Friday, March 30, 2007

The Naked Five

The University of Maine men's hockey team is once again plowing through the NCAA tournament, despite losing six of its last eight regular season games. For a while it looked doubtful they could plow through a bowl of popcorn.

If you’ve never been to a game at Alfond Arena in Orono, you don’t know what you’re missing. The atmosphere is one-of-a-kind, mainly due to the students who occupy the balcony and remain standing for the entire game, showing more maturity and hockey knowledge than the rest of the building combined.

Get tickets anywhere outside the student section, and you’re likely to end up sitting near the same three people: The Guy Who Thinks He’s Very Clever, The Impatient Guy, and the Guy Who Takes Hockey Way Too Seriously.

Impatient Guy: “Shoot it! SHOOT IT, FOR GOD’S SAKE!”

Me: Uh, the ref hasn’t even dropped the puck yet… Okay, there it goes.

Clever Guy: “Well, I guess we won that face off, hahahahaaa!”

Serious Guy: “Will you shut up? I’m trying to watch the game.”

Me: You didn’t miss anything. The puck went out of play and hit some lady in the mouth.

Impatient Guy: “C’mon, SHOOOOOOOT IT!”

Meanwhile, the students are displaying the teamwork and careful planning necessary to execute a unified insult that’s actually somewhat entertaining (i.e. “I’m blind, I’m deaf, I wanna be a ref”). It makes me proud to be from Maine.

The heart of the student section at Alfond Arena is The Naked Five, a group of muscular, shirtless fraternity gentlemen who each paint one of the letters of “M-A-I-N-E” on his chest.

The Naked Five jump up and run around the arena, yelling, waving flags, and ringing bells, every time someone makes it through the concession line without spending more than $10.

You could throw a brick at one of these guys and it would shatter. I take comfort in knowing that the brick probably has a higher IQ.

During my last year in college, my best friend and I drove down to Boston for the conference tournament at the FleetCenter, as it was called in those days (I’m not sure what it is now – something like TD Banknorth Center of Gardening and Corporate Excess).

The fraternity responsible for The Naked Five, Alpha Drinka Toomucha, for some reason could not make the trip. They instead dispatched one member to try to round up a makeshift Naked Five from the crowd.

Naturally, my brawny frame stood out. Ah, who am I kidding. When I turn sideways I look like a pregnant question mark.

But it turns out a surprising number of people were reluctant to join The Naked Five, and he was desperate for an “I.” Otherwise they would have spelled “MANE.” Not good.

As soon as we got the paint on we started running around the building and yelling derogatory comments about the other team, the Boston College Turkeys. Then a security guard informed us that the FleetCenter did not allow partial nudity, except during WWE events.

We spent the rest of the game wandering around with our shirts half-on, ready to pull them down if we saw any sign of someone official-looking. At one point, after a goal, I accidentally ended up falling behind the other guys, which resulted in a spelling error (“MANE?”).

We lost that game. I blamed myself. I vowed to get into better shape – right after baseball season.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Driving A Conversation

Are you a shy person? Do you feel awkward around new people, unable to start a conversation without generating enough sweat to change the National Weather Service regional forecast for relative humidity?

If you answered “yes” to either of those questions, you need my scientifically proven method of social ice-breaking.

The secret: Tell people you used to be a driving instructor. That's what I do. Of course, it helps that I actually did, at one time, teach people how to drive.

Then again, I could be making it up, just as a way of starting a column. I guess you'll never know!

Anyway, once you tell people you were once a driving instructor, they will become instantly fascinated and have all sorts of questions. You'll need to answer these, ideally without giving out bad information, which could cause a fatal accident. No pressure!

Fortunately, I have compiled here a list of the most common questions posed to driving instructors by the general public, along with the correct answers. Jot these down:

I can never remember who's supposed to have the right of way at a four-way stop.”

The largest vehicle always has the right of way. If you have trouble remembering this rule, think of school bus drivers, who routinely pullout into traffic at random moments.

What if there are two vehicles the exact same size?

In the event of a tie, the vehicle with the largest driver goes first.

Sometimes, when I go to make a left turn, an oncoming driver will stop and give up the right of way. Should I take it, even though doing so would violate traffic laws?

The correct procedure is for both drivers to begin a series of spastic hand gestures that would convince any visiting alien race that humans have no communication abilities whatsoever. Continue to escalate the intensity of the gestures – open your window, if necessary -- until a) one of you gets plowed into from behind, or b) both drivers proceed simultaneously and collide head-on.

One time, this guy came up behind me on the interstate and stayed about two feet from my bumper for, like, five miles. There was no traffic, and I was ahead of the speed limit by ten miles an hour. No reason not to pass. What should I have done?

Lob a few rotten cantaloupes out your window. (If you'd rather not cart around rotten cantaloupes because you're one of these superficial people who treats your car better than most hospitals treat newborns, water balloons will also do the trick)

A gas station in my neighborhood had been slashing prices. I managed to get a pump after waiting about 10 minutes, but as soon as I pulled up next to it, a Johnny-come-lately driver approached my front bumper, and started waving her finger and yelling at me to back up. What would you do?

This would be a great time to move your pet shrunken head to a visible spot on the dash board and reverently ask its sage advice.

That's how I got this column started.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Real Men Don't Write Blogs

It's not easy being a man these days.

As women progress toward assuming their rightful place as equals, society's messages about manhood get more confusing. Gentlemen are now expected to do things our fathers would have thought absurd, like pick up dog poop with a plastic bag (which forces you to make That Not-So-Manly Face).

As a service to humanity, I have spent several minutes studying the problem. Cultural indicators about manhood revolve around three key principles (boys, write these down):

1. Own a truck.

2. Develop an unhealthy interest in sports teams comprised of people you have never met.

3. Deal with household spiders (humanely, of course)

The media, which are always right, tell us that as soon as we Own a Truck, we become muscle-bound and hard-working. So I desperately want one, even though my driveway is too small to plow and the largest thing I ever have to haul around is my 75-pound collection of finger puppets fashioned from foam packaging peanuts.

Trucks guzzle gas. As for safety rankings, I might as well run the highway in a giant hamster ball. But I've watched so much TV that my brain automatically associates trucks, especially Fords and Chevies, with the cherished Man quality of toughness, even though my personal experience tells me the average domestic truck is about as rugged as a plate of lasagna.

I'm doing much better in the area of sports, because it's not quite as expensive. In fact, for I've once again joined a fantasy baseball league.

I realize following professional sports at all is bad enough. It's basically soap opera drama with enough strategy thrown in to help men feel like they're being analytical and smart in addition to getting worked up over stuff like rivalries.

But at least people don't form make-believe social groups using the characters in General Hospital.

For those who don't know, fantasy baseball involves “drafting” real major-league players. Then you go around saying things like, “David Ortiz is my first baseman,” or “I own Curt Schilling.” I used to wonder if players like Ortiz felt really small, being owned by so many different people. But “Big Papi” probably has his own fantasy team, considering how manly he is.

Anyway, once I have a team, I spend the season keeping track of each player’s real-life statistics. I make roster moves depending on how I expect certain players to perform at certain times (“Pedro Martinez will probably feel comfortable pitching in Seattle this week, since he looks like some of his ancestors were salmon”).

I take great care to make sure that my team does not contain any New York Yankees.

At the end of the year, the team with the best overall statistics wins. Victory brings the satisfaction of realizing you wasted several hundred hours of analytical energy that could have been used figuring out how to become wealthy in the stock market.

Or figuring out how to get that spider out of the house without harming its self-esteem.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Cigarettes and Mind-Reading

The other day I stood in line at the convenience store behind a gentleman who was buying cigarettes, beer, and scratch tickets. He wore a sharp business suit, including an expensive silk tie. He looked like a lawyer or maybe a college president.

I know what you're thinking. You have never seen such a person at a convenience store buying those items. A person dressed like that is more likely just there for gas and maybe some wine coolers.

I hate to be stereotypical, but since you thought it before I said it, I’m off the hook. I can now point out that the people most impacted by the governor's proposed cigarette tax increase are not the ones who can afford it.

“Good, maybe they'll quit,” you're now thinking. This shows that you're not quite as proficient with your stereotypes as I thought you were.

When is the last time you heard someone say, “I know these here death sticks are tenderizing my lungs, causing me to hack up gobs of phlegm the size of a basketball, and preventing me from ever seeing my grandchildren graduate from high school, but if they just cost an extra $1 more a pack, I'd give ‘em up.”

For the record, smoking is evil. I would support any form of draconian torture, even being forced to listen to the voice of Susan Collins for three straight hours, if I thought it would make someone quit. I despise cigarettes, but not the people who smoke them and who will continue to smoke them no matter what they cost.

I know people who have tried everything they can think of to quit. My grandfather tried for years to stop smoking before smoking eventually killed him. I refuse to believe such people simply don't have as much will power as the people who manage to quit. According to the Food and Drug Administration, nicotine affects different people different ways, sort of like Susan Collins' voice, which my wife insists is not that bad.

But as I read your mind, you still think the tax is a fantastic idea. Small wonder, since the media isn't bothering to tell the other side of the story on this particular issue.

The Maine Coalition on Smoking or Health (apparently they can't decide which one, smoking or health, and they'll get back to us) says 9200 extra Mainers would quit in a year as a result of their proposed $1.50 per pack tax hike.

I don't know where that figure comes from (It's not like the Bangor Daily Puppet Show will tell us); but it ignores the fact that the vast majority of smokers will, shockingly, continue to smoke. They will continue to spend hundreds of dollars a month in cigarettes instead of investing in their children’s future. Why tax impoverished children when we can tax wealthy tourists?

I know this is stereotyping. If I’m wrong about your stereotyping, email me.

The only way I would support a cigarette tax is if the money went directly to programs designed to help people quit smoking. I know what the governor is thinking, and that's not it.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Would You Like a Bayonet With Your Order, Sir?

I want a gun RIGHT NOW.

Fortunately, I can get one, because National Rifle Association types have been so diligent in protecting my rights.

In case you don't remember, the Second Amendment states, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, and to get them at least as fast as they can get a Big Mac, shall not be infringed.”

A bill proposed in the legislature would create a ten-day waiting period for anyone under 21 to buy a rifle or shotgun. This bill, LD-361, smacks the constitution upside the head.

The intent is to deter suicides by forcing hopelessly depressed youths to spend a week-and-a-half thinking things over before they can get that gun.

Naturally, gun ownership advocates are on the warpath, and as far as I’m concerned, they’re not doing enough. In a society that truly respected my rights, I would be able to get a grenade launcher delivered to my home on demand, like pizza. Whiny bleeding hearts tell their sob stories about somebody’s kid who went out and bought a gun and killed himself, or killed someone else, when a few days’ reflection might have led him to make a different choice.

Boo-hoo. What about the real victims - all the young people who enjoy outdoor sports and who also happen to be maniacally impulsive? I’m talking about the person who wakes up and says out of the blue, “I must end the life of a furry woodland creature by noon, but first, I’ll need a gun.” A waiting period for such a person would impose an extreme injustice, causing such frustration that he might become more violent.

And then there’s the self-defense issue. Feeling threatened? Sure, you could call the police or seek peaceful reconciliation, but that doesn’t empower the citizenry like the instant gratification of picking up a semi-automatic weapon on your way home from work.

Don’t forget the “slippery slope.” As soon as they take my gun, they’ll start thinking they can take anything else that could be considered lethal: my baseball bat, my wavy-line crafting scissors, my collection of medieval swords, or my chain saw, which I keep under the bed to confront intruders.

Guns are great, but they’re a bit of a pain to aim in the dark. Knives and bats are okay, but you have to catch the perpetrator. But rev up that chain saw just once, and all of a sudden the criminal scum trying to get into my house knows exactly what kind of person he’s dealing with. “Maybe it’s time for me to burglarize a different house,” would be his reaction, regardless of what mundane weapon he happened to be carrying.

But even this means of self-defense may be eradicated if the gun-control hippies get their way. I say, “Outlaw chain saws, and only outlaws will have chain saws.”

So unless you want to live in a world run by the Husqvarna Mafia, write your state representatives now and tell them waiting is not just an inconvenience, it’s a violation of your rights.