Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tossing My Brain Overboard

My latest column is out, complete with family-friendly edit. My editor (who loves the Longhorns, by the way) felt that I would be less likely to receive grumpy e-mails if he changed, "I was singularly focused on getting her to take off her shirt," to, "... singularly focused on getting her alone."

It defeats the point of the joke, which was to finish off a navel-gazing statement about my sub-conscious with a crass reference to sex, but almost certainly Adam is right. American news consumers are desperate to be offended and a reference to my fondness for certain parts of the female anatomy would give them too easy a target.

Amusingly, I had already self-censored an entire paragraph.

It is said that when Custer got his ass handed to him at Little Bighorn, some of his men went into such an idiotic panic that they simply fired straight into the air, unable to control their fear enough to aim at anything. I was going to point out that I respond to stress similarly, and likely would have run out of ammo before ever actually spotting a Lakota. But I scrapped the line because I could imagine someone getting so angry with my reference to a 131-year-old military blunder that they would write to me IN A FIT OF MISPELED CAPSLOCK HISTEREA.

The fear-the-reader nature of modern American news media means I can't really accumulate too many complaint letters. Managers in the fine company that hosts my column wouldn't have any problem dropping the thing if any of the complaints were to appear on their radar. So Adam is simply protecting my ass because I am too dumb to protect it on my own.

Although, obviously, he's not protecting my ass, because that, too, would be offensive -- both for its language and homosexual connotations. But it would be typical of the kind of thing we've come to expect from the liberal media: a Jew watching out for his sex-deviant European pal.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

All about the Baroque and Rococos?

I just read a story about Jay-Z losing faith in the dollar and it struck me that the implications of this are huge. If the dollar falls out of favour within the hip-hop community, it will mean phrases like, "all about the Benjamins," will become obsolete.

Thankfully Curtis Jackson doesn't have to change his moniker, because the euro subunit is the "cent." Although, "33 Cent" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

The images on euro notes represent seven different stages of architecture. The 100 euro is supposed to represent Baroque and Rococo.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Brazen be fucked

I've mentioned before that Welsh-language television has a bad habit of being not very good. Media is a challenge for a minority language.

While modern media can help to promulgate the ancient tongue, it can also savagely expose a limited talent pool. Only a few of any population are going to be legitimately talented. If the population is 750,000 (a) that few are very few. Sometimes one has to wonder if a programme is on the air simply because there are people speaking Welsh in it.

Another problem for a minority language like Welsh, or Irish, etcetera, is the fact that viewers will compare whatever they see in the language to the stuff they see in English. And they subconsciously expect it to be as good or better. It's not really fair to compare something on S4C to a programme with an audience that is some 15 times larger than the whole Welsh speaking population, but people do. That's life.

"'Sopranos' ger y lli" ("Sopranos by the sea") is how the new programme "Y Pris" bills itself, even going so far as to use music by Alabama 3 (b) in its title sequence. My general feeling is that it's incredibly stupid to deliberately draw that comparison because: 1) People will be hyper-critical, looking to prove you wrong; 2) It makes the show sound unoriginal; 3) "Y Pris" isn't really all that much like "The Sopranos."

One could just as easily describe "Y Pris" as: "Twin Town without as many characters that you wish would die." Indeed, "Y Pris" even features "Twin Town" actors (c). Or you could describe the show as being simply: "Pretty much every stylish British crime/drug film you've seen, in a language you don't understand -- just pretend Begbie is talking."

Whatever it is, it's actually pretty good.

S4C is banking quite a bit on its success, advertising on bus shelters and billboards and the like. They are hoping to create a crossover programme that will appeal enough to English speakers that they'll sit and watch it with subtitles. The channel had a similar publicity blitz for the programme "Caerdydd," which looked like it should have been good but, in fact, wasn't.

Because "Caerdydd" was such a disappointment (the acting was alright, and it was visually well done, but the storyline was insufferable and directionless. And it seemed to have fuck all to do with Cardiff), I've been sceptical about "Y Pris," not actually watching an episode until the second week. I was impressed enough that I tuned in again this week. At the end of this week's episode I found myself thinking: "You know, this is, surprisingly, not shit."

It's even good enough that it could be aired in the United States. Obviously, it would be on some ultra-obscure satellite channel, at 2 a.m., on something like IFC, but it is actually worth watching even if you have no interest in Welsh.

It is worth watching enough, that I will encourage you to watch the programme online. The episodes are only 36 minutes long and broadcast in good quality. You should see the subtitles in Windows Media Player. If not, click the "Play" tab, and go down to "Lyrics, Captions and Subtitles."

One of my favourite scenes so far is actually one done in English, about four and a half minutes into the third episode.

(a) That's the number of Welsh speakers worldwide, according to Wikipedia. I am too lazy to go dig up more official stats.

(b) The title sequence for "The Sopranos" uses Alabama 3's "Woke Up This Morning."

(c) The characters Bryn and Fatty from this clip.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wishing for Hard Labor

My latest column is out Actually, it's been out since Tuesday, but I haven't really had time to get at the computer until today.

I am busy reading Welsh-language novels. There appears to be an unwritten rule that in every single fucking Welsh-language novel the English must be nefarious, arrogant and ignorant/spiteful of the Welsh language.

I'm a bit disappointed in this week's column because I wasn't able to come up with a way to directly reference the Triple Lindy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Don't forget your passport, visa or astrological chart

Huw's recent story of arriving in the United States reminded me of one of my favourite immigration experiences, from the happy pre-9/11 days when Americans didn't fear having to come into their own country.

It used to be the case that a driver's license was all a U.S. citizen needed to get into or out of either Mexico or Canada. Crossing the border was a simple act of walking through a maze of scary barbed-wire fences, self-consciously fixing your hair when you saw the sign that said "YOU ARE BEING FILMED," and then showing your driver's license to a member of the always helpful U.S. Border Patrol. The officers were more nightclub bouncers than anything else, sitting on little stools and half-heartedly analyzing people's licences to check that they weren't fakes.

In the San Ysidro checkpoint one night, the guy in queue in front of me somehow managed to draw the officer's suspicion and was asked: "What's your sign?"

"My... huh?" asked the guy.

"Your sign, my friend. What is it?" the officer asked.

"Uhm. That's not it?" the man asked, pointing at his license.

"No. What's your astrological sign?"

"I don't think I have one of those."

"Everybody has an astrological sign. You know, astrology. That thing where you find out what's going to happen in your life based on what the stars and planets are doing."

"Oh. Uhm. I don't believe in that stuff."

"I don't believe in it, either. But I know my sign," the officer said. Then, nodding to several large Border Patrol blokes with dogs: "Here's your license back. Go have a chat with my friends over there."

The guy did as he was told and I stepped forward to the officer, holding out my license.

"I'm a Pisces," I said.

"I'm a Sagittarius," he said, waving me on and not even looking at my license.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The old hotness

Lately I feel as if I am going through some sort of pre-midlife midlife crisis. I am boring, my bitches. I have left Coolsville.

OK, I was never a resident of Coolsville. They let me visit once, but only carrying a pass, and I had to be out by sunset like the Welsh in Chester (a). But I did used to be less boring.

I was reminded of this fact when my cousin, Shawn Jr., recently commented on a post, reminding me of the reason why he wouldn't let me drive my Papa's golf cart. Because when I drove "all thought and rationalization flew out the window" (b).

I'm sure a number of the people who read this blog could tell you similar stories involving me behind the wheel of a car. Or of my strange love for throwing myself from things -- speeding boats, rooftops, etc. You know those stories you always read around prom time about high schoolers getting drunk and doing shockingly stupid things and dying? Every time I see one of those stories, I think: "Yep. I've done that."

But I wasn't drunk. And I carried on doing that stuff well into my 20s (c).

So, I wasn't cool, I was unhinged. But at least I wasn't boring.

What the hell happened to me that I am no longer waking up in France, but instead fretting about missing episodes of "Strictly Come Dancing" or "Strictly Come Dancing: It Takes Two"? Gah. I wish there were two of me, so I could punch myself in the face. And then myself could punch me in the face -- I deserve to be punched twice for being so boring.

The thing that frustrates me is that I am almost certainly a better person now that I am boring. I am generally agreed to have been an insufferable ass up until... say, five or six years ago. I have had friends go out of their way to tell me how much more they like me now than in the good ol' days when I was insisting on waterskiing during lightning storms or drunkenly running full speed at oncoming trains.

But why can't there be a happy medium?

If anyone needs me, I'll be drinking beer and watching repeats of "Q.I."

(a) In response to the same Welsh rebellion that saw Cardiff's St. John the Baptist church ransacked Henry IV issued a decree that in the city of Chester "all manner of Welsh persons or Welsh sympathies should be expelled from the City; that no Welshman should enter the City before sunrise or tarry in it after sunset, under pain of decapitation." Reportedly, this law has never been repealed.

(b) That would make the best title of an autobiography ever: All Thought and Rationalization Flew Out the Window. It's too bad I don't live up to the title.

(c) At which point, yes, I was often drunk.

The things you learn from old ladies on buses

There is a street in Cardiff's Roath (a) neighbourhood named simply The Parade. It gets its name from the days when a girls' college was located on the eastern end of the road and a boys' college on the western end. The street was a popular place for the young men and women to see and be seen.

Similarly, parallel street The Walk served as a quieter area for the students to meet, and, in the words of the old lady who told me all this, "do more than look at one another."

(a) Roath, by the way, gets its name from the Irish word "ráth" (prosperity). The area was once home to an enormous Irish population. These days it is home to a load of students. I feel as if Cardiff lost something in that change.

Monday, November 5, 2007


Papa's obituary as it ran in his local newspaper:

James C. “Jim” Cope, writer, age 80, of West Columbia, died Oct. 31, 2007, after a lengthy illness.

He was a loving husband who cared for his wife, Joie, during her own lengthy illness.

He was a great father and grandfather, providing guidance when needed and freedom when ready. He had a quick mind and a sharp wit, was a great reader, a lifelong sports fan and a loyal friend.

He came to Brazosport in 1961 to be the public relations director for Dow’s Texas Division, working at Dow until he retired. Born in Paint Rock, Texas, he was quarterback of the high school football team, then joined the Navy and served in the Pacific at the end of WWII. He graduated from Texas Christian University as a journalist. He was a writer and editor at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a sportswriter for the San Antonio Express-News and sports editor and columnist for the San Angelo Standard Times before joining Dow.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Joie, and by his son, Whitney Dirk.

He is survived by his sister, Johnnye Louise Cope of San Angelo; his sons, James Steven (Cece) of Bloomington, MN, and David Shawn (Kelley) of Lake Jackson; grandchildren, Chris of Cardiff, Wales, Jon of Burnsville, MN, Garrett of Carthage, Texas, Josh of Angleton, Shawn Jr. of West Columbia and Christy-Lynn of Lake Jackson; and eight great-grandchildren.

A memorial service celebrating his life will be held at 4 p.m. Monday, November 5, 2007, at Chapelwood Methodist Church in Lake Jackson.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

I don't like piggies

For those of you playing along at home, you're missing a load of amusing television in Britain at the moment. One of my favourite shows is "Coal House," if not simply because it features Rhodri Phillips, the most amusing child ever.

My catchphrase at the moment is, "I don't like piggies" (about 8 seconds in).

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Garden seed

Me and ScruffThis is a picture of Eric and me shortly before I left for Britain. Although it's not the most flattering (we both look like dopes), it is one of my favourite pictures of myself because in it one can see a resemblance between me and a younger version of my Papa.

Papa died Wednesday.

Having spent all my life living relatively large distances from Papa, I find myself now scrambling to collect in my mind every single memory I have of him. Because even though I saw him far less than the other grandchildren, he has strongly influenced the person I've become and that I try to be.

Perhaps that's somewhat by design. I was remembering today the time when he refused to let me take his golf cart out for a drive, and the strangely brilliant logic he used in so doing.

Papa lived in the gated golf resort community of Columbia Lakes, where golf carts are the mode of transport de rigueur. No childhood visit to Papa and Joie's house (a) was complete without forcing one of my grandparents to take me for a ride on the cart. Often the other grandkids would come along, which meant that I got to stand on the back of the cart where the bags were supposed to go. For reasons that now escape me, I always envisioned that we were storm troopers out on patrol. Other kids grow up wanting to be firemen; I wanted to claim East Texas for the Galactic Empire (b).

When I was 12 or 13 years old, my cousin, Shawn Jr., and I were allowed to take the golf cart out by ourselves to go fishing at one of the resort's lakes. When I say that we went fishing, what I mean, of course, is that Shawn fished and I watched. To this day, I have never caught a fish. I am such a bad fisherman that Jesus would lose his patience with me. Shawn drove the golf cart because he is a few months older than me and, more importantly, he can kick my ass. Shawn decided that the best way to the marina was via bumpy fields, where he simply mashed down the accelerator and tore around in circles, treating the golf cart as if it were some kind of off-road sport vehicle. Obviously, my reaction to such blatant mistreatment of my grandfather's property was an immediate and acute desire to do exactly the same thing.

A few months later, I found myself back at Papa and Joie's and with no Shawn around to act as the Responsible Grandchild, so I immediately made my case for being allowed to take the golf cart out on my own.

"Well, hoss, I don't think that's a good idea," Papa told me.

"Why not?" I asked, indignant. "You let Shawn Jr. drive the golf cart. I'm the same age. Almost."

"But I see Shawn Jr. more often, stud. We don't get to see you very often. If you do something stupid with the golf cart, and I get mad at you, that'll be something that just sticks with you. If Shawn Jr. does something stupid, well, I'll see him again in a few days and we'll get over it."

I love that line of thinking. And to his credit, I don't have any negative memories of him.

I also love that he was taking it as a given that I wanted to drive the cart around like a maniac. It's a defining characteristic of Papa that he was so subtly straight-forward. He was honest, but in that veiled manner that comes from a career in public relations.

I remember when Sara and I were down in Texas and went to see him. One of the first things he said to her was: "Well, you look pretty smart. I hope you are smart. We don't need any more babies. I like the things, but we don't need any more of 'em in this family right now."

Actually, he probably said it a little more cleverly than that. My grandfather was good with words and especially good with brevity. When I was in my 20s, I would write to him often and his letters back were like news bulletins. Whole events were put into single sentences.

That brevity, though, and the limited times that I saw him -- especially after I moved to Minnesota -- leave me with little to remember him by. I feel frustrated and upset that I don't know more stories about him.

I know that he grew up in West Texas. When he joined the Navy they sent him to San Diego for training and the journey was hot and he hated it. I know that he spent most of World War II in the Marshall Islands. After the war, he bounced around Florida and ran into Joie, who was, in my dad's words (c), "probably a little too fast for him." Somehow they landed back in Texas. There was Denton, and San Angelo, and then Papa got work doing PR for the company that gave the world napalm, Agent Orange, and faulty breast implants. He retired and rarely left Columbia Lakes. He drank whiskey. He smoked Merit Ultra Light cigarettes. That's a life in a paragraph, and there is so much I don't know and probably won't ever know.

I am left with soundbites -- a collection of cool slang and maxims. And I am trying now desperately to gather them in my faulty brain. I am afraid now of losing these things, wondering how I can hold them in. But at least I know I'm always carrying some part of him.

Once, when I was in high school and my Papa was in a rare chatting mood, he showed me a picture of his football team in college. He pointed to himself and said: "Shawn Jr. saw this picture and said that you look a lot like I did back then. That was a pretty mean thing for him to say."

I took it as a compliment.

--- This post gets its title from a phrase that Papa would use in place of "goddamn it" -- to be said as "Gar-den seed!" ---

(a) Joie was my cantankerous grandmother, who died in 1993. I say "cantankerous" because that's how everyone seems to remember her. I take a certain glee, then, in the fact that she was always sweet as pie with me.

(b) This pro-Empire stance is almost certainly at the root of those really bad years when I was voting Republican.

(c) My dad often displays his father's talent for stating things in amusingly polite terms.