Monthly Archives: January 2010

wanna Snickers or a ManCrunch?

Men have kissed on Superbowl commercials before – in this 2007 Snickers ad.

In that one we actually get a closeup of two mechanics, furtively munching down on both ends of Snickers bar, nose to nose.  Then lip to lip.  At the moment of recognition they jump away from each other, yell “We’ve got to do something manly!”  They pull their shirts up (hmm hmmm now…) and scream as they rip wads of chest hair off themselves.

This is actually quite a bit more “graphic” – even sexually – than the rejected ManCrunch.com commercial.  Two typical guys, one even with a half-hearted comb-over, are watching the game, one yells “in your face” as his team scores, and then their hands accidently touch as they both grab into the potato chip bowl…

They grab each other and play face – but you don’t see the kiss.  It is “how men kiss” in SNL skits – shot from the back, broad fumbling groping, heads bobbing back and forth.  Not sexy – or even sexual – at all.  (But I’m sure for some niche fetishists it is.)

You hear a guy singing what for all the world sounds like those corny retro Budweiser “Thank you, Mr. Zubaz Pants Wearing Guy, for making the rest of us fans look like fashionistas” commercials.  “I wanna kiiiisssss this guy..!”

You think it’s going to be just a silly commercial for Lay’s or something.  Like the Snickers ad.  Then the Mancrunch.com bumper, and finally back to a third guy sitting next to them looking at them with incredulous shock.

There is nothing gay about this.  And nothing enticing.  It totally fails as a “recruitment” tool, if that’s what some people are frightened of.  The two guys are not attractive.  (I mean by television standards – both are more attractive than I am).   The ManCrunch.com bumper come and goes so fast you barely have time to register it, to read its tagline.  I can’t tell if the song is supposed to be over the top obnoxious and just for laughs, or a male version of “I Kissed a Girl”, or a serious lament.

Obviously, if this were for anything but a gay website – for lip balm or Lay’s or NFL jersey shop – or fetuses – there would be no problem.  And I am waiting for the onslaught of youtube reduxes with something else popped in as the bumper.

CBS is the network that brings us CSI several times a week – how many CSI episodes don’t begin with the objectification of showing us the body of a sexy young woman murdered during or after kinky sex?

CBS is buckling under pressure, real or anticipated, from the good Christians of our nation, not to show two guys doing a comedy-skit “man kiss” followed by 3 seconds of a website name – but CBS is going to force you and me and 100 million Americans, including our children, to think about devout Pam Tebow having sex in the Philippines.

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a Republican Retreat – like with those “trust-building exercises”?

Before I got a chance to see it, I was reading that President Obama’s give and take at the Republican Retreat yesterday was an incredible political moment.

So by the time MSNBC aired their special rebroadcast with Olberman, Maddow and Matthews last night, I was expecting Beethoven’s Fucking Ninth.

I’ve watched the British Parliament’s Question Time, a one hour weekly event where the Prime Minister strides in – with a ridiculously huge book, for some reason – and faces down the opposition party.  It is acrimonious, MPs jabbing fingers as they speak, their voices rising, their colleagues pounding their hand on their benches in support and the Speaker forced to pound his or her gavel and call for order.  Afterward, I’m sure they all put their arms around each others’ shoulders and go out to the pub to down a pint.

During the Bush years you would watch it and think, “If George W. Bush ever did this, he’d be toast in the public arena before the end of the 2nd week’s Congressional Question Time.”  And you know he would never agreed to it.  Over halfway into his tete-a-tete-times-144, when asked how he was doing, Obama replied, “Y’know, I’m having fun! This is great.”

Apparently, yesterday’s event – open unvetted questions, no notes, broadcast live – is pretty much unprecedented in our lifetime.

And it was impressive, very impressive.  The man who is so cool he kills flies with the precision of Mr. Miyagi, while being interviewed and filmed, did an encore yesterday.

But in the way that sports events lose just about all their impact and excitement if you watch them after they happen – even if you are careful not to know out the final score – after reading someone’s tweet that it was the most exciting political interaction they had ever seen, I was expecting the verbal version of James Bond escaping certain death and turning the death ray itself to blow up the missile launch pad inside the hollowed out volcano.

For some reason – and any “reasons” involved in this kind of thing are ephemeral, untouchable, unknown at the time, usually a convergence of two or three or more little factors, tiny changes, often unrelated until the moment – Wednesday’s State of the Union Address and yesterday’s meeting were like two footprints of a stride President Obama has finally gotten into.   I just hope he doesn’t falter, either by a grain of self-doubt or a rock on the road hobbling him.

I’m also looking forward to listening to, if for just a few minutes, Limbaugh’s spin on Monday, what are going to be his blustering nattering criticisms of the “man-boy” who most of us voted into the presidency.  If he talks about it.

Foxnews.com has two articles on this event – and since they were posted 24 hours ago, only 1 comment between the 2:

Why nothing about the response to Rep. Hensarling’s question for Mr. Obama? I find it telling that Obama didn’t even get Mr. Hensarling’s name right – he called him ‘Jim” instead of “Jeb”.

That’s it.

And there is no mention of it on Humanevents.com.  (For comparison, check out the active comments posting on Foxnews.com’s article on Palin attending the upcoming Tea Party convention.)

MSNBC careened from the later rebroadcast of the 2-hour Olberman-Maddow-Matthews special into Lockdown: Dade County or whatever began their typical weekend “real crime” line-up.  Wonder if Fox News will have as much about the Republican Retreat this weekend as MSNBC.

Zoltar Speaks

This evening at the Lexington Co-op on Elmwood I bought some hot bar for dinner – battered fish, scallops, hush puppies – a 6-pack of organic cola, a bag of baked barbeque potato chips, and a chocolate mint-frosted brownie.

I shop for food like a 12 year old.

I buy the groceries that Josh Baskin would in Big.

It just struck me a few weeks ago, standing in line at the Co-op, with my usual armload of salty snack baked or not, giant cookie, Lexi-made organic fudge, rich hot deli selection or Lexi pizza.   Here is a place filled with healthy vegetables, fruits, roots, grass fed meat, sea caught fish, carefully, maybe even lovingly, selected.  From local farmers, from world spanning cooperatives, from people who would want me to eat healthy.  I see other people, even young men, place on the checkout belts carrots and onions, leafy tied bunches of things I have never eaten yet, yeasts in packages and miso in tubs and bottles of agave.  Guys who apparently know healthy, and know how to cook.

My diet is a throwback to my parents’ romanticized 1950’s.  I haven’t had the willpower to really bust out of it.

Sometimes I feel so old and so young at the same time.

Justin Timberlake is tone deaf

Justin Timberlake’s Help For Haiti Now’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is the fastest selling download of all time.  It’s a shame he obviously has no idea what it’s about.

Thinking Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is an appropriate supplication to God and succor for Haiti is about as smart as performing Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” to praise the tenacity of Haitian women.

It’s a song centerpieced with a pretty word.  A nice religious word, surrounded by a soft cascade of other words that touch on love and faith.  With just enough edge to keep your attention.

But “Hallelujah” is a song like Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”. Have you ever really listened to “Respect”?  She is telling her man she knows he is cheating on her, but as long as he pretends he doesn’t when he comes home, she’ll keep pretending she doesn’t know.  Nowadays who know that when a woman makes such a tradeoff  it is often the “gateway” for harder abuse.  But we still think it must just be an empowering, positive song, because after all that’s what those 7 letters are about.  She does feel some empowerment, in making her own money, but it is really is as much a part of its time as The Supreme’s “Love Child”.

Like the less subtle Village People’s “YMCA” or Frank Zappa’s “Dancing Fool”, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is ironic.  But it is at another level altogether, it is self-depricating irony, like 10cc’s “I’m not in Love”. As when Zappa sang “Love is for Assholes” onstage, when he said “assholes” he would literally point to himself.

Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is not a hymn in praise of God.  Cohen is a Zen Buddhist.  It is not even about imperative Christian faith in the face of confusion and pain – as would make it seem befitting about Haiti – although at first blush, with the music slow with its steady minor chords and some key phrases (David as “the baffled king composing ‘Hallelujah'”) someone not paying attention – or not used to working out subtlety – would think so.

“Hallelujah” comes from the mouth of a middle aged man stunned at the sustained power of sex and the love that comes from it.  Awed at the sway with which passion can still grip him.  It’s just that Judeo-Christian framework is the lingua franca of spirituality in our culture.

But this does not belong in a telethon for disaster relief:

“She tied you to her kitchen chair
She broke your throne
And she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew
a Hallelujah”

Granted, while in his 60s Leonard Cohen had the fortune and the wherewithal to get with Rebecca DeMornay at the height of her fame.  But his “Hallelujah” is his admission to being stunned by the tangible power of love and lust – and passion and sex – even after everything, through heartbreaks and losses, after being overwhelmed by fiery moments of coupling and eternities of loss.  By the cosmic joke that Love is the greatest of things and also the cruelest and the most fragile.

And this does not belong in a telethon for Haitian relief:

“Now maybe there’s a God above,
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Is how to shoot somebody
Who outdrew you”

And he admits that ever after his lifetime of spiritual seeking and his contemplative dispatches to us along his journey, all he knows is he is forever a fool for trying to pin down life and love.

I have not see the Shrek version, but here is kd lang – she understands “Hallelujah”.

walking to kindergarten again with Google Earth

I downloaded Google Earth and traced the route from my childhood home to my kindergarten school – from Sussex Street down Humber to East Delavan on Buffalo’s East Side.

This nostalgic journey was courtesy of a retweeted prompting from @zefrank (thanks @mjfrombuffalo) re his contributory project “a childhood walk”, http://www.zefrank.com/the_walk/

Amazingly, Sussex Street is still brick – at least it was when the cameraed Google truck rattled down it May 31, 2005.   The neighborhood was “transitioning” when we moved to Kenmore the summer after kindergarten, it must have been 1968. So I only spent kindergarten at (I think) School 23, now torn down, going to the afternoon sessions.   Walked home by the boy downstairs from us, in my memory he is adolescent, so much older than me.  But he was only in 2nd grade.  But now that I think of him, after so many decades without a thought of him,  I remember him being so tall, and with a man’s voice and stubbled chin. Odd.

The walk down Humber, a sidestreet ending at Sussex “running into” the house next to ours, was apparently longer than I remember, and I remember it as one long block down to East Delavan, the cross-street looks wrong.

The strangest thing looking at East Delavan Avenue, a secondary artery, which to my wide eyes and wider imagination was huge bustling metropolitan street. Cars and people, a cop as crossing guard sometimes in the afternoon when the school let out.   In reality that stretch is mostly residential, and it could not have changed much in the past 42 years.   But to chubby little 5-year-old me it was like downtown, or the magical furious energetic Big Cities I glimpsed on our black and white TV.   No, it’s two narrow lanes each way.  Just an ordinary Buffalo street with the occasional corner clustered with a couple businesses, churches, shops.

My kindergarten school was closed soon after we left, then torn down.   Now the site looks like it’s a community park – paved, fenced, some sculpture-like climbing equipment. Which is strange, because I remember the school’s playground was across the street, tiny and high-fenced – where there is now a church and its parking lot.

And sometimes my mother would walk with me while she carried Eileen, who is a year younger than me and back then was not expected to survive very long, a farther walk down East Delavan to Bailey – and that is such a longer walk than I remember, past factories with fenced parking lots, but a train viaduct I clearly remember has apparently been dismantled and the street underpass brought up to grade and paved smooth. The branch library we went to is still there on the far corner of Bailey. I used to sit in the polite circle for a storytime reading while my mother cradling Eileen would visit quietly with other young mothers

A very interesting exercise with Google Earth – if disappointingly unrevelatory for me. You should try it yourself.

Father Baker’s Boys

If you grew up in or near Buffalo and you’re of a certain age, you remember your parents, exasperated or just cruel, threatening to drop you of at Father Baker’s.   The orphanage and home for “troubled boys” across the street from Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna.

I actually remember being driven to (but fortunately past, with only a threat from my father) the alternative, Wyndham Lawn orphanage in Lockport.  Funny that I work for a social services coalition that includes both of them, now Baker Victory Services and New Directions Youth and Family Services.  This week we are hosting a training class at Baker Victory Services.

Did you know Father Nelson Baker fought in the Civil War, and his regiment helped quell the New York City Draft Riots?  The war set him to soul searching and he entered seminary a few years later, and wasn’t ordained until he was 35.  He lived to 95.

In the hallways now hang photographs of “Father Baker’s Boys”.  Some sepia toned, some fading black & white, mostly groups of pre-adolescent boys, orphans and “troubled boys”, invariably in white shirts and dark pants, usually with dark ties, some in baggy knickers, some in stiff celluloid collars of a certain period, a very few girls, some toddlers and babies.  One of bespectacled Father Baker sitting reed-thin and serene among two dozen infants, almost all, both boys and girls, in frilly dresses as was the custom at the end of the 19th century (it wasn’t just Hemingway…).  Most of the photos are of groups, only one I saw was of a single child, a baby infectiously grinning into a mirror.

But the boys rarely smile.

Even when collected jostled together to fit into a group shot on the grounds on a summer day, even when showing off their singular Christmas presents – a metal toy aeroplane, an early toy stand-up telephone, a baseball glove, a doll.   They show them off proudly, but they don’t smile like we now do.  And the rare smile is often a nascent in-your-face smirk – you can imagine a cigarette dangling from those mouths later in the day huddling with their fellows hiding around a corner of the brick complex.  More often they look at you hard, their brows furrowed, their mouths set.  Their generation did not feel the pressure that we do to smile at the camera, the expectation to tell the world or pretend to tell the world we want to party.  Their lives, their homes even here, were filled with the odors of wool and wood.  Someone had given up on each of these boys.  But someone, eventually, hadn’t.

Of course I wonder how many of those boys didn’t survive long, killed by bullets or influenza in the muddy trenches of France, or blasted running up Omaha Beach, maybe even heroes, finally, but unable to plead with their dying breath, as so many fallen soldiers did then, “My mother…”

And I wonder how many of those boys grew into this smirks, those fierce-browed barely suppressed snarls – if any murdered, and how many beat their wives, how many stole, how many spent the nights of their lives downing beers at the bar or growling at the world from their easy chairs.

And how many smiled shyly at a girl one day, awkwardly, and handed her a flower.  Who eventually had women, wives, daughters, smile quietly to themselves when they strode into the room.  How many became doctors, teachers, businessmen who ran the Rotary Club.  How many became happy dads, pipe clutched in teeth, showing a son how to oil a baseball glove, telling a daughter how very pretty she looked in her brand new dress.

(one of) my little compulsion(s)

In The Aviator, Leonardo DiCaprio does a remarkable job portraying Howard Hughes as prisoner to his compulsions – but a knowing prisoner.  Ever as he as Hughes mumbles words and phrases repetitively – not deliberate incantations, but unwilled convulsions – when his glance sweeps toward the camera we see the flashes of fear and corked anger in his blue eyes, the twitching attempts to control his moustache-draped mouth – we know he knows what is going on, he hates it, he is furious at his betraying mind and body.  And he knows he is helpless.

I am compulsive when I park my van.

(It’s a ’99 Dodge Caravan, it was great for keeping boxes of material and supplies when my job included putting on a series of monthly offsite trainings, but I usually refer to it as “my car” so people don’t think I keep a resined bong hidden under shag carpeting and Bad Company lined up on the stereo).

When I get home – I park on the street, and it is one-way with alternate daytime parking so I will park on both sides – I have to make sure the tires aren’t touching the curb.  Or the hard packed snow piles that grow out past the curb.  Or that my tires aren’t more than a foot away.  As I step out, I bite my key between my teeth so I know I have it.  I twist back and try the door handle again to make sure I did, indeed, push the embedded lock button down.  I look into the window making a visual on the lock button.  I run my finger along the top of the window to make sure there is no gap between the glass and the rubbery plastic seal.  (I’m one of those people who crack the window when I drive no matter how rainy or freezing it is).

I look through the window to the passenger side – make sure that lock button is down and the window handle is in the position it is when the that window is all the way up.  I lean forward, check behind the seats to make sure the third door, on the passenger side for the second seats, is also locked, the button half-way embedded in its indented sleeve.  If it is night or raining, I check the lights dial to make sure the headlights are really off.

I tug the driver’s door handle again, maybe twice.  Then I step around to the back of the Caravan, grab and make sure the hatch is locked.  Peer inside the tinted windows to see what someone studying cars to break in would see.  Sometimes I walk all the way around the car – yes, after have done the visual on the passenger side window and locks – and tug on those door handles.  And back around the front to tug on the driver door handle.

And then I walk away.  Is it really locked? And then I turn back  – I look up to see if my neighbor across the street who knows I do this might be on her porch, watching.  If she isn’t I walk back to my van, tug on the handle again.  And if she is I walk back to my van, tug on the handle again.

And if I have kept the door open for more than a few moments while stepping out, organizing myself and grabbing up things – the interior lights come on.  So I will stand there the minute it takes for the lights to go out.   They always have.

I know an unseen hand won’t sweep down and undo what I’ve just done, magically unlock my doors, mysteriously flick my inside lights on.   But at the same moment I also don’t know…

And yes, right now I have a burning need to at least go to the window and make sure my van is still there, hunkering and dark.