Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Help Wanted Ad of the Week:
On payday, you'll be loaded

This help-wanted ad appeared in the Randolph (Vermont) Herald, undoubtedly causing the town's 146 slacker kids to rush downtown:
Do you wake up in the morning getting high? Do you think you can make a career out of getting high? Do you work well while high? Do you have higher aspirations for getting high? Are you looking for a higher salary? If so, come get high with Chimney Savers, 728-3900. Call the office for higher employment to reach new heights tomorrow.

Who jumps from the Golden Gate Bridge?

More than 1,250 people have leapt to their deaths from the Golden Gate Bridge in the past 70 years, and a mythology has emerged that they come from all over the world to end their lives at the famous span.

But a report by the Marin County Coroner's Office, which investigates most of the leaps, proves otherwise.

In fact, more than 85 percent of the jumpers are locals, say coroner stats from 1996 to now. The average jumper was a white 41-year-old man. Male suicides outnumber females nearly 3 to 1. And 83 percent of all suicides are white. The youngest was a 14-year-old girl and the oldest was an 84-year-old man.

On average, two people commit suicide every month at the bridge, but right now the suicide rate there is running about three a month.

And three of every four suicides are witnessed by tourists or commuters.

Ashes to ashes: How to get hung after you die

What if you died and came back as ... a pencil?

Well, you gotta admit it's more likely than coming back as a billionaire princess who will win the Nobel Prize for economics and star in your own reality TV show.

Using about a tablespoon of your cremated ashes, a Canadian artist will make a pencil that he'll use to draw a portrait of you. That way, Lucas Seaward of Honor Industries can literally put a little of you in every portrait he draws.

"My objective is to capture the essence of that individual," Seaward says. No duh.

It ain't cheap. Prices start at about $4,700. But you're dead so you don't really care. The kids will pay.

And because you're dead, you can't criticize Seaward's work either. But Seaward is a pretty good artist, as you can see from his "regular" graphite drawing of Albert Einstein.

Your cremated ashes -- your carbon -- can also be made into a diamond by at least one company, LifeGem. This is an Earth-friendly way to say "I've got Grandma wrapped around my little finger." For less than the cost of a headstone!

As for me, I plan to have some of my ashes sprinkled in the inkwell of a daily newspaper press so that every paper rolling off will have a little of me in it. Every puppy that gets paper-trained ... every birdcage that gets lined ... every fish that gets wrapped ... well, nobody said dying was gonna be hygienic.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Mysterious giant bird in San Antonio?

This photo purports to show hunters from the late 1800s or early 1900s
with a large 'thunderbird' they have shot

Now, you'd think if there was a ginormous bird gliding over a major U.S. city that's home to a couple big Air Force bases, lots of people would see it. So would radar, airplane pilots and Homeland Security.

But isolated reports of a giant black bird with a wingspan of up to 20 feet continue and the latest is from ... a San Antonio newspaper carrier in a very populous part of town? Why are UFO's, Loch Ness monsters and undead dinosaurs always seen by people whose credibility is only slightly higher than Lindsay Lohan's? Why aren't they ever seen by a priest or a stadium full of 50,000 people?

Is it an ancient "thunderbird" from Native American mythology? A holdover from the Ice Age? A crow whose wingspan grows with each retelling? An urban myth come to life?

I dunno. But this is the only story you're ever likely to read that uses the phrase "slightly less extinct."

Friday, July 27, 2007

Who needs Match.com?
These guys can help you dig up a date in Wisconsin

In Connecticut, it might a felony to bash the vandals who bashed your mailbox, but in Wisconsin, it's entirely legal to have sex with a corpse.

Last September, three guys went to a cemetery in Cassville, Wis., to dig up the body of Laura Tennessen, a 20-year-old girl killed a week before in a motorcycle crash (pictured below right). Seems they'd seem her obituary photo and thought she was a hottie. So naturally they wanted to have sex with her. Apparently the "being dead" part wasn't a deal-buster.

But a judge dismissed the necrophilia charges against twin brothers Nicholas and Alexander Grunke and Dustin Radke, all 21. Why? In Wisconsin, it's not against the law to have sex with corpses. (These fun-loving fellas still face misdemeanor theft charges, because it IS against the law to steal a corpse in Wisconsin, just not to diddle it.) An appeals court has upheld the dismissal of the charges.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know our justice system isn't perfect, it's just the best one we have. But if our justice system can't smack a couple grave-robbing, corpse-diddling freaks, it's farther from perfect than we thought.

Boys will be boys ...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Mailbox Baseball
Homeowner knocks two out ... and gets benched

Every homeowner harbors a common suburban revenge fantasy. They all dream of ways to confound -- and possibly wound grievously -- teenagers who play "mailbox baseball," a late-night game in which vandals skulk around destroying mailboxes with baseball bats. My personal fantasy involves rigging a small nuclear device to the mailbox that explodes when somebody hits it with a bat, killing or blinding everyone within 16 feet at the moment of impact ... presumably the cretins who bashed the mailbox.

Like most fantasies, making it happen is a lot harder than imagining it over and over. I admit I know nothing of making nuclear devices, especially ones that would be limited to 16 feet. And I like my mailman too much for there to be an atomic accident that would kill him and all my neighbors and their pets. And I'd hate to cause nuclear winter, even though it might be preferable to global warming. And I'm not sure when I transitioned from fantasizing about swimming with Farrah Fawcett to daydreaming about nuking some pimple-faced hoodlums.

But I now have a new hero. His name is Lee Yattaw in Colonie, N.Y. A couple weeks ago, Yattaw surprised some mailbox-baseball players with his own bat and knocked them both out of the park! One of the vandals even required 12 stitches for a head wound. Purposely destroying a mailbox is a federal crime that's theoretically punishable by up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service says, but it rarely happens. These two underdeveloped creeps -- not teens but aged 27 and 33 -- face misdemeanor charges.

But Yattaw faces up to 7 years in prison on two counts of felony assault. For defending his own property? No, says the DA, for taking the law into his own hands.

OK, we can't have vigilantes prowling around with darker intentions of taking the law into their own hands, but as we learned in the case of the two paroled veteran burglars who invaded a Connecticut doctor's home and wiped out his family after both had served time on at least 20 prior burglary convictions, sometimes the justice system simply doesn't dispense justice. And that's frustrating. It leads to vigilante action ... and to nuclear fantasies.

(If you feel strongly about this, you may contact the Albany County, N.Y. DA through his website.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Headline of the week: Pucker up for this

My mission as a blogger is to bring a little, er, zest to your life. The latest headline to be added to our modest Headline Hall of Fame is this one from Australia's The Age:

Lemon douche is a cervical cancer risk

Don't be bitter. When life hands you lemons ... make a feminine hygiene product. To read the story that goes with it -- no peeling required -- click here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Who let the dogs out? Connecticut did.

You already knew the two men who broke into a Connecticut doctor's house, forced a hostage to get money from a bank, then killed the doctor's wife and children before torching the house and fleeing in the family's stolen SUV were probably not rookie criminals.

But did you know that each of them already had more than 20 burglary convictions on rap sheets longer than the Oscar telecast? And both were out of prison on parole. I wonder: Does Connecticut have automatic doors on its prisons?

Now, maybe Connecticut doesn't have a Three Strikes law, but it should. That would have given them at least 17 chances to save a whole family. But even with 20 chances to sink these beasts in the deepest, darkest dungeon, they didn't.

I suppose adding another law in a state where breaking the law is treated so casually isn't a good idea, but if Connecticut's legislators had a mind to improve punishment they could make their Parole Boards liable for such bad decisions.

And why not? They'd be reasonably safe. In Connecticut, justice seems to work about as well as Lindsay Lohan's alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelet.

(Glad I live in Texas.)

Lindsay Lohan busted for DUI again

Fresh from rehab, Lindsay Lohan was busted again early today for drunk driving ... and cops also found cocaine in her pants pocket. Maybe she'll get the Paris Hilton Suite at LA County Jail.

If you remember, Lindsay was wearing one of those high-tech alcohol-monitor ankle bracelets. Clearly, it's costume jewelry that's not worth its weight in microchips.

I'm afraid one of these celebutards is gonna have to kill herself before young girls realize how destructive their behavior can be.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Have a cow, man!
Eating beef causes global warming?

A Japanese study has apparently discovered that eating a steak is far worse for global warming than driving your car non-stop for three hours.

That's right. When the scientists at the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba added up all the factors, they decided that being a vegetarian is better for Earth than being a commuter.

One-third of what makes beef bad for the ozone layer is the methane in cow farts, but the bigger problem is the energy burned up by producing and hauling cattle feed.

Why didn't Al Gore tell us this? Is in an inconvenient truth that he loves his hamburgers? And what about pork or chicken? I bet this study was paid for by that insurgent cow who vandalizes Chick-Fil-A billboards.

I don't want the world to stew in its own juices, so I'll give up my car before I give up eating steak. (Hey, maybe we can find a way to harness the energy of cow farts and the world will be saved by a herd of heifers.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Today, Jack Kerouac goes on the road

Sixty years ago today -- July 17, 1947 -- a historic literary journey began. It would be more adventurous than "Travels with Charlie" or "The Voyage of the Snark," and would change the rhythms of storytelling in a way that reverberates even today.

On this day, a 25-year-old kid named Jack Kerouac boarded the el-train in Ozone Park, Queens, and set out on the journey that would become his masterwork, "On The Road."

Kerouac's thinly disguised autobiographical road-book explores his own search for the edge of life. Hurtling through a 3,000-mile malestrom of sex, drugs and jazz, it characters seek the backdoor out of a stratified existence, hoping to find life ... or better yet, to truly live ... on the road. Kerouac's stream-of-consciousness prose only reflected the momentum of the headlong plunge through America.

"On The Road" was published 10 years later and became a sensation, and continues to sell briskly today. Kerouac died from complications of a prodigious drinking life in 1969.

About 20 years ago, when I was just a young newspaperman in Santa Fe, N.M., I interviewed Kerouac's daughter Jan (at right), who'd become a writer herself, although she never truly knew her estranged father as intimately as she would have liked. He saw her only twice and was reluctant to even admit his fatherhood. She had just published her own autobiographical road-book, "Baby Driver." Just as her father had captured the lightning of the Beat Generation in a bottle, Jan told a story of the next generation, which careened through the 1960s and '70s with some of the same spirit. Jan's road led through Haight-Ashbury, LSD, a pregnancy at 15, some time in a mental asylum, lovers galore and the same rootlessness that had loosed "On The Road" to the world.

Jan and I became friends. I had not yet started on my own writing road, so I was as fascinated by her storytelling as I was her parentage. I'd sometimes visit her in the spartan adobe hovel she rented, and we'd sit on the bare wood floors talking about writing and Jack and the road and her life and the wine and anything that seemed worth knowing. Sometimes we gnoshed on her specialty: Dharma buns.

Jan was a petite brunette and spritely and beautiful. Her stories were seductive. I wanted to be seduced. I loved so many things about her. But I was married with a baby girl of my own, and I wasn't yet sure I could ever become a writer of books ... all things that kept my relationship with Jan platonic and simple. But her company was good. We simply shared time.

One morning, as I was leaving, Jan asked me to wait while she scampered into her kitchen and returned with a Mason jar full of crumpled paper scraps. She shook it and dumped it on the plank floor.

"Pick one," she said.

I did and uncrumpled it. It bore a penciled number 7.

"Ah, then today I write Chapter 7," she said.

Those crumpled bits of paper were the DNA of her next book, "Trainsong," the continuation of "Baby Driver."

I left Santa Fe eventually and settled in the San Francisco Bay Area. I lost touch with Jan. And the next I heard from her -- about her -- was the sad news that she had died in the summer of 1996, 10 years after we had met. She was only 44. I wrote a newspaper column about her, but I couldn't shake the memory of her. My old friend was inside me, in my pores.

That's how Jan Kerouac became a character in the novel I was writing at the time, my first, "Angel Fire." Well, not Jan, but a piece of her. In the novel, Tia Lazarus is the daughter of famous road-book writer Jack Lazarus who is assigned by Rolling Stone to retrace his famous journey ... which leads her into the life of the story's main character Cassidy McLeod, who is seeking solace of his own. Tia becomes a kind of angel redeemer. And she lives forever, at least in words.

And that's just another way the profound journey that began in 1947 in Queens continues today. We travel our roads and we touch people and they touch people and those people touch people and the road goes on.

"And so time passes, passes by, passes over,
passes away and through and pass the butter please.
Sometimes time passes by so fast ...
you can't even see those seconds make their little streaks
of reentry into your heart."

-- Jan Kerouac, from "Trainsong"

So you wanna run with bulls?

That looks like it's gonna hurt in, oh, another 5 seconds. (Associated Press)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Yow, that's gonna leave a mark

What happens when you're a woman trapped in a man's body that's trapped in state prison?

You slice off your own testicles with a disposable razor blade and sue the prison to let you take hormone treatments! Worse than that, the newspaper reporter covering your case refers to you as "she" even though you're ... well, not a "she." Not yet anyway.

Read the whole surreal story here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Lady Bird Johnson has died

Lady Bird Johnson died today at age 94. Remember her the next time you drive past a field of roadside wildflowers. Not a bad legacy.

Quote of the Week:
Global cooling ... on rock-aid concerts

"Perhaps what we really need next is a live global concert to raise awareness about the omnipresence of live global concerts trying to raise awarenesses."

Andrew Malcolm (on Al Gore's Live Earth concert) in the LA Times' blogs

Gag Me: Omaha judge bars words 'rape' and 'victim' ... in a rape trial

Can you imagine a murder trial in which the words "murder" or "kill" cannot be spoken? Or a burglary trial in which the words "steal" or "break-in" couldn't be uttered? Hard to imagine, isn't it?

Well, an Omaha judge believes that if anyone says "rape" or "victim" before the jury in a rape trial, the jurors might become prejudiced.

I'm not sure how using the words "sexual assault" might be more genteel. And Roget's and I can come up with some really good synonyms for "rape" ("ravish" is such a quaint word and "violate" just doesn't reflect a rapist's violence.) Substituting another word for "victim" might be harder.

One problem with lawyers and judges is their trumped-up language, where we have learned that a whole case might depend on what the meaning of "is" is. Too often in the Halls of Justice, precision of language is measured by the number of syllables spoken.

But plain folks like me (and jurors) understand shorter, more evocative words ... like "rape." In those four letters are contained a mental picture most of us would rather not see. And for a prosecutor to be robbed of such precision seems to tip the scales of justice infinitesimally out of whack. Let the defense post its own mental pictures in jurors' minds and the chips will fall where they might.

Let's hope the Omaha jurors see through the judge's unwise order and make a fair and reasonable decision based on connecting the dots.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Where's the beef? Just keep running

How long does it take to run with the bulls? In our mental mythology, it seems to be a marathon, a test of human endurance, and an exercise in avoiding 1,000 other runners, being hoisted on sharp horns and falling on slick cobblestone streets.

But in fact, it lasts less than three minutes. A little more than half a mile.

Oh, but what a half mile. And what might life be like if it all felt like those three minutes?

Like most contemporary American journalists-turned-novelists, I owe a debt to Ernest Hemingway for the way I write. His muscular prose is the foundation for most modern fiction. Maybe the ghost of his writing is once or twice removed, but it's lurking there in dark corners. I even featured a character in my first novel, "Angel Fire," who slips and falls -- and dies -- on the streets of Pamplona while running with the bulls.

His adventurous spirit haunts some of us, too. Fishing a Montana trout stream. Climbing Kilimanjaro or camping on the Serengeti. Eating an onion sandwich and drinking red wine by a Spanish lake. Someday soon, perhaps next July 7, I want to run with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Why? Certainly not to test my manhood against a hurtling ton of beef. Rather, simply to say I did and for those who care to hear it, to be able to tell a story. And to allow my children to say at my funeral, utterly honestly, "he lived."


Anyone can run with the bulls, man or woman. But a small group of Euro-gals has mounted a tongue-in-cheek petition drive for a "Running of the Cows." Their perhaps ill-advised slogan (or maybe it lost something in translation)?

"The cows want to run"

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Fade to Black: Serial-killing heroes?

You simply haven't lived until you've traveled more than 9,000 miles with a family of serial killers.

Maybe you know them: Otis B. Driftwood, an on again-off again albino serial killer who makes sculptures out of his victims, or skins them to wear as costumes; Baby Firefly, the blood-thirstiest hot chick since Patricia Krenwinkle; and Captain Spaulding, Baby's creepy clown father (and the white brother of a black pimp) who's named after a Groucho Marx character.

Ah, but I was never in any danger as I hurtled toward (and home from) the Arctic with my 19-year-old son Matt in our three-week adventure. This ever-so-extraordinarily dysfunctional family is the creation of monster-metal auteur Rob Zombie in his indie film "The Devil's Rejects" (actually a sequel to "House of 1,000 Corpses"), and they were safe in my son's vast DVD collection. They came out only once, when Matt popped the disc into the portable DVD player somewhere between Valhalla Centre and the tundra, but they left their mark on our journey.

You see, they are the HEROES of "Devil's Rejects." Not the bad guys. They rack up more kills than the Red Baron in this blood-spattered film. They butcher an entire country-and-western band, a revenge-obsessed sheriff (they slaughtered his brother in the first film), and between them and director Zombie the blood flows swifter than concession-stand soda pop. And their methods, ranging from very sharp knives to speeding 18-wheelers, simply don't tolerate subtlety. They make Hannibal Lecter look like a Peace Corps volunteer.

Anyway, the road-tripping Firefly clan survives every attempt to capture, prosecute and kill them ... until the final scene, when they go out in a slow-mo blaze of glory, speeding their car toward a phalanx of state troopers and firing every weapon in their considerable arsenal. To the heroic, romantic strains of "Freebird," no less.

Freeze frame. Serial killers fade into heavenly bright light as cops' bullets tear them apart. Smiling. Angelic.

"So what'd you think?" Matt asked me. It's one of his favorite flicks and he wanted to share it with his occasionally-hip 50-year-old dad. "Cool, huh?"

"Are you freaking kidding me?" I harumphed in slightly bluer language. "They made those freaks into heroes!"

"No, they didn't," he responded. "It's just that not every story has a happy ending" -- adding for effect -- "like your old movies."

"Hey, not every old movie had a happy ending. But almost every old movie had a message that was worth pondering. This one had no message. It had nothing but blood and guts."

"It had a message."

"What was it? Serial killers can have fun, too?"

"They get killed at the end," he said, angling like a lawyer for anything that will stick. "Who would want to be like them?"

"That's not a message!" I shot back.

"How about ... not every movie has to have a message?" Matt said.

"That's not a message either."

"Who says? That's the message I got. Everything in this movie could happen. Probably has at sometime. Just because this isn't a movie that looks like all the movies you ever saw doesn't mean it isn't a valid work of art."

Godammit, I hate to get out-maneuvered. I had to stay in this game. Losing would be intolerable. I'd have to give back my "Father Knows Best" T-shirt.

"Serial killers who chop the faces off people and wear them aren't heroes! You can't have them being admired at the end of the movie. You can't make them look like Marines charging into a machine-gun nest on Iwo Jima for God and country! They're freakin' serial killers! You can't have this slow-motion sequence that transforms them into mythic heroes! You can't tell kids that crime is cool. And 'Freebird' ... criminy. This isn't revolutionary filmmaking ... it's just sex-and-shoot 'em up exploitation thumbing its nose at convention and anybody over 18!"

I was starting to sputter and spit, but I had him there ... Matt just smiled.

"Oh, you mean like 'Bonnie and Clyde'?"

Dammit. I hate it when serial killers win. Here's my T-shirt.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Graf of the Week:
... Or are you just happy to see me?

It's nice to know the weird and wacky world of journalism didn't suddenly go milquetoast while I was away. Here's the best news paragraph I've seen since I got back, courtesy of the Miami Herald:
"According to the 17-year-old [boy], the woman was on top of him when he saw something he didn't expect under her bikini bottom."

You know you wanna read more! Click here for the full story.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Sourtoe Chronicle: Leftover digits

Gee, party-poopers

I returned to the newsroom this morning after three weeks in pursuit of the Sourtoe Cocktail, the midnight sun, and fatherly wisdom. Waiting for me were two bundles of mail, a foot-tall stack of newspapers, 632 unread emails, 17 voicemails and (I could swear) the same pot of coffee that was reheating when I left.

What better environment for considering the real numbers of this magical journey:

The number of stars we saw while camping in the Arctic

The number of times we did laundry

Flat tires on the Dempster Highway in the Arctic

$348.54 CA
To replace one those tires shredded by the Dempster Highway

The number of digital photos I took

Total miles driven from Beaumont to the Arctic

$2,746.39 US
For gasoline

How many crazy people had drunk the Sourtoe Cocktail since September 1973 just before I drank mine (#24,694) and my son Matt drank his (#24,695)

Oh, and one more number: 3

That's the number of credit-card companies who'll soon come looking for me.