Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Effortlessly weaving around my slothful competitors, I roared into the lead on the back stretch after turn five, and never looked back, cruising to an easy first place finish as onlookers admired my incredible racing skill.


Sadly, when my friends and I visited Maine Indoor Karting in Scarborough during a recent bachelor party, my truly timid and foolish inner nature revealed itself.

First, you have to understand that this is not your typical Route 1 tourist trap go kart track. At this place, the karts can reach speeds of 40 mph. You have to wear a racing suit, which includes a helmet, neck brace, and head sock that you really, really hope has been washed with 100% “Summit Fresh” bleach.

(I can't believe anyone would bother to sell 100% bleach that isn't “Summit Fresh,” really. What kind of dweeb sees a jug of “Summit Fresh” bleach at the grocery store, and says, “nah, I'd better get the regular bleach instead, just so I can be a total loser”?)

Then you have to go through a 15-minute course on how to drive the karts safely.

“Do not try to pass anyone on turns 9 and 10,” says the teenage instructor. “This is where people become paraplegics.”

Okay, it's not quite that bad. MIK's website says they've never had “a major incident” in the three years they've been open, though they do have a strict policy of calling 911 at any sign of injury, which could include eating more than three slices of their grease-soaked pizza.

This information swirled in my brain as I climbed into my kart and buckled the seat belt. Soon we were off, and I felt a refreshing blast of air in my helmet as I tooled along the first straight-away.

At turn one, I stopped – but only for five or six seconds, just enough time to calculate the angle and plot an efficient course that would not compromise the frictional coefficient of my tires.

The rest of the field blew by me, of course. The same thing happened in the next two turns, and I eventually realized the other drivers had some intuitive ability to turn at maximum possible speed without wrecking, whereas my methodical, cautious tendencies, borne from my service as a driving instructor years ago, were not helping me at all.

By the end of the second race, I had worked up a little more courage, and managed to get through all the turns without stopping. I even opened my eyes on some of them.

During the third race, I had stopped using the brake almost entirely, realizing that simply turning the kart slows you down enough to get through the lap without reaching critical speed. This led to a lot of fish-tailing, which created even more opportunities for my competitors to point and laugh as they drove by me.

I had been told that certain turns should be taken wide and others should be taken tight, but by the time I realized that “wide” versus “tight” refers to your path on the track and not to the condition of your body's various sphincters, the third and final race was almost over.

I finished in last place for all three races, making me the object of scorn and ridicule for the rest of the bachelor party. But when I challenged everyone to a parallel parking contest later, there were no takers, thus proving that, in some respects, I am still The Man.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Public Nursing? Just What I Need... More Stimulus

Before I begin this week's column, which does, in fact, contain the word “nipple,” in case you were wondering, I have to take care of some business.

I sold some space to Senator Susan Collins. I am a shameless, sordid twerp.

But you would have done the same thing in my situation. As I wrote several weeks ago, the IRS was holding on to my $900 stimulus payment, probably as punishment for the fact that I filed my tax return early.

I called the IRS hotline about a dozen times, and was told, basically, to go take a long walk off a short pier.

Desperate for the free money I don't deserve, I contacted Senator Collins' office, and offered to mention her responsiveness in my weekly column if she could help me out.

Despite the fact that I have often made fun of Senator Collins' robotic helium voice, the $900 landed in my bank account two days later, with a “thud.”

Coincidence? Maybe. I prefer to see it as proof that our mammoth bureaucratic government still responds to the concerns of any ordinary citizen who has his own semi-syndicated newspaper column. Democracy works!

Now, on to the topic for this week, about which I'm sure Senator Collins feels the exact same way you and I do: public breast feeding.

Recently, BabyTalk magazine featured on its cover a picture of a baby nursing on an actual human breast, causing immense outrage... and rightly so.

Lots of readers wrote in about how the photo was “gross” or otherwise inappropriate. They are absolutely correct: nothing is as disgusting as the sight of a mother feeding her baby the way God intended.

Whenever I see a mother whip out her nipple in public, I shudder. Does she really have to wave it around like that? It's as if she has a giant neon sign that says, “LOOK AT MY BOOB!” Invariably, these reckless degenerate mommies are just looking for an excuse to indulge their exhibitionism. Otherwise, they would simply pump the milk ahead of time, which by all accounts is completely painless and easy, like having an electric razor attached to your nipple for 30 minutes.

And don't give me that “my baby won't take a bottle” excuse. Everyone knows that all babies are the same, and all babies will take a bottle eventually, even if you have to choke them with it for a few hours to convince them.

Sure, from the baby's perspective, nursing is wonderful. It's an opportunity to connect with its mother in an unfamiliar place, and maybe not be so stinkin' hungry for five minutes. But can't they do it in a bathroom stall? I'm sure you'll agree that most public restrooms are wonderful places to eat.

Besides, who says the baby's needs should come ahead of mine? It's a terrible inconvenience for me to not stare at a woman's breast, or (even worse) to reframe my perception of the breast so that it's not 100% sexual.

And it's not just my needs that are being ignored. The medical establishment seems convinced that breast milk is better than formula, but does anyone consider the needs of the formula industry? What about the folks at Gerber? Does anyone care about them?

Breast milk supposedly contains “antibodies,” but how can they be healthy if they are “anti-body,” or against the body? Something is not right here. It's a conspiracy!

I'm going to write to congress. Sadly, it works.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Vacationing in Maine is a Gas

There is still time to rescue your summer vacation plans from the oil industry's sleeper hold.

Why sit at home wishing you were someplace else, when there are plenty of great places right here in the Pine Tree State where you can go and wish you were someplace else?

Chances are you're close enough to one of our under-the-radar vacation destinations that you can squeeze the gas money into your family budget, provided you can fit the entire family onto a used Suzuki motorcycle.

We don't have that luxury, because a certain member of our household insists on taking 65% of our possessions with us every time we leave the house for more than two hours. We squabble over a different item every trip.

“Why do you need to bring hip-waders?”

“You never know – we might need them.”

“We're going to the mall.”

“It doesn't hurt anything to bring them.” She would seem to have a point, except it does hurt me, because I don't get to be right.

Sure enough, that will be the trip when we encounter the flash flood and have to rescue a baby stranded in a floating car.

“See? Aren't you glad we went back for the life jackets, too? And you said they were 'superfluous.'”

So that explains why our giant Ford Taurus station wagon was packed with record-setting density for our three-night camping trip to Blue Hill, which is about an hour from our home.

We crammed so much stuff into the car that it developed its own gravitational pull, and we kept having to stop and peel bicyclists and joggers off the fenders.

Anyway, we finally made it to Blue Hill. If you've ever been to this picturesque coastal town about 20 minutes south of the perpetual knotted nightmare that is Ellsworth, you know that our Ford Taurus packed with random household objects, including whole sofa sections tied to the roof, did not exactly fit in. Blue Hill is more of a Subaru kind of town.

With a population of about 2400 mostly pleasant and relatively diverse (only 85% hippies) people, Blue Hill is certainly fascinating.

For one thing, it's one of the few places in Maine where you can enjoy a cup of organic tea, bring your child to yoga class, and get attacked by a giant horde of bloodthirsty insects, all without leaving town.

They also have the famous Blue Hill Falls, which are just like any other class III rapids except they keep changing direction. You could be relaxing in your kayak, thinking you're headed inland, and the next thing you know you're at the freaking Panama Canal, trying to explain to some surly customs agent who does not speak English that no, you are not some coked-up B-list celebrity on a pathetic publicity stunt.

If you lived near falls like that, chances are you'd turn into a nature-worshiping flower child, too.

There is also supposedly an actual hill in Blue Hill, with a hiking trail and everything, but I've never been able to find it.

Anyway, once we got our tent set up in a friend's yard, we spent a relaxing weekend socializing, visiting beaches, and dodging crop dusters.

All in all, it was a lovely vacation, and we even managed to sell parts of our sofa to pay for the gas to get us home.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I Just Know Charlton Heston's Ghost Had Something to Do With This

It is often said that “guns don't kill people. People kill people.” The same can be said of grenades, pipe bombs, arsenic-laced Wheaties, and the Rubik's Cube, all of which should be made legal and widely available right away.

Keep that in mind as you try to understand the shameless hypocrisy oozing out of Washington before and after the Supreme Court's recent decision to obliterate the District of Columbia's ban against hand guns.

For years, lower courts told us the Second Amendment guaranteed we could possess guns “in a well-regulated militia.” The fact that we no longer rely on militia for our national defense seemed to make the amendment obsolete (just like the Third Amendment, which says you can't be forced to allow the Second New Jersey Regiment to crash in your living room, even if they don't have a Designated Driver).

Conservatives tend to want to read the framers' intentions exactly as written (think of the last time a Republican reminded you that the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the constitution). Except in Amendment number two, that is. They'd like to conveniently spill some white-out on that whole militia phrase.

Meanwhile, Liberals have generally insisted on interpreting the the constitution more actively (see abortion, free speech, and everything else), but suddenly become sticklers for precise wording and original intent when the topic turns to gun control.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: demented turkeys have hijacked our dominant political ideologies.

For now, Justices Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, Kennedy, and Alito are telling us the constitution needs to roll with the times. I hope they stay in that mood when and if they have to rule on the Patriot Act (see Amendment #4).

So what does this unprecedented boost to the Second Amendment mean for you and me?

Well, for one thing, I can still shoot you, but all the laws that might have prevented me from doing it hastily, accidentally, or with a semi-automatic rifle of some sort are now on shaky ground.

In fact, all laws governing weaponry are at risk. Don't be surprised if I park a tank next door, point the turret in the direction of your house, and set up a lawn chair on top so I can stare and laugh for a few hours. Nothing illegal about that.

(Special note to the paranoid: I'm not actually talking about YOU, just the general “you.” Please put away the Uzi. Thank you.)

Meanwhile, if you live in a ghetto (you don't, but let's pretend for a minute), your life won't change at all. The D.C. handgun law didn't do much to prevent Our Nation's Capital from leading the world in per-capita murders for the last 30 years or so. It's no secret that gun laws are enforced about as well as the speed limit. You can thank NRA lobbyists for that.

Still, shouldn't our laws reflect the kind of society we're trying to live in? I'll always remember the words of the late Molly Ivins: “I remain pro-knife. You have to catch someone in order to stab him. Knives don't ricochet, and people are seldom killed while cleaning their knives. A better deal.”

Friday, July 4, 2008

Liberty? Just Us.

I am very thankful to live in New England, where we remain connected to our historical values of individual freedom. We are therefore not likely to let our government fine someone for having an inadequate lawn.

That's what happened to Anne Hartridge of Sacramento, California. Because a neighbor complained that Hartridge's lawn wasn't green enough, she now owes the city $746.

In the immortal words of Dave Barry, I am Not Making This Up.

It's all straight from the July 2 Sacramento Bee. The newspaper notes that Hartridge said she decided to stop watering her lawn after the governor declared a statewide drought. It seemed like a sensible decision at the time.

But a city ordinance requires front yards to be “irrigated, landscaped, and maintained.”

I can't imagine living in a place where people care that much about their surrounding aesthetics. Do you realize there are neighborhoods in this country that you can't live in unless you agree to keep your house painted a certain color?

There are even places where you can't even allow your inner artist to craft a decent exhibit of old cars on blocks, partially obscured by weeds, (admission: one hubcap) without some snooty bozo complaining.

I'd like to write to Ms. Hartridge and invite her to come live on my street. I piled a bunch of firewood on my lawn for a couple of months, creating a giant dead hole in the grass right next to my driveway. Nobody breathed a word.

Likewise, when a passing dump truck inadvertently carved a couple of ruts in my yard, I shrugged it off.

And when I set up that nude fortune-telling booth and lemonade stand on my front porch, the police issued only a half-hearted warning.

Ah, Maine. The Way Life Should Be, where the Code Enforcement Officer only works one day a week because the rest of the time he is the Fire Chief, Assessor, First Selectman, town Librarian, Second Selectman, and Public Works Director.

We're not like New Mexico, for example, where an appeals court recently refused to let a man change his name.

It was a simple, harmless request. The new name would have been “F--- Censorship.”

The judge said the name was “obscene, offensive and would not comport with common decency,” reports The Associated Press.

Whatever. For now, the man will have to live with his current name, which is Variable. Before he got his name changed to Variable, it was Snaphappy Fishsuit Mokiligon.

I have no choice but to reiterate -- I Am Still Not Making This Up.

Thankfully, in Maine, we pretty much let people do whatever they want, as long as they're not Native American.

Are you an out-of-state corporation that wants to build a giant, gaudy casino on the banks of the Penobscot? Go right ahead.

Are you a tribe that wants to install some slot machines on your own little reservation? Uh, not so fast.

So the Passamaquoddies and the Penobscots get the shaft, but the rest of
us enjoy copious personal liberties, unless we want to buy beer or cigarettes, in which case we will have to sacrifice half our weekly income after the new taxes are enacted.

So the next time you get ready to host a raging party and play heavy metal hair band music loud enough to crack foundations in the next county over, take a few moments to appreciate the fact that you live in a place where you don't have to conform to your neighbor's warped sense of decency and good taste.