Lions and Tofurkeys and Bores, Oh My!

November 27, 2008

It’s Thanksgiving again, and as it is every year, families join together to spend four to ten awkward hours trying to avoid eye contact while eating enough to feed the Sudanese army without remorse. And while it’s a beautiful time of year, it’s also a time to reflect on those traditions that make this the greatest of holiday seasons.

Watching Lousy Football Games: Watching football on Thanksgiving is a time-honored American tradition, partly because of football’s hold on American culture, and partly because it’s an awesome excuse to sit in a basement in front of a plasma TV drinking beer yelling about why don’t you just run the ball in fourth and goal so you’ll cover you piece of garbage go back to Oklahoma you worthless prick of a coach it looks like someone’s not getting a Wii this Christmas because daddy didn’t think the coach was going to be such a cautious pansy on fourth and frickin’ goal while the womenfolk are cleaning up and doing the dishes upstairs. Of course, most of this tradition is spoiled because someone with a remarkable ineptitude at foresight a few decades ago decreed that it would be none other than the Detroit Lions that would host a Thanksgiving Day game every year. The Detroit Lions. A team that hasn’t had a winning season since they started paying players. Even General Motors posted a profit since they’ve won. At this point, the only way they could win a playoff berth is if the football shrank significantly into something a little bit blacker and rounder, they gave everyone on the team a stick, and they renamed the franchise the “Red Wings.” Of course, there isn’t even a halfway decent matchup this year, since Detroit is up against the 10-1 Tennessee Titans, an incredibly lopsided match that absolutely no one is going to watch outside of Vegas. The only good thing to come of that game is that Vince Young is sitting in Ford Field instead of around the dinner table in Houston inexplicably crying like a woman at random intervals when asked to pass the gravy.

Stale-Dated Yams: Thanksgiving is primarily a food holiday, unlike, say, the Furth of July, where meals are more often than not equated with food poisoning and salads that are in reality desserts, or Labor Day, which is about playing tag football or some form of bocce mutated so your four-year-old nephew and play without crying than it is about hamburgers and hot sausage. Thanksgiving is all about the consumption of gross amounts of food. And, of course, the preparation and anticipation of the meal as well. So it would be no surprise that there’s always some dish sitting untouched on the table. Sometimes it’s a staple dish, such as yams or cranberry sauce, that just looks kind of suspect, like maybe it sat in the back seat of the car for an hour too long, or maybe the dog retched in it when no one was looking. Sometimes it’s a well-meaning attempt for someone to appease the lone pretentious vegetarian sitting in the group, an abortive monstrosity of a disaster, a half-finished tofurkey or poorly made watercress casserole. Then, as if it’s one big guilt trip for everyone involved, that renegade dish is parceled up and handed to each family as they go out the door, baited with dark meat and rye bread leftovers, so they can be immediately thrown in the trash in the safety of everyone’s respective homes.

Making Politically Neutral Talk With Your Unbalanced Secondary Relatives: You know who they are. Distant out-of-state cousins and uncles-in-law that you see perhaps every third Thanksgiving, or perhaps an errant viewing here and there. And of course talking about the weather and how much the Lions suck will only take you so far. Eventually someone is going to mention the government, or the church, or the lone pretentious vegetarian who gave everyone the stink eye for loving the turkey so much, or the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, or Jeff Gordon, and off they go. No one wants to say anything except this guy, who knows it all and knows that if you don’t know things the exact same way that he or she does, you are an unrepentant idiot undeserving of the last slice of blueberry pie. And while you have cogent reasons for having a reasonably logical discussion with that person, you don’t, for two reasons. One is that Aunt Jane might pop in and contribute her two cents, and she still thinks the Freemasons are poisoning the wells and the metric system is just a way for the “International Bankers” (cough, cough) to take control of the oil and finance industries. And, two, there is always a chance that this person has you in their will.

Xanax: Oh, come on, like you haven’t already ground it up and poured it in the brandy you don’t think everyone knows you have stolen away in the breast pocket of your jacket.

An American Autumn

September 25, 2008

Welcome to the fall! Some enjoy the fall because of the weather, the atmosphere, and the seasons. Others dislike it for the fact that that means winter is fast approaching. It’s one of my favorite seasons for a variety of reasons, not the least of which it is the season I most closely associate with my birthday. Of course, fall brings with it a multitude of different experiences for different people. Such as:

The Fall Television Lineup: Each year, the televisions networks reveal their fall television lineup. Nervousness fills studio executives, producers, writers, and budding actors as viewers are now going to be the ones choosing which programs survive and which ones get cancelled after two episodes even though the television critics are required by law to change their pants on an hourly basis because it’s so ridiculously orgasmic to watch but has to be chopped off the schedule because it drew in .04% fewer viewers in the 18-34 age range than Kansas City Prostitutes Drive Big Rigs in the Arctic. So while there is plenty of hope, there’s an awful lot of disappointment, especially as one considers the fact that we live in a world where someone is contractually obligated to actually give Jay Mohr some work.

Football Season: This year is nothing like last year, when entire franchises were being rounded up and sent to Gitmo and Michael Vick was wandering the nation shooting at feral kittens with buckshot. It’s actually quite sedate this year; despite the upset of the Giants over the Patriots, New England was expected to steamroll over all the competition. However, the only drama during week one of the season—aside from whether Baltimore and Cincinnati would actually both slide into negative points—was that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was injured and will be out for the rest of the season, giving him plenty of time to fight for messiahship with Barack Obama and Steve Jobs. Aside from some incredibly arcane disputes about renegotiating the collective bargaining agreement, the entire drama manufactures for this season pretty much boils down to variations of Chad Johnson’s legal name and the concept of Jessica Simpson.

School Starts: Or, in other words, school buses suck. In some ways, the start of school is a wonderful thing. I don’t like too many things in this world, but one of the things I am terrifyingly irritated by are children of the age four through eighteen. And when they are in a building learning the cosine and making closed circuits out of a bunch of C batteries and some old crusty wires from the Nixon era, they are notably not at the mall or in front of me at the checkout counter at the local department store. So carting the kids off to school is a remarkably wonderful thing, if nothing more than the fact that since I’m forced to pay for it anyway I might as well get some peace and enjoyment out of the deal by not having to be made to feel old every time I have to go to the grocery store.

Election Time: While there is a lot of justifiably intense media focus on the presidential campaign, it’s also election time for countless local elections, as many people are fully aware of given the what seems to be approximately sixty thousand road signs you will ignore over the next two months. Everything from comptrollers to commissioners to ward council seats, everyone is trying to get a piece of the sweet participatory democracy pie. And, living in Pennsylvania, we get a super special treat of pretty much election any damn fool to any absurd position, most notably the prothonotary, a completely artificially conceived lie of a position cooked up by the Greeks or the Catholic church or somesuch and forced upon us by a progressive movement hell bent on electing everyone’s dinner every day.

A Lot More Pumpkin Crap On The Shelves At the Grocery Store: Now, don’t get me wrong, I like pumpkin stuff. I like pumpkin pies and cookies and bread and roasted pumpkin seeds and all sorts of things that make me quite capable of supply an embarrassingly large percentage of our natural gas needs. But every so many years—and this one looks likely to be one—there are multitudes of ridiculously-conceived items that are pumpkin-themed. I’ve even seen some monstrosity called pumpkin soup, something I suspect is very much so like finding something called watermelon broil or turkey cupcakes. (And please don’t write telling me that these things actually exist. I want to tread water for the remainder of my life assuming those things do not exist in a sane world.)

A Whole Mess Of Deadly Boring Movies Aimed At Scraping Up An Oscar Nomination:
Let’s face it, people are getting over the action-packed summer blockbusters, and are winding down now that the kids are on a regular schedule of not bothering me at the movie theater. The good news is that I can actually enjoy a movie without having to worry about contracting STDs from the approximately 14,000 teenaged sexual encounters that appear to occur once the lights dim down every time I venture into the theater after four in the afternoon. The bad news is that a boatload of period pieces, self-righteous historical epics, and a two-for-one sale at the Oscar Contender auction gets shoveled into the studio schedules, provided not entertainment but boredom packaged in sanctimoniousness. I don’t see why the movie industry needs to do this; the presidential campaign is fulfilling that need this year.

When Fools Rush In

April 1, 2008

April first is here, and that means that pranks and deceit are in plentiful supply for those with short-term memory loss. Seriously, if it was April Fool’s Day at eight o’clock this morning, it still is at six at night. You car’s tire really isn’t flat, and she’s not really pregnant. At least by you.

Anyway, now is a good as time as any to spring together a loosely related collection of current happenings based on fraud, lies, and miscommunication. Hey, I’m cranky and lazy. Give me an E for effort.

When we get fooled, we prefer it be by a professional so at least we feel a little better about ourselves afterwards, and there is no more professional huckster than the common elected official. (Getting hoodwinked by Uncle Albert or your five-year-old nephew doesn’t exactly do wonders for one’s self-esteem.) Most people kind of assume that politicians lie at a constant rate of 1:1. This is an expected but lamentable idea, lamentable because it speaks to the darker side of democracy and makes us cynical about the true nature of mankind. Expected, of course, because it is 100% true with unassailable accuracy.

So when Hillary Clinton—who you may not have noticed is running for president –decided on the spot during a campaign speech to make up an elaborate story about being shot at by snipers during a visit to Bosnia, most people didn’t have any reason to doubt it. Of course, she was hoping that this story was to highlight the fact that 1) she was in a foreign country during a foreign crisis, which oh by the way Barack has not; 2) despite the fact that she is female she is not afraid to engage herself in potentially dangerous situations, and 3) I don’t see Barack dodging sniper fire anywhere, now, do you?

Unfortunately, most people picked up on 4) it never happened. Seems an odd tale to tell, since it’s rather easily verifiable what with all those cameras following her around everywhere, even back when she was First Lady. She shrugged it off as a rather Nixonian “mistakes were made” kind of thing, simply stating that she misspoke. This is, to be blunt, an outrage; I can’t get away with that sort of talk, so I’m not quite sure why she can.

Me: I would like to return this microwave.
Clerk: Is there anything wrong with it?
Me: It wouldn’t work when I plugged it in.
Clerk: It looks like someone tried to dry their silverware in here. I don’t think that’s covered by the warranty.
Me: Sorry. I misspoke.
Clerk: Oh, OK then. Here you go.

Thankfully, no harm was done. It was a minor gaffe, which, granted, may cost her the presidential nomination, but at least no crime beyond gross misjudgment occurred. That cannot be said about the story from the Los Angeles Times, which ran a blow-the-roof-off-the-dump story about how Sean “Puffy” Combs single-handedly shot Tupak Shakur in the head at point-blank range then freestyles over his dead, blood-soaked body while all the girls said “Heeeeeey.” (I may be incorrect in this recounting.) Turns out that the documents proving that Combs was involved in the shooting were elaborate fakes, if by “elaborate” I mean “something a fifth grader cooked up in his basement which to be fair is still enough to stump your average newspaper reporter.” The documents looked as if they were typed on a typewriter, have rampant spelling errors, and was submitted by a man known for falsifying stories. (I mean, computers were around in ’94, and they all had spellcheck; otherwise, I never would have made it out of Management Techniques 101 back then.) Thankfully, the ethics and standards of the journalistic community vetted this as a sure thing and filed the story, of which numerous apologizes have been drafted, noted, and buried on page eight under the local sewage maintenance schedule.

While the Los Angeles Times story involved the crime of fraud, miscommunication by a lesser degree probably drives more human interaction than washed-up rap stars or presidential candidates. A study was recently released that men and women read nonverbal cues differently and have difficulty interpreting inflection and signals by the opposite sex. Or, in layman’s terms, every guy things every girl wants to sleep with him, and every girl wants to pretend she doesn’t but actually does. It’s hardly a new phenomenon, but that didn’t stop a collection of scientists to spend an insane amount of time and money to state the patently obvious. Witness the typical exchange:

Guy: Hey there.
Girl: I’m not interested.
Guy: She wants me so bad.

Let’s face it; this is the intricate symmetry that social evolution has produced for us over centuries of development. Without equal doses of needless resistance and blatant obliviousness, the act of procreation would never get us anywhere. Of course, I’ve been told that such misogynistic generalizations will do nothing but feed misinformation into the romantic cycle that prevents that perpetual dance of gettin’ it on in the first place. You could have fooled me.

The Rank: Christmas Confections

December 23, 2007

Holidays are a wonderful time of the year, and it’s not only because of the general feeling of peace, goodwill, and harmony that is always present with the holidays. It’s also because, just like your birthday and Fridays, Christmas is as good an excuse as any to gorge yourself with ridiculous foods you’d pretend to not want to be caught eating the remainder of the year.

Sometimes, though, you have to take the good with the bad, and that’s sometimes hard to figure out. So here’s a convenient ranking of the standard holiday desserts and candy that you may find presented to yourself this holiday season.

7. Figgy Pudding: Ick. Seriously, who eats this, besides the British, who, not having a world empire to oversee anymore, love to pass the time away thinking up disgusting things to do with otherwise perfectly serviceable secondary foods? I mean, OK, figs aren’t exactly bar food, but there’s nothing wrong that 6,000 years of Middle Eastern horticulture can’t sort out on its own. But boiling the things and thickening the soupy remains and throwing some green sprinkles on it doesn’t exactly evoke the spirit of Christmas. It mostly evokes milk of magnesia.

6. Gingerbread House: I’m not a real big fan of food you have to work to eat, and the real rip-off for the gingerbread house is usually its construction requires ample supplies of superglue and macramé, products that have been scientifically proven to be less than disagreeable to the digestion. So I say, what’s the point? If I wanted to stare at delicious-looking food that I would never dream of eating, I’d go to Denny’s.

5. Candy Canes: I hate candy canes. Well, that’s a lie. There’s nothing wrong with candy canes that giving them to someone else as a Christmas “present” can’t fix. I’m not sure why I dislike them so much, either. I don’t dislike peppermint. I guess it’s the fact that there’s SO much sugar and peppermint to get through that by the time I’m done I want to brush my teeth with roughage. Also, it’s one of the few candies that is designed better for hanging on coat racks or swinging around on your finger than actually placing in your mouth to eat. Occasionally some company will try to make them fruityish-flavored, which is kind of like reupholstering a Schwinn and selling it as a Chevy Impala.

4. Eggnog: I don’t get most dairy drinks beyond milk, which at this point appears to simply be a nice, cold refreshing glass of BGH. I guess I’m skittish about eggs, since my psyche has developed an unhealthy paranoia about them in that I assume all eggs are raw and contaminated with salmonella unless I personally carry the egg from the hen’s butt to the frying pan. So I simply have to assume I’m drinking pure bacteria when eggnog enters my mouth. That said, the real selling point of eggnog is yet another excuse for adults to get drunk and hit on third cousins, since drinking half a bottle of Blue Label by yourself makes you an alcoholic, but drinking a dozen mugs of cognac-laced eggnog makes you the embodiment of the Christmas season. Salut!

3. Ribbon Candy: I’m not positive this is strictly speaking a holiday candy, but I seem to see it with increasing frequency during Christmastime. Basically, the evolution of mankind has somehow figured out that the shape of the candy cane is inconvenient for easy consumption, so it’s best to chop it up in little pieces and serve it that way, so instead of being a ridiculously-shaped moderately-pleasing candy, it’s simply a moderately-pleasing candy.

2. Candy That Is Exactly The Same As Regular Candy Only In A Green And Red Wrapper: Got to give it to the marketers on this one. It’s not a Three Musketeers; it’s a Christmas Three Musketeers, because the wrapper has a bit of holly in the corner. Mark that puppy up about fifteen percent. Still one can’t complain too much, since after Christmas, the exact same candy bar is now worth about a quarter of the market price. You’re finally gonna get sold, Christmas Necco Wafers!

1. Christmas Cookies: You really can’t beat a standard rack of nice, warm Christmas cookies. Thankfully, this is a pretty broad category, and it covered everything from chocolate chip cookies to Oreo cookies dipped in fudge to sugar cookies with cleverly colored sugar cubes on it to a large assortment of ethically-originated cookies that is simply every culture’s way of shoving sugar and excess flour into our mouths. And I can’t think of a better representation of the harmonious Christmas spirit than that.

Knowing when to deny yourself some horrific snack no one really wants to eat but everyone does because it’s the “holidays” will discourage those destroyers of holiday cheer from making it next time, making Christmas more pleasant for everyone. If we’re successful with that, next year we’ll work on carolers and Christmas cards.

The Gifts That Keep On Giving

December 15, 2007

Christmas time is just as much about giving than receiving, and every year there’s a handful of folks in your gift-giving circle that you, you know, just don’t have any ideas for. Thankfully, each year there is a nice, solid, generic gift list that is good every Christmas, year in and year out, that works no matter what, and works especially well if you don’t want to exchange gifts with that person ever again. Ever.

Fruitcake: I never understood either side of the opinions regarding fruitcake. On the one hand, it’s not this ridiculous confection, the result of a confluence of poor taste and bad design. On the other hand, it’s not exactly the gift-giving equivalent of the Hope Diamond, either. I’ve eaten fruitcake, and it’s…not good. But not bad. It’s not…anything. It just seems like there’s a fairly small market for people who are sitting around, bored and hungry, thinking quietly to themselves, “Boy, you know, I could go for a cherry, a strawberry, a banana, perhaps a bit of pineapple, and a tangerine, all at the same time, draped in a lathering of solidified high fructose corn syrup. That would just hit the spot.” Thankfully, science has evolved to the point where we can, indeed, enjoy them all at the same time, thanks to an innovative technology known as “mushing up enough sugar so the whole thing stays together and lasts longer than Joan Rivers, though fresher.” Fruitcake is primarily consumed by those who have little regard for the longevity of their pancreas.

Combination Anything: Any time two disparate gadgets of varying degrees of utility are combined into one piece of equipment, you know you have a winner on your hands. Usually the options involved are at least tangentially related, such as alarm clock and serrated knife. In fact, alarm clocks in particular seem to be a commonality in most combined gadgets, which to be seems a vast misapplication of effort. When I wake up in the morning, the last thing I want to do is anything, so whatever device is embedded in my alarm cock is mostly going to be wasted, unless it is a mallet with which I can destroy said alarm clock/mallet. But it’s all not alarm clocks, of course; a simple scan of random devices invoke electric razors, mirrors, thermometers, flashlights, cameras, binoculars, manicure sets, corkscrews, nail files, and HD radios. One can only dream.

Anything That Questions the Recipient’s Sexuality: It’s always productive and highly amusing you get your best friend, sorority sister, or creepy uncle that gift that playfully doubts what their sexual orientation is. And I’m talking about all lifestyle choices, of course. Inflatable sheep, spreader bars, flannel, and coffee table books about Austrian sex comedies all point a figurative finger, laughing heartily at the recipient’s discomfort. Alas, you always run the risk of getting a knowing wink and an “I’ll talk to you later about this” look from your intended target, so it’s always best to have a good backup plan comprised of a bubble hockey tourney or a ready subscription to HGTV.

That Singing Fish And Other Novelty Gifts: Seriously, these are the best kind of gifts to get, because anyone who doesn’t enjoy anthropomorphic seafood singing a low-fi rendition of “Rock Around The Clock” has no soul. Basically any kind of singing animal works, but so do gifts involving cartoonish men who do rude things when you press a button to put on your dashboard of your car to cleverly insult passers-by that cut you off in the vague chance that they may be able to see, through the rush of traffic, a six-inch-tall stuffed plush doll giving you the finger; a sound-activated figure, usually Santa Claus or Sammy Davis Jr., which will entertain young children for HOURS while they stomp, clap, and scream in front of the figure to get Kris Kringle to gyrate for a half second or so; and any sort of bank that forces the deposited coin in question to go through an elaborately artificial means to get to the kitty. This usually involves a Construx-type crane or a well-placed pitching plastic arm, but the Cayman Islands works just as well.

Stuff That Will Not Be Used After Jan 7th or So: This includes any kind of exercise equipment that will be gracelessly abandoned mere moments after New Year Resolutions are made. It will also include sports equipment for sports that will never, ever be played; power tools and garage apparatuses that are bought with good intentions, the good intentions being to sell them at a yard sale four years later at about a fifth of their market price; and any form of self-empowering products, from tapes and books to hard liquor.

Gift Card: Nothing says “Happy Holidays” quite like handing someone a plastic card that says “Handing you a big wad of sweaty cash is apparently just too crass, so I’m going to give it to you in the form of a card with a jovial snowman and a corporate logo on it while restricting what you can use it for to buy stuff.” Merry Christmas, thoughtless jackoff!

2007 Holiday Movie Previews

December 9, 2007

It’s almost Christmas time, which of course means that many of the big-scale movie releases are coming out in the next few weeks just in time for the holidays and, oh, I guess the deadline for Oscar contention is December 31st, as well. How peculiar! Anyway, here is some important information about many of these new and recent releases:

Alvin and the Chipmunks: One of the season’s many animated motion pictures, this is the latest incantation of Alvin and the Chipmunks, a massive financial undertaking in what is the long and winding evolution of a novelty recording gimmick come to its logical conclusion: Jason Lee swallowing his self-worth and poop jokes. Early reviews have not been kind, effectively placing it, humor-wise, between Hotel Rwanda and A Brief History of Time. But the Chipmunks have at least one thing going for them: at least it can’t possibly be as big a pile of horseshit as Lions for Lambs.

The Golden Compass: Add one part Chronicles of Narnia, one part Lord of the Rings, one part Harry Potter and one part selling the concept to children of destroying the idea of Jesus Christ as the savior which has guided the population of the world for over 2,000 years by having polar bears with machine guns muck about with dust and Nicole Kidman’s rack and James Bond and a whole mess of other junk some kindergartener made up whilst wiling away the day on the school bus. At least I have to assume that is what it’s about, because I’m not gong to either see the movie or read the book, because I am not in the target demographic for this movie. Which, apparently, are seven-year-old secular humanists with no imagination of their own.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets is the sequel to National Treasure, a hit movie that was released sometime back in the Truman administration. It stars Nicholas Cage and some Random Foreign Girl in a hunt for a massive treasure hidden away via a series of cryptic clues left by the Founding Fathers, as if they needed something to occupy their time between fighting the British and creating a nation. In this edition, Cage must locate the legendary “Book of Secrets.” This book is rumored to tell all of the nation’s most alarming secrets that no one has been able to figure out, such as “This is as original as anything Dan Brown has written in the past ten years or so” and “Nicholas Cage can act.”

I Am Legend: This post-apocalyptic sci-fi cannibalistic dystopian thriller is just the kind of thing to get everyone in the holiday mood. It stars Will Smith, an individual whose career path is one of those mysteries akin to the Oak Island Treasure no one will ever figure out. Rapper from Philly to sitcom star to sci fi lead. The story of I Am Legend has been adapted several times for both television and film, but this will be the first time that the movie is viewed in the backdrop of 1) an allegory of the War on Terror’s impact on the soulless drag on society and the role of the interaction of religion and science on our lives, or 2) some kickass zombie CGI.

Juno: This is the tale of a young teenage girl who gets knocked up. That, uh, appears to be it. She’s also kind of a bitch, but the sweet kind of bitch that only Hollywood could come up with. It has a lot of content about fate, personalities, taking responsibility, and finding true love, but mostly it’s about watching Michael Cera do that goofy-dork act which is incredibly funny but is gonna get old and Robin-Williams level absurd if he doesn’t find a new trick soon. It also has J.K. Simmons, otherwise known as Emil Skoda on Law & Order, which means he should be announcing his candidacy for president any day now. The movie was written by Diablo Cody, a journalist-turned-stripper-turned-author, a career path everyone can agree is a lateral move all around.

Sweeney Todd: Another adaptation of a classic story, Sweeney Todd details the life of a serial killer barber who cuts the throats of innocent victims with a straight razor, then (I assume) sings about his killings or his highlights or Helena Bonham Carter’s cleavage or something. Steven Sondheim’s musical was an improbable success, an almost completely song-driven plot about a peculiar murderer. The crimes in the movie are fairly sensational and the production values are thought to be excellent. The real crime in this movie, though, is that Johnny Depp is still getting work.

Enchanted: The Disney Corporation takes on the most sacred of holiday traditions: The Disney Corporation. In a simultaneously self-referencing and self-mocking tale of love, redemption, and a dearth of competition from rival studios afraid of going up against the Golden Compass, Enchanted scored big at the box office. It essentially tells a tale of a princess banished to the real world, where there are no happy endings to nonexistent fairy tale lives, where animals do not sing but rather like to jump out in front of your car and irritate the Nationwide Insurance Company, and problems aren’t solved by a grandiose power ballad or a deus ex machina in the form of a wand or random magical article of clothing. However, the real world does province the next best thing, which is a $34 million opening weekend.

A Turkey A Day

November 21, 2007

There are two important things to remember about Thanksgiving: Food and football, though not necessarily in that order. Sure, sure, sure, there’s the whole “tradition” and “giving of thanks” but mostly this is a tradition of 1) food and 2) football, and give thanks for that.

Anyway, the Thanksgiving meal is the centerpiece of the occasion, so it’s no surprise that it gets a lot of attention. But for some reason there are certain people, namely communists and Al-Qaeda, who believe that the standard fare of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving just isn’t holding up too well. So for those looking to renounce their citizenship, here are some different alternatives to try for the standard Thanksgiving fare this year:

Deep-Fried Turkey: Whoever came up with the concept of deep-frying an entire turkey should be simultaneously nominated for the papacy, the Nobel prize, and (what the hell) the Pulitzer. Seriously, taking a nominally healthy item like turkey and deep-frying it is pure genius, right up there with taco salads and chocolate-covered strawberries.

Tofurkey: This is one of those made-up words that I mispronounce regardless of how many times I say it, which I hope and pray every day is never. I always want to say “tofu” without continuing the statement to say “turkey” so it always comes out as “tofufurkey,” a kind of degenerate banana-song variation of what George W. Bush might say if he ever needed to reference a tasteless, soulless husk of a main course over the Thanksgiving table.

Ham: Whoever decided to make ham an officially licensed Meat to Devour During Thanksgiving™ deserves to be shot. Seriously, ham is for Easter and Passover (I think) and turkey is for Turkey Day. And people try to make ham more than just ham by doing all sorts of unnatural things to it. Like pineapple. Who makes this stuff up? “Hmm…how can we make ham better?” “I know! Let’s make it taste slightly like the pina colada lifesaver no one ever wants to eat out of the multi-flavor pack.” Rubbish, I say.

Pressed Turkey Sweepings Formed Into The Shape Of A Slice: Found most notably at Denny’s.

Popcorn, Toast, and Pretzel Sticks: Yeah, you know what I’m talkin’ about. If you can’t have turkey, this is the next best thing. Well, no, ham would be. But still.

Flavored Stuffings: There is only one recipe that can properly be called stuffing, and that involves fixing the bread, adding in a host of seasonings, then throwing the whole thing in the trash. Stuffing enthusiasts have taken the concept of adding corn flakes to a meat loaf and basically laughed at it. I mean, nothing wrong with stuffing per se, but it’s own name means filler—let’s make a turkey look bigger than it really is! This will fool everybody up until the point where they look at it! The entire concept of cranberry stuffing, apple stuffing, and spearmint resin stuffing is ludicrous on its face and should be considered grounds for a civil case.

Any sort of dessert that is not pumpkin pie: OK, There is a little bit of an addendum to this rule. You can have additional pies and desserts beyond pumpkin, provided there is a strict three-to-one ratio of pumpkin pies to other things. You can have your apple crumbles and peach cobblers and all other sorts of blasphemous tarts, as long as you have at least three pies steaming hot from the oven to back you up.

Insane Sauces: I hate gravy, but I am foolish enough to concede the fact that I am a minority on this point. (Gravy, to me, is simply liquid meat, a disgusting and vile combination of nouns and adjectives I want nothing more to do with.) But some people try to push off various sauces and toppings that are downright un-American. I have seen pistachio sauces, ginger broth, and spinach dips dressed up as “gourmet offerings” but in reality are “stuff that pisses off your slightly racist uncle who just wants the drumstick, mashed potatoes and the Lions game, dammit.”

Turkey in any other form that sliced: I have had the unfortunate experience of seeing several failed attempts to be more creative with the turkey, despite the fact that the turkey spent his short, merciful life growing into the specific shape you see wrapped up in the freezer aisle. For those keeping score at home, turkey loafs are a no-go, and any type of turkey cakes or turkey balls or whatever Martha Stewart came up with in the slammer are going right back down to the shelter so they can be ignored and dismissed by hungry proletariats before they give in and wash it down with a savory beef stock broth and warmed cheese juice.

Stuffed Potato Shells
: Strictly speaking, this isn’t Thanksgiving fare, more like appetizer fare at every faux-upscale hipster dump chain restaurant that somehow manage to ruin a good thing with way too many chives. But it’s popping up more and more on Thanksgiving menus, which in my mind is certainly fine. There are a lot of extraordinarily great ideas sprung forth from lazy people, and I cannot think of anything lazier—and deliciouser—than basically kinda scooping the insides of a potato, deep-frying it, and then cramming it full of fattening junk like cheese, bacon, and sour cream. God bless America. The pilgrims fought and spilled blood against the French or Canadians or the Arawaks or something in Lexington and Normandy so we could make a perfectly acceptable vegetable like the potato the single most fattening item outside of shoving a side of beef into a pizza hollowed out and filled with Chicago.

So, anyway, spend this Thanksgiving experimenting with food, and you’ll soon be the talk of the town. And the cardiac ward.

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.

A Case on Behalf of Being A Rabbit

April 6, 2007

I think it would be great to be a rabbit.

I mean, why not? Rabbits haven’t been relegated to rodent status like guinea pigs or communications majors. They’re not imputed with vices like snakes and scorpions are, even though their impact on the environmental ecosystem is roughly equivalent. (Here, I am assuming that shedding your skin on top of the refrigerator in the half-darkened and rarely visited part of the garage in an unexpected place so when I find it I wet my pants or crawling into your shoe and taking a nap until you poke your big toe all up in his face and the only retort, naturally, is to sink your stinger deep into the ingrown part of the nail, respectively, are parts of the ecosystem.) And they’ve hippity hopped up the Disneyified branch of the evolutionary scale, so the only rabbits poorly looked upon are those sitting on the dusty shelf at the Snatch ‘N’ Sniff Boutique in Mobile, Alabama.

So, I say, why not be a rabbit? Just think of the perks, at it were.

First, you have the benefit of advantageous association. You have the sugary contagious happiness of the Trix rabbit; the second-degree imagined respect of Harvey; the wiseacre traditionality of Bugs; The honest-I’m-not-enjoying-this-at-all-haw-haw-look-at-what-he’s-up-to-now! frivolity of Br’er; the benign and complete noninfluence on modern culture of Peter; the corporately inclined energy of Roger; the nonexistent nostalgia manufactured from the time filler at two in the morning on the Boomerang channel in Ricochet; the lamentable hubris of the Hare; the soulful, post-9/11 determination of the Energizer; and the creatively named yet innocently missed Bunny Rabbit. Thinking about any of these fictional characters, and you think fondly to yourself—anyone would love to hang out with any of these rabbits if somehow they anthropomorphically inserted themselves into our daily lives—Bugs making change at the register at Denny’s, say, or Trix running mule routes along the Rio Grande.

Fictional rabbits aside, the rather comical engineering of the standard rabbit is a pleasant aftertaste as well. While they seem rather poorly designed, with an inability to walk or, technically, do much at all, what they are designed to do they do very, very well. You can scour the animal kingdom with a fine-toothed comb and not find another creature that can stand still for six hours at a time munching on the same piece of vegetation without so much as twitching. Though one tends to think that someone somewhere was acting on a dare during the prototype stages of their construction—giving the poor rabbit such big ears, large enough to hear the many, many natural predators that come knocking on the door, yet have a complete and utter inability to actually run away without scrambling about in an amusing manner akin to the last sketch of a Benny Hill hour. At least those choppers, while the bane of every rabbit during Senior Picture Day, are really good at chomping down on ugly raw vegetables and pet store clerks.

The rabbit has an easy life. What are rabbits known for? Eating grass and laying the cottonwood, mostly. And while I could do without all the grass-eating, I also don’t envy the female of the species, who apparently are impregnated if standing downwind from the rabbit equivalent of the prom king and gives birth to about six hundred rablits approximately every Monday.

And what are the goals of the lowly rabbit? To eat more grass than your neighbor, which, given the trajectory of the standard rabbit warren population, is probably cottontail to cottontail with you right now? I could handle that. It’s a lot better than aiming for holding onto a spirit-crushing middle management position long enough to retire without too much shame. You may find the odd rabbit that aims to outlive his immediate friends and family, something, granted, a touch tougher than simply shoving mushed grass in your mouth all day long. But the old adage is still the best one—you don’t have to be faster than the fox, you simply have to be faster than that draggin’-ass Mipsy.

Still, rabbitry isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There are still some negative portrayals of rabbits in the culture. Top of this particular list is that smug, self-satisfied look of the Playboy Bunny, the one that says “Hey, at least I’m not gonna be the one to spend all weekend watching the Monk marathon, hoss.” And while rabbits have come to symbolize fertility (“How you doin’?”) and innocence (“I’ve never done anything like this before!”), they are just as often portrayed as irresponsible (“I’ll pull out!”) and cowardly (“That ain’t mine!”).

All told, though, being a rabbit seems like a solid, fulfilling career change. And if you’re still not sold, think about this: if you were a rabbit, you would never have to be forced to read Watership Down. ‘Nuff said.

How The Irish Saved Discount Instrumental CDs

March 14, 2007

The Irish have a rather proud and distinctive heritage, mostly centered around distilled spirits, monopolizing the self-aggrandizing benefit concert racket, and starring in every cop movie set in the eastern seaboard. So much so that they’ve earned their own holiday in the United States, much like the Italians have for Columbus Day and the communists have Labor Day. Facets of this culture have waged a perennial battle of becoming mainstream versus maintaining its unique appeal, kind of like high school lacrosse or those kids that wear black, play bass, and cut themselves.

Irish folk music is a rather unique facet of this emerald culture. Irish folk music evolved from its lowly beginnings in the rural beer hall, where Irish shepherds and potato farmers would gather nightly and drink beer and compose songs, most of which were involuntarily participatory in nature. And the lyrics are a form of democracy in action, as no one would know the words at any given time and so the swaying stanzas would kind of flow to the lowest common denominator.

Not that it would matter, since early Irish songs were performed in their native language. This language is Gaelic, a fictional form of speech where random letters are pulled from the alphabet, indiscriminately assigned an order, and are then pronounced in a manner unrelated to the type or order of the letters involved. Because of this, the lyrics of many of these traditional Irish songs are a mixture of forgotten slurs, hums, and vague, off-key segways from chorus to verse.

The subjects of these songs were usually variations on a theme, and this is where the old world charm kicks in. While it’s usually about some lad with wayward devotions and the occasional song about the evil bottled spirits themselves, the theme could also frequently be downright quaint. There are entire songs about the benefits accrued from engaging in the act of carting a sack of barley to the market on a particularly Irish day, for instance, or perhaps the trials and tribulations of a lonely sheep that did not follow the ordinary path to its field.

There are many classics that even uncultured folks are at least familiar with. And one can only imagine centuries ago what these composers thought they were writing and the what kind of impact they would have today. What would one say about today’s performers singing the grammatically questionable Green Grow the Rushes Oh or even The Lakes of Pontchartrain, a song about Creole love in Louisiana that the Irish somehow decided fit naturally into their taste and culture? Many of these songs that are sung as traditionally Irish songs are, in fact, adapted from other cultures and pounded square-peg-wise into a collection of oddly constructed instruments sung by young redheads in constantly flowing white gowns with one name that resembles something from the Kia line of automobiles.

The instruments used for this folk music are varied and disturbing. There’s a nice collection of standard instruments that you would find in any modern band, but are reliably Irish-sounding so long as they are either wooden, carved, enhanced with a stretched sheep bladder, or blessed by the Pope (or, if one is lucky enough, all of the above). And then there are some, such as the delightfully Gaelicly-spelled Uillean pipes, the result of a sinful copulation between a bagpipe and a defunct blast furnace. And there is the musically mysterious bouzouki, a Japanese-sounding Greek instrument that the Irish have literally developed to an art form, continually adapting the tuning of the strings and style of pitch until the number of people who can actually play it number in the low teens.

Irish folk music didn’t die across the ocean. When the mass of immigrants came over to America for its easy social opportunities, increased chances of being more employable than a black (though still less than a German), and access to basic cable, they brought along with it the traditional folk tune. Soon, pubs in which you would have had previously heard O Alte Burschenherrlichkeit now heard Sweet Rosie O’Grady, and taverns stopped serving sauerbraten and started taking out insurance claims for physical property damage.

Sometimes, when listening to the strains of the barroom fiddle or the soothing chords of the hand accordion, it’s hard to imagine that the piece being played is the cumulative effort of generation after generation of singers, writers, dancers, and the occasional copyright lawyer. And yet one has to wonder what had to happen to create that deviant strain of musical evolution that eventually concluded with the outcome of Bono.

Obviously, the Irish folk tune isn’t about the beer or the license to act silly after a hard day’s work. Those are mere perks; the folk song is greater than that. The subject matter is unifying, and vague platitudes about family, peace, or the betterment of society are all wonderfully appropriate things. But the overriding theme of Irish folk music is about one, undeniably important thing: hatred of the English.