Rarefied air. A sense of great altitude. Two higher authorities loll in cauliflower-like crannies of a cumulus cloud, talking of lesser beings.
God: And what of my sons from South Florida?
Saint Grassback: You have many sons in that region, Father.
The ones with the big shoulders.
Ah, the Miami Dolphins. Not so good. Banged-up, demoralized, oh-and-seven. They're my special little project right now.
It is a challenging pursuit, this sport they play.
You're tellin' me? You ever get turf toe? Hmmm, I guess not. Football hurts. Then there're the fans. Jeez! No more sticking through thick and thin nowadays. It's all: Gimme a championship now! Ever heard 50,000 beer-addled, bratwurst-sated loonies booing up a storm?
Not since a satanist convention in the desert outside Sedona in 1969.
Loud, right? Well, those guys are Trappist monks next to the big-mouthed radio and newspaper sports pundits expounding on the Dolphins. Check out Sid Rosenberg or Dan Le Batard over on 790 AM. They'll wear your eardrums out with vituperation. And then you've got the writers, guys like the Herald's Greg Cote saying straight out that the Dolphins are the worst in the NFL, with a defense so bad it's "rancid." Ouch.
So the aqua and orange boys — they're not so bad?
To be honest, they stink. You shoulda seen their quarterback, Trent Green, almost get his head knocked off by a charging Goliath from the Houston Texans, Travis Johnson. Trent's the kind of guy who believes in sticking his head in the meatgrinder. It was his second wipe-out concussion in two seasons.
People think they'll get better?
Not too sure about that. There's a lot of betting action now on when — and whether — the Dolphins win this season. In fact, Saint Knute, Saint Vince, and Saint Bear have cooked up a Dolphins pool out in the far quadrant.
I have not forsaken the Dolphins.
Well, sure. I was hopin' you'd say that. They just need a little help from above, a little time to get it all together. The team's owner, a former trash hauler named Wayne Huizenga, is officially studying the problem.
I know about Brother Wayne. Let him find a way of getting a camel through the eye of a needle.
They just need a little leg-up. Nobody's expecting an overnight turnaround. Just a quick patch-up, some sort of cutoff point for the suffering. The fans can take only so much. It's October now. A year? Two years?
A billion years?
Ha ha. Just the blink of an eye for you, isn't it? I was thinking more like between now and September.
I have special plans for this team.
Super Bowl XLIII? That would be awesome.
No, I was thinking about this season.
Forget it. This season is over.
No, my sons in aqua are a select team. They bring joy and health wherever they go. Already, they've given the lowly New York Jets a kernel to build on. They've given the Browns and the Texans a rare taste of glory. And my favorite son, Daunte Culpepper, has found a glorious moment through them.
He had a good game against the Fins.
Daunte was left abandoned and crucified — so to speak — by the Dolphins. They evicted him, and now they have given him redemption with Oakland. You see, the Dolphins bring sunshine wherever they go, sunshine from the Sunshine State. They put up obstacles so teams like the Patriots have something to blast through, like Joshua at Jericho. Somebody has to be the champion's "opponent."
I think I see where you're going with this. You don't mind if I sort of tip off the boys, do you? It'll make them so... uh, happy. A heads-up? A... sign?
Cool. Hey, I gotta run. Have to get out to the far quadrant. I, er, got a hunch about a football team.
Miracle on U.S. 1
Won't be long now before we see the Salvation Army Santas manning collection points in front of department stores, filling the air with silvery tintinnabulation. Does any organization in America evoke a fonder response? But cross the Salvation Army on a money issue and the organization's as badass as any other company with a phalanx of corporate legal sharks at their bidding. Ask the Belanger boys of Jacksonville.
When their father, Richard Jose Belanger of Fort Lauderdale, died last June, he left $105,000 in a Washington Mutual trust account. Though the account was supposed to be "payable on death" to the Salvation Army, Florida banking laws require the designation of a "natural person" as the beneficiary of such an account. Since the Salvation Army is an organization, not a person, it may have been ineligible to collect that money.
That, anyway, was the opinion of Fort Lauderdale attorney John Cooney, who in July wrote a letter to the Salvation Army's legal department on behalf of Richard Jason Belanger and Nathan Belanger — the two surviving sons. Cooney declared his clients' intention to challenge the Salvation Army's claim to the $105,000.
The disagreement could be resolved amicably without legal filings, Cooney said, if only the Salvation Army would agree to simply split the money with the Belanger heirs.
The Salvation Army told Cooney it would bring the matter before its board of trustees, the lawyer says, then notify him of its decision. As Cooney and his clients waited, though, the Salvation Army passed a resolution seizing the Belanger funds. Not only did the organization empty the trust account but it allegedly drained another Washington Mutual bank account that belonged to Belanger, containing about $15,000.
"It's bad behavior, to say the least," says Cooney, who adds that the Salvation Army "didn't so much as make a courtesy call to the heirs. It's a money grab, and that's it."
On October 5, the surviving Belangers filed a lawsuit in Fort Lauderdale's U.S. District Court, accusing the Salvation Army of "deceptive and unconscionable acts" related to its seizure of the $120,000.
Salvation Army attorneys did not return calls for comment.
Of course, the costs of litigating a case like this in federal court could be somewhere in the range of $120,000. So Merry Christmas to the entire Belanger clan.
Tattooed for a Day
The 'Pipe knows all about how the American economy has gone from mostly manufacturing to mostly service industries. But every day, he's more astounded at what "service" has come to mean. We're not just talking about catering and car washing anymore. The service economy now includes people like Alex N.
"I do graffiti on girls," says the 22-year-old recent transplant to Fort Lauderdale. For eight years, now, Alex N. has been taggin' that ass.
Who knew that there would ever be a market for spray-painting flowery images and graphics on women's breasts and butts?
Not only is there a market for it — Alex says he'll be out getting drunk and girls, strangers, will practically insist that he tag their breasts with his yellow and green paint markers — he has competitors. Cram Concepts, a New York body painting company, does graffiti on girls. So does Shriiimp Across America, a traveling body-painting outfit.
Alex grew up in Boynton Beach and Pompano but, restless soul that he is, moved around a lot, taking his love of "art" wherever he went. After a few drug busts, he wound up in Los Angeles.
"I was always in the street," he says. "I wanted to put the art with the street."
Alex got into graffiti, natch, and people seemed to like his stuff. Soon, a couple of models approached him. Could he draw something on their bodies? Sure he could.
"The female is just beautiful," he says. "It's a piece of art already. So to put my name on that body, that's its own rush in itself. It feels good to have girls walking around with your name on them." Soon, girls were hitting him up for, uh, special projects. Alex's MySpace.com page has become a gallery for his "art," featuring paint marker jobs over boobies and butts all inscribed with Alex's moniker, "Need."
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Will he paint a man? Choice of canvas — that can be a tough decision. Ultimately, it's a decision the artist alone must make.
"I don't want to paint on a dude," Alex says.
As fascinating as Tailpipe finds Alex (who exercises the graffiti-writer's prerogative not to use his full name), the smoke-spewing cylinder sees a deeper significance to the guy's artistic pursuits. How many young women wake up the morning after a visit to the tattoo parlor and, looking in the mirror, hear their moms' sour judgment: "You know, that thing'll never come off." The 'Pipe predicts a new generation of skin that's free of electrically rendered pigment. It's the economy, stupid.
Paint 'em up, Alex, so they can wash it off the next day.