Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009 Year in Review

Reflecting back on the past year, I can report without exaggeration and with great humility that 2009 was a really decent year for me.
Since 2008 was marked by physical pain, emotional stress and many unpleasant life changes, I anticipated a better 2009.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Job-wise, I’m still at the newspaper, cranking out stories. This year brought me renewed animosity with the Powers-That-Be, and a feud with the mayor over investigative article I’ve written about pay-to-play violations. On the plus side, I have the coolest and most magnanimous editor in the world. Even though my blog contains salty language and observations that occasionally offend, well, practically everyone, my editor is a regular reader and supports freedom of speech and a writer’s free expression.
I reconnected with dear friends in northern New Jersey and connected with many more through Facebook. I also turned 40, a milestone that doesn’t bother me in the slightest, although I would like to get married again and start a family. I know, I’m under the gun on that one.
The family is healthy and happy and alive. That’s really all that counts. Like my old man says, “A good day is one above ground.” Speaking of my old man, we shared a great Father’s Day moment at Citizens Bank Park watching the Philadelphia Phillies. Even the Orioles shellacked them, it was still great to go to the ballpark with my dad. When the Phillies lost the World Series, I jabbered about the game with dad over the phone.
This year I had the opportunity to meet two authors and hear them discuss their works. In February, I met Jeff Gordinier, a writer for Details magazine whose book “X Saves the World” should be mandatory reading for people in their 30s and 40s. In November I met A.J. Jacobs, an editor for Esquire magazine whose book "The Guinea Pig Diaries" is extremely funny.
Though in 2008 I experienced severe back pain (thanks to a herniated disc), this year my sciatica barely showed up. I did experience the worst back pain in April when I was bedridden. It felt like I was being stabbed in the back with a dagger tipped with salt – a stinging, uncomfortable pain. It was the kind of pain that makes you cry. Fortunately, I became reacquainted with my old buddy Naproxen and the persistent back pain went away.
This year I also became reacquainted with my cat, Smuttynose (or Nosey for short). My ex was looking after him for a while, and in the spring he moved in. A cat is really a joy to have, especially one that follows you around like a dog.
On the publishing front, Ravaged Earth sold strongly despite not being reviewed anywhere. Reality Blurs also published an adventure, “Quest for the Lost Oasis” and two issues of “Relics & Rumors”, supplements for Ravaged Earth. Early sales were especially heavy and now the book is going into its 3rd printing.
Speaking about RPGs and gaming, I attended Gencon in August, the country’s largest gaming convention. There I met several wonderful people, including Sean Preston and Stacy Young from Reality Blurs, Shane Hensley, Simon Lucas and Matthew Cutter from Pinnacle Entertainment among others too numerous to name here. I will mention one more – “Weird Dave” Olson, a talented writer and Ravaged Earth contributor.
As far as conventions go, I also attended Pulp AdventureCon, a smallish convention dedicated to the pulp magazines and entertainment of yesteryear. I purchased a few choice books and magazines and reconnected with this wonderful literary form.
A few weeks after that convention, I attended Philcon, a science fiction convention outside Philadelphia. I spoke on the pulps and characters in gaming and literature. I also attended several panels and met wonderful people at late night parties. This Philcon was different for me because I learned much about publishing and science fiction fandom.
I also returned to standup comedy after two years, performing in of all places, a strip bar. The gig was for a benefit and included comics much more talented than me, but even after a lackluster performance, it still felt great to try out new material in front of a live audience.
Finally, rounding out the year, I had the opportunity to record lines for an audio drama, HG World. I play Thomas, a traumatized 19-year old who has his way with an older woman. The scene was especially well done thanks to superb writing, editing and acting by cast and crew. I’ve done many things this year, but voice acting was a dream of mine, one I was lucky to have fulfilled.
As I write this, I’m relaxing and listening to classical Genesis (“Supper’s Ready” off the “Foxtrot” album) and contemplating how awesome the year was.
Still, I hope 2010 brings continued luck and prosperity not only for me but for my friends and loved ones. On New Year’s Eve I’ll probably be sequestered indoors polishing off a bottle of wine I received at Christmas, marveling at another trip around the sun on a planet brimming with life and hoping never to cease dreaming.
Peace Out.

Eric Avedissian

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Standup in Stripperland

Performing standup comedy in a strip club isn’t as glamorous or exciting as one would think, especially when the audience consists of the extras from the movie Roadhouse.
Yet plunged into a seedy world of humor, beer and grinding women in Lycra g-strings was how I spent Saturday night when a comedian buddy of mine who also hosts his own radio show works part time at this gentleman’s club in Mays Landing. He’s also a former Marine and used the venue for a U.S. Marine’s Toys for Tots holiday toy drive comedy benefit.
The lineup consisted of my buddy as the MC, four other comics and me. I separated myself from the lineup because I haven’t performed onstage since late 2007.
I have a love-hate relationship with standup comedy. When I first began writing jokes and performing, I struggled with my personal life and letting go and actually allowing myself to become comfortable on stage. After a rough series of trainwrecks, I decided instead of performing as myself, I’d instead perform as an alternate persona, a clueless yet goofy comic named Lazlo. I put on a few shows as the Lazlo character and had fun on stage. Yet whenever I’m performing as myself, everything falls apart like Michael Jackson’s cosmetic surgery. What? Too soon?
So my buddy asks me to perform at his benefit and I agree. It’ll be good to get back on stage and embarrass myself in front of a new group of strangers. They might not heckle me like that fat lady with the hairy chin did last time. In every audience I’ve performed for, there’s always a fat lady with a hairy chin. That’s southern New Jersey for you.
I arrive at the gig and go on first. I figure I’d get this ordeal over with fast. I put my set list on the stage where I can see it and immediately notice my first problem: there’s a pole on the stage. It’s a gentlemen’s club, where glassy-eyed high school dropouts grind their hips and perform lustful acrobatic feats of overtly sexual physical motion, on a pole smack dab in the middle of the stage.
My stage.
For those who know me, I’m a pacer. I move when I’m on stage. I like gesturing wildly and pacing around. I think better when I’m moving, and oddly it helps me relax.
Now I see this pole running from floor to ceiling in the middle of the stage and realize I’m doomed. I might as well pack up my video camera and weave my way through the crowd of bikers, hellraisers and drunk middle aged women and vamoose into the night.
Yet I don’t. I made a promise to my friend to perform at the benefit, pole or no pole.
Besides, it’s all for those snotty little kids, right? Bless those darling angels!
So I begin my assault on the unsuspecting audience by playing up the pole. I go on stage and pretend I’m a stripper, gyrating around the pole, hooking my leg around it and grinding my pelvis about as provocatively as a wombat on Vicodin. To my surprise, a few soused grandmothers applauded. I’d hoped one of them would put a dollar in my pants. Big laughs all around.
It went downhill from there faster than a bullet train to Auschwitz.
I pulled some of my older jokes out of retirement and realized why they were retired. The new material, including Tiger Woods and his hyperactive penis, received mild chuckles from a group of women sitting in front of the stage. I even pulled out the “turtle fucking” bit, a classic that I brought back by request, but since I performed sans microphone stand, I had to hold the mike and it just was awkward.
The set was, upon closer reflection, one of the cleanest I’ve performed. I used to spout more four-letter curse words than a Tourettes sufferer. This time, it was so clean it could have been performed for the 700 Club, except the part about fucking like a tortoise.
Afterwards, my buddy said I was rusty because I hadn’t performed so long, and he was right.
Did I bomb? Not really. I did get laughs, but they were few and far between. In the end, I was about as funny as a child’s autopsy.
However, it didn’t dissuade me from going on stage and subjecting future audiences to my brand of madcap humor.
When the benefit concluded, I drowned my sorrows in a beer and chatted with a lovely woman who sat next to me at the bar.
No sooner had the thong-covered ass hit the bar stool, she introduced herself and asked me my name. Now in the world of high-stakes poker and life as a road comic, one must never begin the opening gambit by revealing your true identity. Instead of replying that I was “Rodrigo Rivera, covert spy and gentleman of the evening,” I told her my real name.
“How about I get you started by taking you in the back room? I’ll get you hot and do you right,” she said with a smile that could eat through a man’s cotton briefs. “I can do things to you.”
“What kinds of things?” I asked, hoping she'd give me a full description of debase and immoral acts for my wicked imagination.
“You know, stuff like foreplay.”
“Foreplay? I prefer fiveplay,” was my witty riposte.
“Fiveplay? What’s that?” she asked, oblivious to wordplay.
“It’s one better than foreplay,” I said, explaining the joke to her.
She held her smile, yet I saw through her heavily coiffed bangs and glittering nosering. Sure, she was in her 20s and half naked, but that’s no excuse for not understanding basic puns.
“Is this going to cost anything?” I asked, knowing such acts aren’t for free unless you buy them a lobster dinner.
“It’s $25,” she replied.
Now $25 for a four-minute couch dance was highway robbery, I don’t care who you are. Catherine Zeta Jones and Angelina Jolie could lick me head to toe but not for $25 for four minutes. That translates to $6.50 per minute, and with today’s economic situation, it amounted to a frivolous luxury. How about a “recession special” couch dance? Airlines have “frequent flier” programs. How about “frequent pervert programs” for strip clubs?
I politely declined her request and she flashed me that smile that told the world cocaine was one of her favorite foods.
“Can you give me dollar?” she pouted, crushed at my rejection of her proposition to rob me blind by sitting on my lap.
Pulling out a dollar from my wallet and thinking about where George Washington would spend the evening, I folded the bill in half and stuck it between her g-string and her toned gluteus maximus.
She then took her leave of me and danced on stage, humping the pole like a chinchilla on Viagra.
“Give me some money, baby,” she cooed, and pulled the front of her g-string out far enough to create a small pouch to throw bills in.
Acting like an insensitive prick who just flopped on stage and didn’t want anyone else on the planet to feel any joy or satisfaction, I informed her that I already gave her a dollar.
“You can give me another dollar. Fives, tens, twenties, hundreds. It don’t matter,” she smiled, as another comedian threw a folded dollar bill at her.
After she contorted her lithe body into a pretzel shape that could give a dead man a hard-on, she slithered off the stage and out of the club.
Strippers are like ex-wives. You know you’re not getting sex from them and all they want is your money.
Performing at a strip club is another career high for me. So far, I’ve performed standup at a bowling alley, a coffee house, an Atlantic City comedy club that’s now closed and an open mic venue.
The way things are going with me, I’ll be performing behind your local Arby’s or Dunkin Donuts. Check this site for showtimes and ticket prices.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Adventures in Absinthe

Absinthe is the most misunderstood of alcoholic drinks, demonized for over a century and blamed for everything from insanity, hallucinations and artistic tendencies. Once banned in the United States, absinthe is back, albeit a tamer, safer version yet one containing wormwood, fennel and other herbs. In France in the 1800s and early 1900s, absinthe was a popular beverage among the bohemians and artsy types. Painters and writers would get together, drink absinthe and do brilliant things, which gave the drink, nicknamed "the Green Fairy" its legendary cult status. Yet the drink was made illegal and thought to contain toxic properties that made those who imbibed it murderers, perverts and lunatics.
So the drink had its forbidden mystique, and was banned from sale in the United States until recently.
A friend bought a Lucid Absinthe Suprieure kit, which contained a bottle of absinthe, two glasses and an absinthe spoon. She brought it to my place and we tried the absinthe. The box's titillating text reads "Let Yourself In", almost daring you to try the strong spirit that made so many 19th century intellectuals inebriated. The black cat on the bottle is reminiscent of the Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat), a 19th century cabaret in Paris' Montmartre district. I knew that once this licorice-flavored drink laced with forbidden wormwood hit my lips, I'd have trippy hallucinations like Hunter S. Thompson on an ether binge. The furniture in my living room would come to life and talk to me like in some disturbing 1930s cartoon when anthropomorphism proved not creepy but entertaining.
Still, I wanted to give absinthe a chance. After all, it was unfairly maligned by the government, the same government that declared marijuana illegal because William Randolph Hurst wanted to kill hemp production for selfish business reasons. Maybe this alluringly sexy libation called absinthe wasn't as bad as the critics made it.

For consumption, absinthe, which has a high alcohol volume of 45 percent to 74 percent, must be diluted with water. Using the glasses that came with the Lucid set, we poured a small portion of absinthe. At first, the stuff had an anise smell, like Greek ouzo. The liquid wasn't bright green, like a St. Patrick's Day green, but a pale yellowish green. A sugar cube is placed on the slotted absinthe spoon, which rests on the glass's rim. Cold water is poured over the sugar cube, which slowly dissolves and drips into the absinthe below. The process, called louching, gives absinthe a milky color, and makes it palpable for drinking, in my opinion.

We then drank the absinthe and, much to our surprise, we didn't experience any hallucinations. We didn't go insane or paint any Impressionist masterpieces. We didn't murder prostitutes in cold blood and then compose poems about it.
Instead, the absinthe, the most forbidden and mysterious of all spirits, tasted pretty bland. It tasted like watered down licorice. We didn't even get buzzed, not even a little. Maybe we needed to add more absinthe or use colder water. Maybe we needed to guzzle the drink down quicker, not sip our glasses out of fear that the wormwood would rot our brains. The experiment into absinthe on our first night was a bust, a grand experiment into pushing boundaries and getting whacked out on thujone-laced liquor and freaking out on a psychoactive binge. We were hoping to wander the alleys at 3 a.m. muttering pig Latin and making lewd comments about Madame Pierre Gautreau. Instead, we found ourselves let down by slick marketing and delusional hopes of absinthe fucking us up.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Thanksgiving is more than turkey. It's more than football, seeing that distant cousin that never calls or grandma's pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving is reflection, and contemplation. It's about gratitude. It's pausing to tell the universe that you're glad to be born in this time in history. It's about hugging your loved ones, including that douchebag cousin and letting them know you appreciate them. It's about breathing in and out and enjoying your health. It's thanking the soldier for fighting for you, the policeman for protecting you and the millions of others toiling away in less glamorous jobs to keep civilization humming. Thanksgiving is a prayer and a candlelit vigil. It's feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. Thanksgiving is when you show humility. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

Philcon 2009

Went to Philcon, the Philadelphia Science Fiction Conference, held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in beautiful Cherry Hill, NJ. This is the second year the convention moved from Philadelphia to New Jersey, a strange but necessary change to keep it going.
Friday night I attended a reading of author Keith R.A. DeCandido, who read an upcoming Zorro tale ("Letter from Guadalajara") and an excerpt from a Star Trek story ("The Unhappy Ones").
Then was the Meet the Pros party and the Social Network Social. I had to forego the Eye of Argon Reading because I was so damn tired.
On Saturday, I attended a workshop on The Art of the Audio Drama, an interesting examination of radio plays now harnessing the Internet and sound production software to create a new wave of audio dramas. Next was The Editor's Panel, where editors to science fiction anthologies and magazines explained what they're looking for. Very informative. I attended a similar panel at last year's Philcon. After lunch, I attended Your Internet Presence and You, and learned about promotion through websites and social networking sites. Then it was the Dr. Horrible Sing-A-Long, a fun event where an audience of Joss Whedon fans sang aloud to Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog, a funny musical starring Doogie Howser, MD's Neil Patrick Harris. Then it was the Agents and Editors Panel, similar to the Editors Panel but with more good advice.
Then it was time for my panel - Pulped! - a discussion on the classic pulps and the pulp literary style. The panel consisted of moderator Michael J. Walsh, C.J. Henderson, Jared Axelrod, James Daniel Ross and myself. It was a lively discussion about pulp, what worked and didn't work and examples of pulp writing and its illustrious history.
After that, I had my second panel - Who Are You When You're Not Yourself? - a panel on creating characters in gaming and consisted of moderator KT Pinto, Genevieve Iseult Eldredge, J.R. Blackwell, Neal Levin and myself.
Late night on Saturday I attended two panels: one on flirting and dating and the other on sex and the single fan.
On Sunday, I attended a panel called The Importance of Cash Flow For the New Author, which gave pretty sound and practical advice and scared me into keeping my day job. Following that was a Lost panel humorously titled Kaaaaaaaate! We Have to Go Baaaaaaack! The last panel I attended, What My Cat Had For Breakfast, examined the pitfalls and rewards of blogging.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Echo of Summer

North Wildwood's Boardwalk was deserted on a November morning, which began under hazy skies with the sun a blur behind a shroud of fog. During the summer months, the Boardwalk is choked with people, tourists from Philadelphia packing into honky-tonk shops and eateries serving fried delicacies and sweets. The amusement rides fill with screaming children and muscle-bound men win prizes for their girlfriends at game booths. They spend $20 to pop balloons or squirt a water pistol into a clown's mouth for the reward of an ugly stuffed animal. Yet after the summer fades into autumn, the crowds vanish, the lights dim and the rides are shut down. The once vibrant carnival atmosphere transforms into a ghost town, a garish village of leering clowns, shuttered storefronts and rusty padlocked gates. Rollercoasters resemble the backbones of gargantuan prehistoric snakes left to bleach in the autumn winds. The stores and shops empty and bereft of life, and the curious painted signs appear dull and grey in the cold winds.
Ten years ago I wrote for a small newspaper in North Wildwood. It was a career low point, because nobody there really respected each other much less me. How frustrating it was to go to work and know that you're in a grinding job where you're verbally insulted by the people you work with. The newspaper building is long gone, turned into condos during a better economic time. 
Despite having worked in a toxic atmosphere, North Wildwood proved visually interesting and stimulating. The Boardwalk is a combination of low-rent Coney Island and Venice Beach, a mish-mash of junk food, amusements and entertainment, packaged and sold in a loud, colorful array that's both tacky and traditional. 
The clown sat on the platform, precariously perched over a dunk tank. A wire mesh cage separated him from a crowd he incidentally insults and berates. Hotheads, mostly working class men with chips on their shoulders and general insecurities, pay to lob softballs at a target, which will send obnoxious clown tumbling into the tank. In that stupid game, with its insults, sophomoric humor and vehement anger, one can see America's social structure playing out under the carnival lights. It just takes one wiseass in greasepaint and baggy pants to set off a nerve, and violence borne out of frustration results. 
Now the cage stands empty in the grey midmorning, devoid of animosity and cutting jabs delivered from a fat clown. 
The amusement piers resemble scenes from a post-apocalyptic disaster film: abandoned, empty and silent. The aroma of funnel cakes, cotton candy and French fries aren't in the air. The only sounds are music from arcade games standing behind shuttered stores, their jaunty melodies muffled but recognizable along the barren Boardwalk. 
The automated, muffled calls of "Watch the tram car, please," coming from the tram car's speakers, is silenced as the tramcars themselves are in storage. Only a few joggers and a lone cyclist traverse the lonely Boardwalk as I take photographs. 
So many memories in a shore town during the summer, yet on the off season, with go-kart tracks desolate and water slides dry, the Boardwalk elicits feelings of odd tranquility. 
Visiting this place again, under these conditions reminded me of my reporting beat there ten years ago. Those were unhappy times, working for a place where I went unappreciated and undervalued. Yet that's in the past, and the present is just a series of rides, booths and stores in deep hibernation, waiting to ride out winter's frosty grip, and longing for warm weather when the Boardwalk comes alive again with colorful laughter. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bacon Flavored What?

After combing through the Coca-Cola website and finding no mention of Diet Coke with Bacon, I want to officially log this as an Internet rumor.
I mean, come on: Diet Coke with Bacon?
Just what fat ass America needs: sugar water that tastes like processed, fried pork. What's next? Twinkies that taste like Steak-umms?
What an inspiring site: a nation of lard butts slurping soft drinks that taste like breakfast meats.
The problem with the mythical Diet Coke with Bacon is that, despite its preposterousness, it could be a real product. That shows you just how fucked up America is today: when a spoof like Diet Coke with Bacon could actually be real.
The most amazing thing is that many people think Coca-Cola is coming out with a bacon flavored Diet Coke. They post comments on blogs, describing their joy and saying they can't wait to taste it. Are you people completely insane? Did the shortbus from Bellevue let you out? The thought of a bacon flavored cola doesn't sound appetizing at all.
Does this reflect a growing trend in the lack of taste with the American palate, or a lack of common sense with the American mind?
Bacon flavored Diet Coke? What fucking trailer park are you people from?
Current Coca-Cola products include Lime Coke, Cherry Coke, Lemon Coke. There's even a Vanilla Coke and a Raspberry Coke. Overseas they have Citrus Coke and Orange Coke.
In fact, browsing the Coca-Cola website and doing a Google search for Coke flavors, I have yet to encounter accurate or official information about bacon flavored Diet Coke.
So yeah, it's a joke.
And people fell for it.
Bacon flavored Diet Coke. The thought of bacon in an effervescent, carbonated form tickling my nose is repulsive. Why stop at bacon? Why not Philly cheesesteak Diet Coke? Instead of pizza and Coke, how about Pizza flavored Coke? Can't you taste the tangy mozzarella and tomato sauce along with the baked dough mingled with the refreshing taste of that All-American beverage, Coke?
Of course you can't, dipshit! They're not making Pizza flavored Coke!
Hey, now that we're on a roll at making preposterous shit up, why not Lobster flavored Sprite, Cheeseburger flavored 7Up or Garlic flavored Dr. Pepper? How about a Fanta that tastes like Megan Fox's vagina?
It's only a matter of time, America.
And also a matter of taste.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Election 2009

Another election is over. To the victor go the spoils and also a state hemorrhaging debt and a budget so bloated it makes Kirstie Alley look like an Ethiopian.
Okay, so I made a fat joke. So what? Corzine's campaign attacked Chris Christie because of his weight. A serious-sounding announcer in the Corzine ad said "Chris Christie is throwing his weight around." Why didn't Corzine just come out and say, "Chris Christie is a fat fuck who's connected to special interests and doesn't practice the laws he enforced as a federal prosecutor. And he also so fat that he hasn't seen his penis in years."
Take the low road and see what happens.
Actually, I wished Christie had called Corzine out on the fat ads. I wish Christie began playing the bald card with Corzine.
An ideal Christie ad might have gone, "Jon Corzine. More bald face lies from a Wall Street crook. Oh, and he's also fucking bald."
I covered the election for the paper and spent the entire night at Republican headquarters in Middle Township. The two Democrat Assembly incumbents, Nelson Albano and Matt Milam crushed the Republican challengers, Michael Donohue and John McCann. Democrats usually fare poorly in conservative Cape May County. For two Democrats to win re-election must be a prophetic sign, like the Mayans prognosticating the end of the world in 2012. Two Democrats win in Cape May County? Yeah, we're hopelessly screwed.
Anyway, the Assembly race was nothing compared to the gubernatorial race. Corzine lost big because his solution to a financial crisis was to raise tolls on the Garden State Parkway. In a cash-strapped state, where pensions and benefits for state workers are through the roof, he chose to attack the motorists. He chose to raise money through property taxes and a toll increase. He chose wrong.
History will show that the toll scheme on the Garden State Parkway was Corzine's Waterloo, a misadventure in governance that elicited more outrage and rippled through the remainder of his administration. He'll be known as the Nero who fiddled while New Jersey burned, the well-heeled, well-connected financial egghead of Goldman Sachs who failed to attract businesses to the state and fumbled while the people went broke and suffered under a colossal mountain of taxes.
Ironically, while voters kicked Corzine out, the Democrats still retained their seats in the statehouse. Seems the Republican National Committee's claims of a banner year for Republicans was total bullshit. While voters were pissed off and took out their aggression on Corzine by booting his ass from Drumthwacket, they kept their Democratic legislators.
Now Christie is Governor-Elect Christie. Enter the fat jokes. He's a boon for political humorists, political cartoonists and political writers. Yeah, it's easy to take the low road when poking fun at the new gov's massive paunch, but nothing this guy will ever do will be easy. He's got an awesome responsibility ahead of him, trying to bring New Jersey back from the brink of radioactive wasteland and onto the path of fiscal certainty.
I've heard the usual criticisms from the left, that Christie is an anti-abortion, homophobic buffoon. I suppose he's only toting the party line, after all. I'd be surprised if Christie divorces his wife and marries another man. I mean that's never happened in New Jersey before apart from Jim McGreevey.
No, Christie is not a Renaissance man. He's no deep thinker. He's not attending faculty parties at Rutgers and milling about the cheese tray while discussing Werner Heisenberg. The guy is a lawyer and he sees things in black and white. If you're not for us, you're against us. Basic, childlike logic of good versus evil.
And after years of listening to the rational and intellectual Corzine postulate, blather and analyze, I think four years of rolling up the sleeves and getting to work with Boss Hogg is just the thing the state needs.
Though his campaign was short on specifics, Christie now is in the driver's seat. I don't know how Gov. Christie will do in office, but I think four more years of Corzine would have been an unmitigated disaster.
See, Corzine governed like Doc from the Seven Dwarfs. Clearly the leader, Doc was in charge, but nobody really cared because they were all dysfunctional dwarfs. If they were really productive miners, they'd have hit the mother lode and moved to a swanky duplex instead of a cottage in the woods. Yet every day, Doc and the rest of the dwarves toiled and frittered their time away without clear-focused direction or leadership. Hell, when Snow White crashed at their place, they were all petrified of her. Doc didn't do shit.
Now Christie, he'll govern like Evil Alternate Universe Biff Tannen from Back to the Future. He knows how to transform a quaint, Norman Rockwellesque town into a gambling paradise/toxic waste disposal industrial park. He doesn't mess around. If there's something to develop and if it makes money, he'll do it. And if some kid or a wild-eyed scientist asks any questions - Bam! They're dead.
So the election was a choice for New Jerseyans to become mired in the routine, bumbling around with a bunch of midgets who think wealth is a grueling, back-breaking endeavor, or to take a leap of faith and go with a mean bastard who knows how to get things done and who persuaded Lea Thompson to get a boob job.
Governor Evil Alternate Universe Biff Tannen it is!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Propaganda In Your Mailbox

Every day for the last few weeks a pleasant surprise greets me whenever I open the mailbox: colorful brochures from the New Jersey Democratic State Committee and Cape May County Regular Republican Orgnaziation.

Political mailers incurred my wrath several years ago. I absolutely fucking hate them. I loathe every piece of these brainwashing bits of partisan propaganda. They absolutely represent everything that’s wrong with the political process: the money wasted on opposition research firms, PR hacks and partisan committees to persuade people into voting for candidates through confusion and fear.

Republican Assembly candidates Michael Donohue and John McCann are facing incumbent Democrats Nelson Albano and Matthew Milam, who are running for re-election at a time when being a Democrat in New Jersey is about as popular as being Jewish in the rural south. Or in Germany during the 1930s. Or in medieval Europe. You get the idea.

Albano and Milam are facing an uphill battle with a hostile electorate who blame their economic woes on another Democrat, Gov. Jon Corzine.

Corzine is very unpopular in southern New Jersey, a Republican stronghold, in a district where Albano and Milam represent.

So it’s no surprise when two unpopular Democrats running for re-election are challenged by two Republicans who keep mentioning the fact that the two Democrats are, in fact, unpopular. Donohue and McCann have hammered Albano and Milam on their lack of a substantial record, but they’re also touting ways to fix the state’s financial woes and advocate cutting state government.

So when a flurry of mailers from the Democrats explain, not what Albano or Milam would do if elected, but about Donohue and McCann’s personal dealings, it’s obvious that any intelligent, substantive dialog will be substituted for inane fluff.

The Democrats are employing a tried and true political campaign tactic: sling enough shit and see what sticks.

These are what I call “Ugly Mailers” because they focus on the negative of their opponents and make me want to angrily club a baby seal. I’m distinguishing Ugly Mailers “D” for Democrats and “R” for Republicans below.

(D) Ugly Mailer 1: Blurry photographs of McCann and Donohue with bars across their eyes like they’re both in Swedish pornographic movies. The text reads “Michel Donohue has held as many as five different government jobs at the same time, earning three taxpayer-funded pensions. While our families struggle with high property taxes, Donohue was busy collecting $700,000 in taxpayer dollars and padding his retirement at our expense.” Continuing, the text reads “John McCann and his Trenton cronies had Governor Corzine appoint him to a cushy part-time job overseeing your property taxes In exchange for attending a few meetings a month, McCann is eligible for health benefits and a government retirement plan funded by taxpayers.”

McCann is a member of the county tax board. And if Corzine appointed McCann to this board, isn’t the governor to blame?

(D) Ugly Mailer 2: Two strawberry ice cream cones squished together on the front cover with a black and white head shot of Donohue and the text: “Michael Donohue has been double-dipping the taxpayers.” The ice cream motif (double dipping, get it?) continues on the inside with a photo of the same ice cream cones melted and a lovable kid cramming an ice cream cone into his mouth, with ice cream all over his face. Though Freudians could have a field day with the imagery, it’s pretty tame…and lame. According to the mailer, “Michael Donohue wants to be in the General Assembly – but he’s already on the public dole. According to The Daily Journal, Donohue held FOUR taxpayer-funded positions in 2008. He’s not just double-dipping – he’s quadruple dipping!” I’m sorry, but you lost me with the photographs of yummy ice cream. I don’t want to read the rest of the mailer. I want ice cream. I mean, who doesn’t like ice cream?

(D) Ugly Mailer 3: A photograph of a man in a suit from the neck down, holding a stack of $100 bills. The text reads, “One word describes Assembly candidates Michael Donohue and John McCann: Greed.” The mailer explains that Donohue and McCann have “scored seven government jobs and five government pensions,” what is describes as “a colossal waste of our tax dollars.” Two excerpts from The Daily Journal of Vineland add legitimacy to the claim Donohue worked as a municipal prosecutor in three towns and McCann is on the county tax board and receives a salary and is eligible for health benefits and state retirement program. If the Democrats, who have control of the legislature and senate, haven’t prevented appointees like McCann from receiving these governmental perks, they shouldn’t accuse McCann of any wrongdoing.

(D) Ugly Mailer 4: A photograph of Donohue and two big hands holding a fistful of money: $5 bills on one hand and $10 in the other. The text on the front, “Michael Donohue has been Double Dipping…” Wow! He’s been pilfering $5 bills and $10 bills? What’s the problem? The interior photograph contains a photo of a man turning his pocket inside out, the graphical symbol of abject poverty.

(R) Ugly Mailer 1: A blurry photo of Trenton’s capital dome with the text “New Jersey Has Highest Property Taxes In The Nation. Trenton Democrats have failed New Jersey.” On the inside we get information cited from the New Jersey Department of Labor, the 2010 state budget and from TaxFoundation.org. Namely, “Trenton Democrats offer same old politics that created the worst New Jersey economy in 17 years,” “Trenton Democrats offer more new taxes and fees that have given New Jersey the highest tax burden in the nation,” and “Trenton Democrats offer more of the wasteful spending that had saddled New Jersey with a $10 billion deficit.” So the shocking revelation here is that Trenton Democrats are bad. What about Democrats in other parts of the state? The mailer concludes with portraits from the candidates: Chris Christie for governor, Leonard Desiderio for freeholder, and Donohue and McCann for assembly, just in case you want to identify these guys before you vote for them.

(R) Ugly Mailer 2: A photograph of a young woman with her eyes closed and her fingers in her ears. The text reads, “With all the noise in the New Jersey elections, don’t lose sight of the facts: Trenton Democrats raised your taxes.” How can one lose sight if their eyes are closed and fingers in their ears? The back of the mailer reads, “On November 3rd, don’t let your vote go to waste.” Inside, we get a Wrong Way sign, along with the following: “New Jersey is headed in the wrong direction. The problem is, we can’t trust Democrats and Independents on taxes. Higher taxes will only make things worse.” Saying higher taxes make things worse is like saying sticking a moray eel in your pants is a bad idea. No shit, Sherlock. Secondly, this mailer goes after Independents as well as Democrats. Independent gubernatorial candidate Chris Daggett (whom our paper endorsed, by the way) has rising poll numbers. He’s a long shot by far, but his candidacy is causing Christie headaches because Daggett is viewed as the spoiler and could ruin Christie’s chances by stealing voters from him. So, the GOP is now fighting a war on two fronts, hammering Corzine and Daggett. This is weird because Christie dismissively referred to Daggett’s candidacy as “an amusement” and shrugged him off as a non-viable candidate. Yet by acknowledging the Independent as a threat through this mailer, Christie is showing just how full of shit he actually is. But that’s old hat in politics. Say one thing, do something else.

(R) Ugly Mailer 3: A curious mailer sent by the National Organization for Marriage, Inc., a Washington DC-based group, features a photo of a wedding cake topped with two groom figurines. The text reads menacingly, “Are your kids ready to learn about gay marriage?” Gay marriage? When the fuck did this issue become part of the campaign? I’ve never heard any candidate talk about this issue willingly this year unless we prodded them on it. When we interviewed the Republican assembly candidates, they strongly condemned it. McCann even said that social issues were not part of this year’s campaign. So why am I getting a mailer for it? On the inside, the mailer shows a photograph of a scared child in his mother’s arms, wide-eyed and frightened. The text reads, “Legalizing gay marriage affects your family. The New Jersey State Legislature is considering a bill to legalize gay marriage in our state. If enacted, this plan would have serious consequences for families and kids in New Jersey. Massachusetts schools use the book King and King to teach second graders that boys can marry other boys. And in California, a public school took first graders to a same-sex wedding, calling it a ‘teachable moment.’”

Of course Massachusetts and California are scary places with intellectuals and open-minded liberals. No wonder why Sodom and Gomorra exist there. But it gets weirder. The back of the mailer reads, “Assemblymen Albano and Milam are expected to join with Governor Corzine to ignore New Jersey’s real problems and spend their time legalizing homosexual marriage.” First of all, Albano is opposed to gay marriage. He told us so. And I don’t think these guys will drop everything and rush to whatever gay marriage legislation is lingering in the wings and endorse it.

This mailer is the worst kind of propaganda. Released four days before the election, the Republicans, bereft of any specifics or message other than “I’m not the other guy” are showing how desperate they are. So they trot out the gay marriage wedge issue, which worked so well for them in the past. Scare the shit out of God-fearing homophobes by calling your opponents supporters of “homosexual marriage.”

Of all the Ugly Mailers, this one is the ugliest. This mailer is uglier than Kathleen Turner. If you’ve seen her lately in Californication, you know exactly what I mean. If Donohue and McCann have any shred of decency, they’d condemn the mailer. Chances are, they’ll play the good little docile sheep and agree with their party masters. What this ad shows is the utter hypocrisy of the GOP. The mailer should have read, “We’re Republicans. We’ll suck cock behind closed doors, but publicly we’ll condemn gay marriage as destructive to children and families.” Why don’t the Republicans really tell children the truth, that marriage is a soul-crushing, torturous existence where a couple spends year after year in a never-ending routine of spiteful finger-pointing, hoping the other one drops dead so they could be free.

Sounds an awful lot like politics, doesn’t it?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fun With Politicians

One of journalism's perks (besides the executive washroom and free buffet luncheons) is the yearly ritual of interviewing politicians or people who want to be politicians. We invite candidates to our offices for editorial board meetings, which sounds more exciting than they actually are. There's nothing as exhilarating as listening to politicians wax poetic about lowering property taxes, eliminating state agencies and fixing the pension system. Okay, probably a root canal followed by a hot lava enema would be just as exciting. Other than that, it's pretty cut and dry stuff.

Occasionally, we'll have informal chats and a carefree exchange that's less businesslike and more like a group of buddies hanging out in the bar, playing darts and pounding down brewskis. Once in a while, we encounter a few gems in the conversation, little quirky moments where the politicos are off guard and let their hair down. My trusty tape recorder captures it all, an unvarnished record free of spin and hyperbole. Here the candidates shine, warts and all. Far from the carefully crafted images their consultants want to project, the candidates can relax and be themselves.

Here are a few examples from this round of interviews, bits of editorial board meetings best left on the cutting room floor for your amusement, gentle reader. I think you'll agree these lighthearted moments add to the rough-and-tumble, bare-knuckle brawls and show a gentler side of both the candidates and the journalists who cover them.

John McCann, Republican candidate, First Legislative District, on former Gov. James McGreevey, who resigned after outing himself over a gay sex scandal:

McCann: “Let me say this to you from an ethnic point of view. It takes us forever to get an Irishman into the governor’s house and he has to blow it like that.”

Me: “Literally.”

Michael Donohue, Republican candidate, First Legislative District, on abortion:

Donohue: “Even people who would describe themselves as pro-choice say they want abortion to be more restrictive. They want fewer abortions. They don’t want abortion to be birth control.”

Me: “Of course. Who wants more abortions?”

Donohue: “A lot of people do.”

Me (impersonating Richard Nixon): “I want more abortions! More abortions for all of us!”

Donohue: “Absolutely! There are extremist positions. You say that even babies that are born, until they have cognition of their surroundings…”

Editor: “That’s the Spartans…”

McCann, a Realtor, on the subject of abortion:

McCann: “You don’t think doctors who perform abortions, you don’t consider that business, they don’t want that?”

Me: “No.”

McCann: “That’s like me saying I don’t want to sell enough houses.”

Me: “Then the doctors will have to be going around knocking women up to get their business.”

Democrat Assemblyman Nelson Albano, on a TV commercial that depicted opponent Michael Donohue as a pig feeding from a trough:

Albano: “We don’t do the commercials. You know when I find out what the commercials are? When I’m laying in bed at night watching the news and I see it pop up. When I first seen that, I laughed my ass off. I thought it was funny.”

Independent gubernatorial candidate Chris Daggett describing the public's distrust of government:

Daggett: “I can tell you this: people are pissed off in a way that... and I shouldn't used pissed off so don't quote me.”

Me: “It's earthy and it's natural. Basically, mad as hell and were not going to take it anymore.”

Daggett: “It is! One side of me says it's like Network. Throw the window open and say 'we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore' because that's what people feel.”

Daggett on negotiating with unions:

Daggett: “In all my experience and I've solved a lot of difficult problems over 30-plus years of being involved in the fabric of New Jersey. Usually what I do is start with the facts, because I found too often we're having an argument about what we should do about fixing something, and you can't reach an agreement and you say 'what are the facts?' and the guy says 'X' and you go, 'shit, I thought...' Excuse me...”

Me: “He is comfortable! He is a regular Joe!”

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mr. Pie In The Face

In keeping with a partial function of this blog as a chronicler of dead celebrities, comedian Soupy Sales died at 83. I remember Sales from a TV show he did in the 1970s, and my father thinking it was the funniest thing on the air. He was a master of double entendres and in many ways was ahead of his time. The censors never let him get away with what he really wanted to do, and that's a shame. Judged by today's standards, Soupy's act was shticky, with puppets, corny songs and the trademark pie in the face gag, yet there was something quintessentially American about his buffoonery. The Soupy Sales Show was what every lame kids show in the 1950s wanted to be; an attempt to tweak the nose of repressed America and break out with something innovative and new. As crude as it was, it preserved a Vaudevillian style, a man in a studio grasping at jokes, playing the fool and getting pelt with pies all in the name of entertainment, to elicit smiles and laughter. What more nobler pursuit could one strive for in a jaded, fearful world? Soupy pushed boundaries on his program. In an improvised moment, he asked children to sneak into their parent's rooms and find the little green pieces of paper with pictures of presidents on them and mail them to him. In exchange, the children were promised a postcard from Puerto Rico.
In recent years, Soupy attended Ocean City's Doo-Dah Parade, even judging a pie in the face contest. It appeared he had a stroke, which limited his mobility, yet he was a regular guest at some of the city's events, such as a rally for deceased comedian and politician Pat Paulsen in 2008. Though he sat in a wheelchair, gaping mouthed and silent, he appeared very responsive and aware of the celebrity impersonators around him, and seemed to enjoy the moment.
I might sound like a 90-year old curmudgeon on a fixed income here, but young people today will never have firsthand knowledge of comedic legends like Soupy Sales. Sure, they have their Dane Cook and the in-your-face, OMG attitudes of pop culture screaming by them at warp speed, but in living in such a hyperactive world where ADD is as common as texting, American Idol or the latest portable entertainment gewgaw, it lacks perspective. When life is flashing by you and the audacious and obnoxious passes for political debate and entertainment, when snark and profanity are the end-all-be all and alpha and omega of existence, you don't have that vista of where we've been and how far we've climbed.
And in that, you lose perspective.
Now don't get me wrong. South Park and Family Guy are two of my favorite shows, combining animation with biting social commentary or in the case of the latter, surreal and funny sight gags. Yet Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Seth MacFarlane are really the bastard children of Soupy Sales. Their comedy is an evolution from Soupy's canned shtick. The old school comedians like Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Andy Kaufman paved the way for Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison and Richard Jeni, who in turn inspired the current pumper crop of comedic talent in Patton Oswalt, Greg Giraldo and Lisa Lampanelli.
Lingering in the background were the venerated fathers of 20th century comedy: Soupy Sales, Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. Each of their acts different yet eerily similar in the way they applied comedy, through joke telling on the new medium of television and films. For boundary pushers and shocking innovators like Lenny Bruce, who worked in smoke-filled nightclubs, it wasn't the medium but the message that changed what we thought was funny and challenged the puritanical prudence of the 1950s and early 1960s.
Yet Soupy was a creature unto himself, a Vaudevillian who harnessed the airwaves with shlock and shtick and inspired everyone from Pee Wee Herman to Howard Stern with risque double entendres, a stripper in the closet and a pie in the face.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Election Ads

It's that time of year when the leaves turn colors, the air gets nippy and politicians escape their long slumbers to poke their noses from the safety of their burrows and go on the attack. In New Jersey, we're voting for a governor and lieutenant governor. The stakes are high, and the race is contentious, a public blood sport like bearbaiting in its ferocity and barbarism.
Instead of eviscerating their foes with sharp, bladed instruments, politicians use words and advertising, a much more civilized approach to slaughter and humiliation. It used to be that flogging was reserved for criminals who transgressed moral and civil laws. Now it's perfectly legal and dragged back into the public square via television and Internet.
A decent political ad is all about conveying your message and persuading voters that you're the candidate they should vote for. Failing that, it's a chance for you to outline your differences with those running against you. If that's not possible, an all-out mudslinging orgy is in order, with the loosest facts, sound bites, ominous music and blurred visuals are summoned. After all, if you can't persuade people to vote for you, scare the shit out of them and force them to.
The following ads are tame, even for New Jersey. They don't represent the ugliness found in modern campaigns. The three gubernatorial candidates have different ways of presenting their messages here.

Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine's ad "More To Do" has an Aaron Sorkin vibe: stirring music, images of hard-working New Jerseyans and a mini-drama of Corzine as the fault-ridden leader begging for a second chance. It's non-controversial, non-attacking and generally upbeat in theme and presentation. it's also depressing as hell that the governor is essentially pleading with voters, like he's on the ropes, but they'll be a new day dawning tomorrow, only brighter and full of opportunity or some other overtly optimistic bullshit.

Republican challenger Chris Christie is taking a different approach with this ad, "Googly Eyes." You know those commercials for Geico with the odd stack of dollar bills with bulbous eyes staring at unsuspecting dupes? Apparently, the Republicans incorporate that popular ad, but with a twist. See ,that pile of bills is the money taxpayers could be saving with Chris Christie as governor. Get it? Who says Republicans are bereft of ideas and uncreative? This pinnacle of lameness is pretty sad. If this ad was meant to be funny, it bombed miserably. It's time for Christie to start spending campaign funds on an ad consultant and less on stromboli at Sbarro.

Then there's this ad from Independent candidate Chris Daggett. It's the hidden masterpiece of the election, because it incorporates several interesting visuals, including some pretty bad actors portraying Corzine and Christie. Note to North Woods Advertising: when you're casting for these spots, make sure the actors actually sound like the people they're impersonating. The guy portraying Christie could get bit work in the Sopranos. Anyway, the use of the broken escalator representing the state is creative and shows inertia and stagnation. Corzine's response is to wait for a bailout while Christie, a federal prosecutor, threatens incarceration with those responsible. Daggett steps in like the white knight, takes immediate action and asks people to follow him and together by walking instead of waiting, he leads them to the top.
On an advertising level, it's brilliant: the image of Daggett as a take-charge, proactive leader comes through here while making his opponents look like incompetent buffoons. It's also the only ad I've seen that successfully uses humor without being vitriolic or malicious.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Stoned with Women

Marijuana. Pot. Weed. Herb. Ganja. Grass. Mary Jane. Reefer.

These are names for cannabis, a plant whose dried buds are a popular euphoric drug. Much has been written about the wacky weed over the last century, from the anti-hemp lobby’s attempts at prohibiting the drug with propaganda films like “Reefer Madness,” to the rise in recreational use by jazz musicians and beatniks in the 1950s, to the full-blown psychedelic tidal wave and proliferation of the counter culture of the 1960s and 1970s.

Marijuana became the dug of choice for California hippies who wanted to kick back on a beanbag chair and listen to I Am the Walrus for evidence Paul McCartney was dead.

Yet despite its reputation in the mainstream media as a gateway drug, or a drug that leads to the degradation of our youth in the form of giggling uncontrollably, wearing tie-dye T-shirts and watching Cheech and Chong movies, marijuana is here to stay. Powerful strains, grown in hydroponic facilities and harvested for sale is a multi-million dollar industry in America, where the drug is stigmatized and illegal.

In New Jersey, getting caught with 50 grams or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor that nets a fine of $1,000 and six months of incarceration. If you cultivate less than one ounce of marijuana, you’re hit with a $10,000 fine and 18 months in jail. If you’re an entrepreneur with a capitalist spirit and sell less than one ounce of weed, you’re hit with a $150,000 fine and are going to jail for a year.

When I was in high school back in the 1980s, I never understood the pot culture. I thought drug users were basically losers who sat around their parent’s basements getting high and watching Pink Floyd’s The Wall. They reeked of reefer, had long hair and this attitude that because they read Hesse’s Siddhartha ad nauseum, that they were somehow intellectually superior.

My first experience with marijuana involved several concerts in high school, when the Philadelphia Spectrum was thick with pot smoke during a Van Halen show. Maybe the kids passed joints around because that’s what Van Halen fans do, or maybe it was because Sammy Hagar replaced David Lee Roth. I still don’t know, but that heady aroma stuck with me. It sort of had a faint aroma of burning oregano and sage, and smelled like a beautiful hippie goddess wearing patchouli oil who spontaneously combusted.

A "joint" and a "bowl", two things that could get you incredibly fucked up.

Generations of young Americans believed recreational drug use was getting high, listening to records and not caring if people knew you were stoned or not. You can tell if a young person is stoned because they’re smiling. Most teenagers are moody, with an apathetic attitude. When the kid that’s grinning like the Cheshire cat on nitrous oxide, well, he’s tripping.

Pot is in popular culture. Its influence in music in nearly omni pervasive, and marijuana on television, once taboo, is a regular occurrence. The Showtime drama Weeds tells the story of Nancy Botwin, played by Mary-Louise Parker, a widowed mother who sells marijuana to support her kids in the suburbs. Marijuana has been featured extensively on the animated comedies Family Guy and South Park, the latter featuring an animated towel named Towelie who gets high.

There’s a movement to legalize marijuana in this country, led by Rastafarians, Berkeley professors and people who listen to Phish. They cite cannabis’ positive effects on cancer sufferers and advocate medical marijuana for people with glaucoma and other maladies. The activists assert that medical marijuana will help alleviate suffering and should be available with a prescription. Yeah, that’s what I want to see my pharmacist dole out: plastic baggies of weed. Maybe when grandma is rolling her joint and toking up to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, she’ll finally be relaxed enough to bake cookies. Of course the cookies will have more hemp in them than brownies in an Amsterdam bakery. Perhaps she can crochet a covering for her bong.

Facetiousness aside, I was reluctant to take the plunge and try marijuana. Part of being a writer is to actually experience things so you could write about them, that with that shared experience, you’d have firsthand knowledge of something, become familiar with it and articulate it in writing. Such was my reasoning for trying the accursed weed. Reluctant I was, I thought what if I become an addict? What if I actually enjoy the stuff? What if I start listening to folk music and become a registered Democrat, or worse, vote for Ralph Nader?

So many doubts and fears plagued me, yet I didn’t want to be one of those prudent killjoys who sits on the sideline of life chastising and nitpicking. If I was going to do this, I would have to really do it and jump into the marijuana mosh pit, arms and legs flailing.

The first thing I realized is people who smoke marijuana don’t frequent mosh pits, which are loud places filled with violence. Pot smokers are a passive lot, preferring the tranquil solitude of nature, the still sanctuary of their bedrooms, or a quiet parking garage at two in the morning.

Not wanting to try my first recreational drug by myself, I partook with women on a few occasions. Getting high with women is an interesting experience for two reasons: first, you don’t have to put on a false display of bravado like you do getting stoned with men and secondly, you can have sex with the women.

Lil' Blunty. You never forget your first one.

So let me lay the scenario out for you: We’re in her apartment, she lights a few candles to set the mood. We take our clothes off first, because undressing while stoned poses its own hazards. There’s only so much fumbling and tripping your way out of your pants you could do before falling on the cat. So she rolls this joint that looks about half the size of a normal joint. I’ve seen Cheech and Chong movies where the joints are about the size of a Buick. The joint she rolls is so small, an ant couldn’t get high off it.

I call it Lil’ Blunty. It’s my first. She lights it up and puffs on it, then exhales a smoke cloud into my face. Eyes stinging, I take hold of the micro-joint, put my lips on it and…nothing.

I chicken out. Like Bill Clinton asserted, I didn’t inhale.

I just couldn’t bring myself to inhale. Oh, I might have taken a few wispy puffs and some of the smoke might have touched my lungs. That might have happened on a microscopic level.

But generally, I just breathed in the smoke and handed her the joint.

“How is it?” she asked, taking a long drag on Lil’ Blunty.

“Yeah, it’s good,” I said, getting dizzy.

“Did you inhale it?” she asked.

“Yeah, well, I’m inhaling the smoke,” I said, trembling that I was on the slippery slope to stonerhood.

Despite my failure with Lil’ Blunty, the experience wasn’t a total failure. One thing the government doesn’t tell you about marijuana is that it makes women very horny. She told me her senses heightened every time she smoked marijuana, like an out of body experience, a drug-induced astral projection that made her wetter than Niagara Falls and as promiscuous as Jenna Jameson. When she climaxed, the neighbor two floors up complained of the noise.

That’s when it occurred to me as I peeled her from the ceiling: the government wants to outlaw marijuana because the last thing America needs are sexually satisfied couples. The status quo prefers sexually frustrated people who fail at sexual intimacy and end up taking out their anger by kicking their dogs and working late at the office. Frustrated people are naturally more bitter, more loathing and more apt to shop more, support war as conflict resolution and approve censorship. In other words, sexual frustration leads to our current society.

But if the women were stoned and more relaxed we’d have plenty of couples who experience wild nights in the sack, and with this a cheerful and happy outlook on life. Sure, after the pot wears off the women would get the munchies and put on 20 pounds, but it’s a price this country will have to pay to not have its men be so uptight and angry.

The next time the woman and I got together, she had some pot left over.

“It would be a shame to let this go to waste,” she said, and rolled a joint. Not as small as Lil’ Blunty, the second joint, which I’ll call El Capitan, was a success. After she became as stoned as the entire front row at Woodstock, I went back to the nightstand for seconds and realized El Capitan did the trick.

Physically, when you get stoned with women, your body relaxes. Maybe it’s the orgasm or the snuggling with a women you didn’t have to buy dinner for, but your heart rate slows, you get sleepy and your mind freely rolls back to your childhood when you sat through all of those mental hygiene films that specifically decried marijuana as an evil corrupting force that would kill you stone dead. Lying there in the arms of a snoring nymphomaniac, I understood that the people who made those films did not get high with women.

Two years after El Capitan, another female friend visited me with a plastic bag of marijuana as a housewarming gift. I would have preferred a fruit basket, but it’s the thought that counts, after all. As we sat at my kitchen table, separating the dried cannabis sativa buds from the seeds, I pondered upon this new life skill. After sorting out the green flakes, she gave me some rolling papers and I rolled my first joint. The technique here is to place a bit of the marijuana on the paper lengthwise, roll it up and lick the end.

She remarked that for a beginner, my joint looked pretty good, a compliment I relished. It wasn’t every day that you sat at the kitchen table rolling joints. Okay, maybe in the inner cities, but not here. I didn’t even want to name my own joint, preferring to let it stand on its own, unblemished and untarnished by a whimsical title. Instead, I smoked my nameless joint as we watched adult cartoons.

What can be said for this shameful escapade? Am I the next Hunter S. Thompson, a junkie journalist flying from assignment to assignment with psychotic visions of monstrous bats or melted walls? Hardly. I know the freewheeling 1960s are over and like the Moody Blues sang, Timothy Leary is dead. I understand cannabis is illegal and even possessing a smidgen of it could land you in prison on Devil’s Island for 100 years.

Yet I just wanted to try it, to see what all of the fuss was about, to taste the forbidden herb. The verdict: being buzzed is the same thing as taking a nap. It’s relaxing when you’re baked, a sensation like you’re drowning in happiness with Care Bears farting This Land is Your Land.

While joints are cigarettes for people who want to lose their short term memories, I won’t be rushing out to Rico behind the Sunocco for a dime bag any time soon. I also won’t be applying for that staff writer position at High Times, either. The drug culture is all about escapism, and that’s what marijuana is. It’s a natural substance that makes women sluttier and men stupider. If you enjoy lying in the middle of a field at night and counting stars while waiting for a visit from the phosphorescent fairies that dwell in your subconscious, I’d sooner listen to Terrapin Station sober. At least you could understand the lyrics.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I Gotta Feeling

via videosift.com

Students at Universite du Quebec a Montreal (UQAM) shot this amazing video of the Black Eyed Peas "I Gotta Feeling" in one take. It comprised over 100 students and the lip-syncing is spot on perfect. Instant Internet phenomenon? You betcha!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Killer Rabbits Win

My pub trivia team, the Killer Rabbits, played their last game and kicked ass doing it! We beat teams comprised of more people, teams that constantly won. Yeah, we won on trivia night before, but this session was special. It was the last time we gathered as a full team. One of the members is moving away and won't be able to attend. She was one of the first players, a regular who attended most every trivia night since 2007, a dear friend who'll we'll all miss.
That night, our team was on fire, getting out an early lead on the general knowledge round, nearly acing the picture round before we hit the wall on our sports round. To be fair, our sports expert couldn't make it that night, but we soldiered on through the music, entertainment and history/geography round. We fell behind, then rallied and caught up. Trivia is exciting if you give it a chance. We came out on top, baby! Champions with a kick ass gift certificate as a prize. Woooo!!! Fuckin' A!
We commemorated the last night with a special photo, which I post here. A special thanks to Amy for commemorating the event with this photo. I'd also like to thank everyone who participated with the Killer Rabbits on Thursday nights. Together, we took a lame Monty Python reference and turned it into a trivia powerhouse. I thank you for your goofy, useless knowledge: Pam, Ben, Daniel, Amy, Michelle, Robin and anyone else who came out for a night of trivia fun.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Russian Chick Totally Wants Me

While checking my e-mail today, I received the following message from a woman who identified herself as "maria":

Hello, I have visited a site: quechup_com. And saw yours profile, I has decided to write to you.
My name is Maria. I the lonely woman. To me 34 years. My growth 178. My weight of 70 kg. I never was married.
I live in Russia. And I have not found the love in Russia. And I have decided to try to find the love through the Internet.
I quiet counterbalanced, optimistical, with good sense of humor, Sincere, frank, fair, true, very romantic, passionate, loyal,
here this all high qualities, at me all depends on mood and the mood most of all depends on weather, I do not smoke i do not drink
I do not accept narcotic tablets, but I can sometimes be very quick-tempered this one my bad quality, I think that any more I have no bad qualities.
My clothing style - modern or casual. I think it while will suffice. Details at correspondence. If you are interested by me then please write on my e-mail.
I shall necessarily answer you. I send you my photos. I shall hope that you write to me and also will send me your photo.
Tell me about itself. Yours faithfully Maria.

"Maria" attached the following photo to her e-mail:

Okay, first of all, like many people I was duped into signing up for Quechup, the networking site that's really a phishing scheme/spam/Trojan virus in disguise. I don't really know what Quechup is, only that I've heard people say that it wasn't genuine, so I avoided it like the plague. This was the first time anyone had contacted me, and I'm pretty gobsmacked. I mean, its not every day that a lovely Russian woman contacts me. Most women run away vomiting when they see my photo, and running while puking is a very difficult maneuver to pull off, so I give them credit for that. I'm pretty suspicious at the authenticity of Maria's e-mail and her query to want to get to know me.
So I've prepared a response of my own to Maria, just to let her know where I stand with anonymous contacts:

Privet! That means hello in Russian, but I'm assuming you already know that. Thank you for finding me on this massive electronic labyrinth called the Internet. I'm glad you found my meager profile on Quechup and not the photos from 1993 of me pledging my fraternity. That would have been embarrassing and I've hired a lawyer to purge those pictures from the Net.
So you want to get to know me? Dangerous move on your behalf, because I'm such a rebel. I don't play by the rules. I'm into things that are illegal in most states and countries. I'm banned from Senegal, Kuwait and eight other countries. Don't ask, it's a long story that involves caning, Dutch schoolgirls and a drunken goat.
Maria, what can I begin to tell you about me? To be fair, let me say that I enjoyed your e-mail. It's clear that English is your third or fourth language, but you write better than most Americans. Writing in minute fragments conveys information in easily-digestible blocks instead of long-winded sentences, great for sufferers of ADD or people from Alabama. So what if you write like Borat speaks? I'm sure I can teach you many things, like basic sentence structure.
Good news, Maria! I, too, am counterbalanced and highly optimistical! What a coincidence, Maria, because my mood also depends upon the weather! When it's sunny and bright, I am sweeter than sugar pie, but when it's overcast or when there's precipitation of any kind, I fly into a wild frenzy and punch infants and kittens.
I also have a zero tolerance for narcotic tablets, preferring to shoot up with needles or ingest liquids. How many good times have I forgotten because of the absinthe and heroin!
While your clothing style is modern or casual, I prefer women who wear medieval peasant's garb, Victorian corsets or lingerie from the 1920s.
I understand that you could be bad-tempered, being Russian and all. I grew up during the Cold War and you Soviets really were pricks. Sorry, but if we're going to embark on this adventure called love, I should at least be honest with you. I mean, what's the deal with all of those gulags and interment camps? Did you really think that by resisting capitalism, your country could thrive? Now that Russia is run by organized criminals, just like in America, I guess there has been some social and economic progress there since 1991.
I must admit that I'm flabbergasted you want to have a relationship with me. I know about the only thing I can offer you besides hot American love is probably a green card, so you can haul your family's asses stateside and begin gorging yourselves on nachos, iPods and designer jeans.
From your photo, I can tell you're beautiful, sexy and probably a nude model. I've seen enough Russian girl websites to know that stripping down and posing is a good way of earning a few rubles. If we start dating, you're going to have to put your nude modeling career aside, as I do not want other men to be spanking the monkey to my woman.
I'm a considerate yet jealous lover.
Tempting your offer may be, I'd have to respectfully decline. It's not you, Maria. It's me. See, I can't stand Internet dating. I have problems with receiving unsolicited e-mails from strange Russian women who send me photos and fill my fool head with notions of rubbing uglies for Mother Russia. To be honest, I think you are nothing but a scam, too good to be true and full of bullshit. You're like the Nigerian Lottery or Spanish Lottery or South African Royal Consulate for Lotteries. You're infecting the Internet, a disease multiplying and dividing, spreading like a pandemic and infecting the inboxes of every red-blooded American male with a Russian girl fixation. I know this might sound harsh, but fuck it - I'm honest here. I don't dwell in the realm of deception and trickery, viewing others as rubes who'll fall for my Ponzi scheme or mail-order bride factory.
You know what I find distasteful, Maria?
It's the lying that hurts. If you are truly a Russian serf dreaming of a strong, American boyfriend, why didn't you contact me through Facebook or Craigslist? Because you used Quechup, I could see right through your scheme, a house of cards meant to lure me into donating money or precious bodily fluids to you for whatever nefarious plot you're brewing in that evil Russian brain of yours.
Did Putin put you up to this? Are you really interested in me, or are you deliberately jerking me around? Sorry, comrade, but this Yankee is tired of your minx-like sex games. You can take your 34-year-old, lithe, 70 kg body back to Siberia.
I'm not interested in a relationship built upon bullshit.
Dasvidania, Maria.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Where Were You When Everything Changed?

On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four airplanes and destroyed our innocence and security. Now, eight years later, people reflect back not only to the horrible events of that day, but to where they were when they heard the news of the attack. For those removed geographically from New York City or Washington, D.C., the attacks still provoked anger, sadness and a torrent of emotions: helplessness, bitterness, wrath.
On Facebook people shared their personal recollections to where they were when they first learned terrorists steered commercial aircraft into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
For me, 9/11 didn't begin with watching plumes of smoke over Manhattan or watching airplanes veer off course to their intended targets.
It began with cleaning the garage.
That morning, after a fight with my wife (now ex-wife) I decided to burn energy by tack;ling the messy garage. She'd gone to work early and since I worked the night shift at a daily newspaper, I had the whole day to kill. It was a beautiful, warm early September day, the kind of clear, blue sky days reserved for the end of summer. I moved boxes in the cluttered garage, chucked things I no longer needed and swept the floor which was littered with dead leaves and dried bug corpses.
It's gross, but just how clean is your garage?
After an hour, the place looked orderly and neat, with all of the tools organized and the garden implements tucked safely away on their shelves.
I went to the kitchen to fetch some water when the phone rang. It was my then-spouse telling me that "something big happened."
Not knowing what it was, I remarked, "Was the president assassinated or something?"
She sounded serious and told me to "turn on the TV. Something happened in New York."
I switched on CNN and saw the skyline of New York City and the World Trade Center. A large hole ripped in the side of the steel and glass skyscraper showed like an ugly blemish with black smoke pouring out. I learned then that an airplane had struck the building.
Probably just a drunk pilot, I thought. I turned on other stations and the coverage played on every single station, even Animal Planet. When they interrupt a show about Galapagos tortoises mating to cover a news story, you know it's serious.
Just then, as I tried to make sense of what was happening, another airplane hit the remaining tower, creating a fiery explosion.
Re-watching the video of the second airplane strike, it seems surreal that such devastation was meted upon us, and hearing the screams of those on the tape I could imagine the utter horror and fear they experienced watching the aircraft slam into the World Trade Center.
Yet words cannot convey the awful sensation of helplessness and rising anger after witnessing that event, whether in Manhattan or on television, yet the news coverage that day tried to make sense of it all. As information came forward, we learned of the strike on the Pentagon and the crashed plane in a field near Shanksville, Pa. We learned of Osama bin Laden and his shadowy Al-Qaeda organization, of young men who were living among us wielding boxcutters to hijack the planes and steer them to their fiery destinations. More importantly, we learned of civilians who fought back against the hijackers and who many claim brought Flight 93 down before it could strike the U.S. Capitol Building.
I seethed with rage when I learned of Al-Qaeda. My father called and I ranted how we should nuke the Middle East and lob a thermonuclear missile right on Mecca during Ramadan. I wanted the Middle East to burn in a hellfire holocaust for what they did to my country.
That day conjures up so many things: the chaos of people running through the streets, the skyscrapers falling and plumes of smoke and ash, of airplanes screaming overhead, of the bravery of firemen, rescue workers and police officers. Though we lost something precious through a sacrifice by fire, we emerged from September 11 a more patriotic and unified nation, where ordinary people stood in line to donate blood, where volunteering and consoling those in pain came naturally. More than that, we became a nation hell-bent on revenge, summoned to a higher purpose by a tragic destiny.
So each year we gather to remember the fury of that day, and through our recollections and grieving, we understand that we are a country that cannot be killed while we slumber. We did not surrender to foreign fanatics who use violence to intimidate and make us afraid. In between all of the patriotic symbols of the World Trade Center, the yellow ribbons, the flags and "Let's Roll!" slogans, there's something deeper from that day. We changed as a nation and the world became a little more dangerous with madmen lurking in darkened places plotting against us.
Now it's a time not for patriotic hyperbole, but for solemn remembrance.
It is a time of reflection, of recalling not just those who had died but how mighty a nation we are for refusing to submit to terror.