Monday, November 28, 2011

Bootsy Collins Deserves Better

The other night I saw something that initially thrilled, and then horrified me: I saw Bootsy Collins (Thrilled: Bootsy Collins is on TV!) in an Old Navy commercial (Horrified: Bootsy Collins is in an Old Navy commercial?!?)
The first reaction was genuine and from the heart, because I love Bootsy Collins. I love him so much I named my dog after him. I love him so much I named the second dog after Bootsy's brother Catfish in case people didn't get it the first time. (Also, she looks like a cat and smells like a fish.) Bootsy (the man, not the dog) is a crucial player in my favorite band ever: the original JB's, James Brown's backing band circa 1969-71. Bootsy played bass, Catfish played guitar.

Bootsy's bass lines were amazing, lethally danceable. "Sex Machine" is Bootsy. So are "Super Bad," "Soul Power," "Give It Up Or Turn It Loose," "Hot Pants," and "Talking Loud and Saying Nothing." Irresistable stuff. In my many years of bartending I have never seen it fail to make people dance.

My second reaction was reflexive: it's always sad to see people you respect as artists being shoehorned into lame product -- commercials, however you feel about commerce, are nearly always unfunny second-rate product, particularly celebrity endorsements -- because they need the money. (It's a lot worse when they don't need the money. Is Jimmy Fallon really doing commercials for a credit card at the exact moment everyone is figuring out that he has the best late-night show around? Really? The moment it becomes clear that you can hold your very lucrative job for as long as you want it, you take the sketchiest kind of endorsement ever? The credit card company in question once sent me a card I didn't ask for, which I promptly cut up and tossed in the trash; soon after, I got a bill for the activation fee on the card, which I didn't ask for, never used, and hadn't activated. But we're getting off topic.)
As product, the Old Navy commercial is not great. The premise is that Old Navy's new "Incrediboots" are in fact made by Bootsy! Great job, ad execs! Take the afternoon off! Obviously, Bootsy Collins is in an Old Navy commercial because he needs Old Navy's money, and I have no problem with him taking it. The ad is not (particularly) embarrassing or unflattering to him. It's very brightly lit and Bootsy does his cartoon voice shtick and Incrediboots can be had for $15 and nobody gets hurt. Still, it seems beneath him -- this guy is one of the all-time greats. After he and Catfish left the JB's they made a single as The Houseguests -- one of the great funk instrumentals ever.
Then they joined George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic, where Bootsy played on most of America Eats Its Young and then began to develop the cartoon voice/star glasses/space bass persona that we all recognize now, eventually leading Bootsy's Rubber Band dressed like a Martian and playing a star-shaped bass drenched in effects. He's stayed in that mode ever since, and somewhere along the way his look has evolved from "visiting alien" to "Ringmaster at circus sponsored by Jeri-Curl." I don't have any beef with that persona, it's clearly working for him, and I do like the space-bass records he made in the 70s and I dig the voice and everything. Everything he's done since leaving James has been great. It just hasn't been as great as what he did in James' band. For proof, I offer a performance of the JBs at the peak of their powers: 0:00-0:27 I also can't say enough about Bobby Byrd, James' stage lieutenant and an amazing solo artist (backed by James' band) in his own right. "Try It Again," "I Know You Got Soul," "Hot Pants" -- great stuff. Here he keeps the "get on up" ball in the air, and fields James' queries about whether or not they all may hit it, or quit it, or perhaps count it off with aplomb. 0:52 You can't miss Bootsy: he's the one in the middle that looks like Big Bird. He must be 6'7" or something. I'm sure the dance steps were mandated by the Godfather but he certainly puts his own swivel in it. He is standing between two drummers because James had a very interesting way of making abrupt tempo changes as a dance number suddenly downshifted into a ballad: He would have one drummer play the dance number and then have the second come in on the ballad, and trade off from song to song like that. 1:05 More bands should have one hot lady dancer on a five-foot platform. What happened to showmanship? 1:23 Bootsy and Catfish are doing the steps together. I love it. Notice here how the line Bootsy is playing is very simple, and never changes. Most anybody who could play at all could play it. But can they play it for eleven minutes? One of the great, underrated skills in music is the ability to play the same thing the same way for a long time without getting bored. This is where the Collins brothers truly excel. 2:25 On to "Soul Power," with a busier bass line but the same tempo. This song, even more than "Sex Machine," is like a class in the power of repetition in dance music. The genius of Bootsy's playing in this era was that he provided an ideal foundation for five or six other instruments to add syncopated parts, while keeping the heads bobbing. He's the focus of the whole band, but you have to concentrate to even notice him. By all accounts, the problem with being in James Brown's band was James Brown. I can understand why the '69 JBs never reunited -- they don't much care for their old boss as a person. But James is dead now, and most of these guys are still alive: Bootsy, Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, Jabo Starks, Clyde Stubblefield... Catfish is gone, and so is Bobby Byrd, but I can't think of any show I'd rather see ever than a JBs reunion. Take Old Navy's money, Bootsy. You deserve it. I heard the restaurant you opened in your hometown of Cincinnati -- which my sister-in-law described as being like the inside of a pinball machine -- went under, so I'm sure you need it.  I just wish you didn't.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Foreskin Is The New Black

One of the big decisions my wife and I faced when our son was born, coming up on five years ago (the days are like years, the years are like days!), was whether to have him circumcised. Circumcision seems to be falling out of favor these days, and though I never gave it a lot of thought before my wife was pregnant, I certainly made up for lost time in the second and third trimesters.

Fortunately, this decision was free of any outside pressure. Neither my wife nor I grew up with a religion that prescribes it (or, indeed, any religion at all -- thanks, Mom, Dad, Keith and Linda!), so no pressure there. Nor did either of our parents seem to have any strong feelings about it (or at least if they did, they kept it to themselves).

So it was our choice to make, and as with any big decision, I tried to look at both sides and weigh the pros and cons, which I will do my best discuss as un-graphically as I can.

Firstly, the idea of taking a small, defenseless baby and cutting off part of his body that does not, in any medical sense, need to be cut off was a hard idea for me to process. On a gut level, it doesn't feel a lot different to me from foot-binding or female circumcision (which needs a better name). The last thing I wanted to do to my newborn son was take a knife to any part of him. It feels like an unnecessary relic from religious rites that I never took part in. And, the Wikipedia page on the topic drives home in semi-graphic detail exactly what each technique entails, and it is more than a little disturbing.

Moreover, word on the street is that circumcised men have reduced sensitivity in the area in question. It's a little weird to look at bump in your wife's belly and imagine the future sex life of the person inside, but once I got over that hurdle I felt that, while I personally would probably have been grateful for some reduced sensitivity more times than I could ever hope to count, it's not really my place to make that choice for him. If he wants to reduce his sensitivity, there are plenty of ways (tequila, sedatives, topical anesthetics, Saran Wrap, Ace bandages) that he can do it on his own, when the time comes.

On the other hand, they say uncircumcised men are more susceptible to HIV. I certainly don't want to put the boy at greater risk of HIV, but I also can't help thinking that our greatest safeguard against the virus -- a condom -- doesn't work any less well on the uncircumcised, does it?

Since secular circumcision took hold in the U.S. around 1900 (thanks again, Wikipedia), most men in the States have been circumcised, and the common sentiment on this topic has been that "a boy should look like his father." The fear being that a young man will get a look at his Dad's piece, and see that it looks different from his own, and feel like his is weird, or deformed, or something.

The arguments for seemed much less compelling than the arguments against, and as you have probably guessed, we decided not to do it, and for the first four years of our son's life it was not a problem at all. But over the last year or so some practical issues have begun to surface that, if not enough to make me reconsider that decision, leave me at a bit of a loss.

It was a triumph, right around his fourth birthday, when he graduated from sitting on the toilet to standing when he goes number one. But pride quickly turned to horror when it turned out that about half the time, despite aiming straight into the bowl like a good boy, his pee was shooting out at weird angles, very often missing the bowl entirely, even at point-blank range. A couple of times he's had more than one stream coming out in different directions. Clearly, his wild foreskin is creating an obstruction, but no matter how much I remind him to pull it back when he has to pee, he just doesn't have the small motor skills to really pull it off (pun accidental). On one occasion, when he had a steady stream shooting out at 45 degrees, I reached in and tried to help him do it myself, but my fingers are too big and he's too small and he started giggling and saying it tickled and I felt like a member of the Penn State coaching staff and I quickly gave up and vowed not to touch him there again.

And what about keeping it clean? This isn't something I worry about too much for myself, as [SPOILER ALERT!] I am circumcised so everything's easily accessible and generally powder fresh. I don't really know, but I have to imagine there are some hygiene issues he's going to have to deal with, and I am not *ahem* equipped to instruct him. Including his, I don't think I've even seen more than 3 or 4 uncircumcised men in their full glory, and even then the total gaze time would add up to less than ten seconds over a lifetime.

Which raises another issue: I'm not the only one unfamiliar with the uncut male form. Most (American) women have very little experience with uncircumcised men (as do, to be fair, circumcised men -- at 4, my boy's orientation is unclear). I hate to think that we've hobbled his prospects, or that he will not enjoy the, uh, full spectrum of pleasure (trying not to be graphic) because his thing looks weird/unsanitary/icky. But circumcision seems to be going out of fashion (foreskin is the new black), so hopefully time is on his side.

As more and more children of the '70s and '80s (80 to 90% of whom are circumcised, according to Wikipedia) have kids and go with this whole not-circumcising trend that's sweeping the nation, more and more fathers are going to find themselves in this predicament.  Here's a million-dollar idea: an agency where uncircumcised men can be hired to teach young boys how to operate and care for their own private parts. We'll call it Bigger Brothers.

On second thought, maybe it's a thousand-dollar idea. It would probably lead to a lot of lawsuits. The insurance premiums would be through the roof. And the background checks on potential Bigger Brothers would have to be exhaustive to the point of being prohibitively expensive. Yeah, let's just not do it.

In the absence of a better solution, I have decided to solve most of these problems in one fell swoop by having my foreskin put back on. Which leaves only one question: is there actually a Father of the Year ceremony, or will my trophy be mailed to me?

Monday, November 14, 2011

When Zombies Attack (By Urinating)!

Random photo found on Google Image
Search. I do not know this person.
Not long ago I heard through the grapevine that someone of my acquaintance had had an unfortunate accident: After a long night of drinking ales and spirits, he apparently rose suddenly from bed in the wee, wee hours, waking his lady friend, who just managed to stop him from urinating on the windowsill.

The gentleman in question was suitably embarrassed, but not exactly mortified, as accidents of this sort are something that just kind of comes with the territory when one enjoys adult beverages in less than perfect moderation (and by that I mean "poisonous excess").

Considering my own history of drinking myself incontinent, I am certainly no one to judge. I woke up half drunk and all wet more times than I care to remember (and probably a couple that I don't) by the time I was 30, starting with two incidents in high school, both on couches at other people's houses. In one case, I slunk out and hoped nobody would notice (it was a house party and the house was trashed so I thought it would be a while before anyone sat on the couch); in the other case, my host, a classmate we'll call "Klaus," said not to worry about it because he had done it a few times himself.

Klaus and I and most of our high-school graduating class spent the summer at the beach after graduation before heading off to college, and one night he managed to bring a young lady back to his room. As recent high-school graduates without adult supervision are wont to do, they had more than a few libations and he woke up in his bed soaked in his own pee, with the young lady still sleeping in blissful ignorance next to him. Clearly, a delicate situation. His solution, in my opinion, was the greatest tactical maneuver since Patton took Bastogne.

He got out of bed and went to the kitchen, filled a large pitcher with ice water, then came back to the bedroom and dumped the whole pitcher on his companion. When she woke up, disoriented and horrified, he said "Oh, baby, I'm so sorry! I went to get some water for us and I tripped on my way back to bed. Let's change these sheets and go back to sleep!" The poor girl never suspected a thing. I have long since lost track of Klaus, but I can only hope that he is leading troops in battle.

It was later that same summer that I learned that while a blood alcohol level of 0.05% is enough to impair one's driving, a blood alcohol level of (roughly) 1.5% will cause the drinker to re-animate from his drunken slumber, zombie-like, and unload on random objects with blank eyes and a total unawareness of what he (or she, let's be fair) is doing.

A few of my female friends were sharing an apartment at the beach, and after an evening's revelry everyone present had passed out, including a young man who'd bedded on the couch. One of the girls told a tale, with mounting horror, of this fellow coming into her room, opening his pants, and peeing into the makeshift shelving unit she'd made from milk crates, where she'd folded all her t-shirts.

If you are part of a social group that likes its refreshments with anywhere near the enthusiasm of the groups I have always seemed drawn to, ask around and I bet at least one person out of two has a good Zombie Pee story, and they don't all take place in high school. I know a man, an exemplary father, loving partner, well respected in his field, who was caught peeing into the oven by his better half. I know someone else who once walked up to a couch, while people were sitting on it, and hosed it down. I have heard tell of people peeing on other people's tents on big group camping trips. (For that matter, I have heard of people peeing in other people's tents on big group camping trips.)

One of my very most favorite zombie pee stories takes place at Burning Man, the big desert freakout where people camp and enjoy all sorts of merriment. Tents are pitched pretty close together at Burning Man, but in most cases one has to walk at least a couple of minutes to the nearest port-a-potty. Nobody wants their mid-morning, bladder-bursting pee to be that big of an ordeal after a full night of indulgence, so a lot of people get around it by keeping a pee bottle in their tent. Take your emergency slash in the bottle, dump out the bottle when you go to the port-a-potty after you get up for real (which at Burning Man is when your tent gets over 100 degrees inside -- about 9am) -- it seems gross in the real world, but Burning Man, I'm surely not the first to point out, is not the real world.

Anyway, a friend of mine -- an adult, registered voter with a mortgage -- woke in the pre-dawn hours, slightly disoriented from the night's excesses, and groped around his tent until he found his pee bottle. He unscrewed the cap and relieved himself, but almost immediately found the bottle overflowing onto his hand, onto his legs, onto his sleeping bag. It was then that he realized he wasn't holding his pee bottle at all -- he had unscrewed and was peeing into his flashlight.

I tell all these stories as prologue, and possibly as rationalization, of my own worst zombie pee incident, which took place in the early hours of New Year's Day, 2004. I had been part of throwing a really excellent, ambitious theme party for New Year's Eve, and in the course of events I personally consumed about ¾ of a bottle of tequila and probably a dozen beers.

I have no memory of the following incident, so I relate my wife's version of events as she told them to me afterward: She was awakened by the realization that I was up on all fours, peeing through my underwear. She kicked and shouted at me in hopes that I'd wake up: "What are you doing! Get out of bed! Go to the bathroom!" Apparently there was then a momentary flash of consciousness in my eyes, as I kneeled upright in the bed and put one foot on the floor, but then I resumed peeing into the bed from this half-standing/half-kneeling position. She did not regard this as an improvement, and the kicking and yelling continued.

Finally, she tells me, I seemed to become semi-lucid, stopped peeing, and stood up and walked into the bathroom, where I finished peeing in the toilet (here we can only assume, as there are no witnesses to this part of the story). When I returned, she says I paused, picked up a pair of pants off the floor, and gently laid them over her, like a blanket, then laid down in the puddle and went back to sleep for eight more hours. In a related story, I have not had a drink since New Year's Day 2004, and the drop in personal zombie pee-related incidents has been precipitous.

The lesson? I think it's obvious: if you find yourself at the end of a particularly consumptive night, take an aspirin, drink a glass of water, and go to sleep in the bathtub.

Monday, November 7, 2011

What's With The Hooker Shoes?

I was lucky enough to be invited to a really, really fancy party a couple of weeks ago. It was purely a case of nepotism: an old friend and coworker has found herself running an incredibly swank penthouse for a very old magazine that uses it for a lot of fabulous parties and photo shoots, and she invited my wife and me and a few of our other less fancy friends to see how the 1% lives.

My wife, sadly, was buried under her postgraduate curriculum, so I went stag. After I signed in, I was escorted to an elevator that took me up eight stories and opened directly into the penthouse, and then -- on a tip from the elevator operator -- climbed the stairs that wound around the all-glass elevator at the center of the penthouse up four stories, joining the three other glamour tourists in our party at the top floor balcony, with a 180-degree view of lower Manhattan. It was a fancy party indeed, the kind that gets mentioned in the society pages and photographed for the back of the glossy magazines, though I suspect that it was one of the less fancy parties to be held in this venue.

The view was amazing and the penthouse was breathtaking, and there were a lot of very attractive, well put-together, professional-looking people wearing obviously expensive clothes. Not to put too fine a point on it: It felt like a whole lot of Midtown people, which is a culture nearly alien to the East Village circles I tend to run in.  I felt like an anthropologist, observing the customs of a curious tribe of people who shop for clothes more often than presidential elections and use shampoo and hair product and moisturizer and makeup like Sephora stockholders. Metrosexuals, and the women who love them -- I observed them one and all with fascination. As I am but a man, I admit without shame that I tended to observe more of the ladies than the gentlemen.

One person in particular I found especially striking. She was on the short end of tall, had long, dark hair, and was wearing the hell out of an elegant little black dress. She had a little more makeup on than I would prefer, but that was par for the course in this crowd.

I had just about decided that she was the one. The one I'd love for the whole rest of this party. You know: the kind of love where you furtively enjoy someone's sex appeal from across the room when (and only when) they happen to be directly in your field of vision, without any effort or notion to approach, speak to, or otherwise engage them. These are the cheap thrills of the married and faithful.

She's projecting "professional" with those,
just not the kind she's going for
As a formality before making it official, I took her all in one more time from the top down: Beautiful, long, dark hair. Very pretty face, probably the beneficiary of some racial mixing (never hurts, always helps). Cute little dress on a lean, well-toned but still-curvy figure. Then I got to the hooker shoes.

Hooker shoes! Four-inch (plus?) heels in shiny black patent leather, with at least an inch of platform. Distractingly prominent shoes. At first I just felt like I was looking at one of those "One of these things doesn't belong" puzzles from Sesame Street. I was viscerally confused. This girl is gorgeous and obviously has a great job and makes money and probably lives in a sweet apartment filled with great-smelling pillows. So why is she wearing shoes that look like they should be pacing a sidewalk, pausing occasionally beside rented sportscars?  

Hooker shoes! When did hooker shoes become what attractive, well put-together, professional-looking women wear with their obviously expensive clothes? As Herman Cain might say, I don't have the facts to back this up, but there's a whiff of Kardashian on this, and if my knee-jerk suspicions are correct, that will be a much more destructive legacy than anything she's done lately to the institution of marriage.

Not only did these shoes sour my budding relationship with this person, they drew my attention to the shoes of everyone at this party. Have you ever shopped for a car, and decided on a make and model, but had trouble actually finding one suitable for purchase? Say you're looking for a Subaru Forester. Suddenly, every third car on the road seems to be a Subaru Forester.

Likewise, my wife has a fixation on badly-plucked eyebrows, and points them out whenever they appear on our TV. I never used to notice them, but now I see them everywhere and compulsively throw a soft elbow to point them out to my wife even when she isn't there.

I got an easy chair facing the door at
Starbuck's and was watching it so intently
that I didn't notice this eight-point buck
sitting right next to me. My hands were 
shaking as I took this photo.
Anyway, now that I'm noticing hooker shoes, I'm noticing that they're all over the place, on women who from the knees up seem like they really shouldn't be wearing hooker shoes. I realized that some pictures would be helpful for this piece, so I went to the Starbucks by my office -- on Hudson, by all the ad agencies, where there's no shortage of attractive, well put-together, professional-looking women in obviously expensive clothes -- and in a period of about five minutes took photos of about eight pairs of hooker shoes. (Sadly, most didn't come out. It's hard to take pictures of people's shoes on the sly.) Suffice to say, it was a target-rich environment.

There are a couple of things I would like to share with the hooker shoe community. Unfortunately, I highly doubt that even one person who reads this will need this advice, because I can't think of even one person I know, from close friends to bare acquaintances, who wears hooker shoes, and I don't think this blog is reaching a lot of people who don't know me personally.

The first is: I can't think of even one time in my life that I've heard a man say, "I had a great time with Stacey last night. She is charming and intelligent. She is an excellent dancer, the wine she chose was delightful, and she ordered for both of us in perfect Cantonese. I'd probably call her again, if her heels had been just a little higher." Or: "Genevieve seemed a little distant, and didn't laugh at any of my jokes. She reminded me of my mother in all the wrong ways, and her apartment smelled like burning hair. But, you know me: I can't resist a woman in five-inch heels!"

Second: Notice in the section where I describe the lifespan of my love affair with this nameless, otherwise gorgeous Midtown gal that her shoes are the absolute last thing I noticed. If they hadn't been such an instant turnoff, I probably wouldn't have noticed them at all.

When I did notice them, here's roughly what went through my head:
  1. Shiny! Why so shiny?
  2. Heels awfully high. On the job?
  3. Ouch!
During my personal dark night of the soul -- the period when I was working five bartending shifts a week -- I decided I needed better shoes for being on my feet so much, and my wife suggested I get some clogs, because nurses and surgeons wear them. So I got them, and they were indeed very comfortable, but I soon found they were no good for bartending because the heels were probably two inches tall and I kept turning my ankle in them. And we're talking about heels three inches wide. I can't even imagine trying to get from the bedroom to the kitchen in 4 ½" tall, ¼" wide stilettos.

In the lobby at a big fancy ad agency.
The impact is diminished by the
distance, but trust me. 
To say nothing of how uncomfortable they must be! The suffering these ladies are putting themselves through is like some kind of modern-day version of foot-binding, only worse because it's voluntary. I guess in some circles, demonstrated tolerance for pain is a turn-on, but for the (spoiler alert, ladies!) strictly vanilla like myself, all I feel is sympathy (for the pain) and pity (for the mentality).

As bad as the hooker shoes are, they are at least a (marginal) improvement over the last trend to sweep Midtown's female feet: the pointy shoes. The less said about the pointy shoes, the better. Even more amazing than the fact that women seemed to think of the Wicked Witch of the East as a fashion role model was the fact that they also made pointy shoes for men, and men actually bought them. This is a chapter in American society more shameful than the McCarthy hearings, President Andrew Jackson's Indian policy, and the Macarena put together.

Hooker shoes aren't quite that bad. I'd put them more on the level of Iran-Contra and the "Garfield" movie: ominous signifiers of a dark cultural future.