Next Week: even more important changes in Level of Suck terminology

I am not going to write about the way we celebrate our country every year.

And I am certainly not going to suggest that maybe getting slobbering drunk while using products made in China to litter our streets and keep children and pussies early risers like me awake until 3 a.m. might not be the best way to show our appreciation for those honorable men and women who have given everything for our freedom.

Because apparently, according to those with whom I’ve shared these concerns, not wanting to trash our lovely country and wishing that people could be reasonable makes me un-American.

Despite the fact that my great-grandfather, after whom my only son is named, fought in WWII, and despite the fact that my biological father was in Vietnam when I was born, somehow, simply because I care about the environment, I am completely unaware of the sacrifices made by our military members.

(Damned hippie.)

I am definitely not going to talk about how I’ve been told that I don’t appreciate my country properly because I think people should be considerate of others and stop shooting off loud things by midnight on the 4th of July. And on the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th of July, if you live in my neighborhood.

(Boy, my neighbors sure do love their country. They don’t give two shits about the people trying to live in it with them, but man, whatta bunch of patriots. Hats off to you, you Budweiser-clutching defenders of democracy. I’m sure all of the soldiers who have actually been in battle and suffer from PTSD really appreciate the way you honor their service by shooting bottle rockets at their cars and houses for a week every summer.)

So that’s not what I’m going to write about today either. Because I don’t think the fireworks have anything to do with it. And because hey, guess what? I’m not made of stone, people. I think fireworks are fucking pretty. I am a sucker for shimmering lights and bright colors, and fireworks give me both of these things. It’s a win-win.

I won’t share my fond, nostalgic memories of watching the adults light fireworks in the driveway the second we achieved dusk. And I won’t remember the excitement of running in terror from the Catherine wheels that spun around furiously, making our little-kid hearts race with the thrill of escaping certain death, or at least a stinging sensation to the ass cheek. I also won’t share that I still have a Pavlovian response of, “Oh shit. RUN!” when I hear that high-pitched spinning, whirring sound they make, even if it’s houses away. I won’t admit that I love the sulphuric smell of smoke bombs, or that the burned coal tar stench of black snakes heaped in ashy piles on the sidewalk will make me swoon with olfactory reminiscence. There will be no shameful confessions that I’m still a little bit afraid to hold a sparkler, or that I manically scream, “FEUERWERK!” and laugh hysterically along with the rest of my wacky German family every year.

(You had to be there.)

I promise not to babble on with fond recollections of sitting on the roof of my house in Phoenix as a youngster to watch the fireworks, when we would climb up next to our swamp cooler to look around and marvel at the incredible displays of color and light exploding in every direction across the dark desert skies. I won’t share that I even wrote and recorded a song in my band The Glitter Kicks about how every year on the 4th of July we all forget about boring grown-up stuff to feel giddy anticipation again like children. I won’t share my namby-pamby, touchy-feely thoughts about how it’s important to stay in touch with the kids we once were because they remain a big part of who we’ve become as adults.

Rest assured that with my appreciation for the neat parts of the holiday firmly established, I am not going to write some sort of anti-Independence Day diatribe. Because I think my issues with humanity go beyond one day a year. And I’ve realized that my problem with the holiday has nothing to do with the holiday at all. It’s a fabulous holiday.

What is truly bothering me is the lack of respect for others. The narcissistic sense of entitlement held by so many thoughtless pricks among us. The lack of awareness that there are other people in this country, nay, on this planet, with whom we are sharing it.

What’s bothering me is that one day a year, people use the 4th of July holiday to act like a bunch of oblivious-to-everyone-else-in-the-world dickweeds.

What’s bothering me even more is that people are starting to act like this on the other 364 days of the year as well.

What’s bothering me the most is that the global stereotype of an American has become that of a rude, fat, loudmouthed, inconsiderate moron, and I am unable to escape or refute that stereotype every time I go out in public these days.

I’m absolutely not going to bore you by expounding on this thought and discussing the different forms of self-centered behavior I see on a daily basis. I won’t give examples, like when someone yapping or texting on a cell phone swerves into my driving lane, or can’t be bothered to undertake the arduous, wrist-straining task of using a turn signal.  When some lazy piece of shit takes up two parking spaces because backing up their car and pulling into the space properly would have been thirty seconds of their life spent thinking about someone besides themselves. Or when my neighbors play their music so loudly coming and going in their cars at 2 a.m. that it rattles my house windows, waking me up. Or when they let their dogs take huge dumps all over my yard and don’t pick it up. Or when they sit in their open garages, talking so loudly on the phone that I can hear the conversation clearly through my closed front office window. Or when they mow their lawns in the dark, at nearly 10 p.m. like this is a normal thing to do. As if everyone around them deserves to be kept awake because they can’t manage their time like responsible humans.

A perfect example of what is actually bothering me would be the fact that I had to stop writing this because my neighbors across the street decided that 6 a.m. would be an acceptable time to scream and curse so loudly in their front yard that it woke up my five-year-old son, effectively ending my early morning writing time.

But I am not going to share that example either, because I don’t want to seem like a spoilsport or curmudgeon. I wouldn’t want to tread on the rights of another American to wake up the entire neighborhood because they need to screech expletives at their teenaged son and then throw things around the garage in a blind rage for a few minutes. Because I’m not some kind of pinko commie, goddammit.

I won’t propose to anyone here today that when some people call America a free country, what they really mean is a country free of self-control and free of self-awareness. That when they call it a free country, they mean a country full of people free to be inconsiderate fuckheads who will disturb the peace and quality of life of the people around them without a moment’s thought or consideration to consider the effect they’re having on the world. I certainly will not suggest that America is becoming the land of the free to have one’s head firmly up one’s ass at all times. And I won’t harp on about the Declaration of Independence and the idea on which our country is supposed to be founded – that all men are created equal – because apparently men making really important cell phone calls who swerve into my lane, nearly hitting my son’s side of the car are more equal than my child and I.

I will not declare that pride in one’s country should start with pride in one’s self. That good people are what make a good country good. And that good people do not shit on each other. Because that would seem too obvious.

I’m not going to mention that the problem actually isn’t the 4th of July holiday, while griping about how some people who don’t care about anyone but themselves use the holiday as a ruse to display their complete lack of respect for plants, animals, and humans – the very things that make up the country they are “celebrating.” I won’t imply that some consider July 4th an excuse to crank their inner asshole knobs up to eleven, and have the nerve to call it a display of patriotic pride. Or worse: have the nerve to call me un-American because I dare suggest it might better honor our country to show some consideration for its inhabitants.

I’m definitely not going to write anything assuming that this Independence Day, Lady Liberty will most likely be beaten down, as usual, by imbeciles who equate being proud Americans with drunkenly shooting imported Roman candles at each other and leaving trash in the streets for the rest of us to either pick up or trip over for months afterward. And even though I still believe that under that pile of firework debris and empty beer cans stands an elegant torch-holding gal in a toga, I am not going to discuss the way I refuse to give up and let the jerks ruin a really cool holiday for the decent people who choose to celebrate it responsibly.

I am especially not going to ramble on about how I think we can be better than this. Or that I believe we can show respect for our fellow humans by ceasing to be loud at a reasonable hour every day of the year, and remembering that we’re all in this together. I wouldn’t dare suggest that we can pick up our litter and show real respect for our beautiful country by keeping it clean and taking care of it.

To make my point, I am not going to show you pictures of my suburban neighborhood street that is already covered with firework and alcohol detritus from two days of “celebrating our freedom” with at least two more days of “appreciating America” to go before it’s over, depending on how many foreign-made fireworks Bubba and Billy Bob down the street buy this year. I won’t complain that we’ve had to call the police already this week to get our neighbors to stop hollering, “WHOOOOO! ‘MERICA!” while making things explode until well past midnight.

I will never, ever write about how our citizens should be collectively intelligent enough to celebrate the birth of a great nation without destruction of property and oblivion to common courtesy.

And I’m definitely not going to write a piece bitching about the thoughtless, ruining-good-things-for-the-rest-of-us, worthless, waste-of-oxygen douchebags who once a year choose to celebrate everything great we’re supposed to be as citizens of an amazing country by instead acting like a bunch of rude, littering, noisy, inbred idiot motherfuckers.

Nope. Not gonna do it.

Because I think that all I really want to write here is happy birthday. Yes. That’s exactly what I want to say.

Happy birthday, America.

Stay classy.





I was watching the Mets play the Phillies on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball when the broadcaster announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed. Immediately, I flipped to CNN for more details and watched Wolf Blitzer juggle numerous correspondents as details of the event poured in. I stayed tuned for about 20 minutes, and during that time the crowd gathering on the White House lawn grew from dozens to hundreds to thousands. They waved American flags and climbed atop each others’ shoulders, chanting “USA! USA!” Their celebratory uproar reached a volume that made it difficult for one reporter on the scene to be heard. The surreal spectacle looked like the tail end of a debauched 4th of July barbecue.

The waiting room of the Côte D’Or préfecture de police has but one open seat.It’s beside a mustached older man in a knit cap holding a green passport.Around the intimate space of plastic chairs arranged to allow for the minimum amount of leg room, I see other green passports along with various shades of red.Mine appears to be the only blue.  I don’t get the sense that any one member of this colorful international coalition desperately wants to obtain the brown passport emblazoned with the words République française.But this is what has brought us together.

We are not expectant, we’re resigned.Whether we think procuring the right to stay in this country is just a matter of procedure or whether we assume it’s almost pointless to try, we wait for our number to be called.I’ve torn “46” from the machine at the door.I sit down with it and my own renewed doubt about my prospects here today.

I’ve been watching a lot of Sopranos lately. Every morning I tune in to the 8:00 A&E showing. I’ve not been awake ten minutes and I’m watching Paulie smash a guy in the back of the head with a shovel, Chris put five across his bitch’s eye, Tony fuck some broad in a roadside motel. Before I’ve finished a cup of coffee I’ve seen sex, violence, chauvinism, prostitution, embezzlement, collusion, theft and murder. It’s great.

Part of what makes David Chase’s show brilliant television is that the characters are dead on. There are thousands of Jersey knuckleheads out there just like the guys in The Sopranos who are willing to kill, maim and take what they want. And that’s just in Jersey. There are goons the world over willing to step on you to get what they’re after. And I’m not just talking gangsters and tough guys. Look across the George Washington Bridge, to Manhattan, to find even bigger hoodlums. No, not Johnny Sack and the New York crew—I’m talking about the financial district crew—the guys who conned the nation out of tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer money. These thugs in their high rise offices at JP Morgan, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, just to name a few, are hard fucking core gangsters. These guys shat all over us and took what they wanted.

The point is, the world belongs to people with balls. Whether it’s through twisting arms or twisting laws, it doesn’t really matter. Some people have balls and take whatever they want. Then there’s the rest of us who play by the rules.

But there are rules, and then there are “rules.” Tony Soprano is at heart a pragmatist. What allows him to be one, however, is that people know he’s a big, bad motherfucker who will, in the end, take care of business by any means necessary. The unspoken threat that Tony will carve you up and dump your body in the harbor gives his negotiations that extra “oomph.”

Now, to diverge for a moment, I’d like to talk politics—specifically, the tea party movement. Guys, I like your anger. The problem is that you’re mad at the wrong people. The real enemy is not Obama, liberals or socialists—it’s not universal health care, illegal immigrants, homos or dope smokers. It’s the Wall Street plutocrats who rig the system and take all of our money—who wreck the economy and get people kicked out of their homes—who nearly plunged our entire nation—the world, possibly—into economic ruin. These rich pricks are the enemy.

The tea partiers always like to talk about what patriots they are. I’m all for being patriotic. But, I’d like to remind those historically myopic rabble-rousers of exactly what a Patriot is. The tea partiers chose to name themselves after those people who, in 1773, boarded ships docked in Boston harbor and dumped their cargo of taxed tea into the water in protest. But the Boston Tea Party was just a small part of the Patriots hard-line stance against their oppressors. They regularly tarred and feathered Loyalists. Think about that: dumping hot tar all over somebody’s body and then, to add insult to injury, a few feathers. That’s some hardcore gangster shit. Not only that, Patriots burned down Loyalist homes to get their point across. Not surprisingly, it worked. They chased those British bums out of town.

Tea partiers: if you want to talk about patriotism, at least get your terminology right. Let’s step off of this flag-waving, dumb hillbilly, Fox News, anti-intellectual, Mexican/darkie-hating, drill baby drill, get-your-hands-off-my-guns, the founding fathers were infallible man gods, bullshit. Patriotism has somehow been subverted by a political vein that clings to a nostalgic, romantic fantasy of America as a good ol’ boy club for whom Ronald Regan is the eternal hero. It’s John Wayne in a western who dispatches of the bad guys, gives a laconic, feel-good, one-liner with a tip of his cap then saunters off into the sunset. Patriotism has been turned into a myth and hijacked by the far right.

How did our nation react after the bank bailouts? Aside from some cries of protest—some professorial finger wagging from the Administration—nothing. Despite pointed work by journalists such as Matt Taibbi, who laid out the entire hustle for us, who described, in detail, the horse-race financial schemes that led to this crisis, we as a nation have sat back on our heels and let it keep happening. Sure, some of the banks are beginning to pay back their debts, but no real work has been done to close the loopholes that led us into this malaise. The people who work for Goldman Sachs et. al are still getting millions of dollars in bonuses precisely for coming up with new financial schemes. This is what investment banking has become. These guys don’t fund emerging markets and industries. They create bubbles that burst in their favor, flood the system with toxic junk and then profit by betting against the fact that their own unsustainable policies are going to fail. Even if we change the laws, I’m confident they will come up with new ways to hoodwink the public at large. These guys are good.

But while they may be really smart, I’m willing to bet they’re not that tough. That is, if a shovel was to connect with the back of their head, or a 9mm to somehow find its way into their mouth…

Tea partiers, if you really want to be Patriots, here’s your chance. Stop burning Obama effigies, bemoaning how we’re becoming commies and praying to God for faggots to die. Pick up your pitchforks, your torches and those guns you oft demand to keep but rarely have cause to use and go after these investment bankers. Consider this the new Glorious Cause.  Push these guys around, slap them, kidnap their wives…whatever it takes. These firms like to talk about how they’re too big to fail. Well, so was Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum.

Perhaps a strong populist movement will send a message to the top. Since many are already looking ahead to the mid-term elections, even the presidential election, it’s got me thinking who I’ll be casting my ballot for. I’d vote for Tony Soprano in a heartbeat before I put another politically correct liberal or politically retarded conservative in office. Give me some good ol’ guido pragmatism. Would Tony lecture the banks about how they should be ashamed of themselves, and that maybe they shouldn’t be paying out such big bonuses? Of course not. Would he let Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao snub him at the Copenhagen Climate Conference? Fahgettaboudit. I’m not sure exactly what he’d do, but the one thing Tony Soprano does not do is not get results. He doesn’t do “shame on you.” He does “If that’s how it’s gonna be I’ll cut your balls off, you fucking cockroach.”

That sounds like a real Patriot to me. The plutocrats of today are the new aristocracy. They are the same kind of people that we strong-armed back to Britain over 225 years ago and began a nation in defiance of. America, it’s time to run the bums out of town again. But to do so we need to have balls.   We need to remember what the tough sons of bitches who helped win our freedom knew; what every Jersey wiseguy with a gun in his track pant’s elastic waistline and a bat in his hand knows: there are rules and then there are “rules”. Capiche?

I’m also thinking, if it can work for the good ol’ Stars & Stripes, then it’s good enough for me. Writers, after all, aren’t exactly known for being the ballsiest lot—not in real life, anyway. If pressed to a fight I’d probably run away and use the confrontation as the basis of a misanthropic vignette.

Part of what’s frustrating about being a writer is that you submit your work for review to total strangers far away. I’ve often thought, “If only I could meet these people…put a personal face to my work…not have it just be the manuscript of some abstract person…maybe it would make a difference…”

But now I’m thinking I show up at their office with a different strategy—like the hardbound edge of my rejected manuscript to the back of the head. Maybe then they’ll reconsider. If not, it will make for a really deep, dark story full of irony, pain and regret. Either way: bada bing.

On September 11, 2001, there was a small American flag mounted on the wall above my desk at work. By that time it had been there for several years.

Wall decorations are not my forte, but anything that breaks the monotony of gray is a welcome thing. And I’ve also felt quite patriotic about the U.S.A. ever since I was a kid.

For a large part of my life, this patriotism was mainly a result of me being born here. Later I realized that our country wasn’t perfect and that in fact there were many reasons to be ashamed of it.

But still, I reason that many people emigrate to the U.S.A. for the opportunity it affords the common person, and while other countries do some things better than us, I think our system of government and our culture are overall pretty great.

These days, though, I don’t feel pride when I see an American flag bumper sticker. I am often embarrassed when I run into Americans abroad. Ignorance and a lack of decorum have for me ruined many genuine displays of patriotism.

There was a short time after September 11th, as the country bonded in a time of domestic and emotional crisis, when I was happy to see flags popping up on cars and in offices and in shopping centers.

Great, I thought. Too bad it takes an attack on our soil to stop the national sleepwalking epidemic, but so be it. Glad to have you folks on board. The more people we have thinking about government and politics and our country’s position in the world, the better off we’ll be.

Man, I was so wrong. Turns out that many of these patriotic bumper stickers are simply a way to identify people who, rather than think in depth about our country and its challenges, want to marginalize our democracy into a “you’re with us, or you’re against us” mentality.

Of course I’m not speaking for every single driver out there whose vehicle is labeled with an American flag bumper sticker. It’s wrong to paint with too wide a brush.


But I do get the feeling that many conservative people believe they have a monopoly on patriotism. They don’t.

They do have a pretty good handle on bad style, though. On a transatlantic plane ride, it’s not hard to spot travelers from the heartland. Men, you aren’t required to wear a plaid shirt with pleated, tan Dockers. Women, why not try something other than light blue elasto-band jeans and the red-white-and-blue T-shirt?

Anyway, just because a person is interested in the political opinions of other countries, just because you don’t believe it’s just to paint the word “freedom” on naked aggression, that doesn’t mean you hate American freedom.

Most political ideologies have at least some merit, and a blend of them would probably work best.

But I’ve been worried for a while that the country is so polarized that we’ll never reach another consensus on anything.

The recent Congressional elections, however, may have proven me wrong. On top of that, an amazing thing happened over the holiday break.

My conservative dad, who I love to death, expressed discontent with the conflict in Iraq for the first time. My mom said, and I quote, “I sure do like that Barack Obama.”

I’m not expressing a political statement or an endorsement here. I have no idea how my parents will vote in the future, and it’s none of my business.

But I know how they’ve leaned in the past. And if they would even consider something different…well, then maybe we all can.

*Dress code joke courtesy of Nelson DeMille.