PIX FROM FUNNY HA-HA

For anyone curious to see what all the pundits look like, check out photos from Fuzzy Gerdes, someone I’ve never met. I’m the one with the big bald head, like some villain from The Incredible Hulk.

FUNNY HA-HA COMIN’ UP

So now I’ve got the poop on the upcoming reading at Chicago’s Hideout, one of the coolest bars in the Western Hemisphere. On Wednesday, August 10, from 8-10 pm, the line-up will be:

• Syndicated columnist Mark Bazer
• Amy Krouse Rosenthal, author of “Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life”
• John Green, author of “Looking for Alaska”
• Leonard Pierce of UR Chicago
• The funny folks of Schadenfreude!
• A film by Steve DeLaHoyde
• And Claire Zulkey of Zulkey.com, who organized the whole megillah.

I’d put in links for everyone, but I’m lazy and am working on a dialup anyway.

For more info, check out:

http://www.zulkey.com/events.html

http://www.hideoutchicago.com

Be there or be slowly roasted on a spit by your own personal demons.

OH PSHAW, DEARIE, I ONLY RIDE A HARLEY

We were traveling out west a few weeks before the big motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D. You’ve heard of it. Like 60,000 bike enthusiasts descend on a little town and drink a lot of beer and probably walk around saying things like, “Hey, cool bike.”

My image of the bike rider in the U.S. is still rooted in the 60s, when they were the last true rebels, the guys who thumbed their noses as sterile, safe living and hit the road, man, to find the Real America. (Okay, just forget about the ending of Easy Rider, and it’s still a potent romantic image.)

If that’s the case, or supposed to be, then tell me why every single cyclist that we saw out on the Plains was riding the same make of bike. Further, tell me why those rugged individualists have the name and logo of that make of bike plastered all over their jackets, hats and, for all I know, thong underwear. It’s easy to make fun of suburban socialites who pay strict attention to labels and claim to “only wear Prada, darling.” Why do we let bikers off the hook for turning themselves into walking billboards for Harley-Davidson? Where’s your individuality, tough guy?

Now, I don’t know motorcycles. But I have acquaintances that do, and they’ve told me, predictably, that each make of bike has different pluses and minuses. Harleys are cool for power, but Hondas and Yamahas are good for other things too. (Obviously, I didn’t pay close enough attention, b/c I ain’t in the market.) But it’s not like Harleys are the everyman’s Lamborghini and the other bikes are two-wheeled Hyundais.

I got to thinking about this from the sheer volume of Harley merchandising crap that we saw at every stop out west. A Harley head bandanna with an embroidered insignia, like Hulk Hogan would wear? $18. Harley watch caps? $15. And maybe I need to get out more, but I had no idea that commemorative shot glasses with something glued on the inside, like a motorhead or a cycle slut or a guy in comically striped prison gear, was such a popular decorative item.

(The same thoughts hit me when I look at NASCAR drivers in their piebald uniforms. Am I really more likely to buy and use SoftScrub because they invested on a patch for this guy’s jumpsuit? But in the drivers’ defense, they do get money for it, which is more than the bikers can say.)

So to all the rugged individualist bikers out there, I say, stand up for yourself. Get a leather jacket stitched with a “Juicy Juice” logo. Wear a t-shirt with Lucille Ball’s face on it. Carry a hat stitched with the logo of a current Broadway show. And next year at Sturgis, just when everyone is good and liquored up, announce to your pals, “Ah, Harley-Davidsons. They’re so, y’know, last year.” You’ll earn my respect, and I’ll even send you a get-well card.

THE GREAT PLAINS: GREAT? SURE! PLAIN? NO WAY!

Sorry for the little gap in posting there. It’s been difficult enough to contribute to this blog while the family and I hang out at our cottage in Michigan (actually, what that really means is that, when I’m near my DSL at home, I spend way too much time online). But on top of that, for the last two weeks of July, we all took a road trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota.

That’s right, 3,300 miles with two kids in a station wagon with dodgy air conditioning that gave out halfway through. For those who don’t take real road trip vacations with their kids, I say, you’re a bunch of wussies. For those of you who only take a road trip if you can narcotize your kids with DVDs during the long stretches of Illinois farmland, you’re techno-wussies. With all the backseat fighting, bad songs, license-plate Bingo, Battleship games and utter chaos in the vehicle by the end, road trips bond a family together like nothing short of a infantry campaign.

I approached this trip reluctantly, agreeing to it mainly for the purposes of marital harmony. July in South Dakota sounded like a visit to the fires of hell without the interesting personalities. (On this, I was correct. When we visited the Badlands, it was 115 degrees, and even the park interpreters were wondering aloud what they were doing there.) But once we got a rhythm going, it was a wonderful time. Most nights we camped, by the side of gorgeous water like the Missouri River in Chamberlain, S.D., or the Little Missouri in Teddy Roosevelt National Park in Medora, N.D., or Horse Thief Lake a couple miles from Mount Rushmore. We did add a corollary to our rules of traveling. The first rule, as always, is:

1. Sleep national, eat local.

Now, the second one is just common sense:

2. If it’s over 100 degrees when you’re ready to pitch your tent, go find a motel.

We saw an evening pageant dramatizing the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder in DeSmet, S.D. Went to the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo in Mitchell. Hit Prairie Dog Town and Reptile Gardens (quite good) and Wall Drug (as tacky as you would expect, but certainly big enough to pass the time). Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse and Devil’s Tower in Wyoming (lots of alien trinkets for sale there, to cash in on the “Close Encounters” connection). The only drawback to the trip was not being able to stay in a campground more than one night (with the exception of Horse Thief Lake). It was exhausting to pack up the campsite every morning in the car top carrier and swing it onto the roof (did wonders for the finish), but there were just too many miles to cover every day.

Another part of my trepidation was related to the current political climate. In the past few years, all the talk has been about Red States and Blue States. South Dakota, of course, would qualify as a Red State. I thought we were venturing into Big GOP Country, b’wana, and would be forced to fend off creationists and flat-taxers around every corner.

But the pernicious effect of segregating the country like that is, it makes orphans out of the people who happen to disagree with the majority in their state. We met and talked with lots of people who lived out west, and they certainly didn’t walk in lockstep with anybody, left or right. They were all in violent agreement that they would never, ever, ever live in a place like Chicago (we figured out there were more people on the north side of Chicago than in the entire state of South Dakota), but other than that, we got along fine. There was a lot less flag-waving than I thought there’d be, even at the rodeo, and I saw a lot fewer yellow ribbons on cars. Maybe it was a function of population density, and in political discussions, density is always important, especially the cranial kind.

So coming back from the Great Plains, after hearing about Lewis & Clark and Gustav Borglum and the sculptor of the Crazy Horse Memorial and all the settlers, I came back with a renewed appreciation of our American heritage.

However, they still drink a lot of crappy beer out there. And buffalo meat can give you some farts that should be covered in an arms treaty.

READING AT “FUNNY HA-HA” AUGUST 11

The inimitable Claire Zulkey of Zulkey.com has invited yours truly to participate in a humorous reading at the Hideout, the coolest bar in Chicago. Check out her website for more information about other performers as the date nears. Last time I was there, the readers included Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Wendy McClure, author of the literary hoot, I’m Not The New Me. My personal favorite was a hilarious video of the effects of driving from Chicago to Des Moines (a six-hour trip) with the only song on your stereo being ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” Come on down to the party. The Hideout is secreted at 1354 W. Wabansia in Chicago.

WHAT, NO “LANCELOT LINK”???

Keith Olbermann on MSNBC takes on the thankless task of listing the top ten monkeys in American culture. Talk about a contentious topic for the water cooler!

I’m glad he stuck his neck out and voiced his opinion, but among all the important simians he omitted perhaps the best use of monkeys on television ever, “Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp.” I hope the list will be revised soon, possibly eliminating that hack Bonzo–he rode Reagan’s coattails for his entire career.

And let’s not forget Lancelot’s side project, the proto-simian garage band the Evolution Revolution. (Oh, longing for the days when that kind of title was merely a joke and not a politicaly rallying cry.) Perhaps my affection stems from the way my dad, years earlier, used to mock rock and roll on the radio as “monkey music.” Who knows? Who cares? Rock on, Lancelot!

THE BRASS RAT

One day a man shopping in an antique store found an intriguing curio of a small, brass figure of a rat. He liked the geegaw so much that he took it to the store owner and inquired about the price.

“Ah,” said the owner mysteriously. “The rat will cost you $10, but the story behind the rat will cost you another $90.”

“Keep the story,” said man, “I just want the rat.” He handed over his $10 and went on his way.

As the man walked down the street with his new brass rat, he began to notice he was being followed. From out of doorways and up from sewer grates came real live rats. As he walked, he attracted more and more. Soon a hundred or more rats were at his heels. The man broke into a trot to get away from the vermin, but the swarm only grew larger. He ran and ran, but couldn’t escape them.

Finally, he ran up a bridge over the river in town and threw his brass rat into the water. From some unknown reason, all the live rats followed the brass rat, threw themselves into the river, and drowned.

Shaken and confused, the man walked back to the antique shop. “Well now,” said the owner, “are you ready to hear the story behind the brass rat?”

“The hell with your story,” the man said. “I just want to know where I can buy a brass Republican.”

NEW GENRES FOR AMBITIOUS WRITERS

A week ago at the comics store, a slip of the tongue gave birth to a whole potential literary genre. One clerk was asking another if he had read “Queen and Country,” saying it was an exciting example of espionage writing.

The other clerk said, “Pardon? Did you just say ‘Lesbianage’?”

New ground for thriller writers to….I just can’t think of a verb that doesn’t have a smutty connotation. Sorry.

GOOD MORNING

I’ve wanted to launch a blog for about a year. I know, I know—I’m late getting into the format, the genre, the idiom, or whatever you want to call it. The November election was how I’d lost my innocence (yeah, I know, I’d better get in line). During that Autumn of Discontent, ffter obsessively checking all the big-name blogs for the latest egregious examples of stupidity, hubris and conniving from Bush and Kerry (but almost always Bush), I began to appreciate the many possibilities of blogging.

My intention was to launch one before the election, but at the time, I was reading too many blogs to actually figure out how to write one. Anxiety, agita and apoplexy were also making it hard to focus on anything constructive. After the election, I needed a little cooling down period. (Okay, a big cooling down period.) Then the holidays began, and free time became more scarce.

In December came National Monkey Day, a more benign version of what we all saw on November 7. Could I get my blog up by then, to promote the importance of our simian pals to American life? With the anti-evolutionists actually making ground in many school districts across the country, it seemed like our beleaguered bonobo brethren could use all the help they could. But the answer, again, was no.

Fast forward through six more months of personal excuse-making and the extra work involved in getting my entire website overhauled, and we come to the present day. Now I have my own little bloggy up and running, with my picture on it and everything, and where am I? Out at the family cottage with my wife and kids, with only a very shaky dial-up service at hand to tap into mundus electronicus. There won’t be a lot of linking to other sites for a while, so the main attraction of the site for now will be just my own scrivening exercises and a bad fart joke or two. Please bear with me. It’s bound to get better.

Many thanks to Tristan Tamplin for his great work in slapping my site together from a lot of ill-fitting materials. He actually makes me look pretty together here.