A Few Guilty Pleasures
September 29, 2004
This morning I paused to watch a junkie vigorously work to find a vein and
then shoot up in plain view near the entrance to the 24th Street/Mission BART station. Inspired,
my thoughts jumped to the guilty pleasures we enjoy that we don't always share with our friends.
Despite what the DEA wants you to think and Mr. Crouched-in-the-Corner-with-a-Belt-Wrapped-Around-His-Arm,
most heroin users are normal people who hold down a job, eat Thanksgiving dinner with their families
and wave at their kid from the bleachers at soccer games. Understandably, most of you aren't closet
smack addicts; but there are other secrets -- many worse than heroin -- you're probably not telling.
Maybe you covertly buy cartons of Peeps and eat them all in one sitting; or perhaps your shame is
derived from the fact that 7th Heaven re-runs make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I would completely
understand if you confessed to crooning REO Speedwagon songs into your hair dryer while dancing naked
in front of a full-length mirror; it could be how you unwind at the end of the day...or you think the
blowing air has a rakish effect.
The most polished, professional, svelte and/or hip people all have at least one sheepish secret they'd
rather you didn't know. There is one exception. Even as a "guilty pleasure," it is unacceptable to
like Jon Favreau. That is not "guilt," but a mental illness that may require shock therapy.
It's true; I heed the calling of Lobster Fest. It could be the Midwest in me acting up or just the delectable
outer crunch and warm cushy insides of their famous garlic-cheese biscuits; whatever the case, this weakness
for bad shrimp scampi and mediocre lobster rears its fishy head once every three months or so. I will suddenly want nothing more
than to sit in a booth next to a wall-mounted wooden fish and consume a heaping plate of clam strips and
bacon-wrapped scallops. When I'm feeling particularly saucy, nothing hits the spot better than The Ultimate Feast.
Whatever your pleasure, you know that it's going to be fried, it's going to be greasy and it's going to be goddam good.
As usual, Dan is my partner in crime on these outings. Last time, we witnessed a near brawl break
out in the dining room between two female servers over a scheduling conflict. If the food doesn't provide the
thrills you seek, an employee cat fight will.
We once made the mistake of ordering Lobsteritas. This behemoth of a
strawberry margarita doesn't so much get you drunk as it causes you to lapse into hyperglycemic shock. The drink
is such an undertaking that, for your trouble, you are rewarded with a souvenir string of Mardi gras beads
attached to a plastic lobster pendant. Mine, in shiny purple, hung on the bathroom door knob for a few years
until Dan made me get rid of it. At first I fought to keep it, but then, upon realizing that I could get
another one -- a newer, better, shinier one -- I gave in. If you're not the margarita type but still want
the lobster necklace, the Alotta Colada will also satisfy your craving for cheap novelty crap while bathing
your throat in a refreshing burst of coconut goodness. Three cheers for that.
Tabloids are a common "guilty pleasure." However, I have a rich history that sets my addiction apart from
those who listlessly toss a copy of US Weekly in with the rest of their groceries. My career as a tabloid
reader began long ago when I spent weekends at my grandmother's house. Marge, as we called her,
was an avid reader of the Star and National Enquirer, with an occasional copy of Sun and Globe thrown in for
good measure. She knew I voraciously consumed them and always saved the back issues.
Actually, like me, she probably would have kept them anyway; I inherited her tendency to keep everything.
My mother, who used to burst into my room, open my closet and demand to know what she could get rid of, could not (and cannot)
handle this pack-rat behavior. I guess it skips generations. Upon arrival and after a kiss hello,
I sequestered myself in her basement where, next to the ancient Sears exercise bike and shelves bulging
with Sidney Sheldon novels, I spent the rest of the visit catching up on Liz Taylor's latest divorce, the worst
dressed (still my favorite) and the most recent baby born with its heart on the outside. When I was a
freshman in college, Marge sent me care packages containing stacks of tabloids, flavored coffee and
bags of mini colored marshmallows. Somewhere along the way she picked up the idea that I really like marshmallows.
By the end of the year, my roommate and I had no less than a dozen bags. You'd be surprised how hard it is
to even give them away. In retrospect, we should have held a contest to see who could fit the most marshmallows
in their mouth at once. Then again, one of us would have choked and died. After all, these were the days of
key lime flavored Mad Dog 20/20. Fun fact: if you puked, it came up neon green. Pretty!
Later, probably at the behest of my mother, Marge stopped buying her weekly rags. She was got
rid of her trashy novels and gave over a hundred dresses to a church rummage sale. The people running
the sale apparently thought they were too good to re-sell old issues of Weekly World News because those were
tossed in the garbage. No one even alerted me this was going to happen, the dirty whores. I would never know
the true origin of Bat Boy.
Nowadays, reading tabloids is simply part of my commitment to this website. In order to produce the most
gripping stories, I must always be up to date on this culture we call pop. An informed opinion makes for
informed writing. Oh, hell, I just like reading smut. Truly though, it does bring fond memories of Marge,
my favorite grandparent, who died suddenly last year. If such sentimentality is derived from
reading tabloids, the trash factor can be overlooked.
There's not a whole lot I can say about it, other than I like to watch it. Dan is the one who makes fun of
me, yet he is also the one who brought home the special edition DVD box set that contains both Ghostbusters
1 and 2. It's common fact that the original is superior to the follow up; however in Part 2, one can't
overlook Peter MacNicol's role as that little freak driven crazy by the Vigo painting. Sigh. Much
like that of Egon, such brilliance is not often realized. I just hope Sigourney Weaver got paid a tidy sum
to participate the second time around.
My friend has preached the glory of Big Lots for several years now. Each time I saw him, I listened with half
an ear to his stories of spectacular savings on everything from paper products and knock-off Barbie clothes to
egg salad in a can. (This last, though admittedly a great deal, was proven to be a less than stellar choice.
Would you eat egg salad out of a can? I didn't think so.) If you believed what he said, Big Lots could restore
one's virginity, breathe life back into dead pigeons and provide a killer deal on blue shag bath mats. Despite these claims,
I remained a skeptic. Why should I believe that Big Lots was sent to earth to save mankind from overspending and deliver us from a hell of department
store mark-ups and full-price 20 oz disposable cups?
Last weekend, I finally took the plunge. Through the soft swoosh of an automatic door, I stepped into a vestibule
of cost cutting deals beyond my wildest dreams! I was greeted by aisle upon aisle heaped with decorations galore - Halloween!
Autumn Harvest! Thanksgiving! Christmas! Much like George W. Bush's "children," Big Lots left no holiday behind.
Since the Big Lots mission was to procure toys and props for a quality "action figure porno," Dan dragged me away from
the painted, glazed-ceramic pumpkins and Horns of Plenty. "But it would look so glorious as our Thanksgiving
centerpiece!" I wailed. He just can't appreciate good kitsch when he sees it.
I soon forgot about the Horn of Plenty when we spied the gold lamé three-piece living room set that would "work
with most 11 inch fashion dolls." Perfect for a mini porn set, it was just what we needed for Star Trek XXX: The
Passion of the Sulu. Even with the miniature pimp lair, the best find of all was a Kentucky Fried Chicken picnic play set, complete
with plastic meat, wet naps and tubs o' slaw and mashed potatoes. How sad is it that some kid is expected to entertain
himself with a fake fried drumstick? At $4.99, the toy was more expensive than the real thing.
All in all, I became a Big Lots convert. I'll be the one, eyes ablaze with the fury of the heavens, standing on a soap
box at 16th & Mission screaming into a microphone and condemning anyone who paid full price for a box of Kleenex or
Mr. Clean floor wax. Only Big Lots can show you the right path to discount close-out deals; don't fall to the false
gods like Ross and Marshall's.
The Final Countdown
We're heading for Venus
And still we stand tall
Cause maybe they've seen us
And welcome us all
With so many light years to go
And things to be found
I'm sure that we'll all miss her so
It's the final countdown...
In the 1980s, Swedish super-group, Europe, took the world by storm. If their lyrics were a prophecy, Venus
was next, followed by the Universe and, finally, the great unknown. I'll have to check if that all worked out for them.
Prior to a little research, I knew two things about The Final Countdown: 1) it was the theme song in Rocky IV and;
2) I liked it. Upon digging deeper, I discovered that Europe's original guitarist, John Norum, left the band in
1987 because his musical tastes were on par with the Scorpions and Dokken, while the rest of the band liked
Toto and Journey. I only wish I had made that up. Either way, he cut out before their biggest hit awed millions during
the closing ceremony of the 1988 Olympic Games. The poor guy probably still wakes up in the middle of the night bathed in
the cold sweat of regret.
My more recent experience with The Final Countdown involves a cassette tape purchased at a tag sale near my house.
Dan and I were walking around our hood one Saturday when we happened upon someone selling a random assortment of junk.
I was drawn to his cassette collection. ...Black Sabbath...something crappy...Stray Cats....more crap...EUROPE!
Before I continue, I should explain that cassettes are of interest because the CD player in our shitty car stereo
(the second stereo in less than three years, mind you) has been broken for longer then I can remember. Our
warranty covered the first replacement; now it will cost a thousand dollars to get a new one(!) Defeated, we are
forced to listen to the radio and any tapes we can drudge up. On a recent trip to Yosemite, Depeche Mode's People
are People repeated so many times that my friends were ready to jump from the moving
vehicle and fling themselves into the nearest ravine. In short, we desperately needed to update our tape selection.
After buying Europe's magnum opus, we immediately headed to our car. The next half hour was spent driving around
San Francisco blasting The Final Countdown at top volume with all the windows rolled down, head banging and singing gleefully.
My favorite part is that ungodly scream at the end before the final "final countdown." There was
quite a bit of fist pumping, the sign of the horns and bulging neck tendons -- all in the name of keeping Europe real.
I've since put various friends through the Europe torture. They endured it as gracefully as possible, but then,
they needed a lift. Ride beggars can't be choosers. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some rockin' to do.
We're leaving together
But still it's farewell
And maybe we'll come back
To earth, who can tell
I guess there is no one to blame
We're leaving ground
Will things ever be the same again
It's the final countdown...