Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Yes, I realize it's ancient history. I realize fifty years have passed since World War II, but I defy anybody traveling from Prague to Berlin not to want to fling themselves out of the train window when they hear this heavily-accented message over the intercom:

"We have arrived now at the German border station. Thank you for riding with us. Goodbye."

I was perfectly willing to forgive Germany. They said they're sorry a million times, and at some point you have to let it go. But then I got to the actual country, the place where it all happened, and a thought hit my brain and just would not let go:

So, this is where Hitler killed six million people in his attempt to take over the world.

Um, why is this place still here?

See, there are certain things you can't recover from. If your wife catches you naked in a hot tub with a troop of Boy Scouts, you can't just say, "Okay, I've made a serious mistake, but let's just say I'm sorry and start over from square one." No, there's a price to pay, and even on this magnitude that price includes things like jail, divorce, or gunplay.

Every once in a while I realize I've made a fatal error. "Well, it was a good try 'til now," I tell myself as I pack up my stuff and hit the road, ditching my old name and saying farewell to my old life. And that's just prompted by stuff like farting in bed.

In Germany, they didn't even change their name.

Now, I know they're sorry. They've said so more than once, and the city is liberally dotted with monuments to their mistakes. Unfortunately, to see the monuments is to recognize that this isn't nearly enough. A thousand cement coffins to commemorate six million people killed? That's the stupidest thing I ever heard. It's too small, too cheap, too easy. It's like totalling your boyfriend's Jaguar and then offering him a Kit Kat bar in recompense.

Not enough? Okay, I'll toss in some Almond Roca too.

The Germans recognize their failure to address the scale of the matter, so the monuments keep going up. "Do you get what we did?" a government minister asks. "I mean really, really get what we did?"

His coworker sighs. "It's beyond comprehension, really." Pause. "Why don't we express our remorse to the world with a pointy cement obelisk?"

"Brilliant!" the minister says. "We can use that big empty space by the Reichstag where Hitler used to parade the troops."

It's sad. It's fruitless. And now, ironically, every new monument just seems to confirm the impossibility. The air has been tainted; the ground has been spoiled. The crime was just too big. This is a past that demands that the country be relegated to history in the same way its victims were.

So, Germany, I know you're sorry. I know you're a beautiful land full of terrific people. But as long there's shame and nuclear weapons in the world, you should not exist.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A nation of lawyers has turned us into a nation of liars. Instead of being honest and keeping dangerous products off the market, corporations just change the way they market them.

Take Q-Tips, for instance. Go to any gym in the world and you'll see how dudes use them. Propped in front of the mirror with towels wrapped around their waists there'll be five guys with Q-Tips buried two inches deep in their ears, hacking away at the water and the wax.

But, you know, Q-Tips aren't intended for this purpose. There's even a printed notice on the side of the box. "WARNING: Do not insert swab into ear canal. Entering the ear canal could cause injury. If used to clean ears, stroke swab gently around the outer surface of the ear only."

So, should something unfortunate happen to these Q-Tippers -- they puncture an eardrum, or push the earwax further in rather than pull it out -- you know what Q-Tip's lawyers will say. "They put them in their EARS? Ohmigod! They're not supposed to go in people's ears, and frankly we're horrified to hear people are doing that!"

Then, there's a bizarre little product called Locker Room. It's marketed as a deodorizer for locker rooms, and in fact it has an intense odor that could easily overpower any kind of musty smell. Unlike Glade or Airwick, though, Locker Room is only available at gay bookstores, like all us homosexuals also manage football teams part time. Like George Steinbrenner and Mark Cuban drop by on a regular basis and pick up a bottle along with the latest copy of Straight to Hell and a tube of strawberry-kiwi Lube.

No, the reality is, Locker Room is a sex drug. You stick it under your nose while you're screwing and it makes your heart beat like a hummingbird's. Which is exciting for everybody who doesn't know hummingbirds only live twenty-four hours.

The sad thing is, these legal dodges work like a charm. Nobody's suing Q-Tip. Nobody's suing Locker Room. Because they've got us over a barrel. They know if we hurt ourselves with their products we're not going to call their bluff. No freedom-fighting Erin Brockovich is going to battle to the death for a dude who sticks Q-Tips in his ears. No altruistic Jimmy Stewart character is going to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court, telling the world he snorted room deodorizer while a Latino sucked him off.

Still, I am confident that justice will eventually prevail, and that one day some dude will find the courage to take up this fight. Whoever he is, I'd like to reassure him that there are millions of Americans on his side. When the time comes for his day in court, we'll fill the audience with his supporters. We'll boo his setbacks and cheer his triumphs. Indeed, we'll sit there proudly knowing that though it's just one man fighting, it's the American way of life he's fighting for when he bravely stands up to questions like, "Tell the court why you thought it'd be okay to stick a facial massager up your ass."

Friday, March 27, 2009

I try to spare the details from my friends. I'm sick, which basically means none of my bodily functions are working correctly. And when they're not working correctly, they get pretty gross. I mean, nobody ends up shooting flowers out of their ass.

So I say I'm feeling weak, getting hot and cold chills, have a stuffy nose and horrible sore throat. I venture out onto a limb and say, "Well, and I'm coughing up phlegm."

You'd think I announced I found a Mazda Miata in front of my house with a big red bow on its hood. "What color is it?" Mark gasps excitedly.

I'm reluctant to overshare. The fact is, though, I barely remember. I can't swish the stuff down the drain fast enough. It's pure, hard evidence that something is seriously wrong -- plus, well, it's disgusting. I'm hardly going to examine it like a tiny Monet. "It's canary yellow," I announce, "with a bold streak of lime green to draw the eye around."

He ignores my sarcasm. "That means it's bacterial," Mark says. "With a course of antibiotics it'll be gone in a few days."

When I hang up I can hardly believe I've had this conversation. Do I really have a friend who's memorized the meanings of every possible color of phlegm? I mean sure, I've always wanted to learn the various breeds of cows, but they're fun and frolicsome, and they don't live up my nose.

Minutes later Charles calls up, and literally eight seconds into the conversation he's quizzing me on color. Now I realize this isn't just Mark's personal weirdness: it's a trend that I've missed. We're all so ridiculously body-conscious that now we're even learning how to read hidden meanings into our excretions.

I feel my face redden. It's like I've missed an entire season at Armani Home. When did this happen? When did I fall behind? I repeat the details and with an insufferable smugness he confirms Mark's diagnosis. When I hang up I'm wondering if he's going to send me a bill.

And then Steve calls, and it's the straw that broke the camel's back. I refuse to look like an idiot again. I refuse to let every one of my friends prove they're smarter than me. Raoul sent me a bunch of flowers, so I describe a peony. Lots of red, a little purple, spots and streaks and whorls.

I can hear Steve's befuddlement over the phone line. I win! I think. I'm not an idiot! "Stick yourself in a vase and call me in the morning," he snaps before hanging up.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Roman's Helpful Tourist Guide

All of Amsterdam:

The bad part:

Adjective the Museum of Modern Art's Film Department Uses to Describe "The Pope's Toilet"


Thursday News Round-Up

Crazy welfare queen Nadya Suleman brought home two more of her octogang the other day.

On Tuesday Kaiser Permanente Bellflower Medical Center released Maliyah and Nariyah to join Noah and Isaiah at their new $564,900, four-bedroom home in La Habra, California.

Maliyah and Nariyah.

Maliyah and Nariyah.

Is there something subliminal going on here, or is it just me? Isn't this like Charlie Sheen naming his twins Mussyhound and Nussyhound?

Fannypack? That ain't no fannypack.

The pope visited Africa the other day to deliver a stern message to the residents. Give up your superstitious ways! Forget all about your voodoo and witchcraft and sorcery and and come back to reality!

Then he sprinkled them all with Holy Water and turned a glass of wine into Jesus' blood.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Springtime in Paris means the trees are budding, the grass is sprouting, and the plucky con man is shaking off his winter doldrums to once again fleece piles of euros from clueless American tourists.

Me, I have other fish to fry. After checking into my hotel, I head straight to Ladurée on rue Royale and pick up a grocery bag full of macarons. From there I march straight to the Tuilleries, where it'll take me six hours to get to the bottom of the bag.

I bask in the presence of this culinary marvel. Two pastel-colored cookies surrounding a dark, creamy filling. Bite through the crisp cookies -- like breaking into a creme brulee -- and the most intense flavor in the universe explodes on your tongue.

Lime basil. Raspberry. Bittersweet chocolate. Each more pure and intense than the last. It doesn't take the pigeons long to catch on. Yeah, we're not big fan of museums either, they're thinking. What have you got in that bag?

A cheaply-dressed young man strolls by feigning casualness while simultaneously scratching away at a lotto ticket. "OHMIGOD!" he shouts suddenly. "I've won a MILLION EUROS! Unfortunately I am here illegally, so I cannot claim this fortune. If only there were a legal visitor here who would buy this ticket from me for, say, two or three hundred euros! That way we'd both be winners and everyone would live happily ever after!"

I dig into my bag and pull out a Salted Caramel flavor. "Congrats!" I tell the guy. "Good luck with that!"

His face falls, and suddenly a pregnant woman appears who starts hitting him with a baguette. "You idiot!" she screams as he tries to dodge the blows. "This year, why don't you just get a fuckin' job?"

Ten minutes later a young woman throws herself in front of me to retrieve something she's spotted on the ground. "OHMIGOD!" she gasps. "I have found an incredibly expensive man's ring, made of pure 24-carat gold. Surely this ring is worth many thousands of dollars, but as I am a woman I have no use for it. If only there were a man around who'd like such a fantastic demonstration of the jeweller's art for a mere pennies on the dollar."

In my sugar high I barely register what's happening. Hey, this ain't Union Square. What's with the big tower? "Maybe they've got a lost-and-found department here," I say.

Springtime in Paris. Yup, that's why they write the songs. The sun slowly lowers as I pull more macarons from the bag. Paradise. The trees. The birds. The young woman who tosses an oversized ring in front of every dude she passes, and the man who circles the park scratching away at a lottery ticket while the pregnant woman trails behind holding bread.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In Defense of Redheads

I am absolutely horrified by these Verizon FIOS commercials, and I can't just sit by silently any more.

In this commercial, the loser cable guy discovers that everyone who cancelled his service has subsequently signed up with Verizon FIOS. In another commercial, the loser cable guy visits an ex-customer to lure him back. Naturally, the Verizon guy is there. FIOS offers a hundred channels and a $150 rebate, he says. What can the loser cable guy offer? A stick of gum and a bus pass.

Verizon has only sixty seconds to get their message across, so every detail is important. Their representative is smart but not smug, young and hip, with the tousled brown hair of the guy next door.

The competitor? Oversized, bumbling, and redhaired.

Now, in a perfect world we wouldn't have to worry about what our good guys and bad guys looked like. We'd have good guys who wore lederhosen, and good guys who wore fezes, and good guys who wore sassy caftans. But the fact is, TV doesn't cast blindly. Advertisers think we'll identify with people who look like us, which means the protagonists are usually dark-haired and Caucasian. And so we'll take an instant dislike to their competitors, they won't look quite like us.

Have we learned anything at all in a hundred years of fighting for equality? Barely, it seems. Sure, this company wouldn't think of putting a black man or a Hispanic man in the same position. They wouldn't think of slapping a yarmulke on the loser cable guy. Then why is it okay to portray a dude as an idiot just because his parents had sex during a forest fire, and his sweat smells like pumpkin pie?

So, I'd like to take this opportunity to tell Verizon that this looks-based discrimination is unacceptable. Shame! I say. Shame for perpetuating the myth that different means bad. Shame for saying that a man is a loser just because his pubic hair glows in the dark. And I long for the day when we won't be able to distinguish TV's heroes from villains, and even God's oddest children are accepted into one loving fold of humanity, whether or not they fart Cheetos.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Only Thing I Remember From Three Days Spent Watching TV While Slipping In and Out of Nyquil-Induced Unconsciousness

MALE ANNOUNCER: At Lowe's garden store, we have flowers especially selected for your area.

Amsterdam is what Venice would be like if all the tourists smoked crack. If the most ambitious restaurant served waffles. If the souvenir shops pushed marijuana blunts instead of pastel-colored carnival masks.

Oh, who am I kidding? It's not even close. It's hard for a city to have any kind of grandeur when everybody's staggering around like Otis from the Andy Griffith Show. I stop in a bar around nine one night and there's not one person who can complete a sentence. Sure, it looks fun as hell, but I require a little more in my drinking companions than conversations that consist of "How?"

On the plus side, it's the least intimidating European city I've ever visited. When the clientele are crashing into the walls, the bartender's not going to look down his nose at some dude who mispronounces Grolsch.

There's not a lot to do here, so I figure it's time to tackle my cold. Five days of rain in Prague started it, and now it's kicked in hard. I head to a pharmacy to see what they've got. I'm expecting walls full of fabulous chemical wonders but instead all I find is one shelf bearing nose spray and aspirin.

"I have a cold," I tell the pharmacist. "In fact, I don't inhale or exhale so much as purr. What should I take?"

"Something with ephedrine," he says. "To dry you up. Like Contac or Dristan."

"Oh, okay," I say, pulling a wad of colorful bills from my pocket. "Give me some of those."

"They're illegal in Amsterdam. People use them to make speed."

I look at him, expecting him to break into giggles and then announce I've been punked. Nope, he's serious. "Wait," I say. "So you've got hookers in pasties dancing in all the windows, squirting themselves with hand lotion and making sucky sounds at the dudes walking by, and you've got stores on every block advertising magic herbs, magic leaves, magic mushrooms and everything short of Magic Ponys, but you don't have Actifed?"

He shrugs his shoulders and I realize that's all I need to know about Amsterdam. Good try. Nice thought. Doesn't work.

I leave the city the next day, and I'm not particularly sad. I've learned something new about myself, I realize, which is part of the reason I travel. I'm maturing. I'm . . . dare I say? . . . growing up. Because I'd never have guessed it a month ago, but there are days when I'd rather have a time-release Coricidin caplet than a bag of Red Lebanese or a hand job.