Sunday, November 30, 2008

Stimulus packages under the tree

Somehow economic disasters are always our fault and our responsibility to fix.

A few years ago Americans stopped saving and started spending and borrowing like, well, Americans are always urged to. Then something went wildly wrong with the housing and financial markets. We were told we were living beyond our means, something no one mentioned to the suckers at all those mortgage closings.

The solution? The government borrowed $700 billion, or more, from us taxpayers to give to the banks that had been giddily lending to foolish people who couldn't pay it back. This was real money, not the mortgage-backed paper those banks used to build the housing crisis of cards.

Our job? Same as after 9/11. To go shopping.

Yes, the idea this Christmas season is to spend more money we don't have. Saving is a good thing, but right now Uncle Santa is getting a lot of requests for corporate bailouts (never mind who's been naughty or nice) and Wall Street and retailers really need us.

On Black Friday (a name eerily reminiscent of the names given days of stock market crashes), we did our patriotic duty and went to the mall and stimulated the economy. No one was trampled at our little mall, but plenty of people were there with us, and this year it's hard to say we're all consumerist saps.

After all, part of our family's economic stimulus plan was to buy a chest freezer for homemade stocks, soups and tomato sauce. I know all that good food will last at least through the coming year.

I'm not so sure about our money.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Surrender-Monkey Bubbly All Around

Ah, I remember it well. August 8, 1974. The day a disgraced Richard Nixon left office in a go-to-hell-icopter from the White House lawn. I went out to the local liquor store in Cambridge, Mass., and they were all sold out of champagne. A Boston Globe reporter was even in the store writing a story about the sudden statewide champagne shortage. So early this morning, I went to Safeway to get a bottle.

It was a bottle of Taittinger brut, and the sign under it said it cost $29, marked down from $50. But when the clerk rang it up the price came to $39, marked down from $60. After a price check, the clerk said I'd grabbed a more expensive Taittinger, and asked if I wanted her to get the cheaper one.

"No, this is for Obama," I said, grandly, mostly to the people waiting impatiently in line. "And if McCain wins, we've got plenty of the cheap stuff at home."

Cheers and high-fives from everyone, especially the good union clerks and baggers. This may be white suburbia, but it's Marin County, California, soon to be part of the U.S.A. again. I hope.

Thinking the unthinkable: If the unthinkable happens, we'll be drinking that very drinkable Taittinger anyway. (Warning: Severe name-dropping ahead.) The great thing about champagne, as I told Claude Taittinger when he and I were at a fancy dinner in San Francisco a few years ago, is that you drink it in very good times and bad.

"Ah, oui, mon frere," he said to me, or something like that, and I reminded him of the greatest champagne movie of all time.

Remember Bogart and Bergman in "Casablanca" when the Nazis enter Paris? They pop a bottle of bubbly.

At least in this election the nasty totalitarians aren't about to enter our capital. They're already there.

Santé, and sanity.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Over here, a small carbon sockprint

Here in the green states, the Prius is the big status symbol. Oh, hi, these cars say, I spent $24,000 on a little dolphin-shaped car and its precious-metal-laden battery so I can use less gasoline than you.

Thank God there's now a cheaper way to display your loyalty to the Earth: Fly your underwear and socks in the air.

It wasn't so long ago that drying your laundry in the backyard was a sign of poverty and tastelessness. Now all the best people are drying their clothes au naturel. The clothespin, long relegated to craft projects, has made a comeback as a pin for clothes, at least here where poor people aren't so poor as to steal your laundry off the line and there aren't many neighborhood associations banning the sight of laundry trees.

In Marin County, the sound of a dryer spinning is as shameful as the sight of a plastic shopping bag.

So for $27 I bought an expandable clothes rack. A full load of jeans dried in three hours in the summer sun.

Problem: where to hang all those pesky and thick athletic socks. Aha. About 15 years ago, when we had jobs and spent money with abandon, we bought a $300 wrought-iron torchiere that held 16 candles. We used it maybe twice during dinner parties, because it dripped wax on the rug and couldn't be trusted not to set fire to the house. Even when the candles weren't lit, they drooped every which-way.

Now the damned thing holds sixteen socks and some shirts and underwear high up in the sun. Our neighbors can see this proud status symbol over the fence and, from the size of the socks, ascertain our small carbon footprint.

The total savings: About $3 on each month's electric bill. We've turned a useless yuppie status symbol into a useful one, and in about eight years we'll have paid it off.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Illegitimi non carborundum

We're being told we can't mention Bristol Palin's out-of-wedlock pregnancy. After all, candidates' families are off-limits, except when they're herded onstage to demonstrate, say, what a wonderful mother of five a candidate is. Never mind that Sarah Palin forgot to drum in the abstinence-only lesson she wants to inflict on everyone else's children.

Fine, but you have to wonder what kind of right-wing crapstorm would have rained on the Clintons if a seventeen-year-old Chelsea had turned up unmarried and pregnant.

Yep, it would have been a Category 5 crapstorm. The Republicans have never shown any mercy for their enemies' families. John McCain provides the two prime examples, and both involve bastardy.

One was as victim, when he was smeared as the father of an illegitimate black child by Bush-backers in the 2000 South Carolina primary. The other was as victimizer when he made a joke at a 1998 Washington fundraiser. Because of the media's delicate sensibilities (for McCain mostly), the joke was never repeated verbatim for the public.

"Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?" McCain asked the crowd of appreciative Republicans. "Because Janet Reno was her father."

We know who the real bastards are.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Amerivore's 10

My wife the food blogger just completed a cute quiz called "The Ominivore's 100." It's a checklist of 100 required, exotic, disgusting or possibly dangerous comestibles that might have passed foodies' lips - everything from fugu, crocodile and rattlesnake to PB&J, which probably seems grotty to the Brit who made up the list.

Okay, put your flag lapel pin on your bulging tummy. Here's my list, the Amerivore's 10, the food checklist to prove you're a genuine red-white-and blue patriot with Dick Cheney autographed bypasses. Count up which of the following culinary experiences you've had and see how you scored. Git 'er done.

1. Have you been through a drive-through? Extra point for doing it in a pickup. Extra extra point for throwing the wrappers and cups in the back.
2. Have you been to a TGIFriday's, Applebee's, Chili's, Romano's Macaroni Grill, Red Lobster, Ruby Tuesday's, Bennigan's or an O'Not-This-Again's? Extra points for the last two, since one went out of business and I made up the other.
3. Have you eaten a deep-fried onion flower? The whole thing? Extra point.
4. Endless Pasta Bowl? Extra point for each refill.
5. Popcorn shrimp? Did they taste better than knots in sneaker laces? Extra point.
6. KFC Mashed Potato Bowl?
7. Buffalo wings without the bones or in any flavor other than Buffalo?
8. Sbarro's pizza? Two extra points for any more than one slice, and a bonus point if you know how to pronounce it.
9. Hummos Pit-za, or any other Rachael Ray Yum-O Family Friendly Snack? (Probably healthy, but really, "Pit-za," "Rachael Ray" or "Yum-O"?)
10. Boiled peanuts?

Just threw that last one in for old-timey cracker fun. For new-timey cracker fun, try Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Crackers.

Now add up your score. If you scored three or less, you are voting for Barack Obama. If you scored between three and eight, you are voting for John McCain. More than eight, and you'll probably die before the election.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Why I Hate the Olympics

Last night I set Stewart and Colbert on record, gritted my teeth and settled in to watch the Olympics up close and personal. This was my first look, having missed the magnificent opening ceremony with its computer-enhanced fireworks and dubbed nine-year-old songstress. Unfortunately, NBC added to Chinese Internet censorship by making it impossible for Mac users to access its Web site's replays of that opening ceremony. I guess they figure we Mac users don't matter because we think we're too smart for the Olympics.

We do. At least I do. I don't go for all that flag-waving crap, medal counts and opening graphics of past Olympics starring only American athletes. I could also do without the constant replays of the simian victory shouts of Michael Phelps. But those things are not why I hate the Olympics. Those are just the price of admission. The real torture is the first event of the evening, traditionally a sport you never heard of, with athletes you never heard of, that goes on almost as long as soccer.

Monday night it was synchronized diving, which is better than synchronized swimming because each team gets off the screen quicker due to the law of gravity. For a half hour (I quit and switched to "Antique Roadshow" at 8:30, saving Stewart and Colbert for later), pairs of adolescent guys in Speedos would leap off a platform and fly in formation into a pool while two commentators talked about their point of entry and other gibberish. Each pair of young guys then would haul themselves out of the pool and run giggling and smiling into the showers in full view of the cameras. A year or two younger and it would have been soft child porn.

"Why do they go right into the showers?" asked one commentator. "Because the pool is cold, and besides it's fun," replied the other.

At that point the only commentator I wanted to hear from was Cartman from "South Park." You know what he'd have to say about synchronized diving.

Tonight it's Stewart and Colbert live in synchronized satire, and record the Olympics. Fast forward, that's the event.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Blurb for the 'Burbs

I was born in the 'burbs and I'll probably die in the 'burbs. In between I spent a lot of time trying to be authentic and sophisticated by living in cities where I took public transit and, when I didn't, often discovered that my car had been broken into.

Despite the fact that there haven't been shards of glass on my street since the recycling man dropped a Moët bottle after New Years, I still can't get over the habit of buying cars that look good with broken windows. Besides, I do drive into the city occasionally to see how the smug young urbanites (recently arrived from their parents' suburbs) are doing.

The suburbs get a bad name, and Hollywood producers never miss a chance to make fun of them from their aeries in Laurel Canyon. And now, with global warming and gasoline more expensive than microbrew, there's good reason to hate the manicured lands of the automobile addicts.

But here's why I love my 'burb and our bland little home, Casa Rancho, as we call it.

First, it really is a ranch house, sort of. We turned the lawn in the backyard into a Victory (over Safeway) Garden. Okay, we're not really surviving on our produce because onions, zucchini and jalapeños aren't basic food groups, but at least our jalapeños won't give us salmonella. In San Francisco all our backyard ever produced was fog, noise from the neighbors and a few cherry tomatoes that were supposed to be beefsteaks.

Second, I love this place despite the fact it's in much-mocked Marin County, where taxes are high and driving a 3-series BMW is akin to being on food stamps. (Break My Windows, Marin cars are telling us.) At least in Marin County we get something for our taxes. Well, don't ask me what, since there's no glass on the streets to sweep up. But at least it isn't San Francisco, which buys gas for hundreds of already overpaid high officials who commute in city cars. And neither is it Oakland where the city administrator hires all her relatives, and then warns the gangsters among them when a police raid is coming.

By the way, we do have gangsters in Marin County, and not just the ones who commute to the Financial District. Believe it or not, the previous occupants of Casa Rancho, on this cute little cul de sac, were dope dealers. Their crops, until our efficient little police force vacated the premises, were green and mostly grown indoors. On a hot day I can put my nose up to the repainted wall, breathe deeply, and, yes, get high on living here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Who Knows Where the Timepieces Go?

The top drawer of my bureau, that's where. Right now there are 10 watches in that drawer and only one of them works. If stopped watches are right twice a day, then 18 times a day that drawer is a spot-on timekeeper. The one watch that works, my ostentatiously unfashionable Citizen dress watch, is never right, but just accurate enough to set my $30 Timex by. That's the one I actually wear.

In that drawer I have an $1,100 Tag Heuer (known as the cheapo starter Tag), a 10th anniversary gift from my wife. By our 20th anniversary its chic link band had fallen to pieces twice and no amount of wire could hold it together. The bands cost almost as much the Bush tax rebate to replace, so fuck Switzerland and its yuppie watches.

I also have my college graduation Bulova Accutron that fell off my bureau and stopped before I had even checked out of the dorm; five old Citizens and Casios; my father's old watch embossed with a Brown University insignia never saluted by moving hands; and my grandfather's gold pocket watch, as deceased as my beloved Papa. The pocket watch comes in handy for 19th-century theme parties, but why can't I throw the other watches away?

More to the point, why can't anyone make a watch that can at least make a good run against time? That $30 Timex, which I bought 15 years ago while my Tag Heuer was back home in the Alps having its first band replaced, is the only thing that's still ticking. It takes a licking, like the ad says, and it even lights up in the dark with the press of a button, but I'm getting sick of it.

My wife will tell you I'm fixated on watches, even though I only need to know the time to the nearest month. I just kind of like them as steel bling to accentuate my finely carved hand, not as status symbols like those hedge fund managers who wear their earnings statements on their wrists, or those computer geeks with their atomic watches that tell time in every zone in the galaxy.

So it's a Timex, man, and this is reverse snobbery, the best and cheapest kind of snobbery. If I had a Rolex, I'd keep it in my top drawer. And it probably wouldn't work.

Yeah, that's a Speidel watchband. The Velcro one itched.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

New cliches, please

Barack Obama has been pounded as an "elitist" for saying that white males in places like Pennsylvania are clinging to guns and religion because they're bitter. And, of course, San Francisco is getting pounded because this is where Obama said it. Pat Buchanan snarled something about this city's "Chablis-and-Brie set."

Sorry, Pat, Chablis and Brie are for people in places like Pennsylvania. Give us a local artisanal cheese and microbrew anytime.

Okay, so we're elitist, and doesn't everybody want to be part of some kind of elite? At least we're not part of the shock-and-awe set, the oil-and-blood set or the Yale-and-Harvard neo-conservative set. The lie-and-spin set that conjured the war in Iraq is the worst kind of elite.

Even San Francisco elitists can be bitter, though, just like any unemployed Pittsburgh steelworker. No matter how elite we consider ourselves, there's always someone more elite. There's always someone richer, and he or she just might be a math student at Stanford. There's always someone more environmental, with a scheme to turn plastic bags into mosquito netting for Africans. There's always someone who gets to the new hot restaurant before you.

There are always people in San Francisco who beat you to the next big fad. For all I know, failed elitist that I am, it just might be Chablis and Brie. But I'm kind of stuck on Bud and Laughing Cow, because reverse snobbery is the only way to go in a place as expensive as this.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Another cup of coffee, another piece of my mind

This morning I went to Starbucks (only because the good downtown coffee houses are two miles and a traffic jam away) and it hadn't changed. What was all that free publicity about? All those news reports about the three-hour re-education camp for their employees last night? All that corporate foam about regaining "the soul of the past"?

Just make a decent cup of joe, for chrissakes, and stop giving them fake Italian names. Charge a little less, no, a lot less. And give James Taylor a break.

It was just the same in there. The same commuters, fueling up on burnt-tasting brew. The same unappealing brown pastries in the plastic box. The same soundtrack telling you to get out before you start yearning for elevators.

Of course, the only reason Starbucks closed down simultaneously all across the nation, like some kind of coffee brown-out, was for the publicity. (Florida was blacked out from Daytona to the Keys, and that got less publicity.) The fact is, Starbucks had to do something, what with their stock dropping, stores going belly up and the failure of their plan to put four green Dilbert-traps at every intersection and addict the nation to caffeinated hot, sweet milk priced at $5,000 a barrel.

That's what they're selling, not their coffee, which tastes like eau de ashtray.

If you want the soul of the past, go to Caffe Trieste in North Beach (or even its Sausalito branch). Or go to any coffeehouse where the only uniforms worn by baristas is inked skin and a studded nose. Hell, I even went to a Dunkin' Donuts when I was back in Massachusetts and (talk about the soul of the past) the coffee reminded me of my youth working night shifts, recovering from concerts and pulling all-nighters for exams.

Alas, I hear Dunkin' Donuts is introducing caffe lattes, or as they call them in venti-doppio land, "lattes." It just means "milk," people. It also means trouble. I want my cops drinking coffee regular. Make that "cawrfee regulah."

Monday, February 25, 2008

A mighty windy meme

There's no "I" in "meme," but there are two "me's." In fact, since I've been tagged by Chilebrown to play this game of "Things You Don't Know About Me," here are five facts about me. Rated PG for pretty gross.

1. The first live concert I attended starred the Kingston Trio.
2. The second starred Peter, Paul and Mary.
3. The third starred Bob Dylan. Most of the Brown University audience was gone by intermission because he couldn't sing.
4. That was in February, 1963, and about three years later I started claiming that Dylan was my first concert.
5. I only stayed because he'd written a couple of Peter, Paul and Mary songs.

I'm supposed to tag five more people, but I'm too much of a geezer to know how to do it. So feel free to do your own "Five Facts" meme or forward your embarrassing musical revelations to, well, me.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Raising McCain with the GOP

Everybody around here wants to know: Who're you voting for, Barack or Hillary? Everybody around here being a Democrat.

Well, I don't know. If only I were in Chicago and could vote twice. Or, here's another wish: If only I could vote for John McCain again.

That's right, I voted for him in the 2000 primary. I changed my registration to Republican so my vote would count, not for him so much, but against George W. Bush. Even then I knew the Busher was a snake in the brush and, besides, I'd met McCain and like many left-leaning media people, I leaned a little to the right and liked him. "Another media pinko for McCain," as his California campaign manager put it. At the time, in front of San Franciscans, McCain seemed so apologetic about the GOP positions on gays and abortion, almost as if this old Navy fighter jock was embarrassed by the religious nuts who dominated his party.

Anyway, however conservative McCain is - and he is plenty conservative - he would have been better than Bush turned out to be. He wasn't an alcoholic former prep-school cheerleader, a failure at everything, who had to overcompensate for his dad's success by adopting a cracker accent and invading Iraq, failing at that, too.

In the last few years McCain has put the "ick" in "maverick" by throwing his support to Bush's plutocratic (no relation to this blog) tax policies and threatening to keep us in Iraq for 100 years if necessary. Actuarily speaking, that's 90 years more than we can expect McCain to live and 105 years more than is good for the United States. So what's the appeal of this old goat?

Simply, Rush Limbaugh has warned that McCain's nomination would mean the destruction of the Republican Party and Ann Coulter has claimed that she would campaign for Hillary Clinton before she would endorse John McCain. All of this I want to see.

The Republican Party, as currently constituted, and as defined by a radio-enhanced drug addicts and Jimmy Choo-wearing bigots, deserves to be destroyed.

The only problem would be keeping McCain from winning the presidency. That I leave to the history-making Democratic ticket.