John Meat-John

• Sorry for the extended writing outages lately. On top of general busyness and assorted crapulence, I’m also trying to write a short article for Smashing Magazine these days, so my spare ions of free time and writing inclination have been mostly sucked up in that task. The article concerns typography and is the very epitome of font-nerdishness. I’ll let you know if and when it goes live.

One of the great campaigns of disinformation that I’ve ever personally mounted has been trying to convince friends that the society of typography is actually a seething cesspool of loose morals and sexual adventuring, a la the stereotypes about Renaissance fair enthusiasts. Back in 2003, when I went to a three day typography conference, I had fun lying and persuading people that every conference was a veritable orgy waiting to erupt.

Little could be farther from the truth. With the notable exception of Eric Gill (devout Catholic and brilliant artist who, to everyone’s shock, was discovered decades after his death to have had sexual relations with everyone in his family including the family dog), type designers seem like the restrained bunch that you would expect. The one binding trait between them seems to be a tendency to wear bowties:

• Lately, I’ve been watching Breaking Bad with my wife. A few nights ago, we were watching an episode from season one where the teenage Walter Jr. is briefly shown in the liquor store parking with friends trying to get strangers to buy booze for them. Suddenly, I realized that I needed to pause the video to explain to my wife what was going on here– being Czech, she had no context by which to understand the American teenage rite of passage that is standing around asking random people to buy liquor for you. I even wound up getting into the time in high school that my buddy and I asked two winos to do the deed for us and they tried to run off with the money but weren’t very fast (being beat-up old winos), which set up an awkward confrontation once we ran them down in about two seconds, especially when one of the guys complainingly revealed that he’d somehow peed his pants during the run down (again, surely owing to general unhealthiness, not out of any sense of fear of the two high school kids bearing down on him).

• By a great coincidence, two of the more strangely named friends I’ve ever had have both recently made belated entrances to the Facebook community. First, there’s my colleague Jan Fleischhans, which means – in a munge of German and Czech – ‘John Meat-John’. Then, there are the two Hamburger brothers, Joel and Manny. Joel once told me  that there was even an Abraham Hamburger at some point in the family lineage. Two bad he lived before the era of trendy name-shortenings, or he could be, concisely, AbraHamburger.

This Week In Sports

1) I can never pass up a good defenestration story: it seems that an NFL player was hanging out with his girlfriend, a 19-year old cheerleader for his team, when things went somewhat awry.  Given that she was only 19, it’s not all that surprising that the two of them were in the TV room of her parents’ house — but what is surprising is that one of her jilted admirers broke into the house with a plastic bag over his head and started chasing them around the room and pistol-whipping them, yelling things like, “I can’t believe you’re with that guy” and even some witty action-movie repartee.  The NFL player escaped out the second-story window, suffering minor bruises, while the girl ran downstairs, got a gun, and exchanged fire with the intruder!  Fortunately, neither of them had very good aim.

Here’s a link to the full story, with some other details such as that the intruder also took a few swipes at the family dog, and that the team in question — the Jacksonville Jaguars — refuses to admit or deny whether the girl is actually their cheerleader (although she plainly is, or at least was).  As always, you can count on Florida to provide the weirdest stories.

2) For those who don’t know him already, Chad Ochocinco is a very talented NFL wide receiver.  He is also extremely outspoken, may have a personality disorder, and is famous for getting fined for his over-the-top celebrations after scoring a touchdown.  His name used to be Chad Johnson, but he went by the name “Ochocinco” because his jersey number is 85 (I know, I know, that’s not even how you say 85 in Spanish), and when the NFL wouldn’t let him put “Ochocinco” on his jersey , he legally changed his last name to Ochocinco!  That is dedication.

Anyhow, Chad appears in this edition of “This Week in Sports” because of an unfortunate mishap with a new line of cereal he is promoting for charity called, natch, “Ochocincos.”  Take it away,

“Charity-minded callers are getting intercepted by a sex phone line because of a misprint on Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco‘s namesake cereal boxes.  The phone number is supposed to connect callers to Feed the Children, which benefits from sales of ‘Ochocinco’s.’ But because the box has the wrong toll-free prefix, they get a seductive-sounding woman who makes risque suggestions and then asks for a credit card number.”

The lucky sleaze merchant whose earnings just went up ten-fold had better make a big donation to Feed the Children.

3)  Finally — yet another Tour De France winner tests positive for a banned substance, leading to the inevitable question, “What is the point of a sporting event if the winner cheats every single year?”  This year’s cheater gets style points for his creative explanation: the “false” positive was due to some contaminated meat that he ate.

Reader Mailbag: Attacking and Defending and Associated Research Partners

In response to the Attacking and Defending post from two weeks ago, I received the following emails from friends:


“I didn’t know you were a boxer. i am a pugilist myself, although i haven’t picked up the gloves in about three years. where are you sparring?”



[And a bit later:]

“I wondered why you never mentioned it. Me and Mike used to box together — was kinda fun.”

This is all good, except that I didn’t write that post about boxing. Krafty did. It’s apparently a little-known Mock Duck fun fact that this blog has multiple authors: I, Dan, write most of the posts; Krafty writes some; and then my Dad, under the Grandjoe nom de plume, has written three. It’s definitely a design flaw of the template I’ve chosen that the author name is so de-emphasized, so I don’t blame people for being confused (and it’s interesting to suddenly learn of their love of boxing, which you didn’t know about before). But, if something you read here seems to directly contradict a previously-espoused attitude or present a impossible gap in the space-time continuum (such as me being in LA and Austria at the same time, say), check the byline– it’s quite possible (although increasingly unlikely) that someone besides me wrote it. Once I even got a text message from a friend asking me about the contents of a post before I’d even read the post myself– boy, was that confusing.

[Note: I’m not actually mad about or annoyed by these incidents– that would be lame. It’s just something to write about. Important distinction.]


Meanwhile, in response to my account of the pre-written term paper industry, the Term Paper Kingpin wrote in with a spirited rebuttal where he presents this alternate history of our meeting:

“I guess honest men may differ in their recollection. As I recall it, I met Mayer when I was handing out copies of my self-published memoir (“Epiphanies in Gossamer: A Texas Hill-Country Boyhood”) on a street corner in the Mission District of San Francisco in exchange for donations. I was trying to make a living with an Esperanto Theosophy newsletter, and Mayer convinced me that if we went into termpapers we would soon be “farting thru silk,” a hair-raising vulgaism that I have been unable to banish from memory.

I seem to recall something about an Associated Research phone number, which was our only recourse after Pacific Telephone primly refused to give us an “unlisted” business account.”


Apologies for the oh-so-crappy image quality. These are actually photos (taken with my iPhone) of photos of a Czech festival called Majáles that my wife’s father showed us while we were visiting him in Karlovy Vary. I guess these are from the late 1950s, although I didn’t ask. That’s him among the ladies, dressed– ahem– in blackface. And again:

Majáles was a student celebration that took on political undertones through the 1960s and directly led to the demise of the Novotný presidency in favor of the liberal reformer Dubček (which, in turn, led to the Big Depressing Thing That Happened In 1968, i.e. the Russian invasion and subsequent smack-down). Basically, it looks to me like a genteel predecessor of the Love Parade, minus the stampedes.

While poking around for more information on Majáles, I came across this excellent footage from the 1965 parade (the one that helped do in Novotný), in which Allen Ginsberg somehow materializes and is crowned king of the event. Ginsberg brags about this in the Dylan documentary No Direction Home, but I’d never known exactly what he was talking about before. Now, normally, I find Allen Ginsberg the second-most annoying person alive after Ray Manzarek, but you have to hand it to him here…

This clip is one of the best pieces of footage I’ve seen from the old days in Prague– in fact, I’m going to link to it again, because I think you’ll enjoy it. Watching it, you just can see the wheels starting to fall off hardline Czech socialism: the parade maintains a fig leaf of kitschy medievalism (this being the mode of public celebration approved of by the government), but underneath there’s a scarcely-concealed roiling undercurrent of hippie liberalism. It’s so nascently hippie, you can practically imagine Os Mutantes suddenly taking the stage. In this sense, its sad to watch, too, as you can sense the coming inevitability: if you were the USSR, you would have invaded this debauched satellite state too.

The Birthday Post, Part Two

This blog has a proud tradition whereby, anytime it’s my birthday, I’m allowed to drop the usual contrived charade of trying to contextualize whatever it is I want to write about and just present it as is. Thus…

Once my friend and I were watching the The Silence of the Lambs and commenting on how riveting the acting is in exchanges like this one between Anthony Hopkins and Jody Foster (click image for clip):

Suddenly, we got preoccupied by trying to image the worst two actors to cast for the role, those whose talents (or lack thereof) would most detract from the dramatic suspense. “Heather Locklear…” my friend suggested. “… And William Shatner!” I countered. I wish I had the time. energy and savvy to create a knock-off version of the above clip with Hannibal Lecter’s lines delivered in Shatner’s halting, hammy, melodramatic delivery: “THE SILENCE……….. of the lambs”.

Similarly, the only time I went to Burning Man (2004), we dutifully trooped over to watch the Man being burned, but found it off-puttingly sanctimonious and high-handed (again, click for clip):

Particularly, the new-agey, nouveau-Tibetan music being played in the background seemed to be laying it on a bit thick. After a while, to lighten the mood, we started discussing what would be the most inappropriate, mood-ruining music to pipe in through thousands of mega-watts, eventually settling on “The Heat Is On” by Glenn Fry. Subsequently, we discovered that people at Burning Man really, really don’t like it if you continuously shriek with laughter while the Man is being burned.

So, there’s my birthday wish for this year: some personal, metaphysical YouTube where these two clips exist side-by-side.

Jazz 78s, part two and unrelated ranting

• Looks like I spoke too soon about my back. After victoriously crowing about it feeling entirely better on Monday, I screwed it up again on Tuesday playing basketball. Not good times. Bad times.

• To follow up on an old post: my buddy Tol is blowing through Prague this week and reports having heard that Zoltan Rex is out of jail now. Might just be a false rumor, but three years in a Hungarian prison seems about right as appropriate punishment for faking your own death.

• By sheer coincidence, my father’s cousin and mother’s cousin were both visiting Prague last weekend, giving me a chance for some quality time with the ol’ cousins-once-removed.

This got me pondering my own weirdo family tree a bit: my father’s side of the family is Jewish, but my own distinct branch bears little evidence of this because my father’s mother was a social climber who found it inconvenient to be Jewish in the Manhattan of the 1940s and essentially smothered all consciousness of it in our family. What’s interesting is that members of the family who don’t descend from this dubious grandmother seem discernibly Jewish, whereas my father and I don’t (even though my father is no more or less Jewish racially than they are). It’s strange how the awareness of being something (or lack of awareness) can seemingly alter one’s very physiognomy. They should do one of those experiments where they take two identical twins and raise one with an awareness of being Jewish and the other without and see what happens (whoops, I just used ‘experiment’ and ‘Jewish’ in the same sentence– let’s just move on…)

• It’s become clear that the train ride from Budapest to Prague is Central Europe’s 9 hour version of the 14 Mission bus line in SF. If you take it at night from Prague to Budapest, they stuff you into old commie-era trains that have seats like slippery church pews, so you spend the entire night groggily sliding around as the old train SCREETCHES around curves, whinnying like a terrified horse in a lightning storm. In the daytime, meanwhile, the air conditioning inevitably breaks down, amidst other sundry horrors: when I last rode it, I personally witnessed an organized purse snatching; when one of the cousins-once-removed took it last week, the guy sitting next to her had an epileptic seizure in the middle of the air-conditionless heat. To my undying amazement, my cousin suddenly remembered her training from 5th grade home room and stuck a pencil in her hand into the guy’s mouth to keep him from biting his tongue.

• Imagine if there was a rare condition that caused your head hair to take on the wiry roughness of body hair and your body hair to take on the fluffy lustrousness of head hair. That would be disgusting.

OK, here’s another round of those vintage jazz 78s I was talking about. I love the Harold Owens Hawaii one in particular…

Life's gay paegent

Favorite new Czech word: Zázrak. Means ‘miracle’. I can’t tell you how much enjoyment I’m getting out of this one. The next time something mildly surprising or fortunate happens, lift one hand, say ‘ZAAAAAZ-RAK!’ with great zest and make a face like Doug Henning (above). If you’re in a public place, just say it under your breath and only go half-Henning. I guarantee you’ll enjoy yourself in either case.

Favorite new air travel horror story: the Daily News article that TK posted about a flight where someone brought raw meat onboard and the passengers wound up being sprinkled by maggots falling out of the overhead luggage containers. Aside from the basic mind-altering, horrifying parameters of the story, a few other notable things here: as TK mentions, the fact that the Daily News story absurdly includes a generic stock photo of maggots not related to the ones on the flight just to get the point across; second, the detail that horrified passengers complained to the flight crew and were robotically asked to ‘please take your seats and remain calm’– I love this. My friend is flying from Mexico City to Prague next week and is terrified of flying– I can’t wait to run this scenario by him.

Favorite spring/summer holiday calendar: Czech Republic’s, naturally. First, let me introduce you to something called ‘Easter Monday’– it’s just like Easter Sunday, but you get a day off work. Second, there’s a weirdo configuration where we get May 1st and May 8th off for separate holidays– as these are exactly a week apart, you wind up sort of inadvertantly re-living the same holiday a second time through one week later.

But, best of all, thanks to Saints Cyril and Methodius, a FOUR day weekend around the 4th of July. This meant I had enough time for a proper weekend of oozing around Prague in blasting heat and watching World Cup in beer gardens, followed by a second separate weekend, as it were, at a friend’s cottage, enjoying family fun time and village idyl stuff.

Humans and chimps: bad bedfellows

Thanks to a recent link from I Blame The Patriarchy, there has been a steady stream of incoming hits to something I wrote about Bubbles the Monkey last summer shortly after Michael Jackson passed away. Revisiting this post has refreshed my sense of what a disappointment the relations between man and his close neighbor have been over the years. Somehow, despite being immediate neighbors in the DNA chain, we remain odd bedfellows at best in the social sense. A Malcolm Gladwell article I recently read about dog trainers explained that, although dogs are much further removed from us on a genetic level, they have an unaccountable curiosity about our behavior and therefore are able to take subtle cues from us in terms of the body language we demonstrate. Chimpanzees, meanwhile, despite all the apparent commonality, really have little more sensitivity to us than seagulls or mollusks do. Unlike dogs, they can’t really be trained to exempt us from their inborn aggressive impulses. And so things tend to add badly, both for the apes that are conscripted to live among us, and for the ill-advised human dummies who acquire them.

Consider the poignant case of Travis the Chimp, whose story was included in the annual New York Times Magazine obituary issue and passed along to me by my father. A retired TV chimp, Travis could apparently do just about everything a human could do. He could drive a car, draw pictures, and surf the web. But then one day – as is rivetingly recounted in the Times story – he freaked out when a house guest arrived, attacked, and tore her face off. When the police arrived, he loped over to one squad car, knocked the side view mirror off and then managed to tear the door open. The officer, pinioned between the wheel and monitor, barely had time to draw his weapon and shoot the monkey to death.

One of the more practical and sobering revelations that Michael Jackson’s last days could have provided us with as a society is a deeper reckoning with the sad orphaned state of Bubbles and the terrible demise of Travis. Perhaps at some point in the future, opulent loons and wingnuts might learn from Jackson’s story and stick to sleeping in crytogenic anti-aging chambers and advancing up the ranks of Scientologists, rather than adopting apes in a misguided attempting to bridge the apparently insurmountable distance between man and chimp.


After I blogged about Chuck Klosterman’s Eating the Dinosaur a few months ago, a reader named Katie suggested I read his first book of essays and sweetened the deal by mentioning that it includes an essay on the Sims, the virtual reality game that seemingly enslaved the entire female Midwest a few years back. So, during my SF trip, I read a friend’s copy of Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs and was riveted by the whole thing, especially the Sims essay, Billy Sim:

I am not a benevolent god.

I am watching myself write in a puddle of my own urine, and I offer no response. I have not slept or eaten for days. My cries go unrecognized and my loneliness is ignored. I am watching myself endure a torture worse than death, yet I decline every opportunity to end this self-imposed nightmare. Darkness… imprisoning me… all that I see, absolute horror. I cannot live, I cannot die, trapped in myself; my body is my holding cell.

I am the master and I am the puppet. And I am not the type of person who still plays video games.

So go the opening paragraphs of the essay, foreshadowing Klosterman’s eventual boredom with the game and subsequent decision to neglect his SimSelf while the latter writhes in his own pee.

The first thing I can immediately tell from this passage is that Klosterman and I are about the same age (he was born a year before me, in 1972). The tell is the phrase ‘video games’, which only men currently between the ages of about 33 and 39 use. Younger people call them ‘computer games’ or just ‘games’. Older people can’t refer to them coherently at all. The women I know don’t mention them unless its in the context of the final flaw that persuaded them not to date some guy they were perviously thinking about dabbling in (e.g. On top of it all, he sits at home and plays video games). We late-Gen-X males are the only people who became fully accustomed to the idea of manipulating a character on a screen before the advent of the personal computer age.

Next, I also immediately identify with the co-mingled curiosity and contempt that Klosterman expresses towards gaming (‘It’s fun, but– somehow– vaguely pathetic’). For my part, the contempt partly serves to mask a fearful respect that I have for the gaming industry and its potential to enslave me. I have only played one game in my adult life (Civilization), but that’s less out of lack of interest and more out of a wary realization that I love games in general and can easily picture myself getting sucked in if I strayed past a certain threshold. This dread manifested itself in a particular anti-social habit that I developed towards a guy I used to share an apartment with, who worked at Electronic Arts as a producer for the Sims. The roommate had an Xbox lying around that he would bring out (albeit only quite rarely) to show his friends what he was doing at work. After they would invariably disappear and leave the console lying on the floor in front of the TV, I would always respectfully pick it up and place it on top of the tallest bookshelf in the living room– the most inaccessible shared spot in the house. Such was my determination not to become an addict.

Klosterman writes at great– and persuasive– length about the bizarre and abstracted aspects of the game, but one personal experience I had involving the above-mentioned Sims-producer roommate really drove home for me how weird the whole thing is. One Saturday, my roommate spent the whole day at his office furiously working to correct a mistake one of his programmers had made. The programmer was supposed to have designd a disco ball for a dance club environment. Instead of creating the disco ball from scratch, the programmer had taken a lawn sprinkler and decided to modify it (this apparently being a common approach, according to my roommate). But, the programmer had done a really lazy job of it, so the ‘disco ball’ was still acting more like a lawn sprinkler and spraying dancers with water. My roommate stomped home at about 7pm having lost an entire sunny Saturday to getting the disco ball to act like a disco ball. He was so deeply immersed in the problem and so enraged about it that he managed to relate the entire scenario back to me without expressing the slightest awareness of what an absurdly meta way this was to spend one’s Saturday. If I wasn’t thoroughly creeped out frightened by virtual-reality game play until now, this lawn-sprinkler/disco-ball anecdote totally scared me straight as shit.

Authorial self-doubt and torment note: I previously promised myself that I would boycott the ‘#FAIL’ construction in this blog, as I think it’s the lamest, most overused, mind-rotting meme currently in circulation. But, I couldn’t think of a single other title for this post that works nearly as well. So, there you have it.