Do you like post-apocalyptic zombie horror stories narrated by teenage Cali girls? If yes, check out my story, Life After Men.

Want more? You can also read an interview with me here.

He’s not a terrible actor.  And before you start to argue that, yes, he is in fact a terrible actor, go to IMDB and make a list of all the movies he’s in that you legitimately enjoy.  Not movies you would write about in a film theory class, just movies you would watch a second time if they happened to be on TV while you were cleaning the house.  Go ahead.  We’ll wait…

For me there are eleven.  I know; I was as surprised as you.

And the films I like are fairly diverse: Good Will Hunting, Chasing Amy, Argo, Shakespeare in Love, Armageddon.  That’s not to say Affleck stretches himself much as an actor in any of these movies, but he does move fairly easily from comedy to drama to action.  Obviously, he’s no Ed Norton or Johnny Depp, but he’s not Keanu Reeves either.

But part of the reason I like Norton and Depp is that they’re both sort of skinny (except when Norton was in American History X…holy crap) weirdos who seem like the type of people Affleck would beat up during recess in middle school.  And that’s sort of the crux of the matter for me.

The movie role that will always define Ben Affleck for me is the spanking-obsessed jock Fred O’Bannion in Dazed and Confused.  This also happens to be my favorite movie that Affleck has ever been in.  No matter how many asteroids he destroys or awards he wins, this is how I will always see Ben Affleck.

It’s not that he’s too good looking (although that’s part of it).  And it’s not that his giant chin always makes him appear smug (although that’s part of it too).  It’s that he reminds me of that good looking, smug guy in high school that I always hated because his life seemed so easy.  All the girls wanted to be with him and all the guys wanted to be him.

You’d think directing and starring in Argo (a movie nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Director) would alter my opinion of Affleck somewhat.  It’s like when that good looking smug guy in high school sits next to you one day in the cafeteria, and you find out he’s actually a really nice guy who wants to be a physics major in college.  Theoretically that should make you like him (and maybe it does on the surface) but deep down there’s still a part of you (or maybe it’s just me) that hates the guy even more because now you know that not only is he good looking and popular but he’s also smart and nice.  What an asshole!

By almost all accounts, Ben Affleck seems like a really good guy.  He gives to charities, he pokes fun at his own stardom, he keeps in touch with people from his old neighborhood.  Directors tend to have good things to say about him, as do his family, friends, and coworkers.  Kevin Smith practically worships the man, and I really like Kevin Smith.

But none of that makes any difference to me.  I want to hate Ben Affleck.  I need to hate him.  It’s an irrational compulsion that I can’t explain or control.  Ben Affleck could win ten Oscars and I’d still think he was an overrated bastard coasting by on his looks.  Of course, in the end, this says more about my own shallowness and narcissism than it does about Ben Affleck, but you probably knew that before you started reading this post.

p.s. I do realize that I wrote this entire rant without actually addressing the question in the title, Why don’t I want Ben Affleck to be Batman?  The reason for this is that halfway through I realized I have no logical justification for not wanting Affleck to be the caped crusader.  I don’t think he’ll be as good as Keaton or Bale, but he’ll probably do just as well as Clooney and better than Kilmer (although I probably won’t admit it if he does).

Originally published in Boulder Weekly


Last week, two monumental events occurred that rocked the very fabric of this great nation: 1) In the midterm elections, George Bush and the GOP got beat like red-headed stepchildren by the Democrats, and 2) Britney totally broke up with K-Fed.

It was a low point in the careers of two American anti-icons. On the surface, these incidents seem completely unrelated. It’s doubtful that Bush has ever downloaded “Toxic” onto his iPod, or that Spears keeps up with the latest polling results out of Virginia. However, Bush and Britney have a lot more in common than meets the eye. They are both cultural pariahs who have achieved unlikely success despite the fact that the general public considers them to be idiots.

But what does this say about a society that elected Bush as its president (not just once but twice) and purchased Britney’s mediocre pop albums by the millions? In order to answer this question, it is necessary to analyze the correlation between the leader of the free world and the leader of the pop world. (As far as we know, this has never been attempted before, so bear with us.)

In 1994, Bush kicked off his political career by defeating incumbent Democrat Ann Richards to become the governor of Texas, and Britney took to the stage as a squeaky clean performer for the Mickey Mouse Club. These were seminal years for both subjects. George made a name for himself as a hard-line conservative by giving tax cuts to the wealthy and executing more criminals than any other governor in U.S. history. Britney learned that innocence and purity can be powerful tools, especially when combined with underage sexual innuendo.

At this time, our subjects were newbies in their respective fields, and their success had less to do their God-given talents than it did with parental influence. However, they both learned from their surroundings and continued to ascend the proverbial ladder. They applied their newfound knowledge in 1998, when Bush earned a second term in the Governor’s Mansion and Britney released her debut album, …Baby One More Time. Bush’s political savvy combined with his father’s good name caused the Washington cronies to sit up and take notice—as did Britney’s plaid skirts and kneehigh socks. Our subjects were teetering on the edge of glory, and they could both taste victory just around the corner. (In case you didn’t know, victory tastes a lot like those Chicken in a Biscuit crackers).

The Millennium was a mixed blessing for the dynamic duo. Oops!…I Did It Again debuted at No. 1 in the U.S. in 2000 and cemented Spears as the new queen of the airwaves. But the critics were not necessarily in concordance with public opinion, and in 2001 Spears was passed over at the Grammys for a second year in a row. Despite numerous semantic blunders and startling geopolitical ignorance, Bush managed to take over the most powerful office on the planet. However, his victory was overshadowed by a voting mishap in Florida and accusations of foul play.

In order to solidify themselves in the history books, Bush and Britney both needed a traumatic event to garner public support. When the terrorists attacks occurred on Sept. 11, Bush went from a stuttering puppet president with a daddy complex to a John Wayne-like avenger almost overnight. Sympathies were also showered upon Britney by countless devastated teeny-boppers less than five months later when she broke up with N-Sync über-hunk Justin Timberlake amidst allegations that he’d been unfaithful. After these catastrophic episodes, the media turned our subjects into martyrs that could do no wrong.

Riding a tide of confidence, Bush and Britney were informed by their respective advisors that they needed to make bold moves to prove to the world that they could overcome the obstacles set before them. In March 2003, Bush answered his critics once and for all by declaring war on Iraq and bombing Baghdad back to the Stone Age. Britney’s choice was less violent but just as symbolic. At the MTV Video Music Awards in August, she took the stage with Madonna and French kissed the pop music empress in front of the entire world. These events marked the passing of a torch from one generation to the next. For George, Jr., it was an opportunity to redeem his father’s failed attempt to capture the notorious Saddam Hussein. For Britney, it was an acknowledgment that she was now a full-blown sex idol.

But fame can sometimes be a fickle mistress. Our subjects started to believe their own hype and thought they could do no wrong. They forgot that there is only one thing the media loves more than a martyr, and that’s a fallen saint. After the whipping the Republicans gave to the Democrats in the 2004 election, Bush thought he had a mandate from the voters to act like a self-serving ass. He refused to alter his “Stay the course” rhetoric in Iraq and began shoving his religious beliefs in the public’s face. Meanwhile, the formerly image-conscious Britney dyed her signature blonde hair black and started marrying every redneck she could find.

Their popularity waned in 2005 when Bush overstepped his authority by interfering in the Terri Schiavo case and Britney introduced us to her new hubby via the failed reality show Chaotic (where she told the world that she thought time travel, as described in the movie Back to the Future, was real).

Which brings us to 2006.

Currently, it appears that our subjects have learned from past mistakes. After all, Britney finally did kick K-Fed to the curb, a move that seems to indicate she will shape up and stop acting like Elly May Clampett. And Bush has graciously extended an olive branch to the Democrats now that they have the power to impeach him (which is the political equivalent of an atomic wedgie).

But the real question is whether or not the American public will learn from these mistakes. Will we continue to idolize underage “entertainers” and megalomaniacal politicians, or will we start supporting talented artists and pragmatic intellectuals? At the moment, it’s too early to tell. Barack Obama and The Black Keys give us a modicum of hope, but Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Duff are just waiting in the wings.

Originally published in Boulder Weekly

November 2007

I have been heterosexual for as long as I can remember. Yes, it’s true that I once screamed “I love you, Adam!” in the passion of the moment at a Counting Crows concert, and when I was in junior high, I made out with a girl from Greece whose Magnum P.I. mustache put my own hairless upper lip to shame. But aside from these inconsequential experiments, I have never participated in “the love that dare not speak its name.” (Church camp doesn’t count, of course.)

Therefore, I was a bit surprised when I first watched Late World with Zach on VH1, and I got a tingling feeling in my sin spot. I’d never had a man-crush before, and it was a frightening experience. I quickly called my friend, Paul, who has been in love with John Elway his entire life. Paul calmly explained that, in America, you can be heterosexual and in love with another dude as long as you drive a very large truck and constantly talk about how much you like vaginas.

“On the other hand,” Paul said, “it’s possible that you’re just very very gay.”

Over the years, my man-crush on Zach Galifianakis has grown into full-blown man-love. I love his shaggy beard and his wild hair and his fat Buddha belly. But mostly I love how he makes me laugh.

Just like Sarah Silverman, Eugene Mirman, David Cross and every other comedian who doesn’t artistically masturbate on a derivative sitcom, Hollywood will never figure out what to do with Galifianakis. [Future Me: Um, yeah, I was a little bit off with that prediction.] He’s too smart for them. And while that’s probably frustrating for his agent, it’s incredibly reassuring for those of us who truly love comedy as an art form.

Like an evil succubus draining the souls of unwitting sailors, Hollywood has been slowly sucking the life out of comedians for years. For example, Galifianakis and Silverman both have minor roles in the 2001 movie Heartbreakers, and it’s an interesting exercise in cultural devolution to watch two of the funniest people on the planet sit quietly in the background while Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sigourney Weaver and Gene Hackman attempt to provide the comedic drive to this femme-fatale revision of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

This type of thing has been happening for a long time, and it goes a long way in explaining the popularity of shows like Everybody Loves Raymond. Therefore, in order to comprehend the intelligent, yet anti-intellectual humor of Galifianakis, it’s necessary to put his art in perspective.

Think of it like this: If Woody Allen impregnated Lenny Bruce, who consequently birthed a bi-polar Yeti and then abandoned that freak child at the doorstep of Charles Bukowski, who turned him into a raging alcoholic before introducing him to Tom Waits and Chuck Klosterman, who later sold him acid at a party in SoHo where he managed to get involved in a three-way with Joan Didion and Daniel Johnston, who in turn gave birth to another hairy, deranged infant… that child would be Zach Galifianakis.

When I found out that Zach was coming to the Boulder Theater, I got so excited that I actually rented every season of Tru Calling, just to watch my man on a prime-time television show. Now that’s tru love!

At first, I offered to fly out on my own dime and interview him in California for this article. When that didn’t work out, I asked if I could chat with him on the phone. And after he rejected me a second time, I finally convinced him to answer my questions via e-mail. I waited. And waited. And waited.

When I just couldn’t take the suspense anymore, I wrote him another e-mail… and then I contacted his agent… and then I wrote him a message on MySpace with a smiley-face emoticon at the end of it… What was wrong? Did Zach like me or did he like me like me? I had to know.

Finally, mere hours before my deadline, I got an e-mail from his webmaster, a meddling bitch with the unlikely, Seussian name of Carnie Cacarnis. She said that Zach had done a lot of interviews lately, and he might have gotten “confused.” Unfortunately, he couldn’t talk to me now because he was “in the middle of the woods and out of Internet range.”

It was obvious to me what was happening: Carnie was trying to keep us apart. She probably had him trapped in a cabin deep in the forest, where she forced him to look at her stupid family photo albums all day, and if he tried to escape, she wedged a two-by-four between his legs and broke his ankles, à la Kathy Bates in Misery.

In any case, it was clear that I wasn’t going to get an interview. Fortunately, I think I know Zacharius pretty well by now. We’ve bonded throughout the course of this process, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if I wrote about what the interview would have been like if Crazy Carnie hadn’t stuck her nose in where it didn’t belong. I’m fairly certain that it would have gone something like this:

Zach Galifianakis lounges on his couch at his home in Venice Beach. He’s wearing a pair of loose khakis, house slippers and a silk shirt that’s open at the collar, allowing his curly chest hairs to dance in the breeze. There’s a bowl of grapes on the coffee table between us, and he periodically plucks one from the pile and puts it gently between his lips. It’s been a long day and he’s exhausted.

Dream Zach Galifianakis: You know, Dale, sometimes it’s difficult to be funny. People expect me to be a clown. Did you know that? They expect me to dance around like an idiot all day. Well, I have news for you, America. I’m not a clown; I’m an artist.

Dale Bridges: Do you know what else you are, Zach?

DZG: What’s that?

DB: You’re a human being.

DZG: That’s right, damnit! I’m not just some ridiculous monkey that entertains children at birthday parties. I’m a real person. Sometimes, I think you’re the only one in this world who truly understands me.

DB: What about Carnie?

DZG: Don’t make me laugh. It’s over between Carnie and me. I hope I never see that crazy webmaster again.

DB: Oh, you don’t mean that.

DZG: Yes, I do. After the stunt she tried to pull in the woods, she’s lucky I don’t press charges.

DB: Let’s not talk about Carnie right now, OK?

DZG: You’re right. This is our time. I’m sorry about all this confusion. Is there any way I can make it up to you?

DB: You can give me one of those grapes.

DZG: Oh, you…

We laughed and fed each other grapes and talked deep into the night. And then Zach lifted up my shirt and blew zurberts on my tummy. It was a magical, manly bonding experience between two manly men. Of course, like all manly things, eventually it had to come to an end. We were both sad when we parted ways, but we knew that we would always, always have MySpace.

Originally published in Boulder Weekly

May 2008

“I hate Paris Hilton,” he said, while chewing on a mouthful of Corn Nuts. “She has absolutely no redeeming qualities, and if there is a hell, I hope she burns there for all eternity after dying in a painful knife-juggling accident.”

I was on a bus to the airport when the man sitting next to me made that statement. We’d been talking about a wide range of topics: professional tennis, Billie Holiday, reality television and serial killers, just to name a few. I forget the man’s name (it was one of those three-letter monikers: Dan or Jim or Tom), but I do remember that his favorite serial killer was Jeffrey Dahmer. This stuck out in my mind because we talked about his interest in Dahmer less than five minutes before he declared his hatred for Paris Hilton. His demeanor had been affable and somewhat excited when talking about a notorious murderer who killed 17 people and made their skulls into ashtrays, but his voice dripped with venom when he began to discuss a blonde hotel heiress who hangs out with two yappy, annoying bitches (her Chihuahua, Tinkerbell, and Nicole Richie). Cannibalism he could understand, but The Simple Life was unforgivable.

I would estimate that about 73 percent of America currently shares Dan’s/Jim’s/Tom’s feelings toward Paris Hilton (if not his affinity for crunchy, high-sodium snacks and postmodern psychopaths), and I would never try to dissuade them. In fact, I can’t think of a single reason to like her. By all accounts, she appears to be a completely vapid human being, contributing absolutely nothing positive to the world whatsoever aside from pornographic fast food commercials and the occasional beaver shot.

On the other hand, I can’t really think of a reason to hate Paris Hilton, either. She has never done anything harmful to me personally (e.g. kicked me in the testicles) or to society in general (e.g. passed a law legalizing testicle-kicking). She hasn’t advised little girls to join the KKK or expressed a desire to punch newborn kittens. In fact, aside from a few traffic violations, the worst she can be accused of is pathological narcissism and bad manners, both of which are essentially endemic in Hollywood. Therefore, it would seem logical that we as a society would have no feelings about Paris Hilton at all.

But that’s not the case. Not since Yoko Ono yodeled her way into the zeitgeist has there been such a despised celebrity icon in Western culture. This is because there is absolutely no guilt involved in hating Paris Hilton. As Dan/Jim/Tom suggests, she has no redeeming qualities; hence, there is no glass ceiling on how much we are allowed to loath her.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that Jeffrey Dahmer has no redeeming qualities either. However, hating serial killers does not serve a purpose in our culture. We are not expected to glorify or idolize serial killers (which, of course, is (at least partially) why we often do); senseless murders are considered evil by definition. Celebrities, on the other hand, are constantly demanding our adoration. They flood our radio stations and dominate our televisions. They have perfect skin and perfect bodies. They are talented. They are charming. They are everywhere, all the time, and they are supposedly better than us in every way.

Except for Paris.

She is none of these things. She can’t sing. She has a lousy personality. Unless you’re into freakishly tan anorexic women, she is not very attractive. And she is such a horrible actress that even her homemade porn movies are stick-a-fork-in-your-eye boring.

It’s not just that we like to hate Paris Hilton; it’s that we need to hate her. She represents everything we secretly despise about celebrity culture but are not allowed to express.

If you want proof of America’s dysfunctional, passive-aggressive relationship with celebrities, look no further than the check-out line at your local supermarket. Every King Soopers and Safeway in the country has the same collection of entertainment magazines near the cash register. Half of them have covers that display beautiful, air-brushed photos of Cameron Diaz and Vince Vaughn aside gushing, pseudo-clever headlines, such as “Just Diazzling” or “InVINCEable!” and the other half are out-of-focus, unflattering tabloid photos of the exact same celebrities passed out on the sand in California like beached manatees. Sometimes, I see middle-aged mothers acquiring both types of periodicals at the same time, and I’m always amazed by their schizophrenic aesthetics. Do they a) adore Cameron Diaz, or b) detest Cameron Diaz?

Of course, the answer is really c) all of the above.

We want celebrities to be inhumanly attractive and glamorous, but we also need to know that they’re fat, disgusting sluts just like the rest of us. However, it’s difficult to properly express hatred for the very same people you’ve been socialized to admire. For instance, even if you can’t stand Tom Cruise’s smarmy smile, it’s impossible to completely separate him from the romantic, devil-may-care pilot in Top Gun or the pants-less teenager who won our hearts in Risky Business. To over-simplify the point, Tom Cruise symbolizes something more than Tom Cruise.

That’s why Paris Hilton is the most important celebrity in the world at the moment. She has never established an identity beyond the spoiled, vain media whore that she appears to embody; therefore, she serves as a type of resentment lightening rod for the general public. Instead of denouncing her as the bane of American culture, we should be thanking her for providing an invaluable service to a celebrity-saturated generation. She’s kind of like the pop culture version of Che Guevara. (I have no idea what that means, but I still think it might be true.)

Of course, not everyone agrees with my brilliant cultural analyses. When I finished explaining my theory to Dan/Jim/Tom at the departures gate at DIA, he threw away his empty Corn Nuts bag and smiled at me. “I understand what you mean, and it all makes sense,” he replied. “But nothing you just said changes this one, simple fact: I hate Paris Hilton.” And then he boarded a plane to Dallas, and I never saw him again.

Originally published in Boulder Weekly

June 2008

Here’s the type of person I am: if my best friend were bitten by a zombie tomorrow, I would shoot him in the head immediately. No hesitation. No wah-wah goodbye speech. None of that pussy crap. Just BLAMO! And I would expect the exact same treatment if I were suddenly zombified.

You see, folks, when the zombie apocalypse comes, there isn’t going to be time for sentimental nonsense. Do I love my mother? Of course. Did she read The Poky Little Puppy to me when I was 5 years old and make me peanut butter sandwiches with the crusts cut off? Yes, she did. Will I chop her head off with a machete if she rises from the dead and tries to eat my pancreas? You’re goddamn right.

This is by far the most frightening aspect of the whole undead paradigm, and it is why most people will not survive a zombie attack. Unlike other creatures in the horror genre, zombies are not faceless psychopaths or supernatural monsters that you can immediately disassociate yourself from. They are your homeroom teacher. They are the girl you took to prom. They are that sexy cousin who wore black fingernail polish and made you think naughty thoughts during family reunions. (Hi, Sandy! How’s Aunt Helen?) Anyone can become a zombie at any time, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it except blow their brains out when it happens and then go on with your life. This is why zombies are the perfect metaphor for modern culture and why I am slightly obsessed with movies that feature stiff-limbed ghouls that rise from the grave and stumble around in search of human appetizers. They represent the brain-dead khaki-wearing hoards you see every day lined up at Starbucks, twitching and grinding their teeth like heroine addicts because they haven’t yet had their caffeine enemas.

The first time I heard about zombies was in Sunday School. “Jesus called out in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.” John 11:43-44. Of course, nine chapters later, Jesus also rises from the dead. He doesn’t bite off a chunk of Peter’s ear or start nibbling on Mary Magdalene’s large intestine — BUT, right before he dies, Jesus makes the disciples eat their first communion, which is supposed to represent his body and his blood. And that’s pretty damn creepy when you think about it.

Now, before all you James Dobson Storm Troopers get your panties in a bunch, let me explain that I’m not saying all Christians are mindless bloodthirsty corpses. I know at least two or three Lutherans who have never tried to rip my skull open and eat my brains. However, there is definitely a lot of religious imagery in the Bible that coincides with zombie mythology (and don’t even get me started on vampires).

And I’m not the first to notice this correlation. There have been hundreds of articles and books written on the subject over the years. In 2006, Baylor University Press published a tome called Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero’s Visions of Hell on Earth by Kim Paffenroth, an associate professor of religious studies at Iona College in New Rochelle, NY. (In case you didn’t know, George Romero is the director of Night of the Living Dead, the iconoclastic indie film that defined the modern zombie movie.) In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Paffenroth said, “I think zombie movies want to portray the state of zombification as a monstrous perversion of the idea of Christian resurrection.”

This statement may or may not be true, but the irony is that Paffenroth herself comes from one of the largest zombie factories in the country. Every year, colleges across America crank out politically correct, multicultural clones who inevitably end up transforming into the middle-age hipsters you see at trendy restaurants wearing $75 Che Guevara T-shirts and $400 blue jeans designed to look like they belong to a dairy farmer in Oklahoma. Universities are just as responsible for producing mindless automatons as television, video games and Hare Krishnas.

The point here is that our society is composed of countless theological/cultural/intellectual institutions that control our thoughts.

Personally, I belong to the zombie organization known as “The Media.” We take large, complicated subjects and reduce them to simplistic sound bites that are then forced onto the masses until the general population becomes so confused that they lock themselves in their suburban homes and eat mountains of delivery pizza and take Xanax and watch Oprah and cry themselves to sleep.

So go forth, American zombies, and find some delicious, juicy brains to munch on.

American Idolatry

January 14, 2012

Originally published in Barrelhouse Magazine

Fall 2006

For twenty-seven years, I lived what I thought was a relatively happy and satisfied life. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there were good times and there were bad times, there were ups and there were downs, but through it all I considered myself fairly lucky to be blessed with the existence that fate had afforded me. I had a safe (if somewhat cheerless) childhood, which allowed me to feel the joy of overcoming some minor psychological obstacles and served as an excuse for all of my future failures. I was educated, traveled, and relatively well-read. Although I wasn’t wealthy, unlike most Americans, I was at least debt free. I was single, and since women are generally more caring, thoughtful, and intelligent than men, I always had girlfriends that were both more attractive and more interesting than me. Furthermore, I wasn’t gay, black, handicapped, or female, so I didn’t have to constantly consider how this successful life was perceived by the general culture. Sure, there was some white, male guilt wrapped up in there, but I had long since learned to smother that by listening to NPR and carrying a copy of Toni Morrison’s latest novel with me wherever I went. Yep, in 2002, I considered myself a relatively happy man.

But, apparently, I was wrong.

There was something missing in my life, even back then, only I didn’t know it yet. Those relationships and career goals that I had worked so hard to nurture were just proverbial carrots on a string, wild geese that I chased in order to fill the void while the true piece of the cosmic puzzle remained just outside my grasp.

Then, in the spring of 2002, it finally happened: a group of television executives at FOX imported a reality show from England that they renamed American Idol, and at long last my petty, little, inconsequential life was complete. At least, that’s what I’ve been lead to believe.

I don’t watch a lot of television myself, so I have never seen an entire episode of the groundbreaking show that has held the nation in its grasp for four long seasons, much like the taloned hand of Satan holding a still-beating heart over the eternal flames of Hell. It’s my theory that FOX teamed up with the CIA to test some type of new psychological weapon on the public that hypnotizes mass audiences through their television screens. Since I have never actually been able to sit through all sixty minutes of this mindnumbing marker of the end of civilization, my brain remains untainted. This is the only way that I can explain the overwhelming, almost cult-like following of such an obviously horrible show.

Even though I don’t watch American Idol, I know all about it. I know that Simon Cowell is rude and British; I know that Paula Abdul is always nice to the contestants, no matter how badly they suck; and I know that Randy Jackson used to be fat and he says “Dawg” a lot. I know that Kelly Clarkson was the winner of season one, Rubin Studdard of season two, and some girl with the unfortunate name of Fantasia was victorious in season three. Without ever listening to a Ryan Seacrest monologue, I know that there was a large lady named Frenchie who got kicked out of the competition because she once modeled nude for a website devoted to plus-size women. How do I know all of this? Because it is simply impossible to ignore American Idol in this country. The public will not permit it. I have told people time and again that I don’t watch American Idol, that I have never watched American Idol, and, in fact, that I loath American Idol. It makes no difference. They don’t understand. It’s like telling a Texan that you don’t enjoy the taste of beef or informing an entomologist that studying bugs is probably the must boring past time on the planet. They either a) think that you are lying or b) believe that you haven’t really given t-bones or termite collecting a fair shake.

Fans of American Idol stare at me in wide-eyed amazement when I tell them that I would rather dip my ball sack in honey and sit on an ant hill than listen to my favorite songs get raped by a group of future Vegas lounge singers. And, inevitably, they try to convince me to reconsider my opinion. I don’t know exactly why. Does it really matter whether or not I like their show? I love to read Hemingway but when I come across someone who isn’t keen on his prose style, I shrug and say, “Yeah, he’s not for everyone.” And then I get on with my life. I don’t follow them around reading passages from For Whom the Bell Tolls in the hopes that, through mere repetition, I will be able to make them see the error of their ways. American Idol fans are like newly inducted Jehovah’s Witnesses, forever stalking me with a copy of the Watch Tower in one hand and a Justin Guarini single in the other.

If it was merely the general public who watched American Idol, I might be able to let the issue go, but it’s not. Most of my good friends and respected colleagues watch it as well. This is, for me, the greatest enigma. Call me cynical or conceited if you want, but I have very little faith in the ability of the average Joe Shmoe to form an educated opinion when it comes to popular culture. In fact, I expect bad taste from the moron who cuts me off in traffic or the bitch that breaks out two dozen coupons in the express line at the supermarket. Most of us just don’t have the time or inclination to wade through the media blizzard and figure out that Britney Spears is a hillbilly Barbie Doll who would be more at home wrapped around a stripper’s pole than in front of a microphone. And to be fair, it isn’t really the consumer who has poor judgment as much as it is the executive in the board room who sacrifices quality for efficiency. It’s simply a lot easier to paste a pretty face on a bad idea than it is to worry about originality, talent, or content. I know that the general populace is too busy to make such inconsequential comparisons, but I expect more out of my close comrades.

All of my good friends are college graduates, many of them with masters degrees and beyond, and they are all—absolutely every single one, without exception—smarter than me. Oh, I probably read more books and I have a specific talent for circular logic and sarcasm that makes me appear to be the victor of many dinner table debates, but this is not really intelligence. Have us all sit down in front of a game of Trivial Pursuit or Scrabble and you will see my IQ points drop like the Dow Jones on September 12th. This is what keeps me awake at night. I could understand if they watched the show with detached amusement for sociological purposes, but this is simply not the case. They love American Idol. They are invested in it. They groan when certain Idol hopefuls hit a particularly spine-wrenching note and they cry out in protest when one of their favorites is voted off. You would think that Pontius Pilate was sentencing the son of God to death instead of a bitter, pompous, English man making overly critical remarks about a group of well-dressed karaoke singers. It’s crazy.

After the Vietnam War ended, my uncle never even mentioned the horrors he witnessed on the battlefield, but it’s been a year now and I have a coworker who still tears up whenever someone speaks of the Clay Aiken/Rubin Studdard decision. I mean, come on, does it really make a difference whether they gave the title to the fat black guy or the skinny ambiguously-gay guy? Neither one of them can write their own music or play a goddamn instrument anyhow.

And that is the heart of my criticism, I suppose. American Idol is simply a larger manifestation of an endemic problem in the music industry, which is the fact that there are fewer and fewer musicians in a corporatized image factory that specializes in spitting out Britney Spears clones. Instead of artists, we are being overrun with entertainers. For every Tom Waits or Tori Amos, there are twenty or thirty J-Los and Hillary Duffs waiting in the wings, like sirens attempting to lure a nation of lost Homerian characters onto their island so they can suck out our souls through our eardrums. They are an army of backup singers posing as leads, thousands of David Cassidys who believe in their heart of hearts that they are really John Lennon. Instead of mastering guitars or pianos, future Grammy winners would be better off learning how to fit into hot pants and install hair extensions.

Which is why American Idol is not just bad, it’s evil.

Of course, my opinion on this issue is completely irrelevant. Reality television is fake and nihilistic, but so what? That’s what television is for, which is why we love it. No one wants to come home from an eight-hour day at a soul-crushing job and sit down to a David Lynch movie. We want brainless, clever entertainment that makes us laugh without humor and cry without depth. That’s the beauty of television and no one really wants to take that away—not even me.

No, I don’t necessarily mind that American Idol makes millions of dollars for FOX while the Bob Dylans of the world starve to death. That’s the way it’s always been, and Bob Dylan wouldn’t be Bob Dylan without a little hunger and heartache thrown in there. What really gets my goat is that I am personally unable to ignore the whole phenomenon. I have been denied my constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of apathy. My friends are hooked on American Idol and they won’t stop talking about it, which, according to my calculations, leaves me with three options: 1) chuck this whole society business, find a cabin somewhere in the woods next to a pond, change my name to Henry David, and spend the rest of my life eating trail mix and burning cow dung for warmth; 2) get some new friends; or 3) start watching a show that makes me want to stick a fork in my eye.

Number one would definitely be a possibility, except for the fact that I’m about as rugged as a baby kitten with none of its survival instincts. I can’t hunt or cook or really build anything more complex than a peanut butter sandwich.

Number two is out of the question. I don’t have a lot of good friends because…well, to be completely frank, I don’t like other human beings. Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those people who believes that humans are intrinsically corrupt or evil, just that they are intrinsically boring. Most people have nothing new or interesting to contribute to my life, or even to a conversation. It’s not necessarily their fault and it doesn’t make them bad people, but it also doesn’t mean that I should be forced to pretend to be amused when they tell me a twenty-minute story about how their three-year-old daughter eats her peas with a fork instead of a spoon. I have six very good friends and I don’t plan to make any more. Unless sex is involved, I don’t want to talk to anyone outside my current social circle.

Which brings us to option number three. It’s really not asking too much, I suppose. All I would have to do is relax on the couch for an hour every week and keep my big, cynical mouth shut and I could make everyone so very happy. Just sit back and watch while a group of eager, beautiful young men and women compete for my adoration. Quietly observe while Ryan Seacrest—that middling, talentless, unfunny Dick-Clark-with-highlights—becomes the voice of the next generation. Simply turn my head and cough while society gets sucked down into a dark, ugly vortex of banality and bad taste, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the end of the disco era!

Or I could go take a note from my old pal Ernest Hemingway. When Hem discovered that the world was inevitably doomed despite his best efforts to save it, he put a shot gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger with his big toe. Let’s see, shot gun…American Idol? Shot gun…American Idol? It’s really a no-brainer, I suppose. Pardon me while I do some toe stretches.

Originally published in Out of the Gutter

Summer 2007

“How many men did you have sex with today?”


“That seems like a lot.”

“No, not so much. This night is slow.”

“How many men do you usually have sex with in a night?”

“It depends.”

“Depends on what?”

“Weather. holidays. Start of month. End of month.”

“Why does it matter what time of month it is?”

“At beginning of month, the men are broke. They pay for rent, food, bills. No more money. At end of month, they get paid. They have money. Time for sex.”

It’s two in the morning and I’m sitting on a plastic barstool in a deserted casino/disco near the Narodni metro station. It is dark. Very dark. The only light comes from the garish glow of the half dozen digital slot machines slumped against each other in the center of the room. I am talking to Katjana, a prostitute from Slovakia, who moved to Prague six months ago with her boyfriend, an aspiring mathematics teacher that abandoned her shortly after they crossed the Czech border. It is late and Katjana is drinking coffee (milk, no sugar). I am drinking tea (Earl Grey). Our drinks cost about 60 cents total. There is no sales tax and no tip. The bartender is watching European football on a small television that is bolted to the wall. Muffled techno music bounces around in the back room. In my breast pocket, I have a small tape recorder and I can feel it vibrating softly against my chest like a small, defenseless animal. Later tonight, when I return to my apartment, I will listen to this conversation. The sound quality will be extremely poor, but I will be able to transcribe most of this interview onto my laptop computer.

“Do you like the men you sleep with?”

“What do you mean?”

“Are you attracted to them?”


“What kind of men are you attracted to?”

“Husbands, fathers, old men with nice clothes.”

“Really? Why?”

“They have money and they are nice. They bring me things.”

“What kinds of things?”

“Sometimes clothes, sometimes necklace. I like the old men.”

“But are you attracted to them?”

“I don’t know what you mean. They are nice. Yes, I like them.”

Katjana is the ninth prostitute I have interviewed in Prague. I have also interviewed prostitutes in Mexico, Nicaragua, Holland, and France. In every case, I have gotten close to the girl by pretending that I am a potential customer. Prostitutes are accustomed to nervous, indecisive young men, and they usually invite them into a café or bar to chat with them and try to ease the tension.

When I walk home drunk from the bar, they approach me and ask if I want to have sex. In response, I blush and stutter without giving a positive affirmation. This is easy for me. I always blush and stutter when women talk to me. The women then ask if I’d like to buy them a cup of coffee. I agree. They lead me to the nearest 24-hour disco.

That’s when I start grilling them with questions.

The trick is to start of slow, keep them thinking that I’ll pay for sex as soon as they satisfy my curiosity. But you can only keep this up so long before the subject turns back to commerce.

“Why do you ask so many questions? You are a very strange man.”

“Where did you get that coat?”

Katjana’s jacket is long and brown and fringed with ugly, gray fur. It looks as though it was made from the hide of a balding raccoon.

“I take this from my sister,” Katjana says.

“I thought you said you were an only child.”

She shakes her head. “I have sister. She lives at home.”

“What’s your sister’s name?”

“Why should you know?”

“No reason. I’m just making conversation.”

“You make what? I am tired of your talk. Let’s go now.”

“Sure. Right. No problem. Maybe in a minute. Let me buy you another cup of coffee first.”

In Prague, you can get a blowjob for just 1,000 korunas (about 40 dollars and change in the U.S.). Normally, the prostitute will take you to a public park near Wenceslas Square to perform the act. For 1,500 korunas, you can spend 30 minutes grinding on a dusty hotel bed, and for 2,000 you can pick whatever orifice you want.

I have never purchase sex from a prostitute. To be completely honest, I can’t even masturbate while thinking about hookers. I’ve tried. Many times.

This is not because I necessarily have a higher moral constitution than others of my gender; it’s because I have enough conservative, Protestant guilt left over from my childhood to create an extremely dysfunctional sexual cocktail, which sloshes around in my subconscious during the loneliest hours of the night. I am fascinated by the idea of vaginal currency and sexual deviance, but I’m too repressed to ever act on my fantasies.

I don’t know exactly why I continue to conduct these interviews wherever I travel. I never set out to publish them. I talk about them to friends and strangers over dinner, bragging, basking in their awe and disgust. Maybe I want to shock people, to force them out of their perfect, clean lives and get a little dirt on them. Maybe I want to defend the godless hoards who live by a different moral code than the rest of the world. Maybe I want to start a movement. Or maybe I just want to try anal.

“How old are you?”

“How old you like?”

“No, really. How old are you?”

“I am twenty.”

“You don’t look twenty.”

“How old do I look?”

“You don’t look twenty.”

Prostitution is not legal in Prague but the police turn their heads, primarily because their palms are being greased by the brothel owners and pimps around town. There’s plenty of money to go around. Women come here from all over Eastern Europe to take advantage of the blossoming tourist industry. Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Turkey. They trickle into this wedding cake of a city, usually in the spring, girls, just girls, sixteen or seventeen, beautiful girls, girls whose innocence will cling to them for the first few months like a shadow, blondes, brunettes, Christians, communists, atheists, gypsies, skinny, barely able to fill out their second-hand blue jeans, frail, tough as fucking rocks, but still just girls. In the beginning, many of them try to get jobs at the local shops, but their English is not good enough to sell sausages and fried cheese sandwiches to the drunken foreigners that are stumbling through the streets at all hours of the night. The shops won’t hire them. They don’t have the educational background to enroll at the universities. There aren’t many options for employment.

Prague is a prime destination for Europeans who want to stretch their dollar. Considerably less expensive than the capital cities of Western Europe, it offers a mystique that you won’t find in London or Paris.

The British are particularly fond of Prague. It is their Las Vegas. They come here on the weekends for stag parties. They guzzle cheap beer and scream obscenities in the streets and pay women to fuck them. These are proper English gentlemen, these chaps, these mates, these businessmen, raised in private schools, Oxford alumni, equestrians, polo players, fox hunters, Tories, Whigs, and they can’t wait to discard their Victorian principles and run around like a pack of ignorant, perverted hillbillies.

There are also Italians of course, and some are Scottish, and a few are Americans, but the British are the worst. Everyone knows this, though no one talks about it. They are pigs and everyone hates them. But at least they pay. They may be offensive, Anglo slobs but at least they pay for what they take from these girls. I am worse. I waste their time and steal their stories while I delude myself into believing that I have the moral high ground. After all, I’m not having sex with them. I’m not exploiting them physically. I buy them coffee and I ask them questions. What’s the harm in that? I just want to learn about their lives. Like a counselor, or an anthropologist. I am concerned about them.

“What color is your bra?”

“Come with me and I’ll show you.”

“Is it black?”

“No. Not black.”

“Is it red?”

“No. I leave now.”

“Don’t leave.”

“You can come with me. We can go to my room.”

“Do you use the same room every time or does it change? Do you know the owner of the hotel? Does he get a cut of the profits?”

In the end, the truth is that I want to know everything about prostitution without actually experiencing its horrors. I get a vicarious thrill from talking to hookers, from imagining myself as some sort of manly rogue who moves seamlessly through the cultural underbelly. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m just a frightened, self-conscious boy that has spent too much time reading Bukowski and idealizing a lifestyle that I will never comprehend. In my mind, prostitution is guiltless debauchery; it is sin without remorse; it is freedom without the responsibility that makes freedom unbearable.

Finally, after three cups of coffee and about 50 more questions, Katjana gets up from her seat to leave.

“You never talk to me again,” she says.

I nod and finish my tea. The bartender stares at me with murderous intent while I count out the coins to pay for our beverages. “Have a good night,” I say.

He mutters something in Czech that I can’t understand, but I doubt he’s returning my genial salutation.

My apartment building is less than four blocks away, but I don’t go there. Not right away. Instead, I turn in the opposite direction and walk to the center of the city. The night is young and the streets are still filled with vendors and policemen and faceless tourists. British, American, French, Spanish, Italian, Canadian, Australian. We are all the same in the half-glow of the Prague street lights.

Immediately, I blend into the crowd of foreigners, perverts, pimps, drug dealers, fathers, brothers, deviants, priests, husbands, professors, artists, rejects, stockbrokers, writers. I see a young woman standing beside a street vendor wearing an impractical skirt despite the evening chill.

“Sex?” she says. “You want?”

I shrug my shoulders and brush my hand lightly over the tape recorder covering my heart. “I don’t know. Maybe. Let me buy you a cup of coffee.”

Normal is Crazy

January 13, 2012

Originally published in Boulder Weekly

September 2008

“I have a theory about Boulder,” he says. “Trust me, you don’t want to hear it. There are a lot of secrets in this city. I know a lot of secrets. Oh, yeah, you bet. A lot. A. LOT. I keep my mouth shut though. That’s my own secret. That’s how I stay alive, man. I never talk. Not me. There’s a lot of secrets in Boulder, but you’ll never hear them from me. I’m not much of a talker. A lot of people like to talk, they go on and on, but not me. I don’t like to talk much. That’s not my style.”

His name is not Frank, but that’s what he wants me to call him. Frank is tall, about six-foot-two, in his late 40s, with sandy brown hair and a mustache shaped like the bristly end of a push broom. He’s wearing a pair of crisp, new blue jeans with a crease running down the middle of each pant leg and a black T-shirt that has the words “Longmont Fire Department” on the back. Five minutes ago, I was sitting on a bench on Pearl Street, minding my own business, when Frank approached me and started talking, mostly about how he doesn’t like to talk. I asked Frank if I could interview him for my column, and he said yes, as long as I didn’t use his real name.

“But if you think I’m going to tell you something, man, just forget about it. You can ask whatever questions you want, but I ain’t saying squat. I’ve been around here for a long time. A loooong time, man. I know how things work. The media. Ha! The media. My lips are sealed. I moved to Boulder… oooooh, I dunno… 20 years ago, I guess, with my second wife. She’s a bitch. Nah, not really. Well, yeah, sort of. She lives in Louisville with my daughter. My daughter is a great kid. She’s really great, man. Not like her mother. But I don’t really want to talk about it.

“You see, my first wife was crazy. I don’t mean she was insane… not really. We just had trouble getting along and I, um, had to get a whatchamacallit?… A restraining order. I know, it’s messed up, huh? But that’s just how things turn out sometimes. There’s nothing you can do about it. Some people think I’m weird, man, but I don’t care. I like being weird. Being weird is normal. Being normal is crazy. Now, my second wife, she’s about as normal as you can get. I don’t know why she married me. I gotta theory about women, you know.”

Frank has a lot of theories. A. LOT. He has theories about politics and sports and bears. He has theories about public drinking water (“Do you know what fluoride is? I mean, do you know what it really is?”); illegal immigrants (“If they want my job, they can have it”); and basketball (“You have to box-out and crash the boards… it’s all about fundamentals”). But most of his theories are about being normal.

“I could probably be normal if I really wanted to. I’ve done it before. I was normal for about five years back in the ’80s. That’s when I was married to my second wife. It was terrible, man. I was taking a bunch of medication and working at Office Depot and I wanted to kill myself. Not really, but… yeah, kind of. I think you have to be crazy to be normal like that. But, hey, some people like it. That’s the whole point, I guess. If being normal makes you happy, then you should do it, but if being normal makes you crazy, then I don’t think you should do it, even if it makes other people happy.”

Frank doesn’t want to tell me where he works, but he says that he writes poetry and has a flower garden. He plays checkers. He drinks a lot of coffee. A. LOT. He visits his daughter on the weekends, and sometimes they go to the park but mostly they stay at home and watch SpongeBob SquarePants. Frank says that his daughter is normal, and he’s all right with that. She seems happy, but if she ever decides to not be normal, he will be supportive of that, too.

“I really actually hope that she stays normal, you know. It’s just a lot easier. I don’t want her to be like me, man. That’s a hard life, you know. I mean, I’m happy and everything, but it’s better if she’s like her mother…” He pauses and tugs thoughtfully on his mustache. “Well, maybe not exactly like her mother. It might be good if she was like me. At least a little bit, man.”

%d bloggers like this: