I Want To Believe

October 28, 2007

A recent study claims that nearly one third of Americans believe in ghosts, UFOs, and other unexplained mysteries, which, among other things, certainly explains a lot about the inexplicable popularity of Will Farrell movies, Blackberries, and Whole Foods.

Hearing that one third of people in America believe in such things isn’t nearly as alarming at first glance, since they lump pretty much all of the paranormal in that figure. This include the standard ghosts, goblins, and ghouls, but also ESP, space aliens, spoon bending, parallel universes, kirilian photography, and OxiClean. Throw enough piss in the pool, and you’re bound to catch pretty much everyone under a certain threshold of awkward metaphors.

What you believe in, of course, is important because it can also tell you what kind of person you are. For instance:

Aliens: You wake up feeling like a freight train went the wrong way up your butt.
Telepathy: You honestly believe that you knew your wife was cheating on you before she did.
Spells: You weren’t all that shocked that Dumbledore was gay. I mean, c’mon. Hell-oooooo!
Vampires: You have too many The Cure CDs.
Psychics: You have a very tenuous grasp on the value of currency.
Zombies: You work at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Anthropomorphic Pumpkin That Travels By Night Harvesting Eyes With A Vice Grip: You, ah, you know what…never mind. We’ll come back to this later. Much later, when my therapist is available.
Killer Scarecrows: You either really, really like corn, or you really, really hate corn.
Bigfoot: You have very limited experience observing animals at the zoo.
Applied Kinesiology: You are a wayward Christian Scientist; or, you have no health insurance.

I can see how easy it is to believe—I mean, really believe—for most people. Many are simply looking for answers, but instead of researching issues, demystifying science, investing in a religion, or holding meaningful dialogue, most people will simply ascribe an uneven thump at three in the morning or a vaguely coincidental overexposed negative to a grand history of crimes, motives, and long lost loves, all because some penniless dope who lived in a barn on your property two centuries ago died of turpentine poisoning.

Color me skeptic. I’m not a big fan of the paranormal, at least in a swear-to-tell-nothing-but-the-truth scenario. It’s kind of a latent fun; listening to Coast to Coast AM, for instance, is a guilty pleasure I readily admit to and actively promote. It certainly makes me feel better about myself, anyway, the same arrogant feeling of superiority I feel when white trash hold up the line at the Dollar General proclaiming a violation of her civil rights because they won’t cash her money order because she doesn’t have any photo ID. Yeah, it wastes my time and it pisses me off, but it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside to know that of all the things that are wrong in my life at least I’m not her.

I feel the same way about ghosts. Or, rather the people who believe in ghosts. But it does alarm me a bit about the sheer industry of it all. There are psychics all over television, there are dramatic reenactments of possessions on every channel from Discovery down to Animal Planet (although the ones on Bravo tend towards the “What possessed you to wear fuchsia with horizontal stripes??” variety), and the scifi and horror genres are now full bore tilt with aliens and reincarnated evil. There is lots of money to be made by people who have both active imaginations, poor grasps of scientific principles, and, apparently, large sums of money to throw away.

However, for most so-called “paranormal” things…well, I’m just not buying it. People believe because they want to believe something is “out there,” a weaselly phrase that can only be made weasellier by inappropriately using quotes to emphasize it. To me, the “out there” is one part wind changing directions, one part basic scientific principles that were not fully observed, and about a thousand parts willful suspension of disbelief. Saying you saw a ghost in the back yard right above where Rover was buried a year ago today is a hell of a more exciting story to tell the ladies at church than your neighbor was parking the Lawn Boy and the headlights were reflecting off the garage door onto the basketball backboard. And telling everyone that the vaguely-shaped natural indention in the dried mud is a Sasquatch footprint is simply a clever application of misdirection to keep everyone from realizing you got poison ivy on your crotch when you went to go take a leak.

Although this is all probably unfair. There are degrees of belief, of course, and plenty of otherwise intelligent people are humble enough to believe that there are things in this world that simply can’t be explained. And I guess I have to respect that. Though in all honesty that’s the same type of respect I give washing machines, which I suppose is faint praise indeed. But as long as you leave your vice grips at home, I’m cool with it.

The Rank: Non-Carbonated Beverages

October 24, 2007

Anyone who has the misfortune of knowing me personally knows that if there is one thing in this world I can’t live without, it’s women who have no qualms about displaying cleavage. But if there’s anything else besides that, it’s pop, of which, I swear, I drink easily six hundred gallons of Diet Pepsi a day. Some day on the autopsy table they’ll crack me open and look at the inside of my stomach, and it’s going to look like the carcass from Alien before Sigourney Weaver tossed a mortar shell in there. That was Alien, right?

Anyway, I decided to take a long look at any drinks available for me that are not of the carbonated nature since some day when I actually go to a doctor and he tells me that I either give up soda pop or die, I will have an alternative than waking up one day with my insides hollowed out.

7. Sweet Tea
The cause celebre of the south—you know, besides Nascar and slavery—is sweet tea, a cheaply made beverage that overly defensive southerners will proclaim to the heavens above to be the single greatest drink ever concocted. The one and only time I ever drank sweet tea I immediately deduced its secret recipe: 1) one part non-fluoridated water (don’t want to be a communist, now); and 2) about six billion parts raw sugar. I’m not a big tea drinker myself—I still want to show those limeys a thing or two—so perhaps it’s an acquired taste that is lost on me. Though I doubt it; I just think most southerners need something strong to wash the taste of Vicksburg out of their mouth.

6. Off-Brand Energy Drink
I’ve already detailed my adventures with Red Bull elsewhere, so in the interest of product diversity (and not paying two bucks for sugar water with ginseng) I have sampled a rather large variety of different energy drinks, all with completely insane names that have little to do with the beverage industry, the ingredients, or, for that matter, anything about energy at all. I’m not a fan, since the stuff tastes like I’m drinking liquid aluminum and as I’m drinking it I can actually feel my prostate expanding to the size of a cantaloupe.

5. Pink Lemonade
This actually includes all those –ades that don’t actually, you know, exist. Things like limeade and orangeade (which I kind of assumed was, you know, orange juice, but I was wrong, so terribly, terribly wrong…) and other artificially created drinks. I also include the incredibly odd Gatorade, which for all its bravado of being the ultimate sports drink is able to replace electrolytes and whatever nonsense it is athletes think it is they need is actually just salt and table sugar and some five year old thinking up a variety of names that vaguely sound like activity-related concepts even though they all pretty much taste like watered-down Hawaiian Punch.

4. Vitamin Water
Seriously. Everything that Gatorade is, vitamin water is even less off. Unless the “less of” ingredient is “water,” which there’s a lot more of. I’m not sure if they just make Citrus Flash Gatorade then dump about a thousand gallons of water in the vat then sell it, or if they just get a thousand-gallon vat and dump one bottle of Citrus Flash Gatorade in there. Either way, they’re making a ton of money labeling tap water with a slight taste of whatever was in the cup last and a dissolvable Centrum AD to pass the FCC’s rigorous labeling regulations.

3. Little Hugs
I know different parts of the country call these things by different names, but their content is unmistakable. The recipe is as follows:
1) Get some sugar
2) Pour this sugar in a plastic jug shaped like a barrel
3) Throw some food coloring in there
4) Add varying amounts of water, so the consumer is either going to get colored water with no taste, or thick raw syrup that suspends dramatically in a nearly solid form as it slowly drips into their mouth
5) Slap labels on them with different “flavors.” This is for cosmetic purposes only.

Seriously, the variation on these things is crazy, and it’s like the world’s most diabetic lottery.

2. Sarsaparilla
For some unknown reason I always thought sarsaparilla was a product of our Southern neighbors. I’m not certain why; probably some long-forgotten association with mint juleps and cotillions. Imagine my surprise when I find that the glorious refreshment known as sarsaparilla was actually a thoroughly WASPish concoction, meandering from the historical blue-blood neighborhoods of the mid-Atlantic all the way to the western part of the mid-Atlantic area. Basically, it’s root beer for those who want to stand on street corners playing checkers in a barrel of horehound bulk candy with elderly men and feel it necessary to radiate a self-assured sense of pretension. Still, it’s good.

It’s also carbonated, which should disqualify it for this list, but I forgot, so it stays.

1. Coffee That Is Actually Candy
I’m looking at you, marble mocha macchiato with coconut shavings and low fat soy milk. Why low fat? Seriously, why bother? There are more calories in that “coffee” than the entire defined jurisdiction of Hershey, PA, and you’re suddenly worried about fourteen seconds into placing that order that maybe you shouldn’t be depriving some Zambian kid of an additional two months of survival just so you can drink something that is maybe 10% better than that packet of freeze dried Chase & Sanborn that fell behind your basement cupboard during your bicentennial celebrations. But at least you’re paying the average GDP per person for it, so that makes you feel oh so much better, no?

Thoughtless Ideologues Of The World, Unite!

October 21, 2007

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Che Guevera’s death, where he met an untimely demise in the heat of battle, heroically defending the inside wall of the abandoned schoolhouse his arms and legs were chained to. Of course, this is only the official story of what happened to Guevera. In reality, and depending on your inclinations, he either died carrying helpless children and bread vouchers from the clutches of merciless capitalism, or lives on today housed in the basement of the DNC offices issuing decrees of faith and inspiration.

Che Guevera is the poster boy—rather literally, given the bottom line of many a leftist college bookstore—for young revolutionary gone good. With a bright future and a remarkable display of intelligence in his youth, he witnessed the widespread poverty in throughout his home region and resolved to do something about it. Betraying this intelligence, however, was the fact that he thought the best way to do this was through armed communist rebellion, a method that has been proven to work so well then and since.

While Che was a gifted leader, his actions seemed somewhat out of character given his posthumous accolades. He was initially trained in medicine, but expedited his education so he could get a move on overturning despotic regimes, a somewhat curious career path for a medic—most doctors go from being a doctor to heal people and making no money to doctor in California inserting bags of wonderfulness into certain parts of women and making boatloads of cash, quite different than going from GP to revolutionary foot soldier.

While he helped organize some of the most successful socialist revolutions in modern history, he also spent a lot of his time being not much more than a desk jockey itching to go fight, spending his time in Cuba as the Minister of Industry, carting around blueprints and creating elaborately unsuccessful plans for the industrialization of the nation instead of out sabotaging weapons shipments or executing enemies of the state. His time as the head of the National Bank of Cuba and the National Institute of Agrarian Reform also diluted his revolutionary zeal with the slightest stigma of a bureaucrat. One becomes a cultural icon of the constant revolution by leading armed insurrection against fascists, not by being co-chairman of the Fourth Annual Comintern South American Industrial Trades Expo and Socialist Revolution in Buenos Aires.

Armchair psychologists—the best kind, I might add—could have a field day. Naïve left-coast students are lovingly enthralled with his seeming indifference to rewards and glory, the only possible explanation to the fact that he was never installed as the chief executive of any nations he helped change governments in, with the possible exception of not wanting to be shot in the head by a CIA agent within moments of inauguration. On the other hand, he was an incredibly aggressive individual. Not in the let’s-go-get-’em can-do attitude inherent in many military-minded individuals, but the for-the-love-of-all-that-is-holy-don’t-let-him-near-the-cat way. Of course, some of this transcended his decision-making process, and many failures were pinned on his inability to compromise when needed, such as sacrificing a position to reach a cease-fire or actually taking a bath. (No, really. The left’s most iconic hero hated bathing. It’s hardly a penchant for autoerotic asphyxiation or water sports, but it’s still kinda creepy.)

Sometimes his revolutionary fervor hindered his abilities. He suffered a bullet wound to the face during the ill-fated (for us, of course) Bay of Pigs invasion; alas, the wound appeared to be self-inflicted. A rather large portion of his rebellion attempts failed miserably, and his hubris led him to assume support where there was none, and contribute his failings to the United States, capitalism, or (one assumes) the Freemasons and international bankers (wink, wink).

Part of the Che mystique is, of course, inherent in the subterfuge necessary for a revolutionary. Much of his life he was simply missing from the public eye, supposedly in secret locations prepping local citizens in the art of sticking it to the man. People and governments would gently prod Fidel Castro for his whereabouts, and El Presidente would, as is his wont, reply with a gentle reminder that it would be in the best interests of the Communist Revolutionary Movements of the world that they display their solidarity by shoving it up their ass and spinning.

Of course, propping up the memory of a slain comrade is a tried and true tactic, one not lost on such progressive political luminaries as Castro, Hugo Chavez, and (so help us all) Jean-Paul Sartre. By remembering the capitalists he fought, and conveniently whitewashing the thousands of real and imagined traitors of the state executed Stalin-style during the regimes Che supported, it’s easy to latch onto a figure that has been sanitized into a cartoon black-on-red version of themselves.

One has to stop and wonder about it all, of course. The cult of Che hasn’t progressed because he helped further the cause of communism throughout Latin America; his value lives on because he died, a martyr to the cause of unsuccessful five-year-plans and state-run health care. But his image is mostly known because merchants have produced his likeness on silkscreened T-shirts and Rage Against the Machine lyrics, the success of which is a testament to the effectiveness of the free market system. Viva, as they say, la revolution.

Everybody Walk the Dinosaur

October 17, 2007

A new dinosaur was recently found in the desert region of Argentina. This has been the latest fossilized remains found of anything in Patagonia in the last few years, assuming that we do not count those who “disappeared” during, oh, I don’t know, the years of 1974-1990.

This dinosaur, of which there is an almost complete skeleton, certainly more than has been found of Nicole Richie, is thought to be an entirely new species. Scientists describe it as having a “neck very large in diameter” and being “strong and huge” which, alas, pretty much describes every single dinosaur I’ve ever ran into, usually along with other vivid descriptors such as “large, forceful teeth that can easily snap you in half” and “could crush you mercilessly like a balsa wood diaphragm.”

The funniest thing about this entire discovery is the name of the new dinosaur, which is the appalling “Futalognkosaurus dukei.” (It’s certainly no “brontosaurus,” eh?) Its name is derived from a native language meaning “giant chief of lizards” (it makes it sound like he sat around at local council meetings debating property tax reform or something…though come to think of it last time I went to a local council meeting there were several dinosaurs on the board), and the second part is named for (wait for it) the corporation that funded the dig; namely, the Duke Energy Corporation. That’s right, he may be eighty million years old, but he’s got a commercial endorsement to his name. Brilliant.

Ever since I was a child, I held a unique fascination with dinosaurs that bordered on the kinda gay. Now lots of kids love dinosaurs, but these fascinations usually are limited to trying to work up enough excitement at the only cool part of the museum. For my part, I had all kinds of dinosaur stuff, such as stuffed animal dinosaurs, dinosaur cartoons, dinosaur lunch pails, dinosaur 401(k), everything. And this was pre-Jurassic Park, when a kid that was into dinosaurs meant they may have had a future career as a paleontologist, not that they went to a matinee and wanted to run around the yard in a set of velociraptor shoes made in China, where, I hasten to point out, few dinosaurs lived due to the unfavorable exchange rate at the time.

Of course, dinosaurs are much more popular now; thanks to big-budget movies and a Discovery Channel that has yet to make Shark Week every week, dinosaurs are a standard children’s theme, along with random NASCAR drivers and PSPs. And it’s not hard to come up with a reason why kids (and adults, for that matter) are fascinated by dinosaurs—they’re huge, colorful beings that emit equal parts authority and senseless violence. Much like many other children’s interests, such as train engines and Bobby Brown.

And that’s, I think, the mystique of the dinosaur: we’re fascinated by them because we have concrete evidence that these creatures were huge, sadistic, things, able to destroy the strongest and sturdiest buildings that 4,000 years of human progress has been able to design, yet they’ve all managed to find a truly amazing and mystifying way to take a powder.

The classification of this particular dinosaur is notable for three things. One is that they have him pegged as a plant eater, which I find amusing for some reason. It’s hard enough to make humans vegetarians; I just can’t fathom a dinosaur plodding around the mists of prehistory with a makeshift placard proclaiming that meat is, indeed, murder. I don’t care whether you’re a roid raged T-Rex or a docile stegosaurus, you’re going to be more Type-A than Enron. (Apt comparison, too, since Enron made their money buying and selling dinosaurs before they started making stuff up and then giving a painful birth to Sarbanes-Oxley. Thanks a lot, dinosaurs!)

The second is the insistence that the dinosaur is part of the “titanosaur.” I don’t know if it’s because of the sheer number of names required for all the species of dinosaurs, or the fact that paleontologists are just incredibly unimaginative, but it seems like a lot of these names were basically created by handing a five-year-old a photo of the dinosaur in question and then calling it a day. There are dinosaurs called the supersaurus, the megaraptor, and gigantosaurus, and I can only assume there is a awesomesaurus and a spongebobsaurus as well.

The third is the fact that the scientists made a point of stating that the dinosaur died of “unknown causes.” As if being embedded under several yards of dirt for several dozen million years wasn’t enough. Maybe they need to call in CSI: Bedrock.

Paleontology is one of the few last wonderfully useless trades in the world. Oh, sure, sure, scientists and guidance counselors will wax eloquent about the great finds that contribute to the culture and history of mankind, but we all know it’s just a bunch of grown men and women who should know better beg for cold cash from unsuspecting trust funds so they can hotfoot it to exotic places and shift around the dirt long enough in the hopes of finding a big ole dino bone akin to that huge rib Fred tries to cram in the Flintstonemobile. Anyone who tells you different is either a liar or a jealous ornithologist.

Everybody’s Restless, And They’ve Got No Place To Go

October 14, 2007

Warren Zevon’s been dead for a few years, but I’m not so sure anyone has told him.

Zevon was hardly an iconic member of the music industry. He remains largely unknown to the public, aside from the lamentable novelty recording “Werewolves of London,” his signature song detailing what appears to be a dapper werewolf hanging about in SoHo. This, clearly, was a story that needed to be written down, accompanied with lyrics and catchy piano samples.

Zevon was somewhat of a prankster musician, writing tales of quirky individuals and offbeat topics; his repertoire included since timeless singles as “Mohammed’s Radio” and “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.” He stretched his creative masterpieces to deal with such diverse topics as alcoholism (“Desperadoes Under the Eaves”); drug addiction (“Charlie’s Medicine”); divorce (“Empty-Handed Heart”); rape (“Excitable Boy”); lawyers, guns, and money (“Lawyers, Guns, and Money”); and, to knock on all the doors at once, suicide, abuse, and sadomasochism (“Poor, Poor Pitiful Me”). Once presumes had he ended just one day of his life smiling his head would have collapsed out of sheer lack of originality.

A product of the 70’s California music scene, Zevon’s relationship with the Los Angeles music industry was tenuous at best. When his addictions and proclivities prevented him from maintaining a stable work ethic, he withdrew in a sweaty pool of drug-addled resentment, calling the stars of the era friends while simultaneously burying an emberous jealousy he kept bottled up and eventually converted into another chartless song, no doubt about addiction to stimulants, or, perhaps as a creative change of pace, addiction to depressants. (When your high-water benchmark for success is tied to the achievements of Jackson Browne, you know you’ve sunk to a rather low artistic point.) As such, he gained only modest hits from time to time, and much of the 80’s and 90’s was spent on cheap, low-key solo appearances to pay the bills, the bulk of which I doubt involved receiving an actual W-2 at the end of the year.

Zevon was, of course, hailed as a genius within the music industry itself. The artists participating in his albums read like a Who’s Who Of People Winning The Awards You Probably Could Have Won Had You Kept Yourself From Getting Boozed Up All The Time, You Irresponsible Prick. Luminaries such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, George Clinton, Neil Young, and members of R.E.M., Pink Floyd, and The Grateful Dead all collaborated with Zevon, with mountains and mountains of highly original material that never had a chance of ever making any money or charting on any charts.

Early in life, Zevon apparently stumbled across (one presumes in Michael Hutchence’s billfold) a checklist of incredibly hedonistic things to do to reinforce the image of the wild-man musician. He was a notorious womanizer, consumed more drugs than the rabbit warren at Pfizer, and treated ex-wives and associates with detached disdain. Humorously, he also suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder, an affliction he shared with (of all people) Billy Bob Thornton, his neighbor. One can imagine how THAT dinner conversation goes:

Zevon: I wash my hands sixteen times a meal, the number of original albums I’ve released.
Thornton: I open and close my mailbox twenty-five times, the number of movie releases I have starred in.
Zevon: I once injected horse tranquilizers in my rectum.
Thornton: I once drank a cocaine milkshake.
Zevon: I once had a threeway with Linda Ronstadt and Jerry Brown.
Thornton: Angelina Jolie reaches climax when I recite dialogue from Pushing Tin.
Zevon: I am scared of certain shades of fuscia.
Thornton: I’m afraid of antique furniture and silverware.
Zevon: Cool. Coffee?
Thornton: Yes, please. In three cups filled four-fifths of the way. Two and a half sugars, .25 liters milk, 4%.

OCD, of course, was the least of Zevon’s worries. In 2002, he was diagnosed with a rare form of terminal cancer, something that almost went undetected. Zevon was scared of doctors, so never went to them, and even after he found out about his cancer refused pretty much all treatment, deciding instead to do his most important creative work to date: filling in for Paul Schaffer on the Late Show with David Letterman. Oh, and recording some material, as well.

Despite his rather irresponsible lifestyle, he managed to keep his wit. Well, sort of. When you’ve spent a large portion of your life swimming in and out of alcohol, powder, and patented prescription drugs bought out of your pharmacist’s trunk, when you get the news that you’re terminal it’s Katy bar the door. With little repercussions, he spent his last years recording material, ingesting pills, and gaining limited respectability in the public’s eye, not necessarily in that order.

Zevon epitomized one of the greatest contradictions of classic rock. Most of his singles dealt in the abyss of his own character flaws, using music to either legitimize or eradicate them. And yet, unusually for the genre, the songs themselves are rather cheery and pleasant to listen to, something that forces you to drive 90 on the highway instead of sitting in the dark corner of the gym feeding off of your own self-pity at the high school dance. One of his final acts was to bless his ex-wife’s project, the recently released biography of himself, dictating to her that it show all sides of him, positive and negative, a rather tall order to give an ex-wife. Zevon, however, found hopeless escape in his music, as do we.

Go Directly To An Undisclosed Location

October 10, 2007

Sometimes, I think public figures are more intelligent than we all think.

Now, I’m using the phrase “public figure” fairly liberally. I mean it’s not exactly a secret that most celebrities are a few bricks shy of a deck; they became actors and actresses not because they love the stage or find theater in their soul, but because they couldn’t master conjugated verbs in the tenth grade.

The other major form of public figure is the politician, of which there is little to say that cannot already be deduced. Candidates that spend $100 million dollars to win an office that pays $400,000 a year should tell you enough about their logical and mathematical capabilities, though you could also look at the budget, foreign policy, and pretty much anything any politician has ever done as another example.

One politician who may have got it right was Robert Levy.

Robert Levy is hardly a household name. He is relatively unknown outside of New Jersey, where he serves as the mayor of Atlantic City. Or, rather, served. I think. As of this writing his status as mayor is fairly uncertain. The reason for this, of course, is that he has disappeared.

Now, in New Jersey there are two distinct ways to disappear. You can disappear and you can “disappear,” the major difference being that one is voluntary while the other is decidedly not. Levy had his own peculiar set of issues that made either one plausible, and from the looks of it he took a little from column A and a little from column B.

Being mayor of Atlantic City would normally seem to be a low-risk occupation, even if it is in New Jersey and is known primarily for it s gambling and occasional hosting of the never-rigged Miss America pageant. Oh, and the fact that in today’s age pretty much the only tourists that would voluntarily elect to go to Atlantic City instead of, say, Miami Beach or the local Indian reservation, are people that are about a thousand years old or people that don’t have enough money to gamble, let alone walk along the boardwalk to buy overpriced elephant ears or kitschy junk manufactured in China. Atlantic City’s status as a closer alternative to other gambling hot spots like Las Vegas has declined in recent years as airline tickets and hotel accommodations have dropped and the chance of seeing someone pretty much naked at any hour of the night is significantly higher. Atlantic City’s only real hope of become a tourist destination again is if, like Vegas and New Orleans, they codify all laws to be optional.

It is in this bleak backdrop that Levy was first pushed into the spotlight. The election to the mayorship was hardly noteworthy. Proving that Atlantic City is just like very other town in America, one sure way to get elected is to make the occasional humble offhand remark, in the manner of printing it in every single piece of literature you pass out during the campaign, about how you used to be a Green Beret. This is enough to get you elected in pretty much every jurisdiction except Berkeley, California, where you will be strung up by your neck in the least politically offensive manner possible instead.

Except that it turns out he wasn’t exactly a Green Beret. While he was in the service, he exaggerated his decorations, an act not entirely uncommon for political campaigns. However, he may have also used it to increase his military pension, something that even by the standards of both Atlantic City and the federal government is considered fraud.

After pressure mounted, Levy woke up one day, signed some paperwork, then…disappeared. Or “disappeared.” We’re not positive yet. A smart move, if you ask me, and one too few politicians take. The city’s business administrator stated that he had left to go to a vaguely-defined “medical facility” and, oh, by the way, he made the rather convenient verbal assurance that whomever the business administrator of the city is—hey! That’s me!—is to be in charge.

The statement of his whereabouts is a speechwriter’s dream of vagueness. He may or may not have left to what may or may not have been a leave of absence, and it may or may not have been within the state of New Jersey. In a city like Atlantic City, such statements are usually followed up a few days later stating that he may or may not have poured an entire sack of cement around his shoes and jumped in the Hudson of his own free will, but regardless of the circumstances that’s how he ended up.

There’s a split decision as to what actually happened. The official story appears to be a hybrid substance abuse/mental health issue, which seems rather convenient and mundane. The more likely explanation is that he was “asked” to “disappear” after it was found that he was not a “Green Beret” and so the office of the mayor was declared “vacant.”

Perhaps I should reassess my original thesis. Taking a powder in mobtown isn’t particularly smart. It helps when forcing yourself into the public eye, but so does being a coke-addled drunk, a pill-popping head case, and/or a stalking horse with a horde of skeletons in your closet. People like Levy have a long way to go to do the public right. Rehab and psychiatry didn’t work for Lindsay Lohan, how could it possibly work for the mayor of Monopoly Town?

Flights of Fancy

October 7, 2007

One thing that will baffle me to the end of my dying days is the airline industry.

The entire industry confuses me, but nothing confuses me more than how much it seems ingrained in peoples’ lives and how little it probably should. I’m not going to say that flying is an uncommon occurrence, but most people I know that aren’t big-shot businessmen or international terrorists don’t fly very often, and even if they do it might be maybe twice a year. It is hardly the core of anyone’s life that I know. And yet for some reason if one small tiny detail about a flight turns out to be anything more inconvenient than cashing a check at the bank without the proper ID people will go absolutely insane with fury.

Specifically, it appears that people are extraordinarily upset when they dress like tramps or idiots and are peacefully confronted with their choice of attire.

A few months ago, a young lady of questionable modesty boarded a Southwest Airlines flight wearing what appeared to be three quarters of a washrag not quite wrapped around the general areas surrounding her naughty bits. It was one of those outfits that would seem fine so long as she never stood up, sat down, bent over, or inhaled, because if she did, there would be a show most people in America would have to pay to see. There was no mistaking where her erogenous zones were. Of course, immediately upon asking her if she would be so kind as to not flash her vajayjay all over creation with the rather unremarkable suggestion that she change or at least cover herself with a blanket, she suddenly found time to put her career as a Hooters waitress on hold to clutch gallantly at the First Amendment, crying real tears of freedom because a private corporation transporting men, women, and children didn’t think our forefathers fought and spilled blood at Lexington and beyond so young innocent girls like her can dress like street walkers on their way to such glamorous activities as a doctor’s appointment.

Thank goodness her mother came to the rescue, explaining that her daughter “dresses provocatively, as do 99 percent of 23-year-old girls who can.” “Everyone else is doing it” has worked wonders for every person whose precious, precious freedoms have been trampled underfoot by such moral crusaders as the Board of Directors of the various aeronautics companies.

Of course, this would be little more than an offer from Maxim magazine for a photo spread to demonstrate exactly what particular parts of her body were having their free speech rights violated if it weren’t for the fact that things like this seem to happen more often than they should. Another incident occurred only a few days ago, when a young man wearing a novelty T-shirt with a mildly amusing yet rather vulgar slogan (involving the description of a fictional fishing shop known for its skill at baiting hooks, arranged with rather unfortunate phrasing) was asked to change into something else or turn it inside out or something, least of all find some form of whatever self-respect is left of a 30-something year old guy who still advertises the fact that he still finds sexual innuendo funny on his apparel. He did end up changing his shirt, realizing that standing up for your rights is important, but not as important as missing your connection at O’Hare, and it’s best to bitch about it afterwards on the Today Show with Matt Lauer anyway.

Now, I’m a little bit less sympathetic to this second guy. The poor girl getting the ole once-over earns a small amount of compassion from me, since I have a soft spot in my heart for the more alluring parts of women, which just barely outweighs my complete frustration of listening to a crybaby whore complain about not being allowed to do whatever she wants whenever she wants. The guy with the T-shirt, though, just seems like another sausage trying to relive his frat-boy years by sticking it to the man, which, in this case, is a bankrupt industry trying to please every old woman from suing them because they were offended by a stupid juvenile shirt.

And, seriously, who wears shirts like that anymore? The “Co-ed Naked” and “Johnson’s” T-shirts weren’t even all that funny when I was in high school, and those were the days when every sentence that had the words “head” or “hard” or synonyms thereof had me pissing myself in uncontrollable laughter.

Still, one has to give both sides of this unfortunate story credit. The airline has to try to please everyone, from easily offended grandmothers to those who somehow think civil liberties supercede private property rights in any and all cases unless you happen to be rich. And the passengers have to stand up so young people can dress like sluts and morons. Because if they’re not going to fight for the previous few sluts and morons in this country, who will?

Exhibiting a Sports Complex

October 3, 2007

Once a year, the perfect storm arrives. This perfect storm, awaited patiently by those men who are trapped in a conversationally suffocating relationship, the guys whose sole form of disposable income are from web sites based in former Soviet republics that accept credit card payments for moneyline bets, and the otherwise exacerbated women who, for better or worse, would rather have their husbands and boyfriends concentrate on something completely worthless to the accumulated culture of Western civilization instead of the fact that they just spent $240 on a purse shaped like the head of a horse.

Around the first of October, three of the four major sports—football, hockey, and baseball—converge into a unifying mass of citizen hysteria. Well, except for baseball, whose fans tend to be 1) unenthusiastically bored, 2) apparently have nothing more interesting to do, such as filing taxes or attending a Joe Biden rally, and 3) old as dirt. Or basketball fans, who tend to be incredibly interested in the sport until their city becomes large enough to support a more interesting franchise in a completely different sport. (I’m looking at you, Portland.) Or football fans, who are more than willing to pay $200 for a pair of mediocre seats and $6 dollars a beer but still complain about the terms of Chad Pennington’s contract. Or hockey fans, who are intently interested as long as they are able to buy tickets at the student rate of 90% off the regular ticket price, or are Canadian.

Men may be hit with a sense of information overload, and women may be disgusted with the amount of time, energy, and dereliction of lawn-mowing and house-maintenance duties involved, but the fact is that professional sports are a huge business. With teams expanding into new markets and marketing strategies increasing the total media and product loads, few areas of modern culture are left without some sort of association with a logo featuring a badly drawn Indian wearing pastels and exhibiting his prowess with a synthetic rubber ball.

Football’s regular season is about a quarter done, now, with the winners and losers already chosen by the elite sportscasters who made a career choice to talk about all the people on the field they used to cry themselves at night wishing and praying they would grow up to be. Football is by far America’s most popular sport, and it treats every game as an event—with only 16 games, every matchup is a do or die situation, unlike, say, baseball’s season, which seems last somewhere around 1,000 games and no one really puts in much effort until about the last ten games or so. This year, the surprises aren’t the perpetual winners, such as the Indianapolis Colts and the kitten molesting New England Patriots, but the few promising surprises, such as the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions, but more importantly those franchises that have collapsed like cheap tents—the San Diego Chargers, the Chicago Bears, and the New Orleans Saints. Though to be fair “folding like cheap tents” is probably not the best way to describe what’s happening to New Orleans.

The regular hockey season also starts this week, as well. The defending Stanley Cup champions last year were the improbable Ducks of Anaheim, a product of a sinful midnight copulation between the Disney corporation and the Sheen estate. Almost a decade after their birth, they managed to pull off their first victory. The NHL is still slowly gaining in popularity after a player’s strike in the mid-90’s shook up the industry, and the league has since been transformed from a hyper-violent slow-scoring stickball on ice to a hyper-violent slow-scoring stickball on ice with a salary cap.

And, of course, the baseball season wrapped up and the playoffs begin this week as well. The playoff teams have an unusually different look this year—hopefully, one of the two dozen people who still actually watch baseball can tell me how it ends without me having to check up on it on the Wikipedia. There’s a lot of new faces, such as the long-suffering Cubs, the geographically inaccurate Angels, the hated, hated Yankees, the drunken Rockies, the bewilderingly misnamed Diamondbacks, the Indians, the Phillies, the Red Sox, and the Mets—oh, no, wait, never mind about that last one.

Of course, I’m from Pittsburgh, so the fact that the last holdout in the Fall Professional Sports Orgy, basketball, doesn’t start for another month or so doesn’t really bother me. Pittsburgh hasn’t had a basketball team since the war, leaving only two professional sports teams in Pittsburgh. (Pittsburgh hasn’t had a professional baseball team in about, oh, I don’t know, fifteen years or so.) The promise of the young starting lineup of the Penguins, along with the severe hope that Vladimir Putin does not recall all the expats in a military draft to conquer The Entire World, have the city rather excited about our chances of winning the Stanley Cup this year. And the Steelers seem to be off to a good start this season, despite the fact that the entire coaching staff has elected to rename the team the “Arizona Cardinals.” Despite all the hope, one has to temper this with a feeling of reality—not every season is a winning season. Regardless of the eventual outcome, one that can be certain: at least we’re not living in Cleveland.