Thursday, March 28, 2013

So, You've Been Named the New Pope

Dear: ______________:

Congratulations on being named our next pontiff. This document will help you get started on your exciting adventure.

A few “housecleaning” items to begin with. Your locker is the first one on the right (it’s painted red, of course). It will hold all your vestments, footwear and smaller items (please note, the keys to the Pope Mobile are hung on a hook to the left of the door). As for headgear, the zucchetto, or small skullcap, may be kept inside the locker, however both the papal tiara and mitre (the tall white one embroidered in gold) are kept locked up in Cardinal Richeleau’s office (both have a tendency to “walk off”).

Your parking space is the large one out front (formerly the Vatican’s employee of the month spot). By next week it will have a personalized sign limiting it to use by you and occasionally the FedEx guy if he’s only going to be a minute.

Your quarters will be ready the Tuesday after the conclave has officially proclaimed you as pontiff. We wait until it’s “official,” as we don’t want a repeat of the 1643 fiasco, which still stings. If the quarters are not ready for some reason, we will put you up in the Vatican City Econo Lodge, where the rooms are just O.K., but we get a ten-percent discount (tell Fredo at the front desk who you are and he'll probably "forget about" charging you for any movies you watch on Selectra-Vision).

As for the ceremony itself, the cardinal deacon will appear on the central balcony of the basilica to proclaim you as the new pope. He’ll prattle on for a bit in several different languages (an aside: I think this PC/inclusive crap goes too far, perhaps you can rein it in during your papacy.... just a thought). Then you will step out onto the balcony to address the masses.

A few things while you are waiting:

-You’ll be wearing the papal tiara, which will make you sweat like Tom Cruise in a confessional booth. It’s recommended you not put it on too soon. (JP II wore a Planet Hollywood cap, only donning the tiara a second before hitting the balcony.)

-What you wear under the vestments is your business (what goes on the Vatican stays in the Vatican, as we say)

-Use the bathroom before putting on the layers of vestments, especially with the cardinal deacon going on and on in Latin, Swahili, Portuguese etc. (see my aside above).

-Yes, the heels are uncomfortable but they are required by Scripture.

We wish you the best of luck in your papacy. In closing, we recommend you see HR during your first week in office to get the paperwork and insurance all straightened out. Finally, I.D. badges are available for pick up in the security department located in the basement.

Vatican Management Inc.
A division of ChristCo

5 Shades of Oy Vey: Roth's Naughtiest Bits

Philip Roth, who at age 79 announced last month he was putting down his pen, may be America’s grand man of letters but he’s also known for something else: Highly stylized, wonderfully frank smut.

God love him.

The only novelist whose books I’ve often read one handed, Roth knew what we wanted and delivered it book after book. Whether it’s the infamous onastic attack by Alexander Portnoy on a hunk of liver or the professor who turns into a woman’s breast, it seems every type of sexual indulgence and deviant behavior can be found within the pages of vintage Roth.

Why this constant mix of high lit with the perverse? Because it’s all part of life. And this author is nothing but an honest and careful chronicler of the way we live.

Especially when our pants are down around our ankles.

With this in mind, here is my list of the five most outré scenes proudly displayed on any respectable bookshelf, courtesy of Philip Roth:

5. In The Humbling (2009), blocked actor Simon Axler, in his mid-sixties, takes up with a woman named Pegeen who is two decades his junior. Never mind that she’s the daughter of his friends from the old days in the Village and a lesbian, he persuades her to move in with him. Eventually, Axler gets around to having his new lover procure a local coed for their mutual satisfaction. A strap-on prosthetic and some acrobatic maneuvering create a lustful daisy chain that nearly unblocks our aging thespian. However, perhaps underlining Roth’s subservience in his work to the poles of “sheer playfulness” and “deadly seriousness,” Axler remains ultimately doomed to a Chekhovian end. At a time in life when some of Roth’s other protagonists were losing the battle of the bulge to prostate surgery and other indignities of aging, the Bard of Newark managed to pull out the stops one more time for this late volume delivering a lead character who goes down swinging.
4. In his film, L.A. Story, Steve Martin’s character allows that if he were a woman he’d simply stay at home and play with his breasts all day. Nearly two decades earlier, Roth beat him to the punch. In The Breast (1972) David Kepesh turns into the titular 155-pound gland, embodying the famous warning, be careful what you wish for. Naturally, as any man who’s turned into a walking talking breast would do, Kepesh sits in his hospital room while he enlists his girlfriend for hour-long sessions of caressing, listens as his seemingly oblivious father speaks to his nipple about life outside, and spends his downtime with recordings of Shakespeare’s masterworks. The novel ends with Kepesh citing a Rilke poem that concludes with the line: “You must change your life.”
3. In The Professor of Desire (1977), Kepesh returns and leads a course called Desire 341, where he shares with the class his sexual longings and encourages his students to do join the discussion. However, the novel’s pièce de déviance is when Kepesh travels to Prague and dreams of a visit with Kafka’s ancient and arthritic hooker. In this fantasy encounter, one not likely listed among Fodor’s recommendations, the erstwhile professor pays a few dollars to “face the unseemly thing itself,” and stares into her uber-exposed private region looking for answers. This gets him no closer to understanding Kafka. His conclusion is it looks like a phony mustache and not much else.
2. Ahhh, the shot heard ’round the world of letters. Portnoy’s Complaint (1969) made Roth both famous and infamous. After Alexander Portnoy, he of the “flying fist,” purchases a piece of liver and uses it as yet another masturbatory prop, people around the world began double checking their Braunschweiger before digging in. Throughout the novel, our protagonist reveals to his shrink his multiple hang-ups and family problems as he alternately abuses himself in bathrooms, on buses and behind billboards. Yet Dr. Spielvogel never once utters the advice we all know to be best for this lusty chap: “Stay out of the meat section.”

1. Mickey Sabbath is to whoremastering what Neil Armstrong was to moon walking. The protagonist of Roth’s 1995 National Book Award winning Sabbath’s Theater seemingly ran through the usual perversities and had to start inventing lurid acts to keep him occupied. In the novel, he revels in his status as a dirty old man, if only to demonstrate that Eros trumps Thanatos any day of the week (as long as your plumpish Croatian mistress, who is as debauched as you are, is close at hand, that is). Sabbath, a retired puppeteer, graduated from snatching clandestine feels on the streets of New York, to raiding the panty drawer of his longtime friend’s daughter, to marking his lover’s grave in an unusual, if fitting, manner. Somehow by the end, all this convinces him that life is worth living after all. Sabbath’s Theater is the Mona Lisa of literary prurience, as shocking as it is hilarious and death obsessed. As in much of Roth’s best work, there is an existential sadness at its core, despite the carnivalesque doings and accompanying bacchanalia that enliven so many of the pages.

And this is what makes so much of Roth’s fiction literary art of the highest order.

Unsocial Media: or “Why is every criminal in town trying to be my ‘Friend’?”

Nearly everyone who attended my seventh birthday party ended up in jail.

Little did I know looking around the room past the streamers and balloons that many of the smiling, pre-teen faces gathered round me would one day grace the mug shot collection down at the local police department. No doubt these future drinkers, dealers, dopers and delinquents were even then casing the pile of gifts in the living room or calculating how much the family’s silver might fetch at the local pawn shop.

I was lucky: I got away. My family’s gypsy-like existence meant we soon relocated to another town, far from the bad element that on that afternoon, at least, showed up in their Sunday suits bearing innocent smiles and gift-wrapped Monkees records.

Years later, when I was in high school, we moved back to that town of infamy. Gone were some of those early neighborhood friends. My first guess was juvenile hall, or the kind of reform school my father was always threatening to send me to if I didn’t clean my room. Others, out on probation or awaiting sentencing, prowled the same school hallways as me. They were now grown big and over-muscled, with hard looks having long ago replaced those birthday party smiles, and each with a rap sheet stretching from one end of a stolen Buick to the other.

I glimpsed these old acquaintances as I passed the smoking pit and the detention bench. One of them, maybe forgetting our old alliance, came up behind me on “hat day” and punched me in the sombrero. Another, perhaps remembering me all too well, gave me a wedgie and hung me on a telephone pole by the back of my underpants.
Now, decades later, I see these former fugitives on Facebook. They want to be my “Friends.” I am torn. For, as Proust says, “We can sometimes find a person again, but we cannot abolish time.” Nor forget the simple fact they didtime. Ultimately, the question becomes, do I really want to be Facebook-ed by people who have been booked repeatedly on a wide range of state and, possibly, federal charges?

I imagine chat boxes popping up asking if I have a “safe room,” or inquiring how familiar I am with the state’s extradition laws. And what if I should accidentally click on a link one of these new “Friends” forwards to my page? Will I start getting unsolicited solicitations from bail bondsmen or places that buy and sell gold out of the trunks of cars? Who knows where it might end? One day I might find myself hitting “Like” for the likes of Thin Lizzy or Steve’s Switchblades Inc.

Other Friend requests would surely follow from guys named Mugsy, Legs, Louie, Bernard and Icepick. They’d send me invites to meet at racetracks or in dark backrooms where I’d be asked to hold paper bags filled with money or still-warm thumbs.

Pondering all this during a sleepless night or two, I decided what is needed in this all-too-social world are more layers of protection. In daily life, we use rumor, innuendo, stereotypes, prejudices, background checks and Google searches to judge people and decide whether or not we want to cozy up to them. Why not provide the same kind of critical information in the virtual world? After all, not every criminal psychopath wears a Charles Manson T-shirt in his profile picture.

Here are some ways to separate the felons from the true friends in the virtual world.
Everyone who’s ever had their likeness hanging in the local post office should have to use that exact image as their profile photo. You get a friend request from someone you knew in high school who’s been captured red-eyed and with Nick Nolte-hair, twitching and tweaking before a police camera, it pretty much makes for an open and shut case. Reject. Or you get a message from an old pal who’d made it big on Wall Street and his photo features him in front of a bank of microphones testifying before Congress.

Again, easy. Reject twice, just to make sure.

I, for one, would be happy if every Friend request were accompanied by a link to the criminal record of the requester. This way, one could easily draw the line: misdemeanors and below, accept; arrest for minor possession, party invitation; major felonies and multi-state killing sprees, decline.

The criminal background check could also help after you’ve accepted a troubled friend into your personal Facebook fold. For instance, say “Joey” wants a reference for a job as a housesitter but you see a string of B&Es dotting his police file. Easy one, reject. “Buster” wants to meet you Saturday morning at the local farmstand, but you notice in his record a disconcerting note from his parole officer about some past funny business with a pair of unwilling goats. Accept. And bring camera.

On the flip side, say you need to get your pregnant wife to the hospital in a hurry. A quick check of your Friends page reveals that “Mikey” did time for his role as the getaway driver in a bank heist. A quick instant message and five minutes later you’re pulling up to the emergency room with a bag full of loot for the copay as a bonus.

Also on the bright side, say you’re bored on a Friday night. Invite some of your law-abiding friends over to play Virtual Police Line Up. Log on to your Friends page and have your guests try to pick out the ones with records. The one who correctly selects the most wins.

The moral? Bad people on your Facebook page can be a good thing.

However, I know myself. In the real world my life is dotted with disasters, almost always, self-inflicted. I don’t need the help of the lawless to get into trouble. It finds me well enough on its own.

So, in the end, I decided against“Friending” any of my troubled childhood mates. All too often, Facebook is glad to remind us that we have a past. It is a world crawling with ex-wives, fired employees, unpaid hookers, disgruntled neighbors and the occasional felon. It was bad enough when I used a photo of my dog for my profile picture and several women with whom I’d gone to high school posted that I hadn’t changed a bit.

Insults I can take. Five to ten I can’t.


Wherein Socrates Seeks Help for his Drinking Problem

SOCRATES: Hi, my name is Socrates and I’m an alcoholic.
GROUP: Hello, Socrates.
SOCRATES: During a recent symposium I overindulged in wine. I called Plato a tunic-wearing twerp and demanded he stop following me, and then I told Alcibiades he could take me home. It was wrong, and I am ashamed.
CIRROSIUS: Why do you say your actions were wrong, Socrates? Is not the alcohol to blame for your actions?
SOCRATES: Cirrosius, you are bold with your words and wise beyond your years. I would be a fool to challenge your knowledge of the way things are. But isn’t it correct to say that alcohol is not a naturally occurring element in man?
CIRROSIUS: This is true.
SOCRATES: And if it is foreign it must be introduced from without?
CIRROSIUS: You are right again.
SOCRATES. And if I tell you that I recall no one putting a spout to my eager and hungry mouth do you not see that I alone am to blame for my drunkeness? Therefore it is the man who is a fool with wine and not the wine that makes the man a fool.
HEPATITUS: But Socrates, there are those of us with far greater problems than a night of alcohol poisoning. Look at me, for instance, who has ruined himself with abuse of a more serious nature. And yet there are others, like the Mormonites, who abstain all together. Does not your comparative indulgence merely illustrate your dictum of ‘nothing too much’?
SOCRATES: Hepatitus, for whom wisdom is constant, I ask you: What does it take to know a man?
HEPATITUS: To be his friend, I would say.
SOCRATES: And by friend, you mean a constant companion?
HEPATITUS: No, Socrates, we all must be alone at times.
SOCRATES: Then how can you speak with certainty about my habits? What if you learned that this was not the first symposium I’ve overindulged at? How many of you remember the night I drove my chariot into the Parthenon? On that night I was righteously pissed on Roditis, a jug of which was gifted to me that night by my old friend, Pouricles, son of Blottolius. Fortunately for me, Absintheus came to my rescue, took me home and nursed me back to health with the proper medicine.
INEBRIUS: Your talk makes my head spin. I cannot swallow any more of your words. Socrates, you are the greatest philosopher the world has known.
SOCRATES: Inebrius, your words takes me aback. You chastise me for not knowing my own greatness. But I ask you, is the great equal to the good?
INEBRIUS: No, it is greater.
INEBRIUS: Take wine, for instance. The grapes from Anchialos are good, but those from Rapsani are reputed to be great.
SOCRATES: But was I a great man when I started that fight in the agora with Obstreperus?
INEBRIUS: Surely not. You were loaded.
SOCRATES: And was I so great the night I passed out on top of Xanthippe?
INEBRIUS (smirking): I would say she did not mind.
SOCRATES: And the vomit in her hair? Was that to her liking?
INEBRIUS: I still maintain your greatness far outweighs your drunkenness, Socrates.
STUPORICLES: Great as he is, he cannot have it both ways. Socrates admits he has a problem, and we must allow him to accept that. It is the only way he will become whole.
ABSTEMIOUS: Yes, Socrates needs our help to save him from the juice of the demon fruit. I would hate to see our great philosopher turn into another Imbibius.
IMBIBIUS: Oh, Abstemius, you killjoy, may Zeus put a lightning bolt up your toga. Let us raise a glass and ask in words our friend Socrates here might use himself: Is man allowed to get drunk?
IMBIBIUS: Is Socrates a man?
IMBIBIUS: Then Socrates is allowed to get drunk.
SOCRATES: My friends and fellow lovers of the grapes of Dionysus, you have won me over. Let us go now to the Vomitorium where we shall unleash from our systems the poisons of last night so that we may drink deeply once again. ‘Every action has its pleasures and its price,’ I always say. Who among you has the price of my pleasure?
IMBIBIUS: I have enough for us all!
SOCRATES: Then fellow Athenians, to the bar!

Film Reviews by and for the Chronically Short of Attention Span

Wow, what a bunch of crap Oscar had to sit through this year, and it’s all just now coming out on DVD. Let’s get right to it.

Zero Dark Thirty: I think this was supposed to be a minute-by-minute re-creation of the capture of Osama bin Laden. Didn’t it take us 11 long years to get him? That’s what this felt like. Usually a hot redhead and guys with assault weapons will keep me tuned in for a quarter hour or more. But here, even the torture scene put me in a near coma. GRADE: F for too much slow soldiery stalking and stuff.

Lincoln: I heard this was long and talky, so I doubled down on my Ritalin. Still, I was out of there before the first top hat came out. One plus: there was some good battlefield gore– I guess there was some war going on at the time. Email me about how that ended. (In case you haven’t guessed, I wasn’t a very good student.) Better yet, Tweet me. F

The Silver Lining Playbook: Didn’t see it. There were, like, five people in line at the Red Box. What is this, Manhattan?

Amour: I would have killed the bitch during the first reel. F

 Life of Pi: I thought this was about desserts. But two hours plus with a guy in a boat with a tiger. Yeah, right. F for boring and F for misleading me with a delicious title.

 Argo: Foreigners really test my patience. Uppity ones all the more. F for boring me and Ffor lack of tasers and truncheons.

Anne Karenina: What a great idea, take a 10,000 page book and condense it down to a movie. Wrong. At least the book can be used as a doorstop. F

Flight: Loved the plane crash, but does it really take, like, seven minutes to drop two tons of metal out of the sky. Note to Denzel: If you are going to dawdle like that stop Bogarting all the coke and share some with the audience. We’d like to stay awake, too, you know. D-

Les Misérables: I loved it. I could listen to Russell Crow sing for hours. Is there anything that Aussie hunk can’t do? A

The Sessions: What a tease. No full frontal for 17 minutes? Hello? I was in Snoozetown and out of tissues by then. F for unnecessary talking and plot stuff.

So there you have it. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But, chin up: the new Adam Sandler movie comes out next month.

Hell, I Could be Pope

Dear Mr. McCarthy:

Thank you again for including Hollister Career Consultants in the pursuit of your dream position of pope.

Enclosed are the findings following several meetings with you, a resume check, mock interview, thorough review of your online presence, financials, and interviews with friends and colleagues. If our remarks seem direct this is because we believe the only way to obtain the job of your dreams is through a process of honest assessment.

Our recommendations follow.


Initially, our counselors had to admit they did not find you very “pope like.” The first priority for you, as with most candidates, is to present a professional appearance at the job interview. While we take your point that Rome is “hotter than blue blazes,” flip-flops are out of the question, no matter how well they match your tie. Also, all tattoos should be covered, especially large ones that read, “Buttweiser, King of Rears.”

As pope, you will be called upon to hold meetings with dignitaries and to preside over events deemed holy by millions around the world. Given these requirements, we believe your communications skills will need much improving. Our counselors gave you a rating in this area of 3.2 out of 10. This range would indicate you are well qualified for the job of dockworker, but demonstrates the amount of effort you will need to put in before ascending to the papacy. We were particularly dismayed by your lack of verbal control, as highlighted by the many curse words you muttered throughout the mock interview. While none of our consultants are practicing Catholics or experts in this area, we are confident in our position that popes generally don’t do this sort of thing.

Finally, a safety pin can be discreetly deployed to solve that “zipper problem” one of our consultants mentioned to you on the way out of the interview room.


This being the first time we’ve worked with a client seeking the job of pope, our consultants struggled to define the qualifications and experience necessary for the position. While we continue to investigate this matter, we can offer our opinion that your only relevant experience as “altar boy in the 1970s” may not be enough to convince the Vatican that you are ready for the top position. But again, these things are very subjective, and your current position as “part-time ball boy” at the local CYO Center may indeed be a step in the right direction.

As for the references you listed, none of phone numbers furnished for these individuals worked. The one exception, “Wendy,” was glad to talk about you. She mentioned a large debt you owed her, “a strange rash,” and a few things gone missing from her apartment since last you were there. We recommend removing her from your list of references.


What is and why do you owe this company $323?

Also, tax returns showing alimony payments to three different parties may be problematic concerning this particular position. Again, we are not experts, but we leave it to you to try and expunge these particular records before the Vatican’s interview process gets underway.

Additionally, we recommend removing from your 2012 tax returns a dependent listed as “Weed Man.”


While it may be true that the last pope used Twitter to reach out to the faithful, we did not find evidence of a pontiff Facebook presence. That being said, you may want to simply cancel your current page. Failing that, you might take the following steps:

1. Remove from “favorite books”: Fifty Shades of Grey, The Selfish Gene, The Da Vinci Code, The Tin Drum and How to Bet on Football and Win.

2. We advise you “Like” some religious pages, and “Unlike” any that seem to be linked to so-called vices. A list of the latter would basically include just about all your current “Likes.”

3. De-friend anyone who may give the wrong impression of you or your lifestyle. We recommend disassociating from the following “friends”: “PartyDawg,” “DevilMayCare,” “WhoreMasterX,” and “WeedMan.”

4. Consider pants for profile photo.

5. Delete “spring break” photo album, especially since you never went to college and these images seem to have been pulled at random from the Internet.


Our consultants were hopeful that talking to those who know you best would uncover a side of you not previously revealed to us. Alas, we encountered nothing but stories of debauchery, selfishness, and gross indifference to the norms of proper society. Six of your closest friends asked us to mention the money you owed them, one was concerned about the contents of a mysterious package you’d asked her to hold on to, and a certain “Mary M.” wants her car back “this century.”

It is our recommendation that you keep these fine folks under wraps until the interview process is over.


Given these findings, we know it may seem you have a long, hard journey ahead of you. However, we at Hollister believe that all our clients, with the proper professional guidance, can achieve the job of their dreams. Therefore, we encourage you to stay connected to our services and continue your pursuit of the pope position. In short, we won’t rest until the white smoke flies over St. Peter’s Square and the cardinal deacon steps to the balcony and says “habemus papum!” before announcing your name to the waiting world.

Please find enclosed a bill for our services.