Leona Helmsley, RIP

August 29, 2007

If there are two things in this world that I can’t stand, it’s old wealthy women who spite people in their will and overly pampered dogs. Well, and gravy. And college basketball. And people who don’t understand that “right lane ends” and “merge” are two different concepts. And the help feature in Microsoft Office. And shopping for shoes, even out of necessity. And strawberry soda.

Hmmm. Anyway, back to old rich bats and stupid dogs. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like old rich women when they are called “sugar mommas” and they are married to me and they die promptly after the wedding ceremony or when all legal requirements are met for me getting her old stanky loot, whichever comes first. And I don’t mind treating a dog to a special visit to the Dog Spa or the Canine Valhalla or whatever you want to call the place where dogs get shampooed and their nails clipped and wind the whole package down with whatever the neutered dog equivalent of a happy ending is. That must be something for a dog, the fact that a special treat is to go get your fingernails clipped. If only I were satisfied so easily. It takes an iced mocha and an expansion pack for Civilization IV to even get me started. You don’t get to my heart by my stomach, you get to it by pumping me full of caffeine and giving me six new Wonders to build.

Anyway, the reason I’m all bent out of shape over dogs and rich girls is Leona Helmsley. Helmsley has long dropped off of my giving-a-crap-o-meter, where she has found plenty of company with Imelda Marcos and Paula Poundstone. I mean, I vaguely remember her as a real estate tycoon, kind of the female equivalent of Donald Trump, only with less hairpiece and more extraordinarily creepy makeup. (And far be it for me to stoop so low as to mock someone’s appearance, but holy cats, she looked like the Joker after Batman killed him and let the corpse rot for about six years, then pumped it full of cosmetics and glycerin and then poured kerosene on it and lit it on fire then threw it in front of the fastest and ugliest train ever birthed by engineers. Seriously, the woman’s scary ugly.) I also remember the trouble she got into, what with her rather unfortunate cavalier attitude towards tax law and treating anyone who wasn’t a rich white male like herself as either hired help or an extra in a miniseries about the Civil War. But, like Spy magazine and blond PR agents that back over crowds of people in their Hummer, she was not particularly known as an icon of anything in particular outside of New York City, which, granted, is still fairly significant, what with the entire known universe revolving around Gotham for any and all reasons ever imagined.

Anyway, Helmsley died recently. (And, yes, they could tell.) The cause of death was the weight of sheer importance she held in New York City finally crushed her nonexistent soul. Her will was fairly standard, leaving it to relatives, though two of her grandchildren got bupkiss—zero. The will simply states that they get nothing “for reasons that are known to them.” Obviously, this is a cue for everyone in the world (or, at least, the readers of the New York Post) to engage in rampant speculation. What on earth could these people have done to piss of the old rich grandmother? Forget to send a Thank You Card for that $25 Starbucks gift card they got for Hanukah? Mentioned over the dinner table that maybe the Earned Income Tax Credit isn’t such a bad idea? Not look at that boil in her lower back? We’ll probably never know, though I’m certain that Access Hollywood would like to fill in the gap in their income if they were to divulge such information. Just sayin’.

The biggest slap in the face, though, isn’t just that those two grandchildren got the monkey’s bum at the reading of the will. It’s that Helmsley’s dog, the aptly named Trouble, got $12 million. That’s right, one of the most powerful real estate developers in America—an individual one must assume had a modicum of intelligence to manage a rather large business empire—left cold cash to her dog. This is hands down the single stupidest act I can think of ever since…well, ever since she decided she didn’t need to pay the government any taxes. Hmm. Maybe she was kind of a dim bulb. It takes all kinds in the Big Apple, I suppose.

Now, I like dogs and all. I like pets generally, as long as they are purchased, cared for, and under the constant supervision of someone else who isn’t me. (Please note that for the record deer are not pets.) And I’d be inclined to treat said pets as kindly as possible. However, given that I see what dogs are willing to eat, and what dogs do to themselves, and what dogs do to each other, I would estimate that dogs are fairly low on the maintenance scale of things. For $12 million, though, Trouble, it seems, won’t have any at all.

Back to School, Back To Reality

August 27, 2007

It’s back to school time! It’s not only an important day for teachers, parents, students, and big box stationery retailers who have sixty million Bratz Trapper Keepers to unload before Christmas, but it’s an important day for Americans as well, as students get back to learning and parents get back to wondering why on earth I let him get me pregnant. He talked soooo smooth, and had a truck.

Anyway, here are some hints for the kids as they stomp back to the classroom this fall.

Go to class! Skipping class is a bad idea, since it takes precious seconds away from third period English where you can stare at Jenny Wilson’s pink bra you can see through her white blouse but she apparently doesn’t know it or does know it and wants everyone to know she’s wearing it. Either way, you win, and it’s better than staying at home playing last year’s edition of DDR. Plus, playing hooky is bad for your educational outlook. Just because Lawrence Timmons does it doesn’t mean you can.

Keep up with the fashion trends. You don’t want to be THAT GUY. I was THAT GUY in school, wearing extraordinarily gay Hawaiian shirts and those pants with about a hundred pockets in them, better for me to hide all my secret stuff, which wasn’t pot or Oxycontin but 8-sided dice. You don’t want to be THAT GUY, because you will test out of AP Physics but never know if the head cheerleader is ambidextrous or not, and let me let you guess exactly which one is going to be more important when you reach middle age. For guys, fashion shopping is easy: you could pay $8 for a white T-shirt with a gray stripe on it. But why do that, when you can get the same T-shirt and splash some Helvetica font with some letters spelling AMBERCROMBIE ironed in on it by an eight year old Malaysian child and pay $60 for it instead? For the young ladies, I recommend purchasing a modest pair of panties the size of a postage stamp and some “low-riding” jeans, a new fashion trend initiated by the National Association of Letting Everyone See Your Twelve Year Old Daughter’s Ass-Crack. Seriously, people, do you have ANY IDEA what your kids are wearing? Here’s a hint: they’re dressing like idiots and prostitutes. Don’t rush them. They’ll have plenty of time to do that in college.

Be wary of negative influences. The story of the bad seed turning good kids into irresponsible monsters goes back as far as elaborately scripted stage musicals have gone. Your tweenage (did I just write that?) and adolescent years are a time of broadening interests and social education. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be nagged by a series of ham-fisted platitudes into never engaging in any type of harmful activity such as drug use, sexual experimentation, vegetarianism, hair dyes, any clothes ever purchased at Hot Topic, music that sounds like someone dropped an electric drum machine down Hitler’s gaping rectum and lyrics that would shame Larry Flynt, cosmetics with a high glitter content, lip gloss (I mean, c’mon. They’re not cigarettes, for crying out loud. What’s your excuse?), One Tree Hill, and Scientology.

Just a side note: skateboarding is an activity you should pretty much grow out of by the time you are able to walk. Seriously, kids, you look like a thirty year old playing with a yo-yo when there aren’t any children around to justify it.

Study hard! In school you’re going to have to study a wide range of subjects, and some are going to be easy and some you’re going to wish very very hard for a medical ailment to engulf your teacher. That never works, by the way; they’ll always replace him or her with some student teacher who will be hot and you’ll be distracted and end up failing anyway. Still, it’s best to at least give an effort for those subjects you find hard to grasp. There is no shame in asking for help, whether it be tutoring or after-school instruction. No shame, that is, if you don’t mind being an incredible pussy. Real students grab their ankles and grit their teeth and learn Avagadro’s Number with only the sheer force of the proper application of scholastics. By the way, if you think American History is a difficult subject, you are a failure as a human being.

Don’t neglect extracurricular activities. While you don’t want to distract from your schoolwork (cough, cough) the act of socialization is paramount in a child’s education. In fact you’ll learn many lessons that just can’t be taught in any school book. For example:

Little League: Sportsmanship, fair play, benefits of the luxury tax, learn the basics of memorizing completely useless statistics for a sport whose fan base is shrinking to embarrassingly small numbers
French Club: Meet girls (for guys); speak French (for girls).
Chess Club: Chess, Logic, Loneliness.
Student Newspaper: making rash, incalculable statements with a house of cards for evidence and a transparent knowledge of practically nothing of value into an article that will influence millions of potential voters, customers, and workers. Also, what the hell an adjunctive is.
Cheerleading: synchronization, directions to the clinic
A/V club: How to post a video clip of a dog riding a skateboard on YouTube.
Chorus: Self-loathing, ten years of majoring in voice and ending up as the assistant manager of Blockbuster.
Marching Band: Discipline, order, coordination, invading Poland, feeling superior to chorus members.

Most importantly: stay in school. It may be a lonely, thoughtless eight hours of mind-numbing boredom, arbitrary rules, limited added value to property tax spending, and minimal gains for an extensively elaborate amount of effort, but it beats spending all day serving customers at the Burger King or, worse, with your parents.

The Rank: The Seven Deadly Sins

August 24, 2007

As anyone who has watched Se7en, or perhaps went to church, knows, there are seven deadly sins that one must avoid if one is hoping to be invited into the everlasting celestial paradise: ten cent wing day at Matty McDrunk’s down on Seventh Street. But, hey, apparently sin is fun, and capitalized Sin is even more fun, especially when it’s been detailed for you in advance. It’s the functional equivalent of the Polar Bear Syndrome. The Polar Bear Syndrome is a condition discovered by child psychologists that I just made up in my head that states that if you tell a child to not do something, they will immediately put forth as much effort as possible to do exactly that. For instance, if you tell a child to not punch a polar bear in the face, you can bet the college fund you’ll no longer need that your child will go out of their way, regardless of what hemisphere you live in, to do everything possible to find a polar bear to punch in the face. It’s the same way with sin, only instead of a reprimand from the zookeeper you go to hell.

Anyway, here’s a ranking of the sins, in ascending order:

7. Envy
It’s a sin to want what other people have. But in America, that’s hardly a sin, because anything anyone else has is pretty much already available at any local department store. It’s hard to be jealous of a neighbor’s new Weber gas grill when Wal Mart has a new shipment steaming over from China only a few days away. Sure, you can envy non-material things, such as your neighbor’s wife, but she’s actually available at retail price as well. (I asked.) A pretty weak sin, as they go.

6. Pride
Some people enjoy flaunting their sins. They shouldn’t be. It’s great to be proud of your achievements, but it’s another to rub those achievements into the ground-up remains of your peer’s shattered self-esteem, especially after showing off your awesome beach volleyball skills. Most people take their killer salary, their dashing husband and/or tasty girlfriend, or their grandiosely expensive car and parade it about like your trophy wife’s cleavage, but most modest folks don’t care quite as much as you think. Me, my proudest, and calculably, my only, achievement in life is the time I sat through an entire episode of Gilmore Girls without vomiting in my mouth. But I don’t brag about it.

5. Gluttony
I don’t like this sin because it hits too close to home. I’m no glutton, mind you; my intake is reasonably mild unless there are chicken wings somehow involved. Or steak pizza. Or just steak. Or Strawberry Quik. Or grilled bratwursts. Or pork chops at the buffet. Or thresherman style turkey. Or garlic and parmesan pita chips. Or pistachio flavored ice cream. Or peanut butter pie. Or frozen chocolate covered bananas. Or ham and cheese Hot Pockets. Hey, is anyone running to Chik-Fil-A anytime soon?

4. Sloth
Sloth is the lazy man’s sin. It’s the only sin that you commit by not doing anything, and to me that’s just wrong. Sinfully wrong. And that’s just not right.

3. Wrath
Me, personally, I don’t get wrath. I like to keep my rage bottled up inside, along with all my other emotions, and take it out on appropriate object at the proper time, such as opening a bag of garlic parmesan pita chips or watching the Detroit Red Wings. But a lot of people engage in almost glorious amounts of wrath, during particularly interesting times, including but not limited to: driving, pickup basketball games, playing Final Fantasy VII, hooking the satellite dish up to both the VCR and the television and the stereo system so it actually works right, deciding supreme court cases, resolving martial difficulties, using the Microsoft Help Feature, paying protection money, and Fallujah. Some people manifest their anger into productive activities, but most people just hit stuff, and I just can’t not endorse hitting stuff. Who could it possibly hurt?

2. Lust
Lust is certainly one of the coolest sins. Well, rather, acting on lust is, but it’s a temporary benefit (like, fourty-five seconds, if you do it right) for a long-term detriment. If you succumb to the desires of your lustful thoughts, sure, it’s exhilarating, but then you also run the risk of any number of drawbacks. You may get some form of chronic disease that, depending on what war you fought in, will be a burden to your loved ones for the rest of your life or every time your prescription runs out. You may get someone/become pregnant, which introduces no end of moral issues into your life. Or, worst of all, you may find yourself in a relationship, a self-destructive, soul-draining endeavor that will no doubt be a terrifying experience for everyone involved when it comes time to end it. Still, it’s a fun forty-five seconds, isn’t it? Totally worth it, especially if they do that thing with their tongue.

1. Greed
C’mon, now. Greed is the best sin of all. And why not? Everybody wants everything, and there’s no harm in trying. Greed doesn’t imply theft, but, rather, a unrepentant desire to change your priorities from, say, caring for your child or remembering such mundane things as your wife’s birthday or your father’s insulin to acquiring real estate property in a timely and lucrative manner. Seriously, greed is the sin that makes the wheels of life progress without grinding down to an elaborately unprofitable stop. With the other deadly sins, you enjoy yourself for a bit but are left with an empty soul filled with self-doubt and regret. With greed, you’re still full of self-doubt and regret, but at least you also get stuff. And that’s a vice I can learn to convince myself is a virtue.

The Bad News Bears. And Falcons. And Cavaliers. And Islanders. And…

August 21, 2007

It’s been a bad, bad month for sports.

Now, I’ve never been too impressed with sports. In fact, I kind of resented organized professional sports teams. I mean, I certainly am not athletic enough to play sports, unless eating six pieces of fried chicken in one sitting counts as an organized professional sport. And I don’t really have the mental capabilities to process the career statistics of every starting lineup on the New York Yankees since Roger Clemens ever set pitch to bat, which was approximately 2,000 years ago. So I viewed professional sports with the same amount of indifference I viewed snowboarding and HGTV: something latently interesting if everything else on the face of the earth became immediately inaccessible as a form of passive leisure and the participation of scantily dressed cheerleaders became more of a game-affecting contribution that the actual mechanics of the game.

Times change, of course, and so do I. I enjoy watching sports on occasion and will even make an effort to follow them, though my financial and mental investment is still pretty minimal if one makes the normal allowances for a personal involvement in http://www.offshoresportsbetting.com.

First off, of course, is Michael Vick, pending quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons. He has recently pleaded guilty to running a dogfighting ring, a practice I kind of thought went out with such things as leeching, indulgences, and Joe Namath’s chances of hooking up with a middle-aged reporter on live national television. Vick’s crimes not only displayed an ugly side of the NFL that seemed to had at last finally been tempered after years of violence and mayhem, excepting as always the Cincinnati Bengals. It also shone a bright, unwelcome light into a world of rape stands, canine executions, and, worst of all, the rampant violation of interstate wagering laws. It also highlighted Roger Goodell’s harsh new policies concerning personnel, amounting to the suspending of players for conduct unbecoming of a professional football player, which apparently means working more than six months out of the year and refraining from endorsing soup once your passer rating cracks about 90 or so.

While the NBA is known for the off-court antics of its players, it’s the on-court criminal mischief that is currently giving the sport some unwelcome news. There is mounting evidence that basketball referee Tim Donaghy bet on games, using his position as referee to fix games. He recently agreed to a deal, which appears to implicate over twenty fellow referees. Given the NBA’s reputation, it’s a bit of a shock that the only criminal gangs on the court are white, wearing striped jerseys, and are going to jail for wire fraud. Donaghy engaged in what is known as point shaving, a rather complicated (though not as complicated as figuring out the odds on a moneyline bet) style of fraud that no doubt has an enormous impact on the wages of Malaysian shoe factory laborers.

Of course, the biggest news in sports this past month was the career home run record broken by Barry Bonds. Reaching this record is, of course, a very difficult accomplishment to achieve for any man, attainable only because baseball is the only professional league to permit players to play regardless of talent until they reach the age of 65, at which point they reach free agency. Controversy abounds, as always, because of accusations that Bonds has used steroids. Granted, there’s accusations that pretty much everyone in major league baseball has used steroids, including but not limited to Kevin Costner and Chief Wahoo, but they aren’t trying to get in the record books. (Well, Costner is, “Most Movies Released By A Major Motion Picture Studio That Are Over Four Hours Long That No One Really Enjoys All That Much But He Won That Oscar So Let’s All Humor Him, K?,” but that isn’t really directly baseball-related.) It goes without saying that Bonds has a polarizing effect on baseball fans: either you think he’s a drug-injecting national-pastime-destroying stonewalling criminal, or you think he’s a drug-injecting, national-pastime-destroying, stonewalling criminal who is also a huge jerk. At the very least, the involvement of Bonds in the record chase has almost doubled the audience of major league baseball. Or, at least, I assume so. Both of them were away so I couldn’t ask.

Finally, there’s the participation of the entrants in the Tour de France. Several of the high-profile leaders in that race have been accused of doping to aid in winning the race. Leave it to cyclists, a niche subgenre if there ever was one, to come up with an incredibly pussyish way to cheat. While all kinds of endurance-enhancing drugs are passed from jersey to jersey within the cycling groupies (or whatever they’re called—I’m actually kind of afraid to find out), one of the more recent attempts to cheat is blood transfusion. By performing blood transfusions, as cyclist Alexander Vinokourov has been accused of, players can reoxidize their blood allowing them to presumably perform better at the races. For me, this is the epitome of competition. Any guy willing to undergo a blood transfusion just to win a kinda womanish non-competitive sport deserves to win something. What that something would be, I don’t know, but I’d like to place good money it involves whatever Chief Wahoo has in the trunk of his car.

The King Is Dead! Long Live The Washed-Up Pill-Popping Hack!

August 15, 2007

Elvis has been dead for thirty years, a significant achievement for any deceased person. Elvis is one of those few cultural phenomena that are identified only by their first name, joining that highly esteemed club comprised of Cher, Roseanne, and The Rock. This fact no doubt irritates Elvis Costello to no end, and one suspects just about every baby boy (and one presumes the occasional girl) born in western Tennessee from the years of 1956-1960 or so.

To understate the impact Elvis had on American culture is almost unavoidable. He was one of the first entertainers to be almost universally successful, selling countless albums and racking up nearly twenty #1 hits. More importantly, he was the one person who introduced Middle America to a musical tradition that had at that point not been met with success, a movement so powerful it transformed the music industry forever. That movement was, of course, singing songs created and written by black people but improved by having them performed by people who had made the then-pioneering decision to be born white.

Elvis followed a rather normal ascent into the music industry, playing at gospel choirs and county fairs, slowly gaining fans and prescriptions. But by 1956, he had hit the big time with a mixture of upbeat tempos, crooning voice, and (let’s face it) sex appeal. Entertainment back in the day was almost painfully sanitized, where variety show hosts were routinely hired on the basis of how much they resembled roadkill that had been mulched, and women were cast upon with heated stones if they showed any skin below the neckline or above the hollow, hollow earth. And here comes Elvis—up to this point a literal choir boy—swinging his hips around like a damned hippie, had hippies existed in 1956, which they didn’t, though had he worn a beret and snapped his fingers while thrusting his pelvis about like an unattended garden hose turned up the whole way he could have been mistaken for a rather excitable and therefore uncharacteristic beatnik. Anyone who things it was just the songwriting or the voice are kidding themselves; Elvis introduced sex into music on a grand scale, which to many could only be the work of segregationists or Joseph Stalin.

Elvis managed to put ten singles in the #1 position in a remarkably short time, from the beginning of 1956 to the fall of 1957, one of which I just found out when I looked it up was called “Big Hunk O’ Love,” a title of which makes me seriously doubt the musical taste of anyone born after 1940. But his popularity skyrocketed, and he was easily the most recognizable face in music.

It was during this time that Elvis converted his singling style into something more important than all his previous accomplishments combined—that being, of course, using these songs as a platform to create some of the single worst movies ever put to film, the collective awfulness that had not been matched up until the production of any randomly selected ten minutes of Face/Off.

Time passed. As with all celebrities, his glamour wore off, and by the mid-sixties kids were more interested in licking LSD off of each others’ faces while everyone and their friends were out having sex, inhaling ground-up mushrooms, and shooting presidential candidates than buying his records. Like any good superstar, of course, he reinvented himself. Just as he had pretty much single-handedly brought rockabilly to be a viable commercial genre, in 1968 he invented the concept of the comeback concert. This grandiose concert was performed live in network television and with a jumpsuit that clearly had approximately eighty pounds of sequins, almost equal to the amount of flop sweat he produced during that hour. Once again he became a powerful force in the music industry.

Though not for long. The next decade was stop-and-start, culminating in one of the single greatest cultural achievements of mankind—a picture of Richard M. Nixon, standing awkwardly as he always does in the Oval Office, commissioning one Elvis Aaron Presley as “Federal Agent At Large” for the Bureau of Narcotics. This was insanely laughable in retrospect. Here was Elvis, who by this point no doubt suffered side effects every time he broke a sweat, which, given his weight, was pretty much a perpetual state of being, having the authority bestowed upon him equivalent of a drug enforcement officer. This was so odd that even Richard Nixon later had misgivings about his own judgment about handing a badge over to the King.

It descended quickly from there. While the musical product was good, if sparsely created, his live concerts were jokes and he became a parody of himself, crooning half-asleep in a tired old jumpsuit and sequins locally weighted to help him keep his balance. And had someone sat down and devised the single most inglorious manner in which any man should die, it’s doubtful he could have come up with anything much worse than how Elvis died—at the john, hopped up on drugs and unable to move.

There’s more to Elvis than simply his life and death, of course. Elvis’s rather strange peccadilloes are legendary. Fried banana and peanut butter sandwiches, for instance, seem kind of quaint now in hindsight, what with the fact that he was ingesting about 2% of the profits from Merck for breakfast each morning. But back then, it was just a good ole boy feeding a strange appetite with something that was apparently designed by a four-year-old given the opportunity to create a sandwich out of all the random crap found in the kitchen.

The Elvis fans—then and since—have always been a bit unfortunate to witness. I mean, sure, sure, sure, all singers and movie stars have their fans that are—let’s stay charitable here—crazier than a drunken moonbat. But Elvis fans have somehow origamied this into an entire industry. Graceland, Elvis’s home, is one step away from installing roller coasters and have a pantomime Colonel walking around handing out paraffin pink-Cadillacs-on-a-stick. And they have single-handedly managed to keep the Elvis Is Alive! rumor—with a little bit of help from all of us—for a few decades.

Despite his success, immense wealth, and cultural impact, one can’t help but feel a little sorry for the man. Well, I can. Elvis has the distinction of dying mere weeks before I was born, so I have lived in this world completely Elvis-free. More importantly, the fact that the 30th anniversary of his death is approaching means that the 30th anniversary of my birth is, also. Don’t be cruel, my ass.

Weekly World News, RIP

August 11, 2007

I’m madder than a Canadian who broke his hockey stick. I’m madder than a Hollywood actor who misplaced his gerbil. I’m madder than a terrorist who forgot his vest full of TNT hanging in the closet at home.

The Weekly World News has ceased publication.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I hadn’t read the thing in years, and I’m pretty much the target audience for the world’s foremost news source for alien abductions and miracle diets based on the exclusive consumption of cough syrup. Competition for scarce newsstand space is hard to justify, though, if the sales aren’t climbing. It’s difficult to sell papers about the lost Ten Commandments and flying saucers hovering above the Pentagon when there’s eight other magazines on the same rack with Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, or, more likely and more frighteningly, both staring back at you. Even had the Weekly World News tried some of the tired old gimmicks to sell papers—the radical idea of switching to color, for instance—they probably wouldn’t have stopped the fiscal bleeding enough unless they incorporated unflattering pictures of Oprah Winfrey or Kirstie Alley at the beach in decidedly awkward angles into every cover story.

And it’s not really ceasing publication, as such, since the web site will continue operations. Though it’s just not the same. Sitting at home in front of the computer looking at grainy Photoshopped pictures of crop circles that spell out next year’s Oscar picks isn’t very fun. Sitting in Starbucks and having everyone in the place know that you’re reading an article about how Bat Boy was pulling drivers out of the Minnesota bridge collapse is. Web sites don’t have those creepy, perpetually black-and-white, obviously altered photos that adorn every story from A Scientist claiming that radishes cure AIDS to the alien who won the Powerball.

The writers of the Weekly World News were obviously skilled at their craft. Creating news stories is one thing, but keeping it interesting and fresh year after year is an accomplishment in and of itself. (Of course, it’s possible they couldn’t, which is why circulation dropped. Balancing out stories about, say, the world’s largest man marrying the world’s hairiest girl can be difficult when they keep getting divorced and going to swingers parties with the world’s shortest midget and JFK.) But the greatest accomplishment was somehow getting a space alien to endorse Bill Clinton, George Bush, Sr., and Ross Perot in 1992 and somehow make it plausible.

Still, there’s an almost magical amount of nostalgia in the newspaper for me. When I was in my early teens, I used to read the Weekly World News religiously, mostly because I found it endlessly fascinating. There was also another, more important reason, and that was every issue seemed to have at least one story about how the woman with the world’s largest bust line was in some kind of trouble, whether it be dismissal from the Israeli army, ejected from a ball game for “distracting” the umpires, or kicked out of Bloomingdale’s for screwing up the security cameras. And these stories were always accompanied by copious photographs in various flattering angles that featured women that I was not 100% certain were the same individual, though it was hard to tell because I don’t think I ever looked at her face.

But there was a lot more to love about the Weekly World News, too. There was Dear Dotti, a particularly cranky advice columnist whose responses were generally confined to:

1. Grow up!
2. Get lost.
3. You’re an idiot.

The truly scary thing was that you just knew that people were legitimately writing into her for advice. I also remember at one point that some rube asked Dotti for a picture of her posing in a bikini, which she complied with after about six weeks of drawn-out teasing. After all the anticipation, I was underwhelmed when she finally posted the rather visibly cropped photograph. She didn’t even look like she ever served in the Israeli army.

Then, of course, there was Ed Anger, hands down the single greatest name ever created for a fictional opinion columnist. Ed’s solutions to all of society’s ills tended towards the creative yet violent, but thankfully he was also largely evenhanded in his targets. He wanted to beat up environmentalists and oil company executives with the same amount of force, which drifted towards the embarrassingly lethal.

There was also a weekly column about wrestling, which seemed to me to be halfway legit, which kind of scared me that the same people who follow professional wrestling were also in the market for stories about carrots shaped like the Virgin Mary being commercially produced in China.

The scariest thing about the Weekly World News was, for all its bravado about being a real news magazine and its subsequent blatant manufactory of news, everyone knew in the back of their minds some people in this world believe this stuff. The fact that the same ads for power crystals, self-help cassette box sets, and electrode weight loss kits appeared in both the Weekly World News and The Enquirer signaled that certain individuals weren’t able to discern the fine gray line between gossipy truth and complete and utter fiction. This, by the way, also explains the popularity of horoscopes and The O’Reilly Factor.

It will be a loss to journalism when the Weekly World News disappears from newsstands. While their ham-fisted attempts to entertain us fell to the ravages of the Internet, where anyone and their brother can take a story about, say, Bigfoot, and turn it into something that a million people actually now believe is to be true, it ceases to be funny. But at least the writers and editors taught us the one universal truth, and that’s how to make a boatload of money making shit up.

Ground Control to Al-Anon

August 5, 2007

Being an astronaut can’t be easy. The hours are tough—especially when there’s no such thing as hours where you’re going—the training brutal, and then when you take one or two or eight drinks before lift off, the whole world treats you like a terrorist pit bull fighter.

It’s almost tempting to not be surprised by the recent stories concerning astronauts being drunk when boarding spacecraft over the past few years. There are very few high-pressure jobs where drinking is not seen as an acceptable sweet release from the stressful forces of their workday, and occasionally the liquid relaxation and the duties of their career are bound to cross paths. If truck drivers, airline pilots, surgeons, and (apparently) young female movie stars get tipsy on the clock, we shouldn’t be ultimately surprised when NASA’s finest fail the breathalyzer.

Society is filled with individuals who find various means to escape their lives through stimulants and/or depressants, whether it be due to a demanding career, a painful divorce, or crafting a particularly eloquent argument about how the Jews start all of the wars. The most common, and cheapest, way to do so is through alcohol, so it shouldn’t be a large shock that professionals take their bottle to lunch once in a while. Astronauts may be intelligent and relatively stable, but they are susceptible to the same addictive frailties as, say, car mechanics and former governors of Texas.

And it’s not like boarding a spacecraft and getting behind the wheel of an Elantra are the same thing. I mean, yes, yes, yes, they’re apparently navigating a billion plus dollars of taxpayers’ money, and it would be a bitch on your insurance bill after wrapping the Voyager around a maple tree, but it’s not like they are dodging pedestrians or turning on a dime in the stratosphere. There’s no concept of last call in space, either; there aren’t any cougars or double baggers to count as an occupational hazard when you can see the entire Great Wall and pink elephants all at once.

Still, being an astronaut is no easy task. It involves someone who is willing to 1) be an aircraft pilot for what appears to amount to 100,000 years; 2) be willing to be enclosed in a small pressurized plastic box for several months where your oxygen intake and temperature control are designed, implemented, and built by the fellow engineers who were passed over for a promotion by you; and 3) realize that if you eat the condensed space burrito shaped like a pellet for space lunch and you think you just might try a silent poot, everyone in Ground Control is gonna know if you miscalculate.

I think a large part of this story is the guilty pleasure we all get in knowing that someone who is supposedly infinitely smarter and infinitely better paid has the same level of self-control as the average assistant manager of the local Blockbuster. I mean, yeah, occasionally you’ll have the crazy jilted girlfriend driving around in diapers armed with pepper spray, and, I guess, you’ll run into rocket scientists whose current success ratio with manned spacecraft actually touching ground without exploding and killing all those aboard is become precariously close to the single digits, but NASA astronauts have an otherwise sober reputation as fearless heroes able to convert science and daring into lucrative senatorial careers.

And c’mon. You think all those cosmonauts were sober as judges when they climbed on board the Russkie Space Special? Hell, the only thing that sobers up a Soviet is being sent to the front. Plus, their alphabet is already backwards, so there are few effective sobriety tests available for them. And they all seemed to make it back OK, although to be fair there wasn’t much of an incentive to come back.

A greater threat to the NASA program, however, are rumors of sabotage. The Linda Nowak debacle from a few months ago whipped the doors of NASA wide open, allowing us to see that astronauts were just as jealous and batshit crazy as the rest of us. And sure enough, there is evidence that computers destined for the International Space Station were tampered with by a subcontractor. There hasn’t been any details released about this yet, so one can only guess. My guesses will be that it involves, at the very least, disgruntled Air Force pilots, South Asian hackers, or the French.

Of course, all this bad news comes just as NASA was planning for another launch, this time to Mars. It was business as usual at NASA headquarters, which I can only assume involves Jell-O shots and a round of Beirut. The launch seemed to go without a hitch, though it did appear for a while there like they were going 5 mph with the headlights turned off.

Most likely, all this will blow over fairly soon. Most people realize that the actions of a half dozen astronauts aren’t necessarily an effective representation of the organization as a whole. But most astronauts now are going to have to watch themselves, since the appearance of impropriety may be an impediment to their only change to leave this world. Remember, in space, no one can take your keys.

Straight Up Until Morning

August 3, 2007

I have a few, shall we say, unique personality traits, something my friends would no doubt be perfectly happy to discuss at length, and probably have to their therapists. One of those adjectives that could be used to described my personality, besides “dashing,” “impressive,” and “prevaricator,” would be “uninitiated,” or, for those with simpler tastes, “lazy.”

I’m not lazy in that brother-in-law college slacker student way, but more of the not-wanting-to-get-out-of-the-chair-to-change- the-station-so-I-guess-I’ll-just-watch-Flip This House way. I’ve found myself often getting increasingly sleepy, unable to concentrate on such important tasks as reading through my mail, sitting through meetings, or staring at the back of the skirt that redhead was wearing yesterday at the coffee shop. Boosting my energy level seemed to suddenly be a rather top priority, and I was willing to undergo pretty much any sort of experiment so long as it did not require me to pay out to, or, more importantly, speak with a doctor or anyone else in any way involved in the medical community.

Instead of, you know, getting enough sleep or exercising to increase my energy level, I decided to try something different: an energy drink.

Now, under normal circumstances I rate energy drinks as a standard-issue scam, one step below electroshock weight loss and one step above Michael Bloomberg. I have no doubt that energy drinks are chock full of special Tibetan herbs and ancient Polynesian spice combinations, but I pretty much assume they just inject about a hectare of caffeine in it and throw some lemon rinds in it to make it not come back up after you chug it. I see these energy bars, which are pretty much Snickers but with 2% less calories but 2000% more carbs which somehow makes them healthy, much like how Cookie Crisp is part of a healthy breakfast assuming your breakfast includes toast, a glass of OJ, and a shot of insulin, and assume energy drinks are only one branch away from them in the nutritional supplement tree.

I also consider another strike against energy drinks: they cost too damn much. Somehow, they’ve suckered people into purchasing slim cans of the nectar small enough to fit into the chamber of most handguns, yet somehow have the marketing nads to charge nearly four times as much as a regular can of soda. They’re even ugly, too—silver or gold-patterned cans with some retro logo on it, as if people will associate this drink with the late seventies. Somehow someone determined that having people wanting to be all jumpy and hyper like they were during an era of 21% interest rates is somehow a selling point.

However, in the interests of science, I decided that it would be worth my time to check out these energy drinks. (Always on the cutting edge, I am. It’s only been about four years since they hit the shelves. The next consumer report I’m doing is going to be either on Furbys or OS/2.) I picked the most popular energy drink, Red Bull, at least evidenced by the annoying commercial-to-consumption ratio. And I chose a day of my own choosing, in this case Thursday, since I kind of forgot about it on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

My daily routine is largely determined by forces outside of my control, but generally speaking it revolves around 1) waking up tired 2) driving to work tired 3) working tired 4) driving home tired and, finally, 5) not being able to get to sleep. On the day of my experiment, I chugged a tall can of Red Bull and waited for my world to open up and present me with a landscape of perpetual harmony and orgasmic bliss.

You know that feeling you get when your have been laying on your arm for an hour or so watching Cribs and you cut off its circulation, then there’s that awkward, vaguely painful sensation as the blood swirls its way through your arm? Well, picture that sensation happening to the internal organs of your body, and that’s what happened to me for about forty seconds after I drank the energy drink. And that was it. I was, as I always am, somewhat underwhelmed.

Perhaps I was just too hasty, though. I spent most of the day at work kind of jumpy, but for me “kind of jumpy” means that I don’t fall asleep quite as quickly as normal when I’m running reports or something. I’m pretty sure I felt differently, but any kind of change causes my body to react differently to its environment, such as eating Corn Flakes instead of Froot Loops or the Doha Round.

So while I’m not going to be dismissive of the drinks, I’m not holding them up as any particularly shining example of a medical success. A decade-old can of Jolt seems like it would have the same effect only with less of an aluminum taste (though, I venture to say, not by much). I’ll have to run some more control experiments, such as drinking it before I go to bed; drinking it before I eat breakfast, drinking it during lunch, and drinking it before I shell out $2.00 for another 10 ounces of caffeinated hummingbird syrup.