The Answer Guy Online

Providing information to unwitting victims on a "don't-need-to-know" basis since 1974.

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

I propose a moratorium on the following three types of jokes, in no particular order.

1. Any joke that depends on mens’ tendency to leave the toilet seat up and womens’ tendencies to leave it down. Bathroom humor is the last refuge of a lame comic anyway.

2. One-dimensional ethnic jokes. Not that I’m necessarily all PC all the time, but isn’t it time to move beyond “Poles are stupid,” “Jews are cheap,” and “Puerto Ricans don’t work” jokes?

3. Any joke that involves the tags on the mattresses that say “Do not remove under penalty of law.” This was probably funny at one point, but, who hasn’t heard this joke by now, hundreds or times?

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

And now for the fifth installment in an occasional series..
Tim takes random web quizzes!
This one’s not much use for anyone who’s not a non-hetero male.
You lead a normal everyday life and it's 'no questions asked' as people just assume you are straight. Every once and awhile a very aware person might notice something that causes them to think 'fem' but it's a fleeting thought because you turn around and surprise them with more masculine traits before they even have time to fully analyze the last one.”

By the way, the scale is from 1 to 10, 1 being impossible to identify as gay and 10 being like Jack on "Will and Grace."

I’d have been rated even more “straight-acting” if it weren’t for the following traits:
I’m a cuddle-maniac much of the time.
I love to shop, especially for clothes.
I have candles in my house.
I wouldn’t mind getting flowers from another man under the right circumstances.
I don’t care that much for most kinds of beer.

You probably didn't want to know some of that stuff, did you, dear readers? Oh, well....

Two rambling diatribes for the price of one today, dear readers. Both inspired by recent magazine articles.

Italian-Americans Annoyed By Olive Garden Commercials

I am apparently not the only person who was thinking “You know, if I had Italian relatives, and I took them to the Olive Garden, they’d slap me upside the head.” This Weekly Standard piece is genuinely funny and is definitely worth reading.

I have eaten at an Olive Garden, in Knoxville, Tennessee, on a long road trip. There are few of them in New England, for the simple reason that they have many good real Italian restaurants up there. I was baffled to find one on the outskirts of Providence, Rhode Island. (Maybe that’s where people in the Federal Witness Protection Program go if they have a hankerin’ for Italian food in Rhode Island. Visiting Federal Hill under those circumstances would be like choosing Afghanistan for your next vacation. ) The greater DC area of course has plenty of Olive Gardens to choose from, but since no one in the area seems to know how to make a good pizza, that shouldn’t surprise anyone.

While people in Providence may take great Italian cuisine for granted, folks in Knoxville don’t have that luxury. And, though I am unaware of what the local cuisine in Knoxville might be, I can guess that whatever it is, Rhode Island’s version of it is probably inferior.

One of the great things about the neighborhood I live in is that it contains every kind of restaurant you’d ever want, including some kinds of cuisine I didn’t know existed in this country until I moved here. There is some chain fast-food here too, and that’s fine with me too as long as that choice remains. My worry is that as the neighborhood gentrifies and rents, both residential and commercial, increase, the national chains will muscle their way in and something unique and very much worth experiencing will be lost.

I guess, all things being equal, it’s a good thing for traveling consumers that they can count on being able to have predictable dining experiences no matter where the road may take them. However, there are trade offs. As travel has become more widely available, there has been a tendency to homogenize everything, lessening the eye-opening qualities that are one of the advantages of frequent travel. If all of your experiences away from home are sufficiently prepackaged, it’s almost like you never leave home, since you never really leave your comfort zone.

At some level, America is becoming “Generica.” Every town is looking more and more like every other town every day. I know that by patronizing Olive Garden, I’m in some way contributing to that homogenization. I can’t be an expert about the local flavor of every town I pass through. But perhaps on my next time through Knoxville, I might be able to experience something more unique that town has to offer than an Olive Garden.

Big Fat – The New Big Tobacco?

Speaking of generic, fattening, fast foods….

First of all, idea of suing fast food outlets is a silly, one of those things that conservatives can point to and say “Look, our litigious society is out of control.” (And then use this sound bite to protect all sorts of businesses that don’t deserve the sort of protection they’d be getting.) Unless there’s evidence to the contrary, this isn’t really like tobacco. There’s no such thing as “second-hand Taco Bell.” (Thank heaven.) Burger King isn’t, as far as we know, putting additives into its food to get people addicted to it. The fast-food industry isn’t really into hiding how unhealthy their products generally are by suppressing data about their unhealthiness, and it has long been common sense that a steady diet of Big Mac’s, Biggie Fries, and Big Gulp Coca-Colas isn’t good for you. And suing McDonalds isn’t going to change investment patterns in poor neighborhoods. Or make children eat healthier.

Some people have proposed a “junk food” tax. I don’t think this is a workable either, for a variety of reasons. First, it requires us to somehow define what is and what is not junk food.
(The District of Columbia did experiment with such a tax, and no one alive could explain some of the distinctions, and the whole thing was incredibly confusing.) Second, it’s a blunt instrument that targets healthy people as well as unhealthy people, and there’s no feasible (or constitutional) way to modify it so it doesn’t. Third, since dining and grocery shopping options are constrained in poorer areas in such a way as to make healthier options far less available, it’s effectively a regressive tax. And lastly, it’s generally not politically possible, mostly because it feels uncomfortably like busy-bodyism; while tobacco and alcohol taxes may pass muster because of the tangible secondary effects of their use on other people (second-hand smoke, drunk driving, etc.) a fatty food tax can claim no such rationale.

But there is absolutely one thing I would do without hesitation. As much as I enjoyed having access to junk food as a teenager, my sympathies lie squarely with the people who want it out of the schools.

Students are a captive audience while in school, and it is highly irresponsible to steer kids towards the fattening, sugary foods they already consume too much of outside the school doors. I understand the viewpoint that these vending machines provide much needed revenue for school districts around the country, but it’s simply not worth the eventual cost of more unhealthy diets and their long-term consequences . At the risk of sounding like a self-parodying unrepetant liberal for a moment, what does it say about our priorities as a nation that we’d rather see more obese and diabetic children than fund the schools to a point where school boards and administrators aren’t forced into Hobson’s choices like this one?

It’s actually even bleaker than it sounds. Children growing up in poor neighborhoods in cities like Washington have few alternatives to the food they get in school. Fresh fruit and vegetables are rare finds in the small stores you generally see in such neighborhoods, and the only restaurants are either fast food chains or small carryouts that serve mostly heavily processed and fried food. Healthier options simply aren’t available to them.

Since eating patterns are generally established in childhood, reaching children is the key, and the best place to shape eating patterns and encourage healthy diets is in the schools. It’s just too important to leave to the fast food industry. Not because they are evil, mind you, but because we can’t afford an obese country. Besides, dear readers, wouldn’t a nation with fewer commercials and less junk e-mail about fad diets and bogus diet pills be a better one?

Monday, July 29, 2002

And now, some trends in music I was ignorant of until I went websurfing…
In a few short days, the world will herald the release of Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s Greatest Hits, Volume 3. Not only do they have a “greatest hits” album, they have three of them. I was blissfully unaware they had any hits, let alone enough for three discs. Then again, I am a non-pedophile bachelor, so maybe that’s not surprising.

In the meantime, you don’t have to wait for tomorrow to purchase this. I’m not necessarily philosophically opposed to tribute albums, but can we at least wait until there’s enough material in a group’s catalog to impart fresh perspectives on their work via cover versions? Not that I expect any of these to be especially fresh perspectives…

And in other news….Come on Barbie, let’s go party! This litigation is still going on? After five years? Does anyone even remember these people or their allegedly defamatory one hit song anymore? I am amazed Mattel hasn’t given up on this yet.

Friday, July 26, 2002

And now for the fourth installment in an occasional series..
Tim takes random web quizzes!

Which Action Star Are You? Find out @ She's Crafty

I’m played by Keanu Reeves? Talk about a letdown. I mean, I liked “The Matrix” and all, but all I can say is….whoa….

Some people get over the fact that they’re yesterday’s news. Otherwise how could VH-1 do all those “One Hit Wonders” shows? Some people, on the other hand, will do anything to grab headlines. Michael Jackson, whose career turns weirder and more tragic every year, as he succeeded in trivializing his enormous talent to a degree that would make even Paul McCartney blush. Michael Jackson is now claiming that the record industry, due to racism, is sabotaging his career. Does Jackson remember that his record company stared down MTV and essentially threatened to pull a huge catalog of videos from the channel if they continued to refuse to play the “Billie Jean” video based on MTV’s notion that their audience had no interest in black artists? In what sense is that sabotaging your career?

Is there an “E! True Hollywood Story” out there yet with black-and-white footage of Jackson undergoing one dubious plastic surgery procedure after another? If not, there needs to be one.

Come to think of it…watching popular music figures age is almost never pretty. I know my friend Craig likes to bitch about a lack of output by Peter Gabriel, but, really, Craig, if Gabriel really does have nothing to say, isn’t it better he not tarnish his catalog with embarrassing releases?

Rock and roll especially (including its derivatives) is a format uniquely suited to the young and hungry, the angst-ridden and the agitated. Artists who are already rich and famous beyond their wildest dreams almost never produce quality. For every defensible late-career release, like, say, Pink Floyd’s “Divison Bell,” there are dozens of forgettable and regrettable has-been releases cluttering up cut-out bins, from Air Supply to ZZ Top.
Black Sabbath has now released, I think, something like 2,450 albums using 67 different lead singers since people stopped paying attention. (I exaggerate only slightly, dear readers.)

It may be better to burn out than fade away, but it’s better to fade away into pleasant memory than to generate headlines or albums that make people think “Wow, he’s washed up.” Yes, Van Halen, sad to say, I’m talking to you. And that means all of you – anyone that was ever in Van Halen. Including Gary Cherone, in case he thinks I’ve forgotten about him the way most people have.

Speaking of washed up… I remember laughing at that episode of “King of the Hill” where a big-box store called “Megalo-Mart” (clearly modeled on Wal-Mart) featured a free concert by Chuck Mangione. And now Def Leppard, reduced to playing a Wal-Mart. In Fayetteville, North Carolina, no less. Def Leppard. As washed up as Chuck Mangione. Maybe they should change their name….to Danger Kitty.
I have to acknowledge my source for that last tidbit, the blog of my friend James Q.

Just when I thought I was done with this blog, I had to go log onto All Music Guide, only to discover the existence of what I thought was a brand spankin’ new release by Supertramp. Alas the humor inherent in that discovery was somewhat lessened by the fact that this “new release” is merely the reissue of a 1987 album. Further digging, however, revealed that Supertramp released an album in 1997. Which only further proved my point.

That’s all for now, dear readers. I have a busy weekend ahead of me, participating in a series of trivia competitions. Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 25, 2002

More incredibly random observations from my oh-so-twisted mind…

In high school, college, and elsewhere, I was taught to resist all-too-easy urges to proclaim other cultures as inferior, backward, etc. Lord knows there are a lot of things about American culture I’d love to see changed. But a lot of news articles I’ve been reading lately has brought this question into my consciousness:
Is Pakistan one of the most messed up countries in the world or what?
First there was this. And then there was this. And then this. And then this.
And now this. I’ll probably have more thoughts on this later, but I’m not sure I really want to understand a society like this. If my choices are the sort of stuff I see in these news articles, and “Jerry Springer,” well, let me be the first to say…JER-RY! JER-RY! JER-RY!

While we’re on the subject of disturbing news from overseas…Russian author Vladimir Sorokin, facing pornography charges for a novel in which portrays clones of Josef Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev having sexual intercourse: "I'm not a pornographer. A pornographer is someone who has to give the reader an erection. That's why they make their money. I'm not at all interested in my readers getting erections." I would certainly hope not. I would steer clear of anyone who thinks of Josef Stalin having sex and gets an erection. Or hard nipples. Or moisture down below. Or whatever. Genocide is not sexy, and, damn it, I will not argue about this. Read all about it yourself.

One thing that’s not clear from the above article - are Stalin and Khrushchev doing the nasty with each other in these books? One time I did borrow a porn video from a friend once whose theme was buff Russian soldiers having debauched, deviant sex with each other in various and sundry settings. Genocide may not be sexy, but I guess the displacement of a bloated Russian military force by the dissolution of the Iron Curtain can be downright erotic.

OK, OK…I think I’ve disturbed you enough today, dear readers.

And now, for the third installment in an occasional series…

Tim takes random web quizzes!

Again, this should surprise no one who knows me. I just think too damn much for my own good.
What was your past life? Find out here!

Hooray For Insomnia!
Well, its official…Farewell, Rep. Traficant. By a 420-1 vote, the lone dissenter being, of all people, Gary Condit. I don’t even need a punch line here, do I?

The more news articles like this one I read, the more I understand those Americans who pretend to be Canadians when traveling overseas. First land mines, now torture. The United States of America is on its way to being the world’s leading “state of concern.” (Or did the Bush adminstration decide to ditch that wishy-washy term and revert to “rogue state?”) Although one plus of all this maneuvering; we just might hear less twaddle from the right about “moral clarity.”

Life imitates bad “summer blockbuster” movies yet again. First September 11, and now this - an asteroid might hit the earth in 2019. I’d prefer life imitate some other genre – like perhaps porn. (Of course, I could end up in gross-out or fetish porn.) Or romantic comedies, although with my luck I’d be the dude who loses the girl to a character played by
Freddie Prinze, Jr.
(I know, why does a gay guy care about losing a girl? It’s just the principle of the thing. How come he gets the girl every time? How come he gets to star in all these movies, despite that fact he’s never, as far as I know, turned in a good performance or even been in a decent film?) Or heck, how about horror movies? After all, it’s been established that I’d survive a horror movie.

Well, dear readers, sleepytime...

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Six observations on the radio, which I decided to stop listening to for the day:

How depressing is it that when WARW (DC’s classic rock station) opens up its airwaves to requests from listeners, the requested songs are generally the same ones they (over)play anyway? I’m flabbergasted by the notion that there are people out there who don’t think WARW plays “Sweet Home Alabama” often enough.

Remember when radio stations across the country boycotted Cat Stevens? I don’t always pay close attention, but I can only assume that he didn’t say anything really ill-advised about the 9/11 tragedy. (If you recall, Stevens in the 1980s converted to Islam, changed his name to Yusuf Islam, renounced some of his songs, and then made a statement during the “Satanic Verses” controversy that he supported the killing of author Salman Rushdie for blasphemy.) Now here he is on the oldies station. If I write another “guilty pleasure” list, there will have to be a Cat Stevens song on it.

I really miss the “jammin’ oldies” format. (For those who never had it, think of a classic rock station centered on soul and R&B rather than rock.) There’s no place on Washington radio to find a station that plays Sly & The Family Stone or Parliament or classic Stevie Wonder on a regular basis. Clear Channel bought an easy listening station called, of all things, WGAY (I’m not kidding) and had this jammin’ oldies format for about 18 months or so. Then they turned it into another top-40 station, Hot 99.5. Apparently Clear Channel was able to drive the other top-40 station in town, Z-104, out of the top-40 game. Z-104 went to a mix/adult contemporary format similar to what was already down the dial at Mix 107.3. The end result is more stations where you can find Matchbox 20. Oh, excuse me, Matchbox Twenty.

Almost all morning radio is saturated with talk. Why is that? I can’t be the only person who needs/wants music in the morning to get moving. But I guess I am.

I actually went on a date with a radio consultant a while back. I had this urge to ask him something like “You know, you people are making radio so dull and stagnant that I can barely listen to it anymore.” I decided not to, though I suppose that could have made the encounter more interesting.

Another sign I’m getting old: I wanted to bitch to a friend about how much I hated the latest whiny I-hate-my-parents anthem by Staind, but then I thought maybe it was by Papa Roach or Default or Korn. There was no way I could tell. I can’t tell them apart.

Well, that's about it for now, since I've had my fill of the radio today. Have a pleasant day, dear readers....

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Beam Me Up, Scotty!

Today Congressman James Traficant is on my mind. It looks like he’s on his way out. He’s been convicted in a federal court for racketeering, bribery, and fraud, among other things. I’m not going to excuse what he’s done or how he used his office, but I’ll still miss him. And not just because I’ll miss the inherent entertainment value of his infamous one-minute speeches or his many memorable quotations or his usefulness as fodder for trivia questions, although those are probably factors too. (Actually, come to think of it, he’ll probably continue to be a fertile subject for academic competition questions after he is expelled.) Perhaps it’s that contrarian gene in my DNA that compels me to say nice things about someone just as everyone else is trashing him or her from pillar to post.

Or maybe it’s because I’ve met him.

On an overcast day in April 1994, I gave Rep. Traficant a ride to the Lebanon, New Hampshire airport from Dartmouth’s campus in nearby Hanover. I was a college sophomore at Dartmouth at the time, and it was the longest I’d ever gotten to talk to a Member of Congress. It was a short time, couldn’t have been more than 20 minutes or thereabouts. So things stayed mostly superficial – back then I had more awe for politicians than I do now. I told of him about my roots in a working class family, chock full of union members and supporters, just in case he made the assumption that Dartmouth’s student body was universally made up of children of privilege. He was pleasant and thanked me for my praise, although I’d be stunned if he remembered anything about me.

I was at the time casually familiar with Traficant’s profile and voting record. I didn’t agree with his positions on a whole host of issues (his foreign policy preferences were a smidgen isolationist for my tastes, he was never much of a gay rights supporter, his attacks on government sometimes seemed a shade extreme) but I definitely found things to admire in him. I thanked him for being a supporter of and a voice for the working men and women of America in Washington, where they have, then and now, many fake friends but few true ones. He never ceased to be a zealous advocate for the mostly blue-collar, mostly low-to-moderate income denizens of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley of Ohio. This may not sound all that unusual, but as any long-term resident of Washington will tell you, it’s very easy for a politicians to come to Capitol Hill and “go native,” and forget where he or she came from.

Most of the voices whispering in the ears of Washington policy-makers are of a comfortable, sophisticated, highly educated, and usually well-compensated nature. The well-heeled have no shortage of agents to speak for them and represent them in Washington.
Every industry has its own coterie of lobbyists and consultants and associations, from apricot farmers to zipper manufacturers. What they want is often at odds with the best interests of the nation as a whole. There is no such organization as the National Organization of the Working Poor or United Minimum Wage-Earners of America to lavish contributions to political candidates, to run big, flashy advertising campaigns, or to hire press flacks to churn out volumes of self-serving pontification about how they need favorable treatment from legislators or regulators. Of course, I understand that such organizations would lobby for if they existed may also not be in the best interests of the nation as a whole – but they don’t exist.

The closest thing that exists to a counterweight against the bakery trucks full of dough that business lobbyists deliver to the White House and Capitol Hill are often the labor unions. From this point of view, the unions aren’t always right, the industries aren’t always wrong.
But the political dialogue as it exists has almost no sense of balance on a variety of levels, and what little there is often comes from labor interests.

Here’s an example, and one especially relevant to discussion of Rep. Traficant, since this was one of his pet issues. Support for what is called “free trade” is essentially unanimous in inside-the-Beltway circles, and few are found to speak against it in academia, in national newspapers or on television news programs. (What little press the opposition receives comes mostly from either labor unions or from the “alternative” press.) And yet polls on the issue find nothing approaching that level of consensus in the nation at large, and some have even found the opposing view in the majority. Even assuming the “protectionist” position is “wrong,” it would seem somewhat odd how much the public debate skews against it given its level of public support.

As you may have guessed even if you didn’t know, Rep. Traficant has been among the loudest opponents of “free trade” in Congress and a steady ally of labor, even while he was flirting with Republican leaders and considering leaving the Democratic Party. I wouldn’t go so far as to call someone representing an area so quintessentially Rust Belt as the Youngstown area “courageous” for railing against the prevailing “free trade” ideology, predisposed as his constituency is to agree with him. But I lament the removal of such a voice from Congress, since he’s one of the few people out there, making the case that however beneficial to American business and to some individuals trade deals may be, they cost more Americans jobs (and wage bargaining power, since there’s a pool of third-world workers more easily accessed to drive labor costs down) than they benefit. Who, after all, does Congress represent? And if it is in fact true, that trade agreements as they are presently formulated, leave more Americans behind than they lift up, impoverish more Americans than they enrich, why won’t Congress stop them, profits be damned? (I know why they wouldn’t, of course, but that, dear readers, is a topic for another day, or perhaps a good lecture in a Political Science 101 class.)

He has a deep distrust of a powerful government bureaucracy, as epitomized by his frequent railings against the IRS and FBI, some of which related to his own experiences with such government entities, some of which did not. He sometimes took this distrust to an extreme, but the impulse to resist “big government” isn’t necessarily an unhealthy one. In an age when it seems that too many people are all too willing to surrender so many civil rights previously taken for granted in the name of a security that not likely be forthcoming, we could count on a man like Traficant to offer a skeptical voice. While we’re on the subject of eroding civil liberties, I figured I’d recommend the two cents a friend of mine offered up on Operation TIPS which apparently is a new government initiative to get civilians to spy on each other and get to get postmen, public utilities employees, and others to spy on citizens. (Here’s a Washington Post editorial on topic.) I’d look forward to the thoughts of Rep. Traficant on this matter.

Rep. Traficant has also been one of a small handful of American politicians willing to criticize Israel regularly. It is not that I am necessarily a full supporter of the Palestinian side or anti-Israel; I am simply of the opinion that an American political climate where people are afraid to criticize Israel for fear of being anti-Semitic or unpatriotic cannot be a good thing – for America, for U.S. foreign policy, for the Palestinians, for the Arab and Islamic world as a whole, or even for Israel itself or for its people. It is never a good idea to write a blank check, and to provide unqualified support for the most implacable of Israeli-hard liners sounds from here to be the equivalent of a blank check. Indeed support for Israel is higher in Congress and in the political arena than it is among the public, as this article suggests.

I remember reading a few years back about how he pledged his support for Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert and scratching my head. Democratic leaders – never fond of his maverick ways to begin with – lost their patience with him and are secretly (or not-so-secretly in some cases) delighted in his fall. When Republicans in the Ohio legislature wiped out his district out in redistricting, Democrats refused to lift a finger to help him. (Interestingly enough the new incumbent Congressman for most of Traficant’s district, Thomas Sawyer from the Akron area, lost his seat in a Democratic primary - due in large part to his support for “free trade” measures – to a local state senator.) I guess Traficant didn’t switch to the GOP because he knew his views were even less welcome there, and his new Republican friends wouldn’t trust him either. I guess another lesson here (besides don’t solicit bribes, of course) is that, even in these times, people value loyalty.

For all his misdeeds, his foibles, and his bizarre language and behavior, Rep. Traficant was a true character, the sort of man not normally found in the American political landscape. Our dialogue might be a bit less vigorous, and certainly less colorful, without his unique, independent voice.

That’s all for now, dear readers. Some of these topics will probably be fodder for future blogs in the near future.

Monday, July 22, 2002

And now, for the second installment in an occasional series…
Tim takes random web quizzes!

Apparently, I’d survive a horror movie. This probably has something to do with the fact that I’m a white guy (the black guys seem to bite the dust early) who’s pretty good looking but not drop-dead gorgeous (the pretty boys bite the dust too, especially if they’re getting laid.) Now, if only there were job openings for skeptical, no-nonsense horror movie heroes…

Would you survive a horror movie? Find out @ She's Crafty Enjoy, dear readers.

Sunday, July 21, 2002

Five observations about the movies I couldn’t fit into a larger theme…

There needs to be a movie where the good guy is portrayed by Max von Sydow or Christopher Lee because when a movie is trying to hide who the real villain is, and one of those guys is in the cast, let’s face it – it’s not half the mystery the screenwriter or director thinks it is.

Roger Ebert has long been saying this, but I’ve thought it too. Why is it that dumb teenage sex comedies will often get PG-13 ratings, whereas nearly anything – comedy or drama - that deals with the sexuality of adolescents in a frank, honest, intelligent manner can pretty much count on an R rating?

Gigantic special effects budgets are almost never a good sign for a film. Either there’s a real movie at its core worth making, in which case the effects are often more a distraction than anything else, or there isn’t a movie worth making at its core, in which case all you have is a set of effects pieces that can essentially be watched in any order.

I was disappointed to find out that Killer Klowns From Outer Space cost $2,000,000 to make. I understand that $2M might be a low budget film now, but this movie was made in 1988. Part of its “charm” for me, if you want to call it that, was that it was so amateurish and stupid and campy, and part of that feel was the perception that it was done for a pittance. I feel like I lost some innocence, although those of you who know me know I have little if any innocence left anyway.

With trepdiation I wonder what the next lame “Saturday Night Live” sketch will be turned into a feature-length motion picture. “Goat Boy?” The “Cheerleaders?”

Saturday, July 20, 2002

And now it's time for the first installment in an occassional series...

Tim takes random web quizzes!

I suppose this isn't any surprise to anyone who knows me. Want to find out which high school stereotype you are? Take this quiz and find out!

Well, back in DC, but haven’t felt much like writing lately. It’s just been sickeningly, incredibly hot and humid here and it’s only going to get worse.

The Dow is crashing. Not being in the stock market (still not earning money at the moment, and what I will be earning would go into paying off student loans) and confidence is down overall. I can’t help but wonder how far in the toilet Dubya’s approval ratings would be if it weren’t for these damn terrorists. I’d comment that our business leaders have brought all this upon themselves and deserve their misery, except that a lot of good and decent people are losing their shirts too. (And besides, the fat cats will always find a way to manipulate the rules to stay on top.)

Sox beat the Yankees behind Pedro last night. I just have this sinking feeling that the other shoe will be dropping soon – who among us didn’t suspect the worst when the team started the second half going 2-4 against two teams that have been in effect been turned into Yankee farm teams? Either that, or there’s going to be a strike. Will I come back? I’m not going to make any grand pronouncement that I won’t come back, since I know that some combination of a compelling Red Sox pennant race, or a Major League team with reasonably priced tickets a subway ride away could do the trick easily. But I think there are people who wouldn’t come back. Montreal may not be the last dead market in Major League Baseball.

Speaking of bush league…I think I’m going to join Bill Simmonsand become a hockey widow. It’s been obvious for a while now that Boston Bruins management has no interest in winning anything and would rather remain mediocre and cheap. I guess I should be glad that the Jacobs clan lost their bid for the Red Sox.

Speaking of Simmons…I was afraid he had a direct line into my brain for a while there, and was stealing all my ideas for columns, especially when he said the Devil got cheated out of that fiddle in “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” or when So I was indeed very relieved to find out that he doesn’t like Elvis Costello. Although I admit to being horrifed that “The Only Flame In Town” is his favorite Costello song. This is like citing “Moonraker” as your favorite Bond movie or “I Love Trouble” as your favorite Julia Roberts performance or Emotional Rescue as your favorite Rolling Stones album or having Veterans’ Stadium in Phildelphia your favorite ballpark (i.e. as close to objectively wrong as a judgment of taste could possibly be.)

There, I got that out of my head. Now to enjoy my day…

Saturday, July 13, 2002

Just got back from my vacation within a vacation at Hampton Beach, New Hampshire to take in some sun, see some relatives I haven't seen in a while, and just generally kick back...general observations from my three days there...

Mmmm...Fried dough. Down South they call it "funnel cake," but their version, quite frankly, sucks. Fried dough is to Hampton Beach what the cheesesteak is to Philadelphia, and it's just as fattening, combining fat with my big Achilles' heel, sugar. (The usual toppings are powdered sugar and cinnamon.)

I still know what a pretty girl is, especially when they're wearing a bikini. But their boyfriends turn my head more. *sigh* At some level, I know I'm, too old for 18-year old boys and that if I actually got with them, it wouldn't feel too good. Aside from risking jail time if they're underage, there's the fact that I'd be bored by most of them, who'd be unable to hold up their end of a stimulating conversation (probably why I've tended to find a higher percentage of younger male quiz bowl guys compared to the general college-age population attractive) and even if they did swing my way, they'd probably have no clue what they were doing in bed if it ever got there. (I sure as hell had no clue what I was doing in bed at 18 or 21, whether or not my partner had a Y chromosome.)

More weird "Would you say that if you knew you had a gay cousin?" moments with the relatives, and for that matter, with overheard conversations.

Another thing..those of us who were wondering who exactly watches "Everybody Loves Raymond" and other CBS sitcoms. I have found the answer. My extended family. I don't think any of them are Nielsen families, but you get the idea....

Sign that perhaps not all of humanity is fundamentally evil....I stupidly went into the ocean with my wallet in the pocket of my swimsuit. Of course it fell out, onto the waves. Unbelievably, someone found it, and - get this - turned it in to local police with all the money - a considerable amount of money, by the way - still inside. Was it a sign that maybe there's still something special about this beach? Was it a sign that maybe my luck is better than I think it is? Was it a testament to the power of prayers to Saint Anthony? (When I found out my wallet was missing, my entire bunch of cousins and great-aunts offered up prayers to Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost items.) I don't know what it was, but I am very thankful for it.

Sunburn. Ouch. Why have I allowed myself to believe that I need to have a suntan? The rational part of my brain knows that means increased skin cancer risk, painful sunburns, unsightly peeling, and other things best avoided. Oh, well...

The beach theme of the summer - Eminem, "Without Me." It's inescapable up there. It's actually fairly catchy, grows on you (except for that "nyah-nyah" bit at the end) and has a hilarious video to boot. Two trailer park girls go 'round the outside....

That's all from the beach, dear readers. More later...

Friday, July 05, 2002

Well, another July 4th in the books...

Saw the family (both sides) today at the sort of backyard cookouts that one would associate with the Fourth. Realized that my relatives (and their assorted in-laws, with all sorts of kids around I didn't recognize) are generally fine and decent people but, well, there's a reason I would rather stay in the big city at this point in my life. Even a city and area of this size and population (Worcester, MA) can seem like a stifling tiny hamlet when you've got this many relatives around. Another thing - everyone but me it seemed was married with children. My answers when asked about my bachelorhood were of the evasive "having too much fun in the city" variety. It occurred to me that may not work when I'm pushing 40.

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

A few thoughts on the upcoming July 4th celebrations…

I won’t be in Washington. I’d like to think that it’s not that the terrorists have scared me away. I’ve never liked crowds much. On average, July in New England is much better than July in Washington in terms of comfortable weather. And when you’ve seen one large fireworks display, you’ve seen them all.

People will always take comfort in loud, garish displays of patriotism, especially when there is a perception the country is under attack. I’ve never been crazy about some of them. The song “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood, for instance, has always vaguely creeped me out, and then someone had to go and make a version interspersed with bellicose-sounding quotes from politicians in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Not good times. It’s about time for the right wing to make one of their periodic attempts to try and change the Constitution to ban flag “desecration.” And of course protecting the Pledge of Allegiance will probably be an election issue in some places.

If the worth of a nation could be measured by its ability to generate loud displays of patriotism or nationalism, then, well, let’s just say that the wrong side probably won the Second World War, and probably the Cold War too.

I submit that what much of what makes the United States of America such a great country is its ability to, to steal an old slogan, take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’. Protestors can burn flags in the streets and ruffle a few feathers and outrage a few politicians, but will have plenty of people who don’t agree with them willing to resist the urge to punish and suppress dissenters. This nation is tough enough to withstand shady and disputed elections, multiple crises of confidence in government and also in business leadership. And massive terrorist attacks too.

It is true that sometimes we take for granted the ability to put “Hail to the Thief” bumper stickers on our cars. (Or, if you prefer, “Impeach Slick Willie Now.”) There are plenty of appropriate and proper ways for an individual and a nation to show its thanks to the people that sacrificed their lives and their livelihoods to protect the liberties and freedoms often taken for granted. The elevation of symbols and emblems of our nation to the level of a talisman that must be protected at all costs isn’t one of them. People who their gave lives and service to America, not to a mere piece of cloth, but to a vast, sprawling centuries-long experiment in freedom that still continues today, an experiment many the world over aspire to replicate. If we need laws “protecting” the flag from protestors, mandatory expressions of “allegiance,” and the like, then we’re in trouble.

Oh, and one more thing, dear readers. Let’s make the National Anthem one whose words and music were written by an American, one that can be sung by people who aren’t opera singers, one that lends itself to fresh interpretations rooted in jazz and gospel music, one whose scope is as broad as America itself. Yeah, that would be “America the Beautiful,” by one Katherine Lee Bates, of my second hometown of sorts, Falmouth, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. After a while, I don’t think we’d much miss that unsingable 18th century English drinking song whose grafted-on lyrics depict an isolated incident in a minor war. Jimi Hendrix may not be around to recast our new song, but we’ve already got a great version by another American cultural icon, Ray Charles. (Yeah, I know, I know, God's in the chorus - that doesn't bother me.)

Happy 226th Birthday, America. Happy Independence Day, dear readers.

Note: I may not be able to blog much during my vacation. But I’ll be back in a week…

Monday, July 01, 2002

The palpable stare of imminent death in the face.

That’s as close I can come to describing riding an elevator up nine stories to a nondescript office in downtown Washington this morning. I was going up there to see if I had been, in effect, sentenced to death. I suppose there are those who come closer to death every day, but I can only say I’ve never quite felt this close before.

Almost paralyzed by fear, I walked into the office to hear the results of an HIV test I had taken a few weeks before. On the outside I remained calm; inside I started to contemplate how I would deal with the news in event the test came back positive – Would I start to cry? I don’t cry easily, you know. Would I at least consider, well, I can’t even say it here – rather than contemplate a life spent wondering what moment I would begin to waste away? Yeah, things have gotten better for HIV positive people over the years, with the drugs and the support groups and all, but there’s still no cure and plenty of social stigma.

And while I know that gay men aren’t the only people who contract the virus, I am well aware that I’m at a higher risk than the general population. I am always careful – very careful, but probably not as careful as I should be.

And in the end, I am going to be a responsible member of my community. Which is why I will likely be doing this regularly, even though it is not pleasant to imagine the prospect of staring the Grim Reaper down in just this fashion every six months or so. Maybe I’ll grow accustomed to it. It is at times like these that being gay itself feels like a terminal disease for which there is no cure.

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