Category Archives: Arts and entertainment

Zombietoberfest preview

You know what it means when your neighborhood association’s signature event is a zombie crawl? It means your neighborhood association – and by extension, your neighborhood – is the very definition of awesome. Undead-shuffling into its second year, Audubon Park Garden District’s Zombietoberfest is a fairly festive affair, especially considering that the whole thing is centered around, you know, avoiding getting your brains eaten. Folks from all over town show up in their best blood-and-guts costumes – no saucy Sarah Palins at this October celebration, please – to grunt, mingle and rub fake blood on each other, all while scarfing down great beer and food and peeking with a cold, dead stare into local shops and businesses.

First appeared Sep. 30, 2010 in Orlando Weekly.

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Greg “Stainboy” Reinel feature (Orlando Weekly)

[Without going into too much detail, I was pretty disappointed in the edit of my story that finally wound up in print. There are a variety of reasons why, none of which are worth going into. Below is what ran in the paper, not my original version.]

In a Q&A appended to the tail end of Vicious Intent: The Rock ’n’ Roll Art and Exploitation of Stainboy Reinel, released last month on Dark Horse, Greg “Stainboy” Reinel states, “I’m not an artist. I’m more of an entertainer.”

Forty-six-year-old Reinel’s concert posters – high-octane, high-color, chicks-and-cars presentations of rock & roll fever dreams, the best of which are collected in the career-spanning book – would beg reconsideration of his self-assessment. “I never think, like, ‘I’m an artist,’” laughs Reinel. “I do art shows like I did shows when I was in a band. I just put the posters in the back of the truck and tour.”

Reinel’s history as one-half of Orlando punk legends Nutrajet, whose untamed power pop set the scene on fire from the mid-’90s until 2003, has deeply informed his poster art. Not coincidentally, his book release party features a triumvirate of Florida garage-punk bands and tons of local rock art. Reinel says that for him to sit around a table signing books all day would “kind of suck,” so he turned his event into a party. It’s this unpretentious attitude that directly translates into his poster art.

“He did that [2004] Nashville Pussy poster for us,” says Michael McRaney, co-owner of downtown Orlando club the Social. “That one with the [hair] pick right in the, uh … erogenous zone. Man, people were just flipping out about it.”

Sometimes, though, that provocative imagery can lead to problems.

“The [book’s original] printer was over in China, and they said that some of the images were too much and would have to come out of the book,” Reinel says. “[Dark Horse] was like, ‘If we start pulling all these [potentially offensive] images out, you’re not gonna have a book.’” After a long delay, the decision was made to find another printer and no art was left on the cutting room floor.

“It’s not like I sit down and try to be offensive,” he continues, laughing. “I just do what I do. I don’t try to dress things up one way or another. What it is is what it is.”

Looking through the pages of Vicious Intent, there’s a quiet variety of images within. True, there are copious amounts of powerful females toting guns or guitars, but Reinel’s playful manipulation of these images evokes the fun side of ’70s nostalgia. Others, like the linear angularity of a 2006 Buzzcocks poster (a Malcolm Garrett homage), find Reinel expanding his stylistic palette, also apparent in the new-wave flash of a poster Reinel did in 2005, unprompted, for a local Elvis Costello show.

“He just came in with it one day out of the blue,” says Jim Mallonee, VP of Florida/Carolinas booking for House of Blues/Live Nation. “You just see [Elvis’] glasses, and that’s all you needed to see. [Reinel is] definitely on the verge of breaking out to the big time.”

With Vicious Intent, Stainboy’s big time is here, but like a diehard punk rocker, he bristles at the notion of growth.

“Any evolution in my stuff happens naturally. I like to make the viewer feel like they’re in on the joke with me.”

Flipping through one’s life in a book would make anybody wistful, but when an artist who calls himself Stainboy gets nostalgic over a Flogging Molly poster – a topless redhead with a beer in one hand and a whip in the other – the effect is doubly ironic.

“A hundred and twelve pages may not be a big book, but it took a long time,” Reinel says. “Not to sound mushy, but I got a few pages in and I realized [this book] was my life.”

First appeared April 17, 2008 in Orlando Weekly.

‘Takeshi’s Castle’ vs. ‘Most Extreme Elimination Challenge [MXC]’

 

Storming the Castle

All the ethical hand-wringing that has accompanied America’s fascination with “reality” television is just about as gross as the bowl of cheese maggots that dude spit up on “Fear Factor.” The constant howls and moans of “pundits” pondering the fate of “quality television” (the ultimate oxymoron) has nearly eclipsed the very real fact that television — “reality” or not — is designed solely for our entertainment while we’re being sold soap and tampons. The people that hold up “Frasier” and “Seinfeld” as cultural accomplishments have no room to dismiss anything as “insubstantial.” If it’s entertaining, it’s quality television. And nothing is more entertaining than watching people suffer.

Japan is delightfully unburdened by such nonsense. Living in a country with a fantastically deep cultural history, the Japanese know crap when they see it. And when they see it, they go ape-shit for it and are richly rewarded with a diet of television that’s inane to the point of insanity. A day on Japanese TV is the buzzing drone of newscasts and chirping talk shows, punctuated occasionally by the aggressively bright hues of kids’ programming that makes “Teletubbies” look positively intellectual. A night on Japanese TV, however, is an entirely different story. For it’s then that the hyperbizarre game shows take over, elevating the entertainment of competitiveness to bloodlust levels.

For a people so consumed with modesty and propriety, the lengths that contestants go to for a brief moment on television (and, typically, prizes that wouldn’t get an American excited enough to get off the couch) are somewhat out of character. Nonetheless, it’s not too hard to find couples willing to spend months apart from one another, individuals subjecting themselves to various physical humiliations and fools brave enough to take on the obstacle course at “Takeshi’s Castle.”

At one time the most popular television show in Japan (it’s been off the air for nearly a decade), “Takeshi’s Castle” was hosted by “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, a well-revered actor and director. That Kitano’s movies tip toward the violent end of the scale (“Battle Royale” is so over-the-top, it’s yet to find an American distributor) shouldn’t be that surprising. Because “Takeshi’s Castle” is that show. You know, the one that always gets highlighted on those Wacky “Television From Around the World shows. The one that briefly makes you think that America isn’t the most pathological nation on the planet. The one the Simpsons wound up on when they got trapped in Japan. The one that makes you say, “Damn! Why is that guy dressed like a shark trying to pole vault across a pond?”

Now, finally, the American reality show craze has swept “Takeshi’s Castle” up on our shores. With the June 16 relaunching of TNN (or, The New TNN or, the old Nashville Network) as Spike TV, the network’s attempt to create the “first network for men” somehow came up a little short on male-oriented programming. Believe it or not, there apparently aren’t enough episodes of “Star Trek” or enough hours of wrestling to fill an entire programming slate. Now dubbed “Most Extreme Elimination Challenge” (I guess so people didn’t think they’d be watching a Miyazaki cartoon), it’s been stuck in the unenviable time slot of 9 p.m. Saturday nights. And even though you won’t be home, it’s worth setting your TiVo for.

American production company R.C. Entertainment took the original episodes of “Takeshi’s Castle” and — “Iron Chef”-style — dubbed in English commentary. Unfortu-nately, unlike the hilariously straightforward translations that make “Iron Chef” such a joy, the geniuses at R.C. burden the comments with puerile humor and ridiculous double entendres. Giving all the contestants “American” names and going through the trouble of trying to generate interest in the actual competition only bogs things down further. We don’t care who wins, and we don’t want to hear grade-school dick jokes. We want to see people get crushed by papier-m&acric;ché boulders and fall 10 feet into the water after bashing their face on “the rotating surfboard of death.”

Thankfully, those things are all in copious supply. Each episode has two teams face off, eliminating individual members through various bizarre physical challenges. Somehow, one team or another wins, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter are the challenges. My personal favorite has been dubbed “Plank Spankers” by the American production company. Two contestants cross a pond via centrally balanced planks (think a sideways seesaw) without falling in the water. This means they must both hit each plank at exactly the same time and with exactly the same force and quickly move to the next, at exactly the same time and with exactly the same force. This almost never happens. Instead, we’re treated to the slower of the two being bashed in the face with the upward-rocketing force of the plank launched by their faster partner’s weight. It’s beautiful.

Almost as entertaining are challenges like “Brass Balls” — a contestant must balance on a tiny rope bridge while holding a volleyball, and tennis balls are launched at them via air cannon. Then there’s “Wall Bugger,” in which individuals swing — willingly — into an adhesive-coated wall at precisely the right angle, causing them to stick (typically, they crash face-first into the wall and collapse into a heap in the pond below); and “Door Slammer” finds a crush of contestants plowing through walls of doors at top speed, only to find that, occasionally, a door doesn’t open and they’re rendered unconscious by the impact. Not a goddamn bit of intellectually redeeming material here, but it sure is fun to watch people beat the crap out of themselves.

It’s really unfortunate that the production company had to ham up “Most Extreme Elimination Challenge,” because it’s evident that the show would be monstrously entertaining with no commentary at all. Self-abuse is funny in any language, after all. Apparently, “Takeshi’s Castle” is shown with straightforward translations on the UK-based Challenge TV network (a sort of pumped-up Game Show Network, they also show the “Takeshi’s” takeoff “Fort Boyard” and “Gladiators” alongside reruns of “Wheel of Fortune”). But even with the clumsy dumbness Most Extreme forces on its viewers, it’s nonetheless the most shamelessly entertaining show on television. Cutting right to our passion for human humiliation, we may finally be catching up to the Japanese after all.

First appeared June 19, 2003 in Orlando Weekly.

 

Miss India International [Orlando] Beauty Pageant feature (Orlando Weekly)

Sari Surprises

I’ve been to Bombay more than I’ve been to Los Angeles, and I’ve been to L.A. enough. So I felt well-prepared for the combination of subcontinental superficiality that the Miss India International pageant (Nov. 30 at Hard Rock Live) should have been. After all, we are talking about a beauty pageant, and Bombay is a city that defies all the hokey Western stereotypes about India as a homespun land of gurus and salt-of-the-earth peasants.

India (though certainly weighed down by poverty resulting from endemic political corruption) is perfectly capable of meeting and exceeding America’s finest when it comes to opulent emptiness. Though cities like New Delhi and Bangalore can hold their own when it comes to parties and flash, it’s Bombay that spins out the plastic fantasies that provide dreams of fame for the country’s teeming masses. Like Hollywood, Bombay is a city that runs on star power and whether it’s MTV India, the omnipresence of film posters or some star DJ spinning trance at Fire ‘N’ Ice, the city — like Tokyo or New York — always feels as if it’s spinning on an entirely different axis from the rest of the world. Having briefly rested on that axis by interviewing Miss India 1997 in her suburban Bombay apartment (she was then a VJ on MTV India and a bona fide celebrity), I felt uniquely qualified to understand this pageant’s proceedings.

Well, I’m still trying to figure it out.

Organized as a fund-raiser, the pageant drew participants from 17 states to compete for the crown of Miss India International (not the same as Miss India or Miss India Worldwide, apparently). The actual beauty contest, however, was quite secondary to the sheer pageantry of the entertainment that preceded it. After being ushered to my seat, a spectacle unfolded before me that could only be described as impressive.

Whether it was dance-school students lip-synching to numbers from Bollywood films like “Asoka” (sadly, there was no re-enactment of one of the shootouts from “Sholay”), full-on music-video choreography accompanying a Talvin Singh remix of a Najma track or a showcase by some straight-up Bollywood B-boys (yes, there was breakdancing) it was quite a musical affair. And though Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan might have done a grave-turn if he saw what was going on while one of his songs was playing, it was incredibly entertaining.

But little could have prepared me for what I consider to be the evening’s highlight. As a man emerged from side-stage banging on a dhol (a two-headed drum), a performance began that was truly inspired. Avtar (the dhol player) wasn’t playing any regular instrument. No, the bass side of his dhol just happened to be equipped with a flashing strobe, so he had his own portable light show. And, as his playing grew faster and more frenetic, with the lights coming more furiously, the curtains behind him parted to reveal … acrobats from Splendid China! Spinning plates! On sticks!

Needless to say, this was not what I was expecting.

Thankfully, intermission soon came and I was able to catch my breath before the beauty contest got into full swing. With a cast of judges that inexplicably included Ranier Munns (of the Bogin, Munns & Munns law firm), the contestants were graded neither on swimwear nor on talent.

No, the 39 girls up for the crown were being judged for two main things: ability to beautifully wear beautiful clothes (both “Indian” and “Western”) and ability to answer queries from the judges. Questions like “What do you think your best attribute is?” (best answer: “My smile”) or “If you could have everyone in this room give to one charitable cause, what would it be?” (best answer: “Education,” which I didn’t realize was a charity). Most responded admirably, but it was certainly the first category that provided the judges the most to work with. And, given the stunning beauty of the contestants, it probably also proved the most difficult to decide upon.

In the end, it was Nasheyn Lally who won. But the pageant was less about her than it was about celebrating the mad, modern diversity that is Indian culture in Orlando. And though this was only one of many Indo-centric events that happen in town, it certainly turned out to be one of the year’s best.

First appeared December 19, 2002 in Orlando Weekly.

Suicidal Santa Claus Xmas Gift Guide (Orlando Weekly)

[This was a “team-written” piece by me, Billy Manes, Bob Whitby, and Steve Schneider. I forgot which parts I wrote.]

Dec. 13
Dear diary,

Christmas, oh Christmas … could there be a merrier time of year? Not for your old pal Santa Claus. At least that’s what I thought until yesterday, when the fine folks from the mall called with some joyous news: I got the job! They wanted me to do my thing in their atrium every day between now and Christmas. It’s been 11 months since I was last gainfully employed. I’m sick and tired of onion sandwiches, and they were offering $8.23 an hour! Naturally the Clauster was stoked.

Perhaps a little too stoked. A celebration seemed in order, so I indulged in a little indiscretion and opened a present laid under the tree for me by my lead elf, Katzenberg. (Rumor has it he’s really a midget, but we don’t split those kinds of hairs around the workshop.) Dear old Katzy had set me up with a “Jacks Are Wild” Jack Daniels gift set ($54.99, ABC Liquors, various locations). For the next hour, I positively gorged myself on sweet whiskey, cheese, crackers, beef summer sausage, mustard and chocolates. So good!

When I was finished … well, everything after that is a bit of a blur, I’m afraid. I vaguely recall hearing some strange noises emanating from the workshop Christmas tree. It was our Heirloom Talking Photo Ornaments ($29.95 for a set of two, Sharper Image, The Mall at Millenia, 4200 Conroy Road, 407-363-9000; The Florida Mall, 8001 S. Orange Blossom Trail, 407-859-2171), personalizable trinkets into which dear, sweet Rudolph had recorded the greeting, “God bless us, everyone!” But at that moment, I could fairly have sworn they were calling out, “The horror! The horror!” Then … blackness.

I awoke in a pool of my own sick, midday sunlight streaming through the windows. It was already noon! Damn that Katzenberg, he knows my history of problems with strong drink and honey mustard. I was three hours late for my first day of work!

By the time I could fire up the sleigh and get to the mall (and secure a parking space), the line of kids and parents stretched all the way to the food court. And by the way those people held their noses as I hurried by, I could tell the odor of whiskey, mustard and vomit still hung heavily on my body.

Long story short: I was sacked. And tossed out the door besides, like a bum. The disappointment was crushing, but I can’t say I take issue with the decision. I let everyone down. I’m a bad Santa.

To absorb the blow, I responded in the only way that seemed sane or productive: Doing doughnuts in the parking lot while cranking the two-CD version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Blue Wild Angel: Live at the Isle of Wight” ($25.98, Park Ave CDs, 528 Park Ave. S., Winter Park, 407-629-5293; also at the University of Central Florida Student Union, 407-282-1616).

Dec. 14
Dear diary,
Some days you just don’t feel like leaving the house. When you live in Celebration, well, most days you don’t feel like leaving the neighborhood. Today was just such a day.

Yesterday’s humiliation still hurt like an icicle in the back. What were the chances of finding another job before the big day? Slim to none, that’s what. Damn that Katzenberg.

So I turned my attention to safer pursuits — like playing with Edward Gorey’s “Dracula: A Toy Theatre” ($18.95, Urban Think Bookstore, 625 E. Central Blvd., 407-650-8004), a nifty little playset that re-creates all three stage settings for Gorey’s Broadway production of Dracula.

Focusing my attention on the plight of poor Renfield in the sanatorium really did wonders toward putting my own problems into perspective. Soon, I was feeling positive enough to entertain the idea of human company — well, simian company, anyway.

My spirits were further brightened by the rich sonorities of Myron the Monkey ($25, Dillards, six Orlando-area locations), who kept me entertained with his highly enthusiastic jungle noises and (lyrically altered) rendition of “Hey Hey, We’re the Monkees.” Just adorable.

Well, what can I say except that old Santa has a problem setting healthy boundaries? An hour or so of Myron would have been a fine frolic, but I was so caught up in the moment that I decided to engage in some heavy battery-testing. By the time the batteries were dead, I was imagining chimps crawling out of the baseboards, and that song was practically imprinted on my cerebellum.

To bring myself back down to reality, I curled up with the latest issue of Ride BMX Magazine (gift subscription $19.99/year; includes free ride belt, ride stickers or beanie). There’s nothing like full-color photos of your favorite ramp, street, dirt and flatland riders in action to convey the reassuring message, “Everything’s chill.”

I just turned the last page, and before I peel off my suit and climb into bed, a vow: Tomorrow I will get back among the living. Santa may be down, but he’s not out.

Dec. 15
Dear diary,
This was my day to take the proverbial bull by the metaphorical balls. But things only got worse.

The elves, the reindeer and even Mrs. Claus left me. Gone in the night. Or maybe it was the morning, as I couldn’t seem to get my backside out of bed until 1 p.m. Mrs. C. left a note saying she’d heard about the imbroglio at the mall. She’d had it and no longer wanted to be married to a malingering elf. I’d soiled the good Kringle name once too many times, she wrote. There was a hoofprint on the bottom. It looked like Rudolph’s.

Screw ’em. I’m sick and tired of those little elfin bitches underfoot anyway, and frankly I’d like to see how my fat-ass, soon-to-be ex does on the singles scene.

I left home, drove to downtown Orlando and proceeded to get in some quality panhandling time.

I set up camp in the nearest blue box and courted the sympathy of passersby by proudly displaying my Jesus Action Figure ($6.66, Static, 240 N. Orlando Drive, 407-478-1083). But the cute totem’s upward-swept arms and smooth-gliding action did little to sway the more fortunate to my cause. Derision ruled the day. (A repeated comment: “If you’re really destitute, how come your ass is so huge?”)

I did, however, attract the attention of one of Orlando’s “finest” who apparently was too stupid to notice that I was in a blue box. The lump-headed fuzz tried to roust me from my rightful place on the pavement. Good thing I had my Cell Phone Stun Gun ($89.95, U-Spy Store, 5227 E. Colonial Drive, 800-393-4779), which looks like a cell phone but dispenses enough body-flattening power to keep attackers at bay. (Useful when you spend most of your professional life breaking into strangers’ houses.)

I zapped the cop and took to my heels. Got away from him too, but I think he was trying to get his gun out of his holster. That’s right buddy, put a cap in Santa. That’d give The City Beautiful a big PR boost.

I found an alley, rolled myself up in a Badtz Maru shower curtain ($21, DiVersions, Fashion Square Mall, 407-894-5101) and went to sleep behind a Dumpster.

Dec. 16
Dear diary,
As the saying goes, I had nowhere to go but up. And in this case, “up” meant “off the pavement and toward the BioLife plasma donation center” (1122 W. Church St., 407-841-2151). Thanks to our fine medical community, I was rewarded handsomely for turning over just a few pints of Santa juice.

Twenty-five bucks richer and only mildly disoriented, I was able to score my first decent meal in days: A jar of chocolate body paint ($10, Schakolad, Winter Park Village; 480 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park, 407-677-4114) which I found both filling and useful for camouflaging the body parts exposed by the ever-more-numerous holes in my red suit.

Maybe this Kringle-at-liberty business was going to be easier than it looked.

Flushed with the lure of easy money, I responded to a newspaper ad that solicited human guinea pigs for a sleep-deprivation experiment. It probably wasn’t a brilliant idea to bring along my microwavable neck pillow ($35, NFX Apothecary, 327 Park Ave. South, Winter Park, 407-622-1611) which made me so comfortable that I drifted off to dreamland in no time. Before you could say “bowlful of jelly” I was declared 4-F and shown the door.

Luckily, I had company: some practicing Wiccans who had been thrown out of their eating-disorder study for carbo-loading after hours. These wacky witches, God bless ’em, took pity on your old pal Santa and invited me to stay at their crash pad. The one named Glenda even suggested I dig into a Prosperity & Abundance Draw ($24.95, Avalon, 1211 Hillcrest St., 407-895-7439) to help turn my life around.

Appealing to the higher force of magick gave me a feeling of comfort that the universe was about to reposition itself in my favor.

Dec. 17
Dear diary,
And indeed it has. Indeed it has. Santa got his Kringle waxed, oh silent witness to my trials and travails. It’s been a long time, been a long time, been a long lonely, lonely, lonely time. Oh yeah.

OK, no one’s reading this so I’ll confess that sexual congress with Glenda is not a fer-sure fact. Now clearly, I should know whether I was naughty or nice, but it’s all kinda foggy. I remember the draw, I remember playing strip Twister ($11.99, Toys “R” Us, three Orlando-area locations) with Glenda, I remember thinking it fortunate that my beard is so long, I remember throwing back a six-pack of Zima ($6.69, ABC Liquors, various locations), then nothing. Yes dear diary, Santa is still having trouble setting healthy boundaries.

I woke up on the Bernini leather sofa ($1,275, Rooms to Go, 5200 E. Colonial Drive, 407-228-8337; also in The Florida Mall, 407-438-6799) sore as an elf after a rugby match, and the house was empty. Glenda, Brenda and LaWanda were gone like the fuzz on an elk’s antler. “No matter,” said I to no one in particular, “Santa’s a bit of a rolling stone anyway.” Besides my agent would pop an artery in her head if some bastard paparazzi caught me macking with a denizen of the dark side. (Note to self: Get blood test). Forget about those free “there’s Santa’s on the weather radar” promos on Christmas Eve for sure.

So I’m in the bathroom wrestling with that big black belt, I drop my trousers, make a thumb-grab for the old BVDs only to find them replaced by a pair of Wackyjac panties embossed with the word “slut” on the front ($13, women’s size XL, http://www.wackyjac.com). Which explains the crotch burn but what in the name of Blitzen is going on? Did Glenda slip a Rohypnol (availability varies) in my Zima and ride me like a broomstick?

Absolutely, that is absolutely what happened. The only possible explanation, because I’ve never worn women’s panties before. Katzenberg probably does, the oily little bastard, but the Big Elf. No sir.

I kinda like ’em though. (Note to self: Change the lock on the diary).

I left the witches’ pad thinking maybe there’s still a little north in Santa’s pole after all. Yeah, I’m 180 years old, overweight and look like Jerry Garcia, but Santa is still Da Elf.

So I’m feeling randy but there’s no Glenda to help me get my groove on. Next best thing? Fairvilla MegaStore (1740 N. Orange Blossom Trail, 407-425-6005), of course. I spent the better part of the afternoon perusing the shelves. Santa had his eye on a Dicky Sipper sports drink bottle ($11.95), a chainmail bikini ($81), a coffee-table-size edition of “Exquisite Mayhem: The Spectacular and Erotic World of Wrestling” by Theo Ehret ($60) and the December edition of 50+ magazine ($7.99). Sadly, Santa didn’t have enough cash to pay for his goodies.

But, lord help me, virtual flesh can only satisfy an elf for so long. I did a bad thing and took to Orange Blossom Trail with the $15 I still had tucked in my cummerbund. Sometimes the lure of sin is more than I can stand.

Up and down OBT I schlepped, looking for love in all the places Katzenberg told me to look last year when I confided in him last New Year’s that things weren’t quit right between me and the missus. He’s such a scuzz.

It took 20 minutes, but I found a Claus a date (availability varies). Christmas is coming indeed!

Dec. 18
Dear diary,
Santa’s up, Santa’s down, Santa’s high and Santa’s low. Santa’s out of Prozac and feeling a little bitchy today.

And that hot little number dressed like a candy cane? To quote Michael Jackson, “She’s out of my life.” She walked after she found out that the $15 I lavished on her charms was the last of my scratch. “I thought you had a sleighful of neat shit,” she screamed at me while we were watching a little post-coital “Cops” at the Host Inn Motel ($40 per night plus $5 key deposit, 919 W. Colonial Blvd., 407-422-6311) and only then did I notice that indeed, she didn’t have all her teeth after all. Good riddance.

So I’m at loose ends again. I spent the day cruising from mall to mall looking for work. But the sleigh eats gas like reindeer eats grass, and the tank’s on “E.” I did, however, find my LYNX Passport one-month bus pass ($35, LYNX, 445 W. Amelia St., 407-841-2279) lodged in my beard. Thought I’d lost that sucker for good.

But Orlando’s a small town, and I’m blacklisted. An elf at Herndon Plaza pulled me aside and told me that Katzenburg was shooting off his mouth about me at the Bar of Bethlehem two nights ago, and a lot of the guys were there. “You might as well be Jeff Nolan,” he told me. “You ain’t gonna find work.”

Guess he wasn’t lying. (The manager at one mall made me throw my head back and touch my nose before telling me there were no openings. Hysterical, buddy.)

So Santa’s sitting in the motel bathtub with a gallon of Arbor Valley Burgundy ($6.49, ABC Liquors, various locations) trying to drown his troubles, if not himself. What’s the future hold for me when I can’t get a mall job a week before Christ-mas? Immediately, it holds a delightful foot massage thanks to my Homedic Bubble Bliss Elite Pedicure Foot Spa with heat ($39.99, Target, three Orlando-area locations). Other than that, squat.

But this is the freakin’ season of light, so I’m holding fast to the idea that tomorrow won’t drain my soul of the milk of human kindness nearly so bad as today.

Dec. 19
Dear diary,
Still at the Host Inn. I talked the clerk into letting me stay one more night with the promise of paying in the morning. Fat chance, pal. I didn’t get out of bed until 1:30 p.m. I ate a deluxe 15-inch sub from Lenny’s Subs ($7.65, 3812 E. Colonial Blvd., 407-895-8521) and skimmed a few back issues of High Times ($29.99, one-year gift subscription, http://www.hightimes.com).

Another day closer to Christmas, another step closer to financial ruin.

Dec. 20
Dear diary,
Hey fate: want to shit on Santa some more? I’m still alive, so maybe you want to hit me with a bus or something?

As God is my witness I tried. This afternoon I woke up with steely determination (and no small case of morning wood). Dammit, I said to my Cheech & Chong Head Knocker Set ($29.95, wickedcoolstuff.com), if Christmas wasn’t going to happen for me, then maybe it’s time to look for another line of work. I’ve gotten so used to seasonal employment that I really have no idea how the other half lives. Maybe, just maybe, the Christmas gravy train thing is coming to an end. Whatever.

Sure enough, my chakra seemed improved. No sooner did I step out of my room than a corpulent, middle age woman who called herself “Betty Kinglehorn from Omaha” (over and over again, while my head was throbbing like zit) popped out of the room next to mine with a $20 bill she swore she owes me for “services rendered last night.” Last thing I remember was passing out in front of the TV, but who knows? Santa is still having problems setting healthy limits when it comes to popping Xanax ($79 for 30.5 mg tablets, available at local pharmacies, prescription required).

By the way frau Kringlehorn was smiling, I can only imagine that old Santa once again got into some lewd dealings. “More where that came from,” she leered as she tucked the $20 into my belt. Then she pinched my ass!

The shame lasted just as long as it took me to walk downtown and drop that Jackson at the Bar of Bethlehem. As fate would have it, my buds the Three Wise Men were there, already well into their fifth drams. Jesus was working the taps. “What would you drink?” I asked him, and he poured me what has to be the strongest vodka and OJ old Santa has put down his gullet in a decade or three.

Just as the booze hit my bloodstream, a little cutie in a tight sweater plopped down and whispered her wish list into my ear. She wanted a Mini Cooper (from $16,975, Downtown Mini, 131 N. Orange Ave., 407-835-2727), a Segway Human Transporter ($4,950, orders for March delivery now being taken on Amazon.com), and a hot-air balloon ride ($165 per person, Blue Water Balloons, Orlando, 407-894-5040). Greedy little princess.

So there I was, lit up like a Christmas tree with those old-fashioned-style bulbs, and who the hell should come in and plop his fat ass on a barstool right next to me but Katzenberg! He has what Jesus would drink, then another, then a third, and pretty soon he’s all in my face about what a scrawny, emaciated bitch I am. He’s got boogers all over his tunic and he’s calling me a disgrace to the profession!

I just go on snuggling with Mrs. C du jour, which pisses him off even more (I always get the chicks). Before I can wiggle my nose and get the hell out of there he’s got me in a headlock on the floor! Pulling my beard! I’m pretty potted, but old Santa still has some kick in him, so I busted a chair over his head. Didn’t phase him a bit, though, and he’s after me with a lighter trying to set my duds on fire. Meanwhile my “friends” the Wise Men are taking bets on who will prevail in this battle of the Christmas giants, and Jesus is levitating behind the bar! Or did I imagine that?

I seem to remember someone calling the cops, and a truncheon blow to my head, but again everything goes black. Sure am getting tired of that.

Dec. 21
Dear diary,
Jesus H. Christ! Apparently, the “H” stands for “Heaven Hill,” because that must have been the cheap-ass “bourbon” ($12 per liter, ABC Liquors, various locations) Mr. Son Of God was serving me last night after he ran out of vodka. I’ve got to remember to never drink what Jesus drinks. He’s got an unholy tolerance. Mutter Kringle told me there’d be days like this, but really, this is just ridiculous.

I figured the tingling sensation around Santa’s back chimney this morning was the result of one of my if-one-is-good-11-must-be-better binges of vegan hot dogs ($2, somewhere on Orange Avenue). But then I remembered I never saw that nice fella with the cart. And then I remembered I was broke and couldn’t have bought ’em anyway. And then I remembered getting my ass beat by that no-good Katzenberg. (Note to self: Beware of career-minded underlings.) And that was when I noticed my Wackyjac panties around my ankles and my cellmate … oh, yeah, my cellmate. Apparently, diary, Santa got locked up last night.

I once prided myself on my ability to bring good cheer to my fellow man, but Katzenberg’s the exception. He flat pisses me off.

According to the police report, I grabbed that not-so-little elf’s Ace Frehley Zippo ($33.95, http://www.pipeshop.com) and lit a stack of Hollyberry cocktail napkins ($1.99 for a pack of 50, Albertson’s, various locations) which, of course, I then flung at Katzenberg.

Although I missed my intended target, I did manage to set ablaze a rack of Orlando Weekly’s (free, all over town). Although this should have pissed somebody off, nobody seemed to care about the papers, but everyone was irritated that I was being such an asshole. Jesus came over the bar (wasn’t levitating after all) and led the beatdown on me. Of course, they told Officer Stapp that they were just “holding” me until he showed up.

And here I am. With a cellmate named Paolo who got separated from his Brazilian tour group near WonderWorks ($16.95 admission, 9067 International Drive, 407-351-8800) after being distracted by a couple of male models riding the mechanical bull in front of XS Orlando and attempting to hail a cab by frantically waving a yellow flag in the middle of I-Drive.

He apologized profusely for taking advantage of me, but said that the site of my giant, red-fleeced ass passed out in front of the toilet was too much for him to resist. And who says Brazilians don’t have good taste?

Dec. 22
Dear diary,
Paolo got bailed out this morning, and I’m a bit lonely. We talked all night, and he raised some really interesting questions about why I like hanging out with elves and sneaking into kids’ houses at night. And though those issues are ones that Mrs. Claus and I have had many a dust-up over, his uniquely Brazilian perspective was refreshing.

I wish I had my bag of goodies. Apex makes a DVD player ($57.98, Circuit City, four Orlando-area locations) that’s so cheap that I was gonna be giving them to people who couldn’t afford groceries. As it is, I’ve got to get by on rosy cheeks, attitude and occasional ingenuity.

But it was sheer luck that just got me out of a potentially dangerous situation. As I was headed for the showers — somewhat distraught over Paolo’s departure — I noticed that deep down in my increasingly nasty pockets I still had a Hanukkah gift given to me by that little mensch Katzenberg. Yes, the little asshole got me Hanging Chad soap on a rope ($8.95, http://www.soaponarope.com). Normally, that’s the kind of gift reserved for re-gifting, but hey, I’m in the big house. And a little insurance policy never hurts. Needless to say, jolly old Santa wasn’t dropping any soap in the showers, much to the chagrin of the large and obviously horny Hells Angels in there with me.

Honestly, I can’t believe I’m in jail. This season started out so well. I swear to Father Christmas that I’ll never drink again. And I swear that I’ll kill that Katzenberg the minute I get out of here.

Dec. 23
Dear diary,
Things have definitely turned around. Sure, despite two days of forced sobriety and a shower, I’m still a disheveled mess. And sure, it’s two days before Christmas and I’m out of work. But the cute little hooch from the Host Inn showed up this morning with bail money. My own Mary Magdalene to the rescue!

As I was being processed, the head screw said he lost my shoes. So the first order of business, I told my little Mary, was to get Santa some new kicks.

As we’re walking out of the jail, I start looking for a LYNX stop, but Mary interjects with, “Oh no. I’ve got us a ride.” And lo and behold, a stretch white limousine ($50 per hour and up, Limo Orlando, 800-380-5584) is waiting for us. As we climb in, I’m about to tell the driver where to go so I can get a new pair of Doc Martens classic 8-eyelet boots ($109, Journeys, 3201 E. Colonial Drive, 407-897-6281) when I notice that the backseat is occupied by my passed-out Wise Man buddy. WTF?

It turns out after they smacked the shit out of me at the Bar of Bethlehem, the three wise-asses apparently took a trip to OBT themselves. And who do they proposition? None other than my Ms. Mary Magdalene herself. Damn it, she’s mine! Santa is getting tired of having his women stolen.

Typhoid Mary takes the trio of letches on what could delicately be termed a binge of heroic proportions, during which they’re bragging about how they beat the snot out of Santa and got him tossed in jail. Mary puts two and two together (must have taken her awhile) and shouts, “I fucked that dude last night! It’s Santa, let’s bail him out!” And lickety-split, I’m riding in a damn limo. Ain’t life a pile of reindeer droppings?

Quick as a wink, I rifled through the passed-out Wise Man’s pockets. Now I’m $3,000 richer, but I still need shoes. So my lady (my lady!) and I head off in search of shoes. I crack open the limo’s last bottle of Johnnie Walker Black ($42.99 per liter, ABC Liquors, various locations) and command the driver: “On Blitzen. Let’s get some shoes for the fat man!”

Dec. 24
Dear diary,
Things definitely turned around today. So much so that this is going to be my last entry. Ever.

I’m sitting here on the Conroy Road I-4 overpass, right next to a mall that could have, should have, been mine. I’ve got my feet wrapped around the giant “A” in “Orlando” and, as I scratch this final chapter in the Kringle epic, cars are speeding past, kids waving, moms smiling … all headed for the mall. Westbound traffic on the freeway is jammed with office drones headed home for Christmas Eve. They think I’m part of a publicity stunt. Little do they know how wrong it’s all gotten.

Mary and her Libyan Lothario peeled away from the shoe store as soon they dropped me off. It was then I realized there was no hope for this man named Claus. I wandered around for awhile then stopped in at the Asian Super Market (1021 E. Colonial Drive, 407-895-8938) and discovered they were out of the one thing that could have made me happy at that moment: Strawberry Pocky (99 cents per box). They’ve always got strawberry Pocky. How much worse can it get?

I kept walking until I hit the 7-11 (83 E. Colonial Drive, 407-648-1105), ambled up to the counter with a Big Gulp (99 cents), the last doughnut left from the morning (99 cents) and a three-pack of porno mags ($9.99), ready to put the last of that Johnnie Walker to good use. Then I found a Dumpster to crawl behind.

But the cops found me (they’ve got cameras I guess.) They let me off with a warning, though: “It’s Christmas Eve, sir. Go spend it with your family.” Yeah, I wish. No family, no job, not even the ability to masturbate freely. I was nothing.

I took a cab to the Conroy Road bridge and gave the driver a $2,973 tip. “Merry Christmas, bucko,” is what I think I said.

And now, having recorded the final will and testament of one S. Thaddeus Claus, it’s time to go. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a nice fucking life.

Dec. 25
Dear diary,
Hello from 30,000 feet above the briny deep! We’re about to land, but yours truly is still on Cloud Nine. A bit of explanation? You bet your ass!

As I was preparing for the final plunge from the overpass by setting my diary down in a safe place, some clod tourist in a rented Ford Windstar minivan (from $530 per week, http://www.hertz.com) apparently ran into and KO’ed Santa. Hit and run on Christmas Eve! (Check your stocking, friend, because I think I remember your license plate.)

Anyway, I have no idea how long I was laying there. All I remember is this weird vision of Mary pouring Crown Royal into my mouth. Big gulps, too! Heaven? Must be, I thought to myself. But what’s a hooker doing up here?

She’s all cloudy and gauzy, then suddenly my vision clears, my hearing returns, and I realize: This is no dream! I’m back in the limo with my dear, sweet Mary! WTF?

I grabbed the bottle from her hand and took a long chug while she filled in the details. Apparently she dropped the comatose Wise Man Lothario off in a “secluded wooded area somewhere on Disney property,” then headed for some last minute power-shopping with his cash and his limo. Particularly proud of the Kate Spade 26-inch wheeled suitcase she picked up ($1025, Neiman Marcus, The Mall at Millenia, 4200 Conroy Road, 407-363-9000), she looked like … well, she looked like a streetwalker with expensive luggage. (She hadn’t bothered to change clothes yet.)

But she was my angel. On the way to the mall she spotted my mangy carcass on the side of the road and made the driver haul me into the back. When I came to, she uttered the words any down-on-his-luck Santa needs to hear: “Screw Christmas. Let’s go to Nassau.”

And so we are. We charted a Citation jet ($1,800 an hour, Showalter Flying Service, Orlando Executive Airport, 407-894-7331), and the two of us have been quaffing Crown Royal and nibbling each other’s ears the entire flight. (I tried to get her to nibble something else, but she reminded me that she’s the one with the money here.)

Now, with a warm, liquored-up feeling in my belly, my backside in the lap of sweet, sweet Mary and the beauty of the Atlantic spread out beneath me, all I can say is “Merry Christmas to all, and you can all kiss Santa’s snow-white ass.”

First appeared Dec. 12, 2002 in Orlando Weekly.

David Cross, Eddie Izzard, Bill Hicks reviewed (Orlando Weekly)

David Cross
Shut Up, You Fucking Baby.
(Sub Pop)

Eddie Izzard
Dress to Kill DVD
(Anti-)

Bill Hicks
Love Laughter and Truth Flying Saucer Tour, Vol. 1: Pittsburgh, PA 6/20/91
(Rykodisc)

Stand-up comedy has been in a creative tailspin for some time now. The lessons of Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce and even Eddie Murphy have given way to a return to Borscht Belt hamminess and endless fart/dick/fat-chick jokes. Cast into the purgatory that is the comedy-club circuit, comics hope to get a 10-minute spot on Comedy Central (“Man, that George Bush sure is dumb!”) or some horrifyingly un-funny BET Comedy Jam (“I was going down on this girl the other night, and whoo, it was nasty!”). As a result of this lowest-common-denominator attempt at “stardom,” most comics aren’t daring, they’re not crazy, and they’re not funny. Thankfully, not all comics work that way.

Best known as co-creator of the infamous “Mr. Show,” David Cross delivers seemingly contemporaneous riffs as intelligent, world-weary observations that take in all of life’s absurdities and spit them out in a wholly offensive and completely hilarious manner. The result is bits about topics that should be thoroughly unfunny — the smell of the burning Twin Towers, homophobia, atheism — but wind up being gut-bustingly comical. Track titles misleadingly based upon flogged comedy horses like “My Wife’s Crazy!” (really about the evil, dishonest sociopath George W. Bush) and “My Daughter’s First Date” (really about Catholic pedophilia) tell you what Cross himself thinks about the state of modern comedy. Edgy without being arch, adult without being crass and funny without being condescending, it’s no surprise that this material is being brought to you by Sub Pop, rather than the folks who deliver crap like Jeff Foxworthy or Jimmy Fallon.

Eddie Izzard, whose impending stardom threatens to utterly ruin his stand-up abilities, has nonetheless proven to be one of stand-up comedy’s bright spots. With the about-damned-time DVD release of his 1998 “Dress to Kill” performance, it’s easy to see why. His deft blending of hyperintellectual humor delivered in an offhand, “What, you didn’t know the details of the Falklands War?” kind of way is largely appealing to the unspoken mass of people who understand that transvestites aren’t necessarily gay, that the U.S. is as imperial as England was 50 years ago, that Hitler had certain “issues” and that it’s OK to make really funny jokes about all of it. Yeah, he does it all in drag and yeah, he’s very British. But that makes it that much funnier when he talks about impaling babies on stakes.

Of course, the specter hanging over all contemporary stand-up is the ghost of Bill Hicks. Perhaps the last truly groundbreaking stand-up artist (and an obvious influence on Cross’ work), Hicks’ sets were less comedy routines than they were blisteringly hilarious rants on politics, commercialism, hypocrisy, drugs and, well, bad comedy. Although he died in 1994, his legacy has been transformed into legend by reissues of albums he made while alive. Now, feeding the ever-growing cult of Hicks fans, a new series of posthumous Hicks CDs is being released. The first two are a mixed bag. “Love Laughter and Truth” is a bit of an “odds and sods” collection, compiling bits recorded throughout Hicks’ career that weren’t featured on his other albums. Although it’s great to hear “new” material, the comedy is actually spotty. But when it hits (f’rinstance mocking Jesse Helms’ fascination with “poe-naw-grah-fee”), it hits hard and it’s funny as hell.

However, his true brilliance shines through on “Flying Saucer Tour Vol. 1.” As a largely unedited live document, it’s a straight-through Hicks set in front of what he called “the worst audience ever.” We’re treated to much of Hicks’ best material, whether it’s pondering the curious posthumous anti-smoking messages from Yul Brynner or laying out the case for mandatory marijuana. Better still, it’s delivered with a vindictive venom brought on by the audience’s sheer boredom. Hicks takes their nonchalance less as an indictment of his humor than as what he sees as America’s corpulent indifference toward everything. And it pisses him off, leading him to harangue the audience mercilessly. It’s absolutely beautiful and an approach that more of today’s comics might want to consider.

First appeared in the Nov. 7, 2002 issue of Orlando Weekly.