Friday, October 16, 2009

A family without grownups

OK, I'm going to recommend that Richard Heene, part-time "scientist" and full-time twit, be horsewhipped. And I'd be happy to throw in a good spanking for little Falcon Heene, the foul-mouthed brat who might have benefited from an actual balloon ride straight to Camp Cut-Me-A-Switch, where children learn not to curse at grownups and otherwise waste the valuable time of their elders.

Corporal punishment may seem harsh, but remember that the balloon stunt wasn't the first of their transgressions. There's also the matter of their "Wife Swap" appearances, where they took the show's unvarying theme -- free-spirit vs. control freak -- and drained it of even marginal interest because viewers hated everyone involved. The Heene clan came across as precisely what they are: pre-adolescent narcissists who will do anything -- anything -- to get on TV. Richard is the dad only by virtue of his age; it can't have anything to do with maturity or judgment.

Was the balloon thing a hoax? Who cares? The man named his son Falcon, for crying out loud, and that's a crime right there. Besides, anybody who calls the NBC affiliate before calling 911, as Heene did, clearly has bigger fish to fry than securing the safety of his son.

But this is what a decade of reality shows has brought us: A national stage for every quirky buffoon willing to up the ante in outrageous behavior. One of these days somebody's going to get hurt. Let's just hope they get it on tape.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Now that's some writing

I keep meaning to enter the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest, but I also keep forgetting to get my entries in. Still, it's always worth a look when the year's winners are announced. Yes, I know the announcement itself was several months ago, but that's in keeping with my general record of procrastination and partial recall.

Anyway, read this from the 2009 Grand Prize winner and see if it doesn't make you want to take pen in hand:

"Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the “Ellie May," a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin' and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests."
David McKenzie
Federal Way, WA

The runner-up is also inspiring, for those of us who like to make people laugh:
"The wind dry-shaved the cracked earth like a dull razor--the double edge kind from the plastic bag that you shouldn't use more than twice, but you do; but Trevor Earp had to face it as he started the second morning of his hopeless search for Drover, the Irish Wolfhound he had found as a pup near death from a fight with a prairie dog and nursed back to health, stolen by a traveling circus so that the monkey would have something to ride."
Warren Blair
Ashburn, VA

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The doctor will not see you

All this ink and air time being burned on the intricacies of health care in this country, and I'm no wiser on the subject than I was five years ago. I don't even care any more. Maybe all we really need to know is that nobody wants to make less money, and health care can't be cheaper unless somebody does make less money. Since the most influential voices in this debate are the corporations that make a huge amount of money, and the politicians who rely heavily on the trickle-up, and the dopey masses who can be mesmerized by a bumper sticker, I think we can see where this is heading: Things will stay pretty much as they are. If anything changes, it will be this: The usual cohort of scammers and venal swine will end up making even more money than they do now. I guarantee you that no insurance company will make less.

This is a cynical view and I apologize. But let's face it. The truth is, if you're worried about health care, your only realistic option is staying healthy. I suggest you work out, eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, quit tapping the little keyboard on your mobile device while you're rocketing down Highway 54, look both ways before crossing the street, floss regularly, avoid trampolines, lock up your firearms, get that mole looked at, and buy nothing under the warming lights at Quik Trip. Oh, and knock wood. Because Dr. Sanjay Gupta does not make house calls.

If you're already indisposed, if you're morbidly obese and your primary means of getting around is a power scooter with an oxygen bottle on the back, well, good luck. Have another Marlboro and remember what a great time the '60s were. If you have a weird growth on your neck, consider it benign. If you have symptoms of fibromyalgia or Crohn's disease -- hey, who doesn't? If you have leukemia or pancreatic cancer, take the long view: It'll be over before you know it.

And it'll be over way before anything gets through Congress. These people have little sense of urgency; they all have nice insurance plans and they all have supper waiting. The people they heed the most -- the corporate oligarchs -- prefer the precise opposite of urgency. The oligarchs' best strategy is to run out the clock. Fortunately for them, that's not so hard to do in a town like D.C. Even the charismatic Obama is a politician, and politicians don't get any points for falling on their swords.

What's to be done? Beats me. If I had any clue, I'd be having lunch with Sen. Max Baucus as we speak, maybe sharing my genius with Anderson Cooper. As it is, I must content myself with watching CNN and hoping I stay healthy for a good long while.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

In Riverdale, there's no need to choose

As a kid, I envied Archie. He had the easy life: the clever friends, the car, the adoration of beautiful girls. The number one hit song in 1969. He never had to grow up. The only thing I didn't envy was the stupid hair, but at 12 years old I guess that's a price I'd have paid.

Archie was different from my other comic favorites: Green Lantern; Flash; Sgt. Rock; Turok, Son of Stone. He was always in his street clothes, for one thing. Maybe that made him easier to identify with. He never faced down any fiends, never killed any Krauts, never tussled with any pterodactyls. The only problem he ever had was which nubile maiden would win his affections in the end.

Turns out he didn't even have to worry about that. Archie finally married Veronica in May, but next month he'll marry Betty too.  Archie Comic Publications is framing the story as an alternate history, calling it a meditation on Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken." Never mind that Frost was talking about the singular, irredeemable choices we make in life; in Archie's hometown, you get to have your cake and eat it too.

No mystery why the story line has brought a whole bunch of new fans to the redhead from Riverdale. We're tantalized by the idea that diverging roads at major intersections lead to distinct destinations -- and if only we'd taken that other one ...

But really, the few big milestones matter less than the thousands of small ones that multiply over decades. You stay too long at a party, you have another donut, you pick up an Archie comic when you could have picked up Dickens. You tell a lie or you text while driving. Or, in the case of Archie himself, maybe you shrug amiably and string the girls along for another issue, secure in the knowledge that none of you are getting any older. Or any wiser.

The places in the road that matter aren't really forks at all, just gentle curves in the yellow wood. Each step along it is a choice in itself, toward a destination you realize only when you reach it. Unless you're Archie, you have to live with that. But why he didn't pick Betty in the first place is beyond me.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Trapped in the trite? Try these:

Facebook and its mildly retarded cousin Twitter have unleashed a huge demand for pithy remarks, single sentences so clever and incisive that they are instantly echoed around the globe. If one's worth is measured by the number of followers one has, then the exponent of that worth is the number of one's pithy messages that get re-Tweeted. Alas, the supply of cleverness has not kept pace with the demand.

Maybe this accounts for the proliferation of the phrases "Go figure" and "Just sayin'." If a tweeted observation seems particularly banal, just add the ironic eye-roll "go figure" and you've got the sophisticated air of one who's seen everything. "Just sayin'" works much the same way: It implies an amused exasperation with this absurd world, a touch of whimsy that is not immediately apparent in the trite thought that preceeds it.

If those don't work, there are always the "LOL!" "OMG" and "Snort!" These handy interjections -- employed in front of the re-Tweeted or linked item, not after -- show that your discerning eye has discovered something incredibly amusing. Almost as amusing as if you'd thought of it yourself.