Archive for February, 2009

a much overdue love letter to joan of arc.

27 February 2009

dearest joan,

at times, you’ve probably wondered why i sent envoys to your capital city, paris, so frequently after our civilizations met in the third version of the sid meier-created computer game. you were probably confused when i instructed my most learned men, researching the latest technologies, to take a hiatus from their studies in order to mentor so that you, also, could domesticate animals that carry your men into battle and plow your fields, could build granaries to store food through the hard french winters causing your cities to flourish, and could, centuries later, discover things you never thought were possible, such as flight, electricity, and genetics, words which mean nothing to you now, i’m sorry.

behind closed doors, you were likely questioning your most trusted advisors as to why i would align my always formidable army and expansive nation with yours, why i had my scribes pen alliances promising aid whenever you were attacked, why, during the inevitable wars begun by some rogue targeting your puny (please excuse my harsh wording) state, i stepped forward and funded the effort by adding gold to your coffers. i surmise the answers they gave you were incorrect as you never ceased appearing cautious and untrusting when i welcomed you and your retinue into the hallways of my palace.

i regret that during your lifetime i never made my intentions known. instead i hid behind the guise of abraham lincoln, alexander the great of macedonia, or the babylonian, hammurabi. it’s much too late to tell you that their curious acts of benevolence toward you and your people were initiated by me: i moved them to action; i first spoke the words they later reiterated. in short, i was smitten by you.

i feel compelled to write to you tonight, long after your death, because i was again reminded of your kindness, your resoluteness, and your ambition, not to mention, your large, beautiful eyes with that piercing gaze that fed my heart like the soil of briancon nourishes apricots, while watching carl theodore dreyer’s groundbreaking silent film about your trial. we’ve never agreed on matters of faith, it’s true, but i will forever be moved to tears by your struggle against insurmountable odds in pursuit of your beliefs and love for your country.

i was there in rouen in late may of 1431 when you were executed, partially hiding my face with the hood of my cloak to conceal weeping. please understand why it was impossible to intervene, as well as why i have chosen to conceal my identity all these years. i, myself, no longer know the reasons, and i imagine if i did, they would embarrass me. upon placing this letter into the fireplace, i pray, perhaps to the god in whom you believed unwaveringly, even when faced with certain, painful death, that smoke shelters its words on the way to heaven, so as you may read it.

like cliff diving into rocks.

25 February 2009

every bungee enthusiast understands their next jump could end with the cord snapping. likewise, part of the thrill of leaping from an airplane, so i’m told, is the knowledge that one’s parachute can be replaced with an anvil by wile e. coyote before disembarking. i think eating fast food should be viewed the same way, as a sort of extreme sport where you acknowledge the risks before you proceed.

that being said, i don’t like the move toward healthier, more nutritious fare that has been sweeping through the industry for the last few years. i find it disingenuous and insulting. not to mention the fact that it just doesn’t work — a child has never asked his parents if they can take him to mcdonalds for a cup of fruit or insisted that her french fries be substituted by a side salad. moreover, it’s a product of our laziness, not accepting responsibility for our own actions and believing that corporate america, for some reason, needs to be held accountable for our negligence.

excuse me as i go all andy rooney on you, wondering aloud about the factors that converged in order to make humans content consuming whatever items were set before them. certainly it’s easier to let others choose for you, adopting a sort of cliffs notes (coles notes for my canadian readers) approach to life, circumventing the intricacies and embracing that which is most understandable (that is, usually, the things that are most prevalent and available), but i question the lack of joy in that journey. i doubt few of you would trade the happiness brought on by the discovery of a new taste or artist, the sense of beauty that comes from the urgency of exploring a topic in its entirety, for an existence comprised of the most accessible paths and softest options, but somehow many do. the justification that the twenty-first century is too fast paced and our budgets too tight, that we don’t have enough time or money to afford good food or find culture, is a ray kroc crock.

i’ve taken you on this circuitous route — and i apologize — to get here: i appreciate the stance hardee’s (carl’s jr for my west coast readers) has taken. they don’t pretend that eating a diet of fast food is going to trim your waistline or unclog your arteries. in fact, they continue to produce hamburgers with more calories and fat grams, with two-thirds of a pound of beef, four strips of bacon, and three slices of cheese (for example), than their predecessors. they do the best they can to find the freshest and best ingredients within the constraints. honestly, that’s all we should expect when we require that dinner be ready in five minutes. thinking otherwise is akin to swimming with sharks while bleeding and imagining they won’t approach.

you got to lose to know how to win.

22 February 2009

six or seven years ago, driving from boston to new york, a friend, who occasionally writes about food, and i simultaneously began to sing (for the laughter and for the tears), matching vocals with aerosmith’s steven tyler on the band’s first single dream on. afterward, following the crescendo with its held notes, we sat silently, allowing our breath to return to its normal rate, noting the changes. for instance, the steering wheel was inexplicably adorned with multi-colored scarves. my friend spoke first, saying it was the gayest thing he’s ever done.

since then, we’ve both done gayer things (he now lives in san francisco) and he’s gained some weight (he eats the food he occasionally writes about), but that didn’t stop us from returning to our roots (you never know, maybe tomorrow the good lord will take you away), belting out aerosmith tunes at an atlanta restaurant disguised as a decent taqueria.

we waited, finishing our tacos, hoping someone would volunteer first for karaoke. for the night, our act took on the name prince and the bear, just one of many things that didn’t translate well with our audience. after a half hour of awkward dj rambling, we took the stage and not a single person turned towards us. our second song, whitney houston’s the greatest love of all, was met with similar nonresponse, even though we stepped up the crowd interraction to the point where we began taunting them for not joining, proving that atlanta will collectively fold its arms when faced with children who require a sense of pride to make it easier.

other patrons, exhorted by our lead, eventually flexed their vocal cords, fumbling lyrics but still eliciting approval from the audience. after a couple of more performances we walked back to the hotel through half-rain, pondering the fate of a world that refuses to understand us. even the dj, who should have been thankful that we paved the way for other singers, pretended there were no oasis songs in his collection when we inquired.

maybe it was just the city, or day of the week, or weather. maybe canada and mexico were not meant to unite in song. maybe it was because our hotel has a happy hour where they serve a nacho dip that borders on being diaphanous. maybe my critique is too harsh and undeserved though, and i should shrug it off, remembering that we live and learn from fools and from sages.

i can’t hear you.

18 February 2009

sylvester stallone gained forty pounds for his role as a sheriff in the underrated, though uneven, film cop land. during the climatic gun battle, a blast leaves him temporarily deaf, and the audio is muffled so that viewers experience his loss vicariously.

though the diminished hearing in my right ear was not caused by a stream of bullets — it was a sinus infection that handicapped me — i feel a sort of kinship with freddy heflin, the lone voice rising against the corrupt new york city cops bent on turning his small new jersey town into a sort of playground for crime.

i’ve always pictured myself as smaller than i am, in both stature and bearing. in high school basketball, i pretended i was the guy dribbling up the court with one hand in the air to determine the play, stopping to take a three-point shot or making a behind-the-back pass to a teammate in the paint. instead i merely stood under the basket and leaped for rebounds, elbows flailing. similarly, for a long time i described myself as an awkward boy fumbling for his keys in the rain, although in reality i’m not nearly as pitiful.

i like the idea that good, however feeble, can prevail. for instance, this afternoon i had a job interview, where i began by making excuses about my hearing. i positioned my good ear toward him, still asking him to repeat some of his comments. in all honesty, it wasn’t really an interview as much as it was an information exchange. he was interested in my experiences, in an attempt to refine the strategies he’d already formed. he detailed his plan for the business, with me straining to hear his responses. at one point, he said, see sheriff, i got a sticky problem. my jurisdiction ends, in a sense, at the george washington bridge. but half the people i watch live beyond the bridge, where no one’s watching. he asked if i would consider helping him with the venture.

i told him that i was watching.

this bacon contains no bacon.

14 February 2009

i make it no secret that, when it comes to food at least, i hate when things masquerade as something they’re not. i don’t mean the acrobatics, known as molecular gastronomy, practiced by ferran adria and his (more or less) disciples thomas keller, heston blumenthal, and grant achatz. i can appreciate their attention to detail, intense study of chemical properties, and the overall playfulness behind their creations (and their cuisines aren’t meant to be eaten daily).

instead my displeasure is focused on a trend in vegetarian cooking of using meatless meat. until recently i thought this scourge was limited to the freezer section of the grocery store, where my sister continuously finds packages of meatballs that contain absolutely no meat (doesn’t the fda require some sort of honesty in labeling these items?). to my horror, i’ve now discovered that there exist entire restaurants serving this fare. one, greensboro’s boba house, was recommended to me tonight.

there are so many quotation marks on their menu, one could mistake it for the work of john bartlett. elsewhere, they list products, which are vegetable proteins disguised as meat. i see nothing wrong with eating a vegetarian diet, but all of the reasons for pretending vegetables are something else are unsatisfactory. is this really necessary to make vegetables palatable? has the market dried up for locally-grown vegetables, prepared simply? it’s a byproduct of america’s obsession with appearances, inventing healthiness, the idea that seaweed and assorted unpronounceable things, molded into a fish filet, can both eliminate our seafood craving (because of visual trickery, i suppose) and make us healthier (because any actual meat will kill us, i am told).

the most incomprehensible and represensible item on the page is something called chicken ham. honestly, now they’re just fucking with us. it’s as if they’re saying, scott, you thought the idea of faux shrimp was bothersome, just wait until we combine two names of meat into one imitation. are we to expect chicken cordon bleu?

if meat is murder, though, then dressing vegetables in meat costumes is akin to faking your own death in order to escape. as michael pollan writes in in defense of food, eat food. not too much. mostly plants. to me, we’re better off following that message than blindly eating something with a definable shape but indeterminate ingredients.

on personal growth and self-improvement.

12 February 2009

in a friend’s room, i noticed an open box containing two semi-rigid domes with rims filled with silicone gel. when i went to touch it, i was chastised, she saying that it was not a toy. rather it was a type of bra, the brava breast enchancement and shaping system to be exact, which applies a gentle three-dimensional pull, causing the body tissue to grow under sustained tension. the system includes a sports bra to hold the domes in place and the unoriginally-named smartbox which constantly regulates the optimal pressure within the domes.

asking about her success, she prefaced her response by saying that she was supposed to wear the device for ten uninterrupted hours every day for ten to fourteen weeks (initial enlargement is due almost entirely to swelling, while true growth occurs with intensity and duration of use). obviously this regimen with its concomitant curfews made maintaining a social life difficult. she confided that she was often forced to leave gatherings unexpectedly to return home.

have the results been worth the effort? she told me before she began treatment her chest was just nipples and now, following six months of fairly regular application, she had a little something more. i remained skeptical, not so much of the results, as i was inclined to believe her, but of the frivolity of the endeavor. she asked how i would react to being born with a two-inch penis, if i would sit idly or research every method of supplementing its length.

it’s true that i possess a wealth of creativity. it’s not hard for me to imagine the sensation of my feet on the surface of the moon or the fear and exhilaration of a baby robin leaving the nest for the first time or being buried alive, but, when it comes to the question of living with a small penis, the jury is decidedly hung.

god hates fags.

10 February 2009

thankfully we have religious fanatics to dispense guidelines concerning the manner in which we should live. it’s comforting to know that i do not need to form my own opinions, relying instead on their interpretations of biblical texts.

currently i’m a disciple of self-proclaimed christian youth expert, donnie davies. he has developed the c.h.o.p.s (for some reason, he omits the final dot) program. to give you an idea of its mission, the acronym stands for changing homosexuals into ordinary people. i assume s is there to represent the fact that people is plural.

on his website, to which i’m refraining from providing a link because i’d currently rather you read my writing than send him hate mail, he lists gay bands, which are those whose music sentences listeners to eternal damnation. he strongly recommends parents burning albums in front of their children, allowing them to feel the heat. it’s crucial, he says, that the image remains emblazoned on their young minds. it’s time to take action once three of the listed bands are in your collection.

davies explains that some of the music is by gateway bands, you know, those that lure people in with pop grooves and salacious melodies, leading them to more dangerous stuff. it’s as easy as that: next thing you know you’ve got a homosexual for a child.

according to the series of names, everyone i have ever met is gay. lil’ wayne is listed twice, an admission that means he makes people super gay. elton john is also listed twice, the second time with a reason in parentheses (really gay). others containing reasons for their inclusion are britney spears (kissed madonna), marilyn manson (dark gay), sigur ros (nudists), toby keith (cowboy), ted nugent (loincloth), and pictures of members of metallica touching their tongues to each other’s. perhaps the best, though, follows morrissey (?questionable?).

the site also helpfully enumerates safe bands. this much shorter list is populated by avowed christian bands, like dc talk and jars of clay, and somewhat surprisingly blondie and cyndi lauper, all of which apparently foster heterosexual desires. i’m still hopeful that sufjan stevens can save me from hell.

as an added treat davies’ website provides links to his own music, which, i should warn parents, definitely has the power to turn people queer. watching his videos causes me to wonder whether everything else i’ve read is a parody. the song, take my hand, contains the lyrics, mouthed with his honey-voiced delivery, when i’m reaching out to touch you/will you come?/will you come?/inside the gates of heaven, as he sits at the piano, on top of which are displayed pictures of anderson cooper, a shirtless and medal-strewn michael phelps, and, i think, laurence fishburne. the end features davies walking along a closed street wearing a v-neck undershirt and open woven decorated with stylized crosses on the left half, flanked by teen boys not quite pretty enough to work for abercrombie and fitch, and as the music swells, he asks us and them if we are coming. a final message reads, homosexuality has met its maker, which i take to mean that gay people have donnie davies to thank for creating homosexuality.

the other song i was able to find, the bible says, contains words that only a repressed homosexual could utter, but you have to admit that the chorus, god hates fags, is pretty damn catchy, with davies speaking and if you’re a fag he hates you too before joyously breaking into the next verse.

i know i cannot keep this to myself any longer, as the message needs spreading, so here are the links:
the website proper.
the video for take my hand.
the video for the bible says.

change i can believe in.

8 February 2009

earlier this week i found jars filled with pennies in my closet. my dad brought me a few more he had been saving. thus, for the past three days, off and on, i’ve sat on the bed, rolling coins. the act doesn’t seem particularly humorous now but if i could make a postcard and send it to myself five years from this date, the sound of laughter would no doubt reverberate off the walls of my mansion. i suppose one has to go to these lengths during a prolonged stay in the unemployment line during an economic downturn. perhaps i should find comfort in the small adjustments i’ve had to make, because while, admittedly, counting pennies isn’t nearly as hip as the alternative (holding a wealthy dowager at gunpoint for the contents of her pocketbook), five years from now i’ll understand it was the wiser decision.

a friend suggested that i speed up the process by depositing the coins in one of those machines that counts money for a small fee, but using such a service doesn’t make as much sense. it wasn’t as if i was in a hurry. after all, when a payment to chase is already two months late, i expect they care less about an additional few days of delinquency than about a check that is twenty bucks short. they weren’t even threatening to cut off my fingers, unless that’s why they’ve been calling fifteen times a day. however, i figure if it were really important, they would leave a message.

last night i slept on this bed, or, more accurately laid awake here, as three quarters of the blanket is overrun with coins. there are currently one hundred eighty-seven dollars worth of pennies and nearly one hundred more in silver sharing my sleeping space. my restlessness, though, was caused by a different concern, that is, i keep picturing myself entering a bank, struggling with a box of money, and having security mistake it for a bomb, reacting by filling me with lead before i can detonate it. i realize the scenario seems farfetched, but we’re living in desperate times, where nothing can be ruled out.

i look forward to the world, five years into the future, when everything will add up. violence won’t disappear, certainly, but fewer people will contemplate the use of force as necessary for their survival. struggle will again become funny.

grape shot.

5 February 2009

when i was young i learned about robert pershing wadlow, the world’s tallest man, eight feet eleven inches when he died at age twenty two. i scanned his height chart — five foot four at age four, six foot two at age eight — finding it highly unlikely i could ever compete. if i were to be listed in the book of world records, i would have to do it for another reason.

i don’t remember when it first occurred to me that catching a grape in my mouth from a long distance would be a worthy goal. the other candidates were either too detrimental to my social life (growing my hair or nails for a few decades) or put my health at risk (staying awake for a few weeks). plus, a friend could participate in the achievement, lessening the intrusion of stardom’s spotlight on my daily life. from researching specifics, however, if i wanted celebrity status in the grape-catching world, i would need to meet someone with a bionic arm.

on his website, paul tavilla provides tips for amateurs. he recommends using california ribier, almost black in color, or chilean red globes because they’re big and heavy and easy to see. from ground level he once caught a grape thrown three hundred twenty-seven feet six inches. herein lies the problem, i’m only moderately concerned about my ability to catch a grape in my mouth from such a distance (after all, i follow paul’s advice, catching with my eyes), but i’m extremely skeptical that anyone i know can launch one farther than a football field, let alone accurately, giving me the chance to catch it. apparently paul is assisted by professional grape thrower, james dedy (one wonders if that provides a decent wage or if he needs a side job).

to date the farthest i’ve caught a thrown grape is approximately fifty feet, my sister tossing one from the top of the driveway to my open mouth at the bottom. there’s always a second or so before both the thrower and catcher realize that there has been success, with the former first raising hands triumphantly, then the latter. i ran to meet my sister at the top of the driveway, beside her parked car, and we celebrated together, then looked around to see if the neighbors were watching.

in opposition to hagiography.

2 February 2009

i’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that we lack agency in posthoumously appointing a biographer, a theme prevalent in the work of carol shields, insomuch as the women’s lives detailed in her novels could appear mundane from one vantage point, but remarkable and heroic from another. obviously she thought about how one doesn’t have to pass a test in order to write (or speak) about the deceased, how we are all limited by certain biases and experiences, and how these cannot help but color our retelling.

back in october, when death became omnipresent, i told my mom that i planned to document the remainder of her life and its impact on us. i felt obligated, as i’ve touched on in a previous post, to present the facts unedited, to express the pain and joy in honest — and believable — amounts.

a week or so before her death, we met with a minister, the only time, during her stay at beacon place when at least one of the three of us wasn’t at her side. as part of my mother’s service, the minister was giving a speech about her hobbies (drinking tea, gardening, reading, traveling with my dad). she asked us questions and took her own impressions from them, eventually weaving bible verses in with her prose.

it felt odd, and i didn’t offer much even when prompted. after all, i was planning my own eulogy and didn’t want someone who had never even heard my mother’s voice stealing my good lines. more than this small concern, however, my reticence was caused by the fact that her presence was superfluous. none of us are typical religious believers: my sister follows, in mind if not always in practice, various eastern flavor-of-the-month teachings; my dad oscillates for fear of being wrong when it counts (when asked, during our meeting, if he had a prayer he preferred, he stumbled, you know, um, the lord is my shepherd, that’s always a good one, yeah). my mom lived, not because of rewards guaranteed in a potential afterlife, but because she liked to make people smile, she wanted to help others realize their best.

the pious tend to become sanctimonious when people are dying. we began to hear often that it was part of god’s plan that we were not made to understand, as if that should provide solace to any rational person. on the day my mother died an elderly man told my father that god wanted her more. if my dad hadn’t been so weak from mourning his loss, he would have guaranteed that god also wanted that elderly man more.

in her speech, the minister detailed my mother’s work with the mentally retarded: managing group homes in canada; finding advocates, raising awareness, and educating the community here in the united states. she summed this section up by referring to her actions as dare i say, christ-like.

i don’t understand the rampant desire to misrepresent someone once they have passed away, when they are cherished abundantly for their actual biography. while my mother and jesus have the same initials, they are not the same person. in fact, legend says that one died for the other’s sins a few millennia ago.

a more valid appreciation for the way my mother touched lives could be found later when those in the audience were invited to say a few words on her behalf. a neighbor spoke of how she would watch her in the backyard, tending to her flowerbed, and was now struck with a gaping void. she beseeched us to get to know those around us before it was too late, before we made the same mistake she had. her words were delivered with such vitriol that one would believe if they didn’t introduce themselves to their neighbors that very afternoon they would have to deal with this wild-haired woman’s admonishment in their dreams.


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