Monday, December 31, 2007
That’s why, every New Year’s Eve, I take a page from the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, and draw out the moment of anticipation by starting my countdown not from the final ten seconds, but from the final hour. There is nothing like beginning the New Year’s countdown at 3600 and living out the mounting drama three thousand six hundred times. Sure, I’ve received angry stares, many a Shut the fuck up!, and celebrated one or two midnights on the street after being told to leave, but commencing the moment of joyous abandon while everyone else is still making small talk about property taxes and sinus problems makes such awkwardness well worth it. Like how the great Hitchcock let his audience in on the secret and stretched nail-biting suspense across the next hour of Rope, I’ll be starting my countdown to Happy New Year! at 11:00 sharp. Care to join me?
Now let's all sing in our best Alfred Hitchcock voice:
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind…
Friday, December 28, 2007
As hot water cascaded down my body, I found that the hotel’s complimentary amenities did not include a vial of shampoo. Sure, I had body lotion and conditioner—but using conditioner without shampoo is like squatting in a forest of the Chugach Mountains and trying to flint-strike a fire without kindling. Pondering my conundrum as soothing steam rose around me, it was too late to hike down to the front desk—my only option to forge ahead with a shampoo-less rinse. Predictably, the ordeal left my hair as matted and unmanageable as Alaskan reedgrass. Bear Grylls may have had to glissade down the side of a glacier, but he didn’t have to endure an improperly washed coif…
When you consider the myriad other perils I faced in that Tarboro hotel—a slightly malfunctioning heater that plunged room temperature to 68°, a lumpy pillow, the noisy occupants across the hall, a mini-fridge set all the way down on the floor instead of knee-high on the bureau, and the looming threat of an errant wake-up call—you can see that a night in a hotel can be just as harrowing as a night in the wild.
So the next time you're traipsing through the forest and find yourself face to face with a 900-pound grizzly, Bear, consider what it's like to experience an incompetent hotel clerk who can't tell time...
(Photo of Bear Grylls copyright The Discovery Channel.)
Monday, December 17, 2007
If I were her, I’d outbid everyone for Magna Carta…and then revoke it. Yeah, Queen Elizabeth has a sweet life, living off money doled out by Parliament and getting to speak in the third person without ridicule. But no English monarch has held real power since Victoria—and what’s the point of wearing a crown without wielding absolute, unpredictable, crazy power? A revoked Magna Carta restores feudalism, neutralizes Parliament, and turns the Queen from a figurehead into a figure of dread. Personally, I suggest renewing English claim to Brittany, Anjou, Poitou, and Aquitaine. If the ancient wars between England and France taught us anything, it’s that they make for really smashing theatre. Then issue a royal edict that Led Zeppelin must go on tour—watching their recent one-off reunion on DVD with a bag of Cheetos ain’t gonna cut it for hardcore fans. And include in that decree that they have to play their obscure gem, “Poor Tom." I further suggest moving the capital from London to Land’s End in Cornwall. Let’s face it: the soul of English culture is fish & chips—the capital should be seaside, where this delicacy is freshest and most readily available. Fish & chips should also be incorporated into the union jack.
And most importantly, confer a posthumous knighthood on the late, great Benny Hill.
Sotheby’s, this Tuesday, Your Majesty. England is yours for the taking…
(Graphic enhancements courtesy of Dave.)
Friday, December 14, 2007
Angry at Stalin’s treatment of hand-puppets and fearing a widening of anti-puppetism, Snuffleupagus escaped the Soviet Union and made his way to the United States via a Japanese fishing trawler in 1952, whereupon he requested political asylum. Though eventually granted resident status, Snuffleupagus—an aspiring actor—found himself quietly blacklisted because of the close proximity of his Wrangel mating ground to a Soviet weather station. After years of surviving on odd jobs in the Cold War '50s, he finally found work in the more liberal-minded '60s, becoming an extra on Days of our Lives. Several cigarette commercials followed. Then came Snuffleupagus’s big break: landing a cameo on an episode of Sesame Street in 1971, which, of course, grew into a recurring role. Ironically, Brezhnev assumed complete control of the communist party around this time, and most of Snuffleupagus’s early exchanges with Big Bird constituted diatribes on Soviet foreign policy, including this one, which aired March 12, 1972:
Big Bird: “Hi, Snuffleupagus!”
Snuffleupagus: “Ohhh, hello, Big Bird. Ohhh.”
Big Bird: “What’s wrong, Snuffleupagus?”
Snuffleupagus: “Ohhh, it’s those damned Soviets, Big Bird. Why don’t they get out of Czechoslovakia? Czech dissidents such as Václav Havel have clearly demonstrated a mandate for democracy. Damn that Brezhnev. Ohhh.”
Big Bird (whispering): “Stick to the script, you putz!"
Brezhnev publicly expressed contempt at Snuffleupagus’s frequent harangues, going so far as to call Snuffleupagus a “punk” during the SALT I talks in Moscow (although Pravda added that Brezhnev admired Grover). Thus, in addition to their startling physical resemblance, Snuffleupagus and Brezhnev possess the classic qualities of sibling rivalry.
Although the Kremlin still categorically refuses to release any information on Brezhnev’s DNA or medical history, and Snuffleupagus isn’t talking, I believe that the evidence is overwhelming.
(Photo of Leonid Brezhnev copyright Associated Press.)
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Though it be baseball heresy, I say the free-spending Chicago Cubs must vacate venerable Wrigley Field for a larger stadium—one with a seating capacity of at least 50,000 and sporting all of the pricey luxury boxes and accoutrements that have made other franchises so lucrative. In fact, I suggest that the Cubs build a domed stadium...and name it—in honor of their latest savior, Kosuke Fukudome—the Fuk-U-Dome, with the lettering directed toward the South Side.
That would really put those hated White Sox in their place.
(Graphic enhancement courtesy of Mount Drinkmore's Dave.)
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Vick’s prison stripes are bold and stark, serving not just as a literal depiction of his courtroom apparel but as an allegory of inevitable justice. Vick’s defense team—the eldest gentleman behind, the slightly younger lead counsel to Vick's right, and the youngest seated—represents the three ages of man, a metaphor for the spiritual growth over time Vick will experience as he physically serves time. Perhaps most impressive is the array of characters in the background. Their detail is at once revealing yet obtuse. At far left, Vick’s brother clings to his wife in fear of the coming judgment. His fright is palpable, yet his embrace borders on amorous, as if to signify that sex can happen even on the day his brother goes to the slammer. To their left, a host of anonymous eyes observes the fall of an icon. Their gaze is one of incredulity as they ostensibly muse, “You jackass! How could you jeopardize your gargantuan NFL contract plus tens of millions in endorsements to make pocket change by letting dogs maim each other? You’re a complete idiot!” And at extreme right, the red doors symbolize, of course, the gates of hell.
Not since the Mona Lisa has background contained such intricate poignancy.
The splendid work produced by courtroom artists has gone virtually unnoticed in the glare of more respected masters such as Rembrandt and Renoir. But study Verkouteren’s piece against Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party:
Yes, in Renoir’s work, the wine flows as the subjects enjoy a lovely summer day instead of killing dogs (note the lady at left playing with a small dog rather than starving it and administering electric shock); startling technique aside, Renoir concentrated too much on the hats while remaining conspicuously silent on growing French colonialism in North Africa—a detail, I suspect, the daring Verkouteren would not have omitted.
Verkouteren’s piece is similarly on par with a work such as Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère:
Again, the technique is astonishing—there’s plenty of booze in the foreground, and the bartender’s got a nice pair. Behind her, a multitude of thirsty patrons clamor for absinthe so they can forget that their grandchildren will one day roll over to the Nazis without a fight. Manet managed not to paint outside the lines on this one, and his effort shows abundantly. Still, there is no apparent superiority to Verkouteren’s piece. And let’s face it: those impressionists often used hot models, so their subject matter was more interesting from the get-go.
Regardless, it is time for courtroom sketch artists to be placed among the masters. Their medium reflects who we are, in all of our seedy shame. Only when The Birth of Venus, American Gothic, and The Starry Night are joined by O.J. Tries on the Glove, Saddam Denies Court’s Legality, and Kenneth Lay Weeps Like a Girl will the human race's story truly be told…
(Sketch of Vick’s sentencing copyright Dana Verkouteren and Associated Press.)