Zoltan Kohari, known as the Slovak Batman, poses with a portrait of himself in his home in the town of Dunajska Streda. (Reuters)
GateHouse — So obviously everyone wishes that Batman was real, that both our valuable streets, as well as those in Detroit, could be kept safe by some crazypants vigilante with a black-metal baritone and a wellspring of dark psychological horrors he took out on Antarctic-themed umbrella-packing supervillains, SURE, I mean who WOULDN’T want that? I can’t think of a town in the world that couldn’t use more justice distributors in capes, except for Cape Town, South Africa, which is frankly overdoing it a little bit.
But you all TALK a big game, in your plush fluffy recliners watching the same four teams win NCAA games (aw, good for you plucky underdogs of Kentucky) eating made-up foods like “Triscuits” and “queso,” the latter of which isn’t even a THING, I checked with Siri. Who among you is man enough to actually make this fantasy happen, to slough off the shell of your hellish quotidian existence and bring Batman to reality? Aside from all those weird roving gangs of self-appointed Batmans who put on black sweatpants and childish face masks, get their mom’s permission and hit up the go patrol the brutal streets of Park City, Utah, or whatever? (Also, it’s Batmans. Batmen looks sillypants. If anyone from the AP Stylebook would like to debate this point, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
GateHouse — I don’t know about you, but I spent New Year’s Eve getting hammered at White Castle. Ha! That’s a joke, of course — as I’ve somehow ended up with children living in my home, what I actually did was nothing! Well, at least nothing that required me to apply pants that aren’t operated by a drawstring.
Now, first of all, why this is needed is a mystery. White Castle, of course, is a brand that needs no improvement, no upgrading, no bridge to the 21st century. White Castle is built on the idea of shoe closet-sized restaurants that serve construction paper-thick burger-type objects on synthetic breadsubstance, all delivered to you in an environment that would suggest you are eating the food of kings and queens, if your royal subjects were all 400 lb. NASCAR fans or on their way home from the bars and think they’re in a Taco Bell.
Obviously, this is not a negative. This is what White Castle does, and it does it magically. Seriously if they started serving “salads” or “shrimp” or even burgers that were made of burgers I would be the first to lead the nationwide uprising. Ron Paul-college-volunteer style. “BRING BACK OUR WHITE CASTLE!” I would shout into a megaphone I stole from a hippie, “THESE NEW MENU ITEMS ARE DANGEROUSLY CLOSE TO FOOD.”
GateHouse — The grassroots protests spilling across the streets of New York against the excesses of Wall Street are raging into their second week and showing no signs of slowing, yet I am going to write about a dude who is too fat to sit at White Castle, because the Internet is very very large and plenty of people are talking about Wall Street, but who is standing up for White Castle in its hour of need? THIS MOTIVATED SLOVAK, THAT’S WHO.
Indeed, my blood brothers at the Castle know that I stand with them whenever some yappy 23-year-old energy drink consumption machine from The Media tries to besmirch, befoul or befmirch them with stories of “ghastly nutritional conditions” or “obese-American prejudice” or “fact-based stories about what animal remains actually constitute their Triscuit-thin patties.”
They know this because White Castle IS IN MY DNA. No, seriously, my Slovak grandparents lived pretty much across the street from a White Castle in Whiting, Ind., and my grandfather was known to spend his days there from about 7 a.m.-6 p.m. — moreso if my dear Slovak grandmother God bless her soul was feeling particularly prickly about the volume of objects he hoarded in the basement (official figures are hard to come by, but let us just say that special arrangements had to be made with the Dumpster Company in Whiting, Ind.). So when I say that White Castle is in my blood, I mean, no really, that stuff is straight IN MY BLOOD, probably slowing down the entire circulatory process and gumming things up something awful around the aorta.
This is the sort of headline that only a country where half of the Major Presidential Candidates are still wobbly on this confusing “science” situation would require, the sort of news that’s news only if your daily planner includes the words “Nancy Grace” in pink bubble lettering, yet here we are: Last week the American Academy of Pediatrics and its Canadian counterpart, Rush, issued a joint report that came out against the sport of boxing for children and adolescents. Reasons included: a high risk of injury, potential for possible concussions and Listening To The Instincts Burned Deep Within The DNA Of Every Human Alive Over Millions Of Years Of Evolution.
Hilton Head Monthly — You can say a lot of things about us Vrabels — that we are a stout, swarthy, Chicago Bears-loving bunch, that our surname is Slovak for “little bird” but we tell people it means “ferocious warriors wielding large hammers with jagged metal things on them” and that we whip up a mean plate of halupki, although most people who say that last one do so right before making other plans for dinner.
But we Vrabels are also a frugal lot, and by “frugal” I mean “some of us steal little jelly packets from restaurants to briefly postpone buying full-size jars at the store.” Once, deep in the recesses of my grandparents’ basement, I discovered a case of Pepsi cans commemorating an All-Star Game that had taken place about four years prior. I am related to people who are basically ninjas when it comes to garage sales. Basically if any of us go to dinner without a coupon of some kind, a brief panic sets in.
True story: After my grandfather died and we began the process of sorting through the astonishing mass of stuff he’d stashed throughout his basement, attic, back room and at least one closet no one had ever seen before, we started to find things like stacks and stacks of cigar boxes labeled “Scotch Tape Dispensers — Working” and “Scotch Tape Dispensers — Broken,” which was obviously an odd development unless Grandpa was working on a Scotch tape dispenser-fueled robot or something, which he might have been (he was that kind of guy). If you went through the garages of our extended family today, I guarantee you’d find at least 50 buckets of old golf balls that have been fished out of northwest Indiana ponds and lakes. And my cousin recently confessed that after eight years of marriage, it still drives him nuts to see his wife employ a piece of aluminum foil only once. “I die a little each time,” he told me, shaking his head sadly, “and don’t even get me started on the Ziploc bags.”
Do not eat the candle, as much as you're going to want to.
GateHouse — A few years ago, upmarket luxury merchant Burger King launched its very own personal men’s fragrance, one designed to approximate the iconic BK odor, which is to say a char-broiled hork of theoretical meat patty which was flash-frozen in a Beijing agricultural facility in 1997 and brought via oil tanker or donkey or whatever to thousands of Burger Kings all over the South’s interstate highway exits. (Just kidding, Burger King, you know I heart you and your Croissan’wiches. Let’s never fight again.)
Anyway, the BK cologne thing was called Flame, and we all laughed at it, because it turns out that Americans will put up with a lot of things, including Jay Leno, but attempting to purposefully smell like a restaurant you visit only mostly it’s across from the gas station is not chief among them. This country is being torn to pieces by jeez, I can’t even remember, taxes, President Kenya, immigration and the Planet, which is pretty much emptying its playbook of highly metaphoric natural disasters, but all ages and demographics found BK Flame to be a most displeasing proposition, especially since you could buy a double-cheeseburger for 99 cents and rub it all of your flesh for essentially the same olfactory effect.
But when it came right down to it, Burger King’s pioneering entry into the fragrance market failed for one clear reason: Burger King is no White Castle.
Slovakia’s hockey team, pictured here immediately after making Russia look like a bunch of silly kindergarteners.
GateHouse — Ladies and gentlemen, if you are not on it already, it is time to join me on the Slovak Train to Olympic Glory, good seats still available, departing twice daily, choo choo.
There is always room, we are a welcoming if hirsute people and what we offer in warm greetings, a genial nature and gypsy-folk musicwill easily make up for the smell of much of what we are cooking. (Sorry about that, but you try to prepare dishes containing this volume of sauerkraut and not smell like the sweat-soaked inside of a snowboarders’ boot. Also, my cousin Kevin is going to try to get you to drink something called slivovica, do this only if you wish to spend the rest of your week powering your car with your breath.)
Indeed, I am flush with homeland pride this week because right now, for the first time in recorded Slovak history, which is almost eight years, we are melting faces at the Winter Olympics.
This is the flag of Slovakia. Get nice and familiar with it, Medal Podium.
GateHouse — I don’t write about sports very often, which is too bad, since we as a nation are running pretty low on providers of completely superfluous sports commentary (maybe we can get some of you guys on a cable TV show or something), but nevertheless I am here to report the SPORTS SHOCKER OF THE WEEK, one which will melt your face, light your mustache on fire and make it seem like you’re being punched in the tongue by Terry Bradshaw. Before you read further you may wish to sit on something concrete and put on a welding mask. (You should probably do that anyway, as swine flu is caused by the radiation that comes out of computer screens, obvs.)
Here we go: Last Saturday, the U.S. men’s national “soccer team,” which according to my research and the Internet computer machine has been around for like totally a bunch of years, lost to the nation of Slovakia in soccer, or as they call it overseas, “football, the wildly popular sport that many Americans believe to be totally boring although many of them watch baseball, things Charlie Sheen is in and movies about vampires in high school.”
The final score of the U.S./Slovakia throwdown: 1-0. ONE TO NOTHING, because when the U.S. takes on Slovakia in anything it’s always a shootout. As per Slovak custom, the afterparty was held at the White Castle in Whiting, Ind. Needless to say, the Knights of Columbus served as the hotel lobby.
GateHouse— If you read the news these days with any regularity at all, if you take even a small time to try to keep with the disorder and disquiet in the world, then you already know these are very, very difficult times. For the polka.
I am saddened to report that the polka is dying, although I am mostly saddened to report it without the benefit of a depressed-sounding tuba honking gloomily in the background, so you’ll just have to imagine that part, and that it’s doing so unloved and under-respected, even by its musical cousins, the waltz, the mazurka and, of course, the modern oom-pah band. And sadly it is doing so as a relic, something believed to be practiced only by older men whose names sound like what would happen if consonants spent a day beating the hell out of each other, names such as Roman Rezac, Ernie Kuchera, Al Grebnic and, of course, Frankie Yankovic.
Because as of this year, the polka category is being dropped by the Grammy Awards. The. Grammy. Awards. Being shot down by the Grammy Awards is like being picked last in dodgeball in gym class, except it’s more like being instructed by the teacher to go lay quietly during dodgeball in gym class with your head on the floor facing the bleachers in a corner of the gym located, if possible, in an entirely different school district.
Island Packet — If you have never eaten a pierogi, if you have never explored the magnificent taste combinations that arise when you weld a doughy dumpling to the important parts of a potato, then all I can say is that I weep for you. I weep for you nightly.
Pierogies basically are like what God would eat, if he was a Slovak, like my family. You could be forgiven before not knowing much about Slovakia (national slogan: “No, We Are Not The Country Borat Was From, And Please Stop Asking”).
Slovak cuisine, as a rule, is boiled to within an inch of its life or originates from a goat, or both, but pierogies fall distinctly into that first category. According to Wikipedia, which is absolutely reliable when it comes to the identification of doughy snackables, “pierogi” refers to “a variety of Slavic semicircular (or, in some cuisines, square) boiled dumplings of unleavened dough stuffed with varying ingredients.” Sure, I know what you’re thinking: “Gracious almighty, unleavened dough? Stuffed with VARYING INGREDIENTS? WHY HAVE YOU KEPT THIS BEWITCHING WONDER TO YOURSELF FOR SO LONG?” My apologies. Just hang on.
I've written for the nice people at Men's Health, Time, GQ, Billboard, Paste, Nickelodeon's NickMom, brucespringsteen.net and The South Magazine. I'm also a syndicated humor columnist in "newspapers" and a father of two (the younger of whom has been personally approved by Bruce Springsteen) on the coast of South Carolina. Even longer bio/clips.