Monday, June 29, 2015


Is this the iconic limited-time-only foodstuff of Summer 2015?

The same way every summer has a defining movie and song, I think the season also has its own signature snack food. There were a whole heck of a lot of contenders last year, ranging from vanilla float Dr. Pepper to Mama Celeste's special edition all-white pizzas, but when I reflect back on Summer '14, I instantly think of Nabisco's Fruit Punch Oreos. I didn't really like them, per se, but I still ate a ton of them -- the vague memory of their taste and texture feels me with the very same kind of nostalgia I receive when that one Tegan and Sara song comes on the radio. You know, the one about being Canadian and lesbian. Yeah, that one.

The same way those weird sandwich cookies came to define the summer of '14, I reckon the newfangled S'mores Oreos will come to define the summer of '15. Sure, sure, we've already tried some kooky-flavored Oreos earlier this summer, but there are actually quite a few noteworthy things about the S'moreos that make them quite different from any previous (insert weird flavor here)-LTO Oreo product.

To begin, it's not just that the sandwich cookie contains an unorthodox interior creme. No siree, we've done that to death. In addition to the fusion marshmallow/chocolate gunk, the actual Oreo cookies themselves are graham cracker flavored, which if I am not mistaken, is the very first time one of these novelty products changed not only the creme components of the standard product, but even the exterior toppers. This, needless to say, can lead to a revolution in LTO, novelty-flavored Oreos in the future. Just imagine all the crazy combinations we can work with here, like a Neapolitan-flavored Oreo, with one vanilla cookie topper, strawberry creme and a chocolate bottom topper! Just when you think Nabsico has given up on us, they do something like that to restore our faith in weirdbeard marketing ploys. Good bless 'em, each and every employee they have working for them.

Seeing as how I've written about the core concept of Oreos at least a dozen times by now, excuse me if my overview of the product seems particularly lifeless. Alas, for the uninitiated, we are dealing with your standard twist-top sandwich cookie formula -- that means two pieces of graham cracker flavored toppers and a whole bunch of mushy chocolate marshmallow creme in-between. As a side note, I actually left my box of cookies in the trunk of my car overnight. During the middle of summer. In Atlanta. I actually had to put the things in the freezer afterwards, since the stuffing had melted into this weird grey puddle clinging to the bottom of the plastic sleeves. 

SEE! I never bullshit you people, even when it would behoove me. And if you think the sight was ghastly, you should've smelled this thing; frankly, I'm STILL not sure how I would categorize that sickeningly sweet aroma.

Alas, as an individual who doesn't care about things like "dysentery," I popped these sumbitches in the icebox and merely waited for them to become edible again. Leading further credence to my hypothesis that Oreos creme is actually "The Stuff," the creme seemed to reassemble itself into its natural state astonishingly well. A good two hours in the deep freeze, and you never would have suspected these things were fondue earlier in the day. 

Now, as for the product's taste, you ask? Well, it was pretty good, but frankly, I've never been a huge fan of S'mores to begin with. I'm not really sure if I would say the creme tasted like a good mixture of Hershey's and marshmallow. In fact, it tasted like normal Oreos creme to me, which is surprising, since Nabsico could have easily used the same goddamn flavor they used on their watermelon, fruit punch AND cotton candy permutations and nobody really would have been the wiser. The graham cracker taste, however, IS quite palpable, and really made the overall product pop. As I said earlier, the big thing about these S'mores is that it theoretically paves the way for more tri-flavored offerings in the future. Shit, the same company has already given us root beer flavored cookies, so it's really only a matter of time before they launch hamburger flavored Oreos. Remember, I said that here first.

So, how can a product I didn't really like be considered the novelty foodstuff of the summer? Well, it's the same way the respective song and film of the summer can likewise be terrible yet utterly idiosyncratic. "The Avengers" wasn't exactly great cinema, but when I reflect back on the Summer of 2012, that's the first movie I think about (despite that being the same season a ton of truly great films, like "Hara Kiri: Death of a Samurai" and "Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry," were released.) Furthermore, whenever I think "Summer 2010," I can't help but hear "Party in the USA" in my mind's jukebox. It's just tethered to the times, as inseparable from the epoch as chocolate mush from marshmallow goop in a melted S'moreos jamboree. I can imagine this conversation taking place throughout America in 2018: "Hey remember that one year Oreos made S'mores-flavored Oreos? Man, that stuff sucked." Hey, something doesn't have to be good, necessarily, to drum up nostalgic musics. Isn't that right, America-flavored Twizzlers?

Oh, and one last thing before I call it "quits" on this thing. At first, I was thinking about including a lengthy spiel about how the marshmallow/chocolate dichotomy was a secret metaphor for the state of contemporary U.S. race relations (a.k.a, the "Ikaruga" argument,) but then, I noticed something much, MUCH more interesting: the interior creme of one of my cookies looked JUST LIKE a motherfucking penguin head. LOOK AT THAT AND HOW ADORABLE IT IS. Not in a million-billion years could pure circumstance result in such a wondrous, impromptu design. That leads me to think that a.) someone at Nabisco is all about the animal iconography, or b.) God exists, and one of his favorite hobbies is decorative food arts. Either way, this shit is up on eBay if you want it -- $1,000 USD, or best offer. You know, as long as I don't eat it first ... which is something I can never, ever promise.

Friday, June 26, 2015

JIMBO GOES TO THE MOVIES: "Inside Out" (2015) Review

It’s easily the best Pixar movie in half a decade, but is it also one of the most countercultural Hollywood films to come along in years? 

The thing that makes “Inside Out” work, per se, is that it addresses something we all know to be true but never really talk about. By and large, it’s our experiences that shape us, with our neurological wiring trying to play catch up throughout our lives. As a society, we’ve become such staunch biological determinists that we’ve almost forgotten that external stimuli plays a role in who we are; with the ingenious homunculi plot mechanic, Pixar’s latest film pounds that into our skill, without once being overly blunt or overly preachy.

Of course, the core concept of “Inside Out” is nothing new. The idea of the “Cartesian theater” has been one of the longest-held philosophical constructs in Western culture -- in fact, the exact same gimmick formed the basis of a short-lived Fox sitcom, “Herman’s Head.” Considering the success of “Inside Out,” perhaps it’s well worth Pixar’s time to explore other continental philosophy stalwarts -- or perhaps other long-forgotten television series from the lame duck network (I can only imagine the wonders they could spin out of “Drexell's Class” and “Woops!” )

The premise of “Inside Out” is so simple, one may erroneously write it off as a “non-story.” A small Midwestern family leaves the frozen tundra of Minnesota behind for the brave new world of San Fran; to capture the pain and confusion of moving, the film focuses on the innermost thoughts of an 11-year-old girl, as she pines for the good old days and tries to make sense of life on the Left Coast.

It’s such a standard coming-of-age yarn, which in and of itself, is fairly aberrational for contemporary mainstream movie fare. Ultimately, “Inside Out” is a tremendous film because it shares more in common with “The 400 Blows” than “Big Hero 6” -- it’s the human pathos that serves as the bedrock of the film, not the grandiose visuals.

Inside the head of the film’s Lilliputian protagonist Riley, five anthropomorphic emotions -- Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger -- take turns commanding the cerebral control boards. As you would expect, each character take the wheel whenever the exterior situation calls for it. For example, when presented an all-broccoli pizza, Disgust (personified as a materialistic, ditzy green blob that would feel right at home in the cast of “Mean Girls”) yanks a few knobs, and Anger -- brilliantly portrayed by Lewis Black, who I’ve heard others describe quite literally as “that one guy who is always angry” -- starts running the show when it’s time to sass back at dear old dad. Taking the plot to another level, we periodically jump inside the heads of supporting cast members as well, including a father who envisions a hockey game unfurling before his eyes during a boring conservation, and a mother whose emotional gamut consists of a platoon of bobbed haircut sporting M&Ms. Towards the end of the film, we even get a glimpse inside the head of a few pets, with results that -- while predictable -- are nonetheless hilarious.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Jimbo, that doesn’t sound like a very exciting movie.” Well, you would be quite wrong, bucko, since the film has one of the best plot mechanics I’ve seen in quite some time. You see, every time the main character experiences something, it becomes a memory, which is literalized in the form of a glowing orb. While most of the memory orbs are placed in the girl’s subconscious (personified as a giant library of sorts) a few extremely powerful memories -- referred to as “core memories” -- are kept within reach at all times, just in case an instant pick-me-up is needed. During a skirmish over these memories, Joy and Sadness are sucked up a vacuum and cast into the deepest recesses of the girl’s mind. This creates a two-pronged plot, in which the other three emotions try to steer the character in her day-to-day life while the two “lost” emotions try to find their way back to the control room.

The visualized subconscious of the protagonist is one of the more inspired set pieces I’ve seen in any recent cinematic offering. In addition to the never-ending hall of memories (periodically purged by a janitorial crew, who chuck needless memories into an inescapable abyss), the world also encompasses an array of infrastructural puns (for example, a literal “train of thought” and a room where concepts are literally deconstructed) as well as a few theme-park-like realms dedicated to the most important constructs in Riley’s life, such as her love of hockey and family. There’s even a gigantic studio where Riley’s fears and concerns are transformed into Roman a Clef plays; the productions unfurl inside a literal “dream theater” whenever she dozes off.

Ultimately, the film reaches a brilliant dénouement, with two plot lines merging seamlessly. In the “real world,” Riley finds herself on a bus ride back to Minnesota all by herself (complete with a detour through Oakland), while Joy and Sadness race against the clock to get back to the cerebral command center so they can change her mind. It’s very simplistic stuff, but the execution is just about flawless. Needless to say, this is the best Pixar production since “Toy Story 3,” and a happy return to form that, hopefully, will lead to the beloved studio’s second golden age.

Of course, it’s not a perfect film. There are some doldrums here and there, and a few of the nostalgic sequences tend to drag a bit too long. While the overarching message of the movie is that it’s perfectly normal for happiness and sadness to intertwine, the movie really telegraphs the point, so when Sadness and Joy do come to understand why other each is needed, it’s not really as effective as it could’ve been. That, and there is a GIGANTIC plot hole that the movie all but ignores, when even the little ankle-biters in the audience probably notice it. Hell, even the filmmakers themselves can’t come up with a good explanation for it.

On the whole, however, it’s a very, very enjoyable film, with some truly hilarious moments from Anger’s desire to use swear words to an old commercial jingle that just can’t be sublimated to a throwaway joke about the old teeth-falling-out reverie to a pre-teen boy freaking out at the mere sight of a girl to Riley’s “dreamboat” being a Canadian who would die for her to the emotions receiving a new control board, complete with a mysterious button labeled “puberty.” Furthermore, some of the sequences involving Bing Bong -- Riley’s old childhood imaginary friend -- are pretty emotional; in short, this movie nails you with pretty much every feeling a movie can hit you with, which is one of the greatest meta-achievements in 2010s cinema to this point. Oh, and the “Lava” short before the movie? It will probably make you cry like a biggity-bitch, too.

“Inside Out” is certainly a tremendous romp, perhaps the best you will see at a mainstream theater this summer. Alas, as virtually every other Pixar movie contained some form of thinly veiled social commentary, I keep my inner-eye open throughout the film to receive any potential political and cultural messages. Seeing as how Pixar is pretty much the only conservative Hollywood construct with any political power, I wasn’t necessarily surprised by the film’s furtive endorsement of heteronormativity. The cross-country trip from Minnesota (the home state of director Pete Docter, it is perhaps worth noting) to San Francisco certainly was not a random selection, and in case you missed it, note how all of the older characters have homunculi emotions that are fixed to their gender. While Riley’s emotions are a potpourri of male and female characters, her mom and dad’s innermost thoughts are represented solely by characters aligned with their sex. The same can be said of the teacher, the bus driver and even the broccoli-pizza-slinging goth-server. Interestingly enough, one of the other fifth grade characters -- who at 11, is already wearing eye shadow -- has an all female cast of emotions. Does that signify the concrete nature of gender identity, that -- due to our early childhood experiences -- we form a permanent sense of self around puberty?

But the most interesting underlying theme about “Inside Out” is its message about the necessity of experiencing a wide array of emotions. Today’s kids are taught as early as kindergarten that sometimes, they experience thoughts or impulses that they just shouldn’t have. As a result, many five and six year olds are now being placed on psychotropic medications for depression, anxiety and hyperactivity. The most countercultural thing about this movie is that it comes and out tells us that we NEED to feel the gamut of emotions, that it’s totally normal to feel stressed, upset, repulsed, outraged and lifeless from time-to-time. By shying away from sadness, the film tells us, we lose out on a pivotal part of the human experience. It allows us a mechanism to grieve and move beyond trying circumstances, and in conjunction with happiness, allows us to feel nostalgia, that wondrous, bittersweet longing for our long-gone pasts.

It’s not often that you see ANY big budget movie make such a simple, heartfelt declaration about the human condition, let alone one aimed primarily at children. How strange -- and frankly, distressing -- it is that the only Hollywood film that includes a character using the term “abstract thought” this summer is in a kids flick, no?

My Score:

Three and Half Tofu Dogs out of Four

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Ten Warning Signs a Girl is a Psychopath

A few subtle observations that can save you a TON of suffering in the long haul. 

According to modern research, the fairer sex is about 40 percent more likely to report mental illnesses than men. In fact, women are actually twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with severe depression; mountains of scientific data indicate females are much likelier to be diagnosed with anxiety and extreme phobias, as well. And while a nearly equivalent number of men and women experience bipolar disorder, studies suggest that the severity of psychotic episodes is much more violent (and much more common) with women than men.

To be fair, men do indeed corner the market when it comes to some psychiatric conditions, such as alcoholism and antisocial personality disorder. That said, if we were to do a random sampling of ten men and ten women, the ovaries-only sample would almost surely have a higher percentage of mental health disorders than the testes-only set. That's not sexism, mind you, but scientific fact: we can bicker and bellyache about the sociocultural factors as to why women experience psychiatric problems more than men, but regardless of the explanatory mechanisms, they just plain do.

Over the years, I've probably had, maybe, a dozen somewhat close relations with females (meaning, at some point, our tongues touched.) Without hyperbole, I can safely say that half of them either had an already diagnosed mental health disorder or a clearly undiagnosed one, if not a confluence of them. The range I've worked with is pretty vast, running the gamut from girls with milder issues (depression, mild anxiety) to much more serious conditions (anorexia, bipolar disorder) to oh shit, what the fuck was I thinking (schizophrenia and opiate addiction, if you can believe it.)

As a guy who has stared down his own demons in the past, I don't want to shame anybody for their plights. That said, at the same time, I think it's only fair that guys out there at least know some of the less obvious symptoms that a girl may or may not have a few proverbial screws loose. Below, I have listed 10 tell-tale -- yet subtle -- indicators that a girl has severe identity conflict problems, shopping compulsions, extreme lethargy, paranoid tendencies, delusions of grandeur and, if absolutely nothing else, an utterly bland (if not unbearably shitty) personality.

Take heed, boys: noting these things early on could very well save you plenty of sleepless nights in the future...

Her Facebook profile is anything other than a photo of herself.

While Facebook is, in and of itself, nothing more than a maddening spiral of vanity and desperate attention-seeking, you should probably take it as a MAJOR red flag if your potential romantic partner features anything other than a mugshot of herself as her profile photograph. A good rule of thumb here is that the less of her face you actually see, the batshit crazier she likely is. If her profile photo doesn't even feature a human being in it, I can assure you she's certifiably nuts, especially if it's a picture of a.) a pet, b.) some pretentious landscape shot (if it's in black and white, that's even worse) and c.) a cartoon character, of any variety. If a girl doesn't even feel comfortable enough showing the general public her own face, it's a pretty safe bet that's she hiding a whole bunch of other stuff that she doesn't want other people to know about her, too.

She describes herself as "quirky."

Thanks to the overall "geekening" of American pop culture, we are now living in a cultural milieu where traditional, Victorian beauty has been shamed out of existence. Instead, an entire generation of men have grown up forced to accept "adorkable" as the zenith of the female form, complete with all its annoying and irksome fangirl-ish qualities and characteristics (which, in and of themselves, are potential symptoms of bipolar disorder.) If a girl ever uses terms like "quirky" -- or god help you, she describes herself as a "manic pixie dream girl" -- that's basically code word for "I'm an immature, irritating woman-child with no redeemable personality traits and some schizoid-type tendencies, to boot." And on top of that, she's usually chunky and ugly as hell, too.

She's into anime.

It's a known fact that there are only two types of people into anime: really dorky, usually sociopathic men who jerk off to "Sailor Moon," and really dorky, sexually frustrated women with rape fantasies who dream of being tied up and molested by a robot. Since you have to have the mentality of a 12-year-old to sit through any Japanese cartoon for more than a minute without drool running out of the side of your mouth, any girl with a profound adulation for the alleged "art form" is no doubt someone you want to steer far, far away from (unless, of course, you fantasize about having a 300 pound woman in a neon pink wig blow you while pretending to be a Gundam mech or something.)

She's into cosplaying.

The fact that I even have to tell young men today that this is a warning sign shows you just how much we've decayed as as a society. SHE'S A GROWN-ASS WOMAN, DRESSED UP LIKE A CARTOON CHARACTER, IN PUBLIC. Yeah, I know, there are some hot cosplayers out there, but let's face it: they're usually real models who don't give a shit about the conventions, and are just there to appeal to the almost mainstreamed fetish subcultures out there. And even if she is hot, think about this for a moment; do you honestly think a girl who runs around half-naked in full body-paint doesn't have some really deep-seeded psychological issues she hasn't worked through quite yet?

She's into online gaming.

There's a fine line between acceptable casual tendencies -- i.e., she'll play a game or two of "Ms. Pac-Man" and Wii Bowling -- and unacceptable, obsessive compulsive hardcore tendencies; as in, she spends a third of her day gaming. Really, if a girl can explain to you how Xbox Live works, it's probably a good idea to abandon ship early; and if she EVER brings up the terms "Minecraft" or "League of Legends" in casual discourse? Yeah, I'd say that's your cue to exit, stage left, right and goddamn center, if you have to.

She vapes.

My general rule? If she's under the age of 25 and she smokes cigarettes, that's fair game. Her prefrontal cortex hasn't developed yet, and she's probably some bad-ass art-school rebel with loose sexual mores (to quote one of my old junior college buddies: "if she'll suck toxic fumes into her lungs on purpose, she'll probably suck on something else, too.") If she's OVER the age of 25 and still puffs on the Camels, that's a sign that she's weak-willed and too fucking stupid to understand what a surgeon general's warning is -- so leave it be, leave it be, leave it be. That said, no matter a girl's age, if she vapes (also know as e-smoking), it's a 100 percent guarantee that she ain't worth a dime, nickle or penny. I mean, shit, if she's willing to squander so much money on a robotic shot of nicotine, she'll probably spend even more money on even stupider shit, like 3D printing hardware and IKEA furniture.

She's really, really proud of her tattoos and/or piercings.

Personally, I've always thought tattoos and non ear-piercings were gross as shit; not only do they look trashy, but they also demonstrate an inability to think long-term about the consequences of one's actions. Furthermore, if she has an overabundance of tattoos and piercings, that also means that she's spending a ton of money on her bad decisions, which is double points off. If you ever go into a sports bar on a Saturday night at 1 a.m., you will no doubt see a weathered, tattered and inked-up hag in her '50s, with skin that looks like a pork rind attacked by a hyperactive third grader and a Sharpie. Eventually, that's what ALL of these punk/scene/alternative girls end up looking like; and if you think old, fat, flabby skin is gross, just imagine all that old, fat, flabby skin with gigantic, gaping holes in it -- needless to say, it kills a boner, and quick.

She makes references to Internet memes in real-life conversation.

Actually, this is a pretty good unisex cue, now that I think about it. ANYBODY who makes meme references is, in some capacity, a no-good piece of shit. It means they can't think for themselves, they have no creativity and they are easily manipulated. Instead of being able to comment or respond to external stimuli with their own thoughts, the merely revert to whatever insignificant, juvenile bullshit they saw on the Web. Impressionable people of the sort or something far worse than just boring and annoying; oftentimes, they're downright dangerous

She says she's artistic, but she can't paint, sculpt or draw worth a shit.

First off, any girl who says she has a "studio" is full of it. Unless your shit is being shown off in a real gallery somewhere, you are NOT an artist -- you are just some jerkwad wasting time on a dis-interesting hobby. Secondly, if a girl says her artwork has some sort of profound political or sociocultural meaning, what she's really saying is "I am an ignorant dweeb, trying to cover up my obvious lack of mechanical and technical ability with some sort of veiled, pretentious meaning I myself don't fully comprehend." Oh, and if she tells you she is into "photography," and has a "portfolio" that's drawing "interest" from the "local art community?" That means she has an Instagram profile, and she almost understands how all of the filters work. Almost.

She does that winged-thing with her eyeliner.

I never really noticed this until a friend of mine recently pointed it out to me. Reflecting on my own adventures in the game of amour, it sounds like a rock-solid thesis; if a girl does that "winged" Katy Perry shit with her eyeliner, she's almost always a stark-raving lunatic. I am not sure what the corollary here is, scientifically, but if any girl walks out into public looking like Elizabeth Taylor in "Cleopatra," odds are, she's a bona-fide nutcase. Yet again, I think it's a desperate call for attention, that oh-so materialistic "solution" to an utter and complete lack of personality. "Well, I don't have much in the way of compassion, insight and conscientiousness, so you know what I think I'll do? I'll show everybody how different I am by just kinda sorta making my eye make-up look different from all the other girls!"Granted, it's a very subtle thing, but psychoses don't exactly flare up as super-obvious, tell-tale symptoms, you know. On the surface, this may appear to be just an insignificant (if not gaudy) fashion choice, but deep, deep down? It's a subliminal, subconscious cue for you to stay the hell far away, lest you wind up having your schlong severed in the middle of the night or something.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Five Horrible Truths I Learned Working at a Nursing Home

Vital life lessons from the worst job I ever had. 

The summer after I graduated high school, I was a fat, lazy, borderline alcoholic slacker with no goals or ambition in life, whose only care in the world was having money for beer and new Xbox games. Since I didn't have much (read: any real-world) experience, the types of jobs available to me were rather limited. As a result, I wound up taking a minimum wage job working as a roustabout at the local nursing home. I mean, how bad could it really be, right?

Well, if you said "super extremely shitty," you sir or madame or trans-sir or trans-madame, would be correct figuratively and literally. Although I had a host of responsibilities -- mopping the floors, dusting windows, emptying trash cans, etc. -- my primary duty was commanding the laundry room ... in the middle of summer ... without an air conditioner. To be a little more blunt: I spent hours rummaging through shit and piss soaked undergarments in a cement room where the temperatures regularly hit the triple digits. 

That said, as heinous a job as it was, it at least gave me an opportunity to examine and assess my own humanity. I didn't really pick up on it at the time, but that crappy (once again, literally) summer job ended up teaching me quite a few ugly, and undeniably important, truths - as abysmal as those months at the retirement home may have been, I at least walked away a wiser, worldlier soul. And now, dear readers? I'm going to impart that critical (however distressing) knowledge unto you...

Horrible Truth Number One:
Nobody gives a shit about old people ... even their own families.

Just the core concept behind nursing homes is depressing as all hell; it's a place where irritated, inconvenienced adult children ship their problematic, usually senile moms and dads off to piss and shit on themselves in the company of total strangers until they die completely alone, isolated from all the people they ever loved and cared about. Even with Alzheimer's turning your hippocampus into pulled pork and a potpourri of  mind-numbing drugs pumped into your guts on a daily basis, that has to be one of the cruelest, sickest and most disheartening things anyone could possibly imagine.

For all the incessant news coverage afforded to teen suicides, we tend to overlook that the over 65-crowd is actually the most likely demographic to kill themselves. And really, can you blame them? You are basically locked inside a dark, stinky room seven days a week, with your obviously unconcerned and unsympathetic family visiting you once a week (if you are lucky) for a meaningless check-up, primarily out of guilt as opposed to genuine affection.

While it's understandable (although by no means commendable) that nurses just don't care that much about nursing home tenants, the disregard displayed by the tenants' own families is often just bewildering. I remember one woman who used to push herself up against the plexiglass next to the front entrance, cradling a teddy bear, who always told me that, that day, she was finally going to get to see her grandchildren. She would just stare out the window, peering into the parking lot with her eyes twinkling and her mouth agape, almost as if she was awaiting the second coming of Jesus (the faith leader, not the tan guy who did the drywall that summer.) Eventually, she wound up getting kicked out of the facility, because her kids just stopped paying for her room and board. Two days before she was to be transferred to a shitty assisted living rat-hole in the slummiest part of town, she had a heart attack and died; she ended up being buried in a pine box, because none of her relatives felt like footing the bill for a real funeral.

Horrible Truth Number Two:
Old people are racist as fuck, and they just don't care.

Of course, that's not say nursing home tenants themselves can't be all sorts of pricks, assholes and dildos. Seeing as how the nursing home I worked out was populated almost exclusively by aged southerners who spent half their lives in a pre-Civil Rights Movement world, it's probably not all that shocking that, from time to time, I would her a resident spot off the occasional hurtful slur and epithet.

Now, it's not so much that you were hearing these blue-hairs and chrome-domes drop the "n-word" as much as it was how goddamn casual they were about uttering them. I recall this one curmudgeon, who used to roll up his wheelchair next to the nurse's desk and berate them. During one rant, I heard him use the term "nigger" no less that two dozen times, which was extra-funny, since all the nurses working that shift were either Hispanic or Asian.

Of course, since the residents are so old and feeble-minded, the staffers usually just laughed off their hateful rhetoric as the harmless musings of old coots. One of the nurses was an extraordinarily cheery black woman, who took her verbal abuse like a champion pacifist. Despite being called a virtual dictionary of racial slurs (that summer was my introduction to the term "golliwog," among other quaint, antediluvian phrases), she always sweetly replied with "that's OK, honey, I know you really don't mean that," which -- inexplicably -- always seemed to put an end to the bigotry. That is, except for the aforementioned curmudgeon, who always responded, "no, I really do hate you blue gums!" at the top of his lungs.

Horrible Truth Number Three:
Nurses are quite possibly the worst human beings on the planet.

In a lot of ways, nurses are both underpaid and underappreciated. It's not an easy profession, to be sure -- while doctors make their triple digit salaries hooking up people with the pharmaceutical du jour, nurses are the ones really working down in the trenches, forced to do all of the really hard and disgusting jobs, like drawing blood and jamming catheters into gross dude's pee holes... and all for just a third of a physician's paycheck.

That said, nurses can still be some downright terrible human beings, and nothing exemplifies that more than some of the "professionals" I had the pleasure of working with a decade ago. For starters, there was one nurse in particular who was practically Percy Wetmore from "The Green Mile," only in really cheap lipstick and nauseating perfume. She had a habit of mocking patients right in front of their faces, including mimicking the pained muttering of a man with half his jaw missing. She also belittled a 40-something-old patient (yes, invalids under the age of 65 are routinely placed in nursing homes, too) who wound up paralyzed after a suicide attempt. Her response after hearing his heart-wrenching story? "Well, I bet you won't try that again, will you?" Another nurse said some of the most incredibly offensive things you will ever hear. Following the death of a former employee -- who passed away during a gastric bypass operation -- she made the following utterance: "well, she'll finally lose all that weight once she's a skeleton, won't she?" She also had a knack for making fun of her Micronesian colleagues -- she called them "chaw chaws" because of their admittedly nasty betel nut sucking habits -- and even had the audacity to ask a coworker, who was going through chemotherapy, "if she missed her hair yet."

Alas, the big, dark secret of the nursing profession is just how many of them are unabashed drug addicts. Shockingly, a good 90 percent of the nurses at the retirement home were smokers, and quite a few drank while on the job. However, that all pales in comparison to the pill swapping that went on; as in, the nurses would literally steal the high-powered pharmaceuticals from their patients' rooms and either a.) sell them after work, or b.) trade them for other ill-gotten prescription meds with other nurses. Through the grapevine, I heard that some of the nurses were actually involved in some serious pill mill operations -- as in, the kind of shit that gets the ATF called on you. And they weren't the only employees doing some shady, underhanded things, on the clock and off...

Horrible Truth Number Four:
There are NO standards when it comes to who can work at a nursing home.

You may be wondering what the criteria is for a nursing home employee. Obviously, the nurses have to have the prerequisite certifications, but for everybody else? As long as you can turn in an application with semi-legible handwriting, that's usually all you need to get your foot in the door.

At the retirement home I worked at, there was no criminal background check for most positions. As one of the few employers in the area that waived such a consideration, it's probably not all that surprising that the nursing home became a proverbial Noah's Ark for the formerly incarcerated. There were at least three guys in the cleaning crew who had done serious time (we're talking multi-year felony sentences here) and there were even a few folks working in the cafeteria who had violent sexual crimes on their rap sheets. As I come to learn, nursing homes are one of the few evergreen employment opportunities for registered sex offenders, since its pretty much a guarantee that nobody under the age of 18 will ever be on the premises for more than a few hours.

As you'd expect, most of the positions, thankfully, were hands off, meaning folks of the sort were relegated to mechanical positions -- laundry room duties, landscaping, kitchen work, etc. -- that really didn't require much human interaction. Alas, the nursing home gig still afforded plenty of opportunities for criminal mischief; one of my coworkers was busted for stealing TVs out of residential rooms, while another just flat out told me his custodial job was a front so he could, and I quote, "sell rocks from 4:30 to 10 at night."

Horrible Truth Number Five:
Dementia is a fate worse than death itself ... but it does have its upsides. 

Dementia is something not a lot of us ever think about. Us, being the young Turks we are, can't really imagine anything happening more than 20 minutes into the future, so it''s only natural that we'd rarely -- if ever -- dwell upon the notion of old age robbing us of our mental faculties.

According to at least one group that may or may not be alarmists trying to garner more money for themselves, dementia is one of the fastest growing diseases in the United States, with national spending on treatment of Alzheimer's and it's similar age-related mental diseases expected to surpass the one trillion a year mark by the midpoint of the century. The correlated loss of brain functions associated with such diseases, another organization tells us, actually makes dementia by proxy one of the nation's leading causes of death already.

Unless you experience it second-hand, day-in and day-out,  I don't think you can truly grasp just how horrific Alzheimer's actually is. It's a disease that not only destroys your ability to think -- and thusly, take care of even the most basic of bodily functions any more -- it's also a disease that supposedly entails immense physical and neurological pain. Some of the less-spoke-of after effects of extreme dementia include hallucinations, blindness, deafness and the inability to regulate tactile sensations like heat and cold. Despite what the media depicts, senility isn't a slow dissent into unreality and ignorance, it's actually a never-ending battle against one's own body. I spoke to an Alzheimer's expert recently, and she told me something that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up: that people with extreme dementia actually retain most of their normal mental faculties, like memorization and motor skills, it's just that their physical body is shutting down and completely fucking up how they perceive the world around them. In short? Alzheimer's is the state of your brain living on while your organs are literally dying. Your thoughts, your very consciousness, becomes entrapped in a bag of nonfunctional meat and bones -- in essence, turning those afflicted into what very much could be considered the living dead.

As nightmarish as senility is, however, it does seem to have at least one positive thing going for it. Since everybody around you more or less views you as a human being with the cognizance of a four-year-old, that means its astoundingly easy to get away with some things. Case in point? One of the patients at my nursing home was actually one of the most ingenious criminal minds I have ever met; with everyone around him thinking he was some delusional coot, he used their brazen ignorance to rob the place blind, stealing from his neighbors, nurses and contracted workers. Like some sort of expert pickpocket, he would wait until the nurses went to the bathroom, then he would pilfer through the purses for stray ones and fives. The nurses being the catty, confrontational sorts they were, they all blamed each other for the rash of thefts, not for one second fathoming the idea that one of the residents could be the culprit. One time, he even stole the keys from a guy unloading a vending machine; while the stocker soon sprang to the front desk to make a hectic phone call, the old dude just rolled over to the machine and started yanking out quarters like it was a slot machine.

My last week on the job, I actually asked him about his thieving ways. I just had too many questions -- where did he hide the money, and ultimately, what was he using it for? Since he just sat there silently, I tried to change the subject, asking him if he had any kids. Once again, he sat there, without uttering a single word.

And then, right when I was about to leave his room? He spoke.

"Yeah, I've got a kid. And he's got a kid about your age," he told me. "And like him, you better keep your goddamn mouth shut."

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ten Nintendo-Themed Attractions I Want to See at Universal Studios

The rides, amenities and spectacles that should definitely be a part of the new partnership.

Earlier this year, it was announced that the Big N it will be partnering with Universal Studios in something of a mega-merger between outmoded properties that have somehow outlived their respective cultural relevancy for decades. While details on the ultimate outcome of this arrangement have yet to be finalized or publicized, it’s a pretty safe bet that the end result will resemble something quite similar to the Wii-U launch offering “Nintendo Land,” which was basically just a shittier version of “Rollercoaster Tycoon,” but with way more Star Fox imagery and really underwhelming mini-games. Alas, the core concept certainly has some potential, and if given the proper approach and implementation, some of the new Nintendo-branded attractions could be downright awesome.

So, what kind of Nintendo-related things do I want to see at Universal Studios? Well, here's a quick listing of ten attractions that would get me hauling a-double-s to Orlando in a hurry...

Real Life Mario Kart!

As soon as I heard about the partnership, this was the first thing that entered my mind; it’s the most obvious thing in the world, and a draw that would probably get the Nintendo-weaned masses to flock to Universal Studios all by itself. Just about every theme park has some kind of go-cart attraction, but only Universal can license an actual Mario Kart ride. I don’t care if they have to shut down Harry Potter World to pay for it, but with this kind of intellectual property in their lap, they simply HAVE to go all out. Oh, that’s right, I want huge soundstage courses, complete with goddamn drain pipes just jutting out of the middle of the course, and I want a ton of ramps, mounds and cannons to jump over. And if there aren’t some gigantic gophers waiting to greet me when I veer off course, there’s going to be complaints a plenty. Granted, I am not entirely sure how all of this would be pieced together, or even if the technology currently exists to make it a reality, but by golly, my life just won’t be complete until I LITERALLY shoot a heat seeking turtle shell at somebody, or watch one of my loved ones flip over 18 times after running over a banana peel. The lawyers at Universal may be a little hesitant on this one, but take my word for it; I, and millions of others all around the world, would gladly sign off on a no-liability, wrongful-death immunity waiver if it meant we got to tear ass around a real Rainbow Road just once.

 Live-Action Donkey Kong!

Next to “Pac-Man,” there probably isn’t a more recognizable gaming mechanic than the one featured in “Donkey Kong.” You start at the beginning of a construction site and work your way up to the top, avoiding barrels and using a sledgehammer to beat the shit out of things. It’s so simple and so undeniably appealing, like warm sunshine in spring or an unexpected blowjob from the missus, just because. As an attraction, I figured Universal could set up some kind of “Ninja Warrior”/“Nickelodeon GUTS” type of sound stage, where they put you in a helmet and some rock climbing cords and allow you to literally traverse your way up a replica of the iconic arcade game’s first stage. The goal, of course, would be to travel all the way to the top of the six or seven story frame, all the while avoiding obstacles and hazards. And shit, all Universal really has to do here is dust off the old “King Kong” robot and half the work is done for them.

Kid Icarus: The Ride!

I’m not really sure what the attraction itself would consist of, but this much, I know: the line for this thing would take forever.

The Nintendo House of Revisionism!

How about a museum dedicated to all of the inconvenient truths of the past that Nintendo and their fan boys have ever-so-graciously swept under the rugs of history? Marvel at the 16-bit wars wing, which completely omits software sales from 1991 to 1994, and the Hall of Rare, in which all of the games that were endlessly praised on the SNES and N64 are remembered as being overrated, formulaic shit in hindsight. Those seeking some suspicious historical claims will learn that the Virtua Boy was actually ahead of its time, that GBA connectivity really was a smarter investment than functional online gaming and that "friend codes" were a stroke of marketing genius. And boy oh boy, just wait until you make it to the Wii-U hardware sales spin-a-rama exhibit, and a hands-on-gallery evaluating the company’s human rights track record!

The Urban Champion Experience!

While the NES game “Urban Champion” is largely remembered as one of the worst Nintendo-produced titles ever, the premise behind the game is certainly intriguing: a bunch of ruffians pummel each other outside a high-rise, conveniently pretending to whistle whenever the po-po drive by and periodically getting bonked on the head by potted plants dropped out of windows by elderly shut-ins. Naturally, this lends itself perfectly to a family-friendly stage spectacle -- just imagine the cheers from both the young and the young-at-heart alike when the first street urchin gets dropkicked down a manhole!

The Legend of Zelda De-Mystifier!

It sure can get hot in Orlando during the summer months, so why not give patrons an opportunity to chill out with this unique, “Zelda”-branded amenity? Visitors can escape the hot sun and get a refreshing blast of misty water, all the while being reminded that “StarTropics” and “Crystalis” were way better versions of the first game, that “Link” on the NES was utter shit, and that a whole host of 16-bit action-adventure games -- including “Secret of Mana,” “Terranigma” and even “Crusader of Centy” on the Genesis -- basically did everything “A Link to the Past” did, except better.

The Super Mario Sunshine Fun Zone!

Hey, remember how excited we all got when “Mario 128” was first demoed? Do you also remember how terrible you felt when that morphed into “Super Mario Sunshine,” and you paid $50 bucks American for a virtual janitorial simulator? Well, the Super Mario Sunshine Fun Zone allows children of all ages to relive ALL of the whimsy and excitement of the super-disappointing GC title, with attendees being fitted with custom-designed FLUDD packs of their own and set out on a dizzying array of fun adventures, including “cleaning up shit at Harry Potter World,” “washing the windows at the Kwik-E-Mart,” and of course, “emptying out the trash bins next to the Jaws ride.” It’s good, cleaning fun for the whole family, and it keeps Universal Studios from having to hire another Cuban migrant to do menial labor!

The Pokemon Live Challenge ... presented by PETA!

Who wouldn't want to witness the sheer whimsy and magic of a LIVE-ACTION Poke-battle (outside of those who don't have autism spectrum disorders?) The Pokemon live challenge would bring all the wonders of the famous video game series/cartoon that gives people seizures to life, through extravagant sets, Hollywood-quality costumes and of course, plenty of state-of-the-art optical illusions. But then, right before Pikachu is set to square off against Jigglypuff, a small platoon of protesters swarm the battleground, decrying Poke-battles as cruel, inhumane and illegal blood sports no different than dog-fighting. For the next 20 minutes, vivid, extremely disturbing photographs of malnourished puppies and kitties are displayed on screen, while Sarah McLaughlin singles are blasted at full volume. For the grand finale, members of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals actually go out into the audience and chide individuals for eating hot dogs -- certainly, it's the type of experience no youngster will ever forget.

The Minus World Spectacular!

A tribute to the legendary “glitch” from the first “Super Mario Bros.” game, this aquatic themed ride would put visitors on a synthetic underwater journey, where they will encounter a number of iconic Mushroom Kingdom villains, such as the puffer fish and squid enemies, up close and personal. And just like the infamous “minus world” in the video game, the ride itself will continue indefinitely, until patrons decide to storm the control booth and shut the goddamn thing off for good.

The Wizard Meta-Experience!

Of course, how could a Nintendo and Universal Studios joint project exist without an oblique nod to the two companies' first ill-fated partnership? In The Wizard Meta-Experience, you fill the shoes of Fred Savage, as you hectically scramble through a virtual recreation of Universal Studios, circa 1989, to find your idiot savant brother. Along the way, you'll have to use your wits to outsmart a callous Child Protective Services representative (the key is to falsely accuse him of a sex crime against a minor, which results in his near-fatal pummeling at the hands of truck drivers!) and scramble past the stage of Video Armageddon, which for some reason, has been ret-conned to display nothing but advertisements for "Splatoon." After a thrilling conclusion involving a giant Mattel Power Glove leaping out at you like in the "Spider-Man" ride, the thrilling attraction wraps up with you and your fellow riders just ambling through the California desert, wondering just who in the fuck could have ever thought such was a sensible and worthwhile marketing decision.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Taco Bell's All New TACO BISCUITS!

Surely, it has to be a better menu item than the waffle taco, right?

It's been a while since I last wrote about Taco Bell. Alas, that's what happens when the best you can give the general public are quesadillas masquerading as nachos ... come on guys, we all know we're having the wool pulled over our eyes on that one

Of course, there are a few new additions to the Taco Bell breakfast menu, and I recently woke up before noon for a change to try a few of them. Anchoring the new wave of morning-time products is the "Taco Biscuit," which is ... well, pretty much exactly what it sounds like, I guess. The Bell is offering a pretty lengthy set of permutations of the item; you can get one with egg and cheese, sausage and egg, and sausage and cheese only, or you can spring another dollar and get the two marquee variations, the egg, cheese AND bacon biscuit taco and the egg, cheese AND sausage biscuit taco. Obviously, if we're going to cover these products in-depth, we have to try the deluxe edition; I know the readers here at IIIA expect absolutely nothing less in terms of semi-sincere fast food journalism. And as an added bonus (as opposed to one of those rare subtracted bonuses), I even plunked down some change for a newer-ish Crunchwrap product, which is we all know by now, is among the greatest delicacies ever presented by a national food chain. And I am being 100 percent honest about that, I think. 

So first up, we've got our sausage, egg and cheese taco biscuit. In case you were wondering, we are indeed working with a legitimate flour biscuit base here, although it may appear as if the animal byproduct contents are housed inside a chalupa tortilla. 

I am not really sure how the product fares compared to your standard Egg McMuffin, since I haven't really tried a fast food biscuit in like, 10 or so years. I don't know if it is my mind working against me or the product itself is that starchy, but I really had a bit of difficulty swallowing the dough. It was super duper salty, which is something you really don't expect from a Taco Bell product. After a few chews, I was able to gulp it down sans incident, but just to be on the safe side? If you plan on eating one of these things, I HIGHLY suggest having a beverage nearby. 

The other taco biscuit, strangely enough, did not look anything like its menu stablemate. Here, the cheese seemed to almost seal the taco biscuit shut like an envelope, with the yellowy-egg contents flowing from the sides of the item like a set of yolky jug handles.

Strangely enough, the bacon, egg and cheese taco biscuit was something of a misnomer, since the contents therein were actually much closer to being bacon bits than legitimate bacon strips. Even weirder, the bacon bits were literally buried underneath the eggs, residing in this shadowy, subcutaneous cavern near the bottom of the biscuit. From a logistical standpoint, the problem here should be obvious -- every time you tilt the taco biscuit to take a bite, half the goddamn bacon rolls out the other side. Granted, it's not exactly a problem that's unsolvable (if you pinch the corners of the biscuit shut, nowhere near as much salted pork flows out), but it's still a bit of a nuisance, especially for a breakfast item meant to be eaten on the go. 

As decent as the Taco Biscuits where, however, if you stop by any Taco Bell in the morning and don't walk away with some kind of Crunchwrap permutation, you've failed life and hard. Seeing as how I've already tried out the gravy sausage and California avocado blends, I decided to try out the only A.M. Crunchwrap offering that, up to this point, I haven't wrapped my lips and bicuspids around; the steak, egg and cheese variation.

As expected, the stuff was just dynamite. Never in a million years what I have thought smashing a hashbrown inside a tortilla and marinating the inside with chipotle sauce would've led to a superlative fast food offering, but paint me all shades of wrong, folks. Really, this concept has no boundaries; I am convinced you could chunk Spam and pineapple rings inside one of these things and it would still taste marvelous. Needless to say, the steak, egg and cheese 'Wrap was an utter delight, and in my humblest o' opinions, worlds better than either of the taco biscuits I tried. It's no skin off the proverbial tits of the biscuits, though; they were quite good for what they were, but frankly, outside of the weird shape, they weren't anything you couldn't pick up at a gas station. This Crunchwrap though? There's only one place in the freaking world you can get one of those, and I reckon it's some of the best money you'll spend on any kind of breakfast offering, fast food or otherwise. That kind of begs the question, however: why isn't Taco Bell selling these babies all day long? I await your response, Bell ... me and everybody else in America. 



One of my biggest complaints about Taco Bell has always been the sauce selections. Not only did they take away that really savory, smoky salsa that used to come in a purple packet, the so-called "fire sauce" the establishment has been touting as its "hottest" condiment is one of the most pitifully weak offerings of its kind at any restaurant. At least the guys at Huddle House leave a bottle of Tapatio to sprinkle on your omelets -- at the Bell, we are afforded no such luxuries.

While Del Taco tends to lose the overall food quality battle, they've no doubt trumped Taco Bell in terms of sauces for years now. Well, much to my jubilant surprise, I recently learned that T.B. has begun offering an all new "Diablo Sauce," and fellas, it does NOT disappoint. The packaging alone is just bad-ass, a pitch black packet with about two dozen scorching hell fires emblazoned upon it. Before you even open this sucker up, you just know it's going to tear your tongue a new asshole. You know, if tongues actually had assholes and stuff. 

It's kind of hard to describe the overall taste and texture of the sauce, but I assure you it is nothing at all like the puny "fire sauce" offering. In addition to have a spicy kick that at least equals Del Taco's hottest salsa, the newfangled Diablo Sauce is also a lot smokier and chunkier, with a nice, meaty flavor that really adds some texture to your burrito. Not only is it hot as hell, it's also flavorful as hell, and it really gels quite well with a whole host of Bell offerings. I'm not quite sure if it is a regional-only item or something that's gone nationwide, but the next time you're near a Taco Bell, feel free to waltz on in there and ask the manager if he or she has a couple of packets in yet. And then, when their back is turned, stuff about 20 of the motherfuckers into your pockets ... remember, the unspoken social code considers condiments public amenities, and are therefore free to all. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Living in a Trans-Utopia

A few unanswered questions about the transgender rights movement...

The thing that strikes me most about the transgender rights movement is how its rallying mantra is the exact opposite of the gay rights movement. While the LGBT movement strived to show the masses that being who you are is something you should never be ashamed of (unless, of course, you don’t share the same views they do, at that point, you are an unabashed hatemonger), the trans-rights movement is trying to convince the public that it’s totally cool to be something other than what you actually are.

If you were born with a pair of gonads and port about the SRY protein and you want to say you’re a woman, than by golly, saying precisely that is all you need to do to make it so nowadays. Of course, making that long internalized “true” self is almost always accompanied by tons of hormonal therapies and costly sex reassignment surgeries, but thank goodness such procedures are publicly funded through Medicare!

Alas, there are some structural curiosities afoot here. As we’ve already discussed before, there is a rigid biological determinant explicitly spelling out what makes a man a man and a woman a woman -- amputate as many genitals as you want, but at the end of the day, modern science just can’t override that pesky genetic code. As such, the transgender debate really puts us in a precarious predicament, where the cultural zeitgeist is DEMANDING that we substitute irrefutable scientific knowledge in favor of a much more cozy social science explanation for gender.

For a moment, let’s think about this critically (a hard feat for U.S. public school grads, I know.) If gender is a flexible social construct, regardless of the hard biological data, then doesn’t that mean that other supposedly “ingrained” traits and characteristics can also be simply written off as matters of personal preference?

Interestingly enough, while considering “gender” as anything other than a socially-learned imposition is considered modern day heresy, applying that same constructionist viewpoint to “sexuality” is completely off-limits. There, the only culturally permissible outlook is that sexual orientation is hard-wired into one’s DNA -- this, despite a rather large volume of scientific research suggesting (ever so hatefully and wrongfully, of course) that sexuality may indeed be shaped be one’s early childhood experiences. Frankly, I’ve always wondered why those convicted of sexual offenses haven’t used the same mode of logic used by the anti-constructionist set -- after all, pedophilia and rapists are merely individuals born with those unchangeable sexual dispositions, no?

Along those same lines, let’s say someone wanted to take a constructionist stance on race (yet again, another inarguable biological reality that liberal-types like to pretend only exists in the minds of racists.) That means that, without an iota of irony, I could just declare myself an African-American tomorrow, and since race is allegedly a personally-defined construct, nobody could tell me otherwise, despite my gleaming mayonnaise complexion. Call me crazy, but something tells me the Black Panthers probably wouldn’t accept me as one of their own, even after I got my skin dyed, had hair implants and underwent reproductive organ lengthening procedures. Naturally, I could extend that constructionist viewpoint to create an ethnic-fluid identity, too -- I mean, why can’t I consider myself Han Chinese on Monday and an Ashkenazi Jew on Tuesday?  It’s my personal right to describe myself as an Iroquois, and if those injuns say otherwise, they are nothing more than malicious bigots denying me my natural rights.

Funny how we can all accept Bruce Jenner labeling himself as a woman, but recoil in disgust at the idea of a white person even thinking about putting on blackface. Furthermore, I can’t imagine someone with blue eyes, blonde hair and a skin hue just north of bone white getting a favorable reaction from the congregants of a synagogue when he or she just up and appoints themselves a member of the Chosen People, uncircumcised shaft and all.

Interestingly enough, one of the few subcultures standing up to the transgender rights movement is the hardcore feminist contingent. The adherents of the “womyn born womyn” philosophy absolutely refuse to accept male-to-female transpeople as their own, choosing to stick to the strict scientific definition of womanhood instead. Intriguingly, this puts lesbians up against the transgender bloc in something of a definitional Thunder Dome -- and since the four-decades-old no transpeople-allowed Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is coming to a sudden end this year, it looks like the trans-folk have received the consensus cultural nod over the gay-women-folk.

Depending on your perspective, the ongoing success of the transgender-rights movement is either a colossal step forward for multicultural inclusivity or a gigantic punch to the gut of biological objectivity. Whether such is right or wrong is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s simply impossible to accept the transgender construct of gender and concrete biological sciences simultaneously; to say one is “correct” means the necessary refutation of the other.

The thing is, if we are going to be subjective about something as scientifically concrete as gender, we’re inevitably going to find ourselves making some very uncomfortable policy decisions in the future. To accommodate transpeople, should we authorize (or even subsidize) the medical castration of five-year-olds who say they want to live their lives as girls? Should we just do away with gender-specific public restrooms altogether, and let teenagers and college kids urinate and defecate together in post-post-modern harmony? Do we put MTF transpeople in women’s prisons, and FTM transpeople in men’s prisons? Furthermore, should MTF transpeople be allowed to attend women’s colleges -- and if those institutions say no, does the federal government need to send in the tanks and troops to make ‘em?

I don’t want to get in some sort of cartoonish slippery slope scenario, but codifying gender as a fluid, subjective personal descriptor certainly sets a precedent for things that, as a society, we perhaps just are not ready for. If sex is nothing more than a social construct, than why can’t we say things like age, height and weight are nothing more than cultural impositions as well? In fact, why bother using any sort of personal qualifiers whatsoever, since objective, standardized measures are inherently prejudicial?

Perhaps a more pressing question is whether or not American taxpayers ought to be the ones picking up the tab for transgender medical expenses. Sex change operations are already publicly financed via Medicaid in states like Oregon and New York, while California and Massachusetts recently enacted legislation barring private insurers from excluding “transitional care” from their policy coverage. Even deep in the heart of Dixie, Georgia residents are forking over portions of their income to pay for the hormone treatments of state prisoners.

An even more pressing question than that? Whether or not the transitional surgeries are even successful as “treatments.” According to a National Center for Transgender Equality report from 2010, transgender people were found to be 20 percent likelier to attempt suicide than the general population. Per their data, about 35 percent to 40 percent of pre-op transgender people attempt suicide. Among those who surgically transition, the rate of suicide attempts jumps up to 43 percent, while researchers indicate that about 45 percent of those who medically transitioned have, at least once, attempted to end their own lives.

When roughly half of the people who undergo such a specific medical procedure try to off themselves, some pretty heavy questions ought to arise. Unfortunately, in today’s trans-utopia, such inquires are totally off limits; we’ve just got to let people be who they want to be, I suppose, even if it kills them.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Return of French Toast Crunch!

The long-discontinued breakfast cereal has returned to supermarket shelves ... but is it really as good as we (want to) remember it? 

Kids, let's talk about the 1990s for a moment. The same way children who actually grew up in that decade had some completely fantastical perception of how great the 1970s were, today's grade schoolers and middle schoolers likewise believe the Clinton years were some kind of magical, glorious golden era, where everything was just peachy keen across the board. 

The problem here is oh-so-apparent. You see, kids naturally believe that pop culture is the only kind of culture that exists, and since people played the Sega Genesis and listened to Nirvana back then, it unequivocally had to be the best time to be alive in human history. Unfortunately, once you move beyond "All That" and Pop Qwiz Popcorn, you are left with what is at least two-thirds of a shitty decade, bogged down in a strangely forgotten recession made worse by a minimum wage that was practically half what it is today. And that's not to mention a much higher national violent crime rate, the absurdly higher prices for consumer products (dollar for dollar, just about every form of hardware and software was more expensive back then than today) and of course, the complete and utter lack of anything even remotely resembling the virtual social framework we can't live without for more than five minutes today. Oh, and did I mention the Rwandan Genocide, the Somalian Civil War and corresponding famine, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, the exploits of Jeffrey Dahmer, the Waco Siege, Columbine, the Rodney King race riots, and the Oklahoma City bombing? Hard to believe, I know, but there was actually a rather vicious, unsavory world going on around "Animaniacs" and Dunk-a-roos, no? 

Alas, the resurrection of French Toast Crunch is but yet another feeble attempt to recapture the alleged magic of the mid-1990s -- you know, that glorious epoch that gave us, among other things, Seal and a John Travolta movie where everybody white was treated like they were black and everybody that was black were pretty much acting like white people. As the name suggests, French Toast Crunch was/is an offshoot of the Cinnamon Toast Crunch brand from General Mills. Personally, I have never been a fan of that particular line (although undiagnosed, I am pretty sure I am actually allergic to that spice), and frankly, the only thing I really find interesting about the cereal is how it makes an uncredited appearance in "Super Mario Bros. 3." Just as you would imagine it, the cereal tastes ... well, nothing at all like French Toast, actually, since it's basically just the regular Cinnamon Toast Crunch foodstuff marinated in a synthetic maple syrup coating.

Granted, there are some noteworthy things about the cereal, but we will get back to that (and a formal taste-taste) towards the end of the article. First, I would like to bring your attention to the back packaging of the product, which contains among the finest, most absurd chronological reductionism in the history of mass-manufactured goods. 

The same way "Saved by the Bell" became a cultural phenomenon by giving children an uncomplicated, thoroughly sanitized conceptualization of what the American high school experience is, the "Remember the '90s?" quiz on the back of the relaunched French Toast Crunch boils down a rather intricate (and for the most part, morose) decade down to nothing more than anachronistic technologies, passe lingo and outmoded fashion. Strangely, I am not quite sure if the back packaging is trying to appeal to those who actually grew up with product or give the wee-ones of today some sort of painfully inauthentic primer on the pop cultural trends that, frankly, didn't have that much sociocultural import to begin with. 

Right off the bat, we have a bit of a chronological paradox going on. Since the product originally came out in the mid-1990s, at least half the things mentioned in the quiz would have been completely irrelevant by the time the original cereal actually came out. By 1995, both grunge and gangsta rap (here, referred to by the much more parent-friendly term "hip hop") were considered dying musical trends (the hottest act at the time the cereal came out, it is perhaps worth noting, was actually Hootie and the Blowfish), and the references to baggy, backward and god help us neon apparel are completely historically inaccurate, since as early as 1993, Kriss Kross was already considered a musical and fashion laughingstock. Additionally, I am pretty sure "Talk to the Hand" didn't really become a part of the white person lexicon until at least 1999, and that little factoid about gasoline being under a dollar? Nice try, but the average cost of a gallon of gas was actually $1.15 when French Toast Crunch was first released.

A lot of the remaining items on the quiz are just flat out contextually incorrect. The whole Y2K hullabaloo didn't really become a popular idea in the collective conscious until at least 1998, so if you were already preparing for the computer crash that never happened in 1995, you were probably living on a survivalist compound or something.

As far as the references to video stores, "the running man," and boy bands, pretty much all of those could be just as easily applicable to the 1980s and early 2000s, as well. In fact, I would argue that the item about frosting hair is much more a trapping of the 2000s than the 1990s, and that crack about playing more video games at home than at an arcade? I'm pretty sure that was the case even during the heyday of arcades back in the mid 1980s. The "chillin' at my crib" and "Wayne's World" nods, however, are pretty faithful -- if not rather insignificant -- aspects of the '90s experience, so I will give them proper acknowledgement on those, I guess.

The score chart, as you would expect, uses some very outdated verbiage to rank your 1990s expertise. Strangely enough, pretty much all of the terms really weren't commonplace until the late 1990s, so if you actually said "you're all that and a bag of chips" when the original cereal first came out you were either clairvoyant or considered a retard.

All right, so what to make of the cereal itself, you may be wondering? Well, to the uninitiated, it's pretty much everything you would expect it to be. It's more or less the exact same as Cinnamon Toast Crunch, albeit with an ever-so-slight pancake tincture. In terms of taste, it's not really my bag, but I have to admit: the overall texture on these things are just goddamn incredible. We will have to examine the product more in-depth, for sure.

No matter your opinion of the product or processed food, you have to admit: these cereal bits are absolutely gorgeous. They really do resemble miniature versions of toast, complete with a high-gloss, super-shiny exterior coat that almost makes them resemble plastic toys. In an era where most cereal manufacturers just throw out generically shaped puffs of wheat with undefined marshmallow blobs, you gotta' give General Mills their props here -- I may not like the way French Toast Crunch tastes, per se, but I can certainly appreciate its aesthetics.

At the end of the day, I am kinda on the fence about the reemergence of French Toast Crunch. For one thing, I really didn't enjoy the product as an actual meal-time offering, but I at least liked the idea of relaunching discontinued 1990s consumer products (I can't explain it, but holy shit, have I been craving Brach's Rocks for the better part of the year.) Let's just hope and pray that sales of this cereal are strong enough to convince other manufacturers to trot out some more obscure defunct brands -- anything that gets us one step closer to the second coming of Pepsi A.M., of course, is A-OK in my book.

This new-wave French Toast Crunch is really indicative of a unique phenomenon in contemporary consumer relations, with fringe Internet groups successfully lobbying for the return of old-school foodstuffs. Lest we forget, a gaggle of committed cereal aficionados actually CONVINCED a multi-billion dollar a year company two Halloweens ago to re-release and MASS MARKET two obscure cereal brandings that hadn't been seen on store shelves for at least a quarter century. That is a lot of power, when you really stop and think about it -- the fact that we are using that collective will to simply bring back retro food product says WAY more about Generation Y than I think any of us would like to dwell upon.

The inauthentic and fairly misplaced '90s adulation aside, however, I can get behind the core concept behind French Toast Crunch redux. It's one of the few form of nostalgic revivalism that actually make sense, seeing as how the experience of eating the product disappears forever as soon as the item leaves the marketplace (something you just can't say about solid-state media, such as music and film.) Personally, I've always wanted to sink my teeth into a Bell Beefer and wash it down with a can of Coke II, and who knows? As long as we keep a clamoring for the long-gone foods of yore, perhaps its only a matter of time until the Gods of the Marketplace shine their heavenly glow upon all of us.

Today, it's French Toast Crunch, tomorrow, it might just be Pop-Tarts Crunch Cereal and the return of the Wendy's Super Bar. With spoils that magnificent, I'd say that's a cultural battle well worth fighting, if you ask me...