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Jul. 27 2010 — 4:40 pm | 40 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Double Entendres at Montreal’s Twins Parade

Triplets take a break. The Just for Laughs 2010 Twins Parade on Saturday was twice the fun of a standard parade. (Is that enough of hack opening for you?) This is what I learned when I ventured to JFL’s TP for my friends at Asylum.

Held in Montreal, the event is comprised of more than 500 twins from such far-reaching locales as Australia, Nigeria, and America. (Though most of the pairs were from Quebec.) Residents were doing double-takes (more twin puns to come) as their French-Canadian streets filled with those who sprang from a single zygote that split and formed two embryos.

The theme for this year’s parade (the 13th annual celebration) was “Ballroom.” Each pair sported caricatures of themselves as they paraded down St. Catherine’s Street delighting the crowd of thousands by showing off their rare trait: a sibling doppelganger.

Here’s a joke. What’s the most popular fruit for Montreal’s Twins Parade? Answer: pairs. (I’m the wittiest man on earth!)

The sight of twins, after twins, after twins, after more twins, was as surreal as a Fellini film on pairs of mushrooms. In general, twins makes people happy in the same manner as an army of Santas bearing down and sporting gifts.

For the moment, all we wanted to do is permanently live in a world comprised of twins walking the streets. It makes people feel envious and slightly lonely that they too don’t have a twin.

The oldest pair of twins was over 100 years old — each! That’s a crazy 200 twin years combined.

Here’s a fun thing you could do after the Twins Parade. Run frantically into a bar and scream “Has anyone seen my twin? I’ve lost my twin!!” Then leave. A few minutes later return with a slightly different hairstyle and ask the room, “Was someone just in here looking for me?”

See the rest of my Twins Parade photos at Asylum.com>/strong>

Jul. 13 2010 — 6:03 pm | 46 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Is Profit Behind Dermatology’s ‘Sun Scare’ Message?


There’s a strange health tug-of-war going on. Doctors are now telling us to get back into the sun for better health since a large majority of Americans are being deprived of natural vitamin D and other benefits associated with sunshine. Meanwhile, the cosmetic dermatology industry seems to be turning up the heat on their “stay out of the sun, wear sunscreen 24/7″ message.

Who’s a person to believe?

With balance and common sense seeming pretty obvious, it calls the question: What’s really behind the ’sunshine is killing us’ message that’s pouring out of dermatologists’ mouths, via the media, these days?

With the summer months upon us I wanted to find out firsthand what exactly the mantra is that dermatologists are telling patients. So I went undercover to several San Francisco dermatologists in order to see if there is legitimate concern about the sun-scare media hype. Are these doctors being sensible or going overboard when it comes to advice on sunscreen use and skin cancer prevention? Is the sky falling with dangerous UV rays or are we being induced into a media panic?

Let’s journey on into the heart of mole darkness and find out.


Dermatologist Appointment #1: Marina District

My first dermatology stop is in the posh San Francisco neighborhood near Union Street. With nothing to read but Botox literature, I’m made to wait in the pristine reception area for a good hour. This place feels more like a cosmetic spa than a doctor’s office. With all these pamphlets on wrinkle elimination, the dermatologists’ message seems to be centered on beauty rather than health issues. My excuse for wanting an appointment is to get my moles checked out. The message dermatologists constantly trumpet is that moles should be frequently checked for malignant melanoma. Except these are ordinary moles I’ve had my entire life.

Finally my name is called.

I’m then made to wait another 20 minutes in the examination room. The dermatologist finally comes in. I take off my shirt and point to my moles. She immediately determines that they don’t look cancerous. I press her by saying the mole under my arm is of concern because it rubs against my clothes. She takes a closer look:

(Listen to the appointment here.)

DERM: Now as far as this mole right here.

ME: Yeah, how about getting that chopped off?

(The dermatologist then explains the protocol.)

DERM: Because of the insurance we need to get approval. Because, we don’t want you to get a bill we want your insurance to pay for what they need to pay for. So that’s why we have to ask their permission. It usually takes a week to get their permission. Then we’ll ask you to come back here.

(She looks harder at my moles and concocts a plan.)

DERM: This one, I’ll remove for you because you said it’s become irritated. If you want to get things removed for cosmetic reasons I don’t know if your insurance will balk at that. I think if we remove a couple of other spots because it’s irritated, you’re maybe worried about it, and I want to make sure its not skin cancer, they will pay for that. But I’ve had patients come in and remove seven moles at once, and they were all for cosmetic reasons, and the insurance said we’re not paying for any of that and she got a huge bill.

DERM: I think if we took off a couple of moles they wont say anything like that.

ME: So just a couple of moles?

DERM: Yeah. I think if we do a couple of moles I don’t think they’ll balk at that. So which moles do you want done? (She looks again at my non-skin-cancerous moles.)

The one here I’m going to say gets irritated sometimes on clothes. And when it gets irritated does it get itchy? You just kind of recognize that its there. I’ll just say it’s more sensitive. How about that?”

ME: If you can get my insurance to cover it that would be great.

DERM: So right here I’ll say that’s an irritated mole–the one on the front.

ME: I guess that’s irritating too.

DERM: I’ll say: rubs on backpack. So sensitive or itchy?”

ME: Let’s just go with itchy.

DERM: If it’s an irritant mole they will cover it.

Bingo! We go with irritant. Besides being advised that I should never go into the sun without wearing a visor, sunglasses, long sleeves and sunscreen (which needs to be reapplied obsessively every few hours), I can get my non-cancerous moles removed because they are an irritant. (A week later I find out that my insurance approved the removal of these two non-cancerous moles–I’m added to the reported melanoma statistics.)

It happens more often than you might think. A quick Google search shows that in the past years several dermatologists have been sent to prison for flat-out lying about skin cancer to their patients; slicing up healthy skin for insurance dollars. Do these cases show there’s money to be made in cutting off skin lesions and calling them cancer? Is this a factor why skin cancer numbers might seem overinflated? Do the numbers add up when you start digging?

A May 2010 study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute listed melanoma as one of five cancers over-diagnosed by doctors. Though doctors are removing more and more skin lesions, researchers pointed out that melanoma mortality rates haven’t increased since 1975–with insurance companies paying for the procedures.

A 2009 British Journal of Dermatology report also concluded: that melanoma isn’t increasing in actual incidence, but merely in reported incidence. What the report found was doctors were simply reporting and removing more lesions that may not actually be cancerous.

Would this explain why the United States has just 4.5 percent of the world’s population but has 52 percent of the world’s melanomas when you compare the American Cancer Society’s numbers (68,720) with those from the World Health Organization (132,000 worldwide)? In contrast, both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer have been declining in Canada. A University of Alberta study this year showed that non-melanoma skin cancer incidence in Canada has been declining for a generation. Riddle me this: how is it possible the U.S. estimates more-than-triple while Canada’s real numbers are actually declining? Has the U.S. dermatology-induced media scare propagated more dermatologist visits in our for-profit health care system or are a larger number of Canadians simply staying inside to watch their beloved championship curling teams?

Regardless, by having just a few cosmetic moles chopped off, my dermatologist was able to fix it so my insurance company would foot the bill.

Read the rest of the story by clicking to the Huffington Post.

Jun. 24 2010 — 4:09 pm | 135 views | 1 recommendations | 1 comment

Is the Rainforest of Argentina like Avatar Come to Life?

I’m going to venture into the Argentina rainforest with only a machete and a Speedo. This is my blessing; this is my curse. I’ll consist entirely on a diet of red ants and dreams. One man will enter (the rainforest) and one man will exit (the rainforest).

Or something like that.

Regardless of the Speedo, its time for a little jungle/waterfall excursion in the region of Iguaza, Located in the northern part of Argentina, along the border with Brazil and Paraguay, my friends at Say Hueque Tours set me good. Like surf and turf, I’m taking one of their most popular eco-travel expeditions. Be forewarned: Parque National Iguazu boasts 275 waterfalls. Let me say that again: 275 waterfalls. That’s practically one waterfall for everyone. (In a group of 275.) My point: there’re enough waterfalls to go around for everyone.

IGUAZU FALLS FACT: The 275 waterfalls traverse along 1.67 miles of the Iguazu River. Some of the individual falls are 269 feet in height. The spectacle of nature wonderment was featured in the film sequel, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. By the way, I hated that movie.

Welcome to the Jungle. Dangling vines. That fresh rainforest smell. 250 species of butterflies. Guys calling me “Chico”. Crazy insects bite my legs. (I hope I don’t turn into a Marvel Comics superhero.) Our tour guide points out blue fruit that the indigenous people used to paint their faces. I’d welcome an unexpected blow dart to the neck. It wouldn’t be surprising (my fingers are crossed) to see a rat the size of a Doberman pincher scurry across the Argentina rainforest. The jungle is inhabited with loads of coatimundis. (Raccoon-like animals that have sort of an anteater’s nose.) Our guide informs: “These creatures bite and are everywhere.” The rainforest is also home to such inhabitants as tapers, sloths, pumas, and jaguars. (They mostly come out at dusk when the park closes.) This is one place where you’d punch someone in the throat if they ever said the words, “Drill, baby drill.” I crave to be greeted by the cast of Avatar? In fact, the rainforest is just like Avatar—and in 3-D as well. Welcome to Pandora!

This is my second expedition into the rainforest on the Say Hueque eco-tour. Yesterday I spent my time repelling down a cliff on the side of a raging river gorge. Excellent! That was preceded by zip-lining along a cable high over the tops of jungle trees—swinging like a mad monkey from a vine. Outstanding! (Zip-lining, by the way, will be the main mode of transportation in 2012.) Later we passed bananas, papayas and shanty structures with makeshift soccer posts in the center. Little kids from villages ran to the road and waved. A true Indiana Jones type of day. (Minus the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.)

Continuing our trek towards Iguazu Falls, we pass thick brush and an old abandoned hotel. Nature is winning the battle. Vines and plants grow up the walls and in between the cracks of the foundation. In the end, nature always wins the battle.

Our guide informs: “In the 1920’s, they used to walk through the jungle with big machetes to get to the falls while the ladies in long dresses would sit on the porches of the hotel and sip tea.”

Skip ahead to 2010. No machetes needed. We simply follow the signs through the rainforest and stay on the designated path in order to make our way to the falls.

“Toilet is the last tree. Shower is free,” says a man on the path moving in the opposite direction. What does this mean? Is he foreshadowing events to come?

And then comes the 275 waterfalls………..

Holy flippin’ crap! I’m a very jaded person but I’m simply blown away! This has got to be one of the most amazing sites I’ve seen outside of the original Star Wars trilogy. There’s waterfalls side-by-side with even more waterfalls. Some waterfalls are within waterfalls. They fall into yet another waterfall. Long waterfalls. Short waterfalls. Wide waterfalls. Skinny waterfalls. It’s purely waterfall mental. One waterfall would be enough to blow my mind, but with 275 waterfalls my head is ready to explode. Dramatic cliffs mix with the lush greens of the jungle rainforest. The reverberating sound of crashing water echoes throughout. A constant spray of light mist. Mix that with rainbows everywhere. Yes, refracting light transposed in the form of rainbows is added to the magical landscape. Unbelievable.

“Birds live in nests behind the falls,” our guide informs. “They float through the waterfalls to their nest and mate in the air—very fast.”

I feel like former first-lady Eleanor Roosevelt. When upon seeing Iguazu Falls, she exclaimed “Poor Niagara.” Indeed—the two aren’t even in the same league of waterfalls spectaculars. The most impressive waterfall is called the Devil’s Throat, or Garganta del Diablo. Marking the border with Brazil, this U-shaped beast has a 269-foot drop and comes crashing down like a cascade of abundant, freshly popped popcorn. Large clouds of mist rise from the scene. This is soooo much better than visiting San Francisco’s biggest tourist attraction: Alcatraz. Turning a corner in the rainforest, there’s yet another fortress of waterfalls with more rainbows hovering over the proceedings. Rainbows over rainbows. Falls over falls.

IGUAZU FALLS FACT: In July 2006 the drought made the falls completely dry. Our guide tells us: “You wouldn’t believe it, but it looked like the Grand Canyon.”

How can one enhance their spectacular Iguazu Falls experience? By taking a boat ride on the River Rio Iguazu that ventures under the fricken’ falls. It’s a must! While most of my fellow tour crew has purchased makeshift plastic raincoats, I decide to rough without water protection. (Will I regret this later by having wet underwear?) The bottom line: when riding a small boat under a cascading waterfall everyone is going to get drenched. Putting on my lifejacket, I notice a sign by the boats that mentions in Spanish: No Personas con Problemas de Columna. (I sure hope that doesn’t apply to me.) With thrill-seekers in place, our motorboat embarks full steam directly towards one of the 275 waterfalls. It’s pretty darn massive. The waterfall sprays the entire crew with the pressure of a really good hotel shower. Oh my god!  I’m laughing uncontrollably like a child. This is better than any Disneyland water ride. Shrieks of laughter. Sprays of water. Whooshing of the falls. Our boat then makes a massive U-turn. And it’s………right back into the waterfall once again. Flippin’ hell! There’s another rainbow. There’s Brazil. There’s me laughing like a little kid. After the journey, I walk around the rest of the afternoon with wet underwear. (Something I haven’t done since that one really wild backyard barbeque back in 2003.)

A perfect end of the day is back at La Aldea De La Selva Lodge. The place is an incredible feat of landscape architecture that mixes first class accommodation with the isolated feeling like you are tucked away in the middle of the jungle. Lush green trees and vegetation engulf the comfortable lodges amongst a tranquil sound of tropical silence. For dinner I opt not to have the delicious local fish wrapped in banana leaves (there will be another day), and instead have the largest, thickest Argentinean steak they have along with a glass of their reddest wine. Then I reflect on the Taj Mahal of waterfalls.

Click here to find out more about the Say Hueque Iguazu Falls tour

Jun. 21 2010 — 12:19 pm | 31 views | 0 recommendations | 4 comments

The Latin American Poker Tour: Poker with Flair

Like a swarm of crickets, that familiar sound of clicking poker chips fills the tournament room inside the Atlantic City Casino. Between eating delicious Ceviche and knocking back Pisco Sours, I can feel the Latin American culture sweeping across the poker tables amongst the players and fans. Flamboyant. Trash talk. Chatter. Attitude. Still a sausage party in regard to the ratio of men to women (or chorizo party), it’s refreshing to see a major poker tournament (normally a serious, stone-faced affair) feel at times like a rowdy party.

While the World Series of Poker (WSOP) heats up in Las Vegas, earlier this month, at the Latin American Poker Tour (LAPT) in Lima Peru, I encountered players who embraced a completely different flair for the game than their North American counterparts.

“The Latin American style is more experimental, more passive and 100% more emotional,” explained Brazilian poker queen Maria Mayrinck. “Latin blood is hot and people–myself included—still have a hard time separating the ‘technical’ aspect from the ‘emotional’ aspect. In time this will change. It’s only because it’s still such a young sport in Latin countries.” Poker is traditionally not a part of Latin culture—it’s a new sport but growing fast. “I’d say the main difference is the North American style of play is much more technical and cold.” Mayrinck reasoned,  “North American players are more used to playing live poker being they’ve done so since they were little, since poker is a part of their culture.”

With blinds raised to $2,000-$4,000, players throw in chips with fiery passion. The LAPT is lively and emotional; full of eccentric characters and much gesturing at tables. After winning a big hand, players occasionally jump out of their chairs and yell things like “Whammo!” Actual cheering erupts from railbirds. Players run over to greet fans. Applause. Passionate screams in Spanish. A group of fans wave a Columbian flag. They chant: “Columbia! Columbia! Columbia!” Hugging. Kissing. High fives.

“Latin American poker is like a soccer match. You celebrate every pot you win, like every goal you score. It’s still new and exciting,” Mayrinck informed. “Latins are very emotional and loud when they are cheering for the fellow countrymen. When there is a Brazilian at a final table, even if it’s someone you’ve never met, you instantly consider him a part of your family and root for him accordingly.”

One disadvantage Spanish speaking players have is that the poker language is primarily in English: online tutorials, research sites, Internet tournaments, etc.

“All the math background that North Americans have, the Latin Americans don’t have really,” said Angel Guillen—the second Mexican in history to ever win a WSOP bracelet. “We’re still in the process to understand that technique of the game. Only the good players have it and not the general players.” Guillen feels the more successful Latin players are those who get a chance to gain experience by playing in the international tournament circuit. “In Latin America you develop a feeling for players—reading body language, knowing when someone is bluffing, knowing when they are holding a good hand,” he said, then  explained about his compatriots’ strengths. “Latin Americans are all warm, kind people. When playing poker at tables you feel how they are changing their temperament—you know when a guy is angry or emotional. You perceive emotion around the table.”

As the blinds increase to $1500-$3,000, the top LAPT players make their way towards the final table. When all in, players stand up in front of their large, colorful fortresses of chips—as if in a sign of respect to the god of chips. “Vamos! Vamos!! Yah! Yah!” Players  jump up and punch their fists in the air when they win.  Much joy. Much emotion. A celebration of life.

So what’s the most emotional thing Angel Guillen has ever done during a tournament? With a sly smile, he said, “I’ve thrown a chair in the air when I won a $10k pot.”

Now that truly isn’t being shy about holding back your emotions when it comes to a major poker victory, taking home one sweet pot, and celebrating life.

Jun. 17 2010 — 3:38 pm | 204 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

The Meat of Argentina Would Make a San Francisco Vegetarian’s Head Explode

“You have to excuse me but I must get some meat, I’m Argentinean,” a friend of mine said as we dined in Buenos Aires.

There was no excuse needed. It made perfect  sense; Argentina is a meat-lovers paradise. The country  has the world’s highest consumption rate of beef.  The delicious meat offered in Argentina would be enough to make a San Francisco vegetarian’s head literally explode; the country ’s huge delicious steaks particularly melt in your mouth. Yes, don’t cry for meaty Argentina!

Where do you even begin with an Argentinean meat-eating Odyssey? Do you start with Entrana, Falda,  Higado, or Matambre and Mollejas?

Wanting to become a meat-eating connoisseur, I took the Say Hueque meat eating tour of Buenos Aires. The first stop was a restaurant in the funky bohemian neighborhood of  Palermo Viejo. I fell in love with this area of Buenos Aires from the start. With its quirky shops, arty bars, cool galleries, and trendy restaurants, I immediately felt like I found my home away from home in Argentina.

The restaurant for our first meat excursion: La Escondida.

What a hell of a great place for chomping down some Argentinean beef. This steakhouse had an amazing ambiance with high ceilings, an open-air space , and was splattering with delightful colorful walls.

Also: Meat! Meat! Meat!

Dining in Argentina is a vegetarian’s worst nightmare. My gracious host, Rafael, knew the full skinny on Argentinean meat as we dined on chorizo (spicy sausage), chinchulines (crispy intestines) for starters. For the main dish we added to the mix Bife de lomo (very tender filet), Bife de Chorizo (a ribe-eye type steak), and a Matambre de cerdo (grilled pork flank steak). All I could say was “meat-tastic!” More steak!

Our steaks prepared in rare fashion, or as our waitress joked, “Still mooing.” As I indulged in the chinchulines, I would have to say that was the best crispy intestines I have ever eaten.

As we gorged ourselves with even more meat, Rafael explained the troubles vegetarians have when they travel to Argentina: ”It’s a problem. There’s not a lot of options,” he said as I helped myself to more delicious Matambre de cerdo.

Sure, La Escondida also offered an ornate salad bar, with fresh fruits and vegetables (except no meat to place on top of it), but the choices are different in remote regions of Argentina–such as when vegetarian travelers take Say Hueque’s tour of Patagonia and ask for non-meat culinary offerings. “The guides will look at them funny. ‘Are you okay? What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you want meat?’ They will try and take their  temperature to see if they are okay.” Rafael joked, adding, ”It’s not normal for a typical Argentina family to have fish.”

Later that evening I had yet another fantastic Argentina meat eating experience at El Viejo Almacen’s dinner and tango show. What a truly incredible place to eat meat! Tango is the blues of Argentina. Within the frame of an old colonial style mansion,  set in an elegant dining room, I had  yet another huge Argentinean steak (Bife de chorizo) the size of a baby’s head.

El Viejo Almacen is also hosts Buenos Aires’ most famous tango show. This has got to be one of the most romantic spots I’ve been. Except I went on my own and sort of felt like the lone creepy guy. The  maroon jacketed waiter went around snapping photos of all the couples enjoying their wonderful meals. When he got to me, he had another waiter jump into the shot and shake my hand–not as romantic as I’d like it to be.

Regardless, the tango show kicked some serious tango butt while I enjoyed fine red Argentinean wine. The stylish, traditional  tango dancers moved with pure precision. Unbelievable, as as the male dancers flung their partners through the air while the orchestra played the most emotional music in the world. A special tango shout out to the accordion player and violinist.

Even though I woke up in the morning with a bit of a beef-over (kind of like a meat hangover), I made my last stop on the Say Hueque’s meat tour, which was a journey to the legendary Cafe Tortoni . Founded in 1858, I certainly  had to eat some meat at the the oldest coffee shop in Argentina. This impressive joint had the flavor of a Parissiense cafe at its highest level. One of the most impressive jazz clubs I’ve seen was set in the basement as well. With a very rich history, Cafe Tortoni has been visited  through the years by intellectuals, politicians and artists. What better way to conclude my trip to Buenos Aires with their traditional Argentina picada meat platter. Meat-rific!

One can’t help but to fall in love with not only Buenos Aires, but also all the culinary delights that are concocted with their fine beef and meats. Ahoy meaty!

Click here to find  out more about Say Hueque’s meat lover’s tour.

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    I am the author of six books including, The American Dream, Republican Like Me, and National Lampoon's Road Trip USA.

    My writing has appeared in such places as Esquire, Huffington Post, Penthouse, Salon, and Maxim.

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