December 21, 2010

They Came from the North Pole

There were no chestnuts roasting on an open fire, or quivering bowls of figgy pudding in our home.  We simply took the food-based Christmas carols at their word.  Instead, each season my mother would prepare what she called “Cajun Christmas.”  Ham hocks were lowered into giant pots of collards, Dixie beers were chilled, and shrimp heads were pinched off into vats of boiling gumbo.  The downside to living in what was essentially Paul Prudhomme’s kitchen was that I had to lie whenever someone asked “Did you eat enough turkey?”  Rather than trying to explain Cajun Christmas in the checkout line at Kmart, I made up tryptophan antidotes.  
“Oh, sure,” I’d say.  “We all woke up with mashed potatoes in our hair.”

High school provided me with another unique holiday tradition.  I knew a girl named Nicole.  Both friendly and attractive, she stirred the sort of thoughts that earned me a lifetime membership on the naughty list.  No matter how cold it was, each year she’d come to school dressed in this Mrs. Clause getup – or was it Mrs. Clause’s naughty niece?  It might have just been the sleeve off a regular-sized Santa suit.  Anyway, she completed the outfit with an elf hat and a pair of white patent leather high-heeled boots.  In the school yearbook, she was voted most likely to be shown a mistletoe belt buckle. 
            I was walking behind Nicole one day when she was wearing the outfit.  The hallway was packed, and two girls walking next to me were talking about the Nicole. 
“Where does she think we are a strip club,” said the one in flannel.
The other girl said “Looks like Santa’s Little Slut left the North Pole.”  
Considering where we were, I thought the comment was well aimed.  However, the girl that said it didn’t have a whole lot of room to talk.  She was wearing black lipstick, and had a large permanent marker X drawn on her forehead.  Flannel girl was laughing now, but Doom Girl’s face was scrunched up as if Rudolph took a shit in her cornflakes.  It’s funny the things our brain chooses to remember.  I haven’t seen Nicole since high school, and I can no longer quote Shakespeare, but for whatever reason, that girl’s comment has stuck with me ever since.  

 Last year was my first Christmas overseas.  In a spirit similar to Cajun Christmas, my wife and I celebrated Tropical Christmas in Ko Samui, an island in the Gulf of Thailand.  A political protest had shut down Bangkok’s airport the week before, causing many tourists to cancel their plans.  Locals tried to make Westerners feel at home by decking the bars with red and green tinsel, fake trees, and cardboard Santa faces.  While walking to the beach one morning, we stopped to watch a hotel employee risk his life by climbing a full-grown palm tree to string some colored lights. 

            I woke up early Christmas morning and placed our presents under the tree, a short, potted palm on the communal patio.  A Thai maid stared at the presents as she passed by, and it made me wonder if folks wrapped presents here.  When Takayo woke up, we got dressed – bathing suits and flip-flops – and opened our presents under the tree.  Hers was a cashmere sweater.  Mine was a wool shirt.  
            “This is like a bad joke,” said Takayo.”
            “That Santa has some sense of humor,” I said.  Both presents were from my mother.

            At a suckling pig restaurant in Lamai Beach, our Christmas dinner came out clenching an apple between its jaws.  We walked to an Aussie bar after dinner and took a table overlooking a side street.  The pink neon signs down there read Huggies, Boom Boom, Backdoor something-or-other…  Half of that sign was missing.  There was a lot of scooter and foot traffic.  Three Thai women stood outside Huggies.  They watched the passing traffic, and occasionally cat called “Hello!” or “Yoo-hoo!”  The women all had black hair to their waists, and wore tight red dresses, red high heels and red elf hats with a furry white ball on the end. 
A silver fox with a little round belly pulled his scooter over.  A working elf walked over to him, whispered something into his ear, and then jumped on back.  Her hair waved goodbye as they drove out of sight.  Another elf came out from the bar to replace her.  This one was dressed all in satin from her breasts to her thighs.  Because she was so tall, I pegged her for a ladyboy.  I had to laugh like hell when the next silver fox pulled up. 
“It’s like a feeding frenzy out there,” said Takayo. 
I was taking a sip of beer at the time, so I couldn’t answer.  But what could I have told her?  That I was flooded with Yule-time memories?  That it actually felt like Christmas for the first time since we’d arrived?  Rather than trying to explain some distant teenage infatuation, I leaned toward her and said the first thing that came to mind. 
“Looks like Santa’s Little Sluts have left the North Pole.” 

December 8, 2010

Making Logos

My sister lives in Cairo, Egypt. I spoke to her on the phone recently. She said, amongst other things, that when books and movies are imported into Egypt, someone edits out the pigs. The government actually pays someone to do this. She is a teacher, so they may be especially thorough with nursery rhymes and children's stories.

What does this mean?

Old MacDonald had a farm e i, e i, ooo
and on that farm he had a --- e i, e i, ooo
with a --- --- here and a --- --- there,
here a --- there a --- everywhere a --- ---

In movies such as Charlotte's Web and Babe, she said, the entire movie plays out with the pig pixelated or blurred out. Now, I don't know about you, but it seems like a talking pink blob would somehow be more obscene.

I must admit, my first instinct was "If they blur out the pig, isn't that like saying Allah made a mistake?" I don't necessarily believe that's true, though. People make mistakes all the time. You can add that to my growing collection of Famous Last Words.

My sister went on to tell me they cut out kissing scenes between non-married couples in movies too.

"You think Babe was bad? I tried to watch Love Actually -- didn't understand anything."

Sure, it might disturb the plot a little, but in this respect I understand where they're coming from.

For more Unnecessary Censorship:

Unnecessary Censorship Sesame Street Edition

December 2, 2010

Glen the Butcher

When I was twenty, I made a terrible mistake and wound up working as a butcher’s assistant in Marlton, New Jersey.  It was my firt time abover the Mason-Dixon Line.  My friend Fran arranged something with the manager.  I'd get paid under the table.  The manager introduced me to Glen the Butcher.  From the moment he opened his mouth, I already knew I hated him.

 “So, what ’cha know ‘a, Noah?”  

Glen the Butcher laughed.   He was squat and round like a deer tick.  The manager and I nodded like oh yea, that’s the stuff.   

Glen the Butcher kept on.  Glen the Butcher wheezed.  Glen the Butcher hacked.  Squishy coughs.  He doubled over now, gave it all he got.  He had purple veins on his head. 

The coughing fit ended as quickly as it begun.  He stood up with a lit cigarette dancing below his mustache. 

“Come on then.”  Glen the Butcher was on the move.  A seductive finger of smoke lingered, pointing that ‘a way. 

                I met him at the swinging door.  The walls around us were plywood, had a row of heavy white aprons with orange-pink stains hanging.  “Now, all joking’s aside,” he said in a thick Jersey accent, “you never worked in a meat shop before, right?”  I said I hadn’t.  He stepped closer, still smoking.  “Let me tell you’s something.  People’s get fingers cut off ‘n hands chewed the fuck up in tha meat grinder all the time.  All kinds of stupid shit happens ‘n here.” 

I bowed my head, considering what kind stupid shit would happen to me. 

                “That said,” he continued.  “I don’t want’s no silly shit going on like those fuckhead friends a’ yours over in tha deli.”  I nodded, but he wasn’t quit finished. 

“Now, I don’t know’s why they keep giving me people that don’t know nothing, but that’s what they do.  So, from now on, your name isn’t No-ah.  I’m gonna call you No-Nothin because that’s exactly what you know until I tell you what to know.  You don’t do nothin.  You don‘t know nothin -- Until I tells you.  Got that?” 

With this sparkling introduction out of the way, I slipped into one of the stiff cotton jackets.  A blue insignia on the left breast read:  Frank

                The meat room air was cool, left a metallic taste in the back of my throat.  Glen the Butcher showed me the meat grinder and meat locker.  The meat locker was almost empty.  Meat hooks hung from chains.  They looked like Spanish question marks; sounded like wind chimes.  I imagined Glen hanging from one, his legs kicking like a swimming pig.    

                For my first task, I stood at the business end of a bone saw catching meat in a plastic tub.  The job was menial, and required complete attention.  I kept my meat coat clean.  Glen worked quickly, and to my surprise, quietly.  But then someone rang the assistance bell.  It drowned out the blood-splattered radio in the corner.  It wasn’t so much a ring as a grinding clatter.  The meat room became a Pavlovian experiment.  

The bell did not make Glen the Butcher salivate, however.  It made him curse, curse, curse.  He stabbed his carving knife into the chopping block.  He turned to the window overlooking the grocery store.  An attractive housewife had rung.  Glen stormed over in these black rubber boots and dropkicked the door. 

“Today, a Marlton butcher was arrested after bludgeoned a woman to death with a T-bone steak.  Details at eleven.”

That’s what I thought I would hear.  But stepping onto the sales floor transformed Glen the Butcher.  He greeted the woman, listened and reciprocated.  He even engaged in light banter.  He brought a twin-pack of steaks back into the meat room.  The smile quickly melted.  He was seething again, mumbling.  Bits of his psychotic rant tangled with the music on the radio:

“Gold bricking…”
…maggot princess…”
…spoiled little bitch”
               HOLD ON TO THAT FEELING

Glen the Butcher packaged two individual steaks, and brought them to the swinging door.  Glen the Charmer walked onto the sales floor, placed a single steak in the woman‘s cart, and waved good-by. 

After Glen the Butcher’s bi-polar escapade, I slipped on a kidney and dropped a tray of ground beef.  I was scooping it into the pan when Glen the Butcher caught me.  I thought he would unload a case of knives, but he just told me to run it back through the grinder.

I spent New Year’s Eve morning labeling 50 pounds of steak.  But I entered the wrong code into the labeling machine.  Top round sirloin was ringing in the New Year.  It cost as much as pig rectum. 

That afternoon, the real butcher’s assistant -- the person whom I’d replaced -- showed up.  He was Glen the Butcher’s son.   He hadn’t come to work in four days.  He looked like hell.

Glen the Butcher looked at him as if he’d just pushed the bell.  “Where ’da hell have you been?”  
“I had some things to take care of,” said Butcher Jr. in a backwoods Jersey accent.  “Who the hell is he?”   

I’m the guy they pay under the table to pick up your slack.  Surly Glen the Butcher would stick up for me. 

                “Who, this guy?  He’s nobody.  And neither is you.  Now re-price this meat.” 

                Although Glen the Butcher had placed me in the same category as his drug addict son, I decided nobody was a step up from No-Nothin.  I slacked off a bit after Butcher Jr. showed up.  By the end of my shift, Frank’s meat coat was still spotless.  However, before I left, in what felt like a gruesome rite of passage, Glen smeared his bloodied hand across my chest. 

“There ‘ya go.  Get some blood on ya.  Now you’s a real butcher!”  

I walked into the deli to see Fran, trying to pretend like I wasn’t swathed with blood.  He couldn’t stop laughing.  The straight-laced woman waiting for cold cuts looked apprehensive.  Maybe she’d never seen a real butcher before.