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Monday, March 31, 2008

Preparation F: Failure Counseling Strategies

Don´t listen to him.

Preparation F: Failure Counseling Strategies

The self-help section of the bookstore is bursting with books on success. All of the self-proclaimed, self-help gurus offer to help you become some sort of enormous triumph. They claim that they can teach you to cope with being a winner. I’m no Tony Robbins but I don’t think people need to be prepared for victory. We dream about it all our lives. Maybe we need to prepare for losing? Any of these gurus who say that, “Failure is not an option,” didn’t see my NCAA Tournament picks. Failure is almost always a very, very viable option.

Everyone remembers the drill. You are ten years old. You’re standing out on the court all by yourself fantasizing about hitting the final free throw to win March Madness. As a little kid I never remember standing at the free throw line imagining missing the last shot in the big game. I never remember even being nervous about all the pressure that you are supposed to feel in this situation. I had ice water flowing through my skinny little veins. I didn’t even get flustered when the first barrage of shots I threw up were total bricks; I would always sink one before it got dark and win the big game. Like every other normal, red-blooded American kid, I also fantasized that after the game I’d do a line of coke off of a cheerleader’s butt, then after a night of drunken revelry, I’d get arrested on a DUI charge. I was preparing myself for success.

If there is a little kid out there who day-dreams about screwing up the big game, a kid who stands at the line and dreams of tanking the final shot, I want to meet him. I wasn’t that original growing up. If there ever was a kid who dreamed about fucking up the final shot, he’s probably a pretty well-adjusted adult by now who has moved on to adult issues while the rest of us still think we have a shot of pitching a no-hitter in the World Series, hitting a hole-in-one at the Masters, or winning the Tour de France.

Everyone can handle success. As much as people think that Britney Spears is a waste of space, could you imagine how fucked up her life would be if she didn’t have a thick pad of American currency to break her falls? Teaching people to fail takes real talent. That’s why I have developed Failure Counseling Strategies. Not only can I help assuage your grief about totally blowing that last shot, I can make all of the losers like me feel better about not even making the team in the first place (What team did Tony Robbins take to the NCAA Championship?). Find comfort in these words of wisdom:

“Hey, at least you tried…a little.”

“You need to make more money? That´s crazy talk, man. You´ll just have to pay more taxes. Have a beer.”

“Fuck it. Just quit. You’ve got nothing to prove.”

“She must be a lesbian if she doesn’t want to go out with you. What other reason could there possibly be?”

“A winner never quits and a quitter can get a partial refund on that gym membership you never use.”

“You gotta die of something. Am I right? Care for a cigarette?”

“Sure, you could stop drinking or you could finally accept yourself for the drunk that you are. Don’t be so judgmental about yourself.”

Believe it or not, there are a lot of advantages to coming in last. For one, it makes it a lot easier to improve yourself the next time around. I mean, if losing is good enough for the Seattle Mariners, it should be good enough for me, right? I wouldn’t want the team to feel uncomfortable because I decided to become some kind of big shot success story. I just want to be, like, you know, one of the guys.

I don’t know about you but I feel better about myself already. I think that I’ll knock off for the rest of the day, hit the free happy hour buffet, and watch Sports Center. The best thing about preparing to fail is that, once you get the hang of it, it’s really easy.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Furries Threaten Sanctity of Bestiality

Have you ever seen or read something that you just know that you were better off not knowing? Something that you can file in that over-sized “too much information” file. If you are a regular reader of Dan Savage’s sex advice column, Savage Love, too much information is a weekly by-product of his question and answer column format and where I learned about a most disturbing trend in sexuality. If you want to do yourself a favor, leave the room while the rest of us discuss the revolting topic of furries: people who dress up like animals for sexual role playing.

As a life-long liberal and civil libertarian, I think that what consenting adults do behind closed doors is their business and no one has the right to interfere in any way. In the case of furries I must make an exception to my tolerant outlook for one important reason: furries threaten the very sanctity of bestiality. The relationship between a man, or woman, and an animal—both domestic and otherwise—is a bond reaching back to the very dawn of human history. Now that bond is under attack by men or women in vulgar costumes pretending to be some sort of critter, thus excluding one half of the precise formula that has made bestiality such a resounding triumph over the millennia.

Just this past weekend I settled back on the couch to enjoy what I thought was a video of some good, old-fashioned bestiality that I had borrowed from my pastor. To my abject horror, what I thought was the utter depths of depravity turned out to be nothing more than a strung-out, teenage runaway and two guys wearing a moose suit. The furries had struck again, this time in my own home. In my home! All that I can say is that I’m glad that the wife took the kids to see her mother and they weren’t subjected to this filth. The reverend has a lot of explaining to do. After all, we’re supposed to be a fundamentalist congregation and here he loans me this twisted excuse for porn. What is our world coming to?

Before all of you freaks who prefer human-on-human pornography start complaining (yawn, same species sex is so 20th century) and say “not our problem,” ask yourselves this question: What if your adult viewing habits were suddenly compromised? What if you discovered that instead of what you thought was a teenage nymphomaniac getting her brains screwed out, you had just got hot and heavy watching a pair of woodchucks dolled up in a Catholic school girl’s uniform? How would you feel if during the height of ecstasy you discovered that instead of ogling a sweaty hunk you just tossed off to a scene with an armadillo disguised as a swimming pool maintenance man? Still think it’s “not your problem?” By the way, even aficionados of bestiality find this sort of thing repulsive—it’s the equivalent of cross-dressing and it’s just plain wrong.

If this sort of thinking makes me old fashioned or conservative, then so be it. I’d rather be branded as a prude than stand by and watch as some dudes dressed up as sea otters destroy the centuries of trust and caring that have developed between humans and the rest of god’s creatures.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cool Hollywood Lines I Never Got To Use

Dudes in movies always get to say cool things that regular slobs like me can only dream about springing on people. Oh how I regret that day back in the high school guidance counselor’s office when I chose “regular slob” instead of “movie star.” How was I to know in 10th grade all of the things I was going to miss? All I knew back then was that signing up for “regular slob” on career day meant less time in the guidance counselor’s office and ours was a fat lady who smelled like sweat and aerosol cheese. If only I had endured her long enough to put myself on the film star route I could be saying cool stuff like they do on The Sopranos. Instead I just get to say stuff like, “I’ll take the #3 with a diet soda,” and “Are you sure this will just say ‘Executive Phone Service’ on my VISA bill?”

Then I started thinking that just because I was too busy beating up the kids who took drama in high school to go into movies, this didn’t have to mean that I would never get to use cool lines from films. I recently discovered that we have a little thing called “free speech” in America and I decided to use it. By the way, don’t yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater, they have a law against it that I learned about the hard way. You can say almost anything else though, even if it doesn’t make any sense in the context. It will still sound cool. Here are a few of my favorites.

“Would you care to make this more interesting?”

Picture James Bond in an immaculate tuxedo at the casino in Monte Carlo. He’s playing baccarat at a few grand each roll, or spin, or however the hell you play baccarat. The evil bazillionaire guy comes to the table and Bond lays this line on him as cool as a cucumber. I don’t have a tuxedo; I don’t know how to gamble; I sure as shit couldn’t be cool about the prospect of losing a bet any bigger that the tab at the drive up window; so this line isn’t for me, right? Wrong. I just use it whenever I feel like it and it almost never makes sense. Try it some time. The next time you are using a public urinal I dare you to say to the perfect stranger next to you, “Care to make this more interesting?” I guarantee that he will be more uncomfortable than the James Bond villain who is about to lose a fortune.

“You are dead to me now.”

This is one of those cool, cold-blooded lines they use in gangster movies that I never had a chance to use until I stopped caring whether or not it made sense. It implies that you are writing them off forever. I’m not enough of a bad-ass to say this to someone and besides, I may need them to help me move some day. So I just say it to stuff that is actually dead, like to every house plant I’ve ever had. If I order something in a restaurant and if whatever it is on my plate looks like they animal it once was, I will use this line. This generally applies to fish or small poultry, like quail. Do not use this line if you are on a first date because no matter how many times in the emails she said that she likes a guy with a sense of humor, she won’t fucking understand. In girl-speak “sense of humor” really means “nice ass” or “good job.”

"Would you like to come up and take a look at my etchings?"

This is always movie code for, “Let’s have sex, OK?” I can’t even do one of those hand-traced turkey drawings. I don’t even like art but this doesn’t keep me from using this cool line. I figure that whoever I bring up to my place will probably be more pissed off about the other stuff I lied about to get too upset over the fact that I’m not an artist.

"Let’s get you out of those wet things."

The less you know the person you say it to, the more humor potential it has.

"The hunter has become the hunted."

Say this in your best Jacques Cousteau accent as you club a baby seal-clubber or as you shoot the guy in the hat with ear muffs who shot Bambi’s mom.

"This is going to hurt me a lot more than it’s going to hurt you."

This is great to use when whatever it is you are going to do is going to hurt the other guy a lot and all you are going to get out of it is a bent five iron.

"We have ways of making you talk."

This is a cool line but I’d be more interested in ways to make someone shut the fuck up.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Fight Fire With Fire…And Then Some!

Sorry for writing this but I just had to share it with someone. I was killing time during the Fallas festival here in Valencia last week. It was late in the afternoon and I was reading a book at an outside table at a café near my apartment. Three people walked up and started throwing really loud firecrackers. Firecrackers are a big part of Fallas and they are just an annoyance that you learn to live with. I usually don’t mind but I was trying to read and I couldn’t understand why these three adults, a man and two women, had stopped here to light firecrackers. I couldn’t really tell them to fuck off and go someplace else; it wouldn’t be in the spirit of the festival. Instead, I got up from my table, walked over to them, and ripped a really loud fart. I usually can’t fart on command but I guess that all of the funky festival food I had been eating at street stalls helped me out. I returned to my reading. They left immediately without uttering a word.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

How Did I Get Iraq Right?

How Did I Get Iraq Right?

It’s kind of sickening to read but Slate ran a series on “Liberal Hawks” (whatever the fuck that is) explaining why they were wrong initially and why they have changed their opinion of the necessity of the war in Iraq. I don’t know which is worse; the apologies of a bunch of mealy-mouthed know-nothings, or those who still cling to the war’s justification and continue to support it. Just look at any right-wing blog and you’ll see the faithful clinging to the five-year sinking ship known as the Iraq War. They still criticize war opponents as naïve and misguided. In their view, war opponents have no idea how to win the war against Islamic fundamentalism or how to stabilize an unstable Middle East. Of course, you can look at their record of performance over the last five years and it’s obvious that the conservatives have failed miserably at everything in the region (as well as their domestic failures). I would just like to state why I was right from the beginning and I’m still right today.

First of all, I never believed the claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. No one in America, and I mean no one, seemed to give a shit about Iraq’s use of chemical weapons in their war with Iran, a war about which Henry Kissinger said that the only unfortunate part was that only one side could lose. No one really seemed to care when chemical weapons were used against Iraqi Kurds. I believed the U.N. inspectors when they said that Iraq showed no evidence of a “weapons of mass destruction” program. I trusted Jacques Chirac more than my own president when he said on the eve of the war that Iraq was not an imminent threat and no invasion should be imminent. Hell, even I thought that we would find at least a few WMD in Iraq after the invasion. We found jack shit.

I knew that the war wouldn’t be easy. Sure, the war part would be easy but then we would own the country and would have to run it. I remember in the weeks after the invasion lots of conservatives were actually calling for war opponents to apologize for having the gall to criticize the President’s “plan.” I never believed that the war would be over quickly and I certainly didn’t think that it could be done cheaply as was promised by the Vice President. Even I didn’t predict that the war would go so as horribly wrong as it has been going. If anyone at the outset had said the war would last five fucking years she would have been lynched.

Unlike most Americans (and most of Bush’s advisors), I knew the difference between Shiites and Sunnis. Remember how neo-cons hated when people compared Iraq to Viet Nam? I never made that comparison. I knew that Iraq would be a lot tougher to occupy than Viet Nam because the cultural differences between “us” and “them” were far greater than in Viet Nam. We don’t speak the language, we don’t know the customs, we don’t understand Islam, and we will never, ever be accepted in Iraq or in any Muslim nation—at least not while we are carrying guns.

So where are we after five years of war? Instead of some Muslim kid in Morocco sitting in a cyber café downloading pictures of Britney Spears and dreaming about going to California, we now have that same kid reading jihadist internet sites and considering his future as a suicide bomber. Instead of strengthening the vision of America’s role as a place of freedom and opportunity, we have convinced most of the Muslim world that we hate Islam and want to destroy their religion.

I am often accused of hating America by people who don’t even seem to understand what my country is all about. I happen to believe in the American ideal of freedom and opportunity for all. I also believe that this ideal must be protected and nurtured. I believe that the American ideal is vastly superior to anything offered by nations governed by religious superstitions, superstitions that seek to rob human existence of joy and intellectual freedom. I think that anyone who believes that we need to impose our vision through force probably doesn’t understand our freedoms. It’s kind of like America’s belligerent opposition to Fidel Castro which has kept him in power for over 40 years. Had we accepted him and had free trade with Cuba from the start, he would have been ousted about 35 years ago. We didn’t believe in the strength of our own ideal.

Radical, oppressive Islam is a strong ideal when it faces military adversity. Bush often spoke of our need for resolve in Iraq. What could possibly be more resolute than strapping explosives to your body and then blowing yourself up along with innocent men, women, and children? I hope that none of us have that sort of resolve. What we need is belief in the superiority of our ideal and confidence that it will succeed, that it will triumph over visions less clear, less democratic than ours. How different the world would be now had we turned the other cheek after 9/11 (while tracking down those responsible and making sure they could do us no further harm). What if we had showered the world with goodwill instead of striking out militarily? I don’t think that it is too late. I think that if we changed course those who wish to do America harm will find less refuge in the world. Right now those folks have doors opening for them from Marrakech to Kabul. We can close more of those doors with good deeds than gunpowder. But what do I know? I’ve been right from the beginning.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

It’s Not Me, It’s You, Really

I have been thinking about this for quite some time now and we have come to the conclusion that maybe you’re just not smart enough to understand this type of humor. Most of my readers “get it” but there are a few of you left out. While the rest of us are laughing our well-educated asses off, you guys are scratching your heads and feeling uncomfortable. Look, I’m no rocket scientist, but compared to you I’m like a rocket scientist’s boss who screams at the rocket scientist for being a stupid loser and keeps threatening to fire the rocket scientist unless he gets his shit together and stops screwing up. That probably doesn’t make sense to you because I can see the confusion written all over your face. I’ll put this another way. Have you ever heard of Albert Einstein? You are like the opposite of him. I don’t know the name of the guy who is the opposite of Albert Einstein because you don’t get famous for being an idiot, unless you are the president of the United States or something. Imagine the dumbest guy in the entire world. He was the guy you tried to cheat off of in shop class back in 9th grade.

Let’s not kid ourselves; smarts just don’t happen to be one of your strong suits. Your talents mostly revolve around lifting heavy objects and lawn maintenance tasks that don’t require the use of complicated tools like leaf blowers or hedge trimmers. All of your test results indicate that you have an aptitude for cafeteria work. We are talking about prison cafeterias, but still. That ain’t a bad gig if you can get it. Too bad you aren’t Muslim; you could be a suicide bomber. I hear they have an excellent training program that would be perfect for you.

I really can’t blame you for not understanding my particular brand of intelligent, super-sophisticated humor. There is nothing wrong with the stuff that you find funny. If I remember correctly your favorite program is America’s Funniest Home Videos. I have tried to cater to your tastes but it’s difficult to write about a guy getting hit in the nuts with a football. See there? You’re actually laughing just thinking about a guy getting hit in the crotch. Now you’re laughing because I used the word “crotch.”

It’s just that my humor is so incredibly sophisticated that it makes a cartoon in The New Yorker look like a bad episode of Married, With Children, and that show was way over your head. You can’t be expected to find humor in the delicate and subtle prose of my essays just like I don’t laugh at the men’s room limericks that you find so entertaining. So just keep watching America’s Funniest Home Videos and we'll keep making fun of you. It's not like you can even understand that we are making fun of you so what's the big deal?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Valencia 3, Barcelona 2

After five very long days and even longer nights of Fallas, the last thing I wanted to do was go out the day after it had ended. I had made plans almost a week earlier to watch the deciding game of the Valencia-Barcelona Copa del Rey showdown but I was sure that everyone else had come down with the same acute agoraphobia I had developed after five days of fighting enormous crowds. Certainly no on could be thinking of going out yet again for an evening of hordes and beer. The game was to be televised and I was planning on watching it in the comfort of my living room. After five days of warm weather and sunshine, the day had been cold and mostly overcast. This was definitely a good night to stay home. I even thought about turning on the heat. Oh yeah, nothing like a nice, comfortable night at home.

So as I was riding my bike towards the stadium and I wished that I had worn a warmer jacket because it was fucking freezing—not literally freezing but Valencia freezing which is probably about 65° or so. The usually bustling streets in my neighborhood were deserted on this particular Friday evening. The post-Fallas cleanup was still in process and the city looked even less recovered from the festival than I felt. A lot of bars and restaurants were closed and those remaining open were completely empty. After all, this was the night after five nights of unbridled revelry; I understood why there was no one out. I wished that I were one of those lucky folks sitting under a blanket on a sofa in front of a television. I didn’t even bother with the bike path as there were no cars on the streets. All the scene lacked was a few tumble weeds blowing across the vacant plazas. I passed a father and son wearing Valencia CF scarves on an empty street which was about the only sign of life I had seen since leaving my apartment. Who the hell would be out on a cold night after Fallas?

When I reached the Avenida Aragón everything changed abruptly. It looked like a science fiction movie where everyone is fleeing the city in panic before the aliens destroy everything except no one was carrying luggage and lots of people were singing football chants and drinking cans of beer. Not only were the streets packed with cars but the bike path was full of pedestrians, all moving towards Mestalla for the game. By the time I reached the metro stop in front of the stadium I had to take a detour to a back street. Not only was it impossible to ride a bike in the crowd but even walking with it would have been impossible. As I fought my way to the Plaza Valencia CF I almost wanted to ask someone if this was the final game of the World Cup or if it was just a Copa del Rey qualifying match. I lived near the stadium all last season and had never seen anything approaching the crowd on this night—not even in the heat of the Champions League quarter finals last year. I locked up my bike and tried to reach my friends on my cell phone.

We were planning on buying a ticket from someone before that game as the rules for season ticket holders had changed mid-week and could possibly loosen the strangle hold on the cherished admissions. One look at this mob and you just knew that getting inside the stadium wasn’t going to happen. When I finally was able to send a garbled cell phone transmission through the jammed airwaves we decided to meet at Manolo el del Bombo, a game-night institution in the plaza.

If ever a team needed, desperately needed, to win a game, it was Valencia during this hapless season. Advancing in the Copa del Rey was the only chance they had of maintaining a bit of dignity in a season of bitter losses, infighting, and even a fear at one point of possibly being sent to the second division. ¡Que verguënza! Valencia was up a comfortable 2-0 when Thierry Henry entered the game after sitting out the first half. He soon scored on a brilliant header. Suddenly the mood was nervous as a 2-2 draw wouldn’t be good enough for Valencia to advance. Valencia scored again. Barcelona countered with a goal from Eto’o. Valencia was able to cling to its lead through 3 excruciating minutes of injury time and everyone in and around the stadium erupted like a fireworks display. It was the best news for this club in a year. Staying home is so over-rated.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Part Bin Laden, Part Bart Simpson

Part Bin Laden, Part Bart Simpson

There have been at least five processions (pasacalles) that have passed below my window in just the last half hour and more are coming. Each procession has its own band and is made up of Falleras, people dressed in traditional Valencia clothing of the Fallas. There have also been about a thousand explosions—both big and ear-shattering—in the last 30 minutes. One of my favorite things about Fallas is seeing all of the little kids dressed up for the event. Some are all decked out in colorful and elaborate traditional clothing that can cost hundreds and hundreds of euros, others wear a traditional pañuelo, or handkerchief, and a smock. The kids are really cute but I can’t forget that they are also the enemy.

Yes, I am scared shitless of the kids during Fallas because they are given carte blanche to blow the crap out of everything. Even the smallest of children are armed with little caps that explode when thrown. Rug rats in the 8-12 year range are outright terrorists during Fallas and should be avoided whenever possible. They are armed to the teeth with fireworks. If I see a group of little snot-nosed punks on a street corner during the festival, I will cross the street quicker than if I saw a group of Crips and Bloods having a shoot-out.

I was hanging out at one of my favorite bars in the neighborhood called La Flor de Ruzafa watching as they were constructing the Falla in the middle of the street. The Fallas are made of wood, Styrofoam, and beer, evidently. I had a great view of the whole process as I stood at the walk-up window. There was also a group of little kids lighting off firecrackers. I guess that is all part of the atmosphere. I felt like I was at a cross between the Carnival in Rio and the Green Line in Beirut.

The little terrorists either ran out of firecrackers or they got bored of blowing up shit. I’m guessing that they ran out. I wasn’t allowed to so much as light a fucking match as a kid, let alone play with firecrackers. I don’t know if I am more annoyed by the noise or more consumed by jealously because these little kids get to do things I could have only dreamed about as a kid. Firecrackers weren’t even legal where I lived so even if my parents weren’t worried about me blowing off a vital part of my body, I probably couldn’t have scored any explosives. The little, pre-adolescent al Qaeda kids were kicking around near the bar and the Falla construction site looking for something to do. This was at about 2 a.m., which during Fallas is a perfectly normal time for kids to be out, unsupervised, in the street.

I was talked into playing futbolín (foosball) with my sworn enemies. I got paired up with the leader of their little terrorist cell. It turned out the young Bin Laden and I dominated the table for quite some time until the others made us break up our winning team. The good news is that bars stay open really, really late during the festival so I didn’t have to choose between futbolín and last call.

P.S. I just learned that each local Fallas group, called Casal Fallero, passed beneath my window on this Sunday afternoon in the short time it took me to write this essay. It was part of the judging of the Fallas.

Friday, March 14, 2008



I have already written about the Fallas in Valencia, probably the biggest festival in all of Europe and certainly one of the wildest times I have ever heard about. The festival runs from March 15th through the 19th to coincide with St. Joseph’s Day. The actual celebrations start more than a week earlier with the daily Mascletà setting the tone. After barely surviving last year’s Fallas I swore that this year I would head out of town for at least a portion of the festival to save wear-and-tear on my eardrums, liver, and nervous system due to the constant explosions, exhaustive street parties, and severe sleep deprivation that go hand-in-hand with Valencia’s top attraction. But something happened to me in the last year that has made me change my mind. Not only am I not leaving town but I relish the thought of every firecracker, every night I go without sleep, and every buñuelo* I shove in my fat face.

There is a rather exhaustive review of the week in Spanish football which is called No me digas que no te gusta el fútbol, or “Don’t tell me you don’t like football.” I have reached the same conclusion about Fallas: Don’t tell me you don’t like it. I hear a lot of people say that they don’t like Fallas. For the most part these are out-of-towners, both foreigners and non-Valencian Spaniards. I try not to listen to these folks and instead I cling to all of the people around me who love everything about the festival. There is so much energy in Valencia at this time that it just seems like a huge mistake not to plug into it.

I think the correct attitude is to just throw yourself into it head first. I try to make it to the Mascletà every afternoon. Hell, it’s only five minutes long; I think I can spare five minutes every day for a bit of wild excitement. I will also go down to the Turia Park every night when the night fireworks begin. I will try to visit every single Falla sculpture everywhere in Valencia. You really must have a bike to perform this quixotic task as there are probably hundreds of them all around town. I plan on staying out late every night when the verbenas (street parties) begin. I plan on eating my weight in buñuelos every day. Hell, I may even light off a firecracker or two. It will al be over on the night of the 19th when they set all of the fallas ablaze. You should enjoy it while it lasts.

P.S. I have two extra bedrooms available if any friends decide to show up.

*A bit of fried batter sprinkled with sugar which are a specialty of the festival.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Asshole Tax

I think everyone will agree that freedom is a good thing. We should have lots and lots of freedom. However, you can’t always get away with doing anything you want if it bothers someone else. It’s like the old saying goes, your freedom to play the accordion ends where I am in range to hit you with a pillow case filled with pool balls. Just because we like freedom doesn’t mean that everything people do in the name of freedom should be free.

No one said that pissing off your neighbors by revving your Harley Davidson was going to be free; first you have to buy an over-priced motorcycle and an assortment of official Harley Davidson accessories which make you look like a stunt double for one of the Village People. Dew rag, wallet with chain, leather vest; it's hard to tell if you are trying to look threatening or going to a Halloween party. You can get away with unbelievably obnoxious conduct if you are willing to pay to have things ironed out for you after you finish. Just ask OJ. If you have the money you can have a three-egg bald eagle omelet for breakfast, kill someone in a drunken driving incident after lunch, and then top off the day at the Netherland Ranch doing some things that would make a Catholic priest blush. No one said that living in the sewer was going to be cheap; that's why we have lawyers.

There are all sorts of things that fall into the category of bad behavior which are still free of charge. With America’s infrastructure crumbling down beneath us, I think it’s time to start generating a little revenue from a lot of anti-social behavior that has been free thus far. We’ll call it the asshole tax. You can keep on being you, no one wants to impinge on your freedoms, but from now on a lot of what you think is normal conduct is going to cost you. Being an asshole isn’t a right, it’s a privilege. It’s time people paid for that privilege.

We’ll start off by putting a meter on car horns. Wanna blow your damn horn? Go right ahead, but it’s going to cost you $5 every time you touch it. You get fined for speeding and other obnoxious acts while driving, so why shouldn’t people have to pay to honk? Blow your brains out, big guy. We need to rebuild a bridge in Minnesota. Feel like blasting the stereo in your little Fast and the Furious-mobile? It’s going to cost you $20 for every decibel over 90. Flashing lights and deafening dance beats seem more suited for a gay nightclub than a vehicle, but that’s just my opinion. It’s a free country as they say, and from now on you need to pay to keep it that way.

Have the need to talk on your cell phone in a movie theater? No problem, the phone companies can tack on a surcharge of $1 for every syllable that comes out of your fat, pop corn-stuffed gob. The phone companies are already the masters of taxes and extra fees. If there is one thing the phone companies are good at it's charging for shit. They will be able to figure out the logistics of this add-on before you finish reading this essay. Are you going to finish? Is anyone still reading?

We could charge people for writing offensive and not-very-funny essays on the internet. That seems fair to me, but then we’ll also have to charge anonymous trolls for leaving comments completely lacking in wit. I think that there is enough asshole-ish behavior going on that if taxed properly America can be completely rebuilt and looking like something out of the Jetsons. Lord knows that taxes won't reduce the number or severity of assholes but we may as well make some money from our collective incivility. The Internal Revenue Service is America’s most ruthless and powerful organization. I think it’s time we introduce the IRS to America’s lone gunmen, Al Qaeda terrorists, HOV lane violators, and passengers who insist on using the front overhead bins for their luggage even though they are sitting in the back of the plane. If we can’t stop’em we may as well charge’em.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Mascletà: A Celebration of Crowds and Noise

The faithful cram into the square every afternoon.

The Mascletà: A Celebration of Crowds and Noise

The craziest thing about Valencia’s Fallas festival, at least for this outsider, is the daily ritual of the Mascletà. This is a daytime percussion fireworks display that happens every afternoon during Fallas beginning precisely at 2 p.m. and lasting only a couple of minutes. They are held at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento and every single day there are tens of thousands of people who show up to have their collective senses of hearing assaulted and they all do it with great pleasure. This is during the middle of the afternoon so there are no rockets lighting up the night sky; there’s just lots of really loud explosions. The louder the better as far as the locals are concerned. The craziest part about the Mascletà is that I have grown to love it as well. I make try to make it down to the plaza every single day for my dose of noise. You get sort of addicted to the crowds and noise like you get addicted to eating spicy foods; it hurts a little at first and then it's fun.

Valencianos joke that the Mascletà is the only thing in town that is always on time. Indeed, you can set your watch to the warning rocket that is sent up ten minutes prior to the main show. The square starts filling up more than an hour before the blast off as people jockey for the best places to hear the explosions. There is a big area in the middle of the square with a 20 foot fence around it where they set off all of the rockets. Anywhere close by is considered a valued piece of real-estate. On the most popular days there can be as many as 100,000 spectators on hand, all for a bunch of explosions that last only a five minutes.

How loud is it? Newcomers are cautioned to keep their mouths open during the explosions as this is supposed to keep your ear canals open so that you won’t burst an eardrum. I’m no ear, nose, and throat specialist but I figure it’s better to be safe than deaf so I look up at the rockets in slack-jawed marvel. I do know for a fact that the explosions are so powerful that you can feel the sound waves vibrating your clothing. It almost like getting a massage if you are standing close enough to the action. At the end of each show there is a tremendous flourish and the noise is so devastating that I can’t help but to burst out in crazed laughter every time that I go. I can’t explain it but there is something truly joyous in being completely overwhelmed by the thunderous explosions.

It all ends incredibly abruptly and there is a huge ovation from the mob. Everyone almost immediately thereafter does an about-face and goes on to do whatever it is they are going to do. For most Valencianos this is when they have their big, midday meal so getting a table in a restaurant is like being in a 100 meter dash with 100,000 hungry Spaniards.

The best thing about the Mascletà is that it adds a lot of life to an already very vibrant city. There is an electricity generated by crowds of people. Crowds aren’t in any shortage during Fallas. The whole festival is more or less predicated on the assumption that there will be tremendous crowds everywhere in Valencia during these first few weeks of March. The Mascletà is sort of the daily christening of the festival but instead of breaking a bottle of champagne they set off a few thousands pounds of explosives.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Back of the Pack

Start of the last stage of the 2008 Vuelta Ciclista Comunidad Valenciana

Back of the Pack

I rode my bike over to the beginning of the fifth and final stage of the Vuelta Ciclista Comunidad Valenciana. I got a chance to check out all of the cool bikes at very close range while the riders were waiting for the start. Just before the gun I moved down the street so that I could watch the peleton cruise past. Ever since I saw my first stage of the Tour de France when I was 19 or so I have wondered how long I could ride with the peleton before I had major system failures and would be forced to seek emergency aid. I still wonder how long I could hang on at the back of the pack. 5 kilometers? 10 kilometers? Are you saying that I could suck wheel at the back of the peleton for more than 10 kilometers? I’m sure that I could have lasted longer when I was 20 than today.

Hanging out somewhere at the back trying not to be noticed: I seem to have adapted my strategy for how I would ride in the Tour de France for a lot of things in my life. I have taken up quite a few things through the years with only the expectation of faking my way through it just to see how it felt. I had no intention of even finishing the race, let alone making a dash for the winner’s circle. Some people might see this attitude as defeatist or even cowardly. I don’t know how vehemently I would disagree with those people. Perhaps you think that I am just taking a sour grapes attitude because I was never really blessed with a talent, or at least not any talent that is easily recognizable? Perhaps you think that my complete lack of competitive expectations has been a defense mechanism to protect me from potential failure? You probably would be thinking that if you are doing one of the following activities: swilling Red Bull; attending a Tony Robbins seminar; putting a “He Who Dies With The Most Toys Wins” bumper sticker on your Porsche Boxter; saying shit like, “Failure is not an option;” or giving someone the finger in traffic. To those I ask, “How long do you think you could hang with the peleton.”

At least I’m not harming other people in my attention-deficit-disorder approach to pastimes, not most of the time anyway. There were those three deaths I indirectly caused in my short-lived career as a NASCAR driver, and that botched open-heart surgery I performed (it’s harder than they make it look on TV), and the airline I crashed (I guess that I should have brought parachutes for everyone). For the most part I have been the only one to pay for my mistakes. Oh, and there was Chernobyl…oops! My bad, I’ll be man enough to admit that I wasn’t a very good nuclear engineer. Evidently you need to take a few classes to do that job. I was able to fake my way through it for almost two hours before the disaster. It’s good that we can all look back on those youthful indiscretions and laugh about them now.

A jack of all trades and a master at none, as they say. I think that expression needs to have something in it about being criminally negligent. Just like few people are going to mistake me for a rider in the Tour de France, even fewer people will mistake me for a Spaniard, but I still try to blend into the back of the pack. I don’t think that I can do any harm in my quest to speak lousy Spanish—unless I finagle my way into a hostage negotiator job or work at a suicide hotline in Spain. Speaking Spanish will just be one more of those talents that I will probably develop to my own signature level of imperfection.