Wednesday, November 21, 2007


An actual phone conversation and reason #538 why I love my friends:

Me: Hey, duder! What's up?

B: Oh, hey guy! What's the good word?

Me: Not a lot. How's the lawyerin' going?

B: You know. Ups and downs. Pretty good.

Me: So, what's your record these days?

B: I'm 5-2...but those two losses are bullshit!

Me: What happened?!

B: Oh, I get all of the crap cases 'cause I'm the new guy. I maintain the cases were unwinnable.

Me: Well what happened?

B: So, in the first loss, my boss comes up to me and tells me - before handing me the case, mind you - that if I can get the jury to deliberate for more than 30 minutes he'll buy all my drinks the next night.

Me: Yeah.

B: So I read over the case - and for the record, whoever accepted this case for the firm is a douchebag - and my client is suing because he walked into a grocery store and selected six of store's finest steaks ---

Me: Wait, what kind of steak?

B: Rib-eye.

Me: That's a great steak!

B: Oh, it's the king of steaks! So anyway, he selects six of their finest rib-eyes and then stuffs them down his pants and sprints out the store.

Me: No!

B: Yes. So, Steak-In-The-Pants makes it to the parking lot where the store manager catches him and "reacquires" the rib-eyes after a confrontation.

Me: They fought?

B: Oh, Steak-In-The-Pants got the shit beat outta him.

Me: Wow. What'd they do with the steaks?

B: No idea what happened to the steaks. Probably marked down.

Me: Coulda been a good deal. Surely they weren't in his pants for more than a minute or two.

B: I woulda eaten 'em.

Me: I feel like if you're the type of guy to knock over a grocery store, you should know how to fight.

B: Well, have you ever fought with six steaks in your pants? That's gotta be a distinct disadvantage.

Me: True. And rib-eyes no less. Were they bone-in?

B: No idea. I hope not. That's too good a steak to ruin in some guys pants.

Me: So you lost that one?

B: Absolutely.

Me: How long did the jury deliberate?

B: [very self-satisfied] Hour-and-a-half.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bluegrass People

This weekend I will attend my university's homecoming festivities, but I will also participate in a homecoming of another sort. This second homecoming is a homecoming of individuals, most of whom I don't know, who have found beauty in grief and embraced it, if initially just to keep their feet. They are Bluegrass people and they were born homecoming weekend in October two years ago.

It was a Texas fall, different from a Texas summer in name and routine only. Things felt normal and static. This was my first homecoming as an alumni. I had started my first job and was tasting independence and security in delirious gulps. Life had just shifted to second gear and then my phone rang. My girlfriend and I had just pulled up to perhaps the only non-IHOP breakfast place in town. We were about to get out of my truck, having chosen to forego what would be a crowded church service and a chance to see my friend Kyle, to have breakfast with my thesis advisor and her husband. It was Whitney on the phone. Her voice shook tightly like a kid on a bike for the first time; determined to get through the sentence and scared she might not. "Kyle has been killed."



Drive home.



Drive back.




Gut-wrenching, head-draining, emotionally nuclear and profound sense of loss.



Beer and laughter.



Laughter and tears.


Constant reminders.


I have tried multiple times to write about Kyle - who he was; what he meant to me - but my efforts seem always to have fallen flat. I'm never sure where to focus. I always get two paragraphs in and then delete the whole thing. Words in type seem so finite and so incapable of capturing the impish, child-like sparkle that always danced in Kyle's eyes. And I'm not the only one. Kyle left a wife and three kids and thousands - no exaggeration - of people who all felt they had a unique and intimate relationship with him. And they were right.

It seems to miss the point to talk about the burden of memory when describing how utterly incapable I feel in trying to write about Kyle, but I do feel incapable. How can you be faithful to a memory that is shared by thousands? Again, people would say and have said, "You're missing the point. Write about your relationship with Kyle and don't focus on the rest of it." But that IS the point. Kyle gave a sliver of himself to everyone and somehow managed to make that sliver feel like the whole world. I have tried to write about that sliver - desperately so - but it seems too big for words and yet is still just a tiny part of Who He Was.

There are so many stories. Everyone has a version of the same story. Mine start with Kyle at a barbecue taking the time to form a relationship with a confused and angry college sophomore and then opening the eyes of that sophomore just by saying, "I don't know." The stories have titles: Kyle and The Bright New Shiny Passat. Kyle and the Finger in Church. Kyle Extends an Invitation to a Punk Rock Kid to See the Movie Gladiator. Huh-uh. Kyle Becomes a Superfan at an Intramural Soccer/Football/Softball Game. Kyle's a Dad. My Friend Kyle is Dead and the Collage of Memories I Have Seems Incomplete.

Another friend of mine, Mike, felt so incapable of putting Kyle to paper that he teamed up with yet a third friend, Dave, to write a book. The book is personal, painful, and beautiful and grasps at the idea that Kyle will probably always elude pen and paper. The closest the authors get - and it's close enough for me - is the realization that all of those tiny slivers of our friend, the whole world lost over and over again, can never be grieved or celebrated alone. Those who knew Kyle, and now those who know people who knew Kyle, are Bluegrass People. Like the early practitioners of Bluegrass music, the people Kyle's life touched now form a community marked by loss and the burden of grief. Just as Bluegrass music was originally participatory - a shared experience of a community's struggles - so too is the shared experience of Kyle's loss. I find my part difficult to write, but it's important that I participate.

This weekend at least two groups will worship together in defiance of Kyle's loss. One is the church he left behind and the other forms a much less obvious connection, perhaps even to some of its members. Throughout my friendship with Kyle, soccer was a vehicle. We played for the same formal team but at different times. We played together on multiple informal teams. We talked soccer. We joked soccer. We participated in the friendships and shared experiences of the same soccer context. This weekend I will play in an alumni soccer match with old friends and with guys I have never met. I will play with young men who lost the whole world when Kyle died and kids who have never heard his name. I will think of Kyle when I play and in so doing I will grieve his loss. And the loss will become a celebration and the soccer will become music.


From Kyle's last sermon:

"Live. And Live Well. BREATHE. Breathe in and Breathe deeply. Be PRESENT. Do not be past. Do not be future. Be now. On a crystal clear, breezy 70 degree day, roll down the windows and FEEL the wind against your skin. Feel the warmth of the sun.
If you run, then allow those first few breaths on a cool Autumn day to FREEZE your lungs and do not just be alarmed, be ALIVE. Get knee-deep in a novel and LOSE track of time.
If you bike, pedal HARD… and if you crash then crash well.
Feel the SATISFACTION of a job well done—a paper well-written, a project thoroughly completed, a play well-performed. If you must wipe the snot from your 3-year old’s nose, don’t be disgusted if the Kleenex didn’t catch it all… because soon he’ll be wiping his own.
If you’ve recently experienced loss, then GRIEVE. And Grieve well. At the table with friends and family, LAUGH. If you’re eating and laughing at the same time, then might as well laugh until you puke. And if you eat, then SMELL. The aromas are not impediments to your day. Steak on the grill, coffee beans freshly ground, cookies in the oven. And TASTE. Taste every ounce of flavor. Taste every ounce of friendship. Taste every ounce of Life. Because-it-is-most-definitely-a-Gift."

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Mazzy is a teenager. Actually, her first birthday was in July so I'm not quite sure where she stands in dog years, but she's already acting the moody, aloof part of a teenage girl. When it's just the two of us everything is cool, much like when my sister, clad in braces and over-sized flannel shirts, would, in the walls of our own home, hug my dad and smile rather than rolling her eyes and scowling like she did in public. Lounging on my couch with no one else around, Mazzy curls up by my feet and occasionally glances up from her canine half-sleep to stare at me contentedly before stretching, sighing, and curling back into the lima bean shape that marks her deepest state of relaxation.

But as soon as we're in public, I might as well be wearing a shirt that says "World's #1 Dad". On walks, Mazzy nods at other dogs and then looks at me as if to say, "Check out this guy. He's not really my owner, I'm just letting him walk me because I have to. It's part of my probation." It was bad enough when, after straddling a friend's dog's face, I thought she might be a tramp, but at least then she still acted like she couldn't live without me. Now she flashes ass to other dogs and then acts like I don't exist.

The culmination of Mazzy's descent into pubescence happened this weekend. I had been out of town on business for two weeks and Mazzy was staying with friends who own a young puppy and have a massive backyard. I pulled into their driveway late on Friday looking forward to having an Old Yeller moment. Mazzy was going to sprint to me, leap into my arms, and lick my face uncontrollably. Instead, after my friends opened the garage door and let Mazzy wander into the driveway, I was greeted by a look that said nothing more than, "Oh, it's you." There was no running, leaping, or licking. Mazzy gingerly sniffed at my shoes and jeans and then turned around and walked back into the garage as if to collect her things. The fun was very clearly over.

Today things are a little better. She has regained some of her goofiness and is lounging by my feet as I write this, but earlier when I sang and danced to "Train In Vain" by The Clash, a ridiculous display that usually riles Mazzy into a fit of playfulness, I swear she snorted at me and sauntered back into the living room. Pretty soon I'll catch her putting her paw down her throat and throwing all of her Science Diet up into the shaded corner of the backyard or sneaking under the fence to go run around with the neighborhood German Sheppard. I should have gotten a male dog.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Don't Crap Where You Eat Or, Why I Don't Eat at Wal-Mart

Yesterday I was in Super Wal-Mart using the bathroom. Just on principle I try to stay as far away as possible from Wal-Mart, but when a boy has got to go; a boy has got to go. When one is confined to a car for great lengths of time, one begins to figure out where one can use the facilities without all the sticky moral hindrance of thinking, "Well, I did use their urinal...I'll buy this Snicker's Bar and we'll be even." That way lies an empty wallet and a big ass.

Supermarkets work well for guiltless elimination, but they are often not that crowded - especially in the morning - so the restroom seeker cannot get lost in the crowd and therefore avoid detection. There's nothing worse than exiting a restroom to be examined by the penetrating eyes of a half dozen pimply-faced teenaged grocery jockeys who know you just used the crapper they have to clean and that you did so without the slightest intention of buying anything from their store. It's a breach of trust. Peeing and leaving is sort of the public restroom equivalent of a one night stand or a trip to the pound just to pet the dogs. Buying something is like cuddling and promising to call or actually adopting the puppy you've spent all day petting.

Best Buy is another great place for sweet relief, but it has its obstacles. Mainly, the restroom is in a different place in every store and is usually tucked away from plain sight. One's hurried hunting is an obvious giveaway to one's intent and attracts "Can I help yous" from every wise-to-you employee. Plus, if you get a sudden attack of guilt from dropping a deuce in the Best Buy bathroom with no intent to make a purchase, you're almost assured your crap will have cost you at least twenty dollars.

Starbucks also has it's pros and cons. Having formerly been in the employ of said establishment, I can tell you that every Starbucks employee is commanded to be unfailingly polite and non-combative to any potential customer. This includes vagrants who come in off the street and bathe in the sinks of the restrooms (which, for the restroom seeker, presents a different set of issues altogether). So, if anybody is going to make you feel bad, it's you. The downside to this is that most Starbucks have one solitary throne in each restroom. Coffee is a diuretic. Lines can form. If one is in need of some quality sit time, one can be assured that one's time will be interrupted by an impatient knock or ten. Also, one's personal bouquet does not typically mix well with the aroma of perfectly roasted coffee beans. Starbucks also commands its employees to not wear cologne or perfume as it might taint the aforementioned coffee bean aroma. Clealry, the odor of human waste would have made the list if they had thought of it. The potential for embarrassment is significant. Cozy, intimate, and artsy are not adjectives that typically mix well with verbs like strain, wipe, and flush.

Border's and Barnes & Noble present many of the same obstacles as does Starbucks, and bookish people can become judgemental in a hurry. Buying a magazine to appease them only adds to their anger. Not only are you the type of person who uses the restroom without making a purchase, but you're also the type of person who reads MAGAZINES! Classless. Plus, the Heartland is alarmingly devoid of bookstores and nature frequently seems to call in the void between two points, but they'll do in a pinch (pun intended).

University campuses are the Ivory Towers of the public world and of the public restroom world. There's nothing to buy and no one to offer you their help. I can still remember using the restroom in the English building at my university and having to wait for a stall while a road tripper had his Danish and coffee and read the morning newspaper. University restrooms are comfortable, clean, and, if you find the right building, almost always empty. Unfortunately, they're not as common as Super Wal-Marts, which leads me to the Grand Compromise...

But before I go on, I must say a few things, mostly about how much I hate Wal-Mart. One of my exes and I had a two part theory born of many forced weekend trips to the local Wal-Mart. 1). Any Wal-Mart in the United States on a Sunday afternoon is the most depressing place in the world equaled only by every other Wal-Mart in the United States on a Sunday afternoon. 2). The world would be a much, much, much, much, much, much, much better/more intelligent place if every Wal-Mart in the United States was consumed in a 100% percent fatal ball of God's fury on a Sunday afternoon. Elitist? Yes. True? Absolutely. As exhibit "A", I present the following: After using the bathroom of the Super Wal-Mart yesterday, I ventured over to the Halloween aisle in an effort to stretch my legs whereupon I observed a man with a real mullet purchasing a mullet wig. He was amused, obese, and seemingly completely oblivious to the fact that, for him, the purchase of a mullet wig was wholly unnecessary.

Thus, the Grand Compromise: I hate Wal-Mart, but it makes a pretty good place to take care of business. Because Wal-Mart sells everything from clothes to tires to paintball guns to onions, it is almost always packed to the gills with sweat pants clad Heartlanders seeking one of the billion things Sam Walton decided to stock on his shelves. The restroom seeker's nefarious intentions are literally cloaked by a wall of humanity that is undoubtedly responsible for much worse in-store infractions than using the restroom and leaving without buying anything. The restrooms are typically located near one of the entrances sandwiched between two of the separate businesses Wal-Mart tends to have operating behind its checkout counters. If a person were so inclined, a person could enter the belly of the beast, take care of business, and exit without even raising the eyebrow of the elderly and/or retarded greeter Wal-Mart pretends to responsibly employ. It's glorious and completely guilt-free.

Now that I work for the Man and am pretty confident I will not play much of a part in The Revolution, I like to think of using Wal-Mart bathrooms without buying anything as my own little act of resistance (insert "resistance" joke here). Sometimes, when I am feeling particularly subversive, I don't even flush. Hasta La Victoria Siempre!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

An Embarrassment of Riches

I have been blessed with uncles.

I was reminded of this fact tonight when speaking to my sister about a book I counted among my most cherished as an undergrad and recently rediscovered in the dustiness of a bookcase. I have five uncles and I can honestly say, despite the difficulties of time, geography, and context, I would lay down in traffic for any of them.

There is Neal. Neal once materialized from the fog of Fluvanna, Texas at five in the morning decked out in camouflage and a cowboy hat to take my father and I quail hunting. It was cold and silent. My father and I were huddled in the cab of a pick-up truck with my grandfather half awake and questioning the intelligence of going out to shoot birds at such an early hour. I think we were eating powdered doughnuts and drinking orange juice or milk purchased from a gas station on the way out to the forgettable outpost that is Fluvanna. We asked Neal what he had eaten for breakfast and whether or not he wanted any of our's. He responded with a now famous family line. "Shoot," he said. "All you need is some"

There is Dan. Dan has long been the favorite uncle of my sister and I. This is not a judgement on my other uncles, but a consequence of geography and frequency of contact. That being said, Dan is pretty freakin' solid. Dan is a sailor. Dan used to work on an offshore oil rig. Dan also used to dance in the Royal Canadian Ballet. Dan taught my sister and me such famous and delightful maneuvers as The Wiggle-Bottom Walk and Children For Shoes. Dan also used meticulously to paint egg shells and airplane glue toothpick halves to them creating colorful and dangerous looking works of art that he would then mount on six inch tall wooden crosses. He dubbed these small and outlandish products of his imagination "He Fried For Your Sins". Dan is a badass.

There is Jerry. Jerry was a cyclist as a younger man and has developed a scientist's affinity for cooking. I fancy myself a not-so-bad amateur chef, but Jerry consistently puts my sometimes brilliant sometimes awful productions to shame with his precise and artfully well-portioned offerings. I used to fake illnesses at school as a child so that Jerry, our emergency contact, would have to take off work to pick me up and hang out until my mom got off work. Jerry eventually got wise to this and an end was put to the hang out times, but I still feel like I got the fat end of the deal.

There is Michael. Michael is the uncle with whom I have has the least contact, but I still have quite the high opinion of the old boy. Michael is an evil computer genius and I blame him for my, even now, strong like of video games. We have pictures in my family photo album of Michael at Cape Hatteras on an outing with my parents before I was born. He is in a speedo and has ridiculously large chicken's feet fashioned from sand and seashells where his actual feet should be. There is a child-like lack of shame in this. I admire it greatly.

There was Sandy. Sandy passed away when I was a sophomore in high school. I was in the living room of my family's house with my mother, sister, and Dan when my mother received a phone call from my grandmother informing her of Sandy's death. The night was immediately transformed from light laughter to painful tears. I remember my mother saying "Oh, Dear," over and over on the phone with my grandmother. Her expression was one I never want to see again. I never believed in Santa Claus (Thanks, Mom.), but if I had, Sandy could have been his brother. He was red and hilarious and mischievous in a way that let me know the fun of being a child did not stop when one reached adulthood. I was proud and honored to be a pallbearer at his funereal.

Finally, there is Patrick, and the reason I was reminded of my uncles when discussing my favorite book with my sister. Patrick has an engineer's view of life, a comedian's sense of timing, and an artist's quirky eye for the world. Patrick used to keep a list of all the books he had read and his thoughts on each book. His reading habits were voracious. When my family and I lived in Saudi Arabia, Patrick would write long and detailed letters to my mother that would be passed around to all of us or sometimes read aloud. They were hilarious and they did more to save our collective sanity than the few American television programs we were able to get on a pirated Armed Forces Radio and Television feed. Patrick is also an avid cyclist, and -completely unrelated, yet somehow important - once regaled me with a story about attending a Dead Kennedy's concert in El Paso, Texas.

I have been blessed. Now I just need to do a better job staying in touch with them all.

Apparently, I'm Not As Well-Read As I Thought Or Stolen From Katie Or This Entry Was Also Sandbagged


! = want to read
Not in a million years= do NOT want to read
?= never heard of it

(plus combinations thereof)

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown) *
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) !
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee) *
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell) Not in a million years
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien) !
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien) !
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien) !
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery) Not in a million years
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon) ?
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry) ?
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling) Not in a million years
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown) Not in a million years
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling) Not in a million years
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving) *
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden) !
16. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling) Not in a million years
17. Fall on Your Knees(Ann-Marie MacDonald) ?
18. The Stand (Stephen King) *
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling) Not in a million years
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) !
21. The Hobbit (Tolkien) Not in a million years
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger) *
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott) *
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold) !
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel) !
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) !
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte) Not in a million years
28. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis) *
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck) *
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom) Not in a million years
31. Dune (Frank Herbert) *
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks) Not in a million years
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) !
34. 1984 (Orwell) *
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley) Not in a million years
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett) *
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay) Not in a million years
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb) ?
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant) Not in a million years
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho) ?
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel) ?
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini) *
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella) ?
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom) Not in a million years
45. Bible *
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy) !
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas) *
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt) *
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) *
50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb) ?
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver) !
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens) *
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card) *
54. Great Expectations (Dickens) Not in a millio years
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald) *
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence) ?
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling) Not in a million years
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough) ?
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood) *
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger) ?
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky) *
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand) !
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy) !
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice) NIMY
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis) ?
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) *
67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares) NIMY
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) *
69. Les Miserables (Hugo) *
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery) ?
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding) NIMY
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez) *
73. Shogun (James Clavell) ?
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje) !
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett) *
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay) ?
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith) ?
78. The World According To Garp (John Irving) !
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence) ?
80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White) *
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley) ?
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck) *
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier) ?
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind) ?
85. Emma (Jane Austen) !
86. Watership Down(Richard Adams) *
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley) *
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields) ?
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago) *
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer) ?
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje) ?
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding) *
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck) *
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd) !
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum) NIMY
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton) *
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch) !
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford) ?
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield) !
100. Ulysses (James Joyce) *

Sunday, August 19, 2007

This Entry Was Sandbagged

I know, I know, I took a quiz. Silly. Very, very silly.

I was thinking though that finding out which classic work of literature I would be - according to God-Knows-Who - might be interesting. Certainly more interesting than "Which Star Wars Character Are You?" Anyhow, I did not expect these results but that's what you get, no? Cheers.

You're Love in the Time of Cholera!

by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Like Odysseus in a work of Homer, you demonstrate undying loyalty by
sleeping with as many people as you possibly can. But in your heart you never give
consent! This creates a strange quandary of what love really means to you. On the
one hand, you've loved the same person your whole life, but on the other, your actions
barely speak to this fact. Whatever you do, stick to bottled water. The other stuff
could get you killed.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The White Buffalo and My Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great Granddaddy's Penis

My sister called me yesterday and left a threatening voicemail as Kim Jong Il. In it, I was told that failure to contact my sister would, "Resurt in (Kim Jong Il) feeding (my) riferess body to (Kim Jong Il's) shark!" I know there is a more correct way to bracket portions of a quotation that have been changed for continuity of tense or context, but seriously, I just wrote the word "riferess".

I'm not sure exactly when we - and by "we" I mean my sister, myself, and many close friends - began leaving voice mail messages as dubious celebrities/made up characters/political pundits/Evil Masterminds for friends and family, but over the years I have received or left voicemails from/as Jesse Jackson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Sharpton, David Bowie, Christopher Walken, Borat, my friend's Turkish mother, Kim Jong Il, Saddam Hussein, and Mr. T. Sometimes I actually hope whoever I am calling doesn't answer their phone so that I, as Barry Gibb, can implore them to give me a call. I've actually had friends who I have not spoken to in months call me and then, when I answer, tell me to hang up so they can call back and leave their own ridiculous message.

As hilarious as most of these messages have been, there is one that stands out in my mind as the proverbial cake taker. My best friend (And current Brother-in-law...weird) was driving a U-Haul through the most underwhelming part of West Texas when he decided to give me a call as my great, great, great, great, great, great granddaddy from Snyder, Texas. He (My great, great, great, great, great, great granddaddy) had decided it was high time I heard the true tale of Snyder's famous white buffalo. For those of you unfamiliar with the legend of the White Buffalo, I really can't help you. All I know is that there is a statue - a very anatomically correct statue - of a white buffalo on the downtown square in Snyder, Texas. Approaching the town from any direction, one is assured of seeing at least one dilapidated billboard proclaiming Snyder as "The Home of the White Buffalo". The best I can tell, some poor albino buffalo was unfortunate enough to get himself shot in what would later become Snyder, Texas. Why this makes Snyder the "Home of the White Buffalo" and not the "Final Resting Place of the White Buffalo" is anyone's guess. Also, if you don't know Snyder, it seems that his shooting was the last significant thing to have happened there. Hence, the billboards and the anatomically correct statue which, by the way, replaced a previous statue that seemed more well-suited for a putt-putt golf course.

You may be asking yourself, "How did the White Buffalo come to be white?" Well, apparently my great, great, great, great, great, great granddaddy had something to do with it. As was related to me that day in an oddly spry and slightly smoky voice:

Well, me and your great, great, great, great, great, great grandmammy - God rest her soul - was out behind the homestead for a little privacy so we could get it on. I was giving it to the old lady when I looked up and saw a great big ole buffalo grazin' about a hundred yards away. With all the commotion - if you know what I'm sayin' - he looked up from his meal, and when he saw the gargantuan size of my wang he turned plum white, been that way ever since. As you may well know, havin' a giant pecker is a Smith* family tradition. Unfortunately, as you may also well know, it skips every other generation. So, I guess that leaves you with the short end of the more ways than one! He He. Well, later on!

Why a 180 year old man would reach out from beyond the grave to tell his 22 year old great, great, great, great, great, great grandson about the sexual habits/anatomical attributes of he and his wife and how said habits/attributes resulted in the sudden pigment change of a now dead buffalo is beyond me...not to mention the alternating generational particularities of the Smith family line. I guess that's not the point. Why would Kim Jong Il call and threaten to feed my to a shark if I didn't call my sister? Why would Christopher Walken want to know why I hadn't called and then recite a portion of "The Raven"? Why would my buddy's Turkish mother call and ask if I was "Having the sex?"

My answer: Who cares? It's nice to know you have friends and family who want to hear from you. It's even nicer knowing they love you enough to want to make you laugh.

*Seriously, would I post my real last name on here?!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

On Fire For The Lord

I went to a private Baptist university, a cluster of red brick buildings and manicured mauls, in an unspectacular town in Central Texas. I am thankful for my university experience and remember fondly the majority of my time there. But in the first week, I hated it.

My mother was raised Catholic and my father Methodist in a dusty and forgettable footnote of West Texas that has become more dusty and more forgettable as the years have passed. Even if my mother had not been made to feel like an outsider by her disapproving Church of Christ relatives and my father not been completely estranged by, well, everything as far as I can tell, the theological differences between their two spiritual upbringings would have, in all likelihood, conspired to lead them to the decision they eventually made anyway - assuming they got hitched in the first place - which was to leave decisions about the whole "God" thing up to my sister and me. In some ways this worked swimmingly, in others it was a total disaster, like when my sister, after spending the night with a friend on a Saturday, was taken by the friend's family to a Baptist service the following morning and nearly caused the Sunday School teacher to burst into flames when she, feeling the need to contribute to the morning's study, made up a Bible verse, name number and all, or when I, after a similarly timed overnight invite from a friend, wound up at an Episcopalian service chomping down on a Communion wafer with all the grace and solemnity one might reserve for an after school snack of Ritz crackers. From a young age, our familiarity with organized religion could be best described as remote and uneasy.

It was in this context that I arrived on the campus of the World's Largest Baptist University in late summer of 1998. One of the reasons I chose to go to this particular university was the welcoming feeling of community I experienced during my first visit to the campus as a high school senior. People actually said, "Hello," as I fumbled my way from building to building with an arm-load of maps and brochures. This was a far cry from the cacophony and measured aloofness of the large state schools I had visited, and my sister had already blazed a trail in that direction anyway. Ever the contrarian, I wanted to do something different, even if my high school teachers and friends were left stupefied and expressionless when I told them where I had chosen to attend school or if it was unlikely that I would ever be able to support a wining football team (Apparently, God doesn't much interfere with matters between the sidelines).

For all incoming freshmen, the World's Largest Baptist University organizes an entire week - Welcome Week - as an orientation to the university and the community. Mostly, this consists of community service outings, pizza socials, ice cream socials, watermelon socials, Dr. Pepper socials, movie socials, and social socials, but occasionally, after a vigorous water balloon fight, the organizers and student leaders bring up the Big JC and His role in campus life. One cannot mistake to what kind of university he has come. After a solid week of this I was beginning to wonder what kind of college experience I had signed up for.

Feeling a little socialed out and more than a little duped after the third or fourth time my kind, bearded Christian student leader had asked me out for lunch or Ultimate Frisbee only to commence Operation Save My Soul - acoustic guitar in hand - I tactfully notified him that I was probably going to bow out on the culmination of the week's festivities, an "important event" to be hosted at the university's basketball arena. He was relentless and insisted that I go. "You will love it," he implored. And after a week of being sanded down by all sorts of Baptist fun, I remember thinking to myself, "Maybe you haven't given this whole thing a fair shake. Push your comfort zone around a bit and give it a go. After all, it's college, right?" Hence, I caved.

The arena was packed with sunburned and fresh-faced college neophytes like myself all sitting clustered in pockets of new and uneasy friendships wondering how the hell - excuse me, heck - they were going to find their way to their first ever college class the following morning. I'm not really sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't the pseudo camp meeting the event turned in to. There was acoustic guitar music in the simple, non-hurried #G, #C, #D chord progression anyone familiar with contemporary Christian music would instantly recognize. People stood, and not because they were tired of sitting. Apparently, as I was uncomfortably realizing, an abiding love of The Lord is best demonstrated in the standing position, eyes closed, hands stretched toward the ceiling, and swaying contemplatively to and fro with a slightly drugged looking smile on one's face. There was a testimonial. An upperclassman earnestly related to us how she had been saved from the den of iniquity that was her previous university (Coincidentally, the same impossibly huge state school at which my sister was receiving a world class education) by coming to God's chosen institution of higher learning.

I somehow willed my way through what I guess was intended to be a pep rally for The Lord with a straight face and thought the event was over, but as my fellow classmates and I silently made our way to the exit doors, some out of absorption in the moment and some, like me, out of shear confusion about what the heck just happened, we were met by more student leaders passing out candle light vigil candles from massive cardboard boxes. Yes, there is such a thing as a candle light vigil candle. It's not just a candle. It's a candle with a cardboard cone attached to it, on which is printed something ridiculous like, "Candle Light Vigil Candle: For All of Your Vigil Needs," to prevent hot wax from dripping on its holder's hand. Before I could shout, "Nehemiah!", I had not one, but two candle light vigil candles lighted and placed in my hands and was following a weaving line of flickering light to the university marina on the shores of a river in which bodies would be routinely pulled in the next few years.

At the time though, it must have seemed an idyllic setting for yet another reflective praise and worship session complete with yet another kind, bearded Christian and an acoustic guitar and yet another former drug-addled tramp ready to guide us melodiously through a meditation on why we had chosen the World's Largest Baptist University as our place of study. The university's marina is half circle shaped. The waterline is rimmed with a wooden dock at which Sunfish sailboats are tethered and further inland from the dock is a concrete sidewalk. Beyond the sidewalk, a steep, grassy hill leads up to a road, parking lot, and soccer field. It was a typical late summer Texas night; warm but not hot, lots of insect noise, and the fecund smell of vegetation growing on the banks of the river. As my classmates and I, double-fisting our candle light vigil candles, teetered our way precariously down the grassy hill to find a spot to sit not already occupied by fire ants, some of the student leaders lit candles on a giant, floating Styrofoam cross that was anchored in the middle of the marina waters.

For a few minutes, in the stillness of the night, the water from the marina reflected the light from the cross, the candles, the stars, and the fireflies in a constantly dancing collage of golden flames and darting greens. The moon was a quarter of the way through it's nighttime trek across the sky and the last pink and orange hues from the setting sun were melting away on the opposite horizon. The student leaders had stopped talking and the guitar was only a whisper to the soundtrack of emerging crickets and retiring cicadas now quieting their cries against the day's heat. I found myself broadsided by the moment. It was still and it was beautiful.

Then the cross caught on fire.

It started as two or three violent but small flashes from among the calmly flickering candles, but then the Styrofoam reached its flash point with an audible whoosh and the gentle, golden glow of the candles' flames transformed into an angry and treacherous looking multi-colored flame that lashed out aggressively from the floating inferno. I was no longer caught in the moment, but now taking obvious delight in glancing from face to face in the suddenly nervous and confused crowd of my classmates.

The kind, bearded Christian atop the marina deck tried to save the situation by proclaiming the flaming cross a sign of our burning desire to be closer to God, but then the noxious smoke from the melting Styrofoam billowed its way into part of the gathered crowd and the students there started to cough and hack as they extinguished their candle light vigil candles and scattered in an effort to escape the smoke. I half expected the MC to try and spin the smoke as a manifestation of the Holy Ghost infusing those fortunate coughing and hacking students with the love of The Lord, but he just started and stopped two or three times to say something and then gave up. After the initial explosion, with the smoke now coursing out of the marina through a clear spot in the crowd made by vacated students, some sense of serenity started to settle back on to the crowd and the MC must have thought he had saved the situation with his whole "burning-desire-to-be-closer-to-God" thing. I hadn't noticed, as I was now trying to stifle my laughter by burying my head in the crook of my elbow, that, while things were beginning to settle down, a panicked troop of student leaders had commandeered one of the Sunfish and were using their hands as paddles to splash their way out to the burning cross. I looked up just in time to see them put out the flaming chunk of Styrofoam that now floated pathetically in the marina with three quick silence-shattering blasts from a fire extinguisher. Apparently, our burning desire to be closer to The Lord had been deemed a health hazard and needed to be extinguished forthwith.

To their credit, the kind, bearded Christian, the former drug-addled tramp, and the student leaders nobly soldiered on for a good five minutes while the half submerged and charred remains of the cross smoldered in the marina and periodic violent coughing fits erupted from within the crowd, but the moment had been lost. I was in stitches.

When they realized the situation could not be salvaged, the student leaders called all of the freshmen into small groups for a brief round robin discussion/reflection of the week and of our coming years at the World's Largest Baptist University. I listened politely as two of my classmates discussed their newly polished commitment to seek God in all they did, and then it was my turn to reflect and discuss.

"Did you guys not see the freakin' cross catch on fire?! That was hilarious!"


I was quickly pierced with disapproving looks from around the gathered circle, but instead of feeling shamed as an intruding pagan, I felt confident and hopeful. My history of remote, uneasy disillusion was floating with the melted cross in the marina. I was smiling. God, I had decided, had a wicked sense of humor. How can you not like a guy like that?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Texas Is The Reason

I was in discussion today with The Special Lady Friend about the relative merits of my home state and the joy with which natives of said state tell of its greatness. The state of which I speak is Texas. (Just so you know, I had to resist the urge to type "Texas" like this: TEXAS.) Now, any self-respecting Texan would realize at this point in the post that I have written enough to render all counter arguments moot and void by their silliness. I mean really, typing TEXAS should be enough, but I will humor my non-Texan readership and continue in delineating my infallible logic in an effort to educate and persuade those of you not fortunate enough to count yourselves among the blessed.

I know some of you are rolling your eyes now and thinking to yourselves, "Oh, God, here it comes - another Holier Than Thou Texan waxing poetic about his state and how its so big and so badass." Let me first enumerate my credentials:

1.) I was born overseas to two native Texans in a beautiful and unassailable country who CHOSE to move back to Texas over all other choices.

2.) I have traveled substantially - and from a very young age - and have been taught to value and appreciate multiculturalism and the beauty of foreign cultures.

3.) I do not drive a pick-up truck, nor do I own a gun.

4.) I did not vote for Bush, nor would I ever even if paper cut over my entire body and dipped in a vat of fresh lemon juice.

As I was explaining to the Russian first-named Special Lady Friend, Texas is the greatest state in the United States. Whereas a Virginian or Californian traveling overseas will introduce themselves as being from the United States, a Texan will introduce themselves as being from Texas. This is not arrogance. This is a simple and honest admission of the fact that they are better than you, but no disrespect is intended. You are more than welcome to move and adopt the state as your own. As Lyle Lovett so elegantly stated, "That's right, you're not from Texas...Texas wants you anyway." It's not that everything in Texas is the best the world over; far from it. It is, as I was explaining, that everything in Texas is inherently better than its equal outside of the borders of the Lone Star State. Confused? Here's an example:

Texas has mountains. Yes, I know, those of you from Colorado are scoffing at the mere suggestion of it, but it's true. In the far western reaches of our impossibly well-proportioned state, there exists a small and humble "mountain range" whose tallest peak towers a rather underwhelming 8,749 feet. Alaska's Denali juts majestically past the 20,000 foot barrier and presents a formidable challenge to seasoned mountaineers the world over. However, and here's where my infallible logic takes over, Denali, or any other peak outside of Texas, cannot be the "best" mountain in the world by virtue of the fact that it does not lie within the borders of our aforementioned impossibly well-proportioned state. Conversely, Texas's underwhelming 8,749 foot Guadalupe Peak can never be the "worst" mountain in the world because it DOES lie within those same impossibly well-proportioned borders. It's not me talking here, it's God. Who am I to argue with God (aside from the fact that I'm from Texas)?

Also, and I almost hesitate to present this argument but it seems necessary considering that there will be some people who read this and are confused by my previous argument, Texas is the only state that looks good as a tattoo. Seriously, would another state be as recognizable or as aesthetically pleasing as Texas? "Hey, check out my new tattoo. I know it looks like a rectangle, but it's Wyoming." Or, "No, that's not a birth mark, it's my sweet new tattoo of Idaho."

I'm not sure I convinced the Special Lady Friend of the greatness that is Texas, but she's from Indiana and they're still hung up on the whole basketball thing. Plus, she admitted to me that as a child she wanted to move to Texas because it seemed alluring in an indefinable way. Which brings me to my third argument: How many Texas school children do you think want to move to Indiana? I rest my case.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Qualities Possessed by The Fairer Sex For Which I Have Been Looking, But of Which I Have Been Only Recently Made Aware

I have been seeking a woman who believes those who drive yellow vehicles, particularly men, are, by consequence of having chosen freely to drive said yellow vehicles, douchebags...or, at least, are significantly predisposed to douchebaggery. One notable exception to this otherwise highly proven rule is school bus drivers. They had no choice in the color of their vehicle.

I have been seeking a woman totally intolerant of lactose intolerance, but tolerant in all other ways.

I have been seeking a woman pointedly irked by any and all attempts to stifle a sneeze, especially when said attempts result in the sort of high-pitched nose hiccup a lesser person might describe as “cute”.

I have been seeking a woman with a Russian first name. This just makes sense and I cannot believe I did not realize it sooner in life. I present to you, the reader, a simple yet irrefutably true equation: Russian first name = sexy as hell.

This list will grow. Give it time.

Monday, July 02, 2007


I had my first flea market experience today and I'm not sure I can write about it in any cogent form. My senses have been assaulted with so many curios and as-seen-on-TV gimmicks that I am even now, after more than a few hours separation, finding it difficult to rein-in the bounding, ricocheting shards of observation that are flashing in and out of my mind's eye. I discovered today that a "good" flea market is a patchwork of completely useless and unrelated crap, and I think this post would be best served to follow in the footsteps of its inspiration. So, without further verbosity, completely useless and unrelated crap:

It cost three dollars to park at this flea market and the expanse of grass and gravel that would eventually be covered by thousands (no exaggeration) of cars primed to haul home the day's bounty stretched over the horizon in three directions and was tended to by a flock of tanned and leathery pre-teen car jockeys in oompa-loompa orange t-shirts.

We entered the flea market, a collection of Hoover-ville style tents, lean-tos, mobile homes, and the odd permanent structure, by way of gate number eleven. Gate eleven wasn't even the last gate. I saw numbers as high as sixteen...and the number of gates did not seem excessive. I never once thought - and I wanted to - "Gee, that gate really is unnecessary. Almost no one is using it."

Like ants to a melted Sugar Daddy at a hot state fair, this flea market attracted impossibly pale, freakishly obese, suspiciously scarred, bargain-hunting, grammar-murdering , infomercial connoisseurs from across the Greater Midwest. Plus, my co-workers and myself. So I guess you can lump us in there as well. Seriously though - I know I'm coming off as an elitist prick - but this was more depressing than a Wal-Mart on a Sunday afternoon. Oh, and the Amish. The Amish were there too. Unfortunately, their presence, rather than being a dignifying factor, only contributed to the utter weirdness of the clientele. You can only see Jebediah and Ezekiel completely enthralled in a micro-fiber glass cleaning demonstration so many times before you realize that not drinking or using electricity doesn't keep you from getting duped any less frequently than the Coors Light, Rascal-driving crowd.

You want fake flowers? In what color? POW-MIA flags? What's that? Only if they're made in the U-S-of-A, you say? Have no fear, "We don't sell no Chinaman flags." A beer stine with Dale Earnhardt on it? Look no further, M'Lady. An old empty Coke can that may or may not have collector's value? Follow me to the back. A G.I. Joe with no legs and a melted face? Indeed! A box of batteries? No? Well, what about a box of bungee cords? I knew I'd get you. The best eaves-dropped conversation of the day though was between a sturdy, no-nonsense NASCAR fan and a Middle Eastern vendor of samurai swords and way-too-authentic looking air guns. From memory:

NASCAR: :Twenty dollars!? You must not do much business then.

Vendor: I've been here twenty years, my friend!

NASCAR: I'll give you twelve fifty for it (holding up a samurai sword).

Vendor: Why not twenty?

NASCAR: (Apparently expert in the value of mass-produced samurai swords) This ain't a twenty dollar sword!

I have no idea if a deal was ever struck, but I could still see them haggling even when I was well out of earshot. The fact that they were dickering over the price is nothing new to me. Even the fact that their tone was increasing in vitriol as I made my way from the booth did not bother me. What had me unsettled, and still does, is the fact that A). There is a market for samurai swords at flea markets in the Midwest, and B). That NASCAR would have such a need for a samurai sword that he would invest a good deal of a Monday afternoon in trying to obtain said sword at a bargain price. Maybe it was less about the sword and more about a victory in the art of dickering. Maybe NASCAR came from a long line of dickerers and, in his eyes, fleecing the vendor of a twenty dollar samurai sword for twelve fifty was sort of like defeating an actual samurai in skilled combat. Either way, the sword could justifiably assume a prominent position in his home and speak volumes for his prowess in one-on-one combat...of a sort.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Shooting From the Roof In A Too Vivid Dream

We had a good plan. We thought we had a good plan. And then the Christians began to march through the city. It was getting dark and their candles appeared first slowly like fireflies at dusk. But soon it was night and the streets were weaving rivers of wax and light and our plan no longer looked so good. We had not expected them, the Christians not the soldiers. I think they fired first, the soldiers not the Christians. Or maybe we did. My world was atop a thin and rusty apartment building on a broad avenue to the southeast. We did not have a plan. The soldiers could not see me through the darkness, and I could not hit them on account of my innocence. The Christian candles started to go out like neighborhoods on a failing electrical grid. I started to aim my shots away from the soldiers so that they might forget me. They did not. Their rockets were getting closer. One came so close he could look at me, the fire from his back illuminating my face. "I wish I could turn around and tell the others where you are," he said as he shattered apartment 1013 below me and to the west. Near the soldiers, glass shattered and a dam broke. I do not think I was responsible for this. The torrent cooled their guns and quieted their bodies. I walked away from the roof of the thin rusty apartment building and into a store. My friend was there, and although I do not know his name, we chatted like children and relived our newly intoxicating personal histories as the store clerk listened, tired and unimpressed. Then the lights went out. All over, pitch black and a silence like swimming in ink. I bit my tongue and made my way to the broad avenue without my nameless friend. In an orange cone of light, where the drowned soldiers once stood, a flare went off next to my foot. My perch atop the thin rusty apartment building was no longer mine. Someone else was there and he was better than me. Dust danced by my feet to the music of the inky silence and I ran from it like a drunkard. I slithered through the grass of the park trying to make my way to where the drowned soldiers' guns might be. First forward, now listening. I made too much noise to not have been noticed. There was no one there, but I imagined a thousand eyes from just beyond the darkness laughing at my loneliness waiting for me to be almost too close to shoot. I thought at any moment the darkness would errupt in fire and drums all around me. I was teetering on a moment in silence. An elephant walked by. Then a giraffe and two rhinos. Zoo escapees who looked to know where they were going. Another elephant appeared through the trees and I laid motionless and stiff on my stomach hoping not to be stepped on. The elephant passed by and then turned as though he just realized he had missed me. Facing away from him, I resumed my stiff, motionless pose. Headlights warmed my back and melted the dark spaces around my face. I pressed myself further into the mud of a slight embankment. Stiff and still. The soldiers walked by once then twice. I tried to imagine what a finishing shot in the small of my back might feel like. They walked by a third time. How could they not see me? I peaked at their faces, tired and pale, limp and sweaty. I moved more and saw further to my right. Three giant pills, full of blood and bodies, strapped atop another truck. Now they saw me. I was gathered like a sack and dumped with the others. But I am alive, am I not? "Two doctors will cut off our hands to ID us and then we will be dumped in one of the three pills," said the dead face to my left. I sit up amongst the shattered and the drowned, but I am not noticed. It is my turn to face the doctors. I am carried, although I can walk. I wear a black suit and a human face and I hold my hands out to the doctors. The doctor on my left hand scrapes a trail around my wrist with a dull blade. "Excuse me," I say, "I am not dead, as you can clearly see, and I would very much appreciate it if you did not cut off my hands. Your blade looks dull and small and I am quite sure that the pain would be too much. And anyway, since you're doing it to ID me, and I'm alive, you could just ask me who I am." They stare back in silence, unsurprised. Tired and pale, limp and sweaty.

I am not sure if they proceed because I wake up.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Brilliant. I Wish I Had Thought of It...But I Guess Then I'd Have to Be English...

Steven Wells
June 15, 2007 12:34 PM

David Beckham is going to the LA Galaxy. Hurrah. Let's all laugh at American soccer. Again.

Modern Englishmen are in two minds about Americans playing proper football. Some think it only right the poor benighted heathens be gifted the game historian Eric Hobsbawm rightly described as an artform. But others fear it'll make Americans more like us and therefore much more difficult to despise.

I am firmly in the former camp. Public toilets, atheism, publicly funded radio and association football - these are all things of which no society can have too much. Witness the fact that soccer-playing America is massively liberal, loving, caring, socially conscious and nice. While soccer-hating America consists of increasingly isolated gangs of Bush-supporting, bible-bashing, gun-crazed, dungaree wearing, banjo-playing, quasi-fascist chicken-lovers and their twelve fingered, pin-headed, cyclopic, drooling monster children.

Alas, Englishmen who live in desperate fear of an American soccer planet are legion. As the recent spate of stories about US businessmen buying British clubs and Goldenballs relocating to LA proved, there's no shortage of stuck up limey soccer snobs who still think it's frightfully funny the ghastly Yanks play the round ball game at all.

Like most prejudices, this hatred disguises fear. Recently a leading English soccer journalist told me he "really hopes football fails in America". Others are less blatant but they make their loathing plain through sarcasm, satire and snidery.

You know whom I'm talking about. Reader, I am about to piss on my chips. I will not only bite the hand that feeds me, I will take the arm off at the shoulder. For no one has mocked American soccer more consistently or with more vigour than the sneering, primly moustached, stiff-lipped cads of the Guardian Unlimited Sports desk.

It's always been thus. In the 1970s, when the star-studded New York Cosmos were filling stadiums during the first American soccer revolution, Roy of the Rovers found himself playing Stateside for the Pine City Pirates. Roy was appalled by the shallowness, ballyhoo and sheer incompetence of American soccer. "I thought I was going to learn something by coming to the States!" he moaned. "I didn't dream I'd have to teach them how to play the game!"

And who could forget the 2002 World Cup and Gary Lineker reading from a typically and hilariously stoopid Yank match report: "Wolff procrastinates over a sideline handpass and is ref-charged for clock abuse" and "he top-bodies the sphere into the score-bag, and Mexico have a double-negative stat!"

Oh those pig-ignorant cack-gobbed Yank wankers! How we laughed. What more confirmation could we possibly need that these gibbering, thumb-fingered mouth-breathers will never understand the beautiful game?

Of course, it turned out Gaz was reading a marvellous Guardian Unlimited spoof. Hell, I laughed. And so did Lawrence Dallaglio when he repeated the quotes the next night on a different TV show. And so did the studio audience. Which is when the penny dropped. This isn't just how Brits think Americans perceive soccer - this is how Brits need to think Americans perceive soccer. And that, actually, is a little bit sad.

During that same World Cup, before the US v Germany game, a British TV crew stopped folks in Time Square and asked them (oh hilarity!) if they even knew a game was taking place (lol!!!!!! rotflmao!!!!!!!!!!). Unfortunately almost everyone said yes. One dude in a soccer shirt even invited the reporter to watch the game with him. "We thought there was apathy," muttered a deeply disappointed Gabby Logan back in the studio.

The rest you know. The "USA!" chants at Manchester United games. The MU Rowdies gags in the Fiver, The Guardian Unlimited design-a-new-hilariously-Americanized-MUFC-crest Gallery that was then ripped off by The Sun so the whole nation could join in the yanks-don't-get-football yukfest.

Then Bex signed for the LA Galaxy-and the whole sad circus started all over again.

Trouble is, the joke tells us nothing about America or American football (or "soccer" as those crazy, propeller beanie-wearing goofballs call it!!!!!!!!!!!!). And it tells us everything about us.

We - a substantial chunk of us, anyway - are desperately scared that association football will succeed in America. That the USA will become a footballing power. That the yanks will develop a version of the beautiful game as irresistible as jazz, rock'n'roll or the amazing American language (and unless you've checked the English/American phrase books handed out to GIs in 1942, you probably have no idea how much American you speak, limey).

Why are we scared? Because as a nation we have a desperate need to feel superior to the vibrant barbarian culture that's replaced us as top global ass-kicker.

Face it, feeling superior to Americans is about all we've got left. But the list of things we actually do better than the Yanks is slim and getting slimmer. Did you know that the bastards even brew decent beer these days?

So what have we got left to be smug about? Wensleydale cheese, Ricky Gervais, Theakston Old Peculier and Helen Mirren. And, oh yeah, football.

Sorry, the Yanks get it. Not all of them. Not even most of them. But enough of them. Even if Bex bombs. Even if the MLS collapses, American soccer isn't going away.

It's time for a new joke.

Monday, June 11, 2007

[Insert Clever Title Here]

Pardon the quotations, movie title, and otherwise lack of bold or italicized writing. I'm flummoxed by html and blogger at the moment. That's right, flummoxed.

"Shut up Amber!"

"Stupid Dog!"

"Can it!"

"Shut UP Ambuuuuuuurrrrrrrr!"

"Amber, enough!"

(Dog still barking)

"Amber, want something to drink, Sweety?"

Amber was a Cocker Spaniel who was angrily barking her displeasure at the two grown men - of which I was one - in lycra and polyester who had dared ride their bicycles within visual range of the monstrous Buick LeSabre she proudly occupied. Amber's owner was a crusty and leathered middle-aged woman. For those of you familiar with the Tuna plays, she was nearly a dead-ringer for D.D. Snavely, gravely voice and cigarette included. She walked with a cane; the temporary kind one gets from a prescription; the kind devoid of any ornamental consideration; the kind one might be prescribed after a farming accident or a too firm kick to their no-good husband's groin, or regions thereabouts (A drunken kick is hard to aim.).

Amber's owner - I'll call her Barb - shoved the gas station door open with one hand and her cane when Amber's barking reached a Cujoesque crescendo as my buddy and I propped our bikes against the outdoor ice machine and started to make our way past Amber's Buick. There's nothing more obvious than a dog owner who has completely out-punted their coverage with concern to controlling their dog. I'm sure Amber was sweet at one time -like pre-Barb- but as we made our way past her car - and I call it "her car" because Barb was clearly the Beta Dog - Amber's barks turned from curious and designed for attention to vicious and designed to fuck you up.

Seeing a Cocker Spaniel who wants to kill you is disconcerting in an almost cute way. You expect a Pit Bull to want to tear your calves from the bone and floss his teeth with your squirting veins, but watching a Cocker Spaniel go over the top is something from which you cannot look away. It's sort of like a toddler suddenly launching into a profanity-laced tirade and pulling a knife on you. I stared through the windows of the Buick as I made my way into the gas station while Barb banged her cane against the car in an even more ridiculous attempt to calm down Amber.

There's nothing like walking into a rural anything in cycling apparel. One feels a little like Kevin Costner's character in Dances With Wolves the first time he rides into the Sioux village. You are a foreigner and the locals might kill you. Fortunately, the girl behind the counter seems to work at this particular establishment most weekend mornings and many-a-cyclist stops there for water and food. She's jaded and typically just peaks at your crotch as you walk in. This makes me feel a little dirty, but it is definitely preferable to dualie drivers who try to run you off the road while yelling out the window such original insults as, "Hey, Fag!"

Apparently, Barb and the girl behind the counter go way back. Barb came back into the store - briefly flooding the small space with Amber's blood-thirsty warnings as she opened the door - and repositioned herself in what looked to be a familiar stance against the counter.

Barb (Chomping on gum): Hey, Hun. You all aren't goin' past [such-and-such] county line, are ewe?

Me (Not knowing at all because I just moved here and turn left or right when I'm told): Ummm, I'm not really sure. Why?

Barb (With Amber's murderous howls in the background): My dawg'll chase ewe...but she's harmluss. She'll stay in the yard.

Me (Knowing she's totally full of it): Really?

Barb: Other's of ewe all (referring to cyclists) have complained and the sheruff even asked me to git rid of'r, but how'm I
gonna git rid of m'baby? I paid tew hundr'd un fifty doll'rs fer her!

Girl Behind the Counter (Without a hint of irony): Ewe'd git rid of that husbund of yer's before you sent Amber off!

Barb: Shooot, he ain't werth tew hundr'd un fifty doll'rs!

Barb and the Girl Behind the Counter (In unison): Smoker's lung cackles.

I paid for my Snicker's bar and water and made my way back outside where Amber's anger had not diminished in any discernable way. I made a point to look in her eyes as I passed by the car. This did not sit well with Amber and she launched into an even more furious battery of barking. Amber was not the type of dog to stay in any yard.

As my buddy and I remounted our bicycles I asked him if we were going near [such-and-such] county line. He said, "No," and I secretly breathed a sigh of relief. A Cocker Spaniel has short legs and small lungs and probably tops out at 15 mph (Without a lead-out I sprint at close to 40mph), so I should not have been worried, but Amber had the fury of hell in her eyes and that's got to be worth an extra kick in the mph department.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Hello, I Am Genetically Superior to You in At Least One Way

I went to the dentist yesterday.

Let me rephrase: I went to the dentist yesterday for the first time in at least four years (more like six). As it turns out, once you get into college and eventually are dropped from your parents dental plan, there's really not that much encouraging you to go to the dentist. A simple test:

Please select the most appealing choice.

A). Schedule and go to an appointment with the dentist.

B). Do not schedule an appointment with the dentist and spend the money that would have paid for said appointment on something you really want. Like beer.

It's a scientific fact that most people will select choice B. I certainly did...for four years (more like six). What finally gave me the nudge/shove to schedule an appointment, you ask? My mother called one evening to chat and, among other things, mentioned the epic dental work my grandfather had scheduled and exorbitant cost of that work. The phrase "bone graft" was used and a dollar figure in the few thousands was quoted. Add to this the fact that I was pretty sure I had brushed off a piece of tooth just one day prior, and a trip to the dentist suddenly seemed a good idea.

Unfortunately, the dentist with whom I scheduled the appointment did not have any openings for a good week-and-a-half so I had to stew away in dread of the irreparable damage I was sure I had inflicted upon my poor teeth. This became a conversation piece at work. My job attracts a certain type - rule followers let's call them - and they could not fathom the kind of thinking that would lead to four years (more like six) of forgotten or otherwise put-off dental commitments. An over/under on the number of cavities I was sure to have was started. The magic number was two. Everyone took the over except my boss. When I asked him why, thinking he would say something like, "You seem like the type of guy who brushes regularly and is in most ways healthy," he responded with, "I like to live dangerously."

So the day finally came. Yesterday. Zero hour. I was sure this would end poorly. I would have many cavities and gum disease too. I would face months and months of expensive and painful dental procedures and the whole time I would have to listen to the dentist - in that smug tone all dentists have - ask me why I hadn't taken better care of my teeth. Did I not value my TEETH!?

Well, color me surprised when I was informed that, aside from four years (more like six) of plaque build-up on my bottom teeth - which had to be removed with an instrument the dental hygienist described as a "mini jackhammer" - and a little recession of the periodontal pockets on my lower bicuspids (I'm a good listener), my mouth was healthy and cavity free. The dentist described my teeth as - and I couldn't make this up - "genetically superior". Fuckin'-A right.

I asked her if that meant I didn't have to come back for another four to six years, but I don't think she thought it was funny. I'll take genetically superior over funny any day. If I had a choice, my genetic superiority would be in the realm of extreme speed or reflexes or huge lungs or unfathomable good looks, but I'll take wicked strong enamel if I have to. As a friend of mine said, "Hey, you never know when you might have to chew through something." Indeed.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

You Don't Have it That Bad...Really

So, there's this new show on the History Channel called The Worst Jobs In History (Blogger isn't letting me italicize that with it.). I try to stay away from the History Channel mostly because there is very little actual history discussed on said channel - I mean, the guy from Doube Dare hosts a show about snack foods -, but also because the actual history that is discussed seems geared exclusively toward people who masturbate to big guns and believe the first moon landing was filmed in a Hollywood studio.

Not really my type.

But this new show caught my attention with an episode on the Industrial Revolution that highlighted the important and indispensable position of "Child Hurrier". Seriously. This person's job was to continually harass and harangue the over-worked and otherwise abused child factory workers under his supervision lest they take a moment to, you know, be kids. At this point, I feel I must profess two things:

1. I laughed at the job title "Child Hurrier".

2. I am a terrible person.

It was of this show that I was reminded while eating lunch today with a group of friends and their spouses/significant others. The discussion - and I'm not sure why - turned to pigs and pig farming. The conversation flowed down numerous rabbit holes, including why never to trust a man with a pig farm, until the wife of a friend of mine piped up and announced that during college she had worked on a pig farm as part of workers' program subsidized by the Canadian government (They're The mission of this program was to provide work for mentally disabled adults. Her job was to look after the workers while they were on the job and give them guidance/instruction.

As it turns out, pig farming was not a big draw for program workers so she was really only responsible for one worker. Sounds pretty easy, no? Well, that one worker, bless his heart, was tasked with hosing all of the pig shit through slats in the floor of the pig barn beneath which it was collected in a massive tank of unholiness that was continuously agitated in order to avoid sludge build-up and also to prevent flies from finding purchase for the maggots they wished to lay upon the accumulated crust of filth. The stench from the pig shit on the floor must have been near unbearable, but the added aroma of the constantly bubbling lagoon of filth beneath the floor would have been positively demonic. Added to this comedy of misfortunes is the fact that the mentally challenged are so named for a good reason. Our noble hoseman was apparently lacking in the department of motor skills and would sometimes unpredictably fling the hose toward my friend's wife covering her in a good deal of the deflected filth from the floor. During lunch breaks, as this was an all day task, the other workers on the pig farm would say to her, "Looks like you picked up some more freckles, eh." This is a job for the Seventh Circle of Hell. Given the choice between the two - Child Hurrier and Pig Shit Hosing Retard Wrangler - I choose Child Hurrier every time and so did my friend's wife, she's now a middle school teacher.

And if her job was worthy of the Seventh Circle of Hell, then the hoseman - had Dante thought of it - would be plying his trade well within the Eighth Circle. At least she had all of her mental faculties. I can only pray the hoseman comes back in another life as a brilliant millionaire playboy heavily invested in the perfume industry.

You don't have it that bad.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

That's Not a Dog, It's a Dingo

What do you do when you find out your beloved canine companion is actually a stone-cold killer?

Mazzy hasn't snapped yet, but she wants to. The day my illusions of dog food and laundry commercials are shattered - where puppies sing about summer camp and frolick in freshly dried linens - is not long off. I will come home from a long day at work. Mazzy will approach me with her excited full-body tail-wag. She will have something in her mouth. I will think it is her favorite throwing toy. I will take it from her. It will not feel like her favorite throwing toy. It will be the punctured bleeding carcass of a cute furry woodland creature. I will be horrified. Mazzy will glow with the pride of the kill.

It's only days away. Mazzy is growing up and gone are the awkward puppy days of tripping over herself and flopping around rather than running. She is an athlete. I realized the other day while playing fetch that she could easily bound over our chain-link fence. Thankfully, this bit of information did not become apparent to her as she was focused entirely on executing a complete 180 degree horizontal turn while deftly catching her tennis ball four feet off the ground. "Holy crap," was my only reaction.

Squirrels used to torment her with their taunting chuckles and teasing runs through the yard, but the teasing runs through the yard seem to have decreased in frequency somewhat. I attribute this to the fact that I saw Mazzy almost - and by "almost" I mean through the jaws close - catch a chipmunk. That's taking it up a notch. For pure speed, I'll bet squirrels and chipmunks are in the same class, but chipmunks can absolutely throw down when it comes to manueverability and Mazzy turned with this poor guy dime for dime. The fence is the only thing that saved him and as soon as she realizes she can clear it with one hop we're all screwed.

I used to watch our family's Golden Retriever chase squirrels with what I would call detached encouragement. You just knew he wasn't going to get close, but you had to admire his commitment. If Mazzy has a puncher's chance with a chipmunk, the squirrels are on notice. The Dingo jokes were funny until the Dingo in her decided it hated squirrels. Hopefully, that's where it stops. If she can get chipmunks and squirrels, babies stand no chance, and I don't want to have to knock on any doors to explain to someone that my Dingo ate their baby.

I've Got a Feeling Somebody's Doping Me

Cycling is a ridiculously difficult sport. It encourages obsession and rewards suffering and it's because of this that the sport has been plagued by drug scandals since long before anyone cares to admit. The professional peloton is comprised exclusively of genetic freaks. Seriously, we're talking about a group of guys that God saw fit to endow with legs that do not tire and lungs the size of beer kegs. Oh yeah, and some of them have hearts that only need to beat 25 times a minute because they're SO FREAKIN' STRONG.

Falling far below this group of cyborgs is the rest of us. I speak of people for whom an extra 10 grams off their bike makes absolutely no difference because they're carrying an extra 10 ponds on their ass. The notion of blood doping amongst we relative miscreants is sort of like contemplating putting a hood scoop on a Saturn Ion. Laughable. For us - and I count myself among the 10 pound ass folks - obsession is negotiable and suffering has an off switch.

Which is why I've felt so odd recently. I am suddenly taking brutal pulls on the front of my group rides. I am attacking on hills and going over the top with gas in the tank. I am sprinting it out at the end of the rides, and not for 26th place. And I've checked, this is not a Special Olympics training ride. There is only one explanation for this sudden turn in form:

Someone is doping me in my sleep.

Seriously, I wake up and look for needle marks on my arms. Whoever is doing this has a delicate hand because I have yet to find any. I have felt like a lot of things on the bike, but Monster has not traditionally been one of them. Some of my favorites:

Microwaved Stretch Armstrong Action Figure - This one is a repeat offender and particularly popular during the summer months in Texas. If you can imagine your skin feeling light-headed, like it wants nothing more than to burst releasing your well-heated innards onto a skillet of asphalt, then you can imagine the Microwaved Stretch Armstrong feeling. This typically happens when it's hot and you did not bring enough food or water. Example: Relatively new to cycling, I went on a 54 mile training ride near Burnet, TX having only eaten 1 Cliff Bar before the ride. That's 240 calories toward a hilly 2,500 calorie effort (I know because I went home and read the back of the Cliff Bar wrapper. I had to quantify my stupidity). 1 solitary mile from the end I fell off the bike. I literally could not go one pedal stroke farther.

Circus Bear - All great cyclists have great nicknames. The Cannibal. The Lion of Flanders. The Pirate. The Circus Bear is not likely ever to be one. As a big rider - 6'2 who's been as heavy as 210 on the bike - I have definitely resembled the Grizzly in the pointy hat on the tricycle. Cute, but not going anywhere fast. In Texas this image was compounded by the fact that my training buddy was all of 5'4 and weighed 130 pounds soaking wet. We looked like a lycra-clad version of Abbott and Costello.

Tin Man/Joan Crawford - Shaky and stiff. Other riders drop their inside shoulder and carve a rail through the corners. I turn right angles and stutter my way through turns as I lose bowel control.

Marshmallow - White shorts, white jersey, early season ride with no tan. Marshmallow says a lot, but "wicked fast" is not one of those things.

Big Freakin' Sail - The kind you might find on a pirate ship. And to extend the analogy, my legs would be the pirates and they would be pissed. As in mutiny pissed. And instead of the wind catching the sail perfectly and propelling us swiftly and gracefully to treasured booty, it would be catching our sail and rapidly dropping us from among the booty (aka other riders). Throw a sea anchor in there as well and we're getting somewhere. Multiply this feeling by 10 if we're riding uphill.

For now, I'm not reporting myself to the authorities. I rather like the feeling of dropping people off the back of the group. I enjoy passing EVERY OTHER RIDER on a hill, catching their sideways glances, and reading expressions that say, "Fuck you for thinking this is easy." I am addicted to the manic spooling of energy that builds at the end of a ride and suddenly explodes in the violence of a sprint. I'm in love with the speed and power.

I guess I'm officially a cycling jerk.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Waking Up at Home 1,000 Miles From Home

It has been too long for me to even pretend to say that I have been soooooooooo busy or that nothing much has really happened. I have been busy, but no one is really THAT busy, are they? And much HAS happened. I won't place "good" and "bad" labels on any of it because, to be honest, I haven't made my mind up about whether "much" has been good or bad.

I'm going to ease in to this. In this first post I will not write about my new job or barely containing an emotional meltdown during Easter service while mourning the physical loss of a great friend and great pastor (all over again) or the emotional loss of a girl I alternately miss dearly and hate madly (but who may no longer exist) or the glory of my new MacBook (which is facilitating the writing of this little check-in) or the trials and trivialities of raising a dog meant to run free with the sheeps (yes, I know sheep is the plural and the "s" was unneccesary) or how that same dog can make you feel like a doting parent one minute and an enraged, blood-thirsty hammer-murderer the next or feeling socially retarded and completely unattractive to the opposite sex in a new city in which one knows no one or talking on the phone with a wise, wise friend from San Fancisco and questioning her previously unquestionable wisdom has she suggests or dropping twenty pounds and cycling like seven hundred hells through 15 degree whether in lycra and how the loss of fat and scarcity of clothing do nothing to prevent a rapid freeze of every body part (EVERY part) or even the effects of a solitary eight hour work day on...cogent thought.

What I can touch on briefly to gentley reacquaint myself with the cold, deep pool of the blogdom are my initial impressions of the Midwest city I now call my home. In short, it's nice. I like it. My mind had plenty of time to form misconceptions during the eighteen hour drive to Middle America. Polish sausage. Brain sandwiches. Nasal accents. Smoke stacks. Obesity. Republicans. Guns. NASCAR. Flatness. More flatness. Wind. A steel mill. The humor of my bleak visions is that I was moving from Texas, a state I love dearly, but one with an over-abundance of more than a few of the aforemetnioned "bad things".

I have been pleasantly and shamefully surprised. Trees. Flowers. A river. Cyclists. Soccer. Sushi. Health food. Trader Joe's. Booze at the grocery store. Dog parks. Environmentalists. A hike and bike trail. Girls on that hike and bike trail in hemp bikinis (seriously). Museums. Parks. People who will talk to you in the grocery store. It is flat though. I now love to ride "hills" on the bike because they make me feel like a freakin' billy goat.

The best part is it's starting to feel like home.