Monday, March 29, 2004

Oh, For Nothingness' Sake!
The kids are at it again. Asking the tough questions. Now they want to know, "If God created everything, who created God?"

"That's easy," I said. "Santa."

"Da-ad." Two syllables. Busted.

"Go ask Mom."


"I'm serious," I said, consulting an imaginary clipboard. "She's in charge of math, science, social studies, foreign language, humanities, art, PE and secular proof of the existence of God. I'm in charge of Language Arts and ... well, Language Arts."


"OK," I said, taking a more solemn tone. "You've asked an important question that's challenged the world's great thinkers -- Plato, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Soren Kierkegaard, Bertrand Russell, Mel Gibson -- for centuries. And they all agree. The answer is..." and then I pointed over their shoulders to a spot behind them and said, "Hey! Is that Jessica Simpson?" When they turned to look, I ran away as fast as I could.

Whew, that was a close one. But as I ran, I began to think about their question's implications. Is there a God, really? There must be. Proof is all around me. For instance, when my little nephew Wylie jumps on the bed and smacks the daylights out of me with pillows, the experience feels too profoundly cool to have come about by random evolution. Maybe it's just me, but I've found it's hard to have a really great pillow fight with a cute tow-headed kid while remaining an atheist.

But that's just the tip of the Godberg. My wife. My kids. My family, my friends. The Red River Gorge. Homegrown tomatoes. Geodes. The harmonies in that Barenaked Ladies song, "If I Had A Million Dollars." Also: bare naked ladies. There must be a God. And clearly, God has a sense of humor (Ozzy Osbourne, the manatee, flatulence).

But wait. If there is a God, how can you explain veal? The 2003 Yankees-Red Sox ALCS Game Seven? Fox News? Those forms they make you fill out when you go to the doctor? Mitch McConnell? I guess there isn't a God after all. (So maybe I should change the name of this blog. Let me know if you have suggestions.)

Still running (the kids were gaining on me), I decided instead to think about riddles that were easier to solve, such as Why did Mel Gibson make such a bloody, gruesome, pornographically violent movie about Jesus Christ? Answer: because there is something wrong with his brain.

That much is obvious. But that doesn't explain why so many people went to see it. Most movies dealing with Jesus' crucifixion show him getting whipped, crowned with thorns, and nailed to the cross with a few brief shots of the torture and grimaces on the actor's face. You get the idea: ouch. Torture. Pain. Suffering. Check. Got it.

So why do we suddenly need to see a movie so graphically violent that it would undoubtedly have appalled Christ? WHILE he was being crucified. Are people in our culture so numb from the never-ending cycle of fictional violence and real violence that we can't understand the idea of torture without such a jolting display? At this rate, pretty soon we will have to BE tortured to get the idea (and I'm not talking about David Spade movies). Hint: If they're issuing thorns and nails with each paid admission next time you go to the movies, you might want to stay home and rent School of Rock instead.

But clearly, Mel Gibson is onto something. Now that he's cemented himself as master of the salvation-via-bludgeoning genre, I'm sure he'll want to branch out:

Mel Gibson's upcoming biopics:

Fangs for the Memories: the Story of Beowulf
In a 90-second montage, the mighty warrior Beowulf rescues the Danish king Hrothgar from the monster Grendel, and kills Grendel, his mother, and a fire-breathing dragon. But Beowulf is mortally wounded by the dragon's poisonous fangs, which rip his flesh to bloody, ribbons of mealy meat, exposing the bones and ligaments and warrior goo and internal organs and hairy pustules of putrid unknown innards, which is the subject of the film's final 180 minutes. Major themes explored: courage, loyalty, and the smell of human entrails, which is broadcast into theaters using innovative new SurroundSmell technology. In Old English, with New, Improved English subtitles.

Joan of Arc: Some Like It Not So Hot
After an exhaustive half-minute examination of The Hundred Years' War, the movie turns its attention to King Charles VII and the magical powers of young Joan (for another seven seconds), then warms up the audience with a 119-minute bonfire, during which the young, soothsaying warrior's body burns to a cracklin' crisp. A bloodthirsty crowd taunts Joan as her hair and face catch fire and the movie uses slow-motion and stop-action to great effect as each eyebrow hair combusts individually, while Joan's agonized grimace is ultimately obscured by the large blisters and, finally, black-seared flesh that consume her entire body. Major themes explored: heresy, witchcraft, evil, hot chicks in armor. French, with English subtitles.

Gravity is a Bitch: The Wile E. Coyote Story
The movie's first twelve seconds explore the desert food chain, the complex relationship between predator and prey, and the redemptive value of everyday objects, such as paint and anvils. The remaining hour and forty five minutes of the movie is an extended scene of the coyote falling off a cliff, including a ten-minute-long, highly stylized close-up of the impact, after which countless boulders rain down upon the already pile-driven animal's body and three grisly lumps rise from his head, spewing a never-ending stream of blood and bits of coyote flesh. Major themes explored: suffering, deception, and the momentary, ultimately futile ability to overcome gravity by running in place in midair. Subtitles: mostly in the form of signs held up by the coyote. Product placement: Acme Corporation.

But then the kids caught up.

"I'm glad you're here," I said, trying to catch my breath. "Sit down and let me describe the story of God, as told by Mel Gibson... Hey! Come back here!..."

Monday, March 22, 2004

The other day I took my daughter Laura and two of her friends to Mall St Matthews to do important mall stuff, such as checking out boys, being checked out by boys, shopping for Britney-inspired fashions, and, for me, soul evisceration. If Saint Matthew had known this mall loomed on the horizon, he would have had second thoughts about getting into that whole gospel-writing business. The place is a neon shrine to despair, crowded with stylish, beautiful people with deeply unhappy expressions on their meticulously moisturized faces.

Of course (perhaps owing in part to my sunny mall disposition), the girls ditched me immediately upon arrival. So I wandered around and distracted myself with the mall's special blend of luxury and misery. Every female was dressed in some variation of the Britney look, including little bitty girls whose parents should know better, middle-aged women who obviously do not own mirrors, and every age in between. I fully expect to see septuagenarian mall-walkers wearing low-riding chinos and spaghetti-strap halters one of these days. All the males wore clothing approximately six sizes too large, giving the appearance that Shaquille O'Neal had borrowed their clothes and given them back. Or maybe they've heard about the obesity epidemic in America and are just buying for the size they'll be after a few more months eating in the food court.

After a bit of people-watching and subsequent eye-rolling, I check the time. I'd promised the girls one hour of mall time. Five minutes have gone by. Dejected, I trudge in the direction of the one mall store I can abide, the lone sanctuary in this cornucopia of dreck: the bookstore. Because the mall gods have tacked on new stores over the years, the building has become a snaking, meandering mess and I now move in the direction of the bookstore, like a partially digested rat through a python, passing store after store with $200 sneakers, ear-and-other-place piercing opportunities, soft-porn rap videos, and emollients and exfoliants extracted from rainforests located in countries unidentifiable to their customers outside the cosmetics context. Finally, I turn the corner where the bookstore has been for twenty years, step inside, and realize I am standing in a Guess Jeans store. I think "oops," step back outside, rub my eyes, and stare: The bookstore is gone. Let me repeat: The bookstore is gone!

I shake off the notion that there is no bookstore in the mall and decide that, like all retailers, a major conglomerate probably bought them out, expanded their inventory and they now have their own giant wing somewhere else in the mall. On the way to the "You Are Here" mall directory sign, I begin to relish the idea of the newly expanded bookstore and wonder what they'll have, now that they've undoubtedly branched out beyond their usual six-dozen picture book titles on Nine Eleven and their Wall o' Harry Potter. Maybe they even have German poets now. I could go for some Rilke to help extinguish the burning rash I've developed from the mall crabs.

At the mall directory, I breathe a sigh of relief when I spot "Books, Cards, and Gifts" as a category in the list of stores. Scanning down the list, I see Spencer's Gifts, Carlton Cards, The Discovery Channel Store, Shit 'n' Stuff, Hallmark Cards, Just Stink In A Can, and the UK Wildcat Christmas Ornaments kiosk. I begin to panic. I read the list again. I begin to face facts: There is no bookstore in the mall.

There is no bookstore in the mall!

Stunned, I begin to wander aimlessly around the mall, wondering how this could be. Ever since I was a kid, the mall bookstore – crappy as it always is; halfway between a real bookstore and not a bookstore at all, *but at least halfway there* – has been the mall's one redeeming merchant, the one place inside the mall where I could make time speed back up to its normal pace and whiff the aroma of something unperfumed. Shaking my head, I hurry past Abercrombie and Aeropostale and other A-themed merchants in a futile search for a B Dalton. Nothing. No Waldenbooks. Not even a Christian bookstore full of zombies with greasy comb tracks in their hair who laugh out loud at "Garfield." Finally, I have walked past every ridiculous shop in Mall St. Matthews: every shrine to American opulence and greed, every taunting tease to Al Qaeda; I have seen enough pierced navels and smelled enough Cinnabons and gagged on enough scented candles and averted my eye from enough text-messaging hipsters and scurried from enough manicures and pedicures to send the Osameter's needle spinning out of control. I have Sbarroed, Lorded, Taylored, Williamsed, Sanomaed, Chick-Fil-Aed, JC Pennied, Victoria's Secreted (OK, twice. Slowly.), and Pottery Barned. And I have not seen one single book, magazine, or newspaper. Not even an audio book. Not even an overpriced, plastic-coated, Lemony Snicket bookmark. Nothing. I wanted to weep.

Instead, I found Laura at the video store. "Do you realize there is no bookstore in the mall anymore?"

"Um, thanks, Dad, for that update. Maybe you could buy a movie based on a book?" She gets her sense of humor from me.

"I'm not kidding," I say. "There really is no bookstore in the mall anymore! Do you realize what that says about our society?"

She says, "Dad. Maybe you should drive to Borders? It's got, like, six billion books and it's, like, a block from here?" She actually has that upward inflection in her voice. Clearly, she pities me in a way that oversteps the bounds of normal father/daughter relations.

So I took her advice, while mentally adding the mall to the List of Places I Will Never Go Unless Dragged By Rabid Wolverines, along with McDonald's, Wal-Mart, any event that requires dressing up like a character from a movie, Cracker Barrel, the God Dome, Chuck E. Cheese, NASCAR, Israel, Palestine, and any musical performance involving bagpipes.

On the plus side, they sell beer at the Tumbleweed in the food court. Bring your own book.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Charlton Heston's Chicken-Fried, Whale-Nuking, Corporate Ballsack of Values
America, the land where insipid metal band Anthrax must have immediately thought "ka-ching!" when its namesake powder started appearing in mail rooms up and down the eastern seaboard, has always been the rich compost from which capitalistic irony blossoms. So I shouldn't have been surprised when I recently experienced the fruit of this loam right here on these very pages: The enemy advertised.

Oh, For God's Sake is, of course, a "blog," which is short for "blowhard grousing." I publish OFGS using free software provided by Blogger, which I imagine is the screen name for a 14-year-old computer genius who runs the site out of his parents' pool house. Blogger provides the software for free by selling advertising in the form of banner ads that appear on the top of all its pages. These ads are created on the fly by Google, which I imagine is the nickname for a 13-year-old Boolean-logic/advertising genius who runs the company out of her mom's HumVee's glove compartment.

At least I think that's how it works. I really have no idea and hadn't given it more than a second's thought until I started noticing what kind of ads appeared on these pages. (Let me state the obvious: I don't get a penny of any advertising revenue generated by this blog. I can assure you that when it comes to selling my words, money is as elusive to me as the description "down to earth" is to the fans of The Polyphonic Spree.) Like most people who've used the Web for more than one week, I've trained my eyes not to notice banner ads. But recently, an ad on this very page caught my eye and I started paying attention.

Apparently, the clever Google software looks at a page's content and tries to guess what kind of advertising might appeal to its readers. It then displays a content-related ad on that page automatically. Chances are pretty good, it reckons, that if you're reading a story about sports, you might click on a banner ad for athletic shoes. Or if you're reading a blog about food, you might click on an ad for a gourmet food site. Or if you're reading about kundalini tantra, you might click on an ad for the Orgasmillator 3000.

Brilliant, right? Well, not exactly. When I started looking at my own pages and what kinds of ads appeared, a pattern emerged. On a recent OFGS making fun of workplace security badges, an ad appeared for "ID SuperStore," which sells accessories for the very badges I was making fun of. Amusing, but relatively harmless (other than the heart-wrenching reality that people are cashing in on our terror). But whoa: My bitchfiesta about W's Mars plans sported an ad for something called BlastPad, which apparently is an "Advanced Missile Launch System." Eeek! To my horror, my vege-nazi screeds about mad cow disease had banner ads for Laura's Lean Beef! And my rant about SUVs had an ad for the new Lexus Behemoth! Well, oops. Reading these, I became as forlorn as Jeff Lynne listening to a radio station's Who's-your-favorite-Traveling-Wilbury call-in show.

But notice the pattern? Whatever I'm against, Blogger/Google (Bloogle? Gogger?) is for! Those bastards can instantly undo with a simple, elegant banner ad untold minutes of painstakingly crafted Oh, For God Sakeses.

(Newsflash: I just googled Google and guess what? Google owns Blogger. Gobbled em up last year. Well, of course. Just another footnote in the great corporate-takeover orgy leading up to the eventual panacea in which Disney owns everything until it's bought by Microsoft and, finally, Wal-Mart, at which point we can all go to Wal-Mart, hand over the last of our money in exchange for a razor-sharp Leatherman, cut out our vital organs, and die.)

Now just because aliens came to this planet, kidnapped the Lindbergh baby, assassinated Kennedy, and brought us Matt Lauer, OJ, Donald Rumsfeld, and Microsoft Office does not make me a conspiracy nut. So I don't believe that Bloogle is intentionally trying to subvert my opinions with its advertising. Still [Diane Lane], it might not be a bad idea [Pad Kee Mow] to throw them off the trail [Sierra Nevada Pale Ale] by dropping in random keywords [Stephen Colbert] associated with things I love, just to see what kind of advertising follows.

Or maybe repetition is the ticket. You know what would be great right now? Chocolate! Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!

That oughta fix their robotic wagon!

But I'm now half-afraid to mention the utterly heinous shitballs of the world because of the banner ads I might conjure. If I lambaste the war in Iraq, will my page feature an ad for Halliburton's loving kindness? If I mention urban sprawl will an ad for a real-estate developer appear? If I mention America's insane, fetishistic, horndog lust for firearms, will an NRA-recruitment ad appear? It's like playing Bloogle roulette!

But then again, being the sharp, sophisticated, contrary, (and spectacularly sexy) people you are, you're not going to fall for a stupid banner ad created by a misguided search engine. So what if an animal-rights rant accompanies an ad for cosmetics? So what if I poke fun at phantom WMDs under a banner ad for a Toby Keith CD? So what if my pointed barbs at all the flaccid pricks out there get me an ad for Cialis? So what if my blog is more oxymoronic than the Center for Progressive Christianity?

This is big ol' goofy America, right? This is where "Won't Get Fooled Again" became a car commercial. Where "Save the Planet" is the motto of a chain of shitty restaurants. Where you can buy Jerry Garcia neckties and Jesus Is My Homeboy trucker caps. If ya can't beat em, blog em.

So, Bloogle? Try to make some fuckin' sense out of the title of this diatribe, I dare ya. Hit me with your best ad. And God bless America.

Monday, March 08, 2004

The Unabroaster Manifesto
Isn't it adorable how children will blurt out things that all the adults are thinking but are too polite to say? For example, my kids want to know why we can't find Osama bin Laden for crying out fucking loud. (I'm paraphrasing.) The man's missing half his toes, is on dialysis, walks with a cane, is taller than LeBron James, and looks like a holy-card saint who came back from 'Nam hooked on smack. Can it be that tricky getting the cuffs on this guy?

I tried to explain to the kids that it's harder than it might seem, given the technical challenges. In the vast mountain-and-desert expanse of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, with nary a Starbucks in sight, it's hard to get a good signal on Uncle Sam's wireless BlackBerry inside the USA Hummer, let alone get to draw a decent map. Plus, every time the Hummer hits a bump, the DVD screens drop down out of the ceiling, smacking our operatives on their heads. And don't even get Uncle Sam started on all that refinance-your-mortgage and grow-new-hair spam clogging the Pentagon's inboxes.

If the threat of terrorism is anything like the onslaught of our own serial-annoying technology, the war against it is going to be longer than a Louis Rukeyser marathon during PBS pledge-drive week and John Kerry's face combined. I don’t mean to denigrate the valiant efforts to eradicate terrorism (you know, like the recent inspection I witnessed of the Dora the Explorer sneakers on the toddler ahead of me at the airport), but I spend far more time being tortured by technology than by the threat of suicide bombers or North Korea's long-range nukes. (Although nuclear missiles that can reach our west coast ARE troublesome. Oh, wait. Reality TV… Arnold... Neverland Ranch… the Oakland Raiders. Maybe we should wait until they can reach Nevada. No, wait. Utah. Look, just call me when they can reach Owensboro.)

Maybe before we can make headway in the war on terror, we should first declare war on our own techno-evildoers here at home: the miscreants who foist annoying everyday products on us. How can we expect to stop al-Qaeda when we can't even stop browser popup ads? In fact, if the terrorists are patient, we'll probably just irritate ourselves to death.

Can we divert some resources toward reining in the mind-boggling annoyances of Windows, cell phones, ATMs, gas pumps, home appliances, voicemail, auto-flush toilets, spam, Spam, and, perhaps most insidious of all, the "check engine" light? "YOU check the engine," I always want to scream. "You're the computer! All I know to check is my bank balance because every time YOU come on it costs me $500! But I can't check my balance because the ATM is 'temporarily out of service!'" Ahem. Where were we? Oh, yes, we must root out the techno-offenders, wherever they rear their nasty little heads. So, GeeDubs – are you listening? – here are some suggestions for where to start:

Pay-at-the-pump. OK, I salute any invention that keeps me from having to actually interact with another human being. And yet, the keypad interface on those gas pumps at the Bets 'n' Butts can be more annoying and less congenial than an actual gas-station clerk. Meanwhile, some of these keypads have enough buttons on them to run the Mars Rover, DisneyWorld, and portions of Dick Cheney's facial muscles, yet only two of the buttons seem to be of any use whatsoever: Yes and No. What do all of these keys do? (I'm convinced they're somehow connected to crop circles, but I haven't worked out the details yet.) Also, when I am shivering at the gas pump waiting for the tank to fill, why do I have to wait until 30 seconds AFTER the pump is finished to press Yes to request a receipt? During the fill-up, is the keypad paralyzed by the daunting task of accepting a Yes or No while the gas pump tries to sell me a 12-piece box of broasted chicken, a five-gallon tub of Coke, a carton of Lungsludge Lights and an $8 carwash? And what is broasting, anyway?

And how about personal computers? PCs can show live video from the other side of the world, manage billion-dollar businesses, and search for extraterrestrial life, but click in the wrong spot twice and they suddenly collapse like Elvis after a double-decker fried L-Tryptophan and Quaalude hoagie. If computers are so smart, how come they don't know when they're on the brink of crashing? Even more perplexing: why does restarting help? They're like the coyote that falls off a cliff with an anvil and then magically reappears in the next scene, good as new.

How about cell phones? Could they possibly be any harder to use? I have to navigate through seven menus to turn my phone's ringer off. How can we get pissed at people whose phones ring during dinner or a moving theatrical performance -- say the exquisite moment during La Boheme when Rodolfo rushes to the dying Mimi or during Kid Rock's Early Mornin' Stoned Pimp encore when the caged strippers get doused in oil -- when it's next to impossible to turn off the phone's ringer? That poor fool whose cell phone is ringing isn't rude. He just can't figure out how to turn the damn thing off. (Tip: Here's a quicker way to make your phone silent: smash it with your Tivo.)

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. How about the ATM that tells me I'm overdrawn 20 bucks AFTER it spits out $100? This genius technology can recognize my PIN in Kuala Lumpur, but it can't warn me I'm about to take out more money than I have in the account? Why does my Maytag dryer make an eardrum-piercing alarm when the clothes are dry? Are the manufacturers worried that their customers need another clue besides the fact that the dryer is NO LONGER RUNNING? And if it must sound an alarm, why doesn't it play a recording of, say, Ashley Judd declaring, "You've Got Clothes!" How about those remote car locks that honk the horn each time the driver presses them, frightening an already terrified populace nearly out of its collective skin? Is that really necessary? And Regis! For the love of God, can't somebody stop this creature?!

OK. So I had to explain to the kids that catching the bad guys isn't as easy as it might seem. But somehow, some way, we must restore America to its former greatness: an America mercifully free of terrorism. And extended warranties. And phones with cameras. And inkjet cartridges. And Kroger Plus Cards. And …

Monday, March 01, 2004

[This Oh, For God's Sake originally appeared on February 28, 1971. -ed.]

Sixth Grade is a Pain in the Ass
Sixth Grade at St. Mary's School is a pain in the ass. I thought fifth grade was bad but sixth grade is even worse. At least in fifth grade, Sister Rose Ann was dense enough that you could get away with shit, especially on field trips. But this year, Mr. Thompson is a complete psycho.

If you don't believe me just ask Mike Fink, who got smacked upside the head with a chalkboard eraser for talking in math class. Mr. Thompson was plenty sly about it, too. I mean, he just moseyed up to the blackboard like he was going to do a math problem or something. You had no idea he was even paying any attention to Mike at all. And poor ol' Mike, he had his back turned and was whispering to Susan Mellencamp -- a human cootie if ever there was one -- and Thompson kept talking about goddam fractions and shit while he reached for the eraser. Well, he whipped around and hurled that thing right down the aisle so fast you couldn't even see it -- I could hear it whizzing as it flew past me -- and it hit Mike right upside the head: POW!!!!

The thing is, I think Mr. Thompson probably meant to hit him a little softer and lower like maybe in the back or shoulder, but the eraser trailed high like a Vida Blue fastball and Mike turned back around toward the front of the room at like the worst possible second and he took that eraser right in the side of the face. You could see the long, thin rectangles of chalk all down his cheek, looking just like the business side of an eraser. One thing you can say, Mike Fink doesn't talk to Susan Mellencamp in class any more.

Here's something else pain-in-the-ass about sixth grade: sex education. We had our first class yesterday, boys only. The girls had theirs last month. They teach sex to the girls first and then to the boys, don't ask me why. Gives them a running head start I guess.

So ol' Thompson laid it all on the line for us, telling us all about underpit deodorant and our voices changing and needing to shave and crap like that for 45 minutes, and then spent about five seconds explaining what goes where when you're making babies and all that gross kinda shit, and he figured he'd stretched it until the end of the class period. Only he looked at the clock and there were five minutes left. So he goes, "any questions?" which of course means shut the hell up and sit on your hands. Any retard knows that much.

But what do you think happened? That dumbass Joe Picklebach piped up, "Mr. Thompson, um, I was wondering, um, how long do you have to keep it in there?" We are like five minutes from escaping sex ed and Picklebach wants to know how long he hasta keep his wiener inside a vagina to get a girl pregnant! Oh, crap, you shoulda heard the laughing. Johnny Probus laughed so hard he let slip a fart.

So then ol' Thompson, he got kinda steamed at all the laughing and said it's a good question and yelled at everybody to pipe down and then Kenny Hardin went, "Yeah, Johnny, and no more farting, either!" And then Johnny went, "shutup Hardon," and then the laughing started all over again. So finally, Mr. Thompson got everybody quiet again and looked all serious at Joe and, to be honest, I was a little curious about what the answer was going to be but ol' Thomspon went completely blank! He just stood there looking like God's own statue of a dumbass. This went on for about a hundred weeks and I was dying for the guy to say something, anything! Finally, he got this even stupider look on his face and he went, "When the time comes, you'll know, Joe," and after a second of silence everybody cracked up again so much we almost couldn't hear the bell ringing.

Then, to top that, Cheryl Mountjoy puked up her communion wafer from the 8 o'clock mass right in the middle of English class. They had to call in Father George to clean it up because nobody can touch the Body of Christ except a priest, even if it's been eaten and ralphed back up. So, ol' Father George, he pours some kitty litter on top of the pile of puke to make cleaning it up less gross but I guess it didn't work because then he started gagging, which got some of the other kids gagging and finally we all got to go out on the playground for some fresh air before the whole goddam school upchucked their communion wafers, so at least that beat the hell out of English class. But other than that, sixth grade is a pain in the ass.