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.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dullness And Birdsong

If I told you I was having difficulty finding grass seed in the local hardware store, or wondering why my instant coffee didn’t dissolve correctly in water this morning, would you care? Probably not. What if I professed to be standing on my roof while hurling truck tires into the neighboring yard, emulating the muscle-headed logistics of Lou Ferrigno from a 1970’s Strongest Man Competition. Without pants. Or cutting the adjacent lawn with a Fisher Price bubble mower, unsolicited, still no pants. Perhaps your interest might ratchet forward a notch or two. Surely, if I alleged to have carjacked an old woman in a fit of recreational boredom and crashed her Buick Roadmaster into a McDonald’s drive-thru booth, pumping my fist inspirationally upon impact, you’d be somewhat curious about my future shenanigans; forgiving me if undertaken fully clothed.

With the snowballing relevance of Twitter as a social networking tool, comes the irrelevance of most users’ status updates, or “tweets” to use the hip vernacular. In other words, unless your friend is a snuff film director or mule for some
Mexican drug cartel, most postings straddle the gray area between brainless and boring (i.e. grass seed and instant coffee). Although we may wish to believe otherwise, our inherently mundane lives don’t translate into enthralling fodder for their doting fan bases. Rich content dissemination, this is not; as people effectively subscribe to the humdrum thought bubbles of others in a palatable 140 character context. According to the company’s mission statement, the utility allows one “to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?

So, what are you doing?

Scratching your ass? Hauling garbage to the curb? Heating a pie, four and twenty blackbirds baked inside? You’ll excuse me for yawning, although I do love a good blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream. At least e-mail allows for the filtering of minutiae. Even Facebook, flawed as it may be, doesn’t necessitate a stream of vomitous quips to maintain its networking objectives. But the pressure to continually spew banter of trifling importance (in the hopes of placating one’s “followers”) empowers an entire subset of tech savvy airheads to inflate their egos with self-serving twaddle. I don’t care where grandpa left his shoes. I don’t concern myself with the changing of your toothpaste brand. And I don’t want to know about the great discount you received on hemorrhoid cream. I’m sorry. You’re just not that interesting.

As technology continues its loving home invasion, the lowest common denominator framework of Twitter has turned an entire generation from consumers of great literature to perusers of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. The coddled idealists of Generation Y are graduating as a class of streamlined cyborgs; lacking in basic social skills because their social connections de rigueur are almost wholly accomplished via truncated text and emoticons.

Far from a Luddite, this author's LinkedIn and Facebook accounts are relatively active, used as a means to connect with old friends and network with colleagues (see “The Return of Licehead” and “Will Work For Dignity”). And my cell phone leaks battery life for more than the infrequent roadside emergency. Within the province of the internet, however: Those who can write, blog. Those who can’t, tweet. And those lacking the patience, intellect, or vocabulary to read a thoughtfully constructed article, happily masturbate to the plebeian travails of their Twitter-happy common man, or Ashton Kutcher, or some other vacuous celebrity whore with nothing to say and the grammatically incorrect means to say it.

In any case, for those who absolutely need to “stay connected,” @EssentialBastard is preparing to take an enormous dump after publishing this rant. Follow me on Twitter for more real time updates. I even promise to wash my hands. Although in our new world of wireless internet connectivity, no one shakes hands anyway. It’s so 20th century.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The City Never Sleeps When Jews Cruise The Streets

When navigating the streets of Manhattan – whether en route to the office, late for a happy ending in the back room of a nail salon, or paying a lustful visit to the moneyed geriatric in the Plaza Hotel penthouse – the fastest method of transport has always been the familiar yellow cab. Piloted by unfriendly Middle Easterners with consonant-choked names and a penchant for faking their understanding of English, the quality and comfort you relinquish is agreeably traded for speed. Said differently, while many drivers view their air conditioning as a malicious affront against gas mileage, preferring to bathe in the humid soup of car exhaust, these captains of transportation will sideswipe old women to usher their passengers in rapid succession. Yes, the irony of Arabs fouled by high energy prices is quite amusing, especially as their countrymen erect garish islands to resemble the world map. But nevertheless, haste is everyone’s friend in the bustling metropolis, as faster rides beget more passengers, more passengers equal more fares, and more fares score more falafels; to be munched from behind the wheel of a sweltering hotbox with busted shocks. There’s nothing quite like the American dream on overdrive.

During Passover, however, the rules change abruptly. Within the past week I bore witness to a caravan of RV’s barreling up Sixth Avenue, violating every traffic rule in the book with the surprising cooperation of the NYPD. Dubbed “Mitvah Tanks,” this monstrous convoy – numbering close to one hundred – tailgated at frighteningly short distances to block all cross-bound traffic, automobile or pedestrian. Once the masses realized that waiting out this procession was as futile as waiting for Detroit to build sellable cars, many began darting crazily into traffic, this writer included, scuttling pinball-like around bumpers to the consternation of police and drivers alike; a real-life Frogger game unfolding with death as the ultimate downside.

There’s a bewilderment to viewing a seemingly endless cavalcade of Hasidic Jews, heads flung through windows like friendly dogs, waving (or in one case, flipping the bird) to the jaw-slackened citizenry of Gotham. Fitted with rooftop air horns spewing MIDI-style renditions of “Hava Nagila” in pious ice cream truck style, this convoy acted as a moving billboard, with every inch of every vehicle splattered with orthodox dogma and tag-sale quality paintings of stoic rabbis. One almost senses the joy of observing a zoo on wheels; that childish excitement of watching circus trucks roar to the fairgrounds, kettle corn soon to sweeten the air. Except there are no animals in this circus. And God is the ringmaster.

For the gentiles among us, the Lubavitch Hasidim are a profoundly religious sect, prone to unkempt beards in the vein of a shipwreck victim or Al-Qaeda mastermind, and always recognizable by their dangling sideburns, often coiled as if massacred in a scuffle with a curling iron. In other words, people will resign to look like imbeciles if they believe exterior appearance trumps charitable deeds, thus shifting them into the heavenly (and always kosher) express line to the pearly gates. Some dole out the ‘Watchtower’ door-to-door. Some drive Mitzvah Tanks. I quietly wait for Armageddon and pray for both.

Since 1974, the feast of Passover has introduced a mode of transport quicker than any subway, bus, or cab in New York. When riding shotgun with a group of focused Jews – speeding so fast you’d think they were aiming to recrucify Jesus – one is guaranteed to never miss that happy ending appointment uptown. That said, I’m hardly a fan of standing out, especially among a crowd of drably suited Goyim. Plus, it would take me 10 years to grow a ZZ Top beard of that caliber, and I can’t stand matzoh. Perhaps I’m forever doomed to sweat through my clothes in an odorous taxi, even if the driver is an irritated curmudgeon with an “I’d Rather Be Blowing Up Planes” sticker slapped crudely to the bumper. At least cabbies help you with luggage.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Red Sauce Wrecking Ball

After suspecting mafia infiltration within his company, my cousin promptly fouled his pants and scuttled out of state. Now, I haven’t had the privilege of breaking bread (or antipasti) with La Cosa Nostra, but excepting the evidence of cement shoe fittings in the boss’ office, or panicky associates racing by your cubicle holding their sliced throats, I’m not sure how one arrives at such an extreme conclusion. It’s possible that Cuz became paranoid once biscotti trays and espresso replaced the usual coffee and donut tender at staff meetings. Or perhaps the cafeteria switched to an all sauce menu, with rumors of matronly plumpers tending to tanker-sized vats brimming with marinara. And I suppose the erection of a monstrous crucifix in the building lobby – with guards upholding a shoot to kill directive toward any non-genuflecting employee – may have been the proverbial icing on the cake (or cream in the sfogliatelle, for those who like their desserts flaky).

This celebrated tale of staggering cowardice is sometimes bantered about during holiday gatherings, especially by the hand-flailing Sicilian half of the visiting famiglia. Be it known, there was no valiant whistle-blowing on the part of my cousin, no Dateline interview while enshrouded in shadow, nor was a wire ever strapped to his testicles from which to record criminally slanted discussions as a courageous informant. Rather, he claims to have been slapped Godfather-style across the cheek, and told to keep his prying eyes under wraps, presumably before a demitasse spoon could be used to remove them. In other words, his hands were in the wrong cannoli dish, and the greedy bastard didn’t know when to stand down from the sugar high. With credit to my hardnosed grandmother, God rest her soul, a subtle smirk or eyebrow lift, usually directed toward me, always revealed her true feelings about the story. In her heart she knew that everyone’s favorite mafia-fearing cousin had flipped his wig and bought a one-way ticket off the reservation, huffing the fumes of the loony bus. She was probably right.

Within months my cousin retreated from his lifelong abode in a spineless display of emasculation; filling his suitcase with bare necessities to make room for the colossal load of fright, paranoia, and extra underwear stuffed between his cheap shirts. This was the twilight escape of a mental midget, a man on the lam from an imaginary enemy. And while your blog writer was not present to wave goodbye in puzzled disbelief, it’s easy to imagine the “good riddance” hissed through my grandmother’s clenched teeth when forced to watch her escaping grandson’s testosterone leak down his pant leg. Off he went, head down, shuffling his feet into the big wide world. In later years, our runaway experimented with new age crystals, homosexuality, and jazz, before seeking the providence of Jesus Christ. This lifted the family’s tally of born again bible scholars from a paltry one to a boastful two (see “Everyone Loves That Wacky Uncle” from Jan 28), thus scoring a new record among my friends while setting the scene for dueling scripture quotation at ensuing dinners. When the Lord is calling his flock back for supper, who knew He came knocking at gay jazz clubs?

As a helpful rule of thumb, the Bastard recommends prompt remittance of “protection payments” for the man aiming to keep ten digits on both hands. For those not operating a small business or tooling around in double-breasted suits, it’s quite easy to keep one’s neck away from the trappings of organized crime, and thus one’s head out of a vise. That said, a law-abiding Italian hiding from the mob is like a fat man running from an ice cream truck. At some point you’ll either collide or find each other at a mutually appreciated venue, whether that be the park or the Ravenite Social Club on Mulberry Street. In this case, enjoy your anisette cookie, stick your cheeks out for the double kiss, and move along. Do not, under any circumstances, ask detailed questions, regardless of whether your firm’s cafeteria was refitted with brick ovens or a 24 hour pasta bar. After all, you’re going to want to keep that pinky for the ring, not to mention your wife for an excuse to wear the beater. Capiche? Good.

Bada bing.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sponge Bob Unemployment Pants

The recession is troubling our oceanic friends.

Not even Sponge Bob can evade the swinging axe of fiscal conservatism, as his fry cook job at the Krusty Krab was apparently extinguished with a whimper, just as our nation’s unemployment rate swelled to the jaw dropping 25-year high of 8.5%. Although The Bastard remains ill acquainted with Nickelodeon’s porous mass, his presence was observed at a recent job fair, wherein the undersea pineapple habitat was abandoned in a quest for career-furthering (and acne-inducing) opportunities in restaurant service.

At first glance Bob was unrecognizable when compared against his jovial television likeness, swaggering idiotically from booth to booth with nary a briefcase or resume in tow. Perhaps he was enjoying that aerodynamic freedom without the burden of trivial baggage, intending to let his experience speak for itself. Or perhaps he didn’t own a printer, noting their inclination toward shorting out underwater. Oddly enough, his skin was much darker than its familiar jaundiced tone, and his face resembled Flavor Flav in some weird manner of genetics-gone-awry. More jarring, however, were the guttural vocal inflections in the vein of Redd Foxx; those raspy junkyard growls, used liberally when herding aimless (and seriously frightened) job seekers into single-file formation, should they accidentally drift. In fact, my new friend seemed more interested in policing the sanctity of these lines, or in excitedly grabbing the free apples out of a wicker basket, than in the improvement of financial wellbeing. Nevertheless, his flat-billed cap confirmed the attendance of basic cable’s favorite absorbent square. Emblazoning the crown of that hat lay an ecstatic Sponge Bob in all his overbite glory, staring skyward while providing a vivid target for helicopter pilots, crapping birds, and rooftop snipers.

Interestingly, this gentlemen – clad in the casual fuck-all ease of a brown hooded sweatshirt and jeans – queued up in the same lines as your blog writer and other hapless (suit wearing) professionals. True, his conversations with company reps lasted anywhere from 15-20 seconds as compared with the average 3-4 minutes, but perhaps those moments were chock full of brazen intellect; using a commanding brevity when declaring his abilities to mastermind any operation, in any field of work, whether sporting a wife beater, spandex bodysuit, or tuxedo. On the other hand, he'd already demonstrated the futilities of common sense with a presumed: “Shucks, why use this fishbone to comb my hair when I can just as easily don a train engineer’s cap.” Certainly there was a less intrusive fedora hiding in the man’s lair. Or a brain buried in that soggy sponge. Somewhere.

On a more serious note, and as a frightening testament to our hardened economic times, the line for this job fair began at Seventh Avenue & 18th Street and snaked a lengthy trail toward Sixth, before rounding the corner and twisting uptown. While slogging to its tail end, the faces of my unemployed brethren sharpened purposely into focus, eye contact met for seconds at a time. These were people from all walks of life, from all industries. People struggling with mortgage payments and rent, those with children, with non-working spouses, those forgoing health insurance because of the prohibitively high premiums. Those who looked just like me. Or just like you. Rich and poor. Old and young. This was not a line of Wall Street crooks sitting on six figure severance payouts. It was a cross-section of society, a melting pot of victims sunk deeper into humility, punished by the greed of the powerful and the power of the connected. Although photos of Great Depression soup lines depict a more staggering hopelessness – where embarrassed men in tattered clothes, desperate only for food, struggled to maintain a last shred of dignity amongst their neighbors – present day events will no doubt fill their own textbooks. Every person waiting patiently on that line has a story to tell; a hardship, an inconvenience, or a tragedy. Make no mistake. Every one.

But still, suit or no suit, the rules governing job-seeking decorum generally frown upon the display of animated characters. Put simply, leave that stuff to your boxers or thong underwear and it’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” for the remainder of your fetishistic life. Of course, months from now when savings is depleted and morale suitably trashed, the ironies of chance could smack my own ambitions on their ear with one simple conversation: “What about that imbecile in the Sponge Bob hat? He seemed to possess some genuine out-of-the-box thinking. With a few weeks of training, he could be our next rising star.” Thus endeth my career.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Let's Bomb China!

What are you doing next Saturday? No plans? Great. Let’s bomb China! Right off the map. None of this tactical nonsense. I’ll call my contacts in the shadow government and get the ball rolling immediately. Can I pencil you in from 10am to, say, noon-ish, after which we can grab some lo mein or pork-fried rice? No really, it’s my treat.

Nuclear non-proliferation be damned, I’ve had my swallow of black gold at $145 per barrel, and frankly – as a driver of two automobiles which require premium gasoline, not to mention a home in the northeast which is lovingly encumbered by the necessity of oil heat – those bothersome 2008 fuel costs may become a price floor once everyone’s been foreclosed upon and fired; thus signaling a nadir from which to retool, reinvest, and rewitness skyward-stretching commodity values.

From a geopolitical standpoint, soaring energy costs (observed before the housing and lending markets pulled an inverted headlock lungblower on capitalism) can be attributed to the emergence of once destitute third world nations. China in particular. As these countries began feeding the two-pronged beast of America’s import obsession and credit reliance, their GDP’s ballooned exponentially, translating into an increased need for energy to keep their river dumping, black lung inducing, ozone ripping, sasquatch-sized carbon footprint stomping, Industrial Revolution-era factories in full production swing. In other words, when we were buying, they were selling, and our greenbacks were sparking a Far East economic prominence to be celebrated like a year-round Chinese New Year bash, with enough fireworks to warm the heart of every noodle slurping Communist.

China’s been meddling in economic impropriety for the better part of a decade. When they weren’t nudging the balance of payments fulcrum – whistling nonchalantly as they forcibly kept their currency weak and their exports inexpensive – tilting our country’s (somewhat improved yet still disastrous) trade deficit, they were ignoring their infrastructure to the detriment of a massively impoverished populace. In this sense, consider the hypothetical carpet bombing a lesson learned, a proverbial slap on the wrist from a hard-boiled enforcer who is none-too-pleased with frothy commodity bubbles. And I’ll consider it a savings in my own wallet when the demand for oil from an extinguished superpower ratchets down to nil, just like the good old days of Mao coats and bicycles, when your old man could fill up his Cadillac V8, pump his wife full of six kids, and send them all to college, financially assured. If we need to start importing our tainted pet food, lead-based toys, and counterfeit drugs from another budding IMF hellhole of unhygienic proportions, I’m sure India or Russia would rise staunchly to the challenge.

You’re looking a bit pale, so perhaps I should elaborate on my background. After all, I’m certainly not one of those conservative right-wing nutjobs with a bible belt securing my jeans and a gun rack above my fireplace, quoting scripture in your public schools and asking for God’s mercy when I hear about free condom distribution, stem cell research, or illegal immigration. I’m just an ideas guy with no political axe to grind. And please, don’t bore me with this drivel about “consequences.” What if they retaliate before we completely destroy their armaments? What if we kill thousands of innocent civilians? What if it upsets the international community, and we have to wear a dunce cap at future G10 meetings? What if the (remaining) Chinese stop financing our low lending rates by ceasing their mammoth US Treasury purchases? Honestly, do your homework before regurgitating inane criticisms like that. When has this country, ever, in its storied red white and blue history, really thought through the long-term consequences of international policing and initiatives of global force?

Well, good, so you’re on board. See you Saturday. This fortune cookie is predicting a monetary windfall within the next year.