Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Anoop On My Mind (Idol 8 Round of 11)

Last Christmas, my local radio station played a recording of David Bowie singing a duet on Little Drummer Boy with Bing Crosby. It should have been beyond strange, but it wasn’t. Idol theme nights frequently present those sorts of situations. It’s often hard enough for a young artist to master one genre. Most of the winners have found some way to adapt and even flourish when forced into unfamiliar musical waters. Carrie Underwood did Heart. David Cook did Billie Jean. Chris Daughtry did Walk the Line. Oh yeah! I forgot, Chris Daughtry didn’t win, the show now just acts like he did. Anyway, Grand Ole’ Opry night with Randy Travis presented several of this year’s finalists with just such an opportunity.

For Anoop Desai, aka the Desi Next Door, country night presented a problem. India’s the second most populous country in the world, but you don’t see a lot of Indian athletes in the Olympics and despite the sheer number of Bollywood musicals that come out each year you don’t see many Indian country western singers. I know India had a strange fascination with Jim Reeves (the guy was even bigger in Sri Lanka), but I don’t know that necessarily meant that he spawned a lot of imitators there.

Of course, Anoop is American. He’s Indian by heritage. He’s also one of the first Idol finalists who appears to be getting a graduate degree at UNC Chapel Hill no less (Go Tyler!) , but he grew up in North Carolina just like Kellie Pickler and Bucky Covington. Maybe if he goes deep into the season, we can have rumors about Anoop dating Kellie. “Ah nevah heard of no aloo gobi. Is it something you put on a hamburger?”

In the meantime, Anoop is sort of an antidote to Sanjaya mania. This time they have a Desi contestant who works hard, dresses conservatively (even a bit on the preppy side), and who plays within the lines of the show. Like Sanjaya, he also appears to have a huge reserve of fans as in I get hits for Anoop Desai and I barely mentioned him last week. This week the judges anointed him an actual serious contestant for his version of Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind.”

Anoop was genuinely good as in listenable. Good enough to keep this guy around for a couple weeks, quite likely. He faces two significant issues. His voice is very nice, but no one claims that it’s “Oh wow, that guy has an instrument!” Second, there’s nothing that unique about Anoop’s approach to the music. Actually, one can say that about two thirds of the singers who make the final. Remember Phil Stacy, Vonzell Solomon, Anthony Federov? All three of them went very deep into the competition. There’s a lot to be said for being, fun, likeable, respectful, and sharing an ethnicity with like a billion people who do the tech support for all the cell phone companies :}

Anyway, if Jim Reeves was big in India, why can’t Anoop Desai be big doing country music on Fox TV? He just took a country ballad straight on and I think that’s what made the performance work so well. Anoop finally let go of “gotta perform” (to me Beat It was sort of Sanjaya like in that sense) and he just sang. That he did it in a more or less unexpected genre (assuming you think he’s Indian first not a Carolina guy first) made it all the more effective. In the meantime, have the judges ever said Sanjaya’s name in Anoop’s presence?

Three seasons ago, Chris Daughtry made himself a serious contender by going alt.rock with Johnny Cash’s Walk the Line. He’s a very different performer, but Adam Lambert tried to follow with his attempt to cut into Anoop Desai’s demographic with a South Asian take on Ring of Fire. Once I got over the Chris Daughtry playbook thing, I actually enjoyed it for being affected, pretentious, and pure camp (It also verged on the Sanjaya playbook as well). When he hit the falsetto section, I wasn’t sure if Adam Lambert was laughing at or attempting to laugh with the show. I don’t know how it’ll affect the voting, but the show’s supposed to be fun and this was fun, something to actually talk about. Who knew that Man in Black had alternate interpretations?

Still, the highlight with Adam Lambert was Randy Travis. It was fascinating to watch two gay men on completely different sides of the flamboyance divide. To Randy, you deal with being gay by suddenly marrying your female manager whose 19 years older than you after you get arrested for “loitering”. To Adam, you just let America know that you don’t give a “S*#$” about what they think. I know, the whole gay thing with Randy is controversial and that he strongly denies the speculation about his sexuality, but if you ever asked me about proof his obvious discomfort with Adam might have been as good as any. It was like, I don’t want America to think that I find being around this Edward Scissorhands guy comfortable in any way. Not sure, I’ve ever seen a mentor on the show work so hard to distance himself from a contestant. Maybe they’ll get Elton John or Barry Manilow to mentor again and if Adam’s still around we can see how they respond to him.

Lil Rounds decided to do straight up country and the judges hated her for it. I’m not sure why so many of the guys crossed genders for country night. It seemed like one did Martina Mcbride and two did Carrie Underwood. Maybe it was to “honor” Randy Travis in some way? btw One of the measures of really winning American Idol is that the contestants start covering your songs. They do Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry, and Clay Aiken. No one covers Taylor Hicks or Jordin Sparks. That said, I guess I’m officially in the I don’t get Danny Gokey camp. It might just be me, but if you’re a church music director and your wife just died, shouldn’t you be able to get a little more feeling into a song like Jesus Take the Wheel? Personally, I find the song absurd even when Carrie Underwood sings it, but I find that Danny Gokey sings with passion without bringing out the passion in the song/music itself. The really good singers do the latter. The "passion" bit shouldn't sound the same in every song. Sorry, Paula!

I haven’t watched the show obsessively this year, but I feel like I’ve known Megan Joy so long that I remember her back when she was Megan Corkery. Some say the key to success in pop music is the business of walking the tightrope between the familiar and the novel. Megan Joy appears to understand that. She has a very mainstream look interrupted by a sleeve of tattoos, something that works for her but didn’t work for Carly Smithson (though she may not last as long as Carly did). She mentions that she was influenced by Bjork. I also hear some of the things that Michelle Shocked would do with her vocals sometimes. Even though she had the flu, I thought she did the tightrope thing very well on Patsy Cline’s Walkin After Midnight. I keep waiting for her thing to wear thin and thought that had happened last week. Now, I’m not so sure.

On the other end, I’m not sure what kind of mind games the judges are playing with Alexis Grace with the whole “this is the kind of singer we think you should be” bit, but it seems to be messing with her head. Somehow, this seemed worse than Paula’s bit of “We loved the piano” now “I hate the piano” thing with Scott Mcintyre. Btw, I’m pretty sure that the arguments between Paula, Kara, and Simon this season are more or less scripted. Maybe, it’s because Alexis Grace has the whole waif look thing down, but it made me want to cry. I’m not saying that her Jolene was compelling in any way. It’s just that she felt almost written off. She maybe should have changed the name of the song to Allison and instead of it being about stealing men, it could have been about having a better voice and more grit and stealing judges.

I did do some Googling after last Wednesday and I was a little surprised to learn that Allison Iraheta already won a recording contract and fifty thousand dollars through Quinceanera on the Telemundo network. So is it you can’t have a current recording contract in English? She’s still really good. The fascinating thing to me is that she appeared to take Blame It On Your Heart straight on, yet at the risk of sounding like Randy, she stayed very distinctive. It’s not like I think Allison Iraheta should sing country music, but she seems to commit to her material in way that the older performers on the show can’t. It helps that she has a really strong voice, but it is interesting to see a young performer who’s not trying to sound like other people. As good as David Archuleta was musically, I wouldn’t say I could ever pin down a long term musical identity with his performances. There’s something much more personal about Allison Iraheta’s vocals that goes beyond just being loud and intense. Anyway, if anyone won the benefit from a theme that doesn’t suit you prize last night, it was Allison.

I did think that Matt Giraud sounded much better this week. I did notice that the judges worked very hard to justify giving wild cards to Anoop and Matt. I suspect they’d rather not have all four of their choices go down in the first three shows. In the meantime, Kara got to let America know that she’s a size queen by commenting on So Small.

Kris Allen did fine with Garth Brooks, it’s just that eight seasons in I’ve seen the tactic a few times before. Iirc Ace Young did the same sensitive country guy schtick with Tonight I Wanna Cry a few seasons ago and Chris Richardson did something similar with um Tonight I Wanna Cry. That, however, was far preferable to Michael Sarver’s good ole boy act at the beginning of the show. First his mouthful of Garth Brooks was forgettable enough, but that whole, “I’m big, I’m tough, I work on an oil rig, and I don’t pay attention to criticism” thing didn’t play well with me. How do I put this? Michael was pandering. If Michael Sarver got in a real fight say with Adam Lambert, I could tell you in advance which of the two is going to go running and which would stay in the Ring of Fire fingernail polish and all. You want to talk about just having fun? That would be fun.
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Friday, March 13, 2009

A Number One Hit in Norway (American Idol 8 round of 13)

I came home from the gym (my wife got tired of seeing me watch America’s Biggest Loser and telling her “See Dear, I’m not that bad….yet. so she got me a gym membership for Christmas0 just in time for Scott Mcintyre to sing in some piano bar that seats four thousand people and multiple tv cameras. About a month ago, we made the switch to HDTV after I convinced my wife that it would be patriotic to stimulate the economy by buying a Japanese television. Scott made his way through Keep the Faith ably enough and part way through I’m almost convinced that he’s Brooke White’s visually-impaired cousin. Where Brooke was the blonde leading the bland, Scott is more or less the blind leading the bland. We’re just not talking Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Stevie Ray Vaughn here. The guy’s really earnest, professional enough, and if he’s ever had a memorable performance during his Idol run, I guess I missed it. He’s in the finals mostly because he has a good back story. The show’s had any number of heaing-impaired contestants in the past (not to mention one of the judges), but he’s Idol’s first visually-impaired finalist.

He does his thing, even had to dance a little bit, and Ryan and the judges get to talk about how inspiring it all is. If you haven’t noticed, while last season was the year of the ringer, this season it’s all about the back story. In addition to Scott we’ve got young mothers, a guy whose wife died just before Idol Auditions (in a couple years, I’m sure someone will be accused of killing his or her mate just to get through to Hollywood), a guy who works on an oil rig, a guy who was photographed kissing another guy, a hair-color challenged Hispanic teenager who got her start singing in a Spanish-speaking shopping mall, and well you get the idea. They’ve got all these great stories to tell maybe for some American Idol themed movie (I forgot, they tried that one already), but I’ve got to tell you the soundtrack’s going to be pretty thin.

Maybe I’ve just been through too many seasons of the show, but it’s gotten to the point where every contestant has some analogue from some other season. Michael Sarver appears to be some clone of Matt Rogers. Lil Rounds seems to be George Huff’s sister. Megan Corkery was grafted from Carly Smithson and Carmen Rasmussen. Matt Giraud’s never been spotted in the same place with Chris Richardson. Say what you want about Scott Savol, but he was distinctive and memorable. Yes, I hated Constantine, Kevin Covais, Amanda Overmyer, and Jasmine Trias, but they were at least individual enough as performers that they didn’t just feel like this endless blur of ninety second performances. I’ve even missed a few installments of the semi-finals this year, but when I tuned into the final 13 (right now it looks like a stupid idea since they have maybe 4 singers who anyone might remember) I felt no sense of having missed anything.

To me, the formula for reviving Idol has always been simple. It has nothing to do with how they pick semi-finalists or judge’s rescuing favorites mid-finals or adding some benefit show called Idol Cares in the middle of the season. The music itself needs to be exciting. Last year, they tried to address that by bringing in performers with more professional experience. I thought the general level of the final 12 was better, but they also managed to suck all the personality out of the show by not letting the performers freelance in their dismounts with Ryan or to a certain extent in the actual performances. There was nothing like Nadia Turner showing up in a Mohawk, Kellie Pickler trying to sing Bohemian Rhapsody, or Katharine Mcphee nearly coming out of her dress then more or less babbling during her chat with Ryan. I did have several people comment about David Archuleta having a magical voice, but while the level of the music was higher there just weren’t many performances that felt all that magical. Some people talk about David Cook’s Billie Jean and Hello, but I have to confess I barely think of those when I try to remember really good musical moments on the show.

Does Idol 8 have anyone would really could be a star? I simply just don’t know. To be honest, it sort of reminds me of Season 6 (Jordin Sparks) where none of the finalists generated much excitement despite the presence of one of the better singers the show has ever had in Melinda Doolittle.

I would say that the first show of this year’s finals had probably five memorable moments and oddly enough two of them involved Scott Mcintyre. First, Simon probably coined his own showbiz epitaph, “It’s fine being artistic, just not on this show.” Second, there was this wonderfully whacky moment where they tried to let Scott know that Siedah Garrett, the composer of perhaps the most obscure song in the entire Michael Jackson catalogue was in the audience. The judges point in the direction of Siedah Garrett. Apparently they momentarily forgot that Scott had no way of seeing her anyway (just a bit awkward). Making matters worse, the camera man couldn’t find her either. It was “Hey look everyone, here’s the composer of that song none of you have ever heard of!”

Simon later introduced tv chef, Gordon Ramsay, and it was an almost comparable moment. I first went, “Is that the prime minister of England (Gordon Brown)?” Maybe Jason Mesnick can be a guest judge this season to counter the Melissa Rycroft on Dancing with the Stars thing? If you remember, he picked Molly Malaney in that show’s singing contest which proved to be America’s first hint that something wasn’t on the level with that season.

For me the one actually memorable musical moment of the Round of 13 came from Adam Lambert. For one, he appeared to know how to command the stage and the song rather than just battling to get through the thing. Kara made a good point during the show about (I think it was Kara, I try so hard to blot anything she says or does out of consciousness) establishing a level with a performance and maintaining it. My main criticism of Danny Gokey was he established it with the first few bars of Pretty Young Thing then I simply didn’t remember any of the rest. I would say that sexual ambiguity is a big part of pulling off a song like Black or White,it’s one of the reasons that Michael Jackson’s so hard for singers to cover. Adam Lambert may have succeeded at least partly because he was comfortable going there as a performer and it’s very much a part of his charm.
I do think the judges got a tad carried away about Adam Lambert. In fact, I don’t know what to say about Paula sending him to the finals along with Danny Gokey. Nonetheless, his was the one performance that I paid attention to throughout. I think the fascinating thing about the guy as a performer is that he tightropes between Butch and Queen really effectively (whatever his actual preferences) and that really is sort of unique and new. I know that Lou Reed, David Bowie, and Michael Jackson have all played with projecting gender ambiguity, but Adam Lambert’s way of brining it off is unquestionably his own. The big question is how the Idol voting demographic will react over the long term. I’m sure he’ll have rabid fans early, but as you get into the later rounds you have to get votes from the great middle middle and this was a show that couldn’t quite buy into a rocker until it got David Cook who had the demeanor of the rock guy next door.

I do have to congratulate the show. They got through two hours of Michael Jackson covers without one slip up about either plastic surgeries or little boys.

I don’t know what her shelf life on the show will be, but I really did like Allison Iraheta, Give It To Me. In fact, I think she may be the best female rocker the show’s had yet. She has a huge voice, projects a sort of androgynous un-tamed quality (one of my issues with the likes of Gina Glocksen and Amanda Overmyer was the whole “out there” quality never felt all that genuine with either of them), and unlike other teen contestants she seemed to have a strong identity as a performer. Okay, I loved the footage of her singing in that furniture mall.

Finally, the judges’ wild card thing appears to have backfired in a big way. Jorgay (copyright Beckeye) and Jasmine were the first two voted off the island, or in Jorgay Nunez’s case back to the island where he can go help Tatianna learn a second song. It was the judges who “saved” Anoop Desai. Now they’re telling him to “beat it”. I’d have to say that Matt Giraud sounded like he was playing in the same level piano bar as Scott Mcintyre. Maybe he’ll last a while depending on how he splits votes with Kris Allen, but I don’t see him as a serious contender for America’s dwindling entertainment dollars.

A final self-indulgent personal note. Several of my friends have asked me about my plans to cover Idol this year. I had said that I would decide once they started the finals. Now that the finals have started, I have to say I’m still not sure. It’s going to need some sort of Reality Show Viagra and unless whatever they did takes a while to kick in, this season’s on the limp side so far. As Randy Jackson put it, “I always say the same shit every day, so I’m just going to say it.”

This is my measure. They did 13 Michael Jackson covers last night and I don’t know that any of them, with the possible exception of Adam Lambert, approached David Cook’s Billie Jean much less the one time King of Pop himself. At least they could have had Alexis Grace dress up as Bubbles or something.
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Thursday, March 12, 2009

In The Silence of This Room

This is a self-plug. I am proud to have my poems about my two grandmothers included in this excellent collection.

In the Silence of this Room

International authors share their thoughts
in poetry and prose, linked by
global issues that haunt us all.

A cross-cultural collection of writings that through poetry, narrative, and photos grapple with some of the most pressing issues of the world we live in: war, poverty, health care, environment, family, beauty, and lastly--the ever-present need to connect--love.

The book represents the efforts of dedicated artists around the globe, some who have been nominated or awarded literary prizes, to express a personal vision. Many of the writers here have experienced in some way the terrors of war and poverty, the lack of adequate medical care, and oppression. For them, this book represents both the vision of the world as it is, and also, what it can be. It also expresses the belief that no matter our culture or belief, no matter what distance separates us-- we are more similar than not. We are all very much human. --Kyle Hemmings

Grey Sparrow Press
Diane Smith
St. Paul, Minnesota

238 pages
$19.98 (US)

Authors and Artists featured:

SITA BHASKAR was born in India and now lives in Madison, Wisconsin. She is the author of Shielding Her Modesty; a collection of short stories set on both sides of the globe. Her reviewers mention “Shades of R.K. Narayan.” Sita’s short stories have been published in Crab Orchard Review, GSU Review, Desilit Magazine and TQR Stories. She received an Honorable Mention in Washington Post Magazine’s fiction contest for her story, “Touch of Wrinkled Skin” and placed as a finalist for her story, “Safety in These Times,” with the Thomas Wolfe Literary Competition conducted by the North Carolina Writers’ Network. She has included this story in the anthology. Set either in India or America or the space in-between where immigrants resist the tug and pull of both sides, Sita calls her stories ‘a slice of life.’

ALEX BRAVERMAN was born in Lithuania in 1955, resided in Israel, South Africa, and now lives in Texas. Alex is a mathematician by profession, who finally abandoned this exciting career for the benefit of literature and the art of photography. His stories appeared in publications around the world: USA, Israel, South Africa, Ireland, and India. Alex’s photographs are exhibited in New York and Texas. He is currently working on a book dedicated to photography of modern dance. Our photographic art for the cover was taken by Alex Braverman.

A. JEFFERSON BROWN was born in the United States, a southern boy with a penchant for the darker side of writing. He is a member of Cavender’s “Terrible Twelve” with Horror Library and has been published in Our Shadows Speak and Dark Distortions, among others. He is married with two children. Life enjoys him as much as he enjoys it.

RAQUEL CHALFI was born in Tel-Aviv where she lives and works. She studied at Hebrew University, at Berkeley University, and at the American Film Institute. She worked for Israeli radio and television as writer-director-producer, and has taught film at Tel Aviv University. She has published eight volumes of poetry, and is the recipient of numerous awards for her poetry as well as for her work in theater, radio and film. Her collected poems, Solar Plexus, Poems 1975-1999, appeared in 2002; in 2006 she received the Bialik Award for poetry as well as the Israeli Prime Minister's Prize for Hebrew Writers, the Ashman Prize 1999. Most recently, her work has appeared in the American Poetry Review, Zoland Annual, Metamorphoses, and in the anthology Poets on the Edge –An Anthology of Contemporary Hebrew Poetry (SUNY Press, 2008).

Poet Chalfi’s translator, TSIPI KELLER was born in Prague, raised in Israel, and has been living in the U.S. since 1974. She is the recipient of several literary awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship, CAPS and NYFA awards in fiction, and an Armand G. Erpf award from Columbia University. Her translation of Dan Pagis’s posthumous collection, Last Poems, was published by The Quarterly Review of Literature (1993), and her translation of Irit Katzir’s posthumous collection, And I Wrote Poems, was published by Carmel, Israel (2000). Her recent translation collections are: Poets on the Edge – An Anthology of Contemporary Hebrew Poetry (SUNY Press, 2008); and The Hymns of Job & Other Poems (BOA Editions, 2008).

L. MCKENNA DONOVAN was born in the United States. She has been an editor, writer and writing coach for eighteen years. Although she works freelance writing for various companies and teaches writing courses on “style” and “creative brainstorming,” her current focus is the completion of her Master’s in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Goddard College in Vermont. Her master’s thesis is the
first volume of a four-volume, cross-genre novel series. While her passion is writing long fiction, she takes occasional breaks to write vignettes in the flash and short story forms. She writes from her home in the Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina.

MARIE LYNAM FITZPATRICK was born in Ireland. She lives and works in the Irish Republic. Marie is a mother and writer.

“Under Christian Crosses” was reprinted from The Binnacle at the University of Maine at Machias, 2006.

MARKO FONG is a fourth generation Chinese-American who was born, raised and lives in Northern California. He never learned to speak Chinese and has never been to China. He recently completed a collection of short stories about the last Chinatown in America, Paper Ghosts, and set it in a town that never existed. It was once one of his dreams to dunk a basketball.

CLEVELAND W. GIBSON was born in colonial India in an atmosphere of color, mystery and intrigue. In the United Kingdom he has worked for many major companies as well as the government. He’s been involved with charity work, trained as a Life Guard and was a Road Race Director for over ten years. Since taking up writing he’s published over 200 short stories, poems, articles in over eighty-five countries. Moondust represents his first surreal book of classic
short stories, with a fantasy novel, Billabongo, to follow soon. He’s married with one son, teaches ESOL and helps novice writers. Contact him on URL:

HANNATU GREEN: Born in Nigeria and lives in the United States. Hannatu is a born storyteller. She is married with eight children and has been sharing her folk tales with them all her life, as well as the schools and community centers in Minnesota. Hannatu comes from a large extended family with a strong sense of responsibility and a proud African heritage. She noted, "My family were pioneers in everything, the first from my village to embrace western education, medicine and so much more."

JEFF HAAS was born in the United States, received a BA in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago, and works as a technical writer in Atlanta. He made his first professional sale of a short story called “Cacophony of the Spheres” to Jim Baen’s Universe in 2008, and has published over thirty stories online and in print. “Spin Degrees of Freedom,” originally published on Eclectica, was named a Million Writers Award notable story of the year by StorySouth, and “Cacophony of the Spheres” and “Immortality Street” were selected as Editor’s Choices by Bewildering Stories. Jeff is currently working on a novel called Sugarville, a psychological thriller about a man whose faith is tested when he becomes the legal guardian of his troubled nephew.

SUE HAIGH spent most of her life on the north-east coast of Scotland. She now lives and writes deep underground in a cave-house in the Loire valley, France. Stories from her Scottish collection, The Snow Lazarus, have been published by Dundee Women and Books (UK), Chistell Publishing, PA (USA), Solander (UK) and Cadenza Magazine (UK). “Dreams of Home” was named as a winner in the 2008 Cadenza Magazine Open Short Story Competition, under the title of “The Garden.”

Sue won the Scottish Women’s Short Story Competition in 2002, second prize in the 2008 8th Annual Chistell Contest and third prize in the 2008 Cadenza competition. Two of her short stories were also short-listed and three long-listed in the 2007 Blinking Eye competition. Her work has also appeared in Myslexia (UK).

She has also written a series of short stories for children, Stories from a Cave, set in and around her house in France, as well as two plays for radio. Sue studied in Bristol, Dundee, Paris and Cologne and has worked as a lecturer in languages, a counsellor and a clinical aromatherapist. She is currently working on the final chapters of her novel, Missing Words, which is set in Germany and Scotland. This version of The Dream-Weaver's Son was work-shopped on Zoetrope, as was Dreams of Home. She is also engaged in research for her next novel, set in medieval Bruges.

ROBERT HAMPTON was born in the United States. Hampton accelerated his work in poetry the past ten years on a work-in-progress; “Ode to An Intelligent Woman.” The poetry offered for this anthology is part of that larger work. He’s published a few short stories in the seventies and some poetry in the ’80s and ’90s. He holds an M.A. in English. Robert has scaled down a career in business consulting and communications to special projects. He believes social, economic and political problems may be solved through a creative and artistic strategic and logistical approach instead of through a fragmentary and analytical approach. Hampton’s cultural heritage includes Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Bavarian and “according to my mother, Chickasaw Native American. My maternal relatives are Cherokee.”

ALAMGIR HASHMI was born in Pakistan. He has published eleven books of poetry and several volumes of literary criticism in the United States, England, Australia, Canada, Pakistan, India and other counties. He has won a number of awards and honors, and his work has been translated into several European and Asian languages. For over three decades he has taught in European, Asian, and U.S. Universities, as Professor of English and Comparative Literature. Although he has little faith in the determinants of birth or death as definitions of cultural life, he cares for people and places. He lived and taught in Cambridge, MA before moving overseas. He has also taught down south and
on the West Coast. He began writing at the ripe old age of eleven and has not stopped since. Currently, he lives in Islamabad, Pakistan.

©Kashmir 1987 was reprinted from Inland and Other Poems by Alamgir Hashmi (Islamabad: Gulmohar Press, 1988), reprinted here with the author’s permission.

KYLE HEMMINGS: was born in the United States and holds an MFA in creative writing from National University, California. His stories and poems have been published in Verb Sap, Insolent Rudder, Night Train, Apple Valley Review, Off-Course Literary Review, Rose and Thorn, and others. His work gravitates towards the experimental and edgy. Kyle confides his biggest aspiration is to draw like R. Crumb and loves the work of Lynda Barry as well. His story "Is There Life on Mars," was nominated for both a Pushcart and a StorySouth Million Writers award.

FRANK J. HUTTON: Assistant Editor, was born in the United States. Frank is a large format field photographer and fine art printer. His photographic effort centers upon artifacts of cultural history that are vanishing under the rigor of time and the wilderness. His work has been shown in galleries and exhibitions around the Great Lakes. Frank is also an editor of fiction and an author, with essays published in newsprint and works of fiction having appeared in various places, under a variety of pseudonyms.

SHANNA KARELLA was born and raised on a rural Alaskan homestead. Shanna continues to reside in Fairbanks where she makes her living coordinating a social outreach ministry, as a desktop publisher and doing occasional septic system percolation tests. She is a strong advocate of social justice activism and cultural understanding based on the inherent dignity and worth of the human person. Shanna’s poetry and essays have been published in print by local press,
Ink Pot and The Ester Republic, as well as online at Right Hand Pointing and The Hiss Quarterly.

CAPTAIN KATHERINE ELIZABETH KENNEDY was born and raised on a farm in Clear Lake, Iowa. BS: Systems Engineering, West Point, MS: Strategic Intelligence, American Military University. Completing a Master’s degree in psychology. Katie served in Iraq for two deployments and is writing a book relating to her experiences as the only Caucasian female on an Iraqi base in the Northern part of the country. She recently left active duty, currently serving her country in the reserves.

TIFFANY LARSEN (1980- present) was born and grew up in the rural community of Clear Lake, Iowa. She graduated from Carleton College, Northfield, MN, in 2003 with a major in geology. In between undergraduate and graduate school, Tiffany spent her time exploring European cultures through travel, practice in multiple artistic media, and working for a satellite imaging company. Outdoor recreational activities serve as a connection to nature, balancing Tiffany’s time indoors doing schoolwork. She will complete a Master’s of Geology at the University of Vermont in the spring of ‘09.

KULVINDER SINGH MATHARU was born in Tanzania. His parents moved to the UK when he was only two years old. His early childhood revolved around the wonders of science and the beauty of this planet. With his keen interest in electronics, it was only natural he received a bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronic engineering and forged a successful career in telecommunications. Now with a steady income, Kulvinder was able to pursue his interests in travelling which, in turn, ignited a dormant need to capture the places he had visited. Initially using an affordable camera with full manual control, he has immersed himself into the world of photography with an online photographic portfolio. He provided two photographs of a Hmong village and the Mekong River.

ELSIE (STANWOOD) O’DAY was born in the United States and is a Maine native, She lives an hour’s drive from the Canadian border, in Cherryfield. Relatively new to writing, she is the author of poetry and short stories. Her poems, “Rainy Night Swim,” have appeared in the April edition of The Linnet’s Wings, two additional poems, “Winter Storm” and a Haiku: “Due North,” in the fall issue of Wolf Moon Journal. She favors disciplined poetry and writes sonnets as well as Haiku and prose poetry. She has two novels in process.

JAMES S. OPPENHEIM was born in Washington, D.C., raised in Montgomery County, Maryland, schooled in Oxford, Ohio and resident in half a dozen Maryland towns (and, for a summer, Jacksonville, Florida), Jim has published in Equus, The North American Review, The Washington Post and Firehouse Magazine, worked as managing editor of the University of Maryland graduate literary magazine, Ethos. He has also had a life in music, producing one album and playing venues from cabin porches in West Virginia to bars in Florida. James offered the lovely dove that graces the back of the book. Today finds him in Hagerstown, Maryland as a photographer, singer/songwriter, and the editor of a blog: Oppenheim Arts & Letters (—devoted to the understanding of political conflicts and small wars, also art, culture, and language.

AJAY PRASANNAN was born and raised in the UK, where he currently works as a web designer and all-round IT troubleshooter. Regular trips to Kerala allow him to re-connect with his Indian roots and better understand the country he hopes to retire in.

IVAN GABRIEL REHOREK lives in Australia. As he noted, “I was born in the middle of the last century, in the middle of Europe in the middle of a river. That makes me a Gemini Earth Pig Mitsubishi with radiator ascendant, wow. My family is theatre people, writers, scientists, musicians and other disturbers of the peace. I breed saxophones (got four already) and on some nights, the moon comes in for a visit.

BILL FRANK ROBINSON was born near Raton, New Mexico. Billy Frank left school in ninth grade to work as a farm laborer. He joined the Air Force in 1950 for four years and spent one year in Korea as a medic in the war zone, three years at Los Angeles County Hospital in the emergency room, thirteen years as a mail carrier, seventeen years as a claims adjudicator for Social Security in San Francisco. He is retired and helping people with income taxes, Medicare, etc. He wrote a monthly serial for The Voice: a magazine based in Idaho, for thirty-six episodes. The serial was called “Archie Cleebo.”

DIANE SMITH, Editor, was born in the United States. Diane retired from child welfare and writes about the homeless, immigrants, the poor, healthcare, those who have little visibility or power in society. She has placed in international competition a few times. “Daniel” was reprinted from The Binnacle at the University of Machias in Maine, 2006 under the name of Lee Fuller.
TOWNSEND WALKER was born in Washington, DC. He now lives in San Francisco after sojourns in New York, Paris, London, and Rome. Townsend has been writing short stories since 2005; a dozen have been published. He has also published books and articles on foreign exchange, derivatives, and portfolio management; the products of a thirty-year career in finance. “Mort pour la France” first appeared in Raving Dove and “I Can’t Forget” first appeared in Penguin.

ANN WALTERS: a pen name, holds a PhD in physical anthropology and was born in the United States. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two young daughters. Her poetry has appeared in Poet Lore, Poetry International, Cadenza, Orbis, The Pedestal Magazine, and many others. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was shortlisted for the 2007 LICHEN Tracking, a Serial Poet competition.

MIKE WOOF was born in Scotland. Mike is a full time journalist living and working in the United Kingdom. He confides he’s been to every continent on the planet, barring Antarctica. Mike lived and worked in West Africa for a couple of years and his stories are based on his time there. He mainly travels through Europe and the United States
these days. He noted, “A long time ago I was an engineer, but decided I didn’t like it. I write as a professional, then get home and write more, mainly fiction. I’ve got a non-fiction book released.”

NENG XIONG was born in Laos. She grew up in a Hmong Village (Meaung) and fled to Thailand when her Meaung was destroyed in war. She found sanctuary in the United States and became an American citizen. Neng, a widow, lives with her children in Minnesota; two are

attending college. Neng’s stories are true and stand as testimony to courage and strength.

KEN ZIMMERMAN keeps one foot and his left arm, up to the elbow, in the past. From his home in South Florida, he travels the area in a vintage Good Humor truck, fully restored; selling the ice cream treats we all grew up with more than 40 years ago. It's not unusual to find him at the plethora of art fairs and street festivals that pervade Palm Beach and Broward counties, although he specializes in corporate events and private parties. Add to that his collection of classic cars from that same era and you have a man who refuses to let go of a time when only scientists knew about cholesterol and nothing with wheels ran on unleaded gasoline.

His photographs of Tel Aviv are from a trip to Israel some twelve years ago.

For more on the Good Humor Man, visit Ken's website -

ANDRIJ ZIP was born in Saskatoon, Canada, is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. He lives and works in Gifu, Japan. Writing appears online and in dANDelion Magazine.


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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dancing With Melissa Rycroft (DWTS 8 first round)

Not long after saying she just wanted to lead a normal and private life, Melissa Rycroft has put herself in a position to pull off a rare triple. I don’t know that they keep records on this anywhere, but I’m fairly certain that no one’s ever won three network level reality shows. The Dallas wine saleswoman made her HDTV on Making the Team, a reality show built around auditions for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Despite having to fight off mono, she made the squad. More recently Melissa Rycroft got both the last ring and the final rose on ABC’s the Bachelor. As most of Bachelor America knows, she still somehow didn’t wind up getting the guy, Jason Mesnick, who dropped her on After The Final Rose in favor of one of her competitors, Molly Malaney. Given how it happened, some would argue that Melissa ultimately won by losing. This week Melissa Rycroft made her debut on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars as a replacement for the injured Nancy O’dell. After the show, O’dell indulged a self-referential moment by interviewing Melissaa about her experience as Nancy O’dell’s replacement (reality tv's version of Being John Malkovitch)

In the current scramble to figure out who did what to whom and why, better known as the remnants of Bachelor 13, it’s appeared that everyone but Mike Fleiss, the show’s producers, has supporters. I wouldn’t feel too bad for Fleiss, he wound up with ratings, attention, and presumably even more money to fund his ongoing terrorist assault on American culture.

There was no doubt where Dancing With the Stars stood on the matter. As soon as Tom Bergeron announced her, Melissa was cheered enthusiastically by the audience. Later in the show, she stood there in what appeared to be a giant blue net accessorized with a fabric bandaid that covered the tattoo on her lower back as she got to revel in the judges’ further trashing of Jason Mesnick. The high point was Bruno Tonioli, the show’s most flamboyant judge, making an L with his fingers and pointing it at Jason. The gesture brought even bigger applause from the audience and a rueful smile from Melissa who didn’t make any efforts to defend her former fiancé.

Melissa isn’t the first person to do a reality show crossover, but given that this one is Dancing with the”Stars”, I’d say the meaning of “star” is getting awfully blurry. When did being on reality shows make somebody a star? This season, Melissa isn’t the only reality show/star. Holly Madison, another late replacement, is mostly known as one of Hugh Hefner’s fake girlfriends on the Girl Next Door. Fwiw, Melissa’s dancing debut with Tony Dovolani not only succeeded in dance terms, it gave the show’s ratings a major boost. My guess is that she’s the show’s single most popular participant this season thus far.

I wouldn’t expect the show to pull Julia Roberts or Brad Pitt from their filming schedules for twelve weeks, but this edition verges on Dancing with the Whoever. Julianne Hough is much better known than her “star” partner Chuck Wickes. Other than being a little young for it, I should mention that Julianne Hough might have been an ideal Bachelorette. On DWTS, she’s been this amazingly charismatic combination of gracious, competitive, wholesome, and sexy that’s made her a huge favorite with the show’s fans. In fact, partnering with Julianne is probably worth three or four spots in the standings. Adam would have been dumped on the first night. Cody probably would have been gone by the third week. I also honestly don’t know that Helio was necessarily a better dancer than the Spice Girl, though actual dancing often just plays an incidental role in the show’s outcome. I would say that some people think that turning the show into Dancing with Your Boyfriend may have unleashed a bit of a backlash against Julianne. Maybe she will turn up on the Bachelor if the Country Music thing doesn’t work and the partnership with Chuck blows up mid- paso doble. If she did, as angry as I am at Fleiss et. al. , I’d probably watch.

Such is the tv power of Julianne Hough. There just aren’t that many tv women who can pull off sexy while still being hugely popular with female viewers. Oddly, Melissa Rycroft has the same thing going for her and I suspect that her inclusion on DWTS has cut into Julianne’s fan base in a big way.

Julianne Hough remains a terrific dancer though it’s been a while since she’s had a partner good enough to showcase it. In terms of her waltz with Chuck, I just don’t know either way. He’s not a klutz, but he’s not especially graceful either.

The other Dancing with the Whoever moment came with the introduction of Gilles Marini, the current points leader. His so called “breakthrough performance” was a few unclothed minutes in the movie version of Sex and the City and he seemed to get about five lines of dialogue, which put him well behind the three stars, Big, Jennifer Hudson, etc. on the cast list. You know how they have to put that stuff on juice cartons “5% actual fruit juice, sugar, artificial flavorings, etc.” I could see the FCC telling Dancing with the Stars that they have to put up a disclaimer “Stars includes reality show rejects, minor characters in only semi-succesful movie versions of cable series, stars from really obscure sports, and anyone who ever appeared on the Love Boat, this show contains at least 5% cast members whom you may actually have heard of though they may be made from concentrate.”

Of course, the show is already something of a “safe house” for reality show veterans. Three of the pros, Lacey, Dmitry, and Chelsie were promoted from So You Think You Can Dance. Two of the judges, Bruno and Carrie Ann managed to survive their own summer reality series in which they had some sort of Dancing Singing rotisserie league. It got about as much attention as your average rotisserie league too. What can I say about L’il Kim? Not only has she made appearances on several reality shows, I’m not sure she’d exist without them. She did, however, have the best line of the night, “I was in jail when I first saw DWTS and I told myself then that I wanted to be on this show one day.” I’d say at the rate they’re digging for celebrity contestants, it won’t be that long before we start getting “Stars” who came from either America’s Most Wanted or Cops.

This is, however part of what makes DWTS so watchable at times, it’s unrepentantly cheesy. Take for example Samantha Harris -Is there a worse interviewer anywhere on network television? I have it from a good source that the Bush administration had her third in line for White House press secretary when Dana Perino got the job. Should they ever add war criminals to the mix, Karl Rove would likely have been even more entertaining than Steve Wozniak. Tom Bergeron is also wondrously inoffensive. Who else could explain that Ty (Melissa Rycroft seems to have some sort of compulsion to be involved with people named "Ty") Murray’s wife Jewel (she was going to be a contestant until she got injured) was going to be singing on the first results show, without saying something like “And given the way Ty danced, we’re getting her on not a moment too soon.” In the meantime in an age when America is congratulating itself for having its first black President, no one has yet to comment on Lawrence Taylor’s role in shattering another racial myth by proving that not all black people can dance.

I do feel bad for Cody Linley. He got to be the youngest DWTS contestant for all of one season. Shawn Johnson will probably be one of the contenders, but at the back of our minds pretty much everyone is wondering how “sexy” do you want a 17 year old gymnast to look and act on a show like this? The women’s costumes have always been one of the show’s guilty pleasures. For some reason, Kim and Edyta appear on virtually every season without ever actually partnering one of the winners.

Whether this is Bachelor 13.5 or DWTS 8, injury edition, the show’s producers have found a way to revive interest in yet another Reality Show format at least for another season. Seeing whether Melissa Rycroft completes her reality show revenge for Molly Malaney’s cutting in on her last rose tango with Jason Mesnick has got to be more compelling than wondering every week whether or not they’ll finally vote Cloris Leachman off the show. It’s no accident that they found someone younger than Cody this season, but they didn’t come back with someone older than Cloris.

In the meantime, America gets to wonder if Melissa's parents will ever show up in the audience for this one.

Dancing With the Stars


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Monday, March 09, 2009

My Dinner at Trough in the Box

One of the pleasures of being on the road is that I like to find off beat places to eat. I rarely if ever look for the fanciest place to eat and I don’t drink, so I love looking for places that are unique. For instance, I once found a drug store on the West Side of Chicago that served tamales from behind what had once been its soda fountain. A friend also took me to the original place that inspired that “Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, Pepsi” skit that John Belushi used to do. Until then, I’d never realized that the skit was an amazingly literal take on reality. In Wilmington, North Carolina, I found a restaurant that served both hummus and sushi where both were actually quite good. I still remember being beckoned into a barbeque shack by an old man in overalls in Tennessee. He sold meat by the pound and the customers were expected to bring their own containers. Of course, those are the good stories.

On the other end, there are the dozens-maybe hundreds- of doughnut shops that sell Chinese food on the side. My friend Teriyaki Donuts has a whole website devoted to them. In the west, most independent doughnut shops are owned by Southeast Asians, usually Cambodians. You make your doughnuts before dawn, then I think they figure you sell other stuff later in the day. The two grease smells do not belong together.
In Washington D.C., I once tried a Sudanese place that was half restaurant and half hang-out for local middle-aged Sudanese men. I’m not even sure they had a menu and I’m reasonably certain that no one there much cared about the food. Still, I figure even if the food’s not good, I at least get a story out of hitting one of these places instead of some place that has its logo on its cups and napkins and a national ad campaign.

Last week, I found myself in Willits, California, the Northern California town that happens to be where Sea Biscuit spent his last days (no I’m not implying that the restaurant I did choose tried to serve me remnants of famous race horses). I’d once stopped at a Thai restaurant there parked inside a cowboy bar, but this time I only had nine dollars on me because I was having a problem with my credit card. If you want to know something odd about me, I’ve never had a credit card. I use a debit card, which has the minor problem that you have to remember to put money back into the account being debited. I managed to go on a two day trip with no debit card and no checks. I’d lucked out because I stayed in a hotel the night before that had a complimentary dinner and breakfast. I was in Willits at dinner time, the next day, with nine dollars cash (thanks to checking all my pants pockets and the odd spots in my gadget bag for loose bills. I figured that Thai food in the cowboy bar was probably out at that price.

My choices were down to finding Mexican or some sort of hamburger stand. I picked what looked to be a Mexican restaurant on the side of the road just before the end of town heading south All the other shops in the strip mall were closed, a bad sign, and the parking lot there was mostly empty, but I had seen the lit neon that said “Mexican Food”.

I got inside and quickly discovered that it wasn’t a restaurant per se. It was a Mexican grocery that had a few tables. The lights in the grocery store were dimmed and they had maybe five folding tables each surrounded by an assortment of folding chairs. Each table was topped with a jar of salsa, that had chunks of green onion and other substances floating in it. That’s normally a good thing, but the chunks looked liked they’d been cut with either a very dull knife or a machete. Next to the perplexingly purplish salsa, they had a bottle of commercial hot sauce. I’m reasonably certain that this is almost always a bad sign in a Mexican restaurant. The other simple rule in Mexican restaurants is that the kitchen should smell good, like chiles, melting cheese, and chopped onions, with maybe just the scent of lard holding it all together. This one maybe got the lard part right and it was right next to the butcher counter. As I walked back to the bathroom, I noticed an older Mexican woman in a hairnet stirring refried beans that looked like they used glue as a major ingredient and some guy who looked like a NAFTA truckdriver tending the grill. Obviously, I’d been warned.

I got back to my table and took note of the only two other customers in the restaurant, an older man and woman who were working through something that looked like a combination plate. Both had an oversized can of Arizona Iced tea and they didn’t much seem to notice me other than the fact that as I walked by the woman gave me an unpleasant look. The couple clearly wasn’t Mexican. If anything, they looked like they came from some place in the hills where everyone is named Jethro and Daisy Mae. The man was wearing overalls, a checked wool shirt, and one of those baseball caps that has the name of a company that makes farm equipment on it instead of some team. That may have been the woman? Both were rounded, hairy, graying, and resembled trolls. They curved their bodies around their meals and talked rather loudly though one of them wasn’t terribly coherent. Willits is one of those places where there are a fair number of people who live in the hills only to appear in town periodically. I could vaguely smell perspiration even though my table was at least six feet away. My problem was that I’d already ordered a burrito, I had nine dollars, and I was really hungry.

My burrito came and just as I was about to take a bite, the woman let out an enormous belch. She then held out her arms and let out a breath. I looked up, but as far as she was concerned I wasn’t there. Seconds later, there was an even bigger belch followed by maybe four more. Mrs. Chancelucky would have said something if not the couple at least to the waiter. Either that or Mrs. Chancelucky would have left. Unfortunately, Mrs. Chancelucky isn’t with me and I’m very unassertive in my non-online self. Well, I’m also just curious at this point and have this stereotype in my head of hill people maybe carrying guns. Anyway, I stay on at least partly because I’m wondering just how weird this can get.

The husband starts talking, but he’s completely incoherent. What I can make out is something like “I don’t understand, what’s happening, babble, babble, grunt.” The woman says something like “Whoa, I don’t know what’s making me do this?”
She drinks some Arizona Iced tea and they somehow continue to eat. I, in the meantime, have somehow had a couple bites of my pastor burrito despite the ambiance. When you’re figuring that the people at the next table are either drunk or retarded or maybe both, those aren’t exactly good choices.

A belch or two down the line, the woman comments that the man should not have gotten that drunk at the casino. It would have been a better night if they hadn’t had to leave. The only two growth industries in this part of California are the cultivation and sale of cannabis and opening Indian casinos. The man responds with something between more babbling and crying. It does occur to me that this couple likely didn’t walk here. Once they leave, they’re going to get into some sort of motor vehicle. I start rooting for the woman to be driving and for it to be retarded not drunk.

At this point, I’m staring at my plate. I’m too afraid to look up at them. It’s one thing to read about eating with a group of trolls in say Harry Potter, it’s quite another to be in a restaurant and paying for the privilege. Believe it or not, I have had one weirder dining experience than this. I was once at a restaurant owned by a Korean couple in the Adams Morgan neighborhood in DC. I was the only paying customer along with an African-American man by the beverage refrigerator who turned out not to be a paying customer. The owner realized the man was trying to steal beers, so he grabbed him, made him sit down at a table, while he called the DC police. As this unfolded, he locked the door to the outside and a crowd of African-American folk began to line up around the glass window by the doorway until it wasn’t necessarily clear that anyone could leave the restaurant. They were yelling things like “Let my man go! You can’t arrest him. He can’t hold you captive like that.”

The DC police arrived and went to the owner to talk to him about whatever the problem was. The thief started protesting that “He had no idea why he was being kept there by the owner.” For some odd reason, the policemen turned their back on the detainee while they got the owner’s side of the story. In the meantime, I’m eating my not very good food while wondering if I’m about to die in a race riot of some kind. The alleged thief notices that the policemen are looking in the other direction and that they forgot to relock the door when they came in. He runs out the door and the crowd helps prevent the police from running after him. I wait a few minutes for the crowd to disperse, pay my check, but don’t tip, and leave. I felt terrible for couple who owned the place. They barely spoke English and had obviously unwisely gotten into the restaurant business in a place where they had no chance to make it work. That said, I never went back there again and I’m pretty sure it closed a few weeks later.

Back to Willits and the troll people. Eventually, they finish their meal. Mrs. Troll burps one more time then announces very loudly that she had to go tinkle. My waiter, who is probably all of nineteen and who has a pronounced accent, comes by to ask me, “How is everything?”

Even though it’s my chance to say something, I figure, “What’s the point?”

After several minutes Mrs. Troll gets back from wherever she tinkled. I’m hoping that it was the bathroom as opposed to the dark space between the butcher counter and the kitchen. She helps Mr. Troll get up out of his chair, not a small matter. They put on their coats. I glance at their table which contains the wreck of abandoned Mexican food not yet converted into alternate fuel by Mrs. Troll. They go to the counter to pay their bill where I’m amazed to hear Mrs. Troll tell the owner of the grocery store, “The food was excellent and we’ll be back soon.”

For a moment, I tell myself. “Mmmmm….Jason Mesnick and Molly Malaney really do look different when they’re not on tv. Just kidding there Jason and Molly. I hope your relationship works. Fwiw Mr. and Mrs. Troll seem perfectly happy.

So, here’s my confession. I actually ate my whole burrito and even tried their salsa. I had to pour the bottled hot sauce on too, but it’s amazing what being hungry and only having nine dollars can make you do. I even left a tip this time.


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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Jason Mesnick ATFR 9 (Bachelor 13 commentary)

Jason Mesnick as he prepared for his appearance on Bachelor 13-Jerry Springer Edition

A white-haired Chris Harrison ambulates his walker towards the couch and makes the introduction, “As some of you know, this show has been following Jason Mesnick, the 13th Bachelor (and why does that number seem so significant?) and his ongoing quest for love. Tonight, we have Jason, his now grown son Ty “stick” Mesnick, and Jason's sixth wife (he's been married eight times but two of them he married and divorced twice) Sophia Hogan and maybe a phone call from her mother Stephanie.”

The audience applauds. (cut to commercial for Depends) a note appears on screen. Phone call with Stephanie Hogan was cut after the sponsorship deal with cell phone company fell through.

Chris Harrison voiceover, “There have been seventy three seasons of the Bachelor at this point and twelve of the Bachelorette and we've had the pleasure of seeing three couples meet, fall in love, marry, and in one case raise a family together. We'll be checking in a bit later with Trista and Ryan Sutter who have some special news about how at age 62 Trista, our first Bachelorette, has found a way to have a ninth child through new technology from one of this show's sponsors.”

As the voiceover runs, a young man with a five o'clock shadow and a receding hairline sits on the couch across from Chris.

C: As many of you know, this was Bachelor 70, our first second generation Bachelor, Tyler “stick” Mesnick. How are you doing Ty?”

T: Yo, Chris

C: Ty, I now we're all anxious to talk to you tonight, but first let's took at the journey that got you to the couch.

(A montage of videos comes on from Ty's first appearances during Bachelorette 4 and Bachelor 13. A closeup of Deanna Pappas comes on)

T: Bitch!

C: For those of you who don't know, that was Bachelorette 4, Deanna Pappas, who last year was elected Governor of Idaho. Some are already saying that she's the next Sarah Palin.That's at least partly because they had to tell her where Idaho was before she filed for the primary, but Governor Pappas is the first Bachelorette to hold statewide office in America's first Reality-based state where all couples must marry based on the things they really want, not just the excitement.

(the montage moves on to Ty's Dad Jason's season)

T: I love you Melissa Rycroft! I'm sorry my Dad was a bastard. I still remember you. Baaah, Baaah.

C: As many of you know Melissa married a year after her appearance on the Bachelor and her son Mike recently became the first male Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader. Melissa goes to every one of his games.

T: Ah-Ah Chooo! (laughs happily)

C: You remember Ty, as the Bachelor had one of the more unusual home visits when he brought his final two choices to meet his Mother Hillary then had a meeting with his father Jason and all five of his stepmothers. Before the final rose ceremony, as almost all of America knows, Jason Mesnick ran off with the young woman who Ty had chosen to be one of his final 2 choices, Sophia Hogan. Up to then, Bachelor fans had been looking forward to the possible first marriage of two second generation veterans of our show.

T: F*($##($* A)((*&le.

C: Let's take a look at how Ty found out. Because of the very emotional nature of that moment, our producers moved it to a closed set, though they televised it afterwards anyway. After they had a chance to edit it to heighten the drama in any way they could.

A videotape plays: A completely bald 350 pound Jason Mesnick in a bad golf outfit comes up in what appears to be the private dining room of a restaurant. Ty sits across from him.

J: Ty, you know I've always made decisions on what's best for us as a family.

T: Yeah, right Dad. You used me as a chick magnet for all seven marriages.

J: Would it be right for me to be unhappy?

T: Would it maybe be okay if you meant anything you said for a change? Like, when you tell anyone that you love them forever or that this is our new family....

J: I know you're hurt and I don't blame you. It hurts me almost as much.

T: Wow, that sure makes me feel good. I hope I start feeling unbearable, torture level pain, pain so extreme that even heroin doesn't take off the edge.

J: Remember way back when I was the Bachelor....I told America how much I loved Sophia and how special she was. How she made me want to be a better father. I even compared her to you.

T: Not really. Don't you remember, I was three years old at the time.

J: Well, it's just that I never stopped loving Sophia. I couldn't get her out of my mind.

T: Dad, this is sick. You're 28 years older than she is. I was dating her. You dated her mother.

J: Well, it's not like I ever really dated Stephanie. I mean there weren't any tents or fantasy suites. How many times have I told you that everything I did, I did for you, for our happiness.

T: Oh my God! Too much information. For twelve years, all the way through high school, kids used to play the youtube of you in the fantasy suite on their cell phones whenever I came in the room.

J: Son, I'm just following my heart. Can you blame me for following my heart?

C: Ty, what do you have to say to that?

T: It makes me want to kick his ass is what I have to say to that (Ty stands up and moves towards Jason) You know how embarrassing it was to have a dad who did the first crossover between the Bachelor and America's Biggest Loser?

J: (starts to giggle) This is so amazing!

Ty lands a punch to his father's face then completely loses control.

T: She was my girlfriend Dad. Sophia was my girlfriend......I don't care that you had a special bond....We had the greatest date at Lego Land together.

He begins to pummel his father until the producers interrupt for a Viagra commercial followed by a pain reliever ad.

Cut back: Chris is now on the couch with a very battered Jason Mesnick. Sophia Hogan Mesnick sits on the couch next to him.

C: Jason, we understand that out of love for your son, you're declining to press charges against Ty Stick.

J: That's right Chris.

C: (turns to audience) Isn't Jason a great guy?

Audience applauds loudly. Sophia Hogan Mesnick squeezes Jason. He winces then smiles.

S: Don't you just love this man? He had me from the moment he broke out that Lego condom on our first romantic date.

C: We did ask Ty to stay for this segment but he understandably declined the show's offer. He did send a note (actually written by our producers) wishing his father and Sophia, well.

J: Chris, you know what would be really great. My mother in law, Stephanie, is still single and she really thought Ty was amazing. You saw her during the home visit. She was so thrilled about him. I'm hoping when things settle down that maybe we can get my son and mother in law together. Maybe the four of us could double date.

C: So, you're not mad at Ty for beating you down on ATFR 8?

J: I understand that he's hurt. I just wish I could make him feel a little bit better. It really does break my heart to see him like that. He's always been just the greatest son. I can't count the number of women who fell for that whole single dad thing.

C: Wow. Sophia, how's it been for you. We thought on the show that you had real feelings for Ty Mesnick.

S: I did Chris. Every bit of it was real. I meant everything I said and it was all real. That's why I love Jason. He's so sincere, even when he breaks his most heartfelt promises.

The music cues up.

C: I know some out there think that some of the twists our stories take have been scripted. I assure you that's just not the case. But, we have a little surprise tonight.

An ankle with prominent varicose veins slips out from behind the screen stage right. You can see the hem of a purple dress.

C: America, you remember Molly Malaney!

J: Who?

C: Jason, you were together with her for almost four months. You remember, she was the woman you were dating before you declared your love for Jillian Harris during the last chance dates on her season as Bachelorette 5? Jillian spat in your face....

J: Actually, I don't Chris. I have a hard enough time remembering the ones I actually married.....

C: Jason, that's actually not that funny.

J: Just being real. This show was very good to me. I even wrote a rap song about it. Do you want to hear it?

S: It's so funny. He sang it for me on our first date in the blimp after the oysters.

The audience applauds even more loudly. A woman shouts “We love you Jason”

A dove drops out of the studio ceiling and lands at Jason's feet.

C: Jason, does that refresh your memory at all? You remember Naomi your fourth wife who you murdered while rock climbing because you were following your heart?

J: Naomi? I thought she was the one who wound up marrying Reality Steve.

C: That was Meagan Parris and you never married her. (clears his throat) We need to bring Molly on.

J: Sure, go ahead, whatever! You want to know who was the best in bed of all of my wives. It was that Natalie Getz. Shannon Bair was pretty good too, but that threesome with the dog was just a little too much. Oh yeah, that was until I followed my heart with Susie here. I mean Sophia. I'm so glad that I went on the Bachelorette all those years ago, you wouldn't believe how many times I scored just for that. You know I was on TV so much talking about Ty, I never actually stayed home with Ty at all. Maybe, that's what started the resentment thing?

A shriek is heard off stage and someone throws a putter at Jason's head from the general direction of the ankle and the purple dress.

C: Whoa!

J: Oh, that Molly! I always said she was a poor sport. Hey, Molly. You want me to draw a picture of you now! (evil laugh) I got a young one here. Wanna see! Don't be mad....Didn't you get my e-mail about how the producers made me do it?

The curtain falls with a giant sign that says “Mike Fleiss Productions: We put the reality in romance.”

Crosscut to a gray-haired Brad Womack doing a 360 on a snowboard while eating a sandwich and taking off his shirt.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

An Emotional Freak Show (Bachelor 13 final 2)

For the last two months, Mrs. Chancelucky and I had a standing date to watch the final episode of this season of the Bachelor together. I had told her that was the one thing I wanted to do on March 2 and couldn’t imagine watching it with anyone else. It was especially important to me because it was our daughter who had gotten us to watch the show in the first place. It’s just that when I got the remote control last night, something had changed. I just didn’t feel the same way about the show that we’d loved for so many seasons. What was I supposed to do, keep watching the show out of some sense of obligation even though my heart was telling me otherwise? Instead of watching the Bachelor, I decided to watch a new ABC show called the “Sociopath.”

The premiere was three hours long and I’d have to say for the first hour or so it looked and felt a lot like the Bachelor. The lead looked something like Jason Mesnick. There was even a bit where Deanna Pappas appeared. Supposedly, she flew all the way to New Zealand to ask the guy for another chance. The Jason character says, “No, I’m in love with two other women even though I proposed to you and pledged my undying love less than six months ago.”

Deanna says, “Hey, no biggie. In the meantime, don’t pick excitement over the things you really value and want in life.”

The Jason character says, “Sure, thanks for the advice,” then says something off camera about ‘Whoa, that Deanna sure packed on a few pounds. Was I lucky! Now I got me an actual Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader for a couple months, then it’s on to Walk of Shame girl.’
Up to this point, the Sociopath looked like your basic dating show. They had Melissa recapitulate all the things the Jason Mesnick character had done with other ladies on the Bachelor. First he tackles Ty on the beach a la Stephanie and Sophie. They then climb rocks just like he did with Naomi Crespo. A bit later they jump off a boat into ice cold water almost as if he were bungee jumping with Ms. Let’s Dot It Again. Along the way, Melissa was a bit too good at bonding with Ty. She even had a sheep joke ready when Jason supposedly surprised them with a lamb on the putting green. Given the state of Jason Mesnick’s reputation now, I’m wondering if he brought the lamb to her to introduce her to his other child. There’s a rumor that if the Sociopath does well in the ratings next season, they’re going to have the next one try to seduce a fourteen year old girl. Actually the producers are torn between fourteen year old girl or boy and some of the team wants the kid to be developmentally-delayed as well. Melissa meets the family and they all seem to like her except for the fact that they ask her fifty or sixty times about the fact that Melisssa’s family wouldn’t cooperate with those nice producers for the hometown date and they then have Dad remind everyone that Jason got to ask Deanna Pappas’s father for his blessing all of four months ago just for good measure. At one point with the family Ty says “Where’s Melissa?” then we get to see Ty and the Victim wrestling on the grass. I think this was the show’s foreshadow that the result was going to be something like professional wrestling.

Even the last chance date appeared to go rather well except for the fact that Melissa didn’t get to give Jason one of those fake gifts that some production assistant actually made to share as their special memory from the show.

To be honest if they were going to turn the Bachelor into the Sociopath, it would have been much better TV to have Melissa and Stephanie switch places. Instead of hurting this bubbly, sweet, but very young woman, they could have done a number on national TV to a widow who had lost her husband in a “tragic” plane crash and had been inspired by Jason’s appearance on Deanna’s season to slip her forehead into the dating world. On top of that, they could have gratuitously involved yet another small child in the whole thing. Clearly, this wasn’t scripted, because I’m sure that Mike Fleiss, the producer of both the Bachelor and the Sociopath, would have gone there if he were calling all the shots. On the other hand, they might have done just as well to pull Jillian’s mother into something like this as a way to test how complete her recovery is from that depression thing. Now that, would have been great Reality TV! Could you imagine Jillian’s mom pulling a Joaquin Phoenix on the After the Final Rose 2 complete with gum and beard. Well, the good news is that they still have another chance to do that one. That Fleiss is a clever guy you know.

Had this been a dating show, I imagine they would have shown a much more likeable Molly. It wasn’t like Ty rejected her, in fact she clearly developed a rapport with the kid (at least on camera) even though she didn’t have the same kid skill set as Melissa. A lot of the visit consisted of Jason telling Ty to run after Molly or hand her a shell wedding ring on the beach. During her chat with Jason’s brothers, who don’t look quite as hot as Jason, Molly comes off sounding like Natalie Getz when she confesses, “I’m ready to give up the partying. I definitely went through a period where I partied really hard.”

One of Jason’s brother spills some sugar on the table and Molly pulls out a straw, snorts it up, then announces, “Yeah, I’m ready to settle down with that kid of his as long as it fits in with my career.”

Now that she’s with the rest of Jason’s family, Ty seems to disappear. In the meantime, Molly sidles up to Jason’s Mother and says repeatedly “Your son is the best, Your son is the best” then winks and says something about a a message board. Ty’s grandmother though doesn’t wink back and that was one of my signs that this wasn’t the Bachelor. Instead, the family gushes about how much Molly appears to be in love with Jason except for that career thing. I was also expecting Reality Steve and his dog Maddy to make some sort of cameo appearance here, but not such luck.

On Molly’s final chance date, they do this weird symbolic thing with umbrellas in the wind then Molly gets nearly naked to give Jason a massage and some other form of persuasion, after which she shares this gift she either made for him in seventh grade or that some production assistant helped her with. In fact, it looks remarkably like the scrapbook that Jesse gave Deanna. We learn that Molly has exceptionally good handwriting (that’s part of the passion apparently). It’s not nearly as good as the game that Jason supposedly made for Deanna. I hear that when it snowed in Breckenridge, Jesse and Deanna would break out Jason’s board game, play for several hours, and Deanna then started to get this feeling that maybe she’d made a mistake. Mostly though, we get this image of that final chance thing that Molly either raped the guy or aggressively seduced him. Last week, Jason assured us that they only kissed in the tent and conversed. That’s the hard thing to find credible. Is there any evidence that Jason or Molly could actually sustain a conversation for three hours?

At this point, Mrs. Chancelucky still thinks that we’re watching the Bachelor, that show where they talk about romance all the time and everyone who makes it to the final two or so is classy and gracious or at least tries to be. She starts telling me how nice she thinks this Melissa is even though she’d rooted for Jillian. I break the news to her that this isn’t really the Bachelor, but she doesn’t quite believe me yet. We watch Jason dump Molly and she’s like the worst sport of all time. She says nothing about Melissa. At one point, she informs the Bachelor that he really needs someone who deserves him, implying that Melissa doesn’t. She also can’t believe this is happening. Much to her credit, she gets in the limo and manages to follow her Dad’s advice and holds back the tears.

The final rose with Melissa would have been one of the better Bachelor endings. Jason tells us how sure he is of his choice. Once Melissa realizes that she’s getting the ring, she starts squealing. Jason gets on his knees again (apparently he really likes doing this). Melissa gets on her knees with him. We hear her saying something about “Melissa Mesnick”. Ty sees them and comes running towards them and Melissa tackles the kid (like Dad did on the beach). They all jump in the pool together and announce that they’re going to begin their lives now. We almost forget that five minutes ago, Jason had complained for the fifteenth time that he’d actually fallen in love with two women and seemed to be crying in agony about dumping Molly.

Of course, there’s Bachelor precedent for what happened next. Charley decided to date both Sarah Brice and Krisily Kennedy despite the fact that no one seriously believed that he was all that into Krisily. In fact, many people thought he had better chemistry with Krisily’s grandmother who came back in a future season as Jenni Croft's grandmother. Reality Steve was about to expose that casting ploy, so they told America that Jenni’s Grandmother died between the home visit and the after the final rose show. After Lorenzo’s season, he quietly dumped Jen Who and then openly dated the star of his season, Sadie the Virgin. The show’s producers got talked out of showing whether or not ole Lorenzo managed to get her to give it up. There were also any number of Bachelors and Bachelorettes who broke up prior to the After the Final Rose. For some odd reason, not a single one of those couples had to show their break up on television. In addition, Brad Womack (Mrs. Chancelucky is now the chair of the Brad Womack for President club) is remembered as the guy who refused to give a final rose. Jen, of course, did the same thing a few months earlier, but because no one liked her the second time through Bachelor fans refuse to give her credit for bringing “Just Say No” to Bachelor America. As I understand it, Jason was just following the rules. It’s just that those rules didn’t exist in any of the sixteen prior seasons of the show.

Despite Melissa’s choruses of “I’m always the dumpee” and Jason’s refrain that he’s in love with two women (proposing to one of them at random always solves that problem) the Sociopath doesn’t really kick into gear until After the Final Rose. You remember how slick Jason was with Deanna’s family? They say the best salesmen will absolutely convince you that he’s your best friend in the world until you sign on the dotted line and the guy collects his commission. The next day you’ll come back and find the same guy being your next door neighbors best friend forever. Something’s gone wrong. This isn’t Single Dad Jason, it’s Willy Loman and this is some sort of bizarre remake of Death of a Salesman.

It’s like Jason bought dog shampoo on the home shopping network, signed this hot new band featuring Bob Guiney, or opened up the lastest edition of Girls Gone Wild Magazine, and he insists that the sheen of romance wore off just weeks later. Of course, nothing specific has happened. Melissa’s still Melissa. It’s just that the magic isn’t there anymore and when Marriage and Family Counselor, Chris Harrison, presses a bit we learn that Mr. Sincerity, Jason Mesnick, just can’t stop thinking about Molly Malaney.

Had this been the Bachelor, I figure there would have been three satisfying endings at this point.

1) Melissa’s Dad finally appears with Tara Huckabee’s father’s assault rifle. The show does compete for ratings with 24 after all.

2) Chris Harrison finally decides to give up his role of never seeming to judge the Bachelor and announces an intervention. Jason’s family, Deanna, Jillian, and Byron Velvick all show up to help get Jason into treatment. “No son, you can’t be engaged to three different women in less than a year. You remember talking about how painful that divorce was with Hillary? You remember saying that family and marriage can’t be taken lightly? Do you remember Ty?”

Deanna tells Jason that he’s channeling Ross Gellar who kept getting married and engaged on friends while the real life Jennifer Aniston got married, divorced, engaged, engaged, serious about this singer guy, not really serious….”Jason, that was just a tv show. You know what, we can’t even make guest appearances on the thing. Jesse told me a couple months ago that they cancelled it. The stuff they show on tv now is just reruns. By the way, what was that tall tower thing in Seattle called again?”

Byron tells him, “There are plenty of fish in the sea, you don’t have to propose to all of them.”

3) Jason reveals that he used to date Bevin Powers and that not only was she one of his bridesmaids, but they broke up both their first marriages and then signed up with Mike Fleiss to do more of the same. Inbreeding is just never a good thing, even on reality television.

Sadly, none of those things happen. Melissa comes out. While she doesn’t act like she’s on the best of terms with the Sociopath, she does seem surprised that it’s happening here. Her best line is “you bastard.” Somehow, the whole Ty thing isn’t part of the picture so much now. She does make the minor point that if you get engaged to someone, you might try a little longer than six weeks before you decide to date someone else. All in all, she’s dignified, sensible, and appropriately angry. All through this, Jason is talking about following his heart, like if it’s in your heart to shoot up a playground full of school children that would make it okay.

Throughout, we try to hear a single specific story about any real problem that couple who jumped in the pool might have had in the six weeks, including two weeks of Holiday time, that followed. Did Melissa slap Ty? Did she seem too disappointed when she learned that Jason doesn’t fly around in blimps and have his own sail boat? Did one of them turn out to be an alcoholic or that Jason had two other wives in other states? Did she make him watch the Crying Game like four times in a row before they had a serious talk about other parts of her body she had reduced? Those are events that might make you change your mind in six weeks.

At this point, so many of the choices just aren’t good. If Jason was talking to Molly the whole time, he’s sleazy. If they didn’t have contact, he’s crazy. If the producers made him do this, he’s a wimp. If it was all his idea, he’s well….he’s a sociopath, an individual with a desperate need for attention and affection who has no sense of right and wrong. In any case, all the things that made Jason Mesnick an appealing Bachelor have now been undone. This was supposed to be the guy who cared about other people. The whole single dad thing, is that he gave up the chance to be fun and exciting aka following his heart, because he honored his responsibilities. There was also the small matter that Melissa pointed out that she wanted to be engaged and married to the right guy just once. Jason got torn apart by Jimmy Kimmel. Let me repeat that, Jimmy Kimmel.

Let me mention another set of choices. I didn’t watch the Bachelor to be shocked or to see real people get hurt. I also don’t necessarily enjoy seeing shows where regular people get exposed as shallow or insincere. That’s what game shows are for. In the context of the Bachelor, it’s sort of funny, but I’ve never thought of it as the point. I want to be entertained and it’s the stories and characters that get developed who entertain me. Sometimes that’s the product of judicious editing and scripting, sometimes these things even appear to happen naturally on the show. Still, the bottom line is “Was it entertaining?”

Last night was unquestionably very watchable. There had been so much hype about the various twists and exactly who was right about the various twists, who didn’t want to watch the thing? Clearly, Reality Steve is winning that one right now. Now that the Bachelor has become the Sociopath, I’m wondering who would want to watch this again? We’ve seen the man behind the curtain now and Mike Fleiss is yet another Sociopath. Socio is just not a path I want to walk on again. No, it wasn't fun to watch Jason make out with Molly fifteen minutes after breaking an engagement with someone else. There's no trick ending that can fix all this, at least I can't think of one.

I don’t claim to know Jason Mesnick, Molly Malaney, or Melissa Rycroft (ever noticed all those M’s?) as anything other than tv characters. To me characters belong in a story and I watch television for the stories. This wasn’t a story, it was an emotional freak show, a tour through the DSM IV. At a time when so much of the news is so bad, I was looking to this show for a little escape not some reminder that America is headed to bankruptcy in more senses than one.
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