Friday, April 29, 2011

Anthropomorphic Undersea Contraceptives, and other Bad Fashion Choices

I actually bought this...
Yes, the above is a Sponge Bob Square Pants t-shirt. I’m not sure what inspired this purchase. Amazingly, alcohol was not involved. Don’t get me wrong – I like Sponge Bob as much as the next person. Just not quite enough to walk around with him winking on my chest.
If you’re not familiar with the show, the titular Bob is a sea sponge who lives in the subaquatic town of Bikini Bottom. His best friend is Patrick, who, as far as I can tell, is some sort of underwater condom. Diane the Diaphram, Denny the Dental Dam, and various other anthropomorphic contraceptives pal around with the pants-wearing sponge.

Patrick the Prophylactic
I've never actually worn the shirt in question, which I got at a thrift store. Wearing this in public seemed like it would be the final nail in the coffin of my sartorial devolution since moving to Seattle. (OMG, you guys! I want to start a band and call it “My Sartorial Devolution.” Why, oh, why was I cursed with zero musical talent?!)

While living in Paris or New York, I wouldn’t have left the house without “puttin’ on the dog,” as my mother from South Carolina would say, For those of you who don’t speak Southern, that means “getting all gussied up.” Nowadays, I rarely even put on the cat. Seattleites (Seattlians?) don’t do a whole lot of gussying up. In my neighborhood (Capitol Hill), if you see a woman all decked out in a fancy dress, it’s a safe bet that she also has a penis. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but as a result, nearby shoe sellers only carry pumps in Size 11 and above. Sigh.

About a year ago, I went through a phase of “going native,” clothing-wise. Lacking a day job that would require me to dress like I wasn’t asleep, I just wore jeans and t-shirts all the time. After a while, the gender-neutral clothes started to make feel antsy. Miserable, really. So much so that the experience left me feeling a kinship with male cross-dressers. I, too, was seized with an uncontrollable urge to put on lots of makeup and high heels. Almost like a fetish. Yes, my friends -- I wanted to dress in drag.
The uber-girly part of me will never be able to wear a Sponge Bob t-shirt in public. Which brings us back to the question of why I bought it in the first place.
Which brings us to the next contestant on The Shirt Is Wrong…
Oh, where to begin?
This shirt I bought in a space-themed boutique that (huge shock) no longer exists. It was the kind of store that sold things like gilded fake deer heads, and various trendy novelty items. Lots of artsy wallets and tote bags with poodles on them. Oddly, they couldn’t make a go of it in the economic downturn, when the global Ironic Poodle Wallet markets were collapsing.
The above is one of those “vintage hybrid” abominations you sometimes find in places like Seattle or Portland. Here’s how it works. You start with a bong “vintage” (read: old, polyester) shirt you find in a dumpster thrift store. Then, you take some bric-a-brac from in another dumpster vintage boutique. After doing about 20 bong rips, you decide to sew little pieces of fabric onto the original, crappy shirt. A blindfold is optional.
And yes, that is white plastic mesh at the base of the… flower-thingy? The kind of mesh you would use in fishing, or industrial flower-sifting. You could sit around wondering why, but, trust me, it’ll just make your head hurt.
This top (blouse?) is blousy and unflattering, and made of synthetic fibers. It looks like a Lawn & Leaf bag. And I hate the shade of brown.

I wish I could say that the only reason I bought it was because I felt bad for the guy who ran the place. He was really nice, and clearly loved selling poodle wallets. At the time, I walked past the place every day, and it was apparent that business was not booming.
But my reasons weren’t entirely altruistic. Some part of me actually liked this, if only at the time of purchase.
I blame Molly Ringwald.
Like many people who were young, impressionable kids during the 80s, I received permanent brain damage from watching too many Molly Ringwald movies, which were in a near-constant loop on virtually all cable channels. In the universe inhabited by her endlessly plucky, adorable characters, crap like this would’ve actually looked good. Or at least, it would’ve become a symbol of her third-act redemption.
F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that there are no second acts in American lives. Alas, the same is true for “vintage hybrid” tops, which, despite their best hopes, hold no promise of redemption.
Tune in next time for the finale bel grande of the Museum of Bad Fashion Choices! Little Plaid Riding Hood, Darth Maul meets Grace Jones, a highly flammable polyester leopard-print dress, and… well, that’s pretty much it.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Museum of Bad Fashion Choices: Part 1

It’s spring (not that you would know it in Seattle), and I’m cleaning out my closets. This may end up requiring a forklift.
Each year, I have a ritual of purging the clothes that have come into my closets, but haven’t once left. You know, the “what was I thinking when I bought that?” outfits.  At this point, I have a pretty impressive collection.

In New York, I was much more ruthless about getting rid of unloved clothing. This is because what little closet space I had was usually taken up by things like the kitchen, and/or the living room.

Moving to Seattle meant, for the first time in my adult life, having on-site storage space. We have a basement, and even something called a “mud room” (a.k.a. “cat litter & overflow green lamé stack heels room”). The only downside to having more room is that it’s easy to let stuff accumulate. Storage spaces become little museums of bad fashion choices -- full of things that seemed like a good idea at the time. Items that will experience the ultimate fashion defeat: they will be given away with the tags still on them.

Like many women, I can justify most clothing purchases, however thoroughly and utterly impractical. While shopping, my mind leaps to elaborate scenarios where that gold-sequined wrap skort would really come in handy. At a semi-formal job interview on a beach, for instance!! Really, getting that dream job could depend on it. I can’t afford NOT to buy that skort! Or those “urban riding chaps,” or the toeless snow boots, or those size-2 hot pink leather pants with a fringe (you know, in case I ever got the ebola virus and thus became a size 2, AND urgently needed to go to a rodeo).

To paraphrase Barak Obama, I shop my hopes, not my fears. No matter how profoundly irrational or ill-advised those hopes may be. Below is a case in point
The New Toilet Paper Chic ...
Yep, this is supposed to be a dress. I bought it at a boutique that sells vintage clothing and new designs from “up and coming” (code word for “high”) designers. Had I been intoxicated, this purchase might’ve made sense. But I’ve never once, in my entire life, gone shopping while under the influence. Come to think of it, maybe I should try shopping while blind drunk. I’d probably end up with a closet full of very practical separates from Ann Taylor.
As for the sober, and sobering, clothing selection above… First, the “skirt” is entirely see-through. And gathered, just to make it extra unflattering. And the top? Wool knit. Just to make sure it’s uncomfortable in all four seasons…
But most amazingly, you’ll notice how the front and back has random scraps of fabric haphazardly sewn in, perhaps as an afterthought? It was probably supposed to be “whimsical” (whatever that means), but instead it just looks like I have toilet paper stuck in my skirt. Sex-y, baby!  I bought it thinking I could wear a pair of yellow tights underneath. Because who doesn’t want to look like Big Bird in drag??  
Just a few weeks ago, I was dangerously close to wearing this dress to a party. One that was being held in public. Yes, while wearing yellow tights. (Oh, the humanity!) Fortunately, a friend just happened to stop by right before I left the house dressed like a Muppet with faux toilet paper sticking out of my semi-invisible skirt.

“So, tell me the truth,” I spun around for my unsuspecting, and increasingly uncomfortable-looking friend. “Do I look retarded, or … just slightly retarded?” 
Unsuspecting Friend was quiet for a second, before finding a hopeful expression.
“Is it a costume party?”
It wasn’t. Even if it had been, what would I have been dressed as? Some lady who gets drunk before going shopping??
But still, I have hope for this dress. It’s not practical or flattering, or even tolerably comfortable. It doesn’t even achieve the most basic goal of what we loosely call “clothing.” But I feel like I should get my money’s worth. Maybe if I went to Burning Man someday, I could wear this while riding around the desert on a unicycle? That’s basically Business Casual out there, isn’t it??

Not that I know how to unicycle, or enjoy desert heat. But, hey. Let’s not over-think it.
Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the Museum of Bad Fashion Choices, Part 2, Guest Starring Sponge Bob Square Pants, Grace Jones, and Darth Maul!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

New & Improved *Ultra Concentrated* Blog!

So, getting back to the point of the past two posts that never to the point, I've swallowed the Kool-Aid. Follow me on Twitter!  @tweetmarguerite

It's just like a blog, only ... less words! Like Ultra Concentrated dish soap. I can't guarantee that anything I say will be interesting, but I can guarantee that it will be brief.
Placing a collect call to Melmac ...
I'm hoping to offset the very unfortunate closing of the SETI Institute, which for years has sent out, and sought out, radio signals that attempt to connect with other intelligent life forms. Sadly, if aliens are out there, they seem to be screening their calls. So far, nobody's picked up on the algorithms and coded messages we've been sending out into space.

Probably because the mesages are bor-ing! 
And using radio signals?? You'd might as well try to contact the aliens on Friendster. Or MySpace.

Get with the program, Scientists. The aliens have moved on to Twitter. Why not send a billion little messages into the abyss, each 140 characers? Then, bide your time waiting for a response that will  probably never come because there's nobody out there in the first place...

It'll be almost like having a blog.

Monday, April 25, 2011

If brevity is the soul of wit, is rambling the R&B?

To follow up on yesterday’s post on brevity … I never got to the point.

You see, it was merely the preamble to an ironically lengthy discussion of Twitter. As recently as a month ago, I could be quoted as saying that I would rather eat my own kidney than go on Twitter. Now, I’m eating my kidney words.
Originally, Twitter just seemed like the intersection of too much and too little information. I imagined a series of messages along the lines of, ““OMG, just cut off hand! Blood everywhere. Calling 911 LOL.”  Finally, it occurred to me that this is just my problem, rather than a problem with Twitter (that, or I have Electronic Stockholm Syndrome).

Perhaps due to being dropped on my head as a baby, my brain can’t contain very much information. If I know what kind of salad Kim Kardashian had for lunch, some other brain synapse is going to loose its seat on the bus. If I lost the memory of, say, that awful perm I had in the eighth grade, that would be fine. But I worry that it would be something useful, perhaps involving the respiratory system.

I once heard someone say that each Tweet is “like a haiku” ("OMG, you guys/I just did a Jell-o shot!/Gonna throw up now."). And a Facebook post is like a sonnet, man. Pass the bong, dude!
In the spirit of things, I’ll truncate the lengthy diatribe about the fragmented nature of contemporary discourse. But the question remains – is the Internet making us stupider, or smarter?  
Does a surfeit of information about Mariah Carey’s bicoastal diaper service clog up our brains, or does it make them bigger? Maybe brains are like stomachs, and they just expand the more you consume? Or maybe we’ll all end up needing to get our brains stapled? 
If I read one more tweet from Mariah Carey, I just might.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Turtle Who Wouldn't Shut Up

There’s something to be said for brevity. In fact, I could go on at great length about it.
But I won’t.
Being succinct has never been my strong suit. It’s an inherited trait. I’m pretty sure the Kennedy family motto, in old Gaelic, was “Never Shut Up.” (Of course, some scholars suggest the “shut” might’ve been a mistranslation of “sober.” Either way.)
Thinking about not shutting up reminds me of "The Talkative Turtle," an utterly terrifying story I heard as a small child. Apparently, there are about a zillion different versions of this story in the folklore of countries from Greece to India to various parts of East Asia. In some versions, the turtle is a frog, or a lizard, or one of the women from The View.
From a Malaysian version, where the turtle is a frog.
Here’s the version I remember… A turtle saw all his bird friends going south for the winter. He wanted to go, too, but his status as a non-bird posed a problem. Finally, two of his home-birds got sick of hearing about it, and they devised a plan. Each bird would hold one end of a stick while flying south, and the garrulous turtle would have to hold on with its mouth. This meant he couldn’t talk the entire time.

Everything was going well, until some kids down below started making fun of the turtle. He thought of a really good burn, and just HAD to say something to those little bastards. So he opened his mouth and ……
I wish someone would try this with Rush Limbaugh.
As a kid, this story scared the living crap out of me. Other logistical and practical problems aside, I knew that neither I, nor anyone in my family, would survive a flight to Cuba without saying a word.

The moral of the story, of course, is “people are their own worst enemies.” Somehow, I totally missed the point. I just thought the moral was not to fly south while holding on to a stick with your mouth.
On the upside, it worked. I never attempted to do that. Not even once.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Corporate Swag for Bears: Creating Jobs Today for Anthropologists of the Future

I get the most random online ads. Lately, I’ve been getting ads for Power Chairs, Weight Watchers, and the "Kim Kardashian Collection" of what appear to be flammable outfits for hookers.  
Supposedly, these ads are generated by series of elaborate data matrixes. Programs called ‘bots’ gather information from our emails, Facebook posts, and/or the dreams and nightmares that we’ve forgotten by the time we woke up. Based on this data, marketers are able to form a rough composite of your soul buying habits.
In my case, Our Electronic Overlords seem to have formed the image of a saucy 900-pound grandma in a glittery halter top from Bebe, tooling around on a Rascal. (If I weren’t from Florida, this image wouldn’t leap to mind with such disturbing ease.)
Today, one of the best, and most random ads ever: from the Embassy Suites hotel chain, touting their “Build-a-Bear® Explorer Package.”  I had to click.
From what I can tell, they give you a bunch of Embassy Suites™ swag for your kid’s (not included) Build-a-Bear® teddy.

Your kid’s bear will be the envy of all the other Build-a-Bears in the subdivision with its beige polyester Embassy Suites™ vest! The bear can pretend to be a valet parking attendant! Sure, your bear once hoped to dress up like a doctor or scientist or even a cowboy. But, hey, times are hard. At least he has a job.
Included in the package is “an Explorer hat, vest, pants, binoculars, canteen, and butterfly catcher,” each embossed with the Embassy Suites logo. You know, in case you & your bear want to go on a nature safari in the parking lot outside the Embassy Suites in Des Moines while Dad’s at that dentists’ convention.
More hotels should jump on the bandwagon with teddy bear swag. I’m imagining the “La Quinta Inn off I-95 Build-a-Bear Package”… It would include a little pair of ripped fishnet stockings, a fake condom (possibly the repackaged Embassy Suites “butterfly net” – look at that thing…), and a bear-sized halter top from the Kim Kardashian collection. You see, this bear is a hotel Parking Lot Explorer of an entirely different sort, as he or she had to become a hooker sex worker to support a crystal meth habit an elderly uncle.
The whole thing with corporate swag is just going too far. It used to be that companies would give out a pen or a notepad with their logo on it, but now it seems companies will slap a corporate brand on just about anything. Nobody ever wants or uses that slightly-defective Novelty Flying Disc given out by the sewage treatment company, or those Halliburton stress balls they give out at World Domination conventions.
This, along with all the plastic crap in the As Seen On TV aisle at Walgreens, is why the earth is dying. Why don’t they just minimize the damage, and put corporate logos on the EZ Egg Cracker (per previous post) or the fat-burning weight loss belt?
The only consolation for me is that in 10,000 years, anthropologists are going to get to write some AWESOME, highly speculative papers about the stuff they mine out of 21st Century landfills. As someone who once studied Classical Archeology (as an English major, I needed something to fall back on…), I feel an affinity with our oh-so-distant descendants sifting through the garbage that defines us. I wish I could be there to watch as they defend their dissertations (e.g.,Ginzu Knives: Transformative Symbols and Non-Local Imaginaries in Mid-Empire America, by Velveeta Chang-Singh).

Maybe, hopefully, they’ll re-imagine our cryptic, undying trash. Maybe they'll interpret our slicer-dicers as relics of ecstatic ceremonial rituals. Instead of seeing all our crap as a harbinger of death, maybe they’ll see these objects as material evidence of how utterly and completely we were alive.
More likely, they’ll just think we were a bunch of idiots. But, then, they’re the ones studying us. So there, distant-future humans! Joke’s on you! We may be dumb, but you’re still not on a tenure track, and probably never will be.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why The Earth is Dying

Today at Walgreens, my life was changed. Finally, someone has invented an EGG CRACKER.

And it’s about time.

For years, I haven’t been able to eat eggs. Like most Americans--or, so we must assume based on the existence of this product--I simply couldn’t figure out how to get the damn things open. Many hours have I spent just staring at a carton of eggs, locked in a battle of wills. Sometimes, craving a Western Omelet, I would weep silently to myself, cursing the eggs and their damned impenetrable shells. It seemed as though each egg was mocking me. Taunting. Beckoning. Like an egg-shaped version of Fermat’s last theorem.
Now the problem is solved, thanks to the EZ Egg Cracker, “the fantastic new tool that makes cracking eggs open a breeze!
There Has to be a Better Way!!
But don’t be greedy with the EZ Egg Cracker; spread the love around. As one website suggests, “If you have a family member who has trouble using their hands for any reason, you’ll want to get them the EZ Egg Cracker as a gift.

Fortunately, your handless relatives can use EZ Egg Cracker with their feet!! It’s that easy.

Besides, nothing says “I love you” like a plastic egg cracker from the As Seen On TV™ section at Walgreens. (I love you, and/or “I forgot to buy your birthday present until I was on the way over, Grandma!”) 
Above: Why The Earth Is Dying...

No, seriously… An EGG CRACKER. I thought I was hallucinating. I don’t watch a lot of TV commercials these days, so maybe this is being touted on every channel. For $19.95, it seems like there must, certainly, be more involved. Maybe it comes with a Slanket?  Maybe it also slices, or dices, or writes poetry? Apparently not.

And you have to wonder what marketing geniuses were hired to think up the catchy name for this project. The EZ Egg Cracker. Seriously. Someone must’ve pulled an all-nighter on that one.  
I can imagine the pitch meeting. A slick Marketing Dude in a room full of housecats executives. He has a Powerpoint. It flashes, “E” then “Z.” (The letters are animated.)
“EZ, as in … easy!”  Marketing Dude beams, pausing for effect. “Get it?? And Egg Cracker, ‘cause it, you know…” His voice trails off.
The product name seems willfully ironic. Am I the only one on earth who thinks that separating an egg yolk is alarmingly easy?? So easy, in fact, that I have to admit that I learned how to do it from watching re-runs of Three’s Company. Sadly, I’m not joking.
I was about eight years old, and my favorite show was Three’s Company, which was enjoying an inexplicably long run in syndication. I knew my parents vaguely disapproved of the show, but not enough to forbid me from watching it. I thought this had something to do with the content, and all the adult jokes I (supposedly) wasn’t getting. Only later did I realize that my parents’ objection wasn’t moral so much as aesthetic. It was a profoundly stupid show, written by and for people who were either under the age of 10, or seriously tweaking on cocaine. (Or, in the case of the young Drew Barrymore, both.) Since my parents were neither of these things, they didn’t see the point of the show.
If you never saw it, Three’s Company was about a guy named Jack who decided to move in with two platonic female friends (a revolutionary idea at the time, if you can imagine), but the landlord didn’t want any “funny business.” The main conflict involved convincing the landlord that Jack was gay, even though … (hold your breath!) …. he wasn’t!
Yup. That went on for years. And years. There was even a spinoff, if I remember correctly.
Anyway. The main character, Jack Tripper, was a chef. And on one episode, Jack had to give a cooking lesson to his boss’s blonde, voluptuous niece. She was forbidden fruit, but she was blonde and had big boobs, so ... For some reason, the cooking class primarily focused on separating eggs. I probably didn’t get all the subtext, but Jack took Buxom Niece’s hands in his, and showed her how to separate the egg. (YES, I can recall that level of detail of this stupid show, but remember next to nothing of the Periodic Table, or even all the multiplication tables, or my mother-in-law’s birthday. Sigh.)
And yet. From Three’s Company, I learned the following Life Lessons: 1) To separate an egg, simply pour the yolk from one half of the shell into the other over a bowl. 2) Blonde, buxom women are inherently more attractive than any other kind. 3) Gay people are just funny.

At least one of these lessons was helpful later in life (the thing about gay people, of course).
The early-to-mid 80s was the High Renaissance for sitcoms with the premise: “X is forced to move in with Y!!  Frequently, this involved men pretending be women/gay/German Shepherds, etc., in order to live in a reasonably priced apartment.

In most cases, the Complicating Factors totally negated any possible cost benefit. Like in Bosom Buddies. Tom Hanks and Some Other Guy had to pretend to be women to live in some women-only apartment building. (Because, you know, that’s the only way anybody can find an apartment.) Fortunately for them, it was a time before driver’s licenses or Social Security numbers, or any of the other things they usually check when you rent a place, but whatever.  Men were strictly forbidden in the building, so the two guys had to dress up like women each and every day. Coming and going.
Think about it. The wigs, clothing, waxing, etc. – how much would this have cost??  Not to mention having to get into full drag every time you wanted to go down to the bodega to buy a bag of chips…Even at age seven, I couldn’t get past the question: Wouldn’t it have been a lot cheaper to just live somewhere else?
But my time watching 80s TV wasn’t entirely in vein. Thanks to Three’s Company, I’ve spent a lot of years successfully cracking a lot of eggs, and separating the yolks. I’m clinging to that. I didn’t waste my childhood watching and memorizing the details of ridiculous TV shows. Right?


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Talking Fish in Bearnaise Sauce

The view from the front yard. "Feels like" 41 degrees. Raining. Hard.
As some of you know, we moved to Seattle because of a talking salmon.  And, no, that’s not some breed of wild salmon, like Coho or King, or anything else you might find tossed around to the delight of tourists at Pike Place Market. I mean an actual talking salmon.  
It was late spring, which is the time of year when smart-alecky objects or animals sometimes come to me in a dream and suggest ways to make my life more interesting and/or difficult. Years before, a talking Volkswagen van told me in a dream to move to Berlin. (I did. It was fun.)
The next time this happened, it was a salmon. And he told me to move to Seattle. We were underwater, the salmon and I. Just chillaxin’. Having a cup of underwater coffee, the way you do with your prophetic home-fish in dreams. Oddly, he sounded a lot like Rodney Dangerfield, and, if memory serves, he had a lot of nonsensical one-liners. Something about an asparagus who walks into a bar with a toaster oven... You'll have to trust me, but it seemed hilarious at the time.

In retrospect, the whole Seattle thing might not have been intended as a revelation. Maybe it was just a punch line? (Much like Germans, dream-fish have a very odd sense of humor.) Still. I didn't care. When I woke up from the dream, my mind was made up. I woke Paul up, and told him the news.
"We have to move to Seattle!" I said.

His eyes remained shut. "Can it wait till after breakfast?"

Earlier that month, we'd found out we were being evicted from our apartment, as the owners had sold the building. We had grown accustomed to living a half a block from Central Park, where we had a “rent stabilized” apartment (i.e., they can only charge a small fortune, instead of a king’s ransom). It was 2007, at the top of the rental market, and everything was expensive. I remember looking at a tiny “one-bedroom” (read: studio w/walk-in closet) apartment on the Upper West Side that was $3,400 a month. It had a dorm-sized refrigerator. I am not joking.  
As much as the dream of the talking salmon, the move to Seattle was prompted by a dream of an adult-sized refrigerator. But not the talking kind.
Seattle is a very lovely place, and there are a lot of good things about living here. However, on days like today, I want to find the talking salmon and serve him up in a nice bearnaise sauce.
It’s cold. Rainy. Gray. The kind of April day when Kurt Cobain offed himself.
“Stupid talking salmon…” Paul mutters. He checks the weather in L.A., where it’s in the 70s and sunny. Shooting me a look, he makes what I call the Marge Simpson Growl.
I think he’s hoping a talking pair of fake boobs will come to me in a dream, and whisper, “Move to Los Angeles…. Move to Los Angeles…”

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kali Meow!

Okay, this is my last post having fun at the expense of the Canadians.

Put first, an apology (in the Socratic sense, and the actual one). As my mom used to say about boys who made fun of girls on the playground, “it’s because they really like you!” 

And I’ll admit. I do have a bit of a nation-crush on Canada. It’s a beautiful country, populated by friendly people with fabulous taste in syrup. I especially love the diversity of the people and terrains. In parts of the country, they even speak an entirely different language, called “Canadian English,” or Englois. They like to baffle American tourists by using strange words like kilometer and Celsius, or spelling center "centre."

The citizens and residents of Modern Canada hail from all corners of the globe. Many come to Canada from countries where they faced oppression, poverty, or being British. In recent years, the country has seen a large influx of people from Asia and South Asia in particular. Regardless of where they come from, immigrants flock to this bastion of freedom, each with the simple dream of opening up a “fusion” restaurant.

I’ve never seen so much fusion food in my LIFE as in Vancouver. Not that I’m knocking it. I enjoy a good Chinese-Persian taco truck as much as the next person. But sometimes, too much fusing of cuisines turns into a diffusing (wordplay!) of the original flavors and narratives of a country.

Also, some foods just don’t fuse well. For instance, we walked past an African-Canadian restaurant (no joke). I didn’t check the menu, but I can only imagine what that would be. I imagine a big injera (one of those awesome Ethiopian "pancakes" that food is served on). But instead of Doro Wat (spicy chicken), it would be topped with a big pile of... poutine?  Now, I love Ethiopian food. And I love french fries with tons of gravy and cheese on them (you know, ‘cause fries aren’t caloric enough on their own). But together? Not so much.

Okay, getting back to Canada's not-quite sort-of illegalish pot situation…

Next door to the New Amsterdam Café, you’ll find the HQ of the Marijuana Party, which is essentially a nonprofit head shop. The place is operated by Marc Emery, marijuana activist and editor of Cannabis Culture magazine, written by and for people who are seriously baked.

The poor guy’s story is pretty amazing. Emery was sent to jail for attempting to sell marijuana seeds, in Canada, to an American DEA agent. He was then extradited for this thing he did in Canada. Even though his own government didn’t want to press any charges. In 2010, Emery was sentenced in a Seattle, and is now serving out a five-year sentence in a federal penitentiary in Georgia. Ah-mazing.

I don’t think Mr. Emery should be in jail. At least, not for the infraction he committed (which would only carry a $200 fine, or up to one month in jail in his own country). However, I firmly believe that Fashion Interpol should come and take him away for the apparel he sells in his store. The place is an emporium for pot-themed clothing (see previous post for disturbing visual of an ACTUAL SHIRT sold in his store). This is potentially harmful to Our Youth, putting them in danger of wearing horribly unattractive clothing.
Here’s the other reason: 
A feline member of the Cult of Kali, jonesing for some Fancy Feast.
Above is a picture of the elaborately decorated window of Emery's storefront on Hastings Street in Vancouver. No, I’m not worried about the cat, who appeared to be stoned (I know, how can you tell??). My beef is in the background – a series of blown-up excerpts from a book called Cannabis and the Soma Solution, by Chris Bennett.

The premise, in so many words, is that Jesus was a stoner. (You have to admit - He did wear a lot of sandals and loose clothing...) The author goes on to discuss the Hindu cult of Kali Ma, who he describes as “the goddess of terror and delight.” (I’m not sure that’s exactly right, but whatever.) He asserts that the ancient Indians enjoyed "a liquid form of cannabis" as part of some sort of "ecstatic ritual" loosely based on a stoned viewing of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Another danger of pot smoking.*
Full Disclosure: I didn’t take the time to actually read the book in question. Partly because I wasn’t high, which you’d have to be to wade through this tome. A quick scan of the text revealed a long series of run-on sentences, egregious misspellings, and various grammatical and syntactical problems that suggest that the writing/research process for the book went a little something like this: 

The Author and his buddy, Dave, are sitting in his mom’s basement getting high…
AUTHOR: The Last Supper? They were, like, totally getting high, dude.
DAVE: That’s deep, man.
                                            (In the background, a BONG bubbles.)
AUTHOR: And, you know those people in India? They were getting BAKED, man.… How else did they pull that guy’s heart out?
DAVE: Wow. You’re blowing my mind. You should write a book or some shit.
AUTHOR: Totally, man. Dude, where are the Funions? Don’t bogart the Funions, man!
Kids, smoking pot can be dangerous. Sure, the health risks are negligible compared to excessive drinking, or smoking cigarettes.

Still. Smoking too much weed can make you want to expropriate the iconography and narratives of foreign and/or indigenous cultures. It makes you want to print t-shirts representing things like goddesses or totem animals. Or get a tatoo of a Celtic symbol taken from a novelty refrigerator magnet you bought in the airport gift shop in Dublin. You may even want to purchase a pair of dream catcher earrings. Resist that urge. For the love of all things holy, kids. JUST SAY NO! 

*If you get really stoned, you may want to watch this movie again. Please don't.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Canada: Home of the kinda-sorta not-quite illegal-ish marijuana!

Another cultural difference between Canada and the U.S.? You can smoke pot in certain designated public places, such as Vancouver’s New Amsterdam Cafe. Unlike in Old Amsterdam, however, you can’t actually purchase any pot at this cafe. For me, this seems to defeat the purpose of going to a dining establishment that smells a like a men’s quad dorm room at Humboldt State University.
Buying and selling pot is technically illegal in Canada. However, we were assured by an Actual Canadian (we even met and spoke with one!) that possessing small amounts “for personal consumption” is rarely if ever prosecuted. As if to illustrate this point, a group of college-age kids came into the café and openly smoked marijuana. On the streets outside, the world noticeably failed to come to an end. I feel like that Very Special Episode of Differ’nt Strokes lied to me. (You know, the one where Nancy Reagan broke the fourth wall, to warn us of the dangers of pot smoking?)  I have to go rethink my entire life now…
Okay, I’m back.
To stay in the spirit of things, Paul and I purchased a non-intoxicating soda called BC Bud (you know, ‘cause they're in BC, and the drink has de-funned hemp in it?). The stuff tasted like flat version of one of those  store-brand soda knock-offs with names like Dr. Puffer or Mountain Doop. It was an odd, citrus-y drink with delicate notes of bongwater on the finish (yum!). Noticing our BC Hemp cola product, the collegiate pot-smokers looked at us with a combination of pity, suspicion and disgust.

I felt unspeakably old. 
The New Amsterdam Café didn’t seem to be selling a lot of food or beverages. They did, however, have a whole wall of expensive, high-end (wordplay!) bongs. Unlike in the U.S., they didn’t even have to call them “Novelty Tobacco Pipes.”  Which is about as ridiculous as those phallic-looking vibrators that are sold at drugstores, and labeled as “back massagers.” (My apologies to folks with vagina-shaped backs.)
Personally, I didn’t feel very cheated by the no-pot pot café. I’m not much of a pot smoker (on me, it has roughly the same effect as NyQuil), but I’m all for it being legal, taxed and regulated. It seems that the vast majority of Canadians would agree, but the law never could find support in Parliament the American DEA, which, like Taco Bell, seems to have extensively franchised into Canada. The two cannabis decriminalization bills  died in Parliament, reportedly because the U.S. DEA threatened retaliatory measures, such as closing the U.S.-Canada borders to better control drug trafficking.
After all, if weed from British Columbia infiltrated the U.S., it could lead to an epidemic of increased politeness! Stoned viewings of Rick Moranis and Martin Short movies! Saying “eh?” after virtually any and every statement! Worst of all, Canadian pot could act as a gateway to other, more serious addictions, such as crystal meth, heroin, or ketchup-flavored potato chips. Society, surely, would collapse.
Why We Fight...
On the other hand, if Queen Elizabeth II – the sovereign monarch of Canada – had threatened retaliatory measures on a bill, everyone in Parliament would’ve rolled around on the floor laughing. Possibly because they were stoned.
Per the Constitution, all laws in Canada still have to be approved by the Queen. Her representative, the Governor General, signs all acts of Parliament into law, thus excercising the “Royal Prerogative.” You know, like Bobby Brown. (Oh, god, how much did I just date myself with that reference??)

The role of the Governor General, although extensive, seems to be largely ceremonial. His or her duties are roughly a cross between those of the U.S. Vice President and Wheel of Fortune’s Vanna White.
Theoretically, the Queen could direct the Governor General to overturn any and every law passed by the Canadian Parliament. As a practical matter, this never, ever happens. Nobody even knows what would happen if it did.  
The DEA, in its good jewels...
Unlike Her Majesty, the American DEA seems to have functioning veto power over the Canadian Parliament. In both 2002 and 2004, legislation that would de-criminalize marijuana came before the Canadian parliament. In 2002, the bill died when the Parliament prorogued (i.e., the clock ran out), although it seemed likely that it would have passed had it come to a vote. For the later vote, the DEA had already thrown its fit, which put the kibosh on the bill.
The whole arrangement seems massively unfair. After all, we get to sell the Canadians whatever-the-hell is in the (88% high quality!) Seasoned Beef at Taco Bell. Not to mention KFC Double Downs, and plastic toilets full of dyed sugar. By comparison, doesn’t a bit of pot seem like a bunch of Rainbow Chard from your local farmer’s market?   
However, there are some pretty strong arguments to making pot illegal. Sure, a tiny amount of weed has about the same intoxicating effect as a few beers, and is arguably less damaging to one’s health than either alcohol OR tobacco, both of which are perfectly legal in the U.S.  The only rational argument I can think of?  Smoking pot causes innocent people to leave the house in things like this:
I'm all for the creation of some sort of Fashion INTERPOL that would seek to eradicate the heartbreak of amorphous, pot-related apparel.  
Kids, please. For the love of Karl Lagerfield. Just say no.
TomorrowOh, Oy, Canada, Part 3: Cats, Eastern Mysticism, & Marijuana: A Cautionary *Tail.*

Friday, April 8, 2011

Oy, Canada!

I *heart* Vancouver. To prove this point, I now have no less than six different kinds of moose-related paraphernalia. Yes, even moose-scat candy. I’m pretty sure proof of purchase is required at the border, or they don’t let you leave Canada.
Every city has its iconic emblems that are transformed into crappy plastic “novelty items” made by five-year-olds in China. These are then sold on the city’s streets by recent immigrants from places that we, as Americans, find hard to pronounce. In New York City, for instance, tourists are inundated with an endless selection of miniature Statues of Liberty and Empire State Buildings. In Seattle, it’s the Space Needle. In Los Angeles, it’s miniature replicas of fake boobs (or is it douche bags?).  
In Vancouver, the moose is the ubiquitous and enduring symbol of the city. You’d think the place was crawling with the suckers. And yet, I did not see one actual moose the entire time I was there. Admittedly, we didn’t get out of the city limits, where due to zoning regulations the moose (mooses? meese?) may be required to stay indoors.  
It seems that every retail establishment in Vancouver is required to have a minimum of five (and preferably over 100) moose-shaped or moose-themed items, or Official Moose-Related Crap (OMRC). Sometimes, this takes on a disturbingly literal form, as seen in the diverse range of “moose droppings” candy. In the bag pictured above, you’ll notice that the moose on the cover is licking his lips, evidently delighted at the thought of eating the poop of a fellow moose. Not that I’m judging his fetish, mind you. What two mature, consenting  meese do in the privacy of their renovated Vancouver loft is nobody’s business but their own. But still. Gross?
The Moose Mandate seems to apply to all establishments, from the downtown souvenir shop to the gay S&M shop in the West End (which I bet has some pretty imaginative OMRC). Think a kitchen & restaurant supply store would be an exception to this rule? I, too, underestimated Canadian ingenuity, and their fealty to the lethargic, wide-horned beasts. Unfortunately, the shop in question didn’t have a moose-shaped Cuisinart (oh, how I wish!) or convection oven, but they did have the cookie cutter pictured below. 
Perfect for cookies to go with your (wait for it...) chocolate moose!
One of the biggest differences between Canada and the U.S. is that they have entirely different T.V. commercials.  Even ads for American companies, such as Taco Bell or Wal-Mart are carefully tailored to Canadian sensitivities (i.e., lots of moose-related graphics).

Also, there’s the language barrier. Instead of the correct, American pronunciation of “house” (haus) they say “hoose” (rhymes with “moose” – coincidence??), and "oot" (hoot, without the "t") when they mean "out."
Thus, we must assume that Canadians must rush oot of the hoose when they see one of these:
Not a moose. At least, not in America.
American viewers will notice that TV ads in Canada refer viewers to websites that end in .ca, instead of .com, even when it refers to the exact same product. Basically, the information has to be re-worded so that it will be less offensive to our calmer and more balanced neighbors to the north. For instance, companies try to eliminate strong language and adult content (i.e., exclamation points). Canadian TV seems to provide even more parental advisories than in the U.S., which I didn’t think was possible. One program warned viewers after every commercial break: “The following program contains strong language. Viewer discretion is advised.”

The program? Restaurant Makeover, on the Food Channel. (I swear to God.) I watched the entire show, and didn’t hear anything that might’ve resembled a four-letter word. It was the Canadian version of the show, and things did get a bit racy at one point. The interior designer working on the restaurant disagreed with the construction worker about how to lay some tile, and the designer used the imperative form of a verb! Hopefully no young Canadians were damaged.

Also, Canada seems to have a lot of commercials sponsored by the government and/or Taco Bell. Many are public service announcements, kind of like those The More You Know “public service” segments that air on NBC. Only, in Canada, the public service announcements aren’t just stating the obvious (“Drinking drain cleaner may be fun, but it can cause intestinal problems, too!!”). Instead, the spots are about actual services available to the public, such as getting a free taco at Taco Bell. (Okay, that one may not be a government program, although National Taco Service has been a hot-button issue in the current Canadian election cycle.)
Just shoot me...
Most of the government-sponsored ads feature a video clip of a rather annoyed-looking moose.  Possibly the only moose in Canada (or the world), the poor beast looks like he just wants to go about his moose business without being a symbol of Canadian National Pride.

I’m sure he feels a beleaguered solidarity with the bald eagle who’s featured in virtually every U.S. political ad. That bird just wants to get back to disemboweling already-dead rodents (yum!). After all, he never asked to be an inadvertently ironic symbol of American awesomeness. The moose, similarly, never asked to be a symbol of Canada’s love of odd-flavored potato chips, and yet, that’s what his life has turned into. If he could write a stern (yet very polite!) letter, I bet he would.
Tune in Tomorrow for Part Two of Oh, Oy, Canada!, as we explore their policy of kinda-sorta not-illegal-ish marijuana,, and why the American DEA is more powerful than the Queen in Canada, although the DEA is not (yet) featured on any coins.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Toxic Waste: Not as Healthy as Originally Thought

As nuclear power plants face crisis in Japan, a related scare is raging in the United States.
For the second time this year, the makers of Toxic Waste™ Nuclear Sludge candy bars have been charged with distributing products that are … actually toxic. Samples of the “Hazardously Sour Candy” (no, seriously -- that’s the tagline) were found to contain “more than twice the legal amount of lead” under FDA guidelines. In March, it was discovered that the company's  Short Circuits bubble gum had also experienced a lead malfunction.
ABOVE: Possibly not the best substitute for Organic Rainbow Chard
from your local farmer’s market. Who knew?
Although no illnesses have been reported, the sour sweets were promptly pulled from the shelves. At greatest risk are “small children and pregnant women,” and people who’ve “eaten a lot of these bars… on a regular basis.” (And who doesn’t??)  But, seriously. If you’re feeding your infant a steady diet of Toxic Waste™ Nuclear Sludge bars, exposure to lead is probably the least of your kid’s problems.

Still, customers were shocked and dismayed to learn that their poison-themed candy turned out to be unhealthy. Which is like being surprised when your
Barf Bag™ candies make you… well, barf.

Barf Bag Candies: Part of This Nutritious Breakfast!!
Amazingly, the Toxic Waste and Barf Bag candies are not – BY FAR –  the most bizarre or disgusting “food” (quotes are key) on the market. Kids love gross-out edibles, which explains things like Ear Wax Gummies or Candy Boogers or Ketchup Flavored Potato Chips (sorry, Canadians, but that’s just nasty).

These days, competition is vigorous among confectioners who want to make “foods” that are at the intersection of sweet and repulsive.  To wit: the seemingly infinite range of scat-based confections, each grosser than the next.  Chocolate dog doo (yum, right?) looks pretty appetizing next to the Chocka Ca-Ca Dirty Diaper Candy. Each “diaper” contains a chocolate caramel “Turdle.” You know, like a Turtle’s candy, but… yeah.
Do you love urine? When you’re in a doctor’s office, do you feel a compulsion to just rip the caps off of all those urine sample containers, and drink ‘em on down? (Come on, you know you do!) If so, you’ll loves you some Liquid Candy Urine Samples 
Almost as delicious as the real thing!

This liquid candy simulates the experience of breaking into a medical testing facility and drinking the samples, only not nearly as hygenic! And because it’s liquid, you don’t have to burn any extra calories by, you know, “chewing.”  Besides, if you’re eating this stuff, your teeth probably fell out a long time ago.
My all-time favorite has to be Sour Flush, a candy packaged in a plastic toilet with an adorable, edible plunger. (Why don’t parents just give their kids some black tar heroin, and be done with it?)

Okay. The “plunger” is basically a generic lollipop. Lick, then dip into the powdery blue “candy” into the toilet, and… enjoy!  (Ideal for young Meth addicts in training!) At least you can’t say that the packaging is deceptive. Here’s a hint for young parents concerned about their kids’ nutritional habits: if a “food product” is served in a plastic toilet, it’s probably not super-duper good for you. 
And yet, we scratch our collective head over the rapidly growing rates of Type 2 diabetes (what used to be considered the “adult onset” kind) in American children. According to the American Diabetes Association, one in six children in the U.S. is pre-diabetic, a series of conditions liked inextricably to obesity. Which isn’t helped by feeding kids from plastic toilets full of metaphorical, if not literal crap.
Oh, well. At least it’s probably better than the crap they serve at Taco Bell. And less rat feces. Wait, isn’t that a caramel candy served out of the butt of a plastic rodent?
Somewhere, sadly, that has to exist.