The Man Who Shared His Salt

I was crankily shoveling snow on the day of the largest New York storm in recorded history. It took a few hours to get the stairs cleared, but it was good, honest labor and I felt pleased that, above all else, my heart wasn't bursting apart like a cheap pinata. Not long after I'd begun, an older gentleman exited his humble abode and began shoveling and for a few minutes I imagined we were two hearty men sharing a moment of fortitude, grit and bone-chilling cold. When he finished shoveling he began salting his stairs and I thought it would be a good idea to do the same. Only I didn't have salt, all I had was this older gentleman with whom I'd silently bonded.

"Ahem," I said. "Could I have a little salt?"

"Errr!" he said. "You don't have any?"


"Errr! Okay, when I'm done."

He then finished salting his staircase, put the salt away as I waited, walked to another staircase -- perhaps he owned both buildings? -- and shoveled that stairway. Then he pulled the salt out again and salted there. The whole time I leaned on my shovel, waiting. Sure, maybe in a perfect world it would have been better if I'd been prepared and had my own salt (though I'm a mere renter and have a lousy landlord who doesn't take care of things like stair shoveling or smoke detector repair), but we were neighbors and I wasn't asking for much. Or was I? Maybe I was just another goddamned punk, artsy type who'd invaded his neighborhood and damnit who needed to help these irresponsible succubae? Maybe I'd slip and break my neck, one less punk in the world, ha ha ha!

Finally, he came over, tossed half a handful of salt on one small section of the stairs. Then he took another handful and threw it at me.

"Errr! There, that's enough." Then he went inside.

I understood this man and I love him: he is Crankypants squared! He showed me that it's not okay to expect your neighbors in NYC to help you when you're in need! Be prepared or die! What if it had been a nuclear attack, he was thinking, and I'd been asking him for water? (And I'm sure his apartment is full to overbrimming with supplies in hopes of such an attack). Helping your neighbor would be tantamount to death. Why can't people just take care of themselves? Why can't we all just live on our on little islands? Why do we need other people at all? When will the little purple martians stop telling me to pull out my shotgun and go on a killing spree? Life is so hard!

Yes, he had a point. People today don't take responsibility for themselves, or for much of anything. And why should HE be the one who has to step up and set an example. Errr!

I wanted to thank CP2 so I called my friend Happy Stan and we tossed around a few ideas. We could wait for him to leave his house and then crack him over the head with a pumpkin tossed from the roof. Happy didn't like this -- he wanted me to invite him to dinner and "communicate" my feelings. No, I said. Happy Stan then suggested sending flowers. Errr! I kicked Happy Stan out and devised my own plan. I went to the 99 cent store near my apartment and bought my own supply of salt. I filled a small plastic cup and then left it in CP2's doorway with a note: "Thanks for helping out!" Then I laughed maniacally. It was the same laugh the old man would have laughed after tossing salt on my pants had he not lost the ability long ago to express any joy, even the happiness derived from the misery of others. I laughed because I knew this would twist CP2s's panty's into a bunch: there's nothing cranky people hate more than happy people and my note just screamed "happy." I should have known I was dealing with a master.

A week later I discovered him sitting on his stoop, smoking a cigarette. That's right, all the snow had melted in a week and the weather had warmed. If you choose to read anything into this change, it's because you're hopelessly naive: weather changes, not cranky old men. Thank goodness.

As I walked past on my way to work I felt a little smack on the back of my head, followed by a fizzy plunk. He'd flicked his cigarette off the back of my head. I'm something of a dualist and believe we all have multiple selves, some of whom do battle with others. And so when CP2 plunked my ear with his still burning cigarette, I felt a warm glow, knowing I was facing a manifestation of myself, only older, Polish and not nearly so bearded. I wanted to embrace him. I wanted to thank him for giving me a Yoda-like model for crankiness. And thinking this I knew I couldn't thank him -- doing so would destroy the bond we'd established. So instead I turned and said, "Nice shot."

"Errr!" he said.

It was truly love. I considered suggesting we join forces, but the look on his homuncular face told me otherwise: cranky people do NOT unite, by definition.

By the way: all of the above is true and if you don't believe me, just ask James Frey. He helped me with the writing.


Free Agents

Many of my fans have written me letters lately begging me to write about important topics, like world politics, lying Republicans and Mel Gibson. But I make my own rules, fans be damned, and have chosen this week instead to write about something I know little about. Money. And sports. Or, at least, the intersection of the two.

NFL teams this week are signing free agents like turkey buzzards at a turkey buzzard feast, and like many sports fans, I'm disgusted, naseauted and clinically depressed after watching some of my favorite players switch uniforms. And what's lighting a fire in my socks more than anything about all this, what's causing my Uncle Abe, an orthodox Jew, to cross himself daily, what's causing my pure-hearted niece Suzy Purebread to shoot vitriolic spitballs at the television set, is what these athletes dare to say after signing their new multi-gazillion dollar contracts. They dare to lie!

David Givens, formerly of the New England Patriots, said he was excited at the new "opportunities" available to him playing with a new team. I guess that means that he didn't appreciate the opportunity to win the NFL championship TWICE with his old team? Of COURSE he appreciated that opportunity. What he meant to say, I believe, was something more like this: "I"m really glad this new team is paying me lots of money."

I have nothing against these guys cashing in -- loyalty to team cuts both ways and players risk injury every time they go out there -- but why can't they just come clean and speak the truth? I guess the U.S. president is setting a bad example, because players seem to think it's okay to lie. Drew Brees, now of the New Orleans Saints, talked about how much his new team had embraced him and how excited he is to turn the page on the first half of his career. What he really meant was, "I'm really glad this new team is paying me lots of money." And Willie McGinness spoke with heartwarming passion after signing with the Cleveland Browns of looking forward to a chance to teach younger players, to show them the right way of playing the game. I love Willie as much as it's possible to love another man and never see him with his pants down, but I still believe what he meant to say was, "I'm really glad this new team is paying me lots of money."

It appears that these athletes are under the delusion that it's okay to lust after money, to put the value of money above, before and beyond any other value (and that just makes them like everyone else), but that it's NOT okay to simply say so. So maybe the problem isn't them. Maybe it's a cultural problem. This country was founded, after all, by Puritans and Batman, and we all know how uptight Batman gets when conversations turn to the green stuff. But what I would like to point out to athletes, rich people and Barry Manilow, is that it's simply SILLY to go through life talking a talk that you're not walking. And I'm afraid it's becoming an epidemic.

I spoke to Uncle Abe about all this and he said, "Hypocrisy in anything whatever may deceive the cleverest and most penetrating man, but the least wide-awake of children recognizes it, and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised." I was blown away by this insight and when I asked Uncle Abe how he'd thought of it, he looked up from the turkey buzzard he was consuming and said, "It just came to me out of the blue." Later I looked up the quote on the web and found that Tolstoy had said it before my Uncle, but I think it's at least possible he'd thought of it himself, since why would he lie?

The bottom line about this is that Uncle Abe and Tolstoy are both right. Any child can tell that these athletes are just blowing cigarette smoke and pixie dust up our butts when they pepper us with their lies. So they, like many Americans, must be trying to fool themselves! And if they're succeeding, well then they're heading down the dangerous path to psychosis (a path I've tread upon many an early morning after watching Oprah Winfrey on the television). I believe that it was Andre Gide who said, "The true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity." (I believe also that's already one hypocrisy quote too many).

I never used to respect the common folks on reality and game shows on TV, shows like Wheel of Fortune, Survivor and Give Me Lots of Money!, but now I can at least watch those shows with renewed respect for the competitors. Sure, they're sad, pathetic rats on a wheel, but at least they're just using their limited brain capacities in an honest, forthright, baseball and apple pie kinda way when they clutch, grab, spite, cry and kill for a buck. Because they admit it. What's wrong with the rest of us? I'm afraid that if the split between reality and our concocted lies continues to grow then we (us Americans) will begin to believe any action we commit is sanctified by god. And if we believe that, lord knows what atrocities we're likely to commit.

Man, this is depressing. Think I'll turn on the tube and watch a little Wheel of Fortune to cheer myself up...


The Academy Awards Explode

I'm a fan of the Academy Awards the way some people are fans of Nascar: I watch the awards restlessly waiting for something or someone to crash and burn, for people to go running horrified into the streets, for the end of the world to come thundering down in the form of an angry, spiteful Lord. And that's why it's perhaps appropriate that the movie "Crash" won the Academy Award for best picture last Sunday. They should shut the whole operation down now after finally getting it so perfectly, absolutely and abysmally wrong. I love those guys.

This is worse than "Gigi" winning (though I'd pay money for Michael Jackson to release his version of "Thank Heaven for Little Boys"). It's worse than Dances With Wolves, which was at least a pretty movie with lots of cool shots of Kevin Costner looking like he was about to make a baseball movie. It's worse than Titanic, which I actually think was a very good film in spite of the bad acting and maudlin plotting. And it's worse than The Silence of the Lambs, which isn't even as good a movie as Manhunter, the first Thomas Harris\Serial Killer movie. Heck, it's even worse than Jaws 3-D winning the best picture award, which of course it didn't.

Naturally the Academy Awards is a sham. It's ridiculous in the first place to judge art in this way, so I think it's fair to put that issue aside and simply accept that living in the United States means, at some point, selling your soul to the devil (or to AOL\TimeWarner, which is worse than the devil). That is, art = money. But what puts two capital letters in my Sass-a-Frass is that the Academy Award voters consistently (though with notable exceptions like The Godfather) choose to award films that will not stand the test of time because they're just not very good movies. In the case of Crash, they are the worst movie ever made.

Voters of the last few decades make one error consistently. Lets call it, for the sake of sounding pretentious, "the error of morality." They choose films with lofty aspirations. They select flicks made by hacking windbags (Ghandi, Driving Miss Daisy, Dances with Wolves). But who goes to see a movie because it has a good "message?" Who goes to see Ghandi at all (and if you think you did see it, it's because you were really drunk that night and you should return that ceramanic elf sitting in your living room to Mr. Goldenberg's lawn)? Who goes to see any dramatic form because it's politically correct? We have essays and speeches and wars to convey messages! Drama should convey it's meaning... well, dramatically. The premise should be explored... well, dramatically. The "message" should lie beneath the surface and sneak up on you like a shark attack. Maybe Jaws 3D should have won! No it shouldn't have.

Brokeback Mountain should have won this year, but not because it had a superior political message: gay people are cool and look like Heath Ledger, mostly. No, it should have won because it's dramatic, because it's crisp storytelling, because it's compelling. Later, after the tears subsided, you might have had a few thoughts about turning in your KKK uniform after watching Brokeback. But the movie, as it plays, carries you along on the strength of powerful characters, dramatic writing, conflict, superior editing and so on. Crash relies on sentimentality. It slams you over the head with its message.

Is this confusing? Here's sample dialogue from Crash:

"Racism is bad, Bill."
"No it's not, Tyrese."

That's not drama, folks. That's suckiness. Here's another quote:

"White people hate black people, girlfriend."
"You gonna eat those fries?"

Thus: when a film as undramatic as Crash comes along, we should all flock to the latest Weekend at Bernies retrospective to protest. But the Academy voters, apparently, can't help themselves from putting it up on a platform and shouting, "hey, look at us, we're smart and left wing and shame on the rest of you" (and meanwhile women past the age of 21 in Hollywood can't sniff a job and have to turn to other forms of prostitution).

Movies like Crash should be collected and burned. Lets put them all in a giant Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket in front of the Kodak Theater or wherever the Academy Awards are held, toss on some lighter fluid, maybe fling Whoopi Goldberg on there for luck and then light 'er up. That's right: I'm advocating burning art. Really, really bad art. And then maybe Hollywood will make some pictures worth seeing. Weekend at Bernies III, anyone?


The Olympics

The Olympics are over, and to the Olympics I say: fair-not-so-well. Welcome to a world without bronze medals (medals for third?), without luge, without Bob Costas, without that overplayed John Williams theme song that I used to love but now, with increased maturity (and crankiness) have come to despise the way old men despise chewy food, without snowboarding and without skiing (of any variation) . No more Winter Olympics!

Another way of putting this: I'm of two minds about the winter games and although I typically attempt to keep my minds together, I'm making an exception today. One mind says that the Olympics are numbingly boring crap for the masses and I can't believe anyone, save a few desperate, cableless lonelyhearts, would wade through hours of luge, bobsled and curling in order to get to the three or seven moments of genuine goodness. (I'm basing my estimation on several intense years of research, plus a pictogram of Bob Costa I saw carved into the rocks on a cave wall in Carmel, California). My second mind says this: the Winter Olympics suck. I'm probably preaching to the converted (who else would read this far?), but I can't stop myself from venting my frustration anyway: couldn't NBC have run a Twilight Zone marathon instead of the Olympics? Or maybe just dead air. I imagine those watching wouldn't have noticed the difference for at least three days.

According to Happy Stan, who often doubles as my trusty research assistant, the ancient Greeks started the Olympics. They ran, they jumped, they competed. They never skiied. They never skated. They never snowboarded. They never shot rifles on skis. They never bobbed. Stan did unearth some texts showing that the ancients may have luged, but only because they were a much more open-minded society than many of us realize. So is it even fair to call these games Olympics? Just one glimpse at a man snowboarding down a hill and you know it makes as much sense to use "Olympics" to describe these events as basing your brand of toothpaste on its resemblance to other clean things, like you're favorite glass kangaroo bauble.

Okay, okay. Maybe (you're thinking rhetorically) that just because the Ancient Greeks didn't enjoy this cornucopia of winter sports doesn't mean that WE shouldn't. They never ate grapefruit either, but that's not stopping us. You are of course wrong about that -- no one eats grapefruits. And you're wrong twice over because no one enjoyed this recent cornucopia of pseudosports, not even your mother.

But even granting our athletes' rights to call various permutations of sliding down a hill on a board "the Olympics" doesn't alter the compelling facts: it's all so very boring. (And am I the only one who thinks they added all those snowboarding events just to give Americans a better chance of earning medals?). I turned on the Olympics last week after dinner (and after a hoard of maruading investment bankers broke into my apartment and put a gun to my head and forced me to switch from the World's Strongest Man Competition, which is, I've no doubt, a sport the Ancient Greeks would have endorsed wholeheartedly). The marauders stuck toothpicks in my eyes and still I fell asleep during a luge event. Worse, after watching the Olympics, the bankers turned hippy and moved to Vermont.

I do have to admit a certain fondness for speed and figure skating, even if I don't think they're Olympic sports. Speed skating is just cool -- and somehow I think the ancient Greeks would have speed skated had they thought of it (and had ice). And figure skating is kinda sexy. Scantily clad women twirling around on ice. Sweet. And I don't have to go to a strip club to enjoy the privelege. But please don't tell me that figure skating is a sport. Sure, it's athletic and those women/girls are incredible athletes. But there's no stop watch, there's no finish line and the poor girls are judged; after a while watching the competition becomes not much more interesting than watching a room full of tightly clad young women taking their SAT tests. I'll leave it to you to decide if that's something you'd like to do.

So lets can the Olympics and just have a one sport event every four years: how many variations of speed skating can you think of (100 meters, 120 meters, 200 meters, etc...)? And lets put some poles on the ice for those figure skaters. Yeah, that'd be hot...