June 2003 Archives

(Read Part 1 2 3 4 5 6 of Ward Street Week)

At the end of the month, Sean Keane is moving out of his apartment of four years, a South Berkeley four-bedroom apartment known affectionately as "Ward Street D." This week, Zembla will present pieces involving or inspired by Ward Street D over the years, as a tribute to the grand old place, before we scurry like rats from the grip of its wonderful, terrible embrace.

Originally published in The Heuristic Squelch, October 2001

Home Court Advantage

In basketball, the mark of a truly great team is the ability to dominate in one's home arena - maintaining the "home court" advantage. The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, perhaps the greatest team of all time, lost just one game at the United Center during the entire season. The Harlem Globetrotters displayed such dominance as well, remaining unbeaten against the Washington Generals at home for a full 17 years between 1969 and 1986.

Why not attempt that same thing at home during a party? That is, display the correct mix of self-confidence, arrogance, and intimidation so that one’s "guests" or "friends" are constantly thrown off-balance, intimidated, or simply confused at social events. At my particular apartment, Ward Street, we strive to always keep the proverbial ball in our court, and literal home court advantage in our metaphorical pockets.

It begins when you arrive at the apartment. Outside the door are two doorbells, one a foot and a half above the other. Which to push, wonders the guest. Regardless of what choice they make, they're wrong. Both doorbells are totally inoperable. By the time the guest finally succumbs to knocking, they’ve already failed at one, if not two doorbells. They’re flustered even before they encounter the door chain, and then get patted down for glass bottles or weapons by our blue-vested security team. Advantage: Ward Street D.

It doesn’t stop there. Once the door opens, guests are asked to remove their shoes - "house rules," we say with a shrug. It's not until the shoes are unbuckled, unlaced, and sitting in a pile that guests realize that we residents of Ward Street D are all still wearing shoes ourselves. Not just shoes, mind you, but boots. With six-inch platform heels. And the hardwood floor of our living room is covered with a combination of crushed chips, spilled drinks, and sand. "We just like to keep things neat," we say, as the heel of their sock is soaked with a combination of rum, coke and crushed La Fortunita tortilla chips. Ward Street D wags a finger in your face.

Want an adult beverage? Ward Street D is all for recreational alcoholism. Just say the word, and we'll be doing shots. All guests will be directed to take shots from our very special plastic bottle of Winners' Cup Gin. We inhabitants of Ward Street D will match you shot for shot from our own bottle of "gin" (actually a Golschlager bottle with a crude, hand-lettered label marking it as "jinn").

"Time for a shot," we'll announce. "Let's drink. You from your bottle of gin, and I from mine."

"Wait, are those gold flakes in your glass?" a visitor might ask. "Is that even gin?" Our response is always succinct, and to the point:

"Are you gonna take a shot or not, pussy?"

Guests unfamiliar with the tough environment that is Ward Street D will likely be confused by certain elements. Such as the pay phone in the kitchen for outgoing calls. Or that getting into the pantry requires a key, and that opening the refrigerator can only done with a retina scan. "We've had incidents with the refrigerator before," we say, by way of explanation. "You want another beer already? If you're that thirsty, why don't we do another shot of gin?"

To paraphrase the immortal Wu-Tang Clan, Ward Street D ain't nuttin' to fuck with. Bring your A game when you party here, and bring your VISA card. Because partying at Ward Street D takes a strong liver and constant concentration. And the toilet paper dispenser doesn't take American Express.

new slang, part 1: "sucks"

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I have gone on record as a big fan of the English language. Still, I do not love my mother tongue unconditionally. Much as I believe that true patriots have a duty to criticize their government, and that true Giants fans have an obligation to boo Neifi Perez, a true champion of the English language must be ready to speak up when there's something amiss in the vernacular.

I am speaking of the word "suck." Something that "sucks" is said to be inadequate, displeasing, or of poor quality." However, it is unclear why English speakers, particularly men, would want to associate such negative connotations to the act of fellatio. To verbally equate Tony Danza sitcoms with blowjobs is not only unduly prejudicial toward oral sex, but also just not very descriptive. Clearly, male speakers of English need to make some adjustments.

My humble suggestion: Why not replace the word "sucks" with another verb that actually signifies bad, or unpleasant activities? Instead of continually sending the message to girls that sucking is bad, opt for a different form of negative verbal reinforcement. For example...

"Did you see Matrix Reloaded yet?"

"Yes. That first half hour in Zion was awful! I mean, there was the random kid, and the rave orgy, and... it just plain cuddled. It didn't stop cuddling until Keanu fought that guy guarding the Oracle."

Or:

"There's a Robin Williams comedy special tonight on HBO."

"No thanks. His stand-up comedy really blue-balls me. Did you see Father's Day? It was a forty-five-second handjob on prom night."

Or even:

"How was work?"

"Work was OK, but the traffic home from San Jose just talked about its day for hours and hours. Once I got to Pleasanton, it was just a boring story about work, but before that, it was a long pointless description of a dream"

Let's make this crazy language of ours make some damn sense, why don't we? Otherwise English might end up like German, and we all know how much that language likes to shop for shoes.

are young swimmers juiced?

As I am an authority on youth sports due to my unparalleled recreational swim coaching success, I am often contacted by the sporting media. And recently, the sporting media wants to know just one thing: Are today's young swimmers juiced?

Swimmers are bigger and faster than they were a generation ago. Why, in just the last decade, many of the sport's most hallowed marks have fallen, from Alexander Popov's 100 meter freestyle time to Mary T. Meagher's 100 butterfly record. Youth recreational sports are no different, as the Contra Costa County records for 13-14 Girls' backstroke and butterfly fell last year, as well as the "unbreakable" 11-12 Boys' butterfly mark. Clearly, this goes beyond advances in swimsuit technology or better training methods. No, these kind of marks require some chemical enhancement.

To a trained professional like myself, the signs can be obvious. You see a nine year old boy come to practice in May six inches taller than he was the previous August, and alarm bells go off in your head. That's not the only red flag. Kids dropping six, seven seconds on a 50 freestyle. Thirteen year olds towering over their twelve year old counterparts. Girls eating entire bags of Gummy Worms and not gaining weight. Let's face it: The drug culture of professional sports has affected even the formerly-pristine world of age-group swim competition.

Sure, I've heard the excuses. "Billy lost a lot of baby fat." "Johnny learned to do a flip turn." "Growth spurts are perfectly understandable for pre-adolescents, particularly those active in sports." To which I say, peddle your sunshine somewhere else, Pollyanna.

I don't blame the kids, really. In the past, kids would be satisfied with doing their best, and having fun. No longer. There's pressure from the parents, who want results for their swim lesson dollar. They don't like buying Capri Suns for losers. There's pressure from the sponsors, like Speedo and TYR. When Nike signs a five year-old to a six-figure endorsement deal, that kid had better touch with two hands on his breastroke. Perhaps most importantly, there's pressure from the other kids. As one unnamed 7-8 boy told me, "Coach Sean, you don't get the bitches by swimming on the B relay."

Usually, it's a gradual thing, with the performance enhancements. You'll see a kid chugging a Coke twenty minutes before their race, and you know they're on their way to trouble. Pretty soon they're eating Pixie Stix and drinking Mountain Dew, desperate to get a caffeine-and-sugar-high edge on the competition. Those are the kids who will be listening when a stranger offers them something to "put a little distance on that streamline." Though I haven't seen any shooting up, all those Pokemon band-aids have to be hiding something.

No one but Coach Sean is willing to blow the whistle on it, because there's too much snack bar money at stake. Just remember who was willing to tell the truth at the end of the summer, when the County backstroke champion gets disqualified for having a Speedo full of cork.

heart cooks brain

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Modest Mouse first came to my attention as part of the wonderfully extensive collection of mp3s in the office of Berkeley's finest intentionally humorous publication, The Heuristic Squelch. The legendary Stephen Handley had included a Modest Mouse folder in the Indie Rock directory (other categories included "(not so) idm" [less intellectual electronica] and "(not so) hip hop" [MC Hammer, Young MC, etc.]), though I think, at the time, it only contained "Out of Gas."

At first, I really wasn't a fan. The lead singer's voice is really a lot like salt and vinegar potato chips. It's harsh and mostly irritating at first, but once your senses adjust, you realize the wonderfulness of it, and when you do realize that, you just want more and more of it. Most singers wouldn't get away with screeching lines like, "I'm gonna go to Alaska, I'm gonna get off scot fucking free!", but somehow, when the Modest Mouse guy does, it just sounds right

That happened to me when I heard "Heart Cooks Brain" on a Matador Records sampler. I instantly repeated the track, then repeated it again. I liked the strained yells at the beginning of the song, the extremely catchy riff, but also the way the voice merged into a sweet falsetto during the verses. And, as an English major, of course, I loved the metaphors.

During the song, the brain-heart relationship is repeatedly analogized. First the brain is a burger, and the heart is the coal, cooking said burger. Later, the brain is a cliff, and the heart becomes a bitter buffalo. My favorite analogy comes when Modest Mouse compares the brain to a weak heart, while the heart itself is the "long stairs." Such poetic chutzpah, Modest Mouse!

Anyway, "Heart Cooks Brain" made me discover the glory of Modest Mouse, and led to my later embracing of "Third Planet," "Bankrupt on Selling," and especially "Custom Concern," all of which interested parties should seek out at their local record stores and/or mp3-acquisition-type-internet places.

Right around January of 1995, I finally cut the large mop of hair that had been accumulating on my head for the past three or four months. Length-wise, it wasn't much, but volume-wise, the hair was something spectacular.

My hair looked terrible, it was unmanageable, and so long as to make it uncomfortable to sleep, but I really liked it, probably because it made people wince. I remember feeling like I was surrendering to society with the haircut, which probably contributed to my sudden decision, upon leaving Supercuts, to adopt an even more confrontational look: wearing a backwards SF Giants cap.

For a suburban Caucasian boy, this was a bold move. The cap's backwardness frustrated adults to no end, including my father, most adult male relatives, and the 1995 College Park High school yearbook photographer, who twice yelled at me for arriving at photos shoots wearing the rebellious cap. I wore it in class, at social gatherings, and even during my job lifeguarding, though I took it off when actually teaching swim lessons.

This habit disturbed a little boy named Aidan. Aidan's mom had forbidden him to wear his own baseball caps backward, because of the gang-rebel-miscreant associations that went along with such a look. But his beloved Coach Sean wore a Giants cap turned backwards, the rebellious way, every single day at the pool! Aidan was quietly tormented. Finally he brought his concerns to his mom.

"Mom," he asked hesitantly, "Is Coach Sean a bad kid?"

I wore the hat with regularity for about seven straight years. Caps came and went, but the backwardness and rebelliousness remained the same. Then, for no real reason, I gave it up. I started coaching at a new pool, met some new people, and went cold turkey on the hat for a good two months. Then, on a morning of bad hair, I donned it before leaving for swim practice.

The kids were not having it. Immediately, they wanted to know what had made me wear such a thing.

"Coach Sean, why are you wearing that?"

"Come on, guys, just get in the water."

"Coach Sean, why don't you just take the hat off?"

"What's the matter? It's just a hat."

"Why are you wearing it like that?"

"I just... I like it bet..."

"Coach Sean, take the hat off."

Later, I realized that most people had been horrified by my pseudo-B-Boy appearance all along - they were just more polite than the 7-8s from an unnamed Lafayette swim club. This is especially evident when people I met post-April, 1995 see me wearing it - there's a quick, involuntary shudder of disgust, and then they'll greet me, desperately trying not to stare and/or gag. If I'd just asked the kids, or heeded Aidan's concerns, I could have saved myself some hassle and/or friendships.

This year, the kids didn't seem fazed by the lone appearance of the Giants cap. They were, however, disturbed by my body hair. The chest hair, they got used to. But a comment from young Tracy isolated their (and honestly, my) main worry:

"Coach Sean, why is there hair on the back of your shoulders?"

I pondered trying to explain the aging process, or to argue that it was only a small tuft of hair, practically no big deal, but I knew there was only one reply. I leaned over very seriously and told young Tracy:

"Because I'm a bad kid."

I read the newspaper very regularly when I was younger, much more regularly than I do now, in fact. My political sympathies were with the Democratic Party back then, due to the influence of my parents and the fact that even a child can tell that "trickle-down economics" is a big unworkable scam.

When I was 7, I avidly followed the independent counsel investigation of former Reagan aide Michael Deaver, accused of illegal lobbying for a foreign client. When the grand jury decided to charge Mr. Deaver with perjury, there wasn't a more pleased second-grader in the country then me. I ran into the kitchen with a wide grin.

"Ha ha!" I said to my mom. "Michael Deavoh, one of Weagan'th cwonieth, in-DIK-ted foah peh-JUH-wy!"

I laughed and laughed, as did Mom and Dad, once I was out of the room. I was more naive then, never once dreaming that Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson would eventually let Deaver off with pwobation.

When I was younger, I had a severe speech impediment. I said my "r"s like "w"s, and I also had a lisp. In combination, it made me sound like a gay Elmer Fudd.

I was also pathologically afraid of asserting myself, or asking for things, which has continued to a lesser degree today. That fear would lead to conversations like this:

YOUNG SEAN: Mom, I'm thowta (sort of) hungwy.

MOM: What would you like to eat, Sean?

YOUNG SEAN: Well, I was thowta thinking of thomething wound.

MOM: Like an apple, Sean?

YOUNG SEAN: Wellll...maybe thomething a little cwunchyah.

MOM: Do you want some crackers?

YOUNG SEAN: Wellll...maybe thomething a little bit thweetah.

MOM: Sean, would you like a cookie?

YOUNG SEAN (feigning surprise): Oh? Wellll...that would be OK.

I got over the speech impediment after months of rigorous effort in fourth grade, but I never did quite get over my anxiety over asking for things. In times of stress, I fall back on old habits:

PRETTY GIRL: So what were you calling about, Sean?

PRESENT-DAY SEAN: Wellll...I was thowta wondewing if you wanted to do thomething Thuthday night.

PRETTY GIRL: What did you have in mind?

PRESENT-DAY SEAN: Wellll...I was thowta thinking about thomewhayah on Shattuck Avenue.

PRETTY GIRL: Do you want to go to Jupiter's? Maybe get some food at Cha'Am?

PRESENT-DAY SEAN: Wellll...I was thowta thinking of thomewhayah that had thoft theats, whayah you could make out in the dahk.

PRETTY GIRL: Do you want to go to the movies, Sean?

PRESENT-DAY SEAN (again feigning surprise): Oh? Wellll...that would be OK.

Tony

tonytigr.jpg

Frosted flakes are the taste adults have grown to love. They're grrrreat!

Bill Walton

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What is he talking about? Have you tasted frosted flakes? Frosted Flakes are horrrrrible. Get them out of here!

Frosted Flakes claims to be part of a balanced breakfast? When I think of a balanced breakfast, I think of the great ones. Pancakes and orange juice. Sausage and eggs. Larry Bird. Robert Parish. French toast. Frosted Flakes is the worst breakfast cereal in the history of the world.

Look at these ingredients. Riboflavin? Riboflavin is a TERRIBLE vitamin. No vitamin in the last twenty years has disappointed like riboflavin has. The Kellogg's corporation needs a timeout here.

In the immortal words of the Grateful Dead, those who choose to lead must follow. But if you fall, you fall alone. If you should stay, then who's to guide you? Not Tony the Tiger. Not the Honey Smacks frog. And definitely not Kenyon Martin.

Twist It


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The Zone


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Overconfidence


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Defeat


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Aftermath


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(Photography credit to Mike Barnett)

the best albums of 2002 list

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I get most of my music in an unconventional manner these days. I don't listen to the radio, aside from when I'm in my car. We no longer have cable television in the house, but even when we did, I never watched MTV. My computer is primitive, slow, and mute, so even acquiring songs from the ether of the Internet is currently a no-go.

So, I burn a lot of music from my friends and roommates, specifically Gene, Mike, and Khurram. Which is great in that I'm exposed to a large sampling of music, much of which I would not have heard elsewhere. I doubt I would have ever found myself with Autechre's Tri Repetae in heavy rotation without the influence of Gene. And it is unlikely that I would be slowly sifting through a stack of jam bands' CDs (Medeski, Martin, and Wood; String Cheese Incident) had Mike not given them to me (The debate over MMW's excessive "whiteness" can take place elsewhere).

The point is, music I listen to is not very determined by when something is released, or is on the radio. When I was trying to compile a "Best/Favorite Albums of the Year" list, I found out that much of the music I've discovered and listened to this year was not actually released in 2002. White Blood Cells came out in 2001. So did Oh, Inverted World, by The Shins, Rockin' the Suburbs by Ben Folds, and Powderfinger's Odyssey Number Five. That being said, here is my list of the Top Five Albums of 2002, four of which I actually purchased, with money and everything. So what if it's June of 2003?

5. DJ Shadow: The Private Press

I bought this album at the same time as Endtroducing, during the summer. Before that time, I had been woefully unexposed to Mr. Shadow. Though I like Endtroducing better, The Private Press was in my CD player a whole lot. "Six Days" is the best song. There's also a version of that track, not on the album, which features Mos Def - well worth checking out.

If you see the movie "Scratch", there are some great scenes with DJ Shadow going through huge stacks of vinyl in this crowded storeroom which is floor-to-bottom records, all different genres, that have been accumulating over the years. "The Private Press" has that same feeling of having different styles and music together, along with random sounds and spoken word Bible recitation. It's like music created the same way as sedimentary rock, with layers and time, but less sand and more funk.

4. Jurassic 5: Power in Numbers

This album feeds my jones for hip hop where all the guys in a group yell out the rhyme together, and all sing together on the chorus. And as much as I love the music of the LBC, it's nice to hear hip hop that is actually about social issues, rather than Dr. Dre pretending to be a gangster or Eminem discussing TRL. And it has a lyric about the "verbal Herman Munster."

3. Beck: Sea Change

I heard a girl once say, "I want to have sex with this album. Not have sex while listening to this album, but somehow manage to make love to the actual music itself." I don't actually want to fuck the music here, but I can understand the sentiment. Beck sings really well on this album, and it's full of slow, pretty songs about heartbreak and breakups, but not breakdancing. This is non-dancing Beck, a Beck waking up the night after a long cocaine binge, wondering where he was, what he's been doing, and what kind of stuff Winona Ryder stole from him while he was unconscious. So Beck has cleaned up, replaced turntables with more strings, and reached back to the past for a few old unrecorded songs like "It's All in Your Mind" and made a very melodic, lovely album.

This album is great, eminently listenable, but I like Beck better when he's being funny as well as beautiful and poignant. He seems to shift, album to album, from wacky to somber, wacky to somber, with a string going Odelay-Mutations-Midnite Vultures-Sea Change. I just wonder if tender songs about lost love are necessarily incompatible with singing in falsetto about picking up girls at JC Penney.

Art that is funny always get less critical respect than art that is serious. You see that at the Academy Awards, where there hasn't been a comedic performance awarded since Cuba Gooding Jr. in "Jerry Maguire," and even that Oscar was mostly given because he's the first minority character ever to appear in a Cameron Crowe film. So "Sea Change" is great, go out and listen to it/burn it/download it, but don't diss Beck's previous lesbian-scream-inducing work in the process.

2. Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

There's a fascinating story behind the making of this album, involving the record company refusing to release the album and the keyboard player getting fired. Other people can probably give you a good lowdown on that aspect of the album - I didn't know anything about Wilco before I got the album, so it didn't really matter to me if Jay Bennett was going to be touring to support the CD. I liked that this album is very catchy and listenable, but at the same time doesn't really sound like other music out there. Much like Garth Brooks, this album is a little bit rock and a little bit country. Except this is better than Garth Brooks.

I enjoy country music for twangy guitars and lyrics about heartbreak and killing men just to watch them die. I don't much like country music that is covers of previously-recorded pop songs, or sounds like a Nashville version of Matchbox Twenty, or involves putting boots up Bin Laden's ass. Wilco's brand of country is the kind I like.

I like "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" the best, particularly the section where he finally says the title line ("Still I'd be lying if I said it wasn't easy/ I am trying to break your heart"). The song, and particularly the double negatives in that verse remind me of "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," which Ben Harper has dubbed the best song of all time. This song also sounds fuzzy and distorted, which makes "Jesus, Etc." has strings, but in a country music fiddling sort of way, not in a "String Tribute to Uncle Tupelo" sort of way. "Pot Kettle Black" is good. I think "Heavy Metal Drummer" is catchy, but there are a lot of people who really fucking go nuts for that song, so keep that in mind if you're casually listening to the album or just picking tracks out to download.

If you want, there's a documentary called "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" which deals with the business side of the recording, and is supposed to be good. I'm mostly going from something I read in Rolling Stone and a poster owned by aspiring superstar and infrequent weblog updater Monica Fitzpadrick. So I can't vouch for the movie. But the album is not just a friend of mine; it's a friend of ours.

1. The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

This album has songs about robots learning to love, karate-kicking Japanese girls battling killer robots, and a man meeting a time-traveling version of himself. ("Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," "One More Robot," and "All We Have Is Now," respectively) There are songs a lot of songs about death, good and evil, and all kinds of weighty subjects that are often both uplifting and poignant at the same time. Listening to "Do You Realize?" it's hard not to get caught up in singing along with the cheerful melody, even when the lyrics warn that "everyone you know someday will die."

But mostly, I come back to the robot songs. Even though robots are a little bit played out now, they're still excellent and underused subjects for neo-psychedelic alternative rock anthems. In fact, though the brave and black-belted Yoshimi is the album's namesake, her lovesick robot opponent is perhaps the most sympathetic character, losing on purpose so as not to destroy his human love.

What happened to robots, anyway? Former Daily Cal writer Tag Savage theorized that "pirates are the new robots...The late 1990s thing of robots is starting to give way to a millennial thing of pirates. Expect pirates in whatever the Beastie Boys release next. The hippest kids know that the pirate thing is already pass´┐Ż, and they are already moving on, on to something like cowboys." I don't think it will be cowboys myself, but maybe astronauts? Clowns? Firemen? Whatever the new cultural flashpoint is, I'm sure the Flaming Lips will be there to meet it with fuzzy guitars and high harmony vocal stylings.

Baja Fresh

A play by Sean Keane


SCENE 1

(Phone rings)

GLORIA: Hello?

AHMED: (on other end of line) Hi. This is Ahmed.

GLORIA: Who?

AHMED: Um, Ahmed. From Cal...

GLORIA: Oh, right. (Pause)

AHMED: Anyway, it's Sunday today, and I thought you might want to have lunch...

GLORIA: Ahmed, can I be honest with you? This is odd.

AHMED: I see. I just thought that...well, this was a mistake.

GLORIA: (silence)


SCENE 2


(Phone rings. Ahmed wakes, sits up in bed. Answering machine picks up.)

AHMED: (on tape) Hello, you've reached 649-9974. Please leave your name, number, and a brief yet thorough message, and I'll call you back. (Beep.)

SEAN: (on tape) Hi, Ahmed. This is Sean, and I'm calling from New York. I don't know if you realize it or not, but Sunday is just two days away. You have to call Gloria for lunch, remember? I don't know about you, but I think this is odd.

(Ahmed writes "Sunday" on his left arm.)


SCENE 3


(Brendan is sitting with his entire mouth around the top of a wine glass.)

SEAN: (to Brendan) With every subsequent moment that passes, my life becomes increasingly surreal. I don't know if I'm going crazy, or if the world truly is changing. Plus, the border between "funny" and "sad" is growing more and more blurry...half of the time, I can't tell whether I should be laughing at everything I see or hear, or if I should just be constantly crying. Maybe I just need more sleep.

BRENDAN: I really like sorority girls.

SUSANNA: For the last time, I'm Portuguese. Portuguese, dammit!

SEAN: Every moment.

(A piece of bread from offstage bounces off of Brendan's forehead. He covers his face effeminately.)

SEAN: Get a hold of yourself, Jerk McGirk!


SCENE 4


(The phone rings. Gloria wakes, sits up, and picks up the phone)

GLORIA: Hello? Hello? Hello? (She hangs up.) How odd.

(Gloria distractedly scrawls "Baja Fresh" on her arm.)


SCENE 5


(Answering machine tape is running)

SEAN: (on tape) ...so, later today, you're going to call her, and be worried about her reaction and everything, and no matter what she says, you're going to be obsessed with how odd the whole situation is. Try to focus. Concentrate on the lunch, on romance. It's the only way. That being said, the whole thing is pretty weird.


SCENE 6


("I Saw Her Standing There" plays in the background. Ahmed is dialing.)

GLORIA: (on other end of call) Hello?

AHMED: Hello, may I speak to Gloria?

GLORIA: This is Gloria. Is this Ahmed? I was hoping you'd call.

AHMED: Yes, this is Ahmed...Would you like to have lunch today? Maybe at Baja Fresh?

GLORIA: Ahmed, I would love to. Can you pick me up at 12:30?

AHMED: All that and more is taken care of, my darling. Your chariot will await.


SCENE 7


(A phone rings. Sean wakes, sits up on the couch, and picks up the phone.)

SEAN: Hello? Hello? No, there's no Paul here. I think you have the wrong number.

(Sean hangs up, and writes "Curiouser and curiouser" on his arm. He glances at the coffee table, and sees a champagne cork. Holding the cork, Sean picks up the phone and dials.)

SEAN: Hello, is Ahmed there? Oh, right, he's at lunch. OK, just tell him that McGirk called. Thanks.

(Sean picks up a half-full glass of flat champagne in front of him, and downs it. He lays back down on the couch to go to sleep, and knocks the receiver off its cradle. As "If you'd like to make a call..." emanates from the phone, the curtain falls.)

THE END

Earlier in the year, I jokingly made a promise to the 7-8 age group on our swim team. The best-behaved lane during practice that day would get a prize: the chance to wash Coach Sean's car. Most of them groaned, but the "winning" lane was still proud of having been best-behaved. I didn't think of it again until the next day, when a little girl named "Natasha" arrived at practice and asked, "So did you bring a bucket? Do you have sponges?"

I am nearing the end of my six-week contract coaching a local swim team. Tonight was my second-to-last swim meet with them, which is a shame because many of the children are smart, cute, kind, and/or endearing. And adoring. My next job will not likely feature groups of people greeting me with excited shouts and frantic cannonballs off the side of the pool. It might be appropriate for me to still hug my co-workers at my new job, but I certainly wouldn't have the freedom to mess up their hair, give them bizarre nicknames, or throw them over the lane ropes. I certainly won't be able to get them to recite rhymes about proper backstroke technique ("High in the air I lift my pinkie/ So that my backstroke won't be stinky"). Or count off for calisthenics in Angry French, or Sad Spanish ("Uno. (sniff) Dos. (whimper) Tres.").

Kids are much more fun than adults. Today, a few of the boys made forts out of abandoned cardboard boxes, and announced that they were "hobos." Whenever I walked by to say something, one would invariably yell, "Get off my lawn!" They kept this up for the entirety of the meet, leaving only to swim their races and panhandle snack bar money from their parents.

I will also miss the opportunity to lie constantly. Our meet tonight was extremely cold, but I just had on a T-shirt and shorts. Parka-clad youngsters would ask if I was cold, and I would tell them calmly that coaches didn't get cold. And, since they all had to swim in their suits, it would be unfair if I got to wear a sweatshirt. Natasha recently lost both her front teeth. I told her that her mouth would be more aerodynamic that way, so she needed to take advantage and swim fast before the new teeth grew in. The kids don't really believe me, but it's fun for everyone. Is it really acceptable to be teasing everyone you encounter in the adult world?

Then there's little Ashley. Monday, she hid from her mom inside our pool's waterslide, betrayed only by her tiny shadow. Tonight, she said goodbye to me with a large hug. I said, "Ashley, that was a great hug." She replied, "That's because it was a bay-oh hug, Sean!"

When you have a job working with children, you develop a bond with them, where you feel like they're your kids a little bit. Not so much like you're their parents, even though they accidentally call you "Dad" on occasion, but more like you're their older cousin, or wacky bachelor uncle. You don't feel like you're just an employee, at least, which is why it is painful to be made to feel like one. (See "Legal trouble for Zembla") Here, it was just the circumstances of my six-week contract reminding me of my transitory bond with the children.

Natasha came up to me after the meet to show me her newly-emerging front teeth. She gave me a hug, then cocked her head to one side. "So, am I ever going to see you again, Coach Sean?" she asked. "Sure," I told her. At least once more, I didn't say.

my kingdom for a gelded horse

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This past weekend, a horse named Funny Cide competed in the Belmont Stakes, attempting to become the first horse in twenty-five years to win the Triple Crown. Funny Cide had been a surprise winner of both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, the first two legs of the Triple Crown. If Funny Cide won the Belmont, he'd win a multimillion dollar bonus and achieve the status of legend. And I couldn't care less, since horse racing isn't a sport.

Horse racing is an elaborate gambling exercise, not a real athletic competition. Horses aren't athletes, for one, because they're horses. For another, whips are prominently used in horse races. Any "athlete" that gets regularly struck with a whip during competition is something less than self-motivated. That, or they play basketball for Bobby Knight.

Mainly, I have a problem with horse racing because the "athletes" are all one minor leg injury away from being shot in the head. What if baseball were like that?

"Slow roller to short. Vizcaino throws to first and just gets Ray Durham by a step. And Durham is hurt. He's clutching his hamstring. Here comes trainer Stan Conte.... And he has shot Ray Durham in the head. Ray Durham, shot in the head. What a career for this great second baseman! That hamstring pull would have left Durham in pain, so it's best that he went quickly."

And later: "Fly ball to left, medium deep. Bagwell tags up. Bonds is going to have a play at the plate. Here's the throw and there's a huge collision at home plate, and Bagwell is out! Bagwell and Santiago are both slow to get up, and... both are shot in the head! Wow! What a turn of events! I cannot believe Benito Santiago held on... even in death, his glove clutches the ball. So we go the bottom of the seventh, where the Giants will send up Aurilia, Bonds, and a pinch-hitter."

To be fair, a leg injury isn't necessarily a death sentence for a horse. In 1999, a Triple Crown aspirant named Charismatic broke its leg at the Belmont and was saved by its jockey. Still, that rescue and medical care was motivated not only by concern for the animal, but also concern for the millions of dollars in stud fees the champion horse would later command. Funny Cide is a gelding, and sans testicules, is not a candidate for breeding. If Funny Cide had broken a nail on its charge down the stretch, it would have been at the glue factory by Monday morning.

Before the race went off on Sunday, I told anyone that would listen that Funny Cide didn't have the stones to win the Triple Crown. I also pre-emptively claimed that, due to the wet track, Funny Cide's potential Triple Crown would be "tainted." The record book did not require an asterisk, however, as Empire Maker denied Funny Cide by winning the Belmont. Plus, Empire Maker still has his testicles, so it's like a double victory.

As for me, I won a dollar each betting against Funny Cide and Supervisor (the most mediocre horse name in history), but lost it back after giving an Empire Maker bettor 2:1 odds. Since I also still have both my testicles, I consider it a win.

The final word on the Belmont Stakes comes from SF Chronicle sportswriter Gwen Knapp, who wrote something funnier than I could even make up:

A surgeon took his manhood biologically, but in every other sense, this horse had not been neutered.

Professor: This is a fifty-minute exam, covering Chapters 4-6 and the first two sections of Chapter 7. Please bubble in the correct answer using a #2 pencil.

Observational Comic: What is the deal with the #2 pencil warning? Are there a bunch of charcoal artists taking this test? We can send a telescope out to the edge of the solar system, but we can't design a Scantron machine capable of reading lead from a #2.2 pencil? Who's running the Scantron industry - the Florida Election Commission?

Professor: You now have forty-seven minutes.

Observational Comic: And don't get me started on Newtonian physics. This guy died a virgin, and he's lecturing me about the laws of motion?!? I mean, come on, people!

Professor: Get out.

Observational Comic: Thank you! I'll be here all next semester, retaking the course. Remember to tip your proctors.

In 1981, Paul McCartney contributed a composition of his called "Girlfriend" for Michael Jackson's album "Off the Wall." Were that the McCartney-Jackson collaboration could have ended there. For in 1982, the two joined forces again for the Jackson-penned sausage-fight-love-ballad "The Girl Is Mine." Millions of innocent unprepared listeners just trying to get from "Baby Be Mine" to "Thriller" were subjected to Michael and Paul talking smack about their romantic prowess.

The song begins with a slow, pseudo-funky beat that probably would have been rejected by even Tito or LaToya Jackson. "The Girl Is Mine" may be the only song from "Thriller" that never has, never will be sampled by even the most desperate hip-hop producer. Michael then croons the vaguest lyrics imaginable about this mysterious woman:

Every night she walks right in my dreams
Since I met her from the start
I'm so proud I am the only one
Who is special in her heart

This is doggerel, Michael Jackson! Anyway, throughout the entire song it's striking how little there is in the lyrics about the "girl" in dispute between Jackson and McCartney. Maybe that's because even Michael Jackson can't imagine some hypothetical woman that Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson could possibly be fighting over. Jackson continues to the defiant chorus:

The girl is mine
The doggone girl is mine
I know she's mine
Because the doggone girl is mine

A logic chain worthy of Descartes: I know she's mine, ergo, the girl is mine.

McCartney fires back a salvo, stating emphatically that the girl is his:

I don't understand the way you think
Saying that she's yours not mine
Sending roses and your silly dreams
Really just a waste of time

Again, no description of the mythical Linda McCartney-Diana Ross lady hybrid that might charm the Jackson-McCartney duo. McCartney reiterates that the doggone girl is his, adding "Don't waste your time." It pains me to hear adult males using words like "doggone." It's like watching a Mafia movie on television and hearing words like "fairy godmother" dubbed in to cover up the profanity, only in this case, the dubbing was done pre-emptively by the original artist. Nobody says "doggone" except to self-consciously point out how they don't swear, like a girl who mentions the first time you ever hang out with her how she's got TMJ, and thus can't give blowjobs, only you weren't even talking about jaw problems or oral sex, not at all, but she's still awkwardly pointing it out and you feel really uncomfortable. Listening to "The Girl Is Mine" makes you feel like that. Bad.

More awkward rhyming ensues:

(Paul)
I love you more than he

(Michael)
But I love you endlessly

"More than he" rhymes with "endlessly." Goddammit, Michael Jackson. Couldn't Michael Jackson's crazy abusive father had made him read a little bit of poetry, in between practicing the choreography with Tito and Jermaine? And it goes on:

(Paul)
Don't build your hopes to be let down
'Cause I really feel it's time

(Michael)
I know she'll tell you I'm the one for her
'Cause she said I blow her mind

Then the real snappy give-and-take begins. Paul tells Michael that he doesn't want to fight over this "girl." Michael responds that he's a lover, not a fighter. Paul, rather outlandishly claims that the girl has told him that he is her forever lover, then desperately adds, "you know, don't you remember?" Michael zings him back: "Well, after loving me, she said she couldn't love another," which would have rhymed with "forever lover," sort of, except for Paul's babbling at the end of his line. Paul, clearly lost, demands, "Is that what she said?" to which Michael responds, "Yes, she said it, you keep dreaming."

Paul is stunned. He can only howl, "I don't believe it!" and start doing a low harmony part, effectively leaving the argument of Michael Jackson to carry the day. The only comparable time Paul has been outsmarted so badly, intellectually whipped so thoroughly, is when Michael Jackson outbid him for the Beatles song catalog. This is the other awful legacy of "The Girl Is Mine": Michael Jackson bought the rights to the song catalog, and soon "Revolution" was in a Nike commercial.

In a way, "The Girl Is Mine" was the end of the line for both performers. Though the two reunited for the top Ten hit "Say Say Say" in 1983, there still remains a foul aftertaste of "Girl Is Mine" in your ears when you listen to "Say Say Say," kind of like drinking tequila for the first time after you got really sick drinking cheap tequila a few months ago, and even though this new tequila seems OK, you still sort of shudder involuntarily when it touches your throat.

Michael Jackson saw diminishing returns with each subsequent album after "Thriller". Plus, bought a bunch of girafees, hung out with the Culkin family, and completed two sham marriages. And pretty much lost his mind. Paul McCartney's wife died, and he married a new, younger, one-legged wife. He also released an album called "Flaming Pie" whose standout tune contained the lyric, "I go back so far/ I'm in front of me." Maybe there was an accelerant effect, a catalytic lyrical reaction upon exposure of McCartney's already-unstable lyrical mind to Michael Jackson's poetic influence. The lyrics to McCartney's "Freedom" are really worse than anyone could have expected, even those who already hated "Rocky Raccoon" and "Honey Pie."

For a Occidentalist pro-McCartney perspective, refer to Fred Lee.

CSI TEAM LEADER GIL GRISSOM: We reconstructed the bat fragments. Using computer imaging, we find that the negative space in between the shards of the bat barrel was filled by cork.

SAMMY SOSA: That's why I'm here right now, to explain that it was a mistake.

GRISSOM: Some people thought you were going to break the all-time home run record, Sammy. Instead, you just broke a corked-up bat. (Grisssom exits. Executive producer's name appears)

* * *

GRISSOM: The AFIS system compares fingerprints to an international database of prints collected by federal and local baseball authorities from all over the globe. Potential matches are then verified by a fingerprint expert. On all of the corked bats we examined, only two clear prints came up: hitting instructor Gene Clines, and yours.

SOSA: It's my mistake and I take the blame for it.

GRISSOM: Oh, you certainly will. You thought the Cubs might be sipping champagne as National League Central Division champions this season. Instead, it looks like you'll have to settle for the cork. (Grissom exits. Executive producer's name appears.)

* * *

SOSA: I use that bat for batting practice. I want to put on a show for the fans during batting practice, make people happy. I just picked the wrong bat for the game. I have never used a corked bat in a game ever before.

GRISSOM: Sammy, it doesn't take infrared heat sensors to see through that lameass excuse. (Grissom exits. Executive producer's name appears.)

* * *

GRISSOM: Sammy, the rules of the game clearly state: "Any batter that willfully uses an altered bat shall be immediately declared out and...

WILLOWS: Gil, we just got the DNA tests back on that body from St. Louis - it's Mark McGwire!

GRISSOM: I guess stealing the 1998 National League MVP award from him wasn't enough, was it, Sammy?

SOSA: It's a mistake, and I take the blame for it.

BASEBALL TONIGHT ANALYST HAROLD REYNOLDS: Look, I gotta believe Sammy when he says he didn't cork his bat or murder Mark McGwire. I'm sticking by Sammy.

GRISSOM: And I thought Peter Gammons was an idiot!

(Grissom exits. Executive producer's name appears.)

There is a little girl on the swim team I coach named Ashley (note: not actually named Ashley). Ashley is only five years old, but it is her second year in the 6 & Under age group. She is chubby, energetic, personable, and smart, and has a mop of curls that frequently cover her face while she swims. As such, she is one of the most darling children on the swim team.

I have a difficult time being tough with little children that crack me up. Young Dimitri escaped disciplinary action many a time by making me laugh, which was often achieved through pecking or punching me. Similarly, Ashley goes underwater while the coaches are talking, walks on the diving board during times it is clearly marked "CLOSED," and occasionally spends more time adjusting her goggles than she does in the water. Yet when I attempt to reprimand her, I often end up laughing too hard to chase her.

At our recent Time Trials meet, Ashley was playing on the steps in the shallow end, a forbidden area. I told her to leave, and Ashley's mom observed her daughter's cheerful defiance of my coachly authority.

"What you've got to do," she told me, leaning over to where Ashley swum next to the wall, "is say something like (lowered voice) 'Ashley get the fuck out of the pool.'" Ashley scampered up the steps immediately. Ashley's mom grinned at me. "Ashley really responds to that combination of stern male voice and profanity." She paused. "Actually, the profanity's the important part."

One day, Ashley's sister got a foot cramp while swimming. She left practice, and sat in a chair with her mom rubbing her foot. Ashley looked on with worry. I asked how she was, and Ashley's mom jokingly suggested cutting the foot off to relieve the pain. Ashley stood up, placed her hands on her hips and said, "Mom! No." Ashley's jaw was set, Ashley's foot was stomping the ground. Her mom said she was kidding, but Ashley still sat back down shaking her head indignantly. What the fuck is my mom advocating? is what I'm sure little Ashley was thinking.

Today, there was even more severe cuteness at 6 & Under practice. The caterpillars of two weeks previous have metamorphosed into butterflies, which three of the 6 & Under set had balanced on their fingers when they arrived at practice today. If there's a cuter sight than six year-olds with shark goggles over their eyes and newly-hatched butterflies fluttering perched on their fingers, it would have to involve, like, kittens and puppies and four year-olds living in harmony but also like on the moon or at least in a carnival-style Bounce House. Cute as fuck, I would say, if Ashley wasn't listening.

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