Saturday, February 28, 2004

An open invitation to the presidential candidates

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Sometimes I wish I lived in New Hampshire. Buying beer on Sundays there is a plus — tax free, my friends, tax free. But more to my point, the people of New Hampshire (let’s call them “New Hampshirts”) can meet the presidential candidates.

I’m very jealous.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, according to his campaign managers, doesn’t have plans to visit Massachusetts in advance of Tuesday’s primary here. Neither does North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. They’ll be too busy glad-handing in Super Tuesday’s big states, like California and New York. That’s where the most votes are, apparently. Those are the states, they say, that matter.

I heard Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich visited Cambridge and Northampton and some other white-bread towns with huge median incomes you can buy African nations with.

That’s what we get. Fucking Kucinich. The nerdy-looking one with the unpronounceable last name.

This is the thanks we get for keeping you employed, Mr. Kerry? And what’s your story, Edwards? We not Southern enough? Last time I checked, the commonwealth of Massachusetts was not constructed entirely of chopped liver. Maybe I should check again.

No. Not chopped liver.

It’s just not fair. Iowans and New Hampshirts during primary time couldn’t throw a stick in any direction without hitting a candidate for president. The politicians hung out at diners and flip pancakes. They dredged the streets looking for babies that needed dandling and photographers to record the scene. I heard that even Kerry, that blueblood, went door to door in Iowa and invited himself into people’s houses for coffee.

The upside to having candidates at your beck and call is obvious: you can talk to them. They have to listen — or at least pretend to listen, which is probably the best you’re ever going to get.

Do the people in the early primary states realize how great that is, how true to the spirit of democracy that is? Do they understand how wonderful it is that in a country this size they can still invite the future leader of the free world in for tea and lemon squares, and put a bug in his or her ear about the economy?

It’s an amazing thing, being able to speak your mind to a candidate, to let him or her know your needs and interests. It’s a rare thing in a place like Fall River, where the voice of the people is so often drowned out by municipal leaders farting around doing nothing.

No politician of national reach visits Fall River except under duress. President Clinton did it while he was in office, but he didn’t flip pancakes at Al Mac’s. Nor did he knock on some doors in the Flint and ask people how he could do a better job. Nor did Clinton stroll unannounced into Quaker Fabric during the lunch break to make sure everybody was happily employed.

President Bush won’t come anywhere near this city, ever — especially during the election season. Judging from the quantity of scratch tickets in the gutters, his tax cut for the rich is having little effect here. And it’s his aggressive energy policy, by the way, that gives companies like Weaver’s Cove the confidence to muscle their way into Fall River, plant liquefied natural gas terminals, exploit our resources, lower our property values and underpay our workers.

I’m not even talking about just Fall River. The closest most people anywhere in the United States get to the candidates — particularly middle-class people who don’t live in major cities — is screaming at them through the TV, which is not effective, no matter how loudly you do it. Trust me.

Is it any wonder that people feel apathetic about voting, disconnected from the electoral process? Is it any wonder that people feel frustrated — take me for example. Bush keeps driving up the federal deficit even though I specifically ordered him not to when he was on “Meet the Press.”

I want these Democrats to listen and listen good. If anybody knows anybody who knows them, pass this column along — this is an open challenge.

Just once before I vote on Tuesday, I want to be heard. Personally. I may not be an Iowan or a New Hampshirt, but I have some valid suggestions.

I want Kerry or Edwards to visit my apartment. Al Sharpton’s more than welcome, too. I guess if Kucinich came to the door, I’d feed him. Whoever takes me up on my offer can have my vote Tuesday.

If by some stroke of bad luck Bush comes knocking on my door, he’d better bring a chocolate cake.

I’m tired of asking Edwards through the TV if his inexperience will matter — I want to ask Edwards, period. My wife and I want Kerry to know, mano a mano, while he’s sitting down at our kitchen table, that he’d better repair the U.S. reputation.

I don’t have a baby to kiss, but my dog’s cute and doesn’t slobber. I know some photographers who can take the picture — here’s a hint: I have some pull at a certain local newspaper. Wink wink!

I’m completely serious. Whoever wants my vote can visit and convince me. I don’t want a representative, either — I want the real deal. There are plenty of airports nearby. Contact me through this newspaper to set up the appointment, and I’ll start buying the Marcucci’s grinders and brewing the coffee.

I just have a few questions. It’ll take 20 minutes, a half-hour at the longest, and I swear my wife and I will make it fun. Then you can be off to shake hands at another, more important state.

Just don’t make the appointment for Tuesday. Marcucci’s is closed.

Kerry, Edwards, Sharpton, Kucinich or Bush may call The Herald News at 508-676-2559.

[Note: For the record, nobody called. Duh! —Dan]

Friday, February 20, 2004

I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, I demand you end this masquerade this instant

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I recently had a week’s vacation, a reprieve from wearing my fingers to nubs in the Fall River news mines. During that week, I drafted plans to accomplish all sorts of noble tasks, like changing the filter in the Brita water pitcher.

Instead, I watched TV. I mean, I watched TV unrelated to world news for pretty much the whole week, becoming intimately acquainted with daytime television.

Normally, I don’t watch much TV. I’m not trying to sound smart — I just don’t have time for it.

Some people I’ve met insist that they watch no television at all. If they honestly don’t like it, then that’s cool — nobody says you have to watch TV. But if they’re trying to establish a lie that they sit around a roaring fire, leafing through worn volumes of Lord Tennyson and sipping a fine port while the rest of the great unwashed are engrossed in “Who Wants to Marry a Big Fat Obnoxious Multimillionaire Dwarf American Idol,” then that’s another thing altogether, and you deserve a slap in the mouth.

So during my week off from news, I was at the Laundromat when a soap opera came on the TV. I would have changed the channel to something more manly, but the TV was high up near the ceiling, and I’m quite short. Besides, I had just finished leafing through the volume of Lord Tennyson I’d brought with me, and I needed some diversion.

I don’t know which soap opera it was, or what was going on with the plot — but there was this elderly woman in the scene with a walker in one hand and a sword in the other. Next to her was an orangutan with an eyepatch. Both were dressed like ninjas.

For some reason, they and a third lady were attacking a man behind a desk, who gave an eerily convincing portrayal of a man being waylaid by an old lady with a sword and a one-eyed orangutan ninja. If anybody watches this soap opera, please stop me on the street, take my hand and tell me what the hell was going on.

I watched so much non-news daytime TV that I gained the ability to chart age and gender advertising demographics by the commercials. Like, daytime TV is filled with ads for diabetes testing supplies, electric wheelchairs, feminine products (of what use I’m gladly uncertain), generic telephone companies with fishy names like The Local Telephone Co., and correspondence courses that promise to hand out degrees like candy.

So advertisers think most people who watch daytime TV are old, immobile women with mysterious female ailments who can’t pay their bills because they need a new career.

Daytime TV watchers need legal services constantly, too. Here’s a tip: if you’re feeling litigious, two words strike fear into the heart of every attorney: “d’Oliveira” and “Morgan.”

This is a powerful incantation, my friends. I’ve seen the results — in grainy black-and-white documentary-style footage, the commercials show insurance company suits plotting your destruction. There are manila folders on the table that they readily admit are full of illegal schemes to swindle you. They have a laugh or two, complimenting each other’s fiendishness. Then some soon-to-be-fired lackey delivers the ill tidings.

“D’Oliveira & Morgan called.” His eyes widen in horror, and he whispers, perhaps realizing that d’Oliveira and/or Morgan may be listening at that very minute (probably through the grainy black-and-white cameras they snuck into their meeting room). “They know what we’re up to.”

Depending on the commercial, either the biggest-wigged bigwig spills his drink — looks like straight gin to me — or nearly chokes to death on his sandwich and is long in reviving. His hair has gone stark white from fear. In another version of the commericals, he clearly seems to have soiled his pants, looking down at his full lap with abject shame. “Settle!” he shouts.

You can tell how interesting my vacation week was when the outstanding event involved that commercial followed immediately by the one for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. You know the one I mean — it’s both absorbing and highly irritating, but mostly irritating.

So this lady is staying at a hotel or something, and she’s got this itch that only I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter can scratch.

“Come with me,” murmurs a bellhop, and they’re both instantly whisked away on a mysterious gondola ride. It’s odd that this hotel keeps the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter someplace accessible only by gondola — but whatever.

The bellhop and the lady climb ashore to find hundreds of people — who presumably all arrived by gondola, too — in 17th century French masquerade outfits, frolicking with toast and croissants. It’s like that scene in the movie “Eyes Wide Shut” where Tom Cruise stumbles upon a medieval-looking orgy, except this has butter substitute in it.

The masquerade people, naturally, have a hoard of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. The lady has hit the jackpot when someone hands her a silver tray with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter on it, along with several bread items that, out of politeness, it’s best to eat with it — although she looks so happy she could scoop the stuff out with a finger. The lady dances among them, joyously refusing to believe that it’s butter. She’s in the throes of oleo ecstasy when she curtseys to the bellhop. Another satisfied customer!

My wife is smarter than I am, so I asked her what masquerade parties could possibly have in common with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.

“It’s masquerading as butter,” she said, “but they can’t believe it’s not.”

My vacation is over now, so I’ll go back to watching mostly news. But as my days off dwindled, I had two thoughts: First, what the hell happens in that hotel if you ask for jelly? Second, thank God I don’t have cable.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Share the love, you jerks

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I love the way things work out sometimes. Around Valentine’s Day, the state Legislature is trying to decide if they should sanction the fidelity of homosexual couples.

I’m not trying to foist my opinion on anybody, but it seems like a great idea when any two people care enough for each other that they’re willing to spend the rest of their lives together.

To me, that’s all there is to a marriage qualification. I don’t care how anybody’s “parts” work. And neither should you. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Seriously. The recent push for gay marriage has brought all kinds of anti-gay activists out of the woodwork, and many of them — judging by the signs they hold up at protests or the letters they write to various publications, including this one — have this prurient, sophomoric interest in what goes where. Grow up.

In fact, I don’t want to know anything about anybody in the hootchie-koo department — not the straight people I count among my friends, and not the homosexual people I count among my friends. I work, I go to school, I date my wife, I try to keep healthy, I walk the dog, I’m writing the Great American Novel and every so often I like to do a crossword puzzle. I’m way too busy to care about other people’s hunka-chunka.

That stuff isn’t really the core of a great marriage, anyway, it seems to me. If it were, then that dopey kid Britney Spears married for about two hours would never have OK’d the annulment.

Call me a big softy (“Big softy!”) but I believe great marriages bind people who have mutual love and respect and admiration for each other. That’s what I want to talk about on Valentine’s Day — not “parts” or politics or the idiotic arguments about marrying horses, but love.

Part of the reason why I’m a supporter of civil marriage for homosexuals is because my wife and I are civilly married.

I met her in my first year of high school, but hadn’t the brass to ask her out until the last year. About two or three dates in, I knew she was the woman I wanted to wipe the tapioca slobber off my chin when I grow too old to do it myself. Much later, she thought the same thing about me.

We dated for four years, then moved into an apartment together. When I started responding to ads for rentals, I was turned away a few times because we weren’t married. “Believe me,” I told them, “neither of us is taking off anytime soon.”

We don’t even fight. Our fights look like this:


SHE: Why can’t you pick your socks up off the floor? Help me out here.

ME: Jeez. I’m sorry. I forgot. (picks up socks, blows her a kiss)

SHE: (returning it) Thanks!

After another four years, we decided to get hitched. It seemed like a good idea, so we did it. I put on a jacket and tie, and she put on a beautiful purple dress. A very nice lady from Somerset married us outdoors. Afterwards, we took 28 or so relatives out to dinner. Boom — civilly married.

It’s working out wicked good for us. If everybody and their partner could be as happy and loyal and loving as we are, then the world might be better off.

It might also be a lot less noisy, if you catch my drift.

A lack of happiness, loyalty and love, I think, is what’s truly harming the institution of marriage. We keep hearing this tired, misguided argument that allowing homosexuals to marry will cheapen the tradition. Forget it — marriage became too cheap back when the first drive-through chapel opened in Las Vegas.

Apart from the drunken quick-hitch, straight people themselves have done a swell job of cheapening the idea of marriage for centuries. Those criminals who beat their wives and force them to be virtual slaves, rather than loving and respecting them, for instance, have cheapened marriage. The same goes for couples who drag their children through messy divorces, or those horribly mismatched couples who probably should get divorced, but stay together to make each other’s lives miserable out of spite or fear.

While all of us in Massachusetts are talking this issue until we’re blue in the face, two homosexual women in San Francisco on Thursday received the blessing of the mayor to marry each other in an illegal ceremony.

The two women are Phyllis Lyon, 79, and Dell Martin, 82. They’ve been a couple for 51 years. If the early 1950s had been more progressive, they’d have celebrated a golden anniversary by now. That’s the kind of enduring love that everyone should aspire to.

Just don’t talk to me about how their “parts” work — or if, at their age. That’s not my business.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

The age of Aquarius

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It’s my birthday. I’ll probably celebrate it the way I do every year: fire my AK-47 into the air at the precise time of my birth — just after midnight. Then, after consuming what would be, to lesser men, deadly amounts of Wild Turkey and Carvel ice cream cake, my wife and I will drive around mooning the square people and tipping over mailboxes.

I’m turning 27 this year, which means that I’m practically a 30-year-old. That doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t mind aging.

Every so often, if I happen to be driving by the schools in the early afternoon, I’ll see kids leaving class. Kids have become more awkward-looking since I was that young, frankly. Perhaps it’s through the prism of age that they seem removed from my experience — or I’m removed from theirs.

Whatever it is, kids are goofy. I don’t know if there are more chemicals in the water, or if the field of orthodontics has taken such a step backward that braces have gotten larger.

Also, have you heard the average kid speak lately? Their voices are so squeaky, and they always seem to be talking. And the things they don’t know! There are kids who can’t locate Massachusetts on a labeled map of only Massachusetts. They think World War II was a country. And they‘ve never seen a single, solitary episode of “Three’s Company.”

I cringe. Mostly, I cringe because I used to be that young and green. I’ve never admitted this to anybody before, but when I was a kid, I said “brang” instead of “brought.”

So the more age I put between myself and those years, the happier I am.

By the way, I feel a special kinship with “Three’s Company” because that delightful masterpiece of a television show premiered in 1977, the year I was born. It’s like they knew.

It’s coincidences like my birth and the “Three’s Company” debut that make me wonder if there’s anything to this astrology business. According to the Zodiac, I’m an Aquarius, which is the water-carrier. I’m nothing so noble as an archer or a lion. I’m the waterboy.

However, this is from my World Book Encyclopedia: “Aquarians have powerful, logical and scientific minds.” Yes, indeed, there certainly must be something to this astrology business.

There are quite a few of us powerfully minded writers born on Feb. 7 throughout history. In 1812, Charles Dickens was born, author of “David Copperfield,” “A Tale of Two Cities” and “A Christmas Carol.” I don’t really write anything like Dickens.
Laura Ingalls Wilder was born Feb. 7, 1867. She wrote “Little House on the Prairie.” Decades later, it was turned into a TV show that I hate. Every time I saw the show, somebody was standing around in what seemed to be a prairie, near a little house — just standing there and being rustic. Fuck you.

I know it’s a bit late, but perhaps they could have spiced up the show by keeping the little house and the prairie — but filling it with two single girls instead of a boring family. And John Boy could have been their wacky roommate, pretending to be homosexual to fool the landlord, who lives in another little house on the same prairie.

Sinclair Lewis, author of “Main Street” and “Arrowsmith,” is another writer who shares my birthday. He was born in 1885, was the first American author to win the Nobel prize, and I don’t write like him, either.

This is from Wikipedia.com, an online encyclopedia: “At first, [Lewis] produced romantic poetry, then romantic stories about knights and fair ladies.” Let the record show that at no time have I ever written a romantic poem or story about knights and ladies.

Here, then, is my debut! My present to you is a romantic poem about knights and fair ladies. I apologize in advance.

There once was a knight and a lady,
Who met in the tenth gradey;
He asked her to dance,
But tripped over his lance,
So she said, “Let’s go where it’s shady.”


Also born on my birthday is model turned actor Ashton Kutcher. The star of such watershed moments in film history as “Dude, Where’s My Car?” is only a year younger than I am. I have not ever misplaced my car, and if I ever do, it will not make good cinema.

Kutcher was able to earn that movie role as a dumb stoner through his success playing a dumb stoner on Fox’s “That ‘70s Show.” I refer you once again to the World Book Encyclopedia: “Aquarians have powerful, logical and scientific minds.”

He’s dating Demi Moore, who’s so old she could have given birth to him if she’d played her cards right. My wife is about nine months my senior. So the one thing old Kutch and I have in common is that we dig the older ladies.

Perhaps the nail in astrology’s coffin is this: on the exact day I was born, halfway across the country, in Chicago, an infant girl named Hillary Wolf was born. Wolf would later grow up to be on the 2000 U.S. Olympic judo team — extra-lightweight division.

If everyone has a twin out there, everyone must have an anti-self, someone who’s the complete opposite. I know nothing about judo and even less about being extra-lightweight.

Hillary Wolf, if you’re reading this, happy birthday. And eat some cake — with the 2004 Olympics coming up, you should bulk up. You’ll be harder to flip that way.
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