Archive for April, 2010

a day without Orange Juliuses

On Saturday I went to a ukulele-strumming competition. No, not really, but it seems like every week I go to some weird place and then write about it like some vaguely scornful anthropologist. I was actually at a bowling alley, which is also a pretty weird place on a Saturday night, but that’s not the point. The point is that the bowling alley was surrounded by a decaying, boarded-up shopping mall in Westminster, which is sort of like, I don’t know, the Staten Island of Denver. It’s the kind of town whose notion of spiffing itself up evidently consists of changing all of its street signs into Times Roman font, meanwhile every business not located next to the Interstate is going under. The bowling alley looked to be the only building for a quarter mile around that had functional neon lighting. Soon they’ll probably start tearing down the mall, which I visited a fair number of times when I was little, mostly with my grandparents, who lived nearby, and plowing it under.

The irony is that that kind of familiar indoor mall probably has more historical value than the 150-year-old outhouses that local governments and historical associations are always trying to preserve. If there were to be no more traditional indoor malls, how could future generations understand the ’80’s? The mall is the answer to some of the most fundamental questions about life at that time: What did people in those days do with their spare time? What did they worship? What did their mating rituals consist of? Instead we seem to be headed towards more outdoor shopping centers, or in other words: back to the strip mall, in slightly prissified form. A friend of mine was explaining that this way the building owners can save a bunch on heating and cooling costs. The message to their customers clearly being: maintain your own damn body temperature!

template for ad hominem attack ad

(Hated opponent whose ruination you fervently desire) has an ass which is perhaps best described as a porcupine-like tumescence. It is the boiling volcano whose explosive release of noxious gas into the atmosphere we should really be concerned about. Not since the days of Aladdin has a container full of gin been so misused as it has by her. Her hobbies include taking off all her clothes and rolling over on one of her many ill-conceived babies while passed out. Drinking can’t be considered one of her pastimes because it’s more like the medium in which she exists. She has been brought before the bar of justice countless times but never convicted, which should not be blamed on nepotism only because, the world being so densely populated with the hordes of illegitimate children she has brought into it, the presence of her family members on any jury of her peers is more or less inevitable.

an open letter to the former German chancellor

Dear Helmut Kohl,

You, sir, are to me evidence that history is not a lie, because you are one of the auxiliary figures at momentous events for whom I feel some government studio would not bother to create a detailed back story if it was staging the whole thing. Not that there aren’t benefits to facelessness. I appreciate those clothing store manikins which allow us to see how a pair of slacks would look on somebody with their hands and head cut off. And your own country has recently proven that, no matter how anonymous a banker may seem, even The Country That Invented Democracy will by the nature of things have a lower social status than the country in a position to turn down the Country That Invented Democracy for a loan.

My words are like light photons: I can’t decide if they are illuminating waves or projectiles. All I can hope is that, like my decisions, they are made virtually illegible by alcohol. Most of you politicians, on the other hand, give me the impression of regarding words as fundamentally flimsy, worthless and to be employed only in places where an army can’t be sent. But now that volcanic ash is pouring across your ever so environmentally conscious country’s sky as a result of the earth itself opening an unexpected front in the global warming fray on the side of the polluters, thus undermining all the efforts of people who have risked life and limb by driving a Prius, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate allies and strategy. Sincerely,

Some Weirdo

Scott Alexander go with God

One of my favorite teachers from high school, Scott Alexander, has died. Here is his obituary and here is the funeral home guestbook for him. This is what I wrote for it:

Plenty of people have already mentioned what a great teacher and person Scott Alexander was, to which I can personally attest. As a student of his at Fairview, all I would add is that what in my mind set him apart even from the other excellent teachers, and what probably made him under-appreciated at the time, was the fact that he was not content to merely carve out a niche at the school and cultivate a personal teacher cult. He got IB teacher certification at a school (Boulder H.S.) that didn’t even have an IB program, and later, at Fairview, it was mostly his personal willpower that kept the IB program going for virtually the entire time I was there. Then, as I understand it, he turned around the middle school at Boulder Country Day, which had been struggling up to that point, and by all accounts turned it into a roaring success.

Probably most of his students were never fully aware of all of this thankless administrative work that he undertook and that made everything else possible. On the other hand, maybe that is in part also a tribute to his gift for and love of teaching, which rendered all the effort invisible and made everything seem as it should be. Fortunately, from what I saw at the March 1 dedication ceremony of the middle school named after him, I think in the end the entirety of his accomplishment was finally properly appreciated. I hope that is a comfort to all of his family and friends.

la contre-révolution de 30 secondes

Things I’ve recently tried to convince other people of:

That clubfoot isn’t a real disease, but only a literary symbol.

That a tribe in Africa requires boys to lift a 45 lb. barbell with their penises in order to be considered men.

That people, like chickens, can run around for some time after being decapitated, and that during the French Revolution this became known as “the 30 second counter-revolution.”

That childbirth must actually be fun because otherwise it would only happen at the insistence of men.

That trying to pull your knees above your head is the best way to stop a cough.

That writing vowels is anti-Semitic.

That I’m not a misogynist, because women don’t actually exist.

That for Jesus to hate zombies would be somewhat hypocritical.

Truly by noon he has risen

Even the handle of a broom can stand firmly upright if it is being used to prop up a partition or bulkhead collapsing on top of it, but if you try to stand it upright by itself it will fall over. That was what I was thinking about religion when I went to the midnight Easter service at the Russian church in Denver last night (or this morning, whatever). It was not quite the semi-party with smuggled flasks of vodka and adulterous companions unsuccessfully passed off as family members that I had been led to expect. Nevertheless, when we stopped by my friend’s grandmother’s house beforehand and she started stuffing candy and pieces of ham into our pockets I knew some sort of major expedition was in store. Not to mention the many baskets full of cake that we had to bring along, which were ultimately deposited, along with the baskets that everyone else brought, on the huge row of folding tables that stretched almost the entire length of the church. It took the priest 20 minutes to make his way around the thing, whipping everybody’s food with holy water.

I was somewhat disappointed, although of course not surprised, by the lack of eggs at the Russian Easter. Then again, it seems to me that in Russia if people saw a giant bunny rabbit hopping around laying eggs, they probably would not think: “Ah, what a happy spring festival time, let us gather those eggs,” but rather: “Oh no, the radiation leak has escaped the perimeter. We’ll have to quarantine the entire province.” In any event, the massive stockpile of cakes did lead me to the realization, shortly after we went inside the church, that these ceremonies were designed and probably worked better at a time when everyone was poor and short and skinny. I can’t think the ceremony was really meant for a 6’3” beefy priest charging around a little room packed with people, waving around his incense balls and nearly laying numerous parishioners out on the ground. And then you look up at the icons above the altar depicting emaciated disciples that look very excited to have a fish on their plates. Fortunately the ceremony didn’t consist only of priests wielding the sacramental implements like ninjas. There was also a lot of holding of candles and stomping around the building on the part of the worshipers. Then the bells started tolling in a somewhat haunting way, and my friend told me that had I seen Tarkovsky’s film Nostalgia this part of the service would seem much more poignant to me. Which I’m sure is true. But it wasn’t so hard to hold people’s attention in those days. The candle burning on the table in Doctor Zhivago wouldn’t just have been a symbol of hope, it also would have been a full evening’s entertainment.

I think, though, in the end I appreciated the Orthodox service more than I might have a more homegrown variety because of that vague sense of being embattled that lends Christianity in Russia a certain nobility. One of the women there was telling me about how much of her family was killed during the Revolution and the purges, and how one of the relatives that survived had a great opera voice but refused to sing for anyone but the Church. The family apparently were Old Believers, who refused to accept not only the changes made by the Communists but even those instituted by Peter the Great in the 18th century. In this country they probably would have seemed like the Amish, but in Russia, swamped by one wave of inhumanity after another, a certain amount of obstinacy and piss-headed integrity can seem like the highest manifestations of the spirit.