Confused about the World Cup? Just wait till you read this 4

I’m a huge fan of football. And so, with World Cup 2010 in full swing, this is an exciting month for me.

I’ve been a football fan for literally as long as I can remember. And by that, of course, I mean that the Cup started a week ago, and a week is as about long as I can remember. Before I was a football fan, I was a Grateful Dead fan; you can draw your own conclusions.

Anyway, for those of you who are new to “the beautiful game,” as it is sometimes called, I have assembled a few pointers.

The biggest news in World Cup action this week was a foul called against the US side during their match against Slovenia; the controversial ruling deprived the Yanks of a goal and subsequently a much-needed win.  Good news, however – according to FIFA rules, the call is not officially final until Joe Barton apologizes for it.

Some of the terminology used in soccer can be confusing; allow me to clarify. To begin with, the game is rightly called “football,” although in this country it is sometimes called “soccer,” or more often “elitist Euro-fag-ball.” It’s called “the world’s game” because the entire planet has taken it to its bosom. The entire planet except for us, I mean. But then, we’re the country that stages baseball games that we call (without irony) the World Series — and then don’t invite any other countries in the … you know … world.

Vuvuzela – Perhaps no aspect of this Cup has generated more commentary than the vuvuzela. No, this is not a country in South America; nor is it a part of a woman’s body (oh, grow up – I was referring to the uvula). It is a long plastic horn that has roots in South African culture that stretch all the way back to the early 2000s. It emits a sound that has been compared variously to a flatulent elephant or a BP spokesman.

Many fans despise the vuvuzela, claiming that its sound is distracting. Chief among the haters are long-time fans of English Premier League football, a refined lot who are accustomed to the more Shakespearean cadences of what are known as  “terrace chants” – refrains of encouragement such as “Posh Spice takes it up the ass” that once welcomed Manchester United’s David Beckham to the pitch.

Speaking of chants, fans of Mexico’s “El Tri” are fond of chanting “Puto! Puto!” at opposition goalkeepers. If my high school Spanish still serves, this means, “If it please God, may our team prevail in this contest.” The language of Cervantes is indeed a beautiful one.

Ghana – Unlike “vuvuzela,” this is a country, and not the sacramental herb adored by Rastafarians and fans of String Cheese Incident. To muddy the waters further, the team’s colors are identical to the Rasta colors of red, gold and green. I spent 90 minutes (not counting stoppage time) waiting for Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz to take the pitch, or for the entire team to wander off in search of donuts and some Bob Marley music.

Royal Bafokeng – Apparently this is a stadium, and not a World Cup “special” being offered by Rustenburg hookers, as I had reported earlier. My apologies.

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Clothes make the man; shopping for clothes makes this man crazy 10

I’m not much of a clothes guy, but since I have been asked (and by “asked,” I mean “ordered by a judge”) to be fully clothed any time I appear in public, from time to time I have to go shopping.

Last weekend was just such an occasion – I had to buy some new jeans. And, at the risk of sounding like an old fart, I’d like to ask a very simple and very sincere question: What the fuck is up with jeans theses days?

Back in the day, buying jeans was simple. There was one manufacturer – Levi Strauss – and one style – 501s. You’d buy them two inches too long and two inches too big in the waist because you knew they’d shrink like crazy. Plus, they were stiff as a board. In fact, you’d have to ask your mom to wash them a couple of dozen times before you wore them; otherwise, you ran the very real risk of abrading your genitals down to a nub.

Those days are gone. Today, jeans come in a dizzying number of styles from a plethora of manufacturers. And yet, it seems impossible for me to find a pair I’d actually wear.

As I said, I went out last week to buy some new jeans. I was doing so mainly because my wife said I needed them. She didn’t come out and say, “Dear, you need some new jeans,” but I’ve been married to her so long that I can read her like a book. For instance, I’ll put on my favorite pair and she’ll say something subtle, like “Gosh – is it time to mow the lawn again?” or, “Say, that reminds me – I just sent 50 bucks to Clothe the Children,” or perhaps, “So — working undercover at the homeless shelter, are we?”

Anyway, I go to the mall on a quest for denim. Five (OK, maybe 10) years ago, I bought the aforementioned favorite jeans, and they were a thing of beauty — dark blue, no fraying and no holes. If you’re under 30, you’ll just have to take my word for this, but they actually looked new.

I was hoping to buy a similar pair but everything I saw – I swear to god – looked worse than the jeans I was trying to replace. One looked like it had perhaps lined the bottom of a litter box for a year. Another appeared to have been involved in some sort of industrial accident. For a fleeting moment, I thought I was in a Goodwill store in Bangladesh – only no self-respecting Bangladeshi would have been caught dead in these rags.

I have to hand it to marketers — anyone who can convince the jeans-buying public to pay sixty bones for jeans that the Salvation Army would reject is a genius. An evil genius, sure, but a genius just the same. In fact, I bet that when he’s not busy pimping his book or drowning puppies, Karl Rove consults for these guys.

At any rate, I still don’t have any new pants. But I refuse to give up. I’m going out again this weekend, and I don’t care how far I have to go in my quest for a wearable pair of jeans. Does anyone know how to say, “Driver, take me to the nearest Goodwill,” in Hindi?

“Hail to the jewel in the lotus,” or “beef with broccoli?” Your guess is as good as mine 12

I think we all reach a point in our lives – stereotypically near middle age — where we start to ask “big” questions. Why I am I here? What’s it all about? Is there any pie left?

In the face of these questions and the irreversible slog toward the void, different people act in different ways. Some are sanguine; some freak out. Some get religion; others get rid of religion. Some dump their careers and join the Peace Corps, while others dump their spouses and run off with the baby sitter. There are as many expressions of Middle-Age Crazy as there are middle-aged people.

Me? I got a tattoo.

Having recently turned 55, I had most definitely reached middle age (I’ve been crazy for a very long time, and was merely biding my time for the middle-aged part). If I wanted to go middle-age crazy, my list of possibilities was limited. One was buying a sports car. I eliminated that one because I can’t afford the insurance. How about a motorcycle? No – those scare the shit out of me (plus, I wanted crazy, not stupid). The stripper girlfriend was right out, as I am allergic to silicone. That left a tatt as my only viable outlet.

So, after more than a year of soul-searching – and a shaky OK from my wife – I got inked. It was something I had been thinking about for a long time – I’d just been unable to decide what sort of image I’d get. A naked lady was out – not my style, plus inking something pert ‘n’ perky on skin that is already on its way to Sag City is just asking for heartache. There was also the classic “Welcome to Jamaica – Have a Nice Day.” However, that one, placed where it traditionally belongs, would require type so small as to be invisible to anything short of an electron microscope

Just love that new-ink smell!

I finally decided on a Buddhist mantra, tastefully rendered in red and black in traditional Uchen script on my left deltoid. I had formally become a Buddhist abut a year ago, so a mantra wouldn’t make me a total poser. The one I chose – om mani padme hum – is only six syllables — small enough to fit on my delt and still be legible (if you read Tibetan, I mean). Most importantly, it’s by far the most ubiquitous of the mantras, so there was no danger of getting “sweet and sour pork” or “I love cock” etched indelibly into my flesh by accident.

So, about a week ago I went to Spellbound Studios and had Karen Slafter, Austin’s premiere ink-slinger, brand me forever. The procedure itself was a piece of cake, and apart from a few subsequent “what the fuck was I thinking?” moments, I haven’t looked back. The tatt looks great and I could not be happier with it (note to self: work a little harder on the non-attachment thing).

Oh, yeah — what does the mantra mean? The most accepted translation seems to be, “Hail to the jewel in the lotus.” But just to be safe, if I ever find myself in a Tibetan gay bar, I’m keeping my sleeves rolled down.

Onward Christian cage fighters! 11

If all you know about evangelical Christian churches is their Walmart-sized  buildings, or their emphasis on material riches, or their services that can rival a Pink Floyd laser light show, you might get the impression that their focus is more worldly than spiritual.

That’s certainly the impression I get, and an article I read the other day didn’t do much to change my kind.

The article – in that snooty New York Times – was about what the Gray Lady called a small but growing number of evangelical churches that are using mixed martial arts to attract and convert followers – especially young dudes, who find the whole peace and love thing kinda, you know, girly.

Pastors of these flocks say they’re just to trying put a little hair on their ministries’ chests — and on the image of Jesus — in the hopes of making Christianity more appealing. Brandon Beals, lead pastor of such a church in Seattle, was quoted as saying. “Compassion and love — we agree with all that stuff, too. But what led me to find Christ was that Jesus was a fighter.”

Jesus as fighter is news to me. I’m certainly not the best guy to ask, but I seem to recall Jesus being called the Prince of Peace, not the Nazarene Head-Knocker

Recruitment efforts at these churches, which are – and here’s a surprise – predominantly white, use ultimate fighting to explain how Christ fought for what he believed in. While he may have fought in a figurative sense, I doubt that he ever body-slammed anyone – not even those Pharisees, who were practically begging for an ass-kicking, you ask me.

If churches can find a tie-in between Ultimate Fighting and man from Galilee, and do it with a straight face, I have some other great ideas to fill their parking lots. Jesus drank wine – indeed, he was a bit of a wine-maker in his own right – so why not introduce Keg Night? Granted, there is no record of Jesus doing beer bongs, but neither is there any account of him strapping on a cup and stepping into the Octagon O’ Death.  But talk about boosting attendance!

Or, if you really want to bring in the guys, here’s a stellar idea: pole dancing!  In the spirit of keepin’ it Biblical, you could substitute a pillar of salt for the pole, and have the guys pay for lap dances with 30 pieces of silver instead of twenties.  The line would be out the door – trust me.

I have good news and I have bad news (stop me if you’ve heard this) 2

Guys, I have good news and I have bad news. Fortunately (for you, anyway) it does not involve the results of your lab test; unfortunately (for me, anyway) neither does it involve a young blond receptionist. If you’re a regular reader here, you probably already know that gag; if you’re an irregular reader, many doctors recommend lots of roughage and regular exercise.

But back to the news. The good news is that, despite all the warnings we Boomers got in our mis-spent youth that high-volume rock ‘n’ roll would ruin our hearing, it now appears that it didn’t.

The bad news for us guys – especially us married guys – is that if this information falls into the wrong hands, it could mean the end to using Jefferson Airplane-induced hearing loss as an excuse for not hearing things we’d rather not.

According to a study I just read about, we Baby Boomers actually have better hearing than did our parents. And if the researchers are interpreting their data correctly, then the rate of hearing problems at ages ranging from 45 to 75 has been dropping for years, at least among white Americans.

Of course, not everyone in this group has flawless ears. Certain occupations cause noise-induced hearing loss. And some hearing loss can be attributed to the military. This is true in my case; I am almost completely deaf in my left ear because I punctured my eardrum with a knitting needle to avoid going into the Army.

But back to the news. The implications of this these findings are not pretty, and could put an end to life as we know it. When that day comes, and our wives say, “Please take out the trash,” and then 30 minutes later find us stretched out on the sofa, blasting Dark Side of the Moon, we will no longer be able to say, “Trash? I thought you said stash; my bad.”

Anyway, I said I have good news and bad news — actually, I have good news, bad news, and them some more good news. Here’s the more good news: The study indicated that, while our exposure to loud music may not have hurt our hearing, the same is not true of other folks – and by “other folks” I mean “those crazy kids” — who blast high-volume music through their earbuds.  They’re just asking for it. And you call that music? Turn that crap down! And get off my lawn!

Warning signs of hearing loss

Your hearing is a precious gift; use this checklist to keep it healthy.

  • Sounds seem muffled to you. Check to see that no one is holding a pillow over your face.
  • Ringing or other sounds. This is probably your new cell phone; check the ringer settings.
  • Sensation of pressure in your ears. Make sure you haven’t cinched your belt a notch too tight, or perhaps sat on your testicles.
  • Others complain more frequently that your TV or music is too loud. Actually, it would be impossible for people to complain more frequently that my music is too loud – or, perhaps more to the point, that my taste in music sucks.
  • People feel you’re not paying attention to them. I got news for you; my hearing’s fine – I’m just ignoring you.

The unkindest cut is sometimes self-inflicted 17

If you’ve ever cleared brush, you know that getting rid of the shrubby stuff makes even the smallest tree look bigger. And while this may be good land management, it does not necessarily translate to smart personal grooming.

I bring this up because for Christmas I got one of those male grooming appliances. It’s kind of like an electric razor, only smaller. It’s designed so men can keep themselves at their metrosexual sleekest. It can be used to trim moustaches, beards, sideburns, etc., (none of which I have). The instructions state it can also be used to manage the man forest.  Well, now …

One thing the instructions do not tell you is that, used incorrectly (and FYI, this is painfully easy to do) it is also capable of removing several layers of skin. Skin that is very delicate, very sensitive and very rich with blood vessels. And you know how, when you cut your finger, your first reaction is to stick the wounded appendage in your mouth? Not an option here. And not only is that not going to work, just trying will very likely add back strain to your litany of embarrassing injuries. “Well, doc, you’re not gonna believe this …”

Normally, I would not dream of using such an appliance; it gives off too much of a George Michael kind of vibe. But if English footballer and unassailably hetero stud David Beckham can go on record as having the smoothest Adidas in the Premier League, then who am I to quibble? Frighteningly, I came closer to resembling Lance Armstrong than I did Mr. Posh Spice.

Read the directions, hopped in the shower as suggested and lathered up. If I may use an even clumsier sports metaphor here, let me say that my intent was merely to tidy up the green a bit; accordingly, I very gingerly took hold of the pin to move it out of the way so I could see better, fired up the groomer, and immediately took out a huge, fleshy divot.

Did I mention that I hoped to surprise my wife? Well, it worked. Of course, no one expects to see a band-aid where I had applied one (Note: the only bandages we had in the house were the Hello Kitty models left here by our 5-year old niece).  And pleasant? Well, judging from her peals of laughter, I would judge that it was not altogether traumatic for her.

Like self-inflicted injuries often do, this one made me feel both hurt and stupid. But the unkindest cut (well, perhaps the second) came from the AM/PM medic, who asked if he should stop the bleeding but try to maintain the swelling.