Friday, July 27, 2007


I spent my formative pubescent years in a private school that was almost too picturesque to be believed; lots of old stone buildings interspersed between quadrangles of ancient trees and broken stone paths. It was the kind of place where our teachers would wear academic gowns and you would frequently hear bagpipes in the distance. Of course, the plaid ties and blazers of prep school vintage were replaced with dirty second generation hippies and kids in the latest J.Crew fineries, but the overall vibe still felt like one of those mid-century novels filled with angst and teen suicide and bully lacrosse players.

The school was on top of a small mountain at the tail end of the Appalachia, and for some strange reasons, mired in geology and the Jet Stream, every autumn that mountaintop turned into the underside of a dark cloud. Fog would roll in so thick that you couldn't see twenty feet ahead of you. I fully expected to round a corner some days, and see a turn-of-the-century London bobby racing past, hot on the trail of some murderer in a waistcoat and tails. It was just that evocative to my lurid imagination. Also, a dreadful bitch to drive in.

Those foggy days, surrounded by the towering trees once tended by monks, and dark buildings that stood impassively in the grey soup, it was hard not to feel a bit on the Byronic side. There was slightly drizzling rain, and cold, stark air, and you lost the gorgeous Fall sunsets to a Gradual Darkening. Is anything more eerily romantic than a Gradual Darkening?

It was in this atmosphere, choked with chilly fog and the trappings of some weird, fictional, prep school melodrama, that I first fell in love. She was foolish enough to show me attention and mild kindness, and I rewarded that with slavish devotion and emotional demands the likes of which have never been seen by man or the angel Moroni. Now, the question is, was it simply that I was needy and overly dramatic, or can I blame the Pre-Raphaelite setting, colliding with the thunderstorm of teenage chemicals in my brain? Looking back, it's all very embarrassing and horrible, but along with the shame there is a hint of nostalgia, and the sad, sad realization that I will never again experience that particular mix of hormones, desperation, and foggy evenings ever again.

Puberty is rife with hot emotions and hyperbole, all stomping in your brain like the eternal Marching Band of Sex and Desire. Every trip to the movies is the first leap on the path to marriage or multiple orgasms. Every touch of the hand is loaded, and crushes you with the weight of a thousand erections. Every heartbreak is a vast abyss that drags you to the ground in an exaggerated fit of sorrow and despair. Had I known that actual love and commitment would be the sexy equivalent of handshakes and compromise, I would have more fully savored that Grand Guignol of gut-wrenched adolescence, and enjoyed the effects of hormones and unrealistic expectations while they were still fresh on the vine.

First Love was so very real and important that it reverberated in the rest of one's young life like atomic aftershocks. Food either tasted like sweet ambrosia, or turned to ash in one's mouth, depending on the state of romantic affairs. Music took on a whole new meaning, and songs that seem silly and forgettable now were once the most vital pieces of poetry ever composed and sung by the angels above. (Be honest; how many among us cried salty tears whenever the mix tape rolled around to "Romeo and Juliet", as warbled by Mark Knopfler and/or the Indigo Girls?)

Morning to night, filled with High Drama and Opera Bel Canto! Ahhhh, young love! Is anything ever so cataclysmic? All fourteen year olds are living through Shakespeare, every day, and we adults move on, forgetting that there was a time when every furtive glance between crushes was a matter of life and death.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Vornado Fans

They call them "circulators" on the website.

It seems like every summer, at some point, I make a trip to the local hard-wares emporium to by a fan. By mid-July, the air has stopped circulating of it's own volition, and tends to just hang there, thick and sticky, like the greasy steam over a deli griddle.

In these trips, I always notice that certain fans outprice the others by a significant margin. Matte black and stamped front-and-center with an Orwellian red "V" for "Victory", the Vornado fans glance at you as if to ask, "What's the problem? Don't you have 100 dollars to drop on a fan? See the inferior model beside us? The one that costs twenty-five bucks and is the exact same size? Go ahead and get that one, plebe. You're not ready to join the Vornado Ruling Class."

For many years those talking fans were right. I wasn't ready. I would walk out of my local hardware store with a white plastic pinwheel under my arm, beginning the unspoken but inevitable countdown to the day it went to sidewalk, useless and unloved.

Why did I buy that cheap piece of garbage? What Depression-era habits had been hammered into my brain by well-intentioned parents? "Get the least expensive thing you can! Don't pay for a brand-name label! You can fix it if breaks... It's just as good as the other one, only better, because it costs less!" So many fans, gone to the expansive wastes of Staten Island landfills, just because shelling out an extra forty bucks made my hands shake as frugal homilies echoed in my brain.

The hottest I've even been was when I worked at a Boy Scout Summer Camp in Middle Tennessee. Summers in that neck of the South are already miserable and mythologically humid, but add some military grade canvas tents, vast fields of pounding sunlight, and kneesocks, and you've got a kind of heat that's so overwhelming, it feels like a constant celestial waffle iron is being pressed down over everything you know. By the time Independence Day rolled around, the humidity was palpable, and sometimes kids would just punch the empty air aimlessly, taking out their weary and futile frustrations on the atmosphere itself. It felt like living in soup, and paper products would curl like witches feet in Munchkinland, mere seconds after being exposed.

Life on Camp Staff quickly became an easy mix of Altman's "MASH" and "LORD OF THE FLIES". We were trying to make a comfortable existence for eight to nine weeks, while still wearing the world's least comfortable uniforms, and cohabitating with a savage crew aged 13 to 18. Trashed armchairs and rat-infested couches became coveted commodities, and trapsing to a gloriously empty showerhouse in flip-flops (that never fully dried) could be the best part of the week.

I remember laying under the thick, pea-green canvas tents, on an old army cot, doing nothing but sweating and wiping my eyes. Every once in a while a slight breeze would pass by, offering the most meager relief, and we would all gasp for the cool air listlessly, before it was gone as quickly as came. Without fail, someone would figure out a way to run an extension cord through the treetops, connecting our staff campsite with the nearest powered building. They would then produce the world's cheapest Wal-Mart box-fan, hanging it in the top of the tent using a short length of rope and desperate Scout ingenuity. With a turn of the big plastic dial, we were showered in a fake wind of hot air and disappointment.

I remembered the scorn we all held for those stupid box fans, and how little use they ultimately were. So I finally bit the proverbial bullet last week, and purchased the smallest possible Vornado brand fan. For a mere fifty dollars, something the size of a tupperware bowl puts me in a chilly wind-tunnel whenever I flip the switch to "on".

How do they do it? How do they churn out that tenacious stream of refreshing spring air, turning stale and humid heat into a soothing breeze? How do they take you from the angry, relentless July heat to a snowy, Alpine peak in February? Not a trace of freon in sight, just that utilitarian design and take-no-prisoners "VORNADO" logo staring at you.

Apparently "science" is involved, and there are patented whatsits and whatevers and blah blah blah. It's kind of boring. All I care to know is that it works like beautiful, evil magic, and worth every excessive penny.

Rated A for AWESOME.

Saturday, July 7, 2007


We don't get so far anymore, but we live in a world where people travel in space. They have big ceramic-plated airplanes that get shot out of our blue skies attached to enormous explosives. Then they do a bunch of science stuff and poop in zero gravity and come home.

It's pretty cool, but I'm afraid the golden age of Space Travel might be behind us. The Mercury missions were all kinds of awesome, and awfully hard to top, in terms of sheer HOLY SHIT bravery and raw bad-assitude. Military pilots who could withstand the most brutal physical exertions were strapped into tiny metal pods and fired into orbit like mortar shells. Ex-Nazis with slide-rules computed trajectories while these guys went, quite literally, where no human has gone before.

(THE RIGHT STUFF is a great book and full of jaw-droppingly rad information. If you haven't read it yet, maybe it's time you did.)

Fictional space travel is rather excellent as well, although frequently ridiculous. "Hyper-drives" and "warp speeds" kinda pale in comparison to strapping men to the top of a freaking missile.
Kiss my ass, Skywalker! You big pussy!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


In honor of Independence Day, I give you the Top Five things associated with the American Way of Life. Do you love freedom? Do you REALLY love freedom? Would you make love to freedom? From behind, with tears in your eyes? If so, you may keep reading.

FIVE: Apple Pie
The cliche is "baseball, mom, and applie pie", right? Well, baseball sucks and some people's moms are commies. So that leaves apple pie. Delicious, delicious applie pie. It's made with apples! Straight from Johnny Appleseed's dirty hippie pocket to your mouth! I wish I had some right now. Even a Hostess Fruit Pie would do. Those are pretty good as well. God bless America.

Joe adds: Apple pie is one of those things that when I see it, I'm underwhelmed by it, but when I taste it, I remember the glory that it truly is. That's like some kind of weird superpower, making me forget how good it is all the time. Or I'm retarded.

FOUR: Old Timey Country
People will tell you that jazz or the blues is the great American music. Have you ever tried to listen to that crap? It's for french people and 1950's Greenwich Village nerds. The best thing about Jazz are those tapes of Buddy Rich yelling at his band. For American music that will make you cry tears of sorrowful joy, you need look no further than the high lonesome sounds of Appalachia. Banjos, folks. Banjos.

Joe: Hank senior (pictured above) is an American hero because he played amazing music, inspired everyone else that ever came after him, and drank himself to an early death. No retirement woes or fighting over mortgages for Hank! Just the sweet oblivion found in the bottle. That's the America I dream of.

THREE: The Colonel
Fast food is disgusting and evil and whatever, but every once in a while there's just nothing better than slamming back a bucket full of the Colonel. It kind of sucks that our beautiful country is dotted with identical shitty restaurants like an Irishmen is dotted with freckles, but it's also kind of rad to be able to pop into a burger joint and eat until you want to die for under 12 dollars. I'm not a particular fan of KFC, but I thought it was a nice representative choice of crappy fast food that you sometimes crave.

Joe: You know what's shockingly tasty? White Castle. I avoided that stuff all my life, even when I actually ate fast food. But there's one right next to my local bar, and the inevitable eventually happened as I stumbled through the haze of steamed onion smell. You can't have very many, even if they are small, but damn they are tasty.

TWO: Slacking
Is there any greater American past-time than sitting on your ass? Add some beer, and some junk food, and maybe a nap, and you have the Sport of Democracy. It's getting to the point in this Brave New World of ours where it's almost expected that people will slack away for a full decade, sometime between high school and the first baby-makin'. The best slacking comes from a serious lack of the will to live, which modern American culture can beat into you with savage ferocity. Yeseterday, for example, I worked for a few hours, then took a pointless bike ride, swam in a pool, took a nap, then played D&D all night while eating take-out and drinking beer. Could I have achieved such glorious slackitude if i had any self-repect at all? Thanks a lot, American-way-of-life!

Joe: You played D&D without me? Oh, that's right. I had to get ready for my vacation in Maine (AWESOME ENTRY TO COME!!!). Vacations are only fun when it's just a new venue of slack. Now if my goddam wife could learn how to drive I'd be in business.

ONE: Comic Books
The greatest art form yet achieved by mankind.

(On a slightly related note Superman is the greatest living American, even if he can't be president (immigrant).)

Joe: (Sorry, Charlie Brown, you're a distant second.)