Friday, July 17, 2009

The Kids Are (Not) Alright

It’s not you, it’s me.

When it comes to child interaction, you don’t want me involved in the water balloon toss or wheelbarrow race. And you certainly don't want me loitering near petting zoos or schoolyards, mischievous grin intact as I encourage insubordinate behavior. You see, stirring the proverbial pot (or stuffing the occasional potato into the microwave) has always been my forté. And should this instigation score your kid high honors on Santa's Naughty List, so be it. Like the crazy uncle banned from family gatherings, I’m amused by the utter gullibility of children.


Before you paint me as some child-hating abscess, leading your offspring into kindergarten thuggery, consider that I adore contact with babies. Clad in silly one-piece attire, their precious innocence explodes into hearts, minds, and diapers. Other than wicked stepmothers or Joan Crawford, who hasn’t brightened to the charming hysterics of a newborn’s first peek-a-boo? They look like bald aliens and behave like primates, but after the post-umbilical hose-down, cuteness prevails.

Unfortunately, I enjoy the squeals of rugrats much better when they can’t speak; which is to say, unless some third world doctor offers to extract their larynx, I’d just as soon return the babblers to the Vlasic stork before they master the alphabet. Toddlers are boring, adolescents are pricks, and high schoolers are full-blown assholes. It’s tiresome enough conversing with an acne erupted, half-wit nose picker who’d rather sniff glue than learn algebra (especially if he's your own son, God have mercy). But networking with the mind of a three year old is an exercise in patience beyond anything asked of Job; akin to holding tête-à-têtes with drooling hobos who spew incoherent nonsense. In other words, feigning interest in choo-choo trains with humans who consistently vomit lunch and soil
underwear out of convenience is exhausting, whether in homeless shelters, trailer parks, or pre-schools. Yet many of my peers communicate amazingly well with the younger set, killing brain cells with puerile gibberish, whereby dinners in the Easy-Bake oven start to look appealing as their grasp on reality loosens.

Over the course of time, dear reader, the mettle of my penis will be tested. Virile stallion or empty vessel, the answer remains unknown. Should the former ring true, I too will assume cartoonish voices, appease imaginary friends, cleanse skinned knees, throw baseballs, and attach training wheels. For a short while, I will pretend to know everything, and cherish my standing as guidepost and protector. I will wipe tears and rub noses. Encourage, praise, and punish; support, console, and eventually release. From tricycles and ice cream cones to recitals and rebellion, however messy or disappointing, whatever the outcome despite the expectation, unconditional love will prevail. With boundless depth. Empty diaper or full load.

Either that, or I’ll just institutionalize the little bastards after they hit kindergarten, and grovel for their sympathies once I contract Alzheimer’s. Greater dysfunctions have been overcome when an inheritance check lies on the line.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Too Much Mastication Will Kill You! (or, Will This Razor Chafe My Palms?)

Since my pants were filched by the titans of finance, the luxury of free time has been available in heaps (or “shitloads,” to use the beaten man's vernacular). The endless ass scratching, a kind of secret handshake among the unemployed, reveals my hapless status. And while hours are trashed in self-deprecating pollution – Tostitos feedbag gently nestled beneath the chin – they might also brim with aimless web surfing, laundry, or creative reveries with neighborhood women. Thankfully, narcissism works in fits and starts, thwarting a permanent lapse into feral licebag territory. In other words, I’m usually coherent as opposed to rag-clad, and would rarely be seen, say, shaking my fist at traffic while cursing the fragile labor market. Likewise, I’ve been fairly spry after reclaiming rectal control in the wake of an HR-led emasculation (see "Apocalypse Now" from March 19). Yes, the initial pain is severe, but like everything else in the jobless slum, it converges to a dull pang. Several months later, one can even sit with minimal discomfort.

Delousing weekly – generally with a quick spritz of Ortho Home Defense – I prepare for intense mastication at my mother’s house. Although palms remain hairless, stomach bloats from the inexhaustible cornucopia of chow (pastrami into kiwis into chocolate death cake, to name one such jaunt through the gastronomic gauntlet); akin to stapling one’s mouth against a food conveyor set on hyperdrive. Of course, these gluttonous eating orgies are appreciated as a mid-week pause from crotch-scratching coma. And at this point, any diversion that keeps my hands out of my pants is a welcome plus.

Predictably, mom will recap neighborhood gossip, opine on my dwindling ego, and avow misinformed distrust of the internet, all before coffee and Entenmann’s. If my
laundry was tumbling in the basement, these visits might parallel the rudderless magic of college, sans jackhammer hangover. Yet there I am, a leeching ignoramus, obtaining geopolitical headlines from my mother because notions of keeping informed – the core of an international business career – have become impossibly tedious. These days, you’re more likely to find me hanging in a closet with a rope slung around my genitals than perusing the Wall Street Journal. Yes, I’m the deadbeat charity case stockpiling leftovers from the maternal refrigerator, two steps from assuming residence in the garage with a weight bench and mullet. Well, maybe three steps from the mullet. But in all seriousness, I am almost off the grid. Blissfully ignorant, enormously happy, but off the fucking grid.

Like a drunken romp through 7-Eleven, doggie bag contents on any given week might include pineapples, taco meat, soup, oranges, and (only once) Goya sardines in mustard sauce(?!), bizarrely chosen yet lovingly packed for the favorite son. While the boxed fish stunk horribly – a gift more suited for beggars or church homeless drops – believe me, I’m not complaining. Something needs to offset the troughs of Frito Lay products on which I graze like a famished horse. And since I’m expecting a job offer shortly, I’ve only got a few weeks to burn 200 pounds, hack eight inches off my hair, and replace a spoonful of lost teeth. Those Catholic priests were right. Overly-indulgent mastication will kill you. And I don’t
want to go blind.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bom Chicka Wah Wah: A Guide To Sleep, Sex, And Roof Damage

I sleep like a rock. Through thunderstorms, meteor showers, and airplane collisions, I sleep. When burglars pistol-whip overnight guests and nuclear reactors explode into dust, regular appointments with the Sandman remain unbroken. After all, what kind of fool wants his forty winks interrupted with the stress of a radioactive holocaust (or a smoldering jet engine crashing through the kitchen ceiling) at three in the morning? I’m lucky to aim correctly into the toilet bowl at that hour. Tangling with hazmat suits and fire extinguishers require, at very least, a bold cup of French Roast coffee to fully uncross my eyes. If forced to navigate a blazing fuselage before measuring out water and grinds for the Krups machine, it’s going to be one hellacious morning for everyone in my circle of trust, including surviving passengers slumped over the table hoping for breakfast. And while I fry an exceptional omelet, uninvited guests can be an irksome breed. In any case, prior to my career as an unpaid blogger (before writing ideas danced like sugarplums through all hours of the night), mind entered dreamland when head met pillow. No sheep. No bonbons. No Ambien.

My wife, on the other hand, passes the overnight hours flipping like a wounded fish. And while it’s often more distraction than comfort, the white noise of the television buzzes endlessly, as visions of man/mosquito hybrids from the SciFi network loll her droopy lids into a shallow snooze (see “Shame” for more on this). But yesterday, presumably bored with dialogue-bereft paeans to insect mutation, she soaked up an Oscar-caliber offering on Skinemax; also dialogue-bereft, unless you count the coital groans of a woman and her psychologist as paramount to story arc. Skinemax – for those donning chastity belts – is the late-night programming block on the Cinemax movie network, viewed through scrambled lines by curious children in the 1980s, and in crystal clear quality by masturbating perverts, university drunks, and sexually adventurous couples in modern times. And, of course, by my wife, used exclusively as a sleep aide. Because nothing says “restful slumber” quite like softcore pornography.

Perhaps it’s the X/Y chromosome differential, but my wife, cute as she is, cannot comprehend the lack of plot in said films. While men are easily satisfied with a few reverse cowgirls and a piledriver money-shot, women actually want to know why the UPS driver made a second delivery, or the reason the plumber needed to lay pipe with an extra long hose, on Sunday no less. Early forays into skin flicks did attempt some measure of dramatic design, albeit flimsy, as evidenced in ‘The Green Door’ or ‘Deep Throat.’ However, by eschewing literate college grads in lieu of hirsute miscreants and three legged anomalies, the industry churns out thousands of plotless gonzos each year at massive cost savings. When a mattress, an office desk, and a rotating cache of uniforms can afford a group of sub-tier pelvic pumpers the luxury of San Fernando Valley villas, expensive props and fancy location shoots become superfluous. Put differentially, a man teasing the weasel will not enjoy fast-forwarding through ten minutes of middling hospital dialogue or, dare I say, a romance-choked dinner of chocolate fondue set to flamenco guitar. Wah pedal solos and immobile cantaloupe-sized silicone generally meet requirements. Cue wooly moustache for 1970s throwback effect. Repeat with acid washed jeans and blazer for 1980s nostalgia. If the viewer truly wants to operate his brain, there are plenty of CGI-congested popcorn flicks where truck explosions can be dissected six ways from Sunday.

In any case, I’ve got to get back to my kitchen, as I’m still patching the roof from the latest asteroid pelting. Adding insult to injury, a few lingering airline passengers are demanding lunch. Maybe I’ll throw in a porn to keep them occupied while I tie up loose ends with the police. Over a bold roasted coffee, of course. Until next time: sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite, and may the next nuclear disaster occur at least one town over from you.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Who's Gonna Drive You Home, Tonight

Picture yourself on the side of a congested highway, vehicles speeding inches from your foothold. Asphalt kicks up in clumps as cocaine-addled truckers stress-test the road with their endless convoy. Stretching for miles, a turbid haze in various shades of sepia muddles the urban vista. Adding insult to injury, your tire’s blown a flat yet the trunk carries no spare. And you – stubborn Luddite born of cost savings and technological rejection – lack a mobile device; placing yourself at the mercy of nearby exit ramps, derelict gas station pay phones, and hypodermic needles jabbing forth from their change return slots. In a harrowing commute turned hellacious journey, you, my friend, stand on the shoulder of a bustling artery amidst the choking exhaust of metropolitan rush hour. And your head is throbbing. And your legs are tired. And nobody is helping because nobody cares.

Without warning, the cocktail of chest pain, shortness of breath, and acute anxiety chokehold your sanity. You wheeze frantically while heaving your neck forward to catch air. Bodily functions yield rapidly as the hurt radiates from one symptom to another. Vision blurs, balance fades, mouth dries, stomach churns. Lumbering unsteadily, feelings of claustrophobia and panic percolate through the amplified clamor of traffic horns. In mere seconds, legs will finally fail, one first then the other, knee caps cracking awkwardly as head meets pavement in a surrendering final slam. While some may notice, none will stop. Instant heart attack.

Through the rippling heat, two men appear, sweaty and alarmed. While your senses have numbed, the ensuing heroism-cum-buffoonery wakens you to the sensation of being clumsily dragged. Somehow, this inelegant mode of transport sends your mind into horrifying flashbacks of 'Deliverance,' sans banjos. Clothing is shredded to ribbons as it coarsely scrapes blacktop. After what feels like a mile but is likely a few yards, you are dropped, quite brutally, in a grassy patch within earshot of the highway but hundreds of miles from comfort. In this unassuming field you will experience fear unlike any conceivable nightmare. One of the men positions his car nearby – spinning the tires and splattering mud and earth – while the other holds you hard; arm across neck, knee into groin, gnashing his teeth and spitting vulgarly. You flail. Fade to black. You gasp. Back to black. You quietly consent to fate, wishing only not to die. Darkness smothers.

Time has passed, though whether minutes, hours, or years remain unclear. Oddly enough, your pants appear zipped and buttoned, a nice consolation among an otherwise gruesome kidnapping. And yet, something is terribly wrong. Jumper cables have been fastened to each nipple, positive and negative, in some perverse abortion of outdoor sadomasochism. Your heart pounds brutally, throbbing against rib and bone as your mouth hangs agape, drooling and coughing to catch air. Suddenly, a car engine roars, sending a violent electro-current coursing through your body, knocking your torso forward as if hit with a defibrillator blast. Upon falling backwards with a heavy thud the engine roars anew, throwing you head over heals in agonizing pain. Again and again and again your body is heaved and throttled until your eyes have bulged dry from their sockets and your nipples run bloodied and raw. You scream about hospitals, but your voice is shredded by the deafening growls of engines angry and fuming. You are alive. Stripped of your dignity. Bruised. Used. Humiliated. But you are alive.

 
* * * * *

“And that’s basically how it happened,” our substitute science teacher concluded, his cherubic face assuming its dead-on likeness of the obese yet jovial John Candy. This fool – holding down the fort while our regular instructor enjoyed maternity leave – had just relayed a perfectly asinine monologue on saving a man’s life with his automobile. Steeped in imbecilic hubris, and more suited for a chapter in ‘S&M: Breaking The Usual Routine,’ our lecture on the circulatory system had descended into a “citizen of the year” brag-fest over some poor bastard who allegedly had his heart revved and his colon blown via junk science. Thanks to the miracle of jumper cables, six-cylinder engines, and a pair of trusty, conductive nipples, a man allegedly walks the streets like Christ, risen from the dead after a tangle with the devil on Interstate 95. Impressive, no? After all, my physics teacher never regaled us with sundry tales of banging Stephen Hawking to unlock quantum gravity mysteries (that said, my physics teacher was a heterosexual man, and Mr. Hawking is nearly paralyzed, limiting his lechery).

The AMA was clearly asleep at the switch, as the heroics of our myocardial maestro were given nary a footnote in the journals of the day. Chalk it up to another of life’s cruel injustices. If funded by a university, our rotund friend could’ve been curing AIDS by now with old carburetor parts. But alas, he aimed for the mediocrity of substitute science education, smiting the coronary research field while indirectly killing 500,000 Americans per year with his callow neglect and desire for non-working summers. Then again, once you blow fifty miles through the point of no return (in a car that might just as easily be the second coming of Christine), few hospitals in the developed world will even let you don scrubs, much less operate a defibrillator. And there aren’t many casting calls for John Candy lookalikes, especially since, well, Candy’s dead.

Nipples, people. Nipples. One word: ouch!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sleaze, Unease, And Extra Cheese

For the non-farm crowd, Mr. Cheese USA isn’t exactly a desired moniker. It’s certainly nothing you’d want on file with the post office or, for that matter, in a corporate directory regardless of one’s patriotism or passion for dairy. In fact, excluding Cracker Barrel junkies and deranged Packers fans, the negative connotations wafting from that label – nacho, cheddar, or otherwise – outweigh any eccentric pride.

Scarcely familiar with the man behind the stigma, one might assume he was an oily character, a corny jackass who shakes your hand with a mouse trap under his thumb. He might be a crooning deviant absorbed in an endless lip synch of the Tom Jones catalog, polluting velvety auditoriums and nursing homes for throngs of overweight AARP groupies; the definitive master of chest hair and cheap motel sex. Or perhaps he’s a flatulent repeat offender, bombing toilets with reckless abandon as if the lessons of Hiroshima were lost on his immense ego. Whatever the case, this is not a man you introduce to your friends, unless said friends are sexually depraved soccer moms or those with an anti-hygiene fetish, or prostitutes.

In the spring of 1987, this writer held the designation of Mr. Cheese USA (not proudly, mind you), flaunting a title neither desired nor required, but nonetheless deserved. And while I wasn’t stuffing my crotch with tube socks like an elephantine chastity killer, or attending class with a cheese wheel squirreled in my backpack, my locker’s objectionable scent had saturated the hallway with an intense funk. After all, if you jam enough lunch bags into a barely ventilated cabinet, crush them intermittently with school books, and blend haphazardly for one semester, your curious parfait of loose leaf and lunchmeat won’t play nice in the warm weather. And no, this behavior did not score points with the female contingent, allowing me none of the pubescent luxuries of unclasping training bras while tasting the marvels of Wet N Wild lip gloss. Rather, I was horribly shamed, assuming the slackened posture of a beaten boy-fool; closet full of fromage in lieu of skeletons.

Packed dutifully each morning by mom, the schoolyard staples of juice box, sandwich, and snack were a dietary regiment of which deviation was considered impossible, at least within the two square miles comprising my hometown, and thus, my entire world. That said, while two thirds of that brown bag banquet were digestible enough, the prospect of noshing on unrefrigerated cheese roiled my stomach. As it is, I won’t ingest anything a day past expiration, and maintain a compulsive fear of food left to thaw on countertops, socializing amicably with Listeria and E coli. More often than not, I’m junking perfectly good groceries; essentially parading around some famished third world backwater with an oversized FUCK YOU sign, beating my chest while flipping off every kid with a distended belly. Sally Struthers can plead until she’s blue in the face, but errant habits die hard.

After a winter of mushroom incubation, my flogging commenced on clean-up day. For a certain outspoken teacher, spelunking in my locker played out like the second (equally flawed) unearthing of Al Capone’s vault, assuming good ol' Al valued mold and Trapper Keeper
notebooks. Each individual lunch bag, in various states of fungal distress, was commented upon as I stood in a dead-eyed daze. And while this wasn’t some town square hanging wherein every student had joined a ring around our corner of wayward hell – screaming in unison for my crucifixion – enough of a nearby crowd was pretending not to notice this metaphoric spanking.

It’s awkward enough deflecting rhetorical questions like “Doesn’t your mother work hard to buy these cold cuts?” or “What do you think your parents would say if they knew you were disposing of perfectly good food?”, but fielding inquisitive onslaughts with no viable answers is like entering enemy fire, naked and weaponless. Of course, there were answers, but certainly not ones which I’d ever divulge. Namely, cafeteria aides lived for the extraction of lunchmeat from trash bins. Howling in tremendous constipated pain, their vocal disgust roared forth: “Whose lunch is this? Whose GREAT bologna sandwich was THROWN OUT today after only THREE BITES?” I may have been a pack rat, but I was forced into the business by obsessive-compulsive women doubling as aspirant (or very hungry) garbage pickers. If uneaten lunch equated to verbal thrashing, then hidden lunch equated to gastronomic genius, so long as the weather remained cool.

Post-disinfection, my locker received a green sticker (to denote potential “Superfund” status), while fellow students obtained blue, red, and yellow (the happy colors of the mentally adjusted). As a special bonus, my designation as Mr. Cheese USA – born from the pungent odor of lunches long forgotten – was assigned, readying me for a career in lounge crooning or sexual exploitation or, as a matter of appropriate course, the unctuous underbelly of financial sales and trading; where the client’s interests are always served, albeit with a little extra cheese.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Of Human Bondage (To Human Toilets)

“I need to tell you something, and I know this might sound a bit disturbing (pause) but it’s very possible that the prior owner of this condo replaced her old toilet with a refurbished one.”
–realtor, phone conversation prior to closing, 2003

Although common sense was never assumed to be widespread, common courtesy, its more easily learned cousin, requires little in the way of intelligence. When applied to the real estate market, if a sensible person were to knowingly list their house with a broken toilet, they might arrange for a replacement (or at very least, a reduction in price) as a condition of sale. And no, in a quest for that porcelain proxy, trolling white trash yard sales or ghetto fabulous scrap heaps – those venues of toothless impropriety – is never an acceptable solution. Said differently, risking one’s life while eluding dangerous simpletons (whether rabid junkyard managers or rabid armies of redneck inbreds), does not trump a Home Depot visit, despite perceived cash savings.

While “pre-owned” might be a cute moniker to slap on an older Lexus, when applied to crappers the term references (at worst) vindictiveness, or (at best) mental retardation on behalf of the seller. After all, I’m fairly sure that Jim Bob didn’t institute a twelve point inspection before drop kicking his thunderbox to the curb after deeming it unworthy of his own ass. And if this unflushable atrocity was doomed to lie sideways amongst empty boxes of Meister Brau while neighborhood hooligans disgraced it in a series of post-midnight, performance art shows, then no amount of refurbishing would allow me to comfortably drop drawer in its dishonored presence. Even if an industry-sanctioned check did exist, the notion of some obese bowl czar kicking the proverbial tires – ottoman in tow – after gorging himself on a magnum of beans raises the comfort level nary a few notches. Nobody wants a construction-grade Port-o-Potty nailed crudely into their bedroom closet as a “seller’s compromise,” and nobody wants a past-prime john languishing sadly in their loo-to-be, regardless of how proud it made somebody’s daddy feel thirty years ago.

The slovenly loon who unloaded her ramshackle condo upon me and my wife was a few flushes short of sane (see “My Mortgage Can Beat Up Your Mortgage” from April 27). And while her two bathroom unit claimed only one working toilet, she assured her realtor of a replacement fixture. Lest you view me as spoiled, I wasn’t expecting a reclinable, cheek warming, bidet equipped Japanese model that might or might not brew coffee, toast bread, or auto fellate. Rather, a seat and a tank would suffice. After all, my trips to the pool are quick and efficient; no spa-like half hour escapades or magazine perusal necessary. What I received, however, was a bargain basement low-boy which had seen the derriere prints of many a man since the Carter presidency. On the plus side, I suppose I was lucky she hadn’t left me with an upper-decker, that defiantly hard to locate floater and the plumbing equivalent of a double middle finger flip.

Nevertheless, when a tiny perfume bottle dove squarely onto the tank – creating a hairline fracture-cum-chasm which snaked angularly and converted my bathroom into an Old Faithful mock-up – I was secretly elated. David, smaller than a church mouse, so quietly unassuming in his perfume holding perch above the towel rack, had finally toppled Goliath, the menacing juggernaut of unwiped asses and thoughtless prior owners. Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I was free at last. And boy, was it liberating knowing that my shiny new throne was one butt crack away from installation.

Regarding disposal (for those not intimately involved with their commodes), there exists no way to physically transport an unboxed toilet from point A to point B without looking like a maladroit lummox; especially if point A is a second floor condo, and point B is the communal garbage shed, located at the bottom of a steep incline. That said, if one believed himself to be a conquering hero, freed from the yoke of used toilet bondage, he might happily laugh off unfunny jokes while alternately pulling, dragging, and lifting his potty en route to the dumpster; a leaky trail of backwater its final tears. Whether charitably gifted to some fleabag hostel or sealed with Bondo and refurbished anew, my nemesis had passed on ... possibly to the benefit of oversexed college travelers, or possibly to the chagrin of your new neighbors.

Or possibly, dear reader, to you. And that kind of unknown quantity almost makes diapers look good again.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Lost In Limbo: An Accelerated Romp Through Generations

The Vermont County Store – purveyor of AARP-approved house frocks and other oddities targeted toward countrified shut-ins – has been advertising a primordial typewriter with the bravado generally reserved for President’s Day auto commercials. According to the latest catalog, inadvertently delivered to these quarters by my normally astute (and hernia recovering) mailman, the Manual Olivetti Typewriter beckons “all thinking persons past the age of discretion.” Or, translated into the common vernacular, “all persons with fond memories of the Conestoga wagon and unsliced bread.” Already scarred by the cancellation of Lawrence Welk, and shaking in their pantaloons at the advent of digital television conversion, lengthy testimonials from the so-called Greatest Generation read like a disturbing romp through the Land of The Lost.

Whether implicitly damning the invention of electricity (“my fingers had fallen victim to Author-Ritis and could not move fast enough to accommodate the electric typewriter”), or forced to arrest one’s hobby due to presumed technological distrust (“now that I have this wonderful new typewriter I may resume writing again”), nothing says “I drive an enormous Buick, eat cat food, and believe rock music is the spawn of Satan” quite like: “your typewriter survives storms and blackouts … the computer age is not for me.” Well, my dear, maybe this internet thing won’t catch on and we’ll all happily revert to ink wells, American cars, and outhouses. At very least, the nice folks in Weston, Vermont have cured a horrific case of Author-Ritis (although I’m sure there’s a suppository for that), and helped throngs of naïve octogenarians in deterring an amp service upgrade within their flower-print hovels.

Believe it or not, I actually respect the elderly. Before I’m painted as a heartless rogue who pushes occupied wheelchairs down steep hills (into traffic) or pilfers gallons of prune juice from under the noses of old women, know that I appreciate the dedication of our elder statesmen to this country. They loved it, molded it, and fought for it with a righteous mantra of sacrifice and heroism. Through the horrors of (then glorified) war, they wrestled with oppressive regimes in the hopes of preserving the same freedoms granted them upon entry into our harbors; never embarrassed to fly the flag of a nation which offered limitless opportunity where others tendered only prejudice and class immobility. Notwithstanding these valorous feats, this generation also built some of the most revolting architectural eyesores of modern times – constructed within the concrete-themed brutalist style – while razing some of the most beautiful, in an ignorant dismissal of historic merit in lieu of inexpensive solutions. Life in the Great Depression had soured a collective optimism, and this frugality of mindset extended forthright, for better or for worse.

Yet somewhere in the generational chasm between Big Band and Beatles, the brave legions of World War II veterans, and the wives that kept their homes in pristine form, got lost. Or perhaps they purposely opted to drop out, unwittingly dropping into long-standing stereotypes of clueless citizenry: dismissing much of the burgeoning pop culture scene, ignoring technological advances, fearing homosexuals, and preparing for death after age 65, needlepoint in hand, ass on rocker. Now sadly the butt of jokes after a lifetime of drudgery, witness the swan song of the last batch of Americans to drive 45mph in the center lane of an interstate, to mistake gas pedals for brakes en masse, dress in outmoded fashions, consider rock music “noise,” dye their hair blue, assume musty scents, or rage against the rebellion of youth. There will always exist gaps between parent and child, but none shall spread quite as embarrassingly wide.

And here I stand, a lowly member of the oft-forgotten Generation X; sandwiched between the Baby Boomers and their dope smoking, brain frying, hippiedom-cum-corporate model on the one hand, and the socially inept ADD cyborgs of the Millennial gang on the other. Numbering a paltry 46 million, X’ers rate a mere blip on the genealogical radar, spoon-fed the merits of Boomers our entire lives to the neglect of our own accomplishments. And yes, exposure of that generation’s erectile dysfunction conquest does cause a shudder down our collective spines, as do our declining inflation-adjusted incomes vis-à-vis our parents. But remember, we’re Generation X, and we don’t protest these proverbial tide changes, we just ridicule them. Truth be told, we’ve been a well behaved yet cynical niche of sorts, scoffing at our parent’s organized rebellion while sneering at the younger generation’s idealism and everyone-is-a-winner yet no-one-is-singularly-responsible upbringing. Painted as slackers, we’re actually quite shrewd, maintaining a healthy dollop of humor and self-deprecation, thus safely grounding our egos. In fact, our ability to think objectively and speak in complete sentences as opposed to instant messages could one day be an asset. Later rather than sooner, of course, once the media’s preoccupation with all things Boomer has finally drawn enough blood from that stone, and the world looks for a new group of leaders to replace the soon-to-be retired and full-time coital flower children. Naturally, that crown will pass fluidly to the Millenials.

So now that we’ve traveled the unofficial timeline through unsanctioned history, let’s return from whence we started, at the congenial Vermont Country Store and their prehistoric wares, where grandma considers delving into the mattress to buy that Manual Olivetti Typewriter. If you’ve got your bifocals trained on that relic, then the Grim Reaper’s been keeping a close eye on you, my dear. Perhaps an order of Super Omega-3 fish oil pills (item #52478) would add an extra six months, enough time to hammer out the next great American novel, tapping away ferociously through downed power lines and fuse box shorts. Or hell, the seven inch rotating “massager” (item #51669) might even render you immortal, like The Highlander, for a mere $79.95 plus tax. And that’s plenty of additional time to suck up the remaining social security pool that I’ve been quietly funding, without so much as a pout, especially for you. Happy diddling.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sniff More Stank To Smell More Roses

“That in digesting our common food, there is created or produced in the bowels of human creatures, a great quantity of wind. That the permitting this air to escape and mix with the atmosphere, is usually offensive to the company, from the fetid smell that accompanies it. That all well-bred people therefore, to avoid giving such offense, forcibly restrain the efforts of nature to discharge that wind.”
–Ben Franklin “Fart Proudly (or A Letter To A Royal Academy)”

When addressing matters of waste disposal amidst the nation’s vast lavatory network, The Bastard directs an approving fist pump to those lacking in human empathy. And while your fearless author can tally his lifetime public evacuations on one hand, his rule for anti-compassion dually extends into the private sanctum. Namely, while seated atop the porcelain throne within your own tiled fiefdoms – whether dropping kids off at the pool, bombing a small city, or launching a full-scale nuclear attack – reliance on the courtesy flush should be wiped (with a cushy two-ply) from your psyche. Likewise, the exhaust fan, prissy tool of the fragile and weak minded, must be physically destroyed whether by acute disabling or violent machismo; never to again freshen air in your claustrophobic rabbit holes. This much I expect.

To paraphrase the Urban Dictionary, a “courtesy flush” occurs when a spry Tooting Tom flicks his wrist against the toilet lever (sometimes in panic, but often in a state of zen calm) at the exact moment of aquatic impact. If perfectly timed, one’s deposit plummets into a swirling vortex of non-potable water; breaking the speed of sound for those with burrito-chafed asses. Said flush is also an egregious faux-pas. If you can’t be trusted to let your bouquet waft from room to room without committing seppuku, face buried in dishonor, then you can’t be trusted to relieve yourself in civilized quarters. In other words, sprout some hair on your chest and grow up. Or use the shed out back.

Stripping aside the ability to reason, homo sapiens are simply bipedal apes, sharing 95% of DNA with our knuckle dragging friends. And like other creatures, humans have been marking terrain since a prehistoric Hurk first set fire to his enemy’s mud hut and procreated with the residual females. Modern territoriality, however, is a passive-aggressive creed undertaken with property boundaries, taxes, and locks. But deep in the recesses of the brain, beyond the pansy cultural niceties ingrained at childhood, is a wolf intent on ruling his lair; enclosing himself within a circle of steaming piss to demarcate ownership and exude dominance over neighbors. Be not mistaken, the stink of one’s spoils should be celebrated threefold: as a warning to impetuous prowlers, a celebration of health, and a sexual battle cry drawing together the coital yearnings of both sexes. Like a writer at odds with phrasing, or a musician unsure of pitch, there can be nothing more vertiginous than a person embarrassed by their own stench. It's a natural odor. Why get your knickers in a twist when they’re already slung around your ankles?

If one is to thrive in the melting pot of America, one must stew in every ingredient of its malodorous cauldron. Our country was founded on idealism, on debate, and on democratic overhaul of a system which failed its colonists and fouled its citizens through nepotistic royalty. For the free exchange of ideas to continue, it is imperative that we unblock all senses and remain open to all stimuli. Should a man wish to argue an unfavorable opinion, his right to offend exists firmly in the constitutional alloy. Moreover, should a man wish to express himself on the high bowl of waste dumping, then let that man be heard in both grunts and aroma. Should he prepare his thesis via dutch oven, then allow that proposal to cook pungently at extreme temperatures. When we censure each other, we condemn the very pillars of opportunity which drew our impoverished kinfolk across oceans many generations ago.

That flush lever is an oppressive temptress. Empower yourself. Rip it off.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Lead Us Not Into Deafness, But Deliver Us From Earwax

As a mere tike – blissfully ignorant of endemic corruption, disease, and Sub-Saharan pestilence – The Bastard was nearly pegged as a “special needs child” by the sandbox czars of his elementary school. Then again, during the salad days of Reaganomics, politically correct euphemism had yet to intrude upon our synthesizer coveting, legwarmer-clad society. In the red-bricked realm of education, terms like “special” (retarded), “exceptional” (fucking insane), or in my case “hearing impaired” (stone cold deaf) were but a mere twinkle in the eye of the next decade’s niggling liberal wuss. In fact, one could argue that our resident nurse, in the parlance of the times, advised my mother to “drag my deaf ass to an otologist” or risk having one of those atrocious phonograph cones rammed through my eardrum in an emergency implant procedure that would horrify 90% of the third world. Or so I imagined. To a free wheeling second grader raised on Saturday morning Loony Tunes marathons, reality and stupidity can become dreadfully blurred. When left unchecked, said stupidity might even cause a child to flunk his hearing test. Accidentally. Affecting enough distress upon his thoroughly vexed parents to involve the services of a revered and expensive ear specialist, 200 miles away.

I’m not normally an idiot, but I sometimes play one inadvertently. Although Nurse Ratched promptly fitted me with oversize manhole cover headphones (known affectionately as “cans”), she neglected to explain the rules of the test, at least in a manner palatable to a lunchbox toting rugrat with recess on the brain. Or perhaps, in the most eye winking of ironies, I neglected to listen. Whatever the case, most thumb twiddling brats understood that a series of tones was to be activated in either the right or left headphone with varying degrees of randomness. Upon detecting each sounder, this captive audience of nose bleeders, ass pickers, and lice heads (i.e. the future of America), was instructed to tap the correct ear from whence the notes originated. And in roughly ten minutes, following an approvingly curt nod and hair tussle from the test administrator, one could return to their regularly scheduled lesson on “just saying no” to candy from molesters, already in progress. In other words, you needn’t be some telepathic savant to acknowledge a few simple tweets of Morse code. But to a clueless, diminutive horse’s arse like this writer – unable to steady a humongous apparatus atop his tiny crown much less comprehend the nonsense of haphazard beeps – results were faked out of frantic desperation; arms alternately flailing with the zeal of a Tourette’s patient on a particularly trying afternoon. Hell, I’d mastered the colorblind exam like a champ (you know, numbers hidden amongst a series of dots), and rightfully sailed into this one with the ego of an overconfident prizefighter. Knocked unconscious before the first round.

Staggering ignorance aside, my hearing was fine, exemplary even, or so argued the specialist flown in from Washington DC to assuage my parents’ concerns. Wax buildup, on the other hand, was a hot button issue, as my cochlear canal evidently resembled the inside of a beehive; assuming the bees were jacked up on crack cocaine and worked sturdily through the night like your typical long-haul trucker. Over the next several weeks, (what felt like) gallons of Debrox solution were unceremoniously dumped into both ears, clearing the blockages in the hopes that I could one day pass floss through my empty head in the manner of some Coney Island freak show draw. Unnervingly, the medicine would sizzle and pop, like bacon in a pan, as I lay in the fetal position every night, pondering the exact spot where my life had veered so horribly off the rails. Emergency earwax removal had assumed key placement in the evening ritual of goodnight hugs and the Our Father, and I could either accept it with maturity, or accept it like a whimpering sissy-boy, depending on how the mood struck. Thankfully, this liquid ear excavator, whatever it was, it is still produced – and no one to my knowledge was jailed for producing it – alleviating any concerns of having received the aural version of thalidomide while ensnared in my own (death) bed; dad overseeing the equivalent of a waterboarding session as my ear hissed and sputtered like something doused in battery acid.

Although I boast my share of problems, cranking the television to window shattering decibels, or screaming like a loon at the dinner table, three inches from my wife’s face over the course of normal conversation, aren’t on that list. And noting a distinct positive, I’ve learned to appreciate (read: love) the scent of my own earwax. There’s nothing quite like bringing a stained pinky to one’s nostril and having that punchy aroma overwork the endorphins. Wax is the new cologne, dear reader, tweaking my senses like a sharp swallow of absinthe. While I no longer debase the pages of books with blotchy orange fingerprints, purposely marking my insignia, that brief romance with perceived hearing loss is forever regarded as my first love. Debrox, I hardly knew ya, yet I was your bitch for countless weeks in the early 1980’s. Thank you for making me feel less "special."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

If You Listen Closely, You Can Hear The Banjos Strumming

“Yes, We Have Fried Tripe.”

Those were five words which cemented my arrival in the epicurean backwoods of northern New England. Not only was this crudely erected hash house of corrugated metal located on the boulevard of destitute dreams – where streets are lined with Bubba Teeth, and tag sales doom the used shit of an incestuous square mile to forever circulate from driveway to driveway – but this purveyor of roadkill was delighted to advertise bovine stomach chambers as their principal entrée. Squashed squirrel or poached possum be damned, demand for this kibble must have been inspiring enough for the posting of handmade signs promoting its re-availability; signs which, mind you, were plastered on every vertical beam holding the roof in place. One must no longer settle for the chipmunk fricassee, as the second coming of tripe has been resurrected inside these derelict walls of yesteryear’s overbites. Taste it again, for the first time. And no, we wouldn’t think of serving it any other way than from an artery attacking deep fryer, lobbing entire decades off grandpa’s life with each satisfying spork-full of intestinal anti-nutrition.

When The Bastard makes his bi-annual trips to the Maine wilds, slightly south of the Canadian border in an outdoorsman’s paradise nestled hours from any interstate highway, he does so willingly. He is not dragged by his ear, forced to abandon the comfortable trappings of suburban internet connectivity and ever-present culture, but instead embraces the opportunity to decompress. The stress of unemployment glides gently off the bone when seated in a wicker rocking chair overlooking a crystal clear lake, beachfront included. This place is a hidden treasure, a former camp which catered to moneyed urbanites during the earliest part of the last century, arrived at by railroad, and since converted into tranquil private abodes abutting a postcard-pretty landscape of pine, birch, and lupine. Flanked by two welcoming towns offering congenial gift shops and eateries, not to mention multitudes of hiking trails and water sports, this idyllic sanctuary has been rightly cherished by my in-laws since its purchase (for a song and various trinkets) in the late 1960’s. For those who remember, that period marked the zenith of the American Dream, when the middle class – less saddled with back-breaking mortgages, obscene university costs, and oppressive taxes – could afford vacation homes on (not near) the water.

After twelve years of venturing off the grid, I’ve come to appreciate the many allures of unspoiled terrain, not to mention the dustings of quaint charm and curious small town oddities. Due to the unforgiving winters (which cause severe contractions in the plumbing), I’ve also learned to defecate on a crooked toilet, steadying myself against the adjacent sink as if boarding the Gravitron ride with pants around my ankles. On this plot of greenery, drunks clumsily operate barbecue grills, uncles string tightie-whitey underwear across outdoor clothes lines for all to admonish, and gastronomes gorge themselves on cheese, beer, garlic, and fajitas, only to reek like an abominable steaming mess of noxious flatulence for multiple, unshowered days. When I put my mind to it, I can blow out concrete walls and kill small animals. Play hard, stink harder.

Pleasant aromas aside, my in-laws have been nothing but generous in their sharing of this restful patch of God’s country. Under their tutelage, my outdoor education has advanced far beyond kickball games and park fountains. In fact, over a span of years, I’ve come to appreciate that not every resident above 45° N latitude boasts a mouthful of beaver teeth and a lockbox of flannels. Nor would I any longer presume that a Ford F-150 is everyone’s dream graduation gift in that region. To my wonderment, I’m now even aware that well-adjusted white people do work at McDonald’s, and sometimes bus tables in restaurants.


While I may never fully ingratiate myself into the north woods alloy, frequent journeys offer bragging rights as more than a mere tourist. Perhaps one day I’ll have the stones to pull over en route and purchase a two legged chair or set of tarnished spoons or stained Pokémon doll from the interminable tag sales. Hell, I might even close my eyes and try the fried tripe (remember, it’s back). Next time.

Or maybe the time after that. Baby steps, you know?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

More Human Than Human

In his waning years as a sturdy oak of junior high largesse, my eighth grade science teacher leaned a bit psychotic. It’s not that this sudden brain tic made him less amenable to students or faculty – both of whom respected the man in the way you might honor a former NFL legend-cum-broadcaster at the close of a storied career – but when certain cards in everyone’s deck of 52 get lost, an odd fungus tends to erode the mind. Simply put, if you heave an overhead projector from its stoic desk perch into the hallway, mid-lesson, while attempting to verbally discipline twenty-five or so uninterested snots, you command attention. Naturally, once said projector slams against the far wall, ricocheting like a bad car crash or serious industrial accident, you’ve earned certifiable bragging rights in the dangerous yet coveted “totally fucking insane” realm of educational lore. And congratulations, because that tightrope on which you’re now balancing is one for which an entire district’s worth of teachers would carve out their kidneys. While the meek and compliant enforced rules via rationality, eighth grade science was now policed with the suggestive power of imminent physical harm, random or otherwise, and forever coupled with a dollop of eye twitching insanity. Suddenly, trivial infractions like forgetting one’s homework or passing notes could have resulted in being made to eat chalk, having our hands submerged in jars of hydrofluoric acid, or, shudder to think, our brains eaten by the newly minted mad professor after a lovingly slow roast on the Bunsen burner.

Whatever the curriculum lords may have intended, this class was never a traditional foray into textbooks and mundane lectures. Prior to the bizarre “feats of strength” display, our master of ceremonies sawed batteries apart, ignited and exploded them, lit gaseous substances ablaze on his ceiling, and simulated the creation of a fireball. Package these curious ventures into a fan-friendly Mr. Wizard’s World on crack cocaine, toss a few pieces of machinery to ensure that the master/servant relationship is understood by all, implicitly convince the true believers of your looming psychosis, and bingo: You have the makings of a funhouse doubling as a science class masquerading as an even bigger funhouse where no one really learns anything. Except under this circus tent, the knife thrower flings real weaponry. And you don’t need to volunteer to be targeted. And sometimes he misses. Because he’s a goddamn old man, older than dirt.

Yes, Dr. Frankenstein’s venerable ubiquity was taken for granted. He seemed like he’d always been around; just as apt to have been present at the dedication of the school cornerstone, in a “Science Faculty 1947” yearbook photo, on the Zapruder film, or even etched into cave drawings extolling the merits of the wheel. And while his tales of greatness spanned an amazing spectrum of bygone days, with events unthinkable in politically correct times (i.e. tackle football games of teachers vs. students and pig roasts in the courtyard, to name a few), the year his mental faculties derailed was to be his last. He knew this. Yanking a large metal device out of its outlet, and tossing it against an outside wall with Tarzan-like precision and Godzilla-fueled strength wasn’t exactly placing the twilight of a career in jeopardy, nor was it risking a hefty pension. In other words, when you’re old and fully cooked, you’re entitled. And when you’re overly entitled, and deemed to be halfway between solitaire and senility, you can scare the bejesus out of the most hardened future drop-outs with a few metered bouts of unpredictability.


And that’s not science, it’s art.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Deviant Office Perverts, The Apple of My Eye

During my early years of office purgatory – when mastering the formula for our auto-drip coffee maker was considered an admirable job function, and the Brother P-Touch labeler was one wrist-strap away from being soldered to my forearm – evenings were spent rehashing the merits of a trounced college degree. That said, my pissant status still ranked higher than that of the chest thumping pimps doubling as mail sorters on the building’s eighth floor. In fact, this comparison kept the alarm clock ringing each morning and the belt nooses (which hung from my clothes rod as a hedge against mental meltdown) off my neck. Although the moustached drunks in management were far from a ringing endorsement of integrity, the atmosphere was kept therapeutic by equally incredulous colleagues. An eclectic troop of cube dwellers, we were simply thankful to stand on the receiving side of the cafeteria grill counter. In other words, if the bathrooms of this painfully outmoded building were infested with roaches, at least we weren’t made to strap on an insecticide pack.

The revolving door of temp workers kept the mood light, even in our darkest hours when the final toner cartridge ran dry. Spanning the gamut from punks, artists, whores (not in the official sense), junkies, perverts, and cocktail waitresses (with the inability to operate a fax machine, much less speak English), this collage of misfits flashed a bag of tricks more suited to a circus sideshow than a buttoned-up private bank led by sherry sipping Protestants. And while I shared a few laughs with the overweight dapper dan – dressed nattily in the same black blazer and t-shirt as if wardrobe variety were a death knell – and exchanged pleasantries with the unkempt skateboarder at the elevator banks, none of these characters made quite the impression as did the balding pervert and his alcoholic sidekick.

This peeping tom was a cross between James Lipton of 'Inside The Actor’s Studio' fame, and Andy Samberg’s 'Dick In A Box' caricature of early ‘90’s new jack swing. More specifically, his style was one part uncombed halo of thatched hair, two parts ever-evolving variety of frumpy suits, purchased from a nameless friend
known only as “the haberdasher.” Should I have been in the market for a pre-owned Hyundai Excel, or effected an in-person audit of a Van Nuys porn distributor, this gentleman’s hand – bedecked in faux gold bullion – would no doubt have extended itself in unctuous amity. However, in the caverns of Wall Street, with storied tales of greed, guts, and glory framed by power outfits and $200 haircuts, the presence of an ornamented carnival barker with an eye for ass was more comic relief than hard-nosed deal making. If this man had candy and you had a child, hopefully you also had a shotgun, or the phone number of your local crime stoppers tip line, or at very least one of a decent barber.

Instead of feigning horror, I happily embraced our cast of fools. And while it sometimes takes one to know one, I wasn’t the guy printing out young female profiles from the company picture directory in order to deface their idealism in some grody apartment, nor was I buying polyester neckties on the street corner, wrapped in cheap plastic. And I most certainly wasn’t lunching with a red-faced drunk who preferred virtual reality sunglasses on most afternoons, presumably to hide the pinched capillaries in his cheeks after a solid six of Killian’s (see “The Elephant Cometh” for even more office oddities).

Take me by the hand, o wise sage of haberdashery, o mightiest of Chess Kings, to the place where crazed bums wearing sandwich boards advertise discount strip club admittance and two-for-one suit sales. Show me the wonders of backside pinching and the talent for quick tongue flicks as mating calls. You rule the flea markets of Nassau Street with the heft of a thousand swinging phalluses, sucking the oxygen out of each room you inhabit with a ball sac of potato-sized immensity. In your presence, my testes are mere peas, my persona a regrettable shell of reservation, brains, and common sense. I am but a meek student of the overused pick-up line; unable to smoke enough unfiltered cigarettes to yellow my teeth, ingest adequate spinach to sprout fur on my chest, or haggle with enough gusto for discounted prices on cubic zirconia. Show me the places were beards grow wild and men roam wilder. I want to feel what you feel when you sexually harass an entire secretarial staff, taste what you taste when you hunker down for a broiled steak dinner at the cafeteria-quality Tad’s. More than a budding hero, you are a masculine colossus of 1950’s over-cologned supremacy, a time traveler from bygone eras of subservient women and workplace spankings. Lead me to the well, bald man, and compromise my financial career and economic stability for a quick drink of unbridled randiness. After all, this is our Eden, and no one lasts long in the garden of forbidden fruit (even if that fruit happens to be the cherry of a bubbly yet naïve ditz tasked with faxing trade confirmations).

Awakening in reality, I suppose the switch to business casual came as a blessing in disguise. Most likely, I wouldn't have commanded much respect with a Borat suit and Flowbee haircut. And as a white guy, well, let’s just say when the axe falls, you don’t have that extra card to play. Even so, I'll bet the first bite of that apple was delicious.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Double, Double, Oil and Trouble

Imagine you’ve murdered an entire Saturday afternoon engaged in the mind-numbing task of washing your windows; body contorted into a multitude of obtuse angles, forced to emulate horrible, palsied motions just to squeeze a holster of Windex and an oversized roll of paper towels into new reaches of awkwardness. And while you plugged away with the ineptitude of a one-legged Mr. Clean – engaging in clownish acrobatics to the bemusement (or alarm) of the neighborhood – your friends wasted the hours by mixing bottomless margaritas or participating in swingers orgies, or both, in that order.

Moreover, let’s assume that after slamming the final window against its frame, yourself a sweaty mix of anger and confusion, some kid slaps his mouth against the glass, blowing air forward to comically flair his cheeks. And let’s say this kid is a snot-nosed brat and continues to smear his fluids on your windows as a daily ritual, steaming up the view, perhaps because he thinks you’re amused or perhaps because he aims to disrespect you in some weird game of animalistic dominance. In fact, your threats of consigning him indefinitely to a wheelchair only provoke disappointment within the community, although everyone knows that you possess neither the agility nor the cojones to crack the kid’s spinal column, much less his pinky. Sadly, for as long as this halfwit governs the block with mischievous idiocy, your windows will assume all the charm of a derelict-ridden bus depot. And you will like it. Or you will move.

Steve Jobs of Apple Inc. is the mischievous idiot on my street and, dear reader, on yours. Not quite physically imposing (especially since his illness), Jobs is credited with salvaging the once-marginalized company he co-founded in 1976, and steering it toward renewed greatness with a combination of technological prowess and aesthetic innovation. iMacs, iPods, the Apple retail store, and the coveted iPhone all exemplify the CEO’s second tenure in Cupertino, one flanked by an impressive recapture of market share. Unfortunately, this stint has been tarnished by the growing acceptance of touch screen technology, likening users of the reliable QWERTY keyboard to prehistoric fossils favoring washboards and 78rpm phonographs. Although the iPhone offers hundreds of “apps” which run the gamut from making dinner reservations, analyzing plant life, shaking babies(!), and simulating the snorting of cocaine in true 1980’s power lunch style, none offer the luxury of reverting to a traditional keypad and freeing the display screen from objectionable smudges.

Jobs must have the cleanest fingers in the universe, and obviously never picks his nose nor allows his underlings to blight his precious arsenal of all things touch. Perhaps it’s my OCD talking, but just as fingerprinted jewel cases incited cardiac arrest in the heady ‘90’s, the disrespect of plexiglass screens with unseemly recipes of grease and oil sends me wincing. Suddenly, years of advancement regress in one fell swoop, as the lords of connectivity place new generations of portable devices into the hands of chronic masturbators, ass scratchers, and mechanics; doomed to coat their expensive gadgetry with juices sundry and unpleasant. Anyone who’s ever held a phone to their ear for longer than 15 seconds knows that the resulting film on the display window is forever smeared. Likewise, in speaking for my Mediterranean brethren – never to recognize a day of dry skin, save the occasional chapped lip – touch screen technology is a death sentence, with the only solution being a raid on your local proctologist’s office for a pallet’s worth of latex gloves.

More importantly, will society, in good conscience, ignore the cultural insensitivity levied toward the burgeoning Indian market? After all, it remains customary to wipe one’s ass with one’s left hand in some areas of the curry capital, or so stated my (Indian) marketing professor in 1996. If you thought oily fingerprints were a problem, try cleaning a virtual keyboard after it’s passed through a communal rectum and used inadvertently as fly paper. Then again, said professor was addicted to Virginia Slims cigarettes and harbored an unnatural craving for McDonald’s breakfast burritos, thus lessening the credibility of his declarations.

Most likely, I could purchase heavy drapes for my windows and avoid the blotches of Mr. Jobs and his hooligan fanboy contingent. But most of those flowery curtains are geared for the AARP crowd, and besides, I actually enjoy the wooded view and small brook outside of my home. Clearly, no amount of Windex is going to halt this progression toward scum buildup. Just as mp3 players taught us to shun
audio quality in favor of gigabyte size, touch screen displays are pushing convenience over cleanliness. The least I can do is step off my soapbox, join the neighbors at their margarita party, and attempt to excise any lingering demons. As Bill Gates once argued, “The people who resist change will be confronted by the growing number of people who see that better ways are available thanks to technology.”

Or, as they say in certain circles: “Bend over, here it comes again.”

Monday, May 11, 2009

Seven Years

The subway prophets spew knowledge and nonsense, unsolicited in the tunnels underground. At times absurdly humorous, but more often militant or scripted, their paeans to God, instructions toward repentance, and reminders of homelessness are ever-present in the sidewalk cellar, competing for attention alongside vermin and peddlers. Last week, the token Caucasian caught my ear with his religious fearmongering, warning of damnation in a city proud to be damned. Plastered across the chest of his navy sweatshirt were the words “Risk All,” while “Fear God” adorned the back in chunky block letters. And like most of the mentally unstable brethren who pay their $2 to entertain and educate, our friend warned of final judgment, his speech authenticated with fire-and-brimstone scripture. Seven years was all he offered. Not a long timetable nor a generous gift, but a manageable frame in which to alter perspective.

Both an eternity and an eyeblink, seven years can encourage remarkable variance – shifting the patchwork of family, career, and personal growth – where the obvious becomes opaque and the expected turns inside-out. Yet as easily as it races, time can mark a flatline where weeks compound to months which drag to years; a glut of opportunities trashed, where the same cup of coffee and the same crossword clues rotate insipidly. In seven years, will you accept your given hand due to economics or exhaustion? Join a cause knowingly or fight a war mindlessly? Retreat greedily or sacrifice needily? Love dearly or hate severely? Discover wealth and lie for it? Take a stance and die for it? Would you change only because you were scared? Or enrich your morals just to be spared?

When the rent is due but jobs are scarce, our subterranean louse withdraws from the labyrinths beneath Seventh Avenue and retreats to an idyllic Main Street; flag lined, sepia drenched, and worlds removed from the urban rot of the rat traps. This cowardly homecoming is pardoned by the same parents whose bank account he raped with impunity. Prophets in their own right, mom and dad have left his bedroom untouched, foreseeing the return of their son, the failed apostle. Aborted by urbanity, excommunicated by progress. Still fearing God but risking nothing. A charlatan. A sham. A waste of seven years.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Hotter Than Hell

Between 2001 and 2006, I’d secretly hoped that my friend would drop dead. Well, perhaps “hoped” is a strong word, but my reflexes would have slackened considerably had his frame, say, wandered under a falling piano or against an electrified fence. Although the man claimed relatively sound health, even the heartiest of souls forget to look both ways when crossing the street, especially when nudged nonchalantly into traffic. Normally I’m not an evil man, but these and other scenarios of demise remained wildly vivid like an endless ‘Faces of Death’ montage. Ultimately, should the Reaper have dragged his sickle to Connecticut during that five year window, the chest bumps would have begun seconds after the Cloak of Doom’s Amtrak ticket was punched for his return trip from New Haven to Hell.

You see, my friend was planning to be buried in a Kiss Kasket, or so the rumor mill assumed. Yes, a Kiss Kasket, for the man aiming to piss off generations of his family, living and unborn, by subordinating himself to “putting the X in sex,” female objectification, and chest hair grown amok. After interring four grandparents and a few stray aunts in unadorned steel and fiberglass, the prospect of placing rose sprays over a fully laminated coffin with KISS FOREVER emblazoned across the front and an image of the face-painted band on the lid, seemed an intriguing thumb in the eye to conformity. More importantly, receiving the eucharist to “Beth” during the ensuing mass presented a once in a millennium opportunity.

Within my own rehearsed choreography, I anticipated throwing devil horns – that ubiquitous headbanger hand sign – after concluding the eulogy (and basically everywhere else that day); prosthetic tongue dangling halfway to my nipples while crushing blood capsules in my teeth like I’d just gnashed through a dead horse in the rectory. For those unfamiliar with Christian funerals, the aforesaid events would be construed as “disrespectful” to the sanctity of the church, family, faith, God, and basically anyone in a nursing home on Planet Earth preparing to keel sideways. But at a Kiss-themed funeral, the disrespect would occur from not doing them.

For enthusiasts of Goyim-fronted kitsch and/or male make-up, $4,500 ($5,000 autographed) would have scored a rectangular box proclaiming one’s devotion to “rock and roll all nite,” presumably deep into the inner rings of Hades. In his penchant for shameless promotion, Gene Simmons – demon and marketing genius alike – also presented the container as a dual-use cooler or small refrigerator. In others words, if one were to best the odds of pancreatic cancer or the flesh-eating Ebola virus, the casket could begin a successful barbecue tour, contributing to alcoholism while keeping hamburger meat on ice. And if your ailing grandfather wasn’t a fan of arena rock, himself holding out for the Perry Como estate to introduce their own laminated model, you’d leave your family one less issue with which to concern themselves on your fateful day of reckoning. As for your ball busting friends, well, better Kiss than Winger, I suppose.

The funeral business has made strident inroads since an impoverished Tom Hulce (as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) was unceremoniously dumped into a gaping hole, a perverted and disgraced pauper. In Florida, where humans move to die, warehouse clubs proudly hawk caskets of all styles, alongside their expansive selection of tires, electronics, and mustard six-packs. And creativity abounds freely, as specialty manufacturers have designed coffins to resemble gym bags, guitar cases, cigar humidors, and even yellow dumpster bins(!); assuring your surviving family that if they didn’t consider you an asshole during waking years, this representation would destroy any lingering fondness after your ditch was dug.

On a pleasing note to close an otherwise uncomfortable topic, I no longer wish death upon my friend, not if he’s relegated to the same hexagonal container as everyone else. Where’s the originality in a few refrains of “Amazing Grace” and a procession of black Town Cars? The Kiss Kasket may have been a cheap shot at tasteless publicity, but in this age of inelegant egotism, at least it served a purpose. For all the criticism mounted against him, Mr. Simmons remains a bassist second, but a brilliant salesman first and foremost. His exploits may be derided, but his tagline was marketing gold: “I love livin’, but this makes the alternative seem pretty damn good.” Spoken like a man with a few extra bullets in his love gun.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Come Mister Tally Man, Tally Me Banana

Our freshman dorm room reeked like a cross between overripe bananas and carpet mold. Following a semester at war with hygiene, my body had finally accepted the mold before the bananas so rudely infringed. They didn’t even knock; just settled amongst the festering piles of laundry, potential bed lice, and lingering funk of stale booze.


Oddly enough, my tolerance warmed to the leaky air conditioner doubling as an incubator for mushrooms. And just as I’d relished in the scent of my mother’s lentil soup during saner times, I eventually grew comfortable with the repellently damp stench of that A/C atrocity. In other words, this unventilated shoebox would forever stink like the ass-end of the rainforest, and we could either live in denial or embrace cruel reality. That said, when compared to my buddy’s aspiring Superfund site down the hall – always smelling of warm eggplant and flatulence – our polluted refuge came across like the Four Seasons. Between my fungus and his vegetables, we could have managed quite a trattoria in those days, assuming patrons would overlook the mold (and sudden ambush of eau de banana). When combined, these ingredients spawned a death cocktail of malodorous horseshit.

But then again, what did you care? All things considered, you didn’t have to sleep in that pungent sweatbox, nor allow for disgustingly rank banana peels to slime your radiator grates as they dried; offering the impression that (a) I was banging a Greenpeace activist with a jones for compost, or (b) my suitemates were apes, literally. Nonetheless, when patience became a tedious factor in waiting for the peels to dehydrate, my hair dryer was recruited as an emergency weapon of war. If Steven Tyler could smoke tea leaves to keep in touch with Mama Kin, then a group of moronic eighteen year olds could certainly blow their minds by exploiting the hallucinatory properties of everyone’s favorite phallic crop.

Bananadine, the fictional substance with the asinine name, was the ingredient from which to launch one’s wits into hyperspace. When synchronizing Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of The Moon’ to the ‘Wizard of Oz’ grew tiresome, retrofitting Coke cans into smoke inhalation devices lacked challenge, and erecting beer can pyramids became predictable, an unorthodox produce recipe from a well-burnt baby boomer seized our intrigue. According to Vietnam agitator and ‘Anarchist Cookbook’ author William Powell, banana euphoria could be experienced by scraping the inside of the fruit’s skin, boiling the contents, and smoking the resultant dried powder. Far from ignoring these instructions in lieu of chomping the Chiquita like an obscenely large cigar – one end dipped in lighter fluid and blazing like the Great Chicago Fire – the amenities of a five star kitchen were disappointingly absent from the dorms. A pair of Sub-Zeroes and a Viking range, while nice, would have required creative tiering to the already astronomical tuition costs. As such, abbreviated measures were taken in the quest to purée our brains. Meaning, of course, abbreviated effects were felt. Read: none.

Mr. Powell may have been tooling around his commune with a seven foot gravity bong, clad in an “I ♥ Smoking Bananas” t-shirt, but it didn’t take long for our confederacy of dunces to dismiss him as a crisply toasted lunatic. Said differently, anyone touting the effects of a bogus psychoactive chemical within a how-to guide for explosives manufacturing is a fucking maniac, plain and simple. To add insult to injury, I don’t even like bananas. Not at all, mind you. Not in my cereal. Not in my ice cream. And sure as hell not rolled in E-Z Wider paper. Yet I was now doomed to marinate in the backwash of aromatic dung; staring at glow-stars while quietly awaiting death and praying that my stomach didn’t flip inside-out. To think, I could’ve been catching up on back issues of Shaved Beaver. Or adding extension wings to that beer can pyramid.

If you’re really that intent on frying your head, kid, go sniff some glue.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Be Funny, Be Wry, Bea Arthur

Poor Bea Arthur, ravaged by a cancer unbeknownst to her quietly rabid fan base, and eventually lowered six feet under a career marked by stupendous comic timing and brilliant dry wit. Perhaps it was the manner in which she cut through absurdity with a flippant wave of the hand and cleverly pointed quip – shrewdly gaming the less sophisticated ruffian with a sarcasm-soaked dismissal – or that gravely voice more suited for a geriatric sex operator; but whatever the attraction (from those, which logic dictated, should not be attracted), Ms. Arthur had rightly steered a talent for droll retorts into a financially rewarding canon of work. Armed with a resumé of near legendary hyperbole, her towering frame projected the authority to uproot mighty sequoias from their base, to batter airplanes like King Kong with a single swat of her enormous hands, to trample the intellectually doltish with a Sasquatch-like stomp and husky laugh. New York born, she was virtually immortal and self-assuredly invincible; a Broadway diva, a sitcom star, an Amazonian gigantess, all without compromise.

This writer’s first exposure to Ms. Arthur was via ‘Golden Girls,’ the sitcom for incontinent octogenarians and young viewers alike. Every Saturday, the prehistoric and the adolescent could equally bond over well-crafted humor showcasing four mature women of varying temperaments and intelligence sharing a Miami home. As divorcée Dorothy Zbornak, Arthur was the perfect straight foil to Betty White’s dunderheaded Rose of St. Olaf, Rue McClanahan’s sassy tart Blanche Devereaux, and Estelle Getty’s brazenly unfiltered Sophia Petrillo. Although McClanahan’s unbridled sexuality – as spun through the lens of a post-prime southern belle cougar – was tempting for those trolling the upper end of the MILF spectrum, I’d have been much more comfortable (if, say, a shotgun were held to my temple), unclasping Arthur’s tightly hooked collars, thus resigning my life to buttoned-up blouses and matronly scowls. After all, beauty fades and dumb is dumb, but funny lasts forever.

Breaking from the usual dollop of self-serving egotism, The Bastard assumes a back seat when saluting Man of The Century (20th, that is) Bea Arthur. Comedy need not descend into the curse-laden or unrefined to extract hilarity. Sometimes the biggest laughs can be found in the most unassuming of androgynous beanstalks. Bea, may the light of heaven reflect eternally from your geode brooch.

And with this eulogy, dear reader, be sad. Be disheartened. Be dismayed over the loss. But be not dispirited, as memories be forever salvaged on celluloid. And for that, be thankful. Yes, be delighted. In fact, be singing. Do-be-do-be-do. Bea Arthur.

Monday, April 27, 2009

My Mortgage Can Beat Up Your Mortgage

There are those who live in bizarre squalor, and those who bid for the privilege of settling in festering hovels for a king’s ransom and the delight of a non-conforming 30-year mortgage. It is, as realtors will remind the disconsolate first-time homebuyer of the greater New York City suburbs, a game of visualization. Do you have the foresight to envision this bedroom without the corroded toilet bolted illegally against the far wall? Do you have the ability to ignore the smell of animal urine (not to mention the cacophony of a kid practicing piano in an adjacent unit) pervading the bedrooms of this otherwise spacious townhouse with garishly mirrored walls? Do you posses the mental calm to pretend that you did not walk into the third bedroom of a labyrinthine former doctor’s office and observe a moustached imbecile (whether the owner’s socially inept thirty-something son or a dangerous vagrant) masturbating in his closet, before cautioning you, your fiancée, and your female realtor that he “needs a few minutes” to presumably locate pants or deflate his apparatus?

Unless one claims independent wealth from grandpa’s lockbox, young buyers in these bustling outskirts of Metropolis must eschew the “ideal” and focus on “potential.” In other words, the faster one realizes that “walk to commuter rail” is a fair swap for “1960’s-era kitchen slapped together by part-time handyman to minimize functionality,” the quicker all involved parties can assume seats at the bargaining table. Boasts implying that a marvelous time was spent trolling the overpriced tumble-downs festooned in crackhouse chic should always be met with suspicion, and generally dismissed as senseless drivel from the insane, or from those medicated to the point of waking coma. As you might guess, shoppers with greater imagination tend to delude themselves into making wiser choices. Because ultimately, wiser choices spawn wiser investments when eventually cutting loose of that former crackden-cum-colonial. After endless weekends spent eradicating the geriatric vibes (which taunt openly, mind you, lingering in floral wallpaper, shag carpeting, and abandoned Lawrence Welk VHS collections), one has finally earned the privilege of stratospherically boosting the asking price and trouncing a new generation of idealistic, soon to be dejected, newlyweds. And yes, it does feel good, in the same way that hazing your frat brothers by dropping them off in the center of town, pants-less without wallets, might have stroked the ego ten years prior.

A brazenly self-confident bunch, New Yorkers are not idiots. We realize we could sell our modestly-sized (but much better constructed) tax-saddled homes and trade-up handsomely for the fifteen garage, faux-sided, character-devoid, McMansion monolith with a space shuttle launching pad in the backyard, located in some bumfuck flyover zone near a culturally bankrupt city, to live comfortably amongst affluent rednecks and the town doctor. But unless we’re playing beer pong, most of us prefer our brew from the bottle; not to mention our teeth firmly in our gums, roadkill estranged from the skillet, the Yankees, unrivaled pizza, and the ability to ride elevators without some damn fool asking us about our day. We also believe in evolution, which prohibits our settling in certain states.

Imagine knowing that the condominium on which you are prepared to make an (astronomically high) offer – while part of a beautifully manicured Tudor-style complex in a quaint village with excellent schools – was actually a steaming hellhole masquerading as … a steaming hellhole. My wife and I could momentarily condone the stained carpet, Nixon-era appliances, and smoke-dulled walls by maintaining the foresight of “potential”; that survival mechanism tucked away in the mind’s recesses for instances demanding reinterpretive reality. Not only was the prior owner a crazy old crow who refused to descend ten stairs to her mailbox (although her gait was unencumbered) – opting for tête-à-têtes with the postman after said box had sufficiently exploded with catalogs – but she’d smashed to shit all four burners of the electric stove, for reasons known only to almighty God and possibly her ex-husband. On the flip side, she was kind enough to bestow two gifts upon a weary couple firmly in the throes of disillusionment and surrender: a wrapped box, with instructions to open on December 23rd, and a carton of eggs squirreled away in the oven; unexpired, for those taking notes. Beseeching my wife to keep the present untouched for nine months, I was hoping that our friend was loony enough to have bequeathed a surprise of gold bullion, or at very least some safe deposit box key holding a Caribbean timeshare. Of course, I was equally preparing to extract the head of Jimmy Hoffa, complete with “Merry Christmas New Owners!” stapled to the ear. Unfortunately, a set of “Twelve Glorious Angels” tree ornaments, while thoughtful, was not going to alleviate our debt service. At least we weren’t Jewish.

Five years were enjoyed in that condominium, transforming it into a charming, and in turn very marketable, home. Hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, crown molding, fresh coats of paint, and smaller detailed renovations fully erased the spectre of decrepitude. So when the time arrived to draw market bids, I could only righteously smirk. After all, this was a perfect “walk to commuter train” gem; and if I was getting properly spanked by the eighty year old former owner of our current house, then my biggest paddle was making an appearance during condo negotiations, forearms tightened in anticipation of levying ‘Animal House’-type swings at lawyers, buyers, and notaries alike. If it goes around, it sure as hell comes around, stronger and longer, like an awful case of bird flu.

In this neck of the woods, when someone leaves you a dozen eggs, whether inside the oven, under the bedsheets, or cracked within the fuse box, you make omelets and smile
.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

From Pussyfooter To Pussy Lover (In Six Short Years)

After declaring my intention to uphold the bond of marriage, for richer (then) or poorer (now), I implicitly pledged to accept the pair of cats that cohabitated with my fiancée. For better or for worse, I was now the stepfather to Bailey, an obese yet cautious tabby with an imposing fear of vacuum cleaners and a gluttonous coveting of Iams pellets, and Geppetto, a mild mannered ragdoll, content to let his tubby friend box him out of enjoyable meals at the communal kibble bowl.

Hailing from an aerodynamic family, genetics would practically forbid my offspring from sprouting inordinate amounts of chest or back hair; the kind coveted in the cocaine-fueled frenzy of the erroneous disco era, though despised in modern times. Yet, in a bruising twist of irony, the adoption of two bushy felines with a penchant toward gifting their fur on every pillow, cushion, and untended piece of clothing, quashed any aspirations for nearly hairless heirs. Thrust prematurely into fatherhood, albeit an experience devoid of Little League games or ballet classes, I was tasked with keeping my hirsute adoptees well fed, somewhat exercised, and reasonably contented with the cleanliness of their litter box. Whether any of this was, or is, appreciated will never be known to the humans in this cape-style abode. Although often cute or cuddly, cats can also be spiteful ingrates, regardless of the hours logged clumsily shoveling their feces into a bag, before having said bag tear apart horrifically.

Admittedly, however, I’m a cat person at heart, forced to paraphrase Robert DeNiro’s laudatory acclaim of the feline species (from ‘Meet The Parents’) whenever challenged by dog lovers. My ego and self-confidence, while not stratospheric, require neither the constant reassurance nor blind acceptance offered by canines. If anything, the prospect of having some jovial lummox lick my face subsequent to a detailed cleansing of its own anus (or the similar anatomy of a neighborhood stray) is nauseatingly repellent, and certainly not a way to impress one’s best friend. Perhaps it’s my own independent streak which relates to the fickle, almost shifty nature of the cat; that mutual understanding amongst capable and thinking animals whereby attention can be granted in doses, or by a few tosses of the catnip stuffed mouse, before each party happily reverts to its prior activity. Or perhaps it’s because I feel no obligation to reinforce my masculinity through ownership of a large dog. Some men buy Hummers to compensate for their lacking attributes, some collect muscular canines to display like trophies. But whatever your bias, one should never underestimate the abilities of a feline with regards to defecation. And it always boils down to defecation. Namely, the thing can shit by itself. It doesn’t whine for your help. Man’s best acquaintance.

As married life progressed, so did the relationship with my two frisky buddies. Bailey, as the alpha male, was prone to terrorize his friend with headlocks and other amusing wrestling pins, ripping out chunks of Geppetto’s fur while dodging rapid-fire defensive kicks to the head. This amusing game of dominance, akin to the same hilarity one might enjoy from a two-midget tussle, extended no further than harmless badgering. In fact, Bailey was a shivering coward when dealing with humans, making those blustery actions all the more laughable. Both furtive and stubborn, it was impossible to keep that cat under the sheets at bedtime – try as I might each evening – without the fear of God flattening his ears in alarm. It was equally hopeless to remove his 18 pound frame from atop my head every morning. His bed, his terms, his dander on my pillow. But forever the cute ball of fuzz with the lawnmower-like purr, he could be affectionate and trusting, curious yet adorably nervous; inclined to bang his head into furniture, leap rabbit-like down stairs, avoid his chin-strapped fez at all costs, and cuddle for hours, paws stretched softly across your lap.

Shockingly, Bailey was diagnosed with lung cancer last summer after a sudden onset of breathing difficulties. Although his lungs were promptly drained, so was our optimism quickly bled, as this procedure would not offer the hope of recovery. It only served to postpone the inevitable. Prone to further respiratory attacks of greater magnitude and frequency, there existed concern that these would occur while my wife and I were at work, leaving him alone, frightened, and at serious risk.

We didn't use Bailey's carrier on the final veterinary visit. It was a Monday night. Fearful during passage across the street, he clung hard to my shoulder as the rush of traffic meshed with the laughter at a nearby café. Once inside, his nerves calmed, and familiar strokes to chin and head offered a hollow semblance of normalcy. Nonetheless, it was incredibly distressing to consider the innocence of a pet, especially one wholly unaware that these are his last moments, that he is very sick, and that there is no alternative. Perhaps if he'd exhibited more signs of suffering, more pain, more shortness of breath or even introversion, the decision would have been made easier. But then again, it is never easy. He was very calm when he went to sleep, held by those whom he trusted and adored.

Geppetto, as the surviving king of the roost, has since become an invariable chatterbox of meows. Sometimes gratingly bothersome in the vein of an unconducted alleycat symphony, sometimes adorably cute as only the shrewdest of kitties can muster, I’ve grown to realize that his needs extend well beyond a full bowl of food and a tidy litter box. Our relationship has thus matured from one of mutual tolerance with a dollop of suspicion, to one of companionship. He just wants to be loved, and not forgotten.

And to rip the hell out of my dining room carpet.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Ambiguously Gay Barber

When the mystery was solved my ego rocketed skyward, a steroidal geyser exploding with arrogance and cocksure bravado. Never had a question embedded itself in my skull for such a lengthy period, wherein its answer changed monthly. There was no algorithmic solution. No pattern in the randomness. No troop of idiot savants to rent for a calculated explanation. Only with the passing of time would the yoke of sleepless nights and unfocussed mornings lift forever.

In those cloudier days, the enigma cloaking my barber’s sexual preference spawned endless debate; dissected asininely as if the balance of the free world lay in its resolution. This was also a topic in which my wife had zero interest discussing, despite my placing it on par with the banking collapse, evolution, or the annoying ubiquity of Ryan Seacrest.

For every shearing administered in pink plaid, the next was performed in handsome khaki. During certain appointments, I mulled sadly amongst septuagenarians, believing that a once sociable barber shop had degenerated into a convalescent beauty parlor, shrinking my testicles with each visit. Other days, I listened to exhaustive analysis of Giants games peppered with masculine bluster. In other words, the man who shaved my sides and thinned out the top, no gel, easily flirted with re-coifed helmet heads and busted balls with sports enthusiasts in alternating breaths. The son of a bitch was purposely keeping me off-kilter. Until I figured him out.

He was gay. Gay as the happiest man to have ever fluttered into Manhattan’s Continental Baths to catch a Bette Midler concert and, on exceptional evenings, a venereal disease. For $15 plus tip, he was (and is) one of the most important gentlemen callers in my life. And despite the uncertain waffling between fabulous geriatric bouffants and utilitarian cut-and-shaves, I was thrilled to have solved the gender preference puzzle. No amount of gridiron banter would ever mask the Saturday morning where my hirsute hero donned, quite bizarrely, a full length silk robe; content to prance about his salon like some oily lounge lizard engaged in bad dinner theater. Yes, the mystery was solved with one egregious wardrobe malfunction. Without coffee, I might have assumed I’d mistakenly wandered into the Playboy Mansion to convene with Hef, receiving a smart trim by the randy mogul while enjoying the pleasures of silicone. Except, of course, this tiny shoebox next to an A&P supermarket is far from a tropical paradise, and the blue haired darlings who comprise over ¾ of the customer base are not the types I enjoy seeing stripped of their house coats.

Things weren’t always like this. The trappings of my first barber shop – an Italian safe house of ersatz wood paneling, splashed with fading posters of outmoded hair styles and Roman panoramas – attracted slovenly Mafioso aspirants who thumbed through The Oggi newspaper and spoke, argumentatively, in loud staccato bursts. If you could tolerate the interspersion of opera and easy listening dreck, took pleasure in receiving subpar haircuts which hearkened back to Wally and Beaver, and enjoyed a few cranial daubs of Clubman tonic, you were welcome to loiter in the cheap plastic seats from breakfast through dinner (or until you keeled over, or got shot, or just plain died of boredom). And if you grew tired of that, the crumbling racetrack – a once thriving establishment of vice and back room arm breaking – was located within walking distance. Of course, if you were wearing a silk robe in that neighborhood, you’d better have been carrying a concealed tire iron.

 
* * * * *
 
Addendum: As I learned in subsequent years, my barber was gay, but strictly in the original parlance of that term: merry, alive, exuberant. No ankles had ever been grabbed, no pillows bitten, occasional chickens choked, but certainly not in the shadows of a drag cabaret. In fact, he boasted a wife and kids, one of whom had recently married. The clues were there, and yet they weren’t. Assumptions will often backfire. Stereotypes will disappoint. If I gained anything from my rash misjudgment, it was the knowledge that one can confidently stroll a large town dressed as a pornographic tycoon, yet live a life as mundane as my own, behind closed doors. A little finesse keeps things interesting, at least in the ambiguous sense.

Either that, or his wife fell behind on the laundry.