Friday, February 27, 2009

Join My Mafia

Sitting at the red light, I spot a car directly across the intersection with its left blinker on.

Here we go again.

As you know, when the light turns green, that left-turning driver, whether driving a Sentra or a school bus, will try to squeak through the intersection before oncoming traffic.

This is why I’ve equipped my car with a steel jousting lance about five feet long. Many a miscreant motorist have I speared while seizing the right-of-way. I just continue merrily along, bringing my alarmed and distraught traffic scofflaw with me.

See, all those late nights I stayed up to watch “Battle Bots” weren’t wasted, after all!

Sigh… if only this story were true.

Fortunately, Facebook offers a place where I can act out my violent fantasies.

For those of you who are hopelessly over 40 years old, I should explain that Facebook is a website for social networking, where you can create a profile for yourself and keep in touch with distant friends, relatives, high school classmates, and people you’d just as soon never have contact with, but you can’t figure out how to tell them that.

Facebook’s trademark is the “status update,” where you can type in what you’re up to at any given moment, as in:

“Chuck is about to go make dinner.”

“Chuck is tired of shoveling out after yet another snowstorm.”

“Chuck has something in his ear… no, wait, it’s gone.”

As if this isn’t bad enough, there is now a service called “Twitter” that allows you broadcast text-messaged status updates to anyone who subscribes to you on his or her mobile phone.

The upshot of all this is that we’re seeing a generation for whom being in constant contact with one another is the norm.

“Leave a message and I’ll call you back” is so 20th century.

Teenagers don’t experience solitude, because even the most awkward and geeky of them and can find enough “friends” through the inhibition-thawing conduit of technology to muster a few superficial conversations.

In person, seeing someone’s glasses, acne, shabby clothes, facial tick, or sawed-off shotgun with a rabbit’s foot attached to it might be cause to reject someone. These qualities often don’t show up online.

Not only that, but kids are growing up constantly entertained. When do they take any time to just sit and think, without being entertained by some device? No wonder they’re completely out of touch with themselves and psychotically insane.

Fortunately, Facebook has a solution. It’s a game called “Mafia Wars,” in which you adopt the persona of a gangster and try to grow your empire through real estate dealings and violent acts.

That’s why my status currently reads: “Chuck just looted a shiv.”

The more people who join your mafia, the more powerful it becomes. I’ve been pestering all my friends to join, even though most of them have no interest in the fast and dangerous lifestyle I lead, in which success means making $30,000 an hour and blowing it all on Tommy Guns.

So there is no reason to let life’s little frustrations, like someone else’s poor driving decisions, or endless futility at developing meaningful relationships, debase you to the point of extreme behavior.

Get it out of your system. Join my mafia.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Slow Boat to… Tijuana?

“Britain owned the 19th Century, America owned the 20th. The 21st Century will belong to China.

“Teach your children Chinese.”

This vaguely ominous message blends among family photos, children’s artwork, and other benign decorations at the Bangor Chinese School, where my wife and I have brought our daughter for her first lesson.

Jing Zhang greets us warmly, and within moments all three of us are counting to ten faster than Jackie Chan.

Studies say (I don’t remember what studies, but if I put “studies say,” you’re more likely to believe me) the younger you are exposed to a second language, the more likely you are to become bilingual.

If you live anywhere other than Maine, this is a valuable skill. And while my wife and I would love it if our daughter chose to remain in this wholesome, earthquake-free, crime-wave-means-rash-of-unlicensed-hunting utopia, she might decide she’d like to live in a place where smart people can get make hundreds of thousands of dollars without turning the Mooshehead Lake shoreline into a giant casino.

But what is the best language for your child to learn?

We opted for Chinese for all the reasons implied by Jing’s sign. If you look at current economic trends, it is reasonable to assume that China will own our entire continent, possibly before the next Batman movie comes out.

You have to admit, it could be handy to know the Chinese phrase for, “Please do not enslave my family,” or, “Honest, Dude, I always thought the Bill of Rights was a crock of spit, anyway.”

If you don’t believe China’s influence is spreading our way, consider a new law in Britain that makes it a crime to photograph police or military personnel.

It’s supposed to be an anti-terrorism law, but you don’t have to be a candidate for Employee of the Year at the ACLU to see where this is going. Pretty soon the entire royal family will be at the local military recruiting office, and the tabloid newspaper industry will fall flat on its face.

If freedom-crushing laws can make their way from China to Britain, they can hop over here in the wink of an eye.

Anyway, we settled on learning Chinese (“This is just a toy camera” is written, “这仅仅是一 个玩具相机;” take note).

But there was one problem we had not anticipated: Chinese is wicked hahd.

For example, the phrase “human rights” in Chinese looks like “人权,” and is spelled “rénquán” using our alphabet. But it’s pronounced “YEN-choo-ahn.”

If you’re going to change alphabets anyway, why not spell it like it sounds?

That’s not all. Slight variations in accent change the meaning. If you pronounce it “yen-choo-AN,” it means something totally different (maybe “go stand in front of that tank over there,” or whatever).

Thankfully, accent variations in English (or Spanish) don’t change meaning; they exist only to make other people sound stupid.

So we’re switching to Spanish. In most of the country it is a necessary skill for even the most menial, entry-level positions, such as hotel clerk, slaughterhouse attendant, teacher, or social worker.

Most importantly: it’s a language we actually have a snowball’s chance in Hong Kong of actually learning.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Third is the Word

The most famous 18-wheeler in America is probably the one that carries all the Red Sox’s gear from Boston to Florida for Spring Training.

It would not surprise me if fans could track the truck’s journey in real-time, though anyone who does that should have their Internet access taken away for a year.

(No problem; just have them switch to Fairpoint).

For all its troubles, baseball is the only major sport that brings with it the promise of spring. That link, in itself, is powerful enough to overcome any steroid scandal.

That’s why you can find at least one baseball fan in just about every social situation you encounter.

It’s also why no one will bat an eye for writing a column previewing the upcoming season before the end of February.

What short memories we have. We saw none of this hype back when The Curse was still active. Prior to 2005, we greeted each season with as much dreadful anticipation as enthusiasm.

I, for one, say these are still the Red Sox. Pessimism is prudence. Better to keep expectations low.

But even the most starry-eyed Fenway freak must concede that the Sox can’t be considered favorites to win their third World Series of the decade.

The Yankees are doing their part to stimulate the economy by spending $709 billion on new players like C.C. Sabathia, Mark Tiexeira, Ty Cobb, Clark Kent, Roy Hobbs, and Muhammad Ali.

With a line-up like that, they are sure to contend for a championship. If they have a weakness, it would be the preponderance of players who are too old or injury-prone to stay healthy.

But they’ve signed House, MD as their new team physician, and Hank Steinbrenner has just patented new cybernetic technology so he can replace any defective body parts with ultra-powerful mechanical ones as needed.

And don’t forget about the Tampa Bay Rays, the first minor league team to make it to the World Series since the 2007 Colorado Rockies.

Tampa’s roster is loaded with talented young players whose names I can’t remember. They all missed big chunks of last season due to injuries and trying to get all the driving hours in for their learner’s permits, but still won the pennant somehow.

What will they do with a healthy season, and the addition of pitching phenom David Price and his absurd 132 mph sliding fastball thing?

The Red Sox could be in for a long year, even though they have two of the best starting pitchers in baseball, an absurdly deep bullpen, the reigning league MVP, a line-up full of solid, patient, versatile hitters, and zero overpaid prima-donna choke artists.

But it won’t be enough to overcome both the Yankees and the Rays.

They will need solid production at catcher and shortstop.

They need Matsuzaka to pitch more than five innings per start.

They need Drew to stay healthy (ha!) and consistent (ha ha!).

They need Ellsbury to finally channel his inner Johnny Damon.

They need David Ortiz to be Big Papi again.

They need some good bounces and some lucky breaks, (starting with Derek Jeter’s right arm, perhaps).

If at least three of these things happen, I can see the Sox making the playoffs. Otherwise, we’re looking the best third-place team in the history of baseball.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go break into the Yankees’ tractor-trailer. I’m going to smear some kryptonite on Clark Kent’s batting gloves.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Pot o' Bold

Once again, it’s time for me to solve all the problems for our state government.

The last time I undertook this project, I suggested that schools close in the winter and stay open in the summer to save on heating expenses.

Since then, heating oil prices plummeted by something like $2 a gallon. Yay me.

Now, then, on to new business. It has come to my attention that Augusta is hard up for cash.

“Maine lawmakers … are pinning their hopes on Washington to help address a looming $800 million-plus shortfall,” writes Francis X. Quinn of the Associated Press.

Okay, first of all, how can you go wrong as a reporter with a name like “Francis X. Quinn”? I picture a svelte, dignified gentleman in a fedora and necktie, oozing integrity.

Or maybe he’s a leprechaun. Either way, I’m ready to believe anything this man says.

“Reflective of State House anxiety and uncertainty,” says Quinn, is “Gov. John Baldacci’s decision to put off a State of the State address until later this month.”

It seems Baldacci can’t summon the gonads to stand up in front of the entire state and say, “We’re broke, so I am about to sell your children to the Church of Scientology.”

He’d rather wait to see if Uncle Sam is willing to be our sugar daddy.

Yeah, get in line.

Our governor has built a reputation for being willing to make the “tough” decisions. By “tough,” of course, I mean “stupidly wrong and destructive.”

Remember all that money we were supposed to save from consolidation? Yeah, it’s a funny story…

Let’s try something more substantive: legalize marijuana, then tax it like crazy.

I can’t figure out why we’re devoting law enforcement resources to control a plant that is less harmful than alcohol, cigars, and most public drinking water.

There are more than 500,000 alcohol-related deaths in the U.S. every year, according to the Washington Post.

I tried to look up statistics for marijuana-related deaths, but I couldn’t find any. That’s because they don’t exist. It would be like scouring the Internet for “toothbrush impalement-related deaths;” sure, it probably happens now and then, but not enough for anyone to bother keeping track.

More compelling is the fact that 42% of Americans have tried pot, according to a survey by the World Health Organization. I’m sorry, but any law that makes almost half the population (including at least two or three presidents and a 14-time gold medalist) criminals is some kind of wicked bogus law.

Let’s face it: the only reason cannabis is still illegal is because hippies like it. Hippies seem to annoy the government.

But with my proposal, we can still stick it to the hippies with outrageous taxes.

If we still haven’t made up the shortfall after that, Baldacci should nominate several of the state’s wealthiest summer residents to positions in his cabinet.

That might be the only way we’ll be able to collect back taxes from them.

You have to admit, this is one bold plan. And, if our stimulus-happy congress has taught us anything, it’s that bold = right.

If only the state government would heed my words. You can do your part: clip this column and send it to your state representative.

Be sure to put “Francis X. Quinn” in your return address.