Friday, November 10, 2006

Goodbye, hello

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[Note: I recently resigned as executive city editor of The Herald News and am moving to another newspaper. My column is not coming with me right now. So this is now pretty much done, barring any unforeseen circumstances. It's been great, and I'll probably be posting some more stuff in the future every so often, but not necessarily this kind of thing in this format. Thanks for reading, and check back. —Dan]

Good news, Garrison Keillor fans!

This is probably my last column for The Herald News. As of today, this pleasant little thousand-word time-waster is on indefinite hiatus.

I’m leaving this newspaper for another job, so for now this feature is going to that big left-hand side of the page in the sky. I won’t say it’s gone for good, because you never know about these things. I could come crawling back to you, begging you to hear another of my stupid stories.

Gary Keillor, on the other hand — whose heavy-browed, casserole dish of a face is seen here on alternating weeks when I’m off — is going nowhere. In fact, there’s an off chance you might see him more often.

Indeed, that’s why I’m going away. Garrison seems like a nice fellow, sure, very homey with a dry wit. To you. To me, he’s a predator. Have you ever had your office door kicked off its hinges by a 6-foot-4 Swedish-extracted Midwesterner smelling of fresh buttermilk biscuits? Have you ever had your typing finger bent backward as that Lutheran brute demands in a menacing yet soothing voice more newspaper space, every Sunday? You’d give up your column, too.

I’ve written about 125 columns or so since the summer of 2003. Looking back at them, I’ve left a pretty OK body of work, I think. The French have a fancy word for “body of work,” usually used with writers: oeuvre. Not to be confused with oeuf. That means “egg.” I probably won’t ever get another chance to point that out in print, so there you go.

Some things I’ve written, I’m really proud of. I’m glad that I never started a column using any of the following phrases: “Didja ever notice.” “What’s the deal with.” “Who are the geniuses who invented.”

I never wrote a “very special episode” kind of column, either, where I got all sappy about some serious topic. I’m proud of that. Didja ever notice how humorists feel the need to get serious once in a while? What’s the deal with that? Who are the geniuses who invented ... um ... sad ... things?

I’m also proud, in a perverse way, that I got my fair share of hate mail. Yes, I really did get actual hate mail. Anybody who writes anything gets hate mail eventually. You can write about how nice puppies and sunshine are, and some Republican will send you a nasty letter saying you should go back to Russia. It’s just their way of saying, “I like you.”

As an example, a few years ago, a man wrote me an unnecessarily insulting e-mail telling me how much of an embarrassment and waste of skin I am for criticizing the governor. He addressed me as “Ron Mederios” throughout. Then he asked me to forward the message to my publisher so I could be fired. If you’re reading this, sir: Whoops! Never got around to that. Sorry.

Speaking of regrets, I’ve had a few. People gave me dozens of great ideas every week, and I hardly ever got a chance to write them. I still appreciated it, though.

And for almost every column I wrote, I started another that I never finished. Sad. Like this one sci-fi story I was going to call “The Day The Earth Stood Stale,” about an ordinary day in Fall River when loaves of massa across the city mysteriously and suddenly got all hard and flavorless. It was a whole “Twilight Zone” thing. Or another column I almost wrote about a cursed man who on full moons transforms into a past-tense verb. I was going to call it “I Was a Teenage Were.” Ah, these lost gems will never see the light of day! Then again, sometimes daylight’s pretty overrated.

I always regretted not writing a column explaining how, exactly, this newspaper works. It’s a process some Fall Riverites might find enlightening. Based on letters and e-mails to me, many people think this newspaper every morning just magically shows up on their front porch, or in the bushes, or what have you, placed there by the Newspaper Fairies. Pfft! As opposed to talented, hardworking people who work long hours, sometimes all day, under frustrating working conditions to make this thing happen as a service to you. No, I never got the chance to write that. So: yes. Let’s just say it’s Newspaper Fairies.

I’ll miss having a column. It’s a little like owning a carrier pigeon. You can load up the column with secret messages to people, and usually people get them, if they don’t get pooped on first. Like this secret message: “Hi, Gramma O’Neil!”

Other times, those messages are lost in transit. For example, I doubt Gov. Mitt Romney ever found out I called him, in various columns, a “sleazeball,” a “blueblood twit,” and a “6-foot hairdo.” If not, here’s another chance, I guess.

Ah, then there are the people! I’ll miss trying to get your mind off the damn news every so often.

And I’ll miss having the chance to meet you through this column. Fall Riverites of every stripe! Like the dude I met that time. At that thing. What a charmer! Oh, and the guy at the library who called me “sir.” That was very polite. And just last week, I was out walking my dogs and this lady was convinced I was someone she knew named Doug. She yelled at me, waving frantically, and became disappointed when I didn’t wave back. Then ticked off. I looked around for Dougs and found none. And so she kept shouting from the window of her car with increasing desperation, probably thinking Doug had suddenly become a total snob, mentally disinviting him from any future brunches, or canceling their wedding plans, or what have you. I had that “I’ve suddenly become transparent” sensation, where someone looks right in your eyes, sure you’re a different person, and you keep glancing over each shoulder as if to catch that person ducking behind your jacket and whispering for you to keep moving.

Long story short, it turns out I wasn’t Doug.

But if I run into him somewhere, I’ll let you know.

So long.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Art History 102: The Crapper As Mode of Self-Expression

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Massage an art historian’s shoulders long and firmly enough and sooner or later he’ll share the story of Marcel Duchamp.

Marcel “Of Champ” Duchamp, one of my favorite artists, was a French Dadaist artist in the early 20th century, the one with the greasy-ass hair. He’s also the man responsible for thousands of perverts and home contractors alike being really disappointed when they rush to the museum to see the painting “Nude Descending a Staircase” only to find there’s no naked lady in it and something that only vaguely could be called a staircase.

In 1917, he exhibited a strange piece of sculpture the audacity of which sent the art world gasping for air, then sputtering on a gob of spit while it looked for a glass of water. It was a piece called “Fountain,” an actual urinal, hung upside down and signed with the pseudonym “R. Mutt.”

The original urinal was lost. But there are several replicas. One is in the Tate Modern in London. It sits in a clear case after, some years ago, a couple of performance artists had to go No. 1 really, really badly and tried to use it.

The moral of the story: If you call it art, it’s probably art. Sorry, but those are the rules. The only question after that is whether it’s good art or bad art.

I had this in mind the other day when I asked my wife to take a swing by Fall River’s new art exhibition. You know — would-be strip joint mogul Paul Viveros’ setup in the Industrial Park. It’s a large sign for the park spelled out with toilets. He set it up, he says, as an artistic expression of Fall River’s (pun) shitty reputation.

But like any artist, Viveros refuses to categorize his work just one way. It’s also a comment on how “bordering communities need Fall River’s water to ‘flush’ their own waste,” according to the story. Wow, two artistic statements! Fantastic. Oh, wait, one more. “It also makes light of the drudgery of working every day, he said.” OK, that’s enough.

If I could speculate — which I shouldn’t, but try to stop me — I’d guess that Viveros is also ticked that he’s not allowed to open his hooter hut, much to the delight of his neighbors, and his life won’t be complete unless he leaves the Industrial Park at least a little tackier than he found it.

I have opinions about what this does to Fall River’s self-esteem, never mind what people who stay at the hotel think.

But he’s calling the toilet display art. Therefore, it’s probably art. Sigh. Sorry, but those are the rules. I had to judge whether it was good art or bad art.

So, beret tilted at a cocky angle, mustache waxed, I led my wife to my car, our magical chariot that would transport us to artistic heights rarely if ever equaled in the city limits. It’s a Toyota. It can do that.

“This is supposed to be the biggest Industrial-Park-and-strip-club-related freestanding readymade 3-D toilet exhibit to hit the art scene in a long time,” I said. “And it’s in Fall River, right off Route 24! How convenient.”

“Toilet art’s overrated,” she said. My wife is a successful artist who graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. That’s the best art school in the country, bub. She knows her stuff.

“I wonder if any famous art critics will be there!” I said. “Like Paris Hilton or whoever the art critic for The New Yorker is!”

Yes, and so we were soon riding to our destination, in the shadow of the landfill down Airport Road, which since there’s no airport anymore should probably be renamed something more appropriate. Avenue of the Arts!

As you drive into the Industrial Park, it’s there on your left. Go a little bit past the UPS and FedEx dropoff boxes. There, on the grassy slope leading to the road from Oliver’s, is Fall River’s own WC field, so to speak. There, 14 new, stark white toilets in two rows, with a letter on each spelling out “INDUSTRIAL PARK.” At probably $350 per toilet from Home Depot, plus the decking they sit on, it’s at least a $4,900 “go to hell” sign.

And that’s about it.

We sat in the car, not saying anything, just watching it. It’s important when confronted with a new piece of art to absorb its profundity for a while before forming any conclusions about its aesthetic qualities.

“At least they’re not yellow,” my wife said.

“Yup,” I said. “Yellow toilets never look clean. But they probably will turn yellow if they’re just sitting out there like that, though.”

She cocked her head. “Is that all they do? At least maybe if one of them had a fuzzy seat cover or something. Or if they were all different kinds of toilets.”

“Or if he snuck a bidet in there. Just one,” I said. “With an exclamation point painted on it.”

“Maybe if it was one gigantic toilet 20 feet high. If you’re going to use a toilet for a political or artistic statement, don’t wimp out.”

“Or if they all shot out water in a pretty pattern — like at the Bellagio in Las Vegas,” I said.

She thought some more. Meanwhile, a TV reporter stood in high heels among the toilets, doing a newscast while a cameraman followed her. The things The Media does for you people.

“Actually, it makes it look like there’s a plumbing company nearby,” my wife said. “In that case, it’d be sort of helpful.”

I stroked my chin. “If I’d done this, I would’ve set up a little endtable with some magazines for browsing and a Lavender Meadow Glade Plugins air freshener.”

She glanced at me. “Where would you plug it in?”

I shrugged. “That’s what makes it artistic. Alternatively, you could run a long extension cord to the bar.”

We sat again in silence. Sometimes this takes a while. “Do you think ... uh ... anyone has ... you know?”

I looked at the reporter. She was standing right near the toilets and appeared to be calm, undisgusted.

“I see where you’re going with this,” I said. “No, I don’t think so, or she’d be vomiting into one of those things right now. But I do suspect this is going to be very popular with the homeless and people going on long drives.”

We left nursing the kind of artistic disappointment that only a Starbucks latte can cure. In the end, I don’t think I’ll visit the exhibit again. If I want art in Fall River, I’ll go to the Narrows Center or the Cherry & Webb Gallery. I’ve had enough of this artsy-fartsy stuff.

Friday, October 13, 2006

P.F.’s B.S.

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Like a strange, unpleasant taste on the back of my tongue, a question has been haunting me persistently for some time now.

What is the P.F. Chang sauce for, anyway?

I don’t mean that rhetorically. I need assistance with this. What the hell is the sauce at P.F. Chang’s for?

Don’t look at me like you don’t know what I’m talking about! I’m not crazy! The sauce! The fucking sauce! What’s it for, for God’s sake?

An appetizing little bit of background may be in order.

In my ongoing quest to try to duplicate the social habits of a normal human being, I decided I’d take my wife to a restaurant in Boston. We have a mortgage, so “going to a restaurant” usually means pressing ourselves to the glass and smelling the food through the windows, then going home and eating cereal.

This time, though, I promised her an actual meal.

“Forks and everything?” she asked.

“Actually, I was thinking P.F. Chang’s,” I said. “We’ve never been there before and it’s cheap.”

“Save the sweet talk for after dessert,” she said.

“They have chopsticks — it’s like a fork, except instead of a stick with three sharp thingys at the end it’s a stick with just one long one.”

She politely reminded me that she is, in fact, Chinese. And soon enough we were walking up to the restaurant, which is sort of best described as “upscale-middlebrow,” meaning it’s less a restaurant and more the consumer-end arm of a nationwide food-service corporation, but it’s clean and there aren’t ketchup bottles on the table. It is also decorated with murals and objets d'art and architectural echoes of things and styles that resemble the kind of easily recognizable stuff one might find in a mythic version of China as depicted in movies by non-Chinese people. Meaning, like, a curvy horse.

We sat outside. Before we ordered, the waiter brought us this tray laden with three small bowls of different pastes and three cruets of some kind of fluids. Like an appetizer kind of deal.

“Some sauces for you,” he said, and walked away.

My wife and I stared at the tray for a while. Then at each other. Then at the tray again. Then at each other. Then she looked at me.

“What’s that for?” I said.

She shrugged.

“You’re the Chinese one here,” I said. “Don’t you know?

She peered at the cruets of fluid. “No,” she said.

“Do we put the sauce on something?”

We glanced around coolly at other tables. They all had identical trays of bowls and cruets, but nothing else. No bread or rice or other medium to transfer the sauce from the bowl to your mouth. Nothing.

“Apparently not,” she said.

I lifted the tray delicately. “Is there an instruction manual or something I missed?”

The waiter stood at another table and asked the people sitting there if they wanted him to “make your sauce for you.” They said yes, and he started pouring liquids into bowls and stirring them around like a chemistry professor — I mean, I can only guess that’s what he did, because his back was mostly turned. I tried to peek over his shoulder and my wife kicked me in the shin.

“Mixing. He’s mixing,” I said. “I think we’re supposed to mix.”

She brightened. “Yeah, that must be what we do. They’re mixing, and they look happy.”

“Great!” I said, smiling. Then I felt dark and empty inside, staring at the three bottles and three bowls. “How?”

She shrugged again.

I held up a random bottle. “Which bowl’s this one go into?”

“I honestly have no idea. Just put it in one of them and see what happens.”

The first bowl had a lump of glop. Wasabi? Isn't that Japanese? The second, a brown liquid. Unknown. The third, red paste. Most likely spicy.

“What if I mess it up? I don’t know what's in these bottles. It could cause, like, an adverse chemical reaction.”

“Just try it.”

“What if it tastes like shit, though? I'm not a saucier!”

“It’ll be fine.”

“And if it’s fine, what then? How do I eat it? There’s nothing to eat the sauce with! You can’t just eat sauce — sauce is a topping for some other food! It's garnish! It's not edible by itself! It requires a medium to be consumed with!” I handed her the bottle. “You do it.”

She took the bottle, and I immediately gestured for her to put it back. The waiter was coming by.

“He’ll know we touched them!” I whispered huskily.

“Welcome to P.F. Chang’s,” he said. “Care for something to drink?”

“Two beers,” I said.

“And I'll have a water,” my wife said.

He glanced at the tray of sauces. Then he looked at me.

“Would you like me to mix your sauces?”

That smug bastard. Could it be that easy? Sweat rolled down my temples, collecting into the corners of my awkward, forced smile. I wrung my shaking hands under the table. I felt hours tick away, heard the sound of crying babies and crumbling empires. Passing taxis stopped to hear my answer.

“Nope!” I said. “We’re fine! Everything is fine!”

He nodded and left. My wife poked me with a chopstick.

“God, why did you do that?”

“I panicked! I was ashamed!” A chill wind bit my shoulders. “And what the hell would we have done with them even if he did mix them? What do the sauces fucking do?” I breathed heavily into a paper bag I keep for such emergencies. “It's OK. We're OK. We'll know for next time: bring our own baguettes.”

The tray of unmixed sauces seemed to smirk at me, conspiratorially, from across the table. In collusion.

“Who are you, P.F. Chang, and why are you torturing me?”

We were quiet for a while, sulking. Then my wife said, “Maybe they go on the entrees.”

Rays of sunshine burst through the clouds! Even at night! I felt joyous tears sting my eyes. Yes — of course! The sauces went on our entrees! How could I have been such a fool?

The entrees came not long after that. Both came with their own sauces already on them.

“OK,” she said. “I’m stumped.”

I grabbed the bottles and dumped them randomly into the bowls. Stirred them vigorously, spattering sauce on the table, on the windows, on my shirt. Poured a brownish-yellow-green slurry on my already-sauced lamb. Scrambled it around. Then I ate grimly.

“Well?” she asked.

“Tastes like mixed-up Chinese food,” I muttered.

I still have no goddam clue what the sauces are actually for or how to eat them properly. The Internet was no help, for once. The P.F. Chang’s Web site only makes an offhand reference to the “custom sauces,” but includes no instructions for usage.

I thought about flashing my journalism creds and demanding some answers, but found this: “Unfortunately, due to the volume of requests, we’re unable to grant informational interviews or respond individually.” Crap! “The information we disclose regarding our business, marketing and advertising plans can be found in our annual reports and our quarterly filings.” Nothing sounds more delicious than a quarterly filing, but I checked. Nothing remotely sauce-related.

My wife caught me trying to tear my laptop in half with frustration and patted my head.

“Relax. Maybe you were never meant to know,” she said. “It’s one of the mysteries of the Orient.”

I poured a bowl of Raisin Bran for dinner and sighed. “I guess.”

She showed me a carton of milk. “Here,” she said, pouring it. “It goes on like this.”

Friday, September 29, 2006

"Lost" Viewing In Progress: Do Not Disturb

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Fair warning: Don’t call me on Wednesday night. I will yell at you — I will yell things people can’t ever take back.

“Lost,” easily the best show on television, starts Season 3 that night at 9 p.m. I am a massive dork and cannot be interrupted during even one second of its broadcast, or I will become belligerent and want to hurt myself and others. So you know.

But don’t call before 9 p.m., either. I’ll be making nachos.

If I don’t have my nachos, I can’t enjoy “Lost.” I will become belligerent and want to hurt myself and others, like I said.

And actually, don’t call afterward. I’ll be thinking about “Lost.” After a really great episode of “Lost,” I like to sit on my couch and cogitate for a while. Sometimes I say, “Wow,” or, “Hmf!” It may seem like nothing to you, but inside I’m solving the mysteries of the universe. It takes a few minutes.

Being an expert in “Lost” like this guy (I’m pointing at myself right now) is a lot of work. “Lost” is not for casual fans. I don’t want to call it complicated, but let’s just say if you find the plot of “Dancing With the Stars” hard to follow, you will probably not like “Lost.”

Getting the full “Lost” flavor means engaging in extratelevisual activities — things like research! Hours and hours of research! What’s that person saying? Oops! It’s Korean — what, you don’t know Korean? What’s up with that cool little logo that shows up everywhere? Looks like you’ll have to study the I Ching! Want to know what really happened in Season 2, Episode 14? Hope you can read Egyptian hieroglyphics!

You have to listen to at least three podcasts a week. For beginners and intermediates, there's The Lost Podcast With Jay and Jack; the more advanced watcher, LostCasts; for a dose of smarm, The Official Lost Podcast. You have to go on Internet forums, watch and rewatch episodes obsessively, slow down the footage, break out the audio editing software and reverse people’s dialogue. I mean, you could just watch the show. If you want to miss everything. Like a chump.

People who aren’t geeks like me ask if they can just “jump in.” I laugh and push imaginary hornrims up the bridge of my nose. Sorry, no. You can’t. It’s like jumping into a later season of “Three’s Company,” one of the Nurse Terry seasons, and not knowing who Jack and Janet are talking about that one time they mention Chrissy.

If you’ve never seen an episode of “Lost,” do your body a favor and catch up. The first two seasons are available on DVD. Get thee to Wal-Mart. Download them off Apple’s iTunes service. Run, do not walk, to ... OK, I was about to say “Netflix,” but you don’t have to run or walk anywhere.

Since there are just a few days left, I’ll even provide you with a cheat sheet to help decipher some of the most puzzling clues:


Q. I’m confused! Can you please explain the plot of the show in 10 words or less?

A. No. This is what I’m talking about — the commitment this show requires. I can do it in 11 if I leave out the articles: “Plane fall down, go boom. Island very mysterious. Oh no — monster!

Q. It seems like there are a lot of characters, aren’t there? Can you please give me a detailed—

A. Yes, there are a lot of characters! Thanks for your question!

Q. That an Arab guy?

A. Ah! That would be Sayid Jirrah, an ex-Republican Guard member from Iraq who was caught by U.S. forces including Kate the fugitive’s father (not her real father, who she killed, but her presumed real father) during the Gulf War and taught to become a torturer, and the CIA enlisted him as an undercover operative to obtain information about terrorist attacks by giving him the secret location of a woman he loves who he helped escape from Baghdad, that woman later ending up in California and getting her house inspected by John Locke, who at this time still had the use of his legs, which he lost then got back again mysteriously, so getting back to the torturer thing Sayid was taught by CIA operative Kelvin Inman, who later it turned out was the very same Kelvin who took Desmond in off the shore when he crashed his boat on the island during a round-the-world sailing race to impress billionaire financier Charles Widmore into letting him marry his daughter, Penelope, who it turns out may have located the island — and so Kelvin taught Desmond to push the button that safely disperses the electromagnetic charge that builds up in the Swan station every 108 minutes, pretty much as a ruse to get him to continue said button-pushing while he escapes on Desmond’s boat by telling Desmond that there’s a sickness which may or may not be real on the island and so he can’t leave the hatch, Kelvin at some point not yet clarified having left the CIA to join the Dharma Initiative, a group which intends to save humanity from self-destruction. But no, the actor who plays Sayid is actually Indian.

Q. Dear Dan: I think that doctor character, Jack, is one of the sexiest men on television! Sincerely, your wife.

A. That’s not a question, and no, he isn’t.

Q. I have a theory that the island is actually not an island, but in fact they’re stuck in an elaborate amusement park-type scenario. What do you think?

A. It does explain why the survivors have to wait in such long lines for the Tilt-a-Whirl.

Q. So much mystery on this island revolves around the “smoke monster” that occasionally terrorizes the survivors. Is it a dinosaur?

A. Yup.

Q. Who are these evil “Others” who live on the island?

A. Usually, the Others appear clad in filthy rags, smeared with dirt and wearing no shoes, kidnapping survivors and threatening their lives. They’re clearly West Virginian carnies operating the vast, nefarious Six Flags that is the island (see above). Why are they so upset? The crash survivors never paid admission.

Q. What storylines can we look forward to in Season 3?

A. I hope they solve the mystery of why all the men have the same short, two-day growth of stubble every day when they never seem to shave. But the big plot twist will be when the stoner (Charlie) teams up with the dog (Vincent) to solve the mystery of the entire island (haunted amusement park). It'll turn out that Mean Old Man Alvar Hanso has been masquerading as the guy who's always lugging some heavy object from one end of the beach to the other — and he would've gotten away with it, too, if it hadn't been for those snooping survivors. On that theme, the producers have said new characters will be introduced — my best guess is either a much smaller, more annoying dog, or the Harlem Globetrotters.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Good, The Bad, and the Fugly: The complete Black Fonzie archives are now online

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Hello there! Now available for your skimming pleasure are the (I think) complete archives of this column, dating back to June 2003 with a total of 120 columns at the time of this writing (6:31 p.m., Sept. 15, 2006). Feel free to browse any time you like, although many of them are an embarrassment.

If you don't want to browse, at least appreciate the way the listing of months in the right-hand column looks like a graceful sine-wave. Slowly scroll up and down for the full effect. It's fun!

Sorry, no jokes today — try some advice instead

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This is probably the most difficult job in the world, ever.

There, I said it.

I recently counted how many of these things I’ve written, going way back to 2003, and it’s about 120. At around 900 words per column, that’s 108,000 words. Figure an average of 11 words per sentence and you get 9,818 sentences. There’s probably a joke every sentence and a half in there. So let’s say 6,545 jokes, more or less. I have one joke left in me, and it's not very good. You sure you want to hear it? OK. Here it is. A tray of muffins is baking in the oven. One muffin says to another muffin, “Whew — kind of hot in here!” The other muffin says, “Holy shit! A talking muffin!” See? Do you see how challenging this is now? I'm tapped out!

Other kinds of columnists have it so much easier. Like sports writers. “Team beats team.” Boom. Pad it out a little and you’re cool. Political columnists? You get paid to yell about how wrong someone else is. Most people do that already for free. Mike Reagan has made a tidy living writing weekly variations on the theme “People who oppose the war in Iraq are parasites who should be boiled alive, minced, strained through a fine cheesecloth and sold to the Alpo company to feed the dogs of the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.”

Just for one day, I’d like to have one of those columns where I can kick my shoes off and relax. Like Dear Abby. She’s got it made, that one. Just sits around waiting for the dysfunction to roll in. Then it’s a quick dose of common sense, a plug for her Web site, and she’s off to the day spa to have her face reupholstered.

I could do it, too. Not the face thingy — the advice thingy. I love telling people how they should behave. And they already write most of your text! Less work!

That’s it. Can’t stop me. I’m going to be Dear Abby for a day. Below is a sampling of what it would be like for me in that job, dealing with a proverbial pu-pu platter of personal problems.


Dear Flabby:

My husband and I have been having some marital difficulties lately (I’ll call him “Quentin”). Anyway, whenever I bring up the subject of children with Sean, he makes some silly excuse to leave the conversation. Last time, it was his buckle shoes that needed shining. Before that, he wanted to smoke “a wee bit of” his pipe instead. Flabby, I have seen him spend hours carving a new shillelagh out of an oak limb, but he won’t talk to his own wife about their future!

It’s not about whether we can afford it. He’s got a stash of hundreds of gold coins socked away in an iron cauldron. I’ve seen it. I think he’s just afraid to commit to a lasting, meaningful relationship. What can I do, Flabby? — Childless in Chicago

Dear Childless:

Face the facts. Your husband is a leprechaun, the fabled imp of Irish legend. And he will always be a leprechaun. You knew that going into the relationship, didn’t you?

It may have been fun for a fling, but many women find leprechauns just don’t want to give up their carefree lifestyles that easily. You can’t change him — not unless he’s willing to change himself.

Sit down with him and make him talk to you. Stuff him in a pillowcase if you have to, or a burlap sack. Tell him your feelings about motherhood. He may want to scamper off into the glen from whence he came, but he must at least validate your emotions. If you both decide to end the relationship, just remember that you were lucky to have any time with him at all.


Dear Flabby:

I am a 12-year-old girl. My used-to-be best friend is a total snob just because she’s 13 now! She says I’m just a stupid kid and won’t play Barbies anymore no matter how many times I ask nicely. What can I do to make her hang out with me again? —Still Not a Teenager

Dear Still:

Have you ever considered that it’s actually you who’s the snob? Snobs think they’re better than other people. By thinking your friend has some sort of obligation to hang out with you, that means you think your feelings are more important than hers. Maybe she hates you for no reason. This is America. She can do that.

Anyway, long story short, your wanting her to hang out with you when she clearly doesn’t care for that means you think your happiness is more important than hers, which makes you a snob. And writing to me for advice like this instead of talking to her makes you also a conceited two-face. Thanks for your letter!


Dear Flabby:

My manager, who I’ll call “Unnamed Manager at Westbrook Insurance Co. on Pear Street, downtown Akron,” has been acting inappropriately to me and some of the other women. He hugs us all the time for being good employees. It's a painful, groping hug if you file forms correctly, save paper clips instead of throwing them away — even doing simple things get a hug, like having legible penmanship. I suspect it’s just an excuse for him to press himself against us, because most times he's got a major hardon, and the rest of the time you can tell by the way he shifts from foot to foot that he's working toward one. Also, he rarely wears pants, and this is the only insurance agency I’ve worked at where the dress code is a micro-mini, riding crop, and go-go boots. Whenever us ladies go out for lunch, he always asks us to bring him back a "tube steak sandwich and a dildo pickle," which hasn't worked since an embarassing episode at D'Angelo.

I fear retaliation for speaking out. How can I tell him that I and my husband, who owns the insurance company and works in the next office over, find his unwanted advances a little perverty? Sign me: —Richard Cuthbert of Westbrook Insurance Co. Is A Sleazeball

Dear Sleazeball:

You are the victim of a sexual harassment predator. Do not hesitate to confront him. Try a phone book to the bridge of his nose. Preferably a heavy one, over and over, until this solves the issue.


Dear Flabby:

Settle a bet with me and a friend. What is the proper etiquette for sending a thank-you card: immediately, or after one week, when you've had time to enjoy the gift? — Curious Georgina

Dear Curious: Wow. You guys are actually betting on that? That’s, like, the dorkiest frigging bet ever. What are the stakes, a hot cup of cocoa? Holy Christ. To think you actually had to mull this over, type it up, print it out, put it in an envelope, spend 39 cents on a stamp, mail it, and drag the United States Postal Service and me into your sick game.

Listen: Find a coin. Flip it. There’s your answer.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Bow down to your Master of Fine Arts

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Thus begins the first September in several years where I won’t have to begin school in some way. I’m done with elementary school, middle, high school, undergrad and graduate studies. I wish I could be depressed about it, but I’m too tired.

There’s no more reason for me to buy a new Mead five-subject notebook — the kind with the hard plastic cover to prevent fraying and bending, thank you very much. No more ogling the electric pencil sharpeners. I could go to the mall and stock up on fancy new sneakers to impress my friends on the first day, but we all know I’d just be lying to myself.

There’s something about the cold, leafy smell in the early September air that gives me a terrific yen to study, and also to consume many, many products available at your local mall that are, at best, peripherally related to schoolwork. I can’t help it! This is a solid two decades of behavioral conditioning I’m talking about. You ring the bell, Pavlov’s dog salivates. You tell me it’s Labor Day, I buy a new bookbag.

These No-School September Blues are part of the reason why I went to graduate school in the first place. Does anyone of sound mind really need a master’s degree of fine arts in creative writing? I'm not sure anymore. All I know is, the bloodsucking leeches at Sallie Mae who are cashing my student loan checks are having prime rib for lunch right now.

But still, I wake up every morning these past few weeks and reflexively wonder if I remembered to buy enough ink to print out my term paper on aesthetics and capitalism. Then I realize, shit, no — I didn’t even write the damn thing yet. Then I realize: Wait. I'm out of school. I don’t have to write that kind of paper anymore. Then I think, “Maybe I should write a humor column about aesthetics and capitalism.” Then I realize: You would sincerely hate that. I’m looking at Ph.D. programs, long story short.

Rather than spend this month wandering up and down the back-to-school aisle at CVS, trying to justify my buying a Hello Kitty lunchbox, I’ve decided to channel my malaise into a more positive, less creepy way. So kids: here’s a handy guide to surviving these crucial first few weeks of school! Clip and save! With a new pair of scissors. They had some nice ones at Wal-Mart.

For elementary school kids

- It doesn’t matter who you are. Something you do in the next few weeks is going to brand you for the rest of your adolescence. Try to wrap your mind around the terrifying significance of this for a moment. Until you grow up, you’re going to be known as The [fill in the blank] Kid. The Rich Kid. The Smelly Kid. The Peed-Her-Pants-During-The-Spelling-Bee Kid. The Toothless Kid. The Permanent-Snot-Bubble Kid. The Kid With The Show-offy 128-Color Crayon Set. The Kid Who Thinks He’s A Ninja Turtle. Choose wisely.

- If you don’t learn anything else, learn your times table. I’m serious about this. Not a day goes by when you won’t need to know your times table off the top of your head.

- Long division, on the other hand, is a quaint throwback to a simpler time in American history, like when people keep an antique butter churn in the foyer. Just get a calculator.

- But you don’t need a cell phone for any reason at your age.

- If you’re getting picked on by a bully, ride it out. Nothing you could do will equal the humiliation that life will pile onto him. As a bully gets older, he’ll get into drugs, knock up his teenage girlfriend, maybe turn to petty crime and end up in jail for a few months. Sooner or later, he’ll be utterly miserable and turn old and fat and lose his hair in an unattractive pattern. He'll be underappreciated at his low-wage job, and he and his wife will hate each other like poison but cling to their travesty of a relationship because of fear of loneliness and because they need each other's laughable income. Rotten bully kids like he was will knock over his mailbox and steal his newspaper and shoot off firecrackers in his driveway at odd hours of the morning, and he may raise several of them himself, little miniature rotten bullies who mooch off him until they're well past their 30s. They’ll shuttle him off to a nursing home because they're "too busy" to care for him, though they're defensive when it comes to explaining how, and they won’t ever visit him, not even on Christmas, except to skim what’s left of his money. Just give it time!

For middle school kids

- Starting a new school year can be very stressful for you when it comes to worrying about whether or not you’re cool. Avoid this by remembering that none of your classmates are cool and neither are you. Sorry, but technically you only become cool when you can drive.

- You’re going to want an awesome pair of expensive sneakers for the first day. Otherwise, you’re going to be called The Ratty-Shoes Kid. But for the love of God, don’t wear them for the first time on the first day, because they’ll be all shiny and white, and it’ll be obvious that you’re trying to impress people with your new pair of expensive sneakers. Then you’ll be called The Blindingly-White-New-Shoes Kid. Instead, buy them a few weeks before school starts and then scuff them up a little bit so they look like you wear them all the time. But not too much or they’ll get ratty. Is this making sense?

- Every year, tens of thousands of suckers nationwide are swindled out of their money by actually buying their own protractors. Don’t become a statistic.

For high school kids

- Wash your face every day, multiple times a day, with soap and water. Seriously. Make the time. You’ll thank me later.

- If you begin to suspect that one of your new teachers hates you, you might be right. They don’t get paid to like you. However, you’re still probably doing something very wrong, so therefore it’s your fault.

- You, on the other hand, are not obligated to like every book they make you read. If you’re not having fun reading “The Scarlet Letter,” for example, keep in mind that that book is wretched melodrama not worth your precious time on this globe. I know. I read it. You are obligated to read it, though, if only to understand why the Old White Bastards in charge of America think it’s so goddam fantastic.

- If you’re a geek, write this down on a little slip of paper and keep it on you every day: “The geeks eventually win.” One day, it will come true. Actually, if you’re someone who picks on geeks, do the same thing.

For college kids

- If you think drinking makes you more of an adult, then drink the way real adults drink. Have a glass of cheap zinfandel with dinner and fall asleep in front of the television.

- Unlike Middle Eastern wars, a college career must have a viable “exit strategy.”

- Incoming freshmen, take note. You’re worried about the thousands of other freshmen your age you’ll be stuck in college with. Specifically, you’re worried about how you’ll stand out. How you’ll make an impression on the universe. How you’ll change the world in a way no one else could. Here’s a tip: Dye your hair a funny color, like pink! Nobody else will think of it, I swear!

- Then, dye it back and get a job.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Deleted scene: "The Rules"

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The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club.

The second rule of Fight Club is: You DO NOT talk about Fight Club.

That is not a slipup, folks. The second rule is the same thing as the first one. So let that be a gauge of the gravity of this situation or whatever, that I have to repeat myself regarding this rule. Rules. Plural.


Looking at it from your point of view, I can see how this could cause some small amount of confusion. Not a mistake, though. There's the first rule, and then the second repeated rule is the exact same thing. It hammers it home. It lets you know we are not fucking around here.

I guess not exact same thing. The second rule gets stressed more. As I said. Again, that's to remind you: serious shit. This all makes a lot more sense if you just say the first two rules aloud to yourself. You don't do that, it's like, "Huh?" Or: "Wait a sec, isn't that just the same rule as the first one?" Like, "Did he mean to do that?" It does make sense, though. Keep in mind: gravity of this situation, no fucking around.

I did strongly consider making a two-rule combo, so I'd have just one longer first rule. So it would be like, "The first and the second rules of Fight Club are: You DO NOT talk about Fight Club." But repeat it to yourself, get the flavor of it. Sounds crappy, right? You tend not to hear the "and second" part. Or you just don't weigh the gravity of the situation, and you need to do that. We are not fucking around here. Unless you put the stress in there, like, "The first--AND ALSO THE SECOND RULE--" and continue from there. Or, I don't know. I thought about making the second rule sort of a corollary to the first rule. So Rule 1 would be don't talk about Fight Club, and then Rule 1(a) would be, seriously-no-fucking-around, hammering-it-home, don't talk about Fight Club.

You. Please don't write this down. Please? Or so help me I will hit you in the face, even before we technically get started. Hit you right in the face. Essentially, writing things down about Fight Club is pretty much the same thing as talking about it. Actually, it's even worse, because it's talking about it on paper, which means a record of the Fight Club, which is not good. Seriously, dude. Not. Good.

No, there's no need to apologize too much, because I technically haven't finished with the whole rules explanation yet so they're not technically in force until I do. I'm just saying.

So anyway, let's just...yeah.

The third rule of Fight Club is: Everyone must take a slot on the men's room cleanup sign-in sheet.

The fourth rule of Fight Club is: Everyone MUST take a slot on the men's room cleanup sign-in sheet.

It's for everyone's benefit. Nobody wants to do it. I don't want to do it. But it does get nasty in there, with the vomit and from general use, and nobody likes to use a dirty men's room. I mean, we do it, I've done it, kind of scootching around the messes, pretending they're not there, but come on. Let's everybody be reasonable and pitch in, and we'll all enjoy ourselves a lot more.

The fifth rule of Fight Club is: There ARE no rules.

Again, I understand this could seem confusing, but it really isn't.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Film: Dogfight

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Two dogs. One fight. Only one can make it out alive.

Actually, both made it out OK.


Black dog: Myrna
White dog: Stanley
Music: "Mexican Hat Dance" by Tony Mottola
Recorded and edited by me

Everybody together: "Thanks, YouTube, for the piss-poor video and audio quality!"

Monday, August 21, 2006

Here and also there, but not everywhere

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Hello, you. The good people at the world-respected literary tri-quarterly magazine Ploughshares have started a blog on important and interesting happenings in the world of contemporary poetry and prose. If that's your bag. Which I hope it is. Among those nice and talented people writing for the blog is me. There's a new link on the right side of this page, or click here.

That blog is also decorated with cute green and yellow polka dots, whereas this one is boring white.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Five People You Meet in Fall River

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Sages and philosophers say that one goes on vacation not to visit a new place, but to appreciate the old one all over again when one returns. I was on vacation recently, and I think the sages might have been only half-right. Listen, sages: I went to Bar Harbor, Maine. Have you ever been to Bar Harbor, Maine, sages? It’s fantastic. I mean it.

Still, it was nice to come back home. Even in the best places, you miss the things that are familiar to you and cherish them when you see them again. The dog piss spots on my lawn. The way my car lurches forward and makes that almost human groan when it hits the first unavoidable pothole on my street and then the second. The way the red airplane hazard lights on the Brayton Point power plant’s tallest smokestack wink at me when I’m falling asleep, as if to say, “Rest well, little one—I’ll still be here in the morning, farting coal smoke into your lungs.”

And then there are Fall River’s people. Aaah, the people! They’re a totally different breed from Mainers. Bar Harbor people are friendly. Too friendly. Much, much too friendly. Particularly in the mornings, when I’m decaffeinated and cranky. They're stab-with-a-fork friendly.

After a week of hearing "Hello!" from every stranger I met on the street, I’d forgotten how fun it is to be ignored, even avoided. It’s good old Fall River-homestyle social hostility, and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

Being back in Fall River put me in the mood for a tribute to my favorite people. I even came up with a snappy title for it. Just sort of came to me. I’m thinking of turning it into a bestselling book! And then a Hallmark movie!


The Five People You Meet in Fall River

1. The “Guy” Guy: He wears many faces, this man. And the circumstances under which you may meet him are various. You could be at a bar. You could be at your place of worship. You could be strolling down South Main Street and he could want to bum a cigarette off you and express irritation and disbelief when you say you don’t smoke. Like you’re holding out on him. Whatever the reason, whatever the season, the “Guy” Guy will give you the friendly greeting:

“What’s going on, guy?”

That’s who you are to him. You are Guy. An instant friend. Or enemy. Pay attention to the context.

Don’t tell him your name! He doesn’t care. You are Guy. Don’t like it? Gimme a break, guy.

Don’t bother to let him know you’re a woman. You are still Guy to the “Guy” Guy. It’s the “Guy” Guy’s way of saying you’re one of the guys.

He might work near you, or be your brother-in-law. He could be young or old. He spans the classes. He could wear a tie to work, inserting it as a familiarizer with commands (“I needed that report yesterday, guy”) or he could be that dude standing outside Cumberland Farms all day who needs oddly specific amounts of change (“Hey, guy, you got 45 cents I could borrow?”). The “Guy” Guy is any kind of guy.

Where the whole “guy” nickname started is known now only to history. Though in many regions it died with the first Bush administration, it’s still going strong in this neck of the universe. And only the chill fingers of Death can pry it from the vocabulary of the “Guy” Guy.

It’s not always “guy,” though. Sometimes it’s “chief.”

2. Vavó: She doesn’t have to be your Vavó specifically, although she can be. Anywhere you see an old Portuguese woman walking six miles in a black dress and shawl through shimmering summer heat carrying a shopping bag full of salted codfish—that’s where Vavó is. Wherever there’s a lady in hysterics at the wake of someone she knew tangentially at best—she’ll be there. Every time someone scours the seashore finding live barnacles and sucking them out of their shells then and there—that’s her, too.

Vavó is in every tassel hanging from the drapes. She’s in every driftwood painting of "The Last Supper" and in every commemorative plate decorated with a portrait of John F. Kennedy. She’s in every pot of yellow rice and chicken, every pan of octopus tentacles. She is in the wide-awake face of anyone who walks to 6 a.m. daily Mass.

Vavó is quick to anger. She carries a slipper and she’s not afraid to use it. But she is quicker with her love. The more Vavó cares, the thicker she spreads the butter on your bread.

3. The Community Booster: To defend Fall River from all enemies, foreign and domestic—that’s the motto of the Community Booster. This is the person who, if you don’t like Fall River, will demand you leave. Or, if you do like Fall River, will complain that you don’t like it enough or in the right way. This person is going to write me an angry letter tomorrow.

The Community Booster loves words like “community” instead of “city,” because “community” sounds friendlier. As if we all live in huts and share a bonfire.

The Community Booster also loves these words and phrases: “Proactive.” “Discussion.” “Future.” “Mission.” “Utilization of resources.” “Giving youth the tools they need for success.” “Raising awareness.” “Subcommittee.”

Often seen at neighborhood events, political functions, City Council meetings, or Chamber of Commerce dinners, shaking hands and worrying about the children, the Community Booster’s thoughts rarely extend beyond vague notions of school system reform. Which is not to say our schools are bad. We have great resources! They just need fixing. Immediately. But they’re doing fine!

A bad school system isn’t the greatest horror facing our whatchamacallit. Community. It’s not gang violence or spiking home prices or unemployment, either. The biggest problem in Fall River is that “this city needs to come together as a community.”

How, exactly? I haven’t figured this out yet, but it has something to do with standing outside together and holding candles.

4. The Kid With The Awful Mustache: It’s been growing on and off since the third grade, and one of these days it’ll come through in the middle. But don’t count out the Kid With The Awful Mustache just yet! It could work, given time. But for now, he isn’t about details. Let your imagination fill in the rest.

The Kid With The Awful Mustache lives for the moment. He is ageless. He listens to rap and doesn’t listen to The Man. He drives a fast car with shiny rims, and either he just got his permit or he’s been driving for years. With the mustache, it’s hard to tell.

He’s got a hot girlfriend. That's right. The chicks are all at first attracted to, then repulsed by, the mustache. She will prod him to shave it off at some point. He rebuffs her—what, and ruin years of hard work? Lay off, babe! They could be high school sweethearts—but then again...see, that mustache throws you off. One thing is sure: You have to admire his persistence.

5. Your Cousin: This is self-explanatory. In Fall River, if you meet someone on the street, that person is probably Your Cousin.

It’s never 100 percent clear exactly how. Mother’s side? Father’s side? One of those.

You've met this cousin before. It doesn't matter which cousin it is. You've met before, and most importantly, Your Cousin knows you. When you were 4? That time at Your Other Cousin's house? With the thing? You were just a baby then. Remember? I'd make it clearer than this, but I'd need to draw a flowchart of highly speculative authenticity.

Here’s a handy guide to recognizing who Your Cousin is. If you have dark hair and that person over there has dark hair, that’s Your Cousin. For obvious reasons. If you have dark hair and that person over there has light hair, that’s still Your Cousin. They have light hair on that side of the family.

Being cousins entitles you to all the benefits pertaining thereto: discounts on goods and services ranging from legal services to home repair, an extra free order of fries, several thousand votes come Election Day, and a ride to anywhere in the city. The VIP treatment. In return, all Your Cousin wants is for you to tell your dad hello from him. They're cousins. You can even stop by Your Cousin’s place anytime. Give him a call. He hasn't seen you in so long. But not next week. He’s going on vacation to Canada to visit his cousins.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Unfamiliarity breeds contempt

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A while back, I wrote about a stupid ordinance the city is considering passing that would criminalize every pit bull and Rottweiler in Fall River. At the time, I asked how you could enforce something breed-specific when so many dogs in this city are mixed, and so few people can make accurate distinctions as to breed.

Since then, I’m happy to say that the City Council still hasn’t figured this problem out, and it doesn’t seem particularly interested in trying, either. Happy, because that means this idiotic idea will get struck down at some point.

If passed, it will mean that owners of these kinds of dogs will have to keep the pooches locked away and never take them off the fenced-off property unless they’re muzzled, even if they don’t have any history of bad behavior — even if the dogs do nice things like work for security guards or sniff out drugs.

To be clear, I don’t want bad dogs biting people or other dogs — that’s why specific bad dogs have to be regulated. Generalizing about breeds is stupid. Plain and simple.

To illustrate why a breed-specific dog ordinance won’t work, walk with me over to the kitchen. Come on — step into my office.

Here I have loaf of Wonder bread, a jar of peanut butter and a jar of Marshmallow Fluff.

The City Council says, “We want to outlaw Fluff sandwiches!”

Fine. So if I take two slices of bread and spread some Fluff on it, that’s clearly just a Fluff sandwich. Bad sandwich! Bad!

OK. If I take two slices of bread and put Fluff on one side and peanut butter on the other, I have a totally different thing. It’s called a Fluffernutter. Remember the Fluffernutter? God, I could go for a Fluffernutter right now. On some nice toasted rye bread with a cup of hot coffee. It reminds me of my younger days, when I had no cares nor worries, a veritable picture of innocence—

My point is, goddammit, it’s got Fluff in it, but it’s not a Fluff sandwich. It’s a Fluffernutter. Is that now against the anti-Fluff sandwich law? Fluff is pure sugar and not good for your teeth or ass, but peanut butter’s actually a healthy source of protein. So does the Fluff make the whole sandwich bad?

What if I take two slices of bread and put peanut butter on both sides, but I'm a slob so I use the dirty knife with Fluff residue on it to smear the peanut butter on, thereby leaving some visible traces of Fluff on the outside. Is this now considered a Fluff sandwich, even if it's really just peanut butter? If so, why? And if not, how much Fluff, exactly, do I need to put in there before it becomes bad, before it magically attains the essential qualities of a Fluff sandwich?

Let’s say I take two slices of bread and fill them with jagged shards of glass and rusty screws, and I top if off with a cockroach impaled on a toothpick. Then I put a piece of human shit on the side, like a pickle. And I take two other slices of bread and make a delicious Fluff sandwich that’s perfectly innocuous. And I put the two sandwiches in front of you. Which one is the bad sandwich?

Which one is the worse sandwich?

What if it’s my right as an American to eat all the goddam Fluff sandwiches I want, as long as I don’t fling them at other people or try to force them in other people's mouths? I mean, if I start taking Fluff sandwiches and cramming them into people's eyes, I'm totally cool that that's criminal. But if I'm just eating a Fluff sandwich because I happen to dig Fluff and don't press my Fluff-love on other people, what's the big deal?

What if I take two slices of bread and put only peanut butter on them, but the cops are so used to seeing Fluff sandwiches running around with reckless abandon that they automatically assume it’s got Fluff in it?

What if I take two slices of bread and put Miracle Whip on them? When you put it together, it sure looks like a Fluff sandwich. But it’s actually just a very gross Miracle Whip sandwich. What if the cops say, “You’re in big trouble, pal — get that Fluff sandwich out of here!” And you say, “It’s actually just Miracle Whip!” And the cops don’t believe you and haul your Miracle Whip sandwich away to be quarantined away from Decent Society? What do you do then?

A variation of this last problem came up just recently. A dog that attacked and killed another dog in Fall River was described in a police report as a Rottweiler. By all other accounts, including that of the former city dog officer, the dog’s actually a shar-pei.

Those two don’t look anything like each other.

It’s not an uncommon problem. Most people really don’t know dog breeds very well. My dog Stanley looks like this:

I’ve had people come up to me while I’m walking Stanley and call him a springer spaniel, a cocker spaniel, a Dalmatian, a Weimaraner, a greyhound and a coonhound. But mostly they don’t know what the hell he is.

He’s a German shorthaired pointer.

He’s also not a Rottweiler. Just so you know.

My other dog, Myrna, isn’t a Rottweiler, either. Care to guess?

She’s a mix of border collie, Labrador retriever and German shepherd. So basically, a mutt.

I repeat: not a Rottweiler.

Many dogs are not Rottweilers. In fact, studies show that most non-Rottweiler dogs tend not to be Rottweilers. I should probably go ahead and give you some more examples of dogs that are not Rottweilers. Just so you know.

The Following Are Not Rottweilers

This is a shar-pei puppy (right). As a puppy, it’s very wrinkly. As it gets older, its skin gets very tight, which fills in the wrinkles. Think of Joan Rivers ten years ago, then Joan Rivers nine years ago, then make it a dog.

A shar-pei is usually not big and black like a Rottweiler. If it is, then chances are you have yourself a Rottweiler.

This is a Chihuahua (left). The Herve Villechaize of the dog world, it is very small, foreign, and sometimes hairless. Chihuahuas are sometimes carried around in purses by socialites who have nothing better to do with their lives than train their pets to be as lazy and dependent as they are.

Rottweilers are large and covered in dark fur and cannot be carried in purses, unless you generally haul around your lipsticks and checkbook in a 100-pound potato sack. I don't know. Maybe you do that. Good luck to you. Point being, there's a discrepancy in size with the dogs. Just so you know.

This is Lassie (right). Lassie is a collie dog from the classic TV series of the same name, seen here with Timmy whatshisname. Timmy is probably giving Lassie a big bear hug because the dog saved his life. Again. Perhaps it chased away prowlers or fetched Doc Watson for some reason or other. Maybe Timmy just had one of those moments when he had a strong urge to show his affection for Lassie, who appears strangely distant here. She's often got a more involved look in her eyes than she does here, is what I'm saying. There's some other personality issues she's working through we don't know about. But what I mean to say is that Lassie is generally known to be a very good dog.

Rottweilers are very good dogs, too, if properly trained, but yet are not Lassie. And Lassie is not a Rottweiler, yet she is very nice and helpful. So are many Rottweilers! Yet they're not the same. I can see how this can be confusing.

This is a cat (left).

Just a general sort of tabby cat, usually pretty harmless.

I think it's got a bow tie on, or maybe it's just a collar that looks like one. I'm leaning toward bow tie.

Well, I don't know now, looking at it.

This is not a Rottweiler. Just so you know.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Five gripes

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Being neurotic really sucks sometimes. I woke up just fine today, ready to make the hell out of my day, and then all of a sudden—somewhere between my toaster waffles and my fourth cup of coffee—I felt an awful sensation that put me off life. You know the one I mean. The one where human existence reveals itself to be a puny, miserable, cosmic hoax, except calling it “cosmic” gives it too much spunk. Anyway, I ended up taking two Advil.

My point is, I remember a friend from college once calling my personality “jolly.” Like Santa Claus. But off and on for the last few weeks, I’ve been a Grinchy McGrincherson. It was difficult to explain why. But as the headache dulled to a mild holler, it came to me.

Here, off the top of my head, are five reasons why I’ve been mopier than usual lately.


No. 1: Have you realized there is an entire generation of young Americans walking around right now with no idea how fun it is to dial a rotary telephone? Sad but true. You may have one of these poor unfortunates in your home right now. You may even be one of these poor unfortunates. Congratulations! There’s a hole in your life!

Trust me. I remember vividly from my childhood how fascinating it was. You’d poke the tip of your finger in the rotary device and spin it around and listen to the satisfying clicks as it reset. It was like a toy. You’d wish for someone to call with lots of 9s.

Now you press buttons and get your choice of three tones: beep, bop, or bloop. Big deal. Or, even worse, you press one speed-dial button. Way to suck the joy out of making a phone call. The only contemporary telephone dialing procedure that seems almost as cool—almost—is when a person with a fancy-schmancy cell phone tells the device whom to call. Sort of like when the mom on “Lassie” would ask the operator to get Doc Weaver.

Point being, was the rotary phone so goddam slow that we had to get rid of it altogether? Couldn’t we figure out some way to make the clicky thing quicker? Wasn’t there some way to make the rotary phone compatible with 1-900 sex lines, too?


No. 2: In a city where the nearest pizza parlor can be found by throwing a handful of dirt in any direction, I still can’t find the perfect pizza.

Look in the phone book. There are like 79,000 OK pizza places in Fall River. Even a few pretty good pizza places. But none really knocks my socks off. This is utterly depressing.

The closest one to perfect has interesting toppings and advertises its “thin-crust” pizza. Unfortunately, it’s so thin most of the interesting toppings slide off onto my shirt. I’m not so hoity-toity that I won’t eat a little shirt-spillage. But I’m spending a fortune on Stain Stick.

Other pizza places have a more robust crust, but if I want something besides pepperoni, I’m royally screwed. You have no idea how frustrating this is—yes, even given the current state of the Middle East.

One pretty good place I used to like has closed. Opening in its spot? Another pizza place. There’s another one set to open at the bottom of President Avenue. Listen up, both of you: Make a really great pizza, for Chrissake. Put some effort into it. I want a crust that’s not Saran Wrap-thin and not six-servings-of-bread thick. I want toppings that don’t begin and end with processed meat. Good portabella mushrooms, artichoke hearts, prosciutto, salty black olives, zucchini. I like those. I'm an American, and I deserve this kind of pizza because I work hard and pay my taxes and don't commit crimes. My wife is the same way, and she wants vegetables on hers—veggies that aren’t frozen and diced into miniscule pieces. Don’t use sauce that tastes like glorified ketchup. And gooey cheese. I like gooey cheese.


No. 3: For the past few months, I have been plagued by severe nasal allergies that would cripple a brontosaurus. Some days, I’m so allergic I want to rub my face off with a cheese grater.

I’m on generic Allegra right now, and it barely gets me through the day without blasting globules of mucus across the room like a paintball gun.

Who did this to me? I want names. I used to be fine up until three or so years ago. Is it because of all the smog these days, and if so, can I sue somebody? Did cavemen have allergies? More importantly, did they have Allegra? If not, what did they do? Did they just fling themselves into the nearest chasm? Because that’s crossed my mind.


No. 4: My wife jogs for health and for fun. When she jogs, she is all business. That means no lewd interruptions by stray frat-boys, thank you very much. Just let her jog by and leave her alone.

This is for male readers: Just because she looks nice in jogging shorts does not mean that you can talk to her. In fact, that’s a reason not to talk to her—chances are, you do not look good in jogging shorts. So you don’t have that in common.

Don’t try to talk to her about the weather, as an excuse to get her to notice you. She is very busy jogging and doesn’t want to talk to you.

Don’t stare at her. Control yourself, for God’s sake. Staring is rude, and also it’s scary. From what women have told me, there is a constant nagging fear in the back of their minds that crazy men are going to spring out of nowhere and attack them for no reason, because that does happen, sadly. If you stare at her too closely when she’s jogging by, she will Mace you in the eyes. You will vomit and cry, and you will deserve it.

I’m not kidding.

Don’t think that she’s wearing shorts because she’s trying to attract your interest. She’s wearing shorts because it’s too hot to run 13 miles in jeans.

Don’t honk your car horn at her or shout anything at her from your passing vehicle. I see this all the time with stupid guys who have bad pencil mustaches and who don't wear their baseball hats correctly—honking at random women on the street. It would be a fascinating phenomenon if it weren't the vehicular equivalent of snapping a girl's bra during social studies. What, exactly, do you think is going to happen when you honk at a woman? That she’ll honestly take it as a compliment that you blasted "Shave and a Haircut" in her ear or screamed some perverted two-word remark at her from your beat-up Ford Probe? When has any woman ever flagged you down and ravished you because of the way you honked?



No. 5: A glossy gossip magazine I saw at CVS had a cover story taking “a look back” at the 1990s. You know—way back in the 1990s. Urkel, that Counting Crows album everybody had, dirty flannel, President Clinton, “Titanic,” Will Smith while he still made rap music. You name it!

We are six years away from the 1990s, for the record.

Everything once-hip eventually gets mashed into little pieces, pounded into a paste, molded into familiar shapes and recycled into the Spam version of pop culture: kitsch. I guess I was just hoping the years I spent in high school and college had a little more shelf life before they underwent refried processing.

So now I’m culturally obsolete and I’m only 29. Fantastic. Looking forward, I have 40-plus years to revel in outdated references and to complain about how new stuff can never be as good as the old. And I just threw out my last flannel shirts.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Truth, justice — etc., etc.

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Nobody mention Superman to me for a while. I'm not talking to him right now.

Why am I so bitter? Mostly because the new “Superman Returns” movie is going to be a big fat stinking load of success next weekend and I won’t share in any of it. The filmmakers rejected my brilliant screenplay.

See, my story idea was to draw viewers into the world of Superman — I mean, really get into it more than any mere mortal has before. Everyone knows about Superman’s disguise, his glasses. But what about Superman’s optometrist? Everyone talks about how lightning-fast Superman can move. But did you know he has the power to move extraordinarily slowly, too? And does Superman keep his spare change in a jar like the rest of us? If so, does he roll it himself or just take it to a Coinstar machine? It was in my script, but now you’ll never know.

There’s something else. Superman’s alter ego, Clark Kent, is a reporter. That’s something I know about, Hollywood! I’m writing from experience! In fact, most of my script took place in the newsroom of The Daily Planet. Think comic book adventure meets “The Office.”

Fly with me now to that very newsroom, already in progress:


Scene. The newsroom of The Daily Planet, Metropolis, USA. It’s a cozy place: the carpets flea-infested, the air thick with muttered profanity. Reporters are milling about, attempting to look busy so as to avoid detection in case actual news breaks. The sound of gum-chewing from the girls in the steno pool is like holding your ear against a bowl of Rice Krispies.

At one desk, pecking away at a computer, is our story’s hero: Drake Miller, executive city editor of
The Daily Planet. He pretty much holds the joint together. Short, very hairy, fiery European temper — in summary, women want him and men want to be him, and a handful of women don’t want him but still want to be him, and a couple of men want him and want to be him also.

DM. (feels his own wrist) Bah! My heart rate’s down to 150 bee-pee-ems! I need coffee. Kent!

(In flies Clark Kent, cub reporter. He’s 7-foot-1, 350 pounds of muscle, a shock of thick black hair, built like a U.S. Army tank, except he could actually stop bullets. But he wears glasses, so that makes him a nerd.)

CLARK. You called, sir?

DM. Time for another journalism lesson, Kent. It’s your turn to get the coffee.

CLARK. (pushing his glasses up) Really, sir? I mean, it was my turn an hour ago...

DM. Finally bought yourself a watch, eh? Good man. Mocha Coolatta, no whip — off you go!

(Clark Kent immediately vanishes and reappears with the drink. Drake, who is checking his e-mail listlessly, glances over.)

DM. God, what was the effing holdup? (hands him a buck) We’ll continue with the journalism lesson later. Right now, aren’t you supposed to be covering the Smallville Wastewater Commission meeting?

CLARK. (looking at the dollar bill) But…but…it was $3.59.

DM. (not looking) Yeah, yeah — keep the change, kid.

(Kent slowly cocks his right fist and slides his glasses off with the left — but he’s interrupted by the entry of one Lois Lane, ace reporter!)

LOIS. Boss! I heard on the police scanner that billionaire supervillain Lex Luthor is on the loose with an army of Destructo-Bots! He’s going to destroy Metropolis one city block at a time until we elect him Supreme Ruler of Earth!

DM. Just a sec. (unties and reties his shoe) OK now. Is this an election story? Because Jones is on the election beat.

(From outside, we see the sky flash red for a second, then hear a tremendous crashing sound. Pictures tumble off the walls.)

LOIS. I’m pretty sure it’s not.

DM. Then you cover it. And be sure to wrap up this whole world domination thing in seven paragraphs or less. I gotta make room on the front page for a photo of kittens in a basket.

LOIS. I betcha Superman will be there! He always saves the day. Plus, he’s so handsome and daring. Not like you, Clark. You’re a nerd. Those glasses make you look timid and ugly. I only enjoy your company as a friend and work acquaintance. Superman, I’d want to marry and have hot sex with. You, no way in hell. (exits)

CLARK. (easing his way out the door and fingering the buttons on his shirt) I, uh…better get to that wastewater meeting.

(Drake sits back, puts his feet up on the desk, and we have scene after thrilling scene of him fixing spelling mistakes with Microsoft Word! At the climax of this 30-minute section, he looks up a tricky word in the dictionary and finds that, yes, it is spelled correctly. Meanwhile, more laser flashes and explosions rend the sky outside, blah blah blah. Eventually, Lois and Clark re-enter the newsroom, Clark with his hair mussed and shirt half-tucked.)

LOIS. Boy, you missed a hell of a story covering that wastewater meeting, Clark! The whole city was in jeopardy, and Superman got there just in time! First he took one Destructo-Bot and clobbered it! Then he used it as a clobberer to clobber the other Destructo-Bots! Then Lex Luthor imperiled my life just long enough to escape while Superman rescued me! Then Superman accepted the gratitude of the mayor and the school full of orphans he pried out from under the rubble! (sighs wistfully) That Superman. I have a huge throbbing crush on him. I'd be all over him in a minute. Not you. I don't think of you that way, not even a little, because of your nerd glasses. Him, I do think of that way. You, I don't. Oh well. (exits)

DM. Superman. Pfft. That guy’s such a media whore.

CLARK. (staring off into space) Um.

DM. So about that Smallville Wastewater Commission story...

CLARK. I already covered it. And wrote it. (hands him some papers gruffly) Somehow.

DM. Good. I could’ve used it 10 minutes ago, but good. (thumbs through the story, skimming the text) Overall, not half-mediocre, Kent.

CLARK. Thanks, sir.

DM. (gasping) My...God!

(A blast of musical tension from the orchestra!)

DM. “Wastewater” is one word. You have it here as two. (clicks a red pen) Not sure how a grown man makes that mistake...

CLARK. (turning purple, clenching and unclenching his fists)

DM. (hands him a buck without looking at him) Mocha Coolatta, no whip, and a frosted coffee roll.

(Clark exits slowly as Drake corrects the spelling in his story. And the world is safe once again from sloppy grammar and egregious spelling errors, thanks to — Drake Miller, executive city editor!)

Friday, June 09, 2006

My First Dishfest: Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt interviewed

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Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt — how did society get by before she floated gracefully to the top of the birthing tub and filled her famous lungs with that first breath of Namibian air? What lessons can she, as the baby of celebrities, teach us, as humans? What makes this teeny-weeny-Brangeleeney so bloody fascinating? Is it the name? I bet it’s the name. It’s the name, isn’t it? Yeah. OK, let’s just say it’s the name.

Since her humble $4 million birth, the headline-grabbing lovechild of extra-mega-jumbo-stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie has captured the hearts of everybody who has room in theirs for another celebrity newborn.

We regular people have been content to survive on the mere scraps of information about her we can glean from the celebrity dirt television shows, newspaper pages, tabloid rags, gossip glossies, the Internet, radio and watercooler theorizing. But I know what you’re thinking: “It’s not enough! You’re still too interesting, Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt! There’s still 15 minutes or so of daily media time you haven’t conquered yet!”

Consider it conquered. While the tabloids have been scrambling to get the first pictures of The Brangelina Baby published, I’ve been hard at work getting a few minutes of face time.

It cost me every Namibian dollar I’d been saving to buy her a first-class plane ticket, but I have scored the first Brangelina Baby interview. Now I know what Neil Armstrong felt like.


Q. Thanks for talking to me, Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt.

SNJP. Thank you, Dan. Always a pleasure.

Q. And thanks for coming all the way to Fall River. I know it’s quite a hike from Namibia...

SNJP. Not at all. I found it OK. Right off 24, like you said.

Q. First thing I wanted to ask. I know the tabloids have told me I should be giving a crap about your birth, but why should I — really? I mean, you look like pretty much any other baby I’ve seen.

SNJP. Wow! (laughs) They said you were tough. Well, I’d have to say that, for one thing, I was born out of pure celebrity love. So there’s that. It sort of makes me a kind of higher degree of creature, in a way. One that should be respected — feared.

Q. Right, right.

SNJP. I think every person is very special, though. It’s just that, with someone like me, rich, famous — you know.

Q. I do know!

SNJP. (hastily, getting a little bit defensive) I’m just saying it’s not every day that celebrities have babies together.

Q. Actually, movie stars produce offspring pretty habitually by my watch. But let’s talk about the star power magnitude of your parents. They’re probably the most famous couple since Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson — or, as we liked to say back then, Burloni.

SNJP. Who?

Q. (slapping forehead) Right — you’re like 2 weeks old.

SNJP. Listen, I don’t think of Brad and Mom just as bankable stars who can open up a picture to a guaranteed $70 million weekend. They’re nice people, too.

Q. That’s so down-to-earth. Let me ask you about your out-of-this-world name. Forget the sinking economy, immigration, health care, schools closing down for lack of funds, the war in Iraq — your goofy name is the biggest news in America today.

SNJP. What’s the war in Iraq?

Q. Um ... how to phrase this. Men faw down, go boom.

SNJP. Oh! (sips from a bottle of Fiji Water with a rubber nipple on the top) I’m bored.

Q. Do you like stuffed duckies?

SNJP. I do. Actually, I collect strange ones.

[I give her a stuffed ducky. She puts it in her mouth and holds it with her feet for several minutes, giggling and chirping. Eventually, she comes up for air.]

Q. Can I ask, what was it like to be a media sensation even before you were born? Did you read any of the Hollywood gossip pages in ... in there?

SNJP. Some. I’m not going to lie to you and say I don’t pay attention to what the media says, even if 99.9 percent of it is totally fake — just garbage those slimeballs write to drag good, decent people down in the mud. And I don’t know why some of these paparazzi don’t all get put in their cribs and left there until they behave.

Q. So — yes?

SNJP. (eating her foot) Hmm?

Q. What sort of projects can we as a democratic nation look forward to from The Brangelina Baby? You know what would be cool? If you guys did a sequel to “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” except it could be “Mr. and Mrs. Smith and a Little Lady,” with you in there. I’m making a pitch here, so I expect some money and co-writing credit if it works out.

SNJP. No, that movie was poopy.

Q. Yeah, you’re right. Anyway, what’s in the pipeline?

SNJP. I’d like to concentrate right now on learning to walk — I think that would help my acting career should I go that way, and there’s a great coach Brad and Mom know. Also, if I could not poop myself eight times a day, that would be fantastic. But more than anything, I want to help people.

Q. (tears welling up) Such a brave little girl.

SNJP. One thing I learned when I was growing up in Namibia — the world is bigger than Tinseltown. Be a big tipper when you visit poor countries, Mom says. And when you go to the UN to ask for millions in government aid, dress nicely or they’ll think you’re just there to bank on your fame. (spits up baby food junk on her Elmo bib — I wipe it off her chin) After that, I’ll be working on my first pop single, “The Wheels on the Bus.”

Q. That’s a classic I’m sure you can have a lot of fun with. So, inquiring minds want to know — are you seeing anyone?

SNJP. (pause) Well, I’m seeing you right now, here in front of me.

[I hide my face in my hands.]

SNJP. Aaaah! Where’d he go? I’m confused and tired! Waaah!

Q. [uncovering my face] Peekaboo!

SNJP. (relieved) There you are! Kind of startled me, dropping off the planet like that and all.

[I hide my face again.]

SNJP. Help! Somebody! He vanished again! I’m alone! My perception of reality is underdeveloped!

Q. [uncovering my face] Peekaboo!

SNJP. Whoa! You came back! How’s that work? (claps her hands) Again!

Q. No more. Dan’s tired.

SNJP. Again! Again!

Q. No — my, uh ... my hands are broken.

SNJP. Again again again! (crying) Waaaaah!

[I indulge Shiloh for several minutes of peekaboo until her publicist enters and puts her in a kangaroo sling for a nap.]

Saturday, May 27, 2006

It's all about me, me, me

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As a Dan Medeiros, I share a strange bond. Within let’s say a 30-mile radius of my house, there are more Dan Medeiroses per square foot than anywhere in the world.

But from 30 miles to 50 miles, though, the Dan Medeiros count drops off significantly. This is the area of the world that can sometimes say “Medeiros” correctly on a good day. From 50 miles to 100 miles, there are much fewer Dan Medeiroses than that. “Medeiros” to people living in this area sounds something like “Madras” — like the plaid shorts. And within a 100- to 3,000-mile radius, finding a Dan Medeiros is a rare feat indeed. The word “Medeiros” is unknown to these poor, witless creatures, who pronounce it “Madernious” or “Macadamious” or (my favorite) “Merkuhhh” and a prolonged coughing noise.

People usually don’t believe me when I tell them how many damn Dans there are around here. I am not making this up! There are lots of Dan Medeiroses, I tell you! We Dan Medeiroses trip all over each other! All the time! Try heaving a clod of dirt in any direction and you’ll hit about six!

Example: The other day, a man called for me — or, I should say, called for Dan Medeiros.

“That’s me!” I said.

“I’m from [name withheld], a debt collection agency. You owe $2,238.57 to Southcoast Hospitals Group.”

I have a very strong burrowing instinct, so I squeezed myself under the couch. After my wife coaxed me back out, I spent the next 10 minutes explaining to the guy how he had the wrong Dan Medeiros. I didn’t owe anybody $2,238.57. I’ve never even been to that hospital, I said. In fact, I’ve never been to any hospital. I’m as healthy as a horse. Not that horse that just ran the Preakness and pulverized its leg. A different horse. A short, well-rested, flabby horse who likes nachos.

The whole experience wasn’t good for my paranoia. It left me wondering what sort of shenanigans other Dan Medeiroses are getting myself into. So I searched for my name online. That’s right — I gave myself a little Google! This way, if someone calls me up and tells me to get my goddam ostrich out of their yard, I’ll know they’re probably looking for the Dan Medeiros from, not me.


“Yo, wassup i’m Dan medeiros i'm in grade 7 and i love love love imports my future car (i hope) will be an mr2. And i hope u like the site. 'Peace'”

The Dan Medeiros from this Web site is obviously not me. I don’t even know what an mr2 is. He said “future car,” so I’m thinking an mr2 is a sort of spaceship. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever used “yo” except ironically.

At the top of the page, it reads, “Welcome To My Home Page this page is just the beggining of an amazing, so i hope u enjoy. And if you don’t like go to a different site!” It’s not that I didn’t like, but it’s just not my thing — so I went to a different site.


Another Dan Medeiros author! He’s one of 13 people credited to the article “Comparative Genomics Tools Applied to Bioterrorism Defense.” Sounds like a high-tech Clancy-style thriller! Here’s an excerpt:

“Collaborations with comparative genomics algorithm developers have enabled our LLNL team to make major advances in pathogen detection, since many of the existing tools simply did not scale well enough to be of practical use for this application.”

Get all that? Wait, let Dan summarize it for you.

“For example, exploration in evolution and phylogenetics, annotating gene coding regions, predicting and understanding gene function and regulation, and untangling gene networks all rely on tools for aligning multiple sequences, detecting gene rearrangements and duplications, and visualizing genomic data.”

Ah! Much clearer now. Anyway, the thing to remember is that he’s part of the LLNL team, whatever that is, and I am not. I imagine it’s some kind of crimefighting unit. Like, whenever there’s a comparative genomic crisis, the LLNL Team assembles, arrives in the LLNL-Mobile and fixes the genomic ... uh ... thing. Dan’s super power? He “has a BS in computer science and built the second-generation DNA signature pipeline.”


From a column in the Kentucky New Era of Hopkinsville, Ky. On Jan. 7, 2005, the paper published a story about people’s favorite and least favorite foods:

“Dan Medeiros, Fairview, despises Chinese food. ‘I don’t like it, the smell really bothers me,’ he said.”

OK, this one just pisses me off.

Listen, man: If boneless spareribs came in cologne form, I’d wear it. I’ve considered raising chickens just for their fingers. And if General Tso were in charge, I’d gladly invade Iraq — as long as he put me on KP.


If you’re going by Google search results, then the best-known Dan Medeiros in the world is ... ready? Dan Medeiros!

This Dan Medeiros is from Mississauga, Ontario, Canada — which is eerie, because I have family around there, too. He plays the guitar. I play the guitar, too. He has dark hair and a goatee. I have dark hair and a beard. Here’s where the differences begin:

“I’m Dan, 20, 6’1.” And he’s in two rock bands.

I’m Dan, 29, 5-foot-6. I am in zero rock bands.

My cooler doppelganger has several pages on Like most MySpace pages, they’re covered with multiple-exclamation-pointed greetings (“Crrrrazy!!!” “HEY GUYS!!!!”) and tiny pictures of girls trying to be bra models. A sampling of some of the comments:

“hey dan, remember that time you came to Ottawa and totally barfed all over my bathroom. good times, love, jen.” I have barfed in a bathroom — they’re generally the best place for it — but not at Jen’s, and not in Ottawa. I might go, though. Sounds fun.

“when the [bleep] are you guys going to throw another [bleeping] show. i want to throw my underwear up on the stage in your faces.” For the record, I’ve been writing this column for almost three years now and gotten some nice letters, but no fan has ever intentionally flung underwear at my face. Something seems wrong about that.

“DUDE! we have to get drunk and go grocery shopping! its like our destiny." I was wondering why Fate had nothing better to do than encourage plastered Canadians to restock their pantries when the story took an odd turn: "but now that i think about wat we were doing ... it was kinda dark ... so maybe we were drunk robbing a grocery store haha how lame. i just remember not being able to stand up properly and i was sitting in a shopping cart. and u were running down aisles HAHA. so much fun. too bad u werent REALLIE there.”

Um ... OK. So I think I’ve learned a valuable lesson about other Dan Medeiroses. From now on, I’ll just go their way and they’ll go mine. Wait — vice versa. Sorry. Confusing.

Friday, May 19, 2006

You can't spell "news analysis" without "anal swine": An interview with Stephen Colbert

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In August 2005, before he seized the Bush Administration's collective panties and gave them a breathtaking twist at the White House Correspondents Dinner on April 29, I interviewed Comedy Central’s professional pseudopundit Stephen Colbert. The article concerned the debut of The Colbert Report, a spin-off of The Daily Show that was at the time only a trailer and known semi-officially as The Colbert Réport, with a puckish accent-marked flavor the trailer refers to as “French—bitch.” We talked for about 10 minutes or so, much of which was spent by me giggling incomprehensibly while he chucked zingers in my direction. Afterward, I turned in a roughly hewn article to Student Advantage Magazine, slashed even further to fit onto one half-page in the October 2005 issue.

I had borrowed someone else’s tape recorder, so the actual recording of the conversation is gone. But I do have a partial transcript.

Q. One thing I was wondering about the show. Are you going to be preserving the accent aigu?

SC. That’s all still up in the air. We’re not sure how we’re going to get across the idea that you don’t pronounce anything. You don’t pronounce any of the Ts. We may not pronounce any of the Ts on the show. We’ll save them up for needy children who don’t have enough Ts.

Q. What kind of formats and segments will you have on the show?

SC. I don’t know—I’m open to suggestion at this point. The most important thing is that the show change the world. That’s my only criterion—that we change the world, but we do it in a way that keeps us out of Mallard Fillmore’s crosshairs. That guy brings too hard a hammer down.

Q. [I remember laughing a lot here, thrilled I got the Mallard Fillmore reference]

SC. Well, you know, it’s going to be like [Bill] O’Reilly, sort of—or [Joe] Scarborough, or [Sean] Hannity, or even Aaron Brown or Anderson Cooper. Highly compartmentalized, very much about the personality of the host. I’ll be debating myself in a segment we call “Worthy Opponent.” We’ll do something called “Shame Spiral,” where I look down at a camera below my desk and I shame America for its behavior. We do a section called “Who’s Looking Out For You?” and we do a segment right after it called “Who’s Looking Over Your Shoulder?” We’ll take calls. We’ll have real guests. We’ll go out to the vox populi—real people on the street. We’ll ask some questions of the day. Stuff like that. Odd essays, like I do on The Daily Show.

Q. Will there be an Alan Colmes-type wishy-washy figure?

SC. Great Onion headline was, “Alan Colmes loses argument with 6-year-old.”

Q. Are there any commentators besides Bill O’Reilly that you’re studying for inspiration?

SC. I’m a big fan of Warren Justice. I don’t know if you know his work...

Q. He sounds familiar for some reason.

SC. [long pause] Really?

Q. Well, I don’t know...

SC. Huh.

[There was a long and uncomfortable moment here. It became obvious that he'd just bullshitted me. I did not at the time and still have not yet found any references to a talk show host or news analyst or pundit named Warren Justice. I'm willing to believe I'm just ignorant, and feel free to correct me by e-mail, but my best guess is it's fake. Partly because he was sick of answering the "who are you imitating" question, and partly as a test to see if I was paying attention (note the slap-upside-the-head reference to former Chief Justice Earl Warren, which is what sounded familiar). "Warren Justice" being fake makes sense, considering it's coming from someone whose irony switch is permanently soldered in the on position—but if Colbert was making fun of me, it wasn't very nice. Pretty mean, actually. Especially considering I'd started out our conversation with a whole friendly togetherness riff on The Lord of the Rings, which I knew he was a rabid fan of, and which was so off-the-cuff and pleasant that I never bothered to transcribe it because I wouldn't need it for the article.]

SC. I like Geraldo a lot. I like Charlie Rose. I like his self-important quality. His sort of urban hipness. Still kind of regimental striped tie-y, but with a sort of intellectual hipness that he trucks in.

Q. But he’s still got that earthy Texan-type quality.

SC. Yeah, I guess so.

Q. The Daily Show is a lot of young people’s main source of news. For better or worse. Is The Colbert Réport going to be be young people’s main source of hotheaded opinion?

SC. I hope to be their number one source for poorly informed opinion.

Q. Do you have any diva requests for your dressing room?

SC. I’m a big fan of Korean masseuses. If anybody’s looking to do some pro bono work, because I don’t think it’s in the budget...

Q. How much and what kind of prep work do you do for the show?

SC. I have a couch. And I like to stay fresh for the show. So I try to get some Zs in during the day. And I’m a big fan of, like, a tall latte and a tuna sandwich around four o’clock, just to pump up the old caffeine and the protein. And then I try to keep my eyesight sharp so I can read the prompter. That pretty much covers it.

Q. Will you still be doing stuff on The Daily Show?

SC. If I can. It remains to be seen if I’ll have time to do that. I hope so.

Q. Given the wildly popular success of The Daily Show, do you feel a lot of pressure at all to make this show as successful?

SC. All I have to do is get better ratings than a rerun of The Daily Show, which is free to Comedy Central. There’s no pressure and a lot of pressure. I might be able to get better ratings. I’m not sure, but I’ll sure cost more. The fact that it’s a spinoff of The Daily Show doesn’t feel like it’s pressure to me, because we’ll still going to be playing the same game that I’ve been playing for years, so it’s not like I don’t know what I’m doing. But I’m going to cost money in a slot that they get for free right now. So I hope to do well for my masters.

Q. In the trailer, you say you give the truth a five-minute head start and then you hunt it down...

SC. Exactly. [in his canned gag voice] The truth isn’t going to get a free ride this time. ‘Kay?

Q. It’s a funny line, but I think there’s a lot going on there. [I fumbled for words a lot here, and didn’t really transcribe everything exactly. Here’s the gist:] There’s no time for the news to just happen anymore and be digested naturally. Everybody wants fast, immediate analysis without waiting for history to make its point.

SC. They analyze fast. Even in a big news story, you get the basic information out right away. “This has happened in this land, and these people.” Then, you can repeat it for the next group of people who might be tuning in, and then you might be able to repeat it again to drive that home. But after that, you’ve still got 24 hours of news to fill. And that’s when analysis starts kicking in. But analysis might kick in an hour into a news story, when before, there was the evening news, you would watch, and then the next day someone might start analysis. Analysis literally starts within the hour of the event, because they’ve got to fill up the beast, they’ve got to feed the maw of the 24-hour news cycle. And analysis is open-ended. You can do any amount of it you want. There’s nothing wrong with analysis, but it happens very quickly. There’s a sense that they have to be even-handed with it, so even on non-political stories, they have a leftie and a rightie. Even the things that need not be politicized. And they never stop the analysis, because in a way it’s easier to do. And they’re not paying these people to come on, and these people like being on TV, and so that just continues. But it’s not particularly informative, and it ends up passing for news. And people start forgetting, “Oh, that analysis is not news. That’s just opinion.” That’s really where the news has gone wayward. And so we’re going to jump on that wayward train and ride it off the rails for our own benefit.

Q. Nothing like a bandwagon for safe transportation.

SC. [laughs] Exactly. An out-of-control bandwagon, and I’m going to haul me and my children up on top of it. Careening toward success, hopefully. I’m going to pile my children, pile my future, all the eggs—I’m going to put it on the toboggan of The Colbert Report and ride it down the slippery slope of news analysis toward the oak tree of success. [pause] I hope that comes out better than it sounded.

[It might be helpful at this point to know that at the time of this writing Comedy Central has dropped the accent mark from the show's logo. The show's name was pronounced with the final T when Colbert was introduced at the Correspondents Dinner, where he manned the podium with his practiced, unctuous charm and delivered a scalding series of shots to President Bush sitting just a few feet away, ranging from the war to his vanishing popularity to accusations of domestic spying, Bush laughing along at first and then, very rapidly, not at all.]
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