Monday, April 30, 2012

Leeeeee-Ronnnnnn Paul!!!

A new video game starring Ron Paul is currently in development. Here's what we know so far:

• Programmers are taking utmost care to ensure the game does not meet FCC standards

• Working titles include Paul of Duty, Dance Dance R(EVOL)ution, Miss PAC Money, Grand Theft Autocracy, Race Invaders, Dr. Game, Paul Kart and Doom

• Suggested retail price: 10 gold nuggets

• The game is a hack of Super Mario Bros., pitting Mario and Luigi against each other while Ron Paul makes a lot of noise in the background

• Our hero punches economists in the face, because that's real mature 

• Instead of life hearts, the game uses your actual wallet; if an enemy hits you and you can't afford health care, you die 

• Paul's sprite can't jump, punch or kick, because that would be inconsistent

• It's a first-person gardener

• You don't rescue the princess, because that leech of a monarch can pull herself up by her own bootstraps

• Up to six players can compete, if you can tolerate that many Paul fans in one place

• An online version will allow players to chat with each other about Ron Paul, just like in every comment section of every YouTube video, news article and like half of all stories

• It won't be available on PS3, Xbox, Wii or Nintendo DS — you buy the game code in a binder, program the port yourself and build a player from scratch

• A beta version for computers was scrapped because we're PC enough as it is

• A Rand Paul level is selectable for children

• Black people can't buy it

• Every objective in the game is terrible and indefensible, but it's OK because at least we're out of Iraq

• It's expected to be a cult hit

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Scary thoughts

On Thursday night, I played the stretchiest role of my fake acting career — frat boy-slash-zombie — for a horror flick to be shown on the SyFy Network.

Filming took place in one of Baton Rouge’s ritziest neighborhoods. So it was no surprise that we had to climb a ladder over a fence to get to the set from the parking yard. Two ladders sat side by side — a metal one and a wooden one, each about five feet high. I took two steps on the creaky wooden one before thinking better of it/nearly falling and using the metal one. After that, I didn’t see anyone even try to use the wooden ladder.

The scene was a frat party at Halloween, so we were asked to bring costumes, especially the kind that you could improvise “out of the back of your closet.” So I took out my high school football jersey, added a headband and knee-high socks and taped together 15 T-shirts to resemble shoulder pads. I didn't know how long (or if) the pads would work, but they held up. The director thought they were real, and the wardrobe designer thanked me for making them. 

Above: The product of 5 minutes of ingenuity.
When they started to slip later in the night, they looked like boobs, but hey, improvisation. Wardrobe later fixed them for me, which I didn’t know was a thing they could do for a lowly extra and his fake props. So that was neat.

What they looked like 13 hours later. I looked similarly unraveled.
Two girls from Lafayette recognized the jersey and asked me if I had gone to Lafayette High. I said I had, and asked them what year they graduated. 2007. Sheesh. (I graduated in 1998.)

Just being cast for the role was a shot to my self-esteem, because the call was for college-age kids (which another call for the same shoot specified as ages 19-26). One of the first people I met told me her husband didn’t make the cut because he was too old — 32.

My age became a running conversation piece throughout the night. Several times, completely different sets of people came up to me, with one person saying to their friends, “Guess how old this guy is?” Only one guy guessed as high as 30, mainly because he figured there was a reason for this line of questioning. So the night was a long parade of college girls saying, “Oh my god, you do NOT look 32” and, “You look just like one of us, dude,” which may be the best compliment I’ve ever gotten.

(I experienced the flip side of this during a costume fitting on New Orleans on Friday. I’m going to portray a Civil War re-enactor — specifically, a Union soldier, which led the costume designer to take a picture of me in costume next to a sign that said, “Ian McGibboney, Union.” (An extra can dream.) Part of the costume is period hairstyles and facial hair, the former which I don’t have and the latter I barely ever have. Two days before, they tipped me off to stop shaving, which I did. When they saw me face to face, a woman immediately said, “come back clean-shaven. We’ll have fake hair for you.” Also, to her co-worker: “He looks so young, I think he can get away with it.” So to recap: youth is good when you’re nearly 32 and can mix at a college party. It’s not so good when you play a virile, manly period soldier.)

One of the guys nicknamed me “Throwback” for reasons that should be obvious. I like that.

As so often happens, we had prop drinks; mine was an Abita. Though they passed around water at regular intervals, I got so thirsty that I was actually sipping on the filler water in the bottle (which they always tell you not to drink). Someone told me that, prior to the shoot, the prop masters poured out all the beer. Your movie budget at work!

In between scenes, they ask you to leave the bottle on the prop table, on the numbered square where you got it. For ease of continuity, I chose square 40, since that was my jersey number. I still somehow managed to get a different bottle.

After the first break, I left my headband on the table under the holding tent, and wasn’t able to get it until after dinner break. In other words, one-third of my scenes are a collective goof. We’ll just say I took it off because it’s hot, because it was.

One scene involved a guy taking body shots off of a sexy sorority girl as the crowd hoots on appreciatively. I didn’t get to see much of that, but I’m told that, despite the casting call I read, no nudity was remotely apparent. Blast, cable!

I danced stupidly. And the sky is up and this is a blog.

There was a scene where we’re all on the floor intertwined with one another. It wasn’t as sexy as it sounds. Or was it?

I was one of a handful of people selected to “vomit” on camera. We accomplished this by holding a sip of water in our mouths and chewing half of an Alka-Seltzer tablet. Let me tell you, that works like a charm. The only challenge is in not having your cheeks puff up too much to keep it in until the cue. With the full force of the camera on my face (I could even see it in the viewfinder), I had to mimic being shot Ark of the Covenant style and projectile-spit the froth toward the stage on my way down to the ground. Two takes later, and we were disappointingly done.

One scene shot when I was out of the room involved a stuntman thrown against the wall. One loud crack later, there was a giant hole in the wall. They threw a spider web decoration over it, though the hole itself looked like a spider web.

In my part in that scene, I had to hold and comfort a beautiful blonde who I guess was my girlfriend, and was about to hurl from spiked punch. Her real boyfriend’s name is Ian.

I also hung out with a dead girl. She was nice.

The shoot dragged on for 13 hours. I actually managed two quick naps. A party girl caught some winks on my knee. We must have shot enough, because they didn’t call me back on Friday night.

I will be very prominent in this film. Look for me.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A conversation with somebody

“Big election coming up huh, Ian?”


“Who do you think’s going to win?”

“Definitely Obama. I think he’s starting to recapture the enthusiasm of 2008 and he has the good fortune of running against Mitt Romney.”

“What a square, huh?”

“He’s nothing but right angles.”

“Ha ha! Yeah, I can’t believe the Republicans went with him. Pathetic. Almost as pathetic as Obama has been as president.”

“You think Obama’s been a bad president?”

“Maybe the worst of all time.”

“You’re exaggerating.”

“No, I’m not. At least you know with a Republican president they’re going to be vile and greedy. Obama gave us a glimmer of hope. That’s worse.”

“I think Obama’s been great in the face of historic adversity and opposition. The presidency is a cauldron of compromise to begin with, especially for a progressive president who has to buck unstoppable greed to represent. Not to mention the unbelievable mess he inherited. I don’t like everything he does, either, but all in all I believe he’s been a terrific president.”

“You’ve bought into the propaganda. I’m disappointed in you. Surely you, of all people, should know better.”

“It’s an imperfect system with imperfect people. Saying I support someone within it shouldn’t make me a robot.”

"You're an idiot if you think any politicians are good. The truth is, they're all bad."

“Every one of them? Equally?”

“Yeah. They should throw out all the bums. Start over fresh.”

“Then what?”

“Elect leaders who respect the Constitution, like Ron Paul.”

“Ron Paul? Isn’t he one of the bums you want to throw out?”

“Why would I want to throw him out?”

“Because he’s an incumbent, and you just said they’re all bad.”

“Dr. Paul represents what this country can be and must become.”

“He said he wouldn’t have voted for the Civil Rights Act because it infringes upon property rights.”

“But he’s said it consistently!”

“That’s what matters.”

“Yes. When you’re representing thousands or millions of people, you can’t afford to be flexible. It’s a sign of weakness. Obama bends all the time to get things done, as do so many others. It’s awful.”

“So you think we’d be better off if every politician had Asperger’s and refused to negotiate, ever. Doesn’t sound like much of anything would happen.”

“That’s a small price to pay for principled government. Which is what we don’t have now.”

“So what you’re saying is, all politicians are bad and must go, but the one you like gets to stay.”

“I’m saying we have a corrupt system and it’s got to go.”

“So it’s the system?”

“Yes. Lobbyists, big money, special interests ... they buy our legislation.”

“So which is it? The system or the politicians? If it’s the system, then it doesn’t matter which politicians are in office. That’s a big difference.”

“Both. They’re both bad. Everything is bad.”

“So what do you suggest we do?”

“I don’t think there’s anything we can do.”


“Yeah. We’re pretty much fucked.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well, then, you’re part of the problem.”

“Oh, really? So how, pray tell, do I become part of the solution? Do I throw my hands up in the air, sigh and say, ‘everything is fucked’ like you? Gee, that was easy! I feel so much better now! Like a burden has been lifted. No more worrying about how to fix political corruption, or solving our problems, or even voting — because none of it matters! It can’t be fixed! And I’m smart enough to know that now, unlike the sheeple! So now I can stop trying to find rational, workable answers to our problems. Leave that to the suckers and their shreds of optimism and civic duty. I’m above all that now. Phew!”

“Flip-floppers like you make me sick.”

[I walk out of the room.]

The Rhythm Method is gonna get you

Make up your mind, Catholic Church! 

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia apparently has a policy that students attending prom must have a date. They say it's because prom is "a special social event." And apparently special social events aren't attended by deviant, non-couple people. 

I urge the church to reverse this stance. In fact, it seems prudent for the archdiocese to flip the rule entirely: no dates! No one arrives with a date and — most crucially — no one leaves with one either. Employ separate exits if necessary. It's much easier to enforce a no-hanky-panky or minimum interacting distance when the entire dance is awkward. With a little luck, the dance might end up in the fifth-grade configuration: guys over here, girls over there. And BOOM! No chance of abortion! (Though gay marriage is possible. This proposal has wrinkles, I'll admit.)

In any case, it seems wrong to rail constantly against things like abortion and teen lust and then chide a young girl for not having a date. After all, it isn't like she planned it — her date pulled out. Why punish and embarrass her any further? The decision to attend prom should be between her and her chauffeur, and not subject to the outdated patriarchal mores of the clergy (especially given that they won't pay a dime toward her significant expenses). Who could possibly disagree with that?

Oh, right.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Other Saints futile cheats

The newest allegations against the New Orleans Saints, that GM Mickey Loomis allegedly bugged opponents’ boxes in the Louisiana Superdome from 2002-04, is the latest in a series of revelations that taint the team’s recent accomplishments. But these are hardly isolated incidents — indeed, the Saints have been cheating for as long as they’ve existed. And they've hardly ever had anything to show for it. Here’s a comprehensive look back at the franchise’s futile cheating over the years:

1966: The Saints name themselves after religious icons in order to gain divine favor.

1967: In their first brush with snooping, the Saints sign running back Charlie Brown.

1968: The Saints offer a performance-based incentive to the player who conceives Brett Favre.

1969: Coach Tom Fears implements an illicit drug regimen, leading to high players lying on benches and watching their helmets dance.

1970: The Saints move the goalpost to the front of the end zone just so Tom Dempsey can make a kick.

1971: The Saints draft Archie Manning for the express purpose of spying on the quarterbacks of the Colts and Giants.

1972: Beset with allegations that they don’t care about safety, the Saints respond by losing a game 37-2.

1973: Head coach John North steals a Cleveland Browns playbook, which totally comes in handy in 1975.

1974: The NCAA discovers that Tulane has been hosting the Saints for seven years, but declines to investigate because “they’ve suffered enough.”

1975: The Saints move into the Louisiana Superdome, launching the most unfair and most squandered home-field advantage in pro sports.

1976-77: The Saints spend 26 weeks spying on the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and lose anyway.

1978: Following the Saints’ suspicious sweep of the San Francisco 49ers, the NFL punishes the Saints with the death penalty — Joe Montana.

1979: Leading the Oakland Raiders 35-14 on Monday Night Football — and with the franchise’s first-ever playoff appearance in sight — Saints coaches promise each member of the defense a $15,000 bonus and a lap dance if they just hold on. They lose, 42-35.

1980: The Saints decide to play a clean game against the Jets, just for kicks.

1981: New coach Bum Phillips introduces performance-enhancing players into the locker room. However, most are well past their freshness date, and have no noticeable effect.

1982: The Saints’ vow to cheat in October is thwarted when nobody plays any games that month.

1983: In Week 16, the Saints ply the Los Angeles Rams with cheap shots and late hits but spare kicker Mike Lansford because hey, what’s he gonna do?

1984: Running back Hokie Gajan hides a microphone in his helmet that picks up opponents’ sideline communications. But the intel is drowned out by phrases like “duck on a junebug” and other folksy things Hokie says.

1985: Bum Phillips resigns in disgrace after Joe Theismann’s leg breaks.

1986: New coach Jim Mora gets in trouble for mocking his team until officials realize that’s just what he does.

1987: Spare Bears quarterback Sean Payton is fired after failing to put the lid on the Scab Saints’ aggressive play.

1988: At season’s end, several sportswriters hit the unemployment line for having said the Saints will reach the Super Bowl — not for saying it, but for lying about it.

1989: The famed Dome Patrol defense is rumored to have a $47 million bounty out on Joe Montana. It’s adorable.

1990: With quarterback Bobby Hebert holding out, the Saints recruit Steve Walsh, who later admits to being paid to suck.

1991: Linebacker Pat Swilling arouses suspicion for yelling, “Cha-Ching!” after every big tackle.

1992-93: Prior to the playoff game against the Eagles, a secret radio placed by the Saints on the Philadelphia sideline malfunctions. It finally cracks to life in the fourth quarter, after which the Eagles score 26 unanswered points and cruise to victory.

1993: Emboldened by a 5-0 start, the Saints use their bye week to fly to heaven and personally thank Jesus for their seven-season run of luck. As soon as they get there, quarterback Wade Wilson shatters a mirror.

1994: The Saints take advantage of Fox’s new NFL coverage to keep an eye on Terry Bradshaw’s signals.

1995: The Saints lose to the Carolina Panthers despite holding an unfair advantage in existing.

1996: The Saints place actual diddly poo on opponents' sidelines.

1997: The Saints play badly on purpose in order to draft Peyton Manning in 1998.

1998: Coach Mike Ditka reportedly receives money from the Saints, as well as microphones to communicate across the stadium, for his role in encouraging players to hit hard and focus on beating certain teams.

1999: The Saints draft Ricky Williams, a beast of a player who the NFL eventually suspends for being so high above the competition.

2000: Before the Chargers game, Saints defensive coordinator Ron Zook promises $100,000 to whoever makes Ryan Leaf look bad. Leaf wins the money.

2001: The Saints are denied their request to play the Carolina Panthers 16 times.

2002: On the cusp of a playoff berth in early December, the Saints make locker-room bets that they can’t squander their hopes in epic fashion.

2003: The River City Relay, the Saints’ successful last-ditch attempt to score a final touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars, is ruled a legal play. However, the football used in John Carney’s shanked extra point later tests positive for steroids.

2004: The league rules that Aaron Brooks’ constant, incongruous laughing constitutes a positive drug test.

2005: The Saints brazenly invade other teams’ stadiums and claim multiple home-field advantages.

2006: By exceeding all expectations for a rebuilding team, the Saints are scrutinized for their alleged use of reverse psychology.

2007: Frustrated by being blown out by the Indianapolis Colts in the nationally televised season opener, Saints defenders tackle Archie Manning.

2008: The Saints play the Chargers in London, but discover the Geneva Convention applies there too, nullifying the point.

2009-10: The Saints win the Super Bowl. That has to be some kind of sorcery.

2010-11: The Saints secretly place land mines in Marshawn Lynch’s shoes. They figure even if the mines don't detonate, surely any of the 11 defenders on the field will take him down. Win-win!

2011-12: The Saints enjoy a superb 13-3 season and a deep run in the playoffs, losing at the last second to the No. 2-seeded 49ers. And it’s all possible because of Gregg Williams’ proficient and bloodthirsty defensepppahahahahahahahaha!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ballpark figuratives

If Facebook tells me anything I already know (and it does many, many times over), it’s that there’s a huge diversity in economic stances among my friends. Most are struggling to get by. Others openly wonder what type of luxury car they should buy to tow their kayaks (yes, plural). I’m fortunate to have been exposed to a huge diversity of people throughout my life. My friends span every ethnicity, religion, income bracket, political belief and overall attitude I can think of. They’ve all had a hand in how I see things, and have taught me to see things their way as well. They’ve helped me evolve when I needed to evolve (which is often), and vice versa. I think that’s true for all of us. But in some respects, that natural assimilation is in danger.

Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel writes on Huffington Post about what he calls the “Skyboxification of American life.” He writes that we have morphed from a market economy to a market society, which is one of those sentences I wish I’d written. He says a major consequence of this market society is that different classes of people are increasingly segregating themselves economically, much like the levels of a ballpark.

As someone who has both been up in a corporate skybox overlooking home plate and cleaned up vomit on the grass (and back), I find this to be a tremendous point. To a degree we all confine our company, because we’re naturally attracted to people who make us comfortable and to whom we can relate. The trouble begins when we attempt to build a wall (or skybox) to keep out those we deem beneath us.

To me, American society is like radio. In the peak years of the medium, stations carried a mix of hits from a variety of genres. Today, you can retreat to a channel that plays only Tim McGraw (I’m not making that up). And while I’m all for a litany of choices, I worry that the collective experience — that feeling of discovering something new and unexpected — gets lost. As much as the explosion of the Internet opens people up to new interests and viewpoints, it’s also just as likely to suck people deeper into narrow niches.

This is worrisome enough on its own without the concerted effort by many in the American upper class to wall themselves off in their own cloisters. Gated communities, private schools, country clubs, upscale shopping centers, exclusive churches, skyscraper offices, favorable media outlets — these are largely the province of people who want to interact with the community only on their own terms.

Not that they feel much obligation toward the community. Sure, they’ll dip into the occasional high-profile charity endeavor, but they aren’t at all interested in supporting the infrastructure they’ve ceded to the rest of us. Some want to pull all of their taxes out of the system. “Why should I have to pay for things I don’t use?” The same reason I have to — because that’s the idea. You can’t opt out of the system just because you chose to build McGalt Fortress Subdivision (with our tax help, I might add). We’re all in this together.

Interacting with a diverse array of people shapes your thinking in both conscious and subconscious ways. I suspect that’s why people convinced wealth is a function of attitude don’t want to interact with the poor and middle class — because they might find out that all struggling people aren’t lazy, drug-addicted bastards. And learning that might make them question a lot of other things.

It works the other way, too — it's too easy for us to lump in all upper-class people in the uncaring-monster mob if you don't know any. I have friends who are swimming in cash and/or live in these types of places who are among the most genuinely compassionate and open-minded people I know. But in being that way, they are mindful of the world at large. And that’s what all of us need to be. The only problem erecting walls and skyboxes will ever fix is the problem of community.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

My letter to Apple

A light point about abortion

Pro-life advocates often say abortion is a modern-day Holocaust. They point to 50 million abortions since 1973 as a tragedy on par with the murder of 11 million humans at the hands of Adolf Hitler.

Let's pretend for a moment that this makes any kind of sense.

If you count the unborn as people the way the anti-abortion camp does, then WAY more than 11 million people died in the Holocaust. Pregnant Jews faced forced abortion, which not only adds to the total, but adds a layer of evil not seen in the U.S. As for gametes, well, we're talking numbers that can be expressed only with scientific notation and keyboard shortcuts. And it means Hitler killed his first million when he hit puberty.

Either way, there's only one Holocaust. And it's not even close. 

Mitt Romney Mania!

When asked if he was enthusiastic about Romney, though, Barber laughed. "That's a good question. I will work with every fiber of my being to see that Barack Obama is not re-elected, and to the extent there is a collateral benefit to Mitt Romney, so be it." (Huffington Post)

Man, that's cold. That's not even faint praise — that's just damning. But I bet if Romney works hard and proves his mettle on the campaign trail, he'll eventually upgrade his campaign to "Anyone but Obama" levels.

A weird dream I had

The U.S. Army tapped me to serve as a sentinel (guard) for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In real life, this is one of the most honorific duties a soldier can receive. It requires incredible discipline, hardiness and education about Arlington National Cemetery. They don't stop guarding for any reason, including hurricanes and terrorist attacks. They spend six hours a day grooming their uniforms. The standards are so high that only a few hundred men and women have ever occupied the post.

And they gave it to me. 

The commander gave me the uniform to put on and asked me if I knew the drill. I snapped a salute and said, "Sir, yes, sir!" He asked me to try it out. I did the 12 steps (it's actually 21) perfectly, and he was impressed. He warned me that my shift would take an unspecified amount of time (he didn't say, though I've since read it's 30 minutes to two hours depending on the time of day or night). He offered me nicotine Tic Tacs for energy, but I declined, saying I can pile up sleepy time later (which is presumably why I have bizarre dreams like this in the first place).

The rest of the dream was of me counting out 12 steps from one mark to the other. I usually covered the distance in eight steps, though, so I had to adjust on the fly. Also, people kept sticking boxes in my way. And sometimes my feet came down in unnatural directions. Also, at one point, I lost the marks in the mud that's apparently all over the beaten path. And I took off my pants for some reason before putting them back on.

But nobody noticed, and when the commander came back out, he continued to be impressed. "Nice job, soldier," he said. "I've done this before, sir," I replied, because apparently I had in this universe.

Then I awoke, but still kept having the dream somehow. I kept counting pretty much until I stood up and finally told myself to stop.

This dream may have been about not letting obstacles get in the way of my self-determination. But more likely, it was an acting dream. Yeah, probably that.

Friday, April 20, 2012

My day hanging with Al Roker on Treme

When I got to New Orleans, I parked my car. More on that later.

The scene was a consolation booking after last Friday’s call was canceled at the last minute. I would have been an “upscale diner,” though I didn’t have my sport coat in my closet. The cancellation allowed me to grab my coat at my parents’ house in Lafayette over the weekend. Only after I got back to Baton Rouge did I learn that I was now to be a “tourist” wearing street clothes, which meant I visited my family for nothing this past weekend. Drat.

The scene, which takes place on Lundi Gras in February 2008, featured Al Roker filming a “Today Show” cooking sketch above the performance area near Jackson Square. I was among the assembled crowd you always see on the Today Show.

Before reaching our places, I decided that I was visiting from Toledo, Ohio. (In retrospect, though, I should have been from Springfield, Missouri, where I was living at the time this takes place.) As I tend to do, I teamed up with another extra who would play the role of Lifelong Pal. The prop people gave us both beads and cups of nonalcoholic beer and told us we had been out all night drinking, so we immediately commenced to falling over each other. We continued the schtick while sitting on the stands waiting for final orders — apparently well enough for several people to think we were really drunk and/or lifelong friends. And as you might expect, I spilled half of my beer.

I know the beer was nonalcoholic because, while practicing my fake swigging, I inadvertently swallowed some. It tasted like a low-sodium saltine. Nothing should taste like a low-sodium saltine.

The director advised the crowd to act as if we were from Kalamazoo and other midwestern cities, happy to be out in the sun for the first time this year. He didn’t specifically mention Toledo, which brought down my whole self-drafted backstory. Also undermining the whole out-of-hibernation angle: my tan from two months of swimming in Louisiana.

One woman behind me was given a sign to hoist above her head saying, “Lafayette, Indiana loves Al!” Someone else had a sign that said, “Kasas City,” which was tea party levels of incorrect. I thought that was a clever take on the occasional misspelled sign that really appears on “Today,” but it turned out to be a genuinely embarrassing typo, which the crew promptly corrected. Other sings included “Who Dat!” and “Bring back Arrested Development!”

My job was to dance wildly while a local brass band jammed. Typecasting. We also had to cheer Al Roker. That’s not acting.

My Lifelong Pal is a guy from Texas who owns a couple of restaurants and has had a few speaking roles. He and I ate lunch afterwards at the Camellia Grill. There, we sat next to two cute girls from Montreal who turned out to be on the Treme crew, and one of our waiters was a guy who planned to audition for a voiceover role for Treme the next day (he should get it, too, with that velvet voice). Small world.

On our way back to our cars, we started talking about the Saints. He’s from Dallas. You can imagine how well this went. It ended with him telling me how hilarious I was when I got heated and how funny I was in general. That’s a good way to win an argument, I think.

At that point, he discovered he had lost his parking validation sticker. This was critical, because it was the difference between skating out for free and paying $35. Earlier, he had attached his to his bag while I stuck mine on my cell phone. At the time, he said I’d have a hard time peeling it off. Yep, which is why it didn’t flutter away. We frantically retraced our steps from Hard Rock CafĂ© to Camellia Grill all the way back to Westin, but never found it.

Fortunately, my incompetence saved the day. Turns out I had parked in the lot adjacent to the correct one. The first hint that something was wrong was when we first walked to his car, which was not where mine was. We figured out that one of us was in the wrong place, but we weren’t sure who. It was only after we got in my car and attempted to use my validation (which by then was in three pieces from trying to get it off my phone ... curses!) that we realized he was in the right. That was actually good news, because it meant the idiot in this situation (me) would pay less — had my co-star been wrong, he’d be out $35. The attendant, sympathetic to my situation, charged me the $9 Early Bird fee, which was even better. He also handed us back the validation sticker, which was in even more pieces after he tore it off the garage ticket. I dropped off my friend who, armed with what was left of my validation, headed off. But just before he did, he amusedly pointed out the numerous huge, honking blue signs reading, “EXTRA PARKING” that I had somehow missed entirely in my unblinking allegiance to Google Maps.

The day ended as most good days do, with a screaming headache. But it’s always fun to make new friends and connections and to have a new story in the arsenal.

Oh, and Al Roker gazed in my general direction. No one can ever take that away from me.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Weird remark I heard today

Cute white girl with many tattoos at pool:

"This must be Obama's pool, it's so clean!"

No idea what that means. I'll assume it isn't nice.

An inconvenient truth (in convenient pocket form!)

The next time someone accuses science of being your religion, ask them why politics is their religion.

Politics is the biggest religion around these days. Abortion, tax cuts, foreign policy, the Second Amendment — all those and many more are as likely to be discussed in church as the Bible. So it only makes sense that the latest tract from Jack Chick (of "This Was Your Life!" fame) doesn't even try to be a clever marriage of life and Christianity — it's bluntly titled, "Global Warming."

Next up: "The Birth Certificate."
It's funny that one of the tract's points is that global warming has become a religion (complete with gods I've never heard of), when denying it is really the leap of faith.

It's also funny that it compares scientists to the Catholic doomsayers of old. Just like them, the tract claims, today's scientists have been warning of the end of the world for years, and that time has yet to come. So we should just ignore their crazy hysterics, which are motivated at least in part by profit and power. 

Instead, we should put our trust in Jesus, whose return to Earth is set for any day now. No need to worry about global warming, flock, because Jesus will burn up the world before we have a chance to! Except that we aren't capable of burning up the world. And Jesus is only breaking out the holy magnifying glass so he can burn off the tumors and reign for 1,000 years (after which Chick takes over, I presume). So buy dead-tree Chick tracts and SUVs! And don't mind the global-warming doomsayers — put your faith in Christian doomsaying!

I feel better already! 
So is global warming a religion? I guess it is now! Cue the T-shirts!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The blog market has spoken

Blogger’s current interface is inferior in many ways to its predecessor. For one thing, I didn’t used to lose all of my formatting in transferring from document to post. (But then, all of the manually inserted line breaks I have to do have been really good for my biceps.) Also, I could import links without having to take gibberish out of them (though it does give me an easy way to vacuum out the gibberish).

One nifty feature it does offer is a count of how many times an individual post has been read (or at least clicked). This is a terrific indicator of what interests my readership (or spambots, or people who got here by accident and left).

Just from this single statistic, I’ve learned a few things:

• There is a huge gap in views, with posts either getting under 100 hits or drawing way more than that. The middle class is virtually nonexistent here.

• Either the hit counter started counting later, or there were entire months when no one read anything. The first one. Yeah.

• Much of my most popular stuff was written for something other than this blog, such as college classes or other websites.

• There’s no correlation between the amount of effort I put into a post and how popular it becomes.

What follows is a list of my most-read posts by click count, going back to the beginning of this blog in 2004. Enjoy (where applicable).

June 1, 2004 

What it is: An excerpt from a book about food I partially wrote about 12 years ago. It explains what I think accounts for the differences in how food processors label chickens.

Why I think it’s popular: Time. Also, it appears very high when you Google “mechanically separated chicken.” And “Ian McGibboney chicken” may be a common search as well. 

June 14, 2006

What it is: A list of pick-up lines divided by historical periods. Originally written in 2003 for a college class and updated for 2006.

Why I think it’s popular: People are desperate for love and have time machines.

July 4, 2009

What it is: My thoughts following Sarah Palin’s reloading from the governorship of Alaska.

Why I think it’s popular: Got me. I’ve written much better snark about Sarah Palin.

April 7, 2011

What it is: My forecast that President Obama would have an easy go in the 2012 election, due to GOP division and the nature of presidential elections in general.

Why I think it’s popular: Because its truths continue to hold up a year later. Also, a link from Daily Kos never hurts.

Jan. 25, 2007

What it is: A scathing indictment of those who dismiss the Katrina tragedy in New Orleans because somehow it’s less deserving of our help and sympathy than similarly stricken U.S. cities.

Why I think it’s popular: I posted it to Daily Kos, as well as sent it via e-mail to a lot of people. Also, the title attracts people who like to answer “hell, yes” in my comment section.

July 21, 2005

What it is: A spoof of frat boys, written in response to a newspaper’s confusion of two local fraternities (one of which was under investigation).

Why I think it’s popular: On a Bing search for “frats are all the same,” this article is third behind a Rolling Stone article and Wikipedia’s entry for “fraternities and sororities.” On Google, it pops up first (at least for me). No wonder I’ve gotten so much Greek hate mail over it.

April 6, 2010

What it is: A surreal recollection of a massive head injury I once suffered. Posted in a few places.

Why I think it’s popular: People want to know what a concussion feels like but lack the ambition to suffer one themselves.

March 20, 2007

What it is: A story I wrote to fill space on a layout project during my third semester of college. I didn’t have a scanner at the time, so I didn’t scan the pictures that I wrote the story around. Now I have a scanner and can’t find the pictures. Go figure.

Why I think it’s popular: Oxygen is an incredibly addictive substance.

Oct. 26, 2005

What it is: A spoof of Prussian Blue, a neo-Nazi band consisting of two very young sisters. They’ve reportedly since disavowed their past and now smoke medicinal marijuana.

Why I think it’s popular: Boobs (legal ones). Also, funny song titles.

March 29, 2006

What it is: A look at a sculpture of pregnant Britney Spears.

Why I think it’s popular: Boobs. Also, no song titles.

Sept. 28, 2005

What it is: All the reasons I think the pledge is the epitome of rote patriotism.

Why I think it’s popular: Because I’m apparently the only person who has ever written anything with that title ... but not the only one who feels that way.

(Special thanks for the entire years of 2007 and 2008 for making this search go a lot faster.)

Bullet point

You know what has never turned me on? Women with guns.

There's an equation to this. If I see a picture or a video of a beautiful woman holding a gun on a movie poster, for example, I will see her as beautiful, but mentally edit out the gun. For me, this reeks of marketing research meant to draw in 14-year-old boys.

If such a picture is on a rabid right-wing website as an example of a girl you shouldn't mess with, I will not find her beautiful. Even if she is. Probably because I've known a few cute gun obsessives in my time and they're generally scary. (To be fair to gun people, snobbery also has the same beauty-vaporizing effect.)

There's probably a deep-seated psychological reason for this. I prefer to think it's related to this, though.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Rapid Fire Rules

Rule #196: American Reunion With Reality
Movies about people in their 20s and 30s must occasionally depict at least some of those people not living in McMansions or in expensive lofts (and by that I mean normal people, not just stoners or man-children). Throw us a bone by acknowledging that some of us live in apartments or any other type of combination of cramped, crowded or decrepit quarters. Then throw us another bone, because it's hard to make it today and we could use the calcium.

Rule #197: Get It Write
Writers in movies who live in expensive houses and/or have beach homes either must cease to exist, or spend an entire scene explaining to us how the hell that works. I don't care if it doesn't advance the plot. Advance life.

Rule #198: Lock Mess
When you're riding shotgun in a car and waiting for the driver to remotely unlock the door, do not yank the handle. In 100 percent of cars, that results in the door not unlocking. And 100 percent of the time, it jacks up the lock. Patience, grasshopper!

Rule #199: Looking a Gift Source in the Mouth
Every day may be a gift from God, but have you liked every gift you've ever gotten?

Rule #200: Game Marriage (or, Ball and Chain)
The Jacksonville Jaguars should take their stated preference for married players and hitch the whole team — to each other. Because it's not true that behind every good man is a good woman — sometimes, it's a back. This is the Jags' chance to be known for something other than idiotic team moves. No it's not.

Rule #201: Taxes of Evil
Stop whining about income taxes, wealthy people. You know that ever-inflating percentage of people you claim pay no income taxes? Yeah, it's because they don't make enough money to live. They pay sales and other types of taxes, which burden them a lot more than they burden you, and they're often trapped in a cycle of debt. I wonder, too, how many poor people realize what a free ride so many the nation's most affluent get on both income and capital-gains taxes. To say nothing about the state of an economy that has pushed many formerly well-off people into a mode of austerity that no one should ever have to understand. I'm sure those who don't pay income taxes would love to be in a position to bitch about them. Alas, that is a luxury, and luxuries aren't too abundant these days.

This rule goes double for people who are struggling themselves, but align with the Romneys of the world. I understand the self-interest of the 1 percent; it's the sympathy for them I don't get.

Rule #202: Fulfilling the Blanks
Tearing up a standardized test should result in an immediate passing grade. Because that's what we should be teaching in the first place.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Dear Hilary Rosen: Do not apologize

Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen has come under fire from the usual suspects for saying that Ann Romney has never worked a day in her life. 

Do I need to point out how stupid the outrage is? Yes, I do.

Raising five children at home is a big deal. I doubt anyone disagrees with that. And I doubt anyone thinks that raising children isn’t a tiring, thankless and busy undertaking. Rosen included.

But there is a CONSIDERABLE difference between raising children (one, let alone five) with no need to work and having to do the same thing with a job on top, like most parents do these days.

And by "work," I mean earn an income. Apparently we have to make that distinction now. 

A lot of things that don’t generate income are labor-intensive. Raising a child. Volunteering. Even writing. But these are all productive pursuits to varying degrees. Stay-at-home moms (or dads) don't deserve scorn, but neither do parents who must work.

Rosen isn’t criticizing Romney for anything other than not knowing what it’s like to live in a state of financial uncertainty. The Romneys are (and should be) hammered repeatedly not for their wealth, but for their utter disconnect with the working class.

Make no mistake — this is entirely political. It’s a party, rightfully attacked for its retrograde anti-women stance, desperately lashing back on any straw it can grasp. If the Democrats ran a onetime stay-at-home mom, the GOP would find that at least as HILARIOUS as Barack Obama being a community organizer. They’d rip that woman for having no credentials for being a leader, wondering why she didn’t start a business like all decent people instead of mooching off other people’s money.

Rosen shouldn’t even apologize; it implies that she’s wrong. She isn’t. Saying the Romneys are economically out of touch barely counts as insight. Criticize her for that.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Also also ironic: The concern for animals

A potentially explosive question

If guns are the essence of freedom and standing your ground in America, then why was George Zimmerman in hiding until today?

This is not a snarky question. I've heard over and over from armed friends and family that they are ready to defend themselves from any threat at all costs, and many cannot comprehend why anyone wouldn't carry. I've been told that not being armed is to put myself at risk, and that having a weapon is an antidote to fear.

I don't own a gun, and I don't live in fear. But George Zimmerman did. And he did.

Maybe this is a murkier debate than most let on.

Castrating free speech

I'm about to turn in my sports-fan card. Forever. I'm this close. 

Why? Because this past month has been hard for me to stomach. Not just because coaches keep doing bad things (or saying things that can be construed as bad things by small but loud groups always looking to be offended) — but because the self-righteousness coming from critics makes this two sides of a germ-addled coin.

We're in a period where more people than ever are afraid to speak their minds. The Internet, ironically, is most likely the reason why — this open forum is better than any other medium at isolating and de-contextualizing words, and repeatedly hammering us with reminders of transgressions. "You'll never work in this town again" has never been a more accurate, or publicly satisfying, refrain. Whereas many years ago, random nights of debauchery could be forgotten down the line, or a public figure forgiven for relatively mild incidents, the Internet reminds us of our initial rage for all time (which can be good or pointless, depending on the case at hand). This affects not just social standing but also employment, which in this economy is the main tangible people want to protect. About the only people who aren't hesitant to speak their minds anymore are those with nothing to lose, and/or those with no sense of tact or sanity.

I'm in favor of letting people say what they want. They're only words. We won't like everything people say. And while I think there's a line that can be crossed, I think we're moving that line too far up. (I say, save that line for racism, hatred, incitement or hypocrisy — everything else is disagreement.) And that's to our detriment, because it leads to people speaking in code. The way I see it, the problem isn't what people say, but how and why they say it. We're trying to eliminate statements from public dialogue, when the real effort should be in erasing the dubious sentiments behind them.

Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen's statement that he respects Fidel Castro for his longevity, frankly, does not deserve the backlash it's getting. Granted, it's not the smartest thing he could have said — it's as if he was searching for an example of longevity, and that's who first came to mind. There have been times I've worked on something and found myself doing that, but deciding that negative connotations, even ones unrelated to my point, meant I should find a better example. As a writer, I have the luxury of doing that. In an oral interview, you don't get a do-over. 

Furthermore, Guillen wasn't pulling a Marge Schott-style endorsement of a tyrant. Schott said years ago that Hitler had some good ideas. Guillen simply expressed respect for Castro's longevity. He didn't go into how great a leader Castro was, or how his hardline critics in Miami just need to understand the man they despise. That's a very different point that would be far more deserving of outrage had he made it (and he definitely didn't). This piece at SB Nation represents exactly how I feel about the incident.

Lately I've been wondering if people won't be satisfied until everyone in pro sports is mute off the field and solemn on it. While we're at it, let's remove names and even numbers from jerseys; after all, these are team sports. Let's continue to pretend that pro sports is just about the game and that colorful characters are not part of the draw. Let's continue to get deeply outraged by absolutely every statement that anyone makes, and keep up that outrage for all time. Let's ban everyone who crosses any lines with anyone, ever. Let's eliminate all the controversy and individualism from pro sports and bring them back to the golden age when everyone knew their place. (Does Doc Brown have a button in the DeLorean for "never"?)

Please don't hold pro sports to the same free speech-squelching standards that are increasingly choking real life. If sports gets any more sterile, my fanhood won't set any longevity records.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Coach class

The recently leaked audio of Gregg Williams’ now-infamous pre-game speech is a lot of things, but it’s not the icing on the bounty cake.

This recording doesn’t shine light on anything that wasn’t already overcome with glare. All it does is allow people to say, “Told you so.” Gregg Williams is probably guilty as hell of many terrible things. But this isn’t why. This is strictly circumstantial evidence.

Talk is cheap — cheaper than cheap hits, even. I can’t count how many times I’ve shouted something like this during a Saints game: “I HATE YOU, [beloved star player]! I HOPE YOU BREAK YOUR NECK AND DIE IN A FIRE MANY YEARS AFTER YOU HAVE TO MOVE BACK IN WITH YOUR PARENTS BECAUSE YOU’RE TOO STUPID AND/OR PARALYZED FOR GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT AFTER FOOTBALL!!”

(Yeah, I get pretty specific. And I’ve actually said far worse at times.)

Yeah, it’s not classy, nor is it particularly indicative of my real feelings. I don’t really want Beloved Star Player to die in a fire, nor am I excited if the injury I call for comes to fruition. In fact, it would spook me if it did.

But of course, I’m not a coach. Coaches are supposed to be responsible leaders. And even-handed checks on player impulses, according to no one who has played football. Football coaches generally are portrayed as one of two stereotypes: 1) sage team leaders or 2) sociopathic heels. The truth is that most football coaches exhibit flashes of both. And that’s because they’re humans, and humans do that.

In the audio clip, Williams got caught being the sociopathic heel. It doesn’t help his case. But is it outrageous, or even that uncommon? No.

I heard stuff like this in high school. Everyone who has played football, or otherwise spent time in a locker room pre-game, has on some level. This is exactly the kind of bluster testosterone-fueled coaches routinely pump into locker rooms to fire up the team. It’s not always that specific or creepy, but there’s never any shortage of potentially controversial material that would be shocking out of context. It’s understood by both coaches and players that you aren’t literally out to cripple or otherwise hurt anyone beyond the scope of stopping them on a play. It’s verbal hyperbole. It’s meant to dial your mind to 10 on the frenzy scale, so that you play at 5.

It’s not in a team’s best interest to play dirty. Cheap shots only invite yourself to be targets of revenge cheap shots. Anyway, I’d guess most players (certainly the ones I’ve known) want the pride of beating the first string, not dispatching them to make easy work of the bench.

But even if the coach is 100 percent serious about such things, most players will be on board with it for only so long. And clearly, the Saints did not put Williams’ words into action in the 49ers game. (The only cheap shot I recall, in fact, came against Pierre Thomas at the hands of the 49ers defense.)

The Williams clip is an example of selective, retroactive outrage. Selective because it asks us to pretend that it is a startling revelation not previously heard in the heated, windy annals of locker-room talk. Retroactive because this is circumstantial evidence to pile on top of the concrete evidence we already have against Williams.

It will be interesting to see how this affects pre-game speeches from here on out, especially in the Saints’ locker room...

A calculated dream

Today would have been my maternal grandmother's 99th birthday. 

She appeared in a dream I had the other night, specifically the night of April 4. She was alive and told me she was celebrating her 100th birthday. It was weird, because I hadn't thought about her in a while, nor had it occurred to me that her birthday was coming up. Whenever I dream about a milestone, it's usually because I've been thinking about it all day. And the numbers in my dreams are usually way, way off — for example, my sister (who is 22) might be four years old in a dream taking place this year. 

So it was weird enough that I dreamed such a lucid dream about my grandmother so close to her birthday. But then I was only one year and three days off on the date, and that's just freakish. Good job, subconscious. 

I wish you hadn't followed it up with a dream about me wrecking Mitt Romney's old Chevy, though.

Just a thought I had...

(...while contemplating several wide-ranging and unrelated issues)

Justice should be about having fair, well-articulated and consistently enforced laws. And they should be enforced only if an infraction occurs or if there is sufficient evidence that an infraction could occur.

Instead, they seem to be trending toward 1) draconian laws intended to "make examples"; 2) treating everyone as a suspect with no probable cause; 3) drawing lines that are very easy for an innocent person to cross; 4) satisfying the collective call for punishment as entertainment.

Laws should be guardrails, not cattle prods.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

No, I didn't get to yell "CLEAR" ... yet

Yesterday I got a last-minute pleasant surprise, as the cable flick Heebie Jeebies needed a badass fake paramedic on call. So I got in my black ambulance, cranked on its sirens and hightailed it to St. Francisville. Here are my medical notes:

• All night long beforehand, a tremendous thunderstorm had rocked the area. At 4 a.m., I was pretty sure the lightning was going to zap me right in my bed. So you can imagine what such a downpour did to the gravel quarry where filming took place. MUD SOUP.

• The casting agency asked me to bring rain boots if I had them. I don’t. After yesterday, I may get some. My paramedic pants touched mud on my way to the changing trailer, and I decimated two pairs of shoes.

• Because of a miscommunication, I hitched a ride from base camp to set way before I actually needed to be there. I spent about 25 minutes just watching the crew unload items into the German chocolate cake that had once been the ground. I had not changed into the paramedic outfit, and just stood there wearing a Saints T-shirt and jeans and clutching my gym bag, waiting for someone to give me something to do. When a girl asked me what I was, I told her I was a paramedic. She walked up, bared her neck and asked me to diagnose the red welts she had on her neck. I said, “No, I’m playing a paramedic.” She said, “Oh, I thought you were a real one.” To which replied, “Nope, sorry ... but I’d say those are bug bites.”

• Once the confusion subsided and wardrobe called me back to base camp (they thought I was late when actually I was too early), they gave a paramedic uniform tailored to my precise measurements. I rarely wear clothes that fit, so looking sharp was a treat. And yes, I was asked several more times if I was a real paramedic — once by the actual on-set medic, who wasn’t wearing any kind of uniform.

• Several makeup people worked tirelessly to make the sheriff’s deputy and the trapped miner look filthy. They employed such screen necessities as Tancho and various dirt sprays. If being filthy was what the actors needed, all they had to do was what I nearly did several times — fall down.

• The crew on this set were among my favorite so far. They were very chill and accessible and fun to talk with. Most of them were around my age, which no doubt helped. The director and ADs were clear about what they wanted and patient — no small feat, considering they had 11 pages to shoot, which one of the actresses told me was an astonishing amount. (After 5 1/2 hours of shooting, they’d gotten through only 3 1/2). This marks the first time I've had my name spoken through a bullhorn along with the real actors, so that's something.

• In between takes, a crew member asked me if I wanted a shooting script — a digest-sized copy of the scene (it has a specific term, but I can’t recall it). I thought he was kidding, but I said yes, so he gave me one. And I left it in the prop medical bag I carried. I wouldn’t have scanned it here, but it would have been a cool thing to keep.

• My role involved treating the sheriff and, later, chatting with a real-life firefighter who was playing — wait for it — a firefighter. In the first shot, I’m taking vitals and checking the sheriff’s eyes before we’re interrupted by a miner yelling, “I’ve got something” and teenage girls screaming. In the second shot, I’m chatting with the firefighter as I lean against my ambulance — radio in hand, my idea — and we see what we’re told is the most supernatural thing we’ve ever seen float up into the sky. Then the main cast hugs, kisses and walks off past us as we continue to gawk at at THE MOST SUPERNATURAL THING WE’VE EVER SEEN.

Visual approximation
• I got to wear latex gloves on screen, which I didn’t realize was a longtime dream of mine until I did it. When I finally took them off after about an hour, I could wring sweat from them. In the words of the actor playing the sheriff, “That won’t smell too good.” It didn’t.

• The prop plate on the police car was inconsistent with a real Louisiana police car plate. I figured that was something only I would notice (and I always do). But then a truck in the scene got a Public Louisiana prop plate, which is exactly what the cruiser should have had. Even weirder, the truck had a real Public plate underneath the fake Public plate. Ah, Hollywood!

• As the lone new member of the production and “the bottom of the totem pole,” as they put it, I had to take the group picture, which means I wasn’t in it. But it did mean I got to climb onto the top of the ambulance and tell them to “give me angry, give me betrayed, give me martini” and other nonsense. At first, I couldn’t focus one of the cameras, to which an AD joked, “Nothing in this movie has been in focus!” Afterward, the entire cast and crew gave me a hand. After that, I stood there awhile as most of them headed off to the lunch tent and apparently forgot I was stuck up there.

• Once someone remembered to help me down from the ambulance, I grabbed a steak dinner and sat at the only open spot, next to three of the movie’s main stars (two of whom were the aforementioned teenage girls). They were nice. One of them, who is 16, told me earlier she’s often recruited for roles because of her scream. They scream a lot in this one, apparently.

• I only had to work the first half of their day, which means they still have several more hours of filming even as I type this (at 1 a.m.). Still, I would have stayed if they asked. It was that much fun.

• IMDB says Heebie Jeebies will air on SyFy on Jan. 5, 2013. Mark your calendar now. You have no excuse this early.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

No need to heat the pool

Yesterday, I was having a pretty blah, if not outright crummy, day. So late in the afternoon I decided to go swimming. I didn’t realize what a risk I was taking.

A coed group of teenagers was hanging out at the pool, horsing around and daring each other to take a dip in the unoccupied, chilly water. As I do to get it over with, I took off my shirt and slipped right in. One of the guys waded in, but on my suggestion plunged in the rest of the way. He then took several jaunts across the pool before asking me if I could swim (and if I could, if I wanted to race). I said no, because I can’t. Then several of his friends got in the water, either voluntarily or because they got thrown in. Pretty typical stuff around these pool parts.

Until one of the boys pulled out a goddamn handgun.

Few things in life draw my eyes into intense hyper-focus and make every brain cell tingle. A lethal-looking spider is one. A snake is another. A pistol tops the list. While it’s entirely possible that the piece this kid packed was a BB gun, it sure looked like a Glock, and either is sufficient to scare the shit out of me.

Firearms don’t belong anywhere I go. I frequent parks, swimming pools, bike paths, stadiums, public hot spots and other places where crossfire should exist only in action fantasies. So when I see a firearm anywhere I am, I’m instantly concerned. At the very least, I hope the carrier is licensed, trained and (most importantly) doesn’t wield the weapon with all the grace of a novice emo chainsaw juggler.

No such luck, natch. This boy’s way of proving the gun wasn’t loaded was by pulling the trigger numerous times, usually while pointing it point-blank at his friends. He laughed hysterically and they barely flinched. Halfway across the pool, however, I was doing my impression of a painting with eyes that follow you across the room. The boy passed on the gun to one of his tougher-looking buddies, who held it in his lap with the barrel thoughtfully pointed directly at me. At one point, we made eye contact, which seemed to annoy him. At no point were any of them hostile toward me, but their loose handling of the piece scared me more than if they were.

I quickly, yet casually, made my way out of the pool and dried off with the towel I’d placed right next to where the gun now sat, facing the gun the whole time. I threw on my shirt, grabbed my sandals and (barefoot) strode the hell out. I then went up to my apartment and reported it to management, who sent a courtesy officer out to address the situation. I was actually afraid to leave my apartment for a while afterward, at one point walking right back inside when I saw one of the guys lingering on my floor. When I finally went out to grab dinner two hours later, my hands were still shaking.

For many people, the right to bear arms is the very textbook definition of freedom. Oftentimes, anyone who expresses concern about the proliferation of guns gets static for being a gun-grabber, or for allegedly being scared or ignorant of them. Sometimes all it takes to get a pro-gun person in a lather is to suggest any kind of check on guns, anywhere or against anyone. Many of them would hear my story and say I should pack at the pool too, like any exemplary sovereign citizen.

But when incidents like this happen, I’m not thinking of how deadly weapons in irresponsible hands are the essence of America — I’m thinking how crummy it would be if somebody died from it. What a way to go, huh? And what a way to be.

I’ll stick with the First Amendment, thanks.

A lame line at the checkout counter

Over the years, but lately in hyperdrive for some reason, I’ve noticed people going off on a very specific gripe. It goes something like this:

“So there I was in the checkout line, and this woman was paying for stuff with food stamps/Louisiana Purchase card. And she had an iPhone! Can you believe that?!!”

The insinuation being, of course, that this woman has terrible spending priorities and us righteously bootstrapped citizens should give her a lecture rather than our tax dollars.

(Other versions of this story refer to spinning rims and gold teeth. But let’s pretend this isn’t a case of credit card-slinging white people hypocritically bashing black people for buying things they can’t afford.)

I get tired of these express value judgments. To listen to these people, you’re abusing the system if you have anything at all.

To begin with, food stamps aren’t exactly a gravy train — you have to fill out a lot of forms and meet many qualifications to get them; they work only at certain stores and for a narrow range of items; and change is limited. President Reagan used to tell a story about how someone would buy an orange with food stamps, get change and then buy vodka with the change. It doesn’t work that way.

And neither does the notion that there is a clear-cut, linear spectrum of items that people should own only at certain economic checkpoints. That ties in with the corporate-ladder view of life, with its various power-ups and where the only direction is up.

I can’t believe anyone in this economy still subscribes to this nonsense.

You don’t know that woman’s situation. People fall on hard times. Maybe she bought the iPhone when she was doing better. Maybe she got it as a gift or as a hand-me-down. Maybe she still can afford to squeak the bill for now. Maybe someone close to her is helping her pay the bill so she still has a line of communication. Hell, maybe she’s borrowing it! What is she supposed to do, just get rid of it? Put it in a drawer until she reaches a socially acceptable economic threshold for owning the device? Keep switching her line on and off (which can be more expensive than not doing that)? Sell the phone and eat for maybe a week?

Also, there’s no telling what else she’s given up or has never had in the first place. She may have literally nothing in her house or apartment. I’ve known people like that. I’ve also known people who judge people like that. It’s one thing if a person on assistance is blowing money irresponsibly (though seriously, how often is that the case?) — it’s another entirely to berate someone in poverty when you don’t know the circumstances.

If you can walk into an impoverished person’s empty apartment, notice the ancient 12-inch TV on the floor is hooked up to basic cable and blast the person for having cable, ask yourself if financial acumen is really what you’re upset about. Then ask yourself if you are actually better than the person whom you judge.

And hope you’ll never find yourself in a position to find out.