Rant-Man’s Notebook: The University of Rude Awakenings

You know how they keep doing these public-service ads on TV where some celebrity with the IQ of kelp tells you to “stay in school”? Well, let me tell you, brother, this is one time when the kelp is giving good advice. Pull up a chair, and Uncle Jimmy will tell the tale of the lessons I learned in what I call the University of Rude Awakenings.

Education wasn’t what you’d call a priority in my family. My dad got his high school diploma when I was in the second grade. He had quit school to help support his family after his dad had died, since he was the oldest of the nine kids, and then Uncle Sam sent him a big howdy from the Selective Service, just in time for the festivities in a little place called Korea. Mom’s family had moved a few weeks before the end of her senior year and she decided to go get a job instead of enrolling at a new school. By age 19, she was married. They had five boys, of which your humble scribe is number two. Of the five, precisely one actually graduated high school in the usual manner. That would be me. All my brothers dropped out, though a couple of them went back and got the diploma later. Matter of fact, education was such a low priority that my mom was the only one in the family to even show up for my graduation.

So anyway, about a week before the end of my senior year, I have a meeting with my guidance counselor, a woman I had never previously laid eyes on. Sort of a debriefing. “So, what are your plans?” she asks.

Plans? I’m supposed to have plans? “Uh, I don’t know,” sez I, “I think I’m supposed to try to go to college or something.”

She lets me know as nicely as possible that I’m an idiot. I was supposed to apply to colleges months and months ago. Maybe I can go to the community college.

Meanwhile, I’m supposed to get a job.

I had successfully avoided working during high school by pulling down the occasional gig twisting balloon animals for parties, parades, malls, etc. Occasional wasn’t gonna cut it any more. So I went to the local mall and got a job at a restaurant. Balloon animal twister on the weekends, busboy/dishwasher during the week.

Kids, stay in school.

The boss was okay, but the assistant manager was a toad. He had a habit of punching busboys’ time cards out early while they were still cleaning, so that he would appear more efficient to the management. Then, while we finished cleaning, he and the cooks would hit the restaurant’s beer tap, smoke dope, and try to seduce the waitresses. I got out of that job by breaking my leg.

My next job was sculpting little clay animal figures; bunny rabbits, mice and monkeys. I designed the monkey for them, for which I made a whopping $50 bonus. They sold hundreds of ’em at about 8 or 9 bucks each. The sculptors made 50 cents each for them. After a couple of months in that job, I was living in an abandoned car behind a chinese restaurant and mooching off friends.

I finally got hired on by a shop that printed t-shirts and banners. My job was to take whatever the customer brought in and turn it into something we could print. They might have a sample to duplicate, but more often they just had a crude scribble or a vague description of what they wanted. We also did embroidery there. They advertised in biker magazines, and bikers around the world would write in and order patches for their jackets.

One day a group of Hell’s Angels® showed up at the shop. They dropped by to point out that their “colors” were registered trademarks and could not be reproduced without permission. “Oh, and by the way, if we ever find out you’re making anything that looks like Hell’s Angels® patches, we’ll come back and burn down your building. Have a nice day.”

After a couple of years of that, I made my way through the newspaper business, then into supermarket ads, back into silk-screen, then into a real design studio, back into silk-screening again, and finally, after going back to school for a while, into the comfy job I have now. With a couple of interesting detours along the way.

Detour 1: Telemarketing. Fraudulently selling gems as an investment over the phone to old folks, stealing their retirement money. Fortunately, I wasn’t any good at it, so I never made any sales. I lasted a month, until my friend who had given me the job (a Vice-President at the company) was set up to take the fall for the crooks who ran the place and went to prison for fraud.

Detour 2: More silk screening. The place I worked at printed t-shirts, ceramics, plastics, signs, whatever. I set up artwork for everything from a thimble to the side of a truck.

Best part was the smell. We used a lot of special inks for vinyl and mylar, and the solvents for them included Methyl Ethyl Ketone, Xylene, Toluene and Benzine, among others. I literally lost my sense of smell for 15 years as a result of the 17 months I worked there. MEK is a solvent so nasty that if you get it on your hand you can actually taste it. It absorbs into the skin and travels through your bloodstream. It causes brain damage; stuttering, loss of vocaulary, loss of memory. Xylene is the most toxic substance you can buy without a permit. It’s the solvent in the really nasty smelling Marks-A-Lot markers. Causes cancer. Toluene and Benzene are both highly toxic and can cause permanent heart damage. And that doesn’t even include the darkroom.

Even today, I generally don’t notice odors at all. I have to concentrate on it, or I don’t smell anything at all. Saves my wife a fortune in perfume.

Even better, the employees had to race each other to the bank on payday. The first 3 or 4 people to get there could cash their checks; everyone else had to wait until the boss put more money in the payroll account or their paycheck would bounce. If you didn’t slip out for an early lunch on Friday to run to the bank, you were stuck until Tuesday or Wednesday.

Finally the state tax board came in and locked the place up. Seized all the assets for non-payment of taxes. That was two weeks before Christmas; my first kid was almost a month old. Of course the boss hadn’t been paying the unemployment people either. A miserable six months of abject poverty followed.

Another shop I worked at was so flakey that the Marshals used to show up about every six weeks or so to collect judgments for people who had sued us. This company did (or tried to do) a lot of licensed merchandise stuff, but they were really bad at it. For example, while I was there, they had an opportunity to go after a property that I thought was going to be pretty hot, the first Batman film. They decided to pass on it, because they had been burned by their last venture into film tie-ins. They had printed a pile of shirts for a Bill Cosby movie called “Leonard Part 6,” a movie that was about as good as the new Scooby-Doo flick looks. It tanked. So they passed on Batman. Har!

Most of my co-workers were convicted felons and/or wannabe rock stars. The most marginal people on Earth are in the screen-printing industry.

It’s a reasonably cheap business to get into (you can start in your garage), it’s easy to learn, and if you’re smart you can make a decent profit. Being smart in this case means hiring people under the table, not paying taxes, shirking all EPA and OSHA regulations, and generally being a weasel.

I’m glad I got out, or I’d be a weasel today. I think it’s contagious; adapt or perish. That’s why Amway reps are all the same.

One thing I learned from all this is that if a job is crappy in all other respects, then it most likely pays badly as well. I get paid a heck of a lot more for sitting on my butt in an air-conditioned office than I ever got for standing on the corner in a chicken suit.

Kids, stay in school…or you may find yourself enrolled in the University of Rude Awakenings.

Rant-Man’s Notebook: Stray Thoughts

Despite the fact that this column (for lack of a better word) is titled “Rant-Man’s Notebook,” there’s no actual notebook involved. I’m far too lazy and disorganized for that. This thing would be a lot easier to write if there actually were a notebook. All through the week, I think of stuff that would make a good column, but then when I sit down to write the bloody thing, all those ideas drop out of my skull like confetti and I’m left staring at a blank screen, grasping like a drowning man at some semblance of an idea, until finally my wife will walk past and say “I thought you were going to write about….” She will then casually toss off the last three or four ideas I mentioned to her.

No such luck this week.

What you’re going to get instead is all the stuff I’ve thought of that’s worth mentioning, but isn’t worth a whole page.

Last week, I wrote about the school principal in San Diego who conducted a thong-check at the school dance. As if to underscore that, I read this week that Abercrombie & Fitch, the current arbiters of all things cool, have introduced a line of sexy thongs for six-year-olds. And that they can’t keep them in stock. The underwear, which has suggestive slogans printed on it, is selling faster than the stores can keep up. What do you want to bet that the parents who were outraged at the school’s thong-check are the very same ones buying thongs for their kindergartners?

Abercrombie & Fitch today announced that they are teaming up with Toys R Us to introduce a new A&F brand line of toys and playsets. First up is the “A&F Li’l Slut Stripper Pole and Dress-up Kit.” What little girl wouldn’t want her own real stripper pole? Made of solid brass, the pole is strong enough to climb and spin around. Other items include the Junior Crack Whore Dress-Up Set.

This week, I had to send a large box to a friend. Naturally, the question of a return address came up, and after a few minutes of thought, I came up with the perfect one. Yesterday, my pal was obliged to go into his apartment building’s office and get the package, and the whole staff was very curious about it. The label? “Lingerie for Him …for the discriminating transvestite.” I got an e-mail from him: “Bastard! You will pay!”

I don’t know about you, but that kind of reaction makes my whole day.

Who IS that blonde woman in the Old Navy ads? The skinny one with the long hair. She bugs me. Back in the olden days, commercial spokespeople had some manners. They’d introduce themselves before they launched into their pitch. “I’m Rula Lenska, for somebody-or-other’s coffee…” Okay, so I had no idea who Rula Lenska or Anna Maria Alberghetti were, but at least I knew that I wasn’t supposed to instantly recognize these strangers.

It’s really irritating to me when some generic bimbo pops up on the screen and starts chatting away as if I’m her bestest pal and she has to share this exciting discovery with me. I find it intrusive. She’s presuming upon a familiarity that doesn’t exist. I feel like I’m supposed to recognize her; what’s the point of an endorsement from somebody nobody knows? That’s the problem; the ads are structured like an endorsement ad, but instead of having Sarah Michelle Gellar and her weird eyebrows, they have this blonde woman projecting a false authority and presuming that her opinion will somehow convince us to run to the nearest Old Navy store and spend all our money on the basis of her good advice.

I can’t be the only one who hates the new prosecutor on Law & Order. Ghaaaaad, is she awful! She’s got the charisma of a dish towel. Somebody please tell her to blow her nose. She sounds like she’s got a cold. She can’t act at all; she recites her lines as if by pavlovian response. The show comes to a grinding shuddering halt whenever she comes into a scene. I assume she’s the producer’s girlfriend or something. Blecch.

Remember a while back when I wrote about my run-in with the Rose Parade people? It’s finally concluded, and there’s a helpful tip for you. My brother-in-law finally went to court, and his public defender boldly decided to bully him into a plea-bargain. The guy really didn’t want to argue the case; it’s too much of a stretch from his usual role of negotiating probation for crack whores. Despite the fact that he had several pages of precedents and legal analysis in hand and a slam-dunk open-and-shut case, the weasel wouldn’t fight. He told Marc (my brother-in-law) that he was going to get one delay and continuance after another and drag the case out as long as possible until Marc gave up and accepted a plea on a lesser charge just to get the thing over with. After considering all the work-time he’d already lost and how much it would cost to stick it out, he said “to hell with it” and pleaded to a disturbing the peace charge. His fine and penalties came out to about $300. Mine was only $100, and I was actually guilty of something.

Let this be a lesson to you. When you go into a courtroom, there is nobody in there (except maybe the judge) who cares at all about truth or justice. The prosecutor’s job is to get convictions. the public defender’s job is to get cases off the calendar and make sure you don’t have any basis for an appeal. Period. The only person looking out for you is you. Prosecutors like plea bargains because it gets them convictions without them having to actually prepare a case. Same for PDs. Even if you are actually innocent, they will both push really hard for you to plead to SOMETHING just to get you through the system. They will also threaten, intimidate, bully, harangue and harass you into taking the plea. If you don’t, they will try to grind you down through delays. If you can’t afford to hire a lawyer, get your ass to the library and prepare your own case. You’re better off arguing in your own defense than putting yourself in the hands of a public defender who refuses to defend you. You can also get through the system a lot faster if your “defender” isn’t trying to impede your case.

It sucks, but it’s true. The court system is utterly dependent upon fear and tedium. Don’t let them grind you down. If you really are innocent, do whatever it takes to get in front of the judge and say so. The public defender will NOT defend you, period. That’s the fact, Jack.

You’ve heard people say “you’re on my shit list.” Years ago, a friend of mine came up with an idea to actually start a Shit List.

It works like a chain letter: when you receive the letter, it will have a list of six people’s names and addresses. Copy the letter, but remove the first person from the top of the list and add somebody you despise to the bottom. DO NOT put your own name anywhere on the list!!! Mail your copies to six of your friends. Now, the important part: grab a half-dozen Zip-Lock sandwich bags and go to a local park where people walk their dogs. Turn a bag inside-out and put it on your hand like a glove. Find a fresh lump of doggy-doo, and pick it up with the bag. Turn the bag right-side-out over the pasture pastry. Put the bag on the ground and gently step on it until it’s squished flat and all the air is out of the bag. Do this carefully to make sure that the poo doesn’t go out past the seal. Seal the bag. Repeat the procedure until all six bags are full. Take the steaming packets of used Alpo home and put each one in a mailing envelope. Mail one to each name on the list.

If everybody who receives a letter does this, the people on the list will each receive hundreds of pounds of stinky-doody in their mailboxes. They will all know conclusively that they are on SOMEBODY’s Shit List.

NOTE: I’m not endorsing or encouraging this practice, and I’m in no way responsible for any consequence that may occur if anybody actually does it. I merely mention the idea for informational purposes.

That’s enough of that. Maybe this week I’ll get a notebook and actually have an idea for an actual rant next time.

Carry on.

Rant-Man’s Notebook: Have You Had Your Irony Today?

Most people aren’t sure what irony is exactly. God knows Alanis Morrissette doesn’t. Ask somebody to define irony, and they invariably say, “I can’t really describe it, but I know it when I see it.” Of course you could always just grab the dictionary and see how our buddy Mr. Webster described it, but what fun is that?

Okay, fine. Irony defined. There are a few different definitions to choose from; the word derives from a Greek word meaning “dissembler” which is a nice word for liar. The original meaning derives from a teaching method of Socrates, in which one pretends ignorance and willingness to learn from another, so that the other’s false notions will be conspicuously displayed as a result of “innocent” questions. Since then, the definition has expanded; a simple definition would be comic incongruity; when the actual results of an action turn out to be the exact opposite of what was intended, that’s irony. Going back to Alanis’ song for a moment, “rain on your wedding day” isn’t ironic, unless you happen to be the weather man. Here are a few examples of irony for you, starting with the most recent…

ITEM: The vice-principal of Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego was worried about a fad called “freak dancing” that was occurring at the school dances. Freaking is an exhibitionistic dance style; the participants, especially the girls, dance in a very suggestive manner, sometimes lifting their skirts to display their thong underwear to their partner. Well, Ms. VP wasn’t going to have any exhibitionism going on at HER school dances! She decided to take measures to prevent freaking; she conducted a thong inspection, requiring the female students to lift their dresses and show that they weren’t wearing thongs. She also made some girls unbutton their blouses to prove they were wearing bras. Ms. VP made the girls show off their underwear in front of the male students; in some cases she actually lifted the girls’ dresses herself, giving the boys an eyeful of the very thing she was trying to prevent. She says she did it for the girls’ safety. She doesn’t understand what all the outrage is about. Parents are demanding that she be fired for invasion of privacy. I think she should be fired for being too stupid to be a teacher.

ITEM: About 10 years ago, the American Civil Liberties Union was sued for $42,000 for violating somebody’s civil rights. True story. The ACLU sponsored a public meeting on police surveillance techniques. An off-duty police officer decided to attend. When he was recognized as a police officer, he was thrown out of the meeting, which was open to the public. Since he was discriminated against on the basis of his employment, he sued and won. (Note: When I told this story to a friend, he was very offended and took it as an attack on the ACLU. It wasn’t; I just thought it was funny that the guardian of civil rights would violate them.)

ITEM: What was it that allowed Japan to go from defeat to economic dominance of the world in a mere four decades? The answer, of course, is electronics. The Japanese electronics companies created innovative new technologies that have driven the economy of the western world for the last 20-odd years. What was the key component that fueled this creative tidal wave? The transistor. The transistor was the building block of modern electronics, and led to the invention of the microchip. But the transistor was invented in America; how did it become the catalyst for the Japanese resurgence? We sold it to them, but that’s not the irony. The irony is, we sold it to them because we didn’t want to develop any products that would compete with our existing ones. Seriously. Western Electric sold the rights to the transistor to Sony because they didn’t want to put any products on the market that would compete with their vacuum-tube radios and televisions. They thought the Japanese would just use it in toys.

ITEM: You’ve heard the story about how George Washington’s men froze at Valley Forge in the icy winter of 1779; did you ever wonder why they were freezing? They froze because the new uniforms for the Continental Army weren’t ready in time. The uniforms weren’t ready because the buttons weren’t ready. The buttons weren’t ready because the congressional committee in charge of choosing the design for the buttons couldn’t agree on what they should look like.

Isn’t it ironic?

Rant-Man’s Notebook: Everybody Knows….

Somebody said, “it ain’t that people don’t know anything; it’s that they know so much that just ain’t so.” I think he’s right. There are a lot of notions that people know and repeat to each other, and everybody just accepts them as facts, and I get to be the cranky spoilsport. Here are a few examples…

Starting with sociology…

“Half of all marriages end in divorce.”

Not so. There are about half as many divorces as there are weddings in a given year, but that’s not the same thing. A marriage is an ongoing condition, while a divorce is a single event. What that means is, marriages are cumulative and divorces aren’t. Comparing the number of weddings to divorces ignores all the people who got married in prior years. Do the math yourself.

Let’s try it over a five-year period, with 100 marriages per year, just to make it easy:

Year One, 100 couples get married and 50 get divorced. But there are 100 couples who got married in previous years and are still together. Divorce rate: 25%

Year Two, 100 couples get married and 50 get divorced, but we still have 150 couples married from last year and before, for a total of 250 marriages and 50 divorces. Divorce rate: 20%

Year Three, 100 couples get married and 50 get divorced, but we still have 200 couples married from previous years, for a total of 300 marriages and 50 divorces. Divorce rate: 17%

Year Four, 100 couples get married and 50 get divorced, but we still have 250 couples married from previous years, for a total of 350 marriages and 50 divorces. Divorce rate: 14%

Year Five, 100 couples get married and 50 get divorced, but we still have 300 couples married from previous years, for a total of 400 marriages and 50 divorces. Divorce rate: 12.5%.

Another important point here is the fact that the overwhelming majority of divorces occur among people who have been married before, and what we’re seeing is that a relatively small percentage of the population is getting married and divorced over and over again. The majority of first marriages (about 83%) remain intact until death. Second marriages have about a three times higher chance of divorce. The divorce rate for third marriages is even higher. But the “half of all marriages” myth is just that, a myth. A wedding is not a marriage.

“We only use 10% of our brain.”

Says who? Albert Einstein and Margaret Mead, among others, are supposed to have said something like that, but you have to remember that Einstein was a physicist and Mead an anthropologist; neither one had any special knowledge of the physiology of the brain. Expertise in one field does not make one an expert in other fields.

The obvious fact is that we use 100% of our brains, just not all at once. Anyone who has ever seen a stroke victim will know this; damage done to a tiny area of the brain can have devastating effects.

Do me a favor: when you hear somebody repeat nonsense like this, offer to cut out 90% of their brain and see if it’s true.

Moving on to pop culture…

“Jay Leno is the nicest guy in Hollywood.”

TV Guide just did a whole cover story on this, about what a nice guy Jay is. “Leno is just a regular guy,” they say. Thing is, I think he’s a “Nice Guy” in an entirely self-serving way. He’s nice to his staff, and he likes to be seen as Joe Average, but I keep noticing things.

Have you noticed that Leno’s chair is higher than the guests’? He’s always looking down on them. A couple of people, notably the women, find ways to raise themselves up to eye-level (by sitting on one leg, or by perching in the chair like a bird, or sitting on the arm), and he clearly doesn’t like it. Leno likes to be in charge. That’s when he’s nice.

When he does an interview, Leno is seldom actually interested in what the other person is saying; he’s looking for openings to crack jokes, and God help you if you’re supposed to demonstrate how to do something on his show. Kids come on to show their science projects, and Jay’s throwing the props around the stage and making messes of everything, all for a laugh.

But the big thing that really defines Leno is that he isn’t very generous in spirit. He does a lot for charity, but he doesn’t do much to help the comedians following after him, the way Johnny Carson did for him. He got a huge break, but isn’t passing it on.

There are dozens of comics who owe their entire careers to Johnny Carson. He had comedians on every night, turned over his whole show to them. He revived the careers of Joey Bishop, Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, Jerry Lewis, and McLean Stevenson by letting him guest-host; he virtually invented Joan Rivers, David Letterman, David Brenner, Jerry Seinfeld, Roseanne, Garry Shandling… and Jay Leno. Carson was a genuinely nice guy, and the explosion of comedy clubs across the US in the ’80s was largely due to his finding and promoting of comedians.

Leno doesn’t want to do that; he likes to be the funny one. Think about it. How often do you see comedians on the Leno show? Once a month, maybe, and that’s usually Robin Williams. He’s never had a guest-host. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

“Frank Sinatra was the epitome of cool.”

Nah. Bobby Darin was way cooler than Sinatra.

If you’re done laughing, I’ll explain.

Sinatra’s “cool” is all about power. He’s cool because he’s the Chairman of the Board and nobody does anything without his approval. He’s cool because he knows he can do and say whatever he wants and nobody will challenge him on it. His is the cool of the bully.

Now, Bobby Darin, on the other hand, was cool because he didn’t care what anybody else was doing; he was having a good time and he didn’t care who was boss as long as they left him alone. Darin also made you feel like you were as cool as he was. There was an attitude he had that Sinatra didn’t.

Bobby Darin had a life-long heart condition that ultimately killed him at age 37. He was living on borrowed time, and he knew it, and it came out in his performance. You couldn’t help but get caught up in his exuberance for life. Darin was the first pop artist to bridge the gap between teens and adults.

He was also a better actor. Don’t believe me? See Hell is for Heroes (1962), with Steve McQueen and Fess Parker; Pressure Point (1962), playing a Nazi sympathizer opposite Sidney Poitier (Darin won a Golden Globe for this performance); or his Oscar-nominated performance in Captain Newman, M.D. (1963), which starred Gregory Peck.

Sinatra on his best day couldn’t be as cool as “Mack the Knife.”

“Spider-Man is the best film-adaptation of a comic book.”

Sorry, that honor goes to Men in Black, Mystery Men and The Rocketeer, in no particular order. (I haven’t seen The Crow, but I’ve heard it’s also a worthy contender.) Spider-Man does a great job of capturing the excitement of swinging over New York on a string, and some great action sequences. It also has the “Marvel” attitude, the notion of super-heroes as real people with real problems. But it also has serious problems of plot and characterization, particularly the Green Goblin, who looks like an outtake from the Power Rangers Movie. Of course, once Spidey is in action, all is forgiven. And you gotta love J. Jonah Jameson.

But The Rocketeer, Mystery Men and Men in Black are better films.

The point of this is, you gotta think for yourself. Don’t take my word for any of the above information; go check it out yourself. Like the song says, “believe half of what you see and none of what you hear…” And above all, don’t go around repeating stuff that “everybody knows.” “Everybody” is wrong a lot of the time.

Rant-Man’s Notebook: What Are You Looking For?

What Are You Looking For?

Okay, we’ve been at this Monkey Spit stuff for a couple of months now (since February 8), and we’re starting to pick up some traffic. One reason for that is that we’re finally starting to show up in the search engines, particularly Google.

So I thought I’d take a little peek in the site’s log and see what people are searching for when they come to our little corner of the ether.

This month, they’re searching for Britney Spears Nude. I did that cheesy joke a few weeks back, and it doubled our stats. The only thing that’s been more popular than Britney Spears Nude is Chewbacca waxing his legs. That one got posted to some of the Star Wars sites, and we ended up with almost 2000 people in one day coming to see it.

Let’s see how it shakes out in the search engines:

The number one search for the month of April was “britney spears nude” with the largest percentage of all our visitors looking for this. The total goes up even more when you add in searches for “britney spears gone wild” and “britney gone wild” (which would also point you to Kitties Gone Wild), “britney spears bold pictures,” “nude britney spears,” “britney spit,” “britney spears and pita,” “britney nude,” nude britney,” “britney spears nude via email,” “britney spears nude and wild,” “britney spears nude on camera,” “nude britney spears comic pictures,” “nude spears,” “britney spears very wild nude pictures,”free britney nude picks,” “britneyspearsnude,” “young nude britney spears,” “britney spears naughty videos clips,” “la mama de britney nude,” “britney monkey nude”… Sensing a theme yet? I think some people need to get a grip; this is bordering on obsession. There are a pile of similar search terms on the list. I bet she’s tired of it. I wonder if she’s seen my page yet?

Once we get past the formidable presence of Ms. Spears (can somebody explain her appeal? I really don’t get it), what else are people coming here to find? Maybe this could help us to determine what the public wants (aside from the aformentioned Ms. Spears)…. Hmmm. Seven people came looking for “sean connery nude” and four wanted “ethnic slurs.” I’m sure they ended up at the “Sean Connery’s Greatest Hits” page, as did the four who came looking for “whos the man now dog” and the few who came seeking “listen to sean connery” and “sean connery singing shower.”

You people are just plain weird!

Speaking of weird, we had a few people pop by hoping to find some incest. (And may I say, eww!) Nonetheless, some people actually did searches for five different variations of the words mother, son, and the ever-popular “f-bomb,” as my kids call it. If that’s not enough for you, some folks ran very similar searches for the words dad and son. For some reason, Google decided to send them here. Needless to say, they must have been very disappointed by what they found here.

Some of the searches make no sense, and I find myself scratching my head and wondering what there could possibly be that would make us turn up as the result of looking for these phrases. Some people searched for “drinking pee” (and may I say again, eww!), “boys gone wild,” “cartoons gone wild,” “springbreakuncensored,” “jerry Springer nude” (another eww!), “dwarf dating service,” “sexy kitties,” “fetish feline,” “sexy young kittens,” and “hi my name is hope you can be my girlfriend.” Huh?

I almost feel sorry for the poor soul who was looking for “bedroom decor for teenage girls” and found us instead. Likewise the one looking for “suspended animation chamber.”

But my favorite search so far has to be “questions answers life god truth love nude.”

Rant-Man’s Notebook: Mickey, Chuck, Pee-Wee and Me

It’s frightening to me how many of my stories start with “I ran out of gas.” You’d think I would learn. But no. I ride the ragged edge of disaster. Which explains why Terri doesn’t want me to have a motorcycle. But I digress.

Come, children, let me tell you of the days before phone cards, before cell phones or pagers. Well, there were pagers, but only doctors and really important people had them. It was 1985, late spring. I was working the graveyard shift at a company that printed those ads that get inserted into your local newspaper. I spent my nights pasting headlines into full-page circulars for K-Mart and the Pep Boys; the sort of work that ought to be done in the middle of the night, frankly. The company was a huge national outfit, with offices in about a dozen cities doing just what we did. Our plant was run by a snotnose kid who had just got his MBA and still thought the stuff in his textbooks somehow resembled the real world. He read that employees could work up to 50% overtime with no significant loss of quality for up to six weeks at a time, and decided that this made more sense than hiring enough people to do the work. For those not up on their math, that’s a 60-hour week; either five 12-hour or six 10-hour days. Now, understand that I was living about 30 miles away, about a 40-minute drive each way.

Every day, I got out of bed at about 6 pm, ate dinner and drove to work, arriving about 8:00 pm, and then pasted up the ads until 8 am. One night, as I was getting ready to go to work, I realized that I was going to need to get gas for my car tonight, and I had no cash. My then-fiance, Terri, handed me her ATM card and I headed off to make the world safe for junk mail. At lunch time (2 am) I ran over to the bank to grab some cash. I shove the card into the slot. It spits the card back out and shuts down. Wonderful.

In these long-ago days, there were only two gas stations that would accept ATM cards, Mobil and Arco. Neither one had a location nearby that was open 24 hours, so I went back to work, resigned to having to worry about it later. Finally 8 am arrives and I hit the road in my lime green 1975 VW Rabbit. I decide to stop at a station closer to home, but that involves driving through a stretch of rural area. nothing but horse property for about 10 miles or so. Right square in the middle of this, the Rabbit sputters and dies. I coast off the freeway and down the off-ramp, find a place to park, grab the gas can and start walking.

A very battered old LTD pulls up beside me, and the driver speaks. “Y’all got a long-ass walk ahead of you if you’re goin’ to that Mobil station.” I nod. The driver then offers to give me a ride if I’ll buy him some gas.

Sigh. It is a long walk, about three miles. It’s already 8:30 and I have to be back at work tonight. Fine. Good. Swell. I get into the back seat. Most of the seat is filled to roof-level with laundry.

The driver makes introductions. He’s Mickey, the guy in the front passenger seat is Chuck, and Somewhere in the heap of laundry is Pee-Wee. Chuck tells Pee-Wee to wake up and give him that malt liquor. Terrific. I’m in a UPN sitcom.

As we drive to the gas station, Mickey explains that they are on their way to Pomona (about 50 miles away, past my office) but they’re having trouble with the car. It’s a transmission problem; it’s losing fluid. Can I buy them some transmission fluid along with the gas? Yeah, sure, whatever. We get to the station, pick out the tranny fluid and tell the guy we want the gas. I hand him the ATM card. He runs it through the machine and announces that the card is blank.

Mickey and Chuck are not at all happy about this, but they’re still being nice. Pee-Wee is still asleep. They also have no intention of going away until they get the gas money I promised them. I suggest going over to the nearest branch of the bank and trying the ATM.

We drive to the bank. Mickey walks up to the ATM with me. Chuck sits in the car drinking. Pee-Wee sleeps. As we approach the ATM, Mickey decides to up the ante. “You know, the problem with the transmission is the modulator. The modulator gone bad and that why it losing fluid. Now, a modulator only cost about 12 dollar. You buy me a new modulator, and my transmission will be just fine. How about it?”

Yeah, sure, fine, whatever. I just want some sleep. I step up to the ATM. I put the card in. It comes back out. Put it in. It comes out again. Put it in again. The ATM shuts down. With my card in it. I stand there hating modern technology. I look at the front door. The bank opens at 10. The drive-up window opens at 9:30. It’s 9 now. Mickey’s willing to wait.

While we wait, Mickey starts telling me some of his views on life. Turns out to be mostly stuff he learned in prison. He shows me the pulsating scar on his chest from where a fellow inmate stabbed him in the heart. Mickey’s monologue:

“Man, the police in this town just hassle you. They’re all crooked. That’s why we need martial law. You wanna do something about the crime problem, the president needs to declare martial law. You think a guy’s gonna snatch some lady’s purse if there’s a soldier on the corner with a rifle gonna shoot his ass? Nixon could have done it, but he didn’t. He could have used Viet Nam as an excuse. But he did open China to trade, and that’s why he was a good president even though he was a crook. But we ain’t got good jobs no more, ’cause all the jobs going overseas. Hey, you want to know how to make a million bucks? It’s easy. You know they still make Volkwagens in Mexico, right? What you do is you open up a import business, importing engines into the U.S… and then you put a pound of cocaine into about every hundredth engine. They ain’t gonna check all of them. See, you just gotta know how the system works. When I was in prison, the warden called me MISTER E_____. He respected me, because I was smart. I studied in prison. It’s like that Reverend Ike. He wouldn’t have gone to prison if he’d been smart. [NOTE: Reverend Ike was a pioneer TV evangelist.] See, all he had to do was not use the post office, and they couldn’t have touched him. He could have had people send their money in by UPS or a courier service, and they couldn’t get him for mail fraud. It ain’t MAIL fraud if it ain’t mail. But that’s what you do.”

Mickey went on like that for a while, until finally the drive-up window opened. I walked over and got in line behind a car. After the driver finished his business, I stepped up to the window and explained my problem. The teller was really irritated that I would be in the drive-through without a car. She told me that I would have to wait until the bank opened and go inside, and people aren’t supposed to walk through the drive-through. Sorry. Sheesh!

We resume our positions on the front steps of the bank, and Mickey continues with his tales. I notice that the 7-11 store across the street has a payphone. Huzzah! I’m saved! Except I have no cash. (This was in the days before calling-card technology; no coin, no call.) Then I remember that Terri’s company has an 800 number. I can call her for free, and she can come and rescue me. I tell Mickey I’m going to make a call. I trot across to the phone, pick up the receiver, and begin to dial the number. Damn damn damn. The “8” button is broken. So’s the “O” button. Push the button, nothing happens. Argh.

I go back to the bank. Mickey’s still waiting. He tells me more of his experiences in prison. I can’t remember what he was sent up for, but I think it was something to do with assaulting his wife’s boyfriend. Might have been murder or something. He says he got life, but was able to get it reduced because he studied law in prison and got it reduced. I have no idea how much to believe, and don’t much want to think about it. Mickey goes on to tell me about his brother, the quarterback for a pro team… Denver, I think it was.

Mercifully, the bank opens at last. I go in and tell the teller (that’s why they’re called tellers; you tell them stuff) about my adventures with the ATM. She ambles off to the back, and returns a while later with my card in hand. She runs it through her card-reader and announces that the card has been erased. She can handle the transaction for me without the card, if my name is on the account. Of course it isn’t. I ask if I can cash a check here. She tells me no, not unless it’s drawn on this bank. Swell. Terrific. Thanks very much.

I’m running out of ideas, and Mickey is running up the tab. Chuck’s on his second big bottle of malt liquor. Pee-Wee slumbers on. There’s really no way out of this. My bank is a small regional one located near my office; there’s no branch anywhere near us, and they don’t have ATM cards yet. I’m on my own with three ex-convicts that I have promised money to. Plus it’s now bed-time for me. Which reminds me that I have a friend who also works the night shift, and he lives just a few miles away. I suggest to Mickey that we can go to my apartment and I can call somebody from there. I don’t want to bring these people home, but what else am I going to do?

We get to the apartment, I go into the kitchen and grab the phone. I call Terri’s office. She’s in a meeting and won’t be out until noon. I leave a message.

Chuck wants some ice for his malt liquor; it’s gotten warm. Pee-Wee is asleep on the sofa, and Mickey is flipping through our cassette tapes for something to listen to. Eddie Murphy’s “Raw” wins out. Within seconds, Murphy is yelling from our stereo system at maximum volume. Mickey is talking over it, telling me how cool I am, that I’m an okay guy, not like most white folks. I smile weakly and tell him that I just think people are people, some are good, some aren’t, and you take them as they are.

I go back to the phone to try and get some help here. I call my friend Wally. He’s home. Huzzah again. I might live. “Hey Wally,” I begin, “I ran out of gas on the way home, and I got a ride from three large ex-convicts, and I need to give them some money, but I don’t have any cash, can you come help me out?”

“I’d like to help you, but my father-in-law is here; we’re putting up a swing-set for the kid. Let me know how it turns out.”

I won’t have to; you’ll read about it in the newspaper, I’m sure. Thanks, Wally.

So we wait. Mickey sees Terri’s textbooks on the coffee table. “I had this book!” he says, pointing to the business law book, “I used this book in prison. I got a A.A. in Law.” He launches into another lengthy monologue, even scarier than the first one. I’m watching the clock now, wondering how long it will be before they kill me and rob the house. Eddie Murphy has given way to Joan Armatrading on the stereo. At least they like our taste in music.

After a couple of eternities, the phone rings at last. It’s my love, and she’s out of her meeting. I briefly explain the adventures of the last four hours, and she tells me she’ll be right home. Thank you God.

When Mickey hears that a lady is coming, he decides he needs to clean up for her. He goes out to the car and picks some clothes out of the mountain in the back seat, then disappears into the bathroom.

One of the bits that always cracked me up on Saturday Night Live was Tim Meadows’ “Ladies’ Man.” The reason I found it so funny is that in that costume, Meadows looked exactly like Mickey, with the polyester pants and shiny orlon shirt. So now the Disco King is standing in my living room, waiting to meet my fiance.

She arrives, with money in hand. She gives Mickey $40 for gas and a modulator. He thanks her, and tells her how nice we are. He offers to come over and help her study for her business law class.

“Thanks, but I’m dropping that class.”

“Maybe I could just come over and hang out with you guys.”

“We’re moving.”

“Where to?”

“Don’t know yet. Wow, look at the time. We need to go get Jim’s car and I need to get back to work. Thanks so much for helping him to get home.” She escorts them to the door, says goodbye to them, and sends them on their way. I make a mental note not to cross her. She’s even more formidable than I had thought.

We go retrieve my car, gas it up, and stop for some lunch. She has to go run some errands for the office before she goes back to work, so we go our separate ways. I go home and to bed. It’s now past 1 pm. I need to be up in 5 hours. I’m asleep before I hit the pillow.

I’m awakened by the phone. It’s almost 2. It’s someone from Terri’s office. They are very worried, wondering if they should call the police. When she left, she said something to a co-worker about where she was going, and the office gossip circuit has mutated her explanation into “Jim’s being held hostage by some escaped convicts at our home.” I tell her the whole story and she starts to laugh. I hang up and go back to sleep.

When Terri comes home, she tells me that by the time she got back to work, the story had spread throughout the building. Everyone wants to know if Mickey, Chuck and Pee-Wee are coming to the wedding, if we’re going to hang out with them, if they are my new special friends.

I hope they don’t read this.

Rant-Man’s Notebook: It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me

There’s something so very very wrong with the current Cadillac commercials. Led Zepplin in a Caddy ad is as absurd as James Brown in a laxative ad. Oh wait, they did that.

There’s this weird trend now of using bits of “classic rock” (baby boomer music) in ads where it really doesn’t belong. Sometimes it’s incongruous, like that allergy medicine that’s using the overture from “Tommy” for no readily-discernable reason. Other times it’s just plain wrong, like that Target ad with the Devo song. A friend pointed that one out to me. In the ad, there are all these freaky-looking people carrying on about all the neat stuff Target has, while Devo sings about the “beautiful world”:

It’s a beautiful world we live in
A sweet romantic place
Beautiful people everywhere
The way they show they care
Makes me want to say
It’s a beautiful world
It’s a beautiful world
It’s a beautiful world
For you, for you, for you
It’s not for me

Target leaves off the last line there, “it’s not for me,” and destroys the entire point of the song. Devo is singing about alienation and exclusion, about a “beautiful world” that holds nothing for them, and Target presents it as exactly the opposite.

The worst offenders seem to be the car companies. Don Henley thought he was clever when he wrote the line about seeing a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac. Any day now, there will be a Cadillac ad with a Grateful Dead song in it, and that’ll probably kill ol’ Don. There have been too many monstrous abuses of songs in car commercials to even name them all. The one that really offended me was Toyota’s “I Call That a Bargain” campaign. Here are the lyrics:

I’d gladly lose me to find you
I’d gladly give up all I had
To find you I’d suffer anything and be glad

I’d pay any price just to get you
I’d work all my life and I will
To win you I’d stand naked, stoned and stabbed

I’d call that a bargain
The best I ever had
The best I ever had

I’d gladly lose me to find you
I’d gladly give up all I got
To catch you I’m gonna run and never stop

I’d pay any price just to win you
Surrender my good life for bad
To find you I’m gonna drown an unsung man

I’d call that a bargain
The best I ever had

Gee, I don’t know… does that sound like he’s talking about getting a good deal on a car?

Even worse is the one for Chevy, “I’m your vehicle”:

I’m a friendly stranger in a black sedan
Won’t you hop inside my car.
I got pictures, got candy
I’m a loveable man
And I can take you to the nearest star.
I’m your vehicle baby
I’ll take you anywhere you wanna go.

I’m your vehicle woman
But I’m not sure you know
that I love ya
I need ya
I want ya,
got to have you child,
Great God in heaven you know I love you.

And then there’s Ford’s “Taking it to the Streets”:

You don’t know me but I’m your brother
I was raised here in this living hell
You don’t know my kind in your world
Fairly soon the time will tell

You, telling me the things you’re gonna do for me
I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see
Takin’ it to the streets, takin’ it to the streets
Takin it to the streets, takin’ it to the streets

Is there some part of this that I’m missing? These songs make no sense in the context of a car commercial. I won’t even go into Mitsubishi’s use of the Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week,” a choice I can’t possibly explain. Or maybe I’m overthinking it. Fatboy Slim, Styx, Billy Preston and Shirley Bassey have turned up in car ads lately, so how about this: We see lots of beauty shots of an SUV roaring through mud and sand in the wilderness, and there’s music playing, which the narrator talks over, until it gets to the key lyric: “Where the streets have no name.” Hey, it makes about as much sense!

Another example is the time when Mercedes-Benz used Janis Joplin’s “Oh Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes-Benz?” in an ad, utterly devoid of the irony Janis intended. There are dozens of others. It seems to me that somebody should go ahead and pick out some other songs that the ad biz could go ahead and demolish. There are songs that mention products in them, and could be used in an ad the same way this one was, again without irony. Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is one; Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” is another. The Kinks’ “Lola” has a mention of Coke in it; that would make a nice ad, wouldn’t it? They could use RuPaul as their spokesperson, to compete with Britney.

The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride” is a natural for Greyhound Bus, and Amtrak could go ahead and pick up Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath.”

Remember that ’60s protest song by Country Joe and the Fish, the “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag”? They could take a little snip of it and use it for a commercial… The part that goes

One, two, three, what are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn
My next stop is Viet Nam…

It could be an ad for the Viet Nam airline.

Another possibility along the same lines is to snip out a single lyric from Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky.”

“Goin’ up to the spirit in the sky…
…the spirit of American Airlines.”

Here’s one:

There’s a lady who knows
All that glitters is gold
And she’s buying
A stairway to Heaven…
…Visa. It’s everywhere you want to be.

American Express has a card called Blue. They might as well just use Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue.”

A few more possibilities:

Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen) – Nike
Let’s Spend the Night Together (Rolling Stones) – Motel 6
Purple Haze (Jimi Hendrix) – Prozac
Where Have All the Flowers Gone? (Pete Seeger) – Claritan
I Wanna Be Sedated (The Ramones) – Sominex
London Calling (The Clash) – AT&T
Light My Fire (The Doors) – Duraflame
Whiter Shade of Pale (Procul Harum) – Oil of Olay
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (AC/DC) – Roto Rooter
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (U2) – Yellow Pages
Truckin’ (Grateful Dead) – Ryder Rent-a-Truck
Mellow Yellow (Donovan) – Chiquita Bananas
I Can’t Get No Satisfaction (Rolling Stones) – Viagra
You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin (Righteous Brothers) – Viagra

But I’m not going anywhere near the Beach Boys hit “Good Vibrations”….

Rant-Man’s Notebook: Your Tax Dollars at Work

It’s tax week. I’m doing mine tonight. Actually, I’ll probably drag it out over the next few days and get it in the mail at the last minute. I do that. I’m a procrastinator. I know for a fact that I’ll be in line at the Post Office at 11:59 on Monday night to mail my return, even though I’m getting a refund. The last minute is the only minute. That’s why I’m writing this today instead of a week ago. It’s my curse.

To really get in the mood for taxes, I like to think about what my money is going to pay for. I wouldn’t mind so much if the money was going to something I wanted, like maybe a jet-pack. Here we are in the 21st century, and we still don’t have jet-packs, or flying cars or personal robots or any of that cool stuff the Jetsons had. I feel cheated. But instead, I’ll concentrate on the things the feds are spending my cash on.

Does anybody remember the Golden Fleece Award? Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire created the Golden Fleece in 1975 to call attention to government waste, and continued to give them out until his retirement in 1988. In 2000, he asked Taxpayers for Common Sense to revive the award for its 25th anniversary, but as far as I can tell, they only gave out two, and I KNOW there have to be more than two worthy candidates. As Jeff McNelly once observed, “your government is expanding to meet the needs of an expanding government.”

In the words of Senator Proxmire, the Golden Fleece singled out a “wasteful, ridiculous or ironic use of the taxpayers’ money.” The criteria for earning this dubious distinction was not just any example of government waste in the federal budget.  Instead, it was awarded to federal programs that most Americans would agree were outrageous and wasteful. For example, although Senator Proxmire believed that the MX Missile was a waste of money, he never gave a Fleece to that program. More importantly, projects receiving the Golden Fleece Awards did not necessarily have high costs, but rather violated a principle of responsible government spending. Lastly, to receive a Golden Fleece Award, an example of government waste must never have received national press coverage.

Let’s take a look at some highlights from the Golden Fleece, so we’ll all be good and cheery when we look at our tax bills. These items are some of the ones Senator Proxmire awarded between 1975 and 1988, but a 1985 winner was still going strong in 2001, so these aren’t merely historical curiosities just yet.

  • The National Science Foundation squandered $84,000 to try to find out why people fall in love.
  • The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration spent nearly $27,000 to determine why inmates want to escape from prison. Ummm, the food?
  • The National Institute for Mental Health funded a study of behavior and social relationships in a Peruvian brothel. This study was a part of a $97,000 grant.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration burned up $120,126 to build a low-slung, backward steering motorcycle that no one could ride. The people in charge of highway safety built the world’s most dangerous motorcycle.
  • The Office of Education spent $219,592 to develop a “curriculum package” to teach college students how to watch television. As if they need help with that.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency tacked on an extra $1-$1.2 million to preserve a Trenton, NJ sewer as a historical monument. Thanks, I’ll skip the tour.
  • The National Institute for Mental Health funded a study on why bowlers, hockey fans, and pedestrians smile.
  • The Department of the Army spent $6,000 to prepare a 17-page document that tells the federal government how to buy a bottle of Worcestershire sauce.
  • The National Science Foundation spent $144,012 to test commonly accepted, historically proven, fundamental economic principles of supply and demand –on pigeons.
  • The Department of the Army went through about $20,000 to prepare 30,000 fancy, multicolored pamphlets explaining how to play King of the Hill. I think the Navy is working on a similar booklet on how to play Marco Polo.
  • The National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke invested $160,000 to study whether someone can “hex” an opponent during a strength test by drawing an “X” on his chest. Anybody knows that won’t work. You have to put garlic on his shoes.
  • The Department of the Air Force spent $59,000 over six years to buy playing cards that were given away as souvenirs to visitors aboard Air Force Two. This was during the Reagan Administration. Later, during the Bush presidency, they gave out paddle-balls; when Gore was VP, Air Force Two handed out souvenir campaign contribution envelopes.
  • The Urban Mass Transit Administration spent $68,160 to send mass transit officials to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, to learn Disney’s secrets of motivating employees.

MMMM-Boy! I’m feeling pretty darn good about the US of A’s budgeting abilities right about now. Oh well. Maybe next year I’ll get that jet-pack.

Rant-Man’s Notebook: Torment of Roses

It all started a little while before New Year’s Day. My brother-in-law is in the screen-printing industry, and he decided to try and pick up a little extra money by making and selling t-shirts at the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade®. He had somebody do a design for him, but it looked bad and was a blatant violation of trademark, so I did a new design for him. I told him that he had to avoid trademark infringement; he couldn’t use the words “Rose Bowl®,” “Tournament of Roses®,” or either of the team names. He had to use generic wording to avoid trademark infringement. We came up with a very nice design that said “2002 Pasadena Rose Parade” with an illustration of a rose, based on an old woodcut design. He’s done all the paperwork, got the seller’s permit and the Peddler’s license (two different things), and everything is on the up-and-up.

What follows is a blow-by-blow account of the whole adventure in the Downtown Oz that is American jurisprudence. So you can see what I’m talking about, the first design is the Official Tournament of Roses® logo*; the second one is my t-shirt design.

*NOTE: This logo is a registered trademark of the Tournament of Roses Association, and is used here without permission for journalistic purposes only. Its appearance here in no way indicates association with or endorsement by the Pasadena Tournament of Roses. The logo on the right is my personal creation and is © 2002 by James MacQuarrie. Fat lot of good that does me.

Jan. 1, 2002: New Year’s in jail
Well, that was a treat. My family and I kept our New Year’s tradition: we stayed up all night watching movies. The last movie ended at about 6:15 this morning, and we crawled off to bed. At least that was the plan. Along about the time I got to the upstairs bathroom, my bride’s brother was heading out to the Rose Parade to sell his t-shirts. He’s been staying with us while getting his finances back in order after a long bout of unemployment. The night before, he was out walking the parade route, selling shirts, and he found a seller’s permit that somebody had lost. These cost $60 each, and there wasn’t much chance of finding the owner, and the office that issues them was closed. It seemed a shame to let it go to waste. So I’m feeling marginally awake, and I offer to go with him to help sell the shirts.

We putter on down, park the car, and hit the street with duffel bags full of t-shirts, heading off in opposite directions. Within five minutes, I sell a shirt. Within another ten minutes, I’m in police custody. Turns out that as of 1994 “Rose Parade” is now a registered trademark. Never mind that there are at least 10 other “Rose Parades” across this great land of ours, not to mention products ranging from rock bands to salt shakers, all completely unaffiliated with the Pasadena Tournament of Roses®.

In any case, I got picked up. They have a representative of the licensing agency ride around with undercover officers. When they see a vendor, they look at the merchandise, pretending to be customers. If they determine that it’s an infrigement, they make an arrest. In this case, I was charged with violation of California Penal Code Section 350, Possession and/or Sale of Counterfeit Merchandise. My “crime” falls more properly under the Business and Professions Code Section 14320, which is civil law. The Penal Code statute covers willfull, knowing and deliberate manufacture of counterfeit merchandise with intent to defraud, the latter covers trademark infringement. But they want to play hardball. They apparently want to make an example of me.

The undercover police officers who stopped me were pleasant enough as they took me to my pickup truck, seized all the shirts (along with the duffel bags they were in), and $23 in my pocket, only $10 of which was from selling t-shirts. Then they handcuffed me, left me standing on the street for 15 minutes while one of the officers chatted with a friend who wandered by so that I could really enjoy the humiliation of standing on a public street in handcuffs. Eventually they drove me to the police station and took me through the entire booking process before writing me a citation and tossing me out the door to walk back to my car. The whole process took about two hours.

The odd part is, I cooperated with them in every way possible, was pleasant and obedient, and they even got a laugh out of the “get out of jail free” card I keep in my wallet. Still, they hauled me in and subjected me to the whole show–fingerprints, mugshot, the works. My wife’s brother was also picked up. He was pretty uncooperative, yet they wrote him his ticket on the street and left him there to enjoy the parade while I sat in a holding tank watching drunks sleep it off in the next cell. Go figure.

After I get home, my snotnose kid (the oldest, the one I get to throw out in three years) starts making jokes about me being a jailbird. She keeps playing the soundtrack to “O Brother Where Art Thou?” and skipping ahead to “He’s in the Jailhouse now.” Cute kid. Anybody want to adopt?

A brief examination of trademark law.
In some ways, a trademark is almost the opposite of a copyright. Copyrights are enforced for a limited period of time, but while in force, they protect the work from any and all uses, except for the few provisions set forth as “fair use” (journalistic, parodic, educational, etc.) In contrast, trademarks are enforced by use. The more well-known a mark is, the more protected it is. However, a trademark is only protected within the scope of the “trade” which it represents. For example, “Apple” is a trademark of the Apple Computer company, but it is also the trademark of the Apple Record company, and the two do not infringe upon each other. (Interesting aside: there was a concern that such a conflict would occur when they added music-making and recording abilities to the Apple computers, i.e. MIDI. That’s why one of the system sounds is called “Sosumi.” It’s a challenge to Apple Records: “So sue me.”) Of course, if “Apple” someday became a synonym for computers in general, they would lose their trademark. Xerox has been fighting like hell to keep theirs. They put out ads explaining that “Xerox is not a verb.”

There are two symbols used to identify a trademark in the US: “TM” and “R” inside a circle. “TM” is functionally meaningless; it’s a bluff to scare off the unknowing. The circle-R is the real deal, it means they have received federal registration and acknowledgement of their mark. Of course, one can still challenge the validity of the mark, if it can be demonstrated that the mark has, through usage and non-enforcement, become a synonym for a class of goods or services, or if the mark was obtained by fraud.

Now, megalithic corporations like Disney that slap their trademarks on every available surface are another story. Mickey Mouse is both the product and its trademark, so he’s covered under both trademark and copyright law. On the other hand, MAD’s Alfred E. Neuman has been in the public domain for over 150 years, and yet became a trademark in the late 1950s, a hundred years after he first appeared. He remains a trademark to this day.

Thank God for the Internet
On January 2, I e-mailed some reporters with the local paper, my city councilman and somebody from the Rose Parade committee about it. That afternoon I was interviewed and photographed by the paper for a story.

Jan. 3, 2002 EXTRA! EXTRA! Read all about it!
I’m in the paper. I made page 3. The reporter did a good job, exactly what I was hoping for. I was worried that he would make me sound belligerent or combative, but he didn’t. I used my favorite quote from the interview: “they’re killing sparrows with a bazooka.”

Several hours of searching the web for information about trademark law as it applies to my case has yielded a good defense. It looks like they have no basis for the criminal charges that were filed, but could press a civil suit if they want to, and the burden of proof is much higher for them in that case, so it’s very doubtful that they could get much of anything in the way of damages. They also would have to show that they sought to halt the infringement (a “cease and desist” notice), which they didn’t do. And if it comes to a civil suit, I can argue quite convincingly that “Rose Parade” is not enforceable as a trademark. At least nine other cities in the US (there’s also one in the Balkans, go figure) have Rose Parades, and the phrase is used generically in reference to all of them. There are “Rose Parades” in Santa Rosa CA (since 1894), Portland OR (1907), Tyler TX (1933), Thomasville GA, Newark NY, Jackson MI, Tombstone AZ (home of the world’s largest rose bush), Roseville MN, Maplewood NY, and Valley of the Roses in Karlovo, Balkan Republic. In addition to all that, the Los Angeles Rose Society, which is headquartered a few miles north of Pasadena, publishes a newsletter called The Rose Parade.

So where does that leave us? Under the penal code violation that I was cited for, they have to prove (a) criminal intent to defraud and (b) that my shirt was counterfeit merchandise. I will argue that this is a simple case of alleged trademark infringement, which is a civil matter, not criminal. If there’s any justice in the world, the case will be dismissed, preferably before it gets to court at all. If it goes to civil court, they have to prove that (a) I willfully and deliberately violated their trademark and (b) that they attempted to halt the infringement. They can’t support either claim. On the other hand, I can argue that the trademark isn’t any more enforceable than the trademarks for “aspirin” and “nylon,” and I therefore didn’t infringe on anything. It’s nice to be so clearly right, especially when dealing with somebody so clearly abusive.

Just to be on the safe side, I spoke to an attorney. He’s not “my” attorney; if I could afford an attorney, I wouldn’t be hustling t-shirts on a street-corner at 7 am, now would I? At any rate, this fellow has considerable experience in both criminal law and trademark defense law, so he’s fully qualified to handle the case, and he says it may only cost a couple of grand, and that I’ll probably get off with a small fine. I have a suspicion that the lawyer was trying to scare me into seeing how much I need him to represent me. Of course, I have no intention of paying a couple of thousand dollars to avoid a fine that most likely would be a couple of hundred.

I had an idea. I could exploit another Pasadena institution, the famous Doo Dah Parade. If you’re not familiar with it, where the heck have you been? The Doo Dah Parade is an “anything goes” celebration of irreverence, created to mock the other Pasadena parade. It was born in a pub about 25 years ago, the product of inebriated minds. The parade is open to anybody who signs up. Previous marchers have included a precision lawnmower drill team, the Dull Men’s Club (guys in gray suits with leaf-blowers), a drum and bagel corps, drum and beagle corps, a mob of paparazzi (they attack people in the crowd and subject them to the celebrity experience), and various crossdressing would-be prom queens. It’s everything the Rose Parade® isn’t. My idea is to put together a group this year, the Torment of Roses™ goon squad. We’ll have a dozen or so guys, wearing the traditional white suits, with rose logo armbands and knee-high boots, goose-stepping down the parade route and beating up t-shirt vendors.

Or not.

Feb. 1, 2002: Here come de judge
My arraignment day. I go before the judge, which involves waiting for an hour or so for him to weed through the drunks and hookers to get to the ordinary criminals. While I’m waiting, I try to talk to the prosecutor about the case, but she’s not having any. She’s going to trial. I fill out the form to get a public defender, but it’s no go. I don’t qualify. I own an house and have a 401k; if I want a lawyer, I have to come up with the money myself. No matter what happens, I’m going to be out some money.

I enter a plea of “not guilty” and the judge sets a date, March 26. He makes a remark about needing a jury, but I tell him I don’t need a jury trial; I’m willing to have the case decided by him. (Face it: do you want your fate in the hands of a dozen people too stupid to get out of jury duty?)

Feb. 20, 2002: My brother-in-law’s keeper
My brother-in-law has to enter a plea today. He qualifies for a public defender, so we meet in the hall with him and I explain the case and the things I’ve found out about trademark law. This fella spends his days negotiating plea bargains for crack whores; he doesn’t know much about trademark law. After a few minutes of conversation, he agrees that there’s a basis to fight it. That’s good news, since a public defender’s job is simply to get cases off the calendar as quickly as possible. If he thinks fighting it is more expedient than copping a plea, we must be in pretty good shape.

A few minutes later, he’s up in the front of the courtroom with all the other attorneys, discussing the case, and I hear a couple of them saying “isn’t that a civil case?” and “sounds like a civil matter to me.” I’m feeling good now.

The plan is to have the brother-in-law’s case put off for a while so the P.D. can seek to have it dismissed. Then, whatever papers he files for that, I’ll duplicate and file for my case. The case is set for March 26, my trial date.

March 26, 2002: The showdown
I’ve spent the last few weeks, researching the law, sending e-mails to lawyer friends, lawyer friends-of-friends, law students and innocent bystanders. I’ve immersed myself in law websites. A couple of people have offered helpful insights, and some of them, when run through a Google search, turn up some interesting leads.

Here’s the biggie: I finally found a working definition for the difference between trademark infringement and counterfeit goods. The key is in which trademark is misused, and for what purpose. “Counterfeit goods” is the term used when a trademark is improperly used to misrepresent the manufacturer or source of a product. I read that a bunch of times, and the implications never set in.

Finally, I found a “Fundamentals of Trademark” site that contained this sentence: “The print on the front of a t-shirt is ‘ornamentation.’ the trademark is the name on the tag.” BOOM! Lightning strikes! Suddenly my eyes are opened. I’ve been charged under the wrong law.

My t-shirts were not fake Rose Parade® t-shirts; they were genuine Hanes shirts with a Rose Parade design!

My brother-in-law’s case is supposed to come up at 8:30, and mine is at 1:30. I ask the P.D. what he’s going to do, and he tells me that the judge is on vacation, so he’s going to get a continuance for my brother-in-law. Then he’ll just watch my trial and take notes. If I get off, he’ll use my arguments in his trial. Terrific.

He then recommends that I go up to the law library and look up the jury instructions for this kind of case, while he gets my brother-in-law’s case put off until May.

In the law library, it’s not going so well at first. The jury instructions don’t exist. Turns out there is no case law on the books for Penal Code 350. But once I figure out how to find things in West’s Annotated Case Law, it goes very well. I find a number of precedents. By the time I go downstairs, I’m loaded for bear. I have all the facts and citations to utterly demolish the prosecutor.

I take my seat in the courtroom at 1:30 when the doors open after lunch break. The substitute judge has been dragged into another courtroom, and we have to wait.

Eventually, the city prosecutor calls me out to the hallway to discuss my case. You’d be surprised at how much of the American legal system’s business is actually conducted in the halls outside courtrooms. That must be why they call it the Halls of Justice. The prosecutor lets me know in no uncertain terms that he’s going for the conviction. The city wants to prosecute these cases, and she’s going to nail me. She’s a bit nasty about it.

I begin explaining what the law says, and about the precedents I’ve found. I tell her that if it comes to that, I’m ready and willing to go into civil court and have the trademark completely overturned. I enjoy watching her go pale as the facts begin to sink in. She changes tacks and tells me that I “didn’t go through channels.” I didn’t have a valid seller’s permit. I shrug and tell her that’s irrelevant; I wasn’t charged with that, I’m facing a counterfeiting charge.

When next I see her, she’s got a law book in hand, and she’s talking to her boss. Then she’s talking to the guy from the licensing agency who’s flown in from Atlanta for the trial. Very shortly, she’s back to offer me a deal. She’s not nearly so nasty. She suddenly wants to make a deal. She wants it very badly.

She tells me they’ve decided to add a second charge, the seller’s permit thing. If I plead to that, they’ll dismiss the other charge. Pleading guilty to the municipal code violation will result in the following punishment: one year of probation and the day in jail that I already served. On top of that, the court tacks on a $100 assessment for the “Victims of Crime” fund. Ironically, a few years ago, I actually got money from that fund when I was nailed by a hit-and-run driver. I got about $100. So we’re even. I take the deal.

She remarks that she’s just a paid employee and does what she’s told. I mention that it would have been nice if we could have made this deal back on February 1 and avoided all this wasted time. She sounds a little surprised, asking if in fact nobody offered such a settlement. I look her in the eye and say, “no, YOU didn’t. I tried to talk to you about the case, but you didn’t want to hear anything about it.” She looks a bit embarrassed and hustles back into the courtroom. Hee!

Now we have to wait for the judge to show up so we can finish this up. Looking around the courtroom, I’m stunned by how many people are dressed so completely wrong. Here’s a tip: if you’re on trial for gang-related activities, don’t show up at court in your gang costume. I’m sitting in a room full of young males wearing beanies and gigantic jackets, pants with the crotch at knee-level, looking like extras from an NYPD Blue episode. Maybe it’s me, but I would think the judge isn’t going to be very sympathetic toward somebody who looks exactly like the stereotype of a criminal.

We sit in the courtroom for about an hour and a half. The prosecutor, public defender, court reporter and bailiff are all laughing and joking, talking about the movies they saw recently. The court reporter thinks Denzel is good, but nobody does it for her like Robert DeNiro, MMM-Hmmm. Across the aisle from me is a woman who was supposed to be in court this morning on a drinking-related charge, but didn’t show up, so there’s been a warrant issued for her. She’s with an arrogant jerk who’s trying to look like a lawyer. After a little while, they get up and walk to the front of the courtroom. Arrogant Jerk says “we have to get going; are we gonna see a judge today or what?” The courtroom goes silent and all heads turn to look at him. At that point, the woman blurts out “yeah, what is this, a social club? Where’s the judge?”

The bailiff, a tough-looking little African-American woman, steps up to them and says “you wanna leave, go ahead and leave; we’ll just come and pick you up and you can sit here in handcuffs. We got a warrant out on you, so you best just sit back down and be humble!” Tip: If there’s a bench warrant out on you, don’t smart off to the bailiff.

The court staff then amuses themselves for a considerable while by doing impressions of these two. Suddenly a voice cuts through the laughter. “Hello? Hello! Is Duane there?” Again the courtroom goes silent, and all heads turn. Another woman, a pal of the first one, who’s also here on a drunk charge, is shouting into a cell phone. She looks up and sees everybody in the place staring at her incredulously. “What? I figured if y’all was going to be talking, I could too.” The bailiff tells her that the court staff can laugh and be noisy; the defendants can’t. She has to put away the phone or leave the room.

She takes the phone out into the hall, and the court staff has great fun at her expense while she’s out there. Tip: When in court, shut up. Even if the judge isn’t there.

Finally they find somebody who can put on a black robe and fill a chair. The judge takes her seat and works quickly through the dirtbags ahead of me, and finally, at 3:45, I step in front of the judge, she accepts the deal, and I’m free to go. Total time: 3 minutes.

Part of my probation is that I have to stay away from the next Rose Parade®. Too bad. I was thinking about selling “Torment of Roses” shirts.

Here’s the design:

I like the big thorns myself.

UPDATE: Here’s the rest of the story.

Rant-Man’s Notebook: Deconstructing Oscar

The Oscars have become almost irrelevant to me in the past few years. I’m not sure why I still watch them, but I do, even though the last time I saw more than three of the nominated movies, people were still wearing knit ties. I’m a parent, and that means one thing: if a movie doesn’t have a Happy Meal associated with it, I probably didn’t see it. Once a year, on New Year’s Eve, we rent a pile of videos and watch movies all night, but we never seem to get the ones from the current year. We’ll see a couple of fairly recent ones, two or three classics, and some oddball thing we never heard of before, but somehow the Oscar winners seldom make it to my house.

Take this year, for example. I saw four of the nominees: Harry Potter, Monsters Inc., Shrek, and Lord of the Rings. Not a grownup movie in the lot. Sad, idnit?

The upside of this situation is that I’m not rooting for anybody to win, so that leaves me free to mock everybody. At my house, talking to the television is expected during awards shows. It’s fun. Sometimes we make our own speeches for them, other times we just add commentary, and on occasion, we translate what the winners say into what they mean.

Highlights from this year’s Oscar awards:

Tom Cruise suggested that Hollywood’s annual attempt to pat itself on the back has somehow taken on more importance in light of the events of September 11. Thousands of Americans gave their lives so that celebrities can get together and tell each other how special they are. Isn’t that nice?

Jennifer Connelly demonstrated that even with notes in hand, it’s possible to sound like a ditz. Now, I’ve liked Connelly since she was a kid in Labyrinth, but if she actually had that speech written out on paper, and it sounded like that, then she should thank God she’s good-looking, ’cause she ain’t going anywhere on her smarts. “By some beautiful twist of fate I’ve landed in this vocation that demands that I feel and helps me to learn.” Uh, hon, it wasn’t really a twist of fate. It’s called good genetics. “I believe in love, that there is nothing more important. Alicia Nash is a true champion of love. So thank you to her for her example. My son Kai is for me the greatest messenger. And so thank you to him for all of our days. Thank you very much.” Did you find that in a fortune cookie?

The producers of this year’s show, concerned that it might clock in at something less than a fortnight, have padded out the show with clips of celebrities talking about their favorite films. Of the ones I recognized, Britney Spears prattled on about how important Pretty Woman is to her. So that’s why she dresses like a hooker!

The Oscar for Best Documentary goes to a film about racial profiling in Florida, setting up tonight’s theme: letting Hollywood feel good about themselves by giving a lot of awards and attention to African-American performers so they can continue to avoid giving them any decent roles.

Speaking of which, here comes Halle Berry to give out the Sound Editor award. She reads from the teleprompter, as if she’s never seen it before, a poem that requires her to make a lot of odd noises and sound effects. Later, she’ll make a speech about dignity and respect. She will not appreciate the irony here.

Poor Ian McKellen doesn’t get the Supporting Actor award. I feel bad for the guy, after what they put him through in Lord of the Rings. When I was watching the film, all I could think while watching the battle between Saruman and Gandalf was “what kind of sadistic bastard would do that to guys in their 70s?”

Circue du Soliel shows up to do some tricks. They bear some tangential relationship to the special-effects clips on the big screen behind them. This leads into the award for Visual Effects. Amazingly enough, it doesn’t go to the people who built the lifelike Mariah Carey robot that was featured in Glitter.

Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw present the Jean Hersholt award to Arthur Hiller. (Who the heck is Jean Hersholt?) Even though Ryan O’Neal is battling a very serious illness, it’s McGraw who looks like there’s something wrong with her. She’s starting to take on that crazy cat-lady look. You know the type; trying to look like she did 25 years ago, but it comes off as scary rather than sexy, like back in high school when your friend’s mom would flirt with you, but she wasn’t attractive at all, and it kind of creeped you out. Like that.

Okay, what the hell was McCartney smoking when he wrote that ghastly song? Paul, buddy… Live and Let Die was Beethoven compared to this thing. Are you even trying anymore?

Gwyneth Paltrow wears the ugliest dress in the world as she and Ethan Hawke present the award for Best Adapted Screenplay to Akiva Goldsman for A Beautiful Mind. Goldsman asks if this means he’s forgiven for Batman & Robin. No. You’re not. And you still have Lost in Space to answer for, pal.

Kevin Spacey does the “In Memoriam” segment, starting with a moment of silence for the dead of September 11, reminding us all again how trivial this award show is. Then Spacey rings a bell and shouts “bring out yer dead!” and there’s the film clip of this year’s harvest: Bob Hope, Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson, Bob Barker, Keith Richards….

Halle Berry doesn’t look so good when there’s snot running all over her face. She carries on for a long time about how important the award is for black actors, without ever noticing that they gave her the award for her performance, not for being black. Or maybe it wasn’t for her performance, but for her naughty bits. I know that’s all I’ve heard from anybody who’s seen it; “Billy Bob is the luckiest man on Earth,” they say.

After Denzel Washington gets the Best Actor award, and thanks everyone up to and including his dog’s vet, the remaining awards go to Opie and his movie. The producer thanks “the profound Russell Crowe” (“profound” means “moody as hell and a complete pain in the ass), “the sublime Jennifer Connelly” (“sublime” means “she has big ones”), and then thanks Akiva Goldsman for “creating this difficult and heartrending script” (“creating” means “taking out all the icky stuff”).

At this point, most of the audience members are trying to restore the circulation in their legs after sitting for nearly four and a half hours. Whoopi hasn’t made much of an effort to keep things hopping. She concludes with a pointless remark about having New York’s back, then turns around to show “FDNY,” “NYPD,” and “PAPD” on the back of her jacket. I’m sure the brave rescue workers of New York are just pleased as punch to know that they got their initials on Whoopi’s jacket. Yeah, that’ll help.

And so to bed.

NEXT: The Torment of Roses.