Sunday, July 21, 2002

In Their World, They're Normal

I lost the office pool.

I thought Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton would only stay married for 2 years, but they made it all the way to 26 months before she filed the divorce papers. You’re as disappointed as I am, I’m sure.

We all knew it would come to this. The clues were so easy, but in case you missed them, I’ll recap. In the world of Show Business, these are the steps you take for a guaranteed failed marriage:

1) Following four previous failures, this was Billy Bob’s fifth round of “till death do us part” vows. When does the Lemon Law kick in?

2) He wrote a song about her. This is known as the "Billy Joel Just The Way You Are" rule, although we don’t have any reports of Billy Bob dating Christie Brinkley yet.

3) They each carried the other’s blood in a vial worn on a necklace. While handy for cross-typing in an emergency triage situation, this is generally viewed as much more weird than romantic.

4) They went the double-tattoo route. Her name was carved into his skin, and vice versa.

What happens to those tattoos now? Time to call Charlie Sheen, whose new wife Denise Richards demanded he have all of his markings undone by laser -- a job akin to resurfacing I-70.

Or perhaps call Pamela Anderson. When she finally got rid of Tommy Lee, she had the "Tommy" tattoo changed to read "Mommy." A simple enough solution.

But what do you do when the tattoo says "Billy Bob"? Have it changed to "Silly Slob"? Angelina could just have the word "Sucks" added, I suppose. Her flesh would scream to the world, "Billy Bob Sucks!"

That doesn’t work when he does it for her name, does it? The result would sound like ad copy promoting "Tomb Raider II."

According to Us magazine, Angelina says motherhood drove Billy Bob away. They adopted a Cambodian kid a few months ago, and Billy Bob promptly celebrated fatherhood by going on the road to promote his country album, "Private Radio" (I’m no expert on country music, but has that album gotten airplay anywhere? I’m guessing no, and that his live gigs probably draw the same crowd that shows up to see Keanu Reeves’ band open for Bruce Willis in concert.)

Now that Angelina’s single, she’s probably looking for another man in her life, and I have a suggestion. Based on her previous selection, I have chosen a guy who is also a little bit outside the mainstream and, similarly, looks like trouble from a mile away.

His name is James Traficant. He’s a nine-term US Congressman from northeastern Ohio -- but not for long. This isn’t a term limits problem. It’s much more than that.

Traficant is on the verge of becoming only the second member to be expelled from Congress in the last hundred years. To paraphrase "The Odd Couple," that request will come from his colleagues, the House Ethics Committee (which is, incidentally, a permanent entry in the Oxymoron Encyclopedia).

The Congressman has always been a quote machine. The press loved printing and poking fun at his bombastic remarks, and he willingly returned fire, saying "many of them are so dumb they could throw themselves at the ground and miss."

Traficant is being made to walk the plank because he was convicted in April in federal court on ten counts of racketeering and other nastiness, and faces more than seven years in prison. He’s appealing the ruling, and refuses to resign from Congress. So they’re going to kick him out.

The other day, in front of the committee considering his expulsion, Traficant, acting as his own attorney, blasted away again: "Disregard all the opposing counsel has said. They’re delusionary. I think they had something funny for lunch. I think they should be handcuffed, chained to a fence, and flogged. And if they lie again, I’m going to go over there and kick them in the crotch."

The man has a way with words, reminiscent of Lincoln at Gettysburg. You should have seen his original draft, which began, “I know you are, but what am I?”

After several full minutes of deliberation, the committee tore itself away from a roomful of cash-wielding lobbyists to find Traficant guilty of ethics violations, tax evasion, bribery, fraud, and bad manners.

BAD MANNERS??? They must have thrown that one in just for spite.

Why stop there? With a little more investigation, they might have discovered that he didn’t always rewind video rentals, tipped less than 15%, never flushed the toilet in the House bathroom, twice sang the National Anthem off-key, and once took forty-two cents from a convenience store’s "take-a-penny" cup.

Once you have those other raps against you, do you even care about manners? Not if you’re Traficant, who has always been a drag-from-the-room-kicking-and-screaming kind of guy.

The only remaining question is what he’s going to do about that tattoo on his arm with the word "Congress" surrounded by a big heart.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Fit To Be Tied And Frozen

Memo to Bud Selig: Could you possibly do a worse job with the image of baseball than you now do? It’s hard to imagine how. Face it, Bud, the sport formerly known as America’s Pastime is now in a worse public relations position than the Catholic Church.

Is it possible that you and the others who run your sport are the only ones who don’t know that, as the newspaper headline pointed out, there’s no tying in baseball?

Don’t give me this garbage about running out of players. When you called off the game, there were still nine players in the lineup for each team. The pitchers were tired? Bring one back from earlier in the game -- maybe someone like Oakland’s Barry Zito, who only threw three pitches before being yanked. I know that’s against the rules, but so is ending the game in a tie!

Oh, and nice job naming the MVP Award after Ted Williams and then not giving out the award! Ted would be steamed -- if he weren’t already frozen. Maybe your real tribute to him was seeing him put into suspended animation and deciding to do the same with the game.

Memo to John Henry Williams: I’m not sure I understand the appeal of this whole freezing-father concept. If and when you finally do thaw out your pop (or do you prefer “popsicle”?), won’t he come back as the ill man in his seventies he was before he died -- but with freezer burn? And if the idea is to preserve him so that you can sell his DNA, I’d suggest a simple question each potential buyer ask: if your father’s DNA was so spectacular that it made him such a great guy, how come you, his biological offspring ostensibly carrying some of that same DNA, don’t seem to have any of those positive attributes?

Memo to the unfrozen Williams, a/k/a Venus and Serena: You were great at Wimbledon. Yes, if you were white, you would be on the cover of every magazine in America and be the biggest poster girls in sports since Brandi Chastain showed the world her sports bra.

Ooops, didn’t mean to play the race card there. That’s reserved for our next contestant.

Memo to Michael Jackson: You know you’re out there on the gangplank by yourself when Al Sharpton backs off from your comments as too extreme. That's as rare an occurrence as Sammy Sosa buying dinner for Rick Reilly.

Mikey, if you’re looking for the reason your last album didn’t sell as well as you wanted it to, don’t blame Sony. Blame yourself, for not recognizing that the American public does not flock to buy new albums by men who wear bright red lipstick.

Here’s another factor you overlooked -- the album sucked. Fact is, the musical state-of-the-art has simply passed you by, making your newest contributions irrelevant. If you need help understanding this, consult with your one-time buddy Paul McCartney, who hasn’t produced a memorable song in over two decades, and his album sales reflect that. Those of us in the real world aren’t shedding a single tear for you musical multi-millionaires, any more than we do for athletes who won’t play their All-Star Game out of a tie because they’re tired and don’t want to make the effort.

In other words, suck it up. Otherwise, your DNA won’t be worth a dollar to your kids.

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Steve Fossett's Hot Air

So, Steve Fossett has made it around the world in a balloon. Whoopee!

I can’t remember when something was getting so much hype from the media while so few people cared. I certainly don’t.

Now that he’s accomplished this circumnavigation by balloon, what good will it do mankind? What do we, as humans, do with whatever technology it is that helped him make it around the globe? Is there a dire need for great advances in balloon science that we’re not aware of? Are scientists jumping up and down, happy to see yet another natural obstacle overcome, leading us to a breakthrough of any sort?

I doubt it.

If there’s anything positive to take from Fossett being successful after five failed attempts, it’s that we no longer have to hear about him trying to achieve his feat.

Fossett’s flight reminds me of those guys who decide to battle the elements as they row a boat solo across the Atlantic. Or the chef who creates the world’s biggest burrito. I suppose they can be proud of their personal achievement, but I can’t imagine why anyone else would even bother taking notice. Except perhaps for Richard Branson, another guy with too much money and this odd ballooning hobby.

It’s not that I have anything against hot air balloons. My wife and I once took a very nice ride in one. It didn’t remotely resemble the high-tech version Fossett used, but it was a lot of fun. We took off at dawn, just as the fog was lifting. Standing in the basket, we were amazed at how easily the basket lifted us off the ground. The pilot took us up several hundred feet by pulling on a cord attached to the burners a couple of feet above our heads. They shot giant flames upward to heat the air inside the balloon, which made us rise. Then, suddenly, he shut them off, and the air was incredibly still. It was that eerie, early morning quiet you can only hear out in the country before the world wakes up.

As we drifted over the treetops, the pilot pointed down at a cow standing in a pasture. He told us to keep our eyes on it as he blasted the burner for just a moment to keep us aloft. The sudden noise of the roaring flame made the cow jump and look around. It had no way of knowing that the sound was coming from above, and I remember wondering what was going through the cow’s mind at that point. Must’ve confused the hell out of her. I’m no animal behaviorist, but I doubt that cows have very much sense of the vertical.

We were up for the better part of an hour, and then the pilot, with the help of his partner in a chase van below, began looking for a place to land. Spotting a field that looked big enough, he began our descent as gravity did its job. He warned us that this was the roughest part of ballooning, and he wasn’t kidding. The ground started coming up awfully quickly. The pilot told us to lean way back in the basket so the whole thing wouldn’t tip over when we hit. It almost did, anyway. Suffice it to say that hot air balloons don’t come to a nice, quiet stop on a dime. We bumped and dragged along the ground for a couple dozen yards before friction overcame inertia and we ground to a halt.

Once the pilot had made sure that we were okay, he asked, “They don’t tell you about that when you sign up, do they?” We replied, “No, they sure don’t” as we laughed it off. It was that nervous kind of laugh you make when you realize you just had a brush with possible injury -- like when you go to change lanes on the highway and at the last second glance over and realize there’s a car already in that lane and you would have hit it if you hadn’t swerved back into your own lane.

That’s the real reason the media paid so much attention to Fossett’s adventure. There was always a chance Fossett would die before reaching the finish line -- either by crashing into the ocean, or being shot down over Afghanistan by celebrants at a wedding party. The threat of death is always a more dramatic story. It’s why we remember Apollo 13, but not Apollo 14.

Those, by the way, were real milestones of aviation. But let’s not elevate Steve Fossett to the level of Orville and Wilbur Wright, Chuck Yeager, Yuri Gagarin, John Glenn, and Neil Armstrong. Somehow, I don’t see the great pioneers of future flight advances looking to this one for guidance in achieving their breakthroughs.

Unless they really want to scare the hell out of a lot of cows.