Friday, December 28, 2007

God Bless Those Pagans...

On Christmas Eve, I attended the service at Tyler Street Methodist with my family. I'm not a huge fan of religious services, but it's really important to my mom and my sister, so I figure the least I can do is drag my sinning ass into church for the big three religious holidays -- Christmas, Easter, and Mother's Day.

As far as Christmas Eve services go, Tyler Street is pretty palatable. Sometimes you'll get a warbling solo sung from the point of view of Mary about how "that precious little hand reaching up from the manger would one day be pierced by a nail," but for the most part, it's pretty traditional fare. The choir does a great Hallelujah chorus, and that bit where everybody lights their candles while singing Silent Night is pretty nice. In fact, the only time I ever really squirmed uncomfortably in my seat was during the sermon.

Usually, the sermons at these things are short and sweet, but this time the reverend decided to delve into the dreaded War on Christmas. He started ranting about the fact that Home Depot referred to their Christmas trees as "Miracle Trees," and how it was just another attack on Christianity by the secular left.

You know, if you're looking for an example of the War on Christmas, you might want to select a Christmas tradition that doesn't actually predate Christ. I like to think there are some Viking traditionalists in Norway who resent the war being waged on Yule and the way those Christians insist on Jesusing up their High Feast. "By my hammer, Thor and Freyr are the reason for the season!" Every year, they probably send each other angry e-mails calling for a boycott on stores that are referring to their Solstice Firs as "Christmas Trees." And then they drink fermented goat's milk and mead until they vomit into their horned helmets and pass out.

And don't get me started on mistletoe...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Astonishingly Cool Game Show Moments (That May or May Not Have Actually Happened)

I won't deny it. I loves me some goddamn game shows. But it's not the mental challenge or the thrill of competition that draws me in. I don't give a rat's ass about the fabulous prizes ("A year supply of Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat!") and I couldn't care less about the smarmy has-been celebrities who pander pathetically to the studio audiences.

No, I watch game shows for the same reason most people watch NASCAR. I want to see a massive, flaming wreck. When you put average, ordinary people under that kind of pressure in front of a camera, shit is going to happen.

What follows are some astonishingly cool things that may or may not have happened on game shows. Most of them are urban legends, which means that you probably heard about them from friends who claim they actually saw them happen, or claim that they know someone who actually saw them happen. No offense, but your friends are lying sacks of crap. (Unless they're me. See The $100,000 Pyramid below.)

So here we go. Big prizes. No whammy. And... stop!

The Newlywed Game
This one is probably the queen mother of game show urban legends. Host Bob Eubanks asked Henry Perez "Where is the weirdest place that your wife has ever gotten the urge to make whoopee?" Henry mulled it over and answered, "In our car, on the freeway." Then his wife Olga came out. Bob asked her the same question. She stammered and looked helplessly at her husband for a second before finally answering, "Is it in the ass?"

Is It True?
Versions of this story have been floating around for 30 years, but Bob steadfastly claimed that it was just a legend and it never happened. However, he was proven wrong when the episode (which originally aired in 1977) turned up on the Game Show Network a couple of years ago. So yes. It really happened.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
Earlier this year, an e-mail started circulating about a hapless contestant named Kathy Evans who found herself stymied by the first question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. If you've ever watched the show, you know the first question is only worth $100 and is supposed to be a gimme.

So after Meredith Vierira introduced her, Kathy was given her first question. It was:

"Which of the following is the largest?"
A) A Peanut
B) An Elephant
C) The Moon
D) A Tennis Ball

Unable to come up with the answer on her own, Kathy used the first of her lifelines, the 50/50. Two answers were removed, leaving B) An Elephant and C) The Moon. Still unsure, Kathy decided to use her second lifeline and phoned her friend Betsy. Betsy quickly assured her the answer was C) The Moon, but Kathy didn't believe she knew for certain. Just to make sure, she used up her last lifeline and asked the audience. The audience responded with an overwhelming 98% in favor of C) The Moon. But Kathy decided to go with her gut and she answered B) An Elephant.

Is It True?
In a word, no. The picture that accompanied the e-mail was actually Photoshopped from an image of Fiona Wheeler, who was on the UK version of the show. While there have been some boneheaded contestants, the entire Kathy Evans story was a fabrication. (Incidentally, Fiona did quite well on her appearance and wound up winning £32,000.)

Password Plus
My cousin told me this one back in the 80s. Tom Selleck was partnered up with an African American woman. Host Bert Convy informs the audience that "the password is... DEER." Selleck thinks for a second, and offers the clue "DOE..." His partner responds immediately, "KNOB?"

Is It True?
Probably not. There are an awful lot of variations floating around online (many of which end with the angry contestant suing for discrimination). Several celebrities have tried to attach themselves to the incident. Jamie Farr claimed it was he, and not Tom Selleck, who gave the "doe" clue. Nipsey Russell once claimed that he was the one who had responded "knob." But so far, it hasn't turned up in syndication.

Wheel of Fortune
Vanna White told this story on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson back in 1985. The puzzle category was "Title" and one of the contestants had managed to pretty much sweep the round. He'd been spinning and hitting big numbers and had filled in almost all the letters. It was obvious to all watching that the answer was "GONE WITH THE WIND," but the guy kept on spinning and building up his winnings. Finally, everyone was relieved when he announced he would like to solve the puzzle. With utter confidence, he proclaimed, "DONE WITH ONE HAND."

Is It True?
The part about Vanna telling the story is true. I have no idea if the incident happened as reported or not, but I do remember quite well the dormant feelings Vanna awoke in me when my body first blossomed into manhood. I'm sure "DONE WITH ONE HAND" would have been foremost in my mind as well...

The $100,000 Pyramid
Okay, this one is a little different because I saw it! It was 1986, and I was in my dorm room between classes, eating a turkey sandwich and watching a little Pyramid. I believe the celebrity was Linda Evans. The contestant was a grandmotherly type in her late 50s/early 60s. They had won the game and were now trying to hit the jackpot in the Winner's Circle.

In case you don't remember, the Winner's Circle worked like this: the celebrity would be given a category, such as "THINGS THAT ARE BLUE." The celebrity would then list items in that category, such as "the sky... your dress... a sad song..." until the contestant guessed the category. If they managed to get through all six categories, the contestant would win mucho dinero.

So Linda and the contestant are working their way up the pyramid, and the category "THINGS BELOW YOUR WAIST" comes up. Linda is a bit dumbfounded. She stammers for a second. Then she finally says, "Um, your genital organs."

The kindly old contestant, whom I really do believe was somebody's grandmother, immediately responds, "Things you touch!"

Linda gets flustered. She can't think of anything else. She just keeps saying, "Um, your genital organs." And the contestant begins frantically blurting out, "Things you touch! Things you rub! Things you massage! Things you stroke!"

Is It True?
Yes, goddammit! I swear! I remember calling all my friends while it was going on to ask them if they were watching it, but they were all in class or at lunch. But I still cling to the hope that I will one day be vindicated by the Game Show Network.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Jesus vs. the ACLU

Well, the holiday season is well underway and I've just received my first e-mail about the War on Christmas. Basically, it's rallying Christians together to inundate the ACLU offices with Christmas cards in the hopes that the flood of mail will shut down operations. My favorite part is the reminder "just don't be rude or crude. (It's Not the Christian Way, you know!)" Thank God for that oddly-capitalized caveat, because I'm sure several of Christ's more devout were about to take crayon in hand and write "SUCK MY CHRISTIAN COCK, YOU MOTHER FUCKING ATHEISTS! MERRY CHRISTMAS!"

So far, this is the only War on Christmas e-mail I've received this year. Now some might argue that's because the Jew-run liberal media is intentionally stifling the story and preventing its spread on Nobel Prize winner Al Gore's Internet. Personally, I'm hoping it means this retarded trope has run its course and, by next year, will be deader than disco and Dick Nixon.

So what does the ACLU have to do with the War on Christmas? Not a goddamn thing. You see, back in 2005, a bunch of fundamentalists got their hair shirts in a knot over the fact that some stores were saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Now, as far as I know, there were no complaints from anybody else about the marginalization of Hanukkah, Ramadan, or the Winter Solstice. The Jews, Muslims, and Druids all seemed to take it in stride. In fact, most Christians were pretty level headed and rational about the whole thing. It was just that tiny, loud, brain-damaged minority who felt their entire belief system was under attack because the cashiers at Target weren't taking customers by the hand and singing "Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus."

As you probably know, it's just no fun to be a fundamentalist Christian unless you can pretend like you're being persecuted for your faith. So these geniuses concocted this bizarre conspiracy in which otherwise wholesome and decent folk were being strong armed by the nefarious forces of Satan. And since Madalyn Murray O'Hair's ghost was too busy getting Touched by an Angel canceled to wage a personal war against the virgin birth, the fundamentalists decided to pin the whole thing on their other all-purpose scapegoat, the American Civil Liberties Union. If the ACLU hadn't been available, I imagine Jane Fonda would have been heading up the War on Christmas.

The liberal media outlets were all too busy distracting us with the real news to pick up the story, but fortunately FOX News was there to uncover the truth. Last year, Bill O'Reilly (whom you may remember as the blotchy FOX News pundit who likes to sexually harass his producers) decided to tilt his lance at the War on Christmas. He railed and ranted about all these injustices that were being perpetrated against decent Christian folk, all in the name of "political correctness." High schools were banning red and green clothes. Nameless corporations were firing employees for giving out Christmas cards. ACLU thugs were dragging people out of their cars in the church parking lot, beating them with yuletide logs, and then forcing them into gay marriages. OH, THE HUMANITY!

Well, as it turns out, Bill was talking out of his ass. When it came time to offer up evidence of this vast, liberal conspiracy to do away with Christmas, he discovered that he had nothing. So, in desperation, he pulled out a year-old clip from The Daily Show on Comedy Central. The clip featured Samantha Bee joking that Christmas is "the only religious holiday that's also a federal holiday. That way, Christians can go to their services and everyone else can stay home and reflect on the true meaning of separation of church and state."

Ooh! Take that, Christ child!

So that was it. His entire war on Christmas came down to a bunch of urban legends that had long since been disproved and a six-second clip from 2005. That, in and of itself, was pretty goddamn funny. But the best part, by far, was Jon Stewart's response the following evening:

You know what, it's okay. If Bill O'Reilly needs to have an enemy, needs to feel persecuted, you know what? Here's my Kwanzaa gift to him. Are you ready? All right. I'm your enemy. Make me your enemy. I, Jon Stewart, hate Christmas, Christians, Jews, morality, and I will not rest until every year families gather to spend December 25th together at Osama's Homo-Abortion Pot and Commie Jizzporium.

Have a happy Hanukwanzaramadolsticemas, everybody!!!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hell is for Help Desk, Part 2

Back in 1990, when I was still in college, I worked in the Electronics Department of Sam's Club. In addition to hawking personal computers, TVs, VCRs, camcorders, etc., I was responsible for providing technical support.

So one day, while I was enjoying my nice, relaxing 20 minute lunch break*, I heard the call on the PA: "Hardlines, customer needs technical assistance on Line 2. Customer needs technical assistance on Line 2." So I wolfed down the rest of my Twinkie and picked up the call.

The customer in question was a woman who was, I'm guessing, roughly the same age as moveable type. The following is the conversation I had with her, verbatim. (Or at least as verbatim as I can recall 17 years after the fact.)

Me: This is Chris. How can I help you?
Her: Chris, my son bought me a VCR for my birthday last week and he set it up to record my stories.
Me: Uh huh...
Her: But somebody took the tape out of it yesterday, and now I'm afraid it's going to turn on when my stories start and break because there's not a tape in it.
Me: Oh, that won't happen. It may flash a message telling you to insert a tape, but it won't break the VCR.
Her: Well, I don't want it to try and record without a tape.
Me: It won't. It's smart enough to know there's no tape.
Her: I just want to stop it from recording.
Me: Okay. Easiest thing to do is just make sure the VCR is turned on. It won't do any automatic recording if you have it turned on.
Her: But can't I just go in and delete all that stuff he put in there?
Me: Sure. I can walk you through that.
Her: Good. I just hate for it get broken. I just got it last week.
Me: Right. Okay, first thing you need to do is press the Menu button on your remote.
Her: Menu button?
Me: Yes. Should be in the upper left corner of the remote, near the power button.
Her: Okay.
Me: Okay, that should bring up a menu on your TV screen. You see it?
Her: Yes.
Me: Okay, now press the menu button again until you've highlighted Program Review.
Her: Okay.
Me: Now, press Select.
Her: Okay.
Me: Okay, you should now see a list of all the stuff your VCR is recording. Do you see it?
Her: What?
Me: You should see a list of dates and times. That's what your son entered to tell the VCR to record your shows.
Her: I don't see it.
Me: Okay, what do you see?
Her: Just the TV. The news is on.
Me: Okay, let's try it again. Press the Menu button.
Her: Okay.
Me: Okay, do you see the menu on your TV screen?
Her: Yes.
Me: Okay, press the Menu button until you've highlighted Program Review.
Her: Program Review?
Me: Right. Second item on the list. Once you've got it highlighted, press Select.
Her: Okay.
Me: Good. Now, do you see a list of programs?
Her: Um, yes?
Me: Okay, press the Cancel button. Should be close to the Select button.
Her: Okay.
Me: Now you should see a message telling you to press Cancel again to delete the selected program.
Her: What?
Me: Do you see a message that says "Press Cancel again to delete the selected program?"
Her: No.
Me: Do you see anything at all?
Her: Just the TV. The news is still on.
Me: Okay, let's try again. Your TV is on, right?
Her: Yes. The news is on.
Me: And your VCR is on?
Her: I think so. How can I tell?
Me: The numbers on the front are brighter when it's on.
Her: Hang on... yes, it's on.
Me: And the VCR is connected to the TV?
Her: Yes.
Me: All right. Let's give it another try. Press the Menu button and it should bring up a menu on your TV screen.
Her: Okay.
Me: Is there a menu on your TV screen right now?
Her: No.
Me: Anything on your screen besides the news?
Her: It's a commercial right now.
Me: Anything besides that?
Her: No.
Me: Let's make sure you're pressing the right button. It's the Menu button, in the upper left corner of your remote, just under the red power button.
Her: What?
Me: The button that's labeled Menu. It's in the upper left corner of your remote, just under the red button.
Her: The remote?
Me: Yes.
Her: Hang on. Let me go get it.

To this day, I still have no idea what the hell she'd been mashing for the past 20 minutes, or what she was looking at when she told me she could see the menu. When she finally came back with the remote, we tried once again to delete the programs, but by this point I had given up any hope of actually succeeding. After our fifth or sixth attempt, I finally moved on to Plan B. I had her unplug her VCR and told her to leave it unplugged for four hours (well past the end of my shift). I told her when she plugged it back in, the programs should be gone. And if she needed help setting the clock, she could call back and *somebody* would walk her through it.

*The management style at Sam's Club was passive-aggressive, to say the least. My manager would constantly chide me for the number of customers who went unhelped when I was at lunch or on my break. So I'd ask him if he wanted me to skip my breaks, and he'd say that wasn't allowed and that I should always clock out. In effect, what he wanted me to do was clock out, but remain on the floor and keep on working. My manager sucked and I hope he's dead now.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fighting the Urge to Glurge...

I'm much more comfortable posting about religion or politics. With those things, I can be all jaded and world-weary, and sometimes I even buy into my own affected air of moral superiority. But when it comes to affairs of the heart, I just can't stay cynical. I guess I'm just a romantic. Or, as it's known in the industry, a "big ol' girl's blouse."

So several people have asked what's going on with me and Stephanie. And my first inclination is to compose a snarky, silly post to make light of the question. But I can't. The fact is, Stephanie and I are back together now. We're very happy and things are going really well.

I don't want to get into that whole can of worms about who was right and who was wrong, so let me just say that Stephanie was as miserable as I was after we broke up. We talked. Explanations were attempted on both parts. Tears were shed and teeth were gnashed. Regrets were expressed. Apologies were made. Tentative promises were exchanged.

And now, we're back together. We're taking it slowly, but this time we're both on board with being in a loving, committed relationship. We love each other and we make each other happy. And this time, I believe we both really want things to work.

There! You see? I got through the entire post without referring to her as a "schmoopy muffin basket full of kittens and rainbow kisses." I'm getting better!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Gay Nineties

You know, the Victorians really get a bad rap. Everybody thinks they were a bunch of sexually repressed prudes who were ashamed to admit that even their furniture had legs. But I was an English major, and I read my share of Victorian literature. And I'm here to tell you that these were some of the filthiest perverts to ever put pen to paper. Don't believe me? Here are a few actual quotes from books that YOUR CHILDREN MAY BE READING IN SCHOOL AT THIS VERY MINUTE!

"No, indeed," returned his daughter. "We are all pretty gay here, thank Heaven! Ain't we, father?"
     David Copperfield, Charles Dickens

"Very sorry to knock you up, Watson," said he, "but it's the common lot this morning. Mrs. Hudson has been knocked up, she retorted upon me, and I on you."
     The Adventure of the Speckled Band, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Hansel and Gretel gathered faggots together, as high as a little hill.
     Grimm's Fairy Tales, The Brothers Grimm

Well, well, well! Stubb knows him best of all, and Stubb always says he's queer; says nothing but that one sufficient little word queer; he's queer, says Stubb; he's queer -- queer, queer; and keeps dinning it into Mr. Starbuck all the time -- queer, Sir -- queer, queer, very queer. And here's his leg!
     Moby Dick, Herman Melville

His landlady came to the door, loosely wrapped in dressing gown and shawl; her husband followed ejaculating.
     The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells

Disgusting! Yet oddly titilating...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

BAAAAA Humbug!

So I ventured into a Baptist church on Saturday night.


You see, my mom belongs to a senior citizens choir called the Jesus Geezers or the Geriaptists or the Goldeneers or something, and they did their massive Christmas extravaganza this weekend. And say what you will about the Baptists, they put on one hell of a Christmas show!

Mom even got a solo when they did this little novelty number about fruitcake. She sang about using it as a doorstop or giving it to her kids as punishment when they're late for something. The crowd loved it. They ovated. Seriously.

But my favorite part was probably the Living Nativity they did during Act III. After two acts of jolly, happy (and surprisingly secular) Christmas carols, things got kind of serious. A spotlight fell on the Virgin Mary, who was kneeling before the angelic host. And the angel spoke to her with an accent oddly reminiscent of them Duke boys: "Feeyer not, Mayery, for thayou hast fayound faeevor with Gawd."

And so Mary and Joseph made their way to the elaborate manger set. And as the choir reverently sang "Silent Night," the wise men and the shepherds came to pay their respects. And to add an air of authenticity to the proceedings, the shepherds had real sheep with them.

I guess they didn't have the sheep with them during rehearsal. Either that, or the sheep were uncharacteristically spooked by the crowd. But the sheep began bleating. Loudly. And incessantly. The choir pressed on, troopers that they are.


Despite the majesty and the pageantry, the crowd began snickering. Finally, the director (you could tell he was the director because he was wearing one of those Madonna headsets) came bolting up the aisle and had the shepherds take their sheep outside. The shepherds went out separate doors and the sheep, apparently afraid they would never see each other again, began BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAing desperately back and forth, totally drowning out the choir and the giggling audience. Finally, the shepherds got them out the doors, which slammed shut, and we listened to the muffled cries of the sheep as they were led through the foyer and out the front door.

(Just a quick coda to an already gripping narrative... When he was introducing the Living Nativity, the emcee invited everyone to "sit back, relax, and enjoy the Christmas story." At this point, my nine-year-old nephew Christopher mimicked holding a BB gun and whispered to me, "You'll shoot your eye out, kid."

I'm so proud. He really does take after his uncle...)

Friday, December 07, 2007

Do You Meme What I Meme?

Ah, Christmas. That magical time of year when we celebrate the day that Santa rescued the Baby Jesus from the Grinch by pelting him with fruitcake. I think. Anyway, this is another one of those meme things, which is always another excuse to inflict my answers on a bunch of hapless readers who have, frankly, never done me any harm.

1. Eggnog or Hot Chocolate?
Hot Chocolate. Stephanie makes something she calls Rococoa, which is hot chocolate mixed with Kahlua, Bailey's, and I think maybe heroin.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?
For some reason, Santa always wrapped presents with the same paper my mom used. I used to think it was just a coincidence, but since I've grown older and wiser, I've come to realize that cheap bastard Santa was stealing wrapping paper from my mom.

3. Colored lights on the tree/house or white?
I refuse to answer this question because it endorses segregation.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?

5. When do you put your decorations up?
You don't have to put them up if you never take them down...

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?
Spicy Cajun reindeer tacos. Mmmmmmm!

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child?
Okay, true story. My grandfather had a really bad stutter, and sometimes the only way he could break out of it was by swearing. His swear word of choice was "goddamn," but he always pronounced it "hoddamn." So when I was 5 and my sister Sunny was 4, we were visiting my Dad. The phone rang, and my Dad answered it. He got all excited and he told me and Sunny that it was for us. So I grabbed the phone in the living room and Dad handed the kitchen phone to Sunny. We heard this loud, booming voice on the line saying, "Ho Ho H-h-h-h-hoddamn-ho! This is San-san-san-hoddamn-santa Claus!" Dad asked us who it was and my sister said, without batting an eye, "It's Papaw."

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
I figured out he was gay a long time ago. I mean, anyone who wears red fur and hangs out with all those elves has got to be... oh, wait. You're talking about something else.

9. Do you open gifts on Christmas Eve?
I'm constantly visiting members of my extended family, so we open gifts on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and sometimes as late as New Year's Eve. For us, Christmas is a lot like Hanukkah, only with better presents.

10. What kind of cookies does Santa get set out for him?
I figure Santa's probably sick of cookies by the time he reaches our hemisphere, so I usually leave him beer and french fries.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it?
I love it from the comfort of my apartment.

12. Can you ice skate?
God, no!

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
I really loved me some Micronauts when I was a kid. They were these little toy robots that came apart, and you could combine them with others to make bigger robots, tanks, and stuff like that. They took them off the market when some genius kids shot the little plastic missile into their mouths and choked to death. I always say, there's nothing cooler than a toy with a body count!

14. What's the most important thing about the holidays for you?
If you arrange your vacation days just right, WOOHOO! ELEVEN DAY WEEKEND!

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?
You know those Little Debbie snack cakes that are shaped like Christmas trees? I like those.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
For some reason, my family (which is full of staunch, proper Baptists) has started a tradition of playing Bunko (a dice game) and Keno (a card/bingo game) on Christmas and Easter. Which means we now officially celebrate the two holiest days by playing games of chance. Huh.

17. What tops your tree?
It used to be a bobble-headed Elvis, but that got broken a couple of years ago.

18. What do you prefer... giving or receiving?
Receiving, definitely. I realize that makes me a shallow person, but I've always felt that it's okay to be shallow as long as you're insightful about it.

19. What is your favorite Christmas carol?
I really like the Cold Meiser/Heat Meiser songs from the old Year Without a Santa Claus special, but I'm partial to anything that doesn't involve chipmunks, figgy pudding, or Grandma getting run over by a reindeer. Oh, and I really, really, REALLY hate the song "Jingle Bell Rock." But more on that later...

20. Candy canes... yuck or yum?
I am oddly ambivalent towards candy canes. Does anyone really need that much peppermint?

21. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?
Yes. My brother-in-law and I have been giving each other the same Brut aftershave kit for about eight years now.

22. Favorite Christmas movie?
I've got to go with A Christmas Story. "You'll shoot your eye out, kid!"

23. Do you have a nativity scene?
No, but I once built a dinosaur by gluing together a bunch of Baby Jesuses (Jesii?) and called it Jesusaurus Rex.

24. What's the most annoying thing about this time of year?
That evil abomination of Christmas carols that IS "Jingle Bell Rock." Leaving aside the insipid lyrics and the fact that it has been covered by every hack from Hilary Duff to Hall & Oates, my main problem is with the title. There is absolutely nothing "rock" about this song, okay? It is as far from "rock" as any song could possibly be. The light leaving "rock" will not reach this song for millions of years.

Whew. Thanks for listening. As always, you've been very therapeutic.

Have a happy Hanukwanzaramadolsticemas, everybody!!!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

On the First Day of Hanukkah, My Gelibte Gave to Me...

I was raised Southern Baptist in the reddest of red states, so I actually know very little about Hanukkah (or Hannukah or Chanukah or Chaka Khan). Back in the early 90s, I worked with a girl named Elizabeth who was Jewish (although she brought this up while eating a bacon-cheeseburger, so I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that she wasn't strictly orthodox). Anyway, Elizabeth used to get annoyed by the fact that Christmas was the 500-pound gorilla of December holidays, and Hanukkah always seemed to place a distant second (or third, if you count New Year's Eve). There were no dogs barking "The Dreidel Song", no Barbara Streisand Hanukkah albums, and no Charlie Brown Hanukkah specials. Stores were putting up their Christmas decorations in October, but nobody was offering any special Festival of Lights savings.

(To quote Lewis Black, "How many shopping days do you Christians need? When I was a kid, Halloween was Halloween, and Santa wasn't sticking his fat ass into it!")

Ironically, when I asked Elizabeth what Hanukkah was a celebration of, she was a bit hazy on the details. "Something about the Maccabees and some oil that burned for eight nights," was all she could remember. Fortunately, I happened to stumble across a holiday special that answered most of my questions.

Airing at 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon on one of the local Dallas stations, the Hanukkah special opened with a group of kids playing baseball in what was obviously a soundstage designed to look like a vacant lot. I swear, this thing had the production values of a Sid and Marty Krofft show.

Anyway, one of the kids informed his friends that he needed to knock off and go home because his family was going to begin their Hanukkah celebration that evening. The rest of the kids were puzzled by his strange and exotic ways. They gathered around him in earnest fascination and asked him, "What is this thing that you call 'Hanukkah'?"

Well, before the young man could educate his goyim friends, a voice from off screen announced, "I believe I can answer that." The camera turned dramatically to reveal an older man wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball uniform. And just in case you didn't recognize him, one of the kids exclaimed helpfully, "Wow! It's Jewish pitching legend Sandy Koufax!"

Sandy went on to explain, with the assistance of cartoony drawings, that the Maccabees had defeated the Assyrians in 165 B.C. and driven them out of Judea. However, before they left, the Assyrians had ransacked and desecrated the Holy Temple. After cleaning up the mess, the Maccabees wanted to rededicate the Temple by lighting the Ner Hatamid (or the Holy Light of the Eternal). Unfortunately, the Assyrians had polluted all of the oil vessels except for one. Even though there was only enough oil to last for one day, the Maccabees went ahead and lit the candle anyway. And the oil burned for eight days, giving the priests a chance to make and consecrate some more.

Another story integral to the Hanukkah tale (and one that Sandy didn't even mention) is that of Judith, a pious widow who was said to be the sister of Judas Maccabeaus. Judith was living in the village of Bethulia when it was beseiged by Holofernes and his Assyrian forces. With the water supply cut off, things looked dire for the poor villagers. But Judith had a plan to save Bethulia. She went to the Assyrian camps and surrendered to Holofernes, who was smitten by her beauty. She went back to his tent with him and fed him salty cheese. The cheese made Holofernes so thirsty that he drank copious amounts of wine and fell asleep. And as he snoozed away, Judith took his sword and cut his head off.

Holy shit! Take that, virgin birth and flying reindeer!

And on that note, Happy Hanukkah, everybody!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

You'll Always Be As-Part-A-Me...

People often ask me, "In this capricious and godless universe of endless suffering, how can you possibly find the strength to go on?"

It's a fair question. For much of my life, there has been a gnawing emptiness. I've tried desperately to fill this void with friends, family, religion... but those have all been dead ends.

But now, I have the answer.

After all, any universe in which Cherry Chocolate Diet Dr. Pepper exists must be a universe that loves me.

Actually, I'm not holding out a lot of hope. It seems any time I develop an unhealthy love of a diet soda, it gets yanked off the shelf faster than tainted cat food mixed with lead paint.

I used to love me some goddamn Diet Vanilla Coke. I bought it by the case and drank 5-6 a day. Hell, some nights I would wake up at 2:00 in the morning, get dressed, and drive to 7-Eleven just to satisfy my jones for its creamy aspartame goodness.

So of course, Coca Cola decided to "phase it out" in 2005 so they could replace it with Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke, which was like replacing Sean Connery with George Lazenby.

So I spent the next couple of years wavering back and forth between Black Cherry Vanilla Coke and Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper, which was sort of like choosing which sister you'd rather take to prom, or which Ann Coulter book you'd rather read.

(And don't get me started on that bottled vomit they call Diet Vanilla Pepsi. Hell, I'd rather drink Larry King's bathwater!)

And then, around the middle of 2007, Coca Cola did away with their Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke and replaced it with... Vanilla Coca Cola Zero! I was ecstatic! I was overjoyed! I was happier than Mitt Romney at a flammable lawn cross sale!

Alas, my joy was short lived. I've seen no official statements from Coca Cola on the subject, but Vanilla Coca Cola Zero seems to have mysteriously vanished from the shelves here in Texas. Diet Coke? It's all over the goddamn place. Coke Zero? As ubiquitous in Dallas as cowboy hats and big hair. Diet Cherry Coke? Can't throw a brick without hitting it. Diet Coke with Lime? Stacked from floor to ceiling, laughing at me, mocking my childlike faith in God.

But no Vanilla Coca Cola Zero. Not even any space on the shelf where it *would* be if they had it. It's like there was some kind of Vanilla Coca Cola Zero Rapture. Or Great Snatch, if you will...

But at least I have my Cherry Chocolate Diet Dr. Pepper to keep me warm, to whisper tenderly in my ear when I get lonely, and to gently kiss my tears away...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Apocalypse... Ow!

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by the Book of Revelation. For the benefit of any readers who may be godless and/or hellbound, Revelation (sometimes called The Revelation of John, or Revelations by people who can't read) is the last book of the New Testament. It was written by an early Christian named John who had been exiled to the island of Patmos. (Some folks think this was the same John who was an apostle to Jesus, while others insist they were two separate people.)

Anyway, while John was doing hard time on Patmos, he received a couple of visions. The first was simply the "Son of man" asking John to deliver messages of warning and/or hope to the seven church of Asia. And had he stopped there, we might have been spared a bunch of really horrible books by Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye.

But John went on to have a second vision that was, not to put too fine a point on it, batshit crazy. Even if you've never cracked a Bible in your life, you've no doubt come into contact with some of these bizarre prophecies, such as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse (Plague, Famine, War, and Death), or the Mark of the Beast ("six hundred, three-score, and six," or 666).

John basically prophesied that a Beast with seven horns and ten crowns would rise from the sea and join forces with the Whore of Babylon. Faced with the horrors of plague, famine, war, and death (not to mention all other kinds of weird crap, like locusts with the faces of men and the stings of scorpions), most of the people on Earth would turn from God and begin worshipping the Beast. Then Jesus would come back with His angelic army and throw the Beast into the Abyss.

I was ten years old when I first heard about this! After all those years of listening to stories about Daniel in the lions' den and Noah's ark and how Jesus was knocking on my heart so I could let Him in, I was amazed to find out there was something this cool in the Bible! I mean, holy shit!

(They didn't actually teach the Book of Revelation in Sunday School when I was that age. I heard about it from one of the teachers, who casually mentioned that there was a book in the Bible that "told the future." When I first tried to read Revelation, I was actually just skimming through to see if I recognized anybody's name. But I digress...)

Back in the 1970s, there was a hack writer named Hal Lindsey who wrote roughly 4,000,000 books about the prophecies of Revelation. In his most famous, The Late, Great Planet Earth, he claimed to have been divinely inspired by God to explain to everybody just what all the symbolism meant. He claimed that the European Economic Community (the forerunner of the European Union) would become a "United States of Europe," with ten members (represented by the Beast's ten crowns) that would be ruled by the Antichrist (a generic term that has since come to be applied to the Beast). Lindsey claimed that the Soviet Union would be a major player in the final apocalyptic war between Israel and the rest of the Middle East. Lindsey also insisted that all of this would come to pass within a generation of Israel's rebirth (or no later than 1988).

If Lindsey truly was taking dictation from God, he wasn't paying very close attention because very few of his "prophecies" came to pass. The European Union ended up with far more than 10 members, the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, and the 1988 deadline came and went without an apocalypse.

Actually, Lindsey wasn't the first to come up with this particular interpretation of the biblical prophecies. Herbert Armstrong, a freak in his own right, had made very similar predictions in 1956. He predicted that the German dictator of the United States of Europe (the Beast) and the Roman Catholic Pope (the Antichrist) would lead the nuclear attack against Israel in 1975. However, Lindsey was the first to popularize the concept of... THE RAPTURE.

You see, there are two different descriptions of Christ's return in the Bible. One says that He'll return "like a thief in the night" and all the believers will be taken into the air to meet Him. The other says His return will be witnessed by everyone on earth and accompanied by blaring trumpets and singing choirs and hand puppets and stuff. To reconcile these differing accounts, the concept of the Rapture was born. The theory is that before everything turns to shit on Earth, Jesus will come back and take all the believers into Heaven.

Yeah, I know. It seems kind of silly. But, as always, you'd be surprised how reasonable it all sounds when you've had your head held underwater for four minutes.

So anyway, thanks to Lindsey, churches all over the country (or at least in the red states) began considering the Rapture as canon. The Late, Great Planet Earth became required reading for all Southern Baptists. In fact, I'm pretty sure many of them simply stapled it to the back of their Bibles.

(Lindsey actually defined the Rapture as a time when Jesus would snatch all the believers into Heaven to be with Him. Because of this, he often referred to the Rapture as "the Great Snatch." I swear, I'm not making this up. Over and over again in The Late, Great Planet Earth, he refers to the Great Snatch. The preacher at my church adopted the same nickname and was using it as late as 1985. I remember sitting in the congregation and snickering when he would ask us, in all sincerity, "Will you be ready for the Great Snatch?" But again, I digress...)

By the time I was 12 or 13, I had a head full of this stuff. I had read The Late, Great Planet Earth and There's a New World Coming (Lindsey's follow-up, where he goes through Revelation verse by verse and explains what it means). I had read several Jack Chick tracts that not only vilified the Catholic Church as an instrument of the Antichrist, but offered up totally bitchin' pictures like this one...

I also remember a movie that they showed us at some youth function about that time. It was called "A Distant Thunder," and it was about a girl who was living in the world after the Rapture. There's this really horrifying moment when she's betrayed by her friend (who has the Mark of the Beast on her hand) and handed over to the world government (which was the United Nations, if I remember correctly). The movie ends with her being taken into a room with a guillotine. I swear, that fucking movie gave me nightmares for a week!

(I don't know what the obsession is with guillotines in all these things, but that seems to be the de facto means of execution. Apparently the Antichrist has some kind of severed head fetish. But once again, I digress...)

It didn't occur to me that these were all simply interpretations of Revelation. I accepted it all as the literal, gospel truth. I just assumed it was a tenet of Christianity, and doubting any of it would be just as bad as doubting the stories of Jesus or Adam and Eve or that one where Balaam's ass(!) spoke to him. In fact, when I was in the 8th grade, I remember getting into a heated discussion with my friend Neal (who is now a pastor for the Church of Christ). Neal tried to convince me that Revelation was a symbolic fable, which just flew in the face of everything I'd come to believe. I was astonished by his blasphemy, and became worried that one of my friends wasn't going to make it into Heaven when the Great Snatch occurred.

It wasn't until I got to college (in 1985) that I learned the truth. There were several different interpretations of Revelation amongst Christians, and mine wasn't even the most popular!

I had been taught the pre-millennial dispensationalist point of view. Basically, these guys believe that the Book of Revelation is a prophecy of the end times. At some point, Jesus will come back and Rapture the believers into the air. Then, a seven year Tribulation will begin in which those left behind will be subjected to plague, earthquakes, famine, demon locusts, etc. The Beast will rise to power, issue his Mark, and declare himself God. Then Jesus will return yet again to kick the Beast's ass into the Abyss. There will be a thousand years of peace on Earth known as the Millennium. Then the Beast will be released for a short time to try and tempt as many people as he can. Finally, God will sit in judgement on all of mankind. The Beast and his followers will be cast into Hell, and the rest will be taken into Heaven for eternity.

This particular point of view became somewhat mainstream during the 1970s, and was further popularized by Tim LaHaye's godawful Left Behind series in the 1990s. This is also the belief held by George W. Bush, which is why so many people got nervous when he began declaring war on nations at random in the Middle East, referring to the conflicts as "crusades" and "God's work."

Another point of view is post-millennial, which was quite popular prior to World War I. I'm not very familiar with this one, but my understanding of it is that, at some point in time, God started counting the Millennium. Over the course of the next thousand years, life would get gradually better and better until we finally achieved Heaven on Earth. But World War I disillusioned a lot of people, who realized the world was getting worse, not better. There are still some adherents, but they're definitely in the minority these days.

The most prevalent point of view among Christians these days seems to be amillennialism. The amillennialists believe that the imagery in Revelation is symbolic, and that most of John's prophecies have already come to pass. They believe that the Beast was a veiled reference to the Roman Empire, and that John's missive was written to encourage early Christians and give them hope in the face of their persecution. It all sounds quite reasonable, actually. I wish somebody had fucking mentioned it to me when I was 10!

(Okay, last digression. Back in 1990, I was having a discussion with one of my fraternity brothers who was decidedly pre-millennial. I remember him explaining things to me:

The world is only going to exist for 7,000 years total (because that's a nice, round number that has a 7 in it, and everybody knows God is all about numerology). Since the world was created in 4000 B.C. (somebody did the questionable math long ago), that means it's going to end in the year 3000. Which means the Millennium has to begin in the year 2000. Which means the seven year Tribulation and the rise of the Antichrist will begin in 1993. Which means (if you're still with me) that whoever gets elected in 1992 will probably be the Antichrist.

Which I guess could be the *real* reason that Clinton was so unpopular in the red states.)