Saturday, May 29, 2004

When average won't cut the ketchup

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Quinnipiac University in Connecticut recently took a poll so vital to our nation's health, so ground-breaking in scope, so shocking, that I didn't believe it at first--the human mind is uncomfortable processing such staggering information as you are about to read. Steel yourselves. The loud crashing you will hear will be the thud of thousands of jaws striking the ground simultaneously.

The Associated Press wrote, "Half of the registered voters surveyed [by Quinnipiac] said they would rather have a barbecue with Bush, while 39 percent chose Kerry."

Yes, this is where we are now, as a culture: imaginary barbecues with the president. Worse, imaginary non-barbecues with Sen. John Kerry.

Quinnipiac also asked 1,160 voters nationwide which presidential candidate voters would trust to run the family business. This vote was closer: If we had our druthers, Bush would be selling scratch tickets and Fritos at the corner store instead of Kerry, 46 to 41 percent. "But voters," the story said, "were evenly split on whether they would rather have Kerry or Bush teach their children."

Why these inane questions, when neither guy would even think about balancing your checkbook or teaching your kids--when neither one is expected any time soon to show up in your back yard with a homemade apple brown betty as dessert for the burgers and bratwursts you're grilling out on the back porch?

According to the story, "Mickey Carroll, the director of the Quinnipiac Polling Institute, said these offbeat questions were asked to try to get a peek at the personal, regular-guy qualities of each candidate."

I have a few problems with this study. For one, Kerry's the better choice to operate your family business. Before entering politics, the high point of Bush's working life was owning the Texas Rangers--what have they done lately?

Also, Kerry's the better barbecue guest. His wife is Teresa Heinz. Yes, that Heinz. If you hinted around, Kerry would probably set up your barbecue with complimentary ketchup, mustard, relish, mayo and pickles.

Thirdly, I take issue with the whole idea of the president being a "regular guy." He's a multimillionaire who comes from a family of Texas oil barons. Also, I know many regular guys and, frankly, I don't urge any of those assholes to run for leader of the free world, either.

I want my president as close as possible to being an inconceivably intelligent, invincible superbeing who cares deeply for regular people and uses his or her powers to fight for good on a scale that regular people can't. I don't want someone average--I want somebody who's way above average. Whether the guy would make a good Scrabble partner is moot.

Incidentally, Kerry would be my Scrabble partner, too. Bush's "misunderestimate" would have the kind of score records are made of--but, alas.

Too many people don't vote on the issues, instead focusing on how a candidate combs his hair or how well he smiles or how tasty the coleslaw is that he brings to your barbecue or other asinine details.

For these people, I enclose the following asinine poll.

I recently asked 20 people in this paper's newsroom to fill out a survey I wrote, determining which presidential candidate is the most regular guy. The hypothetical questions aren't quite up to Quinnipiackian standards--but it's my first poll, so bear with me.

It's got no margin of error, as far as I can tell. I calculated it all very carefully on Post-It notes:

(1) I asked which presidential candidate takes his car to a quick-lube place when he's perfectly capable of changing his oil himself. No surprise: 40 percent of those polled said Kerry does it. Bush was second at 35 percent, and Ralph Nader was third with 25 percent.

(2) Which candidate puts bacon bits on his salad? Bush, 65 percent. When also asked which guy puts ketchup on his salad, 100 percent of voters picked Kerry. When also asked which candidate uses them so much it's more like he puts salad in his bacon bits, 100 percent picked Bush.

(3) Which candidate reads on the toilet? It's a tie, with Kerry and Nader, 40 percent each. That was an easy one--Bush can't read.

(4) Which candidate secretly liked "The Love Boat," and still does--in fact, knows most of the words (except for the middle) to the theme song? Bush ran away with this one, 75 percent. For some reason I can't quite explain, it feels so right.

For the record--ahem: "The Love Boat! Soon we'll be making another run! The Love Boat! Promises something for ev'ryone! Set a course for adventure, your mind on a new RO-mance!"

(5) The candidate who uses Febreze to give his shirts a clean, fresh smell instead of doing laundry more often is Nader, 55 percent. It feels true. Nader's a nice guy, but he always looks like he's living out of his car.

(6) One candidate has no idea why people even bother with curtains. Nader won this one, too--70 percent. No need for curtains if you live out of your car.

(7) Which candidate could eat, like, six chourico rolls right now? Half of those polled picked Kerry, the man with the Portuguese wife. Bush was close: 40 percent.

(8) Which one actually knows the difference between off-white and eggshell, because he painted eggshell in the kitchen but found it was too dark for the garage? Kerry came out on top, 55 percent. I have no idea why.

(9) Which guy sees no need to fix that hole in the side of the porch when some kid's just going to chuck another rock through it someday anyway? Bush edged out Nader for this one, 45 to 35 percent. When asked which one would patch the hole with ketchup, all voters picked Kerry.

(10) Lastly, one guy would love to get his hands on that Verizon "Can you hear me now?" jerk, just once. That man is Kerry, with 46 percent of the vote. Somebody picked all three ("Everybody wants to kill that guy," she said), and a man named Eric voted for himself.

Nowhere did I ask which candidate would be the best president. People will figure that out soon enough, I guess. But if he's so above average that he can pack away a half-dozen chourico rolls and make the Verizon doofus disappear, I say vote Kerry and vote often.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Clean living, step by step

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Riddle me this. When is a salad not quite a salad?

Answer: When it contains more cholesterol than you'll find in a Slim Jim.

I'll return to that in a moment. But let me share a movie recommendation with you first.

The other day, my wife and I saw a hilarious and scary documentary playing in some theaters now called "Super Size Me."

The director, Morgan Spurlock a hillbilly-looking gent with a Fu Manchu mustache, decided he would call attention to the nation's obesity epidemic by eating nothing but McDonald's food for a month, for every meal of the day. Yes, that includes both high tea and midfast, the meal I invented between the midnight snack and breakfast.

"Super Size Me" is a record of Spurlock's experience cramming fries and McMystery Meat down his gullet. During the experiment, Spurlock traveled the country eating McGriddles and Quarter Pounders, sucking down milkshakes and 42-ounce Cokes, and exposing exactly how unwholesome and nutritionless McDonald's food is.

The guy started out pretty svelte, and ended up gaining 30 pounds. He saw his cholesterol levels skyrocket, ate something like 17 pounds of fat, and came this close to contracting a hilarious case of liver failure.

Spurlock, by the way, is the man you can thank (or punch in the face, if you're so inclined) for single-handedly convincing McDonald's to discontinue the colossally unhealthy Super Sizes.

Not long after that, the fast-food company also started releasing the Go Active! Happy Meal for adults. It's supposed to be a healthy choice. It contains a salad, a bottled water (which you can substitute for a Coke, I found out) and a pedometer--or a "Stepometer," they call it, for people who're unsure how long a ped is.

Also included in the standard options package is a wagging finger ordering you to get the hell off the couch and walk someplace.

The movie and its after effects got me thinking, which is nice for a change. I always knew that eating Mickey D's was bad for you--which is why I usually prefer to nuggetize my own chickens, thank you very much. But after the movie I was wondering if those Go Active! meals are actually healthy.

I'm not a health nut by any means, but I'm trying to do better. More importantly, when I eat a salad, I expect it to be reasonably nutritious--the same way that when I drink a beer, I expect it to be fattening and full of alcohol.

"I don't know--it's McDonald's, and nothing's healthy in that place," I told my wife after we staggered out of the movie theater. We were still exhausted from watching a stomach stapling surgery that Spurlock edited into the movie in gloriously icky color. "Then again, it's a salad, so it must be."

"Salad, schmalad," my wife said. "I want a Stepometer."

So we did our own little experiment. I patronized a McDonald's and bought two Go Active! Happy Meals, one for me and one for my wife. Behind me in line, somebody told a friend she wanted to buy a salad with Chicken McNuggets on the side.

When I brought home the salads, my wife was disappointed. The salads were in a bag.

"No box?" she asked.

"I, too, was led to believe they would be in a box," I said. " I also assumed the box would have games and areas for coloring."

Like any good Happy Meal eaters, we went straight for the toys, tearing into our Stepometers with our teeth. You clip it to your belt and it counts how many steps you take. "If you have a large stomach," the guide notes with a wink, "try placing the Stepometer on the side of your hip." The helpful guide estimates about 2,000 steps as a mile.

After we finished off our salads, my wife clipped the Stepometer to the dog, Sable, and ran her around the house for a while. Then she came back and checked the Stepometer.

"Three," she said.

"Those are in dog steps," I said.

We walked Sable around Robeson Street for a while, both wearing our Stepometers and trying our best to digest the salads. It was at this time that I revealed how much the salads cost. She kicked me in the groin.

"Twelve bucks?" she said. "For two salads and water?"

"Aw, come on," I said, pinching her rear end.

"You're throwing off my Stepometer," she said.

Back at home, we compared our results. She took almost 5,180 steps. I took 4,113, and we're about the same height. Something seemed odd, so I put one Stepometer on one leg and one on the other. I walked through the house, from the TV to the fridge, and discovered that my right leg took 23 steps while my left leg took 11.

Later, we were in for more disillusionment. We checked the McDonald's Web site for nutrition information on their salads. I had a Crispy Bacon Ranch salad with croutons and ranch dressing. All told, it was 590 calories, about as much as a Big 'N Tasty. I ate 58 percent of my daily recommended allowance of fat, which is more than a Big Mac contains. And I ate a whopping 71 percent of my suggested daily intake of salt, which is the equivalent of eating five boxes of large fries.

As I wrote earlier, you're better off eating a Slim Jim. The salad has 10.5 times as much cholesterol.

So the salads were unhealthy--oh, and the bottled water was lukewarm. Anybody hoping that Ronald McDonald had turned over a new leaf with the Go Active! Happy Meal salads will be disappointed. Make your own--it's cheaper and more nutritious.

On the other hand, the Stepometer is a fun toy. For instance, it takes me between 22 and 46 steps to walk from the TV to the fridge to grab a beer and walk back. If I do that between 43 and 91 times, I'll have walked a mile. And after all that exercise, I'll sleep like a baby.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Star search

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This week, the Mexican Air Force released a video documenting the appearance of UFOs. Eleven blobs of light were seen whizzing around a plane that was conducting drug trafficking surveillance, according to Reuters news service--only the latest instance in a long, proud tradition linking drugs and alien visits.

The whole story positively reeked of cockamamitude to me, so I did some research and verified the story. It's actually true, friends. Mexico really does have an air force.

The UFO part I don't know about, but it's possible.

Don't call the gentlemen with the white coats and the butterfly nets just yet. I just had a thought, and I have to spit it out before it runs away.

Most scientists believe that the size of the universe is infinite. And it's filled with an infinite amount of stuff. So that means there is an infinite number of galaxies, stars, moons, asteroids and planets. Logically, therefore there must be an infinite number of planets that could possibly support aliens. Even if it's one out of a trillion planets--in an infinite universe, that's still an infinite number.

On one hand, it's nice to know that we're probably not alone in the universe. However, that all those beings could someday contact our planet and make themselves available for high-tech job outsourcing is a strain on our economy too terrible to imagine.

I'm willing to allow that there might be life on other planets, but I haven't seen evidence of intelligence yet. In fact, aliens are probably pretty scrawny in the brains department--given what we've seen so far, I bet the human race could beat aliens at an intergalactic game of checkers.

Consider that aliens are always spotted flying miles above Earth, circling aimlessly and then leaving without so much as a howdy-doo. Or, the aliens land somewhere that's far away from everything civilized--our Earth hotels, our famous landmarks and public squares, our places of worship and commerce. Aliens are never found lurking where the real action is, like, let's say, a crowded restaurant or your local post office.

Take this example with Mexico. The aliens were flying above Mexico--they didn't actually visit Mexico. No boots on the ground, as it were. Why wouldn't they park the flying saucer somewhere and sample the local culture--or if they're hostile, sample the locals?

If they're anything like us, aliens get cranky and suffer from charleyhorses in their legs on long car rides, and need to stop to go potty once in a while. Why not in Mexico? The people are friendly, the liquor cheap, the bathing suits tantalizingly immodest, the currency exchange rate quite favorable.

Aliens flying hundreds of light-years to hover around in the sky over Earth is like a rural Czech family riding their donkey to the airport, taking a passenger plane to Germany, switching flights to Lisbon, boarding a barge to the Azores, flying on another passenger plane back to Dublin, getting an Aer Lingus jet across the Atlantic to New York, hanging around the JFK terminal for a seven-hour layover, boarding a late-night plane to Dallas-Fort Worth and a red-eye to Phoenix, shuffling over to the Avis desk, renting a Toyota, and driving out to the Grand Canyon just in time for sunrise ... but taking pictures from inside the car before turning around and driving home.

Because there's got to be something to this UFO business, I went to the one source of trustworthy information available on this subject: a suspicious-looking Web site.

Out of the infinite number of sites about UFOs, I found the National UFO Reporting Center, or NUFORC, at www.ufocenter.com. Based in Seattle, the hilariously acronymic NUFORC has a handy online form you can fill out to report sightings. There's a list of prefab UFO shapes to choose from when describing your spaceship, including saucer, cigar, egg, fireball, rectangle or chevron.

A UFO spotter also can choose from several "Characteristics of Object (Check all that apply)." These range from the mundane ("There was an aura or haze around the object") to the impressive ("The object emitted beams") to the puzzling ("The object emitted other objects") to the dramatic ("The object landed").

Mischievous wags beware! The people who run the site are sick to death of reading phony claims, so make jokes at your own risk. "Although these hoaxed reports may be amusing to those who submit them," a warning seethes with barely contained severity, "they have become a real nuisance to us, and we feel compelled to do everything in our power to try to stop them." That penalty may include the emitting of beams and/or other objects in the hoaxer's direction.

The NUFORC Web site also includes a feature that allows users to search sightings by state. I figured I'd see if anybody in Fall River had posted a UFO sighting.

This next part was wicked creepy: When I clicked on the link to read all the Massachusetts sightings, all that came up was a photo. It was a large, blurry picture that looked like somebody's back yard as seen through a screen door. Arrows pointed at what looked like a rock--although it could have been a form of clever alien camouflage. One arrow was labeled, "Path of 1st motion," pointing toward another rock. Another note read, "40 [feet] in blink of eye." By this time, I was chewing my knuckles with a cold compress on my forehead, and calculating how much tinfoil I'd need to cover the roof.

But then I saw another note written on the photo, one that gave me hope about possible alien visitors:

"Did not damage flowers."

So, judging from the way they left the pictured posies and the Mexican air force unmolested, take comfort that any aliens you may encounter are probably nice and/or on vacation. In case of unfriendly aliens, however, either try speaking Spanish to them or keep a giant begonia costume handy.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Clothes-minded

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I wear clothes because I am ugly, for one thing. For another, I have a keenly honed sense of shame. Therefore, I demand very little of my clothing -- primarily that my clothes be opaque.

But just because I'm following the bare minimum requirements, that doesn't mean I can't be a fashion maven. I got style, boy howdy. I got it coming out of my ears.

Guys who are super-hep like me, with a vise-like deathgrip on the pulse of male fashion, are already familiar with Cargo magazine, online at www.cargomag.com, or at a newsstand near you, if you are near a newsstand.

Cargo is a new shopping magazine for guys who want to wear the expensive duds all the Hollywood stars are wearing. The magazine is full of photos of trendy clothes and information on where to buy them. Mostly in New York. I tried to find some Fall River stores in there, like Burlington Coat Factory or that place on South Main Street with that shiny shirt in the window, but I guess because it's still the first issue, not everybody's listed.

Apart from that appalling error, Cargo is very tightly researched and extensively documented. In a phrase, Cargo is U.S. News & World Report for metrosexuals.

I took a look at the online version in the interest of passing a review along to you, dear consumer. I don't need this information. I've got shirts and pants that have lasted me just fine for seven years, sometimes more.

Besides, the clothes featured in Cargo are "outfits." I don't wear "outfits." I've never tried, but I don't think I will in the future--it seems like work.

Anyway, I went to the Cargo Web site and was greeted by the most darling pair of Madras shorts you ever did see. They were all funny colors, I swear. Too bad I already have a pair of shorts.

The site includes gushing descriptions of the clothes. "Even if you weren't sent away for the Big Sleepover (a.k.a. boarding school), you've probably begun to notice the reappearance of natty Nantucket threads."

Sheesh! Tell us something we don't know, Cargo! No one in Fall River can throw a stick in any direction without hitting somebody in natty Nantucket threads, boarding school alumnus or no.

I also found a suit, a gray one. It's yours if you're switched-on enough and you have $784 to blow on a gray suit. Cargo describes the ashen finery thus:

"Proust had his madeleine. Preps have seersucker, which conjures images of wide green lawns and summer polo matches. ... Best worn with a light-colored shirt, a dark tie and a gin and tonic." To avoid unsightly spots, the trick is to soak the
entire suit in a pail of gin and tonics, then lay flat to avoid wrinkles.

There's also a pair of black "Gucci calfskin driving loafers" for $295. I'd consider getting them, but I'm always in too much of a hurry to change shoes before I drive anywhere. Also, $295 buys me and my wife 15 bucks worth of din-din at China Star 19.66 times.

Those fancy-schmancy Gucci mukluks are tempting, though, I have to say. Dig this, jackson: "You don't have to own a Jag to slip into these smooth-looking, butter-soft driving shoes." What a coincidence! I don't own a Jag! However, I'll have to spread butter in my old shoes manually until I can conjure up the $295 somehow.

There's also a belt in there for $30 that looks like one I used to have when I was a kid, which probably cost about $2.50. "They're a natural with jeans or khakis," the site says. In other words, wear the belt with pants.

The site also posts corrections and updates from the print version. This feature is for guys who have gotten their Nantucket lobster-print shorts in a twist (available for a mere 84 clams at Murray's Toggery Shop, Nantucket!) when they can't find the products they want.

For those of you who have the print copy of Cargo, take heed. On Page 76, you will find a listing for a grooming utensil that has sadly become obsolete: "Since the publication of Cargo's premiere issue, production of the Tweezerman Nose Hair Clipper has ceased," the site says.

I don't have to worry about that particular problem--I hand-yank errant nostril hairs at work to keep myself awake. But for cool guys whose nasal hairs fairly sweep the floor before them, Cargo has help. There's an article about the latest in shaving oils.

The Cargo Web site isn't just a place to find fancy duds. It's a whole lifestyle help center. There's an online forum and message board--like the Greek agorae of old, a place where metrosexual men can meet and exchange beauty secrets.

Although one question was a bit strange:

"Does anyone know how good the laser works to wax the chest? I am thinking about it and also I would like to have it done on my face." Sadly, this one has, at press time, gone unanswered, and the asker is still, at press time, quite hairy.

Other people were more helpful. "My feet stink!" wrote one Cargo-goer. "I have no clue why. I also have wet hands. I use that powder stuff, but still not enough." And then, in palpable desperation: "SOMEONE HELP ME." A respondent gave him a tip to remove odors from shoes--but not help with drying out the guy's perpetually moist extremities.

A third guy on the forum asked his fellow Cargonians what were "the best fittin jeans out there?" He received several replies--see, if it weren't for Cargo, this guy would have just gone to the mall and ended up with ill-fitting denim pantaloons. Thanks to the marketplace of ideas known as the Internet, other cool guys had different suggestions. Some were more suggestive than others:

"Are you tall?" reads one reply. "Short? Thin? Muscular? Do you have large or small thighs/buttocks? Do you wear boots a lot?"

I was immediately petrified that I had stumbled onto the wrong kind of page and began clicking anything to get me the hell out of there--you know how the Internet is.

Turns out I was safe the whole time, but just for future reference: If you're just an average man's man looking for another $110 Barney's silk dragon-print tie to add to your collection or tips on "manscaping" your pube area, then Cargo's for you. If you're like me, and don't feel comfortable discussing your thigh or buttock size or boot-wearing habits in public, stick to the mall, thanks.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

The fleecing of America

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The other day, I was watching TV the way I always do--one hand buried to the shoulder in a bag of nachos, a stockinged foot working the remote control, the other foot steadying the jar of salsa on my lap, and the other hand plastered on top of my head in disgust.

As usual, I had my choice of reality TV shows or surreality TV shows. Frustrated, I grasped the remote between my toes and flung it against the mantle. This still left me totally unsatisfied.

"I am left totally unsatisfied!" I told my wife.

She was on the other side of the couch, seething quietly and just bearing my presence in that cute way she has.

"What do you feel like watching?" she asked.

"Something different!" I yelled.

"How about that cop show?" she suggested. "Or that one about the lawyers? Or that one that's half cops, half lawyers?"

"Violent crime is so banal. Something with a little oomph," I said. "I want a TV show about someone like me. That would be interesting."

My wife suffered a severe coughing fit at this point, the poor dear. When she recovered, she said, "A TV show about stocky, nervous Portuguese guys who like to do crossword puzzles?"

"You're right--that's more like a Spielberg movie," I said. "Say, why don't they ever show live sheep-shearing anymore?"

Later on, when I was reading the news, I got my wish. An Associated Press story on Thursday described the bizarre tale of Shrek, a New Zealand sheep who escaped his flock and survived alone and unshorn for six years. He was recently caught when some New Zealander mistook him for a colossal, filthy marshmallow.

So before a live television audience "stretching from New Zealand to Japan," and with the proceeds going to charity, Shrek the sheep received a total makeover--hair, nails, wardrobe. The hairstyling dude from "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" being busy, former world champion sheep-shearer Peter Casserly leapt bravely into the breach.

"Casserly clipped 60 1/2 pounds of fine Merino wool from the sheep," the AP wrote. "The shearing ended with an unsteady Shrek wrapped in a special red and blue winter jacket fitted to protect him from the cold." Afterward, Shrek received a tiara, a bouquet and a congratulatory kiss from Bert Parks.

Maybe it's just because I need a haircut lately, but that's the kind of television I want to see. Between inane gossip shows about Hollywood celebrities and grown adults holding down small, domesticated animals and shaving them, I'll take the wool-gathering, thanks. At least sheep have a real job.

Live sheep-shearing would also be a damn sight more interesting, I bet, than watching "Fear Factor." It boggles my mind that people on that show willingly eat rancid intestines stuffed with live maggots served in a duck-vomit bearnaise sauce, but any other day they'd probably turn their nose up at a kosher hot dog.

It wouldn't take much to get a sheep-shearing TV show on the air. Some asshole gave Bill O'Reilly the green light. We also have TV shows where professionals hold other people down and suck the fat out of their buttocks. It's called "Extreme Makeovers." Not so far a leap when you think about it. And you can't knit warm, comfortable socks out of buttock fat.

We'd have to pair up with New Zealand--a nation with all the great taste of Australia, only less filling. It's the sheep capital of the world. The AP said it has "4 million people and 42 million sheep." Which means that every person owns, what? Like, a million sheep?

Those overburdened New Zealanders would probably pay an American network to take a couple hundred thousand of those pesky animals off their hands. I'm looking at you, Fox network.

According to the AP story, it took 20 minutes for master barber Casserly to give Shrek a beezer. So if we pad that out with a monologue, a special musical guest and commercials, we have ourselves an entertaining--and educational--hourlong variety show.

Any variety show worth watching has to have a host. I don't think Pamela Anderson is terribly busy lately. Also, she bears a remarkable resemblance to how I imagined Little Bo Peep when I was a boy.

Think of it: "When Hairy Sheep Go Bald!" Brought to you by Woolite. It's a working title.

Of course, we could only shear rams--no ewes. We've had enough headaches with live TV and exposed nipples.
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