemed to irk Beatts and embarrass McConnachie, but I was glad to hear about a man who wore a pumpkin and nothing else to go trick-or-treating at Dartmouth.

The Q&A session was too short and could’ve used more fireworks, but that was the fault of the moderator. A few things I remember:

• Humorists who inspired them: All the writers mentioned Thurber. Miller mentioned Harvey Kurtzman at the first MAD Magazine, and Al Feldstein. McC mentioned someone named EF Benson, whom I should look up. And they all acknowledged a debt to Terry Southern, Bruce Jay Friedman, and Philip Roth. Miller said Portnoy’s Complaint made him realize that if a respected novelist could write what he did, Miller could write about ANYTHING.
• PJ O’Rourke: They said his politics were not right-wing at the beginning, but when he became managing editor at the publisher’s insistence, he became a tyrant. McC said O’Rourke made some of the writers nervous with the way he seemed to watch them and want to be like them, sort of a stylistic vampire. It got to the point where they would tell him the happy hour meeting place was Bar X while it really was Bar Y. McC got a huge laugh by describing O’Rourke as a guy in a gorilla mask, in which the human eyes don’t match up with the eyeholes and tip off the fact that someone may not be who them seem. I was glad, though, that Miller defended O’Rourke, that for all his non-anarchic tendencies, he always brought his game, and was very, very funny.
• Comedy today: In the 1970s, these people fell into comedy because their regular careers had collapsed (or else they had sabotaged them, as Miller had by sprinkling marijuana on his soup at an ad lunch). Now, Beatts says she sees people in her classes at USC “who can’t decide whether to go into Dad’s plumbing business or write for a sitcom.” They all agreed that the expansion of the comedy business has diluted the talent pool. She also complained that most of today’s comedy doesn’t have a point of view and a passion and anger behind it.
• Right-wing comedy: Miller summed up the problem with right-wing “comedy” very well: “They pick on the weak and powerless, on people who can’t fight back. That’s not what comedy is.”

The session ended after 2.5 hours, when that night’s band began wheeling in their equipment. I ducked into the men’s room, and when I came out, all three writers were gone. Which is just as well. As I said, I wasn’t in too much of a fanboy mood, but still I might’ve ventured to gush a bit and embarrassed myself. Still trying to figure out how the trio got together, and what they were ultimately on the road trying to flog.

A New Name for an Old Pastime

While strolling through fabulous Lincoln Square yesterday with my wife and daughter, we passed by one of the new gift shops springing up like mushrooms around here. (Sure signs that you can’t afford a new neighborhood: gift shops, baby clothes shops and real estate offices.) It was a beautiful day, and the streets were filled with young people and middle-aged pregnant women. (That seems to be another sign that the place is “hot”.) We passed by one shop that seems to specialize in crap that you’d buy for someone you don’t know anything about but who would expect a gift at some holiday or party. The store has a whole lot of crap for colleges, like ceramic chip and dip bowl sets with the Illinois or Notre Dame logo, and the Monopoly sets customized to display kooky landmarks on campus. “Oh-oh, you landed on McGreevy’s Grog Shop! You gonna buy it, or DRINK!?!?!?”

The store had put out a sandwich board to entice passersby to waste their money buying affection from people they don’t know. And yesterday in big letters, we got to see in bright letters the words: “Play CORNHOLE with Sox/Cubs/Bears.”

Now, I know what they mean by “cornhole”, that stupid beanbag toss that people play when they’re tailgating. But I’m also of a generation that thought that “cornhole” was something prison inmates did to each other to while away the lonely evenings. It made me sad to think that this fun-loving, homegrown euphemism for sodomy had been stripped of all its nastiness by a bunch of drunken sports fans. Now, when “gangbang” ceased meaning orgy and started meaning drive-by shootings, I wasn’t happy but I could accept it. Language evolves, and slang especially so, and after all, how can you argue with 20-year-olds who’ve already been in prison? Let ’em call it what they want. But “cornhole”? That’s the best name beanbag afficianados can come up with for their game?

And there in the window was a custom made Cornhole set. A plywood box with a hole cut in it, painted with the Chicago Bears logo. Price, $65. Talk about a cornholing.

Tossy-targetty games are all the rage, I guess. On our camping trip this month, we saw more than a couple families hanging around the RVs, sitting next to what appeared to be bull testicles hanging from a step ladder. This is of course the Bolo Game, and it doesn’t really use bull testicles (although if the set was made in China, it could contain anyone’s). You’re supposed to sling the faux testicles at the ladder and keep score over which rung your testicles hang from. And over the course of two weeks, I didn’t see a single person playing it.

A friend in St. Louis told me of a regional variant to Cornhole a few months ago. Down there, people toss heavy metal washers at a board, trying to land them in certain holes for points. Sounds exciting, right? “X-Treem Gamez” exciting, right? I asked Jim what they called the game. Surely, in a city as rich with history and ethnic influence as St. Louis, they’d come up with a name with flair and mystery.

Jim said, “It’s called ‘washers’.”

A few weeks later, my wife found the picture below in a mail-order catalog specializing in inflatable palm trees and funny napkins for your backyard parties. It proves that indeed the game of Washers doesn’t need a fancy name to be marketed. It also shows that marketers think Americans will buy anything, including a competition-level traveling kit made of two boxes, two frosting cans, and eight metal washers.

So maybe Cornhole isn’t such a bad name after all.

Lessons from an Excellent Road Trip

We are now back in town, and as Number One Son headed off for school this morning, summer is officially over. It was full and hectic, and we capped it off with a seat-of-the-pants, hey-let’s-visit-the-Mystery-Spot road trip to the Boundary Waters in Minnesota, so around here it really feels like it’s still early July. I was emptying a drawer and found the Fathers Day cards the kids had made me, and I had to think back to when that all happened. Now it’s back to the regular routines in Chicago, and it almost feels like we never left.

Here’s an unofficial recap of the trip:

Best city name we passed through: Herbster, WI.
Second place: Bete Grise, MI
Best breakfast place: The Tossed Egg, Bayfield, WI (their Bay Omelette was stuffed with smoked lake trout, onions, tomatoes, spinach and Parmesan cheese. Yowzah!)
Best sweet rolls and cherry pie: The Cherry Spot, Beulah, MI
Best Polish food: Legs Inn, Cross Junction, MI
Biggest forest fire: Stump Junction, MI
Best massive concrete bluegill: Orr, MN
Prettiest campsite: Fort Wilkins, MI, at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula
Best lake name near that campsite: Lake Fanny Hooe
Best pasty: Muldoon’s, Munising, MI
Best juxtaposition on store sign: “Wild Rice & Lobster Tails”, Superior WI
Best ripoff casino act advertised: “Shania Twin”

And the best time overall was visiting our friends’ cabin on Lake Vermilion in MN. Look for it on a map–it’s WAY the hell up there. We heard loons morning and night, saw eagles and ospreys, sailed, napped, and took REALLY hot saunas. And I taught my host to play cribbage finally, so he can fit in with the guys over at the supper club. (As happens with all my students, he started beating me regularly.) Coming back from there was quite a culture shock. Chicago looks awful crowded by comparison. Then again, Fennville MI felt awfully crowded once we got back there. Would love to visit up there every summer, but I should check that with them first.

A whole pile of articles and essays crossed my path this summer about the decline of the American Vacation. How nobody takes road trips, how they resent taking time off, how families resent spending forced time together, etc. Maybe that’s standard magazine filler at this time of year, I don’t know, but they began to piss me off pretty quickly. In June, Newsweek ran an especially stupid essay by a mom in Jersey complaining about how their road trip was ruined because her kids were all hooked into their cellphones and ipods. It was some faux-exasperated, kids-these-days-but gee-we-came-together-anyway claptrap that was especially suspect when the writer admitted to checking her emails on her laptop a couple times a day in the car. Hey Chowderhead! Leave your laptop at home, and maybe your kids will talk to you!

On our trip we drove 2400 miles, and the most complicated electronic device we had was the car CD player. (We did have our cells along, but as if unplugged by some benevolent vacation god, the voice mail didn’t work once we drove over the Mackinac Bridge, and we gradually just stopped thinking about them.) Our kids read, drew, laced gimp, and played cards the whole way up and back. No movies, no Gameboys, no nothing. Their greatest fun was memorizing the songs on the CD by Da Yoopers we bought at their Toorist Trap in Ishpeming, with such hits as “Second Week of Deer Camp”, “Beer Guts of America” and “Diarrhea”. And by the time we got back here, this family was one well-functioning machine–with the kids helping around the house, being courteous to one another, and all that stuff that people say they’d like their kids to be but don’t take the time to teach them.

So enough with the insincere crap about how you miss the kinds of road trips you used to take when you were a kid, because Today’s Kidz just won’t stand for aimless hours in the car and tourist traps anymore. If you really want to take those trips, do the planning and teach your kids early not to depend on electronics and movies to entertain them. Teach them to set up their own tent, and suffer through a chilly morning in camp once in a while. Read books out loud to each other in the car. You’d be amazed how quickly all the “necessities” of modern life just drop by the wayside.

Funny Ha-Ha on August 21

Once again I will be taking a big technology break, as I’m taking my wife and kids on a road trip, up through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula onward to the Minnesota Boundary Waters for the next ten days. Ooh, I can feel the mosquitos buzzing already. Maybe this time I’ll be able to see the Northern Lights clearly. Every other time I’ve come close, I thought they were the parking lot illumination for a car dealership.

But I wanted everyone to know about an upcoming reading and hootenanny. On August 21, I’ll be taking part in the latest edition of Funny Ha-Ha, this one called “Funny Ha-Ha With A Vengeance!” Hosted by the estimable (or is it the inestimable?) Claire Zulkey, Funny Ha-Ha is Chicago’s top reading series for comedic writers. This edition will feature Mark Bazer of RedEye and the Huffington Post; Wendy McClure, author of I’m Not the New Me; wine expert Alpana Singh; standup Kumail Nanjiani; and the hilarious filmmaker Steve Delahoyde (check out all his films at

The reading will be at The Hideout on Tuesday, August 21, from 7 til 9. The Hideout is somewhere near Wabansia and Elston, but you’re cool enough to know where it is already, aren’t you, pet? Yes, yes. For more information, check out Claire’s site.


How’s This for Cool??

Looking through a backed-up pile of mail today, I came across a postcard for BARDBALL. “So,” thinks I, “did one of the promo cards I mailed out come back for some reason? Does the Post Office even bother sending back postcards? What’s going on? What’s that ringing in my ears? Whatever happened to John Goodman?” Etc etc.

Then I turned the card over and saw the message, written in a hand so steady and consistent that the script looked like it was a computer typeface: “Thanks, James, for note. I appreciate your support–Enjoyed your verse. Ernie Harwell.”

Ah ah ah…what? Ernie Harwell actually took the time to answer me about BARDBALL? He read my letter and actually saw the site? Whoo-HOOOOO!

I say again, How’s that for cool? A Hall-of-Fame broadcaster read our poetry site, and sent me back a note about it. Man, that one’s going in the scrapbook. And I had just finished listening to a big audiobook of his career highlights on the drive back to Chicago, which had his reminiscences of Joe DiMaggio and Al Kaline and Denny McLain and growing up during the depression. I don’t have much more to say, except, How’s that for cool?

And if you want evidence, glom your peepers on this scrip, gee:

Top THAT one, Stu!