Monday, April 26, 2004


Dear Oh, For God's Sake,

Regarding your article posted February 2: capitalism, democracy, blah, blah, blah. Do you mean to tell me you don't like Golden Earring? They rock in concert, man!

--L. T.

Dear L,

I've been drivin' all night, my hand's wet on the wheel. There's a voice in my head that drives my heel. It's my baby callin', says holy god what decade are you livin' in and isn't that the concert from like 1976 when you were shootin' Stroh's by cutting a hole in the bottom of the can, holding it to your mouth, and then opening up the top so the whole twelve ounces went down your gullet in one gulp and you peed in the Roberts Stadium parking lot right in front of a carload of girls who started laughing and clapping and honking their horn and flashing their headlights (or was that me?) but you'd already started your stream and there was no stoppin' it and then later you threw up all over your Chuck Taylors and then you slept through half the concert (or was that Foghat?) but anyway we had to carry you from the car to your bedroom and even though we were real quiet we still woke up your mom who was mad at first but then thanked us and told us to call tomorrow and we said We don't need no phone at all. We've got a thing that's called radar love. We've got a wave in the air, radar love. And so I guess what I'm saying is I still love you buddy but Golden Earring? Not so much.


Oh, For God's Sake


Dear Crankyboy,

In your techno-rant of March 8, you mentioned that you have to navigate through seven menus to silence your cell phone. Either you're hyperbolizin' or you need to get yourself a new phone.

--R. R.

Dear R,

Me? Hyperbolize? Um, heh-heh. Ben showed me how to do it the easy way. *Blush* If you do it the obvious way -- following the menu commands -- it takes forever. But if you're hip to the secret key combination known apparently only to teenagers, members of Skull and Bones, and People Who Read Manuals, it's a little easier: three keys. But I still say smashing it with something heavy is the way to go. (By the way, Ben has made his college decision: he's going to the University of Kentucky this fall. And they are damn lucky to get him if they want any hope of learning how to use their cell phones. He's also wicked awesome with a DVD player. And he has a good soul.)


Oh, For God's Sake


Dear OFGS:

You're probably one of those atheists who wants to remove "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, am I right?

--Ronald Prescott, III

Dear Ronald,

When it comes to the Pledge of Allegiance, God is the least of my worries. I believe it was Kevin Nealon who sang in a whiney voice, "If you love somebody set them free." No -- wait -- Nealon was making fun of Sting, who ripped off a 70s poster, which stole the line from Hallmark, which probably made millions on it after paying a freelance hack $10 to come up with it. Whatever. My point is this: If we really want our children to love America, we should teach them not blind allegiance, but healthy skepticism. Only when they come to witness the beauty of free speech and democracy, and pick at the zits of prejudice and oppression will they really know and -- if they choose to -- love America. So what's up with making kids recite a vow of blind loyalty to a flag? Isn't that kind of Ayatollahish? So I say keep "under God" and get rid of the rest of the Pledge. Well, there's no need to get rid of it entirely. Let's just trot out the ol' editor's Uni-ball, here, and see if we can't patch 'er up. OK, first off, a "pledge" is probably not legally binding when kids say it. And "allegiance" is pretty strong. Reminds me of Darth Vader. How about instead of "Pledge of Allegiance," we go with, "Some Things I'm Feeling About My Country." Even better still, why not really engage the kids by using their vernacular? How about: "America Is Straight Up The Bomb, True That." OK, now, about that pledging and the flag and the republic, let's freshen that up a little bit. Can we all agree that America is cool? I think America is pretty cool. I think we can all agree it sure beats Rwanda. Let's go with, "I have an open mind about America; it sure beats Rwanda." OK, now for the rest of the way, I do applaud the Pledge for its optimism but let's face it: The thing is mostly a pack of lies. So let's rewrite with a little honesty. Instead of "one nation," let's go with "we are one nation (not counting the ghettos and the reservations and homosexuals and anybody wearing a turban and so forth)." OK, and we decided to stick with "under God." Then there's that stuff about liberty and justice for all. Well, we better fix that. Let's go with "with liberty and justice for some white men." But I think we would like to be optimistic about everybody else, so let's throw in, "But hoping for the best." OK, I think we've got it. But no, you're right: "under God" just doesn't feel right. I mean, my God sure as hell isn't the President's God. Or Billy Graham's God or Jesse Jackson's God or Black Elk's God or Ned Flanders' God or Madonna's (new) God or Madonna's (old) God or Ram Das' God or Stephen Hawking's God or Yusuf Islam's God or Spongebob Squarepants' God or Richard Gere's God. Maybe if we said "Gods." But that gets all messy. So yeah, let's ditch God. OK! Let's take 'er for a test drive:

America Is Straight Up The Bomb, True That
I have an open mind about America; it sure beats Rwanda.
We are one nation (not counting the ghettos and the reservations and homosexuals and anybody wearing a turban and so forth), with liberty and justice for some white men but hoping for the best.

I think that's pretty good. And feel free to say "under God" if you really must. I don't mind a bit.


Oh, For God's Sake


Write to Oh, For God's Sake.

Monday, April 19, 2004

The Only Absolute: No Absolutes
Mary and I went to a cocktail party the other night. We like to go once per decade or so, just to stay in shape. This party was in one of those gated communities named after the ecosystem it destroyed. The joint was lousy with Republicans. I mean, you could not club a baby seal to death without splattering some blood on an imperialist.

Now, I believe that if an average citizen from just about any other country came to America to observe us in our natural habitat, it would take years before he or she could distinguish a liberal from a conservative. We are all overfed, obnoxious, greedy, wasteful people with 3.4 TVs and 1.6 cars per person, better-than-average dental health, a keen aptitude for football statistics, and an inexplicable fondness for shooting each other. How on earth can you tell the Democrats from the Republicans? (Well, in my case, it might be easier if I happened to be wearing my "I ♥ Taxes" T-shirt that day.)

Or at least it used to be hard to tell, back before the current administration. This president has created an atmosphere more polarized than the time the fairgrounds scheduled a Chuck D concert on the same weekend as the Monster Truck Rally.

Personally, I believe it is not all Dumbya's fault. True, stealing the election right off the bat got him off to a bad start. And he did go to war for oil. And cripple the economy. And there were those tax cuts for the rich. And he wants to destroy the environment. And public education. And add a gay-bashing amendment to the constitution. Oh, yeah, and he made the entire world hate America's guts. And... OK, maybe it IS his fault.

But none of that is what makes it so easy to tell the liberals from the conservatives these days. What has changed is this: For the first time in my life, I am often afraid to express my opinions in mixed company. Things have gotten a little better in the past few months, especially now that Bush can't seem to finish off his bowl of Conquestios in the morning without making a major political mistake. But for a couple of years there, if you said anything even mildly critical of this administration, you were half afraid some nazi goon was going to come around a corner and take you away in handcuffs like you were some kind of Dixie Chick or something.

So we're at this party, right? And I had stowed all my lefty smartass remarks in the glove compartment for safe keeping before we came in, figuring I wouldn't be able to use them and I didn't want them confiscated. We made some small talk and chit chat and jibber jabber and whatnot and the host invited us out to the garage to see his new riding lawnmower, which he'd modified from a Hummer and so now he can mow the yard in 5.2 seconds, which is actually necessary because longer exposure to his lawn chemicals might cause cancer. After our pilgrimage to the garage, Mary made the fateful mistake of relenting to a tour of the rest of the McManse, so we all traipsed into the kitchen, which was roughly the size of Waddy plus half of Peytona. During a fascinating discussion of imported ceramic tile, I gnawed off my paw and snuck quietly away, thinking, "every man for himself," which could possibly have been the Republican rubbing off.

I rounded the corner and bumped into this guy I know -- a fellow soccer mom. We've shared more than a few bleachers and he and I are both Red Sox fans, so between us we have enough fatalistic optimism to make Eeyore want to go off his Zoloft. So we talked Sox for awhile (this is going to be the year, by the way), and suddenly, out of the blue, he brought up politics. (This is why you should NEVER serve cocktails at your cocktail parties.) Well, despite all the bleachers we'd smashed out butts on, we had never discussed politics before and I had no idea what his persuasion was. And his comment was non-committal: "What do you think about John Kerry?"

I panicked, wishing he'd given me a hint, such as, "What do you think of that goddam pinko Kerry?" or "He's no Kucinich, but I sure like that Kerry." I had nothing to go on. So I wussed out and lobbed a noncommittal reply: "I was surprised the primary contest was over so quickly."

We were like a couple of dogs with no sense of smell, sniffing each other's butts in hopeless frustration. Gingerly, ever so courageously, he lowered his voice and said, "Well, I just hope he can make a serious run in the general election. Bush has got to be stopped."

I said, "Oh, thank God! You're one of US!" Suddenly waves of dopamine rushed through our brains as we realized we were both liberals. We wanted to hug. Instead, we both dashed out to our cars and retrieved our lefty smartass remarks from our glove boxes and got to work ripping Republicans a new one. He took racists, sexists, homophobes, warmongers and polluters. I took tax cuts, corporate criminals, factory farms, Ashcroft and the No Child Loves Bush Act. We took turns on Iraq (too much material for one person anyway).

We were on a roll.

But then he said something that struck me. He said, "Basically, Republicans are selfish. When you vote Republican, you are saying, 'I want more of what's coming to me and to hell with everybody else.'"

Well, if there's one thing I've learned in my life, it's the absolute fact that absolute facts are always wrong. What he said didn't ring entirely true but I was having a hard time refuting it. For the record, I don't strongly identify with the Democratic Party. They're too conservative for me, especially in Kentucky where choosing between a Democrat and a Republican usually means choosing between a right-wing conservative and a really, really, really right-wing conservative. So I cannot imagine why anyone ever votes Republican. And this "selfish" thing is at the heart of it.

Among the staunch Republicans I know, there are basically two groups: fiscal conservatives and social conservatives. The fiscal conservatives (let's call them the Greedys) are basically selfish by definition: "Don't tax me. I got mine; let everybody else get theirs." They will come right out and tell you they hate taxes, they think government programs are wasteful, and they think poor people should pull themselves out of their own situation. And then there's that curious offshoot of have-not Republicans whose philosophy seems to be this: "Someday if I ever get rich, I won't want it taxed." Yeah, well, someday if I ever get muscular I won't want heroin chic to make a comeback but I'll worry about that when the time comes, OK, you Scrooge McDuck wannabes?

But the social conservatives (let's call them the Haters) seem to be the opposite of selfish. They are the most selfless lot in the world. They are willing to hand over their economic power and their hope for any kind of relief from government in exchange for the cynical promise of action on issues that have almost no effect on their lives: anti-gay measures, anti-minority measures, anti-women measures, school prayer, a prohibition on abortion, and the right to force children to say the "God" portion of "Oh, For God's Sake" during the Pledge of Allegiance. Meanwhile, they give no consideration to candidates who cynically promise to build better schools, roads, health care systems, and protect the environment -- all issues that effect them every single day. If that's not selfless, I don't know what is. (For an interesting story about this phenomenon, see Democrat Not Spoken Here by Kevin Griffis.)

Of course, I don't want to over-generalize. Some Republicans are Haters while also being Greedys.

So there you go: conclusive proof that all Republicans aren't selfish. Imagine Mary's glee when I explained this revelation on the drive home. And imagine how long it will be before we go to another cocktail party!

Monday, April 12, 2004

I'm Straight and I'm Great!
OK, here goes! I've told my family, I've told my friends and now I'm going to tell you: I am a heterosexual man. There. I said it. You cannot imagine how good it feels to get that off my chest. After I post this, I think I'll go out and celebrate with a six-pack of Keystone Light and a couple of Slim Jims.

I know it's difficult for some people to accept the very idea of two members of the opposite sex engaging in sexual relations. Well, all I have to say is if you have a problem with that, it's your problem, not mine. If two people love each other, what difference does it make that one's a man and one's a woman? Oh, I'm not kidding myself. I know there will be tough times ahead. But thanks to the compassion and understanding of my friends and family, I know I'll be just fine whatever the future brings.

Deep down, I've always known that I was straight. I can remember once when I was still very young and all the other boys were excited about a dance recital or some new guacamole recipe they found in Redbook, and all I could think was "Puh-leeze." I couldn't wait to sneak away and play with the Hot Wheels cars I kept hidden between my mattress and box springs. That same year, when Tommy Cooper dared me to jump off the garage and I did it, I knew there was something different about me: I was straight.

Of course, I later went through the usual problems kids face growing up straight: I wasn't romantically interested in other boys, so the gay kids made fun of me. "Hetero!" they all sneered when I walked past. And I got beaten up when a bunch of the guys broke into my locker in high school and found a straight-porn magazine. Even the teachers didn't come to my defense. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why -- considering the way our society is -- but even the straight teachers kept mum. I guess they couldn't risk being outted, but -- helLO? -- Mr. Talamini? I don't care how bad your straightdar is -- you should be able to tell that guy is a flaming hetero from a mile away.

For awhile, I tried to be gay. I guess I just wanted to fit in. I feigned interest in my bed linen's thread count and acted excited about shopping for a new duvet, but that was just so Mom didn't catch on. But no matter how many mimosas I drank or how many romantic comedies I saw on TV (where EVERYbody was gay back then) or how many "Allguy" centerfolds I looked at, I just couldn't find men attractive. Maybe that's how God intended all people to be, but it just never appealed to me. In tenth grade, I always found myself daydreaming about the fantastic way Julie Ross' hips curved up into her tiny waist and the... well, not to be crass, but the rack on Connie Westerberg. There was no denying it: I was a boob man. I'm sorry if that grosses you out. No! I'm not sorry!

For awhile I thought, "What is wrong with me?!" but I guess I began to feel pretty comfortable being this way. I can remember one day when I thought, "They could put a gun to my head and fire to my feet and I still would not find Denny Shumate hot." That was an epiphany for me. After that, I embraced my heterosexuality. But I still wasn't ready to make it public.

Things were much better in college, where people weren't so heterophobic. Oh, sure, there were the occasional taunts. And once I got my GTO keyed. But, for the most part, I had good, tolerant friends who probably knew that I was straight. And, of course, the straight community stuck together. That's where I found my first true love. Now that I'm out, it angers me a little bit to think back about the way Cindy Maguire and I had to sneak around. If I could do it all over again, I'd walk right out on the quad, holding hands with her!

Aw, who am I kidding? That would have been foolish. Plus, I have to admit I sometimes relished the clandestine nature of our relationship. It was us against the world.

OK, that's enough nostalgia. Sorry to bore you with that trip down memory lane. The future is here and the past is past and I am a straight man! I'm proud of it. Get used to it.

So why am I doing this now? I'm not really sure. It was pretty comfortable there in the closet. And it's sometimes cold and scary on the outside. But I guess I just got tired of living a secret life. Always making a big deal out of browsing the Nordstrom windows. Laughing along when uncouth people made hurtful straight jokes. Pretending to care about wallpaper and flatware, for crying out loud. Yes, it was time.

And, yes, there will be tough times ahead. For instance, my wife (we're married, dammit, whether the government and the insurance companies recognize it or not) is having the same struggle I am, just being open about it after all these years. There will probably be awkward moments when I'll become suddenly insecure at a party wondering whether her boss knows and I'll nervously order an Absolut crantini instead of the Johnny Walker straight up I really want and I'll probably just let people wonder. And, of course, we're going to tell the kids that they're not adopted. That won't be easy.

But we'll get past those hurdles. And do you know why? Because I'm straight and I'm great! That's why!

Monday, April 05, 2004

Going Back to Work: Some Helpful Pointers
So, young American worker of the W economy, ya got laid off, huh? And you spent the first month of unemployment in denial, the second month licking your wounds, the third month surfing online job boards, the fourth month at Starbucks pretending to write a blockbuster screenplay, the fifth month reading reviews on of advice books written by personal life coaches, the sixth month Google-searching for career-profile tests, the seventh month lowering your standards, and the eighth month lowering your standards some more.

And now, three trimesters later and in the throes of extreme self-esteem contractions, you're about to give birth to the fruits of your slackerdom: You've accepted a job you hope will be your ticket back to the top. Congratulations.

And you stand before me today, seeking my advice on how to keep your new consolation-prize job from sucking out your very soul.

You have come to the right place. I have everything you need to know and I can sum it up in three words:

Lower Your Expectations.

Seriously. Don't wait. Do it today. If you have lingering optimism from the gentler, more sensible, more sophisticated, more efficient, more compassionate, more progressive, Clinton-era prosperity, it might trick you into overestimating what's to come. You must not let this happen. In your new job, people simply will be crabbier, less competent, less patient, and less personable than you expect. Expect it! The sooner you lower your expectations, the happier you'll be.

First, ask yourself: does what I'm doing matter? Of course it doesn't! Once you admit that, your new co-workers' little failures, sabotages, and extreme ham-handedness will seem much less significant. Ask yourself what is more important, that ten-million-dollar client your co-worker lost the company and blamed on you or your restful night's sleep? Trust me: it's the sleep. Calgon, take you away.

So please, take a look around your new workplace and familiarize yourself with the most extreme pockets of idiocy. Start with any computer-support personnel. Might as well take a sledgehammer to your CPU as ask any of those losers for help. Think of the time you'll save! And how about the HR staff? Monkeys with questionnaires, every one of them. Sales staff? Who knew slime could be so greasy? Quality Assurance? Be assured: there is no quality. And the people you work most closely with? They have issues. Not just major issues that practically live on their shoulders like anti-Mr.-Bluebirds, but specific issues with you, even though they barely know you. They do not like the cut of your jib. After all, they were in their crappy jobs all along while you were riding high in your hallucinathon. Yes, they are jib-haters. They have storm clouds overhead and if you get close, you will get rained on. At best.

And the boss? She seemed so smart at first. She seemed to really have it going on. Well, no. Not only is she slow on the uptake, she is also burdened by extreme greed and utter self-confidence. Count on your new boss to make the wrong decision, time and time again.

Is there a secretarial staff? They run the place. Do not cross them.

And, finally, the work. More than anything else, here is where you should Lower Your Expectations. I cannot emphasize this enough. You told yourself it was interesting and challenging, didn't you? Even important. But you knew even then you were fibbing to yourself. (You could always spot a liar, even when it was you.) Please admit to yourself today that the work is meaningless, irritating drudgery. When you have time to pace yourself on a project, it will be extremely boring, but that won't happen because you will never have time. It will always be urgent, but it will never be important. Just remember: some day you will look back on this job and you will be laughing too hard to vomit.

Oh, and try to eat right. Lots of fresh fruit. And carbs won't hurt you; don't believe what they say about carbs. Stay away from the red meat. No iffy fish! Avoid competence. Competence is out of fashion in the Bush era. Learn which keyboard commands will popup Excel to cover up Pretend your hearing isn't good. But above all, Lower Your Expectations.

Once you've successfully attuned your mind to lowered expectations, what then? Perhaps you will meditate on the suffering of others and foster loving kindness. Maybe you will write an epic poem of such beauty the world will weep. Or you could start surfing the Web for your next job.

I hope this helps.