Original Gangstas

Guys if you only read one book about rap music written by a nerdy looking white guy this year make sure it’s Ben Westhoff’s Original Gangstas. It’s a deep dive into the history of west coast rap outlining the careers of legendary artists such as Dr. Dre, Eazy E, and Ice Cube to name a few.
As is most often the case when I read a book like this what interests me most isn’t necessarily facts but anecdotes. Original Gangstas goes into quite a bit of detail about how the drug trade influenced hip-hop music. This probably shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone since many of the artists associated with the genre grew up in impoverished parts of LA where the use and sale of drugs were a part of life. Eazy E, one of the founders of N.W.A. even used drug profits to start his label Ruthless Records.
Here’s something wild though…apparently Nancy Reagan used to go along on SWAT raids as part of her war on drugs campaign. Imagine the police driving one of their armored vehicles through the front of your house. There are bright lights everywhere and its loud as hell. You’re being dragged from your house in handcuffs completely disoriented when you look up and see the first lady and her ghoulish visage. I don’t think I could imagine a more surreal scene if I had to.
And while we’re on the subject of narcs former LAPD chief Daryl Gates was quoted as saying people who occasionally “blasted some pot” should be shot. Who talks like that? I mean I expect the tough talk from a police chief but he sounds like such a dork. Blasted some pot indeed.
Here’s something fun. Try and guess which sitcom star used to write Tupac while he was in prison. If you guessed Tony Danza I would call you a liar. However that is the truth. Isn’t that weird? If I live to be a thousand years old I don’t think I’ll ever be able to wrap my head the fact that this actually happened.

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Havana Nocturne

Well gang I finished TJ English’s Havana Nocturne. If you like books about the mob, the Cuban revolution and/or gambling then I can hardly recommend this book enough. This is English’s 4th book I’ve read and he has yet to disappoint. His true crime yarns are literary treasures.
I don’t have much to say about Castro, the revolution or Batista’s monkeyshines. All of that has been written about ad nauseum. I’m here to discuss the weird stuff and other salient material that captured my interest.
1. Charles “Lucky” Luciano, famed racketeer, was given his name by fellow gangster Meyer Lansky. Luciano had been abducted and tortured by some other toughs in response to some infraction. While convalescing Luciano said he was lucky to be alive and Lansky replied “Yeah, that’s you Lucky Luciano.” I find this anecdote so amusing because I can’t imagine pissing someone off so much that shaved apes haul me off and carve up my face. Despite perpetrating a degenerate act or two in my day I’ve never even been arrested. Reasons such as these are why I doubt I’d make a very good outlaw.
2. Lucky Luciano, Ralph Capone (Al’s brother), and Frank Sinatra had an orgy in a Cuban hotel that was interrupted when a nun and a troupe of Cuban Girl Scouts knocked on their room’s door. This is one of the greatest anecdote’s I’ve ever heard. I am confident that no pop musician today is living a life nearly as interesting as Sinatra’s. Although Katy Perry recently killed a nun so she could be gaining ground.
Also, rumor has it Santo Trafficante (a mob big-wig from Tampa) arranged an orgy for JFK in 1957. However, this is probably shocking to absolutely no one.
3. Live sex shows were popular during the casino hey-day. This isn’t particularly surprising, but the island’s star performer supposedly had a 14” hang-down. The book didn’t go into detail so I can only assume that was the length fully engorged. If was that colossal limp then he missed his calling as a mafia hitman who used his hog to garrote La Cosa Nostra’s enemies.

Gone With the Wind

A few weeks back I went and saw Black Panther and it was great. However after watching it I was left wondering what work of pop culture would be the film’s complete anti-thesis. Inspiration struck after I returned home and remembered I had a copy of Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone With The Wind on my bookshelf.
Before we continue if any of you planning on reading this honky epic there are spoilers ahead.
I didn’t know what to expect when I started this book but I’m here to tell you it is a trip. It’s the story of Scarlett O’Hara, a spoiled brat who begins life on a plantation in Georgia before the Civil War. When I first started my adventure to the antebellum south I found it difficult to stifle my laughter because the characters in this book are supposed to be dignified and most come across as cartoonish sterreotypes. For starters Scarlett’s dad Gerald was an Irish immigrant who liked to drink and fight (He was also a pedophile who married Scarlett’s mother when he was 44 and she was 15).
Scarlett’s friends the Tarleton twins were borderline illiterate doofuses. The object of her affection, Ashley Wilkes, marries his cousin and this was celebrated because it preserved good bloodlines! Eventually they have a child who I assume was missing a chromosome or two despite it never being mentioned explicitly.
The story is ultimately about Scarlett though and she might be the least sympathetic character in the history of literature. I’m not going to inventory all her foul deeds as this book runs a whopping 1,000+ pages but some of her greatest hits include marrying a guy out of spite, stealing her sister’s fiancee for his money, and birthing children that she readily admits she has nothing but contempt for.
While this book won a Pulitzer and was made into an Oscar winning film I knew it had a reputation for being racist. I shouldn’t have been surprised since it’s basically Civil War fan fiction written at the height of the Jim Crow era. With that being said there were several passages so atrocious they caught me off guard. Here are some of the more eyebrow raising lines:
1. “Abandoned negro children ran like frightened animals about the town until kind-hearted white people took them into their kitchens to raise.”
2. “Slaves were neither miserable nor unfortunate. The negroes were far better off under slavery than they were under reform.”
3. “I can’t make money from enforced labor and misery of others” Ashley Wilkes’ thoughts on using convicts to run his mill. Keep in mind Ashley’s family owned slaves and at one point he takes a bullet while riding with the Klan. Scarlett even calls him out because he owns slaves and he admits that he did but that his slaves weren’t miserable.
I realize I’m judging this book by 21st century standards but I’m okay with that because despite my Aryan features I’m not a white supremacist. I will say though that if (and I realize it’s a big, nay, enormous if) you can get past the casual racism and revisionist history its not a bad book. The characters are all assholes (even the slaves weren’t particularly likeable) but the story was compelling enough to keep reading. I guess what I’m saying is if you’re like me and you came across a $1 copy at a thrift store there are worse things to spend your money on (like contributing to Roy Moore’s legal defense fund).

 

Navy Anniversary

This weekend will be my 5 year anniversary of separating from the Navy which means its been 10 years since I went to boot camp. Holy crap!

In honor of this glorious occasion I want to share a sea story. I did something that would have gotten me in a ton of trouble but I’m thinking the statute of limitations has passed.

A little background information first. When ships pull into foreign ports sailors are only allowed to leave in groups of two or more. The idea being that you guys can take care of one another should you run afoul of some degenerates in whichever exotic locale you happen to find yourself in. Another thing the Navy likes to do is outline which parts of town are off limits to the sailors who visit. While this makes sense in theory I always found it a bit pragmatic as I usually had no idea where I was in relation to these areas. They also don’t anyone renting cars. Basically you are expected to attach yourself to a few buddies and mill around in a very concise area of whatever town you happen to be in.

Anyways, in the spring of 2009 the mighty warship Iwo Jima and I were in Spain. A friend of mine cooked up quite the scheme and roped me into it. He was determined to go on a grand adventure in the space of a single afternoon. The first leg of our journey took us to Gibraltar which was about 45 minutes away. Of course we rented a car to get there. This would have been bad enough but on our way back to the ship inspiration struck. The Straits of Gibraltar are approximately 7 miles wide which means on a clear day you can see Africa from Spain. Something else you might not know is there is a ferry that runs regularly from Spain to Tangier, Morocco. Can you see where this is going yet?

Our trip across the Straits was uneventful aside from the thrill of doing something degenerate. When we got to Morocco staying more than 45 minutes wasn’t an option because weather conditions forced us to take the next ferry back. That trip was much more dramatic. The seas had gotten much worse. I’ve spent a fair amount of time at sea and I can say these were the roughest conditions I ever experienced. I used the bathroom at one point and found every sink and urinal filled with vomit. I wasn’t convinced we weren’t going to die until we were moored again in Spain.

The rest of our day was uneventful. We made it back to the ship and no one was the wiser. I felt like I had robbed a bank and gotten away scot free. Outside of my family and friends I trusted beyond a doubt I didn’t tell anyone this story until I had scribbled my name on my DD-214.

P.S. This is my best story from the Navy unless you like hearing about the freaks and na’er-do-wells I met while serving.

Ozarkland

Well gang recently I was in Missouri having been drug there for my girlfriend’s family reunion/eclipse viewing party. While the cosmic ballet was pretty neat that’s not what I’m writing about today. No today I’m writing about our visit to Ozarkland.

Ozarkland was a magical place filled with tacky bullshit conveniently located off the highway between St. Louis and Columbia. I could probably write an entire encyclopedia to the crap I found there but here are the highlights:

1.The Duke Cannon Supply Co. U.S. military grade special issue soap on a ropeTactical soap? Are you fucking kidding me? This marketing ploy, in addition to being idiotic, is insulting. Here’s a secret about the military…you don’t get issued soap. When you’re in you use Dove or Irish Spring just like everyone else. Its nice some sales are donated to veterans although that kind of bothers me as well. Maybe this is my deeply ingrained cynicism talking but it seems like they are trying to guilt you into buying their product. I am of the opinion that it is rather tacky when someone draws attention to their own charity. Isn’t a good deed its own reward?

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2. Pickled beet eggs. My favorite thing about this is the label on the jar says it contains eggs. I should fucking hope so! I have to imagine these are revolting. Hard boiled eggs are good, pickling is good, and even though beets taste like dirt they are edible. However these three things do not need to be combined. Its almost as if a mad scientist sought to create the perfect culinary abomination to market to hillbillies.

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3. This blanket. I don’t have anything snarky to say just look at it! Practically giving them away at $99. I should have bought ten.

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4. Something else that’s dumb? This magnet! Actually I take that back…I love this magnet. I wish I bought it (it was surprisingly expensive and I don’t like the idea of carrying around magnets for an extended amount of time). There were other Missouri magnets for sale that made more sense. One had a largemouth bass on it and the other had a flower. What does a dolphin have to do with the state? Who the hell knows!

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BONUS: For the longest time I thought Missouri was nothing but pig farmers, Confederate flags, and Branson but I visited a grocery store with a bar in their liquor section! What I’m trying to say is it turns out the Show Me State might be the most advanced society we have.

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Tear ’em down

Well gang I’m weighing in on the controversy surrounding the removal of Confederate statues.
 
I’m really excited these ugly fucking participation trophies are being torn down. The Confederates lost the fucking war. We didn’t build statues for the Buffalo Bills when they jobbed out in four consecutive Super Bowls why does Robert E. Lee deserve better? Lest we forget these people were traitors. Do we honor traitors? Fuck no we don’t! Unless I’m mistaken (and if I am please do not hesitate to put me in my place) but there aren’t any statues dedicated to the Rosenbergs or Robert Hanssen.
 
My only problem with the way we’re going about removing these statues is no one is going around town collecting all the dog poop they can find and then piling it up where these statues are landing. This is an egregious oversight.
 
Oh, you oppose these statues being dismantled because it erases history? Lucky for you there are literally thousands upon thousands of books written about the Civil War. I’m positive you could fill a Scrooge McDuck sized vault with them before running into a duplicate. There’s also this little thing called the internet where the human race has managed to store a quote unquote buttload of information about anything and everything. I can’t say for sure but I have a feeling you could find your precious rebel flags and articles about revered dead assholes there if you look hard enough.

Dumb crap on cars

Well gang there’s something I want to bitch about and that’s people who put shit all over their cars. It makes me sick and anyone who does this is despicable. Recently I’ve encountered three especially egregious examples of his nonsense that I will elaborated on.

1. Riding my bike to the train station I pass an SUV with a window cling that states “real heroes don’t wear capes they wear dog tags.” The first time I saw this my eyes rolled so hard I thought my optic nerves might snap.
Also, this vehicle belonged to someone not very familiar with comic books. While I could easily wax indefinitely about superheroes with ties to the military whose costumes don’t boast capes (Capt. America, Carol Danvers, War Machine, and The Punisher just to name a few) I think my time would be better served by pointing out that at its core this type of sentiment is bullshit. Serving in the military and/or being a veteran doesn’t necessarily make someone a hero. I’m not going to debate the merits of service instead I’m going to share anecdotes about abominable human beings who have worn the uniform.
Let’s mention some famous disgraces. Timothy McVeigh was a decorated soldier during the first Gulf War. The guy Ewan McGregor’s character from Black Hawk Down was based on is serving a 30 year sentence for child molestation. Also, let’s not forget everyone involved in the My Lai Massacre.
I served alongside at least two people who are now registered sex offenders one of who was actively producing kiddie porn. I lived in a building where another sailor literally shot a cop. I could go on indefinitely but I hope I’ve made my point.

2. While in traffic one day I spotted a car with a stick figure fucking another stick figure from behind and the words making my family underneath. Under that was a naked cartoon woman on her back with her legs spread and the words I love sushi.
Christ!
I caught a glimpse of the guy and if I had to guess he was mid to late 30s. I was honestly embarrassed for him because here’s a man child tooling around in a truck that screams mentally stunted pervert.
Another thing I couldn’t help but think about was imagine if his car was stolen and he needed to describe it to the police. “Yeah, it’ll be the one covered in cartoon characters fucking one another. You can’t miss it.”

3. Last time I was in Baltimore there was some Eastern shore knuckle dragger driving a truck with “kill your local heroin dealer” in huge letters tattooed across the rear window.
I’m not advocating drug dealing or heroin usage but I can’t side with this sentiment either. I also couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of this inbred vigilante in the mold of Charles Bronson’s Deathwish character tooling around Charm City. If The Wire is ever brought back this guy’s reign of terror would provide an interesting foil for the men and women of Baltimore’s Police Department.

Honorable Mention: When I was in grad school there was a guy living in my apartment complex whose van was decorated with a stick figure family. Across from the family was a condom advocacy sticker. I love the mixed message being sent there. “Son, I love you but I wish I wrapped it up before slipping it in your mom.”

OJ Simpson

Well gang the big news from this past week is OJ Simpson being granted parole after serving 9 years of a 33 year sentence.

The OJ murder trial was the first news story I remember as a kid. When I was young my sister and I were pawned off on my grandparents during the summer while our parents were at work. Our parents would pick us up after work. Usually one of them would stop by and leisurely shoot the breeze with grandma while we gathered our things.

That was not the case on June 17, 1994. The old man showed up in a rush and got us in the car as quickly as he could. We were probably out the door in under 5 minutes which left no time for smalltalk with grandma.

In a scene reminiscent of what was going on thousands of miles west dad furiously drove across town.

Aside from glancing at a newspaper on occasion I don’t remember my dad following the news. He was riveted by the OJ chase though. Even at 10 years old I found this odd and not just because I had no idea who OJ Simpson was.

Nine years later I was laying in bed and the old man woke me up with news Saddam Hussein had been captured. This confused me more than his fascination with the OJ debacle. As I grew up I understood that (who could resist following that shit show) but the Saddam has remained a mystery. Pop isn’t what I’d call a hawk and I have my doubts if he could even find Iraq on a map. Maybe I should ask him.

NYC Adventure

This week I took a trip to New York. My original plan was to watch the destruction of the Kosciuszko Bridge which had been scheduled for Tuesday the 11th. The morning I was set to arrive I found out the bridge’s destruction had been postponed but I still had my bus ticket and you don’t need a reason to visit the big city.

I took a Megabus because I’m cheap and was hoping for an eventful journey, but I was disappointed. There were no notable characters or incidents. I supposed this was for the best but I was a bit surprised since Megabus does not a sterling reputation for safety among other things. The only thing remarkable about the trip was I could have easily snuck on the bus without paying and by the time I arrived my ass felt like a piece of wood.

The friend I was staying with picked me up at the bus stop and we stayed out drinking until three AM. This was a nice change of pace compared to my usual weeknight practice of being in bed by 10.
The next day I slept in on account of a hangover but when I woke up my friend insisted we watch an episode of Catfish he had been telling me about. I was skeptical since this was an MTV show, but my friend had never led me astray so I acquiesced. I’m glad I did because it was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen on television. The producers of this episode managed to find some dolt who was convinced he had been dating Katy Perry online for the past six years. I won’t go into too much detail in case you, the reader, have any interest in watching this shit show but his teenage dream ended up being a lesbian living in England.

After my mind had been expanded we headed into Manhattan to jack around. Since the bridge’s death sentence had been commuted we were without an agenda. The highlight of our wanderings was finding some Toynbee tiles that had yet to be paved over. If you don’t know what a Toynbee tile is do yourself a favor and watch the documentary Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles.

After our urban anthropology activities concluded we headed to Chinatown to meet my friend’s wife for dinner. One of her co-workers was joining us and while waiting for her to arrive I demanded we track down a durian. We scoured many a fruit stand looking for the pungent luck but it was all for naught. Having all but given hope we came across a Chinese supermarket that was full of interesting items (including a tank full of largemouth bass). There were no durians on the shelves but we befriended a clerk who spoke approximately two words of English, and he took us down to the cellar where they had stockpiled an entire heap of them in a refrigerator.

I had never encountered a durian before and it turns out they are enormous. This thing had to weigh at least 10lbs and it was covered in spikes that while not incredibly sharp weren’t pleasant to touch either.It was a pain in the ass lugging that thing all the way back to Brooklyn but I was determined to sample this pungent delicacy.

We cut the thing open on the roof of my friend’s apartment building, and I’m not going to lie I was nervous. These things have a pretty bad reputation and are banned from mass transit in Singapore. I had no idea what to expect and was mentally prepared to vomit from the stench. Maybe the one I picked out wasn’t a good one because the stench wasn’t nearly as powerful as I expected although it did smell like rotting onions.

I grabbed a big glob of the fruit which was a mistake because in addition to the onion smell it had an oniony taste. I would describe it as tasting like a candied onion. It also had a custard like texture which I wouldn’t describe as delightful. My friends and I didn’t eat much of it but I was happy for the experience. I wanted to fling what remained from the rooftop but ultimately decided against doing so because of societal norms. Maybe next time.

The next morning I got back on the Megabus and headed back to DC better for having had an adventure.

Man Overboard!

Looking around the interwebz the average person’s reaction to this story seems to be shock and/or disbelief. Since I am a navy veteran my reaction was to laugh and let our a hearty “meh.”

Don’t get me wrong. This kid fucked up big time. I can‘t imagine how much that search cost, or how much grief he caused his family. However stuff like this isn’t as uncommon as one might think. I had a friend on the Nimitz who told me almost the exact same thing happened on his ship.

What I’m most curious about is what was this kid’s endgame? He definitely painted himself into a corner by hiding. If he was smart he would have ridden out whatever was bothering him until the ship hit a foreign port because then he could have vanished. He was screwed on the ship especially one as small as Shiloh which only has a crew of around 400. That may sound like a lot of people but it really isn’t. An aircraft carrier fully manned has around 5,000 personnel onboard and offers much more anonymity.

I never deployed on an actual aircraft carrier but I was on the navy’s next largest vessel which would be the amphibious assault ship. When we deployed we carried around 3,000 sailors and marines. I mentioned anonymity earlier because when you’re part of a crew that large you’re practically individual unless you draw attention to yourself. If you look busy and act like you belong somewhere you’re usually left alone. In theory someone could make their way on a ship and ride wherever it sailed. The tricky part would be finding a space in berthing and evading questions about who you were on the off chance you were confronted. You probably couldn’t go an entire eight month deployment undercover but I think someone could make it long enough to disappear upon arrival in a foreign part. I never got a chance to test my theory but like I said I did think about it on occasion.

Before I wrap this up another fun fact about being on a ship is you could smuggle anything you’d like so long as you had half a brain. Returning to the ship after a long day ashore our bags were only given a cursory search upon return, and I was never frisked. I could have had pounds of black tar heroin taped to my torso and no one would have been the wiser. Customs were also a joke. Before returning stateside we were given customs paperwork but if we didn’t declare anything no one ever asked questions (I secretly think it was encouraged). Additionally during my three deployments I never encountered a customs inspector. Of course I am an individual in possession of the highest moral fiber who would never have given any thought to betraying the public trust BUT the opportunity certainly presented itself on occasion.