Wednesday, November 19

Tales of Public Transportation: Part II

Note: Part I is available at Salt Blog. This one is the tale of:

Casanova and the Single Mom

This afternoon, my partner Dave and I had to travel to 1700 South on a minor but urgent piece of business. I thought he was planning to drive, but as it turned out, he had already checked the bus schedules and found that the No. 200 bus travels up and down State Street every 15 minutes--even to such far-flung regions as Murray. It surely would get us where we needed to go!

We boarded at 200 South with some trepidation, staying near the front door in case a fast exit became necessary. Still, the presence of not one, but two uniformed UTA officials was reassuring. It was a trainee driver (who nevertheless seemed competent enough) and his intelligent and efficient trainer, standing by to answer any technical questions he might have. (Presumably, more glamorous routes go to tenured drivers.)

Our progress remained glacial within the downtown area. (Not only do buses receive no special treatment from traffic signals but, as I learned by listening in on the training session, all stops are “mandatory” within the free-fare zone—meaning the driver must pull over in the middle of every block.)

On 400 South, we were joined by a booming, rotund fellow who immediately started in on the attractive, blond UTA trainer. “What a day! Been working long?” She barely had a chance to respond before his next question came: “How long’ve you been working here?”

She seemed torn between the desire to be polite and a natural wariness developed over years of working with the general public. Politeness won out—I sensed that, due to her compassionate nature, she didn’t want to hurt the man’s feelings. And so his questions kept coming. Within the space of a few blocks, she revealed the number of years she had worked for the company, and her first name (for the sake of anonymity, let’s call her “Toni”)--to which Casanova replied, “Toni. That’s a beautiful name.”

Dave and I started to worry that things were getting a little stalky. Perhaps Toni sensed this, too, because she quickly mentioned that her husband worked for UTA as well. Far from discouraging Casanova, however, this news of a rival suitor prompted a volley of questions: We learned Toni's husband’s first name (let’s say “Alan”), the number of years he had worked there, and the fact that medical problems are currently keeping Alan off the job—but, with luck, he might soon be able to manage some basic household tasks.

“Oh, Alan! I know him,” said Casanova. “Yep, you’ve got a good man, there …” We became seriously alarmed. What, exactly, was this guy insinuating?

Fortunately, the conversation then turned to some UTA employee who petitioned the courts to change his name to something funny like (let’s say) The Great Pumpkin. For some legal reason, in order that his wife be named Mrs. Pumpkin, the couple actually divorced and remarried on the same day.

And, miraculously, that was our stop.

Dave and I chuckled uneasily about the whole ordeal, and I shook my head in disbelief: Everybody knows that you don’t talk to strangers on buses. And, even if you must, you never, ever reveal personal information! It’s just common sense.

Later, as we waited for the inbound bus in front of the wonderful old South High School building (now Salt Lake Community College), we were joined by a young woman who was, with great difficulty, managing a stroller, a backpack and a diaper bag while thwarting her toddler’s determined efforts to wander out into the State Street traffic. “Get over here! Now!” There’s no sound like the voice of a stressed-out mother.

The poor woman: kid running wild, diaper bag overflowing. My heart went out to her, especially when she blurted, apropos of nothing, “I can’t believe they put this coffee shop here after I started going to the Redwood campus!”

I assumed she was indicating Baxter’s, which is cool, but more importantly, she was taking classes in hopes of creating a better life for herself and her child! I was overcome: “You know, I did my lib-ed at the Redwood campus!” I said, with fond memories of that alma mater. “We used to get coffee in the student union.”

She told me there was a Starbuck’s in the cafeteria now, but the coffee was less than $2, so it was OK. She wondered if the beautiful weather would continue, and speculated on the number of days till Thanksgiving. I pointed out that, since tomorrow was Thursday, Thanksgiving was only eight days away, and forecasts were calling for clear skies. She confided that the reason she was in the area was to investigate some public housing-assistance program for single mothers and noted that, although Barack Obama had been elected president, he wouldn’t take office until Jan. 4. My opinion that the inauguration was bound to occur on a date later than the 4th was met with considerable doubt. However, she added that she had voted for Obama, and was a Democrat despite the fact that she was also a member of the LDS Church.

I noticed Dave edging away as I reported that I had voted the straight-D ticket, mentioning that Obama must have garnered a fair number of LDS votes and, by the official count, had actually won Salt Lake County. “That’s our county!” she exclaimed—and then our bus arrived.

Suddenly, I realized I had fallen into the same trap as Toni the UTA trainer. Had I learned nothing during the southbound ordeal? “Well, it was nice talking to you,” I said, making a hopeful attempt to extract myself from the situation.

“Oh, I’m getting on here, too.” And of course she did, managing on that crowded bus to seat herself precisely across the aisle from Dave and me.

Still, it was a bus, full of other talkative people. If I looked straight ahead, I possibly could avoid further contact. There was already a conversation of sorts underway, proceeding in self-conscious fits, starts and mutterings. After a few minutes, however, I started noticing that some of the comments verged, quite casually, upon class warfare. Statements like “Well, poor people like us …” denoting a sense of solidarity; and “Check out that guy in the Lexus,” clearly motivated out of class resentment, astounded me. For years, I’ve been puzzled at the way people seemed so unaware of how our overlords have been milking the nation dry. And now … could it be?

I was considering that, at long last, a waking consciousness of “we poor” vs. “those rich bastards” seems suddenly to be emerging—when the single mother piped up with a random observation about her kid’s teething pains: “I’ve heard that, if I soak a rag in whisky, it’s the best way to numb his gums.”

She must have known—didn’t she?—that my best patronizing, liberal instincts couldn’t help but leap into play. “Well, there are other products available, if you don’t feel like giving whisky to a baby,” I lectured. The six other people within earshot began talking about cloves. “Four-leaf clovers?” the single mother asked. “Clove oil?” I suggested.

But I was well and duly caught, and she reeled me in: “So, what are your names?” she asked, all innocence.

“Well …” Personal information! Personal information! “… I’m Brandon, and this is Dave.”

She lowered her voice. “Are you … together?”

It was a very full bus. The six people sitting ahead of us were all ears, and suddenly I was acutely aware that I had no idea who was seated behind. I was thinking of hobos, hooligans, machetes. Scoundrels, ne’er-do-wells, fagbashers. Get a grip. You haven’t been afraid enough to lie about it since you were 15. I glanced at her and nodded, then looked straight ahead.

“You are?” she squealed, back at full volume. “How cute!” I sunk a little lower in my seat. “So, you’re like boyfriend and girlfriend, right?”

Oh, come on. Nobody has this conversation anymore. “Uh … no.” I shook my head.

“Oh, you’re str—” she began, but Dave had reached the end of his rope: “There’s no girlfriend about it. It’s boyfriend and boyfriend, OK?”

She was delighted. “I think [whisper] gay people [squeal] are wonderful!” She actually whispered the words “gay people.” I couldn’t believe what had just happened when, conversationally, she began again: “So, tell me …”

I knew what was coming. It has been a standard joke among gays and lesbians for decades. I have to admit, though, in 25 years of being out, this is the first time it’s actually happened to me.

“So, tell me,” she said as I cringed. “Which one of you is … the dominant?”

Everybody around us was completely silent—for once. Was this an opportunity to educate and enlighten? No way—it was just too insane. “OK, I don’t think this is an appropriate bus conversation,” I said, a little briskly.

She was stunned for a moment, then remorseful. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

Was I embarrassed? I’ve fought for my entire adult life against the idea that being gay is something to be embarrassed about. “No, I’m not embarrassed. I just don’t think the other passengers appreciate this.” Well, that wasn’t too bad. The “guy in the Lexus” lady commiserated with me: “Yes, it’s a little personal, isn’t it?” I wasn't sure I welcomed the commiseration.

I looked at Dave's head for the rest of the trip, mortified, trying to communicate through nonverbal, private brainwaves. Fifth South, Fourth South, our stop. Single mother’s stop, too. “See ya later!” I chirped, stepping right over the empty stroller and through hissing hydraulic doors into fresh air and freedom. As she struggled with the stroller, backpack, diaper bag and toddler, we started running, knowing she wouldn’t be able to catch up to us as we dashed across State Street with seconds remaining on the crossing signal.

Thursday, September 18

Mallard Fillmore explained

Here, instead of a low-def flat-screen TV, we have the strip's main character, who is a duck (or, to be precise, a drake). I think the duck's name is "Mallard Fillmore"--which would make him an eponymous duck--and, according to King Features, he is a TV journalist.

Despite his given profession, Fillmore is rarely, if ever, seen engaging in camera work, sound checks, editing, interviewing, being on TV or sneering at newspaper journalists. And, despite his given name "Mallard," Fillmore's coloration suggests he is not a Mallard drake, but of some other breed. Cartoon colorists are notoriously undependable, but a good guess is that Fillmore is either an "American black" or a "black scotar." Scotars are Canadian (and therefore socialist) ducks. Since Fillmore's political views are decidedly anti-socialist, this might explain the self-loathing evident in this strip.

Here, Fillmore is imagining his youth as a student in one of the 13,000+ public school systems in the U.S. (say, for instance, Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Kentucky). Now, in his youth, even though Fillmore was good at algebra, JCPS failed to recognize and nurture his mathematical genius as fully as he wished--and as it might have, if only sufficient funds had been available for it to run a decent gifted program or to offer AP courses.

As things were, the Kentucky Board of Education, still smarting from that whole "desegregation" thing, were convinced that public education is a communist plot, and agreed it was God's will to de-fund the county school systems--at least as much as possible without attracting federal attention. As a result, who knows how many innocent ducklings, woefully deprived like Fillmore of adequate governmental coddling and encouragement, were bitterly forced to become journalists and cartoonists instead of entering more useful professions?

The final panel is a clever jape at the expense of behind-the-curve scientists who, despite the efforts of their more quick-witted colleagues, continue to slow human progress with their failure to grasp concepts such as evolution, genetics, human sexuality and climatology.


On D.F. Wallace

An excerpt from an e-mail I sent to my friend Pat Kelly in Oaxaca:
David Foster Wallace, an author whom I both liked and disliked, committed suicide Friday. Now I kind of feel bad for talking shit about him all this time, although I'm almost 100 percent sure nothing I said had anything to do with his suicide. When I read Infinite Jest, I thought, "At last! An important literary work from a Midwestern author is getting some attention!" I hated the way fiction had become so New-Yorky and Ivy League. (To be honest, it's just really hard to compete with that sort of thing, so I always press for some kind of Western literary renaissance that doesn't have to do with those I Was a Teenage Polygamist tell-all shockers.)

Then I learned a little more about Wallace, and discovered that he was born in Ithaca and graduated from Cornell. And then, six months after I read Infinite Jest, I realized the book may not have been as important as I thought; it was less life-changing for me than the sense of personal accomplishment I felt in being able to slog through it, footnotes and all. Although, if you do decide to read any of his stuff, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again is probably the most entertaining; Brief Interviews With Hideous Men is self-indulgent and reads like it was meant to impress fellow grad students. The Broom of the System is actually really good, although if you like that sort of thing, Chuck Palahnuik does it better. And, as far as I know, Palahnuik is still alive. So, enough of badmouthing dead authors.
Wallace feared sentimentality, and this was meant as a nonsentimental tribute. Now, I guess, it's time for me to feel guilty again.

Saturday, September 6

Oh, That Liberal Media!

As far back as January 2007, MSNBC writer Tom Curry's mustache was twitching ecstatically at the jowly prospect of a McCain-Lieberman ticket. Curry's devotion to McCain is no secret; small wonder that today, with half his dream team in possession of the Republican nomination, Curry feels comfortable filing--seemingly with no qualms or ethical misgivings at all--such a breathtakingly biased story as this one.

Curry's story is clearly labeled as news, not op-ed, and his title at the network is "national affairs writer," not "columnist" or "opinion writer." This is no small quibble; the clear distinction between news and opinion is central to any discussion of ethical journalistic practice.

Apart from Curry's introductory material, the story consists of quotes from members of one party dreaming up imaginative reasons that the opposing party's candidate might be considered unfit for office. Since it's a news article, naturally Curry made an attempt to get one or two quotes from the opposing camp, right?

Well, no. Curry didn't bother to run the traps; he left the story incomplete and padded the word count with additional, more-or-less identical, Republican quotes. But that's OK, right? Because, after all, he was just covering the RNC--no Democrats for miles around--and he went out of his way to mention a previous article: "Last week at the Democratic convention in Denver I spoke to delegates at a breakfast of the Iowa delegation."

OK, then. that must be where the journalistic integrity comes in. This is just part of a series--great idea, really--and in the companion article, he asked Democratic delegates to express their own juicy misgivings about McCain, no?

No. The DNC article consisted of quotes from disgruntled Clinton loyalists and other Democrats caught off-guard by Curry's leading questions inviting them to explore their deep, subconscious fears about Obama's campaign. Hm. I'm beginning to detect a pattern here.

I must say, Curry's very good at capturing the imaginations of his interview subjects. Unfortunately, he's not so good at capturing their rational thoughts. His interview subjects read like people retelling last night's strange dream or describing their pet phobias. One imagines, however, that the moment some brainy expert starts babbling on about "research," "policy" or "facts," Curry's eyes glaze over until he murmurs a remote, "That's just great; thank you for your time." And there's another interview under his belt.

If Curry feels comfortable filing as "news" such transparent campaign literature as these stories, I fear for his soul.

C'mon, Tom. There must be an idealistic J-school student still locked inside you, isn't there? Remember how, as a young reporter, you swelled with pride at being part of America's venerable Fourth Estate? How you vowed always to remain objective and never sell out your loyalty, no matter how high the bid?

What happened to that young man, Tom? What happened to your idealism? What happened to your soul?

Saturday, August 30

For the Love of Jimmy

I love writing Lake Effect. It's one of the best assignments in City Weekly--reporting on Utah quirks. The Powers That Be have been generous enough to give me the latitude to do what I want with it, and I've tried to bring a certain perthonal touch to the assignment--even though I've probably made it too gay. (Note: This last link may not make much sense without the accompanying photo, which was of a posted flyer advertising "Ten Gay Days" of the Utah Pride Center's WinterPride Festival. But I was particularly proud of the pastiche.)

Sometimes I yearn for the days when I had 600, even 800 words to do what I wanted, to develop a logical argument or rant and rant the day away. Paring down my little diatribes to a concise 150 (or, sometimes, an extravagant 175) has been an exercise in parsimony. I've tried to pack as much punch in as small as a space as possible, but I've had to sacrifice every bit of airiness and every chirpy conceit--and there are very few who are willing to laugh at such a dense data download.

Here, from the old luxurious 750-word archive, is one I really like. Remember in late 2004 when Jimmy Swaggart threatened to murder any gay man who looked at him "like that"? (Me neither, but this will refresh your memory.)

"I’m trying to find the correct name for it … this utter absolute, asinine, idiotic stupidity of men marrying men. … I’ve never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I’m gonna be blunt and plain: If one ever looks at me like that, I’m gonna kill him and tell God he died." --Jimmy Swaggart

Here's the response I wrote, which appeared originally in Salt Lake Metro (now QSaltLake):


For the Love of Jimmy

I’m not really sure now what to do with my collection of Jimmy Swaggart porn.

Swaggart is the blue-haired televangelist who is just so hot, hot, hot — to gay men at least — he finally had to break down and make a death threat against the next faggot who looked at him “like that.” (You know the look he means. It’s the look gay men get when they become enamored of a semiliterate, puffy Bible-banger who makes his living bilking little old ladies out of their Social Security checks.)

Yes, it was a terrible blow to discover old “hot cheeks” Jimmy is absolutely, unapologetically, 100-percent heterosexual. My hopes of getting it on with him — of finally having the opportunity to touch that flaccid, withered, somewhat gray and quivering flesh — have been utterly dashed.

But there’s nothing that can be done about it. If he’s straight, he’s straight.

Unfortunately for hetero Jimmy, the lusty animal magnetism he holds for gay men the world over does not extend to women. This is a man who does, remember, have to pay hookers in order to get his rocks off.

Not that there’s anything especially wrong with hookers. As long as they’ve chosen their profession of their own free will and are allowed to maintain enough self-esteem to stick up for themselves and ensure they’re treated well, who am I to disapprove?

It’s just that, while I’m not one to disapprove, Jimmy certainly is. One imagines the entire time he was sweating, grunting and flopping around on top of those call-girls he could barely contain the feeling of disgust he felt for himself, for them, and for a world that could hold such temptations of the flesh. That much became clear the day he had his spiritual epiphany, causing him to make a tearful speech of public repentance, which — as such spiritual epiphanies often do — came immediately after he got caught.

It was this epiphany, this complete turnaround in his spiritual convictions, that first made me realize Jimmy could change — if not with the prayers of his aged and rather superstitious viewers, then at least with the everlasting love of the right man. After all, God didn’t make Jimmy a hypocrite — Jimmy’s just living the hypocrite lifestyle.

Hate the sin, love the sinner.

Nobody is born a right-wing religious nut. Ask any right-wing religious nut — he’ll tell you the story of his conversion. Likely he started out as a normal hellion: drinking, carousing, doing drugs, worshiping Satan. The kind of person you meet every day.

It isn’t until, in a moment of personal crisis, he is recruited by a member of the nefarious, world-wide, right-wing religious nut organization. These are the folks who hang out at political conventions and in churches, on college campuses and in prisons, in a never-ending hunt for their next victim.

That victim is exposed to religious literature, tempted to attend revival meetings, even subjected to the laying-on of hands — and, unless something can be done quickly, the predators’ job is quickly done: The victim joins their ranks and becomes a predator himself.

It is a vicious circle, but the predatory practices of right-wing Christians are well known. Some even go door-to-door!

All is not lost, however. It is important to remember that being a right-wing religious nut is a chosen lifestyle. Remembering this can be difficult in an age when the Washington D.C. elite and the Republican-dominated media are constantly barraging us with the false message that being a right-wing Christian is perfectly normal, even desirable.

However, I was heartened to learn that there is no gene that causes people to be right-wing religious nuts. This meant that Jimmy, my Jimmy, could change! He could even — dare I dream it? — be mine!

Visions of our perfect love danced through my head: the birds chirping sweetly, his massive neck-jowls fluttering manfully in the breeze, his lips pursed, for once, not in a wrinkled expression of his disapproval, but in a kiss barely tinged with the sweetness of Fixodent. Not only was I looking at him “like that,” he was looking at me “like that” right back.

And then, with this — this public avowal of his heterosexuality and with his determination to kill the myriad gay men who look upon his sagging man-breasts with constant, unbridled passion — my dream was dashed to bits.

Right-wing religious nut? That I could live with … I could even help him change. But heterosexual?

No, there’s nothing that can be done about that.

Friday, August 29

Mallard Fillmore explained

Whenever I come across one of Bruce Tinsley's Mallard Fillmore strips, I think twice before reading it. It's not because I fear that my morally bankrupt, big-government liberal sensibilities will be blown out of the water by Tinsley's laser wit. It's just that I can't always afford the effort required to contextualize a strip whose humor is based on early-'90s Gingrich-era conservatism.

Now, I do enjoy the trip back to those idyllic college years, but the strip struggles so hard to retain its relevance that I often end up feeling sorry for it somehow. It is, after all, the comic that wingers once celebrated as the neocon answer to Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury.

Here's where that once-illustrious strip is now.



That's a flat-screen TV talking, not an Etch-a-Sketch or a pizza box. It's nearly square-shaped because, duh, it's a conservative flat-screen TV, and they are all in the old 4:3 low-definition aspect ratio. (Liberal TVs, apparently, are in the high-def 16:9 aspect ratio.)

The TV is complaining that the newsmedia was slower to react to a Democrat's extramarital affair than it is when it reports on the various sexual peccadillos of Republicans. This is certainly a concern, since the National Enquirer broke the Edwards story months before the reputable media touched it.

Still, I wonder why this low-def TV is so quick to assign partisan motives. Let's say you're a corporate newspaper editor or network news director, and your reporters are pitching two front-page/lead stories:
  1. A woman who was once the mistress of a PAC chairman had a baby and declines to disclose the father's identity. The primary source is a supermarket tabloid that once paid $20,000 for a story about how kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart's family was involved in something called a "gay sex ring"--and, shortly thereafter, was forced to issue a retraction.
  2. A United States senator was arrested and booked for giving blowjobs in a public restroom. The primary source is a police report, and mug shots are available.
I don't know about you, but if I were a corporate MSM drone in this free-market economy, I'd have to go with Story No. 2--if not for the sake of avoiding a libel suit, at least for the sake of ad sales. (My stockholder overlords would demand no less.) Even from the point of view of an editor at an independent news outlet--one, say, with actual journalistic ethics--Story No. 2 is better documented and, let's face it: A sitting senator, whether Republican or Democrat, beats an ex-senator PAC chairman any day.

It's no fault of the media that Republicans tend to get arrested propositioning vice cops in tearooms while Democrats tend to book hotel suites for their shadowy extramarital affairs. And, when a cocksucking senator turns out to have gone on record with his vehement opposition to gay rights, it's just icing on the hypocritical cake.

That flat-screen TV has a right to complain. Mainstream media, by abandoning journalistic ethics in its obsession with ratings, really has failed America. But, if this appliance considers the Edwards story to be uniquely emblematic of that failure, it's stuck in the same short-sighted boat as the rest of its corporate-media comrades.

Thursday, August 28

Lake Effect: Aug. 28, 2008

This week's Lake Effect deals with TRAX ticket-vending machines.

Now, don't get me wrong: I love TRAX. I am a firm supporter of public transportation in general, and of Utah Transit Authority in particular. UTA does a great job, especially considering that a majority in the Legislature think public transportation is a communist plot to overthrow America and transport U.N. jackboots to our doors on some fateful red dawn.

It's just that, when you're in a hurry to get to work, and you've got a bunch of dollar coins in your pocket--Sacagaweas and Presidentials and even a Susan B. Anthony from the disco era for goddess' sake--and the stupid machine keeps spitting them back out at you even though it was that same machine that gave them to you the day before, and you can hear the shrill semitones of the "door closing" whistles as you're about to miss a Very Important Cover-Story Meeting--well, it's an easy enough decision just to say, "Screw it!" and climb onto the train.

And then, when a TRAX cop gets on at the next stop demanding a ticket, and you decide that an excuse like, "The machine wouldn't take my dollar coins!" sounds too lame, so you decide to engage in a little theatrical performance and start "searching" through your jacket pockets for the "ticket" you "bought" before boarding--making sure the TRAX cop sees that you've got at least 20 tickets on you from previous rides, because you're something of a packrat and never clean out your pockets, but at least you're obviously a regular ticket-buyer and not some slacker trying to defraud the system--and then the TRAX cop doesn't go for it, but keeps waiting and waiting and finally asks you pointblank, "Did you buy a ticket today?" ... well, then, of course you can't lie directly to his face (because of some weird thing from childhood) so you hang your head in remorse and say, "No, officer, I really didn't."

And you still hope for mercy, because basically you're just a good citizen caught at a bad moment, but then, when the TRAX cop makes you get off the train at the next stop with a bunch of teenagers who are obviously sluffing school and up to no good making really lame excuses, and you're thoroughly shamed during the 20 minutes it takes to be fined $100, while the TRAX cop wastes time flirting with those teenagers--which is kind of gross, really, because even though the TRAX cop is kind of hot, why isn't he flirting with you since you're much closer to his age?--and all the while, good upstanding citizens are looking at you and judging, just as you have looked and judged in the past, and you're thinking all the time about how the Very Important Cover-Story Meeting has already started, and everybody's wondering where you are ...

... well, at that point, you start to hate those damn ticket machines. That's all I'm sayin'.

Oh, the pressure!

Seems I'm being encouraged to begin actually contributing to this here nascent blog. We'll see how it goes; I do have the responsibility to focus the bulk of my blogging energies on Salt Blog, but who knows? Maybe I could become one of those prolific bloggers who manages to do everything--a blogger on the go!

And now I've used an entire blog post to write about blogging itself. How meta. !!!

So let's return to the days when laser beams came shooting out of giant toothpaste tubes and sparkly body-stockings were hot, hot, hot!!!

Why, why has there never been an action TV series called Tony: Roller Disco Manager? (And who wouldn't have hot "wheels" for Sally the skating instructor? Rrowr!)

Monday, July 21

Yep, so far, pathetic ...

Will I ever become as good a blogger as Chelsie?

Sunday, March 16


I really need to work more on this blog ...

Saturday, February 2

Sample Quiz