It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Friday, July 06, 2007

USA vs. Brasil Under 20 World Cup Result...

...if you haven't seen the game yet and have Tivo'd it, look away.

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USA 2, Brasil 1

Brilliant! Brilliant!

The Adu move that led to the winning Altidore goal will be on You Tube for a year.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Independence Day Hangover

The title of this piece doesn't actually refer to me. Whilst not a teetotaler, I rarely have more than a single alcoholic beverage in a 24 hour period. The one exception was at Zimpter's wedding, where I consumed no fewer than 5 glasses of Martini and Rossi Asti Spumante during the festivities. Fortunately, this was over a five-hour period, as Zimpter loves to dance, dance, dance. If memory serves, I saw at least three of him dancing at the end. I should have stuck to the beer.

No, the hangover in question was that undoubtedly suffered by the organizers of the music for our local community's Independence Day celebration. First a little background for non-Americans.

Here in the States, the 4th of July is remembered for the Colonies Declaration of Independence from Mother Britain. Actually, it was from Father Britain, since George III, looney tree-whisperer, was the ruler at the time. Anyway, this particular declaration, written by Thomas Jefferson, was offically adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4th, 1776, and that date is recognised by all Americans, including yours truly, as the founding date of the Republic. This is even though the first technical declaration was passed two days earlier as a resolution presented by the not-so-well known Richard Henry Lee. As Lee was not as flowery a writer as Jefferson, the text of that resolution is also not so well known. It read:

From: The Thirteen United Colonies of America

Dear George, Royal Majesty and King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and King of Hanover,

Piss off.

Love,

The Continental Congress


I understand a later letter from Lee to Jefferson says very much the same thing.

Anyway, here in the States this glorious celebration is traditionally observed with cookouts, picnics, and exciting displays of fireworks. In the nation's capital, Washington D.C., the fireworks are preceded and accompanied by the National Orchestra, in a resounding program of classical and patriotic music.*

However, where I live, the city fathers and mothers, in their down to earth wisdom, decided to eschew such pretentious and moribund tastes, opting for something altogether more characteristic of the local colour**: A really loud honky-tonk, country-western band.

I'm not certain I've addressed my views on country-western music on this blog. My general feelings on the genre drift somewhere between "unreserved loathing" and "convulsive repulsion."

Now, in all honesty, I've a fair amount of respect for folk styles, English, Scots, Irish, and American. I'm quite fond of Irish music and certain strains of Bluegrass here in the States, which are based in part on some English folk traditions. However, "country-western, " and in particular the "honky-tonk" style generally makes me want to puke in a bucket.***

The Missus and I knew we were in for a bit of a rough time when we arrived at the venue shortly before dark and heard the following "lyrics" being warbled at high volume to the large crowd assembled for the festivities:

"Please don't touch my willy, cause I don't know you that well."****

The Littlest Fando was completely oblivious, thank heavens. I suspect that in the fall a number of juveniles will find their way to school administrators' offices for absent-mindedly singing that tune in class.

Anyway, this was followed by a song that referred to the "three things that every redneck knows they need": Women, alcohol, and ammo. It was bookended by a song about "Losers," in which the lead singer identified himself with the title class.

The musicianship of the performers was actually quite proficient, once you got past the "drop dead in the holler" bad lyrics. However, this performance contained three of the things about country-western that make my skin crawl:

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1. The sappy fiddle. For some unearthly reason, country-western performers seem to think that the fiddle was an instrument designed to reproduce the sounds of a weeping, despondent tomcat. That's just one man's interpretation of course, but the goal I believe is to draw as much emotion from the strings as is humanly possible. I expect it's a bit like listening to Paganini at his most emotive, were he overly sentimental, extremely drunk, and being attacked by a rabid badger.

2. The steel guitar of woe. Along with the rabidly sentimental fiddle, there is usually a lap steel guitarist who joins in on the maudlin theme, sliding notes left and right, determined to seek no single note upon which to find purchase or for that matter, consonance. Every time I hear it I find myself thinking, "Just pick the bleeding thing up man, and rock out with it!"

3. The utter lack of self awareness. Now, it is very true that in some country-western venues, such as The Grand Old Opry or Hee Haw, there is a playful, if annoying self-parody that plays upon the impression held by some faux-sophisticated citizens of the nation, many who live in The Hamptons, that people in the south are backwards marroons. When Minnie Pearl leaves the tag on her hat, this is a joke.

However, there are also many country-western bands who truly seem to think that over-intoxication, barfights, and juvenile, if lurid, sexual references are the keys to a pleasant evening out.

I have a general rule about this. If you cannot tell for sure which category the performers are in, it's usually the latter.

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Now, even all together, as they were in the band in question, this would be rather ordinary within this genre. Even the cowboys hats sported by at least two of the band members, both of whom looked as though their closest proximity to an actual horse was at the local racetrack, from the safe distance of the bar, was not out of the ordinary.

However there were two added aspects that definitely pushed the band in question from annoyingly foul to seizure-inducing awful. The first of these was the "dancing" of the fiddle player. This chap was a tallish bloke, with unnatural blonde hair and a sagging midsection. Unfortunately, this did not stop him from shimmying around the stage in a series of pelvic wiggles that made one think of what Charo would be like, were she to trade in the guitar for a fiddle, have a sex-change, and put on about 30-40 pounds. If one of the blokes in Brokeback Mountain had been on the range with this chap, he'd have chosen the sheep. This was camp with a full-sized tent and a roaring fire.

The second thing was the constant references by the front man to rednecks, white trash, and losers, all with the kind of off-putting, affectionate denegration of someone who looks up to this class of people because they make him look good.

Somewhere, in the vast mass of humanity that is America, Jeff Foxworthy was shaking his head and thinking, "You Philistine!"

The fireworks were brilliant though.

A local radio station provided some patriotic music that was piped in. We knew exactly which station it was because their little jingle popped up between every song. Somewhere in the crowd, some poor child is thinking that America is all about freedom, democracy, equal rights, and the local soft-rock station.*****

Well, I suppose three out of four isn't a bad average.

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*In Britain, the date is celebrated with much beer drinking, just like every other day in Britain.

**I'm jesting, of course. If you read my post on local busking, you'd know that a truly representative local band would play acid-folk guitar music in a haze of marijuana smoke and political conspiracy theories.

***Yes, I am "sugar-coating it."

****This is also the theme song for the absolute worst sexual abstinence program in America

*****If you should ever see anyone stand at attention with their hand over their heart at the sound of a Peaches and Herb tune, chances are you're close to where I live.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Van Helsing of Staten Island

I want to tell you a story. It is a story of a man that few really knew and even fewer wanted to know. I first heard of him while reading an article in the Odd News section one cold July evening. You might think that is an odd place to make your friends, and you would be right Sherlock, since that's why they call it the Odd News but I digress. Most people who heard or read of his adventures called him a looney or rat-excrement insane. I called him Van Helsing.

Little is known of where Van Helsing came from but we can be sure that it was a place of hellish nightmares and lots of bad wine, which was probably just fermented elderberries mixed with Scope or Listerine. I met him in a soup line in Soho in 1988, he was surely different but with a mind like a steel trap and he had his own humidor, which I thought eccentric. But it was toward the end that Van Helsing became obsessed with what he called "children of the night". Whenever we met he stated that dark, demonic forces were at work in the city and he took it as his responsibility to flush them into the light of day.

So he can be understood and not maligned I will reveal through my journal his last days so the reader can decide for themselves if Van Helsing was mad or a hero.

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3 June. Coney Island. It is a glorious morning on the island and I've come across a few shekels which I will shortly turn into a Nathan's hot dog and a shaved ice. So many decisions, will it be relish and mustard or should I go for the gusto and get the kraut and onions. I throw caution to the wind and load up on the sour creation and follow it with the soothing beverage.

I must be off soon to meet with my little cadre and hear word that Van Helsing will join us today. I have been worried about Van Helsing lately as he seems to be brooding over some unearthly conundrum and had lost a few teeth the last time I saw him. What is it about Van Helsing that I'm drawn to? Is it his reckless manner, his love of life, or maybe it's the humidor. I must admit it would be pretty cool to have one of those, although I don't smoke.

The boys are in their usual humor as I arrive at the abandoned railroad tressle. "Gentlemen, how does this day find you?" I inquire as I step up to the fire barrel.

"They found Stumpy dead last night", Peg Leg Pete said as he stoked the fire. "Yeah, he was face down in the gutter up on 38th with a bottle of Mad Dog in his hand."

This was disconcerting as I had seen Stumpy only a fortnight before at Bill's 39th Street Tavern. "Had he been ill?" I wondered aloud as I sat on a bucket to get a grip on myself. "Naw, it was probably the rot gut he had been drinking for the last 38 years."

"Or could it perhaps have been something more sinister." It was Van Helsing who was staggering out of the bushes, zipping himself as he joined our small circle. "I put it to you gentlemen that this was no mere death of an alcoholic but a death caused by Nosferatu himself."

"Nosfa-who-who?", inquired Pete, "You haven't been sniffin' that magic pixie dust again?" Pete seemed to doubt Van Helsings contention but I was more open to the possibilities. "What are you saying Van Helsing, do you think it was a vampire?"

"Joe, I have no doubt it was. Pete, what were the circumstances?" Pete shook his head in disbelief but gave up the information if only to appease Van Helsing. "He was laying in the gutter covered in vomit, man what do you think." Van Helsing retorted, "This is important, was there any blood at the scene." "Sure he had an ulcer I think." Van Helsing rubbed his beard and pulled out another fragment of tooth, I think it was part of a bicuspid.

I was frozen in fear at the thought of this hideous beast devouring the very essence from poor Stumpy as he tried vainly to defend himself with the Mad Dog bottle. Shaking myself back to reality I noticed that Van Helsing was making his way up to the tracks. "Where are you going Van Helsing?" was all that I could manage for the tremors. "I have to stock up on some supplies, vampire hunting is not to be taken lightly." It was the last time I saw him for over a week.

13 June. Salvation Army on 103rd. It had been a hard night and I slept only in fits wondering what had become of Van Helsing. That was when I saw him sitting on a cot in the corner of the building, he had a large bag next to him as he sat studying a book. "Van Helsing, I feared that we had lost you. How is the hunt for the vampires going?" Van Helsing bounded to his feet and clasped his hand over my mouth. "You fool, don't you know they have their eyes and ears everywhere, this hideous army of darkness."

I pulled away and noticed that he was clutching the bag that had previously sat next to him. I inquired of him what it contained but feared reproach for asking such a personal question. "It is means by which I will dispatch those horrid, un-dead villains to their ultimate doom. Let's see, I've got a bottle of holy water, a bat with a nail in the end, and an old copy of Penthouse I found in a dumpster." Curiously, I inquired why he would need the Penthouse magazine. "Vampire hunting is lonely business Joe" was his answer as he gathered his tools of destruction and hastily ran out into the dark Gotham night.

30 June. Staten Island Burger King. I had found a letter stuffed into my shopping cart underneath my large bag of Bugles. It was from Van Helsing and read: "My friend. I must request your presence for a lunch meeting at the Burger King in Staten Island on Saturday. I cannot explain further, suffice to say that it could be a matter of life and death." I had received the letter on Thursday and was now waiting for Van Helsing in the outdoor kiddie play area. Nearby, some employees of the restaurant were throwing bun scraps to birds that were lurking around the small park next to the parking lot.

With almost superhuman agility Van Helsing leaped from an elm tree in the park and started to beat the crap out of one of the birds. The birds squawking was awful as Van Helsing time and again brought his bat to bear on the injured flyer's skull. "I'm killing a vampire!" was all that I could hear above the din as Van Helsing unleashed his full fury on the tiny creature.

I jumped up from my seat and ran to where the attack was taking place yelling as I ran "What the hell are you doing Van Helsing?" As fast as he had begun Van Helsing ceased delivering the blows to the bird as it lay on the ground shaking. "I had to dispatch this evil scourge from the earth," he said as one of the employees tackled him and held him down whimpering, "It was just a peacock you freak."

It was a short time later that the police arrived and hauled Van Helsing off to an unknown fate. As I look back at it days later while filling out my diary I still shiver at how close I was to an actual vampire and where else they could be lurking. Waiting for me to sleep again.

- Turkeyfoot Joe Harker

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Well, it's certainly nice to have Stew back.

Of course, I really just wrote this to push the naked death post down a bit. (You can wait to read that after you're done with this one. There are no pictures, if that helps.)

Still, even a newly-minted, self-made dictator like myself, Generalissimo Earl Franco, erm...Fando, needs a few lackeys about to rough up the malcontents.

Therefore, Stew, I command you to run out right now and strike Nuffy across the face with a feather-duster. That ought to get him and his allergies in line rather quickly.

Well, if you can find him...

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Naked Tragedy

All right, I've been resisting this story for a week or so now, mainly because it's so obvious, but also because, after the bit about the (late) death row inmate who wanted to go out with a rim shot, vultures have been circling the offices.

I'm sorry, please replace the word "vultures" with "lawyers."

(F. Johnny Lee hates that joke, as he hates all jokes. Erm... lawyer jokes, that is.)

I'll begin again.

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It all started with the news that a South Carolina couple had been found deceased at the bottom of a 50 foot tall building in Columbia. This in itself was sad and somewhat remarkable news, but the story really hit the Internet circuit when it was revealed that the couple were completely nude.*

The sudden, stark exposure of this naked fact naturally led to the wire services streaking to pick up the bare essentials of the raw story and flesh it out by writing numerous sentences like this one, with lots of cheap and blatant references to nudity.

Also, according to the AP... or actually, to be quite frank, in the AP story itself ...the word "sex" was used at least once, just to show they could.**

Actually, only the prurient minds of the Associated Press would, pardon the expression, leap to the possible conclusion that these young, naked lovers (presumably, mind you) were engaged in sexual behavior at the time of their demise. We at The Dictionary of Unfortunate Ideas do not like to dwell to much on the sordid possiblities, especially as this is the second death-oriented post inside a week.*** So, please allow me to suggest some alternate activities that these unfortunate, now famous, jaybirds could have been engaged in, in contrast to the AP's immediate assumption that this was a shag too far.

  • Nude bungee jumping (and the cord slipped)
  • Nude tandem building climbing
  • Nude tandem Jackie Chan stunt doubles
  • Nude tandem chimneysweeps
  • Nude windowwashers
  • Nude Birdcouple of Alcatraz
  • Nude astronomers
  • Nude roofers
  • Skinny dipping high dive act
  • Exhibitionist Super Dave wannabes

Oh, all right. It probably was sex. I can just hear the people at the AP chortling in ironic triumph.

*You were probably wondering why we didn't include a picture.
**Which is better than the N.Y. Post headline: "Couple Goes Out With A Bang!"
***Which is really making me sweat, and I'm fully clothed...at least right now.

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