Roger Naylor

Look Back in Anguish

Now that it's winding down I think we can all agree: 2002 was a brutal teeth-rattling anal probe of a year.

It truly was the best of times, the worst of times. Except without the best of times part. Everything turned fetid and funky during the Double Deuce. The world went haywire, like we entered a bizzaro dimension.

Priests were horny, pilots were drunk and our shadowy government had its own shadow government. We color-coded our fear, the war on terror was expanded to include anyone who ate at Shoney's and the "Dude, you're getting a Dell" dude got canned.

Everybody in the country got obese EXCEPT Liza Minnelli. Fires raged through the forests but not in the crematoriums, which could explain why Ted Williams ended up on ice. And even Michael Jackson acted a tad peculiar at times.

We just finished gobbling Cipro to fend off the anthrax and now we're lining up for smallpox vaccinations. But before we climb back into the handbasket bound for warmer climes maybe we can squeeze in one final glance back at that twisted bitch, 2002.

President Bush became fodder for late-night comics when he failed to read the instructions on the back of a pretzel bag. But no one was laughing after he delivered a rousing State of the Union speech. Highlights included an unprecedented 10-minute break as the president crowd-surfed up to the bleachers and back. It was also the defining moment when he labeled Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an "axis of buttholes." The phrase was later modified at the insistence of network censors.

Unfortunately, before we could go all daisy-cutter on the rogue nations, Iran was forced to withdraw from the axis of evil due to a hamstring injury.

"Obviously, we're disappointed," said Iranian hard-liner Kamal Tarzai. "We worked diligently to attain our current level of evilness, but when you blow a hammy that's pretty much all she wrote."

Instead of assigning AOE status to another country, the Bush administration used rotating substitutes to fill the vacancy, including Germany, Canada and Rold Gold, depending on who was choking the president or calling him a "squinty chimp-like moron" at any given time.

The winter Olympics went off without a hitch in Salt Lake City thanks to increased security precautions, including squads of Mormons wielding socks filled with dimes. The only controversy occurred when two members of the Russian curling team were disqualified for banned substances. Instead of sweeping the ice with little brooms they used Swiffer WetJets. The lemony fresh scent gave them away.

By spring, a simmering sex abuse scandal threatened to engulf the Catholic Church. It stemmed from the age-old quandary: how to protect vulnerable priests from the seduction of cunning, hunky minors.

After meeting with Pope John Paul II, American cardinals and bishops crafted a plan to begin the healing process. Critics derided the new policy as overly vague and cautious. The biggest problem the church hierarchy faced was that they were improvising doctrine.

"If only the church had some kind of authoritative source," lamented Cardinal Bernard Law. "A book perhaps, that offers guidance and spells out the differences between right and wrong. Something that can be taken as gospel. Unfortunately, no such book seems to exist."

The economy foundered for much of the year. The stock market went up and down like a whore's drawers. Companies crashed under waves of accounting irregularities. Just as we teetered on the brink of recession the White House unveiled a far-reaching jobs program. They created a shadow government. Secret bunkers up and down the Eastern seaboard were staffed with mid-level employees from the executive branch. And what else do you need really? Because nobody delivers streamlined efficiency and aggressive innovation like unsupervised civil servants who can't be fired.

Presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer reassured a jittery American public. "Only after a nuclear holocaust cripples the nation will the shadow government step in. They will maintain essential federal functions such as scheduling shadow meetings with oil tycoons, collecting huge donations of shadow cash and pardoning the Thanksgiving turkey. Also they will be responsible for adjusting the color-coded terror alert system to its highest setting, bowel-evacuating umber."

Summer provided the welcome distraction of World Cup soccer. For several weeks the country virtually shut down, as it does for any major soccer event. Television ratings were phenomenal. Most games handily won their 3 and 4am time slots beating out infomercials for the Leon Spinks Lean Mean Lard Dehydrator and pulling in the key demographics of burglars, doughnut makers, breast-feeding mothers and Tara Reid on diet pills.

After a rise in shark attacks, experts recommended swimmers not enter the water while menstruating or immediately after having their arms gnawed to bloody stumps by farm machinery. They also discouraged the use of chum-based sunscreens and shiny jewelry, especially ankle bracelets engraved "Blow me, shark."

Five years after their deaths, Mother Teresa and Princess Diana were back in the news. Mother Teresa continued on the fast track to sainthood when the Vatican attributed a miracle to her. The only stumbling block to the beloved nun's beatification that remains, is the persistent rumor she once killed a guy by locking him inside a gasoline-soaked Porta-John and toppling it into an active volcano in a "Jackass"-style stunt gone awry.

Following a high profile trial, Diana's former butler revealed the princess never fully recovered after being dumped without explanation by the great love of her life, George "Goober" Lindsey.

Jimmy Carter won a Nobel Prize by defeating Danny Bonaduce in "Celebrity Boxing." Justin Timberlake dumped Britney Spears, claiming he wanted a girlfriend who focused less on a career and more on his wiener. Lisa Marie Presley married, then divorced Nicolas Cage, saying she yearned for the stability and deliciously hot sex she had with her previous hubby, Michael Jackson.

And to no one's surprise Jackson was named Father of the Year, beating out Ozzy Osbourne and Robert Blake. During his acceptance speech he offered sage parenting advice. "Don't let younger children play with the Elephant Man's skeleton because small bones could pose a choking hazard. Administer a breathalyzer to Aunt LaToya before allowing her to babysit. And most importantly, never let a game of Got-Your-Nose get out of control."

But like all things horrid and painful, 2002 has to end sometime. Unfortunately, 2003 doesn't look to be much better. Yet there is a ray of hope. Because of impending wars, global warming, toxic pollution levels and our own soaring obesity rates, there's an excellent chance we could all be dead by spring. Let's keep a happy thought.

Auld lang syne.

Slouching Toward Toyland

Remember the terrorist attacks? They were all over the news, happened sometime last September. Remember? We were numb for a while, and then we vowed to change our priorities once and for all and focus on what's truly important in life.

But that was before we discovered deep-fried Twinkies and "American Idol" and the "Anna Nicole Show" and we were totally going to vote in that midterm election but by then we were caught up in the Winona trial. Now it's just over a year since the World Changed Forever and we're planted in the same couch groove except it's wider and deeper, more like a couch canyon, but if we don't buy and fry the Twinkies the terrorists win, right?

So we learn a valuable lesson: priorities are hard to change. That's probably why they became priorities in the first place.

Now it's the holiday season. That means the kids will want toys. Doesn't matter that our 401(k) is gutted, we're one swiped stapler from being canned and we're gearing up for yet another freakin' war; innocent hearts won't be denied at this magical time of year. Children will scramble down the stairs early Christmas morn hoping to find the must-have toy of the season.

Well here's a suggestion for the youngsters: blow it out your tiny butts. You're not the boss of us.

Maybe we can't change our own priorities but we can damn sure reshape our offspring. Kids aren't hardwired for priorities yet. Act now and we can steer them down a more spiritual path, one not dominated by fads, trends and materialistic lust. They'll thank us for our selfless parental courage later. Or they'll gobble Ritalin like Skittles while sobbing uncontrollably to their therapists. Either way we save some coin this Christmas.

Let's look at a few of the hot toys this holiday season and some possible less expensive options.

Rapunzel Barbie: How utterly groundbreaking! It's Barbie but with slightly different hair. The geniuses at Mattel have done it again! Forget it. This plastic princess has skanked her way into our wallets too many times. Go to Goodwill, score a castoff Barbie, then bobby pin that hair wad from the shower drain to her head. Everybody wins.

LEGO Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Playset: With this 591-piece set, kids can build the Hogwarts dungeon. One drawback, the sonofabitch retails for $69.99! But there are other popular movies besides "Harry Potter." For a fraction of the cost your kids can have Eminem and the Trailer of 8 Mile Playset. Containing 26,456 scraps of razor-sharp sheet metal, your child can build a life-size replica of the doublewide where Eminem and his slutty mom lived, and unlock the wonders of a dead-end white trash existence. Keep plenty of Bactine and bandages on hand during assembly.

Chicken Dance Elmo: Obviously, Elmo has fallen hard from the heights of his "Tickle Me" fame. Now his behavior, like a brain-damaged uncle at a wedding reception, indicates he suffers from a serious substance abuse problem. Sad. If you're looking to deliver a message on the evils of addiction, consider Urine Soaked Nolte instead.

Paint-Your-Own Chair: I swear. From Curiosity Kits, retailing for $35 and recommended for ages 6 and up. This is hot on the heels of their wildly successful Unclog-Your-Own Toilet and Refinish-Your-Own Hardwood Floors. No need to waste money on a licensed contractor when you've got toddlers and power tools.

Retro Trends: Care Bears are back. There's also a 25th anniversary edition of Trivial Pursuit and special 50th anniversary Matchbox cars. But if you're going old school, go all the way. Give your kids a stick. Kids love sticks. And whether it's poking a corpse they find near the river or jabbing through the bars at zoo animals, nothing does the job like a stick.

Spiderman Action Figure: The wall-crawler's a flash in the pan. Go for something with proven longevity, like a Larry King Action Figure. He comes with pontificating power and detachable suspenders. Pull his string and he speaks on a wide range of subjects, with only the earliest signs of dementia evident. It's Rip Taylor's world, we just sweep up the confetti in it. If you're making a list of all-time greatest puddings, tapioca better be at or near the top. If you ever have to flag down a cab naked, wait until your erection subsides. You look less desperate that way. Know who can take a punch? Goldie Hawn. Gnat Balls, Wisconsin, you're on the air!

Man-gifts and What They Mean

Ladies, are you curious about the man you're dating? Do you wonder if he's Mr. Right or Mr. Replaceable? Well, you'll soon find out. All questions will be answered come February 14.

Maybe you've had sex with him. Maybe you've met his family. Maybe you've had sex with his family. (Applies to Alabama residents only.) But you don't really know a man until he gives you a Valentine's Day gift.

Valentine's Day gifts are emotional trail guides, providing crucial insight into a man's character, his feelings for you and his commitment to the relationship. As soon as you open it you'll know whether to move in with him or file a restraining order.

Follow this simple gift-to-feelings conversion chart to figure out what exactly he's saying to you.

Diamonds, automobiles or romantic getaways: He's cheating on you. Probably with another man. It's a classic distraction maneuver. He dazzles you with something lavishly ostentatious then rips your heart from your chest while your guard is down. Ditch this evil bastard before he has a chance to hurt you.

Jewelry: He may not be gay. He may be bi or it could just be an experimental phase. But obviously with this purchase he is trying to compensate for his laughably small penis. If this is how you envisioned your Prince Charming, by all means hang on to the swishy needle-dick.

Cigarettes, potato chips or toothpaste: Even though he only earns 40 cents an hour working in the prison laundry, he still thought of you while shopping in the canteen. Obviously, he is considerate and caring. Now don't you feel ashamed for refusing to mule in a kilo of flake for him? Relationships are two-way streets you know.

Giant heart-shaped box of Godiva chocolate: He's not buying the big-boned theory. He thinks you're fat and with this cruel gift he's trying to push you into a nougat-filled abyss. After you morph into a gelatinous manatee then he can feel justified in dumping you.

A 59-cent box of conversation hearts: He has the soul of a mystic. In his own shy way he is trying to express profound sentiments. Just read the cryptic messages contained on each candy heart. Cool Kid, Oh Boy, Hot Stuff, etc. Hang on to this dreamboat.

A dozen red roses: Could he be anymore predictable? What's next, a card? Stinking loser.

Flowers dug from your neighbor's yard or swiped from a cemetery: He's fun loving and impetuous. There'll never be a dull moment with this big gregarious lug.

Stuffed animal (store-bought): It was probably a thoughtless last minute purchase, something he grabbed at the convenience store when he stopped to buy condoms and a box of zinfandel before cruising over to the sorority party.

Stuffed animal (handmade): He adores you and wants to give of himself to win your approval. It may be just a tube sock stuffed with bellybutton lint and pubic hair trimmings with a magic marker face, but to you it will always be your Valentine Weasel. Cherish it as you do the special, special man who made it for you.

Lingerie: William Butler Yeats once wrote, „You need but lift a pearl-pale hand and bind up your hair and sigh; and all men's hearts must burn and beat; and candle-like foam in the dim sand, and stars climbing the dew-dropping sky, live but to light your passing feet.‰ It is the same sentiment today best articulated with the purchase of crotchless and/or open-nipple attire.

Nothing: Obviously, this is a man that holds you in the highest esteem. He respects you and your integrity. He doesn't try to buy your affection with mere baubles. He knows the feelings you share are so acutely heartfelt they can never be expressed, so he doesn't even try. Nor does he acknowledge those feelings or allude to them. The same way he doesn't speak or often remember your name. Truly, you have found your soulmate. Now be quiet, the game is on.

The Day the Music Sucked

2001 bristled with tragedy. There was heart-biting despair, weepy anguish and everything we cared about seemed lost or damaged. And that's just what happened to the music industry.

It was virtually nonstop bad news for music. Album sales dropped like they were kneed in the nuts. According to the tracking firm Soundscan, sales were off almost 3 percent. That's freakin' unheard of in this age of shameless promotion directed towards every demographic niche, when even fetuses shop at Best Buy. Apparently, the record industry strong-armed Napster out of business for nada. Radio stations are mired in an advertising recession, and touring acts play to echoing empty venues. While some of that can be pinned on the wheezing economy and the aftermath of Sept. 11, mostly it's because the music produced in 2001 smelled like ass.

There was nothing of substance to grab on to. No dominant trend propelled the industry. Nu-metal got pushed aside by nu-soul, which got walloped by nu-grunge, which fizzled. When the most talked about musical event of the year was a series of holiday Gap commercials, it's no wonder industry analysts are hunkered down in a sulking whisky-funk.

Where were the summer anthems of years past like "Macarena" and "Mambo No. 5?" Where were those grating jingles that wedge in your brain, sucking up all the airtime and pushing you to the brink of a bouncy and infectious suicide? Want to know who let the dogs out in 2001? No one. The dogs did not go out. They stayed inside gnawing on furniture, urinating on the rug and turning feral and mean. That was the state of music last year.

The good news is 2002 has got to be better. No way it can get any worse. So here now are a few predictions of what to expect from the music industry in the upcoming year.

America will turn once again to romance. And to capture that mood, the song most frequently requested at weddings is "Suck and Let Go" a minimalist punk electro ditty by Peaches. Number two on the list is another Peaches tune, "Fuck the Pain Away." Ah, memories.

Whitney Houston will continue to shrivel. Over the summer the skeletal 46-pound diva will die in a drug related incident. While attempting to snort cocaine she is sucked inside the rolled up $20 dollar bill where she suffocates.

Calling George Harrison's death a wake-up call, Jon "Bowzer" Bauman will rejoin Sha Na Na in the year's most eagerly anticipated reunion tour, electrifying the crowds at county fairs and car shows all across the country. Unfortunately, the gangly greaser's return forces Sha Na Na to dump their current frontman, David Lee Roth.

Jill Sobule releases her long awaited follow-up, "I Went Down on a Girl."

A white and noseless Michael Jackson will release a new album with enough macho posturing and swaggering bitch-slappy bravado to finally convince everyone there's nothing creepy or desperate about him, no sir. Nothing at all.

NSync's Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears will announce their engagement. No wedding date is set but Britney tells reporters she hopes to wed sometime within the next few years and that she intends to remain a ravenous cockteasing virgin until then.

Justin Timberlake dies suddenly in what doctors describe as "a massive testicular implosion resulting from acute seminal fluid backup."

Following the success of cartoon-pop band Gorillaz, The Banana Splits come out of retirement with a critically acclaimed album, "Split for the Coast." All except for Splits guitarist and lead singer, Fleegle who died of heartworm in 1987 and is replaced by David Lee Roth.

Mick Jagger's solo album will finally break the magic mark of 10,000 units sold, when each of his illegitimate children buys one.

MTV announces they will begin airing video footage of rectal surgeries, Congressional procedure coverage and snuff films as part of their ongoing effort to play anything except a music video.

In a stunning upset, boy band O-Town walks off with eight Grammys, including one for Lifetime Achievement. Afterwards a Grammy spokesperson explains, "Big deal. We felt sorry for the talentless little acne-wagons so we threw them a bone. It's not like anyone takes this crap seriously. Come on, we're the Grammys!"

Office Party Survival Guide

Maintaining proper etiquette at your office holiday party is crucial in these times of economic uncertainty. Use this easy to follow guide to keep your fast track reputation intact.

Use proper business protocol. Even though music is playing, food and alcohol are being served and people are laughing, the office party is most definitely a business function. Behave accordingly. For example, while moderate drinking is acceptable, use of needle drugs is not. So shoot up in the car before entering the party. That way you should hit the door like a battering ram of teeth-grinding frivolity.

Determine proper attire. Unless it is a black tie event, an open-nipple rubber cat suit is considered de rigeur. Add a floor-length cape of baby otter skin to stand out from the crowd without diminishing your professionalism.

Acknowledge your boss. Find your boss soon after arriving. Thank him for hosting the event and take a moment to chat but don't monopolize his time. Once you see that he is engaged in conversation with someone else, take advantage of the opportunity to go have sex on his desk with the little hottie from Human Resources.

Acknowledge your co-workers. After you have finished having sex on your boss's desk, check to make sure that no sticky notes, memos or calendar pages have stuck to the hottie's sweat-slick ass. After returning to the party be sure to describe the hottie's technique and overall effort in great detail to your colleagues. This reinforces your position as a team player.

Mingle. Introduce yourself to someone you don't know. It may turn out to be someone who can help you on your next project. Not the mingling type? Then find someone who looks as miserable as you feel and ask if they want to duck into the supply closet to get high and badmouth the senior management.

Take care of your clients. If you have clients that are attending the party, remember they are your responsibility. Hover over their shoulders throughout the evening to make sure they don't steal stuff. Before they leave, escort them into a conference room and perform a full cavity search. Maintenance usually keeps a stock of rubber gloves, but be sure to put them back when finished.

Spouse appreciation. If spouses are invited, make sure they are treated as real people and not just an appendage. When introducing your spouse or date to a co-worker, include pertinent information to help break the ice. "Honey, this is Dave. He's the one I always talk about. You know, that prick from Accounting who steals my food out of the refrigerator."

Glad-handing. When being introduced to someone, make sure you look that person in the eye and greet them with a firm knuckle punch or chest bump. Don't worry about remembering their name, just refer to them as "dog" and announce to everyone within earshot that you are now totally down with this person. They'll appreciate the mad props.

Give wisely. If you are expected to bring a "Secret Santa" gift for a co-worker, determine the cost range and come prepared. The trick is giving something that is practical yet fun. Something like a sex toy. Everybody loves sex toys. Especially the kind that can be worn under clothing and that rotate when you flip a switch.

Don't be afraid to volunteer. Offer to finish off any leftover food that would otherwise go to waste, even if it means you have to vomit first, which you promised yourself you weren't going to do this time. Also, if the bar starts running low on supplies, whip up a batch of your special office egg nog: Kahlua, Seven-Up and Wite-Out.

Leave gracefully. A good guest always knows when to exit. Right after the police have subdued and cuffed you is generally a good time. Don't forget to thank your boss on the way out, and to wish him happy holidays.

Fat and Freaked Out on Turkey Day

Then we're all agreed: Thanksgiving came along at exactly the right moment this year.

After the widespread anxiety and heaving uncertainty of recent events we needed a warm fuzzy holiday, an excuse to gather with loved ones around big tables creaking beneath the weight of carb-laden comfort food. A turkey so mammoth it could be mistaken for a succulent Great Dane flipped on its back. A trough of beets, yams pyramided to the ceiling, a bushel basket of dinner rolls, a full carrier group of gravy boats, giblets galore and a pumpkin pie topped with a dollop of mincemeat pie.

We strap forks to the wrists to prevent a crippling attack of carpal tunnel and windmill in the grub. There's no stopping until we hit tablecloth and then we suck the stains from our napkins. It is a frenzy that would mortify hyenas.

Afterwards, we shower the cook with praise and unbutton pants to let blood circulate to our throbbing digestive tracts. And right there, in that quiet moment as we begin to slip into a languorous stupor, that's when we have our Norman Rockwell epiphany.

We do a quick inventory of the familiar faces surrounding us, a Scorsese-style 360 degree slow pan around the room. Here are the most important people in our world, the people we cherish above all others. Our. Loved. Ones.

How is it then, that with seemingly no effort on their part, they still manage to drive us right straight up the freakin' wall?!

With just a well-remembered gesture or tone or phrase or inflection in the voice, they totally punch our buttons, torque us off and push us to the brink. They make us crazy! Grrrr! Which leads to the next question: just what kind of brain-numbing snake oil was that huckster Rockwell peddling anyway?

It's not supposed to be like this. United we stand, we're in this together, never go against the family, yada yada yada. Pundits are practically beating us over the head with the new post-terrorism tight-knit family unit. Oprah, Rosie and The View chicks all swear by it.

Is it us then, is it our problem? Why can't we achieve some higher level of squishy tolerance? Are we the shallow hals, sitting there, picking cranberry skins out of our teeth and taking offense at everything that gets said?

"You look good." Just what the hell does that mean? "How have you been?" We don't remember signing on for this kind of interrogation. "We miss you." Ah. Now it's clear where this is going. This is about the goat-sacrificing Satanist with the felony rap sheet we were living with over the summer isn't it? God, that is so over! Not that it's any of their business.

If they want to know, they should just ask, like normal people instead of prying in their benevolently tolerant way. Dammit, if we weren't oozing stuffing out of every orifice we would stomp off to our room in a huff and slam the door behind us. Except of course, that we're in our 30's and don't live here anymore.

Well, at least until we bring our belongings in from the car. And even then it's only for a few months. Just until we find another dot-com willing to offer us a fat signing bonus, lunchtime massages and a foosball table in the conference room. Then we are out of this dump. So just back off. You're not the boss of us.

What's that? Another piece of pie? Well, all right, a small one. Laundry? Sure, we've got some laundry that needs to be done. And you'll fold it afterwards and use fabric softener, won't you? Mmmm... softly fragrant.

Sleep in tomorrow? That sounds okay. Yeah, bacon and eggs and hash browns and waffles and fresh squeezed oj for breakfast sounds fine. And a little more of this pie couldn't hurt. Hey, maybe later we'll build a fire in the fireplace and play cards.

By the way, does anyone know how many days until Christmas?

Days of Wine and Bushes

So far the tastiest moment in the great hooch saga was when presidential spokesman, Ari Fleischer went all Tony Soprano on the White House press corps' ink-stained asses.

Responding to a question about the president's reaction to his daughters being cited for underage drinking, Fleischer dialed his orbs down to the Heavy-Lidded setting favored among loan sharks and growled, "I would urge all of you to very carefully think through how much you want to pursue this. You fuckin' hear what I'm saying to you, you fuckin' needledicks?"

It was beautiful. Finally, a front line flak that has the stones to go after the media jackals, to threaten to rain down a vindictive turdstorm on those low-minded sucks for their shameless liberal bias.

What? You think the media doesn't apply a double standard in these kinds of situations? That elected Democrats and their spawn are treated the same as Republicans and their Republican progeny? Then explain the bloody incident in 1978 when Amy Carter shot a man just to watch him die.

You would think something like that would garner a few headlines, right? Teenage daughter of the president guns a man down in cold blood. A thrill-killing at the hands of the soft spoken freckle-faced Baptist girl. But no. Most news bureaus ignored it completely, or buried it as a human interest piece.

Crazy thing is the guy didn't die right away. He was in a coma for a few months hooked up to a respirator. They thought he was going to be a vegetable but he regained consciousness and started to show signs of improvement. He was able to communicate with his doctors through a series of blinks and was squeezing the hands of his loved ones. The prognosis was good. Then Amy Carter shows up at the hospital, high on uppers and finished the job by jamming an icepick in his eye.

Again, zilch for coverage. Carter pays a fine, receives some counseling and the whole thing is swept under the rug, almost as if it never happened. But now that the White House is occupied by a staunch conservative, it's a whole new enchilada.

Ever since the election controversy, left-leaning reporters have been licking their chops, waiting for the chance to nail one or both of the Bush daughters. Phase Uno of their fiendish plan was planting a variety of alcoholic beverages in bars and restaurants throughout the Austin area where Jenna, the twin built for sin, is a college student. Then the media advertised the availability of said spirits. Then they hired bartenders to dispense the liquor and musicians to entertain bar patrons. And in a final stroke of evil genius, the media raised the legal drinking age to 21. Then the media crouched on their hairy haunches, monitoring a police scanner. It was pure entrapment, a set-up from the words Go...get me another Jell-O shot.

How could the media be so sure the girls would take the boozy bait? They had seen to that months earlier. In a frenzy of muckraking, the press had uncovered the details of George W. Bush's long ago DUI arrest. Mr. Bush explained that the only reason he had concealed the incident for 24 years was to shield his daughters, who are both as fragile and beautiful as glass figurine angels handblown by hillbilly artists working at Dollywood, and also highly impressionable.

His fears proved too well founded. Perhaps it was their eagerness to win parental approval or maybe their utter pliability is some kind of inherited condition, but for whatever reason the girls were quickly lured down the high octane trial blazed by their Pops.

Now instead of giving this family time to heal in private the media gleefully savages the girls, insinuating they are supposed to be held accountable for their own actions somehow. Even President Bush is dragged into the bitter debate which is, of course, staggering nonsense. Could someone please point to where it is written that a father is responsible for instilling common sense and moral character in his children? What kind of liberal elitist propaganda is that?

Let's step back from the brink of hysteria for a second. Cancel the impeachment proceedings. This incident needs to be kept in perspective. Sure, laws were broken but there is something much more important to consider. According to all reports, the girls were in a bar and were drinking. They may have even been drunk. And while all indications are this is normal behavior for both of them, they were not, repeat NOT, engaged in karaoke.

And at the end of the day, isn't that kind of good sound judgment we all pray for our children to have?

A Cheeseburger is Paradise

I turned outlaw during the third grade, a pint-sized desperado lured down a wicked path by a craving I couldn’t control.

Twice a week I left school pretending to walk home for lunch, which was permitted as long as you went home. But I didn’t. Instead, I ducked into a dimly-lit joint down the street. I couldn’t help myself, I was jonesing for the good stuff.

Soon as my tiny figure darkened the doorway, the man behind the counter knew what to do. He slapped a hamburger on the grill. That’s right, I had a cow on my back. I was hooked on burgers.

Let the other saps at school choke down a brick of institutional-grade meatloaf, I was feasting on a juicy little joy bomb, a sensory delight. Hamburger is just steak in comfortable clothes. It is a magic medley for the taste buds, the perfect union of meat and bun, exploding with flavor and crackling with condiments. It dazzles the palette with its simplicity, overpowers with charbroiled intensity.

Hamburgers swing. Always hip, always appropriate, fitting in at truck stops, cock fights or wedding receptions. Hamburgers are one of the first kid-friendly foods we encounter in life, compact and graspable. Not to mention they are the bane of picky eaters due to their utter mouth-wateringness.

Hamburgers rule. They knocked hot dogs off their popularity perch right after World War II and never looked back. Since then a wide assortment of gastronomic wannabes have come gunning for them -- pizzas, tacos, chicken parts -- but nothing can replace burgers, or even tarnish their sizzling image. Until now.

For weeks the beef industry has been ravaged by unrelenting reports of infectious bovine disease rolling in from across the pond. Experts assure us that for now, America’s beef supply is untainted but no one expects the firewalls to hold much longer. Since May is National Hamburger Month it seemed high time someone stood up for the beleaguered burger. If this is to be our final summer of beef-gorging innocence, we might as well kick out the jams.

Let someone else sing the praises of sirloin, filet mignon and crown roast. If you want to get gushy over tenderloin, prime rib and mountain oysters, more power to you. Maybe they all have their good points. But for me, the cow begins and ends with the most exquisite of foods, the penultimate patty, the coup de grease...the burger.

If you own a backyard grill, time to fire up that sumbitch. No doubt you already know your way around those savory little wheels of beefy tissue, so you don’t need any advice. Except maybe douse the flames just a smidge, you’re cooking the damn things, not cremating them. But for those who are sans grill, you need to locate a suitable burgerteria in your neck of the ‘burbs and pay homage to that savory sandwich.

Naturally, we are not talking about fast food establishments. Those antiseptic, soulless calorie distribution centers serve a purpose, but making your tongue swoon and your taste buds vibrate orgasmically with their assembly line repertoire is not one of them. So if you stumble into a place with warming lamps and microwaves and toys served as a side dish and kids swimming in a bacteria lagoon of colored plastic balls, just turn around and walk out fast.

What you want is a diner, a lunch counter or a greasy spoon. If the floor crunches when you take a step and you realize they don’t serve peanuts in the shell, chances are you picked a likely spot. If the cook’s T-shirt is so covered with grease stains you can give yourself a full-blown psyche evaluation by using them as a Rorschach test, you’re definitely on the right track. Bonus, if a non-filter cigarette dangles from the corner of his lip while he flips the patties. If the waitress, whose age you can only estimate to be between 40 and 200 repeatedly calls you "hon," welcome to burger heaven.

Everyone needs safe harbor from the small storms of everyday life, a place to put aside the multi-tasking, to unwind and regroup. Hamburger joints offer sanctuary. A burger is the king of comfort food because it’s a flashback on a bun. With the first bite you are transported back to a more innocent time when your world revolved around simple pleasures like cartoons, running fast down a hill for no reason and throwing rocks at someone you were totally crushing on, then refueling with a burger and shake.

So cast aside office woes and forget about your cholesterol for one glorious day. Find a hang-out where the burgers leap off the grill like trout from a stream, and let yourself be pampered by a spatula technician. Order a burger. Cheese it if you want. Bite into your delicious past.

Would you like fries with that?

Living With the King

There is nothing smirky or punk-ass about him. That’s just something he does with his mouth. He is actually a source of strength, perched in the corner of my home office, all sideburns and twitchy lip with eyes locked in a permanent state of droopy-cool. A reminder not to take anything too seriously.

The collar of his rhinestone studded jumpsuit is turned up high and open at the throat. A blue scarf dangles seductively. His hair is impossibly black, swept back and big, marred only by the bulb and shade protruding from the top of his head, throwing off a hunka-hunka burning light.

If you know me, you know my Elvis lamp. We’ve been together for over two decades. He is a holdover from my bachelor days, the lone piece of furniture I contributed to the marriage.

What, you thought maybe I bought the lamp while married? That my wife signed off on the purchase of a giant Elvis lamp? That maybe we went shopping together, with a fabric swatch to make sure the specific King of Rock and Roll illumination device we picked out matched the window treatments? Is that what you thought? Ba ha ha! Again I say, ba ha ha! Good one.

No, "E" and I are a team from way back. He’s my talisman, my confidant, and yes by God, I’m not ashamed to admit it, my friend.

But friend or not, there is still no getting around the fact that the King is three and a half feet of raw, glaring kitsch. An eyesore. Jarring and jangly, coming at you out of nowhere, like a forearm shiver from a drunked-up hillbilly in the parking lot of the discount smokes and bait shop.

He is a great hulking ceramic beast. An insult to anyone with even a modicum of taste. So over-the-top tacky he would hurl Martha Stewart into a grand mal seizure. Interior designers can only gaze upon him through a pinhole in cardboard. If Feng Shui were a superhero, Lamp Man would be his archenemy, stomping down chi at every opportunity.

When we have female visitors I hear my wife warning them in a hurried hiss as they come down the hall. I know they steel themselves before walking in, yet still they flinch at first sight of him. There’s just no way to prepare oneself for how the King dominates the room, overpowers the decor. Afterwards, I hear them consoling my wife like she grew an extra butt cheek.

Which helps explain the tense ritual that occurs this time every year in my house. The one where my wife tries to convince me to donate the King to her annual yard sale.

After a frenzied bout of spring cleaning my wife is eager to dispose of any possession which might require future dusting, washing or waxing. She prowls the premises turning her stone-cold appraiser squint on everything not nailed down, built-in or load-bearing, sizing up not only what needs to go, but what will move, what the yard sale public is clamoring for.

Used to be, having a yard sale was a pretty straightforward deal. Drag a bunch of crap out on to the lawn, set up a couple of card tables to hold additional crap, put a sign up at the end of the street so that that people who felt like they didn’t own enough crap already could swing by and haggle for more.

It was casual and hobby-like. A pleasant way for old folks to spend their Saturday mornings. People got to meet their neighbors and paw through their belongings. And if you actually stumbled on some kind of bargain like a one-wheeled lawn mower without a blade for only a dollar, bonus.

But that was before the collectible market went gooney. Before eBay became a national pastime, before Antiques Road Show convinced everyone that crap plus time equals treasure. Now everyone’s a bargain hunter looking for that one big score so they can quit their day job and become a full time crap trader.

By now most people have done a thorough inventory and assessment of their own personal crap. They know it’s worthless. So they figure others must be hoarding all the good stuff, the high-grade, top of the line, primo crap. And they’re out to get some. They want a piece of the crap pie. Before the value falls out of the crap market and crap turns into... well, crap.

My wife recognizes this ruthless scavenger mentality. She knows how to hook them, knows that certain buzzwords and phrases mobilize their ranks, phrases like "Elvis memorabilia." (She’s also after my Elvis toenail clippers and Taking Care of Business melon baller.) Like a Colonel Parker with ovaries, she wants to cash in on the King. If she happens to do so by disposing of the ceramic monstrosity currently haunting her house, that would just be a happy coincidence.

But I draw the line. The King stays. For the sake of my inner bachelor. And as a memorial to every guy who’s ever decorated with neon beer signs or cinder block shelves or traffic cones or seats swiped from stadiums or blacklight posters or inflatable furniture or a driftwood dining set or a car battery ottoman.

The King stays.

By the way, those blacklight posters are worth a fortune in certain crap circles.

Oscars Scrape Bottom of Barrel

It's all about the glittery muscled arrogance of Hollywood. The screaming junkie-like need of Celebrities to be noticed, acknowledged, feted, fawned over and lavished with a slobbery, weepy, sick-sexy love. The same stab of emotion that the Versace-less Prada-less, uncosmetically-enhanced, tap water-swilling yokels in the heartland must feel for their tractors. Or so the Celebrity class assumes.

The Academy Awards ceremony has not been canceled. Repeat, NOT been canceled. It will in fact go on as scheduled even though by every objective standard the year 2000 was a raging canker sore of cinema.

Maybe the worst year ever. A sprawling Battlefield Earth-Gone in 60 Seconds-Pay it Forward-Autumn in New York-Blair Witch II-Hollow Man-Big Momma's House-Coyote Ugly kind of year. A year when Jim Carrey and The Director Formerly Known as Opie working in tandem could grind the memory of Dr. Seuss into so much big screen corpse-sausage and convert it to a bonafide box office smash.

Yet we're supposed to forget all that and focus on the rare isolated triumphs and singular moments of beauty, like weedy little flowers that spring up in a festering landfill.

Meanwhile, theaters in Manhattan jacked their ticket price to $10. A cool sawbuck to gaze upon the spectacle of Dude, Where's My Car? This follows closely the news that most major movie chains will replace their liquefied popcorn butter with the urine of concession stand workers.

Cost cutting effort? Or perhaps just a general disdain for the non-discriminating taste of a populace that made Adam Sandler, and Pauly Shore before him, an obscenely wealthy mega-star? Hard to say. We should just shut up and be grateful. Anything spilling out of Hollywood is to be cherished and clutched to our sweaty yokel-bosom.

So in the spirit of unquestioning dewy-eyed Celebrity adoration, and as mandated by the United States Constitution, here are my predictions for the most magical night of the year, Oscar night.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is edged out for Best Foreign Picture by darkhorse, The Rugrats in Paris.

Although Steven Soderbergh snags the Best Director trophy for his riveting, visually compelling work in Traffic, he admits during post-show interviews that working with Julia Roberts in her racy, revealing Erin Brokovich attire was "like overseeing a non-stop bonerfest, so in that sense was more rewarding."

Sylvester Stallone is given a Lifetime Achievement Award after promising to just go away.

Kevin Costner takes home one of the willowy girls who escort folks on and off stage throughout the ceremony. Unfortunately, he guesses wrong and ends up with the one who used to be a man.

The Best Song award goes to Bob Dylan. Accepting for the grizzled bard is the Soy Bomb guy, who writhes shirtless and spastic for a full 20 minutes until blood vessels burst in his nipples. It is considered by many to be the high point of the night.

Surprise couple of the evening are Katherine Hepburn and Gervase from the original Survivor. They suck face like they're at a spiked-punch prom until Jack Nicholson beseeches them from the stage to get a room.

During the pre-show hype, hate-hag Joan Rivers insults one starlet too many and is gang-stomped to death on the red carpet. With her dying breath, Rivers describes her assailants as several women who looked "atrocious, ghastly, like they stole their dresses from homeless drag queens, a rodeo of whores, pul-eeze."

While accepting his award for Best Actor, Russell Crowe is interrupted when a boozy Meg Ryan lurches towards the podium, spewing a string of profanities directed first at him, then at men in general. The situation escalates into a heated gender feud as the ex-lovers are joined on stage by an all star cast, including Gene Hackman, Luke Perry, Minnie Driver, John Cusak, Bjork, Reese Witherspoon, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Gary Sinise, Hillary Swank, Bruce Vilanch and two of the Baldwin brothers, the fat one and the squinty one. There is some shoving and talking smack but finally order is restored when Charlton Heston fires off several rounds from a Glock he had hidden in his truss.

Sylvester Stallone returns his Lifetime Achievement Award after signing a deal for a Saturday morning animated show, The Get Carter Babies.

Melissa Rivers announces she will continue her mother's shrewish legacy after inking a deal with Satan. She will maintain a television career even though she is so utterly devoid of talent her blood can be used as an antidote for people suffering from excessive talent. Also, she thinks Jennifer Love Hewitt looks like a trick or treater at the mental ward in that dress, and those shoes are totally vomit-inducing.

Sitting at home wrapped in tent canvas, Marlon Brando says screw it, and breaks the seal on his third gallon of fudge ripple which he spoons out of a monkey's skull.

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