Murder, Dad Bod & Black Leather Pants: Grading the Democratic Debate

The Reverand Jesse Jackson sitting in a blue-dowsed auditorium while Sheryl Crow sings the National Anthem in black leather pants can only mean one thing: The Democratic National Debates have begun. And judging by the gaudy fanfare and title bout headlines, they’re being hosted by either World Wrestling Entertainment, or its annoying little brother, CNN.

Now that we’ve all had a chance to watch, re-watch, TiVo and/or stream Tuesday’s Democratic National Debates, it’s high time to seriously and relentlessly rank and degrade the candidates in the Friendly Unofficial Political Analysis, or FUPA.

Hilary Clinton: B+

Solid performance, no missteps here. She took a little heat for the State Department emails, but managed to Jiu Jitsu that into support from candidate Sanders and a delightful “No” soundbite when asked if she’d like to respond to accusations from candidate what’s-his-face. I mean, Chafee. Clinton smiled often, which despite inspiring all the warm cozy feelings of a praying mantis after sex, still managed to foster confidence in her as a human(ish) being. Despite lukewarm proclamations throughout the night (by all candidates), Clinton’s hardline stance on enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria ought to make any anti-Cold War enthusiasts nervous. This position, often cloaked in political speak and page two headlines, represents a brash dare to a Russian leader who likes us about as much as he’d like a warm weekend at Epcot.

Bernie Sanders: B+

At long last, prime time America felt the Bern! Unfortunately, someone apparently advised him to ditch the trademark cardigan and comb his hair – whoa! It was like seeing your dad without a mustache for the first time and you couldn’t understand why mom was letting some shaved ape eat ravioli with us and call me “sport.” Ah-hem… excuse me, got a little carried away there. Bottom line, the crowd loved Bern and that played well and he refused to be tripped up by the maddeningly predictable “Are you a socialist?” rhetoric (he is, in fact, a champion of Social Democracy – it has some of the same letters in it, but not the same thing. Kind of like “vegan” and “vegetarian cheese omelette”). But he should really hire an intern who follows him around, and every time his hair settles into a nice part, runs up and rubs his head with a balloon.

Martin O’Malley: A-

OMalley Guns
Oh my Malley! Paging President Dilf, you’re needed in the War Room to show off your guns. Holy smokes, O’Malley – the pics of you on the Intertubes make former President Clinton look like a devout Mennonite. If President Putin wants to settle the score with an arm wrestling match, I’ll show up with stars and stripes underpants and U.S.A. painted on my chest, ’cause we got this! I mean c’mon, those arms look anacondas that just swallowed a pig. Unfortunately for O’Malley, however, black lives matter, like a lot. And the state he used to govern seems to be having a tough time getting its collective head around that fact. Still, O’Malley’s first big national appearance won him more points than anyone else on that stage, though it still looks like a two-horse race. If he continues to show as well in subsequent debates, though, he’ll almost certainly wind up on the winner’s ticket (and the cover of Men’s Health).

Jim Webb: C-

Captain Smiley gets a passing, but by no means exemplary grade. Much like his fraternal twin, Eddie Munster, Webb was sporting a pretty dour attitude for most of the debate. Granted, his lectern was stationed halfway behind the curtains stage left, but the Vietnam veteran ex-marine’s countenance was that of a… well, an ex-marine Vietnam vet. I actually think Webb will wind up serving in the eventual president’s cabinet, but he’s not geared toward public acclaim. He tried admirably (and stubbornly) to steer the questioning into his apparent wheelhouse, Chinese cyberterrorism, to no avail. It was sort of like watching someone who knows the population of every city in Borneo toiling on Jeopardy. They’d look really smart if only they got that one category. As it is, Webb came across as an everyman at times and a grumpyman at others. Oh, and he pretty much confessed to killing a man once. And then he laughed about it. No big deal.

Lincoln Chafee: D-+


Yeah, so about that whole “Gonna be president someday” thing: you’re not. Any chance Chafee might have had at potentially being considered by some people as maybe a viable candidate to perhaps ponder running for president essentially shattered into billions of microscopic shards, which in turn melted under the white-hot scrutiny of millions of viewers, and ultimately dripped shamefully into the sewers. And I’m being nice here. For starters, he bears too eerie a resemblance to Jigsaw, the sadistic puppet from the SAW movies. If he ever painted red spirals on his cheeks, I’m pretty sure he’d become a tenured attraction at ComiCon. Second, his painfully awkward response to Anderson “Slender Man” Cooper’s relentless questioning on his first Senate vote (spoiler, he couldn’t remember how he voted and all but accused Cooper of being “no fair!”) made me physically uncomfortable. Lastly, he used to be a Republican. When asked why he changed parties, he said because the Republican party left him, meaning he is just as conservative as he was when he chose to NOT be a Democrat. Honestly, it was a train wreck. If you don’t have the time to watch the whole debate, please see the animated GIF below, which represents a rough but fair rundown of Mr. Chafee’s evening.


Name-Calling Next Step In Modern Warfare


Just two days removed from the glee of hustling down to the Christmas tree to tear into the shiny, colorfully wrapped boxes it guarded, President Barack Obama finds himself embroiled in a hissy fit with his on-again, off-again best friend, North Korean Super Outstanding Dictator Supreme with Extra Cheese, Kim Jong Un. Kim, or as he’s affectionately referred to by Mr. Obama, Jong-Dong Uny-poo, launched a massive dis at the President through an unnamed source at the official North Korean news agency saying, “Obama always goes reckless in words and deeds like a monkey in a tropical forest.”


Reports are sketchy whether this was the all-too-familiar fallout of an arranged play date or sleepover – you know kids, can’t wait to get there, can’t wait to leave – but the tirade by Uny-poo comes on the heels of someone breaking his really cool toy. The North suspects the U.S. and Obama because just days before, Jong-dong allegedly yelled at the President and told him he couldn’t watch his favorite movie. As there were no adults in the room at the time (they were upstairs making pizza rolls and “just taking two fucking seconds to have a smoke and get off my feet,” according to a source in charge of watching over the two), nobody is certain who broke whose toy, or who wouldn’t let who watch a movie.

The racially charged slam is not the first by the temperamental Kimmy. He once complained to his mom that Obama was “the shape of a monkey” and in a separate incident, was caught vandalizing the boys’ bathroom when he wrote that his next door neighbor, South Korean President, Park Geun-hye, was a “prostitute” in Sharpie pen.

The infantile skirmish, though exasperating to onlookers and constituents, is actually a welcomed advance in the nature of disputes between world leaders.

“Better they scream and kick and throw their toys than launch a missile or invade a country,” said a high-ranking North Korean official charged with making sure Jong-a-long eats all his vegetables before dessert.

Sentiments in the U.S. were similar. “I’ve got to say, they’re finally starting to use their words and hash things out one-on-one, instead of taddling to us, or launching drones, or pouting in the corner,” said one senior member of the cabinet, who, on behalf of the President, once asked Michelle Obama if she “liked him, liked him.”

It’s unclear whether the two will work it out and play nice, but if the future of warfare results in name-calling and time-outs from video games, then there are hundreds upon thousands of souls spared the horrors of traditional combat who affirm they would be willing to put up with the occasional temper tantrum.

The Stuff about Growing Up Everybody Forgot to Tell You – Part I


My issues with the modern American education system are many (see this and this), but perhaps most upsetting is not what schools are doing, but what they are not. Specifically, not preparing us for life after school, “the real world” most necktie-wearing dingbats call it. Oh sure, we’re beaten over the head with completely useless relics of academia like “algebra,” and “grammar,” and “geography” (be sure to make the air quotes when you read that), but then we’re told that to be productive and successful, we need Google machines and Siri gadgets that will wipe all those lessons from our mental white board. Quick, what’s 2x + 3y? Don’t bother, Google’s already answered it way more amazingly than you can.

But when it comes to information you can really use that you will actually need in the adult world – like, How to shut off your smoke alarm if you try to reheat an omelette in the toaster, or, How to put out a small toaster fire, or, What is a toaster? – our schools get a big, fat F. You, as a result, are left ill-equipped to handle these everyday situations and ultimately find yourself with a broken smoke alarm, ruined toaster, and no omelette.

Well, I’m here to change that. This is the first installment of what will be an on-going series of experiences I’ve had with “real world” problems, and what I learned from them. Hopefully, you’ll then be capable of handling the situations when they inevitably arise.

Lesson I: Toilets

Love ’em or hate ’em, you gotta’ use ’em – toilets make living in a city so much less plaguey than 200 years ago. They’re remarkable gizmos that do the dirtiest deeds we throw at them, get used multiple times each and every day, and yet remain largely untouched by the technological upgrades that have run rampant through our daily lives. Still, with all that weight riding on their tireless, gaping maws, glitches in the whole Magical Disappearance of Caca-Poopoo charade can, and do, arise.

The use of toilets is taught to us at a very young age, well before any formal schooling, and nowadays it’s often the second machine we learn to operate behind the iPad (and it is so crushingly depressing to see myself type that). Yet strangely, the mechanisms behind that mystical seat are left woefully ill-defined. Generally, most of us possess the following mental diagram of how it all works:

Finger1 + Lever1=  Smiley Thumbs1

Well I’m here to tell you it’s not all smoke and mirrors; there’s real science behind your potty – all sorts of pipes and floaty balls and old crusty tubes (there may or may not be elves involved as well, I’m not totally sure). And like all science, it eventually goes tits up, leaving us wondering where it all went wrong.

Always Be Prepared

I’m not going to bore you with the inner-workings of the john – if you want that, check out this MIT student’s ridiculously in-depth explanation with equations and shit. I’m also not going to lecture you about how to fix it – if you want that, read through this site called “toiletology”. What I will do, however, is tell you precisely what to expect when fit hits the shan, which it undoubtedly will, and how (not) to deal with the situation.

First off, while it’s impossible to predict exactly when a toilet will go renegade, you can be fairly certain it will occur under one or more of the following circumstances:

  1. Late at night or first thing in the morning. It’s not clear precisely why this is so – it might have something to do with earth’s magnetic field, or the Dust Bowl – but toilets almost never go haywire during daylight working hours. Instead, the user’s state of mind seems to trigger or prevent mechanical failure, i.e. if you are awake, prepared and capable, all is likely to go well. If you’re half-awake, running late, or in fuzzy slippers, catastrophe usually ensues.
  2. When you are a guest in someone’s home. This one is pretty intuitive; it’s like when someone else makes you pancakes for the first time, they’re gross: lumpy, burnt, vegan – not at all like mom’s (it’s a great analogy, go with it). It’s the same with the toilet, it’s used to a different flavor of “business.” Heck, it probably ends up swallowing those new pancakes. Also, toilets at someone else’s house are way more likely to overflow if their bathroom is super nice and clean. If the towels are neatly folded and arranged by size, or if you see a bunch of magazines in a wicker basket next to a bowl of potpurri, then you’re probably headed for disaster.
  3. On a date. This one happens regardless of whether it’s your toilet or theirs. Typically, all hell breaks loose when you or your date are in the other’s house for the first time. It can be a big win for the relationship to share your home with a potential mate, but you’re best served using the restroom at the restaurant before heading home because toilets just love showing your date what you’re really made of.

Obviously you can’t be assured disaster won’t strike at any time, but if you are mindful of these high-risk situations you can mitigate the odds of winding up with this. But, when your turn comes, and it will, there are a few lessons I’ve learned the hard way that should help you navigate the situation as painlessly as possible.

Cut Your Losses

Realize that once it starts to happen, it’s going to happen. The sooner you acknowledge that at some point we are all the karmic punching bag of fate, the sooner you can steer your proverbial ship through literal troubled waters. Follow the advice herein and a potential meltdown will be a mere containment leak.

First of all, don’t get lulled into a false sense of security. The swirling whirlpool can be hypnotic, but it is critical to remain vigilant – never take a flush for granted. The first mistake the unprepared make is to lull into a trance and not act with exceptional haste.

Next, do something, but not anything. Once you’ve noticed that something is amiss, do not wait for the situation to rectify itself, trust your instincts… Well, mostly. The biggest mistake the inexperienced mal-flusher makes is to press the handle again. It seems reasonable; it’s the only lever on the whole contraption – like the Home button on an iPad. But while pressing the button is a good thing in most cases, it can be the worst decision you make if something’s wrong. Consider the following diagram:

Finger1Lever1Frowny Thumbs down

See? It makes a lot more sense when you actually see the problem laid out visually. Remember, I speak from experience and I can tell you that pressing the lever will only leave you desperately attempting to turn back time with your mind so you punch the you from the past and alter the future. As yet, that has proven an ineffective solution. I advise you to grab a plunger (if you don’t have one, stop reading this blog right now. There is nothing more important you can be doing with your time than buying one right this second!) and give that nasty staff the ol’ heave-ho! That should clear things right up.

Now, if you were unable to consult the trouble-shooting diagram above, and you pressed the lever, you’re going to have to start throwing down towels immediately. DO NOT attempt to find “bad towels” suited to this task – there are lots of towels out there and no sacrifice is more noble for your absorbent friend than this. That said, you will have to bury the towels, or better yet cleanse them with fire. Contrary to what you may have been told, everything that happens in the bathroom is immoral and shameful. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to perform an exorcism when it’s all over with (and yes, the Catholic Church posted rules on performing your own exorcism, here).

Once you have banished the demons back through the Gates of Hell, it’s time for bleach! It’s not fun, but the only thing more powerful than the Will of Christ is a good ol’ fashioned scrubbing with Clorox. As noted above, this will almost certainly not be the best time to dawn rubber gloves and knee pads, but it’s got to be done. If you’re sleepy, too bad; if you’re late, be later; if it’s someone else’s home, tell them you will show yourself out afterward; and if you’re on a date, go ahead and make a pact to never speak to or about one another or this incident ever again.

It’s OK to cry while you’re scrubbing, the Clorox will destroy your tears, too.

All done? Great! With a little guidance and solid information, an otherwise life-altering tragedy can just be another dark secret that you take with you to the grave.

Stay tuned for the next installment: Bats: AAAHH! HOLY @#$%, HELP!!!


What Bovine Fellatio Can Teach Us About God

Eh? Beautiful, right?

Eh? Beautiful, right?

I got a real good glimpse at the Meaning of Life when I was in the Badlands last month. Needless to say, that’s not what I was expecting to return with; I would have been happy with some decent Instagram pictures and a shot glass that proved I’d been there. But when Life gives you Divine Insight, you make Divine… Insight… drink.

For starters, I’d never been to the Badlands. In fact, being from Minnesota, pretty much all of South Dakota had always been little more than a painfully long stretch of highway between the Twin Cities and the Rockies. Not that I maintain these aspersions, but that’s what I was thinking from the passenger seat as my girlfriend hightailed our asses west along I-90 en route to Badlands National Park, where she promised I would be amazed. “It’s magic,” she told me.

While I didn’t know exactly what to expect from the landmark, I’d heard from several people how terrific it was – tales of camping at the park in the ’60s, close encounters with bobcats and bison, special points off the beaten path that I just had to see – “It’s magic,” they all said. Plus, I considered myself an outdoorsy guy anyway – I’d peed in the woods, eaten apples at an orchard – I knew I would appreciate the grandeur of Mother Nature, regardless of what state it was in. Still, seven hours of “Life Begins At Conception” billboards picturing diaper-clad infants wearing a fireman helmet or holding a sunflower only tempered my hopes for South Dakota’s attractions. I also found myself losing my previous affinity for both firefighters and sunflowers. When we passed the “Help Control the Wildlife Population: Wear Fur!” advertisement, all I wanted was to get to the Badlands, see a bobcat or whatever, and get out of South Dakota.

The sun was just finishing its orange and red goodbyes as we turned left off the interstate onto the long, winding road that led to the park and campgrounds. If you’ve never been to the Badlands, it’s a curious site as you meander deeper into the park: First, you come upon a handful of blunt, flat-topped rock outcroppings that jut out of the horizon like giant, crooked molars. After a day’s worth of flat farmland and prairie grass, these instantly become the coolest thing you’ve seen in South Dakota. Then, as the road snakes left and right, you will see more and more of the rocks as they grow closer and closer. And as you approach, you will notice the strange striated streaks that cut horizontally across the faces of all of the rocks, like some titanic ochre-dipped paint brush took one thick, swift pass along the cliffs.

Big-sheep-horn-goat a.k.a. Ram

Big-sheep-horn-goat a.k.a. Ram

The strangest part, however, is that before you notice it happening, you are suddenly just in among the formations. Where they had been distant, slowly approaching sights before, they’re at once surrounding the road and pulling you further in. In a word, it’s incredible. But as awe-stricken as I was, snapping madly in every direction with my Nikon SLR, it was hardly a spiritual experience. No, that occurred as we pulled around the next bend.

Quickly, but with great stealth, the sky had sunk into deep blues and purples, and the brightest stars began to outshine the light of dusk as brilliant specs above us. I didn’t need any more convincing, South Dakota was more than just a painfully long highway – I was impressed and satisfied, so I thought. I was shooting a picture of the early night sky (because who wouldn’t want look at some amateur pictures of the stars as seen through the sunroof of a Dodge Caravan?) when I heard Sarah gasp next to me and hit the brakes. The car halted, I quickly wheeled around to look at her. She stared straight ahead with her mouth making this wide “O”, like she was about to say “wow”… or drink out of a really big straw.

I turned to look out the windshield and I, too, started to drink out of the big straw. In front of the van, not ten feet away, standing on the shoulder was a flock of bighorn sheep. I called them rams, but everyone who knows about big goat-looking things with curvy horns calls them bighorn sheep. Whatever they might have been called, I’d only ever seen them on the Discovery Channel – always charging at one another and slamming heads with a loud crack. But here they were, very much not on the Discovery Channel, very much right in front of our van. They stood still, four of them, all looking right at us, cast in sharp white contrast against the night sky by our headlights. Sarah killed the lights and let off the brake, slowly rolling forward.

Gravel crunched and popped underneath our tires as the van slid up alongside the flock. They were on the right side of the road, so as we came to a stop next to them, the ram-horn-big-sheep stood right outside my window, now softly and more naturally visible in the ambient glow of after-dusk. Three of the sheep kept their gaze forward, eyeing me with suspicious sideways glances. One of the horn-goat-sheep-bigs, though, tracked me as we approached and was now looking directly at me as I kept drinking out of my now humongous imaginary straw. I clicked the automatic window switch and pierced the heavy silence with an obscene whirring sound from the window motor.

I winced.

The goat-foot-sheep-horns took no notice, however; they all just stared straight ahead, except one, the one that was looking right at me with its hypnotic, goofy goat eyes. I stared right back, still holding my camera. I wanted to take a picture, but was worried if I did I’d be committing some unforgivable violation against the sanctity of Everything. So I just sat there, wondering what it was thinking, whether it cared what I was thinking, and if my side-impact airbag had ever been ram tested.

I think in that moment both Sarah and I were waiting for a sign, some Divine signal that this event had meaning and was concluded. I began to feel increasingly connected to the whole of life on Earth. I started to realize that all creatures, sheep-eyed-goat-horns in particular, had magic in them. And I had magic in me. I belonged here, on Earth, in the present. Up to then, I’d never been especially religious, but there, starting eye-to-goofy-eye with that animal, I began to sense God in everything.

As if on cue, one of the pack began to stir from behind the leader, something was about to happen. We watched, transfixed, unable to surrender from our reverie. Whatever happened next would be an Answer (capital “A”) to whatever question we were thinking but could not ask. The sheep behind took a step forward, then another. It began to stretch its head toward its companion in front, who still looked stoically through my very soul. The trailing bighorn stretched its neck ahead and began to bow – BOWING! KNEELING! This beast was in the process of committing some sacred ritual, I could feel it!

Then it happened – the event that I will remember forever. The moment that incontrovertibly gave me the Answer: The sheep bending low leaned forward, craned its neck, and licked the testicles of the lead ram. Then again. Each time its long ram-horn-curvy-sheep tongue flicked out and prodded the fuzzy regal ball sack of its buddy, causing that hairy coin purse to dangle back and forth, back and forth.

Sarah and I both furrowed our brows, we stopped drinking from our straws. We looked at one another for the first time since coming upon the animals, both of us crinkling our noses and frowning like some wandering cosmic fart had wafted in through the window. I clicked my window up and snapped some pictures, not at all worried what noises the machines made. We pulled ahead and down the hill on toward our campsite.

I slept beautifully that night, secure that I had, at least for an instant, seen the Answer. Not when the animals – humans and bighorns alike – were modeling for one another in picturesque poses, but the ball-licking. That was the Answer. Of course there’s not a God. And of course there is! And it’s laughing at us, all of the time. And it’s when we pretend that it is not laughing at us that we are at fault – that is our sin. We can begin laughing along at any time, that is our salvation and our reward. It’s because everything is sacrosanct that nothing is, that’s the joke – get it? Cool, me neither!

Whatever you think, whether you’re laughing now or not, you’ve got to go to the Badlands. It’s magic.

Paws Off My Mom, Dean

University of Minnesota Alumni Association – To Whom It May Concern:

First of all, thank you so much for keeping in touch with me as the years have passed since my successful completion of your undergraduate program. It means a lot to know that the institution to which I committed so much of my youth and limited resources remembers my name, my record as a student and my mom’s permanent mailing address.

Speaking of my mom’s mailing address, I would like to humbly request that you desist sending postal mail to her home. It is not only confusing and likely an unnecessarily bittersweet reminder of her pre-empty-nest days, but it is, so far as I can tell, unsolicited panhandling.

This is not to say that I would not like to maintain any correspondence with your fine educational institution – perish the thought! By all means, if you wish to inform me of any free T-shirt giveaways, meat raffles, or Bon Jovi tickets, please do not hesitate to call me directly or drop by my mom’s house any time, day or night.

However, if you are hailing me to request further funds – “gifts” as I believe you’ve called them in your past mailings – please do not waste the paper, ink, or man-power. Not only do I lack any sort of discretionary income to ”gift” your upstanding establishment of higher learning, I believe your requests for donation are in error.

Allow me to explain:

When I first arrived at your esteemed destination of cerebral development, I was told I must first make a substantial donation in order to enroll, “tuition” you called it. I agreed, handed in a check for the amount specified and proceeded to redeem your offer of education through your most venerable bastion of enlightenment.

My understanding throughout this arrangement was that my contributions to your meritorious haven of insight were an exchange for admittance, attendance and overwhelming workload. The brutally humbling critiques of my coursework, I presume, were free of charge.

And, despite the outrageous amounts you requested each and every term, the most basic materials needed to attend your highly distinguished oasis of understanding were wholly NOT covered in the required pre-term fees. Every pen, sheet of paper and textbook were an additional – and if I may say, crushing – expense. I was also vexed to learn that some of the aforementioned (obscenely priced) textbooks were authored by the very professors I was paying to educate me. That’s tantamount to buying an expensive dinner at a fancy restaurant, as well as the furniture – which happen to be whittled by the chef in his spare time. (On the bright side, you can always sell back the furniture afterward for a whopping 5% of what you originally paid).

But I digress. This was your racket and your rules, and I agreed to abide – at least so long as I attended. Now, however, your continued Oliver Twistian pleas for more of my money – years since my hard-won graduation – feel like dirty pool. I purchased dinner, I bought the table and chairs, and now the wait staff are calling me every few months requesting continued contributions. This makes no sense, I’m out. All done. No más. Jumanji! I got the degree – singular. You got the dollars – plural, many times over. Our business transaction is completed and you must now focus your profit motive elsewhere – to other younger, hungrier, less penny wise minds than my own.

In summary, leave my mom alone. Forever.

Warmest regards,
Adam J. Ruggiero, B.A. Journalism