Friday, August 24, 2012

Eggheads (Part 1: "Cambwidge")

In the late 1990s, when I was developing software for Bank of Absurdity, a co-worker, whom I'll call "Mr. Ed," like to challenge his colleagues with trivia questions.  He was a devoted fan of the TV quiz show Jeopardy! and felt a tinge of intellectual superiority whenever he stumped someone.
But over the months, I never game him a wrong answer, and he became frustrated with me. Finally, one morning he pointed his finger at me and said "I am going to stump you right now !"
I replied "O.K."
"What is the deepest lake in the world?"
"That would be Lake Baikal in Siberia"  I retorted, without hesitation.
"You bastard!  What, do you go home and read encyclopedias at night?"
(Reader, it was perfectly acceptable to use foul language at BofA, because the managers did so with gusto as they pissed their ways to the tops of piles of cash)

Mr. Ed never asked me any silly questions again.
13 years later, my wife and I were watching the trivia quiz show Cash Cab on television. The show's driver / host proffered the following question, which I now paraphrase:
"Author Salman Rushdie won what famous literary prize available only to citizens of the United Kingdom?"
"How is anybody supposed to know that?" my wife complained.
"That would be the Man Booker Prize" I snapped.
"Hah! What an egghead!" she exclaimed. (This reminded me of a comment that Sarah Palin had made  in a speech condemning the "liberal elites").
"No, you should know that" I  tweeted in snark.
"NOT!"..."I dub thee Lord Booker !"  she proclaimed in a royal tone.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to visit with the exiled Argentine poet and raconteur Juan Barrí.  We were having a pleasant discussion until I used the word "neologism" in conversation. I did not pronounce it to Juan's liking:  I put the accent on the third syllable:  NeoLOgism.
It's pronounced "NeOlogism"  he insisted, and then fetched a dictionary.
"Right here -- you see -- "NeOlogism."
In my defense, I asserted that I had heard the word pronounced by an esteemed intellectual from Cambridge University who had appeared on CSPAN.  "So there!"
Juan paused, and then presented me with the following gem:
"If we all spoke as they do at Cambridge University, we'd all be fucked.  There wouldn't even be a United States!"
Even Lord Booker of Scottsdale can't win them all.



Tuesday, August 21, 2012


I keep a keen receiver out for bold new cognition.  I call my blessing "Seinfeld Syndrome." I like listening to free thinkers.  I think it's one of the national endowments that the 1st amendment has given us.

And in Arizona, there are lots of free thinkers.  So much so, it took until 1912 to organize as a state.

From local television news:

An anarchist / alleged murderer stand before a state criminal court judge.

Judge:  "I understand your right to be your own counsel, but here in my jurisdiction, there is a process I must follow to determine if you are competent to do so."

Defendant:  "You ain't go no jurisdiction.  I'm a flesh and blood man!"

I think this protest derives from the scene in "Planet of the Apes" where Charlton Heston objects to a certain species difference regarding jurisprudence.

Judge: "You have just helped me greatly in making a decision."

At an office:

"What Hussein Obama is trying to do with this Fast and Furious thing is trace guns back to the U.S. so he can make us register all our weapons."

From an ex-neighbor's teenage son:

"I think everybody should be forced to carry a gun, so that if anybody tries to shoot you, you can shoot them, too."

I asked the lad if he had heard of Somalia, and he replied "What?"

Again, at an office:

"Did you hear that thing on KXYY radio about birth certificates in Hawaii?  They just gave 'em out to rural farm workers because they didn't know where they came from, and the company wanted them to work there, and they wanted to stay in Hawaii."

Again and again, at an office:

"You know them digital meters that the electric company is putting on everybody's home?  I thought you had to take 'em, but then this one woman came out with a shotgun and told the guy 'No sir, you ain't puttin' that on my house' and so I'm gonna refuse it, too.  I'm just gonna tell 'em you're not puttin' it on my property!"

Just for fun, I made up my own !

"Michelle Obama and Dr. Oz are secretly working to devise a 66.6% tax on the sale of red meat in order to fund Obamacare.  They are plotting this in a secured basement of a building at the University of California, Berkeley." 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Javelina Javelina

A song parody by my friend, John Barry


Javelina, javelina, men can’t tame you—
you’re unlike Tramp’s Lady: sweet, domestic style.
You are loathsome, so we go gunning to game you—
so it’s javelina hunting. . .a “pig pile.”

You’re so wild—that’s why we hunt you, javelina.
But near we sashay, you ghostily depart.
You outscheme pursuers by one more schlep,
so they cry there; you don’t lie there
dead. A war whoop you squeal, javelina.
You are a bloated, grotesque, ugly scourge upstart.

You’re so wild—that’s why we hunt you, javelina.
But then on some days, you slyly go and start
to tag-team dog-walkers in a gore prep
and apply there tusks that pry, pare.
It’s a war cry they’ll squeal, javelina,
then run toward home, while flummoxed you watch them depart.

Original lyrics:

Mona lisa, mona lisa, men have named you
You're so like the lady with the mystic smile
Is it only 'cause you're lonely they have blamed you?
For that mona lisa strangeness in your smile?
Do you smile to tempt a lover, mona lisa?
Or is this your way to hide a broken heart?
Many dreams have been brought to your doorstep
They just lie there and they die there
Are you warm, are you real, mona lisa?
Or just a cold and lonely lovely work of art?

Do you smile to tempt a lover, mona lisa?
Or is this your way to hide a broken heart?
Many dreams have been brought to your doorstep
They just lie there and they die there
Are you warm, are you real, mona lisa?
Or just a cold and lonely lovely work of art?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Back In The Day

Back in the day, The First Lady, looped on designer drugs developed at an U.S. Army Lab in Utah, toured the country disguised as a Stepford Wife, robotically urging school children to “Just Say No.” Back in the same day, executive secretaries (not "administrative assistants") with big hair tapped on IBM Selectrics and offered you only two types of coffee: Regular and Sanka.

One Saturday afternoon I received a call from a postal worker friend of mine, Vincenzo. He was someone I often found him to be torn between serious literary intellection and the oblivion provided by psychotropic substances. Not a unique personal pattern, if one reads about the short-lived Romantic Era. So I was on guard for the most ridiculous of proposals.
"You have to come over here" he cackled, like a Dostoevskian madman. I asked why, but he was refused to answer my question, only cackling more until he sounded like pack of Camels. "You have to come over here!" I thought about it for a moment, and agreed. I only lived a mile away, and was a writer myself (that's code for "looking for new lurid material"). So off I went.

When I arrived at Vincenzo's apartment, he led me with great haste to his study. There, on a small wooden coffee table, was a baseball of Lebanese blond hashish. He picked it up with a juvenile fascination: "Vic just left...and look what we brought me !" More cackling. Then Vincenzo went into the kitchen to fetch us two bottles of his favorite beer: Mickey's Big Mouth Malt Liquor.
Reader, there comes a time when, for reasons of propriety, I can only describe the next two hours of my interview with Vincenzo in the most opaque of terms. Indeed, the ambiance grew opaque, and it fused itself to my consciousness, and I realized that many Godheads were present, past and future.

Vincenzo's friend Vic(torino) was a businessman who lived large, residing in the luxurious Watergate towers in Emeryville with a young blond rent-a-girl. Every time that Vincenzo received mail from Wilmington, Delaware, he would fill out the form, and the card would arrive in the mail a month later. For only a 29.9 % APR, compounded monthly, he could withdraw hundreds in cash advances at once. Then, a quick call to Victorino's firm would merit a visit from the man himself.
Victorino grew up in Florida, and served in the U.S. Army, guarding the Berlin Wall against a Warsaw Pact Invasion. "I was stoned drunk everyday on that wall, but they never came." It wasn't clear how he had progressed from a mere soldier to an international businessman, but somehow there was a connection. Every time I saw Victorino, he was wearing his army jacket, and his right hand always seemed to be near his pocket, as if an important tool was there.

A few years passed, and Vincenzo was struggling with his debts. He had downsized from a nice apartment in a Victorian-era building to a converted tool shed in some one's back yard. It was there, on a Thanksgiving afternoon, that I last saw Victorino. The rent-a-girl was gone. He was still wearing his army jacket. His right hand was holding his right side. He groaned "My liver's crampin' up again." His left hand grasped a Mickey's Big Mouth.

I've since lost track of them both. I don't think they did very well in life. It's the ones in Wilmington, Delaware who did.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Darling, Your Fish Are Done (Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa)

In the 2nd floor apartment that I share with my wife, there is a triangular counter space above the kitchen sink.  There are two windows above that space that let the blazing Arizona sun in from the east and south in the morning.  We always keep the blinds on those windows drawn at night, so that we may wake up in a gradual manner, drinking our tea and coffee.  Lately, it's been so hot that we just take the chilled version out of the refrigerator.

I'm not sure what the triangular space was really for. Perhaps a flowering plant.  But Diana is a great artist, and her vision was of an aquarium.  One day I came home, and there was a 36 gallon tank with a variety of fish swimming in it, some tropical and some not.  But the stars of the scene were two goldfish, whom we named Little Princess and Groucho Marx (because of his seeming black moustache).  It wasn't long before Little Princess was the Queen of the tank:  she had mushroomed to four inches in length.  The Queen's Consort had also grown, but not nearly as much. His moustache had disappeared, but we still called him Groucho anyway. 

About a year has passed since we first set up the aquarium.  The Phoenix area has two seasons:  Summer and Hell.  Summer for most of the country is Hell here, and the other three seasons are Summer here. It was 81F on New Year's Day, 2012.

But in the Summer of 2011, my wife hadn't rented her studio space in downtown Phoenix yet.  She stayed here, with the air-conditioning on.

We had a scorching June, and our electricity bill was $281.  That's for a 1,400 square foot apartment.  May's bill had only been $130.   After seeing the increase, I decided to tough it out.  Diana had been painting in her studio for a couple of days in a row, so I turned the AC off. After coming home from work, the place was about 92F, but with not much humidity, I  felt comfortable enough just using the ceiling fans.

I was very diligent about feeding the fish and our two newly acquired African frogs two times a day.  But I didn't check the tank thermometer:  There was a large basil plant obscuring the view (Diana loves fresh basil in her food).

But early on the morning of Saturday, July 14th (Bastille Day, no less),  I noticed that the tank had gone rather murky, and some time later, a tapas-size catfish was stiffly up-ended, staring at the surface of the water. 

Oh well, a dead fish.  "They do die, after all"  I snarled, in a Lord-Of-The-Manor accent. I scooped him out with a large slotted spoon and he went out with the rubbish.

I went out of the apartment for a while.  When I came back, Little Princess was floating on the top.  I phoned my wife in a near panic.  She said that because the catfish had died overnight, the ammonia in the tank had spiked.  But not to worry, she said. Put three capfuls of  conditioning liquid in the tank.  I did so, but the situation didn't improve.  The bodies piled up. I almost lost Little Princess down the garbage disposal -- finally I managed to get her out, wrap her in a paper towel, and put her in the freezer next to a box of organic popsicles from Whole Foods Market.   I phoned Diana again, and asked her to come back to Scottsdale.  I simply didn't know what to do.

After she arrived, we discussed the tragedy.  I simply couldn't figure out what I had done wrong.  After all, from all of the training I had received in my Roman Catholic upbringing, I knew I must have done something wrong.

Sometimes wives can be good detectives, and during my "interview," I let it spill that I had turned the AC off for three days.

"You can't do that!  You boiled the fish, in between turning off the air-conditioner, between those two windows with the hot Arizona sun pouring in! If you weren't so handsome, you'd be in  trouble! " she nearly yelled.

And then there was another comment about dumb Irish / monkey brains or something.

 I hadn't even opened the blinds the entire time the AC was off, but still I had made Not-So-Happy-Family Seafood Soup.

The aquarium and the surviving fish -- among them, Groucho Marx -- are now downstairs with a husband and wife and their two young children, and they are enthralled by our gift.   The triangular counter space is vacant.

If you're in Arizona, stay out of the sun !

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Poor Forgotten Brezhnev

I have bushy black eyebrows.  I don't know what the evolutionary advantage may have been, but I've seen lots of Slavic people with the same trait.  My mother's family was from Slovakia, and my great grandmother, Antonia Kubinek, was born there in the 19th century. To our knowledge, there are no pictures of the Kubineks available.  But somehow I feel that she had the same bushy black eyebrows.  They must have come from somewhere, and I think it's the Carpathian Mountains.

However, my hairstylist, Mr. "J", a rather debonair, accomplished young man, does not like bushy eyebrows.  He thinks they are simply disgusting. Over the last six months or so, we have had a friendly oral slappy-party  over whether they should be trimmed.  I like them, and he doesn't.  When I came in in May, I told him I didn't want them trimmed.  But he insisted !  After all, his place of business  is a Paul Mitchell Salon in Scottsdale. So I relented.  But then I hatched a plot.  A plot !

When I saw Mr. "J." for my June appointment, I was carrying on my person a picture of a person with the most prominent black eyebrows in the world, the late Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, Leonid Brezhnev.  I secreted it in my pocket, and when my hairstylist was about ready to seize my eyebrows, I whipped Comrade Brezhnev's picture out of a fold between a Kardashians photo essay in People magazine, and said "This is a real eyebrow problem.  Do you know who he is?"

Mr. "J" retorted "I don't know, and I don't want to know !"

"Well, he was  Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, until his death in 1982."

"So what?"  Mr. "J" snapped.

Didn't my hairstylist know anything about the "Evil Empire,"  the Stalinist purges and forced agrarian collectivization that lead to tens of millions of deaths?  Or even the Russian Revolution of 1917 that deposed and literally disposed of the Romanovs for good?

I guess not.  He trimmed my eyebrows anyway, almost in a panic, and instructed me:  "You're taking this picture home with you !"

"Yes, dear."

So when Mr. "J" had done his fine job, and I was at the reception desk, ready to pay my bill, I showed Brezhnev's picture to the young (20s) staff, and asked them,"Who is this man?"

Every one of them said "I don't know" and looked at me with a perplexed gaze.

But then a more mature lady with a great new 3-figure 'do approached the desk.  Rudely, I said to her "Madam, you appear old enough to know this man. What's his name?"  She snapped back:  "He's just some Mexican!"

Ouch.  "Just some Mexican."

Poor, poor, forgotten Brezhnev.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Parrots And Me

For most of my life, I've loved parrots.

My life was spent on Long Island until almost the age of eleven.  During those years, for me parrots lived in the realm of black and white "B" criminal movies shown in the wee hours on WPIX-11.  They existed  in the cigarette smoke swirled by ceiling fans, and cawed when Carmen Miranda jiggled her fruits, head-worn and otherwise. Potted palms and servants in starched white uniforms were the backdrop.

Then, in the early 70s,  my father landed a job as a maritime engineer for the U.S. Navy on their base at Subic Bay, Philippines.  I was suddenly transported to a country were real parrots lived.  But not many of them.  As it turned out, almost all of them had been stolen by kooky filthy rich people and their favorite restaurants. I did see parrots, but they were never in the wild, even though I had hiked miles through the steaming jungle as a boy scout. 

In 1982, I graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a major in Music.  During that last semester, I had seen a movie entitled Eating Raoul, which to me was one of the best social satires on Los Angeles ever brought to film.  Later that year, when I was visiting my parents on the East Coast, I took my mother to see it.  Mom was from Manhattan, and shared Woody Allen's intense disdain for L.A.  I hoped she would like it.  In a strange way, she did -- because she found the film as disgusting as her idea of Los Angeles was -- indeed,  I remember her "Judge Judy" OMG face.  Some time later, when I finally decided to move to the San Francisco Bay Area -- with a permanence that lasted 24 years -- she gave me a cheaply feathered false parrot that one could attach to a ceiling hook.  It was pink and yellow and green and had an obnoxous beak:   "Here" --she said-- "Is  your pet parrot Raoul!"

Well, I wasn't going to let this gift be wasted.

I have always been an early riser. One morning, a fleeting girlfriend couldn't find one of her underthings.  She had some idea that she had to go to work...after fifteen minutes of searching she found it hanging from Raoul.  I was enjoying a rather nice bath when she confronted me:   Men are Idiots! 

Dear Reader, as I have stated, it was a fleeting relationship.

I now believe in the Law of Attraction, because a real parrot appeared in my life.  In 2008, after I had long since thrown the cannabis-tarred and feathered faux-parrot Raoul into an Oakland dumpster (in 1996 , at my wife Diana's request),  she informed me that I was getting a Valentine present.  When I came home, there was a Golden Conure - a parrot from Brazil -- whom our friends had said couldn't quite get along with their dog. I immediately named the bird Raúl using the traditional Spanish spelling.

We took Raúl to a bird veterinarian, and found out from the leg band that she had been born in São Paulo, Brazil.   So, with a knee-reflex, we changed her name to Raúla.

Raúla didn't much like the trip from the SF Bay Area to Scottsdale AZ.  It took place  in August 2010, and at the Grapevine Weigh Station,  a California Highway Patrol (CHP) Officer detained us, convinced that any persons transporting a parrot must be drug dealers.  After the officer had queried every criminal database in the world for 20 minutes, he let us go, banging his fist on the table, throwing our California Driver Licenses across the desk, and instructing us:  Get out of here !

So we did.

Here is Raúla, the paradise bird of Scottsdale.  She likes toast and blackberries for breakfast.