Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Apologies for not posting anything in the recent days, I have been out of town participating in the third annual Bele Chere whiffleball tourney in scenic Asheville, North Carolina. We finished 5th out of 12 teams, but did get to play in what was probably the most exciting game of the event, which sadly we lost 20-15 in extra innings despite coming from nine behind to tie the score earlier in the contest. The weather was typical of a Bele Chere Saturday, dreary and rainy early and sun-baked later on in the day. The liquid gold overflowed our gullets as usual and one of our teammates may have sustained fatal drinking injuries as a result. Get well Dan! Colin wants to take another stab at finishing off the last sliver of your liver down in Edisto.
In news relating to the future, I will be traveling to the great city of Chicago with my brother this weekend to see my friend Tim and hopefully we will be able to take in a Cubs game. A visit to the Navy Pier is also in order. I shall return on Monday the 4th and my twisted blabbering will resume shortly thereafter. Perhaps I shall speak further of this Chicago place. Please forgive my prolonged writing absence as I have just turned 33 and I plan to see the world quickly before the creeping death of middle age comes up and bites me into senior citizen submission.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Sordid, Sinful Sands of the Sunny Sea

Whenever some poor soul from Upstate South Carolina mentions the beach, everyone knows exactly what they are talking about - Myrtle Beach. When spring and summer come upon us, where would you rather be than the mecca of the redneck horde? What more could you want than a Wings and an Eagles on every street corner - selling the kind of quality t-shirts that disintegrate on contact with your skin and for only a buck a pop! Accuse me of snobbery if you will, but I need more than a mere 7 million miniature golf courses and a rusty carousel to make my vacation the fantastic fun-filled voyage I deserve. When I am ready to hit the sands and splash amidst the waves, my car heads in a different direction, down to sun-splashed Florida and the spring break capital of the world, Panama City Beach.
During the short decade that composed my college years, I would head down 1-85 with several friends and a dozen silver cows or so to spend my spring break on the Gulf Coast. On occasion, a buddy or two would remain, never to return to his studies evermore. Such is the allure of the siren song of Panama City Beach.
Unlike the gritty, dark colored sands of the Atlantic Coast, the Gulf sands are a white powder that looks enough like flour that we attempted to bake bread with it on several misguided occasions. Do not attempt to snort it either. The water is superior as well, not the murky dark green of Myrtle, but rather a clear blue, which allows you the pleasure of viewing whatever marine wildlife is gently gnawing off your leg from the knee down. The city did suffer a setback for a couple of years when the beach was consumed by the might of Hurricane Opal, but don't worry, a magic fairy brought the dust back and all is right with the world until the polar icecaps melt, another hurricane strikes, or Britney Spear's child grows of age (hopefully that will be my last pop culture reference of the year as I have used up my quota of one).
Besides the gorgeous shore, why should you take the drastic step of driving your car through the treacherous trails of medieval Alabama? Brief aside: if you do choose to visit this sad excuse for a state, make sure to peel off your Hillary for Prez stickers first.
Panama City Beach is most famous for Club La Vela, a dance club featured on MTV's Spring Break. La Vela and its sister club, Spinnaker's, is best known for bikinis and naked flesh; sweaty bodies swinging to and fro in ecstasy and probably on it as well. Breasts bobbing up and down as dancers press their torsos hard into one another in fits of intoxicated madness. The music crashes down from the speakers and the bass beats in a tribal rhythm not dissimilar to the copulation rites practiced by Fulani chieftains in an age long past. A transcendent bass-filled cacophony crushes the tympanic membrane into submission. Soon chaos will break free of its chains and rule over the dance floor as the sexual frenzy reaches a slippery, quivering climax. Personally, I prefer playing volleyball.
During my engagements in Panama City Beach, I have without fail stayed at the Sandpiper Beacon Hotel. The amenities include four pools (including one indoors), two never-been-peed-in jacuzzi, a four hole miniature golf course, volleyball courts, and a Tiki bar. The major attraction (barely beating out the Tiki bar, location of my second place finish during the 1997 wet T-shirt contest), is something called the lazy river. The lazy river is like a pool, but shaped more like a castle's moat, running in an oval around a filled in center. The water possesses a light current that allows you to sit on a float and with either properly situated kegs or enslaved pledges, you can maintain your supine position undisturbed for several hours of relaxing, mindless pleasure.
Of course, at some juncture you are going to want to leave the hotel grounds and try out the floury sand and sparkling water that I spoke of earlier. There are also many seaside activities available including para sailing, jet skiing, surfing, and water-boarding (not to be confused with the torturing/non-torturing of America's enemies, just take a short sail out to Guantanamo Bay if that is the kind of freaky stuff you are into). There is nothing that I enjoy more, however, than riding the big yellow banana. Do you need more of an explanation, or should that suffice? Frankly, you have probably gone to far to stop now, so here goes - the yellow banana is a large inflated piece of plastic with five seats, attached to a motor boat. The goal of the boat's driver is to drive at a horrendously dangerous speed and take quick, spine-crushing turns, thus causing the riders to fly off and crash into the water. Everyone then climbs back onto the banana in order to have the opportunity to be thrown from it once more. There is nothing closer to bull riding around and the good news is this ride won't result in your body hanging off of a blood-soaked horn as your intestines leak from your back like water and pasta escaping from a poorly sized human callender.
So now you see the obvious reasons why I eschew Myrtle Beach in exchange for greener pastures. Heck, I didn't even mention the high-quality strip clubs or even the luxurious comfort of the local jails (avoid running down the beach naked if possible). There is so much to do and to see there that I can't possibly fit the words into my allotted space. Instead, I will summarize with a verse. Just free yourself from the tyranny of the same, shed your shame, show off your game, don't act too lame, head to your hotel room with a dame, not excessively tame, perhap Valerie Plame, who hopefully won't even know your name. Don't ever mix poetry and rotgut moonshine boys and girls.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Your Reading Assignment, Should You Choose to Accept It

Reading is a railroad in the game Monopoly, as well as a city in both Pennsylvania and England. Reading is also fundamental, like being able to dribble in basketball or being able to execute a perfect block in football that reduces your opponent to a pathetic pile of impotent mashed taters. Reading is also something dorks like me do for fun. Today we will take a look at three different piles of paper, glue, and binding that we will refer to from now on as books. These "books" have managed to provide me with a source of entertainment from time to time and I dare hope that they can do so for you as well. Unless you would rather watch TV like a mindless zombie while your brain melts into a useless jumble of neurons and synapses, which, of course, is totally cool.
The first selection we will lift onto the lofty pedestal of literary greatness is a piece of non-fiction. Those with a mindless hatred of history should move on to the next paragraph and miss one of the greatest stories ever told. Now that we have gotten rid of those d-bags, let's get our read on. "In the Heart of the Sea" by Nathaniel Philbrick is the amazing story of the whaleship Essex and its unlucky , but edible, crew. The tale of the Essex is credited by the author Herman Melville as the inspiration for his famous novel "Moby Dick", which, surprisingly, is not a porno. The lady pictured above is holding whale vomit, which I found totally pertinent to this review.
While on an expedition deep in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, the tables are turned on the whale hunters, as they are attacked by any angry sperm whale (blue whale balls?). The ship is destroyed and the thirty man crew is left stranded with three small boats and thousands of miles of open ocean between them and landfall. They may not have enough food and water to sustain them across the distance, but it turns out that manflesh is quite a delicacy when you are stuck in the Pacific without other hope of sustenance (check out my article on zombies for manflesh recipes by Emeril Lagasse). Philbrick's prose flows like a raging river, telling a gripping tale that at times resembles "The Odyssey" in terms of its perils, except there is no scary one-eyed monster. The book is well researched and brings characters from a bygone era vividly to life. Very rarely is history told in such a readable and entertaining fashion.
We move from history to sports with our second choice, "The Blind Side," by Michael Lewis. Lewis is best known for his book, "Moneyball," which details how a small market baseball team, the Oakland A's, is able to survive and thrive in a game dominated by franchises with huge payrolls, like the Yankees and Red Sox, who are both owned and operated by demon spawn. The author's more recent effort "The Blind Side," is, although on its surface also a story about sports, a very different tale. Here Lewis relates the narrative of an individual who overcomes enormous odds to succeed - maybe. Michael Oher, the book's protagonist, is a giant of man, even at the young age of 16, standing over six and a half feet tall and weighing easily over three hundred pounds. He is the prototypical NFL offensive lineman, but there is a problem. Oher is nearly illiterate, living in terrible poverty, and on the fast track to a career as a gang leader's bodyguard. The young man's life takes a turn for the better when he is discovered by Sean Tuohy, a wealthy businessman and former Ole Miss basketball star who, along with his wife, sees the amazing potential Oher has. "The Blind Side" is a true story, but Lewis does a tremendous job of hiding the twists and turns so that the tension consumes you like a great white shark inhaling its helpless prey. The book also underlines the inherent unfairness of the American educational system as well as demonstrating that our environment, and the various advantages and disadvantages that environment provides, plays a huge role in the likelihood of our eventual success or failure. You can take the boy out of the ghetto, but can you take the ghetto out of the boy? "The Blind Side" is much more than a sports story. I wave two thumbs up in the air, as if I just didn't care, for Lewis's effort (interesting side note: Lewis is married to Tabitha Soren, formerly of MTV fame).
Finally, we will enter the world of fiction, that delightful land of all things imaginary, like fairies and elves, or the Cubs winning the World Series with an eight year old as their star pitcher (or frankly even making the World Series with anybody on the team). The creative, yet demented mind of Chuck Pahliniuk (spelling may be incorrect because I do not speak Eskimo) is the source of the final work I will discuss in these pages. Master P is best known for his novel, "Fight Club," which deals with how suburban middle class folks upset with their mundane existence find that beating the ever-living shit out of each other makes them feel all warm and cuddly on the inside (not to mention bloody and pulpy on the outside). Everyone has probably seen the movie with Ed Norton and Brad Pitt and I feel like talking about "Lullaby," the Pahlikchinook novel I just read, so let's move on from that fighting snoozefest and get on with a happier tale.
"Lullaby" is the story of a man and a woman who are brought together by a common past - they both accidentally read a lullaby from a children's book, thus causing the death of their respective infants. It so happens that they have come across a culling song, which when spoken or even thought out in its entirety, leads directly to the death of the person being thought about at that time. The two realize the danger of the culling song and set about to destroy all the books in which the verse is printed. From there follows a darkly comic story that explores the use of great power and the unintended consequences that inevitably follow (see Bush, George W.). Pahliniuk writes in a style that moves like a freight train while managing not to run over the readers with convoluted plot changes. There is in his writing a staccato machine gun-like rhythm of quick, concise prose that explains everything that is going on while also amusing the reader with bits of humor twisted like a perverted pretzel on Praxis. If you haven't yet visited the bizarre world of Pahliniuk get off your ass before I threaten to do something to you that I have not bothered to think of yet.

P.S.: Just to let you know, I do not give glowing reviews to everything I read. The books I have been discussing are my three favorites from the last year out of thirty or forty that I managed to complete. This makes me seem like a real nerd, but I finished most of those novels on the interminable flight back from Prague, which took 17,000 hours.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires..... or Start Them If You Are So Inclined

Late on the night of July 4th, shortly after the conclusion of Greenville's massive fireworks extravaganza, I was invited by a friend, who we will call Mr. T (to protect the innocent, not because he wears enough gold chain to forever vanquish the US debt) to an after party involving more sky explosions. Mr. T's friend Mr. Brown (not to be confused with Quentin Tarantino in "Reservoir Dogs" or the soda, mainly because this is also a pseudonym) had taken a trip up to Shelton, SC, where the largest known supply of pyrotechnics in the free world is stored in a barn-like building the size of the Sears Tower. Mr. Brown came back with a SUV full of enough artillery to reproduce the American invasion of Grenada (yes we once invaded a Caribbean island the size of a thimble, for more look up Reagan, Ronald in Wikipedia). The group then pulled up chairs and sat back to watch Mr. T and Mr. Brown go to work turning the night into a sparkling cornucopia of aerial artwork.
Everything seemed to be going fine for a while. I tipped back in my seat and began to converse with some sort of half-crazed wench who was well gone on the demon rum. Champagne bubbled down the back of my throat as she regaled me with her endless nonsensical babbling. Then, all of a sudden, Mr. T decided he would mix things up a bit by aiming a rocket at the brush fifty yards to our right. Such an action might be considered rash at the best of times, but we are currently mired in a drought of quasi-mythical proportions, and the bushes he fired into were drier than a world without K-Y. Flames immediately shot upwards and panic gripped the group into momentary paralysis. Someone brilliant (almost certainly me and I am taking credit either way) suggested that perhaps we should run up to the host's house and grab a fire extinguisher. This masterful plan quickly took hold and shortly thereafter several folks were dashing towards the conflagration, which had reached a height warmly reminiscent of hell's fiery inferno. Full-fledged disaster seemed imminent. I decided that the best place to view the battle between man and fire was my chair, so I sat back down to take in the action in comfort.
Chaos ensued as the flames flickered higher and our heroes stumbled into the mouth of the blaze.The lines of combat were drawn and it appeared that only one would survive. Soon enough the shouting was over and the extinguisher had blown its foamy load. The brave few who had done battle returned, bruised, scraped, and dirty, but unbroken. The once powerful inferno had been beaten back, tamed like a pathetic zoo animal doomed to spend the rest of its life crapping in a cage.
Everything appeared to be okay, but we had only reached the eye of the storm. Suddenly a bright red firetruck came screaming down the highway with its sirens blaring out the clarion call of impending doom. There was little doubt in our minds that it was our blaze that these men were after - and if we did not think quickly trouble was soon to be an intergral part of our future. We acted fast, starting a small campfire that could be seen from the road. When the fire engine came roaring back in our direction, they spotted us cooking smores over the open flame. Two firemen approached and questioned us about a brush fire that a neighbor had recently reported. Mr. Brown and the owner of the property, Mr. P (not the Pizza company) led the way, claiming they knew nothing of such craziness, while I shoved my shirt well down the back of my throat to avert the explosive guffaws that were brewing in my belly. The subterfuge worked and our two visitors drove their truck away into the darkness of the night. There is surely a lesson that we can all take from this near disaster, but damn if I can figure out what it might be. Only Mr. T can start forest fires?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Game For the Ages

The smell of spring: flowers bloom, the insects buzz, the grass glistens an emerald green, and the stage is set for the boys to step on to the diamond. The lines have been drawn at Woodwinds Field, and the distances marked. The cooler has been wheeled out and placed like an altar behind home plate. The Allman Brothers tune,"Sweet Melissa," shouts its enchanting melody from the speakers of Steve Murray's car. A winter's worth of intense twelve ounce weight training has led up to this moment - a chance to prove oneself on the greatest stage of all - Pi Kapp whiffleball has begun.
Founded sometime in the distant past by a fraternity at that time known for some reason as Pi Kappa High, Pi Kapp whiffleball is a sport unlike any other. Only bowling can equal the utter lack of movement combined with mass alcohol consumption that takes place during the course of a game. In fact, laziness and drunkenness, which are usually considered vices in our society, are celebrated in this sport. The number one rule requires you to have a beer in one of your hands at all times. Anyone appearing at home plate to bat without a beverage is considered automatically out. There are no exceptions to the rule. Forgetting to bring your beer with you is an unforgivable sin. The can should be attached to your hands at all times like a magnet. Go ahead and super-glue it there if you are using a cup, you can always have it surgically removed one day if absolutely necessary. Anyone without a can of frothy delight that makes contact with a ball as a fielder is immediately castrated (actually we just call it a hit). Given time, you will become a Busch Light Cyborg, part man, part liquid refreshment.
Fortunately, in a game invented and played by stoners, consideration was made for diminished lung capacity. There is no silly running around the diamond like in baseball or softball. Singles, doubles, triples and homers are all based on where the batted ball lands. Lines are marked on the sides of the field to indicate the amount of bases allocated for each hit. Having a fence to indicate the home run area is a perk, but not crucial. For a ball to be in play on the ground it must roll at least to the pitcher’s mound, otherwise it is considered a foul ball. Any hit that falls on the ground in fair play, short of the double line, can be fielded off the surface for an out, but only if the defensive player picks up the ball cleanly and before it has come to a complete stop. Outs can also be recorded by catching fly balls, and bonus outs are awarded if you pick one from the sky with chopsticks. If you strike out, congratulations, you have taken sucktacularity to a heretofore unattained level (unless you are toasted and then consider your result par for the course).
Our happily high whiffleball founding fathers also decided that fielders must concentrate at all times on making minimum effort to attain the ball. Running or diving is considered against the spirit of the game and any out made under these circumstances will be taken away from the defensive team. Being kind of a spazzfest, I always had trouble with that rule. Pitchers also must take it easy. All pitches thrown must have a defined lob to them – if you are a budding Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson, PKW is not your game. The game is designed with hitters in mind, there should be none of those mundane 1-0 pitching duels. Potheads and drunks have one thing in common – they get bored with inaction easily and if the ball isn’t flying around the yard, nappy time fast approaches.
Games can be played for nine innings or until a team manages to score ten runs. If you lose track of the score don't worry, it wasn't that important anyway. Contests often take an hour or more, so smoking is allowed during play. If holding a cigarette causes you to run out of hands, those are the breaks. Use of other banned substances before and during play is encouraged, although I tend to avoid steroids since the last two things on my Christmas list are a hairier back and smaller balls. Teams are made up of four to five players each, but you can play with as few as seven people total if you have an all-time pitcher.
The sport has expanded since those early days of playing games behind the Woodwinds Apartment complex. There is now an annual tournament, where ten or more teams gather south of Asheville during the last week of July for a festival of whiffleball greatness. Although, the North Carolinians have tinkered with the rules some, the basics are the same. A small entry feed includes your beer, hot dogs, and a minimum of two games per team.
So get your butt out there and have some fun. If there is a way to garner more good times with just a beer and a plastic ball, I am unaware of it and most likely such a thing would be illegal anyway. If you have any questions concerning the rules, just drop me a line. And remember kids - never mix whiffleball with sobriety!