unfortunate racket placement

I'm fairly certain my high school gym coach threatened to do this to me if I didn't shut up.

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test of character

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metaphoria

I spent the weekend with a couple of Microsoft friends. At one point, I was showing them some photos on their Windows laptop.

Seeing me use the mouse, my friend started to twitch. "It's a touch screen, you know."

I ignored her and continued to click the mouse button. Why lift an arm when I can merely lift a fingertip? Soon, she was visibly uncomfortable. She pointed to the screen.

"All you have to so is touch it with your finger here," she said, as I am clearly a moron. I again ignored her. Finally, she took matters into her own hands and tapped the screen with her finger. She missed, and the wrong window took focus.

"Dammit," she said under her breath.

This is a perfect metaphor for modern-day Microsoft. They don't build what customers want. They build what they want, then correct the customer for not wanting it, too.

race war!

cherries.jpgLast week, I was at a favorite restaurant in Pittsburgh. Black-owned, it's largely black-frequented. I am often the only polka dot present. I dress up, but not like the brothers. They're full-on bow-tied. The ladies often wear hats. Me and my untucked shirt are completely out of our league, but I'm not about to learn to tie a bow tie at this age. Maybe a clip on.

The bartender and I have our little ritual. He puts an additional cherry in each Manhattan I drink. As he slid me my fifth Manhattan, he winked at the fellow with whom I was chatting and said "This is the one that gets him."

Aye. That it did.

My new friend was Robert. We were there for R&B night when an outrage flared in my ears. They played Hall & Oates. A black band. In a black restaurant. On R&B night. Played Hall & Oates. I was already grousing to all assembled when they fired up Sara fucking Smile.

Probably arguing for argument's sake, Robert nonetheless passionately defended Hall & Oates' inclusion on the playlist. He deflected any criticism I mounted. He defended Sara Smile. He defended Private Eyes. And then he defended that all-time aural abomination Maneater. This put me into orbit.

"Report to the nearest counter and turn in your black card," I said, turning away from him. There was a delighted howl from the gallery, and I paid for absolutely nothing that night.

Thanks for the eminently flexible line, Dorkass! It's worked with gay cards, too, but that didn't get me free stuff.

c prompt

Continued from yesterday's post

I breezed into a Pittsburgh watering hole last week and was greeted by a favorite bartender. We caught up, and then her eyes flashed.

"Oh my god, your friend has been here every night for months. She's a total alcoholic now."

"Risa?"

"No! Michelle!"

michelle.jpgIn my absence, she lost her job and now shoehorns her implausibly huge new bolt-ons (right) into skin-tight clothing every single night, hanging herself on a hook and boozing herself into oblivion. So many levels of yikes, there. I assured the bartender that this trainwreck is decidedly not my friend.

I returned a couple nights later, and Michelle and I immediately made eye contact. Without acknowledging her, I grabbed Risa and we went into the separate cigar bar. 20 minutes later, Michelle was standing in my sight-line, flirting with a gaggle of eager men. A half hour after that, she was standing in front of me.

"Are you not even going to say hi, John?"

I glared at her. "Hi."

It was then that I discovered that in the last 18 months, Michelle and Risa have met. Michelle sat on Risa's chair arm and whispered into her ear for three eternities. Then she went back to her flirting station.

"That girl really loves you!" Risa said.

"What."

"She said you're rude but so's she and you're like two peas in a pod, two sides of the same coin, and she really misses you."

"Risa, that's the woman whose ticket you used."

"That bitch was Michelle?!?"

"The very same."

Risa told me that Michelle was now in full-blown golddigger mode, often speculating about men's comparative worth. Ugh. At some point Risa left, and Michelle plopped next to me. Her hand grazed my knee. It's amazing how counterproductive that move is when I hate the hot woman doing it. Michelle told me how much she missed me or some such. Who can listen, really? I asked her to come closer to me, and she leaned in.

Trigger warning: if you hate complete clichés, read no farther

As she leaned in close to my face, I blew cigar smoke square into her eyes.

Hey, I warned you.

• • •

"No no no," said Dorkass when I told the story. "Here's what you should've done. She leans in close to your face, and you look at your phone and go, Oh, sorry. My Uber's here."

Goddammit.

c-worthy

20 months ago, I walked into my bar in Pittsburgh and found that I shared the room with only a hot brunette. We chatted a bit, and then I left, but it turns out she was a regular too. We saw one another often, and soon we made plans to go to dinner and a football game together.

This is Michelle.

At one point, I was looking forward to dinner with her. That is so unimaginable to me now. I was there on time, sitting at the bar, slapping away the people who clamored for her seat. Time passed. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 70 fucking minutes. She walked in 72 minutes late.

"Hey," she apologized.

The older I get, the more I detest people who waste my time. I'd rather they steal my money than my time. Money, I can replace. By the time she walked in, I was detesting her a lot.

I bought her meal anyway, and we chatted, and she chatted up our neighbors. And then when I was in mid sentence, her phone buzzed.

"Oh, my Uber's here. Gotta go!" And she shot out the door.

"What just happened?" asked the server.

I talked to Dorkass on my walk home. As angers go, mine was orbital. I indulged in the saved-for-special-occasions c-word. She allowed it.

Michelle heard that I was livid, perhaps because I used the c-word in front of every bartender in town. After a few days, I was at the original bar when she plopped down next to me.

"Hi," she apologized.

We talked for a bit, and then my phone buzzed. "Oh, here's an irony for you," I said. "My Uber's here. But note that I'm taking a moment to say goodbye, lest I make the person I'm talking to feel like complete shit. This is how non-rude people behave." And then I left.

"I don't know what you said to Michelle," said the bartender later, "But when you left she was practically in tears."

Good.

Weeks passed, and I never heard from her. It started to dawn on me that I would never hear from her again. Rude people despise those who show them a mirror. Yet I had promised her a football ticket. "She won't cancel," I predicted. "She's going to make me ask if we're on." That's what rude people do. I explained the situation to my friend Risa, and she agreed to be my backup plan.

The day before the game, I texted Michelle. "Are we still on?"

"I'm sorry, my grandmother just died and I'm in New Orleans for the funeral," she replied. I then sent her a screenshot of her Instagram from her grandmother's funeral a month earlier. Yes, the only time she ever apologized was in fact a lie. That's perfect, somehow.

I would never see or speak to Michelle again. Until last week.

To be continued


i'm fine with this

I just got back from a week in Pittsburgh, a week that constituted the first time that Fredo didn't have either me or his sister around. The poor little sissy-boy has had a rough year. First Dex died, then he was viciously attacked at the dog park and had to spend weeks in a cone, and now I abandon him.

"It'll be okay. I'll be back before you know it," I said more to myself than to the dog who only recently learned his own name after five years. I thought about him often while I was gone, hoping he was all right and that he was enjoying the twice-daily cuddle time I bought him. "It'll be okay," I thought.

Yesterday, I sprang Fredo from jail. "Man," said the clerk at the desk. "He was our choir leader!"

I had no idea what he was talking about, so he explained. "Fredo was leading the entire kennel in howls, for hours and hours and days and days." He looked at my grimmace. "He's a howler, right?"

"Never once."

"Oh."

grrr, arg

Last week I stayed on the top floor of a hotel with the slowest and least sound-proofed elevator I've ever used. As I ascended past floors, I could eavesdrop on entire conversations between people waiting, I presume, for the elevator to come back down. Alas, I didn't hear any sex stuff or teary breakups, but it wasn't for lack of straining.

One day, I heard a small child throwing a hissy temper tantrum. I could hear him from four floors away, so shrill was this child. And so I did what any reasonable adult would do to this unseen child: I made monster noises. As loudly as I could, I growled and snarled, punctuating things with the lip-smacking sounds of my eating the entrails of some imaginary child. The temper tantrum stopped, and I heard parents trying to explain that, despite all evidence to the contrary, there was definitely not a monster in the elevator. As I passed their floor, I pounded on the door and snarled in a rage.

"AAUUUUUUGGGHH!" screamed the child's rapidly receding voice.

I've since speculated on three things:

  • What pathology did I just sow in little Timmy?
  • How do the parents explain this to themselves, let alone their kid?
  • What would I have done if that door had opened? I'd like to think I would have had the grace to chirp "You're welcome!'

enredadera

My housecleaner and I can barely communicate, what with her retched English and my even worse Spanish. So I suppose it's best that I can't ask her why, when I just followed her up the stairs, she strained to walk sideways, with her butt against the wall, like I'm some sort of Labrador trying to cop a sniff.

we just assumed

I snapped this pic in Pittsburgh.

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reader mail: presidential contest

Longtime Stank troll Marta asks for my presidential pick. I have none, but I do have this observation: is there any doubt that of the five remaining candidates, only Clinton and Kasich could pass a remedial civics test?

I'd like to think that phrasing was consciously humorous, I really would, but in my heart of hearts I know it's just incompetent.

the case against public breastfeeding

I don't care if new mothers unleash their breasts in public. Or old mothers. Or any women, really. I don't have a puppy in this fight. As someone who would let children starve before he would be seen even partially shirtless in public, I don't get it, but live and let live.

That said, we really need to ban public breastfeeding.

When I see an infant, I look at its face. Why? Because babies are super-cute. And sometimes, I realize several seconds into staring that the child is horking down on its pre-brunch snack. And then I'll lock eyes with the mother, who's glaring at me, doubtlessly thinking either:

  1. "Fuck off, perv" or
  2. "Say something. I dare you. I double-dog dare you, motherfucker, say something about this beautiful, natural, and healthy experience! I will bury you in studies straight from Leche Magazine!"
Either I need to stop noticing babies, or moms need to air 'em out after they leave the Toyota service department. I humbly submit the solution that requires nothing of me.

upon reflection

For years, I've heard that my dentist employs a beautiful hygienist, but I never saw her. Until last week. "Hi!" she chirped.

"Guh?" I replied.

While I admired her shiny, cascading brown hair and enormous Disney-character eyes (although that was probably her binocular eyeglasses playing tricks on me), she chatted up a storm. She asked me all sorts of questions about myself, where I'm from, where I live, what I do for a living, what I like to do for fun. There was no mistaking it: this chick was into me. She couldn't know me well enough, fast enough. As I grunted answers to her essay questions, I contemplated how to make my move.

Then she mentioned her kids, which stalled my momentum, especially when she referred to a "we" that was making parenting decisions. Perhaps I misread her interest?

She wanted to show me something in my mouth, so she handed me a hand mirror. "Ugh, you're gonna make me look at myself?" I groused. "What did I ever do to you?"

I peered into the mirror. Whatever it was she wanted me to see went unseen that day. Instead, my focus riveted on the most hideously lit rat's nest of nose hair ever encrusted by a half pint of dried snot.

Confirmed: I misread her interest.

During a work meeting, I took a teasing-bit-not-really shot at Trixie, the preposterously hot and even more preposterously employed 24 year old.

"Oh, I see how it is! she giggled. "John's a backstabber!"

My boss snorted. "No, John's a front-stabber."

charley's formula

I was a brand new writer, not yet even out of college, when my mentor lowered the boom. He looked at my timecard with confusion. It said something like:

Monday 7.75 hours
Tuesday 8.1 hours
Wednesday 8.25 hours
"John...? Charley said in his fabulous southern drawl. "Are you billing for the hours you actually worked?"

"Um. Yes?"

Charley stood up and shook his head sadly, chuckling at my naiveté. He put his hand on my shoulder. "Son, son, son. Nope. It's not how many hours you worked. It's how many hours it felt like."

That is the moment I became a professional writer.

This system made instant sense to me. And I have shared this story many times in the intervening decades, always with someone I employed. I distinctly remember squinting at Karen's first timecard. "Son, son, son..." I said.

• • •

My first gig at Microsoft was as an hourly contractor. For months, I averaged 85 hours a week. It was a brutal death march. We literally watched a corpse being carried out of our building, someone who had dropped dead at his desk. "Lucky bastard," someone snarled at the passing corpse. We all agreed.

My timecards were naturally enormous, so any embellishment was both unnecessary and implausible. Nevertheless, Charley's teachings tugged at me. Out of loyalty, on my last timecard I added 10 hours, for a total of 100 hours that week. My boss looked at it and sighed. "I'm so grateful to you for not dying," she said. "Or, you know, quitting." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Go ahead and add 10 hours."

"You mean in addition to the 10 hours I already added?" I said to absolutely no one. Thus was my legendary 110 hour timecard born.

• • •

I thought about her this week. Charley too. My current boss explained impending political shifts and closed with this directive: "John, bill the shit out of me this month."

"Will do. And if you don't mind my saying so, sir, you found the perfect man for the job."

were you the one

I have been single for a very long time. This is entirely by choice. Specifically, it's by their choice.

I'm a good boyfriend. I dote. I remember important dates. I at least attempt to feign shared interests. My brain is crammed with minutia about my girlfriend's tastes, peeves, stories, interests and favorite brands.

And then time marches on, and the woman marches off, and her tastes, peeves, stories, interests, and brands compost in my brain. The pile of relationship debris in my head is staggering and confusing.

"Were you the one who had a friend who made up a whole religion around you being a deity?" I asked Allie some 20 years after we dated.

"The fuck are you talking about?" she said, recoiling in disgust that I began yet another sentence with "Were you the one?"

Geri-bachelorhood: avoid it if you can.

honestly

I was discussing my boss of six years, who just came through for me again in a big way. A friend called the relationship remarkable, which it surely is.

"Still," I said, "we do get on one another's nerves. But that describes pretty much every good relationship I've had with a boss." I thought some more. "Honestly, if I'm not irritating my boss, he's just not paying attention."

Fredo was bit at the dog park, and the wound is nasty and infected. He wouldn't stop slurping its seepage. "Jesus Christ, can I get you a straw?" I yelled at him at one point. (I'm considering naming my next dog Jesus Christ. It would be efficient.) The vet put him in a head cone.

This dog. Is obsessively licking. The inside of the cone.

dog calculus

If a dog suddenly requires veterinary attention, the odds that it's occurring on a weekend are 2 in 7, or 100%

Dogs are why I suck at math.

Clearly, the solution is for everyone to carry two guns.

paying the asshole tax

When I bought the $50 tape gun from Mr. Lonely, it certainly wasn't because I want or need it. The act was the answer to a question I posed to myself: would I pay $50 to get rid of this asshole forever? Why, yes. Yes, I would. I'd have gone up to $775. Fifty bucks was a bargain.

I call this "the asshole tax," and it's the one tax I pay with relish.

I did it again yesterday, where the question was would I rather pay for the repair myself or talk to whatever Rhodes Scholar manages a Bremerton car wash?

• • •

To my horror, the day I moved into my Redmond condo was the day I discovered my next door neighbor. His sliding glass door was barricaded by books stacked floor-to-ceiling, and mounted on the glass was a sign clearly scrawled by a crazy person.

GOVERMENT! LEAF ME ALONE!!!!
The sign went on, but that's what was easily visible from the street.

Good god, I thought. What have I done? I'll never be able to resell this place.

His offenses were many and included human feces in the hallway. I did no DNA test, but I'm fairly certain it was his. He probably put it there to ward off collections agents. They hate the smell of human feces. Worse, though, he was sociable. I started parking my car a block away because if he heard me pull up, he would rush outside to share his latest insights on the world's workings. It doesn't matter what they were; all you need to know is that he mentioned the government and his guns a lot. He seemed to like me, in that way a spectacularly insane person likes anyone who's humoring him because they're afraid he'll poison their dog when they're at work.

One day, he caught me as I was sneaking in the side door. "My car has no antifreeze and [some bullshit] so I have no money and do you have $5 I can borrow?" I opened my wallet and found only a 20, which delighted him. He grabbed the $20, promised to pay me back, and jetted off to his dealer.

He then diligently avoided me for the next year. I never saw him again.

This, this is what money is for.

delousing

Hurricane Flo spent the night Wednesday, and as is her custom, she destroyed the place within seconds.

"It's immaculate!" she snarled with contempt while she hugged me. Then she unloaded her car. There were seven bags of groceries alone. That was food—just for her—for her 16 hour stay. Within minutes, I could see no surface in my house, including wide swaths of the floor.

So it begins, I thought as I hid my good skillet from her.

Flo could fill a dishwasher simply by making a bologna sandwich. And if she needs a bowl, she'll walk right past the bowls next to her, climb on the counter, reach into the recesses of the top shelf, find the antique bowl that must be hand-washed with soap made from the ashes of a virgin unicorn, and use that bowl for microwaving beets.

In the morning while she still slept, I went downstairs and started excavating the carnage that was my kitchen.

The fuck did she use ramekins for?

Among the casualties were my brand new eyeglasses and my antibiotics. They remain missing now.

"What, you think I stole your eyeglasses?!" she snapped when I asked her to keep an eye out for them.

No, but it had crossed my mind that she'd swallowed what she'd hoped were quaaludes.

I'd begun writing this post when I heard her awaken upstairs. Only seconds of peace remaining, I thought. As if in answer, a siren's call wafted down the stairs.

"Hey, where's your plunger?"

once more with feeling

Today is my airhead dog Fredo's fifth birthday. In celebration, I accidentally spanked him six times. This is a repeat of last year, where I also spanked him one too many times. "It seems like longer," I told him.

Our latest game is for me to place my rigid palm on top of his muzzle, right in front of his eyes, while he tries to bite it. Click-click-click go his teeth, munching on air while he whines in frustration. Why, he can see my hand right there!

Yep.

His sister must have sucked all the vitamins out of the placenta.

think good now

Whenever I go to a doctor, I experience one of exactly two outcomes:

  • The doctor thinks I'm overreacting to my symptoms and wasting his time, or
  • The doctor scolds me for waiting too long to come in.
Yesterday was #1.

I was pretty sure my sinuses thing had morphed into pneumonia, and I was determined to nip it in the bud this time. I reported my symptoms, and the doctor was unimpressed. "I think you'll live," he sneered. He listened to my lungs. They sounded fine, he said, shooting me his best "Were you just lonely, or what?" look. I insisted on an x-ray, and he relented.

CUT TO: 20 MINUTES LATER
THE DOCTOR enters the examining room, x-rays and antibiotics in hand.

DOCTOR
How did you know?

I stammered something about familiarity with the symptoms, which is true enough, but the details are embarrassing. Starved of oxygen, my brain functions slowed. Work became harder, much harder. I had to read things four or five times to understand them, and then I quickly forgot what I understood. Taking antibiotics wasn't required just for sound health; it was a professional imperative. I needed my smart pills. Or at least some less-stupid pills.

Most tellingly, I couldn't follow the plot on TV shows. That's when I knew my old, stupid-fying friend was back.

Me no understand cartoon. Brain...not...think...good. Need doctor.

unclicked link of the day

Nope and nope.

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The solution, of course, is for state troopers to carry guns.

mr. lonely

When I was a kid, the twin pillars of my torture were Barry Manilow (Mom) and Bobby Vinton (Dad). You probably don't know Bobby Vinton, so allow me to share.

I'm very sorry.

I consider wallpaper removal the single most unpleasant job I've ever attempted. Breaking up concrete with a sledgehammer? Digging ditches? Child, please. Wallpaper removal is horrible. It's sweaty, it's physically painful, it's frustrating, and when you're done, you've probably damaged your drywall. I swore to never do it again. Enter Pete, my wallpaper-removal guy and the reason I've had "I'm Mr. Lonely" in my head all week.

Around 60 and a resident of Metamuville, Pete has extended his one-day stay to four days. Near as I can tell, this is so he can hang around me more and ask me about myself, my house, my dog, etc. while I attempt to have an online meeting. Pete doesn't let little things like headphones and my active conversation with a clearly visible person stop him. He is driving me insane.

Me, to my monitor: "So Jason, I think it's critical that we—"

Pete, pointing out window: "IS THAT CAMANO ISLAND? I WENT TO CAMANO ISLAND ONCE. I THINK IT WAS CAMANO. MAYBE IT WAS HAT ISLAND. ANYWAYS, THAT REMINDS ME OF A STORY THAT'S BOTH LONG AND POINTLESS. IT WAS 1973, AND NIXON WAS..."

At this point, I would chew my own leg off to extricate myself from his presence. He keeps inventing reasons to talk to me, to return the next day. And he bought a $50 tape gun just because he thinks I'll need one. "I'll lend you this tape gun," he said. "I live just down the street. It's no problem for me to come back."

"Oh, I'll just buy it from you," I replied. He was visibly crushed. Check and mate.

master of the universe

This morning, I worked at my desk while around me swirled seven other people. They cleaned my house, detailed my car, removed wallpaper, and repaired a fence. "Lo, I am master of the universe," I declared to Fredo. I squinted at him hard. "I should really farm out feeding you."

And how did this go, you ask?

A maid broke a wine glass. The fence panels are now comically crooked, at both the x and z axes. "If you guys had only hung the panel so it's facing the ground, you would have had the hat trick," I snarled when firing them. My car window will not go back up because (I hope) moisture made the fuse blow. And the wallpaper guy is now about to hose a fourth of my days because he cannot make and execute a plan.

You'd think being god would be awesome, but nope. Sucks just as much as screwing up myself, but it's not free.


karma

"Can you build me a web site?" said another woman, mere days after the last one. I'm related to this latest person, so it's not what you're thinking. Apparently I have an odor, and it smells like free labor.

And thus have I embarked on building her a blog. "I want it to chronicle the things in life that I'm grateful for," she said.

"Are you sure we're related?" I replied.

"Just to serve as a reminder to me, if nothing else."

"Seriously, is it possible there was a mixup at one of our hospitals?"

"Ha ha!"

She is achingly sweet and curiously guileless. I guess I'm happy to be related to such a person, but I also wonder what's in our relationship for her. A free blog, I suppose.

And thus, 17 years after I created Stank, I now embark on creating its exact opposite.

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