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“Latins are tenderly enthusiastic. In Brazil, they throw flowers at you. In Argentina, they throw themselves." -- Marlene Dietrich

Live From Buenos Aires, Vol. III

Friday, December 29, 2006
The Argentinean dialect is a unique one, with its own cadence and manner of speaking that makes it quite recognizable in the Latin world. Still, one must be careful when speaking castellano here since even the locals might misinterpret something if you don’t speak it perfectly.

Yesterday afternoon, while strolling down Avenida Cabildo, I stopped into a peluqueria for a recorte (beard trim). She did a decent job, after which she asked me if I wanted anything else cut. I told her no, that I would finish shaving at home. Unfortunately, the word for home (casa) can also mean to get married.

She starts to beam and then says felicidades, congratulating me, and gives me a kiss. She then yelled something I couldn’t understand to the rest of the shop and several women congratulated me and came up to me, smiling and kissing my cheek.

I was a bit confused but didn’t want to seem COMPLETELY un-Argentinean, so I said gracias to everyone.

Only after I left did I realize they were wishing me luck on my impending marriage. Sorry, Princess, Buenos Aires has spoken.

Live From Buenos Aires, Vol. II

Thursday, December 28, 2006
"La gente vive en terror," my aunt told me last night during dinner. The people live in terror. She began to explain why Buenos Aires no longer is the safe city of my youth, but after my third day here, I think I realized my own reasons why BA should be feared:

1. Kamikaze Pigeons. While sightseeing in la Plaza de Mayo, we were bombarded by the craziest, low-flying pigeons I have ever seen. These flying bacteria traps would take off en masse, turn off whatever internal radar systems they used, and swoop past passers-by mere inches from our faces. At least they're not lazy like in the U.S.

2. Crazy Women. Argentinean women are known to be passionate. Piss one off, and you might end up being on the receiving end of a face smack so hard your head spins around. We saw one woman yesterday berating her boyfriend or husband, then pulled a Dynasty on him and slapped him clear across the face. Whatever it was he did to merit such violence, I don´t want to know.

3. Mullets. Seriously, mullets everywhere. Apparently, it´s all the rage. Our tour driver yesterday could have passed for Billy Ray Cyrus.

4. Exploited Children. This one´s kind of sad, actually. So many little children, barefoot and dirty, exploited by their parents to walk up to people and beg for change. It´s heartbreaking. But man, they are persistent. Gotta watch your wallet.

5. Mosquitoes. These insects love American blood but, luckily, don´t carry malaria. Otherwise, I wouldn´t be writing this right now.

Live From Buenos Aires

Tuesday, December 26, 2006
This is my second day in Buenos Aires and so far, this is what I have learned about my native city:

There are lots of bats (murcielagos) in the city, which is why it´s good to shut the windows at night.

Pregnant women here like to show off their bellies by wearing short shirts, kind of like the fat, old Salvadorean men in Mount Pleasant do. Only not as gross.

My 85-year-old abuela saved all the underwear that my best friend Blue left here accidentally when we visited four years ago. In between my fits of laughter, I managed to ask her why she kept his underwear and didn't just throw them away, and she said, "Why would I throw them away?" My grandma is crazy.

According to my aunt and uncle, every person on the street is a drug-dealing, cracked-out immoral criminal who wants to rob you of your shoes in broad daylight. For this reason, everyone should be avoided. My entire family is crazy.

My accent is slowly coming back. Emphasis on SLOWLY.

There might be nothing better in the world than spending December in 85-degree weather and watching the sun set after 8pm. Not missing the Northern Hemisphere right now.

Going back to Argy-Town

Friday, December 22, 2006
I’m going home to Buenos Aires this Sunday. I’ll be meeting my mom, sister, and brother, and staying with my 85-year-old grandma in her apartment in Belgrano for 10 days.

Last time I was in Argentina was more than 4 years ago when I went with Blue for nearly three weeks. We visited family and old friends I hadn’t seen in 13 years, bought boxes of alfajores, ate the most amazing meals, and even visited Patagonia for a few days to see the glaciers.

Not sure if I’ll be blogging from BA – depends on the Internet cafes’ capabilities -- so I’ll wish everyone a feliz ano nuevo.

P.S. I can’t bring you back tequila or sombreros, Tits McGee. We’re not Mexican.

P.S.S. You're not getting a Boca jersey, GoPats. Wear your River Plate one with pride.

P.S.S.S. El Guapo, I know you’re jealous. We can't all be Argentineans.

WTF, Credit Union?

Thursday, December 21, 2006
I am an amateur fan of advertising. I like to watch commercials, read print ads, and yell at the TV/comment intelligently on them.

When VW came out with those TV commercials where an in-car camera captures a real-live accident, I told The Princess, “That’s brilliant!” When I realized that the “Got Milk?” ads were lampooned by everyone, I blogged about it. And when I saw the new ad for a Lexus that parallel parks itself, I declared it to be “an abomination of emasculation”.

But despite my interest in deciphering the science behind advertising, I’m not quite sure what to do with this WTFCU ad, which I found in the Express this morning. Tell me you can’t read that top line and not think the words, “What the Fuck Credit Union”.

It doesn’t help that WTF is never spelled out anywhere in the ad, leading one to assume it stands for the ubiquitous phrase we’ve all seen in IMs and text messages.

Even their Web site is wtfcu.org. When I clicked on it, the home page made no mention of the acronym. Its “About Us” tab didn’t illuminate me, either. WTF, WTFCU? Are you purposely trying to be coy? Do you have a problem with spelling out acronyms? Or have you succumbed to the online habits of a 13-year-old girl?

I want answers, WTFCU, or, AFAIC, I won’t be opening any IRAs or conducting any EFTs or using your ATMs.

Update on K-Fed

KFF (K-Fed's Friend Forever) told me Britney's ex bowled a 72.

I beat that score when I was 11.

BFF with K-Fed

Wednesday, December 20, 2006
A buddy of mine is now Best Friends Forever with Kevin Federline. Doing shots of Patron together, pissing in adjoining urinals, and stealing from K-Fed’s tab can do that.

At Lucky Strike on Monday night, he found himself bowling side-by-side with everyone’s favorite Britney-banging, white trash “celebrity”, whose posse (“two big black bodyguards”) took up the lane next to my friend.

My friend, who I’m calling KFF for K-Fed Forever, said they bowled for several hours and ended up talking to K-Fed, who was in town for some WWE event at the Verizon Center I couldn’t care enough about to research for you. Look it up yourself if you care.

K-Fed, who apparently is actually called that by his friends, was a “a scrawny, skinny dude,” KFF said. Throughout the night, several young women gushed over him and took pictures with him. K-Fed even bought KFF and his friends some Patron tequila shots.

Ever the opportunist, KFF went up to the Lucky Strike bar, ordered a round of beers, and told the bartender, “Put it on K-Fed’s tab!” The bartender complied.

At one point, KFF found himself pissing in the urinal next to K-Fed (he wouldn’t say who violated MAN COMMANDMENT NUMBER ONE and sidled up next to who), but that, while urinating, he violated MAN COMMANDMENT NUMBER TWO and asked him, “So, do the paparazzi try to take pictures of your package when you’re taking a leak?”

“Yeah,” K-Fed replied. “Happens all the time.”

“Well,” KFF said, “you don’t have to worry about me.”


On his way out of the john, KFF turned back to K-Fed and said, “Thanks for the beers!” and took off.

Shameful plugs

Tuesday, December 19, 2006
After writing that title, I realized how lucky I am that I will never go bald. And don’t ask me if my mom’s dad was bald (he was) because that myth has been debunked.

No, the shameful plugs of which I speak are some new blogs I think you should read, or at least click on so their Sitemeters give them the perception that Arjewtino is popular.

Penitent Yanks

A few of my friends have gone off the deep end and decided to enter the Plymouth to Banjul Challenge, a race of sorts developed by an Englishman who wanted to create a poor man's Paris to Dakar rally. Their team, the Penitent Yanks (their entry essay was about how Americans broke away from the colonies over 200 years ago and now, after six years of Bush, we want to go back), bought a crappy school bus and will travel 4,000 miles across Europe and Africa starting in late January.

Their trip is fraught with peril. Already, the bus broke down 50 miles after they bought it.

Part of the reason for entering this challenge, Tits McGee of Penitent Yanks told me, is the adventure. They’ll be traveling through the Chunnel, Paris to Madrid, to Gibraltar, over to Morocco, through the Western Sahara (including four days straight in the Sahara, no food/water/fuel) into Senegal and Gambia. They get back to the US late February.

In addition, they are trying to raise money for several charities before they leave. They will be filming the trip and then auctioning off the bus as well.

They will also be having a fundraiser tomorrow night at the Duplex Diner on 18th and U Sts. in Adams Morgan, starting at 7:30. The bus will (hopefully) be parked outside of the diner during the event.

So to all bloggers, non-bloggers, readers, and friends: join me and the Penitent Yanks tomorrow night You will have the opportunity to add your signature to the interior of the bus and pretend you're driving it while someone takes your picture.

A Portable Snack

Only five days into my friend KWest’s venture as a DC blogger and already he’s getting some good exposure on A Portable Snack. He wrote a piece on street cleaning in the District, a blog post which DC Blogs cited today on its front page.

You may think this is beginner’s luck, but KWest has a history of early blogging success. He guest-blogged for me in August and the post was picked up by Wonkette. When I noticed my site traffic spike because of it, I congratulated him, to which he responded:

“That’s great! Who’s Wonkette?”

Japan Like Me

I really shouldn’t advertise my friend Smats’ new blog since the Canadian-blogger-cum-Tokyo-resident hasn’t been updating it regularly. This is truly a shame since Smats, a good friend of The Princess’, is one of the funniest Canadians I know.

Pester her until she starts posting again.

A Hanukkah weekend in photos

Monday, December 18, 2006
To celebrate the first night of Hanukkah, Shiftless Badger and Foxymoron invited The Princess and me and other friends and family to their place Friday night. Our hosts cooked an incredibly tasty leg of lamb, we drank lots of wine and port, and Foxymoron’s sister won all my gelt during a rousing dreidel game.

I love lamb.

I love port. And Picasa.

After a hearty brunch of dim sum in Wheaton Saturday, The Princess tricked me into going to a cookie-making party. While everyone used the typical cookie cutters – Easter Bunnies, Xmas trees, and gingerbread men – I made Stars of David, elephants, and my initials.

That evening, our friends Z and S came over with their three-month-old Rayban, who is pretty much the cutest baby ever born.

The Princess' uterus jumped when she saw this photo.

GoPats and I finally had our totally heterosexual photo-taking field trip. We went to the National Cathedral where we snapped a bunch of shots from the east tower. Unfortunately, services were in session and closed to the public, which I interpreted as the Cathedral’s way of saying, “Don’t even try it, Jews.”

Inside the tower.

Front of the Cathedral.


What came first? The colors or the flag?

Friday, December 15, 2006
During a conversation with my gentile co-workers last week, I was asked, “Why is Judaism symbolized by the colors blue and white?” I got ready to provide an answer when I realized I had none.

“It’s because of the Israeli flag,” one of the goyim proffered.

“I don’t think so,” I replied. “It’s like the chicken-and-the-egg dilemma. Which came first? The colors or the flag?”

In other words, is the Israeli flag composed of blue and white because of some past tradition, or is Judaism associated with those colors because of the flag?

In honor of the first night of Hanukkah tonight, I decided to do a little research. And by “do a little research”, I mean “search on Wikipedia”.

As it turns out (and as is usually the case), there is not just one reason but a slew of complex factors for why blue and white are the colors of choice for the Chosen People.

My favorite answer is the easiest. According to a 19th-century Zionist poem, white symbolizes great faith; blue, the firmament. But it doesn’t really end there. Blue also symbolizes divinity, equilibrium, and truth.

So due to a combination of historical symbols, tradition, and the Israeli flag, blue has become the holy Jewish color.

Happy Hanukkah, goyim and tribe members!

P.S. For a very funny and demystifying examination of Jewish traditions, read bettyjoan’s post. Here’s a preview:

The Chalice of Immortality: In my family, we would traditionally bring this out on the first night of Hanukkah. My father would recite a prayer as we passed the chalice around, taking turns drinking the blood of Christians from it. Every Jewish family I know has one of these but for some reason they are not as commonly associated with Hanukkah as the menorah or those chocolate coins, which, if I’m not mistaken, also contain the blood of Christians. For confirmation on that last part, I’d suggest consulting a rabbi or chocolatier.

The inscrutable flower

Thursday, December 14, 2006
A poinsettia was mysteriously delivered to my previous apartment in Adams Morgan yesterday. No card. No information. Nothing.

I got six calls on my cell last night from the downstairs buzzer. Coincidentally, I was having dinner with my friend DJ Roo, who still lives in the building, and told him about the strange calls. He told me that someone had delivered a poinsettia to me.

Arjewtino: “A poinsettia? What is that? Chocolate?”

DJ Roo: “No, it’s a type of flower.”

Arjewtino: “I like chocolate.”

DJ Roo: “It’s not chocolate.”

Arjewtino: “Do you know what marzipan is?”

DJ Roo: “No.”

Arjewtino: “I think it’s a type of bread.”

After several minutes of discussing the possibilities of marzipan, I called the building’s Board President. She called me back later that night and left a message, telling me she had no idea who delivered the poinsettia.

“It’s starting to wilt, anyway,” she said.

Who would send me flowers? It’s not my birthday; I didn’t finish a grad program; I didn’t get a promotion. Who could feel comfortable enough with me to send me flowers yet NOT know I moved out in August? Let’s deduce the possibilities.

1. The Princess

She loves flowers, especially tulips. I bought her flowers in March for no reason and had them delivered to her work. She was so happy you would have thought I had asked her to move to Japan for a year. But I’m not big into flowers. She knows this because of the face I make every time she invites me to the Arboretum or Botanical Gardens. Also, she knows where I live – with her.

2. The ungrateful homeless man at 7-11

I once bought a homeless guy standing outside 7-11 a sandwich. When I came out to give it to him, he looked at it carefully and said, “What is this?” I told him it was a ham sandwich. “I don’t want it. Can you get me another one?” I told him I had to go and it was his if he wanted it. He said no and handed it back. Maybe he still feels bad and decided to make amends by sending me a poinsettia.

3. Joe Mathlete

After writing a post about some blogger who decided to emulate Joe Mathlete’s very funny Marmaduke Explained site, Joe posted a link to my blog, an action which last week resulted in a crazy spike in my readership. If I ever wondered how much traffic Joe got, I no longer have to wonder since nearly 2,000 fans clicked on my blog last Wednesday, giving me a false sense of instant popularity. Maybe the flower was Joe’s way of introducing himself. But where could he have gotten my old address?

4. Credit bureaus

After suffering through years of debt and bad credit in my early 20s, I have slowly but surely built up my credit the past few years. I am (mostly) debt free and I’m sure the companies who track my credit standing wanted to say, “Job well done.” Because credit bureaus are thoughtful like that.

5. My mailman

I once said hi to him in the lobby. Maybe he remembered me and wanted to say hi back. Then again, he HAS been delivering mail that’s being forwarded to my new address.

My powers of deduction, as you can see, may not be as fine tuned as when I was a reporter. So if anyone reads this and sent me the flowers that I’ll never see, I just want to say thank you.

Next time, get me tulips.

The hurtful ramifications of White Elephant (AKA Dirty Santa or Yankee Swap)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006
You can call this barbaric game of unwanted gift exchange anything you want. But if you’re going to play it – either with your family or your office – just know that you may end up hurting someone’s feelings.

During my office’s holiday luncheon yesterday in Alexandria, we played a popular game that would have made Jesus himself weep: White Elephant. This game takes the very opposite elements you want to foster in a productive workplace -- deviousness, thieving, and mocking – and makes them crucial to the game’s “fun”.

And by “fun”, I mean hurting a co-worker’s feelings.

A white elephant, for those wondering, is usually something lying around the house that you no longer want and would rather pawn off to unsuspecting fools who are supposed to appreciate it.

This game is evil. It almost caused a family feud last Christmas at The Princess’ aunt’s house. It can turn brother on brother, cousin on cousin, and, as nearly happened today, co-worker on co-worker.

Our office set a limit of $10 per present. This penny-pinching standard resulted in a selection of the crappiest presents this side of the Potomac. Purple socks, candles, and coffee mugs were just some of the examples. The most sought-after gifts, by contrast, were a teddy bear, Starbucks gift cards, and a model airplane.

Not exactly what a 6-year-old would like under the tree on Christmas morning.

I selected sixth (out of 29), which turned out to be disadvantageous. Being the egoist that I am, I decided to pick the largest gift available. I unwrapped the heavy box only to find something so grotesque it would have made an angel’s head explode.

A large, ceramic Reindeer Pulling Sleigh from some crazy outfit called Living Quarters.

I was speechless. But since I use humor as a defense mechanism, I mocked it. To big laughs. As my co-workers continued to pick presents and avoid stealing mine, I continued to ridicule it.

“Hey, Fellow Co-Worker,” I shouted, “you sure you want that cool, electronic Sudoku gadget? Wouldn’t you rather like a large, ceramic Reindeer Pulling Sleigh? No? You’re good? Ok.”

When the Satan-spawned “game” was finished, I started to wonder if anyone would notice if I “accidentally” left the present at the restaurant, when Mr. Ceramic Reindeer Pulling Sleigh himself came up to me and told me it was his present.

“My wife bought it, she was very proud of it,” he told me.

“Oh really?” I replied.

“The picture on the box really doesn’t do it justice.”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s very nice,” I said.

“You know how much that’s worth?” he asked.

“Yeah, I do,” I said. “Ten bucks.”

“It’s worth $60,” he retorted. “My wife got it on sale.”

“I can tell.”

At this point, Mr. Ceramic Reindeer Pulling Sleigh was visibly hurt. I tried to make him feel better, as if I really were part of the ceramic Reindeer Pulling Sleigh demographic.

“I’m just kidding, it really looks great. I’m sure my girlfriend will like it, too.”

Maybe she WOULD like it. Maybe it would be kitschy. Maybe it would be one of those cool conversation pieces we could have in our living room.

When I came home last night, I showed The Princess the gift.

“WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?” she said, horrified.

“I won it,” I said. “At the office holiday luncheon. Want to keep it?”

“I think you know the answer to that one.”

Well, maybe not. I’ll just hang on to it until next year’s office party.

La viveza portena outsmarts the Bush twins

Monday, December 11, 2006
When Barbara Bush’s purse was snatched last month in a Buenos Aires restaurant while being guarded by a Secret Service detail, it became news and ridiculed by commenters.

When a Wonkette operative last week revealed that Jenna Bush was dating an unemployed porteno who makes $400 a month and was impressed that Jenna “has a salary from her own job and her own credit card,” it was ridiculed by commenters.

Looks like the Presidential twin Argentiphiles are falling for my country’s oldest story in the book: la viveza portena.

La viveza portena is the use of street smarts, cunning, and guile to get what you want. It is, as my Papi told me, the ability to sell a pedestrian a public phone. Using la viveza is a badge of pride for many portenos (people born in Buenos Aires). It is an act which, at its most innocuous, is used to fool your friends but, at its most dangerous, can be used to rob the naïve.

And being American, or even a powerful American, apparently is not a deterrent.

Jenna Bush seems to have fallen for some 25-year-old “marketing agency owner”, AKA, unemployed, who has been bragging to friends and the media about scoring with W’s daughter. (He’s also a fan of Boca Juniors, which sickens my River Plate allegiance.)

Barbara has also been prey to la viveza portena. Her purse was taken at a Buenos Aires restaurant right under the nose of a Secret Service guard and, perhaps as one commenter said, on a dare.

Now it is very easy to fall under the spell of la viveza portena. We Argentineans are great-looking, charming, and exotic. (Unless your family is also Jewish Eastern European and you lack the ability to tan; thanks a lot, Romanian DNA.) We are arrogant, proud, macho, and usually get what we want. We are, essentially, a nation of Spanish-speaking salesmen.

Buenos Aires is a beautiful city. It is, as Shiftless Badger put so aptly, “Paris, filled with Italians, speaking Spanish.”

But you have to be smart when visiting. Travel in packs, don’t speak to strangers and reveal your American accent, always call for a cab to minimize the risk of micro-kidnappings, and learn as much as you can about your neighborhood before leaving.

Once, when Blue and I were visiting Buenos Aires in 2002, we went to El Centro for some sightseeing and came upon an anti-American protest. Blue asked me what they were chanting and after listening for a few seconds, I translated it for him: “Yankees go home, the blood of Argentinean youth is on your hands.”

Blue wanted to leave the protest but I told him everything was fine and that he should not speak. I also told him zipping up his jacket and hiding his UCLA Bruins T-shirt might also be a good idea. We didn’t have a Secret Service detail and we managed to survive BA for nearly three weeks, including a four-day trip to Patagonia, with our wallets and physical well-being intact.

But not everyone is so lucky. My 85-year-old abuela has continually been mugged by purse snatchers in broad daylight.

Even being home doesn’t guarantee safety. Once, during a game of cards with her friends, thieves barged into her apartment, held all the women at knifepoint, and robbed my widowed abuela of her wedding ring. The ring wasn’t very expensive but it held for her tremendous sentimental value, reminding her everyday of my grandfather, who died in 1983.

Being quick and vivo is a typical porteno quality. Not getting cheated or robbed, outsmarting other people, using la viveza porteno, are all traits one needs to get by in Buenos Aires.

The Bush twins are just learning the hard way. Jenna Bush’s Argentinean boyfriend described her as "sencilla" (simple). If he keeps getting the attention and fame he wants, he’ll see he wasn’t too far off.

But where were the champagne and hookers?

Thursday, December 07, 2006
After a lifetime of traveling coach on commercial airliners, I pulled a “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” yesterday and flew to Oklahoma City on my Alphabet Soup agency’s private jet.

No security checkpoints. No crying babies. No bitter flight attendants. Just a Citation Excel 550, six co-workers, and plenty of sky 40,000 feet above the U.S.

It was as close as I’ll ever get to feeling like a rock star (notwithstanding any growing Guitar Hero fame).

We met at 6:30am at National Airport’s Hangar 6 for preflight and took off shortly afterward as the sun started to rise. The pilot, one of my bosses, and his copilot allowed me to stand by the cockpit and watch our takeoff and subsequent landing in Oklahoma City. During the flight, we made the most of our glitzy surroundings as we drank champagne, smoked Cuban cigars, and hung out with hookers.*

I pretended to understand as Copilot explained all the different onboard computer systems, readings, and thingamabob doohickies.

“This is the flux capacitor,” Copilot might as well have told me. “It’s what makes time travel possible.”

“Oh sure, the flux capacitor,” I replied with as much faking of comprehension as I could muster. “Makes sense.”

The real highlight of the trip, however, was the return flight home. As the sun faded over the long horizon, the moon turned a fire color that captivated all of us. The city lights grew larger as we descended and soon enough we could see the Beltway jam-packed with red and white car lights.

The Citation trailed the Potomac River back to National and the earth became an illuminated playground of alternating black and white lights guiding us home. I stood during our entire approach, watched out the cockpit windshield, and fixed my eyes on the position indicator screen, which showed several jets streaking toward the airport.

We landed smoothly and disembarked, home early. I took the Metro back to Takoma and felt spoiled by the trip. I looked out the window of the Yellow Line as it crossed the river, chugging toward DC, and thought about how boring this once stirring view was.

Robin Leach would have been so sad.

* Replace champagne with Diet Coke, smoked Cuban cigars with took out our laptops, and hung out with hookers with discussed business.

P.S. Not much to report about Oklahoma except for one thing: what's with all the gaucho pants the chicks were wearing? Seriously, I saw a dozen women wearing these horrendous fashion statements. Can any Oklahomans explain this?

The guilt of pleasure

Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Urban Dictionary defines a “guilty pleasure” as “Something that you shouldn't like, but like anyway.” It cites, as examples, lawn gnomes and Tara Reid. Not sure who’s getting any pleasure out of Tara Reid (perverted hedonists?), but the idea of guilty pleasures is, nevertheless, an interesting one.

For example, Talking Budgie wrote last month about her love of seeing Billy Joel in concert. I thought that took some big ovaries for her to admit, but she was proud of her affection. Blogging about your love of BJ is like telling people you find Scientology interesting: it makes them laugh and question your sanity.

But everyone has guilty pleasures, probably dozens. Most of them we confess to friends and strangers with a degree of irony so as not to be designated as social outcasts. Others we have trouble even admitting to ourselves, let alone to those whose opinions we value.

I am no stranger to internalized shame. As a Jew, and I think Kassy K would agree, we learn early on that guilt is not just part of life, it’s almost a requisite. But why should there be shame in the things we love or derive pleasure from? Why can’t I tell people that I love statistics to an insane degree, or that I secretly eat at McDonald’s despite my outward derision of fast food (thanks, Fast Food Nation, thanks a lot)?

Most guilty pleasures are related to pop culture, most notably music, movies, or TV shows. I know someone who absolutely loves the show “Reba” on the WB, another who is addicted to reality shows, and another who buys a bag of pork rinds at 7-11 every chance she gets.

Even sports allegiances can be a source of guilty pleasure. You love the Cowboys but grew up in DC? Think Derek Jeter is an exemplary player despite your love of the Red Sox? These are tough things to confess to anyone and can leave even the strongest people cowering in proverbial corners in the fetal position.

So what are some of your guilty pleasures? I will admit one to get it started: I LOVE the song “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood. Yes, THAT one. The song popularized during the Gulf War and used by right wing, fascist nut jobs to espouse militaristic patriotism. The one the refrain of which goes:

And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free/
And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me/
And I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today/
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land, God bless the U.S.A.

I can’t get enough of this song. I sing it a capela in the shower. I get chills when I think of the tune. I’m pretty sure that I’ll have to turn in my Liberal card after this, but it’s true, and now that I’ve copped to it, my shame has lessened (a little bit).

So divest yourself of your guilty pleasures, let them go, take pride in them.

But please, for our sake, do it with a whisper.

No longer getting my hair “designed”

Monday, December 04, 2006
“Hola, como estas?” said the Latina receptionist as I walked into Estela’s Hair Salon recently.

“Bien, y vos?” I replied. “Un – crap, what’s the word in Spanish for haircut? I thought. Crap, crap, crap – un... haircut, por favor.”

Dammit. It was corte de pelo. Now I sound like a gringo and...

“Everybody busy right now, please seat,” she said, reverting to English.

For many years, I got my hair cut at VSL Hair Design in Dupont, spending upwards of $30-35 for a wash, “design”, and tip. Aside from its geographically desirable location, I went to VSL because it was the salon equivalent of a nightclub: flashy, attractive, and popular. Hell, even the salon’s image is established within its own name: Hair Design. Really, they’re using protractors on people’s hair now?

But after going to Estela’s in Takoma Park a couple of weeks ago, I realized that the glitziness of having tattooed, pierced hipster women and gay, ostentatious men with spiked hair trim your mane is overrated.

The alternative, I learned, is eschewing style for substance. So I chose to go to Estela’s, a large, brightly lit place with predominantly Latino clienteles whose entertainment value is alone worth the price of admission.

I was assigned to Carmen, a short, Asian-Latina woman who draped a leopard-print protective coat around my neck. Embarrassed by my momentary lapse in Spanish, I resolved to speak to Carmen in English since it was easier and it would prevent any superfluous conversation.

This might have been a mistake.

I explained what I wanted: leave the front as long as possible, trim the sides and back short, and blend it together. Carmen took out the clippers and guards, pointed to the back of my head, and said, “Eh, number one?”

“No, no!” I said, images of my bald head scaring me back into my native tongue, “numero dos!”

Carmen went to town on my dome, taking such care with my locks that I thought she felt personally responsible for every single hair. She clipped the back perfectly, used her scissors to give me a seamless blend, and even used a razor to shear loose strands on my neck and sideburns.

At VSL, I was satisfied if my stylist – sorry, hair designer – didn’t look around the salon at other people. I don’t have a hairstyling license, but I’m pretty sure acting distracted isn’t part of any cosmetology school’s curriculum.

And though VSL may be known for attracting a slew of good-looking patrons, Estela’s had a much more compelling atmosphere. There was the 4-year-old boy crying as he got a haircut while sitting on his dad’s lap; the 8-year-old girl who dropped bubble gum on the floor, retrieved it, and put it in her mouth; and the singing/dancing sweeper who brushed up the loose hair on the floor.

Yup, for $11 (plus a $5 tip I gave Carmen), substance trumps style any day.