Saturday, July 23, 2011

What To Do, What To Do?

During my last conversation with President Barack Obama, the man who once saved my life in 'Nam, he asked me how things were going at the El Paso Times.
     "If the newspaper business were a totem pole," I told him, "I'd be the section dogs like to mark their territory on." 
     He laughed.  It was good to hear him relax for a moment.  We did four tours in 'Nam together, and he always looked to me to perk him up when he was feeling low.
     "When we get out of this jungle," he promised, "I'm going to the top and I'm taking you with me."
     "You keep on talking, B.O.  That's what you do best."
     "That's my problem.  I've got vision, and the rest of the world wears bi-focals."
     But I digress.
     The reason he called me to Washington was he was stymied by the economy, and he thought that I could perhaps add some perspective.  I started with the obvious.
     "I remember once being told that President Kennedy accepted a yearly salary of only one dollar when he was in office.  That could work for you.  When the American people see you sacrificing they'll be inspired."
     "That's a good idea, really good.  Unfortunately, I can't swing it right now.  Michelle would kill me.  Maybe when we get back from our next vacation.  Hey, I've got an idea:  what if we were to freeze the salaries of all lower tier federal employees?"
     "That won't work.  Lower tier government workers can't generate additional income for themselves the way the upper tier can through bribes, kickbacks, and inside information.  Perhaps, instead, Congress and the people in your administration can take a 10% cut in pay.  In hard times those in charge must set the example."
     "That won't work either.  I'm sure that must be unconstitutional or something, and you know how much I love the Constitution.  Besides, their salaries are protected by various laws they've passed, but..."  He rubbed his chin gingerly, and thought for a moment.  "But federal employees are under no such protection.  Freezing their salaries.  That's a great idea you've just given me."
     "Hey, screwing over government workers wasn't my idea.  Get that out of your head right this minute."  Now I was stymied.  I gave him a few more suggestions.
     "Cut spending?"
     "Eliminate earmarks?"
     "Abolish congressional perks?"
     "Eradicate entitlements?"
     I never knew there were so many different ways to say "no".  I gave him a few more ideas, but my heart was no longer in it, and, since they all had to do with the three branches of government making sacrifices of some sort, he vetoed them faster than a Republican compromise.
     "Your first idea was your best," he finally decided. 
     "Don't say it..."
     "We'll freeze federal employee's salaries."
Fifty Shades of Satire

The First Loser

Do you know what they call Second Place?
     The first loser.
     So it was with great pride that the El Paso Times received its award for second place from the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association for excellence in newspaper printing.  Unfortunately, I couldn't be there for the presentation.  I was busy drinking a diet soda.  Instead, Bob Braswell, production director of Texas-New Mexico Parnership, went.  (He's never been able to get out of jury duty, either.)  The Greenville News took first place.  The man representing the newspaper received the award graciously.
     "In your face!" he yelled at the rest of us, and then handed the presenter an envelope stuffed with something green, if you get my drift.  To be honest, I didn't even know they gave out awards for printing, but it doesn't surprise me.  If we in the newspaper business don't pat each other on the back, then who will?
     I, myself, am a Nobel Peace Prize winner.  I received it back in 2009, and share it with President Barack Obama, the man who once saved my life in 'Nam.  The Secret Service kept me from the award ceremony held in the red light district of Amsterdam.  President Obama didn't want to be outshined., it seemed, but he was gracious enough to acknowledge me in his acceptance speech.  He said:  "I cannot argue with those who find (Jim Duchene)...  to be far more deserving of this award than I."  Unfortunately, he wasn't gracious enough to share any of the prize money, but I understood.  He was broke from his last vacation.
     Basking in the glow of second place encourages me to share with you, my loyal readers, other important awards the El Paso Times has won.  First and foremost, we've received a Pulitzer Prize for acheivements in paper cutting.  If you think cutting rolls of paper into the same size square is easy, you're mistaken.  We've also received an award from the Teamster Union for a contribution we made to their Widows & Orphans Fund.  This award was presented to us by none other than the late Jimmy Hoffa himself.  He assured us, with a wink, that he was going to put the donation directly into his retirement account "where it will be safe."  In 1975 we won our first Academy Award for Best Actor.  No, wait...  that was Jack Nicholson.  The Teacher's Association gave us an award for spelling words correctly "at least most of the time."  We were in a contest with Al Gore back in the year 2000.  He called us to concede, and then immediately called us right back to try to withdraw his concession.  We won anyway when the Supreme Court ruled in our favor.  In your face, Al Gore!  But our most cherished award came from President Obama himself during his most recent visit to El Paso.
     It was for not going out of business.
Fifty Shades of Humor

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Dog's Life

Charlie and Buster were digging in the backyard when they found an old metal box.
     "Maybe there's money inside."
     "Yeah, it could be worth its weight in Puppy Chow."
     They both laughed at Buster's bad joke.  When they forced the box open they were disappointed.  It was only a book  Somebody's diary.  They began to read it out loud.

     January 1, 2011--Mayor John Cook's law goes into effect today.  The one prohibiting the sale of dogs less than a year old.  It's a shame that, until now, dogs could be bought and sold like, well, animals.

     Charlie looked at his friend.  "Can you believe this?" he asked.

     December 27, 2012--The last of the pet stores went out of business today.  Those poor employees.  Losing their jobs.  But it's a small price to pay for animal rights.
     August 1, 2013--I almost ran over a dog today.  Its owner should be shot.  Mayor Cook should also have institute a death penalty for people who abandon their pets.  He's the best mayor we've ever had.
     July 30, 2016--John Cook was the worst mayor we've ever had!  People's pets keep having litters, but since they can't sell them they just dump them in the streets.  Now the city's overrun.  Where are all the pet stores when you need them?
     December 25, 2020--I drove past a pack of dogs today.  They all watched me as I went by.  I looked in my rear-view mirror and--I know this sounds crazy--but it looked like they were conspiring against me.
     July 4, 2029--The Fourth of July's been canceled.  President Palin has declared a state of emergency.  There are dogs everywhere.  You can't even order pizza without some mutt jumping out of the box.  I've seen our old mayor, John Cook.  He wanders around wearing a sign.  It says:  "The End Is Near!"
     February 2, 2031--This is my last entry.  When I'm done I'll bury this diary in my backyard.  I don't have much time.  There's a group of dogs at my front door and--dear God--they're all standing on two feet!

     The diary ended there.  Charlie and Buster looked at each other.  After awhile they laughed and shook their heads.  Their big ears flapping from side to side.
     "Talking humans," Charlie chuckled, his tail wagging in good humor.  "What a joke.  By the way, have you finally had your pet human fixed?"
Fifty Shades of Funny

Mark Twain's Rolling In His Grave

"Censorship is telling a man he can't have steak just because a baby can't chew."
Mark Twain

I don't believe in censorship...
     ...when I heard that NewSouth Books was changing the N-word in Mark Twain's masterpiece The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to the word "slave," I thought:
     "What a wonderful idea!"
     You see, when I read the book to my youngest daughter as a bedtime story, that's exactly what I did.  My little girl loved the story--changes and all--and to this day she still talks about how ol' Huck vanquished the evil Lord Voldemort,
     I understand NewSouth probably made its decision for financial reasons.  I'm sure few are interested in buying, much less reading, classic novels that do not feature teenage vampires in love.  More importantly, what teacher would be willing to lose their job by reading or recommending Huckleberry Finn to their students?
     Personally, I've never cared for how the term "the n-word" (yes, little "n") has replaced the actual n-word.  Sanitizing it has only given people and broadcasters license to say it to their heart's content.
     C'mon, we all know what you really want to say.
     So I wrote to NewSouth and offered them the following story improvements:
     First, I told them they should remove all references to guns and slavery.  If you don't mention something, then it's as if it's never existed, right?
     Next, they should make Jim an entrepreneur.  And gay.  Yearning for his God-given right to marry his long-time lover, Judge Thatcher.  He'll depart for San Francisco, where gay marriage is legal and he can live off of California's generous welfare and healthcare programs.  When asked, his friend Moses will only say:  "He's gone to Sugarcandy Mountain."
     In the book, Huckleberry Finn's Pap is a vulgar, violent white man.  Ignorant and lazy.  Cruel and mean.  Only interested in what he can take from someone else.  He's a liar, a thief, and did I mention he was white?
     I suggested they make him a Republican.
     Tom Sawyer plays a minor role in this story.  I told NewSouth his part could be expanded by having him impregnate Becky Thatcher.  Looking for an easy way out of his predicament, Tom takes a dead cat to the cemetery because he's heard that if you toss it into an empty grave at midnight you'll find a doctor willing to perform a late-term abortion.
     The story can end with Jim getting married, Becky getting an abortion, Tom Sawyer's maid--Tia Polly--getting her citizenship papers, Frederick Douglas saving Abe Lincoln from an assassin's bullet, and Native Americans taking back their land from the evil white devil.
     And what happens to ol' Huckleberry?
     Well, after his sex-change he joins the Navy--doesn't ask/doesn't tell--and lives happily ever after.
     With Caitlyn Jenner.

Fifty Shades of Funny

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Problem With El Paso

I've always felt that the problem with El Paso was El Paso.  Our city has so many different personalities we've never been able to find a way to define ourselves properly.  The artists, the mad men, the image consultants...  no one ever seemed to get a handle on who we were, what we were, or how to sell ourselves to the rest of the world.  If El Paso were to find itself in front of the Wizard of Oz along with Dorothy and her three amigos--Manny, Moe, and Jack--El Paso might hear this from the man behind the curtain:  "And to you, El Paso (the Rodney Dangerfield of cities), to you I give...  respect!  Fortunately, you live in a time when respect no longer has to be earned.  It can be appropriated."  So, it's with these words in mind that I offer the city my own gift.  The gift of salesmanship.  Lies, as Gordon Gekko might put it, are good, and for a lie to be believed all that is required is to speak it out loud, or, to paraphrase everybody's favorite Nazi, tell a lie often enough, and it becomes the truth.  While I'm not suggesting that we outright lie (that would be wrong), I don't think there's anything wrong with salesmanship of the P.T. Barnum variety.

Are UFOs Real?  Find Out In El Paso!

     We can sell El Paso by first presenting a question that may or may not have anything to do with our fair city, but one that can be answered here.  The more outrageous, the better.

Who Killed JFK?  Find Out In El Paso!

     By adding the tag line "Find Out In El Paso!" we're presenting a challenge, and who doesn't love a challenge?  Who wouldn't want to find out who really killed President Kennedy?  And if they think they can find out in El Paso, then you can bet that's where they'll go.  The exclamation point is there to add a sense of excitement.  The capital letters, well, I just like to capitalize things.

Where Do People Keep Chupacabras As Pets?  Find Out In El Paso!

Did Ponce de Leon Discover The Fountain Of Youth?  Find Out In El Paso!

How Did Lady Di Really Die?  Find Out In El Paso!

Is Elvis Still Alive?  Find Out In El Paso!

     Okay.  Now it's your turn.
Fifty Shades of Humor

Friday, July 8, 2011

Butoh Butoh Golly

In the past two months my duties as NPR's Anchor and Managing Editor of Spanish-Speaking Latinos (which is quite an accomplishment considering I am neither Latino or Spanish-speaking) has taken me to a handful of countries, a fistful of states, and a fingerpick of cities.
     The travel was not joyful, although the food was excellent in the 5-star hotels I insisted on staying at.  It never ceases to amaze me how good the food can be in countries where people are starving.
     I was working on a documentary about America's sordid underbelly.  I briefly considered doing a documentary on ruthless Mexican Drug Lords or fanatical Muslim Terrorists, but decided that I enjoyed living too much.  When you criticize America, white America, or Christian America you don't end up dismembered, decapitated, or riddled with bullets.
     Viciously murdered is not a good look for me.
     So when I ended up in Downtown El Paso imagine my joy when I came across a free show of the ancient Japanese art of Butoh:  the art of nothing.  It consists of the artist lying on the ground and moving so slowly that his movements are undetectable thus making them poetic.This particular artist happened to be white and male, and yet I had no desire to judge him or hold him in contempt.  Perhaps this was because I felt he was making a statement of how the white man has dominated our world.
     He was dressed like a homeless person.  What dedication this artist had to his art.  He even smelled homeless.  I believe this was to stress our bad economy.  People losing their jobs.  Their homes.  Their families.  His Tupac Lives! t-shirt was obviously a reference to how the white man "puts on" the black man's culture.  His achievements.  And his music.
     He tightly clutched a bottle of cheap booze hidden in a brown paper bag.  Clearly an indictment of our overly-medicated society.
     As he laid there I couldn't help but notice the authenticity of the holes on the bottom of his shoes.  Could this be a continuation of his "homeless" message?  A reference to the old Native American wisdom of walking a mile in another man's moccasins?  More likely, it showed how the white man has stepped on the tired.  The poor.  The huddled masses yearing to be free.  Mexicans, too.
     I stood and watched for hours.  Fascinated.  His lack of movement was so fine, so delicate.  Finally, there was a release of gas.  From which orifice, I don't know.  Maybe all of them.  I wondered what that might have meant.  Like any great art, it left me with something to ponder.  To consider.  To digest.
     Finally, the Butoh artist got up.  He began to walk away.  I just had to express my appreciation. 
     "Great show, Mayor Cook," I said, and he stumbled off.
American Chimpanzee

The Typical El Pasoan

There are the best of times, there are the worst of times, and there are the times when we think we know it all, but, deep down, are just hoping we get away with cribbing a few lines from a classic novel that no one has read for the last hundred years or so.
     Since I was a young child I wondered:  if you sit a million monkeys in front of a million typewritters for a million years, would one of them write the complete works of Shakespeare, or would you just end up with a room full of decomposing monkeys?
     I've always had a thirst for knowledge.  Forget curling irons, as a young child I wondered if you were to use a smaller and smaller chute each time you went skydiving would you eventually reach the point where you would need no chute at all?
     I think I know what makes El Paso tick, but I believe my thirst for knowledge has been translated into a language I don't speak.  No matter, as I am currently fixated on writing this column.  Unfortunately, I have neither a subject, nor the desire to find a subject.  I could drive someplace, but that would take effort on my part.  Besides, I'd rather stay home.  That gave me an idea.  I know El Paso like I know the back of my hand, so I thought I would concentrate on me.
     First things first, who am I?  To find out I pulled out my wallet and took a peek inside.  There was a driver's license, two credit cards, and an old ticket stub to the Justin Beiber movie.
     Don't judge me.  It was the special edition.
     I walked to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator.  Besides the usual staples, I found a half-eaten Chicken MacChicken.  Wouldn't you know it?  I hate chicken.  Especially Chicken MacChickens.  So I guess your typical El Pasoan's typical diet consists of things he typically doesn't like to eat, but are cheap enough that he does.  Wait a minute...  what's that?  Two six-packs of Wicked Beer!  I guess this typical El Pasoan knows how to live after all.
     I continued my tour.  I walked into the living room.  It was sparsely furnished.  The couches looked old.  The pictures on the wall were of the Pic-N-Sav variety.  Apparently, the typical El Pasoan has recently been divorced, and his ex-wife absconded with all the good furniture.
     I walked through the three bedrooms.  Two of the bedrooms were essentially empty, used more for storage than anything else.  The master bedroom had a flat-screen TV, DVD player, and the first season box-set of Saturday Night Live. 
     Hmm...  that's odd.  No bed, just a mattress on the floor.  That can't be comfortable.  I'll just lay on it for a few seconds so...  I can...zzz...
     I was wrong.  It wasn't a mattress, after all.  It was a time machine.  When I lay down on it it immediately transported me approximately 8 hours into the future.  It would seem your typical El Pasoan isn't so typical.  And, hey, lookee there:  pictures of his kids.  I bet he misses them.  This gives me hope for El Paso. 
     The typical El Pasoan is not such a bad guy after all.
     I am Jim Duchene, and you're not.
  Fifty Shades of Humor

I Don't Ask & They Don't Tell

Buzz Adams--the host of KLAQ's morning radio show and the man rumored to have killed bin Laden--told a funny story awhile back.  Okay, more than awhile back.  A 32-year-old man in a bar was enticed by a woman to go outside for, apparently, a quick tryst.  Unfortunately, it was not ecstacy that waited for him in the dark heat of the night, but, instead, the woman's accomplice.  The victim made a break for it, but the only thing that stood between him and escape was his impaired sense of fashion.  He wore his baggy jeans so low they hung below his butt, so when he tried to run his pants fell to his ankles, tripping him.  As a result he was taken advantage of, and not in the fun way he had imagined.
     When I drop my teen-age daughter off at school I see a number of teen-age boys dressed in a similar manner.  All fashionable in a Don't Ask/Don't Tell kind of way.
     "Do girls like the way that looks?"  I once asked her, honestly curious.
     "It's gross, dad," she answered, rolling her eyes.
     Every generation usually has its own style.  From the zoot suits of the 40's to the polyester suits of the 70's.  The 90's began with the grunge look, but that soon became the urban hippity-hop look, and that's where showing your derriere became popular.  I've heard that this particular fashion choice had its origins in prison.  In prison, you're either the one who wears his pants up, or you're the one who wears his pants down, and I'm sure it's no fun to be the one who wears his pants down.  It gave the Don't Ask segment of the prison population easier access to the Don't Tell segment of the prison population, if you get my drift.  Upon leaving prison the men who wore their pants down brought that look along with them, along with no marketable skills, where it was entusiastically adopted by urban males who thought it was a cool gangsta-outta-prison look.  Sadly, it was more of a San Franciscan "treat" look.  That look has stubbornly hung around more than ten years past what should have been its expiration date, and doesn't seem to be leaving us any time soon.  Like I said, every generation has its own style.  Except this one.  This one's happy to be stuck in the 90's.
     Years back I noticed teen girls walking around in public wearing boxer shorts or pajama bottoms.  I thought it was a cute look, that is, until a few months back.  I was getting an old-fashioned hair-cut at the Eastside Barber Shop, when in comes this grown man in his 30's wearing...  pajama bottoms!  I felt sorry for him.  Obviously, he couldn't afford any mirrors.  I've since seen other males, mostly teens, walking around in broad daylight wearing pajama bottoms.
     I don't ask, and they don't tell.
Fifty Shades of Humor

Friday, July 1, 2011

Is It True If I'm Lying?

Pretending to be a member of SEAL Team Six has turned out to be a pretty lucrative proposition for me.  I've had people shake my hand, thank me for my service, and pay for my meals.  I've had patriotic young women eager to show me their, ahem, appreciation.
     "Anything for the man who killed bin Laden," they'll squeel.
     I'm a happily married man, so I just pat them on their heads and send them on their way.
     The fact that there's officially no SEAL Team Six is not a problem.  In fact, it actually works out in my favor.  First off, how can I talk about something that everybody assumes I'm not allowed to talk about?  Secondly, am I really lying if I say I'm a part of something that doesn't exist?
     "Are you really a SEAL?"  I've been asked more than once.
     "I'm sorry," I'll answer.  Sincerity?  Yeah, I can fake that.  "I can neither confirm or deny that."
     Recently, however, I was contacted by Don Shipley.  A retired SEAL who makes it his life's purpose to expose faux SEALs.  I don't want to go into any of the details of our conversation.  Who's gonna rip who's head off and feed it to the jackels isn't important.  What is important is that after our conversation I decided to take an immediate vacation to the murderous drug lord infested country of Mexico where I immediately felt safer.
     It was there that I met Chihuahua Governor Cesar Duarte.  I was sitting in the Jocky Club in the town of Zaragosa, quietly nursing a Tecate and lime, when he walked in with his bodyguards.  He had just gotten a haircut in the barbershop next door.  They all stopped when they saw me, and then his head bodyguard leaned over and whispered in his ear.  The Governor approached me.
     "So, you're the SEAL who killed bin Laden." he asked me.  Impressed.
     "I'm sorry, Gov. Duarte, but I can neither confirm or deny that."  Why fix what isn't broken?
     "Spoken like a true hero, amigo."  He stuck out his hand.  "Perhaps fate has brought us together."
     "Perhaps it has, Governor," I said, and slipped him the expected twenty when I shook his hand.  He pocketed it in one smooth movement.
     "Consider yourself my guest in Mexico for as long as your dinero holds out."
     We spent the next few hours talking about politics and Mexico's place in the world.  He seemed to like my ideas on the branding and promoting of our historic city of El Paso.
     "You see, Gov. Duarte, perception is reality.  How the world sees you is how you present yourself.  You either define yourself, or others will define you."
     "And how would you suggest I define Ciudad Juarez?"
     I thought for a moment.
     "Well," I said, slowly.  These were landmines I was stepping on.  "Everybody hates the drug lords and the violence and the political corruption associated with the name Ciudad Juarez.  Why don't you change the city's name to 'Ice Cream!'  Everybody loves ice cream."  He frowned a bit.  I tap-danced some more.  "Or you could change the name to Mother Teresa.  Nobody trusts Mexican law-enforcement, but everybody trusts Mother Teresa."
     "No, no, no.  None of that will do.  For all your heroic achievements you sure do stink at rebranding and promoting cities."
     "What did you just call me?"
     "No, you just called me heroic.  That's it!  The Heroic City Of Juarez.  Heroica Cuidad Juarez."
     And damn if he didn't do just that.

Fifty Shades of Humor

Cheating With Crazy Women

Gary Hart, Jim Baker, Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, John Edwards, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and now Herman Cain.  What do all these men have in common?  (Besides cheating with women even I could score with.)
     What they all have in common is that when they decided to cheat, they didn't cheat with crazy women.  If you ask me, that was their big mistake.
     Why crazy women?
     Because cheating with a woman who's crazy gives you plausible deniability.
     "Don't listen to her," any reasonable person would say.  "She's crazy."
     The Sperminator almost had it right when he decided to cheat.  He cheated with someone no one would have ever believed, that is, until the baby she had grew up to look exactly like him.  His wife, Maria, wasn't even suspicious until the boy began to grope the children of all the other maids.
     "I trusted the advise of Jimmy Soul," the former California Governor said, "and Jimmy Soul let me down."  He was referring to the late, great soul singer's 50's hit.
     Go look it up.
     Myself, I didn't cheat crazy.  I married crazy.  And divorced painfully.  Five times. 
     My first wife became fat faster than Monica Lewinski at an all-you-can-eat buffet.  She wasn't all that and a bag of chips.  She was all that because of a bag of chips. 
     My second wife went out for a pack of cigarettes and never came back.  The funny thing is she didn't smoke. 
     My third wife would check on me constantly when I was sick.  I could never get any rest.  I don't think it was to check on how I was doing.  I think it was to bug me.  I'd be sleeping soundly, and she would gently nudge me awake, hoping my illness had developed into something more serious.
     "Jim," she'd whisper.  "Are you asleep?" 
     "Not any more."
     "Sorry.  Go back to sleep."
     After the first dozen times it began to get annoying.
     During my fourth marriage I was working at night driving an 18-wheeler for UPS.  What my now ex-wife didn't understand then was that if I worked at night that meant I had to sleep during the day.
     "Just pretend when I'm sleeping that I'm at work," I kept explaining to her. 
     She said she understood, but she never did.  Not really.  Years after our divorce I received a rebate check from an insurance policy she had taken out on me without my knowledge.  I'm sure that had nothing to do with anything.
     I never told her about the check.
     My fifth ex-wife got hooked on meth soon after we divorced, and lost over 100 lbs.  Fortunately for her she was 100 lbs overweight, so now she looks pretty hot.  Too bad she didn't get hooked on meth while we were married.  The outcome would have been the same, but the sex would have been better.  The last I heard she was in Washington DC working in the White House.  She cleans the toilets.
     One thing my ex-wives taught me was that life isn't about getting even.  It's about getting over.  And that's the advise I give to all the philandering husbands who have been caught.  Get over it.  Get up, dust yourself off, and be a better man.
     Steven Tyler, the lead singer of the rock band Aerosmith, once said:  "It's not about how you fall, it's about how you get back up."  He said this while he was a judge on American Idol...
     ...but wise words, none the less.
                          El Paso!  Where No One Cheats On Anyone...EVER!
Fifty Shades of Humor