Monday, April 25, 2011

Food: Eating Us Alive

The older I get, the less I care about eating. What a hassle! Consider the hours we waste every year feeding these fragile shells we call our bodies. It's endless! You drive to the grocery store, you shop, you drive home, you store the food. You prepare the food. You destroy the kitchen. You eat the food.  You may or may not enjoy it. You clean the kitchen. You load the dishwasher. You unload the dishwasher.

Then you repeat the vicious cycle for lunch. And dinner.

It's maddening. We're enslaved to these bodies. I'm powerless to decide when it needs fuel. It's yet another daily obligation, one of those things you have no choice but to continue, like breathing or feeding the cats. I consider the requirement to eat a design flaw in what is otherwise a pretty well-designed organism. Human carnivores, vegetarians, and omnivores can each be found daily masticating mouthfuls of morsels in many manifestations dutifully with a profound absence of any joy whatsoever. Oh, the moribund, monotonous misery.

Then there is the food industry itself. The endless rows of corn, precariously growing in fields around the world, waiting to be consumed by locusts, or destroyed by rampaging children armed with monster trucks. Tomatoes pleading for water, fertilizer, insecticides, fungicides, and all the other accoutrements required on modern farms. The mammoth, hulking harvesters trudging back and forth across the fields to collect the fruits and vegetables of our forced labor. The millions of cattle filling the air with methane, being raised from birth for no other purpose than to be murdered, cut to bits, warmed on stoves or in ovens that must also be mass-produced, only to end up gnawed on by carnivorous consumers and recycled into Milorganite and subsequently fed to vegetables. What was once about sustaining life has been transformed into the foundation of our economy.

It's unforgivable that modern science hasn't made any attempt to free us from this drudgery. As a child, I considered it a scientific promise that by now we'd have a little magic cabinet that automatically summoned food from thin air, just like the Jetsons did. Instead, science has shown a remarkable lack of imagination on the issue, instead focusing on streamlining the status quo, beyond the obvious "advances" like breeding busty chickens, developing plants which produce no viable seeds, and the creation of mysterious powders that make corn chips taste like pizza or ranch dressing.

When a feasible food alternative becomes available, dear readers, I'll be the first in line to try it. Sure, I'll treat myself from time to time with a strip of bacon or a slice of cheesecake, but generally speaking, I'll kick my obligation to food to the curb and get on with my life. Which, by the way, will be more fulfilling because I will spend less time shoving food into my mouth and with all the drudgery that accompanies the task. Please, modern science, develop a pill, a paste, a beverage, anything that simplifies the process of feeding our bodies, and that will reduce the need for all the ancillary baggage that accompanies the act. Set us free!

I wasn't always this way. Once upon a time I looked forward to meals. I'd anxiously wonder what was for dinner. I'd rejoice in finding new dives for lunches capable of turning a cheeseburger into a culinary celebration. I sampled the cuisine of distant cultures with interest and excitement. I thumped melons, smelled tomatoes, gorged myself on green grapes, and delighted in the discovery of new recipes for dishes to prepare. A new restaurant opening in town meant possibilities, not reservations.

But then, fate intervened. As a young man, having no measurable skills with which to earn a living, I decided it would be sensible to learn a trade. I wanted to be sure I always had some skill to fall back on if life took a turn for the surreal and I wasn't discovered by a talent scout or made the "Man Friday" of a wealthy financier. Learning to cook seemed a safe bet, because even as a fragile lad of seventeen I was aware that people were unlikely to find a way to free themselves from the cruel bondage of eating. So, I took a job as a cook, which led to a job working for a catering company, the owner of which paid for cooking school, which led to a job as an assistant kitchen manager. Before I knew it, my little employment insurance policy to prevent my eventual starvation was consuming me one day at a time. I was a cook. Which was fine. Being a professional cook can be a rewarding and prosperous career for some people.

But for me, serving hundreds of meals a day did tend to bake any tiny fragment of joy out of food. I'm sorry, but for me it wasn't love at first bite. In short, within a few years I had prepared the equivalent of a lifetime of meals, and still had a lifetime of meals to prepare for myself. So I turned my back on the culinary arts as a career path. Besides, I'd never meant to make a life of it.

But food is never far away. In addition to the physiological demands, we're culturally obsessed with eating. Cookbooks, magazines, classes, clubs, kitchen gadgets, even, to my ultimate horror, not one but two television networks dedicated to nothing but food. This is, in my opinion, a possible sign of the impending apocalypse. We've gone beyond watching cooking shows for instruction, and crossed some kind of invisible line where we are actually entertained by watching others cook. There is a simple explanation for this cultural phenomenon:

We are insane. And gluttonous.

Possibly the worst side effect of this cultural insanity is the creation of the "celebrity chef," people who have gained fame simply by virtue of preparing food on television. I'm not talking about Julia Child here, people. No, I'm talking about rank amateurs promoted to the status of icons because they can sauté vegetables and babble incoherently. Case in point: Rachael Ray.

Rachael Ray is everywhere. She's the poster child for everything that is conceptually wrong with a cooking channel. She has two cooking shows. She has a talk show. She's on my Wheat Thins box with photoshopped eyes every Christmas season. She's posed for racy, digitally altered photos in FHM suggestively sucking a strawberry and licking chocolate sauce from a spoon. People...she endorsed an album of Christmas music! How does the ability to boil pasta qualify you to make Christmas music selections? She is worth $60 million. Why? It cannot be rationally explained. I suspect her profoundly annoying habit of using the abbreviation "E.V.O.O.," followed immediately by an explanation that she's referring to "Extra-Virgin Olive Oil," is actually some kind of fiendish mind control trigger designed by a government agency to hypnotize the masses. Perhaps the arrangement is more Faustian than that. Maybe she met the Devil at the crossroads at midnight and he handed her a spatula.

Her show largely consists of collecting whatever random ingredients she can gather from her kitchen and combining them like a witch dumping mysterious components for a potion into a boiling cauldron. She's got thousands of recipes for goulash which can be completed in less than a half an hour. It's sinister and suspicious. Once, I actually saw her make hot dogs on her show. Hot dogs! Do we really need schnitzel suggestions, people? She, like the rest of her network cronies, always takes a moment to sample her creations at the end of her show, making the obligatory "Mmmm!" sound after every bite, as if this somehow verifies the concoction is not only edible, but delightful. Eventually, if you subject your taste buds to enough abuse, they'll accept anything. Someone once told me they enjoyed Rachael because she cooks like their mother does. Do we really need a show to teach us to cook like our mothers do? That's what your mother is for, people! Rachael Ray is a threat to national security and should be immediately placed into solitary confinement until we manage to regain our collective senses.

For centuries, basic recipes passed from mother to daughter sustained us as a species. It was a simple matter to assess which ingredients were available to us and combine them into edible, life-sustaining meals without televised guidance. The "Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook" was the source of enough inspiration to keep us eating. All of this food-based fanaticism is little more than an attempt to convince us this daily digestive drudgery is actually a pleasure rather than our being held captive by our own metabolisms and a cautionary tale about the potential pitfalls of capitalism. A cage, no matter how gloriously gilded, is still a prison. A meal is just a meal. It doesn't have to be a transformative experience to sustain life.

This food obsession has long since gone beyond the realm of good taste. It's ostentatious. It's indulgent. It's gluttonous. It's mass consumerism at its hungriest. It has been said that in America, even the most poverty-stricken citizens can be overweight. I haven't researched the subject, but I'm willing to go out on a limb and assert that the Food Network is not included in the basic tier of the Cambodian cable TV package. There are still people in the world not obsessed with how to prepare and combine things to eat, but with merely having enough to eat to live through another day. A third of the world is starving. The W.H.O. estimates that 15 million children alone die worldwide every year from hunger while we're watching people cook hot dogs on TV.

We're gloating. It isn't seemly. It's in decidedly poor taste.

Then again, I could be wrong.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Truth About Real Vampires

This week I broke down and added the "Twilight" movies to my Netflix queue. Yes, I am aware that I am the last person remaining on the planet who hasn't seen any of them. There is a very reasonable explanation for this:

I am an insufferable snob.

I am generally resistant to these kinds of pop culture phenomena, at least while the frenzy is underway. If I wait until the fervor has died down, I feel less the lemming. I enjoyed being the last person to see the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. I was pleased with myself for resisting "Titanic" for so long. I'm proud that I can't identify a single Justin Bieber song. Thrilled I only know that Lady Gaga likes to glue objects to her body and emerge from eggs on national television. It's a point of pride.

Besides, when I think of vampires, I prefer to think of "Dracula," the masterwork by Bram Stoker. The work is so iconic, I need not summarize it for you, dear readers. Everyone knows the elements of the Stoker story, whether from reading the book, the sight of Bela Lugosi, or any of the innumerable movies made on the subject. People who couldn't begin to tell you who is buried in Grant's tomb or which country named Canada borders the United States to the north can tell you the methods for fighting vampires. "Dracula" isn't quite as thought-provoking as Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" pound for pound, but it does leave the reader with quite a bit to ponder.

The vampire myth is ancient. Stoker exposed it to the world, but there is evidence of similar ancient tales from all corners of the globe from China to Egypt, long before the Transylvanian myth became the basis for the Stoker "Dracula." Thematically, the idea that the dead can feed off the living to survive is fairly universal across all cultures.

It's easy to dismiss "Dracula" as a mere horror story. Sure, it's graphic and unbelievable. You'd be tempted to surmise there wasn't a word of truth in it. But, in my opinion you would be mistaken. All great works of fiction contain an element of truth. "Dracula" is no exception. What I am suggesting is that vampires are real. They exist. They walk among us in the camouflage of ordinary people.

Now before you dismiss me as a madman, give me a chance to explain myself. I'm not proclaiming that the undead are waiting until after dark to emerge from their coffins, sneak in your window dressed like pimps by yellow moonlight, bite you on the neck, and siphon all the blood from your body to sustain themselves. I don't believe in fantasy monsters. I'm not afraid of mummies, werewolves or zombies. If you are looking for genuine monsters, the scariest monsters around are all people.

That's correct, dear friends, the real monsters in this world are all living, breathing human beings. Ordinary humans with a beating heart. Animals, after all, seldom consume us out of any sense of deep-seated hatred or jealousy. Lions and tigers and bears eat us because we are tasty.

When you look at the history of the planet, and remove natural disasters, plagues, and other organic dangers, who in their right mind wouldn't come to the rational conclusion that the most horrible atrocities mankind has ever suffered have been at the hands of other people? For example, some estimates for World War II casualties go as high as 70 million people killed. That is monstrous. Estimates of Native Americans killed by direct and insidious action since Europeans invaded and settled North America? Well over 100 million. Again, monstrous. Vlad the Impaler, on whom the Dracula story is rumored to be based upon, is said to have impaled between 40,000 and 100,000 people on sticks, hoisting these "stakes" vertically and implanting an end in the ground, leaving his victims to die slowly while sliding down the spears. Much scarier than horror story monsters. Not to mention monsters like Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Jack the Ripper, all confirmed human beings. Even the Holy Bible seems to warn us that humans can be monsters, as in the Book of Matthew, chapter 7, verse 15, where it warns "Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves." The list of examples of human monstrosity is endless. 

Somewhere, everyday, you can read a story about the monstrous things people do to each other without the benefit of any supernatural force. So if you are looking for real, everyday demons, chances are they look just like your neighbors, relatives, friends, and acquaintances. And they have a pulse. They cast a reflection in the mirror. There are no limits to human inhumanity.

Which brings us back to this question of vampires. Now that I have explained my belief that live humans are the most sinister and dangerous creatures on Earth, I'll suggest that some humans are vampires. I'll further suggest that you might already know a vampire or two. They come in various manifestations, but the effect is the same: they drain you of your sanity, self-confidence, capacity to experience joy, and serenity to empower themselves.

They aren't drinking your blood, but they sustain themselves on your misery. They symbolically suck the life out of you one undermining conversation at a time. Your failures thrill them. They subvert your self-confidence, drawing strength from the doubts they plant in your fertile subconscious and nourish with all manner of psychological subterfuge. They belittle your hopes, laugh at your dreams, or attack your intelligence. They might try to intimidate, scare, or bully you--whatever they have to do to make you miserable, which, for whatever reason, seems to give them strength. Some people are just dying to see you fail, and they will stop at nothing to erode your self-esteem to the point that you are paralyzed by self-doubt. If they can play any small role in preventing you from achieving your full potential, their hearts soar, and they are empowered by their contrivances. They are emotionally dead, but can temporarily feel alive by doing you harm.

Others will drain the joy out of you by subjecting you to their own constant misery. They will cross the line beyond what is required to be a compassionate, understanding, supportive person and transform your happiness to guilt. I'm not talking about being a supportive friend. We're not talking about a normal, healthy requirement for empathy between lifelong allies, here. We're talking about someone who answers the basic question "How is it going?" with an endless diatribe about every awful experience that has befallen them since emerging from the cursed (pronounced "curse-ed") womb that produced them. Suddenly, you feel guilty for having a decent, reasonably fulfilling, drama-free existence. Generally speaking, this kind of vampire will sink their teeth into you every time you give them a chance and add new and demoralizing stories to their already tragic memoirs. And by some act of alchemy, or transference, they feel better for having bombarded you with their tales of woe. Because they are vampires.

The good news is it isn't a hopeless situation. Like mythical vampires, there are ways to combat the everyday vampire. Like the fantasy vampire, you have to invite the real ones into your life or they are powerless. So, whenever you identify an actual vampire, make sure to limit their access to you. Don't let them penetrate your inner circle. Don't reveal your hopes, dreams, and aspirations to them. Don't tell them what or who you love. Don't expose your soul to them. Seal them out of your life completely and forever. And if you have inadvertently let one in, get rid of it as soon as possible. Just as the mythical vampire could be destroyed by faith, so too can the actual vampire. Just believe in yourself. Refuse to let them pollute or infect your hopes and dreams and ability to pursue and experience happiness with their negativity. Burn them in the bright, pure sunlight of your own joy.

Vampires. Nosferatu. Symbolic bloodsuckers. Everyday, miserable humans.

Some people are just parasitic monsters doing their best destroy you for their own empowerment or amusement. If you don't stop them, they will drain the life out of you, just as Bram Stoker suggested. Your self-confidence, success, and happiness are the stake through their hearts.

Then again, I could be wrong.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ashley Tisdale: The Thing Speaks For Itself

This week, while glancing at what passes for news these days, I noticed a story about Ashley Tisdale, Disney Channel Princess. It seems Miss Tisdale, 25, has posed for the annual Allure magazine nude issue. Ordinarily, I would have just shaken my head and gotten up to make sure the Disney Channel was still on the blocked list on my satellite television service parental controls. Walt Disney, cryogenically frozen in a tube somewhere beneath Space Mountain, would be rolling over in his icy grave if there were not mechanical apparatus in place to prevent posthumous grave rolling in cryogenic tubes, at what his beloved entertainment company for children has become. What was once "Dumbo" has become decidedly bimbo.

Now, I don't want you to think I begrudge Miss Tisdale her nude photo shoot, my friends. I am not at all offended by the nude female form. For centuries, art and archeology have verified the special place the beauty and majesty of the female of the species occupies in the imagination of man. Countless hours were spent by sculptors in early civilizations immortalizing nude women. A myriad of artists throughout history have attempted to capture the radiant beauty of the fairer sex. Our fascination as a species with the images of beauty women create is a well-documented historical truth. Women, in my humble opinion, are the most stunning works of art ever created. I've seen a great many wondrous and breathtaking things in my lifetime. Each of them pale in comparison to the elegant, luxurious masterpiece that is woman. The Garden of Eden may have been spectacular, but my guess is that for Adam, Eve captured his imagination in a way which was impossible for the rest of creation. The only thing better than a woman is...well, I can't think of a thing. Women, in short, are perfect.

So it wasn't the fact that Miss Tisdale decided to pose that agitated me. Go forth young lady, and conquer. In fact, she is probably only doing what countless young ladies who have found themselves trapped in contracts with Disney or constrained by the expectations of a younger audience have done. Namely, to signal to the Disney execs and her legions of younger fans that she is ready to move on from the semi-sterile wasteland filled with tween angst melodrama that Disney produces, much to the sad chagrin of Mr. Disney and his decapitated, frozen head, and peddle her wares elsewhere. A fine way to do that is to do something which Disney feels destroys your youthful girl next door image like posing nude, or allowing naked pictures of yourself you sent to your boyfriend to be leaked to the press, or making a racy movie, or pole dancing at the Teen Choice awards in lingerie. The possibilities are endless. The trick is to make yourself repellant to Disney while remaining a bankable commodity to other studios that you hope to earn more money from after being released from the Mickey Mouse Club. You have to find a way to shed that squeaky clean image. This is often accomplished by what I like to refer to as the "Julie Andrews Method."

Julie Andrews, one of the most talented actresses and singers in the history of stage and screen, found herself artistically restricted by her own sweet Hollywood image. After her career skyrocketed in movies like the Disney classic "Mary Poppins" and the iconic "The Sound of Music," she'd become bored with the puritanical roles she was regularly offered. Although she had won countless awards for her acting, she was too often typecast as a goody two-shoes. To solve this dilemma, her husband, Director Blake Edwards, cast Andrews in the 1981 comedy "S.O.B," a movie which largely poked fun at her image, and most relevant to our discussion of Miss Tisdale, showed her partially nude for the first time. This allowed her to take on more daring work like the classic "Victor/Victoria," for which she was once again nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Julie Andrews is all woman. Any man will tell you. She doesn't have to tell us. We know.

Andrews starred in the Disney franchise "The Princess Diaries" and the sequel with up and coming young actress Anne Hathaway. But Hathaway was getting into a rut, perilously close to finding herself in the career killing "role model for children" position. So, soon after the "Princess Diaries" sequel closed, Hathaway took drastic steps to put the nail in the coffin of her career as a movie princess and child star by making "Havoc," a terrible movie which no clever actress in her right mind would have made if not trying to convince the world that she was finished as an entertainer of children. The movie, although one of the most awful ever produced and presented to the general public for mass consumption, did afford Hathaway an artistic excuse to appear naked within the guise of advancing the storyline. I'd like to think Julie Andrews advised Hathaway to bare it all for the good of her career, but I can't prove it. Hathaway has gone on to make some commercial successes, and looks to be poised for a long, profitable and rewarding career in Hollywood.

Alas, my dear, patient readers, I digress.

This brings us back to the talented Miss Tisdale, languishing in the image of the eternal teenager, constricted by roles in such fare as "High School Musical" and the subsequent sequels for Disney. Clearly, she is signalling to the powers that be at Disney that she is ready to move on, like Britney Spears, who recently (and annoyingly) announced that her recent album is "her most mature yet," and Miley Cyrus, who gyrated on a stripper pole at the Teen Choice Awards before her. Which is understandable. If you intend to make a career of acting, and achieve international acclaim, you can't be trapped in a miserable franchise like "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody" forever. So I understand what Tisdale is up to, and applaud her on being smart enough to identify a well-established path through the banal wilderness leading to where she hopes to go. Tisdale has a recording contract with Warner Brothers, her own production company, and I'm certain a bright future. She, generally speaking, seems to be smart and savvy for her age.

What irritated me was this: Miss Tisdale was quoted in the article which accompanied her nude photos with the following preposterous statement:

"I'm not just the young girl everybody thinks I am. I'm actually a woman."
Just a second there, Ashley. You go too far. I'm all for you getting liberated from your restrictive deal with Disney, and I understand that you are eager to embark on a career which challenges you artistically, but I can't let so silly a statement pass without a rant.

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson used a phrase that I find brilliant and revealing:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident..."

That's right, dear readers. Some things are so true they are apparent without having to be asserted. In fact, if you feel the need to assert them, they may not be absolute truth. If you assert them too often, the cynic begins to wonder if it is yourself you are trying to convince, as if by merely uttering an assertion it becomes truth.

Did Gandhi have to hold a press conference to tell the world he was "kind of a big deal?" Did Michelangelo give an interview to the Roman Daily News announcing that he was a pretty spectacular painter? Did Albert Einstein ever take out a full page ad in Science Digest declaring "I'm a fairly clever dude?" Did the earth feel the need to announce it was round?

No. They didn't have to do those things, because the truth was self-evident. If you are smart, you don't have to tell people. They'll know just by listening to you. If you are talented, people will know. If you are beautiful, people will see it without your being forced to make an announcement. Rachael Ray has an endless supply of recipes for goulash that can be prepared in less than thirty minutes. If you are a rambling, long-winded, talentless hack of a blogger, you don't have to tell people. The truth, dear readers, is self-evident.

Being a woman is more than merely reaching the age of consent. More than being brave enough to show the world you have a well-developed body. If you are truly a woman, you need not do an interview and announce to the public at large that you are. It will be self-evident. We'll all accept it as fact without your having to make a Declaration of Womanhood.

Miss Tisdale, who may well achieve what she wants by going this route, has made a common blunder that young people often make by confusing age with maturity. I'll be the first to tell you, I wasn't a "man" at 25. I was old enough to make my own decisions, but I didn't become a "man" until I had learned and experienced much more than I had at 25. What's more, I didn't feel as if I were on a deadline. After you become a "man," there aren't many milestones left besides "old man." And what's the hurry to get there?

So take it easy, Miss Tisdale. We all recognize that you are becoming a young woman, and shouldn't be trapped on a high school sound stage forever. But keep in mind you have a ways to go yet before you are a "woman." Asserting that you are one proves that. And when you are, you won't have to notify us. We'll know. As the old Latin phrase goes, res ipsa loquitar, or "the thing speaks for itself."

Then again, I could be wrong.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cats Quickly Approaching Victory in War on Humans

The data is in, and I can say without hesitation that house cats by far enjoy the most fantastic lives of any animal with any number of feet or legs which draw breath upon the planet. Their ability to fray the edges of the fabric of your sanity can only be rivaled by an angry bird relentlessly squawking outside your bedroom window as you try to enjoy your fist nap in 10 years after participating in a sleep deprivation study. It will be cats, not nuclear war, not terrorism, not Justin Beiber, not The Rachael Ray Show, not advertisements for Viagra that will be the eventual ruin of our society, but cats. Felis catus.

Archeological evidence suggests we can likely blame the pharaohs for this veritable biblical plague of cats. Cats were frequently discovered embalmed in the burial chambers of the pharaohs. If I had to wager, I'd put my money on the pharaohs leaving instructions for the cats to be dispatched and embalmed prior to their insertion into the pyramids because they feared otherwise the cats would find some agitating way to disturb them in the afterlife if they were allowed into the burial chamber alive. In fact, we probably owe the invention of the sarcophagus to cats. They were no doubt meant to serve as an insurance policy preventing cats from being able to interrupt the eternal rest of the Egyptian Kings.

At some point, the Pharaohs evidently got wise to the idea that cats were effective covert weapons and they fiendishly tricked the Greeks into distributing them by pretending they didn't want to part with a single cat. They probably supposed the introduction of cats to other cultures would impede them to such an extent that they could maintain their own technological superiority. So they rounded up as many cats as they could and delivered them to unsuspecting foreigners, gave them as gifts, smuggled them onto ships bound for foreign ports as stowaways, whatever they had to do to get as many cats as they could out of the Nile Valley before the plague consumed them like locusts. My guess is this is what finally pissed the Romans off enough to conquer Egypt and try to put an end to the export of cats for good. Alas, it was too late for both the Egyptians and the Romans. They had underestimated the cats to their own peril.

By the Middle Ages, people were largely wise to the insidious threat posed by the feline. Cats were seen as evil creatures, and were largely eradicated from Europe. Possession of a cat was adequate for an accusation of witchcraft. Aiding an injured cat was grounds for torture or death. For roughly 400 years, Europeans did battle with the cat, eventually accepting their defeat and making the abuse of a cat illegal in 1835 in a misguided attempt to appease the legions of cats from continuing with their plot for world domination. But you can't negotiate with cats. The cats were empowered by this decree, and resumed their war on human sanity and serenity.

My earliest memory of a cat is of trying to rescue one from a pack of wild dogs. As I approached the cat, encircled by the angry dogs which clearly had better instincts about cats than I did, the cat used his fish hook sized claws to climb up my leg, over my back, and perch on top of my head like an angry live turban attached with staples, leaving a trail of bloody claw holes from my ankle to my forehead. The dogs likely had a legitimate grievance. I should not have attempted to intervene. After all, no one in their right mind would refer to the cat as "man's best friend."

You'd think that would have been an adequate lesson on the dangers of cat/human interaction. But alas, cats can be fiendish and seductive like the snake in the Tree of Knowledge. As kittens, they are so tiny and adorable. They use this evolutionary prank to convince you to allow them into your home.

Three cats live in my house. Notice I didn't say I own three cats. You don't own cats, you serve them. You become indentured to them. You foolishly try to match wits with them. But no one owns a cat.

How did this happen? They infiltrated one at a time. They crept into my palace like CIA agents here to bring about a regime change. They conspired to foment revolution. They mindlessly selected me at random as just another target of opportunity in much the same way a germ instinctively invades a human body only to ensure their own survival. And they have conquered. They know we are powerless to control or suppress them. They refuse to recognize my right to establish rules and regulations governing acceptable household behavior. They are independent operators. They offer no allegiance, no quarter. Cat's are like vampires. Once you open the door to them, your fate is sealed.

Cats will do whatever they can to erode your sanity. They'll attack the same motionless spot on the wall for hours. They'll stand at the door and meow relentlessly until you succumb to the annoyance and operate it for them. Once you open the door, they will stand there motionless forcing you to wait for them to make up their minds about whether or not to actually pass through the threshold. This rule applies equally regardless of whether you are offering entry or exit. Once you open the door, you are subject to their whims. It makes no difference how long you resist the inevitable before getting up to let the cat out, they will take as long as they please to proceed. They'll feign disinterest at the very thing they incessantly demanded only moments before. Soon enough, you'll be the equivalent of an amateur doorman, opening and closing the door for the cats that list your address as their primary residence, never again allowed to concentrate on anything.

And cats are largely nocturnal, which means they will conspire to rob you of sanity restoring sleep whenever possible. They aren't nocturnal by nature, but by choice, because they know this is when we are most vulnerable to psychological warfare. They'll wait for you to get cozy in bed, then screech like banshees to be let inside. Then they'll come inside, grab a mouthful of food, use the cat box, and then return to the door and make sounds reminiscent of the air raid sirens that alerted the citizens of London that German bombs were about to destroy the city just as you are about to fade off to dreamland. You have no choice but to leave your bed and once again operate the door for them.

If by chance they do elect to stay inside, it will only be to torment you as you are trying to sleep. They'll curl up by your feet and commence licking themselves producing sounds like amplified metronomes. They'll attack your feet. I've lost track of the number of times I've awoken in pain to find my pinky toe encapsulated by the mouth of a cat and at risk of being torn from my foot whole by deceptively tiny, needle like cat teeth. Pound for pound, a cat is far more disruptive to a healthy sleep regimen than a human infant because the cat has made keeping you awake a centerpiece of a plot to drive humanity insane one night at a time. You cannot appease them.

Ladies and gentlemen, the cat's are winning. Major combat operations have concluded and they are merely toying with us for their own twisted entertainment. We have replaced the ball of yarn as their most prized source of amusement. Your only hope is to guard against allowing them squatters rights within your domiciles. The consequences of allowing them in are dire.

Consider the lonely, elderly spinster with a limp in your own neighborhood living with 10 or more cats and frightening children. Do you suppose this is the life she secretly wanted? Certainly not. She simply allowed too many cats into her home, and before she knew it she was so busy tending to them she had no time to date. And she limps because years ago, a cat darted out from under an end table in her living room at her feet, causing her to topple over and break a hip, which never healed properly because she had to get back to sustaining her cats. Cats use the homes of old maids as cells where they can breed armies and plot against us.

If you must allow a cat into your home, have it spayed or neutered at the earliest possible opportunity. Perhaps twice, just to be certain they can't reproduce. According to sources tracking the invasion, a male and a female cat can conspire to produce 420,000 cats in a 7 year period. That's an epidemic. Soon, cats will have taken over control of the government and we will all find ourselves as marginalized bipeds, relics of a bygone era. Future generations will rightly look back at us with contempt for allowing mankind to lose control of the planet as they forage for sustenance outside the homes of cats.

I'd like to go on, but alas, I cannot. There is a cat going off like a tornado siren at the back door, one licking butter from the dish on the kitchen counter, and still another loudly announcing that it is time for me to fill the food bowl.

I beseech you not to let this happen to you. The future of humanity depends on it. It's up to you.

Then again, I could be wrong.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Charlie Sheen: Sex, Cameras, and Money

The big entertainment story the past couple of weeks has been Charlie Sheen relapsing once again into wacko mode. Sheen, mostly famous for being the son of talented actor Martin Sheen, has created a firestorm with his antics, appearing on television, radio, and twitter to give us a glimpse into his tiger blood lifestyle.

Let us look back at the life of this MaSheen and try to determine if there is any larger truth we can distill from his tale of woe.

Charlie got his first break alongside Patrick Swayze in Red Dawn, but he didn't really become a household name until he got the starring role in the Oliver Stone Vietnam War epic Platoon. Stone, who is rumored to travel everywhere with hookers and cocaine, also gave Sheen the starring role in the box office smash Wall Street. I like to think Ollie introduced Charlie to the world of the money for sex transaction, but this is probably an embellishment. Emilio and Lawrence Fishburne were regularly going to whorehouses in the Philippines during the shooting of Apocalypse Now, so chances are that was his first exposure to what is incorrectly labeled "the oldest profession." We all know that landscaping is the oldest profession.

From that point on, from the standpoint of box office success, Charlie began to drop like an antique wedding sausage. He was all but forgotten by the time Heidi Fleiss revealed in court that he had spent $53,000 on 11 hookers connected to her Hollywood escort service in 1995, which was taken down for failure to pay taxes to the government.

After a short marriage to Donna Peele in 1995, Sheen finally hit upon the answer: prostitutes are illegal outside of Las Vegas (where Bunny Ranch owner Dennis Hof has amassed a net worth or $20 million running his brothel), but adult entertainers (aka porn stars) are not. Sheen evidently tried to get in touch with porn queen Jenna Jameson, who has a net worth of around $20 million for having sex on camera, which is totally legal. Since the number of times Jameson has had sex for money can be established by checking her paychecks, and therefore the amount of money she earned is a matter of record, she has never had any tax trouble with the IRS.

Keen to investigate the whole adult entertainer angle, Sheen then got involved in an tumultuous relationship with adult film star Tanya Rivers. It ended badly, with allegations that Sheen assaulted Rivers, and Attorney Gloria Allred got Rivers a hefty cash settlement. And a commission for herself. Rivers continued to get paid to have sex with strangers for money on camera for some time.

From there, in 2002, Sheen married Denise Richards, mostly famous for having a totally legal three way sex scene on camera with Neve Campbell and Matt Dillon in "Wild Things," and for legally posing nude in Playboy for money, although not having sex with anyone. The couple split in 2006 and Sheen, who has an estimated net worth of $85 million, paid Richards around $17 million dollars, plus 25% of his syndication royalties from his series Two and a Half Men for services rendered.

In 2008, Sheen married real estate investor Brooke Mueller, most famous for having sex with Charlie Sheen. Predictably, the marriage ended in 2010, with Sheen paying Mueller essentially what he paid Richards for a divorce.

Which pretty much brings us to his current situation, living with Bree Olson, (net worth $5 million) adult entertainer, who had earned her legal living by since 2006 by having sex in over 160 adult films, and by posing nude and having sex in magazines like Penthouse, and model Natalie Kenly, who seems to have never been paid in any way for sex until now. I'll go out on a limb and say this arrangement won't last forever, and that when it ends, Charlie will have yet another bill to pay. And that Sheen won't be guilty of a crime, at least where sex is concerned.

How do we know Charlie has paid porn stars for sex? Charlie paid one of his porn partners, Kacey Jordan, $30,000. With a personal check! Has anyone been arrested? No. Because Jordan is a porn star, not a hooker. It's legal to pay porn stars to have sex as long as they pay taxes on the income.

Now, I'm not much of a Charlie Sheen fan, so you may wonder why I am rambling on about his situation. The whole thing makes me wonder about the distinctions we make about exchanging money for sex. Sheen paid hookers, wives, and porn stars for sex. The only transactions that were illegal were the ones he made with the hookers, though all three (hookers, wives, and adult film stars) were essentially paid for the same service: sex. And it is OK that actresses have graphic sex scenes on film with men and women and get paid for it. OK that porn stars get paid for sex. Legal, anyway.

Jenna worth $20 million.
Brothel Operator Dennis worth $20 million.
Bree Olson... net worth $5 million.
11 hookers...$53,000.
Kacey Jordan...$30,000 for one night.

Average American Algebra teacher...less than $35,000 a year.

So, the Charlie Sheen story tells us that you can have legal sex with professionals for money if the professionals got their experience in front of a camera. And that if you choose a career of sex on camera, you can make much more than many traditional careers. When your marriage ends, a judge will present you with a bill, payable to your ex, which will feel eerily similar to the money you pay hookers at the end of the line. Only far more expensive because your wife had to put up with you in more places than the bedroom.

But if you go to an inexpensive amateur, you'll end up in a courtroom. And rather than paying the escort a huge sum of money, you'll pay lawyers and the government. And the hooker will go to jail or pay a fine.

Getting paid to have sex on camera: legal. Paying someone who has had sex on camera for sex: legal. Paying your wife when the marriage is over: divorce. Paying someone who has never had sex on camera for sex in private: prostitution.

So my advice to all you amateur prostitutes out there is to take a camera along with you. Then you can tell the judge you aren't a hooker, you are an adult film star.

Then again, I could be wrong.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

"What fresh hell is this?"

After years of being told I should start a blog, I have finally decided to give it a shot. What's the worst thing that could happen? Well, I don't know about the worst thing, but bad things could happen.

It's dangerous to tell people too much about what you think. Most people are perfectly willing to accept you as long as your viewpoints don't come into conflict with their own. It's all well and good to make witty comments and be entertaining, but start expressing opinions, and people can get downright hostile. I can be opinionated. I can be caustic. I am given to bouts of sarcasm. I can be too direct when a bit of beating about the bush might be more constructive.

And, deep down, I wonder if my viewpoints are any more compelling than the millions already floating aimlessly around the internet. I wonder if I am equipped for the challenge. Is my rhetoric sufficient to hold the attention of an audience already presented with so much drivel to choose from?

I'm not certain.

But it has often been said that we should not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. For too long I have threatened to write. Or written and not shared. Or written and deleted. Having never rhetorically satisfied myself, I've kept my thoughts, for better or worse, locked away. But these muscles need exercise lest they begin to atrophy. A wise person once told me "It isn't all going to be Shakespeare." At some point, you have to be brave enough to present yourself to an audience and let the chips fall where they may, or admit you aren't up to the challenge. I'm finished taking that position.

So tonight, I begin my journey. Hopefully, we begin it together. Traveling companions always make the trip more fulfilling.

For those of you who follow me on facebook, you can expect much of the same you have come to expect when my name pops up on your news feed. Only longer. Strange observations, social commentary, politics, and twisted humor. The man said "Write what you know." Well, I'm not sure what I know, but I know I want to write. So write I shall.

I suppose that's as good as any other place to get started.

Then again, it might be an unmitigated disaster. Which will, at the very least, be entertaining. Everyone loves a good train wreck or a perp walk.

Carry on.