Monday, June 16, 2014

What Makes the World Cup (Still) Great

Mr Boh knows!
I ran into a friend at Sunday's HonFest in Hampden - where thankfully there hardly any faux hons parading around to annoy me - who saw my Brazil jersey and said, "I can't get into soccer, all those guys running around passing the ball, it's boring!" Ever the diplomat, I acknowledged "it's not for everyone." But in truth, it really is for everyone, the world over - it's just we Americans that are colonial hold-outs from the game the Brits invented. C'mpn, they're even are selling Mr. Boh World Cup t-shirts at Boh Gear now (I saw two Ecuadorean girls, wearing their country's beautiful blue-and-white futbol kits, buy two, in fact) , in addition to their Ravens and Orioles and Terps gear. 'Nuff said! Following is the confession of a World Cup neophyte, Jason Gay, who in today's Wall Street Journal put into words why resistance to the Cup - that  "electric collision of national pride and the planet's most popular sport compressed into an exhausting but riveting monthlong saga" - is futile. - Almost Hip Guy


What Makes the World Cup (Still) Great

By Jason Gay (Wall Street Journal, 6-16-2014)
Rio de Janeiro

Boh Knows World Cup
Look: I'm not going to lie to you. Never. I guess I could try to bluff my way through this, try to convince you from here, 10 airborne hours from New York City via sumptuous upgrade from economy to economy comfort—neither comfortable nor economic, as it turns out—that I am a true futebol obsessive, with the game packed deep inside my bones. I wish I could tell you, in a hushed tone rich with emotion, that this beautiful game had both lifted and broken my heart, and my father's heart, and my grandfather's heart, and the heart of Zidane, our beloved family dog. That would be great. I wish I could tell you soccer makes me cry. I really wish I could tell you we had a family dog named Zidane. But I can't. Not yet.

The truth is I'm still new to the whole World Cup experience. I had a couple of days at South Africa 2010 but I still feel green and a little confused. I'm ready to be captivated, however. On Sunday morning I woke up in Rio at our Journal WC 2014 headquarters (medium glam) not far from Copacabana beach (actual glam), and before I had my a.m. coffee, I was jarred by a noisy ruckus in the streets. I looked out the window to see Argentina fans marching and singing in white-and-light-blue jerseys. It was barely 9 in the morning. Argentina's game with Bosnia and Herzegovina at Maracanã Stadium was not for another 10 hours. Back home, if a bunch of Jets fans came parading past my apartment at 9 a.m., I would take my family down to the basement and barricade the door. But this was fantastic. It made me want to run outside and join.

This mania is what makes the World Cup great, what makes the Cup the Cup—the electric collision of national pride and the planet's most popular sport compressed into an exhausting but riveting monthlong saga. It's ugly business, too—Brazil is torn over this Cup, disgusted over the grotesque sports spending in a country that needs much more than shiny stadia. Protests have happened; protests are expected; there are hard and important questions about what will be left when the soccer and the world leaves. Of course, FIFA, the sport's blundering governing body, knows it sells an addictive product, and it counts on the public to set any caution aside as soon as the Cup begins. And then the Cup begins, and it is indeed hard not to love. This surely makes me a sucker, part of the problem.

But it's intoxicating in so many ways, especially this Cup, in a dynamic country already confirmed as soccer-mad, holder of five World Cup titles, and among the favorites in 2014. I have seen enough of this Cup to know that the true soccer-heads are thrilled with the early games, which have been thrilling even to an untrained eye—upsets, aggression, goals galore, often in rapid succession. Whoever complains there is not enough scoring in soccer is not watching this soccer. Also: I am reasonably sure the Netherlands could beat the Orlando Magic.

Controversy is a inexorable part of any World Cup, and it is here in both serious and absurd form. Brazil's contentious Cup began with a discussion of the contentious Cup two contentious Cups down the road, in Qatar, in 2022, and the debate of whether or not it should be moved someplace with fewer logistical issues, like Saturn. Less grave were the predictable referee disputes—a penalty kick awarded to Brazil in its opener over Croatia, handed out by the referee for contact that—at worst—resembled a tender cuddle. Later, Croatia coach Niko Kovac, taking a restrained view, wondered if his team should just "give up and go home." France has complained that drones may have been spying on their practices. On Sunday, the robots sent a peace offering to France, awarding a goal-line tech score to Les Bleus in their 3-0 win over Honduras.

Like the French national team, traveling around Brazil can be unpredictable and sometimes exasperating; when you ask a worried out-of-towner when you should leave to go to the airport, you are told you should have left two months ago. I've been lucky—after the Brazil opener in São Paulo, I went breezily on to Rio. That afternoon I sat behind a taxi driver who watched the Uruguay-Costa Rica game from a phone suctioned below the rearview mirror. When it rang, he picked it up and told his wife to not distract him.

On Saturday night, I went to the crowded fan fest to watch the Italy-England game played up north in Manaus. This is a game that would be a big loud deal in my Brooklyn neighborhood back home, and it was a big loud deal here, too; the Inglaterra fans showered the crowd with Coca-Cola cups after Daniel Sturridge's first-half goal. But the victory went to Italy, which had the second-half gas in the Amazonian heat. Sunday night I rushed off to Argentina-Bosnia at legendary Maracanã, the stadium stacked with joyous fans, soccer icon Lionel Messi on the field below. On Monday, the U.S. team would make its debut against Ghana.

It's early here. Pacing feels essential. Imagine a Super Bowl after a Super Bowl after a Super Bowl until you have counted for a month. But the World Cup is manic from the start. Heartbreak and contemplation comes later. We are now four days in and I have yet to hear a stray remark about the U.S. Open or the Heat and the Spurs or even the Mets. A lot of major sporting events like to claim they're the center of the sports universe. This feels like the center of the sports universe. There's nothing like a World Cup. Even a newcomer can detect that.

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Thursday, June 05, 2014

John Waters encounters a Rogue Librarian in "Carsick"

One who collects the lowest of the lowbrow in literature
I was momentarily confused when I first read a City Paper excerpt from John Waters's latest book, Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), about his encounter with a "rogue librarian." As a rogue librarian myself, I thought: how cool! Then I realized that "Bernice" was (like most things in life we wish for) too good to be true: this librarian was an entirely fictional creation - though the lewd pulp paperbacks she collected were every bit as real as the doggy-doo Divine scarfed down in Pink Flamingos. Even John Waters can't make up titles as delightfully demented as Saddle Shoe Sex Kitten or  Freakout on Sunset Strip: Fags, Freaks and the Famous Turn the Street Into a Hippy Hell

As a collector of such titles myself, I knew the best thing about vintage sleaze paperbacks from the 1960s are their amazing covers, those era-defining "swatches of erotic eye-candy" that are so well-documented in Feral House's eye-popping collection Sin-A-Rama. So when I read that Bernice was collecting remaindered pulp titles with the covers ripped off because she read sleaze for the literature - I knew this was pure fiction!

Admittedly books like Transvestite (which I am convinced was Ed Wood, Jr. writing as "Harry Guggeheim"), Sunset Strip Sex Agent and Nude Man in Jazz Town are good cover-to-cover reads whose narratives match the artistry of their come-on titles and covers - after all, many titles were penned under pseudonyms by later-respected authors like Donald Westlake, Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison and Lawrence Block trying to pay the rent in their early, pre-success days - but most of these sleaze pulps feature improbable plots leading to fairly tame (by today's gonzo porn standards) intimate encounters. Still, I was impressed by Waters's knowledge and love of the genre. I only wish his librarian was real so we could hang out and trade books!

Following is the Rogue Librarian excerpt that appeared in the June 4, 2014 City Paper.


Good Ride Number Nine: Excerpt Fiction


Last Chance, Colorado, may have been the first chance I’ve had to be happy naked in public, but the carnival must move on and so must I. Before the whole troupe wakes up I sneak a note inside Polk-A-Dotty and Buster’s trailer thanking them for introducing me to a new kind of living theater, the closest I’ll ever get to Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty . . . only nice. You can never have too many careers, I’ve always said, and now I write them, “If the book doesn’t turn out or Fruitcake underperforms, I’ll be back to ‘spin for my supper.’ ”

The sun is coming up and there’s no such thing as rush-hour traffic in this part of the country but, yet again (!), the very first car that approaches pulls over. The problem is, how do I get in? The entire vehicle, a beat-up yellow eighties Chevy Citation, is completely filled with books—every kind imaginable—hardcovers, trade paperbacks, but especially mass- market editions, some missing their covers. The passenger seat is piled so high I can’t even see who’s behind the wheel. Slowly, like a jigsaw puzzle being assembled in reverse, I see a face as she throws the books in the back, under the seats, even in her lap. “Sorry,” the rather haggard looking woman in her late sixties, with the weakest chin I’ve ever seen in my life, mutters, “I like to read.”

“I can see that,” I answer good-naturedly as I jump in, pick books off my seat, and then pile them back in my lap. “I like to read, too,” I say, taking a gander at the eye-popping cover art of the vintage sex paperback Teen Girls Who Are Assaulted by Animals.“This one is amazing,” I say, wondering what the editorial meeting at the publisher’s could have been like to green- light this title. Here’s a niche audience I hadn’t imagined. “All books are amazing,” she corrects me with a passion. “Are you a librarian?” I ask cheerfully, knowing, after being the keynote speaker for several of their conferences, how wild librarians can be. “Not officially . . . ,” she answers with practiced bravery. “I was . . . ,” she confides, “and then something happened and I wasn’t.” Oh. “I’m John,” I introduce myself, trying to change the subject away from her obviously painful past. “They call me Bernice,” she answers without fanfare, “and I read your last book. I loved the chapter ‘Bookworm,’ but you’re too ‘literarily correct’ for my tastes.”

Before I can stick up for my published reading recommendations, she suddenly brakes for a car that swerves around some tire rubble on the highway, and a huge pile of cheap paperbacks stacked pack- rat style in the backseat collapses on top of me. I pick off Saddle Shoe Sex Kitten, Some Like It Hard, and Freakout on Sunset Strip, with the amazing politically incorrect subtitle Fags, Freaks and the Famous Turn the Street into a Hippy Hell.

“They’re not for me,” she explains as she pulls off I-70 onto a rural road; “they’re for my book club readers.” Before I can protest that I can’t go off the interstate, she tells me, “Don’t worry, I’ll take you back to the highway.” We cut back into an even less traveled country road, turn the corner, and see a Tobacco Road–style hut constructed entirely out of paperback books missing their front covers. The owner has shellacked the books to make them semi-weatherproof, but the elements have not been kind—the volumes, soaked through many times from rain, are swollen, tattered, and can’t offer much in the way of protection. “Publishers don’t want cheap paperbacks returned when they don’t sell,” Bernice explains. “The newsstand managers are supposed to rip off the covers and turn those in and they get their refund. The retail outlets are expected to then just throw away the books, but I rescue them from this biblioclasm and redistribute the volumes to alternative readers at the lowest end of the used-book market. I know it’s hard to imagine, but a few very dedicated collectors only want books with torn-off covers. It’s these specialized readers I serve. I am not alone. Flea-market vendors, paper-recycling workers, relatives of deceased dirty-book collectors, we are united in a mission to do what libraries cannot: bring the customer the lowest of the low in literature.

“Ah, there’s Cash,” she says as a skinny, grubby fortyish-year-old white guy with a potbelly and a Prince Valiant haircut comes out of his self- styled reading room. I quickly realize by “Cash” she means her customer’s name, not actual money. Her books are, of course, free. “Cash is a very specific customer,” she explains. “His books must be soft-core and pre-porn, with a missing cover done by a collectible artist. He then actually reads these smutty volumes, writes endless critiques of the writer’s style, which he never allows anyone else to read, and then uses the ‘read’ book as a building block for another room in his shantytown abode.”

“Hi, Bernice,” shouts Cash in some sort of regional accent too obscure for me to identify. “Hello, sir,” she says with a literary grin, “this is my friend John.” Cash completely ignores me, so Bernice just goes into her routine. “I got some good ones for you today,” she promises as Cash’s eyes light up and he licks his lips in anticipation. “Here you go,” she teases, “She’ll Get Hers by John Plunkett.” “With a missing cover by Rafael de Soto,” Cash yells back with postmodern literary enthusiasm. “I remember that one, Cash,” Bernice reminisces like the specialist she is; “that was great pulp art but it’s gone now!” “Who wants to go to an art gallery?! I want to read!” yells Cash as he grabs the volume and hugs it to his chest in literary fetishism. “How about this one?” tempts Bernice, holding up a yellowing paperback with both the front and the back binding ripped off . “Remember the pulp jacket with the sexy lady on the couch clutching the pillow like her lover?” she quizzes. “Restless by Greg Hamilton,” Cash shouts back like he’s on a quiz show, “with cover art by Paul Rader. And I’m glad the cover is gone. I read these books, Bernice, I don’t look at them! I read every word until I understand perfectly what the author was saying just to me; the last reader these volumes will ever have.” Bernice hands him the damaged volume and he grabs it with a scary gratitude. “See you next Thursday, Cash,” Bernice promises, and with that, we’re back in the car and off to the next outsider reader.

“I’m no judge of what people read as long as they read,” explains Bernice once we’re on the road. “Are all your books dirty ones?” I ask with great curatorial respect. “No,” she answers proudly, “I’ve got true crime, too. A lot of libraries won’t carry the really gruesome ones. Just like bookstores, they discriminate—putting the true crime sections way in the back of the store. Hidden. Near the gay section.” Before I can agree she gives me a sudden look of traumatic desperation that stops me in my tracks. “Believe me,” she whispers sadly as we suddenly pull into the driveway of a suburban ranch house, “I know about censorship.”

Out comes Mrs. Adderly, a most unlikely matronly true crime reader still dressed in her housecoat. “Hi, Bernice. I’m glad you’re here. I got in a fight down at the library just yesterday. They take my taxes, why can’t I have a say in what books the library buys?” “Hi, I’m John,” I butt in. “I thought the library had to get you a book if you ask for it.” “Oh, they say they do,” Mrs. Adderly answers without missing a beat, “but they lie! I happen to be obsessed with ‘womb raiders.’ Are you familiar with that genre?” she asks me point-blank. “You mean women who tell their husbands they’re pregnant when they’re not and then follow real pregnant ones, kill them, cut out their babies and take them home claiming they’ve just given birth?” I reply. “That’s the ones,” acknowledges Bernice, impressed I’m so well-informed in this specialized field. “Well, I read Lullaby and Goodnight by D. T. Hughes,” Mrs. Adderly continues, “but there’s another one I want. Hush Little Baby, by Jim Carrier, where the ‘raider’ cuts out the baby with the mother’s car keys and the baby actually lives! Well, this literary snob of a librarian says to me when I ask if she has the book, ‘There’s no need to know about somebody that ugly.’”

“Yes, there is!” I yell in outrage, completely agreeing with Mrs. Adderly’s anger. “The public needs to know,” I rant, “that when you’re pregnant, strangers are following your every step, ready to jump out and cut out your baby with your car keys! Womb raiders are everywhere.” “Exactly!” agrees Mrs. Adderly, thrilled to have someone else in her corner. Bernice gets a sly grin on her face and whips out a mint-condition bound galley of this very title and hands it over. “Oh, Bernice,” Mrs. Adderly gushes, “you know how to make a true crime buff happy. Thank you from the bottom of my black little heart.”

We’re off. I’m impressed. Bernice turns on the radio and we hear that delightful little country song “Swingin’ Down the Lane” by Jerry Wallace and merrily sing along, harmonizing over the instrumental bridge between verses. I continue picking through the books on the floor by my feet and laugh at One Hole Town, a hilariously titled soft-core vintage gay stroke book. “You want that one?” she asks with generosity. “Sure,” I say, mentally adding this rare title to my collection of cheesy gay-sex paperbacks. “It would go right along with my ‘chicken’ volumes,” I tell her. “You mean titles with the word chicken in them?” she asks immediately, understanding my oddball bibliophile specialty. “Yes, I’ve got Uncle’s Little Chicken, Trickin’ the Chicken, Chicken for the Hardhat, even Chain Gang Chicken.” “I know them well,” she announces with bibliographical respect.

“And you, Bernice,” I gently pry, “what kind of terrible books do you collect?” She freezes, suddenly protective of her most private scholarly taste, but then seems eager to have someone in whom she can confide. “The novelization of porn parody movies,” she admits with great pride. “It’s a small genre, but one that is growing in importance,” she explains with deep knowledge of her field. “I tried to introduce these specialized volumes to the general public when I was head librarian in my hometown of Eagle. But Colorado is such a backward state! Trouble started as soon as I displayed Splendor in the Ass and Homo Alone with the covers out instead of spine in. Busybody little prudes noticed and made a big deal out of it, but I stood strong against censorship. Porn parody titles need to be discovered and celebrated. I was vilified in both the local and the national press, but I didn’t care! I fought back! I passed out valuable, extremely rare copies of Clitty Clitty Bang Bang to any high school reader in the library who asked for it. Satire needs to be taught! These youngsters loved Clitty but I was fired! I called the Kids’ Right to Read and the National Coalition Against Censorship organizations, but they wouldn’t help me. I became a scapegoat for the humor-impaired.”

Before I can offer my unbridled support, she pulls her car over to the I-70W entrance ramp and we are buried in sliding paperback books. With great concern and kindness she asks gently, “Do you have the Twelve Inches series?” “Yes,” I murmur in excitement, trying to stack Bernice’s volumes back up in some kind of order. “I’ve got Twelve Inches, Twelve Inches with a Vengeance, Twelve Inches Around the World.” “But do you have Twelve Inches in Peril?” she demands with excitement, whipping the title out from inside her glove compartment and holding it up like the Holy Grail. “No!” I shout with rabid delight, quivering in reverse literary excitement. We look at each other in our love of disreputable books and she hands it over, completing my collection. “Thank you, Bernice,” I say in heartfelt appreciation, caressing this title like a sexual partner. “You must go now, John,” she says with sudden concern. “I can’t be exposed. My readers will continue to hide me. They know. They know I’m the best damn alternative librarian in the country.” “You should be proud, Bernice,” I say as I get out, bow in respect, and blow her a kiss goodbye. “Run,” she says with urgency; “run to read!” But where do you run to in Parachute, Colorado?

Excerpted from CARSICK: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America by John Waters, published in June 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2014 by John Waters. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

"How Do I...Do Everything?"

Why, Just Follow These Easy-to-Follow Steps!

If you ever have a question about how to do, well, anything, just ask a librarian. We're here to help the helpless.

The answer to all your queries, all your problems, and all of life's mysteries is just a phone call away and operators are standing by to take your call.

Ready? Grab a pencil and some paper and follow just these steps. Aren't you glad you asked?


  1. Welcome!
  2. Spell out your full name, surname first. Fill in the circles completely with a No. 2 pencil. Make sure your marks are heavy and dark.
  3. Enter your five-digit PIN number. If you do not own a touch-tone phone, hold for operator assistance. If you do not hear an alarm within sixty seconds, force the door open. If the door won’t open, try closing it first.
  4. Insert tab A into slot 6. Color in any space marked “3” with cornflower blue. Do not put all your eggs in one (1) basket. Do not pound square pegs into round holes. Guide them in gently. Think outside the box. Then fill in boxes 7a(a)-7a(c) with your age, address, and conception of the afterlife.
  5. Think, write, revise. Lather, rinse, repeat. Before you begin assembly, locate the fissile isotope plutonium-239. Determine its expiration date, then predetermine your own.
  6. Check at least once a month, perhaps in the shower. Search carefully for a hard, pea-size growth. Remove the hard drive with a flathead screwdriver. Phillips-head screwdrivers are awkward tools and untrustworthy lovers, like the Danish.
  7. To avoid the appearance of sexist language in your writing, try to pluralize, stylize, or just tell lies. Always replace “he” with “he or she.” Also replace “she” with “he or she,” unless preceded by the phrase “he or.”
  8. If you are travelling with a child under the age of twelve, strap your oxygen mask to your face first, then put your child’s oxygen mask on your face. If your oxygen supply runs low, photosynthesize. If you experience technical difficulties, weep softly, with prudence. When finished, configure the plutonium-239 into a small “pit” packed with explosives. This pit will compress symmetrically into a supercritical mass when detonated. Be careful not to apply this product, or yourself, in high humidity or at abnormal altitudes.
  9. Just say “No!” If you speak Spanish, say “¡No!”
  10. Take a deep breath. Think about slowly moving clouds that are white, like wedding dresses and Deborah’s legs in the rain. Don’t worry about shark attacks, terror attacks, or the inheritance tax.
  11. Do not stare directly at the sun. Do not exceed the recommended dosage of anything, except Vitamin C and meaningful emotional contact.
  12. In the rare event that a mature adult of the human species confronts you, stretch your arms above your head to make yourself as tall as possible. Shout strong commands with a strong, commanding shout. If you are assaulted, fall down and play dead. Do not play dead for more than seventy-two hours, or you will die.
  13. Pause. Pause again.
  14. Insert your card into the machine and determine if you are happy or sad. If you are unsure, ask a loved one, but the likely answer is a combination of four to six numerals. Make sure to refrigerate after opening. A sulfurous, or “rotten egg,” smell is a sign that something is wrong. Notify transit authorities.
  15. Take a moment to ease your mind, stretch your legs, and exercise your Second Amendment rights. Review your work thus far. Is this the best you can do? Why won’t you settle down and grow up? Why must you constantly confuse ranch dressing and Russian dressing? Why did Deborah wait through twelve years of marriage before leaving to pursue her career as an office temp?
  16. Seventeen syllables is a haiku. Eighteen syllables is an unauthorized withdrawal of company resources and will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
  17. Studies show that Monday afternoons are optimal. Engage the employee in a room near his desk. Compliment his kinfolk and establish a light, collegial atmosphere with an icebreaker—perhaps a gender-sensitive joke about mulatto children. Use positive inflection and never say the words “you’re fired.” Talk about company cutbacks. Talk about hope, about faith, about weather cycles, about anything other than testicular cancer and corporate liability. Call the employee “a real trouper.” If he or she looks sad, talk about sports. Everybody likes sports. Except, of course, golf.
  18. If the one who is “it” touches you, you are now “it.”
  19. The addition of tritium will boost fissile power. Now that the plutonium is properly packed, the device is functional. Carefully consider other dieting options before starting a thermonuclear war or ending a thermonuclear peace. Remember, violence is not an alternative. Violence is not an answer. Unless the question is “What is an eight-letter word for something painful that is neither an alternative nor an answer?”
  20. Be mindful that bees smell fear but not toxic chemical defoliants. Humans, like most life-forms (lobsters, lichen), can smell neither. God can smell both fear and defoliants, because God is all-smelling. If only Deborah’s orthodox Lutheran upbringing hadn’t closed her mind to this revelation, widening the schism between us. If only she could have diverted her energies from stapling and faxing to refreshing the stagnant adolescence of our marriage. If only she weren’t Danish.
  21. No, no! Refrigerate after opening!
  22. Put your left leg in.
  23. Take your left leg out.
  24. Put your left leg in—
·        a. Shake it all about. If you experience feelings of “warmth,” “uncontrollable laughter,” or “death,” the process is operating properly.
·        b. Bathe, floss, and move your bowels daily. Do not fall in love this often.
  1. That’s what it’s all about!

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Hard Day's Blight

The Walking Dead now talk - and have library cards!

It's been a hard day's night, and I've been been working like a dog dealing with a bizarro alternate universe of humans known as library patrons. Though I was trained as a journalist, lately my missives about my job sound more like science-fiction prose describing the far reaches of the cosmos. I swear, I can't make this stuff up...

The Scorpion Lady
A woman came in tonight asking about the status of her movie "hold". 

"Remember that one I was talking about?" she said, assuming that I could remember an alleged transaction from months ago and that I hadn't helped anyone else with "holds" in the interim. I replied that, sorry, I didn't recall it. (I love it when people you helped a long time ago come in and say stuff like "That book I wanted come in yet?" like it was yesterday; Janice, a woman I last saw two years ago, when I had security escort her out of the building for pulling plugs out of a public computer ("It's OK, I took an online course and am an expert in computers" she assured me, to which I replied "Great, practice on your own personal computer!"), actually asked me that recently.)

Of course, she didn't have a library card but, exhibiting a modus operandus I've noticed in many idiot savants, had memorized her library card number. And, of course, she had no holds. (Maybe she placed a hold in the astral plane. Who knows?) She was looking for Woody Allen's Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001) because she claimed her sister's house in Ellicott City appears in it - but she didn't have a VCR, a DVD player, a computer, or a TV set to watch it on.

I told Scorpion Lady that a) we don't own a copy b) no library in the state has a copy available for loan (though I placed an interlibrary loan request out-of-state for her) and c) we don't have viewing stations and, no, if she does score a copy she can't come down to the library to watch it at the PC on my desk. She then whined that she wasted a trip riding the bus down to the library "around all those smelly people." I suggested perhaps she should call first next time. But, natch, she doesn't have a phone. 

She then asked if I would sign her up for Netflix though she doesn't have any platform to watch anything she would get from them. Is it just me, or was she kinda needy?

(Upon reflection, I feel kinda guilty that I didn't use my credit card to sign her up for a Netflix account or invite her over to my house to watch this movie, as I know how important it must be to see a 10-second shot of her sister's house in it.)

I thought it was rather odd that the New York City-based Woody Allen would have shot a film in Maryland - that is, the old pre-World Tour (Barcelona, London, Paris, Rome, San Francisco) Woody of the Noughties - so I subsequently looked up the film on the Internet Movie database and learned that The Curse of the Scorpion Lady was filmed in New York (natch), Long Island and Los Angeles. Maybe her sister moved. Maybe her sister moved to My Sister's Place. Who knows?

The Snake Man

Then some rough-looking guy with wild hair and a cigarette stub tucked behind his ear (who reminded me of Taxi's Reverend Jim Ignatowski, minus the charm) and wearing a mud-encrusted camouflage jacket and baggy, decomposing pants, came in 5 minutes before closing.

"Ya got any DVDs about Snakeskinplesskin?" he mumbled as he leaned over my desk.

"I'm sorry," I replied, trying to deconstruct the phrase "Snakeskin something-or-other," "Snakeskin, what was that word?"

"Snakeskin Plesskin," he re-mumbled, slower this time, with a look that seemed to add "You Ee-di-ot!"

"I'm unfamiliar with that term," I said, adding, "We have one VHS tape on snakes and reptiles, but that's about it." (Yikes! I didn't even mention Snakes on a Plane.) Wait, maybe he said Rumpletstiltskin?

"No man! You mean you haven't ever seen Escape from New York City (sic)?!?" he shouted. "I can't believe you're a librarian, man, and you haven't seen Escape from New York City? What, the library doesn't carry it because, what, it's too violent or something?"

"Oh, you want Escape from New York? Sorry, I'm afraid we don't have it," I replied, now comprehending that he was referring to Kurt Russell's eye-patch-wearing character "Snake" from John Carpenter's 1981 cult film, which also spawned the sequel Escape from L.A. (1996).

"I cannot believe you've never seen it man, and you call yourself a librarian, man!" Rev. Jim snarled. (I made a mental note to give him bonus points for pronouncing my profession correctly, instead of the "lie-barian" pronunciation 99% of my patrons employ to describe "lie-berry" staff.)

"Sorry about that, I'll get right on it," I said. "I'll add it to my Netflix bucket list."

"So what do you watch, like pornos, I guess?" he snapped dismissively.

"Sure, but I also watch a variety of things," I countered.

"Like what? Like Mary Poppins or Doctor Doolittle?" (I sensed this was also said in a dismissive tone. I got the distinct vibe that Rev. Jim didn't care for family entertainment.)

"No, all kinds of things."

"Like what, like name me one thing you've seen, man!"

"OK, Blade Runner."

"Oh that," Snake Man snorted. "Isn't that that freaky movie where all these freaks are running around with machetes cutting shit up and - "

"No," I cut him off, "Not at all. It's a futuristic sci-fi movie starring Harrison Ford. No machetes." (Was he possibly think of the Danny Trejo-starring action spoof Machete?)

Stumped momentarily, Rev. Jim now reverted back to Conspiracy Theory Mode (public libraries are "the government," after all, man!).

"So you're saying the library doesn't have Escape from New York City (sic) because it's too violent or something?"

"No, I'm not saying anything other than we don't appear to own a copy of that film, but we probably should. I'll see if our distributor has it."

I looked it up and found that, indeed, it was carried by our distributor and placed it in a suggested purchase cart. I told Rev. Jim that I had placed a suggested purchase of Escape from New York for him.

"It's Escape from New York City, man, not Escape from New York!" he spat out contemptuously.

"Well, you can call it anything you want," I countered, "But the named listed on the poster, DVD and the Internet Movie Database is Escape from New York. See?" With this I turned my PC monitor around so he could see the cover of the DVD.

I sensed this encounter was turning into Monty Python's "Argument Clinic" skit. This guy was obviously looking for a fight, verbal or physical, and, of course, what better place to take out one's aggressions and frustrations than at the library, where one can tangle with those power brokers, The Mild-Mannered Librarians? (Forget the Bilderberg Group, librarians rule the world! Didn't everyone see those Noah Wyle Librarian movies?)

"Yeah well..." His voice trailed off before he came back with his stinging zinger. "Nice sweater, man...That's a [snorting] nice sweater." 

He was pointing at my Argyle sweater vest. I guess he thought it was laughable compared to his Sunny Surplus-style commando gear. I was waiting for the inevitable "faggot ass preppy" or other dis as a followup (yes, I've heard every imaginable dis regarding my sexual orientation from patrons, over the years - I'm so glad they take an interest with my social life!)

"Thanks!" I replied. "Nice camo jacket on you." (It was tres Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver; all it was missing was the blood and splattered brain remnants.)

Flustered, Rev. Jim now took his case to the security guard who was announcing, as the lights went out, that the library was now closed. I heard him rant about the outrage of the library not carrying Escape from New York.

Officer Greg came over to me and smiled. "We see everything here, don't we Tom?"

Unfortunately, we do, we do.

Watch Escape from New York trailer.

Prophet Man
Oh, almost forgot Prophet Man, who came in earlier in the day. Like many of our road scholars, he was a would-be Religious Studies scholar (they're always the best and the brightest! No, really.). Just as Cornel West has to preface everybody's name with a "Brother" or "Sister" (which I find most annoying), this gentleman, newly converted to Islam but seeking out all sides of The Greatest Story Ever Told, had to preface everything with "Prophet."

"Do you have anything on the prophet Muhammad? Do you have anything on the prophet Jesus? Do you have anything on the prophet Abraham? Do you have anything on the prophet Moses?"

The only prophet he didn't want was the Prophet Chuck, aka Chuck Prophet, the American singer-songwriter guitarist formerly of Green on Red, even though he has an album called Temple Beautiful.

Another day, more brain cells lost on the front lines.

I live to serve.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Viva La Difference: French Football's Naked Ambition

A Nation is Happy To Sing Les Bleus

Even if you don't follow world soccer (the real "football"), you have to applaud the after-effects of the French national team's dramatic qualification for the 2014 World Cup finals last Tuesday, following an improbable come from behind, two-leg playoff win against Ukraine, 3-2 on aggregate (0-2, 3-0). Apparently the libido of the nation was riding on the (soon-to-be) climatic outcome of the dramatic victory. Following are the titillating updates from the online edition of my favorite footy mag, World Soccer.

French weather woman does indeed strip naked
(World Soccer Daily, 21/11/2013)

Doira Tillier stays abreast of Les Bleus fortunes

Doira Tillier, a weather girl on Canal+’s Le Grand Journal programme, who made a promise on Tuesday’s show that if France beat the Ukraine to reach the World Cup she would read her weather report on Wednesday in the nude, has come good on the pledge – although perhaps not in the way that her myriad admirers would have chosen. Running around a field sporting nothing but a pair of boots, Ms. Tillier did her report without any clothes on, although viewers, even those who freezed the footage frame-by-frame, were unable to make out any detail.

Watch Doria Tillier's Naked Forecast.

French fans celebrate with free porn
(World Soccer Daily, 21/11/2013)

A French porn producer was left red-faced after France defied the odds to qualify for the World Cup finals on Tuesday.  

Marc Dorcel offered football fans free access to his X-rated website if the national team turned around a 2-0 first leg deficit and defeated Ukraine in the World Cup play-off. After a 3-0 win for France fans were clicking on expecting to celebrate the win in some style.

However, such was the demand that Dorcel’s server crashed under the weight of traffic. And that was before French duo Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema had logged on to peruse the barely legal section.

But, frustrated French fans will get a second chance to take advantage of Dorcel’s offer with the producer promising to keep his pledge when the site was up and running again.

He tweeted ‘ exploded on the whistle. Mail your details to to receive your film tomorrow.’

Naked weather forecasters, porn on demand, it would seem that the libido of the entire French nation was riding on the outcome of Tuesday’s game.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Kitty Kultists

My girlfriend Amy and I are still unpacking boxes from our September move into a new house. We packed a lot of junk, of course, that we are having second thoughts about holding onto in our new, smaller digs. But there are also some legitimate treasures buried in all those Home Depot and Extra Space Storage boxes. Like Amy's 1984 diary/journal in which she saved a City Paper clipping that mentioned her and her former husband, the late musical legend Mark Harp (1957-2004), as "Kitty kultists" talking about their Hello Kitty collections.

Amy was very excited to find this clipping, pasted in between her exemplary cursive handwritting (a beautiful thing to observe, if you're a Cursive Cultist!).

Amy is vaclempt after finding her name published in the "City Paper."

"Wow," I said, scratching my head. "That sounds like something I would have written up back in my days at the City Paper. I remember I did a story on Hello Kitty back in the '80s."

Amy pulled out her journal, and lo and behold, it was written by me! I recall I went down to the big East Coast Sanrio outlet in Tysons Corner, Va., to research the story and I have a vague memory of  visiting Mark and Amy's Charles Village apartment at some point (it may have been during a party) and being impressed by their Sanrio collection. Amy doesn't remember that, but then again this was almost 30 years ago and we are now AARP members with sometimes faulty memories. (Like, we've been together eight years, but we only vaguely knew each other back in the day as acquaintances because we were part of the same Punk-New Wave social scene that frequented clubs like the Marble Bar and Galaxy Ballroom. Then we didn't see each other for decades until we ran into each other at a musical tribute-wake for Mark Harp in January 2005.)

It may seem trite today to see a story about the Hello Kitty phenomenon - after all Sanrio products are seemingly available everywhere one looks and for every imaginable use (from stickers and pens to TVs and even vibrators) -  but the first Sanrio shop in America didn't open until 1976 (and that was in San Francisco), so Kitty curios were still a relatively new thing in 1984.

The full article, called "Hello, Good Buy: Pet Peeves," appears below. (Naturally there were factual errors, which fact-checking proofreader extraordinaire Amy clarifed in her cursive script comments; to wit, she was asked how old her kids were at a Highlandtown store selling Hello Kitty items, not in Tysons Corner. Geeze, everyone's a critic! Did I mention I was a hack writer, Ames?)

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dylan's Baltimore Song Still Raising Cane 50 Years Later

by Tom Warner

(October 23, 2013) - The northwest corner of Baltimore and Calvert streets, where the main office of the SunTrust Bank now stands, was the setting for one of Bob Dylan's best songs and one of Baltimore's worst moments. Dylan's "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" - recorded 50 years ago today (it appears on the The Times They Are A-Changin' LP) - is a moving, although somewhat inaccurate (call it poetic license), account of a real-life incident that occurred there on the night of February 9, 1963, in what was then the Emerson Hotel.
William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled 'round his diamond-ringed finger
At a Baltimore hotel, society gathering
And the cops was called in and his weapon took from him
And they rode him in custody down to the station
And charged William Zanzinger with first-degree murder
Listen to Bob Dylan play "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll."

Bob Dylan - The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll

It's true that William Zantzinger (Dylan inexplicably dropped the "t" in his song), a 24-year-old white tobacco farmer from Charles County, was attending a society ball at the Emerson Hotel that night. And, by all accounts, he was drunk, disorderly, and offensive, especially with his lightweight carnival cane, which he liked to tap people with to get their attention. And it's also true that he struck a black waitress, Hattie Carroll, once above the right shoulder with that cane when she didn't fetch his bourbon and ginger ale as fast as he would have liked it.

Illustration by Tom Chalkley (City Paper, December 7, 1992)

Though she collapsed moments later, she neither fell "under a rain of blows," as some press reports claimed, nor was she killed by that single stroke of William Zantzinger's flimsy cane. Rather, it was the inhumanity of the racial slur that accompanied this blow - "You black bitch" Zantzinger bellowed - that triggered, in the medical examiner's words, a "tremendous emotional upsurge" in the 51-year-old mother of nine (not ten as referenced in Dylan's song).

"Matron Felled by Cane in 'Old Plantation' Setting (Baltimore Afro-American)

Given that Hattie Carroll was not in the best of health (she suffered from arteriosclerosis and hypertension) and was described by her friends as accutely sensitive, most likely it was the shock of William Zantzinger's words that brought on the cerebral hemorrhage that claimed her life eight hours later at Mercy Hospital.

On August 28, 1963, Judge D. Kenneth McLaughlin sentenced William Zantzinger to six months' imprisonment, declaring, "We find that Hattie Carroll's death was not due solely to disease, but that it was caused by the defendant's verbal insults, coupled with an actual assault, and that he is guilty of manslaughter."

Those were the facts, but they were dwarfed in significance by what the case had some to symbolize in those nascent days of the civil rights movement. To the press, to civil-rights leaders, and to a folk singer in New York City, William Zantzinger represented the plantation-owner mentality of the still lingering antebellum South, while Hattie Carroll represented the oppression of all underprivileged people, regardless of race, creed, or religion. Details didn't matter in what became, in Sun reporter David Simon's words, a "morality play." (Simon's excellent analysis, "The Case of Hattie Carroll," appeared in the February 7, 1988, Sun Magazine.)

You'd think being the villain in a morality play would be enough infamy to last anybody a lifetime, but William Zantzinger managed to outdo himself and was in the news again in late 1991 when he pleaded guilty to 50 misdemeanor counts of unfair and deceptive trade practices for collecting rent on run-down Charles County properties he no longer owned. Before the county seized Patuxent Woods shanties from Zantzinger in 1986 for failing to pay taxes on them, his record as a landlord was far from exemplary. Patuxent Woods was a virtual rural slum, with dirt roads and no indoor plumbing. In January of 1992, Zantzinger was sentenced to 18 months in jail (he spent only nights in jail), fined $62,000, and ordered to perform 2,400 hours of community service for local groups that advocate low-cost housing. Having lived down his image as a racist plantation owner, Zanzinger managed to gain new notoriety as its modern equivalent - the slumlord.

(Portions of this article originally appeared in my "Raising Cane" contribution to the December 7, 1992 City Paper article "Baltimore Babylon.")

For more on this story, see WYPR's podcast "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" ("Maryland Morning," October 23, 2013), which includes Dylan biographer Howard Sounes' 30-minute BBC Radio 4 documentary about the song. Sounes' Dylan biography Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan (2001) is the best I've read to date and his BBC report is fantastic; not only did Sounes track down William Zantzinger's notorious cane, but listeners get to listen to Zantzinger "cursing Dylan unrepentedly" in what is believed to be his only recorded interview before his death at age 69 on January 3, 2009.

Related Links:
True Lies: The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (
Fifty Years Later, Hattie Carroll's Death Remembered (Afro, March 8, 2013)

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