Monthly Archives: June 2006

children of a lesser gosh


A quick note before we leave for California – I’m sure most of you heard that George Bush made fun of a reporter wearing sunglasses at one of his press conferences, then learned the reporter suffered from macular degeneration, and called him to apologize.


Two things about this story: one, the reporter in question is Peter Wallsten, who was the last in a long line of great editors I had at the Daily Tar Heel in the Dream Team years of the late ’80s and early ’90s. He’s the one that okayed the article Mondy Lamb let me write about the early ’80s mix tapes, some of which I know a select few of you still have. He’s also a very tough, excellent journalist who has been fighting the good fight for a long time. GO HEELS!

Secondly, my mom suffers from macular degeneration as well, to the point where I don’t know how much longer she’ll be able to see how her granddaughter is growing up. There’s talk of a radical new procedure – and of course a stem cell solution – but I hope it comes soon enough to help my mom, Peter, and the millions out there suffering with this thing. That’s all.

Oh, and GO HEELS!


check out what a difference a day makes for pre-orders of his book on Amazon!

only your hairdresser knows for sure


Seth Stevenson’s article in Slate about the joys of boxer-briefs became their top-forwarded story for the week, and it’s no wonder: the boxer-brief is such a great idea (and so recently adopted) that I’m surprised there isn’t a book about it already.

My boxer-brief trajectory was eerily similar: I wore the standard issue tighty-whiteys all through my childhood until college, when some guys in my fraternity began donning the billowy boxers. After a pledge stunt where we all pulled our pants down at the formal dinner, I was hooked: it was boxers for me, the bigger the better.

Frankly, I don’t know how I made it through those hot North Carolina summers wearing nothing but boxers underneath (guys will know what I mean) but perhaps it was like everything else when you’re 24: you’re too drunk or too unaware of your own body irritations to care. But around 1995 or so, some girlfriend got me a pair of those Guess boxer-briefs, which as far as I know, was the only company making them.

It took a few years to kick in, but I made the massive underwear switchover, and I noticed practically all of my friends did the same. But I’m here to endorse a specific product, one I believe in so whole-heartedly that today’s blog salutes it: Gents, let me introduce the The Ex Officio Boxer Brief.


Quite simply, the most comfortable thing you can have next to your skin that isn’t another person you’re in love with. Superior wicking for those wet hot American summers, and vaguely anti-microbial so’s to remain odor-free, this is why mankind made it to the 21st century. When the Ex Officio Boxer Brief isn’t lining your ass, it’s saving the astronauts on spacewalks, protecting helicopter blades in Iraqi rescue missions, and singing your daughter to sleep.

They wash clean in seconds – you just wring them out and they dry overnight in hotel rooms while you’re out kicking ass for the CIA. They will have untimely ripp’d the words “chafing,” “flopping,” and “riding up my arse” out of your vocabulary.

Yes, they are prohibitively expensive. I have four pairs in heavy rotation for the year, and it shot my clothes budget. But I ask you, gentle blog readers of the male persuasion, aren’t your nads worth it?

vast deference


To continue on where we left off yesterday, if you don’t see how a framed picture of Zarqawi’s dead face being held up in an American press conference isn’t completely gruesome and indicative of the level to which we’ve sunk, then nothing I write on these hallowed pages is going to make any difference.

I find it unbelievably sad that an administration hellbent on keeping gays from getting married on grounds of “decency” have no problem dropping a 500-pound bomb on a human being, uncovering him from the rubble, taking a picture of his moribund visage, then framing it in a press conference for young kids across America to see. We come off like a dumb cat killing a pigeon and bringing home to the living room to eat in front of the family.

How would I have done it differently? If you HAD to show the world you’d murdered this guy (three years after you could have had him anyway, by the way) you could simply release a press photo in digital form, the same way you release every other bit of news over the last eight years. The picture would be disseminated the usual way, through websites and AP wire stories, and every insurgent in the world would see it one way or another.

And don’t go talking about how we didn’t drag him through the streets and set his body on fire. What are you, animals? How low are your standards? Our country was founded on the noblest of pursuits in the Age of Reason by some of the greatest thinkers of the first millenium; you’d think we’d compare ourselves a little better.

And while I’m at it, I’m getting really sick of you conservatives implying – or outright saying – that liberals have no concept of “how the world really works,” that we bury our head in the sand when real danger looms, or that we don’t get the threat of Islamofascism. You make dizzying metaphors about how we wouldn’t respond if our next-door neighbor kept shooting our children.

I watched the North Tower of the World Trade Center fall down with my own eyes. Standing mere blocks away. I helped soot-covered parents find their kids, I fed family members whose brothers had died in those buildings. My sister and wife handed bottles of water to firemen at Ground Zero while slabs of human meat were being carted to the tents. I don’t fucking need YOU to tell me about the threats we’re facing.

We keep emergency supplies of medicine, food and water wherever we’re staying; I have crank radios, evacuation plans, and clothing that can withstand long walks in the winter. We make purchases based on our environmental impact, but we also got the Prius in case of a monumental gas shortage, and we installed solar panels on our house in case of a monumental gas stoppage.

The only difference between us and you is that we each learned vastly different lessons on September 11. You can think what you like, and enjoy your full-color framed photographs of dead terrorists, but some of us believe that you can work hard to change the world and still keep your humility in check, your profile low, and your blood lust at bay.

I will rearrange your scales, if I can



1. Time Magazine – You know, it was bad enough in April 2003 when Time reprinted its famous picture of Hitler with an “X” through his face, only this time with Saddam Hussein. I found the comparison utterly insane, given the relative atrocities of each, but this week, Time Magazine has thrown away any shred of journalistic sensibility by DOING THE SAME THING WITH AL-ZARQAWI.


What a bunch of insufferable, histrionic, jingoistic morons. Every surviving WWII vet (and surviving Jew, for that matter) should urinate on their Time subscription bill and send it back to the home office, currently located up this administration’s ass.

You know what, Time? I’ll make it easy for you. Since you’ve shown the logical progression of your thought processes, I’m going to go ahead and make the end-of-year cover for you:


2. Ann Coulter – Her re-arranging of historical facts is legendary, and her inability to write her way out of a wet cube of Jell-o is manifest, but why does Ann Coulter reserve her worst Cruelty© – so venomous that it had to be copyrighted – for those who have suffered the most? Her claim that 9/11 widows are “harpies” and “witches” that joyously revel in their husbands’ deaths is so inhuman that it makes me depressed just to repeat it.

When taken to task (kinda) by Matt Lauer, she did the only thing she knows how: “brazened it out” by being even more mean-spirited and cruel. Fucking Time Magazine even gave her more paragraphs to heap invective on these widows whose husbands were burned alive, allowing her to savage them further just because she doesn’t like their politics.

One of these things is true: either Ann actually hates the 9/11 widows and has no empathy for anybody who has ever had a member of their family murdered, OR she is using the controversy (and the innocent deaths of thousands of New Yorkers) to increase awareness and book sales. Both are such repellent ideas that it can only mean one thing: her heart is a cold, crusty place that is three times too small.

Why am I writing about it? Because her pulpit is so huge, every single word that can be said to the contrary MUST be said to the contrary. The key to living history is to CALL BULLSHIT WHEN IT HAPPENS, not wait until later when it’s easy to look back with a sanguine shrug. When Lucy reads this later, I want her to know we actually had an opinion.


3. The Guy Who Framed the Picture of Dead Zarqawi – You know, when I was in high school in Norfolk, Virginia, the only way to get the “Faces of Death” movie was to venture back into the porn section of Tracks Record Store on Granby Street. Now, thanks to the U.S. Government, we had our very own snuff picture on every website and newspaper page in the country.

When did our standards sink so low that we had to provide such disgusting proof that we had targeted another human being, killed him, took his picture, and invited the journalists of the world to ogle? The last time I remember that being cool was on the business end of a spike on London Bridge around 1668.

But it wasn’t just a picture. Someone had to actually go out and buy a frame for the photo. Something big, not too flamboyant, just the right amount of dash for our disembodied Iraqi insurgent head. Whoever this guy was, he went with a nice pine “casket wood” beveled look with a tasteful light stain, set against a classic Antique White matte. It takes a real smooth operator to frame a giant dead, bearded face and get the details just right.

There’s an old phrase in hoops, in the big college programs, which states “act like you’ve been here before.” It means winning with grace, no storming the court, no inappropriate gestures, just being cool. There’s other ways to show we got a bad guy besides emulating a 3rd Grade Show ‘n’ Tell class with audio-visual aids. You’d think we might want to act like we’ve been here before.

next stop: London, underpants


Now, I’ll tell you up front, other people’s travelogues can be a big ol’ drag. Back in the ’70s, we were always forced to watch my Grandma and Auntie Donna’s slide shows from their trips to Italy and “The Holy Land” and I remember gasping for air once they were over. Except for this one trip where they brought an old-fashioned 8mm movie camera with a zoom lens, and by the end of that one, they were passing out motion-sickness bags.

So I promise to keep this short and have lots of pictures. After all, I’m fairly sure 75% of my readership only ever reads the pictures anyway, so I’ll continue shouting down this well.



ten years apart – above, June 2006; below, August 1996

First off, a thanks to Jiffer, because if she hadn’t gotten married in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, we might not have escaped the terminal inertia that can plague the child-bound. In fact, it was the perfect thing to bring Lucy, as counter-intuitive as it might seem. I’ve already seen France, already been drunk in Paris, already had sex in a shower with a hitherto platonic friend (hi N.L.!), so seeing the place through the eyes of a one-year-old was innocently, bizarrely delightful.

I approached France the same way any sensitive lefty would: apologetic about our government, and vowing not to speak a word of English while I was there. Even Tessa, who is fluent in Spanish, was getting around town in French by the time we left. Verbs and nouns I hadn’t thought about in eighteen years suddenly bubbled to the surface, making it infinitely easier for the French to take us under their collective wing.


Which they did. When Lucy took a double café crème and threw it twenty-five feet all over the front end of a bistro, some quick French (and her giggle) had the waiter laughing and saying “ooh la la la la la LA…” Not to repeat myself, but every interaction with every Frenchie left us happier and more willing to spend Euros in their economy.

One woman in a restaurant – obviously from Long Island or somewhere with an accent like a table saw cutting copper pipe – was so loud, rude, embarrassing and sickeningly entitled that I apologized to the establishment once she left. They were stunned and delighted. I figure, one French person at a time. I’ll rebuild our world reputation if it takes all vacation.


And then, unbelievably, we were accosted by a French Television crew doing a story on tourists who were forsaking Starbucks and chain restaurants for the old cafés. Now I had the chance to show untold millions that not all American visitors were boorish chunderheads!

Sadly, my French got bogged down on a complicated question halfway through (and I resorted to English), which bummed me out unduly. Hopefully, a few shots of Lucy sharing water with Seth warmed les coeurs all over the mainland, and I did get off a few choice zingers.


About Lucy. Curiously, she had an explosion of English while we were in France. In the shot above, she is at our hotel in Grasse, where she picked up the phone and said, “Allo? Eh? Okay. Okay. Okay. Bye.” And then hung up. You had to pick Tessa and I up off the floor.

Later on, she introduced “banana,” “apple” and “cracker” into her vernacular, which gives her about 25-ish words she uses with some authority. The day before we left for our trip she said her first sentence: “That’s Da-da!” I was in bed, of course, but I nearly cried.


By the end of France, she learned an odd French word: “maintenant” – pronounced “meant-non” – which means “now.” She didn’t exactly know what it meant, but she used it so often that I got the impression she was trying to hurry us along.

Personally, I can’t believe how good a traveler she was. Slept six hours on the red-eye, always up for adventure, and even in the museums, she really seemed to be taking it in. At the Louvre, she would point to dogs in famous Italian Renaissance paintings and say “dog!” When she got to a Botticelli that had a man playing a lute, she said “Da-da!” (I usually play guitar for her). I know she will remember nothing of this trip, but even if there’s the faintest trace of appreciation for masterpieces in her deepest inklings, it’s worth it.


This is the first real vacation Tessa and I have ever taken. We had a few days after our wedding when we drove up to Canada, and another stolen weekend when she was eight months pregnant, but this was the first time we weren’t really on a schedule. Due to a freak of European time zones, the sun sets at 10pm in Paris, allowing ambient light to filter clear until eleven, making the evenings endless, dripping, delightful.

I have never been one for constant solace; to me a journey alone is a journey not taken. It’s not just amazing to see Paris through the eyes of a thirteen-month-old girl, but also with the eyes of my thirtysomething-year-old wife. I’ve done France as a drunk fratboy, imbibed wine out of baby bottles and sloshed fondue, paid good money to have my fortune told by real witches – but being here with her was far more spellbinding, and far more intoxicating.


le croque madame


No time to write an actual blog over the last few days, but I’ll put up a picture tonight…


Lucy runs(!) to Tessa and Seth behind Notre Dame

Nice was nice



There are three types of weddings: yours, other people’s, and a third kind that is sort of a spiritus mundi, a gathering of souls like-minded and cool enough to spin its own gossamer nets of sweetness. The marriage of Jiffer and Ingo was just such an event, and though traveling with a one-year-old is challenging (even with a kid as rampantly cool as Lucy), we are SO GLAD we did it.

First, a sidebar. I said it a few days ago, I’ll say it again: the rudest people in France are Americans. The French themselves, straight down to the guy working at the Esso gas station at the airport, have been absolutely delightful to a man. This crap about impoliteness and “not being funny” and all that is the biggest bunch of post-Iraq-war-freedom-fries hoo-hah I’ve ever heard in my life. The French are not only nicer, but they dress better and their espresso is to die for. But I digress.

The wedding itself was held at an ancient church in Cabris, a little mountain town just north of Nice and Cannes. The planned details were perfect, but the weather was even better. Jiffer, as usual, was both radiant and Wisconsin proletariat, only this time in a smashing dress. And let’s just say that Ingo is one of the few people, like Abraham Lincoln, that can pull off a top hat, even if he didn’t. As a couple, they are cover-of-Land’s-End-Catalog beautiful.


I talk shit to Tessa, Lucy, Allison, Zia, Jiffer, Anna, Laura-Julie, Dee, Eva and Seth

You’ll be glad to know the UNC contingency was well accounted-for, even if it was left to me to make the reception speech. I’ve got many Jiffer stories, most of them either surreal or R-rated, but mainly she was famous for stealing all of my food, especially my cherry Pop Tarts. I finally resorted to padlocking my kitchen cabinet. In my toast, I gave her the combination to the lock – ten years later – and told her she could steal my Pop Tarts anytime, which is true. I mean, I can afford them now.

Can’t say enough about the people at the wedding without boring you all, but seeing all the Carolina people from my third generation (1994-1997) was amazing. Especially old housemate Zia, who was my roommate at the Pink House. She has blossomed into an amazing person, and hanging out with her and her husband Warren was more fun than I deserved; the second night I went to bed at 6am. God bless Tessa the next morning for taking care of the Li’l Pumpkin Pie.


The reception was at a medieval castle (la Napoule) right on the Riviera, and it was resplendent, drunken fun. I made a key decision a month ago when renting our car – even though I’m a pill-popping leftist stooge, I chose a minivan SUV because I knew I’d be driving, want to come back to the hotel a little early, and that two or three people would want to come.

Turns out fifty or so wanted to. One of the buses hired for the event messed up, leaving a fourth of the wedding guests stranded at the castle until 6:30am the next morning. Not the case for me and the nine intrepid, infinitely contortionist souls who stuffed themselves in my car four hours earlier. We rock the mike, yo, and did it at 130 kilometers per hour.

If you put a thumbtack in a map of Cabris, France – and then drew lines to the point of origin of every guest, you would have a vast, unthinkable web extending to every forgotten country, every cranny, every proto-indo-european language in the world. Jiffer and Ingo’s friends work in Sierra Leone, the South Sudan, Hamburg, India, New York, Green Bay and everywhere except Antarctica, doing humanitarian aid, tsunami rebuilding, TV reporting, parenting, artistry – it’s a humbling crowd. That we all came from every nook in the globe to pay witness to their ceremony is one of the most telling, wonderful statistics they’ll ever get. To paraphrase that awful bumper sticker from the ’80s: those who die with the most friends wins!


je me parle à moi même


Arrived in Nice, France safe and sound. First impressions: the legendary rudeness of the French is at best an exaggeration, at worst a total falsehood. Our rental car had stick shift! And you pump a button to recline.

Xanax worked okay, but left me exhausted on the first day. Red-eyes suck anyway, but we’re willing ourselves to stay up. Had the best warm goat cheese salad of our lives. Still haven’t seen anybody from the wedding party. Too tired to put articles in front of sentences.

Can’t figure out how to flush the toilet. Really.