Saturday, July 31, 2010

Things I Am Scared Of (Part 1)

I had read once that physiologists utilized a specific technique to aid their patients in overcoming their fears. The theory was that fear’s crippling power in a person’s life stemmed from that person’s refusal to unmask it. In order to combat this phenomenon, many doctors would have their patients create a detailed list of the things that frightened them. By doing so, the power of the phobia was diminished.
With that in mind, I have decided to make a list of my fears in order to ensure that they no longer pose a threat to my emotional well-being.

Things That I Am Scared Of:
·         Waking up in a post-apocalyptic society, discovering that the only two remaining forms of sustenance are spinach or human flesh, and hesitating when given a choice between them.
·         That Nancy Grace will one day actually obtain justice.
·         People who place an inexpensive chain through a spent rifle casing, place it around their neck as jewelry, and when asked about its significance respond with “Remind me one day to tell you how my cousin died.”
·         Any pharmaceutical television commercial that includes images of an elderly couple riding bicycles.
·         That a cast member of The Hills will one day become a Federal legislator.
·         A dialysis clinic that also offers check cashing services.
·         Ground beef products at the grocery store that are labeled “clearance.”
·         Regaining consciousness during a surgical procedure just in time to see the physician peer into my torso and casually remark to the scrub nurse “This is nowhere near how it looked on”
·         That my house has a peculiar odor that I am unable to detect because I live there.
·         That one of my neighbors is a serial killer and I will someday be the moron on the news that utters statements like “He was always so polite” or “Not everyone who paints a pentagram on their mailbox and uses human blood as eye shadow is a bad person!”
·         That I never again have the urge to watch a narrated documentary once Morgan Freeman passes away.
·         That Sean Penn will write, direct, and star in an animated Disney film called “Why Won’t Mommy Wake Up?”
·         The Black Eyed Peas.
·         That Progressive Insurance will continue to underwrite the television commercials that feature the saleswoman “Flo.”
·         Unicycle street gangs.
·         The ambiguity surrounding whether or not ketchup should be refrigerated.
·         The inability of celebrities to give their children names unlikely to drive them into chemical dependency.
·         People who wear their sunglasses upside down on the back of their neck, at night.
·         That I will accidentally cut off a nun in traffic.
·         The ingredients list on a can of “Manwhich.”
·         Accidentally farting during a particularly reverent prayer.
·         That Larry King will release a sex tape.
·         Taking myself too seriously.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Kirkland, Fincher, or Flinn?

Much to my chagrin, I fill the two prerequisites necessary to have my life ruined by a recent political campaign:
     1.         I have previously voted in a Republican primary.
     2.       I live in Tennessee’s 8th Congressional District.
The coexistence of these two factors guarantee that I need not worry about returning from my mailbox empty handed. After looking through a week’s worth of postal deliveries, I realized that 45% of my mail was from or concerning Stephen Fincher, Ron Kirkland, or George Flinn; each of whom is salivating over the Republican nomination for the aforementioned Congressional seat.
At first, each candidate sent informational packets that succinctly outlined their stance on particular issues. As a voter, I found this helpful when attempting to decide who I would rather see representing the Republican party; however, the situation quickly deteriorated (and yet became infinitely more entertaining) as each candidate attempted to “out conservative” each other. Unable to decide who was the most conservative (and thereby, most deserving of my support) I set up a series of categories to ascertain each man’s qualifications. Enjoy.
Flannel Shirt Category – In this strategy, each candidate is featured wearing a long sleeve flannel shirt, blue jeans, and a smile that says, “There is nothing I like more that real folk!” While sporting this ensemble, the candidate is invariably shaking hands with another man whose chosen career path did not require secondary education. The candidate receives extra points for each individual pictured that is wearing camouflage.
Winner – Stephen Fincher
While I have no doubt that all three men can appear folksy in flannel, Fincher is probably the only contender who owned his flannel shirt before he announced his candidacy.

Family Category – In this competition, each candidate attempts to portray that they adore their wife and children more than their rolling stone counterparts. A bonus is given for each child under the age of 14, and if the congressional hopeful is advanced in age, grandchildren can be substituted without penalty. The purpose of this is twofold; it reassures the voters that they are fully aware of the difficulties and concerns of the modern Tennessee family and puts to rest any nagging concerns about the candidate’s fertility.
Winner – Ron Kirkland
With 4 children, 3 grandchildren, and a wife of 41 years Ron has proven that his commitment to his family is almost as powerful as his ability to make it rain offspring.           

The Black and White Evil Democrat Pose – To win this competition, the candidate must create a mailer that features a slightly-pixelated monochrome photo collage of prominent Democrats in unflattering poses. Must include both Pelosi and Obama to qualify and extra consideration will be given to each additional Democrat featured (please note: at this time there is no bonus given for Joe Liberman.) It is advisable to caption the photo with one of the following phrases:
“Had Enough?”
“They Must Be Stopped!”
“It Is Time To Take Our Country Back!”
“Who Will Save Us?”
“There is Treachery Afoot!”

Winner – George Flinn

George’s fliers feature grimacing portraits of Obama so unattractive that the reader almost feels the president must have been constipated during the photo session.

The “We Are Down With J.C.” Pose – If you wish to succeed as a conservative candidate in the south, you must have unimpeachable church credentials. While a personal statement of theology is too cumbersome for a flyer, a picture is worth a thousand words and in this round each contestant must convey their allegiance to Judeo-Christian ethics with a photo. A five point bonus is assessed if the picture was taken at a Baptism.

Winner – Stephen Fincher

Not only does he go to church, his forefathers started a church and his entire family is part of a traveling Gospel music ensemble that began decades ago. Suck on that Deacon Kirkland!

The Pro-Life Pose – In this round, the candidate must present their unflinching opposition to abortion by demonstrating their commitment to life. While many candidates feel confident that their “family pose” will suffice, I highly recommend additional mailers and commercials that feature the congressional hopefuls with other people’s babies.

Winner – George Flinn

He has obliterated the competition by featuring photos of himself with smiling infants and even distributing a fan-fold brochure that follows a little girl’s development from birth to the onset of osteoporosis. If this guys was any more pro-life he would personally impregnate half the 8th district’s female voters just to take advantage of the delivery room photo ops.

 The Patriotic Category – In this round, each candidate makes the case that he is more American than his adversaries. Military service, reverence for the constitution, and prominent shots of the American flag are the cornerstones that will lead to victory.

Winner – Ron Kirkland

In addition to prodigious use of American flag photography and his honorable service record in Vietnam, Kirkland actually has a photo of himself, surrounded by ethnically diverse elementary students, saying the pledge of allegiance, in a public school. Game over.

 As you can see, even with my fool-proof selection process I have come to a dead-end. I even tried using campaign slogans as a tie-breaker:

Kirkland – Proven. Trusted. Conservative.
Flinn – Faith. Family. Freedom.
Fincher – Plow Congress!

However, this seemed unfair since I am reasonably certain that Fincher’s marketing team was unaware that “plow” is a widely used as a euphemism for the sexual conquest of another individual. So I have decided that the most responsible way to pick a candidate is through the use of a magic 8-ball while wearing a flannel shirt. I will let you guys know how it turns out.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Stylin' and Profilin'

Over the years I have had the honor of sporting many haircuts. Having grown up in the 90’s, I always wanted really cool grunge hair (a la’ Eddie Vedder) but my hair tended to curl when it exceeded a certain length and I realized that long hair on me could easily get me mistaken for the girl from Curly Sue. Coming to terms with this wasn’t easy, but I decided that I could still utilize my hair to create a persona that I could be proud of for years to come. I was wrong….
When I was around 10 years old I feel under the spell of the single most offensive men’s hairstyle of all: the rattail. For those of you fortunate enough to be unaware of this style’s existence, it consisted of a long collection of hair allowed to grow from the back of the head. The hair around said protuberance was neatly maintained allowing for maximum emphasis of the rattail. In other words, it was like looking at the surviving hairs from a vicious assault on a mullet.
I remember being adamant about growing the rattail as I perceived it being cool. I also remember my mother’s protests, most likely because she knew such an appendage almost ensured that I would still be living at home on my 30th birthday. At any rate, I was eventually allowed to grow the curly “neck warmer” of my dreams and could not wait to show it off to my friends. I had one friend in particular who had elevated the rattail to an art-form by bleaching it blonde to accentuate his naturally chestnut hair. I hoped that my humble contribution to this budding form of self expression would be worthy of my fellow classmate’s admiration.
Unfortunately, I had a nervous habit of curling the precious wisps around my index finger which served the dual purpose of creating a very crude perm and pulling many of the hairs loose. This resulted in a very anemic rattail that could have been easily mistaken for a case of the mange. I tried to control my nervous tick but was embarrassingly unsuccessful and eventually was persuaded to cut the rattail loose.
The next stop on my journey toward hair-induced celibacy was the bowl-cut. This gem received it’s moniker from the symmetrical layering of longer hair over shorter hair just like someone had placed a bowl upside-down on your head and just cut around the rim. It was most famously sported by Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill (pictured below) as was pointed out to me between fits of hysterical laughter by a former boss.

 Always on the cutting edge of fashion, I decided that I needed to spice up my “Dorothy” by having my sympathetic aunt install blond highlights. Since it took the highlights a while to blend, for the next week after a fresh coloring I walked around looking like a dejected human roulette wheel. I maintained this ruse for several years until I discovered the key to my follicle freedom: hair gel.
Unable (and unwilling) to spend much on product for my styling needs, I began using the low-budget standby L.A. Looks. This particular brand rated its “holding strength” on a numerical scale; a hold strength of 1 would be considered almost imperceptible and a ten was rated up to a Category 4 Hurricane. Being a fan of subtlety, I opted for the ten which was colored electric blue by some banned combination of pigments and carcinogens.
I would issue a dollop the size of an Egg McMuffin© into my palm and apply it to my recently washed hair in order to maintain the “wet look” associated with enviable fashion icons like Rob Lowe or most of the suspects on Law & Order. For the rest of the day, my hair was completely immobilized by the gel unless I began to sweat, at which point the chemicals would ooze into the pores on my face further aggravating my already acne-riddled skin. I had the ladies on standby.
Although my hairstyle has evolved, I still use the same gel (don’t judge me, because per ounce it is still cheaper than NuGrape) albeit applied a little more sparingly. I like to think that I am semi-fashionable but after typing this I have realized that felt just as confident about my rattail as I do about my current hairstyle which is pretty frightening.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Movies That Suck: Doomsday

Warning: This post contains spoilers for a movie that you should never want to see ever

While I realize that any apocalyptically-themed motion picture requires its intended audience to suspend their disbelief in order to accept the basic premise (asteroid headed toward earth, deadly virus outbreak, the re-emergence of tight-rolled jeans) I do expect that the events that occur within that premise should still be vaguely compatible with logic.
It is for this reason I was highly disappointed in the 2008 Neil Marshall creation Doomsday. Hailed as a visionary for his 2005 film The Descent, Neil decided to try his hand at combining Mad Max and 28 Days Later into a futuristic sci-fi apocalyptic fantasy set in Britain. The plot is as follows:
A rather unpleasant ailment (known as the “reaper” virus) has ravaged the continent’s populace. In an effort to contain the outbreak, the government has built a re-enforced steel wall that bisects the country in order to permanently segregate the sick and healthy until the disease runs its course. Thirty years later, the disease re-emerges and a team is sent over the wall to locate survivors and seek a cure.
At this point, the narrator informs us that the survivors on the abandoned side of the wall have slipped into social chaos and turned to cannibalism, murder, rape, and loosely-governed games of four-square. While despicable, such behaviors are believable within the circumstances outlined by the narration and have been reinforced by past apocalyptic classics such as Stephen King’s The Stand and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Neil’s portrayal of them, however, is far from believable.
The majority of the male residents are clean shaven – While I am not a sociologist, I can assure you that once the strictures of modern society dissolve into chaos the very first habit men will forgo is shaving. I can barely bring myself to do it now, let alone when I am constantly fighting for my very survival. This is a pitfall of almost every post-apocalyptic film.
Once the government collapses, cannibalism becomes rampant – While cannibalism is not unheard of, it almost always occurs when a person is afflicted by ravenous hunger and unable to locate an alternative food source. In this film, the survivors are inundated with herds of cattle and concentrations of dairy cows and yet still prefer eating their neighbors. Perhaps I speak for myself, but if given a choice between a Black Angus cheeseburger and the seared flesh of a malnourished plumber; I am most likely to lean toward the cheeseburger.
Bad Medical PR – This is just a suggestion, but when an administration wishes to reassure the public and maintain order in the face of a new disease, it might be best not to call it “The Reaper Virus.” Might I suggest something less threatening like “The Snuggle Virus” or “Tropical Sunshine Syndrome.”
All villainous characters sport elaborate Mohawks, professional quality tattoos, and leather garments – It is unlikely that any survivor, regardless of gender, would select a high maintenance hairstyle that made them easier targets for the illogically cannibalistic groups of wandering vagrants. It is even more unlikely that those surviving for long periods without proper hygiene would wish to expose themselves to the epic chaffing of leather pants for the sake of fashion.
Worst Military Equipment Ever – The” team” is equipped with a pair of advanced (keep in mind this is 2030) armored personnel vehicles that are impervious to ground attack. Within eight minutes of their being placed into service, a mohawked thug shatters the armored windshield with what appears to be a garden tool and both vehicles are immobilized by a Molotov cocktail and a homemade bow & arrow.
Those villainous characters that do not sport elaborate Mohawks have regressed to the 1600’s – The other survivors have taken to hosting jousting tournaments and riding horses through the countryside like extras on a Ridley Scott film. Apparently the metal wall caused the survivors to forget that the Industrial Revolution took place and equestrianism experienced a powerful resurgence. 
I have only scratched the surface and for those brave enough to give Doomsday a coveted spot on their Netflix que there is even a scene where a brand new Bentley is unable to outrun or outmaneuver a homemade vehicle that is primarily composed of an El Camino frame and two used mattresses.  But perhaps the biggest flaw is that for thirty years, no one has breached an unpatrolled metal wall that spans hundreds of miles of remote landscape. Apparently the first victim of the “reaper” virus was logic and reason.

This film is rated R for illogical violence, moderately dramatic use of the phrase “bollocks,” and a scene of implied government efficiency. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Accutane & You!

They are several scientific breakthroughs that have altered the course of human history: the discovery of penicillin, the first human organ transplant, and the selection of Senator Bob Dole to market Viagra to the public. However there is one medicinal milestone that superseded all others if you happened to be a teenager in the late 90’s: the patenting of isotretinoin by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Hoffmann–La Roche.
While Roche was not the first to use isotretinoin (it was previously used as a chemotherapy drug to treat brain and pancreatic cancer) they were the first to market it as a cure for acne under the name Accutane. Over the next decade, the drug became a juggernaut that was dispensed to millions of ailing high school kids as miracle cure for the scourge of “face herpes.”
Like a number of my peers, I suffered from acne and was self-aware enough to realize that I needed all of the esthetic assistance I could get, if I wished to attract members of the fairer sex. Several of my friends who suffered from dermatological eruptions had experienced miraculous results with Roche’s wonder drug, and I wanted in on the action. My parents were reticent to place their first born on such a powerful drug, but they finally agreed to take me to the doctor. I suppose the idea of me still being single and living at home when I was forty was a great motivator.
Once the appointment was set, I began to plan out the most efficient method of selecting which ladies to court. I was certain that my soon–to-be-acquired buttery smooth complexion would cause a landslide of romantic attention and I decided that if things got too hectic I might have to petition the parents for an extra phone line at the house. I lamented the burden of breaking so many young hearts, but I certainly could not have been expected to spread myself too thin.
After several weeks of dosing, I found that Accutane did have some dramatic effects on me, albeit not any of the desired ones:
1.       I would suffer from sudden nose bleeds, and not the variety that you dab with a tissue. Was the condition to be recognized by the American Medical Association, I propose “Unscheduled Nasal Menstruation” or U.N.M. for short.

2.       I developed a ravenous appetite that was accompanied by a less discerning palate. This led to me consuming large quantities of generic Oreo cookies sold under the name Great Value Twist & Shouts. I would come home from school after eating a tamale pie* for lunch and consume 8-14 of these cookies along with an udderful of whole milk.

3.       I gained fifteen pounds, but the excess body fat was limited to my head and neck. When I donned a tux to escort for the school’s beauty pageant, the collar squeezed enough neck-fat out to look like the top of my suit was baking a loaf of bread. My comical proportions later earned me the nickname “cabbage patch.”

4.        I became embarrassingly overdramatic in response to normal conversation. While in the throes of accu-mania, a typical interaction with my family might go something like this:

Concerned Family Member: “You look tired.”
Me: “What’s that supposed to mean!?”
C.F.M. “Nothing… I just meant that you looked tired…”
Me: “I guess it is just too much trouble to let me live my life!”
C.F.M. “Just forget it…Are you hungry?”
Me: “No one understands me anymore!”
C.F.M. “I just asked if you were hungry.”
Me: “Don’t think I don’t see what is happening here!!”

5.       I suffered from depression and although that was identified as a possible side-effect of treatment, I am not convinced that it was chemically induced. After all, I was now an overdramatic, emotional eater who had suddenly been burdened with a disproportionately-large cranium on which to display my as yet unabated acne. Combined with the nose-bleeds, I faintly resembled a teenage Ebola patient bobble-head.
Eventually, my frustration with the lack of results led the doctor to place me on dosage level I can only assume is reserved for death row inmates with no immediate family. Several weeks later my mother, both concerned for my health and unable to financially support my growing cookie habit, took me back to the physician and demanded that I be placed on something topical instead. He agreed, and I was given a powerful cream that removed so much moisture from my skin it must have contained a desiccant.
The cream was as ineffective on my acne as the Accutane, but at least I managed to shed a few collar sizes. Eventually, my skin condition cleared on its own. While I was doing research for this essay, I ran across the list of side effects for Accutane and mused at the irony of believing that taking this drug would make me more attractive to women:
·         Extreme, severe acne flaring
·         Extreme dryness of lips, face, eyes,  and mucous   membranes causing nosebleeds
·         Permanent hair-thinning
·         Erectile Dysfunction
·         Inflammatory Bowel Disease
·         Depression & Psychosis
·         Hepatitis
If taken while a woman is pregnant, it can cause everything from developmental disorders to the child being born without any earlobes. What kind of medicine can make a human’s earlobes disappear in utero?
At any rate, I think that it has been discontinued in that form amid a wave of lawsuits so perhaps Roche will continue to rely on their real cash crop: TamiFlu.
*For those who did not attend high school with me, a tamale pie is an underfunded cousin of the nacho. It contains a base of tortilla chips and is topped off by watered-down chili and nacho cheese sauce of questionable origin.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth A Loss of Income

I have always been a supporter of thorough preparation and planning, especially in regards to the safety of the public. Even in school, I didn’t mind the chaotic tornado drills whereby each of us was led into the hall and forced into the “face-in-your-own-crotch” safety position because I recognized the logic behind it. Training and drills now eliminate mistakes later, and in many cases saves lives.
With that being said, I believe that it is possible to take preparation too far and err on the side of authenticity. An example of this type of preparation was witnessed by patients at St. Rose Dominican Hospital in Las Vegas, Nevada late last week. The hospital, which one year earlier had been stormed by a gunman, decided that patient and staff safety was their number one concern. So they did what any self-respecting medical center would; they hired someone to storm the hospital with a real (albeit unloaded) pistol and take 8 employees hostage (including the ICU director.)
The three medical center employees who concocted the training exercise decided that it would be more realistic not to inform anyone at the hospital that a drill was taking place. While this insured sincere reactions from the involuntary participants, it also meant that the patients of the captured doctors and nurses were left unsupervised until the drill’s completion.  
It turns out that the gunman was an off-duty police officer and the hospital is now facing a fine from the Nevada Health Division because patients were left unsupervised. Teressa Conley, the chief operating officer, said the three employees who designed the drill had the "best intentions" but did not think things through. Mrs. Conley then executed a plan of her own and fired two members of the “safety brain-trust.”
Incidents like this remind me that even preparing for a disaster can be disastrous. For that reason I have created this easy to use chart so that organizations can avoid embarrassing over-preparation:

Pulling fire alarm and practicing organized evacuations at regular intervals
Throwing a Molotov cocktail into a daycare to teach them about hate crimes
Flight attendant explains how to use your floatation device in the event of a water landing
Pilot downs two Percocet and intentionally ditches in the Atlantic to simulate a water landing
Bank gives a spring seminar and luncheon on how to handle an armed robbery
Bank hires two ex-cons to put a few rounds in the loan officer to “show her what it’s like”
Adolescent swimming lessons at the YMCA
Adolescent swimming lessons in the Hudson River
Practice CPR on a Red Cross certified test dummy
Assault a jogger with an aluminum bat until their heart stops to practice CPR
Have care brakes tested by an ASC certified auto-mechanic every 10,000 miles
Test brakes yourself by tailgating a gas truck on Interstate 65

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Garage Sale

Several weeks ago my wife decided that we should clean out the closets of old clothing items so that they could be donated to a local charity, but what began as a weekend closet re-organization project quickly transitioned into one of the most feared events for any homeowner: the yard sale. For the seller, a yard sale is a public acknowledgement that your ability to judge the long-term viability of material goods is greatly flawed.  For several hours you are inviting the general populace to silently judge you as they riffle through boxes of items that you were once foolish enough to acquire at retail prices. Ab Rollers, Bugle Boy pants, and a special edition DVD of Space Cowboys are just a few of the items to acquire at these roadside dispensaries, sometimes for mere quarters.
My wife organized everything including placing an ad in the local newspaper and hanging up several signs in our neighborhood. The plan was for the sale to run from about 6:00 AM – Noon that Friday and Saturday. As expected, some of the shoppers arrived earlier than expected (one family came Thursday afternoon) but overall I feel that the outing was a success. Having spent some time manning the table on Saturday, I was able to identify several categories of people that frequent these events:
The Pro – Stereotypically, this group consists of post-menopausal women who participate simply for the thrill of the hunt. Often they will acquire your wares only to resell them at their own garage sale a month later. Due to their advanced age, they require less sleep than a normal human and typically arrive fifteen minutes before the scheduled time of commencement. They will attack if threatened or overcharged.
The Opportunist – Their modus operandi is the procurement of “forbidden fruit.” They are only interested in purchasing items that you are unwilling to sell, usually at an insultingly low cost. Upon their arrival you will be offered money for any un-priced item within their field of vision. Heaven help you if their wandering eyes spot a push-mower or air compressor, and the more adamant you are on keeping it the more they pine for its acquisition. I had five people offer me cash for a lawn mower half-hidden under a tarp, but if I had priced it and displayed it prominently no one would have wanted it. The best defense against opportunists is a good offense. Price exorbitantly and claim sentimental attachment if you are questioned.
Opportunist: “You really want $2,700 for those work gloves!?”
You: “My Aunt once strangled a one-armed magician while wearing those gloves. It would break my heart to lose them.”

The Muddler – This specimen deftly combines manufactured confusion with guilt in order to gain a sizable discount.  They will pick up several clearly-priced items and approach you to check-out. Once you give them the total, they will appear shocked that the sum of the five separate $1 items equals a total of $5. Having already dislocated several pieces of merchandise, they will loudly announce that they didn’t realize it would be more than $4 (since that is all they have) and appeal to your sense of decency.
The Drive-By – Unsure that your used junk is worth the effort of extricating themselves from their vehicle, these shoppers will take several slow passes by your home in an attempt to gauge the quality of your offerings. We had several of these at our home and at first I feared that someone had put out a hit on me until Ashley explained that they simply did not see anything interesting. As ridiculous as it is to admit, I was more insulted by this than the idea that someone wanted me dead. Apparently our taste in clothes and collectables was so misguided that it could be easily spotted from the road. The least they could do is insult me to my face.
The Clinger – The rarer of the garage sale regulars, the clinger craves the atmosphere of a yard sale more than the merchandise. Any procurement of theirs is usually under $1 and meant to ingratiate them with the sale’s host. Depending on the nature of conversation, they can be enjoyable company although at times they have been known to overstay their welcome. If the subject begins to steer toward their medical history, shut it down.
The Closer – These individuals haunt the waning hours of a yard sale in order to take advantage of the seller’s melting resolve. Their weapon of choice is the “How much would you take for all this” attack at which point they will attempt to acquire an entire box of assorted items for a harshly discounted sum. When you protest, they feign wounded apathy as though purchasing your beloved pog collection for 35 cents was an act of charity. They have been known to procure entire CD collections for mere pennies on the dollar.