Monday, December 21, 2009
Heading off to Madrid on Saturday for a six day stay in sunny Spain (or so we hope despite weather reports to the contrary). Therefore, this is likely the last post of the year - you can look forward to hearing about my Spanish shenanigans soon. Hope to see you again in 2010.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Ever had the urgent need to be devoured whole by an alligator? Always wanted to see the sun blotted out by a swarming cloud of mosquitoes? Ever desired to see oak trees almost as old as Abe Vigoda? If these wishes top your personal list, then journey south from Charleston a few miles down Highway 17 in the direction of Savannah, Georgia and you will run smack into the perfect place to live your dream, the Caw Caw Interpretative Center.
Stretching across one hundred plus acres in Ravenel, a bare mile from the South Carolina coast, the Center sits on land stolen from Native Americans and then used for the cultivation of rice. The black slaves brought here against their will to work the plantation enjoyed taking part in the Stono Rebellion, an uprising that came quite close to success. Although the slaves and natives have long moved on to heaven and their masters to an eternity of suffering in the lake of fire, their descendants can still take the opportunity to see the same mammals and birds that Uncle Tom and Simon Legree would have gazed upon in their bygone era had they not been purely fictional characters.
Nowadays Caw Caw is all about biology, zoology, and various other ologies, not about who killed/enslaved whom. The preserve presents a fascinating ecological melange, with forest land, swamp, fresh and salt water habitats all existing side by side. This diversity provides a tremendous abundance of wildlife as a result (in addition to the aforementioned mosquitoes and alligators) most of which are unlikely to hold your head in their maws or suck your human juice until your skin tone resemble that of an albino leaving a blood bank.
According to the official propaganda being put out by the Caw Caw people, (as if we could trust these whacked out tree-hugging hippies) there are at various times of year400 species of plants and over 250 different species of birds ready and waiting to be observed if you would just pay some attention for once. Magnificent large water fowl like the anhinga, egret, and heron are all easily spotted even by the untrained eye.
With eight different trails winding through the Interpretative Center, your paths are not confined to the paltry two options Robert Frost gave you in his limiting poem. If you have the requisite time, I recommend trying the Habitat Loop, a 3.6 mile trek running the entire gamut of habitats. If treading upon the earth has become tedious to you, Caw Caw also offers canoeing trips along the Center's waterways. Petting the water moccasins as you paddle by is not recommended. Campgrounds are also available on site if you dig smores and can't afford a decent hotel or even if you like the outdoors for some reason.
For those of you with kids, Caw Caw provides a distinct opportunity to teach them about South Carolina wildlife before it is driven into permanent extinction. The Center provides several programs to teach children about the local plants and birds, as well as a course on the exploitation of free black labor for the purpose of cultivating Carolina gold, or rice in the parlance of our time. Adults can participate in morning bird walks, which take place every Wednesday and Sunday at 8:30 A.M., a time of day which I had not known existed before reading their fabulous brochure.
Spring or fall are the best seasons to visit, as temperatures are much more palatable for humans and animals alike during this time of year. Those of you who have sweated out 2/3 of your water weight in an hour during a July day in Charleston will know what I am talking about. During the winter much of the insect life is dormant and the reptiles preserve their heat by doing as little as possible, kind of like Sunday at my house (as long as you don't consider yelling at a football game to be exercise). The animals like the weather the most in the spring and fall, so they come out to play more as a result during those times of year. Regardless of when you decide to make the trip, Caw Caw Interpretative Center has something for you. Unless you hate nature. You don't hate nature, do you?
Friday, November 20, 2009
You may have read here, there, or maybe somewhere else about the idea that each and every one of us has an animal totem, a kind of spiritual figure analogous to our persona. Most folks are bears or tigers, lions or cuddly kitty cats. Hopefully none of you out there are skunks, dingos, wolves or some other filthy, lying, stench-ridden beast.
What am I? Methinks in my heart I am a squirrel. I know, it seems like being a rather large man I should be something big and powerful like a lion or an elephant. The sloth might fit my persona on certain days when my movement is limited by hangover or more often, lack of motivation.
The squirrel is the one regardless of how little sense the choice may make on the surface. I have seen him as my brother in the animal kingdom since the day I walked through Cleveland Park and saw one running up-and-down and side-to-side on a tree adjacent to my path that day. He was spending time enjoying the world around him. None of his movements appeared to have any purpose as he scurried upon the tree, pausing with his tail straight up while his head faced the ground, perhaps just enjoying the blood flow to his minuscule noggin.
After disembarking from his pine, the squirrel hopped down the path - despite many different options he chose to stay on the six inch high rock wall that lined the flora planted in that part of the park. I was reminded of how as a child - and sometimes even as an adult - I would walk on a wall high above my companions just because I though it was more exciting or interesting than walking on the sidewalk. Here we get to the nitty gritty if you haven't figured out where I am headed. I've never cared to take the well-trodden path, the road less taken is usually the one I prefer and, like the squirrel on the tree, I prefer to have fun rather than obsess and stress myself out over "responsibilities" or the need to climb the working world pyramid. Don't view what a say as a value judgment on the choices you have made - my point is that each of us is different and should follow his or her own heart to become the person they are, not the person others want them to be.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
For all of you connoisseurs of frothy, hop-laden goodness, I present to you my beers of the month for October just in time for some festival in Germany. I suppose the correct style of presentation would be to tell you about one beer each month, but I don't know when I will post again or encounter a beer worthy of a lathering of blathering. So with that said, let's move on to the only slightly belabored point.
My first choice is the Sunset Wheat produced by Leinenkugel's, a brewing company based in the great town of Chippewas Falls, Wisconsin. Leinie's needs to do a deal with the Flintstone's Cave Bar in Goreme, Turkey because the flavor imparted by the Sunset Wheat is identical to the taste of a bowl of Fruity Pebbles cereal. You may think, wow, what a terrible thing for beer to taste like, but you would be wrong. For some reason the plan works and I am a cheerful man as a result. Also, the bottle caps were integral in accessorizing my outfit.
We will journey to the land of lager for our second malty beverage, Kingfisher Lager. Kingfisher is produced in India, the nation where the real Indians come from - you know, the guys all named Patel who own and operate your local convenience store.
Done with bigoted racial stereotyping for now, we move on to the flavor. Honestly, I can barely tell you what it tasted like, and not for the usual reason. Surprisingly, I was not examining the topography of the floor at the time. I was having dinner at an Indian restaurant by the name of Saffron's (which I highly recommend to all Greenvillians) and my food was slightly hotter than the seventh circle of hell (in Dante's "Inferno" this is the area where baddies are forced to survive solely on the substinence acquired by consuming their own genitalia).
The Kingfisher had a delicate, sweet finish that managed to compliment the hotness of the food in a way that turned my palette into a culinary erogenous zone. Having worked in the restaurant business awhile, I am quite familiar with the idea of pairing wine with food. Rarely if ever have I had a beer that so perfectly complemented a dish. Needless to say, I was not unhappy.
Next month: the joy of funneling Milwaukee's Best Ice.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Like the troubled crack junkie played by Chris Rock in "New Jack City", I have fallen deeply into the world of addiction of late. I always believed my willpower could overcome any fad, any substance that threatened to take me over and bend me like a crazy straw. Sadly, however, I have been possessed by the demon that is Gangland, a TV show on the History Channel dealing with the various street gangs terrorizing cities throughout our great nation, or at least the poorer areas thereof.
I have always had a twisted fascination with the criminal element, having read murder mysteries and true crime books throughout my mildly demented childhood. Mafia movies have always been able to draw me to the theater, and I often find myself hoping the law will be unable to catch the crooks. I rooted for the Robin Hood thieves and tried to understand the mind of the psychopathic killer.
Gangland is different somehow - I don't have any urge to sympathize with their crimes. I am sympathetic with the socioeconomic situation of the average gang member and why he or she is driven to live likely to end only in either jail or death, but there are plenty of people who grow up in terrible neighborhoods and resist the temptation for an easy buck. The whole story seems so sad and wasteful of human life - in many cases lives that hardly get started before they reach their end.
So I am just a child who has watched too many movies and become enamored with the violence so often portrayed in modern blockbuster cinema? Unlikely, for I'm not a fan of blood and gore either. Hearing the stories of these killers turns my stomach at times. As a result, I am turned off by the fact that the show seems to present gangsters in a positive light at times. The narrator doesn't come out and openly say one should emulate these people, but the program does in some way make certain individuals into criminal celebrities by playing hip music while recounting their violent deeds.
In fact, those thugs that are more violent and cold-blooded seem to earn extra time spent reflecting on their "impressive" deeds. Rarely is their behavior criticized, with the exception of a terse summary at the episode's conclusion. I can easily picture prospective gang members being turned onto the lifestyle by the way it is presented.
Regardless of these complaints I make, I still sit through these shows on a regular basis. What the hell is wrong with me?
Friday, September 4, 2009
(Part Three of My Three Part Series on Turkey)
From what I understand, being run over by a car hurts a great deal. The land now occupied by Turkey knows the figurative feeling, having been a speed bump on the road to conquest for many civilizations throughout the last three millenia. The Hittites, Greeks, Persians, Greeks again, Romans, Seljuk Turks, Mongols, and finally the Ottomans all counted the land as part of their territory during the peaks of their respective civilizations.
To witness the result of these repeated historical hit-and-runs I first traveled to Istanbul, as documented in Part I of this series: Fireworks and Foreskins. Clearly, a nation boasting thousands of years of history has more to see than just one little town of twenty million or so peeps. Therefore, after spending a couple of days in Istanbul I journeyed to Anatolia, the Asian portion of Turkey, via a short flight to Nevshehir, along with my father and my stepbrother. We were all set to take a four day swing through some of the most fascinating geological and historical sites I had never seen. Odds are they would prove to be just as amazing as I thought they would be before I had ever been there. Confused? So am I was will be.
Averting a lesson on how not to use verbs in writing the English language, we return to our regularly scheduled intro : on tap for our trio were excellently exciting excursions to ancient excavations in Cappadocia, Pamukkale, and Ephesus.
The journey started in grand style with our arrival at our hotel, located directly underneath an imposing ancient rock castle which extended into the sky several hundred feet above us. We had arrived in Cappadocia, an area renowned for its bizarre rock formations that apparently were designed by a God with a predilection for the work of M.C. Escher. Stones twice as large as the ones underneath somehow maintain a tenuous balance thanks to the wacky wonders of Mother Nature.
The local geology is reminiscent of the American West, with mesas and canyons bringing to mind Arizona and strange jumbles of stone conjuring up images of the Badlands in South Dakota. The rock is composed of sandstone and limestone, which are both extremely malleable when presented with the erosive forces of wind and water or maybe just a dozen roses and an expensive dinner.
Some of the first humans in the area quickly realized the benefits of such easily carve-able material (as well as a semi-arid climate excellent for farming). Evidence of settlements dating back thousands of years has been found. Caves, and then later more elaborate homes, were made by simply chiseling into the soft minerals and following the steps laid out in caveman Bob Villa's easy to read ten volume manual on do-it-yourself cave construction. There is even a Flintstone's Cave Bar, although in all likelihood the place dates back to the Tourist Age rather than the Iron Age.
As Cappadocia grew into an important outpost within the Hittite Empire (the first great empire in Anatolia) underground cities were also built to protect the women and children during foreign invasions. If you choose to go down into one these cities, make certain to be short. I got stuck in one of the passages and nearly had to have important parts of my body amputated in order to extricate myself.
The defensive capabilities of Cappadocia were also impressive. Three castles, one of which was adjacent to our hotel, loom up high over the terrain, making a head-on attack suicidal and only siege warfare practical.
We surveyed the whole terrain via an early morning balloon flight. I don't usually recommend getting up before dawn unless you haven't gone to sleep yet, but I was jet-lagged and was able to trick my gullible body into believing it was a less ungodly hour. The sights from up high were unparalleled in my experience and my humble prose fails to do them the justice that only pictures can.
After two days in the land of fairies, elves, and mole people, we hopped on a bus for a short ten hour drive to Pamukkale. The particular people carrier in which we rode was perfectly nice, comparable to a Greyhound bus and probably better than most of their rusted rides. Alas, being quite tall it is difficult for me to garner any sleep within a moving vehicle, since the top of the seats usually only extend to a point even with my neck.
As a result, when we began our tour of Pamukkale, I was not in the best of moods. Suffering from lack of sleep and stomach issues was not ideal, but when combined with the hundred degree Fahrenheit temperature, let's just say that I had better days in Turkey than this one.
Regardless of the pains it may take to reach, Pamukkale is not a destination to be missed. Sitting on a high hill protected by a ring of tall mountains, the area was home to the ancient Roman city of Hieropolis, which was destroyed by a massive earthquake in the 7th century. Houses went without cable or electricity for the next thousand or so years. Several notable revolutions were not televised as a result.
We viewed the ruins, but Hieropolis is by no means the centerpiece of Pamukkale - that honor goes to the liquid that pours out of the hill like a geological soda fountain. Made a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988, the area is home to a series of hot springs caused by underground volcanic activity that gush a combination of mineral water and calcium carbonate.
Pamukkale means "cotton castle" in Turkish but in my eyes the cliffs looked more like glaciers, a sheet of ice covering the rock and shining brightly in the afternoon sun. Whatever comparison you prefer, the white surface of the earth there is due to the solidification of calcium carbonate (the rock form is known as travertine) over a long period of time.
Terraced pools of the calcified water dot the otherworldly terrain as well, some formed by the whims of the Earth and others by the whims of man in the pre-UNESCO days before the hotels were kicked off campus and moved to the modern village below. Although fairly shallow, you can use the pools to elude the fierce midday sun, covering the body head-to-toe with the milky mud, a sort of do-it-yourself spa treatment.
If you choose to pay the outrageous price of 27 Turkish lira (equivalent to about 20 US $) you can enjoy the man-made swimming area at Pamukkale. The managers of the site have transformed the hot springs there to create a waterway full of Roman style statuary and rock. The liquid inside is different from that in the terraced pools, a warm mineral water, perfectly drinkable as long as you don't mind the near one hundred Fahrenheit temperature. Despite the warmth of the pool, my swim was quite pleasant, a relaxing relief after the bumpy bus ride of the night before.
Our escape from Pamukkale was much easier, a mere three-hour trek down the road to the seaside town of Kusadasi. After spending a night in a hotel room rather than on a bus, we awoke refreshed and ready to take on the ancient Roman ruins of Ephesus.
Those biblical scholars of you out there will recognize the name from the biblical chapter Ephesians, in which the apostle Paul writes a number of missives to his Christian homeboys in Ephesus (Paul also lived there for a time). The Virgin Mary is also said to have lived the last years of her life on a nearby mountain. For those of you more hop and barley inclined, Ephesus is called by the name Efes in modern Turkey, sharing a name with the country's most popular beer.
Ephesus is best known nowadays as one of the most fascinating archaeological sites of the ancient world. The settlement was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 614, but archaeologists have been excavating the area for many decades and have put enough Lego blocks made out of rumble together to recreate much of the original city. Even so, myriad pieces of the puzzle still lie on the ground and many years of work still lie ahead.
What has been assembled so far? Two amphitheaters, a small one seating in the hundreds and a larger stadium with capacity for an amazing 20,000 plus have been put together. Temples dedicated to the Goddess Artemis and to the emperors Hadrian and Domitian are partly put together and the Library of Celsus can be used to store manuscripts once again with the mere addition of a roof. The whorehouse across the street from the library is looking pretty good too, so quit downloading porn and go purchase yourself a more interactive fantasy.
The privies were also in such pristine condition I had to be persuaded not to use them. Here is some Roman privy etiquette knowledge for your edification: always sit in the seat closest to where the water is flowing into the privy - shit really does go downhill and you don't want to be at the bottom of that hill.
Here are some ancient bathroom facts: there were no partitions between the stalls, but a gentleman's toga would protect his privates from the view of intruding restroom onlookers. Also, during the winter slaves would be used as seat-warmers so that the patricians would not have to place their majestic bums onto frigid rock or end up with a frozen cock.
A vast array of Roman statuary has also been preserved. Hercules, Arete, Sophia, Ennoia, Medusa, Diana and many other figures from Roman/Greek mythology are spread throughout the city. My favorites were Artemis, the Goddess of fertility who wears a necklace made of bull's testicles and Priapus, another God of fertility, who walks around with an erection absurdly large enough to make most men pass out from the lack of blood flow to the rest of their body. Some statues of Priapus show him carrying a cornucopia of local produce on the top of his massive weiner.
Real life figures were also depicted in the market square, where many of the city's important personages were enshrined in marble. What native can forget the famous malaria doctor of Ephesus? The good doctor, quite naturally, died of malaria. He must have been an ugly S.O.B. since someone decided to rip the head off of his statue. Help discover the identity of the vile desecrater at the Doc's website www.whereismyhead.com.
As a huge fan of history and culture my visit to Turkey held no end of fascination. From the wild geology of Cappadocia and Pamukkale to the astounding architecture of the Hagia Sophia, the Sultan Ahmet mosque, and Topkapi palace, Turkey is a combination of amazing God and man made wonders. Still, as much as I tried to fit everything in there are yet more places to explore. Gallipoli, the site of one of the most intense battles of WWI, Troy the real life kingdom from Homer's Iliad, and the ancient biblical city of Antioch all escaped my grasp during my travels. No worries, like an Arnold Schwarzenegger robot armed and dangerous with digital camera in hand, I'll be back.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
The long automotive battle between my brother and I has finally come to a conclusion with the death of his Honda last week. Despite the many problems with both of our cars, documented here, we fought a hard battle for over thirteen years, both automobiles and their owners refusing to give up the ghost. Recent transmission issues had me worried, but the magical brown beast seemingly fixed itself and trod onward.
Your winner is pictured here savoring the accolades, as well as another day spent on the road rather than in the junkyard. Notice the one remaining hubcap.
Can the Camry, currently sporting just under 220,000 miles, defeat yet another of Colin's rides? Only time will tell (the answer is hell no). Let the games begin!
Monday, August 17, 2009
The soul of a country can be seen inside the food they serve. The joy and the beauty of the Italian people flows through their pasta. The peasant power of China is seen in their rice. The on-the-go mentality of Americans is ever present in our pre-packaged, frozen cuisine and numerous fast food chains. I learned on my recent jaunt to Turkey that their food also reflects the complexity of their culture and history as a nation on the doorstep between Oriental and Western cultures. Sometimes, though, we have a primal need to bury our soul out of sight. Thus the invention of alcoholic beverages. Turkey has these too, in full measure, and I was so kind as to sample the various varieties so I could report back on them to you, dear reader.
First things first, though, a man must eat, and in my journey from Istanbul to Efes there was no shortage of options likely to turn that man into one of Pavlov's drooling beasts. Fortunately, I was prepared, having spent several years being taught the advanced art of Tongue Fu by Shaolin monks.
Tidal waves of saliva began to flow at each meal with the meze, a series of side items and finger foods that can play the role of appetizer or the main course. Meze made up the majority of the meal in Istanbul, but when we traveled in Anatolian Turkey mezes were lighter and a course composed of a spiceful, brothy soup was often inserted. You can see a selection of meze in the picture accompanying this article. The eggplant and tomato dish on the far right was my personal favorite from that meal.
Yogurt, sometimes served with dill, but not with fruit as we often see in the United States, is a constant at every meal, whether used as a sauce or meze. Fresh fruits and vegetables are standard as well, and you can absolutely count on an attack by some killer tomatoes. The honeydew, plums, and apricots are amongst the juiciest I have ever consumed, melting in your mouth like the perfect M&M.
One of my favorite items often served as meze is dolma. Dolma translated into English means "stuffed" and can come in many different forms. The objects being filled to bulging with tastiness by the taxidermist/chef include peppers, eggplants, and grape leaves. Inside you will find a savory combination of rice, tomato, meat, and spices.
When time came for the main course I often had to struggle with the urge to give up and call it a meal. By summoning up my mental fortitude I was able to soldier on and thus can report back to you on what I found.
There are some items in Turkey with which Americans would be somewhat familiar. Kebabs, for example, have found their way onto the menu of many a restaurant here. The Turkish versions I saw differed slightly - they were not served upon a skewer (as in shish kebab) - probably because of the bad experiences the Ottomans had with a man named Vlad the Impaler. Nor were they diced into chunks of meat and vegetable. Turkish kebabs consisted of a piece of tenderloin or lamb stuffed with cheese and vegetables. Some were topped with a sauce, others served plain.
Of the foods I sampled the kebabs were amongst the best, but were unable to reach Olympic medal status. Which flavors did manage to medal in the gustatory battle?
Bronze: Pide. No food does a better job of illustrating the combination of Eastern and Western influences in Turkish cuisine. Pide is the local form of pita, but lacking the pocket we normally associate with the bread. Instead, pide is made into the Turkish version of pizza, with various meats, cheeses, and vegetables (almost always includes tomatoes) used as toppings. The pide is chopped up into small finger food-sized portions. Similar to pide is lahmacun, an oval-shaped pide dough topped with finely chopped meats and herbs. Lahmacun melts in your mouth like the butter made from the udders of the Gods, assuming you are Polytheistic enough to enjoy such a concept.
Silver: Manti. Manti is a Turkish pasta that consists of folded triangles of dough filled with minced meat, often with minced onions and parsley. Manti is typically served hot topped with garlic yogurt and melted butter or warmed olive oil, and a range of spices such as oregano, dried mint, ground sumac, and red pepper powder. The version I sampled in Cappadocia involved a ring of yogurt topped dumplings encircling a castle of minced meat and onions. This dish alone was almost good enough to justify the long flight to Turkey.
Gold: Yurek Kavurma. I had many great meals during my seven days in Istanbul and Anatolia, but the best may have been the very first. My stepmother prepared a very typical Turkish repast with yogurt, dolma, as well as fresh cheese and bread.
Nalan had a special treat in store for what happened to be my birthday luncheon (although I was so jet-lagged I kept forgetting what day it was). The piece de resistance happened to be a very simple looking preparation of steak, tomatoes, onions, and peppers. The pieces of steak were actually beef hearts, a fact Nalan withheld until after we had eaten, probably for fear the timid Americans (Dad and I) would be scared to give them a try. They tasted as good as any filet and I miss them already as much as the desert misses the rain. The desert is better off. The dry sands don't know the taste of what they are missing.
These fine meals would not have been complete without beverages to wash them down and there are a variety of great choices in the gullet lubrication department as well. Hot tea, or chai as it is called in Turkish, is always offered, an omnipresent sign of your host's hospitality. Coffee comes in the regular American style or a Turkish version strong enough to give an oxen pause before taking on the challenge of a cup. If you are looking for something unique try the ayran, a salty, frothy yogurt-based beverage that goes well with pide.
Sometimes after a hard day of touring you need to imbibe something with a little more punch. Dad recommends a glass of Yakut, a red wine produced in Anatolia, where certain areas boast a climate not dissimilar to the wine-growing regions of Northern California. The potential for growth in Turkish wine is intriguing as it is currently imported into the US in only small quantities.
Being a lover of the beer myself I present to you Efes, the official beer of the Turks. This tasty pilsner is named after the city of Ephesus (called Efes nowadays), which you may know from the Bible chapter of Ephesians. These are a series of letters the Apostle Paul wrote to those fools he was religious pen-pals with in Ephesus, dropping some seriously heavy spiritual shit on them.
If you aren't a pilsner fan you are in luck, the beer market has opened up tremendously in recent years and there is now another option, known as Gusta. Gusta is a wheat beer and it tastes exactly like Blue Moon, and I mean exactly. Not trying to instigate a lawsuit here, just sayin'. There aren't a lot of other choices in the hops and barley department there so you better like one of the two - fortunately I was down with the Efes.
On times such as your birthday, for example, you might be looking for something with a little more poof and proof behind it. Worry not, for the Turks have created a drink just for you. Raki. An anise-based liquor similar to ouzo or pernod, raki can have quite an effect on your vocal cords, resulting in a state of mind known as raki talk, endless blabber about nothing. Fortunately for me I do that sober and thus I avoided that effect.
Raki can also result in some strange escapades. According to recent studies raki makes it 300 times more likely that you will jump into the Bosphorus, the body of water separating Asian and European Istanbul. The same research indicates that it is seven times harder for people to pull your drunk ass back onto a boat lacking a ladder when you have consumed raki and weigh over 200 pounds. Sometimes you have to drink in the name of science.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Apparently, size does matter. Istanbul, Turkey is currently listed as the third largest city in the world and having recently returned from a trip there to see my father, his Turkish wife Nalan, and her son/my stepbrother Coskucan any doubt I had in the accuracy of my Rand-McNally Atlas has been swept away. No place I have visited in the United States, even New York, can measure up to the immense population (three times larger than Chicago!) residing there or the sheer geographic extent of the city. One day during my visit we drove fifty minutes of mostly highway driving, and were still seemingly nowhere near the outskirts of the monstrous metropolis.
There is more to the city of Istanbul than idle comparisons to Ron Jeremy. Sitting with one foot in Europe and another in Asia, Istanbul boasts a unique culture combining exotic and ancient aspects of the Orient with many of the modern values of Europe. From the moment of landing at Ataturk International Airport, I was overwhelmed by sensory input.
All of your senses are required to appreciate the foreign masses and structures before you. So many things to see, touch, smell, and taste. You need to use all of these (and perhaps ESP as well to avoid getting hit by a taxi) and I encourage you to do so if you ever find yourselves in Istanbul.
In my opinion, however, the best way to experience the place is through your ears. So take a Q-tip and clean out the wax from your aural canal, sit back, and listen to the city talk. Soon you will hear the pieces fall into place and you may unravel its unusual mysteries.
One of the most unusual sounds to strike my Western ears was the call of the muezzin. Suddenly gone were the church bells of my Southern youth, replaced by his hypnotic chanting voice. The main religion of Turkey is Islam and the muezzin reminds everyone of that fact five times a day, when he calls devout Muslims to prayer over a PA system and subsequently sings selected verses from the Koran.
Mosques dominate the skyline of Istanbul, which according to They Might Be Giants, was once known as Constantinople (the song, which is actually a cover of a tune from the 1950s, fails to mention that before the reign of emperor Constantine the city was called Byzantium). The typical mosque is designed in an architectural style that would have given Sigmund Freud enough material for a new book. The structure's domes are shaped like breasts with a small nipple-like steeple protruding from the center. Rising above the domes are minarets (usually there are four except in the case of Istanbul's famous Blue Mosque which has six) whose phallic towers seem to symbolize the male sex organ and therefore the dominance of man over woman in Islamic culture.
Don't be fooled though, as prevalent as the mosques are Istanbul is a very cosmopolitan city. Many of my Turkish relatives and their friends are either Atheists or lapsed Muslims. The fundamentalism many Americans associate with Islam was completely absent in my experiences there. Alcohol was legal and enjoyed by nearly everyone I encountered. Fun fact: my stepbrother Coskucan kindly informed me that the first motion pictures produced in Turkey were porno flicks.
Give Em the Horn
The sounds of honking fills the ears when moving around Istanbul. Cars, taxis, buses, and pedestrians fill the streets of the city and fight for each meter of available space. The traffic moves in a seemingly chaotic pattern and streets created long before the existence of automobiles meander up and down the hills of the town, which are often as steep as those in San Francisco.
Don't rent a car here without first making sure the brakes are in perfect condition. If you have a heart condition or drive defensively just take a taxi or the train. Actually, if you have a heart condition taking the taxi is not for you either as the drivers bob and weave in and out of the lanes like the young butterfly Cassius Clay deftly avoiding the punches of Sonny Liston. The driver's left hand is constantly on the horn and he uses it without any remorse against any other vehicles or pedestrians who dare intrude into his path. Pedestrians better be aware of where they are at all times during their real life game of Frogger or else they will quickly become like the star of the song by the great band Cattle Decapitation - a "Pedeadstrian."
Fireworks Exploding in the Night
My first night in town happened to fall on my birthday and my Turkish family was kind enough to take me out on a private cruise of the Bosporus, the waterway that divides European Istanbul from Asian Istanbul. As we floated around in the night, I couldn't help but notice the recurring sound and sight of fireworks in the night sky. Had I landed on Turkish Independence Day or perhaps some obscure Muslim holiday of which I was not aware? Were these explosions just the local version of rednecks having a good time? Not at all. In fact, I shortly learned that something more sinister was going on - little boys were losing part of their penis.
When a lad reaches the age of nine in Turkey the time has come to face the foreskin executioner's blade. The rite of circumcision is somewhat similar to a Bar Mitzvah. Like that Jewish ceremony but with more penis chopping, circumcision is treated as a coming of age ritual in which the child is dressed up in a uniform similar to your high school marching band's and piled with presents and attention to make up for the fact that he is about to say goodbye to his foreskin for the final time. Originally the ritual was linked with Islam, but nowadays it has become more of a cultural thing. My stepbrother, who was not raised as a Muslim, winced as he told me he had also undergone the ordeal. The fireworks acknowledge that the deed is done and the boy has moved on to the next stage of manhood.
I want to use this space to personally thank my parents for having this procedure done on me when I was too young to realize what was happening.
The Cat's Meow
The pussies that used to congregate in the harems of Topkapi Palace now roam the streets in gangs. Purring, meowing, and screeching their way through the city, cats own the back alleys of Istanbul. Existing in numbers that almost boggle the mind, felines are an ubiquitous sight as you wander from shop to shop. The section of the town where my family resides is nicknamed "The Republic of Cats." So densely packed are they in the area that fights over territory or ladies are bound to occur and I was wakened from sleep on multiple occasions by the screeching of their battles.
The Siren's Call of the Carpet Merchant
Finally, a warning for other Americans set to visit Istanbul. You may have left the land of Wall Street behind, but capitalism is alive and well in Turkey. If you doubt my word, merely walk around the tourist district in the vicinity of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque for a couple of hours while wearing your "I am a Tourist!" uniform (don't forget the camera). Plan on being accosted several times by the men my brother has so accurately referred to as the used car salesmen of Turkey - the carpet merchants.
These fellows all have a relative from the United States they will be glad to tell you about as they show you to their store, where they have very fine merchandise and a special price just for you. Follow along and you will see. Who knows, perhaps you will find a carpet that really ties the room together.
Are these salesman roaming the tourist district searching for naive prey to plunder or aggressive but fair businessmen doing their utmost to bring in customers? Probably the honesty of the individual may vary as in most businesses, but I chose to avoid finding out since my rug remains unmiturated upon.
People of Mirth
Of all the sounds that I recall from my time in Istanbul the one that will stay with me longest is laughter. I will forever remember the friendliness of my Turkish relatives, some of whom I was meeting for the very first time, as well as my immediate acceptance among their friends. Their smiles and laughs will linger long after my memories of the mosques and palaces I visited fade away in the distances of my mind.
Next month: Turkish cuisine and booze
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
America's favorite past time is baseball. Well maybe the sport is slightly behind "American Idol" and NASCAR in the nation's collective psyche, but we are a nation of dumb asses so let's stick to those few nationals with functioning brain waves and neurons that fire in the right direction on occasion. Regardless of how you feel about my editorializing via the nation's IQ, one fact remains unchallengeable - baseball season has just passed the unofficial halfway point, its annual All-Star game. After yet another AL beatdown of the the NL we are ready for the stretch run and I am here to make some predictions for those last measly eighty or so contests. Let's break it down, division by division.
Note: The writer is a professional journalist and his dedication to the Cubbies in no way affects his opinions concerning other ML franchises or the beauty of the man love pictured above.
New York Yankees - I hate the fucking Yankees. In fact I wrote a chant called Fuck the Yankees. Ask me if you would like to hear it sometime or just surmise on your own how it goes as you already know all the lyrics if you just refer back to the last three words of the last sentence.
Boston Red Sox - I used to like them/feel sorry for them when they always lost to the Yankees, but they won a couple World Series and now their fans are now just as insufferable as the those bastards in NY.
Toronto Blue Jays - Canada is not allowed to win an American sport, even if none of their players are even Canadian.
Tampa Rays - No one goes to their games except for that braying mule Vitale, so who cares? My buddy Mark once went to a game there and ended up bringing home like 12 fly balls since there was no one else sitting in his section. I have gone to well over twenty games in my lifetime and have never gotten one if that tells you anything.
Baltimore Orioles - They have a team?
Prediction: no one wins this division, which after all five teams are swallowed up by five craters spontaneously opening up under their team planes as they sit on the tarmac.
Detroit Tigers - Tough town, lots of death and destruction and they have a pretty good squad.
Minnesota Twins - Always bring a solid fundamental team, led by the M&M brothers, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Fried twinkies are considered a delicacy in the state, where personal trainers are shot on site and no relevant funny info on this team was available.
Chicago White Sox - There is only one team in Chicago, just ignore these impostors and they will go away.
Cleveland Indians - They will burn in hell for all eternity for trading De Rosa back into the Cubs division. Kerry Wood will earn his third team MVP for the Cubs despite not playing for them.
KC Royals - In European soccer the worst teams are sent down to a lower league, whose best teams are promoted to replace them. Such should be the fate of the Royals, who have well-earned their demotion during the last twenty years.
Prediction: Detroit wins the division as Robocop comes along and cleans up the villainry and scum that have plagued the city for too long. Minnesota is given the AL East title since their teams no longer exist.
Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles California United States Planet Earth Milky Way Galaxy- Saying their name has tired me out and I no longer have the strength to comment on their prospects aside from the fact that their pitching is good.
Texas Rangers - they will hit 7000 homers and win 80 games. Fans will wonder when the Cowboys' season starts.
Seattle Mariners - they will hit 10 homers and win 80 games. Fans will wonder when Starbucks opens.
Oakland A's - "Moneyball" starring Brad Pitt will open in 2014, telling the story of the brilliant Oakland GM Billy Beane. Nothing interesting will happen to this borderline triple A franchise until then.
The AAofLACUSPEMWG will win the division easily due to not being utterly terrible.
The Wild Card will be donated to charity.
The Tigers will go to the World Series thanks to the heroic actions of Sergeant Murphy in Robocop II.
The National League
Philadelphia Phillies - Strong squad, but lacking the tobacco-chewing prowess of the 1993 pennant winners. Former star/complete retard Lenny Dykstra will be proclaimed a financial genius and then succumb to bankruptcy. Oops that already happened.
Florida Marlins - Madonna concerts between innings promotion will lead to a doubling of the team's attendance in the second half as the town's large gay community discovers baseball.
NY Mets - Will call it a season after 120 games when all their players have finished committing 100 errors and spending 100 days on the DL apiece.
Atlanta Braves - The Cubs are done playing there for the year so they won't be having any more attendance til next year. If a baseball game is played and no one hears it, does it affect the standings? Seriously, let me know because they are hot the last few weeks and it may make a difference with Nostradumbass here.
Washington Nationals - They just hired Jim Riggleman to manage the team back from the precipice of doom. They have since won an amazing 0 games. We miss you in Chitown Riggleman, like a whore misses the crabs. Seriously though, Ditka would have trouble making this squad of bums respectable.
The Phillies will win the division and the two things left unburnt after last year's World Series title will pretty much be fucked.
Chicago Cubs - They are good, then they are bad. They are healthy and then they are injured. The team has been sold and then the sale is on hold. Milton Bradley is crazy and then he is batshit straightjacket crazy. Which team will we have in the second half? One thing momma told me - never make predictions about the Cubs, except that they won't make the World Series, so we will stick to that limb for now.
Houston Astros - the hottest team in the division over the last few weeks and star pitcher Roy Oswalt has always been a second half sort of guy.
Milwaukee Brewers - Prince Fielder will finally give birth to the alien baby which has been percolating inside him for the last few years. He will become the starting centerfielder and steal 40 bases in the last 50 games. Despite this exciting news, the Brew Crew will collapse in the second half as always.
Cincinnati Reds - Dusty Baker will keep his starters in games until their arms drop off and are collected in a pile in the outfield bullpen that would make Tamerlane squeamish. Dusty will then be given a five year extension because he is a genius. Later on, Mark Prior will jump out of the stands and assasinate the bastard in the name of pitchers everywhere.
Pittsburgh Pirates - Running out of players to trade in August, the front office decides to trade the franchise's two remaining fans to the Phillies in exchange for a roll of toilet paper.
Seems like there was another team in this division. Oh well, that's not important since this division will clearly go to the Astros.
LA Dodgers - Manny will be proved innocent when it is discovered he has breast cancer and in fact needed to be taking those fertility drugs since he is in fact a woman. Explains why he can't abide by Joe Torre's short hair rule - he doesn't want to be taken for a dike.
SF Giants - Their playoff chances will take a big hit when Tim Lincecum steps on his mullet and breaks his neck while pitching.
Colorado Rockies - The entire team bonded by putting their collective balls in the humidor. They are now unbeatable.
San Diego Padres - Rumors that the team has disbanded and gone to play golf for the rest of the summer remain unsubstantiated. Until then, stay classy San Diego.
Arizona Diamondbacks - Sadly, Dan Haren cannot pitch all of their games so they are pretty well fucked.
The Dodgers will walk away with the division and the Ballboys of Colorado will take the Wild Card.
Colorado will continue their testicular bonding on a run that takes them all the way to the World Series.
They will then lose to Detroit in a series so boring it will result in the suicide of several Fox executives. So the season wasn't a total loss. This amazing story will be retold in the movie Robocop III.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Charleston, the first successful settlement in what was to be the state of South Carolina, is the home of many things, including secession (legislators there voted unanimously in 1860 to leave the union), the first battle of the Civil War, shrimp and grits, snobs (according to a successful group of restaurateurs this stands for slightly North of Broad), and yours truly. To be honest, I made my home for years 1 to 17 in the suburb of Mount Pleasant but let's not quibble over little details such as accuracy. As with Fox News, a substantial suspension of disbelief is usually required to accompany this column.
I returned to the homestead recently to pay a visit to my mother and to hang out a bit with my younger brother Colin and some of his graduate school pals. We rendezvoused with Colin's buds downtown at the old slave Market on Meeting Street where Mom suggested a historical tour for those who had not previously had their Charleston cherry popped. Our group assented and we meandered down East Bay towards the Battery.
If you have ever seen a house that was so large that you thought to yourself, man I want that, but I just can't afford it, then you have beheld a building that could fit inside the garage of most of the mansions that line the Battery. Check out the attached picture to get an idea of what the servants quarters looked like. The words behemoth and ginormous were invented by a Charlestonian to give a proper sense of the dimension of these structures. Line your bathroom from floor to ceiling with one hundred dollar bills and you might be able to meet the down payment for one of these homes, were they even available for purchase. One of these homes coming on the market is a rare occurrence in reality, a state you probably haven't visited for a while if you think you can actually afford to live in this luxurious hood.
You may be wondering what the word Battery stands for, which is cool because I was one of the 10% who failed to fall asleep in my history class. I must have had too much caffeine in my system. The Battery is not named after a Walkman powering device (if you are under 20 years of age please take some time to look up what a Walkman is), the pitching and catching duo, or even the best friend of assault, you know, the violent guys that can lead to your arrest and imprisonment. Rather, the area is named for the cannons that lined the nearby sea walls and were used to defend against the evil assaults of the damned Yankees (not the baseball team although they suck too) during the Civil War (which amazingly enough was not even that civil according to the eminent historian Axl Rose).
Afterward, we trudged through the dense humidity down Meeting Street in search of the cold beer that had been screeching my name like a banshee for a good while. Back at the Market, I reminisced about the days when you could get the number one meal, consisting of a steak, a pint of ale, and a slave all for the low, low price of $200. Fortunately (or not depending on your point of view), the damn Yankees won (God they always win - I fucking hate them) and that terrible practice came to an end. You can still purchase just about anything else at the Market, where the endless stalls chock full of beads, trinkets, and hot sauces lead you to the sweet Gullah (an African-American culture confined to the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia) ladies patiently sewing together their sweet-grass baskets and speaking a mostly incomprehensible gibberish to one another (the lovely Gullah tongue).
Whatever you decide to purchase, make sure to stop off at one of the local watering holes to wet your whistle when you are done. If you go to Charleston between the months of April and October you will be dehydrated within approximately one minute of leaving the proximity of an AC unit. As a result, a drink is mandatory and there are a host of places to attain one within short walking distance. I recommend Tommy Condon's, Wild Wing, South End Brewery, and Henry's, but these are just a drop in the bucket. FYI, if you think you have been to a Wild Wing because you went to the one in Greenville you are wrong. Although a delightful place that has generated a great deal of business our WW is not worthy of cleaning out the Market Wild Wing's toe jam. Just a fact, apologies to those sure to be offended.
Our crew visited all of the bars listed above, with the exception of Henry's (hey our guests might have needed a reason to come back to town) as well as the most pretentious bar I have ever had the displeasure of entering. I will not justify this place by calling it by name and fortunately that will be easy since I have forgotten the moniker. This buzzing hive of metrosexuality was inhabited by a breed of people that had very obviously spent over two hours preparing for their night out on the town - and I speak now only of the guys. I am surprised the women were able to even make the place at all before the week ended considering all the intense preparation needed to enter. The only saving grace was a man , obviously a pimp walking around in an all red outfit (down to the shoes and hat) whose appearance gave me a hearty chuckle that I kept to myself for fear of being pimp-slapped.
After ducking into the much more civilized Moe's Tavern to have a drink with Al Coholick and to cleanse the stench of cologne, we made for the house and called it a night.
We woke on the anniversary of our country's birth and headed out to the Isle of Palms, a beach within just a few minutes drive of the momster's crib. Well, it would be that close if every other motherfucker on the planet had not also decided to head to the shore for some fun and sun that day. I was nice enough not to mention what a bad idea it was to go to the beach on July 4th. Except to my long-suffering brother who had to hear it twenty-five times (he would probably tell you it was more). Once we arrived I had to head straight to the restroom, where I took a shit that was more intense than the last twenty minutes of "The Exorcist." You're welcome for sharing.
We joined the crowd and then commenced participating in the normal beach activities, such as figuring out what people look like naked. Since these happenings probably interest you as much as the previous bowel movement play-by-play, I will instead describe the state of Charleston beaches as a whole. Besides the Isle of Palms, there is Sullivan's Island and Folly Beach - the local surfers' Mecca, if you consider someplace with three foot waves as worthy of praying to five times a day. Edisto Beach, Kiawah Island, Pawley's Island, and Seabrook Island are all within relatively easy driving distance as well.
After surviving the late morning and early afternoon with only mild pre-cancerous lesions, we made our way back to the house and prepared for the night's festivities. For others, this time consisted of showering, primping, purchasing food and beverages. For me, this time was better utilized with a three-hour nap. If anything exciting happened during these hours someone else is going to have to write their own fucking article about it because I was occupied in the endeavor of becoming one with my pillow.
That evening, thanks to the intercession of a friend of a friend, we were actually going to be attending a cookout at one of those mansions I previously described. How appropriate that on July 4th a peasant such as myself would be raised up and allowed to trod the sacred halls of the Charlestonian elite. Like Yakov Smirnoff (for those of you not familiar with Yakov he was a 1980s version of Borat who acted like a fool, although in truth he wasn't actually acting) said in his delightful Russian patois, "What a country!"
The fulfillment of my American dream took me to a palace just off of Tradd Street in downtown Charleston. Jaws dropped soon after our admittance to the inner sanctum beyond the iron gates that faced the street. My own mouth remained agape for the entirety of our visit and I do admit there may have been some drooling involved. Food was soon brought off the grill and allowed me to look a little less awkward with my oral orifice constantly open like the main entrances on a five-dollar whore.
The house boasted a yard capable of being used as a practice field by the New York Jets, in the center of which was a tree fort so huge that the wood used to build it is no doubt responsible for the deforestation of Brazil. I was incredibly jealous of the kids who called the place home until I found out they didn't have a television. Maybe the parents didn't want Sponge Bob and the Teletubbies teaching them about homosexuality.
I could go on and on about the colossal mansion, but thankfully this isn't Better Homes and Gardens.
Just after dinner we took the short jaunt over to Waterfront Park to watch the fireworks. Having seen the fancy lights and explosions associated with such an event a time or two, I chose to drift into my own twisted thoughts and reflect upon the place that was once my home. Sitting in the humid darkness, mosquitoes drank my blood like mini-Draculas and a foot-long palmetto bug crawled over my foot. Suddenly, the massive flying roach took off into the night sky, its wingspan blocking out the moon momentarily. Ten simultaneous painful bites on my hand reminded me that I was leaning on a fire ant hill. Don't get me wrong, I do love to visit, but in that instance I remembered the reasons why I live in Greenville instead.
Monday, June 29, 2009
I spend a lot of time here standing atop my soapbox pontificating and otherwise pretending I am wise to the point of being damn near knowledgeable. Alas I must confess that although I do have some mad game, there are certain areas in which I take craptacularity to stratospheric levels never heretofore attained. With that brief introduction, here is a list of things that I completely suck at to the extent where I should be considered among the worst in the world - an accomplishment in itself I suppose.
10. Relationships - I am single and have been for a few years now so that should say about all that needs to be said there. No need to get too in depth on that subject as I am already contemplating various methods of suicide that wouldn't hurt too badly. If this list had eleven spots, enduring pain would be the thing I am eleventh worst at doing.
9. Darts - Honestly, I do have some skills as far as the game of darts goes. I can hit the board pretty near what I am aiming at on most occasions and keep myself in games against most people that aren't experts. Once we get to the bulls-eye I am pretty much screwed. If the target were the size of the Grand Canyon's vagina I would still somehow miss the thing. Don't try to watch me and my brother play a game, as this shortcoming is genetic and you may not live to see the end of the contest. I swear the one pictured above is not my fault.
8. Golf - Sports have always been an area in which I excel or at the very least one where I am competitive. Not so much with the great sport of golf. If the idea was to knock the ball into the water, the woods, or the sand I would be among the all time greats. Unfortunately, the goal is some little round hole and no matter how hard I try I can't hit it within the unfairly small amount of strokes I am allotted by the fiendish bastards who designed the game.
7. Science - I was always a fairly decent student even if I never met Mom's requirement of getting a 105 on every test I ever took. I was a B+ student for most of my academic career until my social coming out party (the last couple years of college) when I forgot to attend lectures for awhile, which apparently has some connection to academic success. My performance in science classes, however, was consistently below par regardless of the exact focus of the class. I was consistent if nothing else. Here are my results as I remember them. HS Biology: C, HS Chemistry: C, HS Physics: C, College Biology: C, College Astronomy: C. You probably get the picture by now.
6. Fixing Things - Handyman I am not, if anything needs repairing in my household I either pray my roommate's brother Rhea visits or I call a professional. Removing and replacing a light bulb is on the very edge of my fix-it skill set. One of my proudest accomplishments was successfully changing a flat tire in only thirty minutes earlier this year. I am the man.
5. Cooking - I have already written a bit on my weaknesses in the culinary arts so I will just direct you to one of my older posts if you would like to delve further into my massive cooking skillz yo.
4. Singing - I think I have a pretty good voice and I take every opportunity I can to show off my awesome pipes. Sadly, the human race has been unable to appreciate this rare talent of my and in reality most folks are unable to endure being in the same building with my warped warbling. Please skip the one where you ask me who sings a song I am singing and then I answer _____ and then you tell me I should leave that song for them to sing. I have, in fact, heard that joke before. A lot.
3. Being quiet - I was actually a pretty good kid growing up, kind of a nerd (I know you are shocked) and rarely in any serious trouble. The one thing that got me in trouble (beside my attempt to read the entire Stephen King anthology during classes in 9th grade) was my loud voice. I was born with a sad condition known as unabletowhisperitis. Anytime I got involved in a conversation with another classmate the teacher's annoyed rasp would soon be heard in response, letting me know that it was time for me to either shut up or leave her class. I was officially banned by the government from joining the army, not because I am gay (hell its one of the best places to meet like-minded guys) but because my deep rumble of a whisper would have inevitably lead to the death of my entire platoon.
2. Training employees - During my illustrious career in the restaurant business I have had the unfortunate luck to occasionally rise so far in my job that I am asked to teach the ropes to those lower on the ladder than myself (yes that is pretty low). Since I only devote on average 2% of my brain to thinking about work while I am at my job it is hard to use my personal experiences to assist others. Usually I forget to tell the trainee about 96% of the pertinent information necessary to make them a great employee. As a side note, did you know that 47.4% of statistics are made up on the spot? Thanks to Stephen Wright for doing the research on that one.
1. Making lists - See what I mean? I couldn't even think of ten things.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
We here at Thoughts Askew are all about customer service. As a way to commemorate my 100th post (I know it seems like 987 to me as well) I will be writing about whatever you the dedicated reader would like to hear about. Tired of hearing about politics, food, drink, or who would win a fight between Danzig and a group of dead black men? Make the puppet on the keyboard entertain you with a story about a water-skiing squirrel (that would be cool as I already have a picture). Please send in your requests over the next few days and I will count the votes and start pounding out your story on Monday. Thanks to all of you out there who care enough to visit and especially those of you who comment, you make it worth the time and effort I put in here.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
As Congress prepares to debate the merits of changing our health care system, I have built my own special bunker to insulate me from the shitstorm of lies that is on its way to a 24-hour news network near you. 75% of Americans currently favor the public option, a system under which you can choose to either keep your current health insurance or pick a government created plan. The companies that have been ripping us off - you know the ones who have continually increased premiums until they are utterly unreasonable and discontinued the coverage of people who have expensive illnesses - won't allow their little scam to come to an end easily. These fellows have profit margins to look after. How would their stockholders feel if the system saved lives but lost money?
Hey ass hole, you might say (if you've met me before) health care reform is hugely expensive and our government is running huge deficits. How can we as a country afford to take on such a burden? I would ask, how can we not? The system we are now saddled with financially cripples individuals as well as businesses who are forced to split the costs. Recent media reports have suggested that 46 million Americans have no insurance at all and that number is rising among our country's youth.
In the long run public health insurance plans make fiscal sense. Nations that provide their citizens with cheap medical care see a rise in preventative measures, resulting in a decrease in catastrophic illnesses. You know, the kinds that cost so much green you could build a golf course with it. A national system can also free capital for businesses, who currently devote a huge chunk of their resources towards employee health care. These millions of dollars can be invested and put to use rebuilding our stumbling economy.
If the public option works as planned the average American will be able to spend less on health care. With premiums having doubled in just the last nine years that is no small chunk of change. Government competition will skew free market forces, causing the insurance companies to adapt or die.
Many people will complain that the government has an unfair advantage and there is no way the companies will be able to compete with their resources. I contend in this instance that is perfectly okay. The capitalist business model has consistently failed when applied to two aspects of our society - education and health care. In these venues the goal is not survival of the fittest, but determining the best way to help as many people as possible. In fact you can see a bit of an analogy for the public option when you look at the interplay in higher education between the public and private sectors in the United States. There are public (state run) colleges as well as private colleges both competing for students and each have been able to find their own niche and thrive. As long as the private colleges provide something that people need they will survive. The same is true of privately run insurance companies.
All of what I have said thus far is important, but there is a perhaps less logical, but certainly more humane point to be made here. Sure health care reform is great if it helps our economy and contributes to smaller deficits, but the bottom line is saving and improving lives.
Although I don't agree with all the points that Michael Moore makes in his move "Sicko," the main theme throughout was that we are all human beings and we owe it to one another to do all we can to protect others who are sick or injured, regardless of whether there is a financial benefit involved. The job of a doctor is not to save only the lives of those that can pay. Good, quality health care is a human right, something that should be guaranteed by the Constitution to all Americans.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Those of you who remember your geography will know that Raleigh is the capital of our North Carolinian neighbor. Having been educated in South Carolina myself, I just learned that titillating factoid last week. But there is much more to the town than just a silly little golden dome and a herd of hyenas calling themselves state legislators. Part of the collegian triangle composed of North Carolina State, Duke University, and the University of North Carolina, Raleigh is home to some of the most cutting-edge science-related research in our great nation. Rumor has it that Doctors Doom and Frankenstein share laboratory facilities located in the nearby suburb of Cary.
The aforementioned schools also play a mean brand of basketball. Well, except for North Carolina State, which is better known for its excellent meteorology department. Duke is coached by the famed Mike Krzyzewski, which in Polish means Ratlike son of Lucifer and if correctly spelled in Scrabble will net you 3,724 points. UNC is the current national champ in the sport, and so much better than all those other loser schools that they can only hope to be allowed to sniff alumnus Michael Jordan's jock strap one day.
So now you know a little bit about the town of Raleigh, but surely not enough to want to visit, unless you like watching college basketball or nerds fiddling with chemistry sets.
The average traveler needs a place to eat and drink and otherwise be entertained. My own ignorance was equivalent to the empty expanses of the Russian steppes, so I contacted a couple friends of mine who just happened to be current residents in the hopes that they would fill the vast open spaces of my mind dedicated to such things with a cornucopia of Raleigh-related tidbits.
First we hooked up with Paul Absalom Hoover IV, a lifetime resident who is nowhere near as dignified as his name makes him sound. He promised to take us to some places that are quintessentially Raleigh. Since my man Paul is a famous chili-dogger in his own right, our first destination was the Roast Grill, and I confess to being hooked as soon as I saw the Hot Weiners sign outside the restaurant. To say the place is a dive would be to greatly overstate its size. You couldn't fall down inside the joint without smashing your noggin on a wall first, much less attempt to dive.
The Roast Grill was opened in 1940 by Mrs. Mary Charles and is still run by her daughter and grandson. The restaurant is known for their hot dogs and you better be a fan yourself or don't bother stepping inside the door. The menu involves a bevy of choices, including hot dogs, hot dogs, and also hot dogs for those who happen to like hot dogs.
Your condiment choice is also a bit limited. Customers are deterred from using ketchup by the $15 price tag on the RG's only bottle and the likelihood that the owner will bite off your head at the neck if you are foolish enough to ask for some, then laugh while your blood spurts like a crimson geyser. Loaded dogs come with chili, onion, and mustard. Cole slaw is also available if you want to be different, you know, like all the other different people.
The Travel Channel's Adam Richman, host of Man vs. Food, visited the restaurant recently for the show and managed to set a record by obliterating 17 of the tasty dogs without having a reversal (this is a polite term used in eating contest circles that means exactly what you think it does). Always without fear except when I am scared, I thought about challenging his feat, but chose against spending the rest of the day in the fetal position. Adam washed down his meal with a bottled beer, which along with Coke, makes up the vast amount of drinks available at the Roast Grill. I went the Miller High Life route myself.
After demolishing our hot dogs, Paul took us to the Player's Retreat, located just outside of the gates of the North Carolina State campus. The pub had an immense selection of beers on tap, but I was most impressed by the tremendously large beer collection that lined the top of their walls, seemingly stretching out into an eternity of hoppy goodness. Every brand in the world seemed to be represented, including many that are no longer produced. I could have spent the whole day drinking their draft beer and staring in jealous admiration at their bottle stockpile, but I had more exploring to do: the North Carolina State Fairgrounds awaited.
Having lived my entire life in the South there is an inner redneck always percolating inside me, fixin' to burst out at any moment. I reckon that redneck was one happy sumbitch on this day, as we walked through rows of ancient tractors, past the pig-racing area, the impressive tractor-pull arena, and the only known shotgun-firing booth in America towards the free food samples. Various purveyors were hawking their wares and we took the opportunity to try BBQ sauces, liver mush, fried pork, and generic cereals that are in no way cheaper rip offs of real brands (I recommend the Cocoa Poofs and Loopy Fruits). Despite all the tasty flavor sensations turning our mouths into Mr. Happy, we had come to the fair for a reason and at five o'clock the time had come - the pig races were ready to commence.
The fans gathered on bleachers in tense anticipation as the emcee, dressed in the required overalls and cowboy hat, announced the racers. Bets were made on the sly and the starting gun fired, the pigs shooting out of their gates like a house afire. I hadn't heard squealing like that since the time I rafted down a river with Burt Reynolds. Ducks, goats, and pot-bellied pigs were also brought out to entertain us with their dazzling speed. I would like to use this space to personally thank Dale Porkhardt, Jr. for winning me a wager in the pot-belly race.
Tired and beaten down by the sun, not to mention the otherworldly excitement of the pig races, we headed to meet another Raleigh friend, Robert Mera, a PHD candidate at NC State, soccer expert, and banana hider extraordinaire (that is not a sex joke believe it or not). His mother, the divine Patricia Velasquez de Mera, had promised to cook us dinner. Having enjoyed her victuals before, I was not about to turn down her hospitality.
The Mera family hails from Ecuador, which borders the Pacific Ocean, and we were treated to some fine Latin American seafood, including a tilapia dish with rice and green olives as well as a corn cake that melted in my mouth so fast I thought for a second it must be made of M&Ms. The piece de resistance however, was the shrimp ceviche (also spelled as cebiche or seviche) . Ceviche is a method of cooking that involves soaking the meat in lemon juice, whose acids actually cook the flesh while also making it tender and juicy at the same time.
Velasquez's version was tossed with tomato, onion, and garlic and was so delicious that everyone I tried to converse with during the meal told me to shut the hell up. Well that didn't actually happen, but it sure would have if anyone had bothered to remove their face from their bowls.
After departing the hacienda we finished our tour of Raleigh off by heading downtown for a free concert. Candlebox, performers of such classics as "Maybe" and "Far Behind" was rocking Moore park led by their singer in his bad-ass neon blue glasses. Although I don't profess to being a big fan of their work I couldn't argue with the price. Apparently a lot of people agreed with me, since there were more people there than the day back in 1997 when Candlebox were accidentally mistaken for a group of serious musicians.
Sipping on my blueberry beer that I had inadvertently purchased from a untrustworthy shyster manning the so-called beer booth, I sat back and enjoyed the show from an excellent vantage point as far away from the stage as possible. Raleigh had provided enough quality pork and alcohol to give even the great Anthony Bourdain a culinary boner. I wasn't too terribly displeased myself.
I want to use this spot to once again thank Paul and Sally Hoover, Robert and Sara Mera, and Senora Velazquez de Mera for their hospitality. I had a great weekend and hope to see you all again soon.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Guantanamo Bay is the subject for this month's series I will call "exposing the trough of bullshit constantly being fed to us by our elected leaders". Not a short title but it does get the message across.
This week's subject is the projected closing of Guantanamo Bay and the eventual destinations of those imprisoned there. The pack of prevaricators have gotten up on their soapboxes to proclaim, "Not in our backyard" and "The citizens of my state won't be safe with these crazed terrorists here." As if they are going to be frolicking in our fields or picking up our children at the daycare center. Not so much.
Rather the eventual destination of these alleged (remember none of the prisoners at Guantanamo have actually been tried in a court of law and we don't know whether these military tribunals which Obama has unfortunately continued to back are even legal) criminals is a Supermax prison.
If you are not familiar with Supermax, here are some details to enlighten, brighten, but hopefully not frighten your day. Supermax prisoners are kept in solitary confinement for twenty three hours a day. They are given one hour of recreation, after first being strip-searched. The exercise period is not social hour, no terrorist plots can be fomented when you spend the hour alone in a concrete chamber (a separate room used by individual inmates during the recreation hour).
If you haven't figured it out already, prisoners have no direct contact with one another, their only human contact is with prison officials. The windows in the cells are designed so the prisoners can not even figure out where they are within the facility.
But these are resourceful criminals, they can probably escape! What can these puny civilians possibly do to protect us from that eventuality?
"The prison as a whole contains a multitude of motion detectors and cameras, 1,400 remote-controlled steel doors, and 12 ft (3.66 m) high razor wire fences. Laser beams, pressure pads, and attack dogs guard the area between the prison walls and razor wire."
With such state of the art detection equipment it is a pretty hard place to escape. In fact, no one has even bothered to make a serious attempt except in that prison break show on Fox, a program which is as fictional as the lies the idiots in Congress have been feeding us.
Here are some famous criminals who are already being housed in the Federal facility in Florence, Colorado:
1. Zacarias Moussaoui - yes the terrorist also known as the "20th hijacker" from the 9/11 attacks. So obviously there is no history of dangerous terrorists being held on U.S. soil. He was hardly a mastermind though, we couldn't risk having any of those here...
2. Theodore Kaczynski- AKA the Unabomber, guilty of planning and perpetrating numerous bomb attacks throughout the US over a twenty year period.
3. Richard Reid - Muslim fundamentalist known as the shoe bomber, demolisher of Nikes and attempted destroyer of an American airliner in route from London.
4. Eric Rudolph - a local hero of the town of Murphy, NC, (ignorant redneck town of the year ten years running now) Rudolph used to routinely bomb abortion clinics as well as random bands of innocents in Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 games in Atlanta before his subsequent capture. He is now serving a life term at Florence.
5. Terry Nichols - the accomplice of Timothy McVeigh who somehow avoided the gas chamber, Nichols shares responsibility for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing which killed 168 people.
6. Robert Hansen - These first five just liked to blow stuff up, they weren't real risks to national security in the long run. We wouldn't house someone like that in our backyard would we? Oh yeah, we would, Hansen has been imprisoned in Colorado for eight years after giving away national security secrets to the Russians, our greatest enemy at the time, over a twenty year period. That Cold War thing is so 1980, though, our biggest fear now is Al Qaeda and Muslim fundamentalists. We couldn't risk keeping any of their leaders here could we? Surely another deadly attack would have occurred as a result of having them within our borders?
7. Ramzi Yousef - Of course, if you think that you would be wrong. Yousef is the convicted planner of the first attack on the World Trade Center, the 1993 bombing. He has been residing in the Florence Supermax for over a decade now. Maybe the Colorado prison is at its capacity for dealing with lunatic terrorists (prison spokesman recently said they have only one unused cell) and we don't have any other adequate place to house them than Guantanamo.
8. Omar Abdel-Rahman - nope the blind Shiek who helped Yousef plan the Trade Center bombing is held in a separate facility located in Butner, North Carolina. That's pretty damn close to me, I had no idea I should have been shitting myself this whole time. Or....
9. Jose Padilla - The alleged planner of a dirty bomb attack in the United States who has never been tried on those charges (mainly because he was tortured until he became basically a vegetable) the Padilla flotilla was for several years housed in my home town of Charleston, where he was at least in military custody. Hopefully he is never turned over to a civilian prison since we know that it is much too dangerous to have one of these fellas there. * Update* Oh wait he is housed in Florence too now.
So quit with the bullshit and the lies Senators and Representatives, I have grown a bit tired of yawning at your pathetic efforts to deceive me. Now chill out and listen to some old Fugees as they teach us about Guantanamo Bay. Actually, they don't teach us a damn thing but hell they slipped the word into a song so god bless 'em!
Sunday, May 17, 2009
After some goading from a faithful and no doubt severely twisted reader of my befuddled musings, I have decided to plunge ahead with my previously mentioned threat to create the official CD for the drug user in all of us.
In truth, great music would hardly exist without the aid of the occasional narcotic. The oft-frustrated comedian Bill Hicks once yelped, "Drugs have done some good things. If you don't believe me take out all your tapes and CDs and burn 'em. All those musicians who have created all that music that has enhanced your lives over the years? Reeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllll fucking high on drugs."
Take warning, though, this will not always be a happy ride - these substances, which can at times expand our consciousness and create great art also can come with the hefty price of addiction, obsession, and even death. I have tried to create a mix that illustrates the whole picture, a drug train, to quote Social Distortion - the good, the bad, and the ugly, building from the softer drugs up to the harder narcotics and their at times terrible consequences.
I will also include some honorable mentions here and there just in case you want to expand the mix into a boxed set.
Since I have already dedicated a mix tape purely to songs about booze, we will skip that silly sissy stuff and move on to the most commonly used illegal narcotic, marijuana, the wacky weed that has inspired countless bards throughout the years.
1. "I Love You Mary Jane" by Cypress Hill and Sonic Youth. Who better to lie in the grass and sing of its joys than the fellows from Cypress Hill, who have nearly created their own genre (ganja rap?) by doing that very thing. The tune, from the Judgement Night Soundtrack, also features hipsters Sonic Youth as the back-up band. Money shot: "Sugar come back, gets me high, if you wanna party, well shit I'm gonna, as soon as she comes...."
2. "Stoned Immaculate" by the Doors. Jim Morrison wrote a short and simple song about the joys of visiting the nether regions which exist within us all. He takes us there by creating a hazy musical atmosphere that has been unmatched by any of his peers (if there can be said to be any) over the last forty years.
Honorable Mentions: "Glazed" by Rocket from the Crypt, "Herojuana" by NOFX, and "Marijuana" by Hayseed Dixie. Why not add "Mr. Bake-O" by Adam Sandler (from the era when he was still occasionally funny) to inject a little comedy into your day? R. Alton has also pointed out my near-criminal negligence in omitting "Smoke Two Joints" by Sublime.
Next up, cocaine: the white powder that rarely kills, but can be ferociously addictive and some claim invariably leads to harder drugs. Some bands wrote a song about it, goes something like this...
3. "Bananas and Blow" by Ween. The masters of any genre they attempt, Ween goes calypso with this gem, that tells of the joys one can experience sitting on the cabana and subsisting solely on the two substances that give the song its name. I can't say I want to drown my nose in white powder afterward, but I sure am ready to relax on the exotic beach and enjoy an alcohol-laced beverage.
4. "Cocaine Blues" by Johnny Cash. "Cocaine Blues" is a warning of a song that takes us on a trip to the darker side of narcotics. It is the story of a man sentenced to "99 years in the Folsom Pen" whose troubles start only after he takes a shot of cocaine.
Honorable Mentions: "Cocaine Lil" by the Mekons. Also, give a listen to the comedy track "Cocaine" by Richard Pryor, someone who had a firsthand experience or two with the Peruvian marching powder. For those of you waiting for country music to be represented, quit before you die of old age, I don't really know any (unless you count Cash). However, a friend of mine recommends Hank Williams "Od'd in Denver."
Time to expand our minds with a little lysergic acid, brewed up in the lab just in time to give birth to the colorful era of the 1960s.
5. "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane. Words don't do justice to this classic, a song that takes Alice down the rabbit hole and into a world that exists in the back of our mind, but can only be reached with a little assist from our friendly neighborhood pharmacist, someone always happy to help you feed your head. Take the pill that makes you larger, take the one that makes you small, just skip the one that doesn't do anything at all.
6. "Third Eye" by Tool. Tool's music often speaks cryptically about the joys of the mind-altering experience, but the band doesn't make any effort to hide their pro-drug leanings in this epic thirteen minute track, from which I have taken the Bill Hicks quote used in the introduction to this piece.
Honorable Mentions: "No LSD Tonight" by Jeffrey Lewis and of course just about anything from the masters of psychedelia, Pink Floyd - let's go with "Comfortably Numb" if you want to pick one single track.
We move to the world of pills, a sordid place where our fear and anxiety can be transformed into serenity with the addition of a few milligrams of Prozac here and a small dose of Xanax there.
7. "Mother's Little Helper" by the Rolling Stones. Who can blame mom if she needs something to calm her down? With a busy day ahead of cleaning and caring for a bunch of crazed rugrats, who wouldn't want to put their head in an oven? A little shelter from the mother's little helper will help to minimize her plight!
8. "That Smell" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. A bit of a stretch for this category I admit, this song is about the inherent dangers of getting too heavily involved in the party scene. Van Zant's brilliant insertion of a line about quaaludes, a mainly forgotten pill commonly abused in the 1970s allows the Southern rockers to eke into this category.
Honorable Mention: If you can find it, there is a great audio track to insert here - the scene from Walk Hard where Tim Meadow's character explains pills to Dewey Cox. There are three or four similar episodes in the flick and if I can get my hand on them, they are going in my collection for sure.
The poppy plant has brought Oriental bliss to the United States for centuries in various forms, from opium to morphine and finally through the joys and ultimate pain of heroin.
9. "Golden Brown" by the Stranglers. A song that rides like a carefree merry-go-round and shares the ecstasy of those first heroin experiences when our brain's pleasure centers are caressed by the narcotic's tempting embrace. Never a frown....golden brown.
10. "Post Blue" by Placebo. Placebo takes us into the future of our heroin abuser, now living in a world of co-dependency where love, drugs, and sex are all part of one emotion, a need to feel something that has been taken away by the years of abusing heroin and other drugs that should have been left in the capable hands of the fashion models who know how to take them in the properly irresponsible manner.
Honorable Mention: "Heroin Girl" by Everclear and "Mr. Brownstone" by Guns N' Roses.
There are of course many other different ways we can abuse our body, and expand our mind, and various combinations in which we may do it. Here are a couple of examples:
11. "Special K" by Placebo. As the only band to appear twice so far, Placebo has clearly earned an advanced degree in writing about drugs (and sex). In order to find new material they have been willing to sample the entire pharmacy, including Special K, also known as ketamine, a cat tranquilizer which has some interesting effects when ingested by humans. To quote an expert:
"At low doses, K is a mild if weird stimulant. At medium to high doses, it becomes a very powerful paralyzing psychedelic. Its effects are like a combination of cocaine, cannabis, opium, nitrous oxide, and alcohol." Sounds like a bit too much fun for me.
12. "Crack Pipe Burned My Hand" by the Coolies. A song that could, I suppose, go into the cocaine category, but this version is chemically altered, more addictive than cocaine, and just so much funnier to talk about for some inexplicable reason that I will leave it to Dave Chappelle to explain to us one day. The Coolies, a defunct band out of the 1990s Atlanta scene, go the humor route on this track and the results are scrumptious enough to make me want to sprinkle crack on a dead hooker.
Honorable Mention: "Hash Pipe" by Weezer and "Methamphetamine Blues" by Mark Lanegan.
Now that we have sampled everything our neighborhood dealer has to offer, let's take a look at the results.
13. "Junkhead" by Alice-in-Chains. One of the most haunting songs ever written, this is the most obvious cry for help among the many attempts Layne Staley made. An unapologetic paean to drug culture, "Junkhead" asks the question, "What's my drug of choice?" and gives the answer "What have you got?" Staley's subsequent death from an overdose leads one to believe he was a little too fervent in practicing what he preached.
14. "Cure for Pain" by Morphine. "Junkhead," which I referred to as haunting, is like a trip through Candyland compared to this frightening suicide note of a composition offered up by bandleader Mark Sandman. Although Sandman would live six years more after "Cure for Pain" was released on the album of the same name, the writing was on the wall. He collapsed of a heart attack and died on stage during a 1999 show in Rome. The money shot: "Someday there'll be a cure for pain -that's the day - I throw my drugs away."
Honorable Mention: Placebo's "Commercial for Levi." Honestly if you turned this mix into a box set you'd have to dedicate a whole CD to Placebo and this song about a man's attempt at saving a friend from addiction would be right at the top of the list. If you want something a little more light-hearted, check out the NOFX jam "Drugs Are Good."
Now that our drug mix has gone to the brink of death - there are only two results: continue on that grim path or to come back from the edge.
15. "The Needle and the Damage Done" by Neil Young. A short and sweet ballad by a man who has produced an endless supply of such gems. When you end with the words, "every junkie is like the setting sun," its safe to assume things have not gone well.
16. "Whoops I Od'd" by NOFX. Known best for their word play and humor, some of which is indeed delightfully juvenile, the boys at this veteran punk outfit can put together a deadly serious song when the urge strikes them. "Whoops I Od'd" is the first person account of a man who has overindulged a bit too often and is in the midst of paying the price for his indiscretion. He is lucky enough to live through the experience, but whether he learns from it or not we do not know.
17. "Gravity" by A Perfect Circle. The last track from the CD "Thirteenth Step"is also the perfect ending for this magical musical tour. The title suggests the wobbly first step taken after a former abuser has completed a twelve-step program. These songs are very personal, as they recount singer Maynard Keenan's attempt to overcome his addiction. "Gravity," which ends with the line, "I choose to live," demonstrates Keenan's determination to end his downward spiral and not end up like Staley and Sandman.
Honorable Mention: If you are a little bit down after these last tracks, kick back with Black Grape's "Get Higher" which mocks American drug policy by using actual audio from Ronald and Nancy Reagan. "Treatment Bound" by the Replacements sticks closer to the motif while somehow still carrying the snotty vibe you can usually expect from most of the band's early catalog. Comedy tracks by Dave Attell and David Cross both entitled "Drugs" will also suck those tears right back up into your welcoming eyeballs.
If you believe I have made any egregious errors here, and if you love music I am sure you do, feel free to suggest any possible omissions, I am always looking to enhance my collection.
Editor's Note: He forgot Blue October's "Hate Me" and K's Choice's "Not An Addict," but what are you gonna do, he's just a junior travel correspondent.