Saturday, July 31, 2010

Wretched Excess

Maybe you won't agree with what I'm about to say, but I think the way people get married (or handfasted) says a great deal about their values.

You'll hear some women say, "This is my day, and I want it to be like a fairy tale -- perfect from start to finish." Yes, honey. Any one day can be like that. Now go live the rest of your life, wondering if you spent too much time planning a wedding and not enough time getting to know your groom.

You'll see men, bleary-eyed and wasted from bachelor parties featuring strippers and excessive drinking. If I'm a self-respecting woman, do I want to tie myself to someone who does this kind of thing?

But the worst offenders, in my eyes, are the people who turn weddings into playbooks for wretched excess. If you've got it, flaunt it. Right?

I'll bet you can guess where I'm going with this.

There's little clear fact clinging to Chelsea Clinton's nuptials. An anonymous spokesman for the family said the wedding cost "in the six figures." But other estimates, based on the people the Clintons have hired for planning, the venue, the designer creating the dress, the catering, etc., have placed the price tag at $3 million.

Either way, six figures or seven, this is the height of hypocrisy. It is vindicating my choice of Obama in the primary race (although we have yet to see how being president will mold Obama and his family).

You cannot run for president among blue collar workers, touting your own blue collar background, and then turn around and approve a million-dollar wedding at the summer playground of John Jacob Astor. This wretched excess sends a clear message to the American people that, while the price tag is chump change to you, at least you have the change. The people who voted for you don't.

I personally got up in the wee hours to watch Princess Diana's lavish wedding ... and enjoyed every minute of the ceremony. What's the difference between Diana and Chelsea Clinton? Diana was about to be a princess. With no genuine ties to the governance of England. This nation, although founded by wealthy white men, at least should give lip service to the "created equal" philosophy. If Chelsea Clinton has two sons who are not called "The Heir" and "The Spare" by the press, why should she cavort like a princess? Isn't she a ... democrat?

This is only my opinion, but the daughter of our Secretary of State should not be getting married in the style of royalty, surrounded by doting television celebrities and movie directors. It's bad form. It sends a message about our collective national values.

Last night I was reading in bed. I came upon the following paragraph, describing a diplomatic mission Benjamin Franklin undertook in March of 1776 to try to win Canadian support for American independence. Franklin was 70. It was March. The destination was Montreal.

"They rowed in a small boat up the Hudson, had to fight their way through ice on Lake George, landing frequently on shore to light fires and drink tea. They slept in the forest at night, two in the woods, Franklin on the boat. They had forgotten to bring camp cots with them. To get to Lake Champlain, they had to go through the woods by portage. It was agony for the gout-ridden septuagenarian. They had set out in March and arrived in Montreal at the end of April."

-- Triumph in Paris: The Exploits of Benjamin Franklin, by David Schoenbrun.

Later in that same year, 1776, Franklin sailed for Paris. That Atlantic sea voyage -- into the teeth of November gales -- almost killed him.

Franklin wouldn't have turned down an invitation to Chelsea Clinton's wedding. He liked his creature comforts. But would there be anyone at the wedding with whom he cared to converse? Any scientists, any economists, any philosophers? Oh well, I would imagine Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are both going to be there. So maybe our founding father would have amiable companions, even though he might find himself seated next to Barbra Streisand for the wedding toast.

My point is that Benjamin Franklin struggled for this country, putting his body and fortune equally at the mercy of a long-odds cause. Would our Clinton family do this? Or are they rather behaving like the final residents of Versailles, oblivious in a protective cocoon of privilege?

Bad form. A shameless spectacle behind closed doors. Where cake will be served.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Greetings from Asbury Park

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," New Jersey at its finest since 2005! Baby, we were born to run!

Two months ago, my daughter The Heir turned 21. Her request for a birthday gift was simple enough. She wanted to go spend the day in Asbury Park, NJ.

The Heir does not particularly like Bruce Springsteen. She simply had seen some pictures of Asbury Park portraying it as a Jersey Shore destination that is down on its luck. Anything crumbling, deserted, rotting, or just plain weird is candy to The Heir. She adores New Jersey because it's chockablock with crumbling, deserted, rotting, and extremely weird locations.

I'm actually very partial to The Boss and his music, although not to the extent that I've ever tried to get a ticket to one of his concerts. Nevertheless, I thought it would be splendid to biff off to Asbury Park for a day amidst the crumbling ruins.

Little did I know how easy it is to get to Asbury Park from Chateau Johnson. You'll think I'm kidding, but literally, you turn out of our street, turn right at the second stop light, and go straight. Absolutely straight. Not a single turn. When you come to the beach, you're in Asbury Park.

Some people like their shore destinations to be bustling with tourists and shops and candy stores and amusement parks. I began to like Asbury Park the minute I saw the shoreline. First thing, it was ridiculously simple to find a parking space. No driving around for hours or trying to shove the economy car into a spot big enough for a bicycle.

I pulled into the parking space. I said to The Heir, "I wonder how far we are from the Stone Pony. I would like to see it before we go home."

The Stone Pony was across the street from the parking space. Literally.

Heir was correct that Asbury Park features some crumbling structures, but it also has some charming architecture from the early part of the previous century. Another feature I loved about the place was the proximity of the surf to the boardwalk (always good except for during Nor'Easters) and the affordable beach tag price. The boardwalk wasn't crowded, nor was the beach -- but there were people, and shops, and pubs.

Best of all, Heir and I found a charming pinball parlor where you paid by the hour and not by the game. It was all pinball -- none of those hideous modern killer games that give off such bad vibes. Each vintage pinball machine had a little poster on top of it with the history of that model, the year it was designed, the artist, and how many units were made. There was a hotdog stand with old 1960s-era tables. And the place just radiated happiness and good energy. Heir and I both love pinball, so we could easily have stayed longer than the hour we bought.

The weatherman had predicted thunderstorms, and as we sat on the beach I was able to teach Heir how to see rain on the horizon and how to judge how long until a thunderstorm hit. She was baffled that I made her run to the indoor pier, but just as I warned, the hard rain began practically the moment we got a roof over our heads.

On the way home, Heir and I stopped at an eatery called "The Circus Drive-In." From the street it looks like a round circus tent with clowns dancing on top. The sign outside consisted of a neon clown face. To Heir this was heaven. Okay, already, to each his own! The food was good, and cheap. Then we drove straight home -- I mean, straight home -- to Snobville.

Asbury Park proved to be the perfect place for Heir and me to sit and stare at the surf and talk about matters both large and small. Thanks to the unstable air mass, the day was breezy, cloudy and cool. Couldn't have asked for better beach weather or a more pleasant seaside beach, if you happen to be Anne Johnson.

When my life gets rough and I need to recall pleasant days and the glory of my daughter and her infamous, ongoing immersion in the weird, I will return to this post and think of the sea monsters carved on the ancient pier at Asbury Park. I'll think of the squat little bar that launched Bruce Springsteen into a deserved career. I'll think of a tattoo convention and of teenagers practicing their skateboard moves. I'll think of the lights and bells in the old pinball machines and the glowing neon clown sign. I'll show a little faith, there's magic in the night.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Counter Spell That's Working

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," mixing magick, mayhem, and mirth since 2005! I'm your host, Anne Johnson, author of The Porpoise Driven Life. Everything you would want to know about my attempts to build a theme park for dolphins that would feature humans tap-dancing for cheeseburgers.

It only takes a handful of evildoers to stir up a very caustic black magick spell. That's exactly what Fred Phelps and his band of dirty demons of the Westboro Baptist Church are doing, even though he would argue vigorously to the contrary. It's certainly not novel to suggest that a deity is behind the death of soldiers, but the idea that the deity is letting the soldiers die because certain fellow citizens are homosexual ... Mmmm. Well, let's just say I'm glad it's the busy god who's taking the heat for these haters, and not some poor bored god already down on His or Her luck.

But we all know the Threefold Law, right? Fred Phelps, meet the counter spell of goodness that you have wrought!

It's probably been five or six years now since the Patriot Guard was formed, and a little less since the Warrior Watch started. These two groups are composed primarily of Vietnam vets, along with anyone else who likes to wave the American flag while driving a Harley. The Patriot Guard and the Warrior Watch both attend military funerals to keep a human barrier between grieving families and the Westboro demons. One look at these men and women is enough to know you wouldn't want to get on their bad side for any reason, let alone for disrespecting a fallen soldier.

Monday I saw these groups in action for the first time.

It's hard for me to imagine that Vietnam veterans are starting to die from the illnesses that take us in late middle age. One of my co-workers lost her husband to cancer. He was a Marine during the Vietnam War. The Patriot Guard/Warrior Watch showed up at his viewing, funeral, and burial.

I went to the viewing, but I was doggoned if I was going to sit through a funeral Mass. Thus I found myself outside the church, observing the Patriot Guard as they prepared to escort the deceased to his final resting place. It turned out I knew one of the guys. He's the yearbook photographer at my school. We started up a conversation while the tough-looking PC/WW dudes set up their honor guard.

I said, "What a world, that we've come to this. People can't even grieve their loved ones without protection from lunatics."

This is what the Patriot Guard member said in reply:

"You know what? It's actually a good thing. So many of these guys say it's healing for them to perform this service. They've bonded with each other, and they know they're doing a good thing. And it helps to blunt their own leftover pain."

And thus the vorpal blade goes snicker-snack ... and black magick begets healing! What an amazing counter spell! You don't have to be a Pagan to see the alchemy in this. Especially if you're the same age as me, and you can remember how those Vietnam vets were treated when they came back from that savage war.

Reader, you should have seen that funeral procession. It was headed by four dozen Patriot riders, all of them flying large American flags from their motorcycles. From the distance they looked like a mad dance of red and white ribbons atop a float of shiny chrome.

I'm not one to wave the American flag with mad passion, but for some people the act of doing it restores their souls. Forget the politics of the Vietnam War ... the guys doing the grunt work couldn't change it any more than the poor souls on patrol in Afghanistan. What's happening now is that former soldiers are protecting their own from haters. To me this is a righteous thing, a holy thing, a sowing of goodness to offset evil.

As I left the cemetery, some of the Patriot Guard were leaving as well. I saw one grizzled dude turn to another and say, "Well, see you next time."

So mote it be.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Free Advice on Thawing Frozen Turkey

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," and our popular ongoing series of free advice! Visit often -- maybe someday you'll actually find something useful. Or not. No guarantees.

Today we're talking turkey, both the gobbler kind and the vulture kind. Sit back as our story unfolds.

Every year, our local Acme Market gives away frozen turkeys to any customer who spends $300 in a certain number of weeks. I'm not sure if it's six weeks or eight, but I shop there all the time, so I never fail to qualify for a frozen turkey. What I love about this giveaway is that I can get a turkey, keep it frozen, and heave it out when the weatherman predicts a blizzard. Call it my Appalachian DNA, but there's something soothing about knowing you've got a big-ass frozen turkey on hand as a contingency plan.

If you buy frozen turkeys, you know that the advice on how to thaw them is printed on the plastic wrap that coats their poor icy carcasses. "Do not thaw frozen turkey at room temperature. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, or run cold water over turkey for two hours."

Ever tried either one of those tactics, reader? Ever wake up on Thanksgiving morning to a rock-solid frozen turkey that was supposed to be thawed after an overnight stay in the fridge? Have you ever wasted a reservoir of water trying to soften the thing up, only to wind up facing a hungry family with nothing more than cranberry sauce and sweet potato casserole?

Don't try this at home, but my mama (may she rest in peace among the Confederate dead) just sat the frozen turkey on the counter top to thaw. Then she cooked it, and we ate it, and none of us died from it or even got sick. As I say, though, don't take chances! Here's where the free advice comes in.

Thaw that bird at least five days in the fridge, and then don't be surprised if it's still rock-solid inside. Free advice, freely given, all hail free!

Now you're asking, "Anne, dear, why are you talking turkey in July? Wouldn't this be best left for early November?"

Yes, of course this would be best left until early November, but that would be logical. I hope you didn't come here for logic! If you did, you took a wrong turn somewhere.

I'm talking turkey now because last week along the mighty Chesapeake Bay I made my annual donation to the local vulture population. I shoved a big frozen turkey (sans plastic wrap) into a soybean field near our Bed and Breakfast inn.

(Last year's donation was a fresh roadkill possum, adult, that hadn't even drawn flies. But one cannot always be this lucky.)

Picture a 15-pound frozen turkey, lying in a soybean field under the bright sunshine, with the temperature hovering at 97 or higher. How long will it take to thaw?

By my unscientific calculations, any frozen carcass would thaw rapidly under such conditions. I figured two, maybe three hours. But judging by the behavior of the local vulture population, that frozen turkey took 24 hours to gain any notice at all, and another 8 hours before it got consumed. By contrast, I heaved last year's dead possum into the same field at about 8:00 in the morning and found nothing but a spine and a tail (and much vulture down) at 2:30 the same day.

Of course you could argue -- and I wouldn't dispute you -- that roadkill possum is a familiar dish to the Golden Purifiers, and Acme frozen turkey is exotic fare. Still, vultures aren't very picky about what they eat. Think about it: It took one whole day of 97 degrees sunshine, followed by a night where the temperature did not drop under 80, and then half of another 97-degree day, before the turkey vultures found their treat.

Keep this in mind the next time your local grocery store lets you walk out with a free frozen turkey. The thawing directions are bogus. Don't expect a quick turnaround time. Let the vultures of St. Michaels, MD be your guide, and plan accordingly.

Our ushers will now pass the plate. Dig deep.

(*snort* I hope this starts popping up in Google searches on this topic, but I doubt it will.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Free Advice on Beach Reads from Anne

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Have book, will travel! Today's topic is beach reads.

Most of us, when we go on vacation, like our surf-side literature to be as fluffy as the cotton candy on the boardwalk. This explains the perennial popularity of Nora Roberts. If her novels aren't the literary equivalent of cotton candy, I don't know what is.

Are you a huge fan of Nora Roberts, and thereby offended by what I just wrote? My friend, your difference of opinion doesn't change my respect for you one bit! Of all the pleasurable experiences out there, reading is the most self-directed. And thank goodness for that. Variety is the spice of life. We would have much less of it if reading was like golf, something you have to learn to do just like other people do it.

Last summer my sister gave me two "beach reads." I read and hated them both. One was the award-winning The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. The book kept me turning pages, but in the end I just didn't like it. In return, I gave her one of my favorite beach reads, Elsewhere in the Land of Parrots, by Jim Paul. She's never mentioned it, so I'm guessing she tried it and didn't like it. Oh well. I just hope she gives it back.

This past week when we were at the beach (sort of, see below), my daughter The Heir said she didn't have anything to read. She and her dad went into Easton, and she returned with her brand-new beach read: Junky, by William S. Burroughs. She sat there engrossed in it for the duration of our vacation.

See what I mean? Who picks Junky for summer reading? The Heir! You go, Heir. Read all about it, just don't try it. That's the whole point of a beach read ... to let us live vicariously.

There are two universally adored summer reads that I have not been able to penetrate past page 100 ... and not for lack of trying. One is The Mists of Avalon. The other is Twilight. Length is not an issue. The Thorn Birds, weighing in at a whopping 689 pages, is a personal favorite. I just couldn't become engaged in Mists or Edward Cullen. But go figure -- I've read every page of every Harry Potter volume. Sometimes I like the popular stuff, sometimes I hate it.

Here's my free advice on beach reading, just in time for your getaway.

1. Know what you've liked in the past. Nowadays, with Amazon at your fingertips, it's easy as pie to find similar authors to those you already love.

2. Ask people who have your personality type. I discovered one of my favorite authors, Carl Hiaasen, by borrowing a book from a totally unscrupulous local doctor with a sick sense of humor. Judging by the recommender, I knew what I was getting when I opened my first Hiaasen. I've since read every one of Carl Hiaasen's novels. Beach reads par excellence, according to Anne.

3. Vacation is not the time to strengthen your intellectual muscles. There's nothing quite so dismal as being stranded in a hotel room on a rainy day with nothing but Gravity's Rainbow for company.

4. Don't be embarrassed if you hate to read! It's your vacation. You can spend it in the library playing Farmville. Be proud of your strawberries!

5. Beach reads don't have to be books. Gosh, Heir's August issue of Rolling Stone just arrived, and I could for sure go to the beach with that puppy. There's an article in it about the BP oil spill. And a profile of Leonardo DiCaprio. I can't believe Rolling Stone is still so trippy after all these years. Leo on one page, dead pelicans on the next. It's like Hunter Thompson never died.

6. This may be a personal prejudice, but beach reads ought to be easily replaced without a trip to the poorhouse. No Kindles, no signed first editions (fine, in fine dw), no ebooks on your latest Droid. The person who steals your beach read in this case might not actually be taking it for content.

7. Don't travel light! If you're a picky reader, take along three or four (or more) books. Sample each one and stick with the one you like the best. I wish I had taken this advice myself when I was at the beach last week. I had a perfectly delightful history of Benjamin Franklin's diplomatic mission to the court of Louis XVI, but I passed it over for a more conventional beach read that turned out to be disappointing.

8. While on vacation, do something! Hike, swim, tour, ride a roller coaster. Do stuff you can't do at home. If you're at the beach, reading is fine -- but you should also take your chances with the sharks and play in the arcades. Because if your idea of vacation is to curl up with a good book, you should just stay home. With all the money you save, you can buy more books!

As always, this advice is offered for free. Of course, if you would like to make a donation, the ushers will be circulating with the collection plate.

What's your favorite beach read? Mine, along with the aforementioned Elsewhere in the Land of Parrots, is Stormy Weather, by Carl Hiaasen.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Back from Bay, Found That Beach!

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," home safe and sound after another pleasant week alongside the mighty Chesapeake Bay! Yes, there's nothing quite like watching the sun set behind Kent Island amidst a balmy 97-degree evening. I am not saying it was hot there. It was hell there. When it's too hot to go kayaking, how much hotter can it get?

This is how hot it was. By Friday I was back in search of the elusive Claiborn Beach, bound and determined to find it. And I did! I credit a kindly local lady who told me how to get there -- exactly -- if I promised not to walk on her lawn. She did, I didn't, and -- voila! The public beach.

Claiborn Beach (deliberately misspelled) is a teeny tiny little spit of sand, liberally laden with oyster shells. The shells are hard to walk across in order to get into the water, but once you're in the drink, past the shoreline, you've got a sandy bottom. As in many parts of the Chesapeake, this shallow, sandy strand extends out into the water several hundred yards. You could literally wade two or three football fields in length out into the water before it got even up to your armpits.

You could, that is, except for that evil nemesis of the Chesapeake, the sea nettle.

Sea nettles are white, sheer jellyfish that range in size from a marble to a parasol. Once you've made an acquaintance with a sea nettle, you are no longer inclined to bathe in the mighty Chesapeake ... unless the temperature is a balmy 97 under cloudless skies.

How can I describe the sting of a sea nettle? It hurts. And not in just one little spot, like a wasp sting. It hurts wherever the tentacles touch. During my memorable bout with this vicious spineless Kraken, it got wrapped around my arm and stung me from shoulder to wrist. I yelped like a pup.

When the temperature is about to give you a heat stroke, however, you have to weigh the dangers of the Kraken against the knowledge that your hours are numbered if you don't cool off. So we plunged reluctantly into the surf -- self, Spare, Mr. J -- all three of us keeping vigilant watch for jellyfish.

We never ventured more than 15 feet from shore. Even there, several Krakens chased us back to the beach.

On such a bloody hot day, that little beach should have been filled with people. We were the only fools there. This was a good thing, however, because -- in addition to the much-needed cool-down -- I wanted some sea glass. And the bay gave liberally.

Have you ever seen sea glass? I love it. Let me explain what it is. Sea glass is a piece of a beer bottle, or other glass item, that somehow found itself in the bay. The sand scours the glass, removing all the sharp edges and dulling the sheen.

For some time now, I have felt that sea glass is a metaphor for my life. I once was all sharp edges, and crystal clear, and I could make people bleed by my pointy shards. Now I've been rounded and dulled. I'm calm. I won't hurt you, and my beauty lies in the changes time has wrought on me. Anne Johnson = sea glass.

Spare and I combed the beach and, in 30 minutes, found two handfuls of pretty sea glass. Oh! I wish I could go there every day, and then learn how to wrap the beautiful sea glass in wire for necklaces! Every person of a certain age should own a piece of sea glass, just to remind them that it's good when the sharp edges get erased by the sands of time.

Claiborn Beach is notable for sea glass, so whenever I can get down to the Chesapeake again, I'm going to search for more. I would like to be able to offer you a piece, reader, when I get a stable supply.

In the meantime, beware the "sea glass" sold at craft stores. It's factory made. Real sea glass is the color of ... well ... of glass. Most of it is milky white, or semi-clear, or the dark bronze so coveted by beer drinkers.

I'm glad I found some sea glass without getting stung in the process. I'm glad I found that beach. The prettiest places are hidden just at the edge of obscurity. You almost need to be sea glass to find it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

When It Pays To Be Lost

Left-handed people are lousy with directions. I'm left-handed, so I know. I get lost all the time.

Take today, for instance. I'm still down here with the nuclear family along the shore of the mighty Chesapeake Bay.

In some places the bay has beaches, but not everywhere. Much of its shoreline is rip-rap, some of the rest is eroding bluffs, and then there are the piers, and boat launches, and slips, and marinas, and over-built waterfront properties.

The place we stay has a swimming pier, but you have to climb down a ladder into the murky depths -- in which hide jellyfish just waiting for human flesh to sting.

Ever so much better to go to a beach.

There is a very small public beach in the area. Trouble is, it's hard to find. Once I tried for two hours to find it, unsuccessfully. Today (the temperature hovering around 95), Heir, Spare and I set out in search of the beach again.

This time I had directions from a townie at the pub. Take the right side at the Y, follow the road to the end, turn left, then you'll see a little lane that looks like a private road. The beach is at the end of that road.

Off we went in my little economy car with the helpful New Jersey license plates. Round and round we drove in the tiny community of Claiborn, asking residents, recreational boaters -- where's the beach? Hunting for street signs, always winding up at the boat slip, ask another boater -- WHERE'S THE BEACH? Finally we found a good ol' boy getting his crab boat out. He showed us where the beach was. We were one little spit of land to the left of it (ooops, I mean right). Then he said, "There are homes back there now. The owners will tell you you're trespassing if you want to use the beach. They're wrong, it's a public beach, but they have dogs and attitude."

I'm not easily cowed, so I got in the car and drove down the road, which was well-peppered with "no trespassing" and "private property" signs. And it was just as the crabber said. We could see the beach between high-end waterfront homes, but we could also see Cheney wannabes sizing us up for the kill.

This was the first time ever that I was in a situation where you can't get there from here.

But this dilemma of being lost, of driving around fruitlessly for hours... That I know. Happens all the time. As I said, I get lost easily.

So, sweaty and feeling cheated, my offspring and I came back to the B&B. And there I overheard an earnest conversation between the owner of the B&B and a kind missionary trying to drum up funds for work in Africa.

My regular readers know exactly what I think of missionaries, especially those who go meddling in Africa. And this one sounded like a pharmaceutical salesman. Apparently the B&B owner has given generously in previous times, but the mission has changed leadership, and our host is no longer digging deep. So the missionary was giving her the hard sell. Much of it had to do with handing out pamphlets and Bibles, but some of it was scarier -- like his description of the actual crucifixion that his flock somehow staged in his absence. Or some such, I was not close enough to hear much.

What I did hear was the B&B host. She said, "I just think the money should go to the Lost."

To which the missionary emphatically agreed, but with caveats about administrative budgets and travel and Bible-buying.

But it was that word "lost" that stuck in my mind. Presumably, the "Lost" are those who aren't Christians.

Well, folks, I've been lost many, many times in my life, but this is the first time when being Lost was not just a good thing, but a great thing. Tra la la! I'm Lost! Hopefully without a trace.

If missionaries want to find me, they can start looking at Claiborn Beach. It's ever so easy to find.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

FTLOFF: The War on Acronyms

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," still broadcasting from the shore of the mighty Chesapeake Bay. What a lovely spot. Today the weather is fine, and I wish you were here.

Last evening, Mr. Johnson and I stopped by a local eatery to get some soft shell crabs. The sign in front of the dining establishment said "AUCE Crabs Mon-Thur."

Mr. Johnson said, "What are auce crabs?"

Then and there, I declared The Great Gods Are Bored War on Acronyms!

It was bad enough when crabs were "All U Can Eat." But "AUCE?"

This has gottten OOH (out of hand). FTLOFF (for the love of fruit flies), are we descending into the Orwellian nightmare of 1984, just 26 years behind schedule?

Well, here at The Gods Are Bored, we have occasionally acronymed our title. No more! When you come here, everything will be spelled out for you in that sweet, old-fashioned way! Down with acronyms! The pox take all acronyms! A plague upon the house of all acronyms!

In other news, we at The Gods Are Bored were driving some back roads here in the wilder parts of the Chesapeake, and we found the residence of the FVPOTUS.

See what I mean about acronyms? The devil's spawn, I say!

Laugh out loud, just kidding smiley face, see you later! Best friends forever. Ta ta for now.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Chesapeake Bay Can Bite Me

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," from the fine lands sacred to the Nanticoke Peoples! We are long-distance blogging from the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.

The word "Chesapeake" derives from a Native American tongue. Roughly translated, it means "Water filled with stuff that bites and stings."

Mr. Johnson was born and raised in these parts, and it's no wonder he's a reluctant swimmer. He can drive a boat, but he's pretty ungainly in the water. His grandmother, who lives right on the water, never learned to swim at all.

Water, water everywhere, but don't go in the drink!

There is a swimming pier here at the pretty B&B where we stay. This morning I went to take a look-see on the pesky issue of sea nettles.

For those of you who live inland, let me describe sea nettles. They float like jellyfish (which they are) and sting like a hoard of rabid wasps. You just don't want to see one of those things being tossed your way on a balmy wave. Trust me on this. I had an intimate conversation with one two years ago, and it's still fresh in my mind.

Today, gazing from the pier, I didn't see a single sea nettle. "Oh, good!" thinks I. "Time for a dip!"

Alas, just as I turned away with a refreshing swim on my mind, I caught a glimpse of another nemesis of the bay, the common blue crab. A sea nettle can sting you, but a blue crab can rip a hole in your flesh. This is why I have no compunction about eating big heaps of them, steamed and spiced.

Upon further investigation, I noticed that someone had sunk a single crab trap about 30 feet from the ladder off the swimming pier. It's open invitation for crabs today in the old swimming hole.

Gotta face facts. This waterway bites. Even the minnows gnaw on you.

Nevertheless, the vista is swell, and there's a breeze, and plenty of shady hemlocks to sit under, and cheerful sailboats dotting the waves. And inland ... ah, sweet flat inland ... there are plenty of buzzards who will gratefully consume anything one buys for them and flings into the field.

Wherever there are vultures, life is good.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Annual Trek

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Some like it hot. They must be liking at maximum force this summer.

Every year 'round about this time, the intrepid Johnson family leaves Snobville for a brief respite along the shores of the mighty Chesapeake Bay. There we lie on chaise lounges drinking iced tea while watching the sailboats glide by. In the evening we drive into St. Michaels, which is basically Snobville except with a waterview.

I used to bemoan the missed opportunities to write these little posts while sunning along the mighty Chesapeake. But since there's absolutely nothing to do there except lounge around, it's a simple matter to go to the St. Michaels library, get a pass, and go online.

If I had my choice, we would vacation in the mountains. But the mere mention of this possibility would bring instant and wholesale opposition from the nest. So I have stopped worrying and learned to love the bay.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

How Modesty Will Keep Me Thin This Summer

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," coming to you today with much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Well, not exactly. I don't know how to gnash my teeth. Do you know how to do it? Post a YouTube! It's a talent I wish I had.

Readers of yesteryear will remember that our local ice cream man was not, in fact, a man but a bored god related by blood ties to Adonis. At least it seemed that way. The dude was so doggone handsome that the stars in the sky developed a taste for soft serve. The very sound of his annoying truck ditty would bring every female on the block sprinting from her home, digging into the folds of her sweatpants for quarters while taming the wild wisps of her bangs with trembling fingers.

You think I'm kidding. I'm not. All three of us -- Heir, Spare, and me -- would fight to be the first one out the door to see the ice cream man. My sister came to visit for a day. She saw him. She's talked of nothing since. Pinky swear on my mama's grave amongst the Confederate Dead: That ice cream man was the best-looking male human on the planet.

I say was. I should say is. He hasn't died. He has just become the victim of modesty.

I'm trying to imagine how this individual could get up and look in the mirror every day and say, "Damn, I'm not a bad looking dude. Maybe that's why I sell so much ice cream in the summertime."

Instead, the guy quit his day job, bought five Mister Softee ice cream trucks, and is now managing them.

Spare and I found this out the hard way yesterday, when we heard the ice cream truck ditty and sprinted for the curb. We shaded our hands from the sun's glare ... was it our man? Slowly, slowly the truck advanced.

It wasn't our man. It was a different man. An ordinary mortal who wasn't even very good at dishing out ice cream. I bought one small, for the Spare. If it had been our former Adonis of the Ice Cream World, I would have bought one for Spare, one for myself, and tipped him a buck or two. (Yes, I did that. Many times. You had to be there to understand.)

Over the past few summers, I bought and drank quite a few milkshakes. These are not good for the waistline. But I never bought them because I like soft serve from an ice cream truck. I bought them for that moment when I could ogle the ice cream dude.

Now that the opportunity to ogle has passed, so has my taste for milkshakes. Heir and Spare feel the same way. I bet many of the dude's former customers have similar cases of Adonis withdrawal that they are not medicating with truck-dispensed soft serve.

The sad thing is that this promising young entrepreneur entered into a business venture without taking into consideration that it wasn't the product he was selling that was making him rich -- it was the seller. There are four ice cream parlors in Snobville, and all four of them have better ice cream than you get from a truck.

One man's lack of vanity has been his undoing. Damn! He should have handed out anonymous customer surveys before quitting a day job and buying into a subpar franchise!

Do you think, when the profits plunge and he's earning less from five trucks driven by others than he did from one he drove himself, he'll finally look in the mirror and say, "I'm not a bad-looking dude. Maybe people bought ice cream from me just to see me!"

Modesty: refreshing or ruinous? You make the call.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Look! Up in the Sky!

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Are you ready for some praise and worship? You are? Well, WOOT!

(WOOT is the new Hallelujah. Change with the times, already!)

It's high time ... and I mean high time ... that we had a friendly interview with a bored god. Honestly, you'd think we'd forgotten our mission statement or something.

The bored god we've invited today can get out of hand sometimes and be quite destructive. But you know what? Life and death being what they are, if you get killed by this God's work, it won't be the worst way to go.

The God in question is Catequil, sacred to the Inca peoples. Please give a warm, wonderful "Gods Are Bored" welcome to Catequil! WOOT!

Anne: Catequil, you were busy here in New Jersey yesterday. Your thunderclouds flooded every major artery that I needed to travel in order to pick The Heir up from her job.

Catequil: Hey. Wait a minute. I thought this was "praise and worship!" Are you complaining?

Anne: Not on Your eternal life, I'm not! I swear I could hear the plants in my back yard drinking up the water. We needed every drop of that inch-and-a-half rainstorm.

Catequil: Thank you. I endeavor to give satisfactory deluges.

Anne: Job well done, Mighty God! But you know, Catequil, I think all the NORADS and Dopplers and such have taken some of the magic out of sky-gazing. People still get all steamed up over stars and eclipses and meteor showers (I'm guilty as charged on that), but I think the fine mystical experience of cloud-watching has not gotten its share of press.

Catequil: Here's what I have to say to that!

Anne: Now, now. This is not how to win friends and influence people! I'm trying to interest my readers in the finer arts of cloud appreciation. In order for me to do that, you need to be less confrontational and more "with the flow."

Catequil: Oh, no one understands cloud-gazing anymore! In the eons before barometers, radar, and telegraphs, wise men and women interpreted the clouds and could thereby predict the weather. Nowadays even the school children don't learn about Cumulonimbus and Stratus clouds!

Anne: I learned them.

Catequil: In an elective high school science class.

Anne: That was a chippin class, Catequil. You see? I don't remember much about the 1970s, but I do remember Mr. Brown teaching us about cloud types. Combine that with all the afternoons spent lying on a blanket on Polish Mountain, staring up at the ....

Catequil: Don't you dare say clouds! I know you were buzzard-watching!

Anne: It's a big sky. Clouds, buzzards ... all is good. If I may be serious for a moment...

Catequil: Go ahead and try. I'd like to be in on this "first."

Anne: I just want to praise You and thank You, O holy Catequil, for the dramatic pre-thunderclouds and fully-formed thunderclouds, and shift-shaping Nimbus clouds, and puffy soft Cumulus clouds that you blew across the horizons of my life this week. I absolutely marveled at Your creations. Yes, modern science can explain every little twist and turn of colliding pressure systems, but the human eye -- and the human heart -- can still thrill to the miracle of clouds.

Catequil (scornful): Now your airplanes fly right through them.

Anne: Yes, but to me this does not diminish their greatness. It only provides humble humans with a different perspective on a holy creation.

Catequil: I'm starting to like you.

Anne: Well, I've always loved You, and I always will. Let me bore You with one little naval gaze before you head over to Africa.

Catequil: I've got time.

Anne: Glad to hear it. Okay, so here's the story:

Our house on Polish Mountain looked out to the west, and so did Uncle Earl's. Uncle Earl had a better view, but basically we all knew when a thunderstorm was coming ... We could literally watch it cross over Warrior's Ridge and advance up the valley and overtop the houses.

One evening, a whopper of a thunderstorm came roaring through just minutes before sundown. As it passed over, the sun came out on the far side of it. The setting sun turned everything -- everything -- magenta. Then crimson. Then lilac. Then violet. The clouds were magenta, and the weeds in the pasture were magenta!

We were all bustling around. Grandma and I were clearing the dinner dishes, Granddad had gone to the shed. But when those colors started turning the world into a natural Purple Haze, everything just ground to a halt, and we stood there admiring Your work, O mighty Catequil!

As soon as the magic sunset passed, and the thunder roared off to the east, Uncle Earl and Aunt Belle walked over from their house. Uncle Earl was the oldest of Granddad's family, and he said he'd never seen a sunset like that in his life.

Uncle Earl looked at me and said, "Anne Janette, you may never see another sunset that magnificent as long as you live."

So far he is correct, and almost 40 years have passed since that evening.

Catequil, I know the science behind cloud formations, but I still see Your work in them. Clouds are sacred things, mighty things, holy things. We who cannot be You must salute You. Thanks be to You, again, for the beauty and nourishment of Your holy clouds this past week!

Catequil: You're welcome. But you might want to go back and edit that anecdote. Little more of your name in there than you usually allow.

Anne: It's okay. I'm not going to change my uncle Earl's words. He was a Titan among men, and that's what he called me.

Catequil: Suit yourself. Oh say. Can I get a glass of water for the road? I'm parched.

Anne: How about if I fill the bathtub?

Catequil: If it's not too much trouble.

All glory, laud, and honor to Catequil, God of clouds! Next time you see the sky, blow a kiss to this fabulous deity. That's not moisture up there, it's mystery.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Trouble with Free Speech

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," coming to you from the Land of the Free and the Home of the Not-So-Smart!


First, a bit of good news in this morning's Philadelphia Inquirer. Rick Santorum will no longer be appearing as a weekly columnist. Woot! This must have been the first executive decision of the new publisher. I don't know about the rest of the Inquirer's subscribers, but I canceled my subscription after a particularly virulent and self-serving Santorum rant. Now I'll be back on board with the "Inky!"

Rick Santorum's broken-record, impassioned pleas for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as occurring between one man and one woman lost him his Senate seat in Pennsylvania. Well, that and the fact that he didn't live in Pennsylvania. He had moved his family to the deep blue suburbs of Washington, DC, from which he cannot now emerge to challenge his left-wing foes.

Before you tea party morons out there accuse me of not wanting to listen to opposing viewpoints, I will tell you that the Inquirer has a very good and very conservative columnist named Kevin Ferris. I hate the guy's politics, but he expresses himself well. He also answers his hate mail, which is rare in the newspaper biz.

But today's sermon is not about our sweet Ricky. It's about people who ardently support freedom of speech.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Trouble is, some people don't think their opinions through before they take them public.

If you're a member of the Tea Party, and you passionately believe in personal freedom (is this before or after cashing your Social Security check?), see what you have wrought! Onslaught without thought!

Each and every bored god and all busy gods forbid that we ever get a president like the two men with whom he's pictured on this billboard! Especially Hitler!

Excuse me, Tea Fartiers: Have you been rounded up, placed in "camps," tortured in the name of "medical research," and gassed wholesale? Do you honestly believe that could happen under our sitting president?

I'm trying to imagine our American military goose-stepping and Sieg Heiling President Obama in a vast parade of muscled might.

Ooops! Sorry. I've got a vivid imagination, but NOT THAT FRIGGIN VIVID.

In all fairness, some Tea Party higher-uppers have condemned this billboard. Sorry, dudes. It's too late. The thing is looming over a highway in Iowa, and it says "tea party" on the bottom. Freedom of speech! The rights of the individual! That's what y'all stand for. But you see, the "rights of the individual" includes every individual, even the ones with extremely bad judgment and extremely hefty bank accounts. Those individuals have just shot the Tea Party in the foot.

Let's see if I can guess what I'm going to see on "Countdown with Keith" tonight, when I sit down to yawn through it. If the Hitler/Lenin/Obama billboard isn't the first image on the screen, it will only be because the BP oil cap has exploded.

Just as most mainstream Christians flinch and flee when the Westboro Baptist Church slings its hate, most mainstream Republicans must be appalled at the Tea Party fringe "freedom fighters." At least I hope that's the case, because civil discourse is the hallmark of a healthy democracy.

The beauty is that the Tea Party can't police its own, can't ask for reason to prevail. This would tread on the freedom of speech of its members. Hopefully this will prove the downfall of this small group of political zealots who are doing the dirty work for Big Business -- and who presumably have lived such fortunate lives as to never have needed government assistance, even to fill the pesky pothole in front of their house.

Tea Party, when you go down, that billboard is going to be your life raft. Uh oh.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Little Stuff Pissing Me Off Today

Grrrrr! Anne is in a bad mood. It's a Loki hangover. He was here for the weekend, and then He departed. It's kind of like crashing after a sugar high.

In honor of this bad mood, I will now list the pesky items that are ticking me off today.

1. I now have to blog professionally. Thank goodness I was able to set up a different account. Still it's like being paid to taste salt water taffy, which means you have to try all the flavors you don't like.

2. My refrigerator broke down. Have you ever noticed that this always happens in the summertime?

3. Mel Gibson meltdown. Prior to "The Passion of the Christ," I rather liked Mel Gibson. He's about my age, and he used to be good-looking. Now he's a washed-out, scary raving lunatic who ought to be watched closely. I wonder what the fundies think of their altar boy now?

4. George Steinbrenner dies. First we must consider what they are listing as cause of death. Heart attack. If that guy had a heart, he never showed it -- just ask the people who worked most closely with him. I am mourning his death, though, because in this household he was the Number One Baseball Executive We Loved to Hate. The mere mention of his name would cause even Decibel the Parrot to hiss. I would nominate Mel Gibson to replace George as household hate-ee, but Mel doesn't own the @$$%^$%@#!! Yankees.

5. I saw someone run over a chipmunk yesterday. Worse than that, I was driving to my daily teacher workshop at the time! I couldn't even stop and consign the sweet little thing to the Green Man. This put me in a blue funk, I assure you.

6. Governor Fat Ass. Ask and ye shall receive! We've got a Republican governor in this state now, and he's acting just like every other Republican since poor Abe Lincoln got shot. He's balancing New Jersey's budget on the backs of the poor and middle class while allowing the state's wealthiest few to go right on being under-taxed and spoiled rotten. Cut your calories, not our salaries, asshole! (If you've never seen this sorry excuse for a human, his name is Chris Christie. I refuse to place his photo on my blog.)

7. The end to New Jersey's traffic circles. It's bad enough that we are losing the famed 1920s-era traffic circles that couldn't exactly handle today's suburban crush. But as the circles get re-made, the "upgrades," with their orange barrels and cones, have made travel far slower. I will sorely miss the take-no-prisoners-only-the-strong-survive mayhem of the circles. Everyone needs a little assertiveness training. Where will we get it now?

8. My readership is down. Booo hooooo! According to my stat counter, my readership has tumbled from three to two. What have I done? (I guess the better question is, "What haven't I done?")

9. Fridays with Thurber. Do you watch "Countdown with Keith?" Have you seen his Friday exercise in vanity, in which he sits in a chair reading James Thurber? James Thurber? Couldn't he had at least picked an interesting author? I don't want to hear about James Thurber's fourth grade class! I want to hear H. L. Mencken's rants against the popular preachers of his day!

10. Supreme Court nominees. You know, as long as Obama is getting accused of being a socialist, why doesn't he act like one? If I stood in his shoes, I would have picked the most rabid liberal activist judge in the nation and stuck him/her on the Supreme Court. How come the conservatives get justices who go to conservative parties and write letters of thanks to their far-right Christian base, while we get blank slates who may or may not change the face of the Supreme Court of the United Corporations?

Mr. Johnson just handed me my final, and perhaps most brutal, piss-off. It's an invitation to my 30-year college reunion next spring. Can I have been out of college for 30 years? I am totally ripening for the buzzards.

So, to my two faithful readers, have a nice day. What do you want me to blog about ... politics or religion ... or my sister? Or Rhodesian Ridgebacks? Kept women? Rat Finks? Tea Party morons? My garden? My cats? Decibel the Parrot? My sordid past as a pole dancer? Just asking.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Camp

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" We bring a whole new meaning to the phrase "camping out."

My daughter loves cheesy roadside attractions and wacky advertising. During a recent visit to Chicago, she took the El train, a bus, and a cab (plus walking) just to see a hot dog stand with neon wieners on top. When one thinks of what Chicago offers in the way of tourism, one can only conclude that Heir loves camp. Not "to camp," just "camp."

Enter the campy festivals.

My three regular readers are already familiar with the East Coast Vulture Festival, possibly the campiest of all campy fests in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. This is the only campy festival that I actually participate in. That's me, pictured.

But just this past weekend, the Philadelphia metro region offered not one but two campy festivals. Oh, the choices, the choices! Should we get pelted by Twinkies thrown off an abandoned prison parapet by a champagne-swilling Marie Antoinette? Or run screaming from the retro theater where they filmed "The Blob?"

Smackdown: Blobfest vs. Bastille Day.

I've already described Bastille Day to the best of my ability, below. The video is helpful. This year, the Johnsons chose Bastille Day -- and wisely, because Blobfest went all gooey in the rain.

Nonetheless, my daughter The Spare and I found ourselves in Phoenixville, PA yesterday, just a day in the wake of Blobfest. This meant that all the Blob art was still in the store windows and on the sides of the buildings. All the creative hats made of aluminum foil were still in the art gallery. I couldn't persuade The Spare to attend the final showing of "The Blob" at the Colonial Theater. (Campy as it is, "The Blob" can morph in one's dreams -- I'm living proof of that.)

Even without attending "The Blob," there was plenty of Blobilicious camp in Phoenixville. Next year, if the weather is fine, we'll go to Blobfest.

If you haven't seen "The Blob," it's a cheesy horror/sci fi movie starring a young Steve McQueen. It was filmed in the Phoenixville area, including at their vintage movie theater.

One of the things I admire about the human condition is the way we tend to latch onto any local irregularity and turn it into a reason to celebrate. You've got 75 vultures roosting in your back yard? Let's have a Vulture Festival, invite people to see them! A really, really dumb movie was filmed in your town? Party hardy! A matter of pride! Seven pubs within two blocks of an imposing, grim fortress that was once home to Al Capone? You can best bet those bartenders are going to hatch a festival of some sort -- and on a hot day, too. You sell more beer that way.

What people don't know about campy festivals is that many of them are inspired by the not-so-bored god Loki, who whispers into the brains of folks who are eager to organize something. Festivals require organization. The bigger the fest, the more whispering Loki has to do. Vulture Fest alone has more than a dozen dedicated volunteers who put in hours and hours and hours for an event that celebrates turkey buzzards. If there's no bored god behind that, I'll eat my hat.

I must say that Loki has found America fertile ground for weird and wacky local celebrations. Thank you, Loki, from the bottom of my heart.

I have two festivals in my future that are in the way of holy pilgrimages. One day, somehow, some way, I am going to attend the Moth Man Festival in Point Pleasant, West Virgina. The other festival (it falls on The Spare's birthday, alas) is Hillbilly Days in Pike County, Kentucky.

Once I have been to those two events, my life will be complete. Then I can die, and Snobville will finally get its campy festival, Annefest, in which people will dress as bored gods and have contests to see which pantheon is the most powerful.

These days, Snobville's only festival is an arts and crafts fair. It was held this past weekend too. I guess we also need some events for normal people to attend, however boring they may be.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A journey of 3,000 Twinkies begins with a single snow shovel.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Of Tyrants and Tastykakes

Today it's raining, but this unfortunate weather will not halt the patriotic march of self, Heir, Spare, and even Mr. Johnson as we attend the annual re-enactment of Bastille Day as only Philadelphia can stage it. Some festivals are so campy that they defy description, so it's easier to watch the video below of a previous year (Spare and I are in the crowd somewhere). The projectiles being hurled upon the crowd are packages of our local junk food pastries, Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets.

If you're stuck inside by the weather, and you want to read something astonishing, Google the lyrics of the French national anthem. "The Star Spangled Banner" will suddenly look much better to you.


Bastille Day 2007, Philly

Friday, July 09, 2010

Time To Found My Very Own University

Welcome to the brand-new home of Phuque University! Inspired by the grand example of Mr. Glenn Beck, I, Anne Johnson, am going to launch an online college! How hard can it be?

Well, first you need a mascot. I happen to know that this darling fellow has been out of work for awhile. So, for the Phuque U Fighting Liberals, here's "Perfy!" What an inspiration!

Phuque U will be applying for federal financial aid, and you will qualify for federal loans if you enroll. All the same, we're not going to allow any of those pesky Christian social groups to organize on our campus. If the government says we have to allow them in order to qualify for government subsidies, we'll wring our hands and say it's a violation of our moral values!

Should our liberal course list, liberal standards of deportment, and liberal views on each and every civil issue not dissuade the enrollment of, say, Mormon young men, then guess what? They're not allowed! And if they say it's not fair, because we're taking government money to run Phuque U, we'll just tell them to Phuque Off! This is our university, we set our applicant and social standards, and we say, NO MORMONS. Don't try to sneak past us either. We're not running some "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" operation here. We will find you and make you feel extremely unwelcome!

What does every university need to be successful and financially stable -- besides federal subsidies? Of course! A vibrant, take-no-prisoners football team, Division I-A!

Glenn Beck ... where's your football team? You're goin down, chump!

Okay, so this is an online university. Where will our football team play? We need a stadium! Naah. We'll just send our best gamers to some virtual war site and let them pummel opponents wholesale in the proud name of Phuque U.


(Beck should have hired me. Now it's too late. One up.)

Actually we do plan to borrow something from Glenn Beck, but we'll do it better.

Phuque U will not tolerate fact-based learning or peer-reviewed research. This much we get from Beck. However, we take this up a notch. We don't want you to learn anything that's been proven or accepted as a fact for any amount of time. At Phuque U, we reject the Bible, Beowulf, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and Australopithecus equally, because they're all fraudulent! Lies, lies, lies!

You say the Book of Revelation was actually written during the worst days of the Roman Empire? Silly goose! My good friend  Itzack Bunchacrap wrote that one night when he got some bad shrooms. I have the primary sources to prove it: a slightly soiled map of the Adirondacks with Itzack's shroomy scrawl in the margins. You don't even have to see it to believe it. Trust me. You do trust me, right?

Our very first course here at Phuque U will be "States of Confusion: The Delaware Conspiracy."

I'll bet you believe that the state of Delaware exists. Forget it! You were taught that by dangerously subversive manipulators of bogus information! There's no such place as the state of Delaware. If you live in Kansas, you already know this. But there are a lot of fools here on the East Coast who actually think they're driving through Delaware, just because some sign on I-95 says, "Welcome to Delaware." What kind of proof is that? Anyone with any kind of devious motive can put up a sign! Take it from Anne Johnson, Professor of Everything at Phuque U: "Delaware" is a Russian plot to take over America. And you fall for it! You stop at that so-called "Delaware toll booth" and fork over $4.00 (both ways), thinking it pays for the highway. Ha ha, blind lemming! All of that money goes straight to the Kremlin! There is no Delaware. Repeat after me. There is no Delaware.

Now that you see the kind of high quality instruction you'll receive here at Phuque U, I'm sure you're eager to enroll. You can get the entire course, "States of Confusion: The Delaware Conspiracy" for three easy payments of $399! Go ahead, try to find cheaper tuition than that! Best part is, you don't have to buy any books. We frown on books. Nasty things, full of lies.

To save you time, we've prepared the following list of people who won't qualify for Phuque U, so don't bother applying to our federally-funded university:

1. Mormons (aforementioned).
2. Anyone even remotely affiliated with the Tea Party movement (It's a commie conspiracy, like Delaware).
3. People who don't shave the hair off their toes.
4. Lithuanians, even with valid American citizenship. Can't trust Lithuanians.
5. Mimes.

On the other hand, we dole out generous scholarships to the following:

1. High-scoring online gamers.
2. People who know how to fix broken kitchen cabinets.
3. Anyone willing to wear that Perfy costume in hot, humid weather.
4. People who can trace their ancestry to those who remained loyal to King George during the so-called American Revolution (which is actually a lie, it should be called "The Casting Off," because Britain just didn't want responsibility for America anymore).

Sign up today and receive a 1 percent discount on your first semester of enrollment!

Welcome to Phuque U. And remember our motto: "Mentiri, Semper Mentiri."

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Never Mix, Never Worry

I have been told to join a group blog using my Google account. This is a professional blog that I am supposed to join.

I am not going to do it. I've been with Blogger since 2005, I like Blogger -- no offense to you WordPress folks out there -- and this is my thing, right here.

I have made a point not to talk about my work here at this site. And I know that this blog can be seen by anyone in the world. But to link it purposefully to a work-related site. eeeek. Not gonna happen.

I was here first with "The Gods Are Bored." If having this blog and not being willing to contribute to another (save through anonymous comments that will be lengthy and signed at the end) means I'll get fired, then phooey. Start filling out the pink slip.

My many close friends among the bored gods --with the possible exception of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, who wants to be written into classroom curriculum -- feel that matters of church and state should remain separate. I'm not relocating my religion blog because some educational consultant got the bright idea to open up a site on Blogger.

HERE you will find "The Gods Are Bored." I like it here. Feels like home.

All hail the Sacred Thunderbird, etc. etc. You know the drill, and the drill is HERE.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Coming Out

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," home page of Anne Johnson, She Who Believes in Everything! Don't believe me? Put it to the test! I don't even snicker when I drive through East Baltimore and see the window shrines to Elvis. Someone is drawing solace from meditating on a King, looking at his picture, and lighting candles to him. To me this is a sacred thing, and who am I to belittle it?

There's been some talk over at The Wild Hunt about having a Pagan Coming Out Day, where presumably anyone who considers themselves Pagan would openly declare their path to family, friends, and -- ulp -- workplace colleagues.

When I told my sister I had become a Druid, she asked if that meant I was going to slaughter kittens in a pentagram.

See? That could have snapped our relationship right there if I hadn't bitten my cheek and dug deep for the big, broad, flexible outlook.

Now we're down the road a few years, and Sis has come to a few faerie festivals. She calls herself a "Pagan Christian." I'm not sure what that means, exactly, but I do know that Sis has been more reflective on the people around her at her fundie church and has rejected their "legalistic" agenda. She has friended some of my Druid Grove members on Facebook. So I think "coming out" to Sis did help her to begin to question all those answers she was getting on "Focus on the Family."

But soft! What exactly does it mean to "come out" as a Pagan in the workplace?

My workplace is a public school. If my students were ever to ask my religion, I would evoke the First Amendment. I'm not Wiccan, so wearing a Pentagram is not an issue. I wear a wooden acorn on a hemp string at least twice a week, and my students sometimes ask me, "Why do you wear that acorn all the time?" I tell them I like trees. Which is true.

The reality at my particular school is that a great many of my students are Roman Catholic, and some of the rest are Evangelical Christian, with a smattering of Jehovah's Witnesses. Not only can I not "come out" to these kids, I have to be especially vigilant not to let it slip that I'm a Pagan. Do I need to sit here and tell you why it wouldn't work for me to be open about my Path? Because just now I have a workshop to attend, and I need to take a shower, and if you want more explanation you'll have to ask for it.

Having had extremely mixed results when I tell people I'm a Druid, I will go on record as not being supportive of a "coming out" movement. For Pagans, not for gays. The difference between Pagan and gay is that you choose to be Pagan. And as for closeted gays, I can totally see their point too.

Everyone's comfort level is different when it comes to discussing religion. My personal comfort level has declined over the past year, after I confided in a few teachers who I thought were friends, only to see them shun me and make snide comments about my apparel and behavior.

Remember that our U.S.Constitution gives you the right to worship in any way you please (or not at all) and does not demand that you reveal how you worship, to authorities, friends, or family. This, to my way of thinking, should be a personal decision on your part. The only pressure you feel to "come out" should come from within. Let your conscience be your guide.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Up Close and Personal with Big Government

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," with liberty and justice for owls! Let's talk about the long arm of Big Government with someone who has seen it at work.

Actually I'm not even to the federal level. Let's talk about the long arm of Big State Government with someone who has seen it at work.

Case #1: School Oversight Committees

The school district where I teach is monitored by some acronym-laden state entity that demands "adequate yearly progress" in our student population. In other words, each year more of our students have to pass the state standardized graduation test than the year before. We teachers work hard to improve our skills so that all of our students pass the test. But the state doesn't take into consideration that adequate yearly progress can only be made if each and every cohort of students is exactly the same. Which, as you know if you're a teacher, doesn't happen. Some years bring better students than other years. But our state, strapped for money, pays consultants to evaluate teachers, administrators, janitors (just kidding about that one, but I wouldn't be surprised), and facilities to make sure we're dancing as fast as we can in the classroom.

So, everything we do in our little school district, we do with an eye toward the state regulators. Personally I look at this as everyone pulling for the same goal -- educating at-risk students and getting them through high school. I know that some of my fellow teachers hate the state regulators. And some teachers do give it their all, then wind up on the cutting room floor when the kids take a dive on the tests. I think overall, though, we teachers try harder because we know "they" are watching. Logical use of data and state funding? Debatable. Overall goal? Commendable.

Case #2: Maryland's Department of Environmental Protection

Have you noticed that when states get strapped for cash, one of the first things to go is environmental protection? This is because a small group of tree-huggers can't compete with corporations that want less oversight of what they dump in the waterways. Will this BP mess change that? I hope so, because I'm pulling for the Maryland DEP.

My three long-time readers will remember that I have blogged about a despicable beast of a man named Michael Carnock who wants to build 4300 housing units just east of the Middle of Nowhere in Western Maryland. This greed-monger envisions a town of 11,000 souls on a property he bought for a song. (Just now there's nothing on that land but woods and weeds and critters.) Michael Carnock is even willing to pay to have one nearby creek dammed as a water supply, and he has promised to build a sewage treatment plant, the water from which will spill into a wet-weather stream called Terrapin Run.

Well, you see, the Maryland Department of Environmental Protection wants some information first. Those Big Government pencil-pushers in Annapolis -- the nerve of these guys -- want environmental impact studies! The poor put-upon Mr. Carnock has brought a lawsuit against MDEP for holding up his business venture.

Ask your average tree-hugger, and he or she will tell you there's not enough Big Government. I am one of those tree-huggers, and while I'm ranting, let me just say that I wish President Obama was an evil big spender! But he's not. It's business as usual in America, which -- although we love its flag and its history -- is a country dedicated to the enrichment of the few at the expense of the many.

Big Government is not going to knock down your door and take your guns away. It's not going to appoint some "chairman" on your block to keep an eye on you in case you do something "unpatriotic." It will send someone to investigate what's in those pesky drums that were dumped in the vacant lot. It will send a check to your aging mother-in-law, thus keeping her in her own home instead of in your spare room.

As for the complaints against Big Government, how is it that we only hear them when domestic issues are involved? I guess Government isn't Big when all it's doing is fighting wars overseas.

There's a Tier II stream in eastern Allegany County, Maryland that desperately needs Big Government. Is it foolish of me to root for the pencil-pushers in Annapolis?

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Sunday, July 4

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," where no deity scores an Epic Fail! Winning and losing is for baseball, not religion. Everything needn't be a contest. Sheesh!

Every now and then the Fourth of July falls on a Sunday and throws a monkey wrench into everyone's holiday plans. What is the Fourth without a morning parade? I guess we're gonna find out, because no town I know of would ever schedule a parade to conflict with church services.

Those of us who don't plan to don patriotic attire and toddle into the Methodist sanctuary in red heels might actually use Sunday, July 4 to a higher purpose.

Let us join in serious silent meditation for our nation and our planet and try especially to address the imbalances between our nation's consumption and our planet's preservation.

Whoa. Look at all those big words! No way will the Tea Party be able to read that!

On Sunday, July 4, you should:

1. Petition the deity or deities of your choice to send this country down a better road, and

2. Petition the deity or deities of your choice to save our planet.

If your deities are anything like mine, They will lob your petition right back at you and say, "DIY."

Know what? They're right!

What will you do to save the world? Me, I'm off to the laundromat. Laugh if you like, but those big ol' machines save energy by the fistfuls!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Where Pilgrimage Takes Me

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Everything's hunky dory here today ... so far. Alpha is curled up in her cat basket, Beta is out under the tree waiting for a baby bird to fall from a nest, Decibel the parrot is unusually quiet. Heir is at work. Spare is puttering about the kitchen. And I, Anne Johnson, am here to entertain you! Good times, good times.

Since America is such a melting pot, people tend to think of themselves as being "from" somewhere, even if their families have lived here for generations. Until recently, I've been as guilty of that as anyone else. I've always loved telling people I'm "Scotch Irish."

Then one day recently, I found myself by a pretty little stream with nothing in particular to do, and I began to consider where I'm really from and what I should call myself based on my ancestors' "points of origin."

I'm Appalachian.

So far back as I can trace, three lines of my dad's ancestors were living in Appalachia a dozen generations ago. Long enough to outlast an Old Testament curse! So far back as I can trace on my mom's side, a German named Peter Mittelkauf arrived in Philadelphia on the ship Morehouse from a place called the Palatine in 1740. He moved straight to Western Maryland, not stopping first in Chester County, PA as Mom's Scotch-Irish ancestors did.

Dad's kin probably win the prize for longevity of occupancy in Appalachia. And what rich names appear in the family tree! There are Mountains and Kennards (sure sounds French to me), Tewells, Imeses, Bennetts, Martins, and (of course) Johnsons. There are Lashleys, which back in the day would have been pronounced Locks-lee.

Conservatively, if I were to book intercontinental, I would have to visit France, Germany, Scotland, and England. And in none of these places did my ancestors have anything going for them -- otherwise they would have stayed put. Where they did stay put was Appalachia. Ten generations. Twelve generations. Fourteen generations (the hardy Bennetts).

I am the first of my family to leave home and live elsewhere. Even my sister still lives in Appalachia.

Therefore, when I think of connecting with Ancestor, my thoughts do not wander to Stonehenge, but rather to Hopewell Township, PA. I like kilts and bagpipes excessively, but given a choice I'll go with a basement bluegrass band first. In fact, bluegrass music bears out my point. It is a coherent melding of African, Scottish, Irish, and English rhythms, melodies, and instrumentation. It is uniquely American music.

You could argue, of course, that probably a thousand generations of my ancestors lived in Scotland. Maybe they fought with Robert Bruce at Bannockburn. Well, that would be a point of pride indeed. But still I would have to return to one fact: At some point, recognizing the immense danger and strong possibility of death, my ancestors climbed on little rickety wooden ships and braved the fierce Atlantic. Then, although life was no bowl of cherries in the fortress hills of Appalachia, they settled in and stayed. And loved it.

Where are my ancestors from? Appalachia. Where do I pilgrimage? Appalachia. Hail the hills and valleys, hail the creeks and cliffs. Hail the spot that will be my grave among my people.

Now, you say, "Anne. Wait a minute. You're chucking the whole of history and settling for a mere 14 generations?"

Okay, scrap that! Let's get serious about this ancestor piece!

Come, all of you reading this. We are all siblings. Let's do the deep ancestor crawl! Off we go to East Africa, to the Afar Valley, to Kenya and Tanzania. There to meet the bored gods that unite all humankind in the cradle of Homo sapiens.

Is that too far back? I don't know. I like thinking of all of us as one big family. It's true, they say. Still, I think I'll let someone else sort out that family tree. And once they do, they can find me on Polish Mountain, sticking little American flags around Joseph Bennett's marker. To me, that's pilgrimage.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Bored Gods and the Pledge

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored" at the commencement of a Fourth of July weekend! Mannanan MacLir Bless America!


Mannanan is one of my favorite bored deities. He visits frequently. And if anyone has a beef about the Christian Church, it's Him. He fixed a gold cauldron for a Catholic priest, only to hear that the job was so good it had to have been done by the devil. Incensed, Mannanan took himself to the Isle of Man, where He usually stays except for the week when they have that noisy car race.

The reason I bring up Mannanan MacLir is because of the Pledge of Allegiance. I imagine that pledging allegiance to a flag or banner is a very ancient thing, and that deities of all sorts have been evoked during these pledges for just as long. For most of its life, our national Pledge of Allegiance did not evoke any deity. Then came the Cold War, and the words "under God" were added to our official pledge.

As if this God isn't busy enough. Now he has to listen to millions of school children every day, crediting him with being the ruler of our wide land!

Of course this "under God" business is completely spurious, unconstitutional, and insulting to all the non-Christian Americans out there, be they of other faiths or atheist.

So. Let's band together, all you Pagans, atheists, Sufis, Farsis, Santerians, etc. (let's not forget the followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster), and go have a sit-in on the mall in Washington, DC to protest this unconstitutional outrage!

Ah, never mind. Who wants to plan such a thing? Not me. I can't get a cake baked for the block party.

This is a situation where a big, broad, flexible outlook is quite helpful.

As a school teacher, I have to say the Pledge of Allegiance every day. Before I commenced doing so last September, I talked it over with some bored gods (over tea and biscuits -- it was a lovely afternoon). We collectively decided that saying, "One nation, under the Salmon of Wisdom" would disturb the peace of my classroom.

Therefore, I say the Pledge of Allegiance and omit the part about "under God." Every single day of the school year, I omitted "under God," and my students never noticed. This was good, because I didn't want to spark a debate on the Constitution. I'm an English teacher, not a history teacher.

I'm a fairly patriotic person. My ancestors came here early. They settled in the rugged Appalachians, from which they sallied forth in numbers to lend their hands to wars from the French and Indian to WWII. So I'm down with pledging the flag.

I'm not down with the "under God" part. But most Americans are.

Let sleeping dogs lie, I say. When I pledge, it's just me, and while I think we are one nation, we certainly aren't all "under God."

Pledge the flag -- or not -- as you like, but hey. This battle is not worth fighting. Leave it alone. After all, you could just as easily question the whole "liberty and justice for all" thing, if you look closely at how our country works.

I'm Anne Johnson, and I approve this message.