Friday, August 31, 2007

Can You Dig It?

We here at Better Chatter hope you've enjoyed our celebration of blaxploitation across the nation. But we've barely touched on what makes these films so exciting, funny, thought-provoking, offensive, inspiring, tragic, etc, etc. To fully appreciate their power you must experience blaxploitation firsthand. We've comprised a brief list of some essential primers for further exploration. Get to know the themes, actors, and music. You will be rewarded. Plus, you'll feel cool as shit.

-Black Belt Jones (1974)
-Black Caesar (1973)
-Cleopatra Jones (1973)
-Coffy (1973)
-Cotton Comes To Harlem (1970)
-Dolemite (1975)
-The Mack (1973)
-Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil's Son-in-Law (1977)
-Shaft (1971)
-Superfly (1972)
-Sweet Sweetback's Badaaasss Song (1971)
-Three The Hard Way (1974)

Here's a trailer to get your juices flowin'. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

He’s A Complicated Man

On a grey winter day in Michigan, I opened my locker and grabbed my sneakers for seventh-grade basketball practice. As Bobby Benke waited for me, he noticed a drawing I had done displayed prominently inside the locker door.

"Shaft, huh? It’s cool," he said. "You must really like the 70s."

"Dude, I can’t get enough of it," I replied.

After that, Bobby started to jokingly call me Shaft. Once he saw the depth of my obsession, it swiftly turned sincere and other people started calling me Shaft too. But the name didn’t truly become my identity until Sam Stewart muttered “Nice job out there Shaft” during a basketball game. Sam was arguably the coolest kid in school. He was also black. As an extremely lanky, dorky white kid, it should have felt strange. But it was like I had gotten his blessing to use this persona. By the end of seventh grade, 90% of my friends called me by my new nickname. With a little help, I even turned a Shaq basketball shirt into a Shaft badass shirt, which I wore anytime I exercised (its second incarnation is still in my possession). Only those who knew me well would refer to me as Shaft, like they had earned the honor. My genuine love and near obsession with blaxploitation films had spread throughout my middle school. Shaft and Bryan became one and the same.

By freshman year of high school, the nickname had all but disappeared. Only a few friends still referred to me as the beloved blaxploitation icon. It didn’t really bother me and became kind of an inside joke. Most of enormous East Kentwood High School weren’t aware of my former obsession, which had waned considerably at that point. But the name was still a part of me, and it was ready for a rebirth.

In the spring of ’97, my fellow freshman baseballers and I were set to order our warm-up jackets. We were told we could put our first name, last name, pretty much whatever we wanted on it. A couple buddies and I decided to be unique and put our nicknames. When the coach, a jovial fellow in his late twenties, saw my nickname, he couldn’t stop using it. The team then knew me exclusively as Shaft and called me it in school. It seemed like everyone who heard it started using it.

"How’s it goin’ Shaft?"

"What’d you get for Question #8, Shaft?"

"No, I won’t go out with you, Shaft."

The name I had loved and adored was bigger than ever. Friends, classmates, even people I barely knew called me Shaft. But it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as it had once been. When strangers used it, I wasn’t sure how to respond. Should I give them a knowing wink? Do I pretend to be their friend? Do I ignore them? I was no longer Shaft the ardent lover of blaxploitation, I was just some kid named Shaft. The name was bigger than I was and it felt like a gimmick. Unfortunately this lasted through high school, but as the peripheral friends left my life, so did the dilution of my nickname.

By college the nickname had another, more satisfying rebirth. Michigan State was teeming with my closest friends, who were the only ones using Shaft at that point. When others heard it, they knew it was very important to me, even asking if it was okay for them to use it. The name regained its honor and was again a true reflection of my personality. To this day I’m known as Shaft across the country and it’s a constant reminder of my youth, my obsessions, and my adoration of cool. It’s the greatest nickname I could have asked for. And as a dorky white boy from the Midwest, it’s completely ridiculous.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Brief Note on "Blaxploitation Week"

Yes, that's right. For one week only, Bryan and I are posting about our love of Blaxploitation and our memories of growing up watching and obsessing over it. Just to give you one idea of our longstanding passion for the genre: For almost 10 years, Bryan was called, almost exclusively, "Shaft" by his friends and loved ones. I am not making this up. Even his parents and grandparents got into it! Personally, I tried to go by "Dolemite" but, sadly, it never stuck...

So anyway, we're big fans. And, seeing as how the massive grant given to us by the Rockefeller Foundation stipulates we have to raise awareness of worthy causes, we decided there was no greater cause than getting every man, woman, and child to sit down and watch Melvin Van Peeble's classic film, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song

So c'mon, do us (and the Rockefellers) a favor and watch it already!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Blaxploitation in the Basement

Growing up a middle class kid in the suburbs with enough money to get by but not enough to really spend on anything interesting, my weekends were filled by long walks with friends, atrocious pickup basketball, and Blaxploitation cinema.

Like so many of the things that I was interested in while in high school, I didn't realize until years later that most kids my age didn't posses my deep and abiding love for the 70's Blaxploitation era. They weren't interested in debating who was the greater star, Richard Roundtree or Rudy Ray Moore. They weren't calling themselves by nicknames like "Shaft" in middle school. And, this one is the hardest to believe, they weren't having long, complicated fantasies involving Pam Grier! Crazy...

For whatever reason, we almost always watched these movies in our friend Chris's basement. The FAYGO Red Pop (or, alternately, Rock n' Rye) flowed like wine. Although we generally stuck with black cinema of the early 70's, it was not uncommon for another later 70's film(such as a Zucker Brothers film like Kentucky Fried Movie) to slip in as well.

The personal highlight for me would have to be watching Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil's Son-in-Law.

A very difficult to explain movie, all I will say is that it prominently involves the devil, over-the-top slapstick comedy, and, without a doubt, the worst martial arts ever recorded on film. I will never lose the mental image of my friend Todd repeatedly falling to the floor, crying with laughter, during various scenes.

While its debatable whether we really "got" what was going on in the films, our joy and appreciation was certainly genuine. They were too dated and anachronistic to make us as feel as though we were doing the equivalent of co-opting hip-hop. Plus, we were too young to understand the political implications of the films. What we were, was a bunch of dumb white kids who stumbled into a world of cool far, far removed from any we had met before.

It would be impossible for me now to watch one of those films without thinking of a hundred different meta-questions about the genre and what it stood for cinematically, racially, and even in its generally cringe-inducing depiction of women. Still, the "Blaxploitation in the Basement" era is a nice reminder of a time when I had the luxury of enjoying a movie without a hint of self-consciousness or nostalgia or political concerns clouding the experience.

Oh yeah, and the music fucking ruled.

Monday, August 27, 2007

From Art to Exploitation

As an impressionable young middle schooler, I spent countless weekends perusing the Super Action section of my local Blockbuster. Here I discovered a world I became obsessed with. A world of inner-city struggle for countless African-Americans in the bleak and occasionally optimistic 1970s. They were films made by blacks for blacks with no regard to what wealthy white America thought. But I feel the film industry is now truly blaxploiting African-Americans.

The movies I grew up loving were gritty and dark and dealt with social issues like rampant drug use, racial tension between blacks and whites, and the Devil's family struggles. They were true indie films with only a lucky few getting adequate funding. They turned charismatic actors like Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, and Jim Kelly into stars, and not just among black communities. These groundbreaking films oozed cool, and easily had the funkiest soundtracks white people ever heard.

Today, there is a new type of blaxploitation. One that exploits blacks more than ever and lacks all the honesty the 70s films fought to convey. The recent film Who's Your Caddie? has a few African-Americans attempting to gain membership into a whiter-than-white country club. But each character perpetuates stereotypes I'm sure most people would like to dispel. I'm sure those involved with this film would like to think they're empowering African-Americans by having black heroes, but the jokes and observations never get past the surface stuff we're already aware of. And worst of all, Hollywood is luring talented people like Cedric the Entertainer of Big Boi of Outkast to star in these films. Who's Your Caddie? is counteracting the intelligent social commentary Big Boi and Andre 3000 have brought to mainstream America. Hollywood is trying to get all the money it can out of black-America while being more racist than ever before.

I'm sure most of you haven't seen Who's Your Caddie?, so keep not watching it. Though if you're looking for something interesting, raw, and at first a little strange, I advise you to find a Super Action section wherever you can. It might not be a genre you'll fall in love with, but I doubt you'll watch anything more indie anytime soon.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Important Trivia

Things of trivial nature intrigue me to no end. I justify to myself that knowing Sonja Henie won three figure skating gold medals means I have a well-rounded intellect. But it makes me feel smart only when I’m competing against other trivia buffs over who knows the least important fact. I blame my parents, who, from the time I was five years old, made me watch Jeopardy and learn the ins and outs of Trivial Pursuit. I had to compete. I had to win. I had to know.

Knowing these pointless tidbits of information doesn’t necessarily demonstrate intelligence, only a love for knowledge. For example, I couldn’t tell you who Sonja Henie beat in those Olympics, how old she was when she won, or describe what she looked like. But the Sports and Leisure portion of Trivial Pursuit isn’t looking for any of that, they just need a name. Yes, some trivial knowledge comes from a love of broader subjects (for instance, my love of 70s blaxploitation films allows me to wax poetic about Rudy Ray Moore), but when there’s so much unimportant stuff out there, it’s tough to sink your teeth too far into any one subject.

Just a couple nights ago, some distinguished fellows and I swaggered our way to a Brooklyn-centric trivia night. I feel the four of us could hold our own in a wide array of subjects, but that night we were in over our heads. Struggle with the first few questions led to us complaining about their difficulty, which led to us putting our pens down, and then finally striking up conversation while completely ignoring the trivia master. The competitors in us were clearly disappointed, but when dealing with trivia, you have to know when you’re beat.

My love of useless knowledge gives me pleasure, but not as much as it used to. I love the competition, the feeling smarter than my opponents if I win, and the missed questions that I have to investigate afterwards. But it doesn’t really prove anything. I like to think that knowing trivial facts about many different areas means I’m well-rounded, but maybe that’s a trivial thing as well. Maybe we need to get a big game of Trivial Pursuit together so people can put me in my place. That is, if you think you can take me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Moby & The Big Sell Out

I recently came across an old article in Pitchfork, in which the band The Thermals talked about turning down a massive amount of money to have their song "It's Trivia" used in a Hummer Commercial. While calling someone a "sellout" is one of those great, meaningless rock cliches, it was nice to get a refresher on just why certain bands avoid the risks and accusations that come with doing so.

There are certain bands for whom credibility is essential. Although they will never make a fortune, their fans will stick with them for years because their music is honest and personal and not created for the sole purpose of fame and fortune. Bands like Fugazi, The Thermals and many others have built a reputation upon being the kind of band that wants to make music first and money second. Once you've developed a fan base, the only way to lose these fans is to make a big stab for commercial success and money. Consider the case of Moby:

Its been 10 years since Moby's album "Play" came out. It was a revolutionary record, both in terms of his melding of blues and electronic music and his jaw-dropping willingness to sell, then re-sell every single track on the record to the highest bidder. What followed was an amazing transition, as he went from a much-loved underground electronic artist known for making challenging and creative records to a boa-wearing MTV star within a year. Moby's music became so ubiquitous that for a while every time a tv show went to commercial the odds were strong that you would hear a snippet of one or two songs from Play. It quickly became a annoying, and eventually sickening, thing to witness.

Within a year, music fans were turning away from Moby in droves. His eco-friendly message reeked of painful hypocrisy, especially as there wasn't a major car company that hadn't bought a song or two from "Play" during Moby's licensing frenzy. While he had successful roped in the Soccer Moms and Starbucks cd buyers, he had lost the die-hards that had allowed him to get into the record stores to begin with.

Ten years later: Moby is considered, at best, irrelevant, by most serious music fans. The Soccer Moms have moved on to the Michael Buble's of the world. He spins records at half-empty ballrooms in Brooklyn. His artistic credibility is so wrecked it may as well have never existed.

If making music is not your primary reason for being a musician, I don't think you that can ever really "sell out." There's nothing wrong with being in music primarily for the fame, or the drugs, or the sex, or whatever, but you also can't pretend to have any credibility if that is the case, either. Moby was a particularly egregious case because he wouldn't stop pretending he was the same old guy long after he'd made his successful bid for stardom. Most bands, however, don't try to pull off that sort of insincere nonsense, and that's why most of the time it doesn't really bother me when I hear some semi-famous band on tv, even if I really like the song.

No credibility to lose=no problem.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Is It Retro?

If I had it my way, I would wear a t-shirt every day (see Black Tee Shirt blog for other praise). They're just so simple and comfortable. Everybody embraces them, especially the hipster masses, who have turned the t-shirt into a canvas for self-expression. But people young and old, black and white, tall and short make statements with theirchoice of attire.

The other morning on my way to work, I stood facing the subway window when I rolled up to the York Street stop. The only thing I saw as I looked out was an unbelievable shirt on a large gentleman with a cane. It was a black shirt. And written in silver glitter was the phrase "BITCH, don't make me go O.J. on you!" Besides the message's threatening nature, I was taken aback by how dated this reference is. Couldn't he have substituted O.J. with Scott Peterson? Even if his shirt was made ten years ago, I can't believe he had the balls/gall to wear it.

It makes me wonder what other scary and dated shirts could be out there. Below is a list of ones I'm certain to stumble upon in the coming months.

-Skank, I'll make you cry like Nancy Kerrigan.

-I'll make you disappear like the Lindbergh baby if you don't cook me dinner.

-Ted Kaczynski's got some mail for you, girl.

-Damn, you is all Patty Hearst and shit!

-Sure you're telling the truth, Ollie North.

-Who you been sleepin' with Heidi Fleiss?

-I saw those e-mails you sent, Congressman Mark Foley!

-Where's my money, bitch? You ain't Spiro Agnew!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Watching Sports With the Non-Fan, a.k.a. The Inevitable Sports Post #2

Watching sports is, for me, a completely exhausting and draining activity. I scream and yell, I throw my hat across the room, pick it up, and then throw it again; I hide my face in a couch pillow and jump up and stomp around my apartment in anger when things don't go as they should. The whole thing is very operatic (in a way) and probably explains why my neighbors frown at me when I see them in the hall. This is, of course, the only way to watch sports. If I weren't passionate, how could I justify the time I spend on it or the pleasure it brings?

Although I think that most sports fans intuitively believe that they should keep themselves a little more in check around non-fans, I actually find the opposite to be true. If anything, they should crank up their energy a little.

Case in point: Possibly my greatest moment as a Detroit Tigers fan was when the team won the American League pennant last year on a walk-off home run by Magglio Ordonez and his ridiculous, Sampson-like locks.

It was a dramatic moment by any measure, and I watched it with two women that, while not anti-sports, certainly weren't sitting around talking baseball. Still, it was a fun exciting moment for all of us, and I think it only helped that I was in near-hysterics for the entirety of the 3-hour game. When the big home run was hit, all three of us jumped up and yelled and high-fived as if we had been watching baseball games together for years.

Here are some rules for watching sports with non-fans that I have learned from many years of practice. Follow these and you can save yourself and others a lot of grief:

  • Keep the negativity to a minimum. Non-fans haven't spent years building up resentments about back-up point guards (I'm looking at you, Lindsay Hunter) or quarterbacks (any Lions quarterback, ever) and thus generally get a little annoyed when you scream obscenities at someone that they've never heard of and that they know you've most likely haven't met. If you're got to be negative, at least try to keep it funny.
  • Make sure that beer/liquor is involved. Most of my friends will do just about anything if beer or liquor is involved, including watching sports. As long as the drinks are flowing, people are going to be telling stories and talking and laughing and making fun of one another-a good environment regardless of what's on TV.
  • Avoid trying to explain what's going on in anything but the most basic terms. Nothing makes a non-sports fan cringe more than someone trying to explain (in an unintentionally condescending tone) the importance of a player having a high on-base percentage or why the left tackle is such a crucial position in football. They don't care and are certainly not willing to commit valuable brain cells to keeping it in their head. If they ask you a question, answer it quickly and efficiently-don't get too carried away.
  • Don't talk about statistics, numbers, or percentages. They don't care. At all. If they cared about it, they would already be a sports fan.
  • Don't try to make someone into a fan. It's a nearly impossibly task to accomplish, and just not worth the trouble. Any city in America is already full of too many sports fans to begin with-if you just can't bear to watch sports without some serious fans, wait a little longer and you'll inevitable meet them.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Shave

Sunday night, after about 9 months of giving my first real beard a try, I finally gave up and shaved it off. I encountered four basic problems with my beard that I could never totally get over:

1. Never full enough. Somehow, even if I didn't touch my beard with a pair of scissors or a trimmer for a month or two, it would still look kind of rough and patchy, never the cool, "I'm too busy to shave" look I was attempting to cultivate. There really is a fine line, too fine for my tastes, between "quirky and unkempt" and "homeless."

2. The mustache-beard connection. I could never quite get that dead zone between my beard and mustache to connect in a satisfactory way. This is really the litmus test for a beard. If you can't connect that area by the corner of your lips, it probably isn't going to work for you.

3. Beard came in red. What the hell? Of all the problems, I'm most befuddled by this. Very unexpected considering there really isn't a hint of red in my hair. Not the worst thing in the world, of course, but not exactly cool either. Of all the ways that one can be like George Bernard Shaw, this is probably the least fun.

4. Beard Envy. The biggest reason of all. My friend Steve has an immaculate and full Hebrew beard. Another good friend often sports a imposing scholarly beard. Still another has a very fine hipster beard when he wants to. What niche am I filling with mine? Its not so much the "not being the best" that bothers me so much as the "their beards make mine look like shit" aspect.

So, not being willing to go completely without facial hair, I've got to go in another direction.

Mutton Chops? Nah. Chin Curtain? Close, but not quite. Handlebar and Chin Puff? Eventually, eventually.

Wait, what's that you say? How about 90210-era Jason Priestley sideburns? Bingo! Josh's old stand-by. Never fails, never will. If anyone's looking for me, I'll be down at the Peach Pit, trying to get used to my new face.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Question & Answer #2

Q: Dear Sir or Madame,

What exactly does a sandwich need to consist of in order to be considered a sandwich? Is an open-faced sandwich truly a sandwich?

Pained by Paninis

A: You are a brave man Pained. The sandwich is a true enigma, so much so that the average person wouldn't dare ask this question. Searching for clarity only raises more questions, but that is why I'm here. Let's dive in.

The second part of your question will help us figure out what we need to focus on. The open-faced variety was regarded by your grandfather to be a sandwich. It originated in the late 1940s during a period of heavy “sammich” experimentation. For example, an open-faced roast beef sandwich is an entree, is yummy, and has a slice of bread, which most people relate to sandwiches. But most dictionaries claim a sandwich must consist of two or more pieces of bread. Putting food between two pieces of bread certainly does make a sandwich. But the open-faced sandwich, which is considered a sandwich by many, opens up a big can of worms.

I would agree this is a sandwich. The roast beef is sandwiched between a slice of bread and either gravy or mashed potatoes. I feel the act of sandwiching something between two elements is integral. Scandanvians believe a piece of bread with one topping comprises a sandwich. They're wrong. Nothing is sandwiched. By their definition, a chip with salsa on it could be a sandwich. It makes no logical sense. It's yet another reason why me and Scandanavians don't get along.

But this raises the question of whether merely sandwiching something makes the whole a sandwich. If I wear two layers of shirts, are we a sandwich? Putting three elements together indeed sandwiches the middle item, but must a sandwich be edible? Sandwich Theorists have been debating this for decades with little to show for it. And unfortunately I don't have an answer either.

I haven't eaten a "sandwich" in years because of the paradox of the sandwich being sandwiched by my teeth. While I eat the sandwich, have I become a part of it? Brains have exploded trying to answer this. Cracking the sandwich code will bring forth a new age of enlightenment and will not likely happen in our lifetime. Because within it lies the secret of life, and I don't think our mortal minds can handle its power.

I know I haven't answered your question Pained, but I hope I've shed some light on this mystical entity we take for granted.

Keep writing in, folks. Your complex questions deserve my convoluted answers. You can email us at

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Comedy Row

Comedy Row comprises the second row of the far left bookshelf of my apartment. I never really intended to create a "row of comedy," it just sort of started happening as I filled up my new bookshelves last spring. I discovered that I had unwittingly collected 6 or 7 P.G. Wodehouse books in the time that I had been in New York, not counting the 5-10 books I still have back in Michigan. Some people collect James Brown bootlegs, I apparently collect Wodehouse.

Even stranger, I realized that in under two years, I had picked up some more books James Thurber (my first comedic love), some Evelyn Waugh (whom I still don't really get), Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker, Steve Martin, Benjamin Franklin and Nicholson Baker (who don't get the credit they deserve for being laugh-out-loud funny), 3 (!) copies of My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, and more.

This was it for me. I realized I had a chance to create my ideal row of books! If I could only bring one book with me to a desert island, it wouldn't be the Bible or Remembrances of Things Past, it would be Fierce Pajamas, the New Yorker humor anthology. While I could possibly stumble through a half hour conversation about Modernism, I could easily spend an entire night trying to articulate how Mark Twain stays so funny after a century and a half or why there's really nothing quite as uniquely hilarious as one of James Thurber's dog drawings. Comedy, especially written comedy, seems like a mystic art to me, equally as hard as any dramatic work. And, for whatever reason, I've always been more intrigued by comedic questions than dramatic ones.

I guess there's an element of attainability there that I find very attractive; while I find James Joyce's genius inscrutable, I feel as though I could maybe, if I tried hard enough, figure out what makes a piece of writing laugh-out-loud funny. Granted, I don't know that you really can; anybody who's tried to read any sort of academic writing on comedy knows how dry and ultimately unilluminating that proves to be. I don't know that I think "funny" can be taught or learned and there's absolutely nothing worse than meeting someone that tries to tell "jokes." Mark Twain captures this dilemma well...

Still, trying to crack the mystery has always been a big part of the fun of reading comedic writing for me. It hasn't really worked out, but, much like solving crossword puzzles, I just can't resist the challenge.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

"Maudlin": A tribute

Maudlin - effusively or insincerely emotional; "a bathetic novel"; "maudlin expressions of sympathy"; "mushy effusiveness"; "a schmaltzy song"; "sentimental soap operas"; "slushy poetry"

I got me a bottle and a dream, it's so maudlin it seems
-Tom Waits, Bad Liver and a Broken Heart

Maudlin, one of the all-time great words, and a personal favorite of mine, fulfills all the criteria that one should look for in a favorite word:

Onomatopoeia-C'mon, doesn't saying "maudlin" just sort of make you feel a little, well, maudlin? When could you ever actually use that in a sentence in a way that doesn't provoke laughter? A word, of course, is just a word, but there are about 8 people in the world (Opera critics, perhaps?) that can use "maudlin" as an adjective without coming off like an insincere jackass. Somehow, though, this doesn't stop me from using the word as much as I can (then again, no one denies I'm a jackass...). 

Elitism-A favorite word has got to be a little out of the reach of most people around you. This rule is especially true when you're younger, where the prerequisite is that your parents cannot know what the word means. Is it snobbery? I don't think so. After all, how can a word be special when everyone else already uses it? Plus, if the word is tricky to use in a proper context or say correctly (as "maudlin" certainly can be), under no circumstances do you want others to know the right way to use or pronounce it and then get a chance to correct you. Very embarrassing and uncool. The word, of course, quickly loses all it's charm and power after a situation like that (I learned this lesson the hard way many times, most embarrassingly after mistakenly pronouncing "foliage" as "foilage" for about six months before getting caught). 

Self-discovered-A favorite word can't just be something you grabbed off an SAT or GRE study sheet. How boring is that? You have to read the word, hear it said, hear it in a song, basically in some sort of context. My friend Brandon grew especially fond of the word "specious," after hearing me use it to describe the claims of some blowhard. As far as I can recall, I first heard the word "maudlin" in the line quoted at the top, taken from a song on the Tom Waits album Small Change. I remember going to the dictionary right away and looking it up. Being the kind of person that deals in false emotion and insincerity, I knew right away I had found a favorite word for life. 

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Inevitable Detroit Sports Post

A glimpse into my sports-obsessed world:

During the spring of 2005, I was given a Chauncey Billups bobblehead by an old friend. This bobblehead, a promotional tie-in for the wonderful Detroit Pistons point guard (and my favorite player in any sport), became the unofficial mascot for the Pistons playoff run that year.

 Every game, I would lovingly take him out of the box and place him at the center of whatever table I was at in the bar. Then, as the game progressed, I would either rub or kiss his bald, ceramic head, depending on how much luck the Pistons needed. You never know, after all, when your team migh need some good "karma," or "juju," or whatever else you want to call it. Everybody else would do the same to "Lil' Chauncey," and as the Pistons won and won that year, the bobblehead went from amusing novelty to absolute must-have item for every game. This went on until the eve of the last game of the year (game 7 of the NBA Finals)...

The night before the final game, while walking home from the bar, I decided to take the Chauncey doll out of his case. I just wanted to get a look at him, maybe rub or kiss his head a little to wish him good luck for the game the next day. Unfortunately, being (to this day) so clumsy I can barely walk, I tripped over my own feet and the Chauncey doll flew out of my hand and crashed onto the pavement! 

It was ruined: like an execution-style hit, his head and feet had been lopped off while his torso stayed intact. Distraught, I attempted to piece together the ruined doll, but it was too far gone. The Pistons, of  course, went on to lose the game. 

Do I believe, despite how complete absurd and irrational (and idiotic) it is, that I played some small part in costing the Pistons a championship? Yes, sadly, I do. 

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Question & Answer #1

Q: There seems to be some serious confusion around this whole "wee-wee" thing. Is it a penis, a vagina, the act of urinating, or urine itself?

-ZM, San Francisco

A: Good question ZM. Webster's Unabridged Dictionary defines wee-wee as:

1. The liquid that comes out one's pee-hole.
2. To expel liquid from one's pee-hole.
3. Slang term for a penis. And to weirdoes, a vagina.

The simple answer would be "all of the aforementioned interpretations". But you deserve more, dear reader. We must ask, where does "wee-wee" come from? We must know its origins in order to use "wee-wee" comfortably and confidently. Unfortunately, historians cannot agree on how "wee-wee" came about. The most widely-recognized story comes from 16th-century England.

There was a farmer in what is modern day Lancashire who tended to pigs in the hot summer months. As you are aware, pigs are filthy, disgusting creatures. They are, however, tasty as all get-out. So in order to keep them edible, the farmer cleaned up after dozens of these dirty animals every day. He scrubbed the slop off their skin, shoveled the endless piles of pig-plop, and washed away the expansive pools of urine inside the sty. There was so much urine in fact, the farmer couldn't walk without stepping in smelly yellow liquid. His frustration built to the point where he bordered on dementia. To mock the animals he both loathed and depended on, the farmer began squealing just like them in hopes they would feel ashamed of what they did. He made "weee" noises every time a pig made a mess, even when it wasn't urine. But because urine was the most common filth, his family, and eventually other hog farmers, started referring to the urine as "wee-wee". Over centuries, the squealing was slowly dropped and the word was softened to the form we know and love today. It is now adored by two-thirds of the world's population and shows up in 83 different languages.

I hope that answers your question ZM. If you want more information on the origins of "wee-wee", check out Francois LeBeaux's urination celebration Wee-wee? Oui, oui! The book doesn't get everything right, but does give an interesting French perspective.

Keep writing in, readers. Your Q's demand my A's.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Iron Sheik Calls Ex-Tag Team Wrestling Partner Nikolai Volkov

Iron Sheik: Niiiiikolai!

Nikolai Volkov: Sheik! How long has been?

IS: Too long.

NV: You make me feel old. How you doing?

IS: Not so bad. I'm still in Dubai. We opened the Burj Al Arab a while back. It's beautiful, but this city has no people yet.

NV: Da. Russian mob has invested millions into land for big, big casinos.

IS: They have money. I have land. It's a good fit. How about you Nik? What has the Russian Bear been up to?

NV: Plowing beet fields outside Kursk. Is about all one can do around here.

IS: Making any money?

NV: Sure, but not Cold War money. I still put on costume and go to malls for a few rubles.

IS: Tell me about it. I tell people I'm a sheik, an actual sheik, and they just want me to put someone in a camel clutch.

NV: Da. I can give no more bear hugs. They lose meaning when you give hundred of them. If I put Rowdy Roddy Piper in bear hug, that mean something.

IS: There is just no place left for us. People like stereotypes, but they don't take us seriously.

NV: We used to strike fear in heart of public. In 80s I speak funny, wear hammer and sickle, give angry look and people get scared. Now they laugh. Is like stereotype is meaningless.

IS: Don't say that Nik. It's just that we are no longer the "it" enemies. I could become the Iron Terrorist, but I'm not going to pander. I was born a sheik and I will die a sheik.

NV: Russia is not what used to be. We are threat to no one.

IS: You are too hard on yourself. Russians still scare everyone. You will always be a stereotype.

NV: You too kind.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Paper Boy

My dad used to do a very unusual thing with newspapers when I was a kid. Every morning, he'd walk over to the grocery store and buy the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, grab the sports section out of the two papers, and shove the rest of the paper, untouched, across the table. The rest of the paper might as well have been the wrapping paper for the sports section.

Later, when I got to college, I did the exact same thing. I was a notoriously messy roommate, mostly because every apartment I lived in was filled with unread newspapers strewn all over the place. On the kitchen table, in the living room, on all the floors and counters. It was strange enough (and a testament to the kind of sickly obsessive sports fan I am) that I would buy these papers every day and only read the sports section. But, in hindsight, what was even odder is that I bought the papers to begin with.

Now, I live in a city with possibly the greatest newspaper in the world and I've finally reached the stage where I'll at least glance at the front page of each section before I dive into the world of sports. Oddly, though, I literally can't think of a single friend that actually buys a newspaper on even a semi-regular basis. Everyone I know reads the news online now, making me feel kind of sentimental for still caring about the imposing heft of a morning paper.

Do I just buy the paper because I'm a sentimental person? Because I'm a crossword puzzle addict? Are there still people out there that, like me, love the ritual of getting the morning paper and knowing that there is more information at hand than you can ever reasonbly expect to get through? I can't be alone in my love for this, can I?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Different Kinds of Summer Movies


Aging star comes back for quad-quel.

  • Usually featuring a convoluted (and irrelevant) “techno-plot” of some sort to keep the action moving.
  • Always, always must feature prominently some variation on the line: “I’m getting too old for this shit!”
  • Uses character’s famous catchphrase in final seconds (which gets partially bleeped out because the quad-quel is a more family-friendly PG-13).

95 minute, 250 million Michael Bay movie

  • Destined to be the “little indie that could.”
  • Usually a period piece, generally featuring Kenneth Branagh and/or Emma Thompson.
  • The beautiful story and long, languid shots make this a hit with the older crowd, less so with the younger set.

Racially mixed tag team duo

  • Comic hijinks ensue when two very different cultures meet!
  • Only by working together can they stop the megabomb that threatens to destroy the planet earth!
  • Sure, it’s just an action movie, but maybe we can learn a little something about our common similarities along the way?

Comedy (two categories):

Raunchy adult sex comedy

  • Features shlubby lead male and superfoxy female inexplicably getting together.
  • Usually featuring music by James Brown (or somebody less funky that the producers can afford) to add a little bit of “zest” to the movie.
  • Pretensions of heartfelt romantic sincerity. Usually strongest when the unlikely couple put aside their differences and get together for good (usually by a waterfall or volcano or some other especially scenic backdrop).
  • Pretending to be "pro" whatever they're making fun of. (The Farrelly Brothers were the masters of this: nothing beats Shallow Hal, 90 minutes of fat jokes masquerading as a “pro-body image” comedy.)

Raunchy teen sex comedy

  • Features shlubby lead male and superfoxy female inexplicably getting together.
  • All the teenagers in the film (excepting the cool kids and bullies) must speak like particularly intelligent and cultured 29 year olds.
  • Takes place in the suburbs, and always at the end of the school year or during summertime.
  • Nudity. Lots of it. The more the better.


There are no dramas in the summertime.

Waking Up is Hard to Do

Hump Day. There’s a heartbreaking symmetry to it that drives us working people fairly insane. You get up in the morning feeling completely down from the high of last weekend and are still full day away from reasonably imagining yourself outside of a goddamn office.

So we try to postpone everything. We try to squeeze five more minutes of sleep into our nights. Minutes that work only as a placebo. We hit the snooze button, which merely interrupts our regenerative sleep, again making us feel that we’re doing something productive to prepare for the day ahead. Some days we don’t shower. In the summer, this probably hurts (our coworkers) more than it helps, but again we get a few more meaningless minutes of sleep.

Science shows that we’re probably better off just setting our alarm for a later time. I argue that the above methods, and many others, help more than we think. Sure, we gain only a few extra minutes in bed, but it affects much more. It throws off our daily routine enough by starting our day a little later. We get a sense of accomplishment in stealing a few minutes away from a workday that demands incredible amounts of energy. We’re forcing Hump Day to adapt to us, not the other way around. We must not let the workday win. We must fight for every spare second of glorious dreamtime. It is our lives and we are in charge.

This morning I hit my snooze button AND I didn’t shower. What do you think of that, Hump Day? Does that blow your midweek mind? You know what, Hump Day? I feel great. Feel like I slept fifteen hours and was awoken by finches chirping on my window sill. It feels like Thursday, Hump Day. Your move.