July 31, 2006

Not a great short story, but a short, great story

Many years ago, probably the summer after I graduated high school, a bunch of my friends were chilling out at a party. At some point, Neil and Nicole ran out of cigarettes, but they had been drinking all night so they couldn't drive to the store. They navigated the house in search of a sober driver, finding only my friend Blog Stevens. Thinking quickly, Blog recognized in his friends' predicament a golden opportunity. He said he would drive them to the store, but only if he was allowed to be as mean to them as he wanted for the entire length of the trip. Hard up for smokes, Neil and Nicole agreed. They knew Blog was a pretty mean guy, but 7-11 was less than a mile away; how bad could it be?

Word of the arrangement quickly got around. By the time Blog's car pulled into the driveway, most of the party had congregated in the front yard.

Nicole emerged first, crying. She scurried into the house. Neil came out next. "Man," he mumbled, slowly shaking his head. "That's fucked up."

The Poison of Pornography

Driving back from New York last week, I stopped at a diner in Pennsylvania for some dinner. It was one of those right-off-the-interstate places with a kitschy gift shop and travel brochures and lots of truckers. I tried to buy a French Tickler condom (not for the prevention of communicable disease) in the bathroom, but the rusty box ate my 50 cents. Anyway, on the way out, I stopped to look at the brochures and noticed a stack of newsletters sitting in the corner.

Reaching Out, upon further inspection, is a quarterly pamphlet published by rural Mennonites (I don't suppose there are a lot of urban Mennonites). What caught my eye was a teaser on the cover that read "Feature Article for Youth- The Poison of Pornography". I quickly thumbed my way to Page 8, and what I learned shook me to the core. Steel yourselves, gentle readers:

One of the secret sins of America that has come out of the closet and into the limelight of national attention is pornography...No one knows for sure how much of what is available on the Internet is pornography but estimates have ranged as high as 80 to 89 percent. It has become obvious now to all but a few who are too blind or stubborn to admit it that pornography enflames the imaginations and passions of its devotees. Not only does pornography specialize in nudity but it dwells on violence, especially aimed at women and children.

The last half of the article consists of advice on how the blind and stubborn can break free from pornography's vice grip. The most useful tidbit: "The only way to victory over pornography is a clean break."

Now, okay, perhaps it's lazy and mean-spirited of me to simply reproduce a bunch of poorly-written stuff that someone, however unfortunate, obviously cares a lot about. So how about this.

Drive on any interstate through the rural east coast (i.e. the deep south, western PA, southern OH), and you'll find Wal-Mart-sized churches sharing exits with neon adult bookstores and seedy strip clubs (Scuttlebutt, right off I-10 heading east out of New Orleans, is a favorite). The juxtaposition of these institutions has always fascinated me. It's tempting to surmise that the hardcore religious folks want to get their message out to the people who most need to hear it, but I'm pretty sure the Baptists, Quakers, and Mennonites have inhabited these areas longer than the fisters, gaspers, and peggers have.

On second thought, I'll dispense with the lay analysis. Anything I might suggest would be obvious, stupid, or both. Just scroll up and laugh at the pamphlet, please.

July 29, 2006

this has been bugging me for days

Why are my gums bleeding?
Poor oral hygiene
Popcorn shells
Aggressive flossing
Skoal Straight
Free polls from Pollhost.com

July 27, 2006

A handful of relatively uninteresting points which, in the aggregate, one might charitably consider blogworthy

My blogging arm is kind of rusty, but here goes:

(1) I recently took the bar exam in Albany, NY. I decided to drive up, both as a means of clearing my head before the test and because I forgot to buy a plane ticket. The weather on the drive was great, and I had the top down on my car for most of the drive. Tossing my shirt amidst the CDs, Dr. Pepper bottles, gas receipts, and stray sunflower seeds on the passenger seat, I managed to get a pretty good tan.

In fact, I look pretty great, given my numerous genetic deficiencies. Tuesday evening, after day one of the bar, I looked in the mirror and realized this was the first time I've ever felt more attractive than intelligent. Sweet god I hope it's not the last.

(2) Albany isn't that bad. In a different world, it's the kind of town I could see myself going to a bar, getting drunk by myself, and returning alone to my hotel to masturbate in.

(3) Being in New York reminded me of something my dad asked me about once. It's difficult to describe in print why this was so hilarious, but I'll try anyway.

"You know, people say 'Empire State' different than they say 'Empire State Building'. With 'Empire State', the emphasis is at the beginning. EMpire State. But with Empire State Building, they say 'Empire STATE Building'. You never hear anyone say 'EMpire State Building'. Or 'Empire STATE'. But one of them has got to be right, doesn't it? Which means the other one has to be wrong. I wonder which one it is. Have you ever thought about this?"

The worst part? I had thought about this. And I still do. A lot.

July 21, 2006

All Blogs Go To Heaven

I'm taking the Bar exam next week, and I've recently decided to put my nose to the grindstone and learn the damn law. So unless something insanely hilarious or infuriating happens to me, you can expect a blog hiatus for a week or so.

Frankly, it seems kind of weird to be announcing this to three people who already know I'm taking the Bar; perhaps this entry is better written off as a vehicle for the latest in a series of increasingly tired puns...

July 19, 2006

Two things I didn't know about vaginas

(1) Yesterday, a buddy of mine was chilling out at his sister-in-law's house, and he chanced to overhear while she was potty-training her two year old daughter. Astutely, my friend realized he was privy to some pretty exclusive information, so he listened carefully. Then, with the giddiness of a third grader, he raced to his computer and emailed me with a striking bit of information.

It seems girls are taught to wipe their vaginas from front to back, in order to minimize the risk of bacterial intrusion. Now, if this sounds absurd to you, you're not alone. Incredulous, I phoned a trusted vagina expert (let's call her VE), who not only verified the claim, but told me a good story to boot.

As an eighth grader, VE was sitting in sex-ed class when her teacher mentioned the aforementioned wiping procedure. Having known about this technique for years, VE immediately said to herself "man, it's a little late to be teaching this shit." But her smugness was quickly extinguished by a poor soul in the back of the room, whose heartfelt cry of "are you serious?!" echoed awkwardly against the cinderblock walls of the otherwise silent classroom.

(2) All this talk of vaginas reminded me of another conversation I had with VE, probably four years ago. We were sitting in a friend's basement, when I apparently made some reference to how weird it must be for girls to urinate out of their vaginas. (Perhaps it's difficult to imagine how this topic came up, but you'll have to take my word for it.)

Anyhoo, VE looked at me and said, with no small measure of scorn, "we don't. There's a separate hole for that."

I was unimpressed. VE had been known to put one over on me, and I wasn't about to let it happen again. "Right. So now there's a third hole?"

"Of course there is! How do you think girls pee when they're wearing a tampon?"

"Well I assume they take them out and change them. Isn't that why women's bathrooms have disposal stations?"

She took a deep breath. "No, you don't change your tampon every time you have to pee. There's a different hole."

"So you're serious? A third hole?"

"Yes. It's very small."

"Jesus. Does anything ever get stuck in there? Does it hurt?"

Despite being a vagina expert, VE was evidently ready to talk about something else. She fired a bitter glance in my direction and said, "yes, little things can get stuck in there. And yes, it hurts."

I changed the subject.

July 16, 2006

Home Owning 101

So I guess I own a house. My grandmother died, and I agreed to buy her lake house from my dad, who received it in her will. I never signed anything, and I haven't paid him a dime, but we have an agreement.

But to whatever extent I own the house, it turns out owning a house is harder than I thought. For one thing, I find myself noticing things I never noticed before. I don't just mean leaky roofs or cracks in the foundation. The other day I was looking at the wall around the fireplace, and I counted eleven fish, mostly glass or metal, fastened to the wall or resting on the mantel. I've been hanging out at this house since I was zero, but I'd never noticed all those fish.

A few months ago, I ducked into a nearby shop to get out of the rain, and it turned out to be one of those curio shops where they sell clocks and rugs and prints and tumblers and placemats and taxidermy. I hate these places. But as I stood there dripping, I realized all those fish at the lake came from shops like this. If Granny hadn't walked into some store, spied a ridiculous candle holder shaped like a bass, and said to herself "this piece of shit would look pretty good on my mantel", I'd have an empty spot on my mantel right now.

Then I realized every house I've ever been to is full of stuff like this.

So as a home owner, it's become my duty to go browsing for baubles, always asking myself "how would this look on top of the refrigerator?" Which it's safe to say isn't exactly my thing. A quick scan of the bedroom in my apartment reveals two things on the walls: a bootleg t-shirt celebrating the Red Sox 2004 World Series victory, and a snapshot from one of those old-timey photo booths at Myrtle Beach. Neither is framed. Both are hanging by thumb tacks.

Clearly I am not ready to be a home owner.

July 14, 2006

Holy Hell this really works

I can't link to this because the McSweeney's website is so dumb. But here's the copy:

Shaving without shaving cream when you first get out of the shower
Few men are aware of this option, which, if broadly implemented, could bring Big Shaving Cream to its knees. Right out of a hot shower, your face is warm and soft. Wrap a towel around your waist, grab a razor, and go to work. No cream means you can see exactly where the whiskers are. No shirt means you stay clean. And, most important, it ends up being a better shave anyway.

Just give it a shot. It's far manlier than anything on the menu at T.G.I.Friday's.

Boycott Update II

Hummer makes the perfect addition to the list of boycotted products I'd never buy anyway.

Its newest series of ads includes one where an emasculated loser is at the grocery store, buying a shitload of vegetables (probably organic) and a huge thing of tofu. He looks passively at the guy behind him, who's buying charcoal and the biggest rack of ribs I've ever seen in my life. The loser, of course, is embarrassed to be alive. Fortunately, before he can slink back into the narcotic cocoon of his healthy, responsible lifestyle, he happens upon a print Hummer advertisement (inexplicably, this ad is found in the magazine rack at the checkout aisle). Emboldened, the eunuch marches to his shitty yellow hatchback and putt-putts his way to the nearest Hummer dealership. Seconds later, as he drives off in his phat new ride, the slogan arrives on the screen: Restore Your Manhood.

I've whined about these stupid masculinity-based ads in the past, so I'll spare my 3 readers the chore of hearing it again.

What's interesting, though, is the other ad in the series. I've only seen it once, so I'm hazy on the details, but this ad's protagonist is a woman. Something bad or embarrassing happens to her, so she goes to the dealership and buys a new Hummer. The slogan reads "Get Your Girl On".

Apparently one way to reorient yourself with your sexuality is to buy a Hummer, regardless of which sex you belong to. If we're to believe Hummer, purchasing an outrageously expensive (and sometimes illegal) SUV is an appropriate way of embracing both masculinity AND femininity. I can't begin to offer any psychosocial analysis of this idea, so I'll just call it bizarre.

July 11, 2006

Salad Days

As an undergrad, I lived in a big house with four of my buddies, and we rented the sixth bedroom out to a stranger named Sam. Sam was a student, a year younger than us. He struck us as a perfectly fine guy, but we didn't know him; he was just a random dude living with 5 friends. The way our house was laid out, Sam and I had bedrooms on the main floor, and everyone else lived on the second floor. Accordingly, Sam and I shared a bathroom.

One summer night we threw a party. At some point, some bastard decided to flush a bar of soap down our toilet, which obviously clogged the hell out of it. But Sam and I, being lazy and stupid, didn't bother doing anything about it. Our spoken understanding was that we'd use the upstairs bathroom, while our unspoken hope was that someone else would fix the problem. Better still, we'd ignore the problem and it would go away.

So naturally, I began pissing in the bathtub. All you had to do was turn the water on and aim at the drain; it was one hell of a lot easier than going upstairs every time you had to pee. Out of politeness, I tried to go upstairs whenever Sam was around, but part of me assumed he had been peeing in the tub, too.

So one night, a bunch of us are sitting around, watching TV and drinking heavily, as was the style at the time. Eventually I got up to use the tub. The bathroom door was wide open, but Sam was already in there, on his tiptoes, urinating into the sink.

"Jesus Christ", I said calmly.

"What?" Sam blinked at me, still pissing. "Where do you go?"

July 7, 2006

Winter Break

Man so last winter when I was in Central America with my roommate, we were in Honduras and we stopped to get some lunch at this little shack somewhere. So the norm at places like this is basically they serve one thing: you tell them you want breakfast or lunch or whatever and that's what they give you. So anyway everyone there is eating chicken, so Geoff rolls up and orders chicken, which from the looks of things involves fried chicken, beans, lettuce and tomato salad, and some thick corn tortillas. Of course I'm still a vegetarian, but by this point I'm pretty used to eating some pretty crappy meals and having waiters and cooks look at me like I'm from Mars or whatever and I've stopped giving a shit, so in my broken Spanish I tell the woman I want the same thing, without the chicken.

She tells me no.

I'm pretty sure I haven't fucked up my order so bad she thinks I asked her a question, so I tell her again: same thing, no chicken.


So I laugh, which I wish I hadn't done because I'm sure it came off condescending as hell for a gringo to be laughing at this poor woman in Shitsville, Honduras when she's about to go back and cook me a meal for ninety cents or whatever. But it's been a couple of weeks and I've gone through this rigamarole with cooks and waiters so many times that I have to laugh.

I try again. Of course she looks at me like I've lost my mind. Finally I point at Geoff and tell her I'll have the same thing.

So anyway, no harm done, I'll just give Geoff the chicken and eat my stupid beans and salad and I'll go get some fruit from the market later on. Anyway we pass the time making fun of me for being such a dipshit, and pretty soon the seƱora steps out from the little kitchen area. She's carrying two plates and she's got this big ass smile on her face.

She gives Geoff his lunch, then turns to me and smiles again, real big, and she says something real fast that of course I don't understand at all. She's staring at me as she puts the plate in front of me, and when I look down it's the same thing as Geoff got except instead of chicken she made me beef.

So I look up at her, and she's standing over me, she's absolutely beaming, and it hits me: she's proud of herself. She thought I didn't like chicken, so she went out of her way to make me beef.

Now at this point I'm not about to send the fucking plate back, and there's no way I'm going to give the meat to Geoff because I think I'd curl up and die if she saw me do this. So anyway I dig in, I start eating the beef and the beans and the salad and I'm drinking mango juice and sitting at this rickety little table and the sky is mostly blue and I am so glad I'm a vegetarian.

July 4, 2006

July 1, Part Three

So sometimes you walk to the bathroom, and dammit if it isn't a long way from your cabana. And so you look at everyone and they're all fat and hairy and reading pulp novels or picture magazines, and yes it's comforting to realize that 90% of everyone is dumb as hell, so you smile and wistfully regret spending most of the last four hours wondering if everyone was judging you for wearing shorts to the pool.

But then, sometimes, as quickly as you start to relax you notice that everyone you're looking at is looking back at you. Every single one. Usually the best thing to do in these situations is to stop looking at people, so you try that for a while but it's fucking crowded and you left your sunglasses on your lounger so inevitably you keep looking and they keep looking back and you're pretty sure a kid to the left actually woke up his dad so he could look at you, too. And so sometimes, when too much beer and sun and a lingering hangover and probably something genetic combine with a whole bunch of motherfuckers staring at you while you're walking splay-toed towards the john, it becomes clear to you, finally, that all the big life-shading anxieties you've cultivated so meticulously over the years have been one hundred percent justified. And pretty much every time this happens, you feel kind of deflated.

But then, sometimes, I'm not really sure how often about this part but if I had to guess I'd say probably not that often, when you finish waggling your dick back into your shorts and look casually into the mirror while you wash your hands, you suddenly stop wondering if there's a way to return to the hotel room without anyone seeing you and start wondering if all this insecurity hasn't maybe been a little exaggerated, if maybe no one in the entire pacific time zone gives a shit about your shorts or your suntan or your posture, if maybe all the bizarre attention you're getting might instead have something to do with last night, when you let your buddies give you a mohawk.

July 3, 2006

July 1, Part Two

But then sometimes you get to the pool and it's really fucking fun and everyone is nice to you. And when this happens you decide to take off your shirt and surreptitiously remove your belt, reasoning that if you're just going to sit in a lounge chair and watch the Brazil game anyway, you might as well project the image that you're ready for some spontaneous water-related shenanigans should the right person decide it's shenanigan time. And every once in a while, the afternoon gets long and the beers get short and no one has said anything about your pants or asked why there's a belt curled up on the floor and you decide your lingering fear of being silently ridiculed by overweight tourists for being pale and slope-shouldered and wearing oversized J-crew shorts and red boxers with penguins on them is just your overactive and understimulated imagination, which reassurance you've been telling yourself pretty much your entire adult life, and coming to this conclusion means it's finally okay to get up and walk to the bathroom.

Saturday July 1, Part One

Sometimes you do the irresponsible thing and fly to Vegas on a Friday night when it's obvious there's something else to do instead. And sometimes your friends rent a cabana by the pool at your hotel and you spend the afternoon sunning and watching soccer and nursing several beers and one towering hangover. Sometimes, not often but more often than you might think, you fly 2500 miles to sit by a swimming pool only to realize you forgot your fucking bathing suit, and when this happens you put your hands on your hips, bite your lower lip and sigh audibly into your open suitcase, finally deciding to wear a pair of blue madras shorts in hopes that the casual observer might mistake these ridiculous pants for swim trunks. But with alarming frequency, your shorts are too large at the waist because you bought them at an outlet store and frankly you haven't been eating much recently anyway, so you decide to wear a belt, despite what you know the casual observer will think when he sees a tarnished belt buckle where your drawstring should be.