Monday, May 31, 2010

The 30 Best Things About Summer, 3:

The Smell Of Grilling In The Air.

I don't grill out myself. The last time I tried I couldn't get the charcoal started for hours and the burgers ended up raw in the middle and burnt on the outside. And the less said about the time I tried to light a "Tiki Torch" on our patio, the better.

But I love the smell of burgers and bratwurst and hot dogs wafting through the air.

Other Best things about Summer:

1. Ice cream.

2. Wearing a slightly damp bathing suit...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The 30 Best Things About Summer, 2:

It's a Minibest!

30 days, 30 Best Things About The Best Season...

Wearing a slightly-damp bathing suit to somewhere you wouldn't ordinarily wear a bathing suit.

You know why this is great? Because it says "I've just had some fun. I've just been swimming or running through the sprinkler or water-skiing and now I'm going to have some more fun... I'm having so much fun I don't have time to change."

Also, if you wear your bathing suit around for a while until it dries off, then you get that great feeling later on when you change out of it and into some actually-dry-never-wet clothes and relax and feel the little hint of sunburn you got that day having all that fun.

Other Best things about Summer:

1. Ice cream.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The 30 Best Things About Summer, 1:

For the next 30 consecutive days straight... hopefully... I'll post, one a day, The 30 Best Things About Summer. Here's the First:

Ice cream.

Sure, you can eat ice cream when it's not summer. You can wear your shoes on your head, too, but it's just not right. Ice cream is for summer, and summer is for ice cream.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Best Songs To Learn Science From (Since Scientists Are No Good For That)

I've been pretty hard on "science" lately -- or more than lately, as my criticisms of "science" go back a ways (all the way to the heady days when I published my seminal scientific critique conclusively proving that Velociraptors never existed... "Velociraptors, My Butt.")(Available in this book, by the way.)

But what am I supposed to do when "scientists" are reduced to stealing jokes from Dane Cook to get headlines -- as Stephen Hawking recently did?

Stephen Hawking, who should be above things like this, really did that. Back just a month ago, Hawking made headlines ("making headlines" being the number 2 goal of "scientists" these days; "making money" is number 3; "making Larry King Live" is number 1.) Hawking made headlines this time by announcing that aliens might not be very friendly to we Earthlings when they arrive.

In doing so, Hawking wasn't merely echoing the premises of more or less 99% of all popular entertainment on the subject of aliens, but was actually just taking a premise that Dane Cook -- who's about as credible on the issue of "science" as any "scientist" in the media -- a hypothesis that Dane Cook had propounded a long time ago:

"Sometimes I think about if UFO's come down, I get a little concerned... what if the mothership comes over middle America... out of the UFOs come thousands of 100-foot native American indians?"

So, officially, Stephen Hawking is getting his science from Dane Cook. I look forward to Hawking's next book, "A Brief History Of How To Punch Bees In The Face."

With science and stand-up comedy now being indistinguishable, there is only one way for the United States to fulfill our Dane Cookian-destiny as the number one country in everything, including science, and that is to learn science.

But who will we learn science from, since "scientists" are all too busy trying to get on Access Hollywood and hit on starlets like Megan Fox...

Which, okay, understandable, but that still leaves us with a vacuum in our scientific education, into which something is going to rush, because as we all know, nature abhors a vacuum.

Well, we all would know that if "scientists" ever stopped to actually do science. But they're busy proving "scientific" things like "men lie more than women," (an actual "scientific" study!) to do that, so it's up to me once again to take the bull by the horns and teach you -- America, and all those other "countries" that we'd whip in a war in a second if only we weren't so preoccupied with teaching our second-graders to ask pointed political questions because we think that's a good way to argue an issue even though really it's just a stupid pet trick that morons think will work to make their point.

Unfortunately for you, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, I have a real job and also I'm kind of lazy, so I do not have time to teach each and every one of you real science.

But I know people who do: Musicians!

Is there anything they can't teach us? I've learned about a ton of stuff from music -- including all about Armageddon (although I learned a little about that from Thor comics, too), among other topics.

And I've learned science from musicians, too, because as it turns out, there are a lot of very highly-accurate scientific songs, songs that not only are fun to listen to but which, while you listen, will teach you about real science -- killing two birds with one stone: You get your music for the day while you become (probably) a Nobel-Winning Scientist, and that leaves you all kinds of free time to, I don't know, go see Stephen Hawking at the Improv in Tulsa, Oklahoma next week. (Stephen Hawking's "What's the deal with microscopic black holes, and is that where my airline peanuts went?" Tour, 2010.)

So while I (eventually) get back to my real job today, you listen to and think about and learn from these

Best Songs To Learn Science From
(Since Scientists Are No Good For That)

1. 2 Atoms In A Molecule, Noah & The Whale:

Actual Scientific Knowledge In This Song:
Molecules are formed of atoms.

Bonus knowledge:
Ropes are made by twining things together.

Where This Would Be Useful In Real Life: Lots of things are made of atoms. In fact, I understand that as many as half the things around you might be made of atoms. Except for yogurt. That's made of rotten milk, or so Sweetie tells me whenever I try to get her to eat some.

And speaking of things being made of things...

2. We are All Made Of Stars, Moby.

Actual Scientific Knowledge In This Song:
You may or may not believe this, but stars are the generators of matter in the universe -- stars through fusion create elements and hurl them out into the cosmos, where they eventually coalesce into dust, then rocks, then planets, then oceans, then life, then intelligent life, then intelligent life that will insist that evolution doesn't work, followed by intelligent life that will look down it's nose at the "intelligent design" version of intelligent life, followed by intelligent(?) life that will threaten to have Texas rewrite the history books to claim that television was invented by some guy at the Alamo.

Bonus Knowledge: So that's what Todd Bridges is up to these days. Also, if you are going to hang out with certain "celebrities," a full-body spacesuit is not a bad idea.

Where This Would Be Useful In Real Life:
Noting to the person you're talking to that you and he/she share a common history in that you are all made of stars would be helpful in any number of settings: job interviews, speed dating, getting caught sleeping with upwards of 18 women even though your wife is a super-hot Swedish model...

3. Aliens Exist,

Actual Scientific Knowledge In This Song: Long before Stephen Hawking stole Dane Cook's material, Blink-182 was warning people about the aliens in their closet and noting the actual effects of an abduction: Lost time ("gone since yesterday"), changes in the body ("I'm not like you guys."), troubles sleeping ("up all night long.")

Bonus knowledge: Blink-182 also exposes government efforts to suppress that knowledge: I know the CIA would say what you hear is all hearsay. Ever wonder why they broke up? It wasn't because 3-chord snarky power pop doesn't have any staying power. It was the feds!

How This Would Be Useful In Real Life: Do you have a son or daughter who has been undergoing mood swings, staying up all night, showing changes in his or her body, and otherwise acting strangely? Now you know what's going on!

4. Everyone Else Has Had More Sex Than Me, TISM:

Actual Scientific Knowledge In This Song: It's buried in a later verse, which I'll helpfully print out for you: [WARNING: SPIDER-RELATED PORN FOLLOWS. NSFW UNLESS YOU WORK IN A LAB]

All loves have to die - of that there's no help;
My favourite way to end em'

Is the orb-weaver spider's, whose pedipalp
Enters the female pudendum,

Then dies on the spot, his corpse there still stuck,
Left for his rivals to curse it.

That's absolutely 100% correct, going by knowledge I have gleaned from certain less-than-savory pay-per-view videos I watched when I couldn't sleep one night. (I'm not proud of myself. But I am smarter.)(And a little weirded out.)

Bonus Knowledge:
Everyone else in fact has had more sex than you. Sorry to be the one to tell you.

Where This Would Be Useful In Real Life: Probably nowhere, unless you're a member of the group therapy sessions I had to join after watching those videos. But it is interesting.

5. Total Eclipse Of The Heart, Bonnie Tyler.

Actual Scientific Knowledge In This Song: Don't look directly at an eclipse! Turn around! When there's an eclipse, the sun's brightness -- brightness the sun uses as a natural warning to us not to look directly at it, a warning given to us because Apollo, the god of the sun, loves us mortals -- is hidden and we're free to stare all day, exposing our retinas to superdangerous ultraviolet light. Sure, that UV Light is helpful when they're using it to synthesize the frosting on a Pop Tart, but it's not as good when you're just wantonly staring at it for hours on end.

True story: In the fifth grade, there was an eclipse and we all were led outside to view it through those stupid eclipse viewers that "science" teachers claim work, those two-sheets-of-cardboard-with-pinholes in them. Mine didn't work -- thanks, "science!"-- so I ignored the many warnings I'd been given and peeked at the sun, and my life has never been the same.

Bonus knowledge: Did you know that a total eclipse also dampens sound? "Nothing I can say... total eclipse."

What's that? You didn't know that? And you suspect it might not be true? What do you know? You're learning science from a blog about music. Go to the back of the class. Or, if you're in the back of the class, go to the library.

Bonus Bonus Knowledge: Living in a powder keg is okay... until you start givin' off sparks.

Where This Would Be Useful In Real Life: It seems to me that the total eclipse in this song is responsible for ending the relationship. So if you're stuck in a relationship, or job, or meeting, or other social affair you need to get out of, just wait for an eclipse, announce "nothing I could do," point to the eclipse, and then head on out. It's like a "Get Out Of This Stupid Thing Free" card.

You may be waiting a while; there's a total eclipse of the sun in a given place only once every 375 years or so.

On the other hand, total eclipses of the heart are much more common -- or so I heard when I listened to Stephen Hawking Covers The Great Hits Of the 80s. (Also good: Hawking's speed metal version of Turning Japanese.)

Other posts about "science."

The Best Way To Prove "Scientists" Are Making It Up.

The Best Real Dinosaur.

Proof that I'm right.

Other posts mentioning Megan Fox:

The Best Foods That Should Be Made Into Movies In Which One Actor Plays All The Parts.

The 2010 NCAA Whodathunkit?!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Second Best Food That Never Existed.

It's a MiniBest!

Is it just me, or did many of the so-called "candies" in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory... suck?

I suppose that's to be expected, given the era in which Roald Dahl wrote. He wrote Charlie and The Chocolate Factory in the 1960s, after all, and the 1940s-1970s era was, as I've gathered, marked by two things: a staggering level of conformity that resulted in Baby Boomers deciding to "break free" by wearing horrible fringed clothing and listening to horrible music from Jimi Hendrix, and awful candy.

Not having been alive in the 1940s-1970s era myself -- well, okay, I was, briefly, alive, because I was born in January, 1969, so I lived through the last year of that greatly-overhyped time -- not having been alive and eating candy during that time, I have to use science to deduce that candy in that era was terrible, and I make that deduction by looking at what was supposed to be great fictional candy, and deciding that if the great fictional candy was supposed to be an improvement on everyday life, then every day life candy must have been godawful.

That's how it works in fiction, right? We take all the bad things about every day life -- jobs and in-laws and the fact that almost none of us have magical powers -- and we elaborate on it and make life into what it should be -- a life where our in-laws take us to Hawaii for the week, all-expenses paid, or where our "jobs" are piloting spaceships, or where at least some of us have magical powers.

I assume that fiction writers were doing that back in the 1940s and 50s and 60s, and I assume that when they wrote about candy, they were doing that, too -- looking at the terrible candy they had available, and making it more magical, more wondrous, more better.

That's how I know the candy back then had to be terrible: because fictional candy from that time sounds horrible.

Look at The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe: What did Edmund crave more than anything, crave so much that he sold out humanity for a taste of it? Turkish Delight.

I didn't know, for the longest time, what Turkish Delight is, but the name sounded good, and the way Edmund pigged it down, I assumed it must be great.

Well, you know what Turkish Delight is? It's a soft, jelly-like candy that comes in three flavors: lemon, rosewater, and something called mastic.

That sounds disgusting. And so did most of the fake candies invented for Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Rainbow drops to let you spit colors, "Wriggle-sweets," and "Lickable wallpaper" were bad enough -- but 3-Course-Dinner gum? Who wants gum that tastes like mashed potatoes?

And the Everlasting Gobstopper? That's just a jawbreaker. And those aren't even candy. Jawbreakers are an exercise in frustration, only with a sugar coating. (Kind of like life itself... now that I think about it. Hey, there's my idea for a series of motivational books and speeches:

"Cracking The Jawbreaker: How To Enjoy The Sweet Taste Of Life While Working Your Way Through The Hard Part."

I could come bounding on stage in my polo shirt and khakis, tossing jawbreakers out to the clapping, cheering crowd and then lead them through a multimedia presentation that would tell them nothing more than what they already know, but would do it in candy metaphors!

I'm a genius!

Anyway, I loved the Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and Charlie and The Great Glass Elevator books, and all the other Roald Dahl books I read, although I hesitate to admit that because I'm not sure if we as a society are officially "liking Roald Dahl," "disliking Roald Dahl," "liking Roald Dahl while thinking he's racist," or "indifferent to the whole thing, now, what was that you said about Heidi Montag again?"

I loved his books, but I hated the candies that he invented to make the world a better place. They were awful. Almost everything Willy Wonka claimed to have invented, or to be inventing, was either terrible-sounding or already existed. Willy Wonka made great chocolate bars? Ho-hum. Even in the 1940s, they had chocolate candy bars. (Of course, they were short on chocolate because of the war effort, and so they had to substitute in burnt road tar, which everyone called War Chocolate, but they loved it because they were patriotic!)

What wasn't already in existence should never have been -- horrible homonculi of candy, simulacrums of treats like "square candies that look round."

That's candy? That's not candy. That's an MC Escher drawing.

All of the candies created by Dahl that were supposed to be magical were either not magical, or were horrifying, except for one thing: The Fizzy Lifting Drink -- those bubbles that Charlie and His Grandpa ate to make them fly.

Those were really awesome. Those were really something: Bubbles that can make you fly. That was new and incredible. That was an amazing thing that Roald Dahl came up with: a treat that really did something new. Not just combined ingredients in a different order the way Taco Bell does with their food, but actually did something new, and not just something new, but something that we'd really want it to do.

Nobody over the age of 3 wants to spit in different colors. (Okay, maybe sometimes I do...) Nobody wants a piece of candy that lasts forever, no matter how many different flavors they claim to have. (And I note that any candy that claims to come in a million different flavors really has just one flavor: sour apple.) Nobody needs yet another chocolate bar.

But if there were Fizzy Drinks that could make you fly -- that would be great. Imagine the possibilities: Fly to work. Fly home from work. Fly... other places. (Okay, I'm a little burdened by work right now. But as soon as I'm less busy I'll think of other places to fly, like... Memphis!)

Kids could have a little and be bouncing and flying around the playroom. Parents could tether their kids and take them to the zoo, letting them fly up in the air to actually see the animals, something that was never possible before because there's always that group of people that got to the polar bears first and they're just hogging up all the space on the railing and they've been there forever, come on, let someone else see! ... but you wouldn't have to worry about that with Fizzy Lifting Drink.

Putting groceries away when we got home would be a piece of cake: No more trudging up and down the stairs to the garage. I'd just park in the driveway, grab some bags and float up to the front window. Sweetie wouldn't like me bringing in the groceries through the window, but I'm married: I don't have to worry about what Sweetie likes. That's what marriage is all about.

So here's to Fizzy Lifting Drink, The Second Best Food That Never Existed. And here's to hoping that scientists will soon actually invent that, thereby proving that science has a reason for existing after all.

Scientists, if you need a little motivation to get going on that, why not sign up for my seminar? The first 100 people to sign up get a free copy of my next self-help book, "What Flavor Are White Jellybeans Supposed To Be? Defining Your Place In The Modern World."

The First Best Food That Never Existed: The Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster

Read All The MiniBests here

Friday, May 14, 2010

The First Best Food That Never Existed.

It's a MiniBest!

Have you ever been reading a book, or watching a movie or TV show, and the characters in the book start eating or drinking something, and you think Man, that looks good?

What, it's just me?

Okay, so it is just me, and I probably need help. But until that help arrives, I'm stuck with characters in books creating cravings for me, which is tough because first, I'm usually reading late at night, or in some other situation where I can't just get in the car and go pick up whatever it is I've started craving, and I never have the stuff in our house, and tough for me because second, sometimes the thing that the book has made me want doesn't so much exist.

I've written here about books that never existed and musicals that never existed, and it's time to touch on the third leg of that mystical set, The Best Foods That Never Existed : those foods that authors and writers create for their characters to eat and drink, making them out of thin air.

It's a subject that I know something of, having once started (but never finished, yet) a story called Sweetie Cupcake, in which a guy surreptitiously looks up the secret web history of a girl he used to like in high school, only to find that she was searching for him, and he then quits his job and goes to where she lives, where he learns that she was googling his name because she's getting married and wants to have her wedding serve as a sort of high school reunion. To try to stop her from getting married, he uses his new job as a gourmet cupcake delivery boy -- for the Sweetie's Cupcakes shop -- to try to get her fat so her fiance will break up with her.

You know, I don't know why I ever stopped writing that. I should get back to that.

Until I do, though, I'm focusing on fake foods for the May MiniBests, and The First Best Food That Never Existed is...

The Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.

Invented by Douglas Adams, beloved by Ford Prefect, feared by others, the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is found in the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy trilogy and is described in the Hitchhiker's Guide (itself a fictional book) thusly:

The best drink in existence is the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster. The effect of drinking one of these is rather like having your brains smashed out with a slice of lemon, wrapped around a large gold brick. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy will tell you on which planets the best ones are brewed, how much you can expect to pay for one, and which voluntary organizations exist to help you recover afterwards.

After reading that, and after watching Ford Prefect drink Blaster after Blaster throughout the books, I want one. I don't even drink and I want one. I'd like one right now... and it's 7 a.m.

Adams even supplied the recipe for the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster:
Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster 1 bottle Ol' Janx Spirit. 1 measure Santraginean seawater. 3 cubes frozen Arcturan MegaGin. 4 liters Fallian marsh gas. 1 measure Qualactin Hypermint Extract. 1 Algolian Suntiger tooth. Zamphour to taste. Olive garnish. Take the juice from one bottle of the Ol' Janx Spirit (see page 15 of the actual Guide). Pour into it one measure of water from the seas of Santraginus V -- Oh, that Santraginean seawater, it says. Oh, those Santraginean fish! Allow three cubes of Arcturan MegaGin to melt into the mixture (it must be properly iced or the benzene is lost). Allow four liters of Fallian marsh gas to bubble thrugh it, in memory of all those happy hikers who have died of pleasure in the marshes of Fallia. Over the back of a silver spoon float a measure of Qualactin Hypermint Extract, redolent of all the heady odors of the dark Qualactin Zones, subtle, sweet and mystic. Drop in the tooth of an Algolan Suntiger. Watch it dissolve, spreading the fires of the Algolan suns deep into the heart of the drink. Sprinkle Zamphour. Add an olive. Drink... but... very... carefully.


I wonder how it would go with my usual lunch of Ramen noodles and leftover lasagna sandwiches?


All the MiniBests!

The Best Book That Never Actually Existed... But Should.

The Best Fake Musical In A Real Movie.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Welcome a New TBOE Reader... this time, it's a whole bunch of them.

Remember Sigue Sigue Sputnik? I do... that's how I opened my post, The Best Female Chef, back on May 10, 2008 -- 2 full years ago, and about 20 years, at least, since anyone who wasn't actually in Sigue Sigue Sputnik had mentioned Sigue Sigue Sputnik. (Imagine those poor guys. "Hey, babe, did you know that in the late 1980s I was in a briefly-present kind of techno-punk band? It's true!")(Then, later, "Can I borrow 5 quid for a ride home?")

(Note: I don't know what a quid is.)

That was two years ago (or yesterday, if you're that Sigue Sigue Sputnik member.) That was the last time I thought of Sigue Sigue Sputnik until the other night when I saw that the World Cup is using Sigue Sigue Sputnik in their latest commercial.

Coincidence? Look, nothing is ever a coincidence if it means that I can probably sue the World Cup for copyright infringement and retire to an island where robots will tend to my every need. That's like, a law. You can look it up. (Note to World Cup Lawyers: Don't look it up. Take my word for it.)

Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Best Tattoo You Could Ever Get.

I'm sitting here at the small desk in our living room, listening to the Hello, Dolly overture, and feeling proud, because just this morning, while I made the lemon-poppyseed bread for Sweetie's Mother's Day Breakfast in bed, while doing that, I suddenly realized that I knew who would be the perfect person to tattoo on your body.

Note that I say your body, not my body. I'm not getting a tattoo. I admit that from time to time I've thought about getting a tattoo, and for a while there, I actually had an almost-tattoo: I've had two fake tattoos in my life, tattoos I had put on at Summerfest back in the days when I used to bother to be social and go to things like Summerfest. I wasn't social, but I pretended to be and would as part of that pretense grit my teeth and go hang out with my friends all day, listening to music from groups like INXS and the Violent Femmes, and drink $5.00 beers, which was a high price to pay back then, and get fake tattoos.

Nowadays it's simpler; nowadays, I no longer pretend to be social at all. I just stay at home and bake lemon-poppyseed bread and read reviews of LCD Soundsystem in The New Yorker and blog about getting tattoos and hear INXS on the oldies station as I drive home from the mall with Mr F and Mr Bunches in the backseat. I've abandoned all pretenses of coolness (which I like to think makes me cooler, but which I know doesn't, really -- only nerds pretend that not caring about being cool makes one cool.)(Well, nerds and Moms; Moms are the kind of people who say "You know what's cool? Not caring about being cool." And nerds believe Moms -- or the dumber ones do.)

I no longer care about being cool, but I do sometimes wonder whether I should get an actual tattoo. Two things hold me back from doing so. First, I don't know what I'd get put on my body, permanently, that I wouldn't get sick of and that wouldn't seem lame in 5 or 10 or 15 years. When I had those fake tattoos, which lasted about five weeks (they last longer if you don't scrub them off, and I'm all for any rule that requires less effort from me in the shower), the first was a flaming cobra rearing up with a knife in its mouth, and the second was Marvin The Martian (which is not why I named him to this post, but it's not NOT why, either.)

You may wonder why a cobra, especially a flaming cobra, would also need a knife. I never did; that tattoo made me wonder why all cobras don't come armed. It only makes sense: If all cobras have poison, they're all equal. But if you're a cobra who can also light yourself on fire and do credible knife work, you're going to rule that world.

Choosing a tattoo that wouldn't be lame is important, because that thing's there forever, or until a knife-wielding fiery cobra cuts it off of you, whichever comes first. But who are we - -specifically, who am I -- to say what's not going to be lame in 5 or 10 or 15 years? Everything is lame after a few years. Everything. If you look at anything humanity has done, ever, 15 years later, society has looked at that thing and said, and I quote:


Flagpole sitting and baggy pants. Cave paintings. Powdered wigs. Manifest destiny. Spiky hair on only one side. Republicanism. Hawaiian shirts. Grunge. Beards unaccompanied by moustaches... shall I go on, humanity, or is the point taken yet? We all, at one point or another, start doing something, and we think Hey, this thing I'm doing is cool, and it's not, it's lame -- we just don't see it until later on. We do our thing, whatever it is (donning pink shirts from Tommy Hilfiger, go Communist, wear granny glasses and form communes, etc.), and we look at those who came before us and laugh: You people were such nerds! and then 5 years later, we're the nerds.

That's the first problem with picking out a tattoo, and it's a doozy. At one point in my life, I loved things like red Chuck Taylor shoes not laced all the way up, "A Flock Of Seagulls," and Generra hypercolor shorts. I clearly have no ability to pick out something that's going to stand the test of time.

Second, every tattoo, it seems to me, is lame. So that kind of ties into the first and kind of doesn't, because tattoos seem lame no matter who has them and no matter what the tattoo is, and without regard to the passage of time. They're mystifying to me, really: Tattoos are abstractly cool and concretely stupid; they have this mythos about them, an air of danger and rebellion, a feeling of dark nights and motorcycle gangs and rejection of norms... but that's a feeling that exists only when the tattoo itself doesn't exist. Once that tattoo is here, in real life, drawn on someone's wrist or back or thigh, it's inevitably incredibly stupid.

Look around at the tattoos you know people have, or which you yourself have. Does it seem dangerous or rebellious or sexy that a housewife has a butterfly on her ankle? Is it cool and hip that someone has barbed wire around his or her bicep? Is that Hindu saying peeking above the collar of the girl at the Wendy's drive-through inspirational in a radical way?

Or are they all a little sad and tired looking, already? That's all I think everytime I see someone with a tattoo: That tattoo looks sad and tired looking. The ink on a tattoo appears faded almost instantly, and the artwork is drawn on a saggy body or peeking out from underneath a raggy t-shirt sleeve, and, too, there's something so... second class citizen about it all, too: getting a attoo is the equivalent of being the only kid who actually threw his homework away, back when we were kids. The teacher would assign homework on a beautiful day near the end of the year, and everyone would complain, and a group of kids would get together and say We should all just not do it, and throw our homework away. She can't flunk us all! and everyone would laugh and agree and decide to just spit in the face of society, and inevitably, the next day, 23 kids would hand in their book reports and only Derrick Van Orten would be sitting there, without one, and we'd all look down at the ground, not wanting to meet his eyes, because if we met his eyes, this conversation would ensue:

Derrick's eyes: You were supposed to be with me on this, man.

Our eyes: I know, and it was going to be cool, but we really want to amount to something one day.

Tattoos mark you as the kid who fell for that, the kid who thought that throwing away your homework would really do something about... something. They're an act of indirect and indistinct rebellion, a mark that there's something you believe in enough to put on your body -- provided that the thing you believe in enough to put on your body is also believed to be cool.

That's why everyone gets tattoos in foreign languages, after all: it's cooler to have a mysterious tattoo made up of symbols that people have to ask "What's your tattoo say?" than to just have a saying up there. People get obscure quotes in misunderstood languages, or symbols that seem to mean something but they don't, or they put the names of their kids or husband but only in a hard-to-see spot, or they tattoo a heart or someone's name on the finger where their wedding ring should go, hiding the (more permanent) symbol of love under the (presumably less-permanent because it's removable) symbol of their marriage (and doing so without thinking of the real symbolism of that gesture ("I'm hiding my love for you under a gloss of commercialism and precious metal; you come after my love for money and riches.")

It's not enough, then, to believe or like something, if you're going to get a tattoo -- you have to also believe or like something cool. Take Angelina Jolie, for example. Her tattoos are so symbolic, and so cool, that they've landed their own blog posts and a cover of Entertainment Weekly -- both complete with explanations. (That latter might have been the first time that a celebrity's tattoos were the actual cover photo.)

Among the idiotic explanations for Angelina Jolie's incredibly cool and sophisticated tattoos are these: The phrase "Know Your Rights," we are told, is not just something Jolie believes, or good advice -- it's also the title of a song of her favorite band. The song, if you google the title, is by the The Clash. Apparently, Angelina didn't want "Lost In A Supermarket" on her shoulder blade. But that's a pretty good song, too -- and if Jolie wanted a song by her favorite group, why not put that on there?

There's another tattoo that supposedly is a "Buddhist Pali incantation written in Khmer script," a poem of sorts to protect her from "bad luck." A Buddhist Pali incantation is cooler, of course, than a tattooed-on rabbit's foot or horseshoe, but means the same thing.

She also, I understand, has latitude-and-longitude tattoos on her wrist marking the place of her children's births; again, the tattoo has to be obscure and cool; if she simply put the place-name, that wouldn't require people to say what's the meaning of that one? as they ignore her latest movie and speculate on her private life. (And, of course, if she didn't use her children's birthplaces as a way to generate interest herself, marketing her career via her kids, she wouldn't have that tattoo at all.)

Angelina Jolie is not the only celebrity duped into thinking that tattoos make one mysterious or cool; celebrities from Pearl Bailey to Donnie Wahlberg (I'm using celebrity loosely, there) have had tattoos, each of them more obscure than the last, and presumably cooler (but really not.) Donnie Wahlberg's "Wahlberg 1969" tattoo is upstaged by Tom Waits' Easter Island tattoo.

Why does Tom Waits have a map of Easter Island on his back? That's for him to know, and you to find out via a question asked by a celebrity journalist when Tom Waits fades from the limelight (something that could only happen if Tom Waits actually entered the limelight in the first place), the tattoo serving as a story-generator: Tom Waits has a tattoo of Easter Island on his back. We asked him why as he began to tour in support of his new album.

I'm assuming, there, that Tom Waits is a musician. I'm not entirely sure what Tom Waits is. Or who. I recognize his name as one that critics use a lot, so he's probably one of those things, like broccoli or 30 Rock that are presumed to be popular but who nobody ever really eats/watches.

Other celebrities get weirder tattoos: Cher has wings on her butt; Brad Jolie has lines on his side, for some reason -- I'm sure there's an obscure-but-cool explanation, and I'm sure in this case it has something to do with Brad Jolie's oft-professed love of architecture, which he demonstrates primarily by insulting humanity and using his money to build a $35,000 hamster cage for his kids. I hate Brad Jolie.

Weird shapes and lines and seemingly-symbolic messes are popular tattoos: they manage to seem to mean everything while meaning nothing at all, an appropriate message for an "art form" that isn't really. At least, with a symbol, there won't be a permanent mis-spelling on your body, as happened to Hayden Panettiere.

But the most mystifying to me are the tattoos of actual people: tattooed-on portraits of real, living people who have actually existed in this world, and who, having actually existed as a person now exist as a line drawing on somebody's sweaty, hairy body.

I'm not talking about putting a name or initials on as a tattoo -- like Mark Wahlberg did with his own name and Stephen Baldwin (creepily) did with Hannah Montana's initials.

Nope. I'm not kidding:

Nope, I'm doubly not kidding: he did it, and it's creepy:

No, I'm not talking about those. I'm talking about putting actual portraits of people on you as a tattoo: people ranging from "Roseanne"

to Janet Jackson as the Virgin Mary,
to Elvis and Kurt Cobain joined forever on the chest of Fred Durst:

And I've really think that Kurt Cobain is, in the afterlife, far more outrage
d that he's on Fred Durst's chest than he is about having been murdered by Courtney Love. (Elvis, on the other hand, is living in Michigan, shopping at pet stores, and generally unbothered by it all.)

Aside from the insult that putting someone on your chest might be -- would Kurt Cobain have been okay with his essence residing on Fred's chest? (I say probably, actually. It seems like he was pretty mellow) -- the bigger question is what person? What person symbolizes everything you want to say about yourself for all time?

I have a hard time with that anyway, with picking people to idolize -- first, because they're people, after all, and they're going to let you down. Just ask Ron Vergerio, the numbskull who tattooed a picture of Ben Roethlisberger on his left biceps. It's not bad enough that he's covered in tattoos, thereby guaranteeing himself a life on the margins of society -- his tattoos now celebrate someone whose name now carries with it the disclaimer "Not charged with any crimes... yet."

Letting people down is what other people do best, and everyone falls short at sometime. Even Obama has dropped the ball: yeah, he fixed health care and saved all our houses and allowed investment banks to make billions again (that last one may not be his best accomplishment) but he couldn't get the Olympics to Chicago, so if you've tattooed a portrait of Obama on your right hip as a symbolic gesture, know that people are looking at you and saying "That might mean something if I could go watch pole-vaulting in Chicago next year, or whenever it is the Olympics were going to come there."

The other problem with picking someone to tattoo on me, permanently, is the list of people I have to pick ahead of whoever I'd really pick. Anytime I, or someone else, is asked a question involving people, we have certain obligations to fulfill. Whether we're accepting an Oscar for best adapted screenplay (as I like to pretend, sometimes, I am doing) or hoisting a Super Bowl trophy and thanking the people who got us there, or simply hosting a hypothetical lunch involving various people from history, there are certain people who must be mentioned in that mix. And they are, in order:

1. Jesus/Mom (tie.)
2. Abraham Lincoln.
3. Albert Einstein (Niels Bohr if you want to be pretentious.)
4. Our wife/husband.
5. Random religious figure meant to show we are inclusive when really we think the other religion is bunk. (e.g., Gandhi, Mohammed, Tom Cruise)
6. Relatively recent political or pop-culture figure meant to make a political point to the person we are about to lecture on a political point. (e.g., Reagan, William Jennings Bryan, a Tuskegee Airman)
7. Dad.

Every Oscar speech, every theoretical dinner, every list of people we admire has to include those people first -- they're the NESTLE-R of people we admire (Don't know what Nestle-R is? Read about it here.) So if I was going to put a tattoo of someone on my body, I'd have to run through all those people first, before I got to whoever it is I really wanted to get a portrait of on my elbow, and I'd run out of space, even on my body.

(Do you suppose, when you think about it, that Jesus and Einstein might want to stay home occasionally and just have a Hot Pocket and watch King of the Hill reruns? Maybe that should be the question we ask: If you could choose any one celebrity or historical figure, ever, to give a night off to and let sit home and watch reruns on TV while eating microwaved food, who would it be?)

Or so I thought: I thought that I would run out of space, having to put those people on my body, and I thought that tattoos were dumb and impractical and silly, but that was before I realized that there is, after all, a tattoo that one could get that would not be dumb, would not be impractical, and would not be silly. It would never go out of style. It would never seem too symbolic - -and yet it would be symbolic, after all, and kind of mysterious. And, best of all, it's a portrait of a person, too.

It's, in a nutshell, The Best Tattoo You Could Ever Get. And I'm going to share it with you, right now. Are you ready? Sit down, maybe. Or at least put down that piece of cheesecake. Why are you eating that in the morning, anway?

Here is The Best Tattoo You Could Ever Get:

Joe the Plumber!

Okay. You're skeptical, I can tell. Let me explain to you why Joe the Plumber is the ideal tattoo, why a tattooed portrait of Joe The Plumber is a timeless expression of whatever it is tattoos are supposed to express.

First, Joe The Plumber fits the role played by all 7 of the People Who Must Be Mentioned/Invited. We mention/thank/have lunch with those people for a variety of reasons: We want to show we are humble, we want to show we are smart, we want to show that we are knowledgeable about history and politics, and we want to show that we love our Mom.

Also, we want to have lunch with God, because that'd be cool.

Joe the Plumber does all those things: He's political, and historical, now that he went to investigate Israel or something, and he is humble (he's just a plumber, after all), and he's smart -- you try fixing a toilet -- and I'm pretty sure he loved his mom, because who doesn't love their Mom?

So in affixing a portrait of Joe The Plumber to your body, you are automatically affixing a portrait of all those ideals embodied by the 7 Mandatory Invitees, but you are doing so much more than that, because Joe The Plumber is really a vessel in which can be carried every single thing a tattoo is supposed to say.

Are you hip and into irony? Joe The Plumber's portrait will make a hip, ironic statement about the infusion of mass media into our political culture. Or vice-versa! He's vice-versatile!

Are you a steadfast Constitutionalist fed up with government but unable to make it to a "Tea Party?" Show your support for real America by tattooing a real American on your chest. Joe The Plumber isn't some struggling coffee barrista or multi-millionaire tech guy. He's us, ( provided that us is plumbers.)

If, though, you're a bleeding-heart liberal hell-bent on making sure that society actually takes care of everyone, and trying to cure the problems of the world, a picture of
Joe The Plumber does double duty: not only does he show how the right-wing co-opts average Americans for their own purposes and then casts them aside callously, but he's also a plumber -- an unheralded blue-collar worker toiling away in obscurity fixing those problems that society would just as ignore.

Celebrities: Joe The Plumber shows you're in touch with common people and political.

Common people: Joe The Plumber was one of you -- and now he's a celebrity!

Old people can get a Joe The Plumber portrait to show how dumb young people are. Young people can get a Joe The Plumber tattoo to irritate the old folks. Fred Durst can get a Joe The Plumber tattoo right alongside Elvis and Kurt, sending the message Fred Durst wants to send most of all ("Pay attention to me, please!")

Even Joe The Plumber can get a Joe The Plumber tattoo -- the ultimate in irony. Or something.

In the past, it could have, and should have, been said: Tattoos, overall, are dumb. People who get tattoos, overall, are dumb. But that is no longer true, because there is one tattoo that you can get that will not be dumb. The stupidest form of self-expression, in one fell swoop, has become the best. By getting a Joe The Plumber tattoo portrait, you will be helping to transform the traditional message transmitted by a tattoo:

Old Message Sent By Tattoo: I'm so desperate for attention I let someone draw on my boob.

New Message Sent By Tattoo: Something political/hip/smart/ironic/all of the above.

Yes, with a Joe The Plumber tattoo, you will no longer be seen as just a shallow, self-centered person trying to seem deeper by quoting the Bhagavad Gita in a spiral around your navel. You will instead, be seen as a sophisticated, cultured person. A sophisticated, cultured person with a permanent drawing of a sweaty bald man on your back, but a sophisticated cultured person nonetheless.

And, if you want to make it better, make sure your Joe The Plumber tattoo is on fire, with a knife in his mouth.