Monday, June 29, 2009

Transformers -vs- Transformers

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) -vs- Transformers (2007)
When Robots Collide
Beau DeMayo
June 25, 2009 in Action, Beau DeMayo, Comic Book, Sci-Fi, Teens

The Smackdown. Hollywood's in love with the 1980s, and nowhere is it more apparent than with the Transformer's franchise. Started in 2007, the first "Transformers" was a box-office success, easily earning itself a sequel in "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen." Now, in less then two years, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" hits theaters with the same cast and crew as the original. Sounds like a fair fight? So true spirit to the Transformer series, today's smackdown pits robot against robot in a knock-down intergalactic cinematic fight as we ask which film does robot-on-robot action better?

The Challenger. With "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," Michael Bay spares no expense ensuring audiences get more bang for their $14 movie ticket. This time, a college-bound Sam Witwicky finds himself trapped in the ever-escalating war between the Autobots and Decepticons...again. See, a prehistoric Transformer called The Fallen intends to drain our sun to obtain the Transformer's life-force, Energon. Naturally, he'll then conquer the cosmos or achieve some equally impolite end (like chewing with his mouth open). But only Sam knows the location of this Energon machine due to a series of psychic visions. Now, Sam must lead the Autobots to Egypt where they wage war against The Fallen, his Decepticons, and Megatron...yes, that's right, Megatron's back too. Still want more plot? Don't worry; I just gave you half. Clocking in well over two hours, "Transformers: RotF" has enough plot for three trilogies. It's the only type of sequel you'd expect from Michael Bay: one that's bigger, louder, and dumber.

The Defending Champion. "Transformers" was pitched to Michael Bay as a film about a boy getting his first car. Sounds nice. Really, it's about a boy caught between two groups of alien robots whose intergalactic war has crashed landed on Earth. Everyone's searching for the Allspark, a techno-mystical cube with the power to animate any mechanical form. By the end of the movie, I think I got that Megatron wanted this cube so he could create a new mechanical army to take over Earth... but that was after two brain-busting hours of claustrophobic action, syrupy slow-mo shots, self-aware jokes, and bombastic explosions.

The Scorecard. Both "Transformers" and "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" brim with elaborate action set-pieces, campy humor, and hyper-sexuality. Industrial Light and Magic struggles in both films to design the Transformers in such a way that we can distinguish one from the other. Whenever a fight erupts between Autobot and Decepticon, the on-screen action tumbles into a jumbled mess of flopping, indistinguishable mechanical parts. Sure, I appreciate the high level of detail, but not at the cost of coherent action scenes. "Transformers: RotF" especially suffers from ILM's designs as Bay introduces a whole slew of new Transformers that simply blend together. It's hard to appreciate large-scale action sequences when I can't tell the good from the bad guys and thus, can't tell who's winning.

Now both films embrace Bay's typical low-brow humor. Again, "Transformers: RotF" probably suffers most in this category. Gags like Sam's mom lolly-gagging around on a college campus after eating pot-brownies or the dangling wrecking ball testicles on a construction Decepticon aren't just dumb, they're insulting to the audiences' intelligence. "Transformers" had some corny moments, many centered around the Autobots fitting into Sam's suburban life. However, none proved as gregarious and useless as those in Transformers: RotF" where the jokes simply exist onto themselves and are cracked in the most inappropriate moments.

While on the topic of insulting our intelligence, let's not forget Sam's girlfriend Mikaela, played by Megan Fox. When we first meet her, Mikaela is bent over a motorcycle in daisy dukes, applying lip gloss as she flirts with Sam on the phone. This scene alone establishes Bay's general outlook toward women in "Transformers 2: RotF." Everyone female -- from college students to lip-lassoing Decepticons -- exist either as love-dumb airhead or sexy vixena. In the first film, we at least got to see female Defense analysts and agents. Even Mikaela, struggling to be more than just the popular girl, had a journey in "Transformers." She doesn't just make pouty-kiss faces at the camera as she does this time around.

But so far, both these films are guilty of the same crimes, with "Transformers: RotF" being a bit more to blame.

Now while "Transformers" had its healthy dose of claustrophobic over-plotting, "Transformers: RotF" proves that bigger is not always better. Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman scribed both films, with Ehren Kruger joining them for the second outing. How much Michael Bay contributed to story, I don't know. However, there seems to be a constant tension between Bay's sensibilities and the retro-camp feeling the scribes hoped to achieve. Looking at the dialogue (especially of The Autobots), one will notice its on-the-nose, campy feel. What at first can be seen as just poor dialogue is really an homage to the 1980s cartoons, where Optimus Prime spoke in verbose monologues about sacrifice, virtue, and friendship. The writers spend a hefty amount of time establishing this cartoony world only to have Bay come in and try to merge it with real world grittiness.

In all his films, Bay has a clear love of the military. Even "Transformers" suffered from the "I love the military" attitude of Bay. But in "Transformers: RotF," I actually began to wonder if this movie was financed by the United States Military. As the Autobots square off against The Decepticons, Bay continually forces the US military to have a role in the action. Whole portions of the climax play like "Join The Army" ads, showing extreme sports style camera views of parachuting into combat. We watch Higgins boats and jet bombers do their thing. And we spend way too much time listening to "Delta Four, you are ready to blah blah blah at Vector blah blah bleh." But yet, at the same time, there's this evil alien robot with a energy spear hopping around The Great Pyramids, reeling in his plan "to destroy the sun and kill mankind!" It just doesn't fit. It doesn't feel natural or organic. Plus, isn't this a movie about big-ass robots?

Where this really hurts Bay is that the military, at times, is actually more competent than Sam or the Autobots. Example, while a huge Decepticon destroys a pyramid, another character calls a battleship off the coast and orders them to use their "rail gun." What is this rail gun? I don't know. First time we've ever heard about it. So, the battleship unveils this hi-tech rail gun and proceeds to destroy the huge Decepticon (from miles away!) when all of the Autobots could barely handle it. Yet they never use the gun again. Even as smaller and more exposed Decepticons continue to fight, the good guys never think, "Hey, that rail gun worked really nifty that time. Hm, how about..."

Moments like these seem too hammed and forced. This, matched with the constant intercutting of military procedures and lingo, create a climax that's like a geriatric patient wadding through mud.

Now, characterization is another thing to examine with these two films.

When the movie begins, you see that Sam's journey is going to be one of becoming a man. He's young and going off to college and his parents struggle to let him go. Now, more on his own than in the first film, Sam must rise to the occasion and lead the Autobots. Yet, isn't this essentially the same journey from the first film? What you soon realize in "Transformers: RotF" is that you are watching "Transformers," all over again, only with more robots, more action, and more dialogue. Sequels like "The Dark Knight" or "Spider-Man 2" demonstrated that you must ask a new dramatic question of your characters. The characters and the world must be explored differently, with new conclusions reached because of it. "Transformers: RotF" just retreads its predecessor's ground, adding nothing new.

And don't count on the Autobots to make the story feel any different. For spending so much time humanizing the Transformers with intricate facial expressions and body features, Bay fails to apply that same level of detail to their character arcs. Optimus Prime and his Autobot friends do not change. Optimus is always the loyal, headstrong leader. Bubblebee is always the loyal, childish robot. They don't grow, they don't evolve as a result of their conflicts. They simply move through a set of action pieces toward the film's end.

So now we're left with strict plot. "Transformers" was fairly standard in terms of its plot. We have a sympathetic character. He gets in trouble. Whoops! Bad guys. Comedic moments. Action. Damn, things look severe. What? Yay! Good guys win! So while I can't forgive the plot paradox of the Allspark being a object that can both restore and kill Transformers, I can say "Transformers" at least tried. On the other hand, "Transformers: RotF" takes poor plotting to another level.

The movie spends forty minutes establishing itself. And that's because it's just so damned convoluted. Here, just watch:

Sam is going to college and Mikaela is staying behind and while Sam's gone his parents are going to Paris to get some free time now that they've finally let their son go. But Sam touched a fragment of the Allspark from the first movie and now is having these mental breakdowns in class and drawing weird Autobot hieroglyphs everywhere. Meanwhile, The Autobots are working for the US government but at the same time they may be exiled by the government because the Decepticons are still causing a ruckus and the public is becoming more and more aware that there are gigantic robot aliens warring on the planet. Also the Decepticons are spying on Earth in order to locate Megatron (who died) so they can bring him to The Fallen who is the master of Megatron and wants to find this ancient machine that was left on Earth that will allow him to harness the sun's rays to get Energon which will enable him to create an army and take over the universe.

We wait nearly an hour for all of that to get set-up....just so we can understand what the hell is going on. What's worse? It doesn't stop there as Sam must journey to find an ancient Prime Transformer who space-jumps them to Egypt where they go on an Indiana Jones adventure trying to solve an ancient riddle about three kings and hunt down a legendary alien artifact.

Along the way, as we trudge through this near incomprehensible plot, we lose track of any character arcs, any themes, or any nuances that would make us appreciate this film as anything more than eye sex (and like I said, even that is jumbled). By the time we reach Egypt and the film's climactic battle, you actually find yourself rooting for the film to end regardless of who dies in the process.

The Decision. So yeah, I know, "Transformers" is not a great film. But it was understandable in terms of plot and character. There was something to hold onto in the journey of a boy becoming a man. But "Transformers: RotF" is just spectacle, and jumbled spectacle at best. It retreads its predecessors ground with more action and less class. So when it comes down to these two films, it's "Transformers" that offers us something more than what meets our eye!

The New York Times and Iran

“Underdeveloped countries with rich resources now have an object lesson in the heavy cost that must be paid by one of their number which goes berserk with fanatical nationalism. It is perhaps too much to hope that Iran’s experience will prevent the rest of Mossadeqs in other countries, but that experience may at least strengthen the hands of more reasonable and far-seeing leaders.”
New York Times, August 1954

This quote should be remembered whenever mainstream pundits claim those in the Middle East aren't ready for democracy. In fact, Iran had a vibrant democracy over 50 years ago, and it was squashed by the CIA and US oil companies because Mossadeq was demanding a fair cut for the Iranian people on the oil business.

Likewise any talk in the mainstream press claiming outrage over election fraud in Iran shouldn't be taken seriously after the Bush swindles of 2000 and 2004. At this point, the US establishment has less credibility defending democracy than it does condemning torture and war crimes.

Ahmadinejad's reelection may be a con, but I've yet to see any evidence of it, even if the dude is a creep. At this point, this just looks like another attempted electoral coup funded by the Orwellian named National Endowment for Democracy to put another guy who will shove the IMF agenda down his country's throat while feigning to be a paragon of democracy...

The New York Times and Iran: Journalism as state provocation
19 June 2009
Bill Van Auken

In an editorial published Thursday entitled “Iran’s Nonrepublic,” the New York Times once again denounced the country’s presidential elections, declaring that “government authorities bulldozed the results” and that the victory of the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was “bogus.”

At the same time, echoing a statement made by President Barack Obama the day before, the newspaper warned, “Given its history with Iran, the United States must take special care not to be seen as interfering.”

The Times editorial board does not believe that this stricture applies to itself. Since the results of the June 12 election were announced, the newspaper has pursued a journalistic policy of out-and-out provocation in service of the imperialist interests that official Washington insists it must not be seen as pursuing.

The Times observes no standard of journalistic objectivity, reporting as fact that the Iranian election was stolen, without providing a scintilla of proof to back it up. Instead, it uncritically repeats the insistence of the Mousavi camp that it is so.

The newspaper has not even bothered to report, much less analyze, the vote totals, which are readily available by both city and province and refute the claims made that the ballots were rigged to give Ahmadinejad a 60 percent margin across the board.

On the contrary, they show that Mousavi won—in some cases by a two-to-one margin—precisely in the areas that are now the center of the election protests—the wealthier suburbs of Tehran, Shiraz and elsewhere.

The US has intense interests in Iran, with the Obama administration fighting wars on its eastern and western borders. There is, moreover, the long history of hostility between the two countries, stemming from Washington’s previous domination of Iran and its oil wealth through its dictatorial client regime under the Shah, and the revolution that brought that regime to an end. Given these interests and this history, conscientious coverage of Iranian politics, particularly by US journalists, calls for not only objectivity, but also sensitivity to Washington’s intervention in Iran’s affairs and attempts to influence its politics.

The Times coverage, however, exhibits no such objectivity whatsoever. The newspaper has simply ignored commentary from prominent analysts of the region who have suggested that the claims of a rigged election are not supported by the evidence. These include Anthony Cordesman, the chief military strategy and Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Hillary Mann Leverett, the former chief Iran analyst on George W. Bush’s National Security Council, and her husband Flynt Leverett, a long time CIA analyst and NSC staffer, who together wrote a column entitled “Ahmadinejad won. Get over it;” and George Friedman, the head of the Stratfor private intelligence service.

All of them said that the right-wing populist Ahmadinejad retained substantial popular support in Iran, particularly among the rural poor and more oppressed social layers, and warned against “Iran experts” who based their analyses on wishful thinking and contact with a more affluent, English-speaking minority in Iran.

The fact that the Times employs its claims of fraud to demand a new election—calling the Guardian Council’s call for recounting ballots a “cynical gesture”—is highly significant. The newspaper is not interested in correcting vote fraud, but rather in bringing pressure to bear within the Iranian state to effect a political coup.

This was spelled out explicitly Thursday by Times foreign affairs columnist Roger Cohen, who speculated that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “will come to view Ahmadinejad as a liability.” He continued, “In Mousavi he has a credible vehicle for a reform of the regime that serves to preserve it... The supreme leader can find the means to reverse course.”

This succinctly sums up Washington’s aims—to exert pressure on the Iranian state to carry out a change at the top that will render the regime more amenable to US interests in the region and more open to American capital within Iran. The concern for democracy, while sincerely held by millions of Iranians, is for the Times, as for the US government, merely a pretext.

No doubt there were instances of vote-rigging in Iran, but this is the rule, not the exception, in elections around the globe. And not infrequently, particularly in the so-called lesser developed countries, elections end in charges of fraud by the losing party that trigger mass demonstrations and even armed clashes.

Just last April, elections in Moldova ended in violent protests, with the losing party claiming fraud and the winning one saying it was the victim of an attempted coup. In November of last year in Nicaragua, nationwide local elections in which the opposition claimed irregularities led to confrontations involving thousands of people armed with bats, rocks, machetes and guns. Last July, charges of election fraud led to mass rioting in the capital of Mongolia. There is no record of the Times becoming particularly exercised about any of these events.

Particularly instructive is the attitude taken by the newspaper toward the disputed 2006 presidential election in Mexico, when the conservative candidate Felipe Calderon—with just 36 percent of the vote and amid substantiated charges of gross electoral fraud—claimed victory over his left-nationalist opponent, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The Times called for no new election then, and was largely indifferent to the evidence that the election had been rigged. While the massive crowds that took to the streets of Mexico City were comparable to those seen in Tehran, the newspaper showed only disdain for the protesters.

On July 7, just five days after the contested vote totals were announced, the Times haughtily editorialized: “Mr. Lopez Obrador has occasionally furthered his political career by inviting supporters to take to the streets... but he should resist inciting mass protests, which would harm Mexico’s stability and add to his image as a less-than-committed democrat.”

In Mexico, the victim of vote fraud was told to stand down in the interests of “stability,” while mass protests by his supporters were portrayed as a threat to democracy—the exact inverse of the newspaper’s approach to the Iranian events. Why the difference? In Mexico, the candidate favored by Washington won, and in Iran, the White House seeks not stability, but destabilization.

Even closer to home, the approach of the newspaper to the claims of a stolen Iranian election stands in stark contrast to the open theft of the 2000 election by the Republican Party, which only two years before had sought to carry out an extra-constitutional coup against an elected president by means of a bogus impeachment—an operation that the Times had helped legitimize.

In that election, it was not a matter of the government offering a partial recount of disputed ballots in Florida, but a direct intervention by the US Supreme Court to stop a statewide recount that had been ordered by the Florida Supreme Court to insure that all votes were properly counted. Did the Times advocate mass protests or demand a new election? Far from it. The newspaper made itself an accomplice to this unprecedented assault on democratic rights—the suppression of the vote to install the candidate who had lost the popular vote nationally.

In the course of the bitter battle over the Florida vote, a Times editorial demanded an end to “wild talk of vote-stealing and coups d’état”—precisely what was happening. And after the US Supreme Court selected Bush, negating the will of the majority of voters, the newspaper demanded that the decision be accepted in order to “unify the nation.” It praised Democratic candidate Al Gore for capitulating, calling it “a patriotic duty.”

Neither the Times nor the US government are in a position to give lessons to Iran or anyone else on the subject of democracy. The American electoral system, rife with fraud, is controlled lock, stock and barrel by two parties of big business whose national candidates are vetted for their loyalty to a financial oligarchy.

Leading US politicians—including John Kerry in an op-ed piece published by the Times Thursday—have insisted that the US must keep a low profile in Iran because of its role in organizing the 1953 coup that overthrew the nationalist prime minister, Mohammad Mossadeq, and ushered in the 26-year torture regime of the Shah. By the same token, the editors of the Times should keep their mouths shut.

In 1953, their correspondent in Tehran, Kennett Love, was not only a willing conduit for CIA disinformation, but acknowledged participating directly in the coup. He subsequently wrote of giving an Iranian army tank column instructions to attack Mossadeq’s house. Afterwards, the Times celebrated the coup and demanded unconditional support for the Shah’s regime.

Little has changed since. It is not difficult to find evidence that the Times acts—both in its news coverage and its editorial line—as a major instrument of US foreign policy. Its main function is to provide justifications for the policies pursued by American imperialism around the globe, while manipulating public opinion at home and abroad to support them. As the “newspaper of record,” it sets the agenda for much of the US media, which echoes its line.

There was, of course, the well-known and criminal role played by the newspaper in promoting—and through its senior correspondent Judith Miller helping to fabricate—the lies of the Bush administration about “weapons of mass destruction” that were used as the pretext for the war against Iraq.

Then there was the newspaper’s endorsement of the abortive April 2002 coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The Times praised the sections of the Venezuelan military that had “intervened and handed power to a respected business leader.” It argued that, as a result of the armed overthrow of an elected president, “Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened.” It likewise helped Washington cover its tracks, claiming—incredibly—that the coup was “a purely Venezuelan affair.”

More recently, there was the newspaper’s response—both its reporting and editorials—to the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war. Using the same methods as in Iran—contempt for journalistic objectivity, the retailing of claims made by Washington and its allies as fact and disregarding of all evidence to the contrary—the Times presented the war as an unprovoked act of Russian aggression. It willfully ignored undeniable evidence that the fighting began as an unprovoked and brutal attack by Georgian forces on Tskhinvali, the capital of Georgia’s breakaway province of South Ossetia.

The Times cast the conflict as “Russia’s war of ambition,” an attempt by Vladimir Putin “to re-impose by force and intimidation as much of the old Soviet sphere of influence as he can get away with.” Facts on the ground, reported by monitors in Georgia from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) among others, belied this account and pointed to the US using Georgia as its proxy in an act of aggression against Russia itself.

In the case of the present crisis in Iran, the Times has employed all of these methods of distortion and deceit on a grand scale, in an effort that was prepared well before the elections were held.

Leading this effort is Executive Editor Bill Keller, who is arguably the most morally compromised editor in the US today—and that’s saying something! It was Keller who, at the request of the Bush administration, withheld a story on the National Security Agency’s illegal domestic spying operation until after the 2004 election, playing what may have been a decisive role in delivering Bush a second term.

He was recently dispatched to Tehran to write “Memos from Iran.” The extraordinary character of this assignment is shown in the fact that between taking over as the newspaper’s senior editor in July 2003 and his trip to Iran, Keller—the newspaper’s man in Moscow during the collapse of the Soviet Union—is credited by the Times web site with writing precisely six articles, none of them news stories.

Keller’s presence is evidence that the Times is involved in a major operation. He was accompanied to Tehran by a number of others, including the vicious anti-socialist foreign affairs columnist Roger Cohen. A veteran propagandist for US imperialist interests, Cohen has churned out justifications for the US intervention in the Balkans, the war against Iraq, the US policy in Georgia, and now the destabilization effort in Iran.

In the days of Kennett Love, the CIA put journalists on its payroll to secure their collaboration. With the likes of Keller and Cohen, this is no longer necessary. The lavishly-paid senior columnists and editors at the Times don’t need to be bribed. Their social interests are naturally in sync with the aims of US imperialist policy.

The seamless intersection of the news and views published in America’s leading newspaper with the interests of US imperialism and its ruling elite is both a symptom and contributing factor in the advanced decay of democratic processes in the United States.

It poses the urgent necessity of building a new independent socialist media of the working class, the task being carried forward by the World Socialist Web Site.

Mediterranean Diet May Boost Longevity

Mediterranean Diet May Boost Longevity
Study Shows Benefits of Diet That Favors Less Meat, More Veggies, and Olive Oil
By Caroline Wilbert
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 23, 2009 -- Want to live a long time? When you prepare dinner tonight, go heavy on the vegetables, skip the meat, and enjoy a bit of wine.

Past research already has linked the so-called Mediterranean diet with longevity. A new study finds that certain aspects of the diet -- such as high consumption of vegetables and olive oil, low consumption of meat, and moderate consumption of alcohol -- may be more strongly linked to longevity.

Researchers looked at the Greek participants in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. This included 23,349 men and women not previously diagnosed with cancer, heart disease, or diabetes.

Researchers examined their diets and followed them for 8.5 years, on average, until June 2008. All diets were rated according to how closely they adhered to a traditional Mediterranean diet.

During the study period, there were 652 deaths among 12,694 participants who had lower Mediterranean diet scores of 0-4 and 423 deaths among the 10,655 participants who had higher scores of at least 5. In general, those with higher scores were more likely to still be alive at the end of the study.

Certain aspects of the diet were more linked to this phenomenon than others. Contributors, in order of importance, were: moderate alcohol consumption, low consumption of meat and meat products, high vegetable consumption, high fruit and nut consumption, high monounsaturated to saturated fat ratio, and high legume consumption.

Fats to Avoid: The Polyunsaturated Oil Epidemic

Fats to Avoid: The Polyunsaturated Oil Epidemic
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Elizabeth Walling, citizen journalist

(NaturalNews) They sit on the grocery store aisles, appearing rather innocent. They are clear and odorless - mainly because they have been bleached and deodorized with chemicals after high-heat processing has turned them rancid. And, interestingly enough, they are touted as a health food that can save your heart.

They are polyunsaturated oils like soybean, canola and corn oil. They are industrialized oil, and they have reared their ugly heads at the health of modern society.

Why is polyunsaturated fat bad for your health?

The main difference between polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat (like olive oil) is the structure. Monounsaturated fatty acids are linked by one double bond, but polyunsaturated fats are linked by multiple double bonds. This structure is unstable and wreaks havoc on the cells in your body. It contributes to oxidation and free radical damage in the body, which is linked to heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, autoimmune diseases and premature aging.

The instability of polyunsaturated fats is especially volatile during any kind of processing. Even small amounts of light, moisture, air or heat damage polyunsaturated fat. These oils cannot withstand exposure to heat when used for cooking, but they are still the main choice for restaurants and fast food joints because they are cheap and the claim "cooked in vegetable oil" sounds healthier to customers. The truth is that cooking with these oils turns them rancid, making them even more dangerous when consumed.

Another concern about consuming high levels of omega-6 fatty acids is they may interfere with the body's production of prostaglandins. This can cause many adverse conditions in the body, including blood clots, sterility, poor immunity, indigestion, and cancer.

Too much omega-6 fatty acids can also interfere with the use of the very important omega-3 fatty acids in the body. And since polyunsaturated oils are used almost exclusively in conventional processed foods, it's very easy for people to take in far more omega-6 fatty acids than their body can use. The omega-6 fatty acids in these oils essentially crowds out the omega-3's, leaving people's health to suffer as a result.

What about the claims that polyunsaturated oils are good for your heart?

Some experts have advised the public to toss out the traditional cooking fats like coconut oil and butter, and replace them with polyunsaturated oils instead. They say this will save your heart, but heart disease is more rampant than ever while we virtually soak our foods in these oils.

Historically, the evidence is hard to miss. Heart disease was a rare occurrence when most cultures consumed mainly fats like coconut oil, palm oil, butter, tallow and ghee. The rate of heart disease began to skyrocket in the early 20th century - just about the time when polyunsaturated oils became popular, mainly because they could be cheaply manufactured.

So, do we need to shun these oils completely?

Not exactly. You can still consume small amounts of these oils in your diet - if they aren't damaged and rancid. Avoiding processed foods can do a lot to protect you from rancid polyunsaturated oils. If you choose to purchase polyunsaturated oils, buy them organic and cold-pressed in opaque containers. Even then, these oils are best for sprinkling lightly over salads and not for cooking, since even medium heat can damage them. Instead, cook with traditional oils that can withstand the heat, such as coconut oil.

About the author

Elizabeth Walling is a freelance writer, specializing in articles about health and family nutrition. She is a strong believer in natural living as a way to improve health and prevent common illnesses.

The Heart Attack Grill in Chandler, Arizona

The Heart Attack Grill in Chandler, Arizona

The Heart Attack Grill is a hospital-themed restaurant in Chandler, Arizona, which has become famous for embracing and promoting an unhealthy diet of extremely large hamburgers. Customers are referred to as "patients," orders as "prescriptions," and the waitresses as "nurses." "Patients" wear medical gowns, and their orders are written on on tags worn around their wrists. The restaurant's waitresses dress in sexy retro nurses' uniforms. The restaurant has been criticised for its portrayal of nurses. Its website features a disclaimer: "None of the women pictured on our website actually have any medical training, nor do they attempt to provide any real medical services." The concept of the Heart Attack Grill has been described as "nutritional pornography." The menu includes Single, Double, Triple and Quadruple Bypass Burgers, plus Flatliner Fries cooked in pure lard. The burgers' names imply coronary artery bypass surgery, and refer to the danger of developing heart disease from the food's high saturated fat and calorie content. The Quadruple Bypass Burger contains around 8,000 calories (about four times the recommended daily calorie intake for women.) A free wheelchair service is offered to "patients" who finish a Quadruple Bypass Burger. Customers weighing over 350 lb (160 kg) eat for free if they weigh in before each burger. The restaurant was founded in December 2005 by Dr Jon, who has published a "fitness" book: How to Eat, Drink and Smoke Your Way to Better Health.

Restaurants on the Ropes

Restaurants on the Ropes
Rick Newman
Friday June 12, 2009

When Americans get stressed out, one thing they do is eat. But apparently not enough.

The dismal economy has punished retailers, with companies like Circuit City and Linens 'n Things going extinct and dozens of others losing money. Now it's hitting their cousins in the restaurant industry, too. The Bennigan's and Steak & Ale chains were early casualties, going belly up last summer. This year, with Americans cutting back on spending, sales at restaurants could fall by 10 percent or more. Analysts don't expect widespread closures, but some chains are likely to close unprofitable outlets, cut back on service, and look for other ways to reduce costs.

As in retail, companies that help people save money will weather the storm better than others. Chains like McDonald's, Pizza Hut, and Olive Garden, which offer ample portions at value prices, should do OK and maybe even pick up market share. It helps if they've been run conservatively, with low borrowing costs and cash held for a rainy day.

Other eateries are in a pickle. Fancy restaurants that had long waits a few years ago are now begging for customers and offering sales. Midpriced casual dining outlets are losing customers to cheaper fast-food joints. Even some dollar-menu franchises are suffering if they're overdependent on mall traffic or clustered in regions where the economy is weakest. A key factor is debt: With sales down everywhere, many companies that borrowed heavily to remodel, expand, or buy other franchises now find that interest payments gobble up a nerve-wracking amount of cash flow.

Since debt is such an important menu item, we scoured data from ratings agency Standard & Poor's to gauge which well-known restaurants are facing tough challenges. The following list represents companies that meet two criteria: They have a credit rating of B or lower, and S&P assigns them a negative outlook. Landing on this list doesn't mean the company is likely to declare bankruptcy or close its doors. But these firms are vulnerable to deteriorating economic and financial conditions. And the negative outlook means there's a chance S&P could downgrade the company's rating over the next six to 24 months. Here's our watch list:

Perkins Restaurant and Bakery. Company accountants could probably use some of the comfort food on the menu at this diner-style franchise, which has about 500 locations, mostly in the Midwest. Like other restaurants, Perkins has been able to cut food costs since they soared in 2007. But revenue has fallen, and the parent firm lost $9.7 million in the first quarter. S&P says the firm's liquidity position is "tenuous." With market share of just 8 percent, Perkins is more vulnerable to a lousy economy that competitors like Denny's (22 percent market share) and IHOP (19 percent). Perkins also owns the Marie Callender's Restaurant and Bakery chain, which suffers from similar financial burdens. Plus, Marie Callender is based in hard-hit California, which has been hammered by the housing bust.

A company spokesperson says Perkins has cut expenses by $7.3 million to help shore up its finances, delayed some remodeling, and called a halt to expansion.

El Torito. Slumping sales and steep debt are an unappetizing combo, especially in California, where this chain is based. The parent firm, Real Mex Restaurants, has bought time by extending a key credit line until next January. But S&P has questioned whether the company, owned by a group of private-equity firms, will have the cash flow to comply with loan terms over the next two years. Real Mex also owns Chevy's, the Acapulco chain, the more upscale El Torito Grill, and several other eateries. All are facing the same woes.

Real Mex says that cost-cutting has helped sustain earnings, and it recently hired a new CEO to help turn things around. The company also announced plans recently to issue new debt that would help cover a major payment due to lenders next year. If that offering is successful, it would indicate investors' confidence in the chain.

Sbarro. Many of this pizza chain's 1,070 outlets are in malls, where traffic is down and spenders are stingy. That contributed to a $5.7 million loss in the first quarter, more than double the red ink from a year ago. Interest payments on debt gobble up much of the company's cash flow, leaving little margin for error. The company is especially vulnerable to any rises in food or commodity costs and to competition that could force prices down. With about 40 percent of sales coming during the Christmas season, the company will need strong December results at a time of high unemployment and weak spending. A Sbarro executive declined to comment on the company's financial prospects.

Captain D's Seafood Kitchen. This chain's thrifty appeal--"sit-down food at fast-food prices"--hits the right note during lean times. And aggressive cost-cutting has helped offset falling sales. But debt is still too high, compared with the company's earnings. Parent company Sagittarius Brands got some relief last year from lenders who agreed to relax certain financial requirements. But the old terms go back into effect in 2010, and S&P doesn't think the firm, which operates nearly 600 restaurants across the south, will be able to meet them. A breach could trigger higher borrowing costs or give lenders the right to call in their loans. The California-based Del Tacos chain, which Sagittarius bought in 2006, is under similar pressure. The company didn't respond to calls seeking comment.

Krispy Kreme. The famed doughnut chain got too chubby over the last 15 years, and it's been closing unprofitable stores to help reverse several years of steep losses. Revenue has plunged since 2005, but cutbacks helped the company turn a $1.9 million profit in the latest quarter. Lenders have provided a breather by easing some of their requirements over the last two years. The temporary reprieve expires in 2011. By then, the company hopes that streamlining, profitable new overseas stores, and other measures will have strengthened its finances.

Spokesman Brian Little points out that Krispy Kreme has cut its debt by nearly 40 percent and has a $21 million cash cushion. The recession, he adds, isn't as daunting to Krispy Kreme as to other food chains: "We sell an affordable indulgence consumers will purchase when they can't afford to treat themselves or their families to other luxuries."

Mastro's. These elegant steakhouses may be among the nation's best, but they're also clustered in Arizona and southern California, where housing woes have char-broiled the economy. With just 7 outlets (including two Ocean Club restaurants), Mastro's lacks the scale and geographic diversity of bigger chains like Morton's and McCormick & Schmick's. Sales have fallen along with customers' net worth and corporate expense budgets, and Mastro's cash flow is likely to get worse before the double-cut porterhouse ($68.50) comes back into style.

To cope, Mastro's is scaling back expansion plans, and may only open four new restaurants by 2012, fewer than half its original target. "Returns to investors will be impaired," says CEO Tom Heymann, "but doing this will improve our cash flow and still allow us to grow and meet our commitments to the banks." And refrain from adding burgers and hot dogs to the menu.

Epicurious Differs with Zagat Survey's Fast-Food

Epicurious Differs with Zagat Survey's Fast-Food Findings partner
by James Oliver Cury
Thu Jun 11, 2009

The Zagat surveys, long known for regional, customer-written restaurant reviews, recently turned their attention to the budget-friendly world of fast food. More than 6,000 people responded to the company's online poll, weighing in on the best burgers, fries, salads, coffee, and more.

The results: McDonald's makes the finest fries, In-N-Out Burger boasts the tastiest burger, and Starbucks serves the best coffee. Wendy's nabbed "top food" and "top facilities" in the megachain category (more than 5,000 locations).

But we at Epicurious beg to differ. Below we present our own analyses of some of Zagat's key findings.

TOP RATED AMONG MEGA CHAINS (more than 5,000 U.S. locations):

1. Wendy's [WINNER]
2. Subway
3. KFC
4. Taco Bell
5. Pizza Hut

Epicurious analysis: We like Subway for the simple reason that it bakes its own bread and lets you see the sandwichmakers making meals in front of your eyes. You can see the quality of the sliced meats, cheeses, and produce. So if the tomatoes look under-ripe, you can skip them. Plus, tacos, pizzas, fried chicken, and burgers can be greasy. Sandwiches, unless drenched in vinegar and oil, should not have this problem.

1. Wendy's [WINNER]
2. McDonald's
3. Subway
4. Burger King
5. KFC

Epicurious analysis: Contrary to rumor, this is not a competition for best bathroom. Facilities are defined as "quality of seating, ordering and waiting areas." We think it depends on which location you visit, what time you're there, and if it's near a bar.

1. Subway [WINNER]
2. Wendy's
3. Domino's Pizza
4. McDonald's
5. Pizza Hut

Epicurious analysis: We've never met a surly Subway sandwichmaker, but have certainly met less-than-friendly order-takers at other fast-food chains. More to the point, there's a greater level of service needed to custom-build every sandwich in plain public view than there is in pressing the right buttons on a cash register and givig you proper change. Good call.

1. In-N-Out Burger [WINNER]
2. Wendy's
3. Burger King
4. McDonald's
5. Whataburger

Epicurious analysis: The cult following around In-N-Out is well-deserved: This is an independently owned, nonfranchised operation that sticks to what it does well (burgers) and doesn't attempt to cash in on healthy salads, grilled chicken, or coffee. More important, the burgers don't taste like any other fast-food fare. We especially like the flexibility in options: In addition to getting lettuce, tomato, onion, and a variation on Thousand Island dressing, customers can ask for things like mustard, pickle, and extra patties (the so-called secret menu).

That said, there are no outlets on the East Coast, so it's hard to think this represents a national opinion, and it's clearly not an apples to apples, or should we say, burgers to burgers, comparison.

1. McDonald's [WINNER]
2. Burger King
3. In-N-Out Burger
4. Wendy's
5. Chick-fil-A

Epicurious analysis: If you've ever had bad or even mediocre fries, you know how disappointing they can be: soggy, undercooked, oversalted, etc. MickeyD's fries are crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, golden yellow-brown, and most important, tremendously consistent. Plus, they stand on their own, even without ketchup, and they have that scent-recognition thing. You can tell a Golden Arches fry from a mile away, and even if you don't think you're into them, you get a craving.

Some people disagree: "Wendy's are cut a bit thicker and they're not flavored with some sort of beef extract," noted one Epi editor. Nathan's scored points with another editor: "I find the consistency a turn-off. There's no thin and crispy mixed with random fat and soft fries, no surprises. They don't suggest 'potato' to me at all, rather reconstituted potato flour. Nathan's fries are my favorites; almost sweet-tasting, and brown outside with a smooth, not floury middle. They taste like potato!"

1. Panera Bread [WINNER]
2. Wendy's
3. McDonald's
4. Au Bon Pain
5. Corner Bakery Café

Epicurious analysis: Who orders salads at these places? No one we know. That said, at least Panera offers more than just iceberg lettuce.

2. Popeye's
3. Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits
4. Church's Chicken
5. Culver's Frozen Custard

Epicurious analysis: We're partial to Bojangles ourselves, but it's mainly in the South, so for pure consistency, we will give a greasy thumbs-up to KFC.

1. Chick-fil-A [WINNER]
2. Panera Bread
3. Wendy's
4. Chipotle
5. El Pollo Loco

Epicurious analysis: We recently hosted a grilled chicken taste test in the Epicurious offices and found KFC's brand-new offerings to be best of breed. As our blog post enumerated:

"All the pieces, ranging from the breast to the chicken wing, had a nice golden charbroiled color, and grill marks, giving the impression that it had just come off the grill. KFC's meat was reasonably tender and juicy, and the skin actually had flavor thanks to the Colonel's six 'secret' herbs and spices."

1. Starbucks Coffee [WINNER]
2. Dunkin' Donuts
3. Peet's Coffee & Tea
4. McDonald's
5. Caribou Coffee

Epicurious analysis: We hosted an informal taste test of hot mocha lattes on the set of Fox & Friends; Dunkin' Donuts took top honors. But some editors here believe Dunkin' Donuts' products can vary depending on location. Starbucks seems more consistent, for better or worse.

1. Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shops [WINNER]
2. Rita's
3. Culver's Frozen Custard
4. Baskin-Robbins
5. Carvel

Epicurious analysis: What's not to love about Ben & Jerry's? Their products are great and the company seems to have a conscience. Plus, the shops are often quirky and have individual style, which is nice for a national brand. Second on our list: Carvel offers great soft-serve, flying saucers, and those ridiculous but somehow cool cakes like Cookie Puss and that Fudgie the Whale, etc. A final thought: Why no Friendly's or Haagen-Dazs?

1. Smoothie King [WINNER]
2. Jamba Juice
3. Pinkberry
5. Orange Julius

Epicurious analysis: Orange Julius still exists?

1. Ben & Jerry's Scoop Shops [WINNER]
2. Dairy Queen
3. McDonald's
4. Cold Stone Creamery
5. Wendy's

Epicurious analysis: We were shocked that the highfalutin Ben & Jerry's beat McDonald's. McD should win hands down! Its shake is heaven; so thick that it can be drunk through a straw or eaten with a spoon.

On a final note: The editors at Epicurious believe there's more to the story than the numbers tell. While more than 6,000 people voted, it should be noted that this sample group included, by definition, only those people who are both familiar with Zagat Survey and have online access. Furthermore, Zagat does not provide the exact figures (no percentages), so it's impossible to tell who won by a landslide and who won by a small margin (i.e., did Chik-fil-A narrowly win the best-chicken competition by a single percentage point over KFC?). Finally, these types of surveys are always popularity contests; many people vote for whatever places actually operate in their area (there were many regionally specific options that aren't truly national) or whatever they grew up with. And only fast food chains were considered, no mom-'n'-pop shops. So, based on this, we think the Zagat poll "lacks comprehensiveness" and "doesn't take into account smaller regional chains."

Family Circle

From Todd Brendan Fahey's Dogshit Park & other atrocities:

Family Circle
by Todd Brendan Fahey

When the ball falls earthward and the sinews of the wrist snap forward and the scream far across the net sounds more like the last blood-cry of Grendel than anything one should need to be subjected to over a friendly game on the public courts, there is not much a rusty amateur can do but stick out the oversized Prince and hope to make contact on the sweet spot--or even get a lucky one off the frame. Winning one game in a set, two games in such a match--legitimate games, 40-15, then a quick little net-shot down the line to finish it off and leave the blond bastard cursing...losing this way to such a monster, plus avoiding a first-service to the nuts, had always felt like victory to me.

I was faring even better than this against my wife's older brother that afternoon--so well, in fact, that I had begun to get cocky, at one point, tossing up an eleven-story volley as he tapped his feet at the net, knees bent just right, bearing a grin that had made him a famous poster-child for the Orthodontics Association of America. It was nearly one-hundred degrees on the asphalt that afternoon, and even from twenty feet away I could see the color in his face go in seconds from that of an early gamay beaujolais to Hanes t-shirt.

"!" he stuttered, spinning like a top on the reinforced balls of his expensive new court shoes, before running flat-out for the baseline.

"Clay!?" his wife yelled. "It's only a game."

"Shutthefuckup!" I heard him coughing as he sprinted to the backcourt. He gave the ball a good racquetball swat before colliding shoulder-first into the green chain fence, but it was out by a mile.

"So, what's that now?" I wondered, watching as he collected his racquet from where he had collapsed in a heap.

"I think it's three serving four," his wife answered, reflexively, from a slight rise on the adjacent lawn.

"Goddamnit, Brittany," he pleaded in a tremulous falsetto, bringing the racquet up at an angle over his head. And if it weren't for those thin diamonds of steel, I do believe he would have beaten the shit out of her. "Why can't you support me? Just once, I'd like to hear you say 'Hit it, Clay! Get it, darling!' Something!"

"Yeah, yeah," she said, in a tone that hovered somewhere beneath condescension but above boredom; as if she wasn't quite tired of ridiculing her husband in public, but was sick to hell of tennis. I didn't know how many times she had been through this, but I could guess--and the numbers ran high in my mind.

Brittany Chambers was nothing less than the stuff of every adolescent's wet dream. And though I had never fantasized about her, I saw exactly why my brother-in-law had knocked her up four years back: all five-foot nothing, ninety-two pounds of twenty-year old prime loin, spun gold down to a cruel bubble-butt. She was a number, from swimsuit to miniskirt, but she wasn't my type--much as that will probably sound like sour grapes. I had had my fill of blondes by the time I stepped across the stage to grab my Bachelor's degree; by my Master's, I would date nothing but Orientals...which was a weird switch to some of my friends, but to none who really knew me...

Trina had made it clear even before we left our apartment that she wouldn't be watching the Big Game: that it would be too painful. And so, from a covered picnic area, where her adoptive family split time between preparing lunch and tending to the two whining grandchildren, I had settled for a goodbye smooch before heading off to the courts. I wished she could have been there to see her brother bounce violently off the fence, then onto the cement, following my skyward volley, but I trusted Brittany to tell her all about it later.

"I'm...stuffthisdownyourthroat," Clay grumbled from across the court, and by the embittered look on his face, I had every good reason to believe him. It was a blistering fastball, smack into the middle of the playing field, and how I managed to dink it over the net, I'll never know; but I did, and in his smugness he forgot to even run--just stood at the baseline and watched the ball drop safely by three or so inches.

"OHMYGOD!" he sputtered. "You pussy! Goddamnit, that's not tennis!"

And so it went, for the next three games, until I found myself serving for match-point. Trina appeared suddenly at the fence, like a shark circling the crippled.

"Better make this one, Clay," his wife chirped from the lawn, "or it's all over: Humiliation Time."

"You fucking bitch," he whispered over his shoulder, stamping both feet to some maniacal rhythm.

I sliced the ball along the inside corner, and, poised for absolutely anything, he delivered it back with a brutal forehand that barely grazed the doubles-line, and which he instantly exclaimed was: "Fuckin' IN! YEAH!!!! Alright!!!"

Trina blew me a kiss, but I tossed up a double-fault anyway--my first of the match. And when Clay ran to the net after returning my next service, I was driven by surging bile to cram the fuzzy green cue-ball down deep into his larynx.

A tap of his pan-faced Yonnex was all it took to return everything on this day to its rightful order. "Did you see that, Brit?!" he yelled, the ball still skittering down the inseam. "I gotta get you out of Mammoth," he hissed through the fence. "You're gonna get as fat as mom and Claris."

"You mom's had six kids. Give her a break."

"What's the other bitch's excuse?"

"What does it matter?" she wondered. "You're not married to her. And she's probably nicer than me, anyway. I know she's a better cook."

"Obviously," he giggled. Then he swiped his racquet against the court, abrading the protective strip. "Goddamnit, I love to win!"

Clay was far gone from the court--mauling Brittany on the lawn, and, as it appeared, fairly against her will--by the time I chased down the last new orange Penn and collected my racquet and walked out the gate, kissing Trina on a sleepy Eastern eyelid. One thing about Asian girls: when they wear make-up, it comes as a bonus, not a necessity.

On our second date, she had taken me to the sushi house under Lift 13--at which I had spent unholy sums on at least a half-dozen occasions (though I never told her this, her wanting the experience to be a "first-time," and all), and which could be counted on to be, on Friday nights after six, Kirin and sake hell. It was an early November, and the ski slopes had yet to see a flake of snow, and, warm-blooded as she is, the evening found her enveloped in a long sweater that dropped a good two inches past her ass, and not much else. I don't know if it was the heavy-black braid swinging down and around the top of that amazing derriere, or her bare, tanned legs, or those eyes: but every man and woman sucked silent sushi for a full ninety seconds, until we were seated at the bar.

I fell in love somewhere through the Funky Charley, a potentially nauseating thing to the uninitiated: freshwater eel wrapped in rice and seaweed, then quickly deep-fried and drizzled in a hot mustard sauce, whereupon the sushi-master wraps it in raw halibut and covers the long tube in tiny orange fish eggs. The bean-sprout antennae, which makes the whole slimy cylinder look like a banana slug, usually separates the men from the boys, as it were, but Trina tackled her three chunks with a set of porcelain chopsticks she kept hidden in her purse, and then came begging for some of mine.

"Go away," I told her, placing a hand on a crossed thigh, just north of the cuff of her sweater-dress. When she let it lie, I knew we would someday be married.

We had been living together almost a year when we received, by mail, an invitation to the family picnic. As it was I who had taken delivery of the batch of letters that afternoon, my first inclination was to pitch it out with the overflowing trash, but something held me back. That night, almost as an afterthought, half-way out the door to a fundraiser for a Libertarian candidate to the California State Assembly, I showed it to her.

"God," she said. "I was hoping they'd forgotten about me."

We both laughed, and said nothing else about the summons for the rest of the evening. After the keynote speech, as the mingling began in earnest, I handed to the candidate a finely-honed brochure--a professionally designed, three-color thing--along with a check for five-hundred dollars (a last-ditch effort of insane risk, given that Trina and I were cold-stone broke and in arrears by two months on our lease at a Mammoth Slopes Condo), and told him simply that whomever was running his campaign, I could do it better.

I was prepared to stop payment on that check the following morning if he had told me to bugger off, which I fully expected he would, but when he looked into my eyes and nearly cried, and told me that not even his million-dollar townhouse nor the thirty-some hydroponically-raised plants maturing nicely in his basement grow-room had been able to buy him the kind of happiness he knew he had always deserved, I let the check pass through, and he hired me the next morning at two-thousand a month, plus expenses and a clothing allowance, which I spent on Grateful Dead t-shirts and Guatemalan prints dresses for Trina, and we cultivated the votes of every brain-stunted eighteen-year old in every high school, ski outlet and hippie-trash bagel/coffee shop in Mono County, and won the election, further alienating Trina from her family.

To see them together was like watching a nest of birds, wherein one chick has tumbled out and been returned by human hands. To be around it, to witness the neglect, was too much for me to handle. I resisted valiantly most interaction with her parents and their six natural siblings, though Trina infrequently felt the need to make an appearance just to maintain some semblance of peace in the family.

As she told it, her parents had met and fallen in love at college in the early sixties, somewhere in San Francisco--had turned in, turned on, and dropped out, as was the fashion; had become early disciples of Leary, and, later, Baba Ram Dass, and, when they realized the latter was plainly on the money-make, fell in with another Family, whom they saw as attuned to waves of a higher, holier tenor, and who convinced the young couple to move with them: to Katmandhu.

Only it gets worse.

Once in India, starving for lack of money and delirious from a cleansing moonlight dip in the Ganges, the wretched, huddling party--white people!--were reduced to begging on the cold November streets of Calcutta, and not even the Untouchables would share their blankets, such was the group's odious presence. (They never made it near Katmandhu.)

It was then that Marvin and Ellen Weinswelter gave their lives over to Jesus Christ.

I shivered in my summer clothes the first time I heard the story, and resolved that if I were ever to marry Trina, we would have to move somewhere far, far away.

"It was so beautiful," Marvin Weinswelter had said, upon my first meeting with the clan, a meeting which took place at the slightly unkempt three bedroom house they rented on the outskirts of Mammoth. "Ellen was covered over with impetigo," he recalled, "and I felt like I might have been coming down with T.B., and here we were all hallucinating, even though we had given up drugs before leaving San Francisco. We were really on our last legs...and that's when we found Jesus."

"In the flesh?" I remember saying at the time, and not with any intentional antagonism, but with honest incredulity.

Her father than stared at me. "Son, have you been saved?"

"From what?" I asked.

"From...what? From your sins!" he screeched in a reedy voice. "I've been a sinner--"

"Hallelujia," his wife answered, quietly and automatically.

"I'm still a sinner. We're all unclean before God, son. Me, Ellen, Trina...right down to our youngest grandchild, though she won't know it for a few more years," he made sure to add. "That's how children are," he nodded. "It'd be too much for them: to know how vile they really are in the eyes of Yahweh, King of Kings, our Creator; and our Redeemer, His son, Jesus, the Christ."

I nodded righteously, but he wasn't ready to let it rest. I remember that first Meeting With The Folks as taking place on a clear, sunny Sunday afternoon in the high Sierras--the 49ers were away and on cable against Cincinnati--, and I remember having cultivated a fair resentment toward Trina for dragging me out of bed just before my second orgasm, so that we would be on time for the barbeque. I honestly didn't know if I'd ever be able to forgive her after the intense grilling I came under during those few minutes, Marvin Weinswelter suddenly falling to his knees, hands outstretched, jabbering in an unnerving dialect I assumed he had picked up on the streets of Calcutta: "Onglalala, ob ja-la-la, ka babawawa."

There is a nasty symmetry operative in the human psyche, in that the clearest memories we own are those which we most desperately desire to shake: The collective Weinswelter family: Marvin's wife Ellen; second son Jared, a first-year attorney in Mammoth, and his wife Claris; the two middle boys, quiet fraternal twins; and the two accidents: a gangling boy about fifteen, and a youngish girl I gauged as being around twelve, as she was just sprouting breasts, though it appeared Mrs. Weinswelter had been negligent in providing her with a training bra...every blessed one of them, collapsing on the floor and slabbering wildly the same rhetoric of gibberish. Trina was the last to fall in, and I was headed out the front door, and would have been safely into our condo-on-the-slopes, watching Jerry Rice catch one of Steve Young's five touchdown passes of the day, had Trina's hand not hooked mine by the knuckles, jerking me down into the family circle.

"Just babble," she whispered into my ear: "Blablablabla."

And so I did--treated it as some kind of boot-camp Army drill (though I have never served My Country directly; only grasping what I had seen of it on TV, and from Oliver Stone movies)--ran off at the mouth until my tongue was dry, and sweat covered my neck, and Marvin Weinswelter appeared satisfied.

"I knew you were spirit-filled from the minute I saw you," he croaked, exhausted. "God is love: Don't ever forget that."

I shook my head furiously, such were the rhythms of fear and anger still reverberating through my system, and we had no more talk of the "healing power of Jesus Christ" that afternoon, aside from a rote prayer before the eleven of us proceeded to scarf down half a dozen fat chickens I had basted and cooked on the barbeque in the backyard, just to achieve some momentary solace. I think I could have blocked the spectacle from whatever portion of the grey matter governs memory, had Trina's father not taken me aside again, as I attempted to extract the last shards of meat from a wing.

At fifty-one, he had just begun to forget things--little things, which would scarcely have been noticeable, were it not also for the persistent tremors that afflicted his neck and head, so that he appeared to dodder slightly, like a farm-raised turkey. I felt terrible for the man all the way around. He and Ellen, after being rescued from the doomed hippie-cult by a pair of wandering Christian missionaries, had traveled all over southeast Asia on the generosity of the Holy Spirit and not much else: unpaid proselytizers for the Lord, who seemed to always see them a hot meal and at least a creaky cot at the end of the day. As Marvin told it, He had also secured their passage back to California, though I had to take this one on faith. Ellen, somewhere in the couple's travails, had given birth to their first child, Clay (whose conspicuous absence during that first afternoon caused some significant grumbling), and, broke again, the child crying constantly, stranded in a suburb of Bangkok, nourished, it seemed, by little else than the powerful glow that is Belief, they made a pact of some metaphysical sort.

"We were led to an orphanage," Marvin continued. "And the Lord told us that if we were to adopt a small child, a girl, we would be provided safe passage back to California, where He said we were now needed." Trina's father was nodding, to confirm the story and also from the unfortunate onset of Parkinsons; and, reflexively, I nodded with him.

"You understand why we did it," Marvin asked in earnest.

"Oh, completely," I heard myself saying.

"We were commanded to bring her home," he said.

At this, I could think only of Abraham and the "knife-that-should-have-plunged," and I was consumed by heebie-jeebies.

"It's been a trial," he said, "there's no way around it. She tries, but she's just never really taken to The Faith. God designed all His creatures differently--and her kind have been slow to recognize Him, the Holy One." Then he gripped my by the forearms. "You'll see her through to the Kingdom. Won't you, son?"

A shudder ran from my the base of my coccyx to the top of the skull, and apparently he took this as affirmation, for in a moment he was gone and sitting a short distance from his wife, who was seated at a reinforced bench and half-way through her second whole chicken, her hands slick with the drippings of God knows how many buttered rolls.

Those were my recollections of my first meeting with Trina's family. And those sequences were to be roughly replicted on the four or five other occasions in which she and I made token appearances. The one common denominator, aside from the requisite Pentecostal gibbering and her father's pleas to me to "see that Trina gets saved," was the absence of her older brother Clay, who I understood to be some kind of genetically-perfected asshole. His ranking as Mammoth Lakes' Realtor-of-the-Year, and his three-year reign as top dog on the "Millionaire's Circle" was further proof of his mania. But as I backed up and surveyed as best I could this Daliesque Family Portrait, I saw that his personality defects might simply be a matter of overcompensation: there was something confusing about a family bearing distinctly Semitic features, but who evangelized like Jehovah's Witnesses (though they were not), and particularly for Trina--this small Asian girl, who had gone through twelve years of Christian Sunday school as "little Trina Weinswelter."

So when I finally met Clay on the other side of the net on a hot asphalt tennis court, I was not in the least surprised to see that he had married a knockout goy, and that he obviously spent great amounts of time and money thinning what would otherwise have been a coarse Jewish mane (he achieved that blanched-blond look, Brittany confided in Trina some time ago, through a powerful lemon-peroxide combo, and spent forty pops a week to keep it thinned and slightly over the eyelashes in a diagonal drop, a la Bryan Ferry. The rhinoplasty--which he had paid for himself, at eighteen, with his earnings from construction work through blistering high Sierra summers--gave him that Roman-god snout that he had always idolized from the movies). Yes, altogether he was a handsome sonofabitch, there was no getting around it (though Brittany also confided in Trina that the gene pool had not been particularly kind to him in the shorts, and that oft-times, in The Act, she thought she could stare up at Lyle Lovett, if only he were "hung like a real man").

Following the match I had no interest whatever in talking to Clay Chambers (ne Weinswelter: at eighteen, he had also changed his name through the power of the State of California); and, as it looked, he none in me.

Brushing the hair from his eyes occasionally, in that irritatingly stylish way, he ignored pleas from his wife and parents to aid in the preparation of lunch, preferring instead to chatter with his closest brother, Jared, two years younger and burning down the same road of success that had always eluded their father, who was now employed as a janitor at the only junior high school in the greater Mammoth area. Jared had graduated second in his law-school class at UC Berkeley, was no more religious than Clay, but was blessed with a natural compliance--came to church with his parents regularly, and, as I could tell, was just basically a hell of a guy: friendly, a good listener, a forgiving doubles partner; besides, he was married to Claris, who had been, on their wedding night, as striking a brunette as he was liable to see in his cramped little neck of the woods. (But were I friends with him at the time, close friends--and even then, these things can cut both ways--I would have told him to "look at the cheeks. And then under the chin." Chubby cheeks will give it away almost every time; a layer under the chin, at twenty-three, is death. And Claris owned both.) So I, for one, was nonplussed when she gained sixty pounds during her first pregnancy, dropping ten when the load was delivered stillborn, then gaining fifteen more while recovering from the trauma. That she and Ellen Weinswelter could now pass as twins--were it not for the matriarch's considerable hound-dog wrinkles, becoming the best of friends in the recovery period--was also predictable.

All this was suddenly weighing on me, and I turned to Trina under the covered barbeque pits. "Let's get out of here: I think I'm gonna explode."

"Have I done something wrong?"

"No. God, no." I kissed her forehead, and it tasted salty from the heat. "I've been a trooper; but I've hit the wall. I just hate these people," I blurted, before correcting myself. "Well, not all of them. Jared's a prince. Come on: let's go home and take a shower and smoke a fat one on the balcony. Whaddya say?"

"Oh, I'd love to, sweetheart, but I'm starving. And Dad just put the hamburgers on. Can you wait half an hour? Please?"

I sat heavily at one of the picnic tables, and forced myself into a kind of malnourished dream-coma, through which I meditated on the oasian squiggles rising from the blistering asphalt of the city park. In a little over an hour, I would be home in our condo on those dry, bare and slightly brown, but still beautiful, slopes, where in a lusty THC haze I would rewrite my own campaign speech for the billionth time. In four years it would be my turn to represent the Good People of the Republic of California. Maybe not represent exactly, more like herd them along with some kind of high-voltage animal prod, the sheep that are 99.44/100% of all registered voters. I would start with the Assembly. My boss, after two terms, would have handed over the proverbial reigns (this revelation coming a few weeks after his election, as he passed me a bomber in the basement grow-room of his wood-frame palace--indica I think it was, by the way I fell into a paralyzed state of admiration and unreality that rarely accompanies conventional herb). Then fuck the State Senate, which is for losers and the hidebound: I'd stomp straight into Congress, following roughly the same Freak-Power tactics that almost saw Hunter Thompson become Sheriff of Aspen, Colorado in '71.

(Here I made a mental note to reread that particular segment of The Great Shark Hunt.)

And after that, well, I would probably be assassinated. But so what? Life is like that. Like sex, it's the getting there that makes the struggle sweet. These and other equally crazed fixations had gripped my brain, sweat tumbling from my forehead, throat, chest, the fine hairs on my lower back, when suddenly I noticed flames fairly erupting from the barbeque.

"Marvin!" Ellen Weinswelter cried, dropping a half-empty bag of potato chips onto the picnic table: "Look what you've done!"

"O Merciful God," he cried from the playground, where he had been regulating the flow of the teeter-totter, acquiescing to the demands of Clay's and Brittany's two rotten little parasites. In running for the barbeque, he dropped the playground contraption, such that his four-year old grandson, Clay, Jr., hit bottom, with Stephanie, barely three, stuck up in the air in good-natured confusion. When little Clay decided to follow his granddad toward a blast furnace that was once the barbeque, the grease off the hamburgers nicely augmenting the power of the coals, Stephanie dropped nearly five feet and onto her tiny, unpadded bum.


But there was no one within earshot to hear her, except me in my state of hyperattention, and I heard it as something extremely annoying, before blocking it out altogether.

Clay and Jared, upon seeing the meat briquettes that once promised to be their afternoon nourishment, fled to the tennis courts, not with any intention of actually playing (the temperature had soared to 103), but because both recognized it as neutral and distant ground. Brittany was gabbing conspiratorially with Claris about the possibilities of a new, easier (read: shorter) hair-style, which she knew Clay would be dead against. Marvin Weinswelter came under tremendous assault from his wife for ruining the burgers on their limited budget (though she had contributed less than $1,500 per annum over the past twenty years, usually from piano lessons and sundry stitchery-work). Trina, as usual, was trying to calm the cacophony, and her two youngest siblings were far across the soccer field, knocking some sort of sponge-ball around with a set of wooden paddles. (The fraternal twins had been spared this afternoon by a week-long church camp.)

I think I was the only one who noticed the cream-colored Ford panel van pull into the parking lot. And even I though nothing of it--until two men piled out and headed for the restroom.

"Fags!" I thought silently.

But as a registered Libertarian, I was required to be tolerant of such "lifestyle" decisions, and so I said nothing, to anyone, not even to Trina, for fear that she would accuse me of hypocrisy during some midnight argument (though we had not yet argued--but the occasion, I had been assured by my married friends, was not far off). I probably recoiled in disgust, though I don't recall the exact sequence, except that next I found myself tamping, with the heel of my rubber tennis shoe, a pile of bouncing-orange coals that had fallen from the barbeque and onto the concrete by the hand of Marvin Weinswelter, who had bravely but lamely tried to rearrange the molten mass with a steel poker.

When his wife said, casually, but with perfect clarity, "You can't even have an affair right; why did I ever think I could trust you to cook?", the few of us nearby became rigid, except for the accused, who, stalling momentarily, began stomping the remaining coals to extinction. Trina--who knew of her adoptive father's indiscretions with a church secretary several years earlier (the night she had told me this, I dreamed obscenely, all night long, of Jessica Hahn, whose surgically-enhanced hogans I had drooled over a few years earlier in that infamous Playboy spread)--lowered her head and muttered something nearly inaudible, but which I recognized as a prayer.

The unyeilding ugliness was enough to send Claris and Brittany skulking over the hump-in-the-field, to where their husbands would be playing tennis. What came back was something unexpected.

Scarcely three minutes from the time Marvin Weinswelter had been exposed for his infidelities, Jared and Claris came screeching across the lawn, reciting the various sundry statutes that pertain to couples separating in a childless-but-contested way, in accordance to the State of California.

"No fault??" Claris huffed. "What the hell is that? You're making it up!"

"I swear to God, I'm not," Jared yelled to her, his wife trudging across the grass toward the picnic area. "As long as there's no violence, they can't care. Think of how many cases they get every goddamned day. It's a huge state," he said breathlessly, but admirably without pleading.

The long and short of it (though from Jared's vantage-point, I couldn't see the short of it), was that a certain slim, perky red-headed paralegal had offered, during his first five weeks as associate partner in a prestigious Mammoth-area law firm, to, as she put it, "fill the vacancy underneath your desk." And since Claris routinely refused, how could he resist?

How, indeed? (And although Trina routinely obliged, I found myself weighing the hypothetical dilemma, the fetid rain pouring down.)

"If you'd've been more of a wife," he said, "maybe this would have never happened."

"Oh bullshit!" she retorted, and by this time the whole family had gathered and was entering into a right proper uproar. "You've said it, yourself: 'Fat girls give better head.'"

Jared retreated momentarily. "Well, theoretically," he stammered. "I don't know if it's a fixed thing. You know, first there's got to be the interest."

"Fuck you," she breathed.

I was just beginning to enjoy myself, when I heard a voice waver high and above the others.

"Plleease!" it said, shook in the air and hung like a tattered sheet on a line; and for the first few seconds I didn't recognize it as Trina's. When I did, I went numb.

"God, please! Stop it! Stop it!!"

And they did--I think to everyone's great shock. Couldn't help it. Her screams came on like a load of antioxidant from high overhead, a last, desperate salvo on a grass-fire threatening to rage overhill. For a full minute, the only sound, aside from the still-crackling hamburgers, was a burbling from Clay jr., who was busy moving a big plastic firetruck around the mashed coals and between our collective legs.

Gradually, each member of the Weinswelter family composed themselves and migrated, slowly, but fairly en masse, to the barbeque, to begin anew, a battalion damaged but not destroyed. Marvin began slicing onions; Jared patted down what was left of the ground round--meager lumps barely capable of feeding even the little ones.

"Clay, where's Stephie?"

Clay shrugged absently, silently, sullenly from where he sat alone on a bench, plucking at the strings of his racquet.

"Clay?" she said again, the voice quavering sickeningly. "Dad? Ellen?!"

It took me less than ten seconds to scan that small city park, all three and three-quarter acres of it, and to see that neither Stephanie nor the blond van were any longer in attendance. This I would find myself relaying over and over to a dozen officers from the Mammoth Lakes police department, along with a physical description of the van, of its driver and passenger--of their gait, distinguishing features, tattoos, moles ("brown or black? with or without hair?"), and again, hours later, to the FBI, Mammoth being barely an hour from the Nevada state line. But in those early minutes of desperation--as Clay walked to the playground and fell to his knees and shouted: "I'll fucking kill 'em! I'll fucking kill those...god damn...Fuck!", the rest of the Weinswelter family joining hands and kneeling as well, babbling unintelligibly, Trina being the quietest and also the most fervent--I thought I caught a glimpse of the Kingdom:

A shallow depression in a grove of pines holding all that is not sullied, and covered over with everything that is.

A Blackheart's Tale

Todd Brendan Fahey's got another book coming out in October... even better than Wisdom's Maw... called: Dogshit Park & other atrocities:
A Blackheart's Tale
by Todd Brendan Fahey
I hadn't known Jurgen for very long -- a little over a year, maybe -- when the change occurred. And if others swear they had seen it coming from months back, I suppose I must take them at their word. But I had not, and was patently unprepared for the metamorphosis that took place just after the Christmas season, when Jurgen called me from the Ogden city lockup and asked me to post the five hundred-dollar bond because no one in his family would.
"Jesus Christ, what happened?"

I assumed that he had gone to the City Club after an argument with Patrice, and that he had knocked back five too many and couldn't survive the Breathalyzer. But I was wrong.
"It's awful," he said. And I could tell that he was crying real, anguished tears. Suddenly and with unnerving clarity, he whispered, "I feel so awful. I thought about tying off a bed sheet...", but then his voice trailed away.

"I'll be there in forty minutes. Are you good for that long?"

He said he thought so. By the exhausted resignation in his voice I felt reasonably certain that the suicidal impulses had passed and that he was now rounding the bend into that stage of dread that accompanies savage transgressions against a loved one. I knew before I'd even hung up the phone that Jurgen had beaten his wife, though I don't know precisely how I knew -- I had no reason to convict my good friend of such an offense.

As fellow English instructors at a local college, Jurgen had become one of my closest friends. I had met him at a critical juncture in his life, weighing heavily, as he was, the costs of separating from Patrice. In the ensuing weeks we talked frequently about his feelings of guilt and inadequacy, both as a lover to his wife and an apostatized member of the Mormon church.

"I'm glad I went on that mission before I left the church," he often said. "I learned Dutch and got the hell out of Ogden. I'd be managing the spark plug counter at some auto parts store if I hadn't gone. I swear to God I would."

But he was just as proud of the trip he made to Europe two summers later to study world literature, and he talked about that journey even more so, and particularly of the time he'd run stone out of money, his parents having no more to lend. He'd stowed away on a Greek freighter bound for France, lived in a park and swept out shops for food and wine. And he saw those six months as the highlight and real turning point of his terribly naive and sheltered life.

I've never considered myself a particularly religious man, but I have felt the transcendent ecstasy that comes with packing five or six big bags and flying over the polar cap, toward a year of the glorious unknown.

While Jurgen foraged for his supper across the Channel, I was tucked away daily in a private pub inside London's Senate Library, steeped in warm Guinness. And if my sojourn had changed me at all -- which it had, in more ways than I care to go into now -- his must have crumbled the low timbers of his convictions.
He came back to the States with the hunger of a defrocked monk, moved out of his parents' home, painting houses to settle his undergraduate tuition; after work, he'd scatter most of his paycheck at one of the few drinking holes in Ogden, Utah. That is when he met Patrice.

As he told it, she was the first woman he had ever picked up from a bar. And she was still a virgin, which made him happy. "It would have been a quick date if she'd had anyone to compare me with," he had said, on more than one occasion. She carried heavy baggage, but he accepted the troubled package with a Stoic's resolve.

Jurgen and I had become friends during our first summer session at the college, sharing an office and talking whenever we could about the stories of Raymond Carver, whose grim vision we both knew intrinsically. As new faculty, we were both teaching an extra load to pay off our student loans. It was on one of these warm July mornings that Jurgen called to tell me that his two-year-old bullmastiff had drowned in a canal while jogging alongside Patrice the previous evening -- a ritual he resolutely believed had helped his wife retain a fragile sanity during their young marriage. It was during that phone call that I first heard him cry, and I believe the rush of emotion had more to do with his fear of their future than the death of that sweet dog.

"I'm all right," he said at the time, "but I don't know what Trice is going to do. She loved that dog like a kid."

And it was hard not to: the brute stood about a yard high at the shoulder and its food bills ran higher than most orthodontics. It rode everywhere with Jurgen, seated stately in the front seat of his catshit-yellow convertible Volkswagen Thing, like a proud granite statue. Patrice stopped carrying Mace when the dog was a few months old, and Jurgen had said he felt so secure with the jowly passenger that he was tempted to drop the theft clause on his auto insurance.

About a half mile from their home, the dog had become thirsty and wrested the leash from Patrice's grip. Later, Patrice said she had frozen as the dog lost her footing on the silty lip of the drainage canal. Even later Patrice said she thanked God that the dog hadn't looked at her as she splashed into the water and was carried in a rush through a steel porthole and down into the bowels of an Ogden city aqueduct.
"She couldn't have dealt with the eyes," Jurgen had told me. "God, the poor dog must have been terrified."

I felt sick for several days after that phone call, and I wished he had never mentioned the eyes, because it hadn't occurred to me when he first told me the news. After that, whenever I thought about it, I saw a mammoth brindle dog pull away from its owner -- a petite blonde who was probably lucky not to have been pulled in herself; a young woman who had endured four fathers, all alcoholic, all wife beaters, one of whom, after being caught molesting her youngest sister, locked himself inside the garage and fell asleep to the Roy Acuff Singers against the backdrop of a running engine; a nervous, insecure young woman who, in the dark waters of that ditch, had lost the most constant, enduring and uncomplicated source of affection she had ever known. I saw all this and still I could have put the phone down, said a prayer for the beast's newly departed soul, and gone back to whatever the hell it was I was doing without a second thought . . . if it weren't for those goddamned eyes.


Two black banks of snow, the dregs of winter, lined the stretch of I-15 from Salt Lake City to Ogden, and though the heater in my old Honda had stopped working, I felt almost warm in the clear night air. I locked the car and hiked up the steps of the Ogden Municipal Jail. It was only the second time I had been to a penal institution. The first was as a freshman in college, when the resident assistant of my dormitory floor decided to celebrate his twenty-first birthday with a pub crawl along Santa Barbara's State Street. As we staggered slowly northward, the band of ten mostly underage preps dwindled as we faced the test we had imposed upon ourselves at each new bar: a mixed drink, a shot of hard liquor, and a full beer...until the Long Island iced teas at Joe's Cafe whittled us down to three. I remember riding in the front seat of a BMW back to University of California-Santa Barbara, sitting next to an elegant brunette whose name kept slipping through the grey fissures of my addled brain. Then, in a shift of scenery that can be understood only by veterans of the blackout, I found myself behind a dumpster near campus heaving what smelled to be the essence of my bile duct, the birthday boy and another young cad stalking along the unlit street, snapping off car antennae and howling like a pair of jackals.

We were all arrested that night. Somehow, though, I succeeded in dragging the officers several hundred feet to a puddle of my own vomit, which they recognized as authentic by cross-checking the stain on my sleeve, and I was released with a warning. And though Jurgen looked considerably better than the two hangover victims I'd bailed out nearly a decade earlier, his bond was much steeper. There was no restitution that my friend could offer; no extenuation offered for crimes of youth.

"Where you wanna go?" I asked him, after the bail clerk counted the hundred-dollar bills I had just laid on the counter.

"Let's get me a couple of belts," he said. "That's what I should have done before. Should have just left the house and drank right through it. Trice would have been asleep when I got back and I could have gone comatose, and neither of us would have remembered a thing."

We drove to the City Club, as it was only three or four blocks away and Jurgen knew the proprietor and knew he would let us stay past closing time. On our way in, a handsome, diminutive waiter, wearing a gold satin shirt unbuttoned to midchest, stopped us, placing an index finger lightly on Jurgen's arm.

"The owner's gone for the night," the young man said, glancing at Jurgen. "But he left the boxed set on the stereo. Want me to slip it in?"

I cringed, but Jurgen tapped the little queenie on his shoulder with a fist, like he would have any fraternity buddy. "You're a good man, Stephen," he said.

The waiter blushed and walked over to the stereo in back of the bar, where he dropped a CD into the platter.

Jurgen shrugged. "He's a nice guy--" He sat down at a dark table in the corner, the first strains of David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name soaring through the speakers. "--queer as a three-dollar bill, but what the hell? He knows I'm married."
I watched Jurgen swipe the first whiskey from the tray while the waiter lowered a Pepsi onto the table, and I think it was the first time I actually felt embarrassed about my sobriety. We were both in the budding flower of our careers as Men of Letters, and I felt a certain professional responsibility to meet this crisis as all great men in the budding flower of their careers as writers had met similar crises: with a hearty laugh and a glass of Scotch whiskey, maybe even a cigarette. I knew it was irrational, but so probably did John Berryman and Fitzgerald and Dylan Thomas. And as soon as I made that diseased connection, I found myself committed.

Jurgen stared at me. "If this is a problem for you, we'll leave. Seriously," he said, resting his glass on a coaster. "I mean . . . I've got so much shit on my head, it feels like Bandini Mountain."
"Don't worry about it," I said calmly, but I could feel myself shaking under my coat. "I'll just join you for one, then I'll take you wherever you're sleeping tonight."

"Are you sure? . . ." he said, stammering as he searched for just the right words. "You can leave it, after just one?"

I walked to the bar and ordered a Cardhu, rocks, and came back to the table. "It'll feel good," I said, "knowing that I can leave it. It's been so long, it'll feel good."
He nodded and sipped from his glass and watched me as I pulled my own glass to my nose, inhaling the vapors, washing Cardhu around the rim, bringing it to my lips, letting the first wash of malt nectar flow past the tongue, a sting so full of pain and beauty and recollection that I lost consciousness for a bare moment. "What happened tonight?" I whispered, my voice far off in some boyhood tree house in Longview, Washington, victim to a bottle of Canadian Mist stolen by a neighbor kid from his father.

Jurgen finished off his Scotch and flagged down the waiter, who brought over two clean glasses and an announcement. "We're closing now. And so is the cash register. I can bring over the bottle if you want to pay me a little something for it now. I'll never tell."

"It's up to you." Jurgen shrugged. "I just know your wife's gonna freak if you come home three-to-the-wind. She's a good woman. You want to keep her."

I nodded and pulled my wallet from the back pocket of my jeans, removing a lone ten-dollar bill. "It's all I've got left."
The waiter smiled and left the bottle on the table. I don't know who poured first, but Jurgen didn't say a thing to me about my second glass, or my third. Instead, he repeated a variation on a story I had heard at least a dozen times in as many months. I didn't know what to say to him this time, any more than I had in the past: his wife was crazed, and I thought he was a natural-born saint for putting up with her.

She accused him of cheating at least twice a week and had flung books, ashtrays--anything within reach-- at his skull on at least three occasions. When she drank, she had the disconcerting habit of "revealing the family jewels," as he put it, despairingly, which made every barbecue and cocktail party a source of great anxiety for him.

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I think I would have smacked her around, too. And I said so, finally -- just slipped off my well-lubed tongue, and it came as a genuine shock to my ears.

"No, no," he said, brightening, "I'm glad someone else agrees. God, I've actually worried about having a stroke! Three years of this crap. Here," he said, refilling my glass. "So, you don't think I'm scum?"

The room was pulsing. I stared at Jurgen and saw one of the most patient, decent men I've ever been privileged to know. "Huh-uh. But I couldn't tell you what to do, either. Looks like you're trapped."

He nodded his head. "Yeah. I knew it from the minute I proposed. She'd kill herself if I left; but I can't take it anymore. I just can't take it anymore. I was sitting in that ratty recliner in the livingroom, and she came in and started raving. It took me five minutes to figure out what the fuck she was talking about."

"What was it?" I said. I slid my half-full glass of Scotch toward the center of the table and grabbed for the watery dregs of the Pepsi, which I drank down gratefully, then began chewing on the ice. Suddenly, I couldn't stand the taste of the Scotch.

"Turned out she was still mad about a party we were at last week. She got really drunk and I lost her. When she finally came back from God knows where, I was talking to a cousin of an old student of mine. I wasn't doing anything wrong. Like, seven of us were standing around and, Jesus, I was just talking to the girl."

He shrugged. "So I finally got it out of her, what was bugging her. And then she went berserk! Ran into the kitchen and came back with a bunch of dirty plates and shit from the counter. She missed my head by about half an inch with a big meat fork. And then I lost it. Goddamn it, I was just tired of cleaning up all the broken pieces, just tired of dealing with her moods. So I socked her, knocked her out cold. After about three or four minutes, she wasn't waking up too good, so I called the paramedics."

"I thought she called the dogs."

He shook his head. "They brought an Ogden sheriff along with 'em, arrested me on the spot--something about a 'cooling-off period'. Trice couldn't stop' kept saying, 'I deserved it. He didn't mean it, I deserved it!' I felt like a turd."

The waiter poured the last of the fifth of Scotch into Jurgen's glass. "Almost closing time, boys. Unless you want to get locked in."

Jurgen shrugged and shot back the whiskey. "You wanna know what's weird?"

I nodded.

"She's gonna love me when I get home. She's gonna treat me better than she's ever treated me before; she's gonna keep a lid on it." He stared down into his empty glass. "Some gals need to be dominated -- know where the power's coming from. I wasn't thinking like that when I slugged her, but before you came and got me out of the can, I started thinking about Ray Carver. His wife was just like Trice. Carver used to tie on a big one, I mean a really big one, and when MaryAnn picked at him that 'one last time,' he'd bash a bottle over her noggin and then they'd make up and go to bed. It just came to me -- one of those moments of resolution you read about but never really ever have yourself. Everything I ever read by Carver just came at me, and I realized that Trice's been knocked around by every guy she's cared about until I found her. Here I was, thinking I was about to deliver her from a life worse than hell. I thought, I'm a nice guy, a returned missionary for Chrissakes, and I can treat this poor girl better than anyone's ever treated her before. I thought, y'know, maybe one day we'll have kids and start going to church again. I'd like my kids to go to church. But Trice didn't respect me. Now she's gonna love me."

I laid the ten-note on the table and buttoned the topmost button of my coat, and Jurgen and I walked slowly down the icy steps of the City Club. I asked him, one more time, whether he wouldn't rather come back to my apartment and sleep in the guest room and see Trice the next morning, but he declined graciously, and I dropped him off at the base of his driveway and drove back to Salt Lake.

I was glad that I had cut my losses at three, was actually very proud of myself, and the drive home went smoothly. The key slid quietly into the dead bolt, after which I took great care not to bump into the furniture. In high school, if my mother was still up when I returned on a weekend night, she would make me breathe into her face, and then I would invariably be grounded for the next two weeks. My father, having never enjoyed the taste of liquor, not even beer, grieved at seeing a nearly grown young man being subjected to such scrutiny, but he always supported her decision. When I turned twenty-one, a few months after I had returned from London, he paid for my admittance to a private rehabilitation clinic, but not once did he speak to me about it, not once did he ask how I felt in those early morning hours around a group conference table with eleven other shivering alcoholics. As for my mother, she thought her boy had been delivered back to her.

I heard a stirring in the bedroom, and when I did, I groped quickly for the refrigerator and sought out something spicy, stuffing my mouth with what was probably the dinner my wife had made for us and had to put away alone hours earlier -- a complicated dish, tasting of chicken marinated in a curry -- as she walked across the hardwood floor and I strained my eyes and saw the crushing hurt, then the anger.

No dishes would be broken in my house this night, no punches thrown. I would not make love to my wife for many days, and when I would, it would be for both of us a lonely, passionless affair.


From Todd Brendan Fahey's upcoming collection of stories, to be published October 2009 as a Far Gone Book...