Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Democracy on Aisle Ten (second try)

Not too long ago, I found myself in line at a convenience store getting ready to purchase “breakfast”, which consisted of a 32-ounce Coke and a pack of Ho-Hos. I realize my eating habits mirror those of a thirteen-year-old whose parents have left him home alone for the weekend for the first time, but what I did next would have made my parents proud. As I made the front of the line, I noticed a soldier standing a few paces back preparing to buy his breakfast – I can assure you, it was far more healthful than mine. When the clerk went to ring up my purchase, I motioned to the guy and said, “This and whatever the soldier’s having.” The young man walked up to me with his hand out and said, “Thank you, sir.” I could hardly look him in the eye – seeing a man with Ho-Hos crying is just what the terrorists want – and I said, “Thank you for our freedom!”

What makes us “Americans”? After a lot of soul searching (and a couple more Ho-Hos), I came to the conclusion that what makes the American culture so uniquely “American” has its roots in or association with the South. You go to the Northeast, and they have deep ties to Italian and Irish culture. In the Midwest, you have a lot of Polish and German influence. Latin America weaves itself solidly through the Southwest. And the West (read: California) has its origins from another planet. But the South gave us NASCAR and Elvis, Wal-Mart and Kentucky Fried Chicken – that’s America!

Do you want to know the real reason Abraham Lincoln was so adamant about not allowing the Southern states to secede? He knew that without the South, the country would have no identity – the resulting country would be known as “those ninnies who have no national identity”, or something like that.

In the wake of Sherman’s March to the Sea, the land was scorched and flattened. Popular belief is that Sherman’s plan in doing this was to assure the Confederate Army didn’t have anywhere to fall back and gain shelter and provisions. That was only a by-product of the March to the Sea. The real reason was to pave the way for Ted Turner (a northerner!) to start up CNN and open his cable superstation, TBS, bringing the world an endless supply of re-runs. Do you think it’s a coincidence that Coke’s headquarters are in Atlanta? Don’t be na├»ve!

Now, admittedly we have a rather kooky outlook on the rest of the world that doesn’t make a lot of sense. For example, we don’t think twice when our fellow citizens from one part of the country add an “r” to all words that end in “a” and drop the “r” at the end of other words and replace it with an “a” (example: Linder instead of Linda, Lobsta instead of Lobster), but when we hear some foreign tongues being spoken we think it all sounds like gibberish or a bunch of people who are really ticked off at each other all the time.

Also, we as Americans are very selective about what we deem as quality and how we talk about it. If something’s from France or Germany, it’s “imported”. That’s code for “classy”, which if my Latin serves me correctly is another word for “ridiculously overpriced”, or something like that. If it’s from somewhere else, we call it “offshore” and deem it as sub-standard. Using that line of reasoning, are we to assume the consumers living in those “offshore” countries are okay with buying crap?

Speaking of France and Germany, we really should be careful how we “value” their imports to us. There’s something off with both of them. Even today, the French just love Jerry Lewis – yes, he’s the same guy who has the telethon over Labor Day weekend who can’t ever seem to get his bow tie on his tuxedo clasped properly around his neck. And the Germans are absolutely ga-ga over David Hassselhoff’s music – he sings?

Another odd thing about our country is that the side that “won” the Civil War is known as the Yankees. In today’s vernacular, that means absolutely nothing because the only Yankees we know are a bunch of overpaid guys in pinstriped tights and black mascara (they say it keeps the sun’s glare down – ha!), and most of them aren’t even from this country and don’t speak English. Pass the fried chicken, the race is about to start!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Democracy on Aisle Ten

Once the Fourth of July has come and gone, will our patriotism have lessened in any way? Will our fervor, passion, and love for democracy and freedom reach a crescendo as the last firework pops in the sky and fades as the black of night descends over us in its place? Heck no! We’re happy to be Americans, warts and all, year round!

I have not travelled abroad extensively – Canada, Mexico, and Hong Kong are the three places I have visited – but I’m willing to bet we have a unique perspective of the world. That’s not to say that it’s better or worse than, say, a Belgian’s view but unique.

For example, when you watch the business portion of the evening news or read that section of the paper, you continually come across reports about “offshore” or “overseas” materials and technologies flooding the US market. You never see the reporter dancing a jig over this news; it’s always with a very stern face akin to that of someone who just wolfed down a box of prunes thinking it was a Whitman’s chocolates sampler. And when they speak of these “offshore” or “overseas” items, they’re always from a third-world country or China. Those terms are code for “inferior”.

By these news media’s standards, basically everything outside of the United States is “offshore” and/or “overseas” even if we’re connected by land. So, does that mean that the rest of the world just settles for crap? Does the guy from a Taiwanese factory that produces “offshore” lighting fixtures just go home and sit in the dark because he’s not going to be caught dead using the flop his company turns out? Does that thought ever cross our minds?

We as Americans are very selective about what we deem as quality and how we talk about it. If something’s from France or Germany, it’s “imported”. That’s code for “classy”, which if my Latin serves me correctly is another word for “ridiculously overpriced”, or something like that. Conversely, if I buy a dress shirt that’s made in Indonesia – I own my share – I’m not wont to tell people it’s made from imported cotton.

Speaking of France and Germany, we really should be careful how we “value” their imports to us. There’s something off with both of them. Even today, the French just love Jerry Lewis – yes, it’s the same guy who has the telethon over Labor Day weekend who can’t ever seem to get his bow tie on his tuxedo clasped properly around his neck. And the Germans are absolutely ga-ga over David Hassselhoff’s music, which is even worse than his acting.

The ironic thing about what makes us different is that most of those things that make the American culture so uniquely “American” have their roots in or association with the South. You go to the Northeast, and they have deep ties to Italian and Irish culture. In the Midwest, you have a lot of Polish and German influence. The Southwest is predominantly Hispanic. And the West (read: California) has its origins from another planet. But the South gave us NASCAR and Elvis, Wal-Mart and deep-fried everything.

Fortunately, David Hasselhoff was born in Baltimore, Maryland, which is north of the Mason-Dixon line, so for all intents and purposes we don’t have to claim him as part of our culture and can let the Germans have him to keep. The Belgian guy would agree.

We Don't Need Nine Lives

Our oldest son had undergone a tonsillectomy recently but had some complications and needed another surgery. This development threw a major monkey wrench into our vacation plans, but what could we do? I didn’t go to medical school, and my humor column credentials don’t necessarily qualify me to override the surgeon’s admonitions, so we ended up staying home. As a consolation prize for our son (and for my wife’s sanity), we bought the “Rock Band” game for Wii.

I would highly recommend everyone who reads this column run right out and purchase this game for their family. I don’t own stock in any of the gaming companies, and I can’t say I particularly fell in love with the game. No. My reasons for this recommendation is it’s a harmless but necessary reality check: after playing it for about two minutes, you’ll quickly realize you were never destined to be a rock star and your parents were right when they told you to go to college or trade school. Suffice it to say, my fantasy of being a drummer was crushed, and I can safely say my wife isn’t the next Nelly Furtado or Gwen Stefani. In other words, all the years of my life leading up to this moment weren’t wasted.

Listening to the radio the other day, the host of the program read a statistic that the average life span for American males is now 78 years. I didn’t think much of it until I realized that I’m going to turn 39 later this year – for all of you who don’t like to do math that requires more than taking your shoes off to count higher than ten, that’s exactly half. Rather than look at this in the classic half-empty/half-full manner, I care to look at it like a roller coaster ride.

As the great chain-driven Roller Coaster of Life chinks its way to the top of the hill, it’s nice to look around and take in the view that only such heights afford. You look around at your fellow passengers: some are peeing their pants with excitement even though nothing’s happened yet (there’s a huge metaphor in that alone, but we don’t have time), some are trying to look indifferent but you know they’d rather be giving a bath to a cat with a multiple-personalities disorder, and some have no reservations at all – they are screaming at the top of their lungs begging any deity or pagan god to deliver them from this evil.

Not me. I’ve enjoyed the ride up so far, but I’m certain my plunge through Middle Age will be an incomparable experience with the upcoming corkscrew of Paying for Braces and the double loop of College Tuition. Next will be the double humps of the Twilight Years that make you feel like you’re going to be thrown out of your seat, which produces that sensation that you’re going to involuntarily lose bladder control at any moment.

Before I know it, I’ll be climbing another hill with my hair a little mussed up, and a small dab of spittle starting to drip from the right side of my mouth. Yeah, who cares? I’m not trying to impress anyone! I crest this hill and proceed downward into a tight spiral of the Home Stretch, teeth (or dentures) rattling and my vision slightly blurred. I’ll take the last corner and know that I’m about to enter the Great Wheelhouse in the Sky. The Grim Reaper will pass his scythe to his left hand and reach out to me with his right slowly shaking his head when I try to get out on the wrong side of the car – one way only. I won’t argue but only ask if my wife has already arrived or if I can wait around for her. The ride wouldn’t be worth it otherwise.