Sunday, November 30, 2008

I Know, I Know

I know the blogging has been light these last few days. It's a holiday weekend, though. And I have to finish editing two books, one for tonight and one for tomorrow. Deep (ha!), thoughtful (huh?) blogging will begin again soon.

In the meantime, we have Sir Tom Jones.

Sir Tom Jones once worked as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman, which is where he first realized he had "a way with the ladies." And he's Welsh, which to any fan of Torchwood and Doctor Who is inherently cool.

I am a fan of Sir Tom Jones. I freely admit this. His catalog is going to be my next karaoke conquest, now that I've drunken-mastered Engelbert Humperdinck.

Sir Tom Jones rocks, people. Sir Tom Jones rocks hard.

Are you rocked? I'm rocked.

Quote of the Day II

"Geeze, this article from ________ proves it. The problem is REAL, and no one's going to do anything unless I blog about it!"

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Love Boat: The Lost Episode

Meanwhile, back on the Capitol Deck:

"Enough of your matchmaking, Cruise Director Julie! There's only one lady in my life, and her name is Nevada."

"Sounds like a stripper to me."

(Hat Tip: Blonde Sagacity and "Caption It.")

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Post-Thanksgiving Grumble

Somehow, it never really seems like a true Thanksgiving anymore unless someone, somewhere, is trying to make me feel guilty for having all the things I spend that day giving thanks for.

Of course, it never really seems like a true Veterans Days anymore without someone, somewhere, accusing me of hypocrisy (or worse) for honoring soldiers and their service without my having personally reorganized the entire Veterans Administration. Or a true Christmas anymore unless someone, somewhere, at some point, requires me to rebuke the whole of Christianity based on the actions of the nuttiest of wingnut, Old Testament–thumping fanatics. (Or the Crusades.) Or a true September 11th without my being asked to atone, somehow, for every misdeed, real or imagined, committed by my country since September 12th of 2001.

Can I have my one day, whether to honor or to remember or to just plain give thanks? Please?

These single days are important. They mean something. I realize that more and more as I get older. Every so often, we take one day, and we focus on something. Or on some part of something much larger. We remind ourselves about it. We remember. And we hopefully regain a perspective that we'll carry with us through the days that follow.

It's not hypocrisy. It's not insensitivity. And it is not, by any means, willful blindness.

On September 11th, I remember more than 3,000 dead innocents. There are 364 other days a year to argue foreign policy.

On Veterans Day, I remember the soldiers I've known, and those I haven't, and how they served in a way that I never did, how they did something I'm not sure that I could have done myself. Because there are 364 other days a year to argue over bureaucracies, and benefits, and how best to provide them.

On Christmas, I remember the good that Christianity has brought. How it inspired abolitionists to help end slavery in my own country. How a believer like William Wilberforce challenged and guided England until it used the Royal Navy to end the slave trade. How the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., marched and struggled for civil rights with the Constitution in one hand and a Bible in the other. How this faith allows person after person to walk into war zones and do good, or drives someone to perform a simple act of kindness for someone he or she has never met before and most likely will never see again. Because there are 364 other days a year during which I'll be glad to help catalog the bad, and might even lend Richard Dawkins my ear, at least for a while.

And on Thanksgiving, I count my blessings, and I give thanks for them. I give thanks to whatever allowed me to work so long and so hard, to get through the things in my life that I've gotten through, to be able to have the good things that I've somehow earned. And I give thanks to God or the Universe—and sometimes, I'll be honest, to both—for the good things that have seemed to just fall into my life out of nowhere. And I also eat more than I should.

But none of it, not one bit, means that I somehow don't care about those who are "food-disadvantaged." Or that I'm somehow actually celebrating the "genocide" wrought by my unremittingly sinful forefathers who apparently had not a single redeeming feature. Because we human beings are able to see the good and the bad, to be aware of the sins and the miracles, and to learn from the mistakes while also celebrating what we got right. We just sometimes need to pick a day, a single day, and then focus in on one thing. Or on one part of something much larger.

Because we have 364 other days a year for you to "educate and inform" us, when we can deal with everything else, and when we can have those debates. And I promise, you'll get a much more receptive hearing from me on any of those 364 other days. You might even have a chance of actually changing my mind.

So can I have my one day? Please?

Just one day, every so often. That's all I'm really asking.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day 2008

A short classic from Charlie Chaplin:

Still think you have nothing to be thankful for?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sign of the Times

These rather unappealing (even without the gloomy, overcast sky) condominiums have just been completed around the corner from my apartment complex.

Supposedly designed to "reflect" the Craftsman-style homes of our Southern California suburbs, these units had original asking prices starting at $495,000, with most going well above half a million. Apparently, however, the developer isn't finding many takers.

That's right, the minimum auction bid is now only $255,000—about half what the developer originally hoped for. And that price will get you, by my calculations, a roughly 80% chance that your windows will provide one of the following views: a bank parking lot, the back of a commercial building, a laundromat, or your neighboring condo's window. Maybe the interior doors with recessed panels "reminiscent of fine furniture" were meant to compensate for that.

After much discussion and careful deliberation, my wife and I have decided to stay renters a while longer.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dear Mr. President-Elect

Dear Mr. President-Elect,

Congratulations on your stunning electoral victory! And good luck with finding that hypo-allergenic puppy for Sasha and Malia!

I understand how busy you must be right now with the transition, but as a patriotic American, I've taken it upon myself to prepare a list of several candidates for various positions in your new, historic administration. I realize you've already made several choices and are close to making several more, but I feel my choices represent a real opportunity for a truly nonpartisan, out-of-the-box administration.

For Secretary of the Treasury:

Timothy Geithner is a fine man, but today's economic crisis calls for the supernatural abilities of someone like Mr. Roarke. With trillions of dollars in wealth evaporating overnight, complex financial derivatives that no one fully understands even as they implode around us, and subprime mortgages loaned to people with no proof of any income, our financial and housing sectors have become a fantasy, and who better to ride herd on a fantasy than Mr. Roarke? Also, considering that our major financial companies are based on the island of Manhattan, Mr. Roarke's experience as CEO of another famous island becomes even more relevant.

Seriously, doesn't everyone want see the chief executives of the Big Three automakers fly to Washington on their private jets, make their pitch for a $25 billion bail-out, and then be told, "Welcome to Fantasy Island!"

For Secretary of Housing and Urban Development:

Billy Mays! That's right, Billy Mays! Whether it's our nation's crumbling infrastructure or dilapidated public housing projects, Billy Mays can fix it all! And do it armed only with the power of Mighty Putty! And all those millions of dirty uniforms for the new Public Works Administration can have their fabric clean and their colors bright with the power of OxiClean! What's more, Billy Mays can make his departmental directives heard all the way across the country without even using a phone! And he can cut the departmental budget from $38.5 billion to just two easy payments of $19.95 each!

That's Billy Mays! Billy Mays, our new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development!

Billy Mays!

For Secretary of Transportation:

Because who knows more about our nation's transportation needs than "The Transporter"? Who better to guide Detroit in producing what drivers actually want? Who better to advise the new Public Works Administration in rebuilding the kind of roads that vehicles actually require? Plus, he's good with kids, so child safety would be a priority.

Granted, "The Transporter" does have some rather questionable connections in his past, and these could make for a very rocky confirmation hearing. Some of his views also may not have the nuance that's sure to be a hallmark of the new Obama administration. (Even his clothing is black and white!) In addition, certain senators might be uncomfortable voting for a cabinet secretary with no name other than "The Transporter." So, an inoffensive, compromise candidate will probably be required.

Someone like this man:

As captain of the "The Love Boat," Merril Stubing knows the oceans—and the hearts of those who sail them. Our shipping industry could have no better advocate in your administration, and as we continue further into the Pacific Century, Captain Stubing's expertise in those waters could become invaluable. Even a union like the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Workers would feel bad taking issue with him. He's just that sweet a guy—and someone who would never conduct a binding arbitration hearing in the same way "The Transporter" would:

For Secretary of State:

Witty, handsome, and above all, tan, Mr. George Hamilton is the true choice for rebuilding our country's shattered image abroad. From the casinos of Monte Carlo to the beaches of the French Riviera, Mr. George Hamilton is more European than even most Europeans, and after all, isn't the true goal of the State Department in the new Obama administration to make Europe love us again? As an added bonus, television reception in caves of the Pakistani Tribal Areas is reported to be rather fuzzy, so our nation's enemies will probably mistake Mr. George Hamilton for Mr. George Peppard—and even Al-Qaeda doesn't want to mess with the A-Team.

For Secretary of Labor:

Not only will Sir Tom Jones bring a truly international flavor to an Obama administration, he can sing. And I mean, sing!

But that's not all. His album, The Lead And How To Swing It, is a true paean to the proletariat. And he sweats a lot on stage, just like the working man! His legendary shows will also help with foreign relations. Teamed with Secretary of State Mr. George Hamilton, Sir Tom Jones can distract the other negotiators with a blistering rendition of "What's New Pussycat?" while Mr. George Hamilton gets their signatures on the renegotiated NAFTA agreement. Canada and Mexico won't even know what they're signing! And when they finally do come to their senses, they'll realize they got a great show out of the deal, so no hard feelings.

Which, I admit, would not be the case with any trade agreement renegotiated by "The Transporter":

For White House Press Secretary:

No administration is ever successful without the support of the White House Press Corps. President after president has learned this to his dismay. Other than the Secretary of the Treasury, perhaps no position that you fill during these next few weeks will be more important than this one. And only one man can truly deliver the goods on this momentous challenge:

A seriously out-of-the-box choice, I agree, but the White House Press Corps has loved hounding and harassing this man for the past 8 years. And by giving them daily press briefings with White House Press Secretary George W. Bush, they'll be able to continue hounding and harassing him for 4 more years—producing nothing but gratitude and love for the man who gave them this incredible gift. Just imagine the gratitude these reporters will have.

Even more, White House Press Secretary George W. Bush means a continuing focus on each and every misdeed or misstep, whether real or imagined, of the last 8 years. Mr. President-Elect, it'll be like having a 4-year "gimme" from the media! And just in case they ever do come back to the present and decide that one of your own policies needs to sink like a lead balloon, all you need do is say the policy that the White House Press Secretary George W. Bush announced wasn't the actual policy. Simply blame it on the Press Secretary's mangled syl-ah-bles. You'll have complete deniability, because you'll have the ultimate fall guy.

Mr. President-Elect, I do hope that you'll give these potential nominations serious consideration. Our country needs a bold new direction, and bold new directions call for bold personnel decisions.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts at your earliest convenience.

God bless America.

Monday, November 24, 2008

No Politics, Just Dogs

I don't care if it turns out this soldier hadn't actually just come home after spending 14 months in Iraq. I don't even care if it turns out this soldier isn't even really a soldier. Those dogs are real enough for me.

The Best Part About Blogging... your wife coming into the room and unexpectedly hugging you, because she just read something you wrote.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Inside the Actors Studio: The Lost Episode

"James, for the last time, Billy Bob did not hypnotize me..."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Obligatory Prop 8 Post

This was going to be a light-hearted post. I had it all mapped out. I was going to write about the dueling lawn signs in the courtyard of my apartment complex. How "Yes on 8" and "No on Prop 8" had faced each other at near-perfect angles across the grass, like gunfighters waiting for the building manager to yell "Draw!" How the people who had put up the signs destroyed the stereotypes each side wants to believe about the other. How while playing with my dog, the neighbors' two little boys had looked at the signs and went "Two ladies? Ewwwwww!" and I had thought, Kid, in a few years, "two ladies" is gonna be all you ever think about. How neither sign ever once got defaced, or torn down, and how that gave me hope for a real, two-sided tolerance, despite our disagreements on politics or theology.

This is not that post.

Let me say at the outset that I voted "No" on Prop 8. I've lived in the gay ghetto of a major city. I've owned a small business with a gay partner. Part of the first date my wife and I had involved her taking me to a fabulous gay coffee shop in West Hollywood as a test of how tolerant I was. (I passed.) I've even kept my cool and gently talked down a drunken homosexual as his fingers tried to do the walking down my pants. (Sloppy drunks come in all sexual persuasions.) And two of the best parents I know are a lesbian couple, and raising a young son who is a joy to behold. So, I give no ground to anyone when it comes to my anti-homophobe street cred.

With that said, those of us who support gay marriage have a serious problem. And it's not the Mormons, or the blacks, or the Hispanics. Or even the "haters."

We tell the opponents of gay marriage that it won't be taught in schools, especially to the youngest children, and a first-grade class goes on a field trip to watch the "teachable moment" of a lesbian wedding performed by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. We tell the opponents of gay marriage that the court rulings in our favor won't open the door to legalized polygamy, even though no one who argued for passage of the 14th Amendment probably would have imagined the Due Process Clause in a living document would one day form the basis for Roe v. Wade and abortion rights. We tell the opponents of gay marriage that no one is even interested in legalizing polygamy, and the head of the ACLU says otherwise. We tell the opponents of gay marriage that we're not trying to impose our views or affect their own lives in any way, and then a man is driven out of his job for donating money to the "Yes on 8" campaign. We tell the opponents of gay marriage that they're falsely stereotyping all gays and lesbians, and then far too many of us stereotype everyone on their side, from those who would beat a 19-year-old to death without a second thought simply for looking effeminate to those who have supported gay rights for years, or even decades, but who stop short of marriage, as being "haters."

Or we tell other supporters of gay marriage who think it's better in the long run for us to achieve this through the ballot box and the legislature rather than through the courts, even if it does take longer, or who think that those on the other side who worry about court rulings opening the door to legalized polygamy deserve a better answer than "Don't be stupid," well, too many of us told them that they're "bigots," too. It's happened to me more than once over the last few years, and especially over the last few weeks.

Do we not see the inconsistencies here? Or do we just not want to see them?

Granted, we can find reasons and explanations for almost all of these, and I've heard most of them. Gavin Newsom is a publicity hound. The head of the ACLU, speaking about the agenda of the ACLU, was not actually speaking for the ACLU. The people who pushed Scott Eckern to resign as artistic director of Sacramento's California Musical Theatre were postmodern artsy types who just wanted to be able to watch movies about the Hollywood blacklist ironically. The people who would label as "bigots" those who agree on gay marriage but who disagree about tactics, or those who are only 95% of the way toward our position, are just a small and vocal minority. But whatever the justifications and the explanations, these things create an impression, and it's not helping us. At all.

And then there was the now-infamous "Home Invasion" ad:

I saw this on the morning of election day, about an hour before I got to the polls. And watching it, I couldn't help but imagine a similar ad from the other side: Instead of stereotypical Mormons, two stereotypical San Francisco gay leathermen in chaps invade an "Ozzie and Harriet"-style home, tear up their heterosexual marriage certificate, take the wedding rings off their fingers, and replace their daughter's illustrated book of Bible stories with King & King or My Two Uncles. We wouldn't have considered that to be an ad that "satirically skewers" the LGBT community, as the makers of this ad, the Courage Campaign, actually described what this does to the Mormons. We would have gone righteously ballistic, and what's more, we would have been in the right.

The Mormons are such easy targets, though. They believe in such unbelievable things, like "holy undergarments." They dress so uptight. They bother us by coming to the door and wanting to talk about God. They always travel in pairs. They don't agree with us politically and give money to the wrong causes. And unlike the Courage Campaign, they're just so...uncool.

Yes, they really stuck it to the "haters" in that ad. Unfortunately, they also stuck it to me.

I was still fuming when I got to the polling place. I was a textbook study in backlash. I could look past the inconsistencies in how my side has presented its arguments, because I would still be voting for what I believed in. I could look past the awful "No on Prop 8" sign, which had all the appeal and uplift of that warning label on a pack of cigarettes and seemed to have been designed by people who actually wanted to lose. I could even look past the hard-core activists I'd encountered and ended up in debates with that were even more heated than those they had with the "Yes on 8" people. There's reason they get called "hard-core" activists, after all. But the "Home Invasion" ad, that was something different.

I know the arguments for singling out the Mormons. Twenty million or so arguments, in fact. But as much as we want to believe that it does, money does not decide elections—especially on a question like this, which for so many people is still a "gut" issue (and with an "ick" factor). And I also understand why the Mormon Church—or any church, on either side of this question—would be interested in Prop 8. But if we want the Mormon Church to stay out of this, then we should also be telling the churches that took a "No on Prop 8" position to stay quiet as well—or admit that it's not religion mixing with politics that really bothers us, it's only those particular churches that are telling us we're in the wrong.

I voted on every race and other proposition first, because I had an image in my mind of the guys who made the "Home Invasion" ad popping champagne corks and storyboarding their next victory for tolerance and diversity. Because when something works, it gets repeated. Again, and again, and again. And I thought how there would be no chance for the kind of honest disagreement—with no "haters" on either side—that I'd been seeing in my courtyard ever playing out on a larger scale.

I wanted to punish the people who had made that ad. I really, really did.

And at least some of it was personal. I'll admit that. Because twenty years ago, I would have thought "Home Invasion" was a brave piece of truth-telling rather than an well-produced slice of religious bigotry. Or a piece of political therapy, designed to make us feel superior to those "Yes on 8" people rather than to change a single voter's mind.

Because twenty years ago, I not only wouldn't have worried about how that ad was going to haunt our side long after the election was over, I might well have written that ad myself. Today, though, I can see how these things look to the people whose minds we're trying to change. Legal merits aside, going to court to overturn Prop 8 by arguing that it's actually a "revision" and not an "amendment" to the California constitution makes us look silly to most voters not already on our side. Being able to convince ourselves that we're the majority view on this issue, even after so many defeats at the ballot box, makes us look naive. Suing eHarmony to provide same-sex matching rather than using one of the many other commercial dating websites that do just that only makes us look petulant (and that's probably the nicest thing we'll call it when a heterosexual conservative sues a gay-oriented website like for discrimination). But the Mormon ad? Like so many other things that have happened since November 4th, just that makes us look like "haters."

A lot of views can change in 20 years, though. I wonder what the makers of "Home Invasion" will feel about it, two decades from now. Maybe then, they'll have come to know people on the other side of this issue who are anything but "haters," however much they may disagree with us. I know that I have. And maybe they'll have become as tired as I am of hearing that particular word being thrown about so casually, to the point that today, it's almost lost any real meaning at all, and become ane empty buzzword that just makes those people we actually have a chance of convincing tune out and stop listening to us.

Yes, I wanted to punish the people who had made that ad, because they were playing to the worst in us. And we keep saying that we're the ones who know better.

Problem was, the only way I could really do that was with my vote.

So I just stood there, with that little ink-blotter in my hand, and tried to figure out what to do. Vote for what I believed in, or vote against it, in protest against the tactics of my own side.

I stood there for a long time.

I couldn't just stare down at the last question on my ballot forever, though. And in the end, it was the young son who is a joy to behold that tipped the balance, and kept me from casting a vote that would have felt very, very good in that moment but that I would have regretted later, and regretted for a long time afterward. I remembered the last time I had seen him, and how he had reached out across the fence and just wrapped his arms around my neck. I remembered about how I had just stood there, holding him, for about as long as I had been standing next to my ballow, and watching how his mothers looked at him and at each other. It's the same way my wife and I look at each other, and the same way we know that we'll look at our own firstborn. And I can only hope that our firstborn looks at us in the way the boy looks at them.

He deserves two parents who are married. And if their marriage is wrong in the eyes of God, then that's for God to judge, not us.

And of all the threats to my marriage—and there are threats to my marriage—the wedding rings on the fingers of his two mothers don't even make the list.

I voted "No," and then I spent time with people who I knew had voted "Yes" and with people who I knew had voted "No." I wouldn't give up a single one of them, not over this or any other disagreement. Because in the end, we're never going to change anyone's mind on this issue with lawn signs, poking-a-big-stick-in-their-eye commercials, parsing legal arguments, or even blog posts. We're going to do this over the long run, face to face—and by accepting that they have every right to try and change our minds as well. We're going to do it by seeing them for who they really are, as we show them who we really are.

A lot of people tell me this is a naive dream. There's just no reasoning or common ground with "those people." But if even Larry Flynt and Jerry Falwell could eventually became friends, that means that we can do ever better, because most of us aren't anywhere near as far apart as they were. We just have to stop poking big sticks in each other's eyes long enough for us to see it.

And if the alternative is "Home Invasion," I'll stay in my naive dreamworld, thank you very much.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Sentence That Nearly Made Me Stop Editing

"The designers design the designs."

In fairness, the author was quite grateful when I reworked that prose into something else.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pop Quiz

A pirate is:

A) A wacky, lovable character with a heart of stolen gold, like this guy:

B) This guy:

(Hint: It's the one who doesn't have a monkey in his crew.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Updates, Short Stuff, and Various Addenda

First, to the man in the Mini-Cooper who nearly ran over my dog (and me) the other night, it's called a turn signal. It's generally on a little lever that juts out from the steering column. Get to know it.

And with that out of the way...

A Blogging Homage really was an homage. The Bleat is one of the first websites I look at each morning. I think James Lileks is a brilliant if sometimes self-indulgent daddy blogger (and grocery blogger)—just like I someday hope to be. (I'm already working on the sympathetic Lileks hairline.) Of course, I'll know I've hit the big time once I've inspired the kind of repeated bile and "homages" in another blogger, like Udolpho, that James Lileks has. (Warning: Udolpho is rather, ah, colorful. A daddy blogger might even call him a "potty-mouth." Then again, Udolpho didn't like Serenity, which by itself gives me an uncomfortableness.)

Who am I kidding, though? At best, I can probably only hope to inspire something like Madeline's short-lived blog I Don't Hate James Lileks. And wow, do you see what she did? She says that she doesn't hate James Lileks, but she actually does, even though she says that she doesn't. And she clues us in on the joke without using a single emoticon. Now that's blogging!

Moving on, Haldo Longwidget sends frightening word that Bonekickers is getting a second season on the BBC. I'll admit, I am looking forward to the episode where "Dolly" Parton finally faces up to his drinking problem, then discovers that his rehab clinic is built over a tomb containing one of the limbs of William "Braveheart" Wallace. But when DNA tests reveal that this hero of Scotland was actually a Pakistani, Gillian Magwilde and her team rewrite the history books again! (Yes, I know Pakistan didn't exist in 1272 AD, but so do the writers of Bonekickers. And do you think actual history is going to stop them?)

As an editor of many textbooks, I'd also like to say that Gillian and her team would be a complete nightmare to work with:

"Stop the presses! We have to rewrite the history book!"

"But that's what you said last week! And the week before!"

I've actually worked with authors like this, unfortunately.

And with that out of the way...

To the man in the Mini-Cooper who nearly ran over my dog (and me) the other night, it's called a brake. It's that little footpad immediately to the left of the accelerator. Get to know it.

Because the most beautiful word in the English language is still puppy.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Quote of the Day

"It's not hatin'. It's tough love."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tale of the Chihuahua

There are two unyielding facts of our existence. One, I am a dog person. Two, chihuahuas are not real dogs.

Unlike matters of God and religion, no faith is required in this area. You only have to open your eyes and be minimally observant. And unlike matters of modern superscience, no particle accelerators or ice-core samples are needed. The data points are simply there, right outside your door, and generally, you step in them.

Need a case in point? Not long ago, my wife and I took our Golden Retriever out for her regular after-dinner walk, and about two blocks past our door, I realized that her butt looked wrong. The shape was wrong. The color was wrong. The fur was wrong. It was just looked wrong, somehow.

A moment later, my wife noticed it, too. And a moment after that, we realized that a chihuahua was standing underneath our dog's behind.

It had crept up on us like some kind of stealth rat. We had no idea where it had come from or how long it had been there. And each time we chased it off, it just tottered back on its little chicken-wing-boned legs with those giant ears stabilizing its ugly, bug-eyed head.

This chihuahua thought it was the stud of all studs. And the fact that it could stand beneath our dog and still have headroom somehow made our Golden even more attractive to it. The chihuahua always managed to stay just out of our reach, too, and it always came back for more. It was not going to be denied. It was going to live forever under our dog's shapely butt, or die trying.

Finally, one of our neighbors came out to see what was going on. "Oh, that thing," he said. "I hate that thing. He belongs to some woman around the corner. Second house, I think. He's always getting out and trying to mess with my dogs. She can't control him. I hate that thing. Good luck."

And with that, he disappeared back inside his house. Obviously, he had dealt with this monster before, and had had enough.

We tried to get hold of the quivering rat-creature, but with no luck. And then it started to get angry. It wanted our Golden, and it was willing to come through me to get her. It was little Davey, and I was Goliath, and clearly, this dog believed the power of myth was on its side. (Of course, our Golden just stood there with a dumbfounded look that clearly said, "What the hell?")

We only had one choice: Use our dog's comely posterior to lead the little Casanova around the corner and back home. And it worked, too. Sort of. If you count the Taco Bell reject growling and snapping at me and my wife each time we stepped past some imaginary line of ownership he'd laid down around our Golden.

We knocked at the first house. It wasn't their dog, but they sent us next door.

We knocked at the second house. It was the woman with the nasty chihuahua. Unfortunately, her nasty chihuahua wasn't the same nasty chihuahua that wanted to slingshot a Milk-Bone into my brain. Her nasty chihuahua just bounced around by her ankles, yipping and yapping and trying to claw its way out the screen door to help—or kill—its stupidly heroic brother.

The tiny bugger beneath our Golden had tags on its collar, at least. Not that we could get at the collar to read them. It took us almost five solid minutes to lure him out, and then to lure him close, and then to get hold of him, which of course set off the final, epic confrontation that all good third acts have. Bared, snarling, snapping teeth. Flailing legs with nails that hadn't been clipped in I don't know how long. Thrashing body like a facehugger from Alien, and eyes that looked like they were going to pop! and spray everyone on that sidewalk with goo. Everything I absolutely cannot stand about these dogs, all there in my hands and not even two feet from my face.

We got him under the porch light and spent the next few minutes trying to get hold of the tags. The first one was a rabies vaccination. (Thank You, God!) The second was a name and a phone number. (Thank You Thank You Thank You, God!)

I handed off the dog and punched in the number on my cell phone. I didn't recognize the area code, though, and I felt a sinking feeling as it rang. Then an annoyed, manly voice answered, "Hello?"

"Hi," I told him. "We found a dog wearing a tag with this number on it?"

"You found a dog?"

"Yes. A dog. Do you own a chihuahua?"

"A chihuahua?"

"Yes. A chihuahua. Are you missing a chihuahua?"

"You have our chihuahua?"

"Yes. We have your chihuahua. Can you walk over here and get it?"

"Walk over? I'm in San Francisco."

I just caught myself before shouting, "Oh, no, no, no, no way am I watching this monster until you can drive down to Los Angeles from San Francisco!" Which was good, because things actually started to look up after that. His wife was visiting her parents, who lived a few doors down from our apartment. She'd brought the dog with her from San Francisco. I told the man we would take the dog over right away.

The chihuahua, of course, had other ideas. Bared, snarling, snapping teeth—again. Flailing legs with nails that hadn't been clipped in I don't know how long—again. Thrashing body like the facehugger from Alien—again. And then, halfway to our promised land, it started dribbling pee down my arm.

"You know," I told my wife, "if our dog was lost, I'd want some nice couple to find her and bring her back home, too. But this little shit is really ticking me off."

My wife just laughed.

And why not? Her arm was dry.

We got to the house, finally, and we handed off the chihuahua. The nice people thanked us profusely. They even invited us in, but my pee-dribbled arm and I declined. They closed the door, and I walked back to the curb, where my wife had been waiting with our Golden. And I saw something that to this day still warms my heart to no end.

Our Golden had crapped a big, stinky pile onto their lawn, and she was looking up at me with that wagging tail and those endless brown eyes, eager for my stamp of approval on her little act of revenge.

"Good girl," I told her. "Good girl."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

10 Silver Linings of an Obama Administration

1. When Oliver Stone makes his film about the Obama presidency ("O"), Will Smith will finally get his Oscar.

2. For the next four years, we get to hear Arnold Schwarzenegger pronounce "Oh-Baaaaaaaaah-Maaaah..."

3. This time, Maya Angelou will have to write an inaugural poem that's actually phenomenal.

4. Oprah's political payback for her support: Dr. Phil, Surgeon General of the United States.

5. The First Daughters. (Seriously, if you can't put politics aside long enough to admit those little girls are adorable beyond words, then you have issues, my friends.)

6. The thrill of watching MSNBC's Chris Matthews develop full-blown restless leg syndrome.

7. President Obama has been captured on video dancing as badly as I do, so all of the pressure is off. (Thanks, Ellen!)

8. Jon Stewart and The Daily Show now have to prove they can be as sharp and biting with Democrats as Stephen Colbert can be.

9. John Edwards can finally give that little girl her coat back.

10. Smart black children will no longer believe in quite the same way ever again that doing well in school is "acting white." (Seriously, if you can't put politics aside long enough to admit that this is a very good thing, well...)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Man I Want To Be

My wife and I were having one of our usual evenings. She had finally come home after teaching a lab, and I had finally given up trying to smooth out other authors' clunky prose. In between rolling a ball down the hallway for the dog, half-watching a repeat of Top Chef, and filling each other in about our days, we got into one of those half-serious, half-mocking philosophical discussions. The kind that happen after you've both just put in a 12-hour day, already have one drink in you, but are still too wired to really sit still or shut off your mind.

The new neighbors' two little boys were playing in the courtyard, too, and gazing up every few minutes in hopes that we might bring our dog outside. Their eager little stares were so intense, we could feel them even through the blinds. That was probably what set us off on the topic of role models and heroes, and who we would want our own future children to look up to. Who we looked up to at their age, and who we still look up to now. And that night, I realized that the man I want to be is actually two very different people.

The first?

Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Of course.

Every man, whether he admits it or not, wants to be Captain James T. Kirk. Even Jean-Luc Picard secretly wants to be Kirk. Because somewhere deep inside, we all want the big chair that everyone else orbits around, and Kirk has it. We want to be able to stand up for what's right, especially if it means defying orders, and Kirk does. And we always, always want to get the girl, and Kirk does—even if sometimes the girl actually turns out to be a salt-sucking monster with matted hair.

Best of all, though, Kirk gets to bark "Explain!" and then someone, either Spock or some soon-to-die red shirt, immediately brings him up to speed on all the latest plot twists. Having this superpower is seriously important to the male psyche, as any man who has ever found himself put in the doghouse by his wife or girlfriend, while having absolutely no idea why, will certainly agree.

Who could be the second person, though? What kind of man could possibly be the yin to Captain Kirk's yang?

That's right, Tim Gunn, of Parsons The New School for Design, host of Tim Gunn's Guide to Style, and the best thing about Project Runway. Even Jean-Luc Picard secretly wants to be Gunn. He's smart, successful, a high-school championship swimmer, unflappable (except for his hands when he talks), and never, ever has a hair—or, worse, a thread—out of place. Like Kirk, Tim Gunn also makes a difference, even if it is in the life of one style-challenged, on-the-go woman rather than in the lives of six billion sentient beings on a planet about to be destroyed by an unstoppable alien doomsday device.

And just imagine what he could have done with those Original Series uniforms: "I'm not loving these colors. It looks like the NBC peacock exploded, and we all just got one feather. This worries me."

Two very different men. Two very different heroes. But just as Annakin Skywalker was supposed to bring "balance" to The Force, someone has to reconcile these two ends of the Kirk/Gunn spectrum. And only one man has ever managed to do this amazing feat:

Sorry. Kidding.

Only one man has ever managed to do this amazing feat:

That's right, Atticus Finch. My true personal hero.

Every even semi-literate person in the English-speaking world has, at least for a moment, wished that Atticus Finch could have been his or her father. And if they haven't, well, they're lying. Or not even semi-literate. Or think that fathers are an inherent evil in the fascist bourgeois power structure. Or something. (In a nutshell, they have issues.)

And every man, whether he admits it or not, dreams of being even half as good a father as Atticus Finch was. I know I do. Especially the closer I get to becoming a father myself.

I could drone on about Atticus, but you either instinctively know what I'm talking about here, or you don't. And if you don't, go rent the film To Kill a Mockingbird with Gregory Peck. Go now. Or better yet, read the book by Harper Lee.

James Kirk, Tim Gunn, meet the man who combines the best of you: Atticus Finch.

Sorry, Jean-Luc. But as one of our lucky runners-up, we have some lovely parting gifts for you and Senator Kerry...

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Blogging Homage

In honor of James Lileks and The Bleat:

Because everything's better with cheese. Or bacon. But not with bacon and cheese. Because that leads to bacon cheeseburgers, which leads to great, slathering gobs of mayonnaise on buns. And a line must be drawn, if only to save the french fries from the Belgians.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


During my insomnia hours, I watch a lot of non-American television. Sometimes, you find a real gem, like Australia's The Hollowmen. Other times, you realize that Hollywood doesn't hold the patent on crap-tacular programming. You couldn't pay me enough to sit through another episode of Canada's Little Mosque on the Prairie or jPod, for instance. And then there are those shows that are just so bizarre, so relentlessly focused on making their point, and so unbelievably weird, they exist in a category all their own.

Bonekickers is that kind of show.

Think of it as Indiana Jones, only made by and for people who would be ashamed to watch an actual Indiana Jones movie because of its lack of redeeming social activism. Bonekickers follows feisty Dr. Gillian Magwilde and her gender-balanced, racially mixed team of bonekicking archaeologists and put-upon post-grads as they dig their way through one life-threatening adventure after another. I first had the feeling this was going to be a message show when I realized the two white males in the regular cast were the lovable if lecherous drunkard (Professor Gregory "Dolly" Parton) and the weaselly, funding-hungry, and self-absorbed department head.

Despite all this, I desperately wanted to like this show. I really did. Gillian Magwilde looks better in work boots and a flannel shirt than Harrison Ford ever did. Give her that Indiana Jones hat, and I would gladly edit Dr. Magwilde's next book for free. "Dolly" Parton is actually kind of fun to watch, too, even if it is in a too-cuddly-to-ever-really-get-sued-for-sexual-harassment-like-he-should-be sort of way. The show is beautifully shot as well, and the concept so off-beat that no one here in the States, not even Showtime or HBO, would ever dare touch it. And besides, I owed one to the BBC for bringing back Doctor Who and not mucking it up, so I gave Bonekickers a chance.

I lasted two episodes. And I watched the second only to see if the show could possibly get any worse. (It did.)

Now, you might be thinking I'm just an uncouth American, unable to appreciate the subtleties of the government-funded, Euro-entertainment ethic. And you might even be right. In my defense, however, even the reviews in England itself were savage: "mind-bogglingly dreadful," "dramatic goo," "utterly bonkers," and "a clattering bag of madness."


In the first episode, "Army of God," a piece of the True Cross is found in someone's backyard, setting up a heavy-handed tale of peaceful, soft-spoken Muslims and muscular Christians with buzz cuts. You know the Muslim characters are peaceful, because every single one is no more than five-foot-eight, is thinner than even I am, and repeatedly tells everyone how peaceful they are. They also tend to wear glasses, which in the visual shorthand of minor characters lets you know they're thoughtful as well. On the other hand, you know the Christian characters are fanatics, because they lop off a Muslim's head with a broadsword.

Subtlety, thy name is Bonekickers.

In fairness (sort of), there is a very appealing young Christian nurse who works at a hospice. After pricking her finger on a piece of the True Cross (don't ask), she develops miraculous powers of healing. This immediately results in her becoming the unwitting dupe of a televangelist who also happens to be leader of the Knights Templar (don't ask). By the end of the episode, however, she's learned that it's best to remove splinters as soon as you feel them. And that curing terminally ill seniors just complicates everyone's life.

Oh, did I mention the Matrix-style sword fight while hanging from ropes in a cavern filled with burning crosses?

The second episode, "Warriors," made "Army of God" seem like a feathery wisp of understatement. Because in "Warriors," Gillian and her intrepid team help to elect Barack Obama.

In fairness (sort of), the candidate—named, with trademark Bonekickers subtlety, "Senator Joy"—was a strange mish-mash of the charisma and personality of Barack Obama, the Swiftboated war heroism of John Kerry, and the deep, comforting voice of David Palmer from 24. Which is a good, because each time Senator Joy's security platoon surprised Gillian and her bonekickers with guns drawn, he could apologize for startling them, and they were instantly soothed despite all the American firepower and dress shoes trampling their dig sites.

Senator Joy is losing the election, you see. "They" will never allow a black man to become president, so of course, Senator Joy's only hope is traveling to England and joining forces with a band of European academics. This is not the long shot you might think, however, because American history holds a dirty, shameful secret, one that only Gillian and her team can bring to light.

It turns out that during the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Yorktown was not actually won by Generals George Washington and Comte de Rochambeau, as all the history books say. In fact, it was actually won by a runaway slave named Oban, who just happens to be a direct ancestor of Senator Joy. The Father of Our Country, however, repaid this hero and military genius by turning him over to the defeated British forces so that he could be shipped back to England for execution. Because "They" would never share credit with a black man.

Oh, did I mention that Oban also won the Battle of Yorktown by wielding Excalibur?

That's right, Excalibur. The sword.

And did I mention that along with Oban, General Washington also handed Excalibur over to the defeated British forces?

Needless to say, in spite of gunfights with the shadowy "They" ("Them"?), and much non-gunfighting time spent just generally standing around and praising Senator Joy ("He's even more impressive in person." "He can make a difference." "He can change things." "He gives me hope again."), Gillian and her bonekickers dig up the evidence the good Senator needs to make his case. The episode ends with Senator Joy walking out on stage at Gillian's university, ready to destroy the cult of America's One Indispensable Man, and on foreign soil no less, which in the minds of the Bonekickers production team is somehow going to salvage Senator Joy's poll numbers and gain him the White House.

Uh, yeah. And I'm going to write a new script in which Elizabeth May of Canada's Green Party becomes Prime Minister by revealing that Canadian Founding Father Sir John A. Macdonald was actually a cannibal, and during a press conference held at the University of Alabama.

I think it'll be a big, big hit. Or at least help some Canadian with insomnia finally get to sleep.

The Most Beautiful Word in the English Language... puppy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tale of the Hypno-Coin

If you've read Wallowers in Hyperbole, you'll know that I help moderate a Yahoo! group that basically deals with two subjects—politics and hypnosis (which actually do go together, still). We're preparing for some major changes in that group, which has me thinking back over the almost 10 years or so I've been involved with it in some form or another. And one of the best discussions threads we ever had involved everyone sharing their first experience with hypnosis.

I was about eight years old, and I was the hypnotist. I'd bought one of those little hypno-coin spirals out of the back of a comic book, the ads of which were full of crap-tacular wonders to turn the eye of any boy too young to know better. Sure, the sea monkeys never did build that amazing underwater castle, or really do much of anything except die after three days. Sure, the blueprints for building your own robot turned out to be for nothing more than a cardboard box you could put on like a costume. Sure, the hovercraft you could build at home with a vacuum cleaner engine meant having to explain what you were doing when your mother found you tearing apart the old Kirby upright. But I was young, and I absolutely believed that it would work. Even the disappointment of those x-ray glasses not really showing me the neighborhood baby-sitter's underwear couldn't shake my faith in the hypno-coin. Or in what I could pull off if I just did what I saw on television.

So I convinced two of my cousins to try it out with me at our grandmother's house. And I got my seven-year-old cousin into a trance, too, with her left arm floating up on its own, way up over her head.

Then I freaked.

Suddenly, this was real real, not just something I believed was real. I shouted a certain shocked, four-letter expletive for the first time in my young life, which of course brought my cousin straight out of trance. She gazed up at her arm above her head, and her eyes went wide, and then she started screaming. Which of course set off my six-year-old cousin, who had been watching all the while.

Two screaming kids, and me shouting "expletive! expletive! i am so dead! expletive!" And then all three of us scattering like rats throughout the house to find a hiding place, as our grandparents shouted "What's going on up there?!" and stomped around downstairs with those slow, heavy footsteps that only a couple of seventy-year-olds can make.

The seven-year-old and I kept up a brave, united front once we were found, but the six-year-old ratted us out. And my hypno-coin was taken away, never to be seen again.

Years later, after my grandfather had died and as my grandmother was moving into a nursing home, my mother and I went through that house from top to bottom. We had to figure out what to send with her and what to store, what to donate and what to throw away, but I found myself looking for the hypno-coin. As we found one hidden stash after another of tens and twenties and even fifties—neither grandparent really trusted the other, so each would hide their money (so the other wouldn't steal it), then forget they had ever hidden it, and then blame the other for stealing it—so I knew the hypno-coin had to still be there, somewhere. We found letters, photographs, insurance policies, Sears catalogs from a decade before, half-finished bird houses, and still more tens and twenties and even fifties, but no hypno-coin.

I miss that little piece of crap. I wish I still had it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Wallowers in Hyperbole

I've spent a good chunk of the time since Election Day trying to convince a lot of younger (and a few older) McCain voters, mostly good people I would otherwise trust my future children with, to stop trying to kickstart "Obama Derangement Syndrome" into existence. Admittedly, the fact that in my copious free time I help moderate a Yahoo! group basically dealing with two subjects—politics and hypnosis (which actually do go together)—hasn't helped, but at least I expected this kind of reaction there. But from so many non-Internet friends and family? Since Tuesday, I've heard and read everything from "I'm moving to Mexico" to "Texas, or Alaska, or Wherever should secede" to "He's not my president" to "Time for a real revolution" to stuff I couldn't post here even if I replaced all the vowels with asterisks.

Tuesday night was not the outcome I was hoping for, either, and I agree that the next four years are going to be "interesting," to say the least. But in my own life, I've seen this country survive Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, a Bush, Clinton, and another Bush. (I can't speak about LBJ. I was in diapers then, but I suspect we survived him as well.)

So, to all my friends who are presently wallowing in hyperbole, or actively looking for excuses to become even angrier and more depressed, take a breath. Please. We can survive four years of anyone in the White House. (Yes, we can!) And I, for one, refuse to imitate Barbara Streisand by saying that I'll flee the country just because the other guy won an election—and then not actually do it. Of course, I stopped taking seriously anything Barbara Streisand said a long time ago, and well before she claimed to spend her evenings with James Brolin trading notes on each other's scripts. (I really see the subtle influence of Streisand's Yentl on Brolin's Pensacola: Wings of Gold. Really.) And I'm not sure that Susan Sarandon could ever really handle the ego deflation that would come with no longer being able to claim the Neocon Conspiracy™ is listening in on her each and every phone call. (Susan Sarandon really is that important and dangerous to their plans. Really.)

Seriously, I didn't vote for Barack Obama, but the man in the White House isn't all-powerful. Support him when he's right, which at times, believe it or not, he will be. Work to convince him when he's not. And then oppose his policies and decisions if and when he won't be convinced.

I don't envy anyone, Democrat or Republican, who has to sit in that office and make those decisions, and the man Barack Obama will be six or nine months from now won't be the same man he is tonight, or even who he was six or nine months ago. Presidents never are. Barack Obama won the election, though, so he's earned the chance to prove me wrong about him—and if he actually does, no one will be happier than me.

I'll be praying for the good health and success of President Obama—and not just because the idea of "President Joe Biden" is what really scares me. But because after the last eight years, no one is going to convince me that repeating how the majority of Democrats and the Daily Kos crowd smeared and belittled George W. Bush at every turn in the most vicious and personal ways, only now having it come from our side toward Barack Obama, is the right way to go and will somehow be good for this country. Going that route makes us no different than the people who opposed Bush at every turn not because of his policies, but because he once choked on a pretzel while watching a football game (he's a redneck!), or pronounces it "nuke-you-ler" (he's a moron!), or actually prays for wisdom and guidance (he's the American Taliban!).

Or worse, because in reality, he's actually a shape-shifting reptile (he's an ALIEN!).

They expect this same kind of reaction from us, because it's the reaction too many of them would have. And the reaction too many of them have had, over the past eight years.

We're better than that. Or at least, we should be.

And so are they. Or at least, they should have been.