Monday, October 31, 2011

Protesting & Stuff

Working downtown, I sometimes have occasion to witness a demonstration intent on capturing the hearts and the minds of our city’s populace. The causes vary, but ironically my two favorite involve animals.

The first was a PETA demonstration protesting the consumption of animal meat. They chose to raise awareness by placing two androgynous youngsters inside Styrofoam meat packages outside City Hall while a slender blonde woman handed out pamphlets. The meat packages were startling accurate and the young participants were completely ensconced by industrial-grade cling wrap. I initially feared that the rally was in response to the barbeque chicken plates our custodian had been selling that week but it turned out to be a nationwide event. 

The effect of seeing young children covered in stage blood inside a ground-beef package was certainly startling, but I cannot say it did anything to curb my love of bacon. That being said, I do favor the ethical treatment of animals (delicious or otherwise) and believe that there is no excuse for unnecessary cruelty. I also oppose fur coats both because they are ridiculously expensive and I am not rapper.

The second protest had to do with an ordinance our city was considering that would limit the number of canines that could reside at a single location. If a citizen had more than nine dogs at their home they would have to acquire a breeder’s license in order to avoid a fine. Presumably, this was to encourage responsible pet ownership but many saw it as an unnecessary intrusion by the government into their private affairs.

Emotions ran high and as a dog owner I could appreciate their sentiment, but at the same time I am not sure that I would want their backyard adjacent to mine filled with a platoon of nocturnally-yapping Chihuahuas either.  There were some heartfelt speeches and several people brought their pets with them in a show of solidarity, even so it was less disturbing that “PETA meat” display.

The latest and most interesting involved the Unites States Postal Service. It is no secret that the digital age has been no friend of the post office and it is no longer the profitable or even self-sustaining entity that it once was. To staunch the bleeding, post offices across the county are being closed and there has even been talk of ending Saturday delivery.

These measures have met with understandable resistance from the half-million or so employees whose jobs are on the line and several of them congregated downtown to protest the cost saving measures. I encountered them as I was leaving work one night and came to a four-way stop where groups in matching “Save Postal Jobs” shirts were chanting and holding signs with slogans like “Support Postal Workers” and “Save Jobs Now.”

One participant actually approached my vehicle and motioned toward me their “Support the Post Office” sign as if to goad me into action. I almost wanted to roll down the window and ask how exactly I was to do that other than taking the mail. I would even miss Saturday delivery as it gives me a possible six days to receive my Netflix disc. Judging by my own mail, I would have assumed that the revenue stream from Victoria’s Secret alone would have kept the postal service financially solvent well into the next century. 

I can think of one area that I am less than pleased with the postal service: package delivery. If you have ever ordered something online there is nothing you dread more than getting a shipment notification that your purchase has been sent US Mail. This practically guarantees it will circumnavigate the continental US while the tracking ID gives you a delivery estimate vague enough to encompass the entire MLB post-season. Even constantly checking the website is little comfort since the only information it provides is that they distinctly remember taking possession of a package addressed to you but after that things get hazy. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Art & Placenta

I realize that appreciating progressive art takes an intelligence and personality that I do not possess. While others can stand around obliquely-stacked scrap metal titled “Ravenous Incarceration” and claim to perceive the profundity of our human condition, I can see only a pile of scrap metal that would be identified as a code violation were it to be installed in someone’s front yard. In most cases this is not the fault of the artist themselves, but a shortcoming of their audience’s vision.

Sadly, I believe that I will never be cultured enough to appreciate the depth of expression found in some of today’s budding artists. That being said, I feel that my aversion to some performance art pieces is unrelated to my lack of sophistication. Case in point is a New York based artist named Marni Kotak who is known for her unusual creative endeavors. Some of her previous projects include:

Sandbox – The audience gets to witness her playing a sandbox and singing “You are my sunshine..” repeatedly while she builds a sandcastle.

Birth – Kotak lies in her deceased grandmother’s bed (which she and her husband splinted during lovemaking) as she sheds layers of clothes symbolically regressing toward her birth.

My Grandfather’s Funeral – As the title would suggest, Mrs. Kotak recreates her grandfather’s funeral onstage using actors. The performance included full burial rites.

S’mores – While in China, the artist created an outdoor bonfire and taught the audience how to make s’mores while other artists played her “parents.” It was later shut down by Chinese authorities.

Sunny Blue Plymouth – In this piece, the artist reenacts the loss of her virginity in the back of a Plymouth Acclaim by having intercourse with her husband in the backseat while the audience peers through the windows. The piece ends with the sedan being dismantled by several artists wielding tire-irons.

For her most recent piece, Marni Kotak chose to give birth to her first child in a Brooklyn art gallery in front of an audience. Patrons left contact information so that the gallery could notify them the moment Mrs. Kotak went into labor. The gallery was decorated with a birthing pool, shower, and the bed that the child was conceived on (yes, that same bed).
Marni (pre-performance)
The performance was called “The Birth of Baby X” since neither Marni nor her husband Chris wished to name the child ahead of time. Her stated goal was to address social taboos regarding the human body and spotlight this essential aspect of life that normally transpires out of the public’s view. As it turns out, she gave birth to a boy which the couple quickly named Ajax.

While I respect Marni’s artistic bravery, I must admit that the prospect of watching a total stranger give birth in a small Brooklyn art gallery is not my cup of tea. There is also irony in the importance of context when it comes to performance art. For instance, two adults fornicating for an audience in a gallery is art, while the same scene transpiring in a Wendy’s parking lot would be considered a misdemeanor. Similarly, a grown woman singing to herself in a giant portable sandbox is avant-garde in an exhibit hall but a sign of mental illness in a Walgreens.

I am also somewhat disturbed the pair’s unwillingness to purchase a new bed. We all have items of sentimental value, but it might be time to suck it up and catch a Serta pillow-top on clearance once Nana’s box springs have more stories to tell than a third-year Congressional intern. Of course, it is easy to second guess a couple that names their offspring after an industrial cleaner.

Having read through Mrs. Kotak’s extensive portfolio, I wonder exactly how far we can push the envelope of “true life performance art.” I have a few ideas that may seem mundane or even repulsive to most of you, but I have no doubt that your reluctance to embrace them is the result of your simple, unsophisticated ways.

Regret – This involves the artist seated on a toilet after consuming three chimichangas and a liter of chocolate milk. The scene will be sound tracked by a live harpist.

Choice – The artist will be shown agonizing over which Netflix plan she wishes to subscribe to. The scene will be sound tracked by a looped recording of Kelly Ripa coughing.

Tartar – The artist will have her teeth cleaned in real time while the audience votes on what flavor of dental polish she will use. A one-armed tambourinist will provide musical accompaniment.

Movement – The artist will move a sleeper sofa up two flights of stairs while screaming out the middle names of her previous lovers. Sound track will be a recording of ASE certified mechanics violently weeping.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Keeping it Real

I have discovered that my newest pet peeve is the wave of “real people, not actors” commercials. The idea behind these is to convince the target market that the products being offered are so fantastic, so revolutionary, that they can survive the spontaneity of a “man on the street” setup. There are three examples currently being aired.

The first is the Pizza Hut commercials where a group of “real people” are being clandestinely filmed as they enjoy pasta in what they believe to be a fine Italian restaurant. Once they have sampled their dishes, it is dramatically revealed that their overpriced meals were not prepared by a trained chef at all. Instead the food was delivered by Pizza Hut and the satisfied dinners are dumbfounded that such a delicious pasta dish could have originated at the hands of part-time high school kids working for minimum wage.  There is, subsequently, much rejoicing.

The second commercial involves the Ford Motor Company, and features a white suburban couple who have recently purchased a Ford SUV. The couple is spirited away from their car and into seats facing a throng of reporters who begin asking them what they think of their new car. The couple obligingly responds in a positive manner and even thanks Ford for “making them the Joneses.” There is, once again, much rejoicing.

The third example involved everyone’s favorite fabric deodorizer: Febreze. In this scenario, real people are confronted on the streets of a large metropolitan city asked to assist in an experiment. They are then blindfolded and led into what appears to be the scene of a recent homicide. Once they are seated on the disgusting furniture, they are asked to describe what they smell. Flowers and rain are just a few of the responses given, which is of course humorous to the audience because we are privy to the fact that these people are sitting amongst human feces and the skull of a prostitute. Unsurprisingly, the blindfolds are removed, shock sets in, and there is much rejoicing.
Febreze Ad (filmed on the set of Saw III)
There are a few problems with such scenarios, not the least of which is the blatant insult to the viewer’s intelligence. Do you really feel that such commercials are building a rapport with the intended demographic? Should I trust the opinion of two women who can be persuaded that easily to allow a strange man to blindfold them and lead them into an abandoned warehouse? And who would be that thrilled to find out they just dropped $75 for two personal pan pizzas and an order of breadsticks? If I am at a high-end steakhouse and someone reveals that I have been chewing on a Hungry Man microwavable rib eye sandwich for the past half-hour the first words out of my mouth will not be, “Wow. That’s Amazing!”

And as far as Ford is concerned, when I see a camera crew attempting to confront me as I exit my vehicle the natural assumption is that I am being featured on Cheaters. I would be interested to see statistics on how many people have been persuaded to purchase a Ford Escape because it seemed like the “real people” on TV have really enjoyed the experience. Having seen the “real people” treatment, I am ok with regressing to the slow-motion sliding vehicle ads of the late 90’s.

If you want some good TV, hide a camera at Sears Auto Center when the mechanic informs people that the oil change they brought the car in for has turned into a $550 timing belt inquisition. Even better, let’s confront real people on their use of toilet bowl cleaner. We could blindfold them, lead them into a room, and dunk their head in the bowl before revealing that the porcelain device in question has been on a decade-long tour of duty at Jose’s Burrito Armageddon.

The bottom line is that the only tactic less convincing than a “real people portrayal” commercial is pretending that the entire marketing department didn’t spend six months choreographing the ad so that it did not look like an “actor portrayal” commercial.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine in social work and she was telling me about a seminar that she attended on how to identify sociopathic behavior in children and young adults. Such training is important because children who constantly lie and have no regard for fellow human beings often follow a dark path by growing into serial killers or reality television stars.

The three early warning signs are as follows:
  • 1.      The child tortures or abuses small animals from an early age.
  • 2.      The child exhibits an unhealthy fascination with fire, often manifested as escalating acts of  arson.
  • 3.      The child continues to struggle with bed-wetting well into early adolescence.   
These three warning signs, combined with chronic anti-social behavior, are powerful indicators of trouble down the road. While I certainly have no formal training in psychology, I always thought that some of these symptoms were somewhat circular. After all, maybe little Timmy doesn’t want to be anti-social, it is just difficult to make friends when you smell like urine and strangle housecats for fun.

I was not the most social kid (my rat-tail/thick glasses look assisted greatly) and although I have not killed anyone, I felt that closer contemplation of the indicators couldn’t hurt. So with as much unbiased clarity as I could muster, I reviewed the symptoms.

I myself had a childhood fascination with fire but I always felt it was closer to normal boyhood curiosity than say, Donald Sutherland in Backdraft. What little boy doesn’t like playing with lighters? I suppose it really becomes an issue when you combine lighters, accelerants, and an unhealthy vendetta. I feel that I can impartially label myself as an extremely mild firebug. Not great, but not terrible either.

That being said, I never understood the allure of torturing animals so I suppose I am out of the woods there. I recently read about a story in Philadelphia where someone duct-taped a small dog and tossed him next to a Catholic Church. Some people suggested that it could have been a hate crime, but with over 1.5 million Catholics in the area the suspects probably could not find a place to throw the dog where it wouldn’t land next to a church. I am willing to bet anyone who would be that mean to a dog is going to die alone anyway.

I can’t remember any bed-wetting struggles, but I have struggled with sleep-loogies as detailed in an earlier post. I always thought that this was the strangest indicator of all. Arson and I torture I can see, but poor bladder control? When this happens as an adult they just call it urinary incontinence and write you a prescription for VESIcare. No one overreacts and starts sleeping with a pistol. All I am saying is that I am not sure we should give up on junior just because he had too much Mountain Dew before night-night time.

I have also come up with a fourth childhood indicator: they murder someone. This tends to take the guesswork out of adolescent diagnosis by eliminating the possibility that the child is just shy and has an unnatural hatred for border collies. Being OCD, I also worry that I will start to imagine these characteristics in my own children one day. I have seen enough seasons of Dexter to realize that properly raising a sociopath involves patience, determination, and a backlog of unprosecuted criminals to keep them busy.

Perhaps I have overcomplicated the entire process so, for the sake of brevity, I have condensed the warning signs into this simple paragraph:

If your 13 year old son tortures animals, wets the bed, and plays with fire, he probably needs to see a psychologist. If your 13 year old son sets animals on fire and then uses his own urine to extinguish them, arm yourself immediately. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Covering the Assets

Since her separation from octogenarian boyfriend Hugh Hefner, Holly Madison has joined the cast of the semi-acclaimed production Peepshow. The burlesque show, which has been running at the Las Vegas Planet Hollywood Resort since 2009, has become well known for its artistic combination of emotional depth and naked celebrities. After taking over as the headliner in 2010, Madison had an epiphany:

“If anything happened to my boobs, I'd be out for a few months and I'd probably be out a million dollars. They're my primary money makers right now."

So she did what any self-respecting celebrity would, she took out an insurance policy on them for $1 million with insurance giant Lloyd’s of London. The British insurance conglomerate is famous for writing unusual celebrity insurance policies including Bob Dylan’s voice, Michael Flatley’s legs, Troy Polamalu’s hair, food critic Egon Ronay's taste buds, Yo-Yo champion Harvey Lowe’s hands, and cricket star Merv Hughes's mustache. In fact, this won’t even be the first time that they have insured breasts so there is probably a standardized form by now. While I am admittedly not an insurance expert, they should have paid out on Bob Dylan’s voice a long time ago.

I am curious as to the specifics of the contract. After all, the policy packet for my house (which appraised for far less than Miss Madison’s money makers) is the size of a Detroit phonebook and even has special sections dealing with damage caused by insurrection, space debris, and guided missile attack. For example, does Holly’s policy cover hail damage? Do her assets depreciate? Did she receive a discount for combining her mammary & auto policies?

To be fair, Miss Madison’s chest is not the first that Lloyd’s has issued coverage for and I doubt it will be the last. I just wonder about the mental state of someone who takes a comprehensive inventory of what they have to offer to humanity and settles on the only part of their body that is artificial. It is like saying that my favorite part of my entire face is my sunglasses. Plus, I doubt her breasts will be nominated for a Tony for their supporting role in a topless review at a Planet Hollywood.

Even more baffling are the policies Lloyd’s has written to cover people’s hair. Everyone from football stars to Playboy models carry coverage on their precious follicles, but exactly what calamities are they insuring themselves against? Aside from chemotherapy or a haircut mishap, what scalp-perils are these models encountering on a daily basis? And while I am at it, how do you insure a mustache?

I am surprised they do not insure celebrity relationships. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that you are covered in the event that your mate exchanges information with someone else after an unforeseen romantic collision? Otherwise who is going to pay for damage control when the paparazzo catches your husband coming out of a trendy pilgrim-themed nightclub with his caterer’s personal assistant? The press agents don’t pay for themselves. 

Celebrity Insurance Policies That Lloyd’s should Issue
  • Paula Dean’s Teeth
  • Sean Penn’s Nicotine Habit
  • Lindsay Lohan’s Poor Choices
  • Gary Busey’s Dementia
  • Chad Kroeger’s Lack of Subtlety
  • Nancy Grace’s Rush to Judgment
  • Ryan Seacrest’s Unnecessary Enthusiasm    
  • Kathy Griffin’s Off-putting Demeanor
  • Axl Rose’s Misplaced Confidence

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Nicolas Cage & Vampires

A few weeks ago, a Seattle man identifying himself as Jack Mord opened an interesting auction on e-Bay. He claims to be in possession of evidence that actor Nicolas Cage is a vampire “who quickens/reinvents himself once every 75 years or so.” His proof is in the form of a Civil War-era photo of an unidentified man that Mord claims is Cage. He is asking $1 million for the photo which was apparently taken by photographer G.B. Smith. For the skeptical, Mord elaborates on his theory:

"My theory is that he allows himself to age to a certain point, maybe 70, 80 or so, then the actor 'Nicolas Cage' will 'die' ... but in reality, the undead vampire 'Nicolas Cage' will have rejuvenated himself and appeared in some other part of the world, young again, and ready to start all over. 150 years from now, he might be a politician, the leader of a cult or a talk show host.”

Sadly, the auction was removed shortly after its posting and so far no one has been able to definitively authenticate Cage’s undead status. It is interesting to note that the seller believes that once Cage reinvents himself, his career choices will be limited to a politician, a cult leader, or a talk show host. It is comforting to know that my great-grandchildren will have such prestigious vocations to choose from.

A soulless, blood-sucking politician would not necessarily stand out and all those Team Edward shirts would finally have some subtle political undertones. Plus, I have always wondered where a nomadic, eternal being would fall on immigration reform. A cult leader is not a bad gig and the lack of health insurance wouldn’t trouble someone cursed to walk the Earth until Armageddon so I suppose I could see that. Talk show hosting would be tricky, especially when you give away bags of plasma every year during your “my favorite things” episode. 

I suppose we should all be thankful that acting isn’t still in the mix. If Cage has already had 200 years to practice his current craft, you would think that Ghost Rider would have been a better movie. Although, his lack of a human soul could easily explain his inability to project emotion on screen.

I have never really understood our cultural fascination with vampires. Personally, I blame Twilight for the sorry state of vampirism today. Here we have a blood-borne pathogen that enters the body through aggravated assault and leaves the victim unable to produce their own hemoglobin. Yet the movie indicates that the only side-effects are financial stability, serial monogamy, and solar-activated skin glitter. I suppose the only real upside is being eternal which would presumably grant you unparalleled wisdom and perspective. With that in mind, let’s look at the decisions that Mr. Cage has made in his current incarnation:

  • On August 10, 2002 he married Lisa Marie Presley. They had filed for divorce by Thanksgiving.
  • In 2004, he married Alice Kim who he met while visiting a Korean nightclub she worked at. He named their son Kal-El after Superman’s real name.
  • In 2009, The I.R.S. filed against him for more than $6 million in unpaid taxes from 2007. Like any respectable celebrity, he promptly sued his business manager for $20 million.
  • His business manager immediately counter-sued him alleging that Nicolas Cage spent more money than he made. Items Cage purchase include nine Rolls Royces, a fleet of yachts, and the fossilized skull of a Tarbosaurus.
  • Once the two preceding lawsuits were filed, Cage was then sued by the mother of his eldest son Weston for $13 million. She claims that Cage was supposed to pay for her house in exchange for raising their son (who checked into rehab for the second time in 2010 after a domestic violence charge).
  • Just a few weeks ago, Cage revealed that while he was living in Orange County he awoke to see a naked man standing at the foot of his bed holding a fudge popsicle. He decided not to file charges but quickly sold his home.
If going bankrupt over a dinosaur, naming your children after comic book characters, and waking up to some intruder’s Klondike Bar is what two centuries of accumulated living have to offer, you can count me out. The plus side is that apparently vampires will spend so much time fighting off government litigation and ex-wives that they will be unable to organize a rebellion against humanity and enslave us for food (a la Daybreakers). It would appear that not even garlic and crucifixes can strike fear into the hearts of the damned like an out-of-court settlement.

In all seriousness, this is probably nothing more than a Photoshopped hoax and I have already spent too much time on it. However, I reserve the right to freak out if a 150-year-old picture of Keith Richards surfaces any time soon…. 

*Author's note: I would like to remind all readers that the opinions expressed, specifically concerning Twilight, do not reflect those of the author's wife.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The iPad Sale

A few months ago, 22 year old Ashley McDowell pulled into a South Carolina McDonalds to enjoy an inexpensive dinner when two men emerged from a Chevy Impala and informed her that they had an once-in-a-lifetime deal for her. They had purchased a large quantity of Apple iPad2’s at a substantial discount and were willing to sell her one at the reduced price of $300 as long as she could pay in cash.

A distraught McDowell informed the men that she only had $180 on her person but would love to become the owner of an iPad. After a brief discussion amongst themselves, the men agreed to sell the device to her for the funds she had available. Once she handed them the money, they presented her with a sealed FedEx box, quickly got in their car, and left the restaurant. Her spirits buoyed by her unexpected good luck, Ashley ate her dinner and returned home to set up her new tablet.

Sadly, when she opened the box she discovered only a block of wood with an Apple logo painted on the back along with an obviously-forged receipt from a local Best Buy. Suspecting something was amiss, she quickly filed a report with the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office giving them a description of the two men. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the authorities have not turned up any promising leads and Miss McDowell still does not have an iPad.

While the idea of electronics scamming is nothing new, the fact that the two con-men went to the trouble to paint the wood and forge a receipt leaves only two possibilities:
  • Selling to a complete stranger was Plan B after an unsuccessful attempt to return it to Best Buy for a cash refund.
  • They figured that the receipt and rudimentary paint job might buy them the extra seconds they would need to escape a beating were things to go south.
The discount "iPad"
I am impressed that the two salesmen were able to retain their composure after making the initial pitch and hearing the words, “I only have $180 on me.” The fact that they were able to feign indecision long enough to make the transaction appear legitimate is a testament to their professionalism. What would they have said if she had opened the box before handing them the money?

“This doesn’t look like the iPad from the commercial.”
“Uh….yeah…. that’s because that was an iPad2 and this is the original iPad.”
“Oh! Well that explains it.”

Given the level of detail exhibited on the device itself, I am surprised they did not go the extra mile and include a USB charging dock fashioned from a shoelace and a pair of Triscuits. The most worrisome outcome of such a successful caper is the inevitable copy-cat crimes to follow. It will only be a matter of days before we will hear about some poor college student purchasing an Amazon Kindle at Arby’s only to find out it was just a Gideon New Testament Bible with a screen drawn on the cover.   

God love poor Ashley. The only thing more embarrassing than purchasing a $180 block of wood in a McDonald’s parking lot is filing a police report publicly confirming that you purchased a $180 block of wood in a McDonald’s parking lot. Personally, I would have taken this particular misstep to my grave. After all, with no names, a vague description, and a cash transaction the prospects of restitution seem unlikely. Plus, I am certain the local authorities have assigned their best man to bring these two to justice.

I have to wonder how many splinter-wounds she sustained from the “touch interface” before realizing she was holding a 4th grader’s art project.  And who purchases something from two guys in a parking lot and waits three hours before even looking at the item? What if the box had contained heroin or a severed human finger? The only way this could have been worse is if she had called Apple tech support after several unsuccessful attempts to sync it to her iTunes account.

To Miss McDowell’s credit, at least she did not look like a sucker by purchasing the extended warranty…..