Monday, December 31, 2012

I spent most of last week floating on a cloud. A friend dragged me along as a guest to an upscale cocktail party, and while I was off getting us drinks a man just happened to strike up a conversation. He was maybe ten years older than me and was pretty average-looking, but everything about him screamed "Out of my league." His suit was perfectly tailored, his shoes were the softest leather, and his watch probably cost more than my education. My heart fluttered every time he spoke. While I'm not precisely a golddigger, I've always found that a dude with a Mercedes and a penthouse warms my heart far more than a guy with two roommates and a subway pass.

Max asked me out to dinner, casually dropping the name of one of the more exclusive restaurants in town. He definitely had good taste, picking the newest five-star brasserie rather than one of those cold aspic joints where the Beef Wellington isn't going to scare grandpa. On date night I put on my best clothes, nearly shaking from excitement, and I felt the first twinge of emotional attachment when I saw his big black Maserati at the curb.

He seemed a bit reserved in the car, which further drew me in. I inhaled the scent of leather, listened to the rich sound of the hidden speakers and subwoofers that surrounded me, and adjusted the support of my lumbar. It seemed like seconds later we were sitting at the best table in the restaurant. The tuxedoed waiter was saying something, but between the crowd din and my nervousness it was like I had clouds in my head. He never offered me a menu, instead reciting a list of items that only occasionally sounded like food.

And then all eyes turned toward me.

"It all sounds so good," I said to Max, hoping for intervention. "Doesn't it?"

He nodded. "There's a four-month wait for reservations."

Well, that didn't help, I thought. I turned to the waiter: "What do you recommend?"

Max shot me a glance like I'd just shot his dog. "I'm sure everything is good," he snapped.

I inhaled deep. I fixed my eyes on the waiter so I'd miss Max's reaction and said, "Could you recite the specials just one more time?"

I heard a sigh emanate from my companion before the waiter complied. I struggled to parse the words into recognizable chunks, but it was fruitless. Finally I braced myself for the leap into the freezing pool. "I'd like the Saute Deal," I declared.

Max went white, and the waiter hid his face behind his hands. I knew my order would be an incomprehensible mess: I just didn't know how incomprehensible. Max's chair scraped the ground as his whole body rebelled at my idiocy, and it took forever for the waiter to regain his composure. "Do you mean the Sautéed Eel?" he finally said.

I wanted to sink into the ground as a soft breeze sent Max's woodsy cologne past me. What a total moron I was. Max evidently agreed, as he finished the conversation for me. "Yes," he said, "that'll be fine. Roman is a new friend of mine, and he's not used to fine dining. I thought I would broaden his horizons by bringing him to your establishment."

"Very good," said the waiter. "And what can I get for you?"

Max thought for a second as I said goodbye to his strong jaw, his shellacked hair, his Maserati. "I'd like the Braised Bee Fart," he declared.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Nick Stahl, a star of the HBO series Carnivàle, was arrested last night after LAPD vice officers working undercover allegedly caught him pleasuring himself inside a sex shop in Hollywood.

Police say the actor was inside the store's private porn-viewing booth committing a lewd act. He was booked for misdemeanor lewd conduct but released a short time later.

What's next for the LAPD? Well, they hear there's a lot of nudity in those other little booths that say "BATHROOM" on the door.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The second I spotted the New York Times headline "12 Restaurant Triumphs of 2012" I started shaking with excitement. I mean, you know your city is amazing when even the restaurants have triumphs.

The list is long and impressive, including these highlights:

  • The waitstaff at Gwynett St. invented a new technique for surgically repairing fused palates in utero.

  • The chef at La Vara helped with the mathematical formulae that enabled robotic space rover Curiosity to safely land on Mars.

  • The maitre d' at Calliope went undercover to secretly assist the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar.

  • The saucier at Perla passionately stood up for the right to education for girls in Iran in stark defiance of the Taliban.
Ha. No, I'm kidding. Actually, a Gwynett St. chef made tofu from almonds. At Calliope, somebody put "tangy" rabbit kidneys on toast. At Perla, they threw some foie gras into "the sauce for roasted guinea hen."

I mean, c'mon. Even the folks in Les Miz would have stopped their fighting and starving and gone, "Now zat is what you call zee triomphe!"

Okay, maybe they wouldn't have. In fact, I'm kind of thinking the word "triumph" doesn't belong here. There's a scale of human ingenuity that ranges from a high of inventing the helicopter down to, I don't know, learning how to get off an escalator, or getting your own show on Bravo, and once you sink past "Knowing all the words to 'Ice Ice Baby,'" you should probably downgrade the description from "triumph" to something more like "achievement."

One of these "triumphs," though, is particularly strange. It's from the restaurant Blanca, which is by far the most expensive eatery in a part of Brooklyn primarily known for its bedbugs. The "triumph" here encapsulates my feelings about the current state of "fine dining" in the world.

I might have been happier with a slightly faster and less costly meal ($180 a person before tax, tip or drinks), but at how many other restaurants can you spoon up caviar while listening to a vintage Fleetwood Mac LP?

That's it, guys. After patiently reading about the triumph of a "spackle of mole poblano" and the triumph of "a puffed chip made of rock tripe," this is where I check out.

Because really, is this a good thing -- being able to pay astronomical amounts of money for food without sacrificing your ability to listen to bands ordinarily experienced in your underwear? Do people really want to savor the fruits of pregnant fish while getting reacquainted with something that was only mildly entertaining when you were 16 and zonked on Lebanese hashish? I don't know about you, but when I spend $180 for dinner, I want to listen to a string quartet. I want violinists to come by my table, and only leave when I make the appropriate dismissive gesture. I want something that screams, "Man, this is one fuckin' special occasion!" rather than, "We all agree that music has sucked since 1972."

So call me crazy, but count me out of this year's "triumphs." I'll keep wishing all of these fabulous new restaurants would go away. I'll keep wishing that we still lived in a time when there were neighborhoods that cool people could afford, when you had to walk three or four minutes before passing a restaurant with $180 tasting dinners. And yes, maybe I'm living in the past, but at least I'm not sitting at home thinking, "Gosh, I'd love to go out, but what if they make me eat caviar while listening to Grizzly Bear?"

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

There's a big scandal in Rich People World today. Evidently sad regular-person Callie Schweitzer was Facebook Friends with Randi Zuckerberg -- Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's sister -- but didn't fully comprehend the privilege and responsibility that entailed. When Randi posted a holiday snapshot of a casual sibling scene, silly Callie tweeted it, without realizing that Randi's post was intended for a select few while Callie's went out to the entire unwashed world.

Needless to say, artisanal shit is hitting the fan.

"You reposting [this photo] to Twitter is way uncool," Randi wrote. "Genuinely sorry," Callie replied, perhaps after discovering a flaming Birkin bag full of dog poop on her doorstep.

While others will wring their hands about privacy and irony, the rest of us will seize the opportunity to gaze into a rarefied world that ordinarily locks us out. It's clear from the hubbub that this is an extraordinary opportunity to inspect über-rich American life that we're probably never going to see again, so let's take squeeze every bit of information out of it.

This is quite unlike any Christmas we know, since we don't see any beer cans and the men are wearing shirts with sleeves. These are people from society's highest echelon: they have an oven on top of their oven, presumably so their stuffing doesn't get cramped, and they probably don't cry when they see the AFTER photos in Sears Cabinet Refinishing ads.

Clearly there are benefits to being related to one of the world's richest men, because the scarcest of the world's riches are available to them. In the upper stove, a wildebeest roast cooks. In the lower is a chupacabra steak. The dog is a special breed that has a face on both ends, and Mark has just given them iPhones with working maps.

These people rejoice in their privilege. The hunky dude in the black t-shirt is married to Mark's pregnant sister, I'm thinking, because he couldn't get further away from her without adding another wing onto the house. He used to be just another married guy until Mark bought him a Harley Davidson and he became the world's four millionth accountant/outlaw.

Mark's two sisters, on the left and right, hear pings on their iPhones and discover notes from Amazon saying they've just been given $2.7 million dollar gift certificates. The sister on the left is picturing herself in a new Miata. The pregnant one is seconds away from ordering the book, Why Do Husbands Cheat? Sadly, the book will arrive too late, because in ten minutes her hubby is going to putter back to that truckstop where they serve artisanal S'Mores and keep tilting at the windmill of Getting A Waitress To Let Him Touch Her Boobs.

Mark's personal assistant, in red, gasps at his tweet that extra help has been hired and this year she won't have to eat out front with a hose in her hand to keep the neighbor's Moodle from stepping on their lawn.

Perhaps your forehead furrows when you examine the kitchen. You're just getting over your Massive Island Envy when you notice that right next to the big faucet for big vegetables there's a small faucet for small vegetables. Why is there a brown towel crumpled on the countertop? Because just out of view there's an Asian woman named Thaksincha who's giving everyone foot massages after every fourteenth step.

Oddly, though, after about half an hour spent analyzing this photo, our envy fades. These folks aren't in any better shape than we are: They drink from mismatched glasses. They join J. Crew focus groups just to get experimental sweatpants. They have hairstyles designed to stay out of the way when they puke. When their brussels sprouts are finally done they're going to discover that you can't repurpose a plastic dog toy as a trivet.

We pause and wonder. Are they, indeed, better off than we are? Are their lives more enjoyable because of their untold wealth? Do they deserve our envy or our pity?

We're on the fence. We can't decide. It's when we notice that they're serving three types of salsa that we buy a bus ticket to Palo Alto and start looking around for rocks.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Dear Jean Valjean,

Don't steal bread. If you really need money, see if you can suspend your gym membership for a month or two.

Hope this helps,

In an effort to bolster his father's reputation in the days before the presidential election, Mitt Romney’s son Tagg drew up a list of twelve good deeds his father had done, such as helping a dying teenager write his will.

SAINT PETER: Let's see: you were a powerful billionaire with a lot of family connections. Why should I let you into heaven?

MITT ROMNEY: Well, once I paid a kid's LegalZoom bill.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Roman's Retorts

To someone offering unneeded advice:

You sound like my wife. Not in what you're saying: it's that high-pitched, whiny tone.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Saying increased gun ownership would lead to a decrease in violence is like saying if everybody had cigarettes nobody would smoke.
Everybody's freaking out over these new photos of earth from space but as usual I just don't get it.

This shot is from a new series by NASA called the "black marble" photos, because the earth supposedly looks like a black marble floating in space. For the last couple days everybody's been transfixed by these photos, raving about how beautiful the earth is, with some folks even saying they're proof positive that the earth must have been created by a God.

Beautiful, huh? Amazing. Oh, except check out the small print:

Composite map of the world assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite in April and October 2012.

Got that? THIS ISN'T ONE PHOTO. This is the best parts of a bunch of photos cobbled together. Think about it for a minute: is this impressive, or is this sad?

Say one day you go visit your grandma, and see her huddled over the kitchen table, hard at work. The table is completely covered with little bits of chopped-up photos, and she's holding a magnifying glass and some tape.

"What are you doing?" you ask.

"I've always wanted a picture of me looking pretty," she says. "I've almost finished the neck and chin; see if you can find some good lips."

In fact, these "black marble" photos are even sadder than that. This isn't the work of some doddering old lady who still gives you cassette tapes for Christmas: these are America's brightest minds working tirelessly. And rather than using snippets of photos, they toiling at the pixel level.

Even the Hunchback of Notre Dame didn't have to sort through pixels to piece together his Grindr shot.

Now, I can sympathize. I'm not particularly photogenic. If I don't aim my face at precisely the right angle, I look like a Shar-Pei eating a tube of Pringles. But those are the breaks! A photo is supposed to mirror reality, and if reality isn't nice, then tough shit.

Of course, I realize how tempting it is to "clean up" pictures in the era of Photoshop. But unlike shoplifting and french-kissing chickens, this isn't a victimless crime. There are consequences. They create unrealistic images in our heads of what things are supposed to look like. You might gawk and gape at this photo, but me, I'm thinking of all the planets that don't have teams of scientists airbrushing their publicity stills.

I'm picturing Jupiter, that giant gray gas bag, seeing these shots. After four seconds of thinking, "Wow, that's a pretty planet," she'll start stuffing Häagen-Dazs in her crater and tweeting, "HOW COM ILL NEVR LOOK LIK THAT :("

Lots of cool stuff being auctioned online to benefit the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund. Estimated value of this guitar is $50,000, $60,000 if they can scrape Alicia Keys' name off.

Big-Haired One Direction Singer Harry Styles Covers Up Failed Study of Dark Side Of The Moon in Black and White

Monday, December 17, 2012

Welcome to Air Bagan. We know you'll enjoy flying with us. We are very grateful that you chose us for your flight within Myanmar, since you have many options. However, we understand that we're world-renowned for our service, plus not everybody likes mules.

We know you've gone through a lot to fly with us since we aren't on the internet and don't accept credit cards or most recognized forms of currency. We know it was difficult waking up at four in the morning to call us during business hours, finding someone with a fax machine to get our route information, and asking Western Union if it really is possible to wire someone forty-six dollars worth of marmoset skins.

We're sure you find it worth your trouble. For instance, you'll notice on Air Bagan we don't tell you to switch off your electrical appliances during takeoff. This is because on Air Bagan there is virtually nothing in the cockpit that's electronic. Keep on texting your sister, or Skyping grandma. On ordinary airlines, your electrical appliances interfere with the navigation systems, so you'll have to pause your Angry Mario Birds or Super Tetris Q*bert. This is not a problem on Air Bagan. Whip out that hair dryer, paper shredder, or weed whacker and know it will have absolutely no effect on the levers and pulleys in our cockpit.

Plus, since our planes are just two seats across, everyone gets a window seat. You can see Myanmar's greatest attractions from the air. Look out the left side right now: see that woman leading the oxcart? She can eat more than eighteen men. There are many benefits to flying at 200 feet, though the turbulence makes our passengers scream so much you'd think they were fighting Jackie Chan.

On Air Bagan, you don't have to worry about unseen problems bringing your plane down. Air Bagan planes use propellers instead of jet engines, so you'll know even before the pilot when you're going to be killed. You don't have to be a mechanic analyzing every bump and squeak to detect a mechanical problem: no, a quick glance out the window will tell you if the plane is doing okay or not. Are the propellers spinning? Everything's cool. Has one of them stopped? Kind of a problem. Has one of them broken loose from its mooring and whirled to earth, where it's slicing a herd of cows into sausage? Kind of a major problem.

Yet there is no extra charge for this service.

Since this flight will take fourteen hours, we'll just be serving a small snack. In many parts of the world, airline food is restaurant quality, but we are happy to tell you our food is better than most Burmese restaurants. In fact, the quality approaches that of American vending machines. But don't thank us: we're happy to serve you, and with all the mechanical problems we've been having lately, the corn dogs pretty much make themselves.

Dear Old People,

In the split-second before you activate those tiny muscles that commence bodily evacuation, ask yourself one small question:

Am I definitely sitting on a toilet?

The People Who Take Care Of You

Thursday, December 13, 2012

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and this shot surely qualifies. Here's First Daughter Jenna Bush Hager hiding her baby bump with a puffy jacket at a Manhattan Whole Foods store.

What words does this picture evoke? First out of the gate is "clueless." She protecting her baby from cold with that ridiculous jacket but clearly unconcerned about afflicting the world with another case of cameltoe. Are there no puffy cumberbunds where she shops?

Next up is "hypocrite." The daughter of a dude who spent eight years weakening consumer protections and selling American wilderness to oil companies is shopping for organic, fair trade food. "Where's this olive oil from?" hubby Henry Hager is wondering. "Greece? Hmm. Is that downwind from where Pappy-In-Law sold Alaska to Exxon/Mobil?"

After that come "rich" and "heterosexual." On the female we see blonde streaks that cost more in upkeep than a 1986 Vanagon. On the male we see a style-less haircut, and godforsaken shoes with no socks. And blue cargo shorts? Were they designed for the dockworker who really, really wanted clothes that made his eyes pop? Clearly the ratty old t-shirt has been chosen to match the shorts, which is the sole concession the heterosexual scion of Republican billionaires makes when he knows the whole world will be watching him.

Coming up toward the rear is "unfit." If these people were exercising, why aren't they sweating? Sure, she's wearing tights and running shoes, but he's wearing shorts that have a special pocket for a stapler. Those are the shoes that got Skechers sued for saying they'll shape your ass while you sleep. And how do you explain his legs? If they were jogging, did she just carry the jacket with her? Clearly their exercise routine includes lots of breaks for Jamba Juice and a limousine.

Last, the word "sensible" surfaces, though just barely. Yes, her life has been paved with gold and Grey Poupon, but in the right side of the photo there's clearly anguish in her eyes as some small semblance of humanity rises in her and she plaintively asks her no-socked hubby, "Really, Henry? Twelve dollars for a tomato?"

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I do.

Nobody wants to sleep with folks from Staten Island.

Testimony Of Transgender Woman Who Says Her Boyfriend Beat Her Up Goes "From Weepy To Sassy," Reports NY Daily News

At first I thought it was the word "sassy" that pissed me off here. You don't often read that word in newspaper accounts where a woman says her boyfriend hit her, slammed her into a phone booth, and dragged her around by her hair. Nope, there aren't that many tales of accused assaults where the victim is described like the maid from The Jeffersons. You half expect the woman here to snap back to the attorneys like, "I done chopped off my balls, so how come y'all keeps bustin' 'em?"

There's a story in last Tuesday's paper where a young girl accuses an older man of repeated sexual assault. She's not described as sassy or weepy. No, she had a "tortuous journey." On the stand she "recounted her trauma." At no point do you think she's going to snap, "Buddy, you can kiss my grits!"

Here's what the victim does to merit the "sassy" label:

After lunch, [victim Claudia] Charriez rejected [Defense attorney Jason] Berland’s suggestions that some bruises might predate the incident.

“This is why girls like me don’t want to come forward when guys like this do this,” she said over her shoulder to the judge, flicking the edge of her black wool cape with its fur pompoms.

Gosh. Yes, that's sassy. Girlfriend's saying assault victims may be reluctant to testify because the prosecution will malign their reputations. Can a sistah get two snaps up for that? Or maybe it was the pompom-flicking that did it. I'll bet Mother Teresa wouldn't be a saint today if she'd owned a poncho.

But no, eventually I decided it was "weepy" that pissed me off. Not "sad" or "tearful" -- "weepy." See, you use the word "weepy" when you don't think words like "sad" or "tearful" fit, which seems odd in a case where a woman was choked her so hard a contact lens popped out. It seems like the reporter didn't taking this assault very seriously.

I know a lot of people will say we should write angry letters, or boycott the Daily News. Me, I think we should be understanding. I'm sure the writer has feelings like the rest of us: he just expressed himself wrong. I'm 100% positive that if, God forbid, his wife got crushed by a catering truck or his three-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, he'd be all, like, wah wah wah.

Friday, December 7, 2012

This could have had a far worse ending. I mean, have you ever had that passion fruit crap?

Thailand is a country where true love blossoms on literally every street corner, warming even the coldest heart.

Every step along the way, it's so exhilarating watching the natural unfolding of Mother Nature's circle of life. It starts with that first quizzical glance the old white dude gives his hot Asian girlfriend as he asks himself, "Who is this chick who's willing to date a Keith Richards lookalike just because he's got a little cash?"

Next comes the air of gratitude he sports after he realizes he can share his ideas about gender roles with a woman and she's not going to laugh at him.

After that, there's the mantle of contentment he wears when he realizes he's actually found a partner who won't yell at him when he comes home drunk. That soon gives way to the bulletproof confidence he feels as he realizes he'll never have to do laundry again.

Finally, at a makeshift altar on the white sand beach, the circle closes. As he stands there with tears welling up in his eyes, she stops texting for a minute, shoots the crowd a confused look, and thinks, "Wait, who is this dude again?"

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

This is so weird! I was searching the Congressional record this morning and ran across the strangest transcript from 1988. This is actually Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye testifying before the Senate. I never heard about this! It definitely gives you some insight into their personalities.

CHAIRMAN: The Committee on Foreign Affairs will come to order. The Committee is meeting today to hear testimony on the report by the President's National Commission on Economic Development in Third-World Nations.

We have two guests today who would like to make statements, and I am very pleased that they are here. They are spending all day on the Hill, and I would like to formally welcome them. With that, I present to you Mr. Marvin Gaye and Mr. Michael Jackson.

GAYE: Thank you Chairman Hastings and members of the Committee. We respectfully submit that we need to save the world.

JACKSON: That's right. We need to save the world.

GAYE: We need to save the world, and save the children.

JACKSON: Yes, save the world and the children.

GAYE: And the babies. We need to save the babies.

JACKSON: Yes, we need to save the world, and the children, and the babies.

GAYE: And the animals and the birds.


GAYE: Right on.

JACKSON: We love you all.

CHAIRMAN: I want to thank all of the Members for being here, and especially our two guests. If there is no further business, this hearing stands adjourned.

[Whereupon, at 5:16 p.m., the Committee was adjourned.]

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Brandon Siler defending gun ownership despite the fact his temmate Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and himself:

Well, a majority of people own one, especially where they're legal. Most of the time they're for self-defense or sport.
Wait, so only some guns are used for murder/suicides? I used to be for gun control but buddy, count me in on the other side!

Besides, the idea that you can control guns is ridiculous, like Prohibition. Instead, picture a world where everybody had a gun and could defend themselves. It would be a whole new world! Here's what your average gun stickup sounds like now:

ROBBER: Stick 'em up! Give me your iPod!

And here's what it would sound like if everybody had a gun:

ROBBER: <bang!>

Because c'mon, no robber is going to take a chance he's got Quick Draw McGraw on his hands. No, the only reason he doesn't shoot you right off the bat is because the odds are really low that you're armed. Once that changes, it's a whole new ball game.

Burglaries would change, too. Think somebody would break into your house and steal all your stuff, hoping not to awaken you, if he knew you were armed? NO! He'd break into your house, shoot you in the head, and then steal all your stuff!

Okay, maybe it's not the best of circumstances for the victim. In the end, though, society wins. Somebody's bound to hear that gunshot, and the robber will be history. Well, unless he can scream, "THE GUY HAD A KNIFE!" before you whip out your Glock. It's win-win all around, though if your friends are prone to random collapsing better think about wandering around with them.

See, this is probably one reason I'm not a Christian. I'm not really tempted to buy complimentary cds.

Ohmigod. Is this amazing? I am just totally blown away. To me it totally exemplifies the state of technology today. Somebody's actually constructed the Luxo lamp made famous in that Pixar short. It follows your movement, it responds to noise, it can even turn itself on and off.

The one thing it doesn't do? GIVE OFF LIGHT.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Raoul has many talents. He can make a fetching hostess gift out of eight rocks and Chapstick. He can find an attractive jacket at Burlington Coat Factory. And he can communicate with animals. Anybody who's seen him watch The Dog Whisperer knows that. He sits eight inches away from the TV, and whenever Cesar Millan does anything -- whether it's reprimanding the animal, lecturing it, or depositing it into a giant Pringles can -- Raoul agrees effusively, saying, "Yes, that's exactly what little Nippy needs!"

So naturally when we talked of a weekend in Thailand, his number-one requirement was that we see elephants. They were his brothers, he said. They were related. I didn't inquire whether this was why he had three-inch-long eyelashes and extraordinarily thick skin. Eight minutes after landing in Chiang Mai we were flagging down a bus in search of his big gray family.

"Do you go to any elephant camps?" I asked the smiling driver.

Clueless. No English whatsoever. Even repeating the words "elephant camp" got no glimmer of recognition.

Finally a schoolgirl, the bus' lone rider, intervened. She said something in Thai to the driver, and the driver immediately brightened. "Yes!" she barked, suddenly linguistic. "Fifteen dollars!"

We agreed. Ten seconds later we were burning rubber in the opposite direction and the little girl was waving goodbye to us from the sidewalk. For close to an hour we puttered along winding mountain roads before pulling over in a cloud of dust.

MAESA ELEPHANT CAMP," a sign said.

The place looked a little scruffy, so I grabbed a brochure to make sure we were doing the right thing. It had all the politically-correct words: they made efforts to ensure the animals stayed "mentally and physically vigorous." "[O]nly the best and most sanitary nutrition and treatment are provided to all elephant [sic]," it said. Their philosophy was to "create a natural and healthy environment for the elephants."

We paid our admission and wandered in. Needless to say, I was a bit shocked to discover that the "best treatment" included hitting the elephants on the head while they ferried tourists around on $20 rides. I started to suspect that this environment was neither natural nor healthy during a show where elephants kicked footballs, played harmonicas, and painted pictures of flowers.

Still, I tried to suppress my irritation and focus on my fledgling feelings of excitement. Raoul, on the other hand, could hardly be contained. He touched the elephants, petted them, talked to them. He greeted them like long-lost relatives, staring in their bloodshot eyes like he could read their minds.

"Is he happy here?" I asked, like grandma asking a psychic how grandpappy was faring in heaven.

"Yes," he said. "They get three meals a day. It's peaceful. They loved living in the jungle but it doesn't get more stressful than that."

I was about to say they've obviously never had Time Warner Cable but I bit my lip. I spotted a table where a woman was selling elephant food -- bananas and sugarcane -- so I went for it. Whatever I thought about this place, it was certainly no crime to feed an elephant. I tore a banana off the bunch and, realizing there was probably a reason these guys were chained down, tentatively waved it toward one of the smaller ones.

The elephant tried to reach for it but couldn't. It straightened its trunk, it tugged on its chain, it grunted its frustration, but it still couldn't reach.

"Move in closer," Raoul commanded. "He's chained down and he's straining."

I cautiously slid an inch closer. The elephant pulled on its chain and ramped up the grunting but the banana was still too far away.

"Get closer!" Raoul snapped. "GET CLOSER!"

I leaned forward another few inches but it didn't help. The animal stretched and struggled against its chain but still couldn't get the treat. It screamed and roared and bellowed in distress.


Raoul was totally freaking out at this point, seconds away from lifting me up and feeing me to the elephant. Yes, I thought, elephants are chained to the ground and whacked with sticks here, yet I'm the villain. I'm the guy who needs to be yelled at.

Against my better judgment I moved a couple inches closer to the elephant and for the next few seconds life slid into slow motion. The elephant, you see, had been faking it. It could have reached the banana: it just didn't want to. It wanted the dozen bananas and five sticks of sugarcane tied together with raffia that I was holding behind my back. And when I moved those last inches forward, it decided that it could finally reach them.

All of a sudden the elephant lurched a good two feet forward. The massive gray muscle that was its trunk walloped me on the side and reached around me, and with its trunk acting like iron fingers it latched onto my little bundle of food.

And it yanked. It yanked exactly as hard as you'd think a wild, forty-ton animal would yank. For a millisecond I felt the searing pain of overstretched raffia about to slice my fingers off like four little Vienna sausages, whereupon I totally abandoned my grip and hoped the day would end with no permanent disfigurement. The elephant ferried the entire bundle to his mouth and dumped it in. He chomped away happily at the dozen bananas, five sticks of sugarcane, and the raffia that tied them together.

I glanced at my fingers and the bright red welt that was surfacing. I realized that in slightly altered circumstances, this is where my fingers would end.

I shot Raoul a look that was just short of total shock. He shrugged. "Don't get too close," he said.