Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Moderate "Engagement Status" suggestion for Facebook

To Whom It May Concern (aka that young jerk who built this site and is worth the price of a small country...)

I have been a Facebook user for about a year now, and I wish to register a complaint. Your "relationship" possibilities are severely limited at best. In truth, they stink. You have "single," "married," "in a relationship with," and "bitterly divorced from." In my current situation, this will not do, as I am planning a wedding with a woman who hates the terms "engaged," "fiancee," and "willing to be seen with him in public."

I have compiled a list of possible relationship statuses I might be able to use, as opposed to the ones you already have. Please consider them as friendly suggestions and not irritable rejoinders to an otherwise shoddy social networking site.
" chained in impending matrimony to ..."
This would work well, as "chained in" seems to me a more accurate verbal phrase, connoting duty, fidelity and, yes, the mandatory.

"... is successful in boozing up and weakening the marriage-related resistance of ..."
As it happens, I had to pour about two gallons of Thunderbird down her throat before she would even agree to sit quietly while I spelled out a life together. After that, all she required was mimosas.

"... is temporarily insane regarding legal commitment to ...
What was I thinking? Dear God in Heaven, what was I thinking? I already got her to pick up the tab for dinner; I don't need that again!

"... is pushing his luck concerning commitment with ..."
As she never fails to remind me. Which reminds me. I'm pushing my luck.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bullets in Madison Emotes at the Empty Bottle

Special to the Flannel Diaries

It's about seven-thirty on a Tuesday night and I'm being dropped off at the Empty Bottle on Western Avenue on the beautiful West Side of Chicago. My girlfriend, the Woman who Holds the Bottle Opener to the Beer That Is My Heart, has an annoyed, peeved look on her face. I get that look a lot. It's a masquerade for true love. Especially for when I make her drive me around the city.

"So...have a good time," she intones, checking her watch and thinking about cookies. "Enjoy the show. Don't stay out too late."


"Tell the band I'm sorry I couldn't make it, but I had to, you know, whatever."


"And be sure to take out the garbage and walk the dogs when you get home."

"Abso....wait. What?"

Before I can protest that I surely will get back late, that I won't enjoy the show, and that I have no plans to be in any condition to do anything productive upon my return, she speeds away, still holding the keys to the car that I realize, belatedly, I'm supposed to drive home that night. Screams after her are unheeded. Frantic calls to her cell phone remain unanswered.

This sort of shit always happens to me when I'm sent to review a Bullets in Madison concert. Of course, none of it is their fault. I mean, it sort of is when you figure that if they didn't play these dives at these ridiculous hours, and if they would only spring for a press limo to take the reporters like me home...actually, it is all their fault. Bastards. I will make them rue the day they even formed a band. I have that power.

I am a music reviewer. I review music.

And occasionally, I listen to it.


I stalked into the Empty Bottle surly and mean. The place looked like the kind of joint BiM loves to headline: walls and a ceiling. I sidled up to the bar and growled at the guy behind the counter, "Gimmee a whiskey. Double. Leave the bottle."

He casts an eye over me, measuring me for manliness and ability to control strong drink. "I think you might want a nice Lemon Wedge," he offered. "They're tasty and nutritious, and there's nothing like--"

"Whiskey," I growled again. John Wayne doesn't have shit on me, I tell you. "The bottle."

"You're going to be on the floor in twenty minutes."

I ignored him, and eventually he went off to fetch it. It's at this point that somebody comes up to me. "Hey, man. Nice to see you again."

I cast a bleary eye in his direction. "Who the hell are you?"

"Brendan. Brendan Losch."

"Oh, great. But I already ordered my drink, so..." I made hand motions indicating that he could leave me alone.

"No, I'm the guitarist. For the band? We've spoken before. You've interviewed me like twenty times."

"Oh, Bren-DAN Losch. I thought you said BREN-dan." I made a face that I hoped looked friendly. "So. Uh, what are you doing here?"

Brendan made an effort to be patient. "We're doing a show tonight. You're reviewing it, right?"

"Right. Right." I made a mental note to do just that. "But you can't get me free drinks, right?"

Brendan stared at me. "No."

"Oh. Well...good. Got to support the economy, right?"

He eventually stalked off, looking pissed. Man, musicians and their big heads. I made another mental note to make a comment in my review about his shoes or something. However, before I could compose a pithy bon mot, I was interrupted by the bartender, who returned with my whiskey. I downed it in one gulp, just like they do in the tough-guy movies. Blech. It tasted like paint thinner.

"That's bad for you," the bartender remonstrated. "You're going to have the megrims."

I ignored him.

"Sure you don't want that Lemon Wedge?" the bartender offered.

"Go away," I muttered.

Three or four more whiskeys later, the house lights came on and the crowd started cheering. The show was apparently starting. And I was ready to review the show. After all, I am a Music Reviewer, right? It's what I came here to do, yes? So here's the body of my article, compiled straight from my painstaking notes during the performance:
Bullets in Madison rocked the joint. They really did. We Became Your Family When You Died is one hell of an album, I tell you. Full of...meaning and...vibrancy...junk like that. Man, my head is killing me...That trumpet thing they do? Woo. Powerful stuff...Don't know about all the bugs on the wall, though...This band, they've got rhythm...they've got music...who could ask for anything more? Ha. What is with the moving walls, though? Now they're moving and they've got bugs on them. Crap. Why didn't that jackass bartender just give me a Lemon Wedge? I hear those are good. Well...oh, man, I love this song! "Wiiiild thing...You make my heart..." ...wait...that's the must be over. What did I miss? Damnit. Oh well. I'll get some stuff about them from Wikipedia or something. Maybe I can go get some after-show interviews right now...Ugh. Floor won't stay steady.
Unfortunately, before I could corral any of them for additional comments, the band had sped off in a hired limo, champagne and caviar practically flying out the windows, Losch tossing a few oyster crackers in my direction and laughing as I scrabbled on the pavement for something to eat.

After a moment, they were gone, the last remnants of their esoteric performance ringing in my ears.

I was alone in Chicago. No review written. No car. No money. And a seventy dollar bar tab with a smug bartender waiting for me inside.

The perfect setting for a closing paragraph:
In a top single from their new album, "Sarah is a State of Mind," vocalist John Morton sings, "You slam the door shut to break it through / No one hears you." That may apply to Sarah, whoever she is. But BiM has slammed the door shut, doublebolted it, and set fire to it, which makes their breaking through it all the more impressive. Not to mention the fact that it is impossible not to hear them.

WBYFWYD is an album that pulses with a heartbeat never heard before in the Chicago indy rock scene, and a melody that grabs you by the lapels and throws you off your seat. The more BiM tours and gets this music out there, the better.
There. That should do it.

Now...where's a hotel?

Oh man. I should have taken the bus.

Monday, December 21, 2009

This new phone is a total time suck. I waste more time on stupid crap than I ever did and I'm reading less than ever in my life. However, the voice blogging is pretty cool.

Friday, December 18, 2009


These accounts are not invented. They are written here verbatim. Especially #3301.
These are my students.
I am their teacher.
We are all so screwed.

Teaching Moment #1826

ME: Okay, open your books to page 23.
KID: What page?
ME: Twenty-three.
OTHER KID: Okay. Wait, what page?
ME: I quit.

Teaching Moment #1827

ME: Some of you forgot to put title pages on your papers.
KID: You didn’t tell us to.
ME: It says so right there on the assignment.
KID: But you didn’t read the directions to us.
ME: So I need to type up the directions and read them to you?
KID: We’d definitely do better.
ME: I quit.

Teaching Moment #1894

ME: You understand that the transition in this paragraph doesn’t apply to--
KID: Doorknob!
ME: What?
KID: What? I didn’t say anything.
ME: I think you just said…doorknob.
KID: (sarcastically) Sorry!
ME: That’s it. I quit.

Teaching Moment #2002

KID: Is it true Shakespeare was a fag?
ME: I quit.

Teaching Moment #2003

ME: All right, let’s open our books to—
KID: Is it true you’re a fag?

Teaching Moment #2157

ME: Now, for film criticism. We have to be analytic. So what did you guys think of the film Zombieland that just came out?
KID: It sucked!
ME: (writes “It sucked” on board) What else?
KID: You fucking suck!
ME: I couldn’t have been as bad as Zombieland. Let’s not say things we can’t take back.
KID: Okay, you’re right. I’m sorry.

Teaching Moment #2897

KID: I’m sorry, but I just don’t like cops.
ME: Why not?
KID: They hassle you. Even when you’re not doing anything wrong.
ME: So you’re basing your opinion of an entire group on the actions of a few? Sounds to me like what racists say about blacks.
KID: Yeah…Yeah, you know what? I think I changed my mind. I don’t hate cops.
ME: Good for you.
KID: What?
ME: Kid, it’s a beautiful thing to be able to change your mind. As the poet Taylor Mali once said, “changing your mind is one of the best ways of finding out whether or not you still have one.”
KID: Mali? He’s a fag.
ME: That’s it. This time, I really quit.

Teaching Moment #3010

ME: Movies don't deliver as much info as texts. In fact...
STUDENT: Yeah they do. I was watching Dodgeball, and--
ME: No. No no no. You did not just deputize a Ben Stiller movie into your argument.
STUDENT: It rocked. And it had a deus ex machina in it.
ME: So what is a deus ex machina?
STUDENT: The deus ex machina, man! It was…it…
ME: Yes?
STUDENT: Forget it. I quit.

Teaching Moment #3194

KID IN HALL: (to friend) Hey there, bitch.
ME: Ahem.
KID: Oh…sorry…I meant, ‘Hey there, ho.’
ME: I quit.

Teaching Moment #3209

Kid: What are we doing today?
Me: It’s on the syllabus. And the board.
Kid: Man, you always say that!
Me: And it’s always true, right?
Kid: But still!
Me: Yes? You have some further point to make?
Kid: That’s it. I quit.
Me: No no…I’ll race you to the door.

Teaching Moment #3301

ME: So in the Ninth Circle, Satan is gnawing on the heads of the three worst sinners in existence, right?
HONORS CLASS: Yeah, yeah…(writes this down in notes)
ME: And what might Dante be implying with this particular choice of sinners?
HONORS KID: He’s telling us…it’s wrong…to eat people?
HONORS CLASS: Yeah, yeah…(writes this down in notes)

Teaching Moment #3307

KID: What’s this word supposed to mean?
ME: “Anecdotal,” right? It means hearsay.
KID: What’s hearsay?
ME: You heard it through someone else’s account.
KID: What’s an account?
ME: It’s a telling of…wait a minute, why are you not looking this up yourself?
KID: Look it up where?
ME: …
KID: You just quit again, right?
ME: Shut up.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ode to Jackson, MI


The night is wrapped like a woolen blanket
About a pair of irritated feet.
Three a.m.
The women in doorways beckon to their men,
One hand behind the back
While shoving them through the door.
I have seen them all before
In some dimly lit, half-forgotten place.
I have heard the story
Of forgotten glory
And a newly remembered face,
But this is a book I couldn't complete
Before its return-by date
And a movie I couldn't finish
Because it was a school night
And I couldn't stay up that late.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Doug, from MTV's "The State." True teenaged angst.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Andrew Hicks is back! Check out the reposted A Year in the Life of a Nerd. He's no Jay Pinkerton, but he's good for a chuckle.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dinner at John's

SOUTH SIDE, CHICAGO--John had the nerve to complain that I don't write enough in here. So, here goes:

I'm at John's place now. And guess what? The service here is terrible. I waited ten minutes for a slice of pizza and had to bring my own beer. Babies crying all over the place. Moms crying about their lot in life being married to John. DCFS constantly popping by for "social visits." Please. You people make me sick.

Or, to explain it in verse:
The cries of the innocent fill this house
But the cries of the parents outweigh them
First- and second-born children dumped in my lap
Like a bag of laundry, except the laundry is washed
With plaintive voice and outstretched hands they protest their innocence to the world
But the world knows better
How you like them apples, John?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It had to happen sooner or later.

I caved in. I sold out.

I went against my values and beliefs. Oh, the "right" path is not always easy, but there are times when it's at least clearly defined. Discernible. At one's feet.

And I turned my back on it. Because it was convenient. Because of the cheap thrill.

God, I feel dirty. Cheap. Hypocritical. I'm not who I'd planned on being in my adult life after all.

I did it and I have to admit it. Or it'll eat me up inside.

I got an iPhone.

I'm typing this lying on my back.

I downloaded chess and history trivia apps like a junkie haunts a street corner.

I downloaded a library of pics of my dogs and threw together ring tones featuring The Black Keys.

It's all so trite and stupid. Normally I'd be reading or grading. Not looking for free movie clips. Dumb. Dumb.

But it feels so @right.@

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Famous Tweets in History

"Jury done deliberating. Should be out in no time. Having a cool refreshing drink of…wait…oh shit."

From Sock-rock-tes at 5:32 p.m. 399 B.C.


"Wait'll my dad hears about what this Pilate guy pulled. He's gonna *crucify* him."

From NumberOneSon at 7: 41 p.m. April 3 CE 40.


"Totally lost. Better name this place Hispaniola and rape all the women or school children five hundred years from now won't get a day off."

From CC_Globetrotter_3 at 3:01 p.m. Oct 12 1492.


"Suck It @King George: Don't Fucking Tread On Me!"

Colonizzy#17 at 5:00 a.m. July 4 1776.


"Hey @Johnny, thanks for taking care of those urder-may arges-chay. Barbeque tonight?"

From BigDog at 8:15 p.m. Oct 3 1995.


"Are you shitting me? U'd better be shitting me."

From GoreGalore_2000 at 11:14 p.m. Nov 29 2000

"Are you shitting me? U'd better be fucking shitting me."

From JohnMcCainforPrez at 11:14 p.m. Nov. 4 2008


"Just take a short trip, they said. The judge'll have forgotten *all* about it, they said. Pricks."

From romanpolan at 10:01 p.m. September 29.


"This is stupid. It'll never catch on."

From diggerblue at 2:45 p.m. September 12 2007

He whose opinion matters most here

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My Most Inspirational Teacher Nomination from Last Year

He didn't get it. But he should have. For posterity:

My most inspirational teacher was

…Gustaf Van Cromphout. I had him for Early American and Romantic Literature. He spoke five languages. Threw gobbets around the way I would Simpsons quotes. Could trace a word’s etymology two millennia back without breaking a sweat. But all of this was secondary to his real tool: passion. He made you care. And he cared about his students. He remembered me almost a decade after I had him as an undergraduate. Van Cromphout died three years ago, but before he did, he’d made it clear that death was the only thing that would keep him from teaching.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

From today's paper

The History of the Death Panels. Ought to be required reading for town hall and tea party idiot protesters.

Teachers Sell Lesson Plans. Personally, I don't see it for myself (I can't even give mine away sometimes), but if we're going to be held accountable like people who work "real jobs," then we ought to be able to sink our thumbs into the free market like, say, investment bankers, mortgage brokers and the like.

Megan Fox talks about being an actress. For some reason, the people offscreen aren't laughing hysterically. P.S. Take your top off, Ms. Fox.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

TV Pilot Script: The D.C. Guys

A co-worker and I whipped this up last spring in a desperate attempt to cash in on the addled tastes of whoever picks shows for television and escape our humdrum jobs, not to mention avoid work. So...yeah. We avoided work, all right. For about ten minutes.
VOICEOVER: In 2009, a couple of disgruntled, possibly-loaded-on-the-job high school teachers packed up and went to Washington, D.C. Their mission: to expose any elements remaining of the evils of the Bush administration, and to get a cushy job in Legislative Affairs. Whatever the hell that is.

Today, they're living on the fringe in the nation's capital, watching, investigating, and racking up debt. They're currently wanted by a government that refuses to acknowledge their existence, and their savings are almost gone. If you have a problem, and no one else can help, and if you can find them...maybe you should hire...the D.C. Guys.

OPENING MONTAGE: Magnum PI ripoff music. Scenic shots of D.C. The Capitol Building. The White House. The Lincoln Memorial. A homeless guy pissing in a dumpster.

CHARACTERS:GREGG STUDLYBUFF, tall, ripped, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and two days' worth of beard. And sunglasses! Mirrored, aviator sunglasses. He leaps out the door of his Potomac-bank trailer wearing his mirrored, aviator sunglasses and spends an exciting minute and a half parallel parking his Dodge.

ADAM ACHIN', medium build, conservatively dressed, smoking a cigarette and staring arrogantly out the window of his swank, three-bedroom apartment. Behind him, a trio of Senegalese men implore him to come back to bed. Adam resolutely ignores them.

Gregg finally gets his car parallel parked. He steps out. Through the reflection of his bitchin' aviator mirrored sunglasses, we see the Capitol Building. Gregg smirks confidently, pulls out a cell phone and calls Achin'.

CUT TO: ACHIN'S SWANK APARTMENT. Achin answers the phone.

ACHIN: "Yeah."

SENEGALESE MAN/BOY #2 (from the bed): "Revenu au lit, le grand homme. Les heures sont peu."

ACHIN: "Quiet, lover. Daddy's working."

GREGG: "Achin'. I'm at the Capitol."

ACHIN: "And?"

GREGG: "Uh, they still won't let me in. The restraining order paperwork went through."

ACHIN': "Damn."

GREGG: "Yeah. So, what do you want for lunch?"

PREVIEW NEXT WEEK'S EPISODE: Club sandwich special! And a quick trip to the doctor's office for penicillin.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

How I Dealt With a Crazy Pregnazoid This Morning.

Truth be told, I work with a lot of women. There are men in my department, I don't deny it, but I see little of them. Whether that's because they're too busy doing their jobs or shaking down hallway toughs for soda machine change is a speculation I will absent myself from for the moment. At any rate, their illegal shenanigans leave me plenty of time to listen to complaints from my female coworkers instead.

Not all of them. Not even half of them. Most of the women I work with are just that: women I work with. They do their jobs and then some. And then they disappear into the vastness of whatever lives they've managed to carve out for themselves: with husbands, volleyball teams, Peace Corps volunteering or taking care of elderly family members. They smile and say hi in the hallways; they occasionally vent, while I provide a shoulder to cry on or a convenient hand with which to spank their pilate-toned asses. I'm nothing if not sympathetic.

No, my spleen is reserved today for the more vocal women in my department. There's about two or three of these harpies, and they have their Greatest Hits of complaints, which all boil down to one of a few possibilities:

1) They're pregnant.
2) They have kids to take care of.
3) They're pregnant and have kids to take care of.

And that's pretty much it. These are trump cards, the likes of which an unattached, freewheeling suburban playboy like myself cannot possibly hope to contend with. If I so much as hint that I'm tired from an evening of misbehavior, I'm immediately reminded that, well, it must be fun to be able to leave the house without carrying diapers and toys for the infant. Or it must be nice to not worry about little Jimmy's soccer practice. Or whatever. Confronted with such assaults on my lack of responsibilities, I usually slink off to some remote corner to work, ruminating on the unfairness of a world where they have to drive kids to the mall and I get to watch reruns of Baywatch instead.

I know, right? I've got it made.

Consider Emily's ambush this morning, after a curriculum meeting (Emily, by the way, is bursting-at-the-scenes, shit-crazy pregnant, and her husband, who works in the building next door, seems to find lots of places to be besides at her side)
EMILY: How are you this morning?
ME: Oh, you know. I'm hanging in there.
EMILY: Yeah. Try being pregnant some time.
ME: ...
And for the record, no, I am not exaggerating that conversation. Word. For fucking. Word.

Well, I don't need Miss Manners to tell me, Relax, she's hormonal, she's going through chemical spikes that would put twelve monkeys on anyone's backs for life. Besides, what possible responses do I have, anyway?
EMILY: Try being pregnant some time.
ME: I'm really sorry to hear it's been tough. It'll be better soon. Trust me.
That would work. But this conversation happened at 6:45 a.m., when I'm legally stupid. Besides, come on, if I'm going to be that diplomatic, I'd better be getting a piece of tail afterwards. And since these particular gardens have already been seeded, and are about to yield their harvest, there's not much incentive for me to plant a shovel in there...yeah, you get the idea. So:
EMILY: Try being pregnant some time.
ME: That's a biological impossibility for me, Emily. But maybe in my next life, I'll be able to experience the miracle of birth like you.
Eh. It would work, provided I could say it in a tone completely free of sarcasm. So we'd better stick to likely possibilities.
EMILY: Try being pregnant some time.
ME: Fuck off.
That one's probably the most realistic. As long as it's muttered under the breath. Which I would forget to do.

Let it rest, I tell myself. Emily will come around. We're old friends. Okay, we're friends. Okay, we're vague acquaintances, but we'll be capable of neutral discourse again some time. Your ire will subside. You'll forget about it in a year or two, and when she's got her kids actually on her hands, you can laugh at her and text pictures of the bottles of beer you'll have consumed instead of chasing after diapered maniacs and watching reruns of Elmo.

These remonstrations work for a while. Until I round the hall...and meet Crazy Pregnant Lady #2! Immediately, my mind goes preemptive and my Sensitivity Valve is turned to Full Blast!
MARTHA: How's it going for you?
ME: Oh, you know. I'm hanging in there. But at least I'm not pregnant, right? Ha ha!
MARTHA: Ha ha ha! Good one, Gregg!
ME and MARTHA: Ha ha ha!
And suddenly I'm in the sun again. I am a Man Who Understands. I Put On No Airs. I'm a Good Catch for Aspiring Mothers (or would be, if these nice young pregnant ladies weren't already married--except for Cassandra in Accounting, that filthy whore). And all I had to do was totally debase myself. Which is still sticking in my craw, even these many hours later.

Look, for the record, I don't want to be a woman. Ever. I can't believe the shit they put up with, not excepting assholes like me. And childbirth...blech. I can't even survive an episode of NOVA if there's a hint they're going to show the baby enter the world. So I've got nothing to complain about.

But Emily, really. You're pregnant. You're not exactly carrying a cross to Golgotha.

And besides, admit it: it was fun getting that thing in there, right?

Anyway, you'll have to excuse me. I have to go and not be pregnant andy busy with kids.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Pages Ripped from my Old Notebooks: Spring Break 1996

Setting: Cumberland Island, Georgia, on a weeklong camping trip

Todd had been missing for two days, and when we finally found him, he was huddled next to a tree, covering himself with mulch to stay warm. “You could have just slept in the tent last night, you know,” Tso told him.

“Yeah, you’d like that,” Todd hissed through shivering teeth. “I don’t trust you. You’re too handsey when it’s dark. Now get me back to camp before I freeze to death.”

“Fine,” said Tso, pouting over the prospect of a sleeping bag alone. “But now you’re on kitchen duty for the rest of the trip.”

Todd cursed and tried to crawl away so he could freeze to death peacefully instead, but Tso hoisted him up on his back and carried him back. Todd fought valiantly, but when he realized he was stuck doing pots and pans, he gave up and wept bitterly.

I myself had managed to put together a rather impressive still in the woods, and after we imbibed a few pints of my home brew (made from rubbing alcohol, toadstools and flavored lemonade stolen from the trip leaders), I proposed a hiking trip through the wetlands. For much of the journey, I amused myself pummeling Tso in the back of the head with rocks I'd picked up along the way. Tso rolled cigarettes, and Todd smoked and rolled more cigarettes. I threw rocks. Tso threatened me, which hurt my feelings, so I cried and threw more rocks at him. Ah, sweet bird of youth. Nothing like your early friendships.

Ten minutes down the path, we spotted an alligator lying ahead of us. Todd immediately squealed like a six-year-old told she just got free tickets to a Hanson concert and jumped into Tso’s arms. Tso tried not to look pleased at this.

“Maybe we should go around it,” Tso said. “You don't mess with those things.”

I laughed at him since he was an idiot and continued pelting him with rocks. “Nah, if we throw something sharp at it and yell in its ear, the dumb thing will run away and leave us alone. Just watch where you step around him.”

“No kidding, genius,” snarled Todd, stomping off, tripping over the alligator’s tail and breaking three of his teeth. Tso, upon seeing the great beast lift its head, shrieked like a six-year-old girl finding out that the Hanson concert had actually been cancelled because they’d all married a seven-year-old rival, sprawled to the ground and began covering himself with leaves.

(Meanwhile, 1,114 miles away, Dale Carlson sat up on his couch, watching illegally downloaded pornography. “I’m getting a feeling my friends are in danger,” he said to himself. “Like they’re going to get eaten ... Eating. That reminds me. I'm hungry.”)

Monday, October 05, 2009

Having the Sex Talk with Your Kids

A How-to Guide

Have you had the talk with your kids yet? Dr. Digger Blue (PhD, University of Phoenix Online) explains why it's more important than ever to start a conversation about sex with your kids.

From The Oprah Winfrey Show, "How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex with a complete stranger and Oprah Winfrey."

When your child asks where babies come from, do you break a sweat and blame it on the stork? When your kid wants to know what a rim job is, do you immediately turn them to a back copy of “Car and Driver”? Dr. Blue, a trained family therapist certified through hours of watching “Full House” and "Family Matters" in his teens, says not to bring it up yourself is a big mistake.

“This is the information age we live in,” he said. “Your kids are two clicks away from finding out all about the Kama Sutra. If you don’t act first, you’re at a large disadvantage, and God knows, if you’re an average parent these days, you’ve got just about all the disadvantages you can stand: laziness, average intelligence, bad eating habits, kleptomania and that nagging gambling problem you haven’t had the moxy to tell the wife about.”

In his new book, “Let’s Talk About Sex, Not Baseball: A Modern Parent’s Guide to Raising Screwed-Up Children,” you get a few tips on how to prepare your child for the inevitable Next Sexual Revolution:

Make them listen to you. Don’t take no for an answer. Have your daughter put away the Barbi dolls; have your son ditch the baseball glove. Or vice versa. No time like the present: dive right into the subject. What’s your kid doing right now, for example? Playing with his friends? Mom, nothing will bring you closer to that kid right now than sticking your head out the window and yelling, “Hey Jimmy, we need to talk about genital hygiene.” Go ahead. Try it.

Euphemisms can work. Not so much for the kid: they’ve heard it all on the playground. But you might need to take baby steps in this direction, which is absolutely fine as long as you get the phrases straight and consistent. Appendix III of my book has a lexicon you can feel free to adapt for any purpose whatsoever. Just make sure to keep the noun-forms and verb-forms parallel with each other; I can’t tell you how embarrassing it is to say “Uff her from the bow-wow, son, but remember that the hoo-hah won’t go through without a little slick-juice” without including a proper direct object.

Dramatizations and demonstrations can work! Who cares what Freud thought? Or the AMA, or APA, or any of those Philistine tongue-cluckers! Why, with just a few action figures and the proper sound effects--Free excerpt ends here

Want more? Up yours: buy it here and bring me some moola!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Another stinking trip to the doctor...

It's like going to Confession. I'm not Catholic. Never have been. But I watch a lot of Hitchcock, so I have an idea of what goes on in the confession booth. And I really don't see the difference:
SETTING: Closed, windowless room. I am wearing a smock, which rhymes uncomfortably close with "frock." I'm shivering in the cold, fluorescent light. I feel exposed. I feel dirty. I feel imperfect. I feel, in short, like a devout Catholic.

DOCTOR: (entering) Well, what seems to be the problem?
ME: Well, see, I've got this back problem. It, uh, it has been many years since my last physical.
DOC: How long?
ME: About four years.
DOC: And you're only coming in now?
ME: No, see, I've been to other doctors. But they couldn't help me.
DOC: What did they diagnose you with?
ME: I...can't really remember.
DOC: Well, good thing we've got it on computer file. (Looks it up.) They diagnosed you with atrophied muscles and a poor overall physical condition. What have you been doing about it?
ME: Why, everything they've told me to, sir.
DOC: Don't lie to me, boy. You'll tempt the wrath of medical science. You been stretching like they told you to?
ME: (raising my arms like a Chicken Dance) Woo. See?
DOC: Cutting down on the drinking?
ME: Yep. Frigging bar closes a half hour earlier Monday nights, so...
DOC: Vegetables? Fiber? Vitamins?
ME: Those are all things you can buy at the supermarket, I'm told.
DOC: I'm going to diagnose you with imbecility. Your penance is six Hail Marys and a swift kick in the ass.
ME: But I'm getting prescription painkillers, right?
DOC: God yes. A whole bucketful.
ME: (assuming the position) I knew there was a reason choir boys keep going back for more...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Second Look at The Grapes of Wrath

Reread this book as part of Roselle's Banned Books Week and just could not put it down. You've undoubtedly heard of Steinbeck's epic story of the Joads, Oklahoma farmers turned out of the Midwest by the Great Dust Bowl who travel west to California to find work only to face prejudice, low wages, tyranny, starvation and, for some, death. The book won the Pulitzer in 1940 and was made into an acclaimed film starring Henry Fonda. The narrative is on the scale of Moby Dick (some lucky s.o.b. has probably already compared the two works--I'll get to it someday); the style is fluid and engrossing; the allusions abound. As Peter Lisca wrote in 1958, Grapes "was a phenomenon on the scale of a national event. It was publicly banned and burned by citizens, it was debated on national radio hook-ups; but above all, it was read."

Confession: Yes, I gave a copy of this book to Matt in 1999. Yes, I was advocating Marxism. Trust me when I tell you, I'd never read Marx or Lenin or Trotsky, and didn't know I was advocating Marxism. I only thought I was trying to open a pair of eyes to the stark realities of the world's evil: "Look, you dimwit, see what happened in those camps? See how a bunch of farmers starved next to fertile farmland? Acknowledge my wisdom on the subject, shit-for-brains!"

Well, that's over and done with. I have since paid the price for my deeply-held naivete and nascent socialism with many a booze-laced lecture on macroeconomic theory and history in many a Manhattan bar. I have been humbled. I have been given my own copies of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman. And when teaching Grapes, or any other early-twentieth century work of literature, I always preface it with, "Take the politics with a grain of salt."

And yet, shifting away from my own sad story and Matt's desperate attempts to educate me, I think it's a mistake to write off Steinbeck as "socialist," and therefore "unreliable," "biased," or any of those icky, undesirable pejoratives currently applied to anyone on the left who argues for reform. Sure, Steinbeck was a socialist. He hobnobbed with Lincoln Steffens. He networked through Francis Whittaker. He was pro-union. He's not exactly subtle about this, either: Grapes of Wrath gets tiresome sometimes with his preaching the necessity of organization. (I don't mind preachiness, but I prefer when authors don't carry theirs out with a megaphone.)

No question about his political affiliations. But then, he also researched life in the Hoovervilles firsthand. He saw the strikebreaking. He witnessed the starvation, the deprivation, the cruelty. He saw the needs of the poor unacknowledged. If anything, according to most scholars across the ideological spectrum, he downplayed all of it in his novel. For example, in one of his articles on conditions in a migrant camp, he uses imagery and language that couldn't have gone easily past any editor of the time:
"There is more filth here. The tent is full of flies clinging to the apple box that is the dinner table, buzzing about the foul clothes of the children, particularly the baby, who has not been bathed nor cleaned for several days. This family has been on the road longer than the builder of the paper house. There is no toilet here, but there is a clump of willows nearby where human faeces lie exposed to the flies - the same flies that are in the tent."
--"Death in the Dust," available at
And that's not even getting into the violence and murder against vagrants, organizers and the like. Economic theory and hard-core politics must be considered when contemplating Steinbeck's thesis, but such niceties would hardly register with the Joads. The causes of the Great Depression were complex. But what would that matter to a woman trying to keep the flies in the filth from the weeds off her baby? What would it matter to Ma Joad when she can't get Rose of Sharon milk? Or soap for her kids to keep clean? Finding a place for your family to sleep without drowning is also complex.

So, keeping the clangs of literary Historicism and New Criticism in mind, let me offer my own argument on how to read this book today: Steinbeck is telling us that the people are the answer. Yes, they may organize and form unions (I should point out that I'm a card-carrying member of the NEA myself). Yes, they may strike, they may agitate. But the farmers who come at all close to survival do so by banding together. When one is sick, others pitch in to help. When a child dies, a mountain of coins are left outside the mother's tent to bury her. When children play, they must cooperate with each other, or the game falls apart; when a job becomes available, workers must spread the word, even if it means their own wages and prospects will thin.

In short, we're to think of the group. There's no Orwellian Man Behind the Screen deciding how best to ration jobs, food and drinking water. The people are Big Brother. And I see little in the history of any oppression you can name to contradict the argument that, when the downtrodden function together, they tend to make out better.

Probably, implementing such a system of "be nice to each other" is pure fantasy. I don't believe so, but then, I didn't study political science. My doctor tells me I have to cut down on the red meat; I don't believe it will make me live any longer, but then I remember I didn't go to medical school. Whatever. I am an English teacher though, one who subscribes, however sheepishly, to the notion of Literature as Catharsis. As such, I'm fully capable of drawing a line in the sand between my ideals (things that may or may not be possible, but nevertheless must be strived towards) and reality (John Q. Citizen doesn't like being told he's stupid or oppressing the poor, especially when he's stupid and oppressing the poor, and votes). You cling to your ideals and acknowledge reality. But to scream, "Steinbeck is corrupting his readers!" or "Libelist! Red! Liar!" is reactionary, demagogic, and small-minded in the 21st century.

(Not that people are lining up to urinate on Grapes like they were when it first came out. But just stick your head in a town hall meeting these days and it doesn't take long to see a correlation.)

When asked in a recent intervew by Bill Maher for a new metaphor that would come in handy in today's world, Bill Moyers instantly replied, "We're all in the same boat." That's Steinbeck's novel in a nutshell. It was true then. It's true today. And any book that stumbles on the truth, from whatever direction, deserves our study and attention.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

From this month's Utne:
The General Social Survey, a periodic assessment of Americans’ moods and values, shows an 11-point decline from 1976 to 2008 in the number of Americans who believe other people can generally be trusted. Institutions haven’t fared any better. Over the same time period, trust has declined in the press (from 29 to 9 percent), education (38 to 29 percent), banks (41 percent to 20 percent), corporations (23 to 16 percent), and organized religion (33 to 20 percent). Gallup’s 2008 governance survey showed that trust in the government was as low as it was during the Watergate era.
So the media took the biggest bath in the wake of a political scandal (reported on by the media), whereas education comes out just slightly ahead of religion (in the wake of Catholic sex abuse scandals). I don't really know what this reveals about John Q. Citizen and his notions of what's trustworthy or not. I do know it's not reassuring about John Q. Citizen, though.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How to Propose Marriage

Like most financially strapped, psychologically unstable, manic-depressive suburbanites, you're probably contemplating getting hitched. Which means you have to propose to her. (Or propose to him, since, as I've been told, women are now allowed to approach men as equals. Whatever that's about.) Regardless, you now have to ask the woman of your dreams to spend the rest of your life with her in wedded bliss and with a deficit-inducing middle income tax hike. This means you'll have to find the right words with which to deliver your proposal, words that will moisten her eyes, excite her passion and cripple her common sense.

Of course, since you're not me, your proposal is, without question, lame and stupid, with all the romance of a piece of fish left under a car seat overnight. No matter. Select a proposal from one of the following templates, and get ready to enjoy a matrimony which will, based on actuarial tables, weight and true sexual preference, will last 12.3 years before she leaves you for a tax accountant. Congratulations!

#1. Proposal Through Mime

Me: (elaborate pantomime of grace and beauty)

Her: (watching)I'm sorry, I don't're in a box? You're finding the door? You're choking in the box and you can't get out? A front of me? I don't get it.

Me: That's because you're stupid. Anyway, let's get married.

#2. The Magic of Puppet Theater

Dexter, the Hand-Lover: Hey Kim! It's a real good idea if you marry Gregg!

Her: That's not a puppet. It's just a sock with a mouth painted on it in White-Out.

Me: Yeah, but since I think I've got you cold anyway, I didn't really feel a need to put a lot of effort into this.

#3. The Sublimity of Haiku

Me: The woman of my dreams/ Is off to France as we speak/ How bout you instead?

Her: I'm hungry. What are you making for dinner?

Me: A wedding imminent,/ Or one that is eminent?/ Whatever. Wed me.

Her: Are you getting these off those fortune cookies there?

Me: Hackneyed poetry/ Stirs the intellectual/ But not a dumbass.

#4. Lexical and Syntactic Diagramming of Proposals 101

Me: If 'you' is the object of the verb phrase 'wants to marry you,' then what is the noun phrase that functions as a subject?

Her: I have an English degree, you jackass.

Me: What's the subject?

Her: ...Thunder Rod.

Me: And which word is the adjective?

Her: Conjugate this. (obscene gesture)

Me: ...That will be all for today.

#5. Use a Word Problem

Me: Gregg is traveling from Chicago to the Star Trek Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas in a car going 65 mph over a distance of 1,752 miles while Kim is hitchhking from Phoenix, at a distance of 296 miles. Gregg's car is low on oil and in general shoddy condition, which hampers his rate of progress by 15 percent incrementally. Meanwhile, Kim is wearing her 'Love me for my mind' outfit, and so will manage to catch a ride averaging 15 miles from every third passer-by. If Gregg leaves his destination at 10:27 a.m. Wednesday after downing two pints of vodka, and Kim leaves hers at 7 a.m. the preceding day wearing high heels, what time and date will their wedding take place?

Her: That depends. Will there be pie?

Me: I guess...

Her: Right after the pie is gone, then.

Friday, July 31, 2009

More about the Citizen Patriot another day. I'm constantly bemused by their editorials. Yesterday's, for example: Congress wanted to pass a bill lining up successors to House members in case of a full-on attack on the Capitol. The editorial calls this "arcane" and says, "to date, last we checked, this hasn't happened." Sure. Like, on Sept. 10, the Pentagon hadn't been hit by a plane. Archaic. That's a hoot. I must shut up now, or I'll never run out of steam.

Dry Shakespeare

JACKSON, MI--Going to a play by the Bard cold. It's been a while.

Normally, before partaking of the culture that is the Michigan Shakespeare festival, I read the plays beforehand. That is, if I'm not familiar with them/teach them/seen movie versions of them/ bored others to death with my renditions of them. Once, I saw Pericles dry, and had no earthly clue what was going on. Ditto Cymbeline, to a point.

Last night, it was As You Like It. I think I did okay. (It's about two guys in love, right? ...Just kidding.)

The true treat of these plays is in their performance, sure enough. Unless it's something like Hamlet, which, I'm sorry, is impossible to enjoy for a casual theatergoer without an intimate familiarity. Otherwise, why would you care about a single word he says? You'd be shouting from the seats, "Kill the jerk already! My babysitter has to get home at nine!" A fair criticism, to be sure--the comedies, however, in my opinion, are tedious to read. You need a performance to liven things up, to interject feeling and timing into the humor, nuance, facial expressions, physical violence, pratfalls, the scatological, etc. And last night's crew did this to decided success.

The true test of the performance: Do I want to go back and read the play? I do. The Citizen Patriot had a point about the staging and early scenes and music, much though I hate to admit it. But I can forgive such techniques in the face of, off the top of my head, Rosalind's (Jennifer Drew) sheer strength of performance. Watching her snap, "Woo me!" in male guise to the bemused Orlando was worth the price of admission alone.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lines of poetry written while stuck on the subway en route to Brooklyn at 4 a.m. because I met Wiggo in Williamsburg and am getting back to Bay Ridge where I will sleep on a hardwood floor on shards of broken glass

The city sleeps well
But I, on this coffin car of death
Hate all equally

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fuck you, Mr. Chips.

Fuck you, Mr. Chips. And fuck your fucking life story.

You had it rough, I grant you. New, apple-cheeked, fresh-faced go-getter arriving at a new school, nervous about discipline. You gave a troublemaker 100 lines to copy after misbehaving, and then had no troubles after that. You bemoan the loss of the boys' friendship; it's the only part of the triumvirate of "respect, obedience and love" that you're missing? Fuck you.

You teach Latin grammar? Dead languages? With no standardized tests to worry about? Fuck you.

You get a hot new wife and she teaches you to be loved? And you're an overnight sensation? Fuck you.

You continue teaching, without worrying about administrators breathing down your neck concerning relevance, learning standards and the like? Fuck you.

You retire and live on school premises, with a woman to cook for you and look after you? Fuck you.

You come back as headmaster in reduced capacity? Fuck you.

You die happy? Fuck you.

You wouldn't last ten minutes in today's schools, Mr. Chips. Conjugate those verbs, asshole.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Why I will not go to a bar with half-nude waitresses (more than one or two dozen more times)

Head out to Woodale, and there's not much there. A theater, some overpriced restaurants, a ridiculously small amount of parking, and The Tilted Kilt, a bar trying to pass itself off as Irish the way Hooter's tries to pass itself off as Where-you-can-get-a-good-burger-while-incidentally-ogling-women.

Don't get me wrong--I've got nothing against ogling women. The waitresses at the Kilt wear, for the record, white stockings, short kilts and stomach-less white tops, and I am this close to mandating such a dress code for every outdoor summer festival in town. But even I have my limits. The Kilt, while sporting plentiful eye candy and a variety of Guinness-themed beers, just isn't doing it for me any more. I've only been there a handful of times (like ten or fifty), but like a good soldier, I keep making the half-hour drive out there to see if I can get comfortable with the ambience, the blaring jukebox, the half-tanked fratboys high-fiving each other. And I just can't do it. For reasons I can explain quite succinctly:

The waitresses act like strippers, but they're not strippers. When a scantily-clad woman sits down next to you in a place where alcohol and loud music are prevalent, starts making conversation about your pathetic life, and keeps her eye on the clock, she's either finagling for a tip, trying to elicit a request for a lap dance, or already married to you and enacting some weird role-playing fantasy you cooked up in a weekend marriage seminar. And I'm not good at pretending with stuff like this. When a waitress sat down next to me last weekend and asked how work was going, she visibly flinched when I produced a dollar bill and waved it in her face seductively. That kind of reality I can do without.

The waitresses could be trouble. I'm sure they're legal and everything, but still, young is young, and I don't want to be that Old Guy in the Bar. I'm not that old, but compared to a roomful of undergraduates, I might as well be collecting Social Security. When you can make lewd comments and get away with it, you know it's time to pack it up--only guys who could conceivably carry out such lascivious threats are taken seriously. Besides, you never know these days. The girls could be under eighteen, and I'm a man of values. I wouldn't touch them if they were a day below...twenty-one. Nor would I sit next to them, stroke their legs lightly, yank their hair or drink salted tequila off their flat, toned, tanned stomachs. Not me, sir. No chance.

They don't sell the waitress' outfits. Not that I'd buy one. Or buy one and leave it hanging in the closet. Or feign surprise when the little lady found it. Or feign surprise, get her drunk and dress her up in it. It's just a matter of principle.

There's a reputation that goes with frequenting a place like this. Guilt by association, I'd call it. To paraphrase Ed McBain, if you frequent a whorehouse with a really good magazine rack, you're not going to be known as someone with highbrow literary tastes. You're going to be known as a guy who likes a cheap piece of tail. And if you come out of the Kilt, staggering at two in the morning, they're not going to know about all the historical inaccuracies you pointed out in their menu to anyone who would listen all night ("Braveheart was Scottish, but Michael Collins was Irish and Falstaff was English. What kind of dump is this, anyway?"). They're going to call you a slightly creepy perv. And if they're right, so much the better to give them less to work with.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Today: born one niece of yours truly. Avery Jane (name censored), seven pounds, eleven ounces and 22 inches long. All are healthy. She already rocks. This kid will be the Emily Donelson to my Andrew Jackson. Look up the reference yourselves, dimwits.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Missed my opportunity to do something momentous and trivial today:
When the clock hits 34 minutes and 56 seconds past noon today (7/8/09), the time and date together will be 123456789.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Things Sarah Palin can do now that she's resigned from the office of Alaska governor

Kill something with her big gun

Practice Tina Fey impersonation

Find a mirror to start rehearsing speeches in front of

Learn how to use "Find" function in e-mail (as in, Find: "Hire my husband, damn you"), so she can fork over records for those pesky news agencies

Begin rigorous, impassioned reading of Middle East, Russian and American history.

Find alternative phrases for "you betcha"

Look up Wikiarticles on Adam Smith to find out why she supports free markets

Find Levi and beat him to a pulp

Get her book ghostwritten. Crowd aspiring writers out of the literary marketplace

Monday, June 29, 2009

Granted, I should know better. Ten bucks shelled out to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The last one was loud, incoherent, annoying and pubescent, not to mention an almost desperate attempt to recruit people to the military. The next one was even worse.

But it wasn't my ten bucks. It was Reed's.


What better way to cap off the month of June, I ask you. Summers past, I had movies to drool over and look forward to. Some speak to a desperate need for better taste on my part (Gone in Sixty Seconds, the 2000 version; X-Men and all its sequels; The Blair Witch Project, probably many others I can't recall now). Lately, the closest thing to a "summer blockbuster" I've seen in the multiplex lately has been Wolverine. It was good, but I miss the old days of Indiana Jones.

I can't take the recommendations any more. "Oh, go see The Hangover--it's good, mindless fun." "Come on, you know you want to go see Night at the Museum 2--it's fun." "What the hell, does everything you see have to make you think? Can't you just loosen up and enjoy a movie?"

I can. And do. But this is ten bucks we're talking about here.

And since when did movies that make you think get turned into the cinematic equivalent of a trip to the dentist's office? Seeing something like Smart People (ho-hum, by the way) or the eventual remake of Taras Bulba isn't like studying for the bar exam. I take comfort in the fact that such films exist in today's sugar cereal, ADHD consumer demand. Though, to judge by all the guffaws I heard when watching Transformers, such films won't be around much longer.

Here are a few lines from Michael Bay's latest hyperkinetic, visual mess that, despite its level of crapdom (I actually had to cover my eyes during every romance scene between the two stars--the acting was that bad), had the audience rolling on the floor:
TOUGH SOLDIER: We about to get our asses whupped.

STUPID BLACK-STEREOTYPE ROBOT: It's an ass-whuppin. It's supposed to hurt.

YOUNG COMPUTER GEEK: Oh my God! We're all gonna die!

OLDER COMPUTER GEEK: I am now right below the monster's scrotum.

YOUNG COMPUTER GEEK: Oh my God! I don't wanna die!
Once again, a classic has been pissed and stomped upon. I'd say it couldn't get any worse, but look what's coming out in August: G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. I don't even want to speculate on what lines will screw up that franchise too.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Weekend Baby-Sitting Schedule


10:15 a.m. Brother gives directions for weekend
10:45 a.m. Brother finishes directions
12:00 p.m. Brother's wife arrives, countermands all directions and gives them again
12:15 p.m. They leave. Brother's parting words: "Stay out of my booze."
2:30 p.m. Nephew wakes up from nap. Wants to watch TV. I oblige.
2:45 p.m. Uncle (me) wants to watch more TV. Nephew says it's time to do something else.
3:15 p.m. Nephew wants puzzles. I provide Suduko; he complains about its redundancy.
3:30 p.m. Nephew beats me two games to one.
3:31 p.m. "How about we watch TV instead?"
4 p.m.-5 p.m. Nephew colors abstract pictures; I try to break the lock on brother's liquor cabinet.
5:15 p.m. Dinner time. Little eaten. Most of it used by nephew to decorate face and shampoo hair instead.
5:30 p.m. Successfully pick liquor cabinet lock. Nephew, to celebrate, has another glass of juice.
5:45-6:45 p.m. I fill nephew in on facts of life over our bottles, dwelling particularly on the GOP, global warming, children's television and the remaining problems with No Child Left Behind. He takes the news well.
7-8 p.m. Story time. Girlfriend shows up and reads him Fast Food Nation.
8 p.m.-6:30 a.m. Sunday Nephew sleeps. I don't remember what we did.


6:45-7:30 a.m. TV and breakfast. Nephew eats quite a bit of cereal and fruit, then watches Barney and Friends. Girlfriend and I are unable to keep our breakfasts down while Barney is on.
8-9 a.m. Park. Nephew has more fun picking leaves off the trees than he does using any of the playground equipment. So do we.
10-noon Zoo. Prompted by call from friend. "Hey, nephew, you want to go to the zoo?" "ZOO! ZOO!" "Sorry, John, he wants to go to church instead." Once at zoo, nephew insists on picking more leaves off the trees, giving animals cursory investigation.
12:15-2:00 Lunch and nap time. Nephew demands a bath instead of a nap. I hem and haw and fuss, but he insists he wants a bath instead. I put him to bed, close the door. The howls of indignation subside, after which point I sneak back in and take a closer look at him. Blech. Kid needs a bath. I furtively wipe him down with hand sanitizer.
2:15 p.m. Girlfriend goes home sick. Still can't get Barney out of her system.
2:45 p.m. Brother and sister-in-law return. I hurriedly turn off the Playboy channel upon their arrival. Profuse thanks. I tell about how a burglar broke in and stole all the liquor. Sister wants to know why I reek of hand sanitizer. I make an excuse and I leave.
3:00 p.m. Nephew wakes up from nap. I get a text from brother: "Why is my son yelling 'No AYP!'?"

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bullets in Madison Rocks at Reggie's

I'm chatting up a brunette waitress in a dive bar in downtown Chicago. Her eyes flicking behind me, constant sighs, repeated shifts from leg to leg and scowls of irritation all spell out entrancement to me. I am seductive. I am damn seductive. I'm so seductive, I could smooth-talk myself into bed. And I may have to, if this dippy broad doesn't get the hint in about ten seconds.

"I can totally get you backstage passes," I tell her, pausing to take a sip of my Cosmopolitan and adjust the collar of my Scooby Doo t-shirt. "I know the band."

"I work here," she says.

"Well, there's all kinds of backstage," I say after a moment's pause. Then I waggle my eyebrows. "If you know what I mean."

It's clear from her irritated look and imploring glances at the nearest bouncer, a guy with "Your Ad Here" tattooed on the back of his shaved, bull-like head, that she doesn't know what I mean, or else she'd be tearing my clothes off with her teeth right now. This irritates me no small deal. Women. Jesus. It's like they get more obtuse about blatant come-ons as they age. I shift my seat, take another swig of my drink, and try changing tacks.

"I mean a different kind of backstage pass," I say, tempted to draw it out on a cocktail napkin. "In my pants."

"Yeah, I got that."

"Anal," I say, pressing the point.

"I make it a point to never get involved with guys whose hair is thinning on top," she tells me, and my hand immediately flies to the crown of my head.

Damn her, I think as she walks away smirking, she's just toying with me. Or is she? I scamper over to a mirror on the wall, furtively examining my scalp and trying to decide whether the glaring white patch I'm seeing in the hairline has only just appeared, or whether it's been there for years and I just never noticed. My head is turning this way and that. My neck starts to hurt. My hands are shaking and there's the sour taste of approaching-middle-age desperation beginning to enter my mouth.

This can't do, I decide. I need to be up front and mature about this.

I immediately spin around and find the waitress again. I tap her on the shoulder. She turns. Recognizes me. Narrows her lips and waits.

"Bitch," I say calmly.

At that point, the bouncer approaches. I immediately tear off my Scooby Doo t-shirt and strike an instant flexdown. Pandemonium erupts.


If God really existed, I wouldn't have to keep following this goddamned band around the entire Chicago and suburban area into every two-bit dive and two-for-one-drink special club that agrees to hire these schmoes. But with the upcoming release of their new album, We Became Your Family When You Died, Bullets in Madison has been getting heavy airplay, and every screaming, frizzy-haired "Win a Dream Date with Brendan Losch"-hopeful teen (and not a few adults) has been demanding more and better media coverage. More, I can definitely supply.

So, after an early Father's Day evening out getting belittled by my immediate family in the Western suburbs, I climbed into my 1978 Pinto and prepared to make the forty-plus-mile journey to Reggie's, where they were scheduled to take stage at eleven p.m. My father looked dubious as I prepared to leave.

"You're not going to make it," he said. "It's late."

"Only for the old," I assured him while shrugging into my Wham! concert T-shirt and spraying my slowly-emerging mullet. "For the young and hip, the night is so not old. You just don't understand. You're not New Wave."

"Gregg, you're thirty-four."

"I'm thirty-three," I corrected him. "And I be chillin still."

"I still think you ought to at least have some coffee and take the train."

"That's what your mother said," I slurred wittily, backing out of his driveway and managing to carefully and expertly knock over his mailbox and garbage cans. My rapier wit had served me yet again, so I decided to reward it by parking the car at a nearby station, grabbing some coffee and taking the train downtown. Ha. Shows my father who's the boss of me.

During the ride, I snoozed and recharged for what I was sure would be a no-holds-barred one-in-a-million musical experience. At least, that's what it was the last time I saw them play. Bullets in Madison uses such a cacophony of musical appeals, they're difficult to categorize, but thanks to my expert training at the School of Writing Music, I can do so: They're Unique. However, I was worried that that might not be enough to satisfy my editor, which was why I was actually making the trip to the city to hear them. Otherwise, I would have just stolen the playlist, gotten a few sound bytes from the bar owner and made the whole thing up while drinking beer outside in my neighbor's kiddie pool. But music journalism is a harsh mistress and can sometimes be unreasonably demanding.

One hour and twenty minutes later, I staggered into the bar, Ready to Review. The first thing I noticed upon entrance was that every single dancer in a cage was not only thematically dressed (the Cheerleader, the Cowgirl, the French Maid), but could also pass for a pubescent.

My interest flared, then got confused.

Crap. I'd wandered into Roscoe's Titty Bar by mistake.

So it was another three hours (and several hundred dollars) before I made it to Reggie's, where, thankfully enough, the audience had spent so much time hectoring the previous bands and playing Beer Pong Twister, that BiM was only just setting up their equipment. Good. Problem solved. Starting over:

I walked into the bar, Ready to Review. I strode confidently over to the band, notebook in hand, fake smile plastered on my face, wiping the stripper's lipstick and boob powder off my cheeks, ready to do or die for indy Chicago rock journalism.

The keyboarder saw me coming. "Oh fuck me," he muttered, diving under the drum set and pretending to examine the floor beneath it. The rest of the band immediately looked as busy as possible doing the same.

"Come on out, you Gen-Next assholes," I raged, thumping the drums with the mike stand. "I know you're under there."

Evidently, the band conferred for a while, exchanging repartee like, "No, you go get rid of him," and eventually, one of the guitarists emerged. "Okay, make it quick," he said. "We've got to do a soundcheck. And order another round of Fuzzy Navels."

I snickered.

"What?" he demanded. "A lot of guys drink Fuzzy Navels now. They've come a long way."

I snickered again.

"Goddamn it, let's get this over with!"

"Well, I'm here doing another profile piece. I don't want to make the evening more stressful to you, but we just picked up another ten readers, mostly friends of my aunt, and they want to know about the new album."

The guitarist visibly gulped. A wiser head than I thought. My aunt's legions of fans can make or break a band in about five seconds. Look what they did to Menudo in 1985.

"Anyway, my editor wants two hundred words about either the show, the new album, or, if not that, transcriptions of the graffiti on the walls. So say something witty and engaging about it right now." With that, I whipped out a tape recorder and shoved it in his face. "Now, damn you."

He stammered and swallowed. "For the new album, we wanted to explore some new ground. We were looking to bridge the gap between the esoterics and objective message of our music, and found this was the best way to do it." He looked at me hopefully. "Okay?"

"Whatever. More." I pointed at my watch.

"Well, we found that the more we expected of ourselves, the more we managed to perform. It's like listening to the sounds of silence. It's a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll. Come on, feel the noise. I don't know, shit, just give it a good review, will you? I've got rent to pay." The guitarist tossed aside his copy of Rock Music Clich├ęs to Give the Critics and looked at me imploringly.

"Can do." I winked at him. "Get up there and kick some ass."

And they did. Or so I would imagine. I couldn't say for sure since, for the entire duration of the show, I was getting pummeled by a bouncer named Moose over alleged improper advances made towards Tiffany, the waitress of the brunette locks and disparaging comments about putative receding hairlines. As I spat teeth and bled internally, however, I could hear a few new songs in BiM's lineup that hadn't previously made the playlist at any of their previous shows. The new songs, it would seem. And you know what? That nimrod with the guitar was right: they really do blend feeling and thought. They really do emote. It really is a long way to the top (if you want to rock and roll).

So in conclusion, fans would do well to run, not walk, to the nearest library, where you can grab...a book. You know, because people aren't reading enough and shit. Also, jump on to a computer before the library lady yells at you about registration, log on to, and put in an advance order of We Became Your Family When You Died, out sometime this summer. Because if the other songs are anything like the ones I heard this weekend, then the whole album is going to sound a lot like those songs. Until then, Dear Readers, I remain, as always, your rock music appreciation superior.

Next Week: Whatever Did Happen to Menudo? Aunt Sally Tells All.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

What my girlfriend and I argue about

(with apologies to Philip Roth)

It was a warm summer afternoon in June and the clouds were low in the sky. They had been out on the balcony for maybe an hour, maybe ten. The movie was due to start at seven, and he kept checking his watch surreptitiously. After a while, she stretched luxuriously and grinned at him in unchecked satisfaction. Then, the words. A torrent of words between them, brimming over with emotion.

"You're so good to me."

"Yeah. Are you ready yet?"

"Gee, thanks."

"Sorry. But, seriously, we're late."

"Not that late. Anyway, we're having a moment here."

"We don't have time for a moment."

"Do we have time for a beer?"

"Okay, one beer."

The bottlecaps fell to the pavement with a ringing sound that can only evince lethargy and every Midwestern backyard barbecue in human history. They both emitted sounds of satisfaction, his more frenzied than hers as he contemplated watching Christian Bale fight a T-800 on the big screen.

Then, more words. Always the words. Always the emotion.

"I wish I had all summer to hang with you."

"That fight scene between them looked kickass."


"I mean, yeah."

"Well I do. A summer together to just be together would be great."

"Well, we're leaving on vacation this week, right?"

"Yeah, but--"

"And we're hanging right now, right?"

"You know, I was trying to say something nice here. You don't need to be such a buzzkill."

"Who's a buzzkill? I'm giving you a buzz. I'm like a Buzz Lite Year. I'm reminding you about your vacation and what not."

"Okay, but still--"

"We're going to miss the previews."

"But still, when I say I'd like to have summers off--"

"Hey, I work during summers!"

She paused. Her eyes narrowed to slits. The beer in his stomach flopped over uneasily and he began examining his nails.

"Don't start with that. When I came home this afternoon, you were downloading fake GI Joe PSAs off Youtube."

"That? Oh. That was just a brief coffee break in an otherwise crowded and productive day."

"Yeah. You betcha. Now what I was trying to say was, I wish I had all summer to hang with you and not have to worry about going back to work."

"Well, I'm worrying about going back to work, and it's not even August yet."

"I'm trying to express my deep and sincere love for you, you jackass. Are you getting that?"

"I think in this movie, they get somebody who looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger to play the first Terminator off the assembly line. Pretty cool, right?"

"I was trying to tell you I love you, but now you're just annoying me, so never mind."

The words broke through his preoccupation with buff robots and postapocalyptic storylines. He paused. He fumbled for the appropriate gesture.

"Oh. Well. Thanks."

"Yeah. Sure."

And with that, the moment crushed, stunned and reeling on the cutting room floor of the cinematic vista of a life in Anytown, USA, she left the patio. He sat, bemused, wondering whether he should follow, or take a separate car or what. He cast about in his mind to find the words to slap a Band-Aid on the situation. Always, it's the words. Like Hamlet said: "Words, words, words." If only he could come up with the right words this time.

He remembered that the movie started in ten minutes. He got up and made for the car.

And they made the movie with minutes to spare. They sat in the darkness. They held hands. They shared a soda. And as the screen lit up, he leaned over to tell her what he was sure, in her heart of hearts, she truly needed to hear:

"It really was a coffee break, dammit."

"Shut up."

"A real long one, sure, but still..."

"Just...shut up."


Saturday, May 02, 2009

HAVING DRINKS WITH DEWEY--He leans over furtively. We're at a Friday's, and the TV is blaring an incessant mixture of ads, ersatz news and commentary. "I need to ask you something," he says hoarsely.

Can do. I can deliver. I can comment on politics (uninformedly) just as well as pop culture (as long as it's from ten years ago). Hit me.

"What's Tweeter."

Shit, I don't know. I make up some bogus definition involving Tweety Bird and Shakespearian conversion: a verb form of a bird getting chased by a big dumb cat. "Has something to do with us at the mercy of forces bigger than we are."

Dewey nods sagely. "That's what I thought."


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Got a message from NINE yesterday: The Tribune's print edition will no longer be available for my classroom. They'll give me a free online E-version subscription. But no more dead tree version.

I give up. I've lost the battle.

For years, I've converted class after class to the joys of a print newspaper (in theory, anyway). I taught them how to Scan the Headlines Over Coffee. How to Fold it Irritably, how to Hide Behind It in a Crowd, and (my personal favorite) how to Read the Fucking Thing and Ignore the Dumb Ads.

I scored these frugal victories in the face of competition from reality television, Stephanie Meyer books and the drone and whine of our heady froth of pop culture. And now the Trib itself is saying, "Sorry, pal, but those sugar-addled, pizza-faced trolls aren't worth it." Nice. Validation goes miles in my world.

Time for a new lesson plan: How to be a Know-Nothing Pundit. I am now the Mr. Irwin of Media and Journalism Studies. The Machiavelli of Reporting 101. Ideals be damned. Work with the world as it is.

My first words to class tomorrow: "All right, who here can use the phrase "liberal cream puff" in a 200-word rant against Obama? The winner gets an internship."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Draft for an Advent Calendar for the Last Days of School

Yeah, it's only April. But we're getting there. And my patience is frayed beyond belief. So:

The Last Thirty Days of School (first eleven)
30. Insult a student in every class using Latin. Like, Scholas es stolidus.
29. Show a film clip completely unrelated to anything you’re doing. Preferably one with Traci Lords.
28. Put brandy in your coffee this morning. (More than usual, anyway)
27. Use the word merde casually. See how many kids pick up on it.
26. Take a prescription drug that’s not yours. (from your spouse, parent, brother, pregnant cousin, etc.)
25. Trade prescription medicine with a co-worker.
24. Rename your students using derogatory immediate surface details. "What did you get for number five, Push-up Bra?" "Nice to see you this morning, Smells Like Feet."
23. Don’t wear underwear today. Are you wearing it right now? Get it off. Don’t even bother leaving the room.
22. Imagine yourself as a nun in the sixteenth century for the day. Think corporal punishment, rote memorization, and a low-key subtext of homosexuality.
21. Walk into an administrator’s office. Pretend it’s yours. Use their desk. Make some calls. Tell them, “I might ask what the hell are you doing here?”
20. End every lesson with, “And that’s how you achieve orgasm. For tomorrow, casing the playgrounds.”

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Class is a film that actually shows what it's like to be a teacher...

...and I haven't cooked up a worthwhile review of it yet. Or anything meaningful to say. So check it out yourself, why don't you? It's playing in Chicago, and will be for a while, as far as I know.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

In honor of National Poetry Month, a work from William Carlos Williams:
so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white
If I'm teaching juniors next year, I'm so assigning essays on this bad boy. They'll hate me. They'll call me "Wheelbarrow." Yeah.
i couldn't wait
to grade

your wheel barrow

but i still shredded
them up

along with the white

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Six ideas that might make me money

6. "Stone Walls do not a Prison Make...Mostly" A one-act play depicting the Duke of Norfolk's visit to Katherine of Aragon while imprisoned during Henry VIII's efforts to secure a divorce. She hated him. He hated her. But she's in a prison, and we all know what happens to lonely women imprisoned...

5. "E-date" A middle-aged married couple register independently on an online dating service to see if they'll get paired up. They experiment. Drift apart. And, because Hollywood wouldn't have it any other way, they reconcile in a happy ending after realizing the depths of their true feelings for each other. Blech. Watch for the Director's Cut: He takes to erotic body art, and she goes to Vassar.

4. The Dichotomy of Evil. An essay focused on Richard III's wooing of Lady Anne--"Take up the sword or take up me." Lonely geeks can use it as a template to score chicks who hate their guts.

3. In the spirit of The Tao of Pooh and the Teh of Piglet...Dumb Christian Values of Family Guy

2. "I will wax your snatch...for natch." Advertisement. Probably self-explanatory.

1. Blackmail Schemes for the Idiotic. Clever computer skills a must here. Victim must be semi-literate.

The D.C. Guys are in Spain. Well, it's a start.

As far as the beginning of a vacation, this is not-not-not bad.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The F-book post I've been dying for for nineteen years!
"Hi there! I still remember that day long ago when you called for a date and I acted like an idiot. Maybe I can make it up to you now? Be my friend? :)
Yes! Yesss! My moment has come!
"Hi. How you been?"
Ha! Revenge is sweet!

Wait...that's not cutting and cathartic at all...


Sunday, March 01, 2009

Bullets in Madison come to Abbey Pub

by db, classical music critic

Watching Bullets in Madison soar through a half dozen or so of their hits on the crowded stage of the Abbey pub is a lot like watching a band that practices a lot get together on a Saturday night to entertain performers at a faux Irish bar.

Stop and absorb that analogy for a moment. Got it? Good.

The band, which fires no guns and, as near as I can tell, doesn't even know where Wisconsin is on a map, took stage at nine p.m. At that point, I'd consumed four or five beers, so admittedly, I was a bit hazy. Still, I'm sure they played some kind of music, which is what they were supposed to do. So, at least they deliver, right?

Me, I was testy because I'd recently dropped my cell phone in the toilet and wasn't prepared to purchase a new one any time soon. So all the texts I would have sent the band during the show couldn't go out. Not that they'd appreciate them. Every time I send a message to one of them, they're all like, "Hey man, I'm trying to play a song up here! Do you mind?" Fame. It corrupts many an aspiring artist, I tell you.

Also, I'd gotten a parking ticket. My car had gone three minutes over the meter, which wound up costing me fifty bucks. Fifty! Literally highway robbery. Except I was on a city street, so I guess it' street robbery. Clever.

So the ticket, plus a new cell phone, plus the five or six beers and the ten dollars to get in the door, had me expecting perhaps more than was fair of the six musicians with the eclectic vibe and esoteric mixture of melodies and musings on the potentialities of feeling in an increasingly mechanized world.

And yet, they still delivered. BiM soared through their set without one screwup, blown amplifier, mistimed stage dive, rodent-head-biting stunt or smoke machine malfunction. They sang. They played instruments. I'm relatively sure I heard a drum rhythm in the background, and at one point, the lead singer even looked towards the audience. If that isn't showmanship, then I ask, what is?

I got to speak with the band after the show. "Well, we really thought people enjoyed it," one of them said. "We're releasing a new album in the next few months or so, and we're excited that people want to hear from it."

"I just couldn't believe it was fifty bucks," I said, pretending to take notes on his drivel. "Who the hell does Mayor Daley think he is? More like...Mayor Pay-me. Ha! Hey, that's good!"

"Anyway, we're always looking for a new way to do our kind of music," he continued. "It's important to us to keep it fresh. Without that, the juice stops flowing."

"That sounds great," I said, clapping him on the shoulder and causing him to spill his beer. "Hey, you think you can introduce me to Chris Martin?"

"I don't know him."

"You don't? Wasn't that him on the keyboards?"

Since I couldn't get another interview after that, that concludes this review. I sincerely hope my editor delivers the moolah on time, as I've got this damn parking ticket to pay.

I just got off the phone with my editor, and she says no way on the money unless I come up with a killer ending to this review. So here goes:

"Bullets in Madison remains a band that continually hones its act. Through their words, through their melodies, through John Morton's gravitas and the band's overall appeal to our finer sensibilities, they ensure our constant attention, and remain a promising star in the cluttered cosmos that we call local Chicago rock. Sooner or later, this star will go supernova. Until then, this is your friendly classical music critic saying, I'm going to enjoy watching their star rise."

Next week's column: Robert Fucking Plant. And maybe the rest of Pink Floyd, if I'm lucky.

Before showtime, Bullets in Madison meets to figure out where the hell they put their instruments.