Bee-yotch? Moi?

This holiday season I rediscovered the Gibson.  Y’know what a Gibson is?  It’s gin.  Just gin.  Taken out of the freezer and poured into a martini glass.  Oh, wait, wait—there’s a cocktail onion in it.  But y’know what’s all around that cocktail onion?  Gin.  Cold gin.

You know that scene in Unbreakable where Bruce Willis is trying to figure out how much he can bench-press, and his kid loads him up with all the weight discs in the basement, and then they start trying to find other things to add, so that by the end of the scene he’s got paint cans and shit hanging from both ends of a fully-loaded weight bar?  That’s how we get all up on top of our potables over here at the Slagheap. 

I’m not talking about drinking copious amounts, mind you, though, well, ah heh-heh, it’s your birthday and all.  Rather, I’m talking about the seriousness with which we make a study and a plan of imbibing.  I’m talking about the science of the process, matching cocktails with moods or movies we’re watching (film noir gets whiskey or bourbon, while screwball comedies rate martinis, The Office or Community gets beer, etc.), laying out the gear and the accoutrements, making sure we have the proper ingredients, and so forth.  We’re not silly about it; we’re very mindful of our tolerance levels, and of the fact that 20+ years of tippling has resulted in the occasional strange behavior, like breaking into the first person plural voice when discussing our drinking habits.  But we digress.

The point I was making is that we drink responsibly.  Like, I’ll be responsible for drinking these here Gibsons, which are as close to Pure Unsullied Classic Cocktail as you can come.  I’ll not be having anything with “Bomb” or “Buttery” in the title, for the same reason I had to get a passport and register with Selective Service: Because I am a Grown Ass Man.

Now, here’s a funny story about drinking, and it also contains romance and compelling human dray-ma, so it’s got a little something for everyone.  Several months ago, two of my former students got be-wedded, and a bunch of folks I hadn’t seen in a while came in from out of town.  After the service and the reception, about a half dozen of us retired to one of Bucktown’s more, um, colorful social establishments, the K-Lounge, which in a previous incarnation was a movie theater.  It’s basically a dive, and it’s beat to hell inside and out, but it’s got, you know, character.  It’s dark, the drinks are cheap, and the clientele usually minds its own business.  (Note that “usually.”  It’ll be important later.)

So we all roll up into the K-Lounge, me and a few other people, including Miss L. and Miss B., who are in from out of town.  Miss L. teaches now, and Miss B. is a graduate student, and both are bright, funny, whip-smart persons, exactly the sort of people you’d like to pass time with down the ol’ pub.

The K-Lounge has two U-shaped bars.  We sit down at the one nearest the front door, at the lower right corner, so we can sort of look each other in the face.  On the long side of the U facing us sit two young-ish gennlemens, maybe mid- to late-twenties.  Let’s call them Ball Cap and Porn ‘Stache, for, like, absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Both Ball Cap and Porn ‘Stache are deep into their cups.  And because they keep calling for more of them, we know what they’re drinking.  Ready?  Tuaca Bombs.

Tuaca is a vanilla-citrus concoction, the kind of sad, cloying, sickly, pointless liqueur that always ends up in shots bought for you by people who learned to drink fifteen minutes ago, and who don’t realize that the whole point of cocktail hour is to lubricate the conversation of damn grownups, not to stand around getting adult-onset diabetes from slugging back Kool-Aid-flavored drinkiepoos that would look more natural sloshing around sippy cups than highball glasses, thereIsaidit.

Ball Cap and Porn ‘Stache are the only other people in the joint.  And as we’re sitting more or less across from them, they start interacting with the women in our group every now and then, in and among ordering more Tuaca Bombs.

(Oh, sorry: A “Tuaca Bomb” is a shot of Tuaca and half a can of Red Bull over ice.  I can’t imagine a more shameful thing for two adult men to be drinking in public.  If that were my preferred tipple, I’d drink those only at home, with the shades pulled, and all the lights out.  In the basement.  Inside the dryer, if I could fit comfortably.)

Both Ball Cap and Porn ‘Stache are visibly drunk.  But Ball Cap has embarked on a state of inebriation for which the word “drunk” is insufficient.  He is oiled.  He is polluted.  He is shnockered, three-sheets, ‘faced, stymied, sideways, bound for glory, pickled, arse-over-teakettle.  He has reached that state of soused wherein the weight of his eyelashes is throwing his balance off and causing his head to wobble when he attempts to look around the room.  He is, in the parlance of the misspelled text message once sent to me by a friend on New Year’s, “DRUMK.”

So naturally, he begins flirting with Miss L.

Ball Cap compliments Miss L. on her hurr, which is all did up for the wedding.  He tries to get her to have a shot with him.  He rises unsteadily, like a wounded bear, from his position on the far side of the bar, lurches ‘round to where we’re sitting, and puts his arm around her.  He tries to buy her a drink again.  He compliments her on the way she smells, which, according to him, is “purdy.”  Again, he tries to get her to take a shot with him.  He tries to get her to dance with him.  He orders her a drink, despite being told by everybody including the bartender that Miss L. doesn’t want one.

Miss L. is taking it all with enormous grace, it must be said, thanking Ball Cap for the various offers, but no, thank you.  However, he is standing between Miss L. and Miss B., bumping into Miss B. on occasion, and Miss B. is having none of it.  (At one point early in this sad process, he lightly knocked Miss B.’s glass with some sort of careless flailing gesture, and she said, “Whoa, take it easy there, Whitesnake,” and maybe you had to be there, but it was kind of hilarious.)

Miss B. asks him nicely to calm his drunk ass down and be careful where he puts his hands.  You will never believe me when I tell you this, but Ball Cap takes her calm reprove as a personal slur. 

So now he’s standing between Miss B. and Miss L., flirting with Miss B. on his right, and occasionally disparaging Miss L. on his left: “Why can’t you be nice?  Your friend’s nice.  you oughta be [hiccup] nice like your [burp] friend.  Your friend’s purdy.”  And much, much more in the same vein.

Pause.  I can be an angry fellow.  Lots of things put me in urge-to-kill-rising state.  Mostly those triggers are related to unsolicited rudeness, intentional cruelty, or that peculiar combination of abysmal ignorance and cocky self-assuredness that afflicts the terminally stupid.  I can get angry about that stuff. 

But I have the sense that I have never felt one-one-billionth of the teeth-clattering whiteout rage I would feel on a semi-weekly basis were I a woman.  If I had to endure the standard-issue anger that results from being an aware person on planet Earth in the 21st century, and on top of that I also had to endure the bullshit foisted upon me by guys like Ball Cap at random intervals, I’d walk around with the urge to karate-chop a motherfucker in the larynx just barely held in check by the social contract.  Maybe I’m wrong.  But if I ever have a daughter, the first words she’s going to learn after “mommy” and “daddy” are “You looking to lose your nuts?”

Ball Cap’s disparaging of Miss B. is getting cruder and cruder, and eventually it culminates in some variation of “You don’t have to be a bitch,” or “Why are you being a bitch?” or “You’re a bitch,” or anyway “bitch” was in there somewhere.

Now, I’m not looking for a fight here.  I just want to get this brain-dead mook off my friend.  So I say, but laughing good-naturedly, “All right, that’s enough of that shit.”

Here’s the other part of the story you will never believe: He takes my statement as an insult to his manhood, and he begins yammering at me over top of Miss B.’s head. 

You can imagine the dialogue yourself: “Why you laughing, what’s so funny, motherfucker, huh, you think yer tough, you wanna come outside, we’ll see how fuckin’ tough you are, you ain’t saying nothin’ now, are ya,” and blip blap blurp, all this delivered at top volume while he’s trying to give me the Thousand Yard Stare, only his vision isn’t quite tracking, so he ends up giving the stink-eye to a point in space three inches up and away from my left shoulder. 

You see what happened, right?  Poor guy.  All he wanted to do was compliment a girl on her purdy hair and smell, and now his balls are on the line.

Strangely, across the bar, Porn ‘Stache is staring blissfully at the television while all this goes on, making no move to calm or support his buddy, which strikes me as a very odd way to pal around with a guy.

I’m not by any means what could be called a nonviolent person, but it’s been years since I threw a punch, and I’m not looking to do so again.  I prefer to handle conflict with mild rapier wit.  But Ball Cap has long since passed the point of receptiveness to my particular variety of dry, Algonquin-Round-Table-style humor.

So I sit there, not engaging, and I meditate upon what I know, from years of being a man and observing men gittin’ all up in each other’s grilles, a-huffin’ and a-puffin’ and on fahr with testosterone poisoning, is about to go down.  And it’s a lesson I share here with all and sundry.  Maybe you’ll never need to know this, but if you ever find yourself the target of drink-riddled macho blowhards, remember these things and you’ll be set.

Sit quietly.  Say nothing.  Do nothing to escalate the proceedings.  If possible, do not make direct eye contact, but watch him out of the corner of your eye and note his body position.  One of three things is going to happen:

1.  He’s going to shout himself out of his worked-up state, and remove himself from your face of his own volition.  This is, frankly, not likely to happen.  He’s made a stand now, and walking away would make him look weak.

2.  His brahs are going to come and grab him and lead him away.  This is the most likely scenario.  This will allow him to save face, and to tell himself and others later that the only reason he didn’t destroy you was because his brahs held him back, and that was lucky, ‘cause he woulda killed you, and you were shakin’ in your boots, etc., etc.

3.  He’s actually going to work himself up into throwing a punch.  This is the worst case scenario, but pay attention now.  Here’s the deal.

If he does throw a punch, he’s going to have to work himself up into doing it, because you sat there emanating Zenlike calm while he pitched a bitch like a rhesus monkey shot full of lab-quality crank.  This is why you take note of his body position.  If you see him change his stance, or pull a shoulder back, or ball up his fist, you get loose, and watch for the swing.

If he swings, you move your head away.  The object is to duck his swing entirely, or to shift your position so the blow doesn’t connect directly, but glances off.

Now, in the seconds following the punch, his center of gravity will be off.  His upper body will be thrown up and forward from the follow-through.

And while he’s off balance, you climb on top of that little monkey and pound him until he hits the floor.  Because when the cops show up, you want everybody in the bar to point at you and say, “He didn’t do anything until that guy [indicating the pile of teeth, hair, and fingernails being swept into the dustpan by the bartender] swung on him.”

Now, back to the story.

Surprise twist ending!: As it turned out, on this occasion I was wrong, and a fourth, unexpected thing happened.  Not Porn ‘Stache, but rather the bartender, a fantastic woman about five feet tall with side-ponytail (holla 1989!) and a mouth like a sailor, came barreling around the bar after about two minutes of this clucking and bluster, and laid into Ball Cap comprehensively, jabbing her finger in his chest to emphasize key words, and backing his ass all the way up to the door:

“YOU’RE being an ASSHOLE, and these people didn’t do ANYTHING to you, and YOU were harassing HER, and HE tried to ask you to STOP, and I want your ass OUT of this bar NOW!!!”

And then came the great payoff: Ball Cap blubbers, “I’m sorry, Sheila, I luhve you!”

And Sheila the bartender yells, “I love you TOO, but you’re bein’ a DICK!  Now GET OUT!”

As Porn ‘Stache came silently around the bar to lead Ball Cap back to wherever he calls home, Ball Cap yelled back at me, “I’ll be waitin’ outside, motherfucker!”  (p.s.: He wasn’t.)

The wedding party stayed the rest of the night, drinking responsibly.  And tipping generously.

Posted in cocktail hour, manly men doin' manly thangs, O Bucktown! | 4 Comments

“C’est tragique. Which is French for ‘It is tragique.'”

Three years ago I took a French 101 class.  I like to do at least one thing per year that I’m totally unprepared and unqualified to do, for absolutely no reason whatsoever.  In addition to keeping things interesting—and that’s what life’s all about, right, keeping things interesting?—a small goal like that is manageable and within reach.  The standard resolution-type promises one makes to oneself around the new year are generally connected to making ourselves better, or anyway more efficient, people, and they’re often so sweeping that we can’t help but screw up at least once. 

Not so with my plan.  Even if I fall on my face or my ass, depending on which way my body’s leaning when I undertake the project, the tumble is usually spectacular.  And when someone asks, “What did you think you were doing?” I can truthfully respond, “It seemed like a good idea when I had it.”  Which is, to be totally honest, the only consistent reason I’ve ever done anything.  Also, if anyone has the temerity to say to my face, “That’s the ugliest tryptich I’ve ever seen in my life,” I can reply, with serene confidence and Wildean timing, “It’s one more tryptich than you painted this year.  Jagoff.”

So when I took the French class in 2007, I began taping up little note cards all over the house, upon which were listed the English and French words for whatever they were taped to: “wall/mur,” “refrigerator/réfrigérateur,” “bedroom/chambre à coucher,” and so on.  This sort of memory aid is something you’re encouraged to try when beginning to learn a new language; it helps with retention of commonplace words and phrases.

Of course, three years later and long after I might have needed them for exam aids, most of those cards are still up, now faded and yellowed, a kind of humble memento to the semester I spent studying French.  I sort of like the look of them, though, and part of me actually doesn’t want to take them down.

It’s not that I’m a bad housekeeper.  I mean, I put things back in their places after I use them, I vacuum and wash dishes and do regular laundry and everything, and if my place exhibits the sort of clutter usually associated with nerds and professional bookworms (books, CDs, pens, paper clips, and rubber bands lying on most flat surfaces not otherwise engaged with holding up coffee mugs or liquor bottles), it’s at least a manageable sort of clutter.  The place smells clean and doesn’t breed disease, or interfere with the comfort of anyone who might come around for a drink.  And frankly, that level of comfort is all I ask of anyone’s home, let alone my own.

But in this, the week between the end of the holiday social brouhaha and the beginning of the new semester, I went on one of my semi-monthly cleanings and ended up digging a little deeper in the layers of the place than I might have, if I were taking only a single afternoon to do it.  And so, sifting through the sands of time, here are a few of the things I found tucked away, hidden within, buried under, stuck behind, obscured beneath, or hiding in plain sight on top of, the stuff I was trying to clean today.

1.  My college ID card, circa 1990, with social security number reprinted upon it in great big bold-ass serif font.  Several things about this item are just flat wrong, not the least of which are (a) the blatant and apparent institutional and personal disregard for identity theft in those more innocent days, and (b) my hair.  That’s how we rolled in Nine-Ought, player: Reckless and feathered.

2.  An 1891 edition of Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of FREEMASONRY, Prepared for the Supreme Council of the Thirty-third Degree for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States, and Published by its Authority, 1947 reprint.  If any Masons are reading this, I’ll take $50.00 not to reveal your secrets in a subsequent post.  Email me privately.

3.  A 45rpm of Huey Lewis and the News’ 1986 single, “Hip To Be Square.”  I ran across this item slipped inside a vinyl release of a Richard Pryor record—whether by me or someone else, I don’t know.  My friends and I, when out at the bar on a slow night, used to play “What’s the most embarrassing thing in your record collection”?  I used to say it was a Linda Ronstadt album, but I think we might have a new winner.  In the plus column, the promo shot of the band on the sleeve made me feel better about my own hair.

4.  Seven cat toys, about half the size of the palm of your hand (well, my hand), ranging from a brightly colored parrot to what looks like a stinkbug made from felt, pipe cleaner, and glue-on googly button eyes.  Someone—one of the cats, presumably—has been stockpiling these behind the couch for some nefarious purpose.  One had had its seam bitten open and its stuffing pulled halfway out, maybe as a warning to the others not to get uppity.

5.  A McDonald’s promotional coupon, expiration date 12/31/2003.  Dammit.  Now I’ll never know the joy of stickin’ it to the man by consuming a McRib obtained for 75% of the actual purchase price: Take that, Ray Kroc!  You and your whole gahdamn empire and its beyond-the-grave stranglehold on dollar-menu arteriosclerosis!  That’s two bucks of mine you’re not gonna use to buy balls for your filthy indoor play area!  AHHHH-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!  And so on.

6.  A pocket-sized notebook I used once, and then never used again.  However, for anyone who’s interested, here’s what I needed at the grocery store on April 20, 2008: Onion, tomatillos, cilantro, bay leaves, olive oil, avocado, black beans (dry), garlic, ginger, canned clams, hot chiles, carrots, basmati rice, vinegar, basil, and flour.  Also, for some reason, on the facing page is written the single word, “KNIFE.”  Either I was looking to replace old cutlery, or I was wishing violence on someone else in the checkout aisle.

7.  A beer-bottle cozy (cozie?  cozey?  khozhi?) given to me as a gift many years ago, in a “forest camouflage” print.  (As one deer said to the other, “Heads up, Marv.  I think there’s a fella hiding behind that tree over there.  I can’t make him out, but he appears to be drinking a Keystone Light.”)

8.  About a hundred and sixty unlabeled CDs.  I listen to a lot of music.  A lot of people give me music.  Sometimes I despair of ever getting an accurate inventory of everything in this place.  It’s like being trapped in a museum and not having a floor plan.

9.  Lots of note cards written in French and English, for which I no longer have any practical use.  Quel dommage.  But I do think it’s interesting that one of the phrases I felt it necessary to memorize en francais was “liquor cabinet.”  When I make it to Paris, boy, I’m damn well gonna be ready.

10.  A small utility drawer in the kitchen that contained nothing but electrical tape, scissors, a cigar cutter, wire, half a dozen cigarette lighters, batteries, tiny eyeglass screwdrivers, and a small empty glass bottle, without a lid.  I live here, people, and even I was a little creeped out by that combination.

Also, interestingly enough, here are the things I managed to lose while in the process of “finding” the things listed above:

1.   My newly-gifted copy of Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons, which I told myself I was going to begin reading right after I finished Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which I succeeded in doing this morning at 2am, and p.s., the Franzen book was a solid read, folks.  I know the Tarkington book is around here someplace.  Probably under a pile of papers I moved to clean something else.  That’s the problem with trying to clean the house of someone who’s got a reading addiction.  It’s like playing Paperback Jenga.

2.  The little booklet containing the monthly payment slips for my home mortgage.  Luckily, I called the lender, and whaddya know, they’ll take my payment right over the phone.  Of course they will.  But now I’m concerned that the cats, angry over my redistributing of the cat toys around the house, have run away with my payment booklet. 

They’ve had a beef with me since this morning, frankly.  Jesus: You accidentally dump one coffee cup’s worth of water all over the head of a cat while you’re washing dishes, and all of a sudden you’re a bad guy.

Between you and me, I’m sleeping with one eye peeled.

Posted in around the house, random firings | 3 Comments

Hi. We brought a fruit basket.

I set up this blog in 2006.  After only a few scattershot postings, for a variety of reasons it lay fallow for several months, and I ended up taking the whole thing down.  Now I’m attempting to prop it up again. 

I approach “Cultural Slagheap” as a sort of open letter written for my own jollies, as well as the enjoyment of my friends—who are of a multitude of political, religious, racial, and other sundry backgrounds—and, of course, whoever else happens to stop by.  I teach American literature and cultural studies for a living.  The springboard thoughts expressed here will usually, but not always, be triggered by my current rootings-around in books, movies, and music.  Comments, from the erudite and thought-provoking to the berserk and horrifically spelled, are welcome. 

Just so we know where we all stand, however, and in case you’ve happened to wander in from the interwebs just to get out of the rain, here are some thoughts that will generally guide the content and tenor of these postings:

1.  Comments, as I state above, are welcome.  I dig nothing more than the free exchange of ideas, and would happily make this a dialogue, offering responses to comments in subsequent posts.

2.  That said, anyone attempting to enter public discourse whose facts are in egregious error, whose loudly-voiced opinions are consistently uninformed, whose statements exhibit little or no understanding of what is genuinely meant by the word “argument,” who substitutes condescension and ad hominem attack for reason and evidence, who responds to civility with rudeness, or who behaves as if the mere difference of opinion constitutes a personal insult, will here receive the public skewering and deep embarrassment such silliness deserves. 

3.  If you believe that only a formal education gives a person the ability to think and to reason, and the subsequent right to enter public debate, you and I are in disagreement, and you may not like what you read here.

4.  If, conversely, you believe all formally educated people to be elitist snobs, whose erudition and complexity of expression reveal them to be out of touch with the genuine concerns and straightforward language of reg’lar, everyday folks, you should probably consider fucking off too.

5.  The opinions offered here are written by an adult and will occasionally be expressed using “adult language,” and are therefore not suitable for the immature of any age.  I should probably have said that first.  Whoops.

6.  I am an atheist, and therefore have zero stake in debates regarding religious faith except where they affect the quality of my (1) life, (2) liberty, or (3) pursuit of happiness.  However, I was raised in a Christian family (both immediate and extended), whose faith is a result of years of doctrinal study and open conversation.  I come to discussions of religion thus armed to the gunwales.

7.  Though I’m an atheist, I’m not anti-religion, and I’m certainly not anti-religious faith in others.  I am anti-ignorance, anti-stupidity, anti-hypocrisy, anti-loutishness, anti-resistance-to-considering-other-viewpoints, and anti-intolerance.  

8.  As I get older, I become more and more convinced that I follow only one fairly consistent ethical principle: Generally speaking, where Person A attempts to limit Person B’s liberty in order to force Person B’s behavior to align with Person A’s moral code, Person A is an asshole.  Like all principles it’s not infallible, but it’s usually reliable.

9.  A culture that values and listens to the diversity of opinions and beliefs within it will be the stronger for that quality.  A culture whose educational and governmental institutions encourage such empathy will appeal to, and help to cultivate, the better natures of its citizenry. 

10.  However, the determination to remain self-centered, ignorant, xenophobic, and brick-stupid, which manifests itself throughout human history, will resist all outside attempts at improvement.  In the final analysis, the development of knowledge, empathy, and wisdom are the responsibility of the individual.  They cannot be forced from without.

11.  Addendum to number 10: Institutional education gives you an opportunity to learn, nothing more.  Take a rock from a pond where it’s been sitting in water for decades, crack it open, and you’ll see it’s as dry as a bone in the middle.  A person can spend years in school, surrounded by opportunities to become educated, and still walk out as dumb as a speed bump. 

12.  My personal morality tap-dances wildly back and forth along the high-wire strung between asceticism and hedonism.  Not that you needed or wanted to know that, but in certain cases it might provide context for specific posts.

Okay.  That’s the lay of the land, troops.  Happy reading, and feel free to join in. 

Next time, we go a-hunting for the needles of thoughtfulness among the haystacks of the xmas manger.

Posted in about me, welcome | 5 Comments