My friends, you have faced this question before: would it be cooler to have the power of invisibility or the ability to fly?
You pondered those mind reeling thoughts as a child or as a drunken philosopher at the end of a party. You know those lofty party talks. The guy with the highest blood-alcohol content will inevitably broach the subjects of God and the afterlife, the notion of life on other planets, the meaning of life on this one. And those troubling concerns will eventually give way to more pressing, earthly matters such as the awesome choice between invisibility and flight.
And it's a subject worth pondering, because someday we may all have to make such powerful choices. A team of English and American researchers believe they are already on their way to the invisibility technology.
The keys are special manmade materials, unlike any in nature or the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. These materials are intended to steer light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation around an object, rendering it as invisible as something tucked into a hole in space.
We don't concern ourselves with the military advantages of invisibility. No, we are more preoccupied with concepts like sneaking into the lady's locker room, spying on our rivals or playing unprecedented jokes on our friends.
Flying is more about quick getaways, fast trips to anywhere, impressing the hell out of just about everyone in the world. I have dreams where I can fly all the time. And I've got to tell you it's pretty damn cool.
Unlike the drunk guy at the party, I don't have all the answers. All I have is an elaborate fantasy system wherein I can imagine the many joys of either invisibility or flight. In fact, I'm doing it right now. Whose that reading over your shoulder, anyway? Go ahead! Turn around and look! You can't see me! Because I'm invisible! Ha ha ha ha ha!
Okay, I go with invisibility.
Dear Honorable Jim Bennett:
My name is Mark LaFlamme. I used to be a crime reporter around here until you chased all the bad guys away. Now I write largely about cats rescued from trees. Thanks. Thanks a lot. I notice that you gleefully fight evil on our city streets, yet you still have not done anything about the creature that lives in my closet. Please refer to my early letters complaining of this problem.
I am not writing you today to gripe about those matters, however. Today, I have a helpful suggestion that I believe will boost the local economy and get those downtown grouches in better moods. Have you noticed how grouchy people are downtown? They are stuck in traffic, hanging out on hot street corners waiting for buses or resigned to using those freakish scooter things to commute to work.
The solution is obvious. We need a subway system, just like in the big cities. We need rails that run underground, whisking our people from the downtown to the malls, from their homes to the Colisee, from the crack houses to the brothels. Come to think of it, we need brothels, too.
Mr. Bennett, I earnestly believe digging should start at once. Think of the hundreds of jobs it would provide and imagine all those cranky folks getting off the streets and going underground. More importantly, a new subway system would give me a new place to hang out, now that you've torn down most of the tenements and put up stupid colleges where dark alleys used to be. If you are not going to exorcise the demons in my closet, Mr. Bennett, you at least owe me this much.
I think you will all agree that the above is an eloquent and informative letter. But when I sent it along to our esteemed city leader, all I got for a response was this:
Do I really need to remind you of that restraining order, which forbids you from any direct or indirect contact with this office? Please, please, please stop sending us these letters.
OK, Mr. Bennett didn't really write that letter. But I have a sneaking suspicion that my subway idea would be treated with similar dismissal and scorn. Which is really unfortunate because I think I'm onto something here. If there is a city that weeps for an underground rail system, it's Lewiston.
I was in Boston the other night for reasons I won't go into. I love Boston. I have no idea what it's shaped like or how big it is because I ride the rails from one end of the city to the other. A person loses his natural ability to assess the geography of a place if he spends a large portion of his time underground.
It was on a subway platform in Boston where I saw my first drug dealer many years ago. It was down in those dark, dusty depths that I encountered my first panhandler. I may have seen my first hooker there and probably my first lunatic. Is it any wonder I fell in love with Beantown and with subways in general? Aboveground in the light there is baseball and culture. Down below the earth, there is man with his base urges and many vices.
Lewiston has base urges and vices. If you don't believe me, check out the new "Base Urge and Vice" mart down on Lisbon Street. And so, the optimal time for a subway system in the Twin Cities is sooner, not later.
Key to this plan will be the rail that shoots under the Androscoggin River and into Auburn. At the latest count, 7,547 people were stuck on bridges and streets between the cities. Those people began what they expected to be short drives more than a year ago! Their families have not reported them missing because they, too, are stuck in the full nelson that is intercity traffic.
And imagine: sailing beneath Sabattus or Lisbon streets without the coffee-spilling jolt that comes with traffic lights spaced 15 feet apart. Down on the hard subway seat, stained only slightly by a mystery substance, the only thing you will have to worry about is the man beside you who is having an angry conversation with himself, and the drunk guy across the car who looks like he's about to share the lunch he ate an hour ago.
And so I urge you to write Jim Bennett and extol the virtues of this plan. The man is so adept at bringing new things to the city, I sometimes suspect he's shoplifted them. The Colisee and the brawling team to play inside it. The colleges, the flower parks, the free rides in helicopters that take off from the top of the city building clock tower.
Next week, another letter to Bennett: why we need free helicopter service based out of the city building clock tower.
You people are lucky I'm no longer single. If I were still single, I would easily take the crown for 2006 MEMORIAL DAY HORROR STORY. One drunken night in Old Orchard Beach would surely result in the right amount of madness to win me the prize. Back in the day, a night in Old Orchard would typically result in a summons for urinating in public, a dramatic fall from the stage at Surf Six, losing my shorts in an elaborate dive into the frigid ocean ("I was in the pool!"), making extravagant advances at a lovely girl in the Brunswick who later turned out to be Louis, a painter from Scarborough, or staggering back to the wrong motel room. And all this before noon.
I love Old Orchard. Its loud, its obnoxious, its dirty, its obscene. Forget the Flying Bobs and the Pirate Ship, Old Orchard is a playground for those sinful desires a person leaves behind with the office and the neatly trimmed lawn. Old Orchard is where you go when you want to try out that new banana hammock once and for all.
But the potential for holiday weekend calamity is always great no matter where you end up. If you're a mother or a father, you could devise a vacation that goes horribly wrong and your children could be scarred. If you're a backyard barbecue type, there's always the chance you could have too many Strohs and end up telling off your brother-in-law once in for all before setting your wife's favorite willow on fire. If you're single, well… For a single person, long weekends are hunting season. With that kind of libido and desperation, some form of embarrassment is likely to ensue.
Chances are good that the only thing you'll have to complain about come Tuesday is getting stuck in traffic or running out of propane for the grill. Whatever. We'll take it. Somebody's got to win this damn award. And so far, I have nothing to report. My shorts are still on.
As if spammers aren't loathsome enough as it is, now they're getting insulting. Just tonight, I got an e-mail message in my mailbox that said: "You're penis is smaller than the smallest cell phone." At least I think that was spam. I hope it wasn't from an ex-girlfriend.
Spammers are scum. You take the most obnoxious telemarketer ever and he's still not as infuriating as your garden variety spammer, with the penis creams and low rate mortgages and lose 200 pounds in a half hour and please your lady all night long and buy vAliUm and xAnaax cHeAp.
Bastards. I hate them. Now and then when I get to a particular level of seething (because for a moment there, I thought I really DID win a million damn dollars in an overseas lottery) I begin plotting my revenge. Ultimately, it's very difficult to do. These lowlifes hide deeper than Al friggin Quada. But if I could find one — just one, mind you — I would dedicate a large portion of my life to tormenting the prick.
I envision leaving cryptic messages on the pecker wad's home phone ("you don't know me. But you're wife is cheating with your brother. And your sister…) I imagine going to his favorite bar hangout and louding claiming to be his gay lover. I dream of following him around and peeing in his car whenever he leaves it. I delight over the idea of planting bags of coke in his wheel wells and calling police. I have many, many such ideas for disrupting the daily lives of those cog noggers.
But I'm just raving, now. I happen to know that our own Mainetarr is quite adept at serving up heaping helpings of payback when a situation warrants it. One of these days I'll get so fired up over the mounds of spam, I'll pay her diabolicalness to unleash some revenge whoop ass.
Huge! My cell phone is huge
Ah, Memorial Day weekend. Barbecues, beer swilling, driving like an absolute asshat on the highway… Yes, its a holiday steeped in a tradition of excess. And if you're going on a long road trip, you'll wear out the palms of your hand laying on the horn because that jackass monkey from Massachusetts is driving in the left lane and barely going the speed limit. You will need a computer program to generate new swear words because sociopathic suck pumps keep pulling out in front of you and then slowing to the speed of crippled slugs.
Holiday drivers suck. People suck. And cops will be everywhere to make sure you don't stomp on the gas in a vain attempt to pull away from the morons. Too bad we're not in Texas. In Texas, they sneakily keep upping the speed limit a little bit more each year. Some analyst predict that, by the year 2010, Texans will be allowed to drive at half the speed of light.
Yeehaw! Texans who brag they do things bigger and better now can go faster too. State transportation officials on Thursday boosted speed limits on two stretches of rural highway from 75 mph to 80 – the nation's highest posted speed limit. Not everyone is happy: "You can repeal the speed limit law, but you can't repeal the law of physics. People don't survive crashes at these excessive speeds," said Tom "Smitty" Smith, Texas director of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.
In Maine, we tend to justify our own inadequate holiday plans by blaming the traffic on the roads. Go ahead, ask a handful of your friends what they're doing over the big weekend. More than half of them will tell you, in exasperated tones: "Oh, we're staying home. Who wants to be out with all those assholes on the road?" Truth is, that woman forgot about the holiday and spent all her money on lottery tickets. So she'll buy the kids one of those ankle deep inflatable pools and start hitting the gin and tonics at noon rather than at suppertime. And who can blame her?
So, for those of you keeping the car in the driveway this weekend, here's to you. I hope you drink a lot, get belligerent and stumble in here to air your grievances. I declare the Lost Sole a repercussion free zone where you can bitch about anyone and anything you want and no one will call your probation officer. Go nuts. Let loose. Hit on anyone you want. Just remember, if you vomit while passed out on your back, you will die.
Among the grossest things I ever beheld was a dead cat crawling with maggots on a wet basement floor. I mean, this carcass was bubbling with the things. It looked like a boiling mound of rice as it devoured the last of decaying flesh down there in the rank smelling cellar. And it was really the smell that delivered the mortal message. This was the way of death. Though unpleasant to look at, one species making sup out of the remains of another is just the natural order of things.
I'm turning you on, aren't I?
Few creatures embody the unromantic side of death like the lowly maggot. Vultures, while glorified in literature and cartoons, do not evoke the same sense of dread and revulsion as the writhing white vamps. While the ungainly birds may speak of finality, the mighty maggot is the exclamation at the end of the sentence. Once the white worm has you, even your blackened remains are gone.
Not that I wish to expound on the science or philosophy of fly larvae. God, no. I'm here fishing for nasty maggot stories or simple stomach turning tales of decay and disgust. Mice that crawl away and die behind walls, ant crawling carcasses on roadsides, stinking green death in the camp cupboards. To get you in the mood, here are a couple news clips from around the world:
On March 1, a customer complained that a Happy Meal purchased for a child from the Waianae McDonalds had an unexpected condiment. The complaintant said there were maggots in the child's Sprite drink…
Los Angeles County officials said Thursday they are investigating a television report that more than 40 percent of the bodies at the coroner's office have maggots and that corpses were improperly handled…
A jury has awarded a West Palm Beach woman $1.27 million after part of her leg had to be amputated because it was infected with maggots following surgery…
The Lunas’ small home near downtown Mesa is being cleaned top to bottom. Dirt, blood and beer covered the place and forced Luna to throw away family possessions. Maggots two inches deep were discovered in the kitchen garbage can..
Go ahead. Search my writing room high and search it low. You won't find anything there that looks much like a good luck charm. And yet, such icons are everywhere. There are at least two items on the desk which I have to touch each night before I start writing. One of them is a rusty cog. The other is a snowglobe. There are other items around the room I poke absently but with precise ritualism before I shut out the light. There is a lot of touching going on in that room late, late at night. I'm a strange guy when it comes to superstition. In one breath, I'll tell you I take no stock in horoscopes or fortune telling. I don't carry a rabbit's foot and a four leaf clover is only as tasty as one with three leaves. But the next sentence out of my mouth is a reluctant admission that I will never ever get out of bed on any side but the one I got in on. I will confess that I will never count stairs as I climb up or down them because that kind of thing could ruin my day. The line between superstition and mental disorder is almost too thin to observe with the naked eye. If I stumble over a sentence more than twice while reading late, late at night, I am compelled to read that sentence aloud. Not because I want to grasp its meaning once and for all, but because in an abstract way, I believe I was tripped up in the first place through some mystical force that requires a vocal oration to be gone. Is that superstition or a mild form of obsessive compulsive disorder? I have a stuffed rat and a purple gorilla that must remain in precise locations in my room. I have a folding knife that cost maybe eight bucks, but if I cannot find it, I become certain that ill fortune is about to fall on me like rain. I keep that knife close at hand, not to pare apples or stab attacking beasts, but to ward away bad luck that floats about like noxious clouds. The people who claim to keep no talismans often have yellowed scraps of paper folded into chaotic shapes and tucked away in their wallets. They hang on to things like ticket stubs or meaningless reciepts and tell themselves they are only souveniers. But snatch away those items and the owner of them feels hollow, incomplete and strangely vulnerable. People who regard themselves as above superstition wear St. Christopher’s around their necks to ward of peril, or carry troll dolls to invite fortune at Bingo. They toss spilled salt over their left shoulder and always pick up pennies found on the street. We’ve all heard the stories about baseball players who refuse to shave or change their socks when a hitting streak is on the line. We know there was at least one notable batter who would eat only chicken before a game. The man gobbled when he ran around the bases, but hey! He was running around the bases because he kept hitting the ball.
Those stories of celebrity superstition are quaint and they endear us to the people who devote themselves to these lucky charms and rituals. We brush it off as harmless psychology and remind ourselves that it really has no basis in science.
But me, I’m not sure enough of the workings of the universe to scoff at anything a person does to summons fortune or ward off doom. We used to believe that it was a vacuum out there in deep space and not so many years ago. Now we know that there is dark energy, dark matter and who knows what magical entities with the power to determine fates and alter the course of events in our dimension.
Me, I don’t tangle with those forces, especially the ones who have not yet identified themselves. It takes me less than a second to touch the cog and the snowglobe. It requires no physical exertion to keep close track of the stuffed rat, the purple gorilla and the folding knife. Why monkey with the ritual? It may not be those things at all keeping me alive. But the only way to find out for sure is to abandon them and that could cause me to drop dead. Who needs it?
So today, I invite you to bring along your lucky charms like show-and-tell day back in grade school. Show off your lucky panties, the ones you were wearing when you bagged that quarterback you’d been chasing all through high school. Tell us chilling stories about how you kept and froze the plasma from your first nose bleed and how you consider that responsible for the awesome wealth you have accumulated. By all means, share with us the condom you kept after your first, awkward sex encounter in the back of your old man’s car. Please keep that thing at arm’s length. And what is that, extra small? How unfortunate for you.
The always insightful AO approached me the other night and introduced the concept of sinful pleasures. While she groped and otherwise harassed me, she explained the idea. A wine sipping snob who secretly enjoys Maddog is a person with a guilty pleasure. An aerobic instructor who claims to live on tofu and bean sprouts but who secretly gorges on Burger King food is a person with a guilty pleasure. All that is required is some level of hypocrisy or just outright embarrassment. There are perfectly masculine men who like things like knitting, the Christmas Tree Shoppe or bon bons. And fully grown women who still play with No-Bake Ovens, waltz with mannequins or watch shows like Saved By the Bell.
An hour after this discussion, once I'd freed myself from AO's libidinous clutches, I recalled a time in the not-recent-enough-past when I had a short fling with a show called "Yes, Dear." At the time, I thought it was an ingenious show revolving around two couples and their children who were forced to live together in one house. I think I might have had a brain embolism at the time.
That aside, I confessed this embarrassing affliction to the hulking and surly sportswriter Randy Whitehouse. I believe he pondered the thought for a half second before growling, and not for the first time: "You know? Sometimes I have to remind myself that you're not a woman."
The comment is not without justification. I think I have admitted to some of you that my playlist at home features songs that experts in the music industry might describe as "faggish." I have some Carpenters, some Abba, an Olivia Newton John or two. There are some Jewell tunes in there ("you were meant for me. And I was meant for you." Brilliant!) and probably some Andy Gibb.
I'm fairly secure in my masculinity and I know that watching "Yes, Dear" or singing along with "Xanadu" does not make me gay. Effeminate, maybe. But not gay. And I'm quite sure that most of us have such nasty little pleasures we do not share with even our closest friends. I went to Whitehouse's alleged home once, for instance, and found him quilting, listening to Paula Abdul and watching "Full House" while wearing a cheerleader's outfit. And that does not make him gay. That only makes him deranged and complete and utter hypocrite.
An otherwise cool and macho friend of mine, whom I will not name (Randy Baril), once bought a Tickle me Elmo for a buddy's kid but ended up keeping the thing for himself for a few days. And for those few days, he had that creepy red thing on his desk like some mutant trophy. He denied having any sort of attachment to the social disease red colored toy, but when someone hid it on him, the guy was in true panic. I think I saw tears of rage and longing gleaming in his eyes. And I consider that a brief but profound guilty pleasure probably inspired by serious childhood trauma involving a talking doll.
So whatever your secret vice is, be it a toy, a television show, a website, or something inflatable (Bulldog), I invite you to share it with the group. We are all human beings here and that means we all have deep desires that we fulfill in a variety of ways. The idea is to discuss these things so that we might rid ourselves of shame. The idea is to come closer together as a group. The idea is to hear of some guilty pleasures so heinous, that my small transgressions do not sound so bad.
I want to tell you a goddamn story and I'll try to keep the sonofabitch short. I know I can be a wordy bastard sometimes and I'm trying to knock that shit off.
A few weeks ago, I met with a group of senior citizens to talk about my novel. The group was made up of a dozen older women and at the end of the meeting, one of them pursed her lips together and asked the question I knew would be coming.
"Why, Mr. LaFlamme, do you have so much swearing in your story?"
Tensing, I expected grumbles of agreement from the others in the group. Soon it would turn ugly. Perhaps a beating would commence and how the hell would I explain that at the end of the day?
Instead, to my surprise, the other ladies quickly derided the first for her observation. There was nothing wrong with a little spicy language in a work of fiction, they said. Gutter talk is just the way of the world and those who find it offensive just aren't being realistic.
"We've all heard the F-word, Mabel," one of them said.
I am not making that quote up. And because of those broadminded broads, I am here today to talk about swearing and how much I enjoy it.
Oh, sure. I could just spout off a bunch of profanity statistics. Like how in the United States, 72 percent of men and 58 percent of women swear in public. And how the same is true for 74 percent of 18 to 34 year olds and 48 percent of people who are over age 55.
Or I could go the scientific route and explain how man's tendency for vulgarity is largely a product of his limbic system, which houses memory and emotion, and the basal ganglia, which is ground control for impulse control. There is also the matter of deistic profanity versus visceral vulgarity.
But the hell with all that crap. I know most of you get pissed off by blowhards who retreat to textbooks to deliver their message. Who fucking needs it? So, in order to keep you all from bitching, I'll just proceed to the main point. Which is what Mainetarr and I refer to as the hierarchy of swear words. It is a simple measure of any given word's severity.
For instance, the word bastard would be low on the profanity meter. Bastard is a word used chiefly in reference to someone who is being a pain in the ass. Unless he or she is also grouchy, in which case you use the more fitting term "miserable bastard."
Likewise, sonofabitch (note how it rolls off the tongue if you wrap it all into one word that way) is a perfectly acceptable word to use in public to describe one who, like a bastard, is being a pain in the ass. Only, a sonofabitch tends to cause you grief intentionally, as in: "that sonofabitch just took a piss in my bird feeder again."
Barking the word asshole brings it up a notch. That word implies that, like a bastard or a sonofabitch, a particular person is causing you misery. Only now, your level or irritation has risen to the point where you'd like to do bodily harm to the person who made you swear in the first place.
The word douchebag, while technically a medical product and not a swear word, is typically used to describe a person who is an asshole, but who is probably too stupid to know better. A douchebag, while annoying, is almost a sympathetic character.
A fucker is a person who has antagonized you, but you really can't hold it against him because somehow, it's his job. "That fucker drank the last beer again," you might say about your lush of a roomate. Only, be careful of words like this. As Mainetarr brilliantly observed, add one adjective to it, and you will change the meaning altogether. Saying "he's a dirty fucker" no longer implies mild irritation. Now, the noun "fucker" has been modified to imply that a person is so stinky, it is no longer just unpleasant, but possibly unhealthy, as well.
And so on, and so forth. There are great swear words that roll out of the throat like nails fired from the thorax. Some are reserved for moments of extreme unhappiness, like when you sit on a bag of tacks (it happens, people). There are words that will get your face slapped and others that will cause an entire room to fall silent. We all know there is one word so vile and syllabic, it is best not even hinted at.
I welcome your thoughts on the hierarchy of swear words and their many uses. Extra credit is given for those words that sound dirty, but are in fact, perfectly clean. Like fucoid. Or cumquat. Or seamen. Or masticate. Extra, extra points are given if you can use those words in a sentence without giggling.
PS: not to mention "cockchafer, "snatch block," or "touch hole."
Okay, people. It's only Monday and I'm excited. I'm excited because I just glanced a JC advertisement that announced a bra fitting. This excites me because I had no idea there were such events called bra fittings. I've dreamed of such things, of course, but never knew they happened in the real world. Oh, flurry of images.
I'm doubly excited because the ad, which trumpets that "we've got your size," boldly announces that AA through J cup sizes are available. There are J sized cups out there walking among us? What does it look like? No matter how much I strain my imagination, I keep seeing those carnival rides tea cups attached to the front of a woman's body.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm bra illiterate. I can operate the most advanced snap out there, but when it comes to the numbers and letters, you might as well be speaking Greek. And this J cup concept, well… Take me to the carnival.
So, the more worldly of you will need to educate me on just what happens at these bra fittings. Otherwise, you'll read about a strange, lecherous man who crashed through the ceiling tiles at JC Penney after spending three days up there gawking. Let us hope I land safely in a J cup.