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Friday, October 23, 2009

Weekly Top Five

Metalsucks.net Edition!

This week continues the October Halloween theme by taking a decidedly gorier turn. We all know that metal, blood, and Halloween have a long and storied history, so for this week's WT5 I've turned to my good friend at Metalsucks.net, Vince Neilstein, to help me decide the Top 5 Goriest Metal Album Covers.


Also, FYI, all this week I will be blacking out the album cover on the post but providing a link for you to view it. All of the covers are Parental Guidance Suggested, so if you are, or have young children who might be offended by gruesome depictions of death...probably steer clear of clicking those links.


5. Cattle Decapitation, Humanure

While San Diego grindsters Cattle Decapitation may have a false reputation as militant vegans (they're actually just peaceful vegetarians), their music most certainly does protest the mistreatment and consumption of animals and it does so in a brutally violent but often hilarious, mocking way. While the cover of 2002's To Serve Man may have put the band on the censorship map, 2004's follow-up Humanure has the absolute brutalest of all brutal Cattle Decapitation album covers. A cow sh**ting bloody, digested human remains? You can't beat that. The cover outraged retailers so much so that it became difficult to buy Humanure anywhere but on the Internet... not that your local Best Buy would've been likely to stock an album with songs called "Bukkake Tsunami" and "Applied Human Defragmentation" anyway.

Cattle Decap never fail to deliver with disturbing cover pieces -- their latest offering, 2009's The Harvest Floor, features humans being corralled into a slaughterhouse for execution, packaging and consumption.

About that hamburger... umm, no thanks, I'll pass.


-Vince Neilstein



4. Cannibal Corpse, Tomb of the Mutilated

No discussion of gory album covers would be complete without Cannibal Corpse, and no discussion about Cannibal Corpse would be complete without the cover of 1992's Tomb of the Mutilated. Cannibal Corpse practically invented gore metal and their album covers have always been downright disturbing, sparking the band's record label to issue alternate covers for use in PC retail establishments. Drawn by longtime CC album artist Vincent Locke, Tomb of the Mutilated is disturbing (and awesome!) in all sorts of ways. Almost as brutal as the album cover are the names of the songs on Mutilated. Here's the track-listing:

  1. "Hammer Smashed Face" – 4:04
  2. "I C*m Blood" – 3:41
  3. "Addicted to Vaginal Skin" – 3:31
  4. "Split Wide Open" – 3:02
  5. "Necropedophile" – 4:05
  6. "The Cryptic Stench" – 3:57
  7. "Entrails Ripped from a Virgin's C*nt" – 4:15
  8. "Post Mortal Ejaculation" – 3:37
  9. "Beyond the Cemetery" – 4:53
"Hammer Smashed Face" is of course one of the band's most famous songs, having been performed by the band in a scene in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

The censored cover version of the album didn't even list the song titles on the back -- you had to open up the liner notes to see those. Germany's government deemed Tomb of the Mutilated so gory that it banned this and the band's prior two albums between 1992 and 2006. When asked for comment, the German government declined to issue a statement on the irony of the use of death chambers during World War II.

-Vince Neilstein


3. Iron Maiden, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son


Iron Maiden aren't particularly known as much for the gore-factor of their album covers as they are the sheer awesomeness of their album covers, each featuring the band's long-time mascot Eddie. But with 1988's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, Maiden took a page out of the gore book by depicting a robotified Eddie torso holding his presumably still-beating heart in his hand. What's more, it looks like the heart has a little "O" face on the top of it, and with little outstretched arms... almost like there's a little dude trapped inside of that heart, trying to escape. Gory!

The album was the last to feature longtime guitarist Adrian Smith, who would later rejoin the band for 2000's comeback Brave New World. It was something of a concept album, exploring topics of good vs. evil, mysticism, prophetic vision, reincarnation and the afterlife. With the departure of Smith, Seventh Son was also the last worthwhile Maiden album the band released for quite some time. After Bruce Dickinson left a couple of albums later, it was all over until both came back for the aforementioned Brave New World.

-Vince Neilstein


2. Pantera, Far Beyond Driven

Nothing says "metal up your ass" like a drill up an ass, quite literally. That's what the original album cover of Pantera's 1994 landmark Far Beyond Driven depicted. Even the PC version, which had the drill bit penetrating a skull instead of an anus, is pretty f'n brutal. I can imagine how quickly the suits at Pantera's record label -- which was a major -- turned down this gory display of violence. The original cover is out there on eBay and such but fetches a pretty penny... if you have one, you're one of a lucky few.

-Vince Neilstein


1. Cannibal Corpse, Butchered at Birth

Come on, you didn't really think I'd let this one slip by just because I already chose a different Cannibal Corpse album cover, did you?

I don't think it will ever be possible to out-gore the cover of "Butchered At Birth." There's nothing more ghastly and terrifying than killing babies, and the way Vincent Locke depicted it here it just perfect. It's so disturbing.The only way this cover could possibly be any more gory/disturbing/brutal than it already is would be if the babies and/or mother had cancer. 'Cause cancer jokes are just absolutely off-limits, no matter what. But how could you even depict that? You can't. So yeah, this album cover wins the "goriest ever" award for the past, present and eternity.

-Vince Neilstein

On the Plains of Marathon

Week Seven
Goal: Run 24 miles with one 9 mile jog
Actual Miles Run: 15

Endnotes: Well, when you have an epic failure of a week like this one you have to simply look at the bright side, try to find successes no matter how small and just move forward. In this case I can find two particular spots of success that I can hang my hat on. For one, on Tuesday night I decided to go for a short run in the dark and in a particularly badly lit and uneven-sidewalked area of the Dirrty I bit it hardcore and scraped up both hands and elbows and knees. After an embarrassed look around to see if anyone saw my clumsiness, I picked myself up and finished the run despite my hands dripping blood and my knees feeling like they were doused in battery acid. So, while it wasn't one of my more graceful periods, I am awfully proud that I picked myself back up and kept going. I imagine running a marathon isn't going to feel very good so it is important to learn how to push the pain away and keep on keeping on.

The second pride point for me is that I made up for a lack of time on Thursday night by running twice throughout the day for a total of 5.5 miles, instead of just accepting I didn't have the time and settling for 3 mile day.

So, this week one of the ruminations that occured to, and then stuck with, me this week during my runs was that the use of the word "love" in music from the 1960s has some interesting connotations if you simply replace it with either the male or female sex organ. Now this may seem an awfully amatuerish observation to most of you, but once I made the connection between love and sex in 1960s pop music it seemed like this whole lurid world opened up to me. Here are some examples:

Led Zeppelin, "Whole Lotta Love": "I wanna give you my love/every inch of my love."
White Plains, "Baby Loves Lovin'": "My baby loves love/my baby loves lovin'/she's got what it takes/and she knows how to use it."
Ohio Express, "Yummy Yummy": "Yummy yummy yummy/I got love in my tummy."

Curious, isn't it? No wonder all those kids were so conflicted about sex and love, when all of their pop music was practically correlating the two on every track.

Anyway, I think I will do a lot better this week on the running.

Week Eight
Goal: 24 miles with a 9 mile jog.

Word of the Day!

hubris [hyoo-bruhs]
-noun
Overbearing pride or presumption.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Much of the critical reception for Spike Jonze’s latest mind-bending film, Where the Wild Things Are, has centered on whether it is a film for children or about children, which honestly is a rather strange discussion to have about a PG movie clearly aimed at children and their parents. Were there these same conversations when The Neverending Story came out? The Dark Crystal? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? It seems to me that no children’s movie in the last couple decades* has been so seriously considered for its filmic qualities, and as a result been critiqued as harshly as this one.

There are several reasons why the response has been so visceral: 1.) The production team is well-known, well-respected, and primarily identified with heady, thematic, adult material; 2.) There was a great deal of drama surrounding the original cut of the film being too scary for young children; 3.) The movie itself is a marvel and practically begs consideration beyond simply its merits for the younger demographics.

This movie has been in production for several years, with rumors and a ballooning budget spiraling out of it like gamma rays from a black hole, but nothing stoked the fires of enthusiasm among film geeks more than simply the pairing of Where the Wild Things Are and Spike Jonze. It was such an improbable match that on first rumor most people just assumed this movie would be brilliant and put it on their “must-see” lists. But as more stories emerged from the set (e.g. Dave Eggers, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, was co-writing the script, Jonze was using 7 foot tall fuzzy suits for the Wild Things, they were filming in a remote location in Australia) it became clear that Jonze was creating something truly spectacular**.

Then came the rumors that initial test-screenings of the film had proved too terrifying for younger viewers and that some aspects of the movie were going to have to be reshot and recut if Warner Bros. was going to distribute it, and also that the suits at WB were having second thoughts about the viability of the principal actor (Max Records)’s performance. While ultimately Warner Bros. fears proved unfounded they served to delay the release date of the film and inflate even further an already bloated hype-machine. So it was that by the time Where the Wild Things Are was finally released, most of the critics and film geeks*** were already primed for something truly special, perhaps even Oscar-worthy, and the film was practically guaranteed to be scrutinized more closely than perhaps a scrappy, heartfelt fantasy for children deserved to be. In short, the backlash began before the movie was even released.

Some critics claimed the film was too heady to be understood by children, while others said it was too boring to be truly appreciated by adults. All agreed that it was beautifully shot. But in their rush to place WTWTA either in the pantheon of timeless children’s movies or banish it forever into the bin of forgetfulness, most of these critics forgot to take a step back and try and meet the movie on its own terms. They forgot that sometimes the best children’s entertainment isn’t something that kids will understand the first go around.

I believe Where the Wild Things Are will be a classic film that today’s children will revisit several times throughout their lives. It will be as important to future generations of grown-up children as movies like The Neverending Story, The Dark Crystal, or Willow are to Generation X and Y, and the precise qualities which may make it frightening or complicated to young viewers today is exactly what will make it so poignant later in their lives.

There is no doubt about it; Where the Wild Things Are is a difficult movie. It depicts raw anger, violence, familial strife, sadness, and depression all with an honesty that may seem inappropriate for younger viewers, and yet there is also happiness and friendship and elation depicted with the same zeal. It is a movie that refuses to simply be a children’s movie, or a movie about childhood, but rather straddles the line between the two, becoming a movie that is about childhood as seen through the eyes of a child.

Therefore, as some critics have protested, not very much happens. As in, you can describe the plot in one sentence: an unruly young boy travels to a distant island, meets a bunch of big, shaggy beasts, frolics with them for awhile, and then goes home. But that is the life of a child, especially a boy on the edge of adolescence. Whole days are spent building forts, tackling one another, laughing wildly, and engaging in the last vestiges of world-building imagination before the real world steps in to cure them of that naivety and faith and wonder. Where the Wild Things Are captures just such a day in the life of a 9-year-old boy, when nothing seems to happen and yet everything happens, life happens, and with each game of tag or pile-on, with every rage-filled argument that boy becomes a man, in fits and starts, one small experience at a time.

Where the Wild Things Are is a success on several levels: it was number one at the box office its first weekend, exceeding expectations; it is a gorgeously filmed movie with a score (by Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) that soars and grumbles perfectly to the images; it has incredible performances from its voice and live-acting cast. But Jonze’s greatest coup is that he confounded everyone’s expectations to make a movie that is simple, honest, and open to interpretation by people of all ages. For the children the movie is funny, and the monsters are scary and empathetic at the same time, Max is relatable. If there are moments that seem scary or troubling that is all to the better, they are mysteries to figure out as one gets older, just as there were scary moments in past children’s classics. For the adults there is symbolism and beautiful images, and heartbreaking characters, raw emotions, and dialogue between the Wild Things that sometimes seems like conversations they would have with their friends. And if the story seems simple at times, that is all for the better, for in this age of postmodern hipster posturing, simplicity and honesty is refreshing.

Incredibly, despite all of the contradicting expectations hefted on this film before it was even released, Jonze has delivered a movie that has done the impossible; it is at once all things to all people, a heartfelt account of childhood and an entertaining film for children.



*Other than any of the 10 Pixar films.
**Whether it would be a spectacular success or flop remained to be seen, but either way it appeared it would be a spectacle.
***I, of course, being one of those film geeks who couldn't wait for this movie to come out.

Picks of the Week

Week Eight

Finally! My best week yet. I went 7 for 10 to up my total to 27 for 48, or 56%. While I took a chance in choosing Wisconsin over Iowa, I don’t think there was any way I could have known Virginia Tech and Nebraska would crap the bed the way they did. So all in all I feel good about my picks. This week there aren’t a whole lot of marquee games, but there are a ton of trap games for Top 25 teams. Let the upsets roll!


Minnesota at No. 19 Ohio State
Seven days ago this match-up wouldn’t have even made my list, but if OSU can lose to Purdue they sure as heck can lose to a decent Minnesota team. But, I think OSU learned their lesson and will pull this one out. It’ll be close.
Ohio State 28 Minnesota 24

South Florida at No. 20 Pittsburgh
South Florida played Cincinnati close the whole game last weekend and I don’t think Pitt is nearly as good as Cinci. I’m officially putting Pitt on upset watch. South Florida in a nail-biter.
South Florida 24 Pittsburgh 21

Tennessee at No. 2 Alabama
The Third Weekend in October, always a big weekend in these southern parts. I’m sure Volunteer fans would love to spoil ‘Bama’s BCS hopes, but unfortunately I don’t think it will happen. Alabama seems to be too complete a team to fall at home. However UT’s defense will keep this one close and respectable.
Alabama 24 Tennessee 14

No. 13 Penn State at Michigan
This is another big trap game for a Top 25 team. Penn State is coming into the Big House and with UM is coming off of a massive win over Delaware State. Tate Forcier should be healthy for this game and will be looking to reestablish UM as a power in the Big 10. A win over the Nittany Lions would go a long way toward doing just that.
Michigan 34 Penn State 28

Oklahoma at No. 25 Kansas
Kansas is on the ropes after getting clobbered by Colorado last week and Oklahoma, even without Bradford, is still a good team. Even though on paper this is an upset, Oklahoma should walk away with the W.
Oklahoma 28 Kansas 21

No. 6 Iowa at Michigan State
Even with a 7-0 record the Hawkeyes are still difficult to pin down. With big wins over Penn State and Wisconsin you’d think they would be the talk of the nation, but there’s also those pesky near-losses to Northern Iowa, Michigan, and Arkansas St which question whether this team is ready to play with the big boys. I think Sparty will give them a run for their money. But Iowa is tough and will hold off the Michigan State attack just enough to pull out another close one.
Iowa 28 Michigan State 17

No. 8 TCU at No. 16 Brigham Young
This is for all the marble in the Mountain West. Both teams are undefeated in the conference so the winner will more or less win the whole thing. But there’s more on the table than just a conference championship. TCU needs a win here in order to remain in the Top 10 as a BCS buster, and BYU could sure use another statement win to take a little of the sting out of the Florida State loss earlier in the season.
TCU 24 Brigham Young 14

Auburn at No. 9 LSU
Auburn is a tough team but the loss last week to Kentucky didn’t help their claim to SEC dominance any. I think LSU is on too much of a roll to trip here.
LSU 24 Auburn 10

No. 3 Texas at Missouri
Texas needs to win this one big in order to leap frog Alabama or Florida into the Top 2. But like a said last week all Texas really has to do is keep winning because eventually either Florida or ‘Bama will have a loss.
Texas 32 Missouri 21

Oregon State at No. 7 USC
This is another big trap game. The Beavers chewed away USC’s BCS championship hopes last year and they’ll look to do it again on Saturday. USC is vulnerable but I think it makes a difference where this game is played and with the venue being a home game for USC I think they’ll pull it out.
USC 38 Oregon State 28

Weekly Top Five

Metalsucks.net Edition!

2. Pantera, Far Beyond Driven

Nothing says "metal up your ass" like a drill up an ass, quite literally. That's what the original album cover of Pantera's 1994 landmark Far Beyond Driven depicted. Even the PC version, which had the drill bit penetrating a skull instead of an anus, is pretty f'n brutal. I can imagine how quickly the suits at Pantera's record label -- which was a major -- turned down this gory display of violence. The original cover is out there on eBay and such but fetches a pretty penny... if you have one, you're one of a lucky few.

-Vince Neilstein




5. Cattle Decapitation, Humanure
4. Cannibal Corpse, Tomb of the Mutilated
3. Iron Maiden, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
2. Pantera, Far Beyond Driven

Word of the Day!

epicene [ep-uh-seen]
-adjective
1. Having the characteristics of both sexes.
2. Effeminate; unmasculine.
3. Sexless; neuter.
4. (Linguistics) Having but one form of the noun for both the male and the female.
-noun
1. A person or thing that is epicene.
2. (Linguistics) An epicene word.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Weekly Top Five

Metalsucks.net Edition!

3. Iron Maiden, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son


Iron Maiden aren't particularly known as much for the gore-factor of their album covers as they are the sheer awesomeness of their album covers, each featuring the band's long-time mascot Eddie. But with 1988's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, Maiden took a page out of the gore book by depicting a robotified Eddie torso holding his presumably still-beating heart in his hand. What's more, it looks like the heart has a little "O" face on the top of it, and with little outstretched arms... almost like there's a little dude trapped inside of that heart, trying to escape. Gory!

The album was the last to feature longtime guitarist Adrian Smith, who would later rejoin the band for 2000's comeback Brave New World. It was something of a concept album, exploring topics of good vs. evil, mysticism, prophetic vision, reincarnation and the afterlife. With the departure of Smith, Seventh Son was also the last worthwhile Maiden album the band released for quite some time. After Bruce Dickinson left a couple of albums later, it was all over until both came back for the aforementioned Brave New World.

-Vince Neilstein

5. Cattle Decapitation, Humanure
4. Cannibal Corpse, Tomb of the Mutilated
3. Iron Maiden, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son

Word of the Day!

debouch [dih-bowch; -boosh]
-intransitive verb
1. To march out (as from a wood, defile, or other narrow or confined spot) into the open.
2. To emerge; to issue.
-transitive verb
1. To cause to emerge or issue; to discharge.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Little Crow's Links

I dunno why* but I woke up this morning just feeling good about the world. So it was more than fitting that I stumbled on these life-affirming photos from the BBC's Landscape Photographer of the Year Awards. Absolutely beautiful.

On a related note, since I'm posting links about good photography I'll take this opportunity to highlight one of Beardo's friends, James, who takes the most incredible photos of liquor bottles.



*Maybe it's cuz this was the first morning in about a week I haven't woken up feeling like I had the Black Death.

Weekly Top Five

Metalsucks.net Edition!

4. Cannibal Corpse, Tomb of the Mutilated

No discussion of gory album covers would be complete without Cannibal Corpse, and no discussion about Cannibal Corpse would be complete without the cover of 1992's Tomb of the Mutilated. Cannibal Corpse practically invented gore metal and their album covers have always been downright disturbing, sparking the band's record label to issue alternate covers for use in PC retail establishments. Drawn by longtime CC album artist Vincent Locke, Tomb of the Mutilated is disturbing (and awesome!) in all sorts of ways. Almost as brutal as the album cover are the names of the songs on Mutilated. Here's the track-listing:

  1. "Hammer Smashed Face" – 4:04
  2. "I C*m Blood" – 3:41
  3. "Addicted to Vaginal Skin" – 3:31
  4. "Split Wide Open" – 3:02
  5. "Necropedophile" – 4:05
  6. "The Cryptic Stench" – 3:57
  7. "Entrails Ripped from a Virgin's C*nt" – 4:15
  8. "Post Mortal Ejaculation" – 3:37
  9. "Beyond the Cemetery" – 4:53
"Hammer Smashed Face" is of course one of the band's most famous songs, having been performed by the band in a scene in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

The censored cover version of the album didn't even list the song titles on the back -- you had to open up the liner notes to see those. Germany's government deemed Tomb of the Mutilated so gory that it banned this and the band's prior two albums between 1992 and 2006. When asked for comment, the German government declined to issue a statement on the irony of the use of death chambers during World War II.

-Vince Neilstein

5. Cattle Decapitation, Humanure
4. Cannibal Corpse, Tomb of the Mutilated

Word of the Day!

clerisy [kler-uh-see]
-noun
The well educated class; the intelligentsia.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Weekly Top Five

Metalsucks.net Edition!

This week continues the October Halloween theme by taking a decidedly gorier turn. We all know that metal, blood, and Halloween have a long and storied history together, so for this week's WT5 I've turned to my good friend at Metalsucks.net, Vince Neilstein, to help me decide the Top 5 Goriest Metal Album Covers.


Also, FYI, all this week I will be blacking out the album cover on the post but providing a link for you to view it. All of the covers are Parental Guidance Suggested, so if you are, or have young children who might be offended by gruesome depictions of death...probably steer clear of clicking those links.


5. Cattle Decapitation's Humanure

While San Diego grindsters Cattle Decapitation may have a false reputation as militant vegans (they're actually just peaceful vegetarians), their music most certainly does protest the mistreatment and consumption of animals and it does so in a brutally violent but often hilarious, mocking way. While the cover of 2002's To Serve Man may have put the band on the censorship map, 2004's follow-up Humanure has the absolute brutalest of all brutal Cattle Decapitation album covers. A cow sh**ting bloody, digested human remains? You can't beat that. The cover outraged retailers so much so that it became difficult to buy Humanure anywhere but on the Internet... not that your local Best Buy would've been likely to stock an album with songs called "Bukkake Tsunami" and "Applied Human Defragmentation" anyway.

Cattle Decap never fail to deliver with disturbing cover pieces -- their latest offering, 2009's The Harvest Floor, features humans being corralled into a slaughterhouse for execution, packaging and consumption.

About that hamburger... umm, no thanks, I'll pass.


-Vince Neilstein

Key West: Trinkets in the Sun

Part Four
Click here for Part One
Click here for Part Two
Click here for Part Three

Statue of David

I realized that it had to have been closer to 13 sangrias than three pretty much the second my feet hit land and I almost fell flat on my face, but I was saved from embarrassment by Olivia’s steadying arm and the fact that just about everyone else nearly did the same thing. But there was no time to waste waiting for my sea legs to stabilize, I had found a clue as to the whereabouts of the mythic Key West, and only had one more night to test my theory.

I mumbled something about discovering the real Key West in the water and it is to Olivia’s great credit that she seemed to grasp what I was talking about and suggested: “Why don’t we check out Garden of Eden then?”
Eureka! Yes! Exactly! Why hadn’t I thought of it before? Of course, the clothing-optional bar on the roof of the Bull & Whistle Bar on Duval St. which we’d seen the night before but’d been too scared to check out. I mean, what is more symbolic of hedonistic, end-of-the-world freedom than a clothing optional bar?

We hopped on our bikes and sped down Simonton St, right on Front, left on Duval and within minutes we were locking our bikes in the gloaming under some low-lying trees across from the Olde English-looking Bull & Whistle Bar. The B & W, strangely enough, had been one of the main culprits the night before in contributing to my previous bad attitude w/r/t Key West’s real character since the beers were terribly overpriced, the bartenders a touch on the rude side, and then, after all was said and done and we’d left a nearly 30% tip the wait staff had the audacity to exclaim, definitely within earshot (and with a decided flair for hyperbole), that we had “stiffed them”.

But now here we were, staring up at the faded cream plaster and raw wood beamed exterior of the B & W with new eyes. A rickety and steep wooden staircase snaked up the back of the building with little more than a simple white sign indicating that the staircase led to The Garden of Eden. I was nervous as we climbed the stairs but determined to follow through. I mean, I had spent the day bitching about the relative lack of real pizzazz on the island and sure as hell wasn’t about to back out now that we’d found a possible source of said pizzazz. Adorning the wall as we walked were various signs proclaiming the law of the land once we stepped through the vine covered trellis at the top of the stairs and entered the Garden: no having sex, no photography, no cell phones, no lewd acts, etc. I tried to compose my face so I didn’t look like some kind of pervert, to something I hoped resembled academic disinterest, like a zoologist observing monkeys in the jungle.

At the top of the stairs a very large and very clothed security guard held out his hand and looked us up and down. He asked: “Do you have any photographic equipment?”

We said no, but weren’t very convincing about it since the strap of our camera bag was dangling like a vestigial tail from the mouth of Olivia’s purse. He shifted to the side nonetheless and we passed into the Garden with our camera still in our possession, not that we were going to do anything with it since one of the little asterisked notices on one of the signs had mentioned that our camera was subject to being destroyed if we so much as took the lens cap off.

The Garden of Eden is actually a rooftop bar with a small dance floor, a wide-open body art parlor and an excellent third storey view of the island, which I became very acquainted with once the clothes began to come off. At first the only thing that distinguished this bar from any other was the very loud and very bad DJ who insisted on playing Pitbull every third song. A few tepid looking people milled around the edges, shuffling their feet anxiously and sipping beers too quickly. One old lady, already clearly drunk, flailed about in front of the DJ. Olivia and I did a bit of milling and shuffling and sipping ourselves, and after an half an hour I began to wonder if maybe I’d made some horrible mistake and that my supposed break through on the boat was really just a 13-sangria-induced euphoric event.

But then I saw him. Old Dude Statue of David. He was standing off near the body art parlor, still, statuesque, his arms behind his back and plaintive. Watching. Naked.

If one were to look only at his face, the very fact of his nudity would seem implausible, for he was thickly bearded and long haired, with deep-set wrinkles twisting and coalescing on the edges of his icy blue eyes like tributaries emptying into vast lakes. His mouth was little more than a scratch in the gray tufts of his beard. His face had the tanned and leathery look of one who’s spent decades in the sun without sun block. In short, he looked like a distillation of every hobo stereotype I’d ever heard. Yet once one’s eyes traveled further south, which is inevitable when one is clothed and confronted with another who is not, the effect was mind-boggling. It was like someone had chopped off the head of some stereotypical hobo cartoon and placed it on the statue of David. This man’s body was perfect in the way that like only old Grecian statues are perfect: well-muscled, lightly tanned, proportionate, wide-shouldered, six-packed, hairless, supple. And then there was…well, let’s just say he left little to be desired…down there.

I couldn’t help myself; I tapped Olivia and pointed to him. Her eyes bulged and she choked a little on her beer.

David stood silently and watched, comfortable in his freak-of-nature-ness, biding his time until others joined him in nakedness, seemingly a-ok with being the only Greek statue among us. Others ogled him, pointed finger-wrapped chardonnay glasses at him, smiled around beers, but none joined him, not for a long time at least. And as the half hour drew out to an hour and the bar filled up, pushing Olivia and me further to the outside of the middle-school-like circle that’d formed, still he was the only nude one. And I began to sense that there was a tension building between him and the increasingly boisterous crowd, like maybe he was not just some old dude who liked to get naked in front of other people, but that maybe he was a performance artist and this was some sort of meta-joke that we were unwittingly apart of.

Another half hour. The moon was high overhead. And the DJ played another Pitbull song.

There was a palpable expectancy in the air, vaguely adolescent, the taste of people waiting on each other to start something. Olivia and I stayed way back, our backs pressed against the wall, offering furtive glances to the bejeweled Key West night. The crowd had sort of determined who were the likely suspects for getting the nudity started, and little clusters of feet-shufflers had gathered around each prospect except David, who still stayed in the shadows like a boxer lurking in the tunnel waiting for his name to be called. I got this feeling that something was going to happen, like the way you feel when you hear a siren way off, speeding toward you. It was Dopplerish. Two haggard women, one impossibly skinny and toothless and the other robust as a bacchanalian dream, danced in the middle of their respective circle of feet-shufflers. They were very likely candidates. David was in the shadows. More people pushed onto the dance floor. A young girl had her top off and was being painted into a bright, multi-colored burst of light while a few guys sort of hung around the parlor like moths, watching, not wanting to be watched watching. The like collective siren was whirring in my ears and I shivered and finished my beer because I couldn’t think of anything else to do.

Then all at once two things happened: the DJ suddenly, and rather out of established character, segued from some thumping Latin-flaired rap song to Jimmy Buffet’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and, as if he knew it was going to happen, like he was that boxer whose name had finally been called, David emerged from the shadows and stepped confidently into the middle of the dance floor. It was like a spotlight suddenly snapped on somewhere and in the middle of the cone of light there was Old Man Statue of David, naked as (but considerably beardier than) the day he was born, with his skin looking pink in the lights and this whole rooftop of people watching him as though he was about to receive some sort of tertiary technical award at the Oscar’s, the kind that normally isn’t televised because the Academy assumes no one really cares about them. And then, when like the drums really kick in high gear and Jimmy and his backing singers are belting “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and the whole rooftop is clearly really intrigued, David suddenly begins to totally cut a rug, letting everything hang out and really leaving it all on the dance floor like his life depends on it. The two old women, the skinny one and the fat one, rip off their clothes like they’re only held together by really old Velcro. The young girl who’s done getting sprayed painted sprints out onto the dance floor with her bright rainbow flame a’flamin and her hands in the hair and a life-affirming whoop-whoop and the moth-boys follow her, a few of them pulling their shirts off too. Another old guy I hadn’t noticed before leaps into the arena with full nude-flag flying and prances, I mean downright prances, like a leprechaun and waggles his tongue, which ultimately gets him a talking to from the guards since waggling tongues is considered a lewd act, per the rules.

So basically the entire place suddenly erupts into an inferno of nudity and whoop-whooping with all the people, who had just minutes before been feet-shuffling and drink-sipping, now throwing their clothes in all directions and rushing the dance floor with their hips shaking and their things wagging* and David completely lost in the hubbub. Olivia and I, now pretty solidly in the still-clothed minority, start to feel a little uncomfortable, because with so many people naked and so few clothed it starts to look like maybe her and I are the perverts, like maybe we get off on this sort of thing, which we absolutely don’t and are appalled that anyone would suggest such a thing. So, with a quick glance at one another that spoke about a 10K word essay we make a bee-line passed the security guards, who have their hands full trying to police the sudden bout of hip shaking and thing wagging, and spill back out into the cooler-but-still-sweltering Key West air.


Existential crisis while holding a wooden parrot


For the rest of that last evening Olivia and I stumbled around Duval St. like refugees from a sex cult, buying t-shirts and coozies at Sloppy Joe’s, grabbing overpriced beers at Hog’s Breath saloon, showing each other various Key West themed trinkets on display in every other shop window in that special bemused manner of tourists far away from home.

"Look, honey, a wooden parrot wearing a shirt that says, ‘I’d rather be in Key West’. This would be good for my dad, wouldn’t it?”

We dove head first into the frivolous and superficial world of Key West kitsch, which I’d been supposedly trying to outrun all day but which I now found an incredible relief, anything to avoid talking about the craziness we’d just been a party to. But the more trinkets I lifted and showed Olivia and the more shirts I sneered amusedly at, all the while in the back of my head seeing David and his band of tourist-revelers, the more I began to have this sinking feeling that maybe even something so vividly un-mainland as a clothing–optional bar was still a little bit of a put on. I mean here were all these people from places like Omaha, Nebraska and Nashville, Tennessee and Boston, Mass. all coming together, bankers and waitresses and schoolteachers looking for something they can say they did while they were in the mythical Key West. So they allow themselves to be corralled into this rooftop bar, which is like any other bar except for its vague promise of apocalyptic promiscuity, where they stand around expecting to find somehow this mythic group of Conch Republicans who are wild and crazy and free, expecting to be the watchers in the voyeuristic play of the clothing-optional bar, but slowly as the night evolves they realize that this play is participatory and the only way they are going to see any naked people is if they themselves get naked. So they drink and drink until the perfect moment of like right before one drink too many and then out of the darkness this bacchanalian prophet, Old Man Statue of David, arrives to show them the way to apocalyptic pleasure. And they willingly follow because, after all, this is why they came to Key West: to get crazy like they could never get crazy in their real lives. Except that’s the problem, isn’t it? Because tomorrow morning when they wake up they will be so hung over their heads will feel like Mario is doing that automatic turtle-shell-jump-thing that gets you like infinite lives but on their heads instead, and the previous night’s revelry will only be a vague memory or maybe even an ominous “frame missing” moment in the internal movie of their time in Key Frickin West and they’ll go back to Omaha or Nashville and they’ll tell their friends about it and say things like, “I can’t believe how crazy I got,” but they’ll leave out the parts that are truly embarrassing or that maybe suggest that they enjoyed the craziness enough to make it a lifestyle. They’ll make it clear that they didn’t internalize the Key West vibe and that they are still the same banker/waitress/schoolteacher they were before they left.

And that’s pretty much the crux of the problem right there: a place like Garden of Eden is so out of character for most people that it actually necessitates a certain amount of emotional distance and embarrassment, which further necessitates that complete lack of internalization of the Key West myth. The craziness is both bragged about at the same time that it is scoffed at, so that the tourist can act like it was someone else who got crazy while simultaneously taking credit for it. And no one ever points out the discrepancy the same way that college football fans never point out to one another, as they are yelling and celebrating and slapping backs and high-fiving, that they, in fact, had absolutely nothing to do with their team’s victory.

So now, in classic Tres-type fashion, I’ve managed to thought-loop myself back into thinking Key West is a total sham. The magic of the sunset cruise is nothing more than a distant memory and I’m standing in the middle of about the sixth gift shop of the night, holding a wooden parrot in one hand and a magnet with a pirate skeleton on it in the other with my mouth half open about to say something half-assedly snarky to Olivia, and trying through the fog of seven beers and about a million sangrias to remember what it was I’d thought I’d discovered about the island all those hours ago.

“Margaritaville” starts to play overhead and it dawns on me that there is a certain amount of tragic irony that swirls around the personage of Jimmy Buffet. Here’s a guy who landed when he was totally down and out on this island at the end of the world and found solace the like of which he’d never been able to find on the mainland. And so, like any artist would do, he begins to sing about it and write about it and somehow his art becomes like this totally mainstream affair that does wonders for popularizing the myth of Key West and starts bringing hundreds of thousands of tourists to the small island so that Duval St. stops being this boarded up no-man’s-land and starts becoming a glittering, gaudy string of gift shops and Key West themed bars and then all of a sudden the Key West that Jimmy Buffet had sung about and had loved so much that he’d spent his life’s work making love to the idea is so weighed down by all the gaudiness to render it practically indecipherable.

Now, from what I hear, Jimmy spends most of his time in Barbados or some other tropical island. But he's got his Margaritaville restaurant there.

I put the magnet and wooden parrot down and yawned dramatically, partly as an outward sign of the soul-crushing angst I now felt just hours away from leaving the island without anything literally to write home about, and also partly because it was well after and I was exhausted. Olivia took the hint and finished whatever necessary gift buying she’d been up to and within minutes we were back on our bikes and headed back to our rented apartment, me in the midst of an enormous existential crisis and Olivia just happy that she was able to find a cute onesie for Collins.



*Which in all honesty seems pretty lewd to me, but I suppose with so many people hip shaking and thing wagging it’s pretty hard for security to sort it out. Plus there’s the question of whether thing wagging is kind of a necessary side effect of owning a clothing optional bar.

Word of the Day!

approbation [ap-ruh-bay-shuhn]
-noun
1. The act of approving; formal or official approval.
2. Praise; commendation.