Thursday, July 22, 2010


I forgot that I wrote this post, almost a year ago. I'm going to post it now. Not sure why I didn't post it before.

My grandfather died this past week. He was 84 years old. A soldier in World War II, a father of four, grandfather of many more. Proud, intelligent, and a man of many faults. I called him "Papa". He called me "Matty Matt."

My mother says that I remind her of him in many respects. Not really looking like either of my parents, we can actually trace my looks to him. In our hallway back home, there is a pencil drawing of Artie as a young GI corporal in Italy. I do sort of look like him. Apparently, I also act like him.

I'll remember many things about him. I remember sitting outside with him when we were on family vacation in Florida. The pool in the backyard was surrounded by a pink stucco walkway, and Papa would sit in the stuffed nylon chair beside the white plastic table. He'd sit there, silent, watching my sister and I play in the pool. I liked the smell of his pipe tobacco. He had a leather pouch which he kept the tobacco in, and every once in a while he'd pinch a flaky wad out of the pouch and tamp it with his thumb into his pipe. When he inhaled, the pipe made this calming sucking noise, and then the smell would permeate the air. I liked it. He liked watching the little pool cleaning robot. He even gave it a name-- which I don't remember. "Oscar", or something like that.

His favorite singer was Dean Martin. If I ever mentioned Sinatra, he'd go "Ehhhhhcchh. Deano. He was something special". He spoke of Dean Martin like he was a personal acquaintance.

Papa wasn't necessarily chatty. He wasn't the type to call me over, or "entertain". He preferred to sit quietly. When I asked him what he was doing, he'd reply that he was "thinking." He spent a lot of time "thinking". I never asked him what he was thinking about. But if I had to guess, I'd say the past. He was thinking about Italy-- his favorite country. He was thinking about his youth. The reason I know is that I do the same thing. I always do it. I think about Germany. I think about France. I think about college. I think about past girlfriends and past almost girlfriends. I think of the good times. Luckily, I haven't had many bad times.

I saw Papa cry once. Really, I made Papa cry once. We were talking about the war. Just him and me. We were sitting outside, at the big white plastic table, and I was trying to figure out a way to bring the war up. That sort of thing is fascinating to a little boy (even 25 year old little boys). That's right-- we were playing chess. Papa and I often played chess. Most of the time, he'd bring it up too. He'd ask me if I wanted to play. Of course, I would say yes. Most times, he let me win. But, he'd go through the whole game and tell me what a good player I was. We didn't talk much during our chess games, but during this particular game I wanted to talk about the war. I'm not sure how I brought it up, but somehow I got him talking about it. He told me some stories. Some of them I had heard before. But, after some prodding, he started to tell me a story he hadn't told me before. As I later learned, he hadn't told anybody about this one:

He was on patrol in Italy with his platoon of about 10 guys. They had funny nicknames like "Boofta" and "Big Daddy Jack Rabbit". I'm sure there's a story behind those. Either way, Papa had a nickname too. I forget what he was called. But, I seem to remember it was something like "Johnny". It was a normal name-- just not his name. Anyway, he was on patrol with these guys and they came upon a pillbox-- a fortified concrete bunker, usually with a machine gun inside. Since they couldn't go around the pillbox, they had to "take it out". A flamethrower was called in, but apparently that guy got shot before he could use his flamethrower. Here, I forget what exactly happens, but I remember Papa telling me that the pillbox got hit with the flamethrower and that he ran over to the hatch leading inside the pillbox. He remembered the smoke, the screams, and the smell. Now, Papa started to cry. He fired his rifle blindly into the smoke. I didn't ask any more questions.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Delayed Connections

We met at a cafe outside Madrid. I was sitting by myself at a small table facing the street, drinking a glass of beer. It was hot in the sun and the cold glass felt nice and the beer tasted damn good. I was ostensibly trying to write a story to send back to the newspaper because I needed the money. But, on this day, I couldn't concentrate. There were no distractions at the table, and that's what was distracting me. It was calm and breezy, and I felt good. I have to be in a foul mood to start writing.

She was sitting at a table under the awning quietly smoking a cigarette and thumbing through what looked like an old novel. The book had a cracked red leather cover-- the kind you find on out of reach shelves in the library or on the bookshelf of a wealthy friend's study. As a rule, these books are usually pretty awful and only read when one has too much time. That told me that this girl has money and didn't know how to spend her time. I took a liking to her.

Now I've courted my fair share of women in the past and I've learned how not to approach a stranger. Simply walking up and plopping onto the chair next to her will only scare her. No, you have to baste the turkey before you put it in the oven. I prepped her by purposefully being accidentally caught staring at her. I need her to think that she has caught me. And she fell for it. When she caught me, I playfully snapped back to reality, mimed an apology, and theatrically laughed to myself as I turned back to my notepad. To her, I am a bit of an eccentric with a sense of humor who has shown an interest in her. Perfect.

I order another beer and mentally prepare myself. The only precondition to courtship is that she successfully tries to purposefully get caught accidentally staring at me in return. So, when I put down my pen and look up from my notepad, if she is coyly looking at me from behind her boring novel, then I know I'm in.

She was looking at me. We make eye contact. We smile.

Make a move or lose her forever.

I rise slowly from my little white table, place the cap on my pen, put it down, and then slowly walk towards her table. By this time, she is well aware that I am coming towards her and gracefully places her crap novel on the table, using her napkin as a page holder. Clever. She watches me approach.

"Hey there” she says, informally.
"How did you know I speak English?"
"I overheard you butchering your Spanish to the waiter." She's been paying attention.
"Any tips on pronunciation?"
"It's hielo. Not kielo." Apparently I've been saying "ice" wrong for seven years.
"Thanks. What are you drinking?"
"Sherry." Sherry always reminds me of Poe. Luchresi cannot tell Amontillado from sherry.

I sit down next to her. Wow, she smells good. Really nice. Too many women wear perfume that is too strong or too stringent. She smells great. It relaxed me and I subconsciously smiled.

“Why are you smiling?”
“You smell very nice.”
“I’m not wearing anything.”
A boy could only wish. Chemical attractions exist between people. Call them pheromones or whatever you like—sometimes I can smell attraction. Put two people in an empty room and sometimes no words need to be exchanged. The attraction is instant. It’s in the air. Seeing her up close and smelling her, I knew that I needed to have her.

“What are you reading?” I say, trying to change the subject so that I can avoid a potentially embarrassing biological reaction suddenly growing in my trousers.
“Byron.” She’s so smart, she doesn’t even feel the need to elaborate who Byron is. Sure, I kind of know him, but I’m not about to start a conversation about it.
“What brings you to a little café like this?”
“Well,” I begin, with characteristic enthusiasm, “I’m a student but one day I hope to be a failed writer.” I heard some other guy say that once in Paris. She laughs. She’s beautiful. Her eyes are a soft hazel, her skin olive, and her hair is perfectly soft. I can’t look away from her.

After a few moments, I gain the ability to speak. “Come out with me tonight. To dinner. Me and you.” I try taking charge of the situation. Girls like that.
“I can’t.”
My chest sinks.
“Why not?”
“I have to go.”
“I have to go now. My train leaves in an hour.”

Once again, I lost the ability to speak. I blankly stared at her. I lost all feeling and all emotion. I was empty.

“I’m sorry. This is awful.”
“Yeah.” I say.
“Who knows.”
“Who knows.”

I paid for both our drinks and stumbled home.

Friday, April 23, 2010


His eyes were wide open and nearly bulging out of their sockets. It was the first thing that struck me. I knew right away that he was gone.

Bending down, kneeling in the soggy mud, we lock gazes. He stares at me and his eyes never blink. His lips are trembling: I think he's trying to talk. He's trying to tell me something but no words are coming out. I start to panic. "Hey buddy," I foolishly begin, "talk to me. Come on, hang in there brother." I start petting his head to comfort myself.

I take his still hand in mine and am relieved to feel his grip in return. I start to breathe heavily. His lips are trembling. He's trying to talk-- I know it. He wants to tell me something. His grip grows stronger and his gaze fixed. I lean over and place my ear to his lips, but only hear labored breaths.

I'm lost—I’m looking around frantically, for anything. Tears are streaming down my face. I’m lost. I grip his hand tightly.

I can hear faint shouts in the distance, but the rice is too tall for me to see anything. The voices horrify me. The mud is cold and I am sweating under the scorching sun.

I leap to me feet. “Hey! HEY!” I shout in all directions. I wave my arms frantically. “Over here! Over here you fucking assholes!” I can’t see anything.

Plunging back into the mud, I cradle his head on my soiled knees and I start to shake. I can’t control it. My entire body is quaking. I can’t control it. I can’t hold him up. I can’t do this. I can’t stop shaking. I can’t. I start to scream.

His eyes are closed and all I can do is scream.

Monday, March 15, 2010


I have to share this video because it is so damn smart.

And fucking funny.

"A Trailer for Every Academy Award Winning Movie Ever Made"

Quiche You'reLame

I was sitting down at a cafe, minding my own business, reading a book and eating my breakfast, when I started to eavesdrop on the conversation going on next to me. After a few moments, I realized that it was a job interview. The guy being interviewed was young, well dressed, maybe a tad nervous, but doing alright from the looks of it. The interviewer was a young women, fulfilling that sort of demi-god like status that many interviewers assume: the fountain of knowledge screening those who wish to sup. At least, that's how I use to do it.

The conversation was light hearted at first. Just some general info. However, their harmless tete-a-tete was interrupted when a waitress came up to the table and asked what they would like to eat.

"Come on brother", I quietly mouthed as I stealthily sipped from my now tepid double macchiato. I knew that this is the guy's opportunity to really send some ass-kicking subtle signals to the interviewer. He can show that he is a hard worker and a real go-getter by ordering something assertive. Order something that impresses the lady. Order something that makes her go "Wow, that sounds great. I'll have that too."

His order: Quiche, and a glass of water.

You poor pathetic pussy willow. Quiche? QUICHE! Now, I'm not here to demean the gastronomic qualities of that venerable dish-- but quiche?! What message was he trying to send with that one?
-"I like my lunches light because I have a very very sensitive stomach. Too much protein makes me gassy and bloaty."
-"Oh, just a water for me. I'm cheap."

Quiche Lorraine?
Quiche. You're lame.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Let me preface this: I am not insane.

That being said, I have had three encounters with "voices" or "feelings" or "phantasmas" in the past year. All three of them occurred while I was on the verge of consciousness-- not quite asleep, but definitely not awake either. If I remember correctly, at least two of them happened when I fell asleep with the lights on (I must have been reading before bed).

In order to maintain a degree of credibility, I need to chose my words carefully in attempting to describe the first "feeling". Ok, I was lying in bed and I felt a "demon-feeling" over me. The oddest thing is that I "saw" it too. The best way to describe this thing that I didn't see, but kind of felt or saw in my head, was that it looked like a lamprey. Yeah, that eel-like jawless fish.

(see picture here:

I "saw" that type of circular jaw-sucker thing over my face that night. There were no sounds. I even tried to move away or fight back, but I was frozen in bed unable to move.

The second "feeling" was that I was being choked by a person holding a bar of iron or metal to my throat. Again, I couldn't move. Except this time, I got so pissed that I kind of lurched up and attacked the air. In a way, I broke through that catatonic state and regained consciousness, somewhat abruptly.

The third sensation happened three nights ago. I don't want to go into too much detail, as it is a sensitive subject. But, to put it simply, I heard my dead grandmother's voice calling my name, three times.

I need a vacation.

Karzai the Corrupt

Karzai is a fool.

Corruption, once suspected, is now obvious. This is simple logic people: If an "elected" official controls the committee that oversees elections, that is corruption.

The question, now that we know Karzai is playing the Afghans and the Americans for fools, is what to do? Should NATO continue supporting a corrupt regime? Let's look at a similar case in the not-so-distant past: The Shah of Iran. On the surface, the two leaders are quite different. The Shah was not elected (well, one could make the argument that Karzai wasn't either). The Shah was a secular figure; Karzai has some Muslim affiliation. The Shah succeeded his father; Karzai was installed after the American invasion. The list goes on.

What they do share is that both unpopular leaders were/are supported by the US, and grew increasingly brazen in their quest for personal power. The Shah clamped down on opposition political parties (eventually outright banning them), and Karzai is simply making a farce of the electoral system. He's too weak to characterize as an "autocrat" like the Shah. In all likelihood, taking over the electoral oversight committee wasn't his idea and he personally won't be controlling it-- but that's another story.

If NATO continues to support Karzai, we can expect:
1. Presidential decree granting him a life term in office.
2. Magnanimous decision to step down from office and hand over power to a chosen puppet-successor, a la Putin/Medvedev.
3. Revolution, most likely an Islamist leaning one. My guess is that it will be a former warlord, maybe a Soviet-era mujahideen fighter. A peace offering to the Taliban will be followed by more fighting.

What's the solution? I have no idea. Heavy decentralization of power to minimize grand corruption? Maybe. It would limit the amount of power and access to resources that a given strongman could wield. But, the neo-Taliban would spread unhindered in these circumstances. Pull out and let the Taliban take over? Hell, if nothing else, that would be a great ploy to get Al-Qaeda to return to Afghanistan.

Whoa, this is brilliant. Yeah: plant friendly, loyal to the US Afghans throughout the country (along with some US operatives). Let the Taliban take over. Wait for Al-Qaeda to return to a supposedly NATO-free Afghanistan. Let them return to the training camps. Let them return to the caves. Wait for everybody to feel safe and back home. Monitor them, then-- spring the trap. With NATO's people already in place, they could scoop up the whole Al Qaeda network in a few days of frenzied action.

No. Too Hollywood. I don't know what to do with Karzai. Let me think about it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Talking Snakes and Invisible Men in the Sky

Oh my God. Bill Maher might be my new hero, but he might also be a weird version of me in an alternate universe.

Watch this clip and if you know me, you'll see the similarities (except he has much better hair than me).

Half Jew, half Catholic. Raised Catholic. Gave up religion at 13 (I think I was 15). Thinks that religion is laughably irrational. Dislikes the word "Atheism" and subscribes to "I Don't Know". Thinks that many religious people don't act very religious.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pavlovian Politics

I am white.
I am American.
I am from New York.
I am from the upper middle class. (Let's be honest).

Given these circumstances, I realized recently that I have certain uncontrollable associations built into my psyche that I believe are a product of my environment and took root during my "developing" years. There are things that are so ingrained in me, that I don't question them nor do I know their exact derivations.

Here are a few examples:
Socialism = Communism
Communism = Bad
Russia = Bad
Socialism = Bad
Israel-Palestine = "It's too complicated to understand"
Hezbollah = Terrorists (ohhh... that needs some 'splaining!)
Republicans = Wrong (despite the fact that both of my parents are of the Republican-ish leaning)
Religion and Politics = Personal info

I've got a funny way of illustrating my admittedly vague point: I played a lot of video games as a kid. In one of the games, the developers, for whatever reason, occasionally put posters of Karl Marx in the game environment. It had nothing to do with the game itself and was probably a gag or inside joke. But, while playing the game, I would shoot the posters of Marx at any given opportunity. At that time, I couldn't identify Marx by face. I had no idea what "Marxism" meant and I didn't know who was depicted in those posters. But I knew that those posters had something to do with Russia (eh, sorta right), that he had a big white beard, and I knew that he was "bad" -- so I shot Marx between the eyes at every opportunity.
[Note: Before you ask, the game was Goldeneye, and the posters were on the "Library" level, I think.]
Now, why? Why did I shoot pictures of Karl Marx, a philosopher? Because something inside me, something innate, something primal, told me that he was the "enemy". I knew it. I didn't know who he was or what his ideas were, but I "knew" that they were wrong.

I think this problem exists in most adults today.

Let's take a really extreme example that I am not qualified to be writing about, but it made me raise my eyebrows: Hezbollah. Immediate response = Islamic fundamentalist terrorists.

But what do I know? Are they?
The answer is, well, not what I expected. Without getting into the history too much (maybe this will inspire you to do that research on your own and come up with your own conclusions), I can say that Hezbollah started in 1982 in response to Israel's invasion of Lebanon. From 1985-1992, they fought the Israelis a lot and killed a lot of Israelis and the Israelis killed a lot of them. In 1992, they entered the Lebanese elections. They admitted that eventually, sure, they want an Islamic state, but that can only come through the electoral process (!). Their support comes mostly from the Shiites in the south who use the Hezbollah financed hospitals and other social services (!). They still fight the Israelis a lot.

Islamic fundamentalists? Well, not the kind that I picture when the words "Islamic fundamentalist" appear. Do they use suicide bombs? Nope. They are politicians and an anti-Israeli militia, basically. Are they terrorists? Man, you better know exactly what you are talking about before you start throwing around that word. Again, I feel like most people would never challenge their base assumption and would rather throw themselves into fits of patriotic frenzy instead of analysing the facts. (I'm not qualified to give an ultimate answer on this question). Doing research requires thought and patience, both of which are in low supply today.

My point has nothing to do with Hezbollah. It's just this: challenge your basic assumptions. Acknowledge them, question them, educate yourself, then reconsider.

The Key to Keynes

Quick thought: Is there a "critical mass" for capitalism, ie. will there always be a loser?
Is there a maximum amount of capital out there in the world that, by the very nature that it is limited, prevent some ("third world", the "South", or "undeveloped" countries) from ever achieving economic parity with the "developed" world?

During my reading for my humanitarian aid class, it struck me that the base assumption of development aid policy is that the Western industrialized countries can "develop" the undeveloped countries to a point of self-sufficiency. Does our market capital system have room for that? Can there be no "bottom", or -- to put it harsher -- "losers"? Can everybody win?

I think the simple answer is "no". But the more complicated and ethical answer is that the "bottom" can come up only if the "top" comes down a little bit, and we would all occupy various strata of the "middle".

A collegue of mine countered that instead of meeting in the middle, basically the entire strata of rich to poor would be shifted upwards. So, the bottom comes up, but the top also goes up.
That doesn't make sense to me. That means that more "Stuff" (capital, money, resources, etc.) must exist, because more of it is going to the bottom and more of it is going to the top. Can that happen?

(I'm sure Econ 101 could have answered this for me. Damned Organic Chemistry got in the way in college.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Name Tags: Legit or Shit?

I have a problem with name tags. Instinctively, I trust them. More specifically, I trust those who wear them. Proudly hanging about the neck, fastened to an engraved cloth lanyard or sometimes encased in thick plastic, name tags bring the wearer a sense of confidence and to the casual observer, they impart a moral correctness. Without investigating the details, a simple glance at this innocent rectangular identification tablet comforts me. It says, "Hey, I'm here to help."

Or do they? Mark my words: Beware of those who wear name tags. Name tags don't mean a goddamn thing. They are useful pieces of deception, and most importantly, rarely recognized as so.

My first realization that a name-tagged person is not always a qualified, certified, and moralized person occurred while I was in Morocco. Actually, it happened when I was leaving Morocco:

Having arrived from Fez at the Tangiers train station much later than expected, I had approximately 10 minutes to get from the train station to the port and to the soon-to-depart ferry that would take me to Spain.
Dashing out the station doors, duffel bag awkwardly in tow and hat on head, I run across the front car park and take the first petit-taxi I come across on the main road. The driver is literally beckoning me, waving me on into his car, like I'm some kind of marathon runner. Mistake. I jump in the back door, sweating and short of breath. Mistake. This guy knows that he's got me by the balls. I'm fucked before he even opened his mouth. We start negotiating the price (a necessity in the Islamic world), but I'm in a hurry and I don't have time to negotiate. I need to get going. The driver, obviously, knows this. Fucking Stevie Wonder would know this. He's got me by the balls.
"Just go!" I shout, in a restrained manner. (I think I said "vamos!", trying to hide the fact that I was American [many people speak Spanish in Tangiers], because, as an American, I apparently have money. Not willing to disappoint the driver with the fact that I was broke, I tried to hide my nationality anyway)
"No, no." my smiling antagonist oozed. He wanted to talk prices.
"Five euros!" I stupidly shout. That's about 10-15 times the actual price and maybe a half day's wages for him.

Needless to say, we leave.

Driving down the main road, I'm sitting in the back seat, bag across my lap, checking my watch constantly. I just need this guy to stop somewhere close to the port and then I'll hop out and run the rest of the way. I'm fucked. I'm late. Come on. The boat is about to leave and I will be stuck in fucking Tangiers-- and the sun is about to set. The driver stops at the front gate and I quickly throw him a five euro note. He has the cajones, the fucking gall, the goddamn audacity to ask, innocently, "Tip?"
I sneer. "You're kidding me" or something in that rude sort of vain and hop out.
I take off running towards the boat.

Running up a long ramp that leads to the customs house, I know that I am seconds away from missing this boat. I dash through the front door, looking for the next checkpoint or visa station. Anything. Just get me on that boat. A man comes running up to me and seizes my left arm, "Hurry! Hurry! Boat leaves soon!" We rush to the right a short distance and to the customs window. Awesome. He asks me for my passport. I look, and see he is wearing a name tag.


Why did I trust this guy? Not even that. Why, without thinking, without blinking, did I hand this random fucking guy my passport?
Because he was wearing a name tag.


I give this guy my passport and he starts filling out a piece of paper he has next to him-- quite illegibly and in haste. I stand there, anxiously, looking at the customs window. Imagine it: Me- standing, waiting, looking. Dude- scribbling, smiling, referencing my passport. It dawned on me. This fucker doesn't work for customs. He's scamming me. And, he has my passport.

"Stop!" I shout, a little too loudly.
He doesn't let go of my passport-- so I grab it.
We are both holding on to my passport, pulling it in opposite directions, tug of war style. He is smiling. I am fucking furious.
"Fuck off" I hiss as I wrench it from his hands.
"Tip?" he smiles, like a weasel.
As the sweat drips down my cheek, I whisper an obscenity. I stomp over to the customs official who, behind his bullet proof glass, is grinning a little too much. He's seen this before.
I get my passport stamped, curse the Moroccan government, sprint, and make it to the ramp of the boat (with the crewmen shouting at me to hurry up), just in time. I get on board, sit, and start writing about what just happened.

Lesson: Don't trust people with name tags.

ps. Also, don't trust street protesters with name tags who try to get your money or get your email address. Who the hell are they? What are they trying to prove with their name tags and t-shirts? Legitimacy? No. No soup for you. I can print up a name tags, scrawl a catchy and rebellious organization name across the top, and do the same thing.
Fool me once...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Pardon Me, But I'm Coming

What a gem of a video. This is Sam and Dave, rocking out their hit "Hold On I'm Coming". Besides a funky ass break down mid way through the tune, check out the backing band. Look familiar, all you Rock historians out there?

That's right. Booker T and the MGs. Steve Cropper and Co. are just rocking out the place and I can't get enough of it.

If, like me, you can't get enough great 60s R&B, and once you start you can't stop, here are a few more videos to hold you over:

"Shotgun"-- Jr Walker and the All Stars

"Ain't Too Proud to Beg"-- The Temptations

"In the Midnight Hour"-- Wilson Pickett

"Rescue Me"-- Fontella Bass

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cream de la Cream

I used shaving cream for the first time in about 6 months today.

While in London, I have picked up the curious habit of refusing to use shaving cream. I am not sure why. It must have been that I went into the bathroom one day, fully intending on using my Barbasol Beard Busting Cream, when, alas, there was none. I probably stared, forlorn, into the empty space in my cabinet that was usually occupied by said BBBC for a couple of moments. The inevitable awaited: I had a decision to make. To shave, or not to shave.

Given societal standards of conduct- I shaved, with only a bit of water dabbed onto my neck. (Did I mention, I only needed to shave my neck? I don't shave my face. Ever. I rock the stubble.)

Ever since then, I have never used shaving cream. I simply soak my neck in hot water, grab a razor and have at it. At first, I'll admit, it was difficult. My skin would get beet red and occasionally bleed. But, like a Kung Fu monk's fists, after repeated abuse I have finally made myself strong. Now I can drag those twin shards of precision cut steel across the most sensitive of skin (that area where my chin’s horizontal underside meets my vertical neck, in the vicinity of my Adam’s apple) and walk away smiling. I’m not smiling because I look good. I’m smiling because I did it.

The intelligent thing to do would be to just buy some more shaving cream. It’s cheap, effective, and the most manly of cosmetics. But, I think the reason I don’t use it is, well, truthfully, I want to be ready--

Ready, if I ever have to go back to ‘Nam.

(Cue “Time of the Seasons”- The Zombies)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Equality Undermines Religious Freedom

It seems so easy nowadays to criticize the Pope and the Catholic Church, but when Benny 16 lobs you an underhand floater like this one, you can't resist knocking it out of the park.

This quote is brilliant:
“In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognise dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate,” he said. “It is the truth revealed through scripture and tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free.”

I gotta tell you, [insert dictator's name] couldn't have said it any better. I mean, who are we to argue-- sorry, dissent from-- the Truth?! Who are we to acknowledge equality in society when such a thing is expressly forbidden by the Church? After all, it was revealed through scripture (that nobody knows who wrote or when it was written), and through tradition- which as Woody Allen quipped "is the illusion of permanence".

Your bigotry is astounding, Pope. Shame on you. Shame on you.

Decreeing those who disagree with your divine diktats as "dissenters" is dirty and downright dangerous. I'm sure the Iranian public would agree with me.
It seems you and Ayatollah Khamenei have at least one thing in common.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Moments ago, I was reading an article for my World War II class, and in it they mention Butterbrot-- Bread and butter. Immediately, the image of white bread with smooth yellow butter came to mind and it reminded me of home.

There are certain foods that I will forever associate with home (and when I use the word "home" I am also placing a time period on it, namely, my 8-16 year old youth). Bread and butter is one of them. It's the kind of thing I would never order in a restaurant or make for myself at my flat. It's too bland, too boring, too unhealthy. But, it holds a special place for me. It is my youth. I can see it and taste it right now: A piece of white bread, slathered in soft butter (sometimes margarine), folded in half (that's the way we ate it). I never really enjoyed the fabric-like ribbon of crust, but our family wasn't one of those "cut off the crust" families. I had it rough. I ate that charred and thoroughly unappetizing protective shield so that I could get to the best part: that first bite of pure white bread. My teeth would sink easily through the fluffy whiteness and finally hit the cool, salty butter that resided inside. I distinctly remember that when I took the bite and looked back at the piece of bread, I could see the row of impressions my little teeth left in the butter. At this point, I would probably dip the bread and butter into a big plate of spaghetti-- actually, we usually ate penne-- with "meat sauce" as we called it (looking back, that sounds like such a 1930's Depression Era way of describing/naming the sauce my father made [it was a "let's not discuss this" point in my family that Dad made better "meat sauce" than Mom]. "Meat sauce". It's funny that we called it that), to mop up the tomato and chop meat goodness.

Amazing how a simple passing reference to a German worker's lunch snack brings back so many vivid personal memories.

It's for this reason that I am deathly afraid of having children of my own. I feel like I would warp them, or try so hard not to warp them that, inevitably, I would end up warping them even more. I am fully aware that I would try to control these types of memory associations-- or at least be deathly paranoid about them. For example, God forbid I give the kid a kiwi and he/she doesn't like it. I'd be like "Oh great. Now the kid is gonna have a kiwi-complex for the rest of its life. Great job Matt, you fucked up this kid's childhood."

Pity be the child who gets half my genes.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Same Shit, Different Country.

Like a polyp floating through the ocean, I too have finally broken free from the substrate that is my desk. I have renounced the sessile lifestyle and denounced my stagnant situation!

I joined a gym.

There isn't much worth noting about European gyms. But, like the philosopher Vincent Vega once said "It's the little differences. I mean, they got the same shit over there that we got here, but it's just – it's just there it's a little different."

First of all: nudity. At home, it's a necessity. Sure, sometimes you gotta show some stuff when you're changing or if you are walking over to the showers. It happens-- let's not make a big deal out of it. Here, holy shit. Dudes are standing there, scratching their second scalp, chatting on their cell phones, making business plans, discussing recent weather conditions, applying lotion to their forearms. For fuck's sake, throw a towel on! It's called "common courtesy", and for some of them, I call it a favor.
(Side note: I only relate this for the purposes of full disclosure and for observational integrity. Dudes don't get "the snip" down there, over here. Just doesn't happen. It sort of surprised me, but no big deal.)

Second: kilometres and kilograms. I guess I should have guessed this was going to happen, and it shouldn't come as a big surprise. However, I still feel slightly ashamed when I take the weights from the left side of the rack. With some patience, sweat, determination, and substance abuse, I can eventually work my way to the middle of the rack. But that bottom rack-- oh that bottom rack. It is the dragon I cannot slay. The kingdom I cannot conquer. The maiden I cannot mount. It is the Holy Grail and I am brave Sir Robbins. For "when danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled."

Third: Commitment. There is an electronic display panel near the treadmills that displays advertisements, music videos, and things of that nature that one can mindlessly stare at while running. (Note: Some of the music videos shown are a little too sexy for me. I mean, I won't get into detail, but some of them make me kind of "hot"-- and it ain't from the running, if you know what I mean.)
Occasionally the gym sees the need to advertise itself- in the gym- to those who are already members. Right. Well, one of the messages said "The member with the highest number of visits has come every day for the past few years!"
Are you kidding? That's a record? Have you ever been to the Upper West Side, you low-expectation 12 volt bitch? Every day is nothing. How many times a day, every day, do some New Yorkers go? That's the question... you 3 pin pussy.


Fourth: Sanitation. Example- it costs money to get a towel. Yeah, I have to pay one pound each time I use a towel here. Most don't partake in my American-inspired germaphobia and prefer instead to feel their heads dip into that sweat-soggy leather backrest. I could puke. Needless to say, I bring a towel.

And that's about it. It's not too different, but I enjoy the subtlety.

Drinking Buddies

I really don't know where my head has been for the past two weeks, but it hasn't been at LSE or in a cocktail recipe book. In all honesty, I've been daydreaming a lot more-- and I have You Tube to thank.

You'll notice that I have been posting more videos recently. People like Orson Welles, Anthony Newley, Salvador Dali-- these are the people I have been thinking about recently. Each of them holds a special "fantareality" for me, in that I feel that, in some small degree, I can relate to them and live amongst them. I feel like I could easily sit down for a drink (liquor probably. These guys weren't beer drinkers, I'm sure. More likely, whiskey, scotch, or absinthe. I could be wrong, but the picture is perfect if we are drinking from snifters) with all of them, and bullshit the night away.

I'd tell stories of my past botched love interests (we'd be there all night for christsake), past girlfriends, and late night benders-- all slightly exaggerated for comedic effect. Welles would come out with some philosophizing at which I would roll my eyes, call him out, and, depending on his sobriety, he could either lash out at me or charmingly smile and concede that I had caught him in a bullshit moment. We'd go through bottles of the stuff and by the end of the night, Newley and I would be singing in harmony (well, I'd sing the melody and let Tony take the harmony) and Dali and Welles would be arguing over which of them was the lesser talented artist.

I think this is why history has such an appeal to me. I can get lost in it. "Escaping" makes it sound like I have a phobia or some psychological issues. I prefer to think that I just have a vivid imagination. That came out wrong. I mean, an ability to see detailed imaginary pictures in my head. That sounds better.

So, my promise to you, cherished reader, is no more videos for a while.

Maybe just two more. Here's Mel Brooks relating the reason how Jewish people die by singing in the wrong key:
And here's Orson Welles in a role that in my humble opinion, heavily influenced William Shatner. I mean, dammit, it just screams Shatner. Watch Welles's little smirk. That's a Bill Shatner moment if I have ever seen one.

Ok, I'm done.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Candy Man

Let's just say, for argument's sake, that some day I end up being more famous than Betty Ford. As I sit down with Barbara Walters for an interview on 60 minutes, she asks me who were my influences in the artistic field. A pretentious way of wording the question, I note silently, but answer casually, "Well you know Barb, I wasn't that in to the arts or music growing up. I sort of followed what everybody else listened to without ever really finding someone who resonated with me. But, when I was in my early 20s, I did kind of idolize one entertainer who not many Americans my age know of. He is Anthony Newley."

I present, Anthony Newley.

or Tony being charming alongside the inimitable Shirley Bassey

Great Patriotic War

Trawling the archives, I came up with some fascinating propaganda films from the Second World War. Each is disturbing in its own right, and at the same time, each is kind of hysterical in hind sight.

This one is great. As the title says, it is from the Autumn/Winter of 1944-5. Let that sink in. A propaganda film from the winter of '45? The war is over in Europe in about 4 months! The Soviets are in Poland and the US/UK are nearing western Germany. Well, to hell with it! Let's make a movie! Notice, however, that most of the vignettes depict the Germans retreating in some sense, either getting to cover under trees or laying smoke screens. Sort of interesting.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Daiquiri for Me

I've been in a cocktail mood recently and if I had to choose my current favorite, it would undoubtedly be the Daiquiri. No, not a strawberry daiquiri or banana daiquiri. A straight up Daiquiri. It's smooth, dry, and delicious.

2 oz of good white rum (Havana Club 7 kicks ass)
juice of half a lime
1/2 teaspoon of sugar

Throw it in a shaker and shake it up. Serve straight up.

My first daiquiri experience was at a nice Cuban restaurant in Brooklyn that I used to frequent. I went maybe twice a week (ordering the Ropa Vieja or mango chicken con arroz y habichuelas) and every time I had to have that perfect daiquiri made by the tatooed waitress/bartender. The drink had an odd texture: not a smoothie, but not completely liquid either. It had a viscosity that I couldn't wrap my head around. Until I found out her secret:

When shaking the ingredients, put some crushed ice in the shaker along with cubed ice. When pouring, that semi-melted crushed ice gives it a perfect texture that will leave naive 20-somethings baffled and bewildered. And drunk. Two or three of these and you'll be singing Guantanamera with the best of them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Two Great Drinkers

Now we all should know by now that I am a sucker for a well told story. Orson Welles, of frozen peas fame, tells a great story in this clip about his relationship and occasionally profitable encounters with Winston Churchill.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dancefloor Debates

We are in an underground dance club. The strobe lights are going, the music is blaring, and bodies are moving. Currently, I am double fisting with a double caipirinha in my left hand and a Jack and Coke in the other. I'm not sure how I got the Jack, but I'm not about to start asking needless questions. I need to get something approaching a buzz going before I head out to the dance floor.

I am being introduced to an exotic beauty by a good friend. He tells her my name and my Masters program. That's nice of him, playing a sort of preflight wingman. She, is hot. Definitely of Middle Eastern descent. She tells me her name (which I promptly forget--shit) and through the thumping bass lines, she shouts into my ear that she is half Moroccan. Ten points and things are looking up. Then, she drops the bomb.

"What do you think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?"

What. My jaw drops. All I can manage is a stupefied, wide-eyed face and a desperate glance at my friend. He reacts much the same way. I try to recover and form complete sentences:

"Well, uhhh, goddamn, I uh... You know it's..."

This goes on for some moments. I am hoping that she'll detect my struggles and mercifully bail me out with a subject change or a quick "I got ya!" jab to the ribs.

Doesn't happen. She stares at me, waiting for an answer.

"Well sure, alright. Settlement construction is obviously ridiculous and inexcusable. I mean, it is illegal and deceitful."
She likes that response. "Deceitful." Great word choice. Fuck yeah, Matt. Mental self-High Five.

"I don't think that either side handles itself appropriately. I'm not pro-Israeli but I'm not necessarily pro-Palestinian either." I take this middle road path for a few moments and recognize that I blew it.

Lesson: When double fisting, avoid talk of Big Issues. You can't win.

Some Symbolic Fish

Salvador Dali is like McDonalds: Sometimes, it's better not knowing where the product comes from. After watching this video, you might understand what I mean.

He's an arrogant man. Entertaining, sure, but referring to oneself in the third person is never admissible.

Though I must concede, I laughed out loud during the opening "birth" sequence.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I Don't Need No Doctorate

If somebody asked me to define the Rock and Roll Spirit of 1970s (something I just coined, I think), I would use this video as Exhibit A.

Humble Pie playing "I Don't Need No Doctor". The song oozes fucking Rock. Let's start with the title which proudly flaunts its non-grammar in your face. I don't need no doctor? Brilliant. Everybody used the double negative in their songs at this time. And why? Because they fucking could. If nothing else, it sounded better. I mean, take the alternative: "I Do Not Need A Doctor." That sounds like a Sesame Street tune. I Don't Need No Doctor sounds like something a Hell bound trucker clutching the wheel of a runaway 18 wheeler engulfed in flames would say.

Second, the song has no premise and little message. The fact that he "don't need no doctor" just proves he (Steve Marriot, specifically) is a fucking bad ass-- in a Rock kind of way.

Third, the proud opening of "I don't need no fucking doctor", like the infamous "It's time to kick out the jams motherfuckers!" is a brilliant piece of stagemanship, throwing the audience off and kicking it into high gear. Follow it up with some teeth gnashing power chords, a face melting guitar solo, a grooving break-it-down, and a series of false endings, and you've got yourself a Heavy Metal song that had class. None of that black leather, goblins, and cannibal bullshit that came out 10 years later. This has sex. That was shit.

Fourth, consider the history. Steve Mariott was in the Small Faces (which, after Mariott's departure, later became one of my favorite bands, The Faces). The Small Faces recorded such poopers as "Itchycoo Park". Check it out:

Yeah, there's Mariott front and center singing "feed the ducks with a bun" in proper Mod wear, complete with dinky guitars and childish harmonies. Then he grew up, grew out his hair, and learned how to rock. Good on 'em.

So grab your guitar and harmonica, your bottle of Jack, and your best mates, and when they tell you that you need to seek medical help-- you know what to say.

Monday, January 11, 2010

"I Hate Pikies" - Gorgeous George

It was a dreadfully slow day at work. So slow that most of us humble employees simply stood around making small talk, sipped hot water and lemon, invented entertaining dances, or occasionally checked to see if any of the smattering of customers in the restaurant needed a wet nap or two.

Behind the bar, one of the managers and myself struck up a lively conversation about a topic I know so little about, but thanks to Guy Ritchie, I have a general idea: Gyppos.
You know, gypsies, Irish travellers, tinkers, knackers, or simply, deliciously, "fuckin' pikies."

To say I was tickled by this conversation is an understatement. I was overjoyed. I was giddy. I was fascinated-- but the kind of fascinated that makes me dance up and down on my tippy toes (an odd idiosyncrasy, I know). Here's what I learned from my coworkers:
-Gyppos live in caravans in motor parks on land that they often, surprisingly, own. Their semi-nomadic culture and the land they live on is protected by the government (much like Native Americans in the US), and if they decide to come into your town, you better be sure they are not moving out until they decide to. The cops won't ask them to leave. The mayor won't either. Fucking Superman would put on his horn rim glasses and try to cover up the giant S on his chest. All because everybody is too afraid to talk to them and possibly to try and move them. Logic, force, law, etc. all have no jurisdiction when it comes to pikies. They do as they please.

-All fucking pikies are criminals. "It's just a fact, mate."
-Gyppos shit in the open.
-You can't understand a word they say.
-They have bare-knuckle boxing leagues where it is often the objective to physically scar your opponent for the rest of their lives-- not to speak of beating the piss out of them.

The most priceless quote that sent me into a childish fit of laughter comes from a good buddy of mine, "My Dad tells me he had to fight five gyppos for the love of my mum."

I couldn't stop asking questions. What do they look like? What do they eat? Do they have jobs? Have you ever met one? Can they serve in the military? (Immediately Frank Herbert, author of the Dune series, jumped into my mind. If these guys are as tough as they say they are, man, can't they be crafted into the deadliest, most bloodthirsty supersoldier squadron ever to defend the fucking British Isles? Fuck! They are already nomadic. Afghanistan would be a friggin Sunday retreat for these guys! True, I don't think Osama would accept a bare knuckle challenge for a broken caravan, but it's worth a goddamn try!)

I wasn't so interested in the answers to my questions as I was in the reactions of those I spoke to. I wanted them to keep talking, to keep describing, to keep telling stories, because everybody that I spoke to had the same reactions, best summarized by "fuckin' pikies." Nobody said, "Oh yes, I once met a darling gyppo. He saved me mum from a tree." Or, "Gyppos? Splendid chaps they are! I once knew a gyppo who gave out candy to disabled children in Uganda on Christmas during a typhus outbreak."

Instead, it was "Gyppos? I fucking hate gyppos. They eat their own shit and drink the blood of Christian children."

Gyppos are like dragons (or, for a better visual, ogres). Fantastical creatures who live far away, living their violent lives according to their own rules, beyond the reach (and hope) of civilization. Nobody really personally knows a single gyppo, but everybody has a story. There are sightings, and even a few relics. And once in a blue moon, they come thundering down from the hills in their cacophonous caravans of death, and the common, decent village folk flee in terror, trying to save the goat herds and their youngest daughters from rape and slaughter, respectively. Inevitably, a kid of 2 years is unintentionally left behind and raped mercilessly in the village square. Her sorrowful bleats could be heard for miles.


And thus, gyppos. A mysterious peoples of unknown origin and uncertain future. But one thing is certain. When you go home tonight, lock your doors, hide your liquor, and check under the bed, because you might be unlucky enough to discover your worst enemy-- our own ignorance.

Friday, January 8, 2010


One of the most iconic moments in Rock history happens at 7:50 in this video. It is epic and the fucking stuff Rock is made of.

The Who- Won't Get Fooled Again


It is no secret that I am a godless heathen, but, I am always on the lookout for explanations to the contrary and today I may have thought of one all by myself. While sitting down at my café and eating a plate of chicken jalafrezi, I randomly noted how even I, a person who does not believe in God or a higher power, will in times of trouble or strife seemingly “pray” and “wish” for safety and salvation. Who am I praying to? Why am I praying? I am contradicting my own beliefs, or non-beliefs.

My question is, is “prayer”--which I will define as talking to somebody who is not there physically (chatting with imaginary friends is a form of prayer, no?)—a learned activity? Do I start talking to nobody because I learned, or was forced, to do that in Church on Sundays? If the idea of God was not introduced to me at a young age, would I ever turn to a form of prayer in times of trouble? This is starting to sound like a Simon and Garfunkel song.

Since I “pray” at times, does that prove I actually believe in a God? Is this the biological way of proving there is a God, when my impulses trump my reason?

No. I think I am just panicking at these times and my inner child expresses itself against my will. Harsh.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Glimpse of Love

I walked outside just a few moments ago to head to my favorite local Italian restaurant for dinner. The roasted quail is fantastic. I stepped outside into the tundric cold and cursed myself for not bringing my scarf, but trudged on anyway as I certainly wasn't about to go back up three flights of stairs. I'm cold now and might as well face the consequences. Trying to build up some muscular heat, I take off at a jaunty canter heading north and pass the cafe where I eat breakfast nearly every day. In an idle sort of way, I looked into the large windows that face the street, expecting to see some chairs stacked on top of cleared tables.
Instead, I saw the husband and wife owners, who spend the entire day from 7am to 4pm behind the grill making the cafe's food and greeting each visitor who enters, sitting at a small table in the empty restaurant, together, eating and laughing over dinner.
That's love.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Faint Hearted? Skip this Post.

I had one of my reoccurring dreams last night. I must admit, I have a repertoire of about four or five dreams that pop up into the ol' noggin every couple of months or so. Most are not fit to put down in writing (at least not in this venue [I could make a sizable sum of money in certain circles by recording those other dreams]). The one from last night, however, is my least favorite and most frequent. What I find strange is that there is never any lead-in to the dream and there is rarely a conclusion. It is just one scene. If you are squeamish, maybe skip this:

I pull multiple long strands of hair out of my throat through my mouth. Usually there is one strand in my throat and I am able to grab hold of it by putting my fingers in my mouth. Then I tug on it, trying not to gag (which I do) but there is resistance as if it was caught on something. I pull and pull and it eventually loosens up, coming out slowly with me applying consistent force, usually (this is gross) with some kind of gunk clinging to the end. After I pull the first strand out of my throat, there is another to takes its place and the process starts over again.

I'm gagging right now.

Last night there was a sort of pseudo-conclusion which I have never experienced before. I pulled on the last strand of stuck hair and while pulling it out of my mouth, a metallic type contraption came out with it. I don't quite know how to describe it. It sort of looked like a retainer (you know, what you wear after getting your braces off), but it was a copperish steel and full of holes-- much like a sieve. The final strand of hair was attached to this device and as I pulled it from my throat, I saw this thing emerge. I kind of just re-swallowed it, for fear that I would break the copper-steel metallic device that happily resides in my esophagus. I don't think I could find a replacement on eBay.

After unsuccessfully searching on the internet for some kind of explanation, I have settled on my own homebrewed conclusion: Alien space probes. Considering the oft-reported alternative method of entry, I'll consider myself lucky.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Stand By Me

I got the chills and a burning desire to jump on a stage after watching this video.

I present U2 and Bruce Springsteen doing "Stand By Me".