How did railroads get to be so romanticized? Have you been on a train for any distance? It’s horrible. It’s an experience in bumpy patience, always overpriced, and always late. So why do people still love trains so much?
St. Louis, Mo.
Dear Cap’n Stan,
The “romance” of train travel has almost nothing to do with the “slave-galley” experience of actually traveling by train. Like most American nostalgia-trips, railroad travel is a fantasy based entirely on the false belief that wearing a fedora makes a man look dashing, when in fact it makes most men look like someone hid a dildo under a felt diaper. I personally love to travel by train for a different reason, namely that I love sleeping sitting upright in a vibrating chair that smells like Virginia Slims and animal sex. It’s much cheaper to buy an Amtrak ticket than to explain the whole thing to a dominatrix. Still, you can’t fight the nostalgification of America without acknowledging that the only alternative is 150 million Slim Shadys in dirty white tracksuits practicing with their nunchucks while pregnant girls fry bologna. Modern life is so chintzy and dull that even the prospect of traveling across the Jim Crow South in an un-air-conditioned train, when chewing tobacco was commonplace and before the advent of deodorant, seems sophisticated by comparison. I’ve upped the ante by flying cross-country only on old, unpressurized DC-3s and Ford Trimotors, a trip that takes three days and results in deafness. God, it’s romantic, though.
I like dressing up my doggies in costumes and taking their photos. My husband says this is emasculating, but I don’t think dogs can be emasculated, can they? Is he confusing dogs with people, or am I confused about the deﬁnition of emasculated?
Newport Beach, Calif.
Clearly, what your husband is trying to say is that dressing your doggies in costumes is emasculating him. He’s not just worried about enduring public ridicule, he’s emasculated in the more general sense that he has lost all ability to control the aesthetics of his world. Surely you also post those photos to your Facebook page and send them out in your Christ-mas cards? His high-school friends, his coworkers, and his relatives all have a mental picture of you talking like Charo while you dress your dog like JonBenét Ramsey, and they cannot stop laughing. Your husband has probably shaved his head by now, grown a goatee, gotten a tattoo of Bettie Page in a martini glass, and started listening to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, all in an attempt to regain some street credibility, but to no avail.
Don’t despair, there’s an elegant solution. Start dressing your lovable little pooch in black leather hats and vests, with lots of chain accessories. Maybe ﬁnd a miniature pair of handcuffs to use as a belt, or a big metal ring as an accent. For inspiration, look to one of rock and roll’s most macho lead singers, Judas Priest’s Rob Halford. With Halford as your guide, you can still have fun dressing your pup, and your husband will regain the respect of his male friends and coworkers, who will be sure to remark, “Now, that’s a macho, macho doggie!”
Every time I hear the Law & Order music, I want to eat ice cream. Dick Wolf has actually made a modern-day “Pavlov’s dog” experiment out of me. I know how the conditioning was done, but did Pavlov ever return the dog back to his original state, in which he didn’t want to eat every time the bell rang? How do I stop the madness?
Most of the dogs used in Pavlov’s conditioning experiments were ﬁred from cannons at the Imperial Japanese Navy during the Battle of Port Arthur at the start of the Russo-Japanese War. In fact, they nearly turned the tide of the battle! Prior to this, the dogs were harnessed together with sleigh bells and used for many years as a kind of primitive Zamboni, smoothing out the rough ice between hockey periods. No cure was ever sought. In your case I would suggest stocking your freezer with only those ﬂavors of Ben & Jerry’s that celebrate leftist causes and hippie celebrities. The earnest liberalism will gradually drain the fun out of your ice cream, just as it does everything else.
Damn, water tastes good. Why doesn’t everything taste that fucking good?
Sparrows Point, Md.
Have you ever tried Dasani water? That shit tastes like it was ﬁltered through an old sock.
Is it OK for a man over the age of thirty to play the French horn? A few of my coworkers have been teasing me about it, claiming that it’s a “kid’s instrument,” but I’m pretty sure plenty of adults play the horn. Can you name a few?
The French horn is the absolute secret weapon of pop mu-sic! Look no further than the brilliant French horn solo in the Beatles’ “For No One.” I say “look no further” because after that there are practically no occurrences of French horn in pop music. My own band, The Long Winters, uses one to great effect in our song “Blue Diamonds,” but we are largely unknown even by my close relatives. The trick to playing the French horn is to play a few toots and then hit the pub before someone shouts, “To the hounds!” Most French horn players are either dandruffy high-school band instructors or asshole jazz guys looking to differentiate themselves from the glut of ﬂügelhorn players, or both. Like I say: a few toots and then out!
Is it possible to be too well read? I’m starting to get the feeling that my friends are avoiding me.
It’s absolutely possible to be too well read. It’s a dangerous condition, and even from your brief letter I can tell that you suffer a debilitating case. In fact, anyone who submits a letter to the Believer should be checked by a doctor to see if they are pre-symptomatic. You can’t always count on your friends to start avoiding you.
I’m itchin’ to get into a ﬁght. Should I just punch some-body at random, or pick someone I’m pretty sure I can take?
Your feelings were perfectly expressed by the great Minneapolis band Soul Asylum in their 1992 hit “Somebody to Shove.” I won’t quote the lyrics here, because they are mostly gibberish, but the chorus captured the feeling so many of us had in the early ’90s, namely, “I’m so mad at my neglectful parents I could almost hit somebody if I wasn’t such a miserable little chicken-shit pussy.” Don’t let this be you. Your ﬁrst mistake is thinking the point of getting into a ﬁght is to win, when your actual goal should be to get your ass handed to you. I’m not saying this in some “Fight Club was my all-time favorite movie after Red Dawn” kind of way; I’m saying this as an Alaskan who has had his teeth knocked out. Don’t pick a ﬁght with just another bearded indie-rock harpsichord player, ﬁnd someone who actually scares the bejeezus out of you. You might have to leave Berkeley to fulﬁll this quest.