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Five Disquieting Modern Trends by Will Layman & Chris Osmond

“Dear John” Letter from Oprah’s Dog by Diana Wurn

All That Was Left of My Novel after the Fire by Matthew Tobey

Response to E-Mail from a Princess by George Motisher

Memo to Outgoing Cabinet Members by Jonathan Stern

New York Stories by Stephen Ausherman

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November 30, 2004

Five Disquieting Modern Trends

Look, we don’t want to be whiners or hopeless Luddites, but the modern world is clearly headed in the wrong direction. We’re not talking about hip-hop, computers, or reality TV, all of which we endorse with the zeal of a cocker spaniel at a ha’ smoke1 cook-off on the first day of spring. (In fact, we’re currently developing a TV show in which rappers without their own sitcoms or “Law & Order” spin-off characters compete with teenage boys to find the most depraved online porn. As soon as we sign Andy Dick as host, NBC will start sniffing around the project, you just watch.)

Rather, we see corruption, bad taste, and laziness in the nooks and crannies of everyday life, which we can now bear only by starting each morning with a heaping bowl of honey-nut Frosted Flakes swimming in a pool of triple cappuccino and brandy. The worst offenders—the things that make us seriously reconsider our commitment to boosting the American economy by opening a nationally franchised chain of do-it-yourself massage parlors—are listed below.

Stickers on Fruit
Look, we have put up with that sticky strip they put on CD cases so that opening each one is the equivalent of stealing one of the president’s nuts. We tolerate the music industry’s equivalent of the chastity belt only because it allows us to bathe in the scrumptious pleasure-pop of today with the assurance that it is carefully protected virgin material. The tiny stickers on every single one of our crisp Rome apples and tender-to-the-touch white peaches, however, represent only the anal-retentive freakishness of today’s inventory-obsessive culture. We prefer not to imagine the Death-to-the-Boss-inducing tedium of the job of placing these tiny stickers on the fruit. Plus, we’ve eaten between six and seven dozen in the last year alone. Cough.

Cup-Holder Multiplication
The boom in Hot Liquid Velocity-Management Prophylactic Devices must be up there with the W.M.D.-like proliferation of boutique antacids. Time was, you did what you wanted to do and you took your chances. You smoked your Luckies unfiltered and you welcomed lung cancer like an old college friend ready to buy you a beer; you picked up a Laotian hooker and you took the clap like a man; you drank a piping hot beverage in a moving vehicle and you got burned. Today, on the other hand, it is the inalienable right of all to sip-and-go, and thus every passenger in our cars has several options in cup-holding technology, with varying sizes and methods of beverage suspension available from every location. But despite the incredible energy put into this by global automakers, we won’t see it as an improvement till we can make super-strong licorice espresso from a stainless-steel top-of-the-line Pasquini built into the glove compartment. You install a small bean-grinder where the side-impact airbags go and you’ve got yourself an engineering marvel. But the cup-holders alone are the kind of cheapo half-measure we’d as soon see dumped.

Adults Named “Courtney”
We get to work a month or so ago and there’s a new employee named “Courtney.” She looks about 14, which is fine with us. Then she tells us she’s married. And we’re picturing some poor guy who had to tell his mother than he was engaged to a girl named “Courtney.” America, you’re creating a whole generation of guys whose mothers think they are child-molesters, and that’s just not healthy. We propose that all babies dubbed “Courtney” be given a default adult name (we’re currently favoring “Maxine”) that kicks in at 17.

Supermarkets That Don’t Let You Take Your Cart to the Car
A man’s gotta eat, and so we purchase comestibles at our local market, which kindly provides us with a classic metal shopping cart so we do not have to dash to the check-out with armfuls of food, leaving them unguarded while we go back for more. What gives, then, when the local Safeway or Grand Union fences in the store such that we cannot cart our 100-pack of chicken wings and 60-oz. jug o’ BBQ sauce all the way to our car? Apparently we are supposed to leave our cart of paid-for food at the curb and then drive the car around for curbside loading, at which point tip-hungry Safeway employees offer to help us by putting their paws all over our boxes of frozen waffles. To us, this is like Jet Blue agreeing to fly you to New York but dropping you in a small suburb of Weehawken and suggesting you either swim the Hudson or hop a Jersey cab for the last few miles.

Automatically Flushing Toilets
The loss of autonomy re: when one flushes one’s toilet helps nobody, and we certainly don’t believe it saves water, as we seem to set off the auto-flushing several times during each draining of the vein, usually when we’re doing that little waving move that’s kind of the peeing equivalent of wiping. Never mind the loss of control over how long one flushes (which is relevant when you’re buying chicken wings in bulk like we are), but not even being able to decide if has got to be some subtle C.I.A. mind control. Ditto hand washing, as we find ourselves waving our soapy palms in front of the faucet like we were an obstetrician waiting for junior to emerge or possibly Jason Varitek waiting for one of Wakefield’s knuckleballs to flutter into our hands. We’ve recently encountered the “waterless” toilet, especially in civic buildings, about which we have to ask: What exactly is in the pink cake under the drain, and how much do you think Saddam would’ve paid to get a baker’s dozen of them? If water must be saved, we favor those big-ass urinals shaped like the troughs that pigs eat out of that look like they could fit a statue of the Virgin or Dean Martin. Now that’s what we call peein’.

1A “ha’ smoke” is a hot-dog kind of thing that is sold on the streets of D.C. They’re thicker than hot dogs and kind of spicier. And the great thing about the ha’ smoke is that it’s really called a “half smoke” (like, half sausage, half hot dog?), but they are pronounced “ha’ smoke” and so that’s how it’s spelled now. We find all this incredibly amusing and love to say things like “Hey, how ’bout a ha’ smoke?” and then giggle.

November 29, 2004

“Dear John” Letter from Oprah’s Dog


Dear Oprah,

I think you know why I’m writing this letter. Do you think I enjoy sitting around all day on my orthopedic doggie bed watching Stedman complain about the dust on the wainscoting? Neither of us has seen you for months.

After you tape the show, you’re always out with John Travolta or Barbara Streisand or that horrible personal chef. I can’t even remember what you look like. You have neglected your own dog for so long that I was forced to learn how to use a keyboard and take English courses through North American Online University. Do you think I chose this sordid path, Oprah? Think again. You did this to me. I just want to be a normal dog.

When I read in an issue of O that the “road to personal happiness” is spending time with your loved ones, I was shocked. You never spend time with me, Oprah, and that is why I must go. Cars for an entire studio audience and I still have to wear a collar that smells like a mold? That was not only an obvious marketing ploy, but a sad statement about our relationship. I am going to look for a job in marketing and it will be tough because I only speak in howls and barks, but it will be better than this life.

I want to let you know that I peed in your new custom-made closet. And I licked all 134 doorknobs and I think I’m getting kennel cough.

Goodbye forever,

November 24, 2004

All That Was Left of My Novel after the Fire

. . . no one more so than my twin sister Melinda Anne. We were always inseparable, but that summer was exceptional. That was the summer that we became obsessed with Eskimos after watching a program on television about the letter “E.”

Eskimos this and Eskimos that. We were unstoppable. Ask anyone. The world was our oyster and we used all four of our little hands to pry that sucker open, pluck the pearl, and slurp down the meat. Naturally we began building an igloo.

No one thought it could be done. After all, it was summer in Albuquerque and we only had a consumer-grade freezer at our disposal. But we couldn’t be deterred. We had bellies full of oyster guts and that pearl clutched within our twenty tiny digits. God himself couldn’t have crushed our spirit.

At first I thought Melinda Anne had only pretended to have drowned. Eventually, I fetched a sturdy twig from our stick-cellar so I could poke her and be certain . . .


. . . his name’s O’Callahan, eh? What is he? Jewish?” Dr. Silverman asked.

It was certainly a valid question, and now that he mentioned it, I hadn’t seen a Christmas tree anywhere in the house. Nonetheless, I decided to stay on the safe side and played dumb.

“How should I know? Do I look like the sergeant-at-arms of Toledo to you?” I asked.

“Come to think of it, you do.”

He’d called my bluff. Shit. How was I going to . . .


. . . and for the first time since Arbor Day, I truly felt alive.

“It’s like you’ve performed successful open-soul surgery on me, Carmelita,” I told her.

She smiled, saying more with the crinkles and ridges of her splendidly flawed face than I was capable of expressing with a hundred-dozen spoken words.

“I’ve been reborn, and you’re my spiritual obstetrician, my sweet, sweet Carmy. Your heart and loins delivered a healthy, bouncing baby me. Ten fingers, ten toes, Carmelita. Ten fingers, ten toes.”

And then I counted my fingers aloud for her as I washed her hair with the pitcher of warm ox milk that sat beside the tub.

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.”

I began counting my toes, but by the time I reached the second foot, I realized she’d died. I silently set the pitcher of ox milk down and left to fetch a twig from . . .


. . . Pat Sajack's marmalade . . .


. . . was Inspector Jameson. It was the first time I’d ever seen him, but I knew it was him in an instant. He had Lucian’s unmistakable chin.

“Inspector Jameson, I presume,” I presumed.

“You presume correctly. I applaud your chin-identification skills. My father was right about you. Of course he also said you’d never be caught, and he couldn’t have been more wrong about that,” Jameson chuckled heartily through a cloud of hookah smoke.

I thought briefly about braining him with his hookah and escaping though the drive-thru window while he flailed frantically, struggling to overcome the sudden blow to his head and rid his clothes and flesh of the red-hot hookah coals. Magical thoughts danced in my head, thoughts of retiring to the beaches of Saskatchewan and living off the spoils of my good-natured plundering. But in the distance, Melinda Anne and Carmelita called to me and the dancing stopped. I could run no more.

“I have to ask you one question though,” Jameson said with the twinkle of a thousand lightening bugs flittering to and fro in his curious eyes.

“For a puff of your hookah, my boy, you can ask me four,” I replied.

“Oh. Never mind then,” he said with a shrug. “Germs.”

Germs indeed, young Jameson. Germs indeed.

November 23, 2004

Response to E-Mail from a Princess

Exotic Mid-East princess! Well, Shazam!
Tossed from your family’s ancient royal chair.
You need my help; you’re chased, you’re on the lam;
And for my aid, your regal jewels you’ll share.
But do I know you will? Oh! Should I dare?
A Thousand One to one; those are the odds
Your tales are truer than Scheherazade’s.

Your fortune’s surely jarred up in a cave,
And “Open Sesame!” makes it appear,
You hint that with a visa you will brave
The whirling scimitars of some vizier,
And smuggle out those jewels in your bràssiere;
That if I number routes for an escape,
For me, all of your treasures you’ll undrape.

At least you’re not the clerk of one who’s crashed,
With bank assets that no one’s come to claim;
You’ve easy access to the bills you’ve stashed,
And quick transferals are your only aim.
But I’m like Solomon, wise to a game:
You’ve got no bucks, you’re not Assyrian,
But just the same old dead Nigerian.

I’m peeking now through all your seven veils,
And though your moves are subtle, I perceive
A hand that touches softly, then impales;
The love line on your palm runs up your sleeve;
I’d hear your Forty friends laugh, should I grieve.
You move seductively, like Salome,
But I’m no John the Baptist on a tray.

The sailor, Sinbad, flying on the roc,
Found gems; your flight could bring the same for me,
But your jar filled with jewels is just a crock,
I doubt a single stone I’d ever see.
Your bobbing baubles waiting to hang free
Might tempt a ship to rocks on which she’d break—
But I think that your treasure jugs are fake.

I’ll here misquote a diff’rent sailor man:
“I am what, Khayyãm?”—I’ll share bread for your plight?
No wine, not even djinn, no caravan,
Could move my finger once it’s writ, “Yeah, right!”
Mount thou thy magic rug and take a flight.
No jewels I’ll gain, no yacht! I’ve no regrets—
My sun still glows like ruby when it sets.

November 22, 2004

Memo to Outgoing Cabinet Members


to: All Cabinet Members

Dear Secretary of _______________:

Good news! You're resigning. For your convenience, below is a suggested template for use in the drafting of your resignation letter. You are encouraged to personalize by copying it over in your own handwriting. Neatness counts! Please feel free to use your own words. More specifically, your own name. Any other deviation from the text will result in immediate Richard Clarke treatment.

Dear Mr. President,

It is with great sadness and a heavy     [heart / soul / wallet]     that I must offer you my resignation as Secretary of ________________.

We have accomplished much these past four years, and I am proud to have been a part of     [your / Karl’s / your dad's]     team. Together, we have seen the end of a decade of     [neglect / burdensome regulation / compromise / prosperity]     which has threatened our very     [existence / way of life / water supply / indomitable grip on power / trade imbalance / close friends and donors]     . I can depart my post, confident that our country is in on the right course and with the satisfaction of a job well done     [ ! / !! / !!! / ☺ ]     .

There is still work to do, however. Now that the country has been     [protected / secured / stripped / brainwashed]           [from / of / for]     its     [enemies / friends / resources / self-esteem / soul / relationship to The Constitution]     , my successor will be free to focus on the trivial pursuits of a second term. Nevertheless, I know that, under your firm yet     [gentle / divine / iron-fisted]     guidance, this department and America will never waiver in the continuing War on     [Terror / the Poor / the Environment / Activist Judges / the Liberal Media / Women / Ted Kennedy / Sex]     .

This decision, of course, is a personal one. No one has in any way foisted upon me, hinted at backstage during the convention, or leaked to the press my agonizing decision to resign. When you first appointed me, I had resolved, in a secret conversation between just you and me that was never referenced even once in the past four years, that I had only intended to stay for one term. I wish to return to my pursuit of     [riches / knowledge / knowledge of riches / my oil company]     that I have neglected for so long.

No matter how vehemently you request it, I will not be writing any books about my time as your Secretary of ________________. Nor will I be reading any books either. I simply need time to spend with my     [family / aforementioned riches / prized racehorse / forthcoming lucrative lobbying position]     .

This in no way is an admission of wrongdoing, incompetence, disagreement, or any other sort of mistake-making. If the liberal media somehow tries to make it seem as such, let me say here and now that you had no knowledge of it. Whatever it is.

It has been my honor and privilege to serve under you these past four years. May God continue to be at your side, in that little anteroom you fixed up for Him where the library used to be.

                                                                                Secretary of ____________

November 18, 2004

New York Stories


In New Mexico the moon glistens as though cut from a frozen grapefruit. It can be a wedge on the hard lip of the canyon or a rind high above the mesa, but it is always sharp and crisp as the breath of God. Here in New York it is murky, as though thawing and leaching into the milky sky. Everything glows in a gauzy haze. Here the air is so damp it bends the light and I long for gills to breathe. New Yorkers amaze me because they can live underwater. I want to take them home with me, just a few, and keep them in my aquarium, but I’m afraid the ones I’d pick would never get along in the same tank. And they would most certainly destroy my gentle, crystal-wearing specimens from Santa Fe.


In On the Road, Kerouac wrote: “We were a band of Arabs coming to blow up New York.” In the same book, he wrote: “In inky darkness we crossed New Mexico.” I think if he’d seen Albuquerque by daylight, he would’ve wanted to blow that up, too. Maybe he didn’t realize the Manhattan Project was in New Mexico. Maybe he forgot that we’ve got the bigger bombs. Most likely he just failed to see that we can be every bit as incendiary as New York.

25 305H 2

I have a propensity for getting lost. Whenever it happens, my mind retrieves the same combination: 25 305H 2. Whether I’m disoriented in a Korean subway station or astray in a Tanzanian rain forest, the recall is automatic and calming.

Sometimes I say it out loud: 25 305H 2.

My wife has heard it many times. Lost in a Rocky Mountain blizzard, she finally asked what it meant. I told her that on July 21st, 1977, when I was 10, I got profoundly lost. It was nighttime in Brooklyn, my first time there, and I could not find my dad. Forty terrifying minutes passed before I remembered this: 25 305H 2. It led me straight to him.

My wife wanted to know how that was possible. I made her wait until we found our way home. There by the fire we checked each other’s extremities for frostbite. Then I showed her, tucked in an old scrapbook, two ticket stubs from a game in Yankee Stadium on the date in question. She examined them and said it was just like my father to get such crappy seats.

I nodded, but I couldn’t agree, remembering how the very next night he scored front row seats at a trendy theater in SoHo. I don’t remember much about the performance, only that the star resembled Ken Berry of Herbie the Love Bug fame. He chained himself to a brick wall and sang Russian folk songs until some clowns marched in and stuffed his mouth full of bloody entrails. (I think it was part of the act.)

My wife asked me if they were happy clowns or sad clowns.

They were those European-style clowns, but I don’t recall their emotional state. Funny, that seems like something I wouldn’t forget.

November 16, 2004

What You Can Do with This Story

This story is to be taken liberally, directly after a meal. It is not intended for anyone 13 years or younger (unless accompanied by an adult) or for anyone with a pacemaker. It is available in Braille, Middle English, Ryukyuan, and Cajun and can be accompanied by a handicapped-parking sticker.

You may read this story alone, but I recommend reading it aloud to friends while bungee-jumping from a T-tower on the Las Vegas Strip with lit cigarettes and loose change in your pocket. Especially if you have the type of friends who say “dude” a lot.

If you are easily amused, you can send it to your friends who like to read words like “pee-pee” and “shat” (if you’re a Brit) and “pussy” and “suck.”

If you aren’t easily amused, you probably have to go as far back as Oscar Wilde to find a really witty piece of writing, although some say Philip Roth and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. have some humorous moments. If you’re looking for a funny female novelist, get back to me.

You can print it and smoke it.

You can take it to Kinko’s and print a thousand copies on goldenrod paper and stick it under the windshield wipers of every S.U.V. within a 10-mile radius. (Warning: Do not drive an S.U.V. while performing this stunt.)

You can print it and smoke it with crack.

You can take it to a local prison and use it to teach illiterate convicts how to read. You can also do the same by taking it to a local magnet school.

You can send it to your Russian friends who think democracy might be a good thing. You can send it anywhere in Africa where there is famine and disease and see if they find it as amusing as your friends who like doody words.

You can decide that this isn’t really a story and send a nasty e-mail to the editors, indicting the demise of contemporary American literature and using words like “narrative thread” and “character development” and “syntax.”

You can read it and decide it’s garbage and compose a rap song that makes William Shakespeare sound moronic.

You can decide this is a cool example of postmodernism and decide to write your own story because this is a really easy way to do it. Simply type and spout opinions. Don’t worry about connecting one sentence to another or one paragraph to another. (Don’t be a baby—give it a go! Submit the results to a really uptight, pretentious literary journal like Ploughshares or The Paris Review.)

You can read it and ponder it and then go home and watch “C.S.I.: Miami.”

You can read it and travel to Tibet and perform a cham wearing a yeti mask.

You can read it and go to a gun show and buy a shiny new 9mm Luger and take it home and watch “C.S.I.: Miami” and then shoot your brains out.

The printout also makes an excellent holder for clipped toenails.

November 15, 2004

How to Get a Boyfriend, as Explained to Me by My 11-Year-Old Sister

  1. Wear glitter eye shadow. Ignore that he’s shorter than you by, like, a foot. Practice roller-skating, because that’s what you’ll have to do together, but don’t actually own any roller skates, because that’s just retarded. Don’t say retarded, it’s mean to retarded people. Remind him not to say it either, but then crack up when he starts yelling RETARDED RETARDED RETARDED just to be obnoxious during passing period. Watch as your best friend writes his name on your hand while you say, OHMYGOD DON’T STOP IT STOP IT I’LL CROSS IT OUT, but then don’t—cross it out, I mean. Look at it before bed. When he comes up to your locker to ask if you like him LIKE THAT, say, LIKE WHAT, and when he says, YOU KNOW, say, I’M GOING TO BE LATE FOR CLASS.
  2. If he asks you out when he already has a girlfriend, say, YOU CAN’T LIKE ME UNTIL YOU DUMP HER. Wait for that to happen; give it less than a week. Ask for a sip of his pop, because you know his mouth was on the same can. Rescue the can from the garbage and play the alphabet game with the tab until you get an N and put it on your necklace. Play the “I Love You” game, but mouth “olive juice” when it’s your turn and see if he notices. When he dumps her, say, YEAH I LIKE YOU LIKE THAT IF YOU LIKE ME LIKE THAT.
  3. Ask your mom if you can go to the mall with friends, but don’t say which friends and don’t say that it’s actually only one and he is actually only a boy. Ask to borrow his hoodie because you’re cold even though you’re inside at the mall. Hold his hand even though it’s hard because he’s short. Watch his lips when he eats french fries. Practice unwrapping Starbursts with your tongue at lunch. Be the first one of your friends to have a boyfriend. Show them the notes he folded like footballs that all say, I LOVE YOU. At the Halloween dance when he says, ARE YOU GONNA KISS ME OR WHAT, get nervous and freak out and just kiss his cheek.
  4. When he dumps you for being a prude, pretend you don’t care. Decide that the next boy who asks you out, you’ll stick your tongue down his throat no matter what.

November 12, 2004

Excerpt from Tuesdays with Yasser by Mitch Al-Bomb Hawari

The last class of my old benefactor’s life took place once a week in his compound, by a window where he could watch the I.D.F. soldiers surrounding him, isolating him from all of society. The meetings were on Tuesdays after breakfast.

He was a sweet, well respected old man who had done his best to lead his people forward against all odds. We loved him for his championing of the cause, and also for his crazy dance moves. Yasser loved to dance, more than anything. One time, in Oslo, he danced around a peace agreement brokered by the American president; and when he returned triumphant to Gaza, he danced around again, as bombs went off in Tel Aviv. He was like that.

He knew his time was coming, but he wanted to enjoy what he had for as long as he could. He used to tell his followers, “I understand if you need to drop out for now.” The heat was being turned up on our dear leader. Some friends from Hezbollah kissed him on the cheek to return to Lebanon. “I hope Allah blesses you with a hundred children each,” he told them. “And that each of them fights the tyrants of the so-called state of Israel.” He never referred to Israel as anything but “so-called” and always spoke the words with “finger-quotes” but, as was often our saying around the compound, “That’s our Yasser!”

One Tuesday, many years earlier, Yasser was trying to decide on a name for another fund-raising front for our cause. “Well, we have used all the good names,” he said, and then ran them down: “We’ve already got the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command; Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine Abu Nidal Organization; good old Fatah; Tanzim; Force 17; Hawari which you may also know as the Fatah Special Operations Group; and of course there’s the Martyrs of Tal Al Za’atar; and Amn Araissi; and who can forget the Ahmed Abu Reish Brigade? Only those guys are a little wacky, huh? So what if we called the new front, ‘Peoples with Attitudes’?”

We all had a good laugh.

I remember another Tuesday, after a celebration of the untimely death of a comrade in Syria. Yasser was really depressed. “What a waste. Poor bastard. He will never see the fruits of the work we are doing…” he trailed off, shaking his head. I pointed out that ours was an ongoing struggle. “Yes, but it would be nice if he could see us stick it to those Hebrew bastards one more time.” There was never enough time for Yasser.

In 2003, Forbes Magazine estimated Yasser’s personal wealth at around $300 million, American. There was some unpleasantness surrounding the source of those figures, suggesting that Yasser was keeping the taxed income of Palestinians in Israel for his personal enjoyment. He was visibly upset and spit on the floor. “Jesus Christ! Do they think guns grow on trees? It’s never enough with these people!” When I errantly pointed out that maybe that was the struggle of all oppressed peoples of the world who felt disenfranchised and powerless, he didn’t speak to me for two weeks.

Yasser really loved the American movie, Die Hard because the character Hans Gruber, a terrorist, name-checked Yasser, and said that he had a good tailor. “That’s true! That part is right!” He took me to the opulent walk-in closet within his bedroom. There were hundreds of suits, of the finest linens and silks. “Of course they are all made by Jews,” he sighed. Still, he sent out thousands of copies of Die Hard to his supporters in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Ethiopia, Libya, and Saudi Arabia. He was beaming that day. “Some of these guys, they put me down for a long time. And they always made fun of my hat. Now I am mentioned in a movie with Bruce Willis! Sharon never got any mention in a Bruce Willis movie! Ha!”

Of all the days I spent with my teacher, this is one moment I prefer to savor the most.

November 11, 2004

The Speechwriter

First rule in this job is always to meet your deadline. You gonna leave the Chief to go on TV empty-mouthed like a puppet?

The only puppet I can think of right now is the little guy with the nose that grows.

We get the speech together at least six hours before he’s due to air. Tonto starts us off, and the Chief walks in halfway through, a carton of popcorn in his hand. He offers the box ’round and if there’s enough
left, we all take some.

“Help yourselves, guys,” he says, even though Marileene is a woman.

So first we all read through our drafts: me, John, Jake, Jim, and Marileene. Marileene laughs that she’s the odd one out of the Four J’s, because my name is Joe. I reckon the Four J’s sounds like a Motown band, but Marileene says she wasn’t born then.

The Chief listens, and Tonto listens, and when we’re all done, they decide. Or really, Tonto decides. The Chief doesn’t have much opinion on the subject, except it never hurts to mention High Noon or the Chief’s poppa, or the mud that sticks to your boots. Sometimes they’ll choose just one of us, sometimes they want a paragraph from Jake, a line from Jim and an inspiring quote from me. They don’t mind us putting our heads together for the rewrites, but they don’t want us to collaborate before the first draft.

“I want to hear what y’all have to say,” the Chief waves his box of popcorn. “You are each as goddamn individual as this great and good goddamn nation is as individual and special folks in God’s people and the family of man that was put here on this Homeland to make our country special.”

So we all write our first drafts separately. I hear Marileene chewing gum in the next cubicle and Jim phones his aunt in Wichita to find out what her church minister said this week. He always tells her to talk slower so he has time to get it down. I guess me and Jake are the quietest. Me, I’m just a Lone Ranger, and I don’t know where I get my ideas from. I think about the State of the Nation, the episode of “Sex and the City” I saw last night. I think about our onstitution and my wife’s latest copy of Woman’s Day, which I always read cover to cover except the recipes and any talk of menstruation.

Sometimes, I admit it, I pray, but I don’t kneel down because my cubicle is small and Marileene throws pellets of chewing-gum wrapper over the wall if I fidget around too much.

There’s times when it’s hard to come up with the right thing.

“Reads like a Microsoft press release,” said Tonto last week, throwing my page of college-ruled back on my desk. He told me to read Deepak Chopra to get a better idea.

When they’ve decided the final cut, the Chief slaps us on the back, “Great work guys,” and we are released.

Now it’s Tonto’s job to get the Chief word-perfect, coaching him through, eliminating unnecessary alliteration, checking the pronunciation of strange words like “Nicaragua” and “Czechoslovakia.” He’s given up on “nuclear.”

I just go home. The drive gives me time to hear two, maybe three tracks of Céline Dion. My wife is always standing in the hall as I drive up. I see the monkish silhouette of her dressing gown behind the dimpled glass of the front door. How does she do that? Does she stand there all night just waiting? She can’t, because the kids are always in bed, bathed, and sweet as milk when I go upstairs and kiss them goodnight.

I park the car and jangle the keys in my hand, kicking into the rhythm of the theme to Titanic that still plays in my head. I hug my wife and take off my shoes, then into the den for a beer and some supper, maybe see what the president has to say on the news.

November 09, 2004

The Norman Rockwell–Axl Rose Correspondence

He keeps pulling out the “Paul Westerberg’s more difficult to deal with than Axl Rose” line. And I think, “Yeah, of course.” Wouldn't Van Gogh be more difficult than Norman Rockwell? (Laughs.)
—Harp Magazine

Dear Norman:

When it finally came time to decide on an artist for the cover of Guns N’ Roses’epic, world-changing new album, Chinese Democracy, I realized that I only had one real candidate: you. After all, who more symbolizes democracy, China, and the naked, violent exposure of the human soul better than Norman Rockwell? Nobody. I know that this may be a difficult task for you, especially considering the daunting fact that you have been dead for 25 years. You should know however that whatever Axl Rose wants, Axl Rose gets!

You Should Be Mine!

Dear Axl:

Thanks for writing! First and foremost, I should say that I’ve been a fan ever since I first heard the harrowing first chords of “Jungle” playing on my Victaphone back in ’87, nine years after I died. As soon as I bought the album, I knew that I should have been the one to draw the cover. Seriously, how many records can you sell with a picture of a bunch of skeleton skulls on the cross? I know you guys were huge (and still are!) but think about how earth-shatteringly, mind-numbingly huge you could have been if your record didn’t alienate so much of the population? The past is past, but I always imagined you guys all standing around the table, looking at the Thanksgiving turkey with a hunger reserved only for the night before the West Lafayette Peach Tart Festival! I’ve included some sketch ideas I have for Chinese Democracy. Tell me what you think.


Most beautiful, wonderful Norman,

I have been trapped in this studio for so long, feverishly trying to beat the deadline for what will certainly by my most thoughtful, introspective album. There’s nothing I hate more than making people wait, so I never miss a deadline. How nice of my record company to give me 14 years to complete Chinese Democracy! And how wonderful of you to open my mind up to the beautiful world outside of the recording studio, a world I always imagined died when Johnny Thunders did. My favorite sketch is the one of me saluting the Chinese flag in Tiananmen Square, though you so very ironically appear, at first glance, to be depicting Lincoln saluting the American flag at Gettysburg. Genius! Genius!

Your dearest Rose

My lovely Axis of Roses!!!!

How wonderful it is hear your response to my sketches, though I must admit I am not entirely happy with the work I’ve produced for you. A genius such as yours, especially in the area of logical moral discourse and humanism, deserves a cover artist who can at least hint at the depth of your passion and beauty. Axl, I’ve been dead for almost 25 years and I’ve seen every one who’s ever died in one way or the other. You, W. Axl Rose, are the most beautiful human being to ever live. You are the reason God created the heavens and the earth. You are truth and beauty at the same time. Here is what I hope will be the only drawing I can do that will capture your inner wonder: a picture of you as young boy, standing on a chair with your pants half-down, checking out the doctor’s credentials. To vaccinate Axl Rose, you must have your M.D. from heaven itself!

You Rock me so Well.

N, my love:

“Sweet Child”? You. “Patience”? You. “November Rain”? You. You. You had me at the first Saturday Evening Post. Alas, I didn’t even realize what I was singing all of those years ago. What I really felt in my heart was: Take me down to the Norman Rockwell City! Don’t you cry, Norman. I still love you, baby. You are my genius, my muse.

A Rose without thorns.


Nothing could distill my admiration and love for you, Axl baby. One problem, however. Your record company just sent me a note that said that Chinese Democracy would be delayed sixth months? What the hell? I still love you, baby, but daddy needs to get paid.


Dear Mr. Rockwell:

Thank you for your submission to the Guns N’ Roses fan-art contest. While your work shows a keen sense of social consciousness and moral fervor, not to mention a wry, folksy sense of humor, we feel that is not right for the cover of Chinese Democracy. We also realize, now, that you’ve been working closely with Mötley Crüe on their comeback album and that we now are walking the streets at night, just trying to get it right. We don’t have time for the pain. We need you.

Guns N’ Roses Management

November 08, 2004

Excerpts from Restroom Confidential: Adventures in the Lavatory Underbelly

("Books that Really Make a Splash")
Restroom Confidential:
Adventures in the Lavatory Underbelly

From the Introduction:

Let’s make this clear: I’m not here to “rag” on my fellow bathroom attendants. I’m writing this to show you—what we lavatory lifers call the “plopping public”—what it’s like to man a busy, pee-stinking, crusty-with-crud two-star restroom, all while being the sexiest man alive. I’ve done it all—from working a Texaco restroom off Route 66 where I brought a fugitive killer to justice mid-bowel movement; to giving five-minute warnings at the restroom of Girlz Girlz Girlz II; to working a celeb-studded party where George Michael had his own private stall; to owning my own automatic toilet in Paris (a mistake I will never make again—and I will tell you why later in this book); to working at my current restroom Les Stalls, where I hope to be spritzing Polo Sport until the day I die. You might not like what I have to say, especially if you are one of the pieces of human detritus that often leaves floaters or has “irritable bowel syndrome.” But by the end of this excretory exposé you’ll realize that restroom attendants were crapped out of the ass of God himself, that’s how superior to you we are. Want to clean up the mess in Iraq? Bring in an army of plunger-wielding, Tilex-squirting, broom-pushing restroom attendants. We don’t take crap from anyone!

From Chapter 1: A Day in the Life:

I wake up at 6 a.m. and dunk my head in the toilet, just to get myself in the zone. It’s going to be a hard day. There’s an Elite Models party tonight and the Elite girls are notorious wash-closet wenches. I need my best female attendant on the job, so I call up Eva, who curses me out for calling her early and hangs up on me. Next I scan the Weather Channel and all five morning papers for things to shoot the shit about while my customers wash their hands—I decide to ask them what they think about Derek Jeter’s slump, since it gives me an excuse to mention that he came into the restroom two nights ago. Ploppers will often return in hopes of seeing a squatting celeb, but I’m careful to defend their privacy—I won’t reveal that Jeter took the biggest dump this side of a Staten Island landfill. Next I text-message my chef to find out what he’ll be preparing that night—he tells me to get a life, meaning he’s probably hung over and will simply reheat the doggies-in-a-blanket from last night’s William Morris party. Less work for him but twice as much for me. My supplier still doesn’t have the specialty four-ply I requested, so I threaten to tear him a new one. He tells me to “get a real job.” I’m sorry, bud, this job is realer than a crap on a hot tin roof. Now it’s off to Chinatown where I sample knock-off cologne for four hours. No way am I getting caught with my pants down at the meez (the mise-en-scène is what we restroomers call the sink. Your basic meez includes cologne, mints, hand towels, etc., but every attendant has his own flourish: I know a Spanish attendant who I’ll call El Toro Loco who insists on having Smints imported in bulk from Barcelona. Looking at tonight’s guest list, I see Chris Noth might be at the party, so I drop into Target for some eyebrow clippers. Finally I arrive at my restroom. This is my favorite time—just before restroom rush hour, when all is quiet and the shit has not yet hit the fan (hmm, maybe we should get a fan in here).

From Chapter 6: Just a Tip:

I know, I know, you don’t think you should have to tip a restroom attendant. Why should you have to turn your hard-earned money over to some Mexican guy who’s babysitting your bowels? Trust me on this one, kids: tip your restroom attendant. The restroom attendant is always in cahoots with the waiters, and two drops of Visine on a shrimp fritter does very interesting things to the human digestive system. I have a photographic memory of every plopper that has ever stiffed me—I remember one guy who left a king-sized coil in the bowl and then walked without washing, ignoring my calls of “no hope without soap.” A few minutes later a server found him talking to Charlie Rose and Harvey Weinstein. Believe me, he shat a brick all over again when she held a silver tray out to him and offered something that definitely wasn’t kosher. Next time, leave some ones if you’ve got the runs! That’s right, don’t let it rip without leaving a tip!

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by D. Bruce

November 05, 2004

Thank-You Notes to America

Struggling with Optimism in the Face of a Mandate

Three New Yorkers & a Michigander

Dear Youth of America,

It’s a good thing you spent this past Tuesday as you would any other: taking bong hits on your 70s-era Salvation Army couches and playing Sim Election on your iMacs. Better squeeze in all the apathy and lethargy you can now, because soon you’re going to be doing more by 9 a.m. than most people do all day! Thanks for surprising us by acting completely and consistently in character. Way to go, kids.

Rock the vote or die,

Dear Republican Lawyers,

Thanks for hectoring minorities and poor people away from their polling precincts. What good is a democracy if everyone gets a vote? That would turn the whole process into a sham like “American Idol.” You brandished abstruse stipulations like switchblades—well done, bloodsuckers. Well done.


Dear Pollsters,

Boy, were you way off! Thanks for the effort, though. It doesn’t matter that you’re utterly ineffectual and unaccountable—you can still be president one day!

Too close to call,

Dear Mr. Diebold,

While the election went off without a single shenanigan, it’s great to know you personally vouched for your machines’ impartial precision in delivering Ohioan votes to the Republican Party without any recountable paper trail. Besides, if America wanted accuracy over speediness, they’d have voted Democratic! Thanks for shoving democracy headfirst into the Matrix’s mechanical maw, thus ensuring a Republican victory in every election from now till doomsday.


Dear Homosexual Folks,

Thanks for turning your inalienable right to wed into a national issue during wartime, thus presenting the Republicans with a wedge issue great enough to rouse the righteous fury of every homophobic Christian conservative from Casper to Crawford and propel them into voting booths to repudiate your lifestyle. The good thing about America is that everyone is free to vote for or against such things when more important issues (e.g., war) are too unpleasant to stomach.

Love (not in that way),

Dear Security Moms,

Thanks for thinking twice about the state of affairs before deciding to blindly follow your president's instructions not to change horses in midstream, even if the horse you’re riding has stumbled over every single hurdle and, it turns out, is a one-legged pony with strangles. Also, good move ditching Soccer for Security. Now trade in those minivans for Hummers! Anyway, your kids will get great deals on rugs when they're shipped off to the Persian Gulf.


Dear Liberal Media,

Thanks for your faithful reporting of undistorted facts, even while being discredited as horribly, horribly biased. Although, when you think about it, as long as your name’s being sullied anyway, instead of defensively kvetching so much, you probably could have used the opportunity to aggressively push your barely hidden agendas and not-so-ulterior motives. You know, the way Fox does it. Suckers.


Dear Concert for Change,

The Guinness Book of World Records called. Congrats, you successfully put together the biggest circle-jerk in the history of the world. It turns out that patronizingly preaching to the choir doesn’t work very well. Well, it doesn't work in the figurative sense. If you’re the G.O.P. and you infiltrate the churches and literally preach to real no-foolin’ choirs, it ends up being pretty effective. Who knew? Oh, Karl Rove, that's who. I almost forgot.

Still, thanks for at last bringing the Boss and R.E.M. together on one stage.

Yours in Christ,

Dear P. Diddy, Eminem, and Michael Moore,

I’m sorry that God has more followers than you guys. It really shouldn’t be so surprising—the Bible outsells all your CDs and DVDs combined. Thanks for fighting the good fight, though. I guess some people voted because you brainwashed them with blustery propaganda or threatened them with gangsta-style execution . . . Maybe next time you should recruit some politically active celebrities who are friends with God, like Mel Gibson or Father Guido Sarducci.


Dear Ohioans,

It’s like I don’t even know you anymore.


November 04, 2004

Victory Speech by the Leader of the Moderate, Pro-Choice, Anti-War, Environmentalist Undecided Voters of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, for Bush

Good evening, fellow members of the M.P.C.A.W.E.U.V.O.C.C.O.F.B. Well, we did it!

[Cheers and applause.]

This is truly a great day for us, and for all America. The candidate we settled on at the very last minute has emerged victorious, and we can now look forward to receiving everything that we so richly deserve.

[More cheers.]

Many in the media have questioned our organization, and still do, even in victory. They call us illogical, uninformed, contradictory, nonsensical. So let me take this opportunity to remind those people why we, as avowed Moderate, Pro-Choice, Anti-War, Environmentalist Undecided Voters, so strongly support our victorious candidate, George W. Bush.

Firstly, unlike what the biased Liberal Media would tell you, this election was not about who was a “smarter” candidate, or whose policies would be “better for the country,” or other irrelevant nonsense. We all know John Kerry is a privileged, prep-school, Ivy Leaguer. We all know he clearly won the debates. But we care about things that are more important than debates or colleges or statistics or facts. We care about moral values. George W. Bush shares our values. He’s a regular guy, the kind of guy you’d like to drink a beer with, if he was still allowed to drink. The kind of guy who’d invite you out to his ranch to shoot at birds or play golf. The kind of guy who’d read a storybook to school kids. The kind of guy who doesn’t know how to windsurf.

[Derisive laughter.]

But seriously, George Bush shares our values. He stays the course, and never changes just because the polls or the press or the facts change. He’s no flip-flopper!

[Hoots and chants of “flip-flop.”]

George W. Bush cares about the same issues we care about. We care about the environment. George W. Bush is always clearing brush on his ranch, in the great outdoors, wearing jeans and a cowboy hat like a real outdoorsman. Does John Kerry even own a cowboy hat? Who are you going to trust the environment to, a windsurfer or a real outdoorsman?

[Chants of “Bush! Bush! Bush!”]

We care about a woman’s right to choose, and George W. Bush cares about that too. He won’t change his position, even if we disagree with it. We don’t get all worked up about who agrees or disagrees with us, we care more about who sticks to his guns. The president is resolute, and you have to respect that. Anyway, this abortion thing is going to be settled in the Supreme Court, not by the president, so it doesn’t really matter much what Bush’s exact position is on that. We’ll address this issue when the Supreme Court Justices come up for reëlection. At least President Bush isn’t afraid to let you know where he stands!

We also care about taxes. We don’t want to pay them. George W. Bush doesn’t like to pay them either. His huge tax cuts got us each $50 to $70 last year. Mr. Yale Windsurfer has voted to raise taxes many times. We’re not about to PAY to vote for that guy!

[Cheers, hoots.]

Not to kick a guy when he’s down—and Mr. Purple Heart is sure down right about now—but as countless TV commercials have proven, John Kerry is a traitor, a coward, and a liar.


All he talks about is how he was in Vietnam. Well you’d better believe that George W. Bush would never beg for a Purple Heart for his Vietnam activities, and he never goes on and on about what he did back then. He sticks to the present day, and that’s why we helped him win!

[More cheers.]

One of the biggest issues facing this country is gay marriage.

[More boos.]

Yes, we are strongly against gay marriage, and so is George W. Bush. John Kerry wants to force all gay people to get married, but those just aren’t our values. We don’t even want to think about that stuff. We believe that the government should just stay out of that whole business. Don’t ask, don’t tell, just like the president said!

[Scattered cheers.]

Then there’s the terrorists. These are bad, bad evildoer-type folks. John Kerry kept claiming that he would hunt them down and destroy them—well, what terrorists has he ever caught? George W. Bush captured the ringleader of the 9-11 attacks, Saddam Hussein, who is now in a jail cell. Hey, Saddam and John Kerry, payback’s a bitch, isn’t it?

[Wild cheers.]

Speaking of the terrorists and 9-11, there’s this little matter of a war being fought right now. By us! You just don’t change horses in midstream! Ever! That is what the terrorists want! We are all against war, we hate war. We are not afraid to come right out and say that we believe that war is bad and wrong! But we also support our troops! George W. Bush is our commander in chief, and real Americans support him in this crisis. He is the man to get us out of this terrible mess we are in over there. He is firm and resolute, and stays the course. We will be in good hands for the next four years, the hands of the man who knows what invading Iraq is all about!

[More cheers.]

We are very much against war, which is why we are all so glad that President Bush was able to bring Operation: Iraqi Freedom to such a victorious end as soon as he did. George W. Bush got the Mission Accomplished over there and ended the real war a long time ago. Once we get this peacetime stuff straightened out, we’ll be all set.

We have many other important issues that we care deeply about, like the budget deficit. We need lower taxes, to stimulate the economy so that we can finally get rid of this huge budget deficit. Can you imagine what this deficit would look like if a Democrat were to be president? It’s downright scary to think about.

And then there’s the Patriotism issue. President Bush is a true patriot who loves America. John Kerry claims that he loves America, but then he goes right out and criticizes us, and wants the U.N. to tell us what to do. That doesn’t sound like a patriot to me, that sounds like a flip-flopper!

[More “flip-flop” chants.]

On the important issue of Looking Presidential, there is no contest. President Bush looks like a Leader, a Commander, a President. That is what we need in this country, a leader who looks like a Leader, a president who looks like a President. Other countries will not respect us if we have some long-faced Ivy League guitar-player guy in charge. We look forward to four more years of President George W. Bush Looking Presidential, and making us all feel confident and reassured.

There are many other issues that we care about: Education. Jobs. The future. President Bush mentioned each of these issues in his speeches many times. He is firm and resolute, and he won’t be changing his mind with the polls. We can trust him on that, and that’s what we all really want in a leader.

So those are just some of the many reasons that we voted for our candidate, President George W. Bush. As is now clear, we played a huge role in this election, and we’re very proud of that. We look forward to four more years of President Bush’s leadership, and we’re all grateful that our hard work helped make it possible for us to avoid John Kerry’s radical and destructive policies on war, the environment, a woman’s right to choose, patriotism, windsurfing, and many other issues that we hold so dear.

Congratulations, folks! We did it, we won, and the next four years and beyond are going to bring many exciting and challenging times to us and our great country. It’s nothing less than what we deserve!

[Wild cheers, applause.]

Thank you. God bless America, God Bless President Bush, and God Bless each and every member of the Moderate, Pro-Choice, Anti-War, Environmentalist Undecided Voters of Cuyahoga County, Ohio!

[More wild cheers.]

November 02, 2004

Why Dogs Don't Conduct Polls