Me Aside And I Can’t Break

Say, you’re driving down the street in your swingin’ YouMobile. You’re fiddling with the radio. You’re feeling pretty good. You’re warbling, “Do you believe in live after love? after love? after love? I can feel something inside me say – WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?”

Brace yourselves, children.

This family in Madison, NJ loves Halloween. They decorate like mad. Unfortunately, they’re not up on current events of the last 100 years. We’ll let the Daily Record take it from here, because I couldn’t do this justice without my own appellate division.

Public uproar that compared an image to a lynching has led a Madison family to remove a hanged dummy from its Halloween display.

Homeowners David and Cheryl Maines angrily denied the display, including a life-size figure with a featureless black head hanging from a noose, was racist. They had refused to remove the figure dressed in a navy blue shirt, blue jeans and sneakers earlier Monday.

“It’s a Halloween decoration, that’s all it is,” said David Maines, who is Madison’s superintendent of public works. “I’m at the end of my rope because of one lady … a lady who is being a pain in the neck.”

Flying Spaghetti Monster! Lynching jokes! Man, that’s fresh comedy! What in glamorous tarnation is going on here?

Cheryl Maines said her family was being harassed by people like [Millie] Hazlewood and others who were taking pictures of their home.

“This has destroyed my son,” Maines told Hazlewood, and the two other black residents, Nora Drewery and school board member George Martin, who also were present during Monday’s exchange outside the house. “This is why the world has gone crazy, people take offense to everything.”

Drewery, 62, a 35-year Madison resident, replied that no one was trying to hurt the Maines family.

“We’re just requesting that you take this down,” Drewery said.

That’s when David Maines showed up at his home, got out of his truck and said:

“Ma’am, shut up. We are not racist.”

Maines then abruptly walked away, got into his truck, and sped off.

Are we in a Dave Chappell sketch? Because it is genius.

David Maines said his life was being made a “living hell” and that his job was being jeopardized because of the incident. He said a town official asked him to remove the figure, but would not name the person.

He and his wife said that their son spent $5,000 on all the decorations and that taking down the one piece would “ruin the whole effect.”

Also in their front yard are some plastic skeletons and a figure depicting Michael Myers, the character from the Halloween movies. Inside their home, in an enclosed porch, is a display including life-size figures of other movie characters such as Igor from Frankenstein, Jason from Friday the 13th and a mad scientist with beakers, skulls and rats on a table.

“It’s like a fun house,” Jennifer Maines said. “The kids love it.”

Cheryl Maines said those who find it offensive are now harassing them. The Maines family called police Sunday afternoon when several people stood outside taking pictures of the display.

“I’m angry because this woman took something and blew it out of proportion,” Cheryl Maines said of Hazlewood. “If you’re offended, don’t come by the house, there are other routes people can go.”

Re-route traffic? Ruin the whole effect?

At first, I thought these people cannot be real – that the reporter was having a little fun at the expense of these wacky exterior desecrators. Well, of course they’re real. White people just like them are everywhere. These four happen to be concentrated at one address, which is good news for us, if not for their neighbors.

Look, we all say stupid things. We do stupid shit. We fuck up, we apologize and hope we never do anything that blockheaded again until the next time we do something blockheaded. This is that, and then some. There’s a little conversation you can hear on TV daily, if you’re paying attention.

Person 1: You really hurt me.
Person 2: I didn’t mean to hurt you. I would never hurt you.
Person 1: But…you really hurt me.
Person 2: But…I didn’t mean to hurt you. I would never hurt you.

Person 1 is discussing events. Person 2 is discussing fantasies. They will go around this mulberry bush until Person 1 realizes no apology and no change in behavior are forthcoming. Person 2 will be forgiven in the next scene when he or she brings home a bowling trophy with a sheepish grin. Person 2 can’t help it. Person 2 is a lovable blockhead. All horrifying accidental hilarity aside, it’s time for the Maines family to wise the hell up.

It’s 2007, and no matter what they intended to do, what they have actually done is offensive and not just to black people. It’s offensive to all people – or it should be. The family’s taken down the mannequin, so the show’s over for the real dummies. They’ll live to festoon again.

Will all their Christmases be white?

h/t: Wintle.

My Submarines Is Missing

We can’t help it. We go along in life and observe the differences between ourselves and others. One place we notice these differences with special clarity is in the fashion trends that leave us perplexed, like Olivia Newton John’s headbands. I never understood them, I guess. I wore headbands to keep my gorgeous red hair out of my eyes like limpid pools while jumping up and down with Gilad every so-very-eighties morning, but no way was I working for the weekend, baby. It seemed that a small group of influential and overly attractive media and design types were listening only to each other and foisting this on us as a cultural done-deal. Which anyone can see sucked. It was an idea that didn’t make any sense in the long run, but fashionistas caught up in this trend didn’t notice until they took apart scrapbooks with pinking shears.

I vote mostly for Democratic candidates, but I am registered independent. No, I am never going to vote for a Republican candidate. Every plank in the platform is in direct conflict with what’s good for me. Let’s not even discuss what fiscal responsibility means to the party when the current administration has mortgaged our future to the Chinese.

This is not to say I think much of the Democratic Party, which cannot sell out on its constituencies early or often enough. There are minor differences between the parties; it’s one party acting vigorously against my interests versus one party waiting for me to hold my nose and vote. I can see from the distant outside that this little battle has taken several turns toward the truly weird that remind me of those headbands. No, really.

For one thing, a small group of extreme right wing bloggers and hangers on has gone off the reservation, as it were. Vehemence does not lend strength to their arguments. Mark Steyn, as quoted by Michelle Malkin:

The Democrats chose to outsource their airtime to a Seventh Grader. If a political party is desperate enough to send a boy to do a man’s job, then the boy is fair game.

This family has received death threats. Let’s take a giant step back here. If you haven’t followed this story, you can read up. Steyn’s are the words of a person engaging in politics as bloodsport. He is not interested in the politics of what is good for Americans. His interests are in money and power, and he pursues them, as he says, no matter what the cost to anyone else. That’s an old story, but what is an exciting new thought – at least to me – is the notion of fair game, implying that we as Americans don’t give a good goddam and are complicit. If I asked a thousand people – “If you go on TV, say, and tell people a government program helped you, would it be fair for people of a different political stripe to demand to see your tax returns?” – do you think even a single person would say, “Sure. No court order or nuthin'”?

No. No one would.

At a certain point you should realize no one else is wearing headbands but you and your friends. And Olivia, who is adorable in her own kind of dated way, though I hate Grease with my whole black heart. There’s no room for compromise there, as there is no room for compromise with fellow Americans who see me and people like me and people different from me as less human, and less deserving of a dissenting opinion.

All Republicans do not lack compassion, just as all Democrats do not lack courage. What is happening fast and furious doesn’t make any sense in the long term. I wish everyone would slow down and ask him- or herself one question: Do the policies I support create or mitigate suffering in the world?

How do you feel about your answer?

Believe In Anything And I

Daria: You know I stick my head in and read Poor Impulse Control sometimes.
Tata: Yup.
Daria: Not for nothing, but you’re blogging angry. How can you say you’re so happy when you’re so mad?
Tata: I’ve never been as happy in my whole life without expensive chemical enhancement, yes. On the other hand, there is a whole lot of very seriously bad shit going on in the world, which is bound to put a slight damper on my mood.
Daria: Yes, but you used to be funny.
Tata: I contend that I am in fact funny, current events are not. Hilarity is ensuing around the globe, only with bombs.
Daria: That’s not so funny. Step it up, willya?

Because my sister Daria is the only person I’ve ever traded Friday and Saturday underpants with I will concede this point: I haven’t been writing down Teh Funny. I apologize for falling down on the comedy job, which would be funny involving an ottoman if the Turks hadn’t just recalled their ambassador. Since my other jobs include playing with my food and reading you the dictionary by flashlight, here’s a tender but flaky ghost story fresh outta Merriam-Webster:


Pronunciation: \-jən(t)-sē\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural in·sur·gen·cies
Date: 1803

1: the quality or state of being insurgent; specifically : a condition of revolt against a government that is less than an organized revolution and that is not recognized as belligerency
2: insurgence

Let’s say for a second you’re you, but you live where I live. Sorry about the pre-war wiring, but don’t plug that in, hmm? Now let’s move on. You live almost literally on the banks of the Raritan River.

Yeah, that thing. Now, suppose some stern foreign authority bombs the shit out of New Brunswick, which happened a few hundred years ago and kind of a lot. The bombing eventually stops and tanks roll either up or down Route 1 and park on George Street. (Interesting coincidence: named for a former despot.) They say they’re here to liberate you from your current despot while shooting your neighbors in the streets. The occupying army organizes a new government with the biggest suckups it can find. You have very limited electrity, little clean water and no gas. The garbage is never picked up because it could contain explosives. You risk your life each time you venture out for toilet paper and Snausages. You bury your dead relatives under the front lawn because funerals up the body count.

Maybe you keep your head low for a while. You’re not a soldier and maybe you’ve never handled a weapon. The occupying army can’t stay, right? The despot’s pushing up daisies and armed gunmen have all the freedom they can eat. What do you do? Do you bet your survival on good behavior? No, in this hilarious setup, you eventually go all Viva Maria! and coffeepot radio, which is why I laugh until I cry whenever I hear a politician talk about defeating the Iraqi insurgency.

As a comedy writer, I can’t compete with Dick Cheney and his utter misapprehension of human nature. Now, that’s funny.

Friday Cat Blogging: Pass As Cats Edition

Behold, another Great Moment In Feline History captured in pixels for whatever posterity we fit in before lunchtime: Madame Topaz has vanquished her mortal enemy the squirt bottle and, as if that weren’t enough, denies all knowledge of the aforementioned vanquishing!

Tata: Topaz! My darling, you’ve knocked over the squirt gun!
Topaz: I don’t know what you’re talking about! Take it up with the dog.
Tata: We don’t have a dog.
Topaz: (sniff!) Whose fault is that?

Drusy’s new favorite lurkplace is under this footstool Pete brought over from his swinging bachelor pad because like most humans, Pete likes to relax with his feet up. The opposite appears to be true of kittens, who in this picture enjoy pleasant contact with all things floor-related. Topaz, in the foreground, may be considering my failings as a photographer. We both know that as soon as I put away the camera, Topaz will leap to the highest pussycat-attainable height in the living room: Pete’s bicycle seat. From this lofty vantage point, Topaz will fix on me her 110 volt stare and wait for me to burst into flames.

So far: no dice.

Fire For You

Look! Paulie Gonzalez puts in a cameo appearance where you can go see him!

Sez Paulie: I am throwing a Halloween party on the 27th. The Paramount Theater at Convention Hall in Asbury just completed their renovation. I am hosting a double feature Halloween party for the first movies at the theater in decades!

Holy cow! You should go to this fantastic Halloween party in this famous theater in this most exciting of seaside Jersey towns, and you should meet Paulie Gonzalez, who is practically Batman. You should watch these great terrible movies and wear a wild costume and have an outrageous time you can then report back to the rest of the class.

I am almost jealous of you!

The Beach Is Backward Isn’t It?

The Libraries of Middlesex County, NJ collect new books for children for the December holiday season. This program, Books to Keep, has distributed over 120,000 books since it began in 1990. Over 40 social services participate in this program including soup kitchens and homeless shelters. The libraries also collect money to support this program. For example, a check for $25 buys eight paperbacks for a child. Please make your donation prior to December 15th.

Patty Simmonds at Piscataway Public Library who helps to coordinate this program. Please call 732-463-1633.
Leah Wagner, at Monroe Township Library, is the Chair of the Books to Keep program for the Libraries of Middlesex County. The Library may be reached by telephone at (856) 629-1212.

Also, because you’re a good egg and care about the welfare of others, please click here and click again where the site tells ya. You’re doing a good thing, Tex.

The Books To Keep program is in my own county, but yours may have a similar program. Please give your public library a call. They may need your help.

A Mixed Up Muddled Up Shook Up World

A few days ago, my erstwhile drinking buddies sobered up long enough to talk briefly about a movie. I hadn’t seen it then but have now, and in the interest of spur-jingling mayhem, sometimes give even tinfoil-helmet theorists a turn holding the Talking Stick. The filmmakers could be total crackpots for all I know. I will say this: the first five-ten minutes sure are visually exciting. Pretty. The second segment of the movie is hard to watch, as planes crash over and over into the towers, and there’s discussion of international banking conspiracies that devolve into RFID chip nerves, and an ending that arrives from – best I can see – nowhere.

I’m not endorsing this movie. I’m saying it’s out there, you can watch it if you choose, and now I have questions about that plane crashing into the Pentagon. Who do I ask? I don’t know, so I was already a little down when I read Court Rejects Case of Alleged CIA Torture Victim. Shit:

The Supreme Court today declined to hear the case of a German citizen who said he was kidnapped, imprisoned and tortured by the CIA.

A federal district court judge and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit had earlier dismissed the case brought by Khaled El-Masri, agreeing with the government that the case could not go forward without exposing state secrets. The Supreme Court denied review without comment.

Masri, who is of Lebanese descent, has said he was detained by Macedonian police on Dec. 31, 2003, and handed over to the CIA a few weeks later. He said he was taken to a secret CIA-run prison in Afghanistan and physically abused before he was flown back to the Balkans without explanation in May 2004 and dumped on a hillside in Albania.

When I read about this case awhile back, I wondered what I’d do if the CIA dropped me on a hillside in Albania. I still don’t have an answer for that.

German officials said they were later informed privately by their U.S. counterparts that Masri was detained in a case of mistaken identity, apparently confused with a terrorism suspect of a similar name. U.S. officials have not publicly admitted any guilt or responsibility in the case.

The American Civil Liberties Union had taken up Masri’s case. Lawyers for the group said the Bush administration was using the state secrets privilege too broadly, invoking it to stop lawsuits relating to wiretapping and whistle-blowers as well as terrorism cases.

In this case, they argued in asking the court to take the case, “the entire world already knows” the information the government said it is seeking to protect.

I wish I’d thought of the I’m Doing Something Against the Rules, Which I Can’t Discuss With You Because It’s A Secret From You Defense when Mom caught me climbing back in the bedroom window when I was grounded. Anyway, in the last paragraph, almost as an afterthought, we find a very distressing detail.

Masri in May was committed to a psychiatric institution after he was arrested in the southern German city of Neu-Ulm on suspicion of arson. His attorney blamed his troubles on the CIA, saying the kidnapping and detention had left Masri a “psychological wreck.”

Rendition didn’t kill him; he lost his mind. Obviously, I needed some good news. Johnny, our Southwest Bureau Chief, came to my rescue. He’s recently started a dog painting business called, neatly, Painted Dogs. Strangely enough, this does not involve applying paint to dogs. Nope!

Johnny says: My brother Brian the art critic said that because the rug doesn’t sort of tilt back like in real life, the painting is “post-perspective.” At least I think that’s what he said.

I love this image. He doesn’t say what size the painting is. You can see the edges of the canvas and some dayight around the edges, but I love Bert On A Persian Rug.

Johnny: Jack has a window company in Albuquerque. He did a magazine ad with a picture of himself with his dog. I did a portrait of the dog and I’m packing up the painting to mail to him. To Jack, I mean. I’d give anything to be there and see his face when he opens it. That is, if I had anything.

Who’s a good boy! I love the essential dogginess of his portraits, their energy and happiness. The portraits, I mean. Our dogfriends are the Kings of Enthusiasm. They don’t love us – they LOVE US! They don’t scamper – they SPRINT! They’re not peckish – they’re STARVING! These are paintings and pencil drawings of charming indoor wild animals who could as soon sit with you at the table as wrestle for roast beast. How can you not love them back?

Howz yer mutt? Need him painted?

Ooh Yeah, I’m A Wild One

Pete’s and my canning project is a practical approach to solving a number of problems and furthering a few causes. Let’s review.

1. After Dad’s death, we still have hundreds, if not thousands, of jars and bottles sitting in the garage in Virginia.

2. Dad’s spice cabinet was full and now many herbs, spices and mysterious ingredients sit on my living room floor.

3. Pete and I both work two jobs and will have little opportunity to shop for holiday presents.

4. This is the family’s first Christmas without Dad, who did the vast majority of food preparation for family events, including Miss Sasha’s bridal shower.

5. Pete has an interest in developing his own recipes and his own flavors.

6. I am learning so much so fast I have hope that I might be able to learn again. This may mean the damage medication and depression did to my brain is not an insurmountable obstacle.

7. Pete and I like the idea of giving gifts we made as much as possible from materials grown by local farmers.

I am a shitty photographer but if I weren’t you’d see these lovely, jewel-colored concoctions with better lighting. I moved a few things around to see if I could work out a better lighting scheme – but no. See these humble images and know that if you found yourself in Pete’s tidy, utilitarian basement, you would see on the shelves a growing collection of vivid hues and startling textures in jars ranging from 4 oz. to 32 oz. – 1/2 cup to 1 quart. This jar at left is 1/2 cup, and that concoction is a lush, tropical green that makes my heart sing.

From top to bottom, these images bring us full circle: berry-wine jelly, herbes de Provence jelly and spicy peach barbecue sauce, kiwi daiquiri jam, and I think the berry-wine jam again. Try as I might, I could not photograph the sparkling garnet of the pomegranate jelly or the whole plum tomatoes and do their beauty any justice, and the basil tomato sauce proved utterly coy before the light of the flash bulb. Shortly after these I took these pictures, Pete said, “Hey, didja notice when you do this – see? – on your camera you can change the exposure?” No. Of course, I didn’t know. I’m so busy being dazzled by the light.