Friday, November 30, 2007

You Can Sing About Rainbows, and Not Imply You're Gay

James Finn Garner, political satirist, author of Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, and a friend of this blog, has alerted me to a video he's posted at YouTube. 'S pretty funny...

Sez James of the premise of his new book, Recut Madness: Favorite Movies Retold for Your Partisan Pleasure, (due out in May 2008)
In these days when a person can read newspapers and watch networks that do nothing but reinforce their previously held views, why should they have to endure uncomfortable ideas in the movies ? With a laptop and the right software, opposing viewpoints can be whisked into the dustbin, leaving minds amused and unconflicted.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"It was along about that time that Blind Lemon Jefferson came through..."


I'm just a sniveling little suburban boozhie white-boy, up to his elbows researching Old, Weird America for a book that'll sell four copies before it hits the remainder bin, but it destroys me -- just destroys me -- to know that there was a time, long before I was born, when a young, musically curious Hobart Smith could be holed up in his parents' cabin in Smyth County, Virginia, trying to learn the "git-tar," only to have a black work crew come through town accompanied by a pretty fair git-tar player name o' Blind Lemon Jefferson.

O' course, Hobart and Blind Lemon couldn't pop into and just look up chords and tablature, could they. There are some tradeoffs.

Check it out yourself.
You might want to listen to Hobart playing "Cripple Creek," too (upper left-hand corner).

Monday, November 26, 2007

You Have Purchased an Age-Restricted Item

She has a wonderful voice, that Nice Lady inside the Self-Checkout machine at the Purcellville Giant. A melodic voice, a mellifluous set of pipes. The fruity way she says "Welcome!" when you step up to the machine, a strange, slightly foreign-sounding lilt on the "l" that suggests hours and hours in the recording studio to get that "Welcome!" just right... Not sexy, not alluring, just...welcoming.


By this time I will have already scanned my Bonus Card, so it's always touchingly out of whack when she says, "If you have a Bonus Card, please scan it now." Way ahead of you, sister! But I love the darling, cheerful way she reassures me a second or two later, "Your Bonus Card has been accepted!" as if there had ever been any doubt, that I'm just so lucky today, I've just been accepted at the world's most exclusive club...

On she goes, the robotic nature of the prerecorded numbers being assembled inside the machine assuaged by that purring voice, both Mom and Not-Mom... "One...forty-two. Two...ninety-nine. Sixty...six...cents. Savings, thirty...two...cents." The word "savings" must also have been one they worked on for hours in the studio, to get just the right mixture of optimism tempered with congratulation that you -- yes you, you lucky, lucky bastard! -- have just saved thirty...two...cents! But it's not a cloying, phony-sounding congratulation, either. It strikes a perfect balance: Just great, great acting.

I have a definite order in which I scan things. If I'm buying beer or wine, I scan that first, to set in motion the pain-in-the-ass process of the ID check, which has to be done by the (human) attendant. Next, all the stuff with UPC bar-codes. This is the painless part of the process. I save the produce, which you can't scan in the UPC machine, for last. I do this for two reasons. First, looking up each item individually is annoyingly painstaking; you've been scanning 15 items a minute up till now, and tonight's salad alone will take twice that long. But I also save this task for last because the Nice Lady says some more wonderful things...

"Weigh your [Gala apples]... Move your [Gala apples] to the belt... Enter your [limes'] quantity and press 'Enter'... Move your [limes] to the belt..."

Some while ago, I was chatting with a youngster who was attending the Self-Checkout lines. A young man of obvious humor and intelligence, he allowed as to how he found Nice Lady's voice kinda sexy. I agreed warmly, and told him to wait just a second so he could hear her say my absolute, all-time favorite robotic Self-Checkout Nice Lady phrase. "All right, you ready? You listening? OK, here goes..."

"Move your [sweet onions] to the belt..."

We both howled.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Tramps Like Us

Honey, it's me.

Yeah, I'm gonna be a little late. I'm stuck on Highway Nine -- buncha goddamned suicide machines out here -- Just a sec... Hey! Goddammit, I'm talking to you! What cage were you sprung from, drivin' like that! Goddamned hemi-powered drones... Yeah? Well, fuck you too! How you expect to drive combin' your goddamned hair in the rear-view mirror! Fuckin' broken heroes...

Sorry, hon. Just blowing off some steam. Jesus, these kids. They don't have a frickin' idea what it's like, sweating it out on the streets of a runaway American dream --

What? She said what? Goddam -- put her on. I said put her on. Yeah, yeah, I won't blow my stack, but Jesus, that girl...

Wendy. Honey. Punkin'. What are you doin'? That boy is bad news, honey. Bad news. Your dad knows these things. The other night, when I caught you with your legs around his velvet rims and your hands strapped across his engine, I coulda cried. Just cried. That boy doesn't have your best interests at heart, honey. What? What the hell kinda talk is that? Don't let him in, honey! He wants to guard your dreams and visions? Excuse me while I piss myself laughin'. That's boy-talk for he wants to get into your pants, honey. That's all that means. Take it from me, punkin'.

And all that scary talk about dyin' with you on the streets tonight in an everlasting kiss? Jesus, you're scaring the shit outta your old man, hon! That's Child Protective Services stuff, princess! You think they wouldn't throw me in jail if I didn't kibosh that, like, immediately? Damn right they would! Ain't no daughter of mine gonna die with no punk in the goddamned streets in any kinda kiss! Not on my watch!

Hon, could you hold on for just a sec? I gotta phone something in. Be right back.

Sid? Hey, yeah, it's me. Look, I'm drivin' along past the Cold & Stark amusement park. Buncha kids out there on the beach, huddled in the mist. Yeah. Direct violation of city code. Beach is closed this time-a year. Could you get somebody on it? Thanks. Gotta run, trying to talk my daughter off the ledge. Bye.

Wendy, you there? Thanks for holdin', hon. Just bringin' home the bacon. Could you tell your brother to stop playin' that sax solo while we talk? Thanks.

Now look, hon. He's probably fed you some line about bein' a scared and lonely rider, wants to know if love is real, blah, blah, blah. But you can't possibly believe that crap he's feedin' you about loving you with all the madness in his soul, all those empty promises about getting to "that place" (you gotta know what that means, dontcha?), walkin' in the sun -- it's a load of crap, honey. Total crap. Don't you remember your friend Rosalita? The one who ran off with that worthless guitar-player, and now they're in Camden workin' Sal's pizza joint 'cause he blew that record company advance on shoes and haircuts, and ended up owing two hundred grand to Warner Brothers? You want to end up like that?

What? Born to what? Born to run? Run what, a Seven-Eleven? Jesus Christ!

Look. I'll be home in a minute. We'll talk more then. But I don't want that boy comin' around no more.

And tell Mary to stop slammin' that goddamned screen door!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Polling Place

Worked the polling place in Leesburg this evening.

Easy gig. Folks roll up to vote, you shove a Democratic Sample Ballot under their noses. They take it, or they don't. They go inside to vote. They consult your Sample Ballot, or they don't.

The odd, unexpected thing was the joshing and camaraderie among the poll-workers on either side. These folks are friends and neighbors, and party affiliation is more a matter of unaccountable eccentricity than some angry passion. When I got there, the Dem activist I was relieving hugged everybody there, regardless of party affiliation, and went home. By the time my spell was over and my relief had arrived, I'd joined the Old House Owners' Club of Loudoun County, given a Republican poll-worker a recommendation for someone to do some restoration work on his house, and given another GOP worker my email address.

In this collegial atmosphere, any joking is immediately assumed to be friendly. One of the GOP workers asked, in a loud voice, how an intelligent fella like myself came to be associated with a bunch of rascals and good-for-nothings like the Dems. Unprepared for the question, I mumbled something lame about how my parents, good Minnesota Democrats, raised me right. But I filed the thing away, waiting for an opportunity to present itself.

It was a cold and windy evening, and the chill began to assert itself in my still-tender hip. I did some of the stretches that they taught me in my Physical Therapy sessions. One of the GOP guys asked me what I was doing, and I launched into my standard story: Osteonecrosis, hip replacement, yadda yadda. Then I expanded on it a bit: I'm so grateful, I said, to have been born when I was, when hip replacements are even possible. Imagine, I expounded, if I'd had this condition in, say, 1930, when I might have been the sole provider for a family of four, finding my hip going painfully south on me: How screwed would I have been then, with primitive medical science, no social security net, no health insurance, absolutely nothing standing between me and painful penury for my family?

Yeah, I guess you'd have been in pretty bad shape, said my interlocutor. Yeah, wow, that would have sucked.

I let a moment pass.

"And that," I said, "is why I'm a Democrat."

No thunderclaps resounded in the sky. Nobody fell to the ground, speaking in tongues. No battlefield conversions.

But I remain quietly proud of my zinger.

It has the added virtue of being absolutely, unarguably true. A humble thing, but mine own.