Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bumper sticker heaven

Although the traffic in Florida cannot compare to that of Cleveland or Los Angeles, driving in the Sunshine State can still be pretty harrowing. Between nonagenarian daredevils who cruise at a cool 52 mph on the passing lane of the interstate, delusional tailgating hayseeds who think they're channeling the spirit of Dale Idiot Sr., and seemingly narcoleptic 18-wheel truckers, the streets of Florida are not for the faint-hearted. Nonetheless, during my daily drives to and from school, my attention deficit tendencies steer (pun intended) my focus towards the myriad bumper stickers that adorn the vehicles around me. These come in a wide variety, but I tend to lump them into three categories: driving philosophy, personal statements, and religion.

Driving philosophy's greatest hits:
  • Back Off
  • If You Can Read This You're Too Close
  • How's My Driving? Call 1-800-EAT-SHIT
  • If You Can't See My Mirrors, I Can't See You
  • Don't Push (This one's my favourite, especially when it's a truck driving at a crawl on the passing lane while dumping construction materials out of its ass -- it's as if putting that sticker on the truck gives the driver the right to screw over everyone else on the road.)
Personal statements' greatest hits:
  • My Other Car Is A Mercedes
  • My Other Car Is A Piece Of Shit, Too
  • I Brake For Animals
  • Pro Choice
  • Pro Life
  • You Can Have My Gun When You Pry It From My Cold, Dead Fingers
  • I Don't Call 911 (Usually accompanied by a picture of a gun. I love this one, because the guy driving usually looks like a shy, vestal accountant -- I guess these are the guys you SHOULD be afraid of...)
  • No Fear
  • I'd Rather Be Fishing (Interchangeable with Sailing, Boating, Golfing, and At A Klan Rally -- all right, I made that last one up.)
Religion's greatest hits: I feel like a bit of a hypocrite bringing this one up -- I've got crosses tattooed all over my body -- but I think it's my favourite category. To wit:
  • My Boss Is A Jewish Carpenter
  • Body Piercing Saved My Life (Usually accompanied by a picture of Jesus' puncture wounds; get it???)
  • Any participant in the Jesus Fish vs. Darwin Amphibian sticker/metal icon brouhaha
  • Let Go And Let God
  • Jesus Saves
  • Nuns Do It Out Of Habit (All right, I made THAT one up too... but how is that not a bumper sticker? If it were, it'd be a best-seller! I'm on my way to the patent office as soon as I post this.)
And my personal fave, just glimpsed this week but immediately becoming the runaway winner of the "Gayest Moment of 2K7" award:

Thursday, June 21, 2007

On short stories and writing styles

Over the last few months, I’ve been suffering through somewhat mild but debilitating bouts of insomnia. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I get tired of lying in bed and hoping to fall back asleep, so I turn on the light and read. The problem, of course, is that if I happen to read an engrossing novel, my mind refuses to give up the ghost and I pretty much read through the night. As a result, I’ve been scouring my pile o’books for short story anthologies. Although I end up reading through the night anyway, the rediscovery of short stories has been a very pleasant one; I think that prior to The Great 2K7 Insomnia Attack, the last time I had willingly picked up a book of short stories was when Stephen King’s “Everything’s Eventual” was released, some five or so years ago. In the course of my current foray into literature’s red-headed stepchild, I came across a few previously unread jewels, such as Ray Bradbury’s “The Small Assassin” and T.E.D. Klein’s “Children of the Kingdom” – yes, I have a penchant for the macabre; sue me – as well as some phenomenal warhorses which I had almost forgotten existed. I’ve chosen two oldies but goodies to illustrate how radically different writing styles can be equally effective.

Unadorned and minimalist:
Horacio Quiroga (Uruguayan, 1878-1937) has often been called “The South American Poe,” but that comparison, flattering though it may appear at first glance, is very misleading. Quiroga believed that writing should be stark and economical. He set forth ten rules for writing short stories (Decálogo del cuentista), and many of these rules deal with directness. One of my favourites: “Toma a tus personajes de la mano y llévalos firmemente hasta el final, sin ver otra cosa que el camino que les trazaste. No te distraigas viendo tú lo que ellos no pueden o no les interesa ver. No abuses del lector.” (“Take your characters by the hand and lead them directly to the story’s end, without veering from the path you have determined for them. Do not get distracted by trying to see things they cannot see or are not interested in seeing. Do not abuse the reader.”) Even his rules for writing are devoid of embellishment! His most famous short story anthology, “Cuentos de amor de locura y de muerte” (“Tales of love, madness, and death”), is an absolute masterpiece. It includes the most original vampire story ever written, “El almohadón de plumas” (“The Feather Pillow”), as well as one of the most grotesquely chilling stories I have ever read: “La gallina degollada (“The Decapitated Chicken”).

Metaphorical and embroidered:
Nathaniel Hawthorne (American, 1804-1864) was a holdover from the Puritan age, and it shines through his writing. His short stories and novels are rife with allegories and not-so-subtle lessons on morality and the struggle against evil. Hawthorne’s writing is the polar opposite of Quiroga’s. It can best be described as narrative poetry. Although unimaginative or impatient readers tend to get lost in his imagery, I have always felt that Hawthorne is the best writer the US has ever produced. Witness the following excerpt from “Young Goodman Brown,” a story that deals with the loss of faith: “He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind. It was all as lonely as could be; and there is this peculiarity in such a solitude, that the traveller knows not who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs overhead; so that, with lonely footsteps, he may yet be passing through an unseen multitude.” My, my, my… has there ever been a more brilliantly written metaphor for hidden evils? (The answer is a thunderous NO!) Although “Young Goodman Brown” is Hawthorne’s best-known story, my personal favourite is an astonishingly beautiful retelling of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace: “Rappaccini’s Daughter.”

Friday, June 15, 2007

Wait 'til mutha-effing next year, again

2K7 has been a pretty frustrating year all around, so why would things be any different in the world of insanely rabid sports allegiances? The Buckeyes made it to two championship games but lost them both to the inbred, gap-toothed, shallow-gene pool asswipes from the "University" of Florida, and the Cavs made a surprising and thrilling run to win the Eastern Conference title but got their collective asses handed to them by the Spurs in the finals. And so, once again, we the long-suffering Cleveland fans take shallow comfort in the fact that our teams performed beyond expectations, and try to get over the bitterness of their falling short of a championship. Wait 'til next year, again.

Thursday, June 7, 2007


My Tennessee-bred co-worker and I have a general agreement regarding the kind of music we listen to at work: she tries not to overwhelm me with country music, which I detest, and I try to refrain from exposing her to opera or hard rock (the day I played two straight hours of The Great Kat was really rough on her – I think her ears were bleeding after the first 30 seconds). We usually stick to contemporary pop music but, like an unhappy married couple, we stray every once in a while (Ooooohhhh… SNAP!!!). I must admit that the country station she listens to does come up with excellent promotions. The latest one involves winning tickets to a concert by some hayseed du jour whose name I’ve chosen to forget. The kicker: the concert’s in Vegas, and the “winner” gets tickets, airfare, accommodations, and even spending money. It’s a pretty good prize, so we’ve been listening to that station for the past few days in the hopes we can git’er dun. Over the course of this week, then, I’ve absorbed quite a deal of auditory punishment. One of the most annoying things about country music is the performers’ insistence on proving their “country-ness” throughout their lyrics. They constantly refer to themselves as “country boys” or “country gals,” make numerous references to their southern heritage, and pride themselves in their farmer’s tans – yesterday, for example, I heard four different songs mention tractors, three songs mention wild-eyed southern boys, and way too many instances of farmer’s tans to keep track of. This assault of blatant musical stupidity (and I use the word “musical” freely – “fecal” is a far more adequate descriptor) inspired me to once again use my free time wisely.

Submitted for your approval: The Microsoft Hit Wizard – Country Edition (click to enlarge).

Monday, June 4, 2007

Cavs !!!!!!!!!

My heartbreaking experiences with my beloved Cleveland sports franchises have left me bitter and jaded... until one of the franchises goes on an improbable run. At that point, treacherous hope springs eternal, and I become insanely excited. In all my years of following The Holy Quaternity, I always felt the powerhouse Tribe teams of the mid- to late 90's had the best shot to actually bring The Fair City by the Lake its first sports championship in 40+ years. If you had asked me which team would be the least likely to do so, I would have guessed the Cavs. Even in the glory days of Price/Daugherty/Nance, they could never get past the Bullshits. This past weekend, however, the rejuvenated, Bron Bron-led Cavs eliminated the hateful Piss-tons to earn the franchise's first-ever trip to the NBA Finals. I think they have a legitimate shot to win it all, provided they can stay focused. Saturday night's celebration was thoroughly satisfying, but it did fill me with unease. The '95 Indians went crazy over finally getting to the World Series after a 41-year drought, so much so that they actually forgot to show up for the games. I got a little whiff of that same type of excitement Saturday night, and I hope the team can get past the euphoria and prepare for the Spurs, who are deep, talented, tough, and extremely well-coached. The coaching matchup, in fact, is the one that bothers me the most. Popovich may well be the best coach in the league, whereas Brown is an underrated defensive coach (the Cavs actually played the best defense in the East for most of the year, and definitely throughout the playoffs), but on offense/adjustments, he's a catastrophe waiting to happen. It's going to take more than defense and some Cochranesque wit ("I'm in it to win it!") to overcome Popovich and the Spurs. It took the Cavs almost 40 years to actually reach the finals. Who knows when/if it will happen again? Carpe diem, boys! An entire city wishes you godspeed.