10/30/2007

Bowling for Jesus?

Today's Chautauqua is about follow-through.

When I was young, I belonged to a Saturday bowling league. Our team had half a dozen kids, all aged about 8 years or so. Every Saturday, all teams paired off and competed for dominance and advancement up the league roster. The contest took 2 hours -- which is to say, about 15 minutes of bowling sprinkled within 1 hour and 45 minutes of hijinks. Bowling is mostly just killing time while others bowl. Between turns, we often caused trouble. My favorite bit of mischief was producing the sound of flatulence by compressing my hands over the air hand drier. Also, projecting a larger-than-life silhouette of your middle finger onto the overhead score card was an entertaining diversion. Eff you, Brunswick! "Accidentally" timing your ball to collide with the pin-setter mechanism had to be done sparingly, lest management intervene, but it was a sure crowd-pleaser if one could pull it off. I found an off-speed 12 lb. ball produced a pleasant, resonating tone as it struck the metal pin sweeper, something the whole bowling alley could enjoy. Other kids opted for a maximum velocity 8-pounder. I found this practice cheap, second-rate and anything but subtle. Vandalizing bowling equipment is a fine art.

I wasn't the best bowler on my team. The truth is, I sucked. I ranked above only one other bowler on my team, and I believe he was mildly retarded. Bowling frustrated me. It looks deceitfully easy. I would peer down the glossy strip of wood paneling at the 10 helpless pins and ask myself, How hard can this be? Roll the ball straight down the lane and clobber them? It's not like the pins can dodge the ball or put up a fight. Hell, hitting the head pin should be easier than pegging the fat girl in a game of dodgeball.

Nevertheless, I earned the name "Gutter Ball." My average hovered well below 100 (a respectable goal for a kid bowler). My frequent gutter balls were a source of embarrassment. Nothing infuriated me like watching my ball slip into the gutter and skid and shimmy down the alley, unless, of course, it collided with the 5,000 dollar pin-setter, in which case it was a riot. Still, my crappy bowling drew much ridicule from the other kids. And I wasn't improving. I was handicapping my team.

My mom drove me to league bowling and occasionally stayed to watch. She was a good bowler in her day. And I would enjoy the good fortune of her counsel. One day she watched me stink up the lane with gutter balls and crappy shots that claimed only a few pins per frame. Then she resolved to teach me the importance of follow-through. Hitherto, I saw my mom as a nuisance. Moms aren't that cool to 8 year old boys. Even those liberated moms who buy the kids beer and make drunken sexual advances at them aren't cool until about the age of 14. Before the onset of adolescence, boys leave their moms with very few options for achieving coolness. So it was with my mom and me at the bowling alley. Ideally, my mom would remain quiet, anonymous, and watch my game from the back of the alley, presenting herself only long enough to provide cash for the vending machines and cafeteria.

On this day, she violated the rules. She was seated right behind the ball return, keeping score. As I tossed another stinker down the lane, she’d shout, "Follow through, Richie. Follow through!"

What? What did she mean, "follow through?" I couldn't even roll the damn ball in a straight line and hit a few miserable pins. I wasn't in the mood for vague instructions. I was embarrassed enough already. Shut up, mom.

Then she committed blasphemy. As my bowling buddies watched, she escorted me up to the line, stood behind me, took me by the waist and wrist and reduced me to a bowling puppet. I sensed an ass-kicking from the fellas pending! Already fuming from a dozen frames of dismal bowling, I scoffed through the lesson. But as she guided my wrist straight upward after the release, I finally understood what she meant by "follow-through." I just didn't see the merit in it yet.

I retorted: It doesn't matter what the hell I do after I release the ball. The shot is already done. After releasing the ball, I could dance an Irish jig while reciting dirty limericks and the ball wouldn't give a damn. It already has its trajectory. It's deaf to all entreaties (I didn't say those exact words, but that was the substance of it). I argued that it couldn't possibly matter what I do after I release the ball.

She contradicted me: From a physical standpoint, you're right. Once you release the ball, it acts according to Newtonian physics. But alas, what you plan doing after your release affects what you do before the release. And this has a great deal of bearing on your bowling game. Herein lies the value of follow-through (these weren‘t her exact words, but that was the gist).

I was desperate. I took her advice. The results were instantaneous. Following through on my bowling stroke, I produced a series of dead-on, straight shots. I was knocking down pins. No more gutter balls! What's more, I was striking the pins near the pocket. With an occasional spare or strike, I could reach the 100-point mark. Wow, Mom knew something useful after all. Thanks, Mom. Now get the hell out of here. You’re embarrassing me. Go buy me some candy or a dirty magazine or something.


I wonder if religious faith is a sophisticated kind of follow-through. Religion, especially Christianity, is the subject of ridicule and scorn. The argument against religion is, it's not scientific. It doesn't stand the test of reason. Its tenets cannot be verified through experiment. It's blind faith! (How refreshing it would be to see these arguments aimed squarely at yoga!) People with religious convictions are often perceived as rubes (or worse, potential criminals). Those with rational, scientific minds, the independent thinkers (read: smarter), often hold religion in contempt. Churches are chocked full of simpletons.

It’s true. Religion doesn't withstand the rigors of scientific investigation. But neither does a proper bowling stroke, or golf swing, or a free-throw shot. Science dictates that the projectiles in these sports follow the laws of Newtonian physics. But we can demonstrate statistically -- through scientific experiment -- that proper follow-through and form improve performance. There's more to it than mere science! Many unscientific practices yield results: Public speakers give better speeches by imagining the audience in their underwear. Marathon runners imagine their bodies floating in frictionless cylinders. Impoverished entrepreneurs imagine the millions are already in the bank. Singers imagine singing above an imaginary pencil clenched in their teeth. Everyone's familiar with the success philosophy, Act as if -- a practice that has you actively ignoring the facts around you and make-believing success. Are all these people dupes, simpletons, fools, Fox News fans?

While the dogma of whatever religion may not be true (Did human life begin with Adam and Eve? Did God really flood the earth? Did Christ turn water to wine? Did that Gazoo fella really appear before Fred Flintstone when he and Barney were in a quandary?) the virtues of religion are realistic. They can be proved, observed. Who doesn't behave a little better when he remembers God is watching him? I recently thumbed through my 4 high school yearbooks and read the entries of the Twenty Most Likely to Succeed students. The majority of these students (80 in all) cited their faith in God or Jesus Christ as the impetus for their success. And I thought they were just nerds and Jesus freaks!

Just like follow-through is important in bowling or golf, so might focus on the afterlife improve one's motions through this life. Was it just a statistical anomaly that the majority of those 80 students cited God, or that religious people as a whole tend to be decent, happy and successful? Or are religious fables packaged with useful life lessons. A lot of religious people, I'll suspect, intuit their religious faith is allegory. Pinned down by debate or interrogation about the existence of God, religious people may reveal their doubts. They may find it hard to fathom the stories of Moses marching down the mountain with Ten Commandments, or the Burning Bush, or Christ rising from the dead, or God keeping a ledger of good and evil deeds. But they choose to believe them because these allegories reinforce virtues; believing helps lead a better life.

Maybe this is why so many athletes are religious. If my livelihood depended on rolling a strike, hitting a little white ball moving 96 mph or pole-vaulting 22 feet in the air, I'd kiss the little gold cross around my neck beforehand, too.

10/22/2007

Bullet-ins

  • I dread reaching the age when I must consider how the quality of my diet affects the quality of my stool. This food backs me up. That one gives me the runs. This one will activate my diverticulosis. Can you imagine the day when, before you eat, you have to ask yourself, "Will this come out OK? Literally, will this come out OK?"
  • Why do they call the clap, the clap? I think they should call it the scratch. Or maybe, the wince. Maybe it's because of the clapping sound your hand makes across your genitals when you try to take a leak.
  • Have you seen the Toyota truck commercial where the Loch Ness Monster bites the truck, drags it underwater, savages it like a pit bull, then spits it 100 feet into the air? Question: what the fuck are you doing to your truck that this ad speaks to you? Who buys this crap? Imagine this guy at the sales floor: "Tell me, my good man. How does this truck fare against savage mythological beasts? Are dragon bites covered in the bumper-to-bumper warranty?" What scares me is, I watched this commercial about 15 times before I woke up to its absurdity. At first, I'd watch it and think, Wow, that's a tough truck right there -- like it was a real event or something. Then I snapped out of it and had to punch myself in the face for being so dumb.
  • I wonder if other religions have their version of the devil. What about Judaism? What's a Jewish devil like? I'll bet he's a big, tall, blond haired, blue eyed sales clerk who stands behind a divine register and forces evil souls to pay retail for discounted items.
  • I'm proud to report I've grown the biggest bonsai tree on the planet. I keep it planted in my backyard and I trim it to look just like an elm tree.
  • It would suck if you were renting an apartment, but you couldn't afford the rent. So, you had to rent a truck to move the furniture, which you were also renting, out of the apartment and put it in a rented storage facility. Also, it turns out your girlfriend is a hooker.
  • If you broke wind in a perfectly air-tight room, would your ears pop?
  • Some watches have both a digital display and an analogue display. Why stop there? Why not put a sundial and an hourglass on the piece of crap?

10/17/2007

Move over, Voltaire.

Dearest readers, I'm delighted to introduce a new visitor, "Honest John." John fancies himself a literary critic and an accomplished humorist. He was generous enough to draft a critique on my latest post (scroll down). Lest his critique go unnoticed, it makes an encore appearance here. I must say, I've never read its equal.

I hope I'm not being too bold, but I've presumed to interject my own commentary within John's critique (my commentary is parenthesized in colored font). I I hope this adds to your enjoyment of Honest John's critique. Of course, I risk direct comparison between my own writing and that of a Great Master. I'll take that risk. Without further delay, here's Honest John's critique:



Call me cranky but your humor is at best a third grade level (likewise with your critique, the difference being that I'm trying to be juvenile). I understand coming up with clever blog posts on a regular basis can be tough (you're proof of that, John), but if this is the best you can do, I would suggest gardening or oil painting (or, how about perusing blogs and leaving angry, envy-fueled, dim-witted comments?). Normally I sign my comments proudly but I am not a comment whore commenting only to get others to come comment on my own blog (which regretfully remains hidden or nonexistent, much like your sex life). No, I see with 62 people praising an obviously second rate production (Production? It's a post, not a screenplay), my opinion is not going to be popular (or informed). But it's honest(-ly an expression of jealousy; those who can't do, criticize). The tube idea is stupid (like most drive-by critics). Even if it is read as comedy, it's stupid. The roadside memorials have been a tradition in Europe since the invention of the wheel (Europeans invented the wheel? How many vehicular homicides occurred in 50,000 BC?). I suppose cemeteries are a waste of real estate too huh? (Indeed yes, much as your existence is a waste of ejaculate). I know...you are trying to be funny, but it's too labored. And it's not funny. Who invented skis and hang gliding? (Maybe it was the same European caveman you claim invented the wheel!) Who cares and how funny can it be? Not funny. Stupid indeed but not funny. Sex toy factories are run by porn stars who cast their own genitals for rubber dongs and pocket pussies (I'm beginning to understand your non-existent sex life, John). No need for an entire scenario on cubicles and bosses demanding more girth. It's Ron Jeremy blowing himself in an office. No humor...just pornography immortalized in latex (Ah, I had a suspicion you were gay. Thank you for removing any doubt.). I understand the notion of "if you don't like it, then why are you here?" but I assure you, a return trip is not in the cards (I'll bet you hear that a lot from women). I just read on and on in this unending drivel of a post hoping for something of comedic value...anything. But it ended with nothing (It ended with a whiz-bang joke about Chinese and gay people. If you don't think that's funny, then there's no pleasing you! Wait a minute. You're not a gay Chinese fella, are you? That would explain a lot!). Then the comments praising it and women actually "peeing their panties" forced me to say something (You're into peeing women forcing you to do stuff? Freak!). I'm happy for you that so many readers have chosen your mess (sorry, the cleaning lady's on vacation) to promote their own equally lame blogs (you mean equally brilliant, I'm sure). It's a nice circle of wasted bandwidth. Too bad even your template/theme is completely lacking in creativity. Zero entertainment value equals blog failure (sounds like experience talking). Enjoy your pretend fame (and you, John, enjoy your pretend penis). These readers only want others to come read their own disasters (and LBB is glad to oblige; their blogs are charming!). Hope you understand that (the author of comment #63, Honest John, is a half-witted douche bag who indulges in cowardly, drive-by criticism and lacks the courage to leave a link to his steaming pile of blogshit).

My dear readers: please feel free to leave a comment sharing with Honest John how much you enjoyed his critique. I look forward to reading them all!

10/11/2007

Six thoughts

On the Road Again

The latest trend in highway fatalities is to memorialize victims with makeshift grave sites near where they shoveled the corpse off the road. I hope I’m not being insensitive when I highlight how unfair this is to me. I’ll grant you I’m lucky enough to still be alive. Good point. But if I toss so much as a Big Mac wrapper out my car window, I’m shelling out 500 bucks for littering. Yet Dona Maria Louisa Concholla del Pedro can stack 17 Jesus candles, a chimenea and a freakin’ pinata on the I-8 shoulder with impunity. No fair.

Furthermore, those funeral sites unnerve me. They’re spooky. Sometimes, after I’ve had a few and I’m flying past them at 85 mph, I mistake them for an Indian grave site or a small taco stand. I drive up and order a carne asada plate. Next think I know, I’m staring at a picture of St. Peter in the flickering candlelight. Aye! Mi culpa. Dorma en paz, Carlito.

It doesn’t seem fair to me that people can litter our highways with trinkets. Where the hell is Greenpeace when you need them?


Tubular Idea

I’m fascinated with those pneumatic tube systems in office buildings. You know what I mean -- those containers you put documents in, clamp shut and dispatch to another cubicle. I wish they’d make a larger version for humans to ride. We could all have a port at our homes. Then we’d tube ourselves to work, the grocery store, the local bar, the STD clinic, places you anticipate going often.

I’d enjoy my commute to work. I’d hop in my tube with my laptop (naturally the tube system would have wi-fi, and a crapper). I’d dial in “WORK.” Then, ffff-thump…whoooosh. Wee! Off I go to work. I'd also like a GPS so I could watch myself noodle through the city. By the way, this infrastructure could revolutionize pizza delivery. Food delivery of any kind, really. A burrito would fit great in a pneumatic tube. So would a bottle of hooch.

Also, no more roadside grave sites as discussed above. Unless your tube pops open en route, you’re completely safe!

And also, instead of car dealerships, we’d have tube dealerships. Could you show me something in a convertible, my good man?

Subaru could change their name to “TUBE-ar-u.” Wouldn’t that be cute?


Pioneers

I wonder how some recreational pursuits are invented. Take, for example, skiing. It seems obvious enough now. But the guy who first tried it told his buddies, “Check this out. I’m going to strap boards on my feet and slide down that fuckin’ mountain. How will I steer, you ask? I’ve got that covered. I’ll be holding couple spiked sticks.”

How about hang gliding? Who gave the hang glider its maiden voyage? That guy must have had a sack like a walrus! Again, hang gliding seems sane enough now. But the design of the glider has gone through decades of refinement. The first guy who tried it grabbed a couple of Hefty Lawn Bags and a yardstick: “Hey fellas. Watch me jump off this fuckin’ mountain.”


Workaday at the Sex Toy Factory

I don’t mean to be crude. But I’ve been thinking about sex toys lately. Not the toys themselves, but the designers. Dildos don’t grow on trees. Somebody needs to design them and fabricate them in a factory. Some poor bastard sits in a cubicle with a drafting board, an AutoCAD program and a stack of dirty magazines and racks his brains hoping to dream up the Tickle-Me-Elmo of sex toys.

And this guy has a boss who walks the halls, pops his head in and appraises the designer's progress on whatever project. What’s that encounter like? Bob, I’d like to see more girth in your penis replicas. R&D found 30% more satisfaction in the over-40 housewife demographic with the extra-wide prototype. You should have received a memo on that. Also, nice work on the swinging ball-sack module. The boys in engineering report a threefold increase in ass-slappage.


No Class

Teenagers detest math. They feel it’s a waste of time and effort. See if this protest sounds familiar: “I’m going to be a (insert vocation here). I’m never going to need trigonometry.” By that rationale, we shouldn’t teach sex-ed to ugly people. I know, I know. You’re going to comment that ugly people have sex, too. But we shouldn’t be encouraging it in the public school system, for Christ’s sake.


Me Chinese, Me Make Joke

I read that there are 1.2 billion Chinese people -- four times the population of the USA. Also, Chinese people don’t use a phonetic alphabet like us. Instead, they have a picture for everything. All I can say is, there must be some thick fuckin’ phone books in China. Hell, the Wangs alone probably comprise seventeen volumes. Incidentally, the Asian Anti-Defamation League has recently protested the title “Yellow Pages,” for phone books. They’ve formally recommended “White, Round-Eye Pages” as an alternative.

That leads me to a joke: Why did Elton John buy a mansion in China? All the Wangs and Dongs. I hear he found a charming summer home in the Bangkok district.

10/05/2007

Bullet-ins

  • When newscasters talk about criminals, they talk about people “behind bars.” The serial killer can expect to spend the rest of his life behind bars. I think they should instead say within bars. If you’re merely behind bars, you can just walk around them and make it to the other side.
  • Some people are prejudice against others. That is, they hate them upon meeting them. This is foolish. I try to like everybody I meet. Then, as I get to know them better, I slowly start to despise them. Hating is so much more fulfilling when you have some good reasons.
  • Old Navy is the sensible man’s Abercrombie and Fitch.
  • Many people insist they don’t care what others think of them. They counsel others to do the same, that is, to care less what others think. This is nonsense. We can’t decide to stop caring what others think of us any more than we can remain indifferent to hunger, danger, discomfort, or sexual cravings. Five million years of primitive evolution requires us to strive for others’ approval. There’s a word for people who try abandoning what others think: sociopath.
  • My grandmother is visiting from Chicago. Here knee went out on Tuesday. We called the doctors’s office on Wednesday morning. We showed at the office that Wednesday at 9. We saw a specialist by 10. By 1030, my grandmother received expert orthopedic counsel and a cortisone injection. By 1045, my grandmother and I were enjoying brunch at Mimi’s CafĂ©. By Thursday evening, her knee recovered. Medicare and BBB gap insurance covered 100% of the bill. No co-pay. In a socialized medial system like the ones in Canada or the UK, the above sequence of events would have taken about 18 weeks. The bill would be the same. Taxes would be MUCH higher.

10/01/2007

An Ode to the Donut

Today's chautauqua is about nature's perfect food, the donut.

The first evidence of my food obsession manifested early in my childhood, on Sundays, when my parents brought home a box of Dunkin’ Donuts. The sight of that pink, orange and white box would send my heart aflutter. I had an instantaneous, visceral reaction to the sight of Dunkin’ Donuts. I couldn’t think straight. I went into conniptions. Each second from the time I saw that magic box float through the doorway until I held the first donut in my hand was an eon. All I could think of was the heavenly mixture of pillow-soft dough and sweet icing. Hurry up, Mom. Let’s eat!

A family of four, we would each get 3 donut. I always got a chocolate long john, a vanilla long john and a glazed donut. Chocolate was my favorite and I often considered getting 3 chocolate donuts. But variety heightens the experience. Nothing complements a chocolate donut like a vanilla donut. Ebony and Ivory.

I was always the first to finish my donuts. My parents would advise me to eat them slowly so that I could enjoy them. What brought me the most joy, however, was inhaling them at the speed of sound. I’m not a man of moderation. And this prompted a bone of contention with my folks. I mentioned earlier that we each got 3 donuts. However, my parents never let me eat all 3 donut at Sunday breakfast. We had to “save one for later.” Eating 3 donut at once was gluttony, according to my folks. Well Mom, that’s when you know you’re doing it right: when you’re overdoing it. Sometimes, in order to do something right, you have to do it wrong. Eating donuts is a choice example. Donuts and temperance don’t mix, much like dagos and bathwater.

Yeah, Mom. I’ll save that 3rd donut for later. Don’t want to overdo it. While I’m at it, I think I’ll swear off premarital sex and late-night TV. Say, do you have a Bible I can read? This Playboy magazine is nothing but filth! (I often apply sarcasm like a salve to sooth angry memories from my childhood).

People often poke fun at donut-lovers. Police shoulder the reputation as slothful donut eaters. The popular situational comedy, The Simpsons, depicts Homer as a dimwitted donut hound. These stereotypes lack merit. I resent those who perpetuate them. The truth is, donut-lovers boast the loftiest intellects of the species. Show me somebody who hates donuts and I’ll show you a cretin or a communist.

There’s no such thing as a bad doughnut. Some are better than others, but all are good. Much like the adage, A bad day fishing is better than a great day at work; The worst donut is better than the best bagel. This is why I hold bagels in contempt. Every bagel could have been, should have been, a donut. Sometimes at work I’ll catch a glimpse of rounded pastries with holes in their middles. My heart skips a beat. Oh, man! Donuts! Then I’ll elbow punch a coworker or two out of my way and dart for the donuts. Ah, crap! They’re just bagels! Sorry about hip-checking you into the drywall, Chet. Let me help you find your crutches. How’s the artificial hip coming along, anyway?

When I was young, I would invert donuts so that the frosted top would come into contact with my tongue upon entry. Now that I’m mature and distinguished, I eat them in the orthodox position – that is, with the frosting side up. I still do a little dance after each bite, though. I’m no snob. Also, I’ve mastered the art of drinking milk at such a rate as to finish simultaneously with the last bite of donut. This takes great concentration and skill. It’s worth the effort.

Here’s a donut-related memory that perplexes me to this day. When I was nine, I slept over at my friend Ron’s house. The following morning, my friend’s parents served – jackpot, baby – Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast. I started pounding down donuts faster than that Japanese dude eats hotdogs on the 4th of July. Anyway, Ron’s little brother was eating a bowl of Froot Loops. Why he wasn’t knee-deep in the donuts escaped me. Anyway, the little bastard finishes the cereal. So the father asks the little brother, “Alright, what do you want: a donut, or more cereal?” I remember thinking to myself, that’s the dumbest goddamn question I’ve ever heard an adult ask a kid. Of course he wants a donut. So the little brother kicks things around for a bit, weighs his options. Meanwhile I’m ready to spontaneously combust with suspense. Can this little prick possibly pass on a no-strings-attached donut – for a bowl of effing cereal? Finally, he tells the old man, “I’ll take some more Froot Loops.” If his old man had any sense, he would have kicked the crap out of him right there. But he didn’t. Instead he filled his bowl. I can’t hate Ron’s old man for that, though. The guy let me eat donuts until my heart’s content. I must have eaten 4 or 5. That shit NEVER would have flown at my house. Still, what a maladjusted kid. Obviously he exhibited the precursors of psychopathology. I’ll bet that today he’s in jail for some awful crime, or else a Democrat.

More and more donut stories are bombarding my mind even as I type. I don’t think I have time to recount the evening I drove to Dunkin’ Donuts, pulled to the drive-thru and heard some wiseass store manager tell me, “I don’t have any donuts to sell you.” What, are you flipping burgers back there, lard ass? You work in a fucking donut shop! Something about his employees calling in sick or something. Anyway, eff him!

Cheers to the donut, nature’s perfect food.