Naked Ambition and the Publishing Industry

Alas, it has come to this.  It used to be that some things could never be given away, they were yours forever.  Call me ‘old fashioned’ as well as ‘Stuart’, but our foibles should not be mere commercial fodder available to the highest bidder. Because there’s just one thing in this old world that is truly your own, and that’s your stupidity.  Or so it was, until last week.

When newspapers reported the arrest of a 24-year-old man for streaking in front of President Barak Obama in Philadelphia, I dismissed it as mere a prank.  As it turns out, it was sheer opportunism.  There are lots of good and legitimate reasons for deciding to embark on a nudie run, and all of them involve beer.  Who amongst us has not, in a moment of boredom, contemplated dropping their strides and making a dash for the other side of the room? In my view, downing your dacks and running as if your life depended on it is the ultimate weapon against tedium, which is precisely why so many streakers choose the cricket.  Not Mr Rodriguez.

Philadelphia is a wonderful part of the world, but it suffers a serious shortage of cricket matches.  I had assumed that it was for this reason that Juan chose a rally by President Obama.  If only.  As it turns out, the motivations were far more mercenary.

Until last week, I’d never heard of ‘Alki David’.  Apparently, he’s a billionaire shipping tycoon who offered a million dollars to the first person to run naked in front of President Obama with the name of his website across his chest.  But anyone stupid enough to do such a thing is probably willing to go just a little further, so in addition to getting your gear off, you had to shout out the name of Alki’s website six times.  Mr David has, in effect, outsourced stupidity.

Web sites rarely roll off the tongue.  He may as well have demanded the hapless human target recite The Hobbit backwards in Spanish with a mouthful of marbles whilst writing pi to seventy places across his left buttock.  That the whole, ridiculous exercise didn’t end in a hail of secret service bullets is nothing short of a minor miracle.   However, this was not the only attempt at the rally to capture the President’s attention.  Whilst nudie-boy Juan James Rodriguez was motivated by the promise of cold, hard cash, another man was arrested and later released after throwing an object at the President.  Upon hearing such a report, you’d be forgiven for assuming that it was an egg or perhaps even a shoe, but no.  It was a book.

The man was detained but later released without charge because it was decided that the man had not intended to threaten President Obama.  This, I feel, is largely attributable to the fact that it was a paperback rather than a hard cover.  The choice of book may also have been important.  For had the hapless man hurled a copy of The Bridges of Madison County towards the Commander In Chief, I have no doubt that he’d still be subject to questioning and face the very real prospect of being charged with treason.

The book, as it happens, was the man’s own.  Clearly keen for Mr Obama to read his stuff and presumably unlikely to get the nod as Oprah’s book of the month, the man took matters and the book into his own hands before piffing it in the general direction of the President.  

Getting someone to read your work is no easy task.  But before I bundle up my manuscripts and go looking for a head of state at which to toss them, one thing must be noted – whilst naked Juan has managed to get his name in print, our hapless hurler remains absolutely anonymous.  Talk about being upstaged.  No one saw fit to mention his name, much less give a brief review of his, no doubt, marvellous book.  Perhaps the lesson for all writers is that in order to truly capture the imagination of the public, all publicity events should be performed naked.  And even if this fails to shift a few more copies it will, if nothing else, guarantee solid attendances at writer’s festivals.

There is, however, something of a sting in the tale.  Having generated mountains of publicity for his website, Mr David refused to pony up the cash on the basis that not all the conditions had been met.  In reaching the undoubtedly difficult decision to keep his million dollars, Mr David placed some importance on the fact that the White House had not confirmed that the President had sighted Juan’s streak.  Whilst I’d like to believe that this is because the White House has better things to do, it was all Alki David needed to hang on to the dough.  He had, however, paid the man an undisclosed sum in exchange for a promise that he’d perform the stunt in front of another head of state.  What a gyp. It just goes to show how dangerous stupidity by proxy can be.

No one could accuse Shane Evan Thomas of being greedy.  Last week Mr Thomas pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm for setting his friend’s buttocks alight whilst he slept.  The story noted that the two are no longer on speaking terms, but if there’s any consolation to be found, surely it’s in the fact that he did it for free.  The judge described the actions as ‘brainless’ as indeed they were.  I’m sure there’s a decent explanation for why he set fire to his friend’s backside, but it’s yet to be revealed.  Perhaps he should write a book about it and throw it at somebody famous. Whilst naked.

Great Moments in Arachnid Fashion

When news broke that an ‘Antiques Road Show’-style event was coming to Hastings, I immediately contacted the members of my family.  We, like any family, have our fair share of heirlooms and were eager to have their, no-doubt, astronomical value confirmed to us once and for all.  For those unfamiliar with the process, an Antiques Road Show is an event whereby you turn up with some ancient artefact to have it appraised by guys in tweed jackets with elbow patches and gold rimmed glasses that sit like birds on the ends of their noses.  

    I don’t know the names of the appraisers, but I imagine they’re along the lines of ‘Humphrey Thirstburger’, ‘Aubrey Nimble – Twerp’ and ‘Algernon Thwistlestick’.  

As for the evaluations, they fall into two distinct categories.  The first is best summarized as ‘we’ve had this sitting at the bottom of the broom closet for thirty years and I was about to toss it out but thought I’d find out its worth’.  Almost without fail, if the person says this first, then the object they present – whether it be a ceramic vase, silver samovar or used gym-sock, will be worth an absolute packet.  Thus, an object that was destined for bin night is elevated to the status of heirloom in a matter of moments.  However, it does not work out this way for everyone.

The other category is best described as ‘disappointment’.  This is where people present their object as though it was the holy grail itself, only to learn that the item in question was a promotional giveaway in 1976 with every bottle of schnapps sold by a now-defunct discount liquor store and is worth about as much as a postage stamp.  When this withering verdict is delivered, the job of the person whose hopes of an early retirement have just been dashed on National television is to take it on the chin and say that the sentimental value of the item is all that matters.  Whether the object then survives beyond the next hard-rubbish collection would, I feel, make a fascinating sequel.  Surely the path from the Antiques Road Show is littered with remains of discarded relics in much the same way as abandoned beer bottles and high heel shoes clutter the route leading from the Spring Racing Carnival.

As for me, I had only one object in mind.  Original artworks, antique crockery and what may well be pirate currency have no interest.  Rocking up to have something evaluated is much like getting an audience with the Wizard of Oz – you may only get one shot and it’s best to make it count.  I needed answers, dabmabbit, and here was a perfect opportunity to get them.  

Contacting my father is no easy matter.  I emailed, but then realized that he only checks these on a monthly basis, at best.  After repeated phone calls, I finally got through.  Panicked that time may well be running out, in a voice nearly worn hoarse with excitement I said just four words: ‘get the spider tie.’

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Granted, that’s often the case, but in my father’s house beauty is in a locked mahogany chest next to the Pianola.  Within its chiselled walls lie all manner of treasures, including the greatest neck tie known to humanity.  And just as true fashion never goes out of style, the same is true of any item of apparel that is hopelessly and gloriously out of fashion.  It is as simple as it is beautiful.  The spider tie is a single, deceptively flimsy piece of silk that has a picture of a spider on it and a large, embroided web.  It was worn by my father, just once, in 1954 to a local ball.  Since that time, no occasion has been deemed important enough to warrant its resurrection.

For those of you who may feel that a spider tie is in poor taste, you’re missing the point.  In fact, stop reading, get a torch and a shovel and start searching.  When you think you’ve found the point, then (and only then) should you continue reading.  For the rest of you, the point is this: back before the first rubber chicken was patented by Humphrey Thirstburger in 1972, the spider tie was the greatest achievement in comedy to that time.  Surely this apocryphal, arachnid artefact had assumed an exalted status in the decades since and would be worth enough to make my entire family eligible for an episode of ‘The Secret Millionaire.’

My father, sadly, did not share my enthusiasm.  According to him, the spider tie was not worth very much at all.   If this were true, then why on earth had it been kept under lock and key for more than fifty years?  

As it happens, my family had suggestions of their own.  Given that the point of Antiques Road Show is to give value to something that’s extremely old, my brother suggested we offer up the contents of my father’s pantry. My sister in law thought the antacid tablets in the medicine cabinet were eligible.  All fine suggestions, but nothing with the knock out ‘wow’ factor of a spider tie.  My hopes were, officially, dashed to pieces.  Dispirited, I then swept up the pieces into an old pillowcase and headed down for an evaluation.  Aubrey Nimble – Twerp took a long, hard look and declared them worthless.  

I kept a brave face for the cameras and thanked him for his effort.  Deep down, I knew he was right – their only value was sentimental.

Cocktail Hour on the Eternal Voyage of the Damned

In truth, I had been ready for ages.  For weeks on end I had been engaged in preparation, readying myself for my maiden ocean voyage.  This consisted mostly of committing every sea shanty I could to memory and dressing like The Love Boat’s Captain Merrill Stubing for several days in advance of our scheduled cast off.

    Aviation and I have never really managed to get along.  There’s something about the combination of defying gravity and painful seating seemingly designed by members of the Lollipop Guild that makes me extremely uncomfortable.  The time had come to admit a gracious defeat and move on to other modes of transport.

    Before people embraced the recordings of R Kelly and believed they could fly, they travelled by boat.  This, I feel, was as God intended it.  There are heaps of references in the Bible to boats – from simple fishing vessels through to Noah’s Ark – but you’ll struggle to find a single reference to an aeroplane.  And in much the same way that a few hardcore fans have remained loyal to vinyl in preference to compact discs, so too have some stuck with sea travel.

    When I was first informed that the Pacific Princess was no longer operating as a commercial cruise liner, I was devastated.  At the same time, the fact that I had been able to purchase Gavin MacLeod’s original uniform on E-bay for only $7.50 suddenly made a lot more sense.  Instead, I would be setting sail in The Spirit of Tasmania.

For the most part, my preparations went as smoothly as a baby’s bottom, all except when it came to sea shanties.  As musical genres go, sea shanties have suffered a diminution in popularity over recent years.  Why this should be is something of a mystery.  I suspect this will remain the case until Lady Gaga and Beyonce finally relent and give their legendary cover of ‘Haul Away Joe’ the commercial release it so richly deserves.  The closest I got to a genuine toe-tapping sea-shanty classic was ‘Sailing’ by Rod Stewart.  Whilst the purists would, no doubt, screw up their collective nose, it’s a very useful song.  By useful, I mean that you can pretty much substitute anything for the term ‘sailing’ and take the tune out for a spin.  Thus, the process of packing can be done to the strains of ‘We are packing, we are packing…’ and so on.

When I told my brother that I was having trouble locating suitable sea shanties for my voyage, his response was to introduce me to the works of a group called The Lonely Island.  They haven’t sought to reinvent the shanty genre so much as make it redundant with their song ‘I’m On a Boat’ (featuring T-Pain).  The title pretty much says it all.  It’s a tune done in a hip-hop style and features young men standing on a very large boat shouting ‘I’m on a boat’ over and over again.  Given the visual evidence, it’s very hard to disagree.  (Incidentally, is there some kind of rule that all new songs have to feature someone with an outrageous name? I can’t imagine The Beatles releasing ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ featuring T-Pain.  I shudder to think of what would become of Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers had it featured Flo-Rida or Pit-bull.  The sad truth is, that if the Three Tenors record was released today, ‘Nessum Dorma’ would be a single featuring Lil’ Wayne).

The first thing I noticed upon boarding The Spirit of Tasmania was that I appeared to be the only person dressed in navy whites.  By the time I reached my cabin, I had nearly despaired from having to explain that I was dressed as a tribute to Captain Stubing and not the singer from The Village People. For their part, they retaliated by spelling out ‘YMCA’ in semaphore.  Idiots.  ‘In the Navy’ would have been far more appropriate.  I could have kicked myself later on at the bar when I invited further ridicule by ordering a milkshake.  You can only decline to ‘do the shake’ so many times before it starts to get your goat.

I then made the huge mistake of trying to get some dinner.  Unfortunately, the main on-board restaurant was fully booked and we were cast into the gastronomic gulag that is ‘The Captain’s Table’.  Although reviewing restaurants is somewhat beyond my expertise, I can only say that I have never been to a restaurant that has a stockpile of vomit bags placed strategically beside the bain marie.  For those who would generously suggest that this was in case of seasickness, had you seen the content of the bain marie you would, surely, revise your opinion.

But just when all seemed lost, the ship turned out to sea and things took a profound turn for the better.  It’s a little known fact that The Little River Band perform three sets a night on The Spirit of Tasmania, in between bussing tables.  As they unleashed their trademark harmonies and gave the safety announcement, I felt a warm sense of wellbeing creep through my veins. Watching fellow passengers form an orderly queue for the bar, I finally learned the answer to the question; what is the spirit of Tasmania?  The answer, it seems, is bourbon.  We are sailing, indeed.