Saturday, June 25, 2016

Summer Travel Guide 2016

Summer is here again, and for a lot of folks, summer means vacations. Vacations mean travel.
So, as is our custom and practice in this column, we once again bring you our annual compendium of weird, wacky and occasionally fascinating vacation destinations:
— If you’re a fan of bizarre incomprehensible gibberish, you could stay home and catch one of Sarah Palin’s stump speeches for Donald Trump on YouTube.
Or you could head down to northern Georgia and visit the Georgia Guidestones, the origin of which is something straight out of “The X-Files.”
Seems that a mysterious gentleman calling himself “R.C. Christian” showed up in the little town of Nuberg, Ga., with $50,000, a shoebox with a replica of Stonehenge in it, and a request: He wanted a monument of his own built.
And what a monument it is: four towering granite monoliths, inscribed in multiple languages including Egyptian hieroglyphics, Classical Greek, Sanskrit, Babylonian cuneiform, Chinese, Swahili and Hebrew, with the words “Let These Be Guidestones to an Age of Reason,” along with certain “commandments” supposed to bring about said age.

Those commandments include “Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with Nature” (I think that horse left the barn a while ago) and “Guide reproduction wisely, improving fitness and diversity.”
After arranging for the construction of the Guidestone, Mr. “Christian” (who admitted that that wasn’t his real name) disappeared without a trace. Ooo-EEEEeeeee-oooo …
— You wanna see something really scary? Then head out to the little desert outpost of Tonopah, Nev., midway between Las Vegas and Reno, and check yourself into what might be the world’s most terrifying place of accommodation: The Clown Motel.
The travel website tells us: “Not only is the lobby filled with hundreds of menacing clowns, but each and every room is clown-themed as well.
On each of the walls are hung portraits of famous clowns, from Bozo to Pagliacci, their soulless eyes intent on watching your every move from their faux-gold frames.”
But wait. It gets worse. Next door is a graveyard, filled with the corpses of miners who died of plague. To top it all off, according to online reviews, the Wi-Fi is terrible. Definitely not a place for the faint-of-heart.

— It’s entirely possible that someday you may be on the road, turn to your significant other, and go, “Honey Pie, I don’t think we know enough about hobos.”
Well, the cure for that particular brand of ignorance is in lovely Britt, Iowa, where you will find the Hobo Museum and Gift Shop, which says it “commemorates America’s first migratory work force.”
At the museum, you can see authentic hobo wear (old clothes) hobo gear (upturned buckets seem to be prominently featured), as well as “books written by hobos, music recorded by hobos, (and) crafts created by hobos,” according to the museum website. There’s even a Hobo Convention, where a Hobo King and Queen are elected.
Yes, it appears there are still hobos, even though the site does allow as how most of them drive these days rather than hop freight trains. I don’t know. That seems to kind of blur the classic definition a bit. But then, what do I know about hobos? Just shows how much we need the museum.
— Regular readers of this feature know that we often enjoy discussing freakishly large representations of everyday items: ketchup bottles, baseball bats and the like. Well, not this time.
It’s the creation of local artist Erika Nelson, who, like your Humble Columnist, seeks out the aforementioned large objects. Except she then creates tiny replicas of them and puts them in a vehicle, which she drives around as a traveling exhibit. Actually, now there are two vehicles, because the only thing cooler than one WLCoWSVoWLT is two of them.

Mysterious monoliths, scary clown hotels and small versions of big versions of ordinary sized things — it’s all part of the rich pageant that is the American road.
Happy traveling, and I hope you see something that makes you laugh and go, “Did we really just see that”?

Monday, May 30, 2016

America? I Don't Love It

Opinion |

OK. On this Memorial Day weekend, I have a confession to make. I really don’t care much for America.

Oh, no, not the country. I still love America, the country, a lot. I’ve gone back and forth a few times on America, the band, although I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for that “Sister Golden Hair” song.
But America, the beer? Not so much.
If you’re unsure what I’m talking about, Anheuser Busch recently announced that, for the upcoming summer, they’re changing the name of Budweiser beer to “America.”
Now, it should be noted that back in the glorious days of my misspent youth, I did drink Bud. I drank a lot of Bud.
On one beach trip, during a period when all the preppy girls were sporting those cute little “add-a-bead” necklaces, I strung a bunch of Budweiser bottle caps on a leather thong around my neck and told everyone it was an “add-a-Bud” necklace. This was widely regarded as hilarious, but only by people who were also drinking a lot of Bud.
In college, I switched to Stroh’s for a long time, but only because my favorite bar offered a 32-ounce cup of the stuff for a dollar.
There’s nothing that builds brand loyalty in a college student like enabling him to get blissfully hammered, play the Stones and George Jones on the jukebox (it wasn’t just cheap beer that made it an awesome bar), and have change left over at the end of the night from a five dollar bill. Good times.
But as the Good Book says, eventually you put away childish things. In the ’90s, beer choices exploded like a can of brewski left too long in the freezer. “Craft” beer became a thing that people talked about, admittedly sometimes to the point of absurdity.
Some discussed beer in the same sort of highfalutin’ terms we’ve come to expect from wine connoisseurs: “It’s a presumptuous little domestic brew that provides subtle notes of clove cigarettes, vinyl siding and motor oil, with a clean finish reminiscent of the 2013 batch of Lemon Pledge.”
Whatever, dude. Whose round is it?
All pretentiousness aside, the fact is that beer choices have gotten a lot better. Beer drinkers can actually find a brand with some taste to it, some personality. So, with all those choices out there, Anheuser-Busch apparently felt that it needed to do something to make its watery, bland flagship brew stand out. What better way for a beer made by a Dutch-owned company to stand out than by renaming it “America” and redesigning the already red, white and blue can to include an insignia that says “U.S.” and an “E Pluribus Unum” banner?

Wait. There’s no “In God We Trust”? Do those tulip-sniffing social democratic Dutch atheists hate God? Bill O’Reilly needs to get right on this.
The rebranding raises other questions. Since the can redesign makes it look like even more like a flag, will it be considered flag desecration to crumple it up and throw it in the garbage when empty?
Am I going to need to stand up off the bar stool and put my hand over my heart when the barkeep puts a tray full of them up on the bar? Will there be an “America Lite,” or will they just call the light version “Canada”?
When Donald Trump says he’s going to “make America great again,” does this mean he’s going to do something to make Bud taste like something other than weak battery acid?
Ah, well, it’s all moot. I’ll continue to drink good American beers, made in America, by Americans. Like Fat Tire, out of Fort Collins, Colo.; Shiner Bock, out of Shiner, Texas; and our own locally made brews, like the wonderfully named Man of Law, from Southern Pines Brewery. And Railhouse English Ale, from down Aberdeen way.
(If I missed any local or N.C. breweries that I should have mentioned, then please feel free to educate me, preferably with a cold draft in a frosted mug.)
God bless them all, and God bless America (the country).

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sluice Tundra, Private Eye In: The Case of the Murdered Party (Part Two)

Opinion |

(In our last installment, Sluice Tundra, Private Eye, was pulled out of retirement by a mysterious woman and hired to find out who killed the Republican Party.)
I decided to start right at the top, with the chairman. I found him in his office, looking as nervous as a cat at the Westminster Dog Show.
“Thanks for seeing me, Mr. Prius,” I said.
His expression changed from anxious to annoyed.
“It’s Priebus,” he said. “Reince Priebus.”
“Right,” I said. “So tell me, Raunch …”
“Reince,” he corrected me.
“OK, Rinse. I was seeing if you knew anything about who might have killed your party.”
“Killed?” he said, sweat breaking on his brow. “It’s not dead.” He took out a hankie and wiped his face. “It’s fine. Everything’s going to be fine. Really.” His right eye started to twitch. “We’re going to unite behind the nominee. Mr. … Mr. …”
“Trump,” I said.
He visibly flinched. “Yeah. Him.”
I could tell I was getting nowhere with this guy. He was deeper in denial than a Sanders supporter looking at the delegate count. “You have a nice day, Mr. Peebles.”
He stopped shaking and looked at me with narrowed eyes. “Are you doing that on purpose, or are you just an idiot?” he said.
“You’ll never know,” I said.
Next, I decided to pay a visit to the governor. He was seated on the veranda at his palatial Massachusetts mansion. I was startled to see a short, balding guy standing behind him, running a comb through his perfect hair.
“William Kristol?” I said. “What are you doing here?”
Kristol gave me a contemptuous look and whispered something in the governor’s ear.
“Bill here is talking to me about running as a protest candidate,” the governor said.
“You know he’s always wrong, don’t you?” I said. “I mean, like, always.”
Kristol whispered again. “He says you’re one of the takers. The 47 percent. Why should I talk to you when you’ll never vote for me anyway?”
“Whatever,” I said. “If you want to run, all I can say is what another guy said to you last time.”
“Oh yeah? What’s that?”
“Please proceed, governor.”
“Get out!” he bellowed. I did.
Next, I headed down to Texas to talk to The Cowboy. I found him hard at work on his ranch, engaged in his favorite pastime: clearing brush.
“Wow,” I said. “I would have thought you’d have cleared away all the brush after this many years.”
“No problemo, amigo,” he said. “I have new brush trucked in every night.”
“Amazing. So, what do you know about who might have killed the Republican Party?”
He stopped clearing for a moment and eyed me suspiciously. “That sounds like the kind of traitoristical talk that risks emboldenating our enemies.”
“Remember, muchacho, you’re either with us or with the terrorists. Hey, would you like to see one of my paintings? I have a new self-portrait of me in the bathtub.”
“Um … thanks, but no thanks.”
I got out of there as quickly as I could. I felt like I was running out of options. I had one more visit to make.
Suddenly, everything clicked into place. I had the answer. I dialed the woman who’d hired me, who I knew only as “dollface,” “kitten” or “precious” — at least until now. I got her voice mail.
“Meet me at my old office,” I said. “I have the answer.”
She arrived just as I was pulling the dust covers off the furniture. “Take a seat, angel,” I said. “Or should I call you … Gov. Palin?”
She hesitated, then pulled the mask off, revealing the face of the half-term governor of Alaska. “Guess you think you’re pretty smart, doncha, big fella?” she sneered. “Well, smart don’t feed the bulldog there sonny, not in the real America where we’re gun-clingin’, Bible-slingin’…”
“Can it, sister,” I said. “I know you did it. But you didn’t do it alone.”
She looked confused. Maybe she always looked like that. “I didn’t?”
“No. All of you did. You pretended to be pushing low taxes and limited government, but all you were really selling was fear. Fear and resentment. Fear of Scary Brown People, and resentment of anyone you could convince people was getting something they weren’t. You also promised people things you couldn’t deliver. You were going to ‘deport all the illegals’ and repeal ‘every word of Obamacare.’ But you couldn’t. And after a while, someone came along who did fear and resentment better than anyone. You all created this monster, and now he’s going to eat your party alive while he takes it over a cliff.”
“Wow,” Palin said. “I thought I was bad about mixing metaphors.”
I got up and showed her to the door.
“I got a million of ’em, toots. Now scram.”
If I hurried, I could still make the Early Bird Special at the Retirement Home for Private Eyes.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sluice Tundra, Private Eye In: The Case of the Murdered Party (Part One)

Opinion |

It was a bright and sunny day at the Home for Retired Private Eyes. The smell of newly mown grass filled the air, and the birds were singing.
I hated it.
I’d spent my professional life as an honest gumshoe, plying my trade in the dark alleys of the mean streets, where life was cheap, the dames were cheaper, and hot lead waited for a man around every corner. …
“Mr. Tundra?”
It was the nurse. She was shaking me by the shoulder. I squinted up at her. “That’s me, dollface. Sluice Tundra, Private Eye. An honest gumshoe, working …”
“Yes, sir. Mean streets, hot lead. You were muttering it to yourself again. But you need to wake up. There’s someone here to see you.”
“Who is it?”
“I don’t know. But they say it’s about a case.”
“A case!? I’ll be right there!”
The woman standing in the dayroom had the kind of face and figure that made more promises than a hedge fund prospectus, but I knew that any sucker who took her up on it would soon be going to Capitol Hill for a bailout. Half of me knew I needed to be careful, but the other half was hungry for some action. A private eye can only live so long on prune juice and a weekly gin rummy game in the Multi-Purpose Room.
“What can I do for you, sweetheart?” I said. “Other than the obvious.”
She gave me a tolerant smile and dodged my grasping hands as deftly as Hope Solo shaking off a defender in the World Cup. “Mr. Tundra,” she said, “Your country needs you.”
“The last time I heard that, sugar-lips, I ended up spending two years scraping garbage cans on an Army base in Killeen, Texas. You’ll have to do better than that.”
“Well, how about …”
She pulled out an alligator hide checkbook and named a figure with a lot of zeroes in it. It got my attention.
“You have my attention,” I said. I even stopped trying to grab her.
She nodded, tore the check out of the book and handed it to me. “I need you to solve a killing.”
I took the check and stuffed it in the pocket of my beat-up trench coat. “You came to the right place, angel-britches,” I said. “Sluice Tundra’s the name, murder’s my game. Who’s the stiff?”
She sighed and tears sprang to her eyes. “The Republican Party.”
Suddenly, there was a dramatic, crashing organ chord. The girl jumped a foot in the air. “What the heck was that!?”
“Oh,” I said. “That’s just Doris. She gets a couple of early afternoon cocktails in her and passes out on the keyboard of her Wurlitzer. Pay her no mind.” I tightened the belt on my trench coat. “So, are you sure it’s dead?”
She sniffled. “It might as well be. That awful man Trump is going to be the nominee. He’s going to kill it. Just kill it, I know.” The sniffles turned into a wail of despair. “How could this happen?” she sobbed as she fell into my arms.
Now this was more like the old days. “Don’t worry, punkin,” I soothed. “I’m on it.”
She looked up at me, her eyes brimming with hope along with the tears. “Really? You’ll take the case?”
“How could I turn you down, precious?” I said. “I’ll start interviewing suspects right away. I’ve got some ideas.”
“The Governor. The Other Governor. The Cowboy. Maybe even that guy who shoots his buddies in the face.”
“Oh, Mr. Tundra,” she said earnestly. “Do be careful.”
“I don’t need to be careful,” I said. “And you can call me Sluice.”
“OK. Sluice?”
“Yes, kitten?”
“If you don’t remove your hand from where it is, I’m going to break it off. And if you call me one of those stupid pet names again, you’ll be eating your next meal through a straw. Now, don’t you have work to do?”
I sighed and stepped back. Yep, just like the old days. “Yes, ma’am.”

Sunday, May 08, 2016

When Bros Turn Foes, It's a Sad Thing

Opinion |

You know, it’s always sad when guys who should rightfully be best buddies start feuding. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. It just breaks your heart, you know?
The latest bros-turned-foes tragedy happened recently when presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Donald Trump fell out. Some of us remember the halcyon days when all of the appalling harlequins who’d recently staggered out of the Republican Klown Kar were sniping at each other. But not Ted and Donald.
As far back as last July, Cruz declined an invitation on “Meet the Press” to bash The Donald: “I like Donald Trump. He’s bold, he’s brash. … it seems the favorite sport of the American media is to encourage some Republicans to attack other Republicans. I ain’t gonna do it.”
Trump, for his part, reciprocated. “I like him,” he said of Cruz in September. “He likes me. He’s backed me 100 percent. Ted Cruz was out there and he really backed me very strongly, and I always respected that.”
Then the bromance began to unravel. The New York Times, like a troublemaking Mean Girl, reported that Cruz had questioned Trump’s “judgment” at a private fundraiser in December. Trump shot back on Fox News Sunday, claiming that nuh-UH, it was Cruz who lacked the “temperament” to be president and that he dealt with the Senate like “a bit of a maniac.”
Then he played the birther card by bringing up Cruz’s Canadian birth. Maybe it didn’t actually disqualify him, Trump said, but who wants a candidate who “could be tied up in court for two years” litigating the issue? Cruz shot back by noting that it was Trump whose Real Americanism was suspect because he represented “New York values,” to which Trump replied “9/11. So there.”

At that point, it was, as they say, on. A feud erupted that, for sheer intensity, rivaled the one between the above-referenced Fred and Barney when Barney voted for Joe Rockhead instead of Fred for Grand Poo-bah of the Water Buffalo Lodge.
I’d thought the mudslinging had reached its nadir when Trump responded to a Utah anti-Trump group’s publication of semi-nude photos of Mrs. Trump by taking to Twitter and threatening to “spill the beans” on Cruz’s wife, Heidi (whatever the heck that meant). Donald shot back by Tweeting a picture of Mrs. Cruz (who, for the record, is actually rather attractive) caught in a most unflattering grimace.

But, as with so many things about this election, just when you think they’ve hit rock-bottom, the GOP candidates call for the jackhammers. On the eve of the make-or-break Indiana primary, Trump basically claimed Cruz’s father (who, for the record, is actually bat-spit insane) was an unindicted co-conspirator in the death of John F. Kennedy. His source was a story in the National Enquirer that purported to show a picture of the senior SeƱor Cruz passing out pro-Castro pamphlets in New Orleans alongside Lee Harvey Oswald a few days before the assassination.
Cruz, as you might expect, completely lost what was left of his mind, raging that Trump is a “pathological liar,” “utterly amoral,” and a “serial philanderer” who “describes his own battles with venereal diseases as his own personal Vietnam.”
All totally true, of course. But sadly, Cruz’s meltdown, however truth-based, availed him nothing. He took a drubbing of epic proportions in Indiana, leaving Trump nearly alone at the top of the smoldering garbage fire this primary process has reduced the Republican Party to. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a hardline right-winger who only looked sane and reasonable because of the whackaloons he was standing next to, exited as well.
So, with the contest all but over, the burning question is: Will these former pals be like Fred and Barney and make up by the end of the show? Or will they be like Martin and Lewis, not speaking for 20-plus years before coming to a surprise reunion and reconciliation on a telethon?
Well, the morning after the Indiana primary, I woke up to hear the New Face of the GOP talking about how his former enemy was no longer “Lyin’ Ted,” but was instead a “tough, smart guy” with a “great future.” So, hopefully, we’ll soon see the “serial philanderer” and the “maniac” hugging it out. Then they can get back to taking the Republican Party over a cliff.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

What About Bill?

 Opinion |

So, every day, it looks more and more like Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic nominee for the presidency.
Even though I’m a big supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I have to say that I will definitely vote for Secretary Clinton if the alternatives are Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. Let’s face it, I would vote for a cross-eyed orangutan before I’d vote for Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. In the long run, the orangutan would cause less damage.
Judging from the polls, it seems like a lot of people agree with me. If the Republican Party truly charges over the cliff by nominating Trump, the White House is Hillary Clinton’s to lose.
So, having reached grudging acceptance of the distinct possibility of a second Clinton presidency, it’s time to address the elephant in the room. By which I mean, what are we going to do about Bill?
We’ve never had this question to deal with before. Not only would Bill Clinton be the first male presidential spouse to occupy the White House, but he’d also be the first ex-president to hold that position. I mean, my God, “that position” doesn’t even have a name. What do we call him? “First Gentleman”? Would we borrow a phrase from our British cousins and call him the “Presidential Consort”?
Too bad we don’t have a title she could grant him, like “Duke of Chappauqua” or something.
And how do you address him face to face? He still has the courtesy title of “Mr. President,” but can you imagine calling him that in front of Madame President? Awwwk-waaard …
What exactly are his duties going to be, anyway? You certainly don’t want him moping around the Oval Office, reminiscing about old times. “Hey, honey, remember when I sat there and ordered the bombing of Kosovo? Wasn’t that awesome?” … “Bill, I’m working here, can you go play golf or something?”
Sure, he’d be great at promoting causes, as First Ladies have been accustomed to doing in the 20th and 21st centuries. But can you see him hosting teas and social functions? The mind reels.
Fortunately, I have a solution.
See, there’s a lot of speculation as to who Secretary Hillary Clinton should pick as her running mate. Some have suggested unifying the party by nominating Sanders or Sen. Elizabeth Warren, in the interests of wedding the party’s actual liberal wing with its centrist Republican Lite establishment.
I, however, do not believe that either of those firebrands will be able to do the all-important (to a campaign) job of sucking it up, putting aside their disagreements with the top of the ticket, and keeping their mouths shut. Plus, we need those two back in a Democratic-controlled Senate (also an increasingly likely possibility), sounding off for actual progressive values.
So Hillary Clinton, who’s done so many unprecedented things already, should take a bold step and nominate none other than her husband, the Big Dog his ownself, William Jefferson Clinton, as her running mate.
Wait, wait, hear me out here. First off, he’s not ineligible to be president if something, God forbid, should happen to Hillary. The 22nd Amendment only says that “No person shall be elected to the office of the president more than twice.” There’s nothing in there that says a former president can’t succeed a deceased or incapacitated president if he’s veep at the time.
Second, you can’t deny that the guy’s a heck of a campaigner.
His speeches in support of Barack Obama at the 2008 and 2012 Democratic conventions helped clinch the case for Obama. And let’s face it: A lot more people actually like Bill than Hillary. Search your feelings. You know it to be true.
Plus, it’ll give Bill something important to do and keep him out of Hillary’s hair. In between jetting off to foreign capitals and promoting our interests, Bill can turn the Naval Observatory (the traditional vice-presidential residence) into his own “man cave,” hanging out with Joe Biden and Al Franken, drinking Scotch, smoking cigars, and watching football and action movies on the 100 inch big screen TV. Late at night, they can sneak over to the actual observatory and play with the telescopes, because that would be awesome.
Crazy, you say? The way this campaign is going, Hillary Clinton picking her husband as her VP choice might not even make the top five on the “crazy stuff that happened” list.