Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Roundtable, Volume 2, Part 5

As we come off the heels of our most successful Roundtable yet, with 10 of 11 possible Gentlemen responding, I was very much looking forward to the next installment. Not only was the question being posed one of nation-wide change, but it was, for the first time, open to the general public to respond. My anticipation for this being an even greater Roundtable than the one prior was high.

I won't call the reality exactly unfortunate. The responses tendered were, for the most part, very well thought out and obviously a reflection of passion for the subject by the author. However, this week I am sorry to say we received only 5 entries from Gentlemen, supplemented by 2 very well-written Guest Gentlemen. Far from lackluster, but below expectations.

Thus, I will have to strive in the following week to bring about even greater success in our weekly conversation. However, in this week's edition, our 7 contributors examine what they would do given the power to eliminate whatever they see as America's greatest problem. While not as numerous as I had hoped, These Gentlemen nonetheless continue to impress. Continue to read and debate the points of the Roundtable, and look forward to more of our brain trust next week, when the Roundtable returns yet again.

Bombay Graham

Education. Forget Healthcare, the recession, the war in Iraq, the war on drugs, the war on poverty. I would put every cent/man/company I could into public education.

Renovating schools, training teachers, modernizing classrooms, raising salaries, instituting the arts, redrawing district lines to reflect population as opposed to money vs. not money, standardizing expectations (ie. only teachers who are trained in a subject can teach it), funding AP classes and tests, funding and staffing after-school activities so parents don't have to pay for them, instituting child care programs for teachers and students, training teachers and programs for special-needs students, rehauling tenure, funding equipment for science, the arts, and physical education, filling libraries, and funding and staffing both college prep and career oriented classes.

I would do everything I could to make school a haven, and a way up and out of whatever situations students find themselves in across the country. Most of what the system needs is pure money, but a lot of it is politics, too. But you said unlimited, and that's what I would do.

Max Nova

So the easy way out would be to say Universal Health Care. Obviously the lack of Universal Health Care in the states is a big deal, and there are various technical ways to correct things. But we've had a bit of that discussion before, so instead I'd like to suggest passing a law forcing all goods and services to take into account all reasonable externalities and reflect those in the cost. This would level the playing field against polluters or those businesses who make short sighted decisions to save a buck in production costs now. The execution would be tough, I admit, but we could employ a lot more economists and policy wonks, so that would be good for the economy. Here's an example. When you buy a soda, there's a lot of things going on. First of all you're slowly contributing to your own poor health, which over time will take it's toll on society's bottom line. You are also consuming corn syrup, and that corn is grown in huge monocultures on the midwest. These "farms" are environmentally and biologically dangerous in the long run. Large amounts of pestisides are needed to keep the corn from being destroyed by insects. The repeated use of the same land drains the soil of the complex nutrients that should be making plants better for us. And this list goes on. These and other externalities need to start being reflected in the costs of what we consume.

David Pratt

I admit to a slightly unfair advantage when it comes to the Roundtable. I am able to read everybody else's response well before composing my own. Sometimes this can influence my own decisions in what I post or how I phrase things. In this situation, I'm happy to say, I am a lone voice in the crowd.

If I could do one thing to get rid of America's greatest problem, I would break our addiction to corn. That's right, corn. It's the most insidious tangle in the complicated knot of our system, and I will gladly tell you why.

Corn products are in everything. Corn starch, corn meal, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup; it goes into practically every mass-produced food item on the line. Not just our snacks and sweets, either. Here's where it gets nasty. Livestock in this country is fed corn meal instead of grass. The stomach of a cow is designed to process grass; by eating corn they can easily become sick. To combat this, powerful antibiotics are injected into the cows. As time passes, the cows need stronger and stronger antibodies, and so they're given increased doses or more intense medicines. They then transfer them into humans upon consumption. As we consume the cow antibiotics, we too then require stronger medicine the next time we get sick.

The reason we feed cows corn instead of grass is that we just grow so much of the stuff that we've got to do something with it. So, we profit from it. We take up all the extra corn grown on crop-based farms and sell them to livestock-based farms. This means the corn is not going towards other uses, such as providing foreign aid for third-world countries or domestic help for our own starving citizens. It's not going towards being converted into fuel for ethanol, creating a gas alternative and helping keep oil prices down. No, corn is being used to keep cows fat and sick.

As they would say in ancient Rome or Earth-3, Cui Bono?

Factory farms. Pharmaceutical corporations. Big oil.

Given boundless time and resources, I would eliminate corn from the top of the food chain. Cows would be fed a diet of natural grass. Excessive corn grown would go towards feeding hungry humans or gas substtutes. We'd start putting natural sugar in our food and taking out preservatives altogether. As our food becomes healthier and our need for stronger antibiotics decreases, the price of medication would plummet. Americans would be healthier. With more money to spend as health care becomes affordable, they rejuvenate the economy. This is also driven by the fact that foreign oil is no longer preventing them from being able to afford trips out. The money farmers make selling the corn abroad or to the government, or tax write-offs they receive from donating it to aid programs more than makes up for anything they lose by poisoning the country with it.

I would run corn out of town. It helps that it's already yellow.

John Ozkirbas

Unlimited Time and Resources!? Boy oh boy. OH BOY.

I'm gonna be honest, I would horribly abuse this new power the President has given me. Like, "personal commercial airplane with the word 'Ozkirbas' scribed in red italics on the side, completely with its own matching aircraft carrier" abusive. And then I'd lie to the president - tell him I was on a PR tour to save American foreign policy in the Middle East and use that as a cover to dump loads of money into another project.

I would start dumping money into various accounts to fund a phantom third party to run against the two primaries in the following election, attempting to push the election focus away from the exclusive view of two behemoth parties (and a bunch of little ones no one takes seriously). This "third" would, of course, be an even handed mix of Democratic and Republican ideals and I would attempt to pull as many representatives away from these two parties as I possibly could. Ideally, they would be swayed by policy alone, but that's not likely so I'll probably have to resort to bribing people. I'll pretty much just give Congressmen money for bridges, highways, ports, and intrastate economic stimuli on the promise that they come to my new political party. And then, on the eve of whatever election, I would just sit back, disappear, and see what happens. I think it would really shake things up.

The main problem in America, from my perspective, is political and moral polarization. With the flux of persons moving to states according to political ideology, Americans have begun to drift apart into two irreconcilable halves. Left by themselves to grow to two extremes, we could, eventually, begin looking at some serious civil turmoil in the future. My plan (as hair-brained as it sounds) would effectively disrupt the status quo and call at least primary representatives to question the parties for which they stand. Hopefully, they can take some of the people they represent with them and start blurring the lines between the two big parties a little bit. It might sound crazy, yes. Stupid, slightly. But, it would address the problem of which, in all seriousness, I feel America is facing today. And, if not today, then sometime in the near or distant future.

But then again... with Unlimited Funds? I could do all that. Maybe score myself a new pool table, too.

Daniel Strauss

Every single person in the United States has GOT to have healthcare. Period. End of story. So I'd use the money for that. And I think it'd be pretty simple, you know, just nationalize healthcare. So easy

Ali Daniels

The economy received its bailout(s). The environment has Al Gore. Hilary Clinton's going to mop up the Middle East. I'd say the adults of the United States have been saved from themselves time and again, only to screw it all up once more. So I think it's time that the kids have their chance. Let's reform the American educational system. Please?

Every child in America deserves a QUALITY free education. They deserve to be able to read, write, and do math. They deserve to be taught how to think critically for themselves. They deserve teachers who know their names and can spend at least 5 minutes a day concentrating solely on their individual needs. They deserve BOOKS, dammit. With unlimited time and resources, each public school in the US would be given its own committee to ensure that new government standards were being implemented and upheld, and that the CHILDREN were being put first in each and every decision.

I would start by improving the profession of teaching. It's an exhausting and often thankless job, and yet, without it I would contend that there would be no future generations of citizens of the United States. So often, teachers that we desperately need are scared out of the classroom because they find that the intense amounts of work they have to do to reach today's youth is not anywhere close to commensurate with the pay that they're receiving. They know they can get a better salary at an easier job, so they don't find it worthwhile to stay and work in destitute classrooms with problem children, inadequate curricula, and unreasonable administrators. So I would give teachers a significant raise and allow them to have more control over their classroom's curriculum (provided, of course, that they're working with their fellow teachers to ensure that each curriculum prepares students for the next grade/class level they're approaching). These teachers would have to work harder for their students in order to receive these benefits though, and I would likely implement a series of teacher evaluations by the students to ensure that the kids are being engaged in the material.

Then I'd make sure that every single school building in America got a major overhaul. There would be enough classrooms so that students would no longer be cram-packed 50 to a room. There would be enough teachers so that students could have 15-30 person classes and each of them could get individual attention when they needed it. Every school would have technologically advanced teaching tools, instead of just the schools with the support of wealthy parents. And, to be even crazier, each student would get his or her own textbook for each class! No buying, renting, borrowing, sharing, or going without. One book for one child.
Finally, strong extra-curricular programs would be instituted in after-school programs throughout the country. Kids would be able to experience music, art, and theatre first hand, continue practical study of math or science if it interests them, and/or participate in well-funded sports programs, all with coaches who could be strong role models.
Hopefully all of this would result in children who are excited and engaged by their school experieces, leading them to pursue further studies and other "wholesome activities" rather than looking to street life or getting stuck in minimum wage jobs. Eventually, I'd hope to see an enormous new generation of college-bound intellectuals ready to learn about and tackle the earth's problems. And hopefully they'd do a hell of a lot better than we are.

Guest Gentleman: Brett Abelman

The first thought that comes to my mind when given such a hypothetical is: "No matter how much time and how many resources I might have, people still get in the way." The biggest problem in America, in my mind, is that no matter what problem you try and tackle - welfare, gay marriage, Iran, changes to Facebook - there are people who disagree with your approach, and lots of them, and they'll disagree so violently that in trying to improve things you're likely to do more harm than good, or at least cause the Internet to become plastered with 10,000 more incorrect usages of the word "fascist."

Liberal, conservative, it doesn't matter, mudslinging and fact-twisting will sink any attempt at true problem-solving. So, there's three ways for a would-be reformer to respond to the inevitable backlash. One, try and win over the masses - good luck, unless you're willing to stoop to actual brainwashing. Two, ignore the ignorant pricks who disagree - cuz after all, you know you're right, and they'll come around to your point of view as soon as they're getting cheap universal health care, right? I believe that is both overconfident and morally suspect (after all, in Bush's head, wasn't that the approach he and his administration were taking in regards to, well, everything?) and so I prefer option three, which is my actual answer to the Roundtable question now that you've read this far:

Education! (Cue confetti and noisemakers.) The answer, I believe, is to educate, educate, educate, because to do so will be to tackle the root problems of so much that plagues us today: ignorance, apathy and gullibility.

It doesn't have to be anything wildly progressive - after all, trying to teach (reasonable) stuff like sex ed can cause a major shitstorm - no, all you have to do is truly leave no child behind, teach the kids how to think critically, and eventually, given enough Time, society will enter an era when nah-nah-I-don't-hear-you, flame-throwing, straw man-and-spin doctor arguments are a thing of the past, because they won't work on all those smart young people. All that will be left to use in public debate will be facts, wit and reason. But what would it take to grab America's children by their butts and lift them up out of the mire of mediocracy? (I apologize for that imagery.) Simple: serious Resources. But since they be all, like, UNLIMITED in this here scenario, that's no trouble.

Use money and manpower to pack our schools with the best teachers - steal them back from the corporations that used good pay and crispier fries in their cafeterias to lure the good people away to office jobs. Heck, establish a 30-student-to-one-counselor ratio, and pay those counselors to follow that same small group of students from kindergarten through college, like Mr. Feeney in Boy Meets World. Teach mandatory classes in civics, conflict mediation, and how to use a credit card. If an approach isn't working at a particular school, try another, or let the kids skedaddle to a different school, offer rewards, whatever it takes. You'd have to fight dirty, in a way, but if you can (once more I apologize for the imagery) beat the under-served and disaffected youth into intellectual submission with the club of Resources, then the results will domino and in a generation or so, the public discourse will be elevated and real solutions and progress will be possible. Or, well, at the very least, when political factions do butt heads in this happy future, they'll do so with a much more refined air, like eighteenth-century British reformer John Wilkes who, when his rival the Earl of Sandwich shouted at him, "Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!," responded, "That, sir, depends on whether I first embrace your Lordship's principles or your Lordship's mistresses." Zing! Syllepsis ( for the win!

In conclusion: education is the root of all. I went to high school in a small, small town that let many kids slip through; learned helplessness was both real and epidemic, and these kids dropped out, went to jail, repeatedely declared themselves "stupid." Many of them I know from personal experience to be naturally bright; the main difference between myself and them is that I was lucky enough to have attentive mentors and affluent preschools early on. If they had just been given attention, not given up on, they would not only be better informed, but happier. It is a rare person who can build themselves up on their own when they've been disregarded since childhood; it merely is a lack of Resources and effort (along with some institutional prejudices) that constitute the chasm. With the President's gift, I would fill that chasm up. Everything else will follow, and I believe that with utmost sincerity.

Guest Gentleman: Alex Keiper

So I spent maybe twelve seconds trying to come up with an interesting or original problem to address, perhaps something that would allow me to be pithy and clever, but then I gave up because clearly it HAS to be education. Once you fix that, you’re well on the way to solving a myriad of other problems.

When I say ‘fix’ I’m not talking about buying new textbooks and better microscopes. With no price limit, I would raise teachers’ salaries, hire more teachers, pay college tuition for people who want to be teachers… basically do whatever it takes to get a ton of incredible teachers into our schools. Then we could actually impose rigorous standards on those teachers, since there would be plenty to replace those who were inadequate. I’m not kidding; I spent half of my sophomore year American history class listening to discussions about hunting and watching Band of Brothers. We need teachers who can actually make students want to be in class, learning.

As for those students who still don’t want to be there- I would pay them. Seriously. Give monetary incentives for turning in assignments and doing well on tests, and make it payable at the end of the semester, contingent upon attendance. Yes, I’m sure there are huge flaws in that plan, but there has to be a way to force students into classrooms, and at the moment money seems like reasonable motivation.

And, once we’re done paying the teachers and bribing the students, then sure, throw in the textbooks and microscopes.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Creationism's Ugly Twin Brother, Art

There are spoilers in here, and one ungentlemanly word. Just be ready.

I've recently fallen into a string of gritty, realistic, DEPRESSING AS HELL movies and books and so far, have not been able to wind my way away from their grip. Possibly, and I'm just guessing here, because they are EVERYWHERE. And the fact that something has to make you feel terrible in order for it to be good modern art any more isn't even my point here, though it is a pretty good point.

My true point came to me as I closed my most recent literary venture, The Memory Keeper's Daughter, and gaped into empty space for about ten minutes. Because that's how that book made me feel.

No other phrase describes it better than "a total fucking bummer."

The book spans around twenty-five years and between the four narrators there is not one light or happy moment. Not one joke, not one smile, not even a metaphor with a hint of positivity. The best thing that happens in the whole book is when one of the characters has a massive heart attack and the two families are awkwardly brought together. Even the character who supposedly has a happy, stable life can't focus on it long enough to narrate anything but gloom. No one reacts, no one lashes out, no one does ANYTHING but sit and wallow. For Twenty. Five. Years.

And that sucks, because it could have been such an engaging, moving, involved story. But it's not. Because it's so depressing I could only see the words in monotone. Grey. Fog.

And then it just ends. There is something like closure, definitely a mark in all their lives to signify that THIS PART OF YOUR LIFE IS OVER.

But the point at which the story ended really could have been the point at which it began, because THAT was engaging. The part where the families come together and have to face 25 years of separation: the boy has to meet and get to know his twin sister with Downs Syndrome, and the mother has to come to terms with the fact that the baby she thought died was actually shuttled away in the night because it was the 1960s and her doctor husband had personal issues. Now that is interesting. So much more interesting than 25 years of everyone being depressed for the same reason and doing nothing about it.

Stories need verbs. What is the point of telling a story, especially a fictional story, if it has no drive? How can the readers take anything away with them when the characters have no arc, no growth? How could a writer bring characters into the world who are stagnant, drowning, and leave them there? What right do we as creators have to put more people in the world who are powerless in their own lives and make the choice (because, at least in this story, they all make that choice) to continue living that way? And then what right have we to expect others to eat that story, chew it up and swallow it, and keep it down?

It just seems hateful.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gore Vidal, Sassy

In my recent reading I've finished a couple of essay collections - Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon and At Home by Gore Vidal. Chabon's collection is a mix of reflections and endorsements of some underloved fiction - comics, sci-fi etc. Vidal also lavishes a lot of love on authors he feels are underappreciated, and a lot of the content for both comes from the New York Review of Books, which just shows what a consistently excellent publication it's been over the decades.

But Chabon is, as he admits, a nice Jew whereas Gore is a verbose queer ex-pat has no fear of calling it as he sees it. He is merciless with the intellectual midgets at the time of writing (the'80s) and especially Reagan, who is referred to throughout as the acting president. One thing that really struck me was the final piece (well two pieces technically) where Vidal takes down the anal-retentive history critics, or scholar squirrels as he calls them, who nitpicked his novels Lincoln. His main points is basically -- Duh it's a novel, if a character seems ignorant or incorrect it's because this is a historical novel and character in a novel can't see the future and don't always have omnipotence. But it refreshing as a blogger to see someone do a long-form takedown, just as it's just refreshing as a critic to see someone write reviews with so much passion.

I'll leave you though with something a bit shorter if not sweeter, a confrontational little interview with him from last year. There's no doubt taht Vidal will be full of sass to the very end.

A Most Dangerous Sport

I have a fear of miniature golf.
An intense fear.

People tell me that's silly. They say it sounds like I have a phobia. I tell them that they're silly, and that they sound like a phobia.

I think it's other people who have silly fears. When people tell me about things that scare them, I tend to point out to them that those fears are unrealistic and unsubstantiated. I know people close to me for instance who are afraid of elevators, the dark, airplanes, heights, and other ridiculous circumstances or supernatural forces. Miniature golf on the other hand. Now that, that's a real man's fear. It is a powerful fear. An unconquerable fear. A fear not to be overcome.

It is playing miniature where I almost lost an eye.

To the best of my memory, I was probably around 11 years old. The summer before 5th grade perhaps. I was in summer camp in northern New Jersey. It was a pretty sweet camp, as camps go, and this one had a miniature golf course. It was a pretty crappy miniature golf course, as miniature golf courses go. They did get one improvement for those dedicated to this spine-chilling sport: they got metal golf clubs. Now, I usually wouldn't recommend giving metal golf clubs to kids in general, but - and people seem to continually forget this - miniature golf is a very dangerous sport. A move like this was just asking for trouble. I wasn't the one asking for it, but I'm the one that got an answer.

Standing a few feet behind a friend, the kid yells "four" and unceremoniously swings the golf club back behind his head in anticipation to swing forward. This was his practice swing. That club hit me in the face, right next to my eye. I began yelling. I get carried to the nurses office. I get picked up by my mom. I end the day with stitches. That scar still remains. It's about one millimeter from my right eye.

I would later be a counselor there at Spring Lake Day Camp and I always stayed away from the miniature golf course. Perhaps my lesson is that I shouldn't trust little kids. But I don't trust miniature golf. It's a dangerous sport.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Less is More is Less

In our crazy world where people can already have nostalgia for the Strokes (I personally did on a crisp spring day in 2006 while walking through College Park) I'd like to jump out ahead on an inevitable trend which will happen at some point in the next few years. People will want less information, and they'll want better information.

With all the tweeting, blogging and texting, we have hit the lowest common denominator. For the younger generation, this is already a way of life, and they probably will keep on tweeting their farts, which is fine I'm all for freedom of expression not involving wasting teabags because you have to pay taxes. But for folks our age and older, who remember the Apple IIe, or the time even before that, there is going to come a day when the almost-literate playground taunts of Wonkette and the meaningless city minutia of DCist will seem pointless (and I say this as someone who enjoys both blogs). We're going to start pushing again for good newspapers and news magazines and books.

At least I hope this is how things will happen, becuase pretty soon even nostalgia won't save the newsprint.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Urinal Etiquette

Among men-folk, there's an unwritten code for proper bathroom etiquette: an implied standard specifically set in place for the fair use and enjoyment of public urinals. The bathroom is a bastion of relief where people can engage in the necessary, natural, yet slightly awkward process of personal passing. In order to alleviate as much awkwardness as possible, we follow the universally understood protocol for both our own sakes and for the general good of the world. Maybe many of us need to be more comfortable with ourselves and the bodies of other males, but that's besides the point - not everyone is going to feel the same level comfort and the consideration of such is near the pinnacle of gentlemanly attitude and behavior in almost any situation. However, as not all people are gentlemen, some will inevitably fail as this fellow did on friday night:

Like many a young Baltimorean, I found myself at $6 Student Night at Camden Yards for the Oriole's game. Although I'm not really that into baseball, I came just to hang out, have a beer or two before heading inside, and relax. Alcohol lead to urination which lead me to a urinal in the Stadium Bathroom. There was enough space for every-other urinal to be in use until:

(Drunk Guy stumbles into the bathroom and sets up camp between the Other Guy to my right and myself)

Drunk Guy: (speaking to Other Guy) Hey! Hey man I recognize you!

Other Guy: Oh. Oh yeah?

Drunk Guy: Yeah, man. I see you out there. I see you out there. Hey, are you Jewish?

(Internal Monologue: Oh. God.)

Drunk Guy: Hey, man. I bet... I betchu have a little Jewish penis.

Other Guy: (half-laughing) Uh. What?

Drunk Guy: Yeah, I bet you have a little Jewish penis. And, you know what? I don't care. I don't care, man.

Other Guy: (awkward laughter) What? Why-

Drunk Guy: (turns to me) Hey, man. I don't care. This guy has a little Jewish penis.

Me: Oh yeah? Is that so?

Drunk Guy: Yeah, man. Hey, man I don't care.

Me: Uh-huh.

Drunk Guy: Yeah man. 'Cause I'm wasted. Like really wasted.

Me: I see that.

Drunk Guy: (turns to the other guy) Like, I don't care, man. Nah man. We're cool. 

Other Guy: (laughing) Dude, you need to stop. I can't pee if you keep making me laugh.

Drunk Guy: (back to me) I don't care man. I don't, like, care about his penis. I'm wasted.

Me: Fair enough, sir.

I washed my hands and left Other Guy to the ensuing, drunken madness. Now, this kinda thing? Actually, happens to me a lot. I don't know what it is, but alcohol-induced racism or not, complete strangers will generally attempt to hold a conversation with me while I'm trying to do my private business. And, I know I'm not the only one. So, for the sake of gentlemanhood, I'll attempt to archive some of the unspoken rules here as a future reference to those who haven't quite caught on yet. (Feel free to make amendments in the comments section)

1. Pick a Toilet Expecting Others to Follow
It's simple - count the number and types of urinals and choose accordingly. There are three types - small (child), large (adult), and wall-length. The ideal is to leave every other stall available, however they may be filled in when necessary. It's o.k. to leave the small size for the very last if you want - it is intended for children, after all, and they generally have trouble using the taller urinals. Of course, if where you are is particularly not busy this rule is fairly lax. Just be sure to do your best in leaving other users a reasonable amount of personal space to pee in peace.

2. Silence is Golden
That isn't to say you can't speak. In fact, no talking at all would be cruel and unusual. This rule specifically applies when talking to strangers who are presently urinating. It's a rule more akin to the standard of "taking the temperature of a room before opening one's mouth" - which is just a general all purpose principle to be applied in most social situations. When one enters the public bathroom, it's very much like a zen garden meant for contemplation and meditation. Except, you're peeing. And, if you're howling around the bathroom, acting like you're the life of the party, many people may feel that achieving supreme nirvana might be more likely than attaining their original goal - to relieve one's bladder. This standard loosens up, however, if you've run into someone you know. In that case, a "Hey, what's up?" or a small conversation is allowed. If you've run into a good friend, you may speak with mutual assent and discretion. However, the moment one party says something along the lines up, "Hold on. Let me pee first," it's time to stop. Otherwise, it's generally okay to hum, whistle, and even sing softly to yourself - as these are methods some people use to make themselves more comfortable with peeing in public restrooms. Sighs of relief are generally allowed, but doing so gratuitously is generally frowned upon.

3. Eye Level
You are to look at three distinct places while peeing - straight ahead, straight up, or straight down at yourself. This standard is generally strict and is done out of respect for the personal privacy of others. On the opposite side of the same coin, asking others to to look at you is also taboo. However, if the person you're asking is a good friend and may be comfortable (and you have a genuine health concern), this is probably o.k. But, then again, if it's that pertinent you should really be asking a doctor, as they have the requisite expertise to deal with whatever given situation you may be smuggling. Other wise, this is a fairly inflexible standard - even while speaking to a good friend.

4. Flush When Finished
The public bathroom isn't pristine. In fact, it generally smells (and looks) like a water-carnival of stagnate liquid, pee, and industrial cleaner. And failing to flush when done, regardless of the drain, simply adds horribleness to the experience. All it takes is a simple bump which, at this point, should be instinctual for most. Failing to do so subjects the person following to your own personal brand of stench. And, as bad as you think you smell, others are going to think it much, much worse. You'd think this would go without saying, but you'd be surprised how many public bathrooms I've used at "institutions of higher learning" where I've seen people utterly and unreasonably fail to account for their personal made mess. (This standard applies even more strictly to bathroom stalls)

5. No Public Bathroom Sex
I get it. It's exciting. There's a unique brand of fetishism that accompanies it. Call it a life-style choice if you want. But, it's also very inconsiderate. Given, no one's life is going to be ruined should they walk in and find two (or more) people in the throws of hot, passionate sport sex, but that's generally not the standard we should be applying. The bathroom is a place for releasing bodily fluids, not exchanging them, and people need all the comfort in that department as they can afford. This standard is less strict when applied to "single" bathrooms. However, getting caught does have its punishments, so practitioners beware. But, generally speaking, it's neither classy nor appropriate to have sex in a public facility. Find a car or, preferably, a room instead.
(EXCEPTION: I understand that public restroom sex may be acceptable between consenting adults in certain gay clubs, which is perfectly fine. Although I've heard it termed to be "necessary," I fail to understand why. However, where patrons and owners of these establishments have applied their own standard, the rule obviously changes within the scope of those particular communities. In short, "the temperature of the room" may be a little different, and that effectively abjures the above rule within those specific contexts.)

These are the rules passed down from generation to generation. From direct statement to implication. And now they've been passed from silent agreement to internet publication. Do take them with you in to the world

Friday, April 24, 2009

Staying Local

Recently Vertigo Books in College Park announced that they were closing. They were forced out by a few factors -- on one side there is the increasing indifference to reading, and on the other there is the behemoth of Amazon.

A few years ago Tower Records went out of business and had a long going out of business sale and I bought a lot of cds then. Why was this the case? Because Tower had absolutely fantastic selection and utterly terrible pricing. Regular cds often for $19. Imports that could cost $30. Even with the excellent selection, this was not a great business model, but as the liquidation sale went on the prices eventually got down to reasonable levels. After they closed I said half in jest that I hoped Olssons Books would go out of business next, since they had a very underrated selection of books and music. And sure enough they soon bit the dust too, but with a proper liquidation sale.

Olssons were a local chain, Tower were not, but I think all of this closing ties into the broader question of should we go local, and how local? For example, my parents do most of their grocery shopping at Synders in Silver Spring and have for decades now. Is this because they support local business, or mainly it's because Snyders is just across Georgia Avenue from their house? Probably a bit of both reasons. For me personally, the closest grocery store is now a Harris Teeter and you better believe I've started shopping there quite a bit.

So where do we start if we were to patronize local business? I think Restaurants are perhaps the easiest choice. A local restaurant is absolutely a good thing for a community. It gets people out of their houses and creates a destination. A gaggle of restaurants can anchor a street and start the revival of a neighborhood. Plus local business keep more the tax revenue in the community, as well as the money spent by the owners and employees - something that Vertigo mentions in their farewell letter. By this logic, Applebee's is a bad thing. And I really believe that in the middle of a town or community, an Applebee's without any local competition is a bad thing. It provides basic jobs, but far less of the revenue or intangibles of a locally run dining establishment. I have no problem with them existing in less concentrated areas, rest stops, by hotels etc, but restaurants like Applebee's or Bennigans or Fridays should not be the core of a town's business.

The next step of of local support gets tougher, though. I'd personally like more locally owned record stores, certain Gentlemen may want more local shoe stores, or local fancy clothes stores, but we're not clamoring in the streets for these things. I think the public disdain, but not actual uproar over Macy's douchy takeover of various local department stores (Hecht's in this area, Marshall Fields's in Chicago and many others) speaks to the issue. People like the identity and pride associated with a local department store, but they don't necessarily need it. Similarly, do I need Olssons when there's Borders and B&N and Amazon? Not really.

It leaves us in a tough place, some folks will want to fight for every local establishment, others of us have specific fights and this leaves us divided. I think Clear Channel's sweetheart deal for the "Silver Spring Filmore" is revolting but, many would see it in a different light. But if you want to start doing something good tonight, you could always "eat good in the neighborhood" at someplace other than Applebee's.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


I hear we are post-everything these days. We were once "Post-Cold War," but now we're "Post-9/11." Soon, but not soon enough, we'll be "post-recession." Today, we live in the era of the Obama, but we'll be "post-Obama" one day too. A friend recently wrote on Twitter: "I'm really sick of people pretending we live in a post-homophobic society."

And of course, we claim to be "post-race."

We're not, in my opinion, but that does seem to be the consensus ideal goal: for our society to be "blind" that is, to the color of another one's skin. I'd like to believe that at least, but there's evidence that we're not nearly at that point yet. And thats okay!! We'll get there! It's just going to take time.
Are you, "color-blind"??

One sign that we are making some progress will appear in an upcoming film, "The Princess and the Frog." The Washington Post just did an article about this movie that I think is well-worth reading. In the 72 years of Disney, the Post explains, there have been eight Disney princesses that star in their own film. Two of those princesses have been non-white (Mulan and Pocahontas), the rest of them have been white. Tiana will be a first - she will be black.

Is a black Disney princess necessary in today's "modern" American society?... a society that sometimes claims to be color-blind, or post-race? These Gentlemen had a similar debate last month about the representation of minorities in the entertainment media through two essays. The first essay by John Oz discussed how writers/producers are usually white, and how that may explain why many television characters are white. The second essay by B. Graham followed Oz's article with an essay criticizing the entertainment industry for not more frequently casting color-blind. Also be sure to check out the discussions that followed in the comments section.

In my opinion, that we need to go out of our way to cast minorities in tv/film proves that we are not post-race. Do others agree?

The Washington Post team featured a series of opinion essays in their Outlook section the other week. The series was about Spring Cleaning - they compiled a list of ten things it's time for this country to toss.

The List:
  • Academic Tenure
  • The Term "Muslim World"
  • The NAACP
  • The Nobel Prize in Literature
  • The Prom
  • Larry Summers
  • Television
  • The Vice Presidency
  • West Point
  • The White House Press Corps
It's a fun read. One of those essays is about tossing the NAACP. It's humorous and makes some good points; the NAACP has grown somewhat archaic rather quickly. Author Jonetta Barrass suggests perhaps redefining and loosening the restrictions of "colored-people" to include more than just African Americans, but to scrap the organization altogether is to accept something I don't believe to be true yet, that we are "post-race."
I believe the NAACP still has a role in today's American society for the same reasons that I believe in having a Black History Month - for the same reasons I'm okay with affirmative action - for the same reasons I think a black Disney princess is not just a nice idea, but a necessary one - and similarly, because I believe America didn't just vote in a dark-skinned President, it needed one.

In the era of the Obama, black Americans will be in the spotlight more than any other time since the Civil Rights Movement. Let's not get ahead of ourselves though; progress does not mean instant success. We're not post-race yet, but at least we're getting closer.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Luck of the Irish

Bennigans has been closed awhile now, bankrupt and out of business. And while I won't shed a tear for the terrible service and lackluster, lukewarm food that made the College Park franchise notorious in my eyes (though it was the site of the time I accidentally hijacked the first date between someone else and the girl who would eventually go on to be my girlfriend without knowing I was doing so), I had some pretty good times at the Rockville Pike location back in high school and beyond. Getting a drink with some coworkers after my break-up, or more often ending up there with Ari and Miles on one of our drives, Bennigans was never THE place to be (that honor went to the Silver Diner) but it was certainly a place to be, and so we were.

And so, maybe deserves a requiem.

Bennigans, I only knew you oh so well. You were part of the Pike Franchise Restaurant Trifecta, one third of a team comprised also of TGI Fridays and Ruby Tuesdays. You offered me a corporate slant on Irish food and laid claim to the one sandwich I refused to ever try, and now never will. But many people ate your ham and turkey and cheese sandwich, deep fried until oily gold, and then doused in powdered sugar with a raspberry dipping sauce. And when those people die before me, I think I'll know why. No, B, you never gave me the best food, or best decor, but you gave me a few good nights.

And you gave me this.

Just before going to Maryland, I had a cup of coffee at Montgomery College, just a semester to get used to being back in civilization after the eight month ordeal regular readers know as New Mexico. I took my first theater class in about a year there, and became friendly with a girl named Audrey. She was from Arizona.

Now I have a theory about people who grow up in Arizona.

They're all crazy.

And no one from Arizona has yet proven me wrong. It's all stories about lake side keggers, cults, and avoiding gunfire in abandoned shopping malls. And Audrey's stories were no different. She went to the kinds of parties I still wonder what it would be like to attend - full of public grinding and ending in shower orgies. She had been in a car accident in Arizona and it was a pretty bad one, and so her parents brought her here to recover. By the time I met her she had, and was missing home pretty bad, waiting it out 'til she could afford to return. And in the meantime she had found a few people at MC that helped bring that Arizona feel here.

Believe me, I wasn't in her league.

So I was at Bennigans one night with my good friend Ari, sitting and eating as we would often do, when Audrey walks in. I hadn't seen her in a little while so we started to catch up a bit - I didn't want it to go too long cause Ari sort of just had to sit there. But then she started telling me a story about the last party she went to, going into a lot of detail about her getting naked in the shower with a lot of people and forget friend protocol, I was fully invested in the moment we were sharing under the neon kitsch.

Then she pulled out her camera, said 'Oh wait, I have pictures!' and proceeded to show me a bunch of pictures of her naked. Totally naked. Like 'hey, look, those are nipples' naked. I looked up at her, back down at the pictures while she talked, narrating the night to me. Yup, that was her. And that was her naked. 
And she was pretty hot.

Now Ari was in the most unfortunate situation because he totally wanted to see the pictures too (imagine the feeling of being left out, but multiplied by hot naked girls). But he had never met this girl and there's no real couth way to be like "Heeeey... can I get a turn?" So instead, he just sat there uncomfortably across from us as this girl showed me a bunch of naked pictures of herself in the middle of the restaurant, until she gave me a hug and had to go.

Ari stared at me with daggers.

So I'll miss you, Bennigans. 
You didn't give me much. But I have a lot of very attractive female friends and to this day none of them have since surprised me in a restaurant with naked pictures, though I often wish they would.

So until they do, maybe at Jaspers or Chef's Secret or even Cheesecake Factory, I raise a glass to you, spill a drop of Guinness, and maybe I'll fry a turkey sandwich in your honor when I get tired of this cruel world. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Standing Down (The Glorious Failure of John Ozkirbas)

Last week, B. Graham posted her explanation for the female fascination with (not necessarily) flamboyant foot-wear. An immediate reaction (mine included) was to compare this feminine obsession to something, for the most part, considered more masculine - suits. 

Of course! There are immediate parallels between the feelings B. Graham spoke of and the attraction to a well tailored, finely spun, streamlined set of threads. To my dismay, however, this comparison ultimately falls flat on its face when compared to the near religious fervor, dedication, and drug-like dependance encompassing an American woman's relationship with shoes. Apparently, men used to have a similar (although, not completely congruent) partnership with ties. But, the world has pressed on towards the casual, leaving the poor necktie dangling limply in the wind, hurt and abandoned  - like that annoying friend of whom you can only stand in specific, rare contexts. Confused, torn, and obsessed with dualism, I set out on a personal journey to discover man-culture's shoe-equivalent.

I barreled recklessly down a major highway, as my '60-something Chevy Impala roared in frightful dissonance, and lit a cuban cigar the size of the New York City skyline in search of satisfaction. I swung a baseball bat, went to the gym, wore a hat, grilled a steak, carved some poultry, peed in public, downed an entire fifth of whiskey, got a gun and went shooting, wrote a short-story drenched in naturalism, fist-fought with a stranger, climbed an active volcano, rescued a baby from a burning building, shaved my beard off and grew it back, got a tattoo and had it removed, read Jason's entire comic book collection, pulled off a heist at a nearby bank, got a job, climbed to the top of the corporate ladder, and fired everyone, memorized a Hemmingway novel, built an entire car by myself, went to jail and was let out on good behavior, dueled a fellow with swords, got married, then divorced, killed a man and bragged about it, conceived a child and raised it to adulthood, became a pro-quarterback and quit, earned one million dollars and blew it all on leisure suits and Vegas, developed cancer just to beat it with shear will-power, started a conflict with a neighboring country, detonated a WMD just to see what would happen, committed seppuku out of familial shame, and rose again just in time for class on Monday.

Apparently, when I blow up a WMD it flips off the world

...And, all of that is a complete lie (aside from carving up some poultry). But, it demonstrates the power of verbs, which is actually fairly relevant when addressing this issue. Because, whereas women are very much conditioned to look pretty and accessorize, men are, instead, conditioned to do things. And that may well explain why there is no "shoe-equivalent."

It's no secret. Look at advertising - ads are the perfect window for everything society expects you to do/be. Children's ads are the best - they'll lay out everything in clear, concise wording meticulously chosen to ensure that kids and parents alike can understand them. Boy ads involve props, tools, toys that move, and active verbs like "play," "run," "chase," and, "hit." Girl adds involve smiling, jewelry, sitting around, and passive verbs like, "sit," "dream," and "wait." Watch out for Halloween ads for children - they're a treat to behold. Our world is a giant play-zone.

So, we do things and, therefore, you'll find separate "types" of guys (which often blend together) who share at least similar-styled obsessions:

Hat Guy - He'll always be wearing one, possibly owning many
Sports Guy - A rabid "sports fan" who watches Sports Center constantly
Comic Book Guy - He not only loves comic books, but he'll keep them wrapped (and he'll know which ones are worth the wrapping)
Gun Guy - He collects guns. Or, has one he always talks about. 
The Boyfriend - Only does things with his girlfriend. And, when she's not around, she's all he talks about
The Gym Buff - He takes his protein shake to-go and measures and tabs his biceps daily
The Drinker - His pride is in his drinkin', his feats're many, and you've 'eard all o' them 'bout 47 times
Martial Arts Dude - Backflips, Nunchukus, and Tae Kwon Do. Any spare chance he gets. Even at inappropriate times.
Book-Worm Guy - He's always reading. And he's read everything.
The Starving Artist - His 9-5 is not his "job." His real job is living in the moment and watching indie flicks.
The Casanova - He's constantly talking and bragging about his sex-life, even when you know he's on a cold streak. 

... the list goes on and they're not exclusive to one sex. But, then again, neither are shoes and suits. These "types" are pervasive, demonstrating completely that the world is our figurative playground. But, it forces me to concede defeat - that there isn't just one male equivalent to shoes. And I stand down my search, bow my head in shame, and admit:

It might be sex with us. That might be the one thing most guys will obsess over and pursue relentlessly.

I once heard a guy from somewhere say:

"Anything great anyone has ever done was for sex" - Anon.

That's very stereotypical, freudian, and simplistic. Boiling down all human behavior to ungratified, sexual impulses is something I generally contest. Why can by demonstrated by something said by one of my favorite teachers:

"Here's why Freud always 'wins.' Anything deeper than it is wide will always be phallic. And anything wider than it is deep will always be vaginal" - Verlyn Flieger

It's just too simple and easy. I, also, don't want to corner the market around sex as male only. It's a given - men are conditioned to want and have sex, where women are "supposed" to not want sex, but have it anyway (you should shift a little on the inside). But, that's breaking down, too. Slowly.

So here's my concession. In all of it's glory and splendor. I lose. Faceless abstract concept, you win again. Last time it was about holograms and the universe. This time, it's about shoes.

Empty Seat at the Roundtable

As some of you have already noticed, the Gentlemen were unfortunately made to bid farewell to John Barkmeyer. As some of you may have noticed, I run a little segment here called the Roundtable, where each week the Gentlemen answer a question posed to them the week before. The absence of our lost Gentleman leaves a open and empty seat which needs to be filled.

Therefore, this week I have something very special to propose. For all of you who would seek a spot at this illustrious gathering, here's a chance to demonstrate a few things. First, your character. Second, your ability to meet a deadline. Finally, a test to see how closely you read the blog, because if you're just skimming over things you'll probably miss this post.

My proposition is thus; if you are one of the many whom have expressed interest in becoming the 12th Gentleman, you are free to respond to the Roundtable question this week. Send your responses to along with, if you like, a picture of yourself to be posted along with your response. Your Roundtable answer will then be grouped in with those of the Gentlemen, and you'll see it here on the blog next week.

Well, I won't keep you in suspense any longer. Your question is as follows;

The President tells you he is giving you unlimited time and resources to solve the greatest problem facing the United States. He gives you no further specifics. What do you fix, and how?

I will need your answers in by Sunday, April 26th if you want them to be included. Think hard, prospective Gentleman, and we're looking forward to reading what you have to offer.

Monday, April 20, 2009

One last setlist rule

I discussed the science of setlists before but failed to mention one special instance: Festivals.

I saw half of the Flaming Lips set yesterday, and I've been to enough festivals to have seen some very good and very bad sets. In the course of the half-dozen songs I saw, Flaming Lips hit some highs and some lows. So here's a quick rundown:

* Intros are a mixed bag. Now at this point in their career the Flaming Lips are a lifestyle brand that occasionally put out albums so they get a pass, but if you are a band that records 3 minute rock and roll songs, ditch the intro music and just play your set.

* Setup time is key. Let's say one one song all the band members play stand-up basses and accordions simultaneously. This is probably an awesome tangent in a longer set, but if it take you 30 minutes to get mic levels on these, then stick to the more straightforward stuff.

* Make your banter sparkling. Imagine a half-assed between-song joke bombing in front of 500 people, then imagine it bombing in front of 20,000 people. You can lose people with the banter, so only bring the "A" game.

* Momentum is really really key. The Lips fucked this up on a monumental scale. They started amazing. I mean, "Race for the Prize" and "Lightning Strikes the Postman"? That's a great start right there. Then they played a very very slow version of "Fight Test" and a very slow starting off-the-wall cover of "Borderline" and then a very very slow version of "Yoshimi." Notice a trend? In a 10 song set, why would you play 3 slow songs in a row. The poor teenagers who were dancing on the sides of the stage looked really really unfortunate trying to dance to these songs.

* If you wrote a song as awesome as "Kim's Watermelon Gun," then you should play it. Obviously.

Roundtable and Family

Shalom and good evening my friends. It is once again that time, when the Gentlemen convene and, united in common cause, put forth an offering for your approval. In quiet supplication, we do beseech you; bear witness to the fruit of our weekly joint venture. This is, of course, the Roundtable.

One of the goals we espouse here at These Gentlemen is that of creating a community. Even putting the Brett Ratners of the world aside, we seek to encourage conversation, discussion, and, as always, civilized discourse. Thus I set out this week with the task in hand of encouraging our readers to respond to the Roundtable. How, I wondered, could I best guarantee eliciting a response? Then, at the last
tete-a-tete of Gentlemen, Bebop Graham provided the answer.

Talk about your family.

Everyone has a family story to share. Be it an anecdote, tall tale, family history, or personal memoir, everyone has something to tell about their relatives. These Gentlemen are no exception. Here are our stories. We'd love to hear yours.

Oh, and Ms. Graham's original inspirational recounting? It was about how her family weren't Nazis after all.

Daniel Strauss

My great uncle, Seymour Rechtzeit came to America with his Father from Poland in the early 1900s. He became a vaudeville star in the states, and sang a song called "Bring My Mother From the Other Side" to President Coolidge, who did just that (along with the rest of his family). That amazes me every time I hear about it.

Adam Z. Winer

My father, my grandfather, and David Pratt, are all intricately connected, and they have no idea.

You see, the Winer family is not traditionally a good story-telling family.
In fact, I know nearly nothing about my mother's lineage.
Unfortunately, there's really almost no one left to ask.

On my father's side, there is also not much known.
I've heard that the Viner family was run out of western Russian territory with the rest of the Jews in a series of violent pogroms in the early part of the 20th century. Supposedly we had a vineyard.

In America, Viner became Winer... we think.

My grandfather, from what I understand, worked during WWII fixing airplanes and the like. Len held many jobs over the years, including running a movie theater. My dad eventually began working at this theater as well. My dad's favorite film during that time? The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).

It would be a long time until I saw that film. Longer still before I saw a live version of it. But the second time I saw it live, I saw David Pratt perform the role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

And I saw this...

The Winer family doesn't have much history that I know of... and in fact, we probably have very little in common with the Pratt family... but we do all like Rocky Horror.

Or we did, anyway.

John Ozkirbas

My father has, perhaps, one of the coolest stories I have ever heard.

He grew up as the son of Salih Özkirbaş- the Attorney General of Turkey. My father was a mischief maker and a scoundrel, nearly burning down his parents' house on more than one occasion. In high school, he effectively stopped trying at pretty much everything. He ran track, played basketball, and attended class, but I'm not quite sure if he actually did any work. At least whatever work he did do was enough for him to keeping going, but by the later half of his senior year he pretty much stopped attending class. He left for school every day, said goodbye to his mother, and simply decided to just go somewhere else instead. He used to tell me he'd go to the park, smoke cigarettes, read the newspaper, and listen to music. Although, I'm going to guess he drank a little bit. He hasn't told me that outright, but I have hard time believing that he just sat around a park all day reading the paper. I'm a little fuzzy on whether or not he even took his finals. Regardless, he failed pretty much all of his classes. His father was the Attorney General and this was a well known and respected military academy. Everyone knew who he was and this was a problem.

Having the highest ranking military position in the Turkish Navy, the man who I would have called "Dede" (pronounced "Deh-Deh") gave my father an offer. Now, Dede's job wasn't the most well-paid - it was a service position gained by climbing the ranks of the military of a 3rd world country. What he did have, however, was a considerable amount of power and prestige. Dede offered my father the high-school diploma from the impressive military academy that any other person would normally have to earn through hard work - no strings attached, no expectations, and he could do it with a phone call. He'd walk at graduation with his friends, embarrassment free. No one would know and the teachers would be told to forget about it. I don't know what went through my father's head at that time - whether he was struck by a moment of clarity, if this was just the limit to whatever moral ambiguities he may or may not have had, or whether this was simply another act of teenage rebellion - but, he turned my grandfather down and left. My father disappeared for three years.

From the ages of 18-21, my father, instead of going to college or finding a job, traveled Europe alone. He got by working odd-jobs and finding cheap rent. My guess is he stayed and worked in one place long enough to afford a train ticket to somewhere else. I'm not sure how many places he visited and where exactly he traveled to, but he eventually made his way to England. He found work there and hung out around london for awhile. He used to tell stories of this crazy Scottish landlord who would yell at him and whose wife would occasionally cook him breakfast for the morning. His room, apparently, was warmed by a coal furnace and his landlord would only let him use one piece of coal a night. In winter, it would get cold enough to nearly freeze to death, so the coal was rather necessary. Funny enough, my mother would be in England around this time. She, however, was not a complete scoundrel - but a religious, former high-school valedictorian on a Duke Study Abroad program in college. She was a nursing student and my father was a foreigner who could barely speak English. She would teach him english phrases, just to talk. And then she left for America. My father decided it was time to return home.

My grandfather and grandmother reactions were classic - she welcomed him home with kisses and hugs and food and complaints that he was too thin, while Dede took one look at him, turned around, left for the night, and made a phone call. The next morning there was a barber in the living room with scissors and a razor. When he was finished - Dede came out from his office and exclaimed "My son is home! My son finally came back home!" My dad speaks of this moment very comically. He went to work and got his high school equivalence, learned English. Pretty soon he moved to the United States and met up with my mother. He went to college and grad school - becoming one of the leading Mechanical Engineering majors at the University of Emmitsville, Indiana. The rest is history.

You wouldn't know any of this looking and talking to my father now. He's a master of his field, a 100% family man, and a fiscal conservative. He's well read and spoken. And, most of all, he's my hero.

Steve Bragale

My aunt has recently developed an interest in ancestry research, and I get a lot of benefits of this research second hand. When I say she traced our family roots back, I mean that she went very far back. So far back, in fact, that she found direct relatives from the Civil War to the American Revolution, and to the Mayflower and Jamestown. She even traced our roots back to England, Scotland, and a band of Swedish vikings.

But I'd have to say out of all of the stories I've heard about amazing people in history who are responsible for my existence, one sticks out in my mind. And luckily for you, you've probably already seen this story played out on the silver screen.

Ever see the movie Pochahontas? Of course you have. I did. Everyone's seen it. Everyone. Well it just so happens that the title character in that film is my great grandmother. I've always felt like I had a little bit of a tribal princess inside of me, and now I know why. All I need to do is figure out if this entitles me to a share of some random casino somewhere and I'll be set.

Max Nova

Unfortunately I don't have any grand stories of fabled pirate uncles or secret half-cousins. But here's a little story about my immediate family.

Back in the day, my sister was a regular reader (subscriber/purchaser?) of the Delia's clothing catalog. I'm sure the female Gentlemen remember it. But, rather than always buying stuff mail order, which had lead to a number of articles of clothing being returned for being too big/small, she figured it would make sense to track down the real store in New York and make some purchases there.

So on our next family trip to the big city we went a-huntin'. Now in the dynamics of our family, my mom walks everywhere, and generally the rest of us are game for a walk. But when we would go up to NYC, she used to be against using the subway for anything less than maybe 50 blocks of walking. So after wandering lower Manhattan on a very hot Saturday for what seemed like ages (in retrospect it was probably only 20 or 30 blocks) we find the location, a large office building. We take the eleveator up, and arrive at a very quiet offices. What we had failed to consider at the time was that there was no Delia's store.

Of course - years later Delia's actually did open actual retail locations.

Jason Schlafstein

Less a story, and more an anecdote. My last name, Schlafstein, is literally translated to "Sleep Stone" or "Sleeping Stone," another name for the Philosopher's stone. My ancestors were alchemists, that original breed of mad scientists obsessed by, among other things, the quest to turn lead into gold.

That I am descended from a group of people notorious for endlessly pursuing a completely unfeasible and impossible goal should really surprise no one.

Or that I am obsessed with Grant Morisson.

Scott Maxwell

My great-great-great-great-great-(I think that's enough)-grandfather, James Maxwell (b. 1762, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland), immigrated to the United States in 1768 with his widowed mother and sister, Ann. The normal thing to do in those days for a widow with young children would have been to return to the custody of her family, but for reasons (like her name) lost to history, Widow Maxwell wasn't havin' none of that, and decided to come to the New World anyway.

Young James then served in the Revolutionary war as an artilleryman... for the British. We know that he was there at Yorktown when Cornwallis surrendered in 1781, and that he quickly figured out after that that Loyalists were no longer welcome in the former Colonies (gee, ya think?). So he high-tailed it north to Canada, eventually settling in New Brunswick and founding the town of St. Stephen, which now sits right on the US/Canada border. It's directly opposite the town of Calais, Maine, which you may know as a place where you mail your credit card payments to. You're welcome.

Sometime in the early 20th century, my great-grandfather, Rendall C. Maxwell, snuck across the bridge into Maine under cover of night, and settled further west, just outside of Portland. Lesson learned - when America doesn't secure her borders, riffraff like the Maxwells find their way in.

Ali Daniels

My Grandma Daniels always used to tell people her family was from Poland. The truth is, her side of the family was from Galitzia (or Galicia, depending on who you ask), a small area formed from parts of Ukraine, Poland, and sometimes Russia. In case you don't know your Eastern European history, let me tell you who else came from Galitzia: gypsies. Nobody knows anything for sure, but there's a good chance our family was once a roving tribe of bandits.

And my dad on further good family stories: "Well, on our side, there's the question of whether your great-grandmother and great-grandfather were ever married."

Literally thieving bastards. We're a classy bunch.

David Pratt

Let's ignore the stories doubtlessly associated with the fact that my father's side of the family managed to effectively make our last name an insult throughout all of Great Britain. Instead let's focus on my mother's side. My mother, for those whom have met her, is a charming, funny, demure, incredibly classy woman. To meet her, you would never suspect she was descended from countless generations of thieves.

It all began with a nameless ancestor living, we believe, in Hungary. Back then, the last name was Spenardo, not Willner. This particular Hungarian, however, was no longer enamored with the Spenardo name, as it was written on wanted posters. To escape hanging, the penalty for as prolific a horse thief as he was, my ancestor fled Hungary and changed his name - likely to Vilna - which was Americanized to Willner after his descendants landed at Ellis Island. Or so the story goes, anyway.

Now, we have no solid verification that any of this is true. What we do have, however, is constant expression of these larcenous genes seeking to prove their otherwise theoretical existance. Grandpa Max, my great-grandfather, kept himself, his wife, and his four children well-clothed and happy while the Great Depression was raging. The success of his auto junkyard business was thought to be the cause. That is, until the FBI showed up at the house and took him in for dealing stolen goods on the black market. This is also my grandfather's earliest memory.

The trend continued in Grandpa Max's older son, my Uncle Eddie. Twice Eddie was arrested for embezzlment. Both times he got out of it by copping a plea of temporary insanity. This came back to haunt him when he complained about pains in his leg and got sent to a mental ward instead of a hospital. By the time a real doctor saw him, he was too far gone with cancer to stand a chance.

My Grandmother's side of the family is no less guilty; brushing over my Grandma Fran's continuous credit card fraud, we can look at the generous nature of my Great-Grandma Tootsie. Tootsie worked at a department store for years, and also, coincidentally, loved handing out random gifts she kept in her closet to people who came and visited. It was many years after a childhood spent adoring her grandmother that my Mom finally figured out Grandma Tootsie was stealing everything she could and then giving the purloined goods away as presents. She was clued in when she remembered shopping with Tootsie as a small child, and realizing her dolls and dresses had been hastily shoved in grandma's burgeoning purse.

As for me, I want to get into politics.

Thus concludes another edition of the Roundtable, but only for the Gentlemen. We now open the floor to you, the reader, and ask you the same question; what is your favorite family story, be it regarding members living or dead? Fill us in, we'd love to hear from you.

For now, we bid you adeiu, and promise to join you again next week for another edition of the These Gentleman Roundtable.