sleaze of the year

FullSizeRender.jpgAn acquaintance, let’s call her Freida, was setting up a memorial for her dead daughter, and she asked my advice about crowdsourcing. I volunteered to set up a memorial web site with hooks to a nonprofit PayPal account. Freida gratefully acknowledged me in a speech at the kickoff fundraiser, and I hadn't thought about it in the months since.

And then last week, I started getting emails from the site. Whenever I set up a site, I initially add myself to its email recipients so that I can verify that everything’s working. This time, I’d forgotten to take myself off.

The mails are receipts from PayPal. Freida is buying herself stuff using the donations. Among other things, a pair of shoes is being shipped to the memorial fund, at Freida’s home address. The hideous shoe pictured, in fact. The one that looks like hotel carpeting in Kazakhstan in 1958.

“How can she spend money that her friends donated to her dead daughter’s memorial? I would feel so guilty!” said Allie.

“That is because you are a decent person,” I replied. “Frankly, it limits you.”

watching jerry springer

There's a bar with great wifi near my hotel, which means everyone who works there knows me. Noon shift. Tuesday mid-afternoon shift. Late shift. Weekends. I am, I have learned, "Double Maker's John," which while impersonal is far kinder than many of my more personal nicknames. I'll take it.

No one there knows anything about me, due to their chronic lack of caring, but I know everything about them. They're mostly girls in their 20s, so "everything" does not run particularly interesting. The woman who tends bar at lunchtime is my favorite simply for lack of hysterical prattle about boys not returning texts. I assume this is because her grandson, at 2, is too young to have a phone.

One waitress, Christina, has never actually served me but we've chatted often. She's adorable, with her brown ponytail pulled through a baseball cap. After a particularly mind-numbing session of listening to a drunken, off-duty 22 year old bartender talk about her texts while texting them, I was relieved to see Christina. "You know you're the only person here who hasn't told me the story of her life?" I said. "I just want to thank you."

She then told me the story of her life.

She began by talking about an ex from 15 years ago. Considering that I had her placed in her low 20s, I was visibly surprised. It turns out she's actually 36. Helloooo, ponytail! I'm John!

"I have three kids!" she added, still laughing at my mistake.

I tripped over my next question, because in most cultures it would merit my being slapped. Here, though, it merits wondering: do they all have the same dad? I couldn't think of a polite way to ask it, so I instead asked, "Is...Dad still around?"

"No, they're assholes," she snapped. Now I wanted to know if she knew who the father was for each child. Meanwhile, Christina resumed texting her married ex, whose "mediocre" wife for whom he "settled" does not know that Christina remains his emotional intimate.

I munched on my taco and fondly remembered the five-second window when she was attractive. It was glorious.

purely hypothetical

Remember that time when you were talking to yourself in the car, and you said something so vile, you pulled out the webcam and deleted all its files?

Me neither.

the world's most dangerous playlist

Well, I listened to it while driving. I can't say I felt particularly dangerous, unless fleeting suicidal thoughts during the Black Eyed Peas count.

bitter much

In college, Fucking Amy came home one day to find I'd left a note.

Fucking Amy,
Hey, this is my memory, not yours.
Phil and I are going for a walk at the refuge. Be home in a bit.
John
She read it at 2pm. When it got dark at 5, she was mildly concerned. By 7, she was wondering whether she should call someone. By the time I came home near dawn, she was sound asleep. In retrospect, this was a red flag.

Phil and I had embarked on a 1.5 mile loop around a lake in an enormous wildlife refuge. A mile into it, two roads diverged in a wood. I continued down the paved path, but Phil grabbed my arm.

"Nah, that just loops back to the car. Let's take this other path," he said of the trail that some goat may or may not have used in the mid-17th century. My brain not yet fully formed, I let him choose.

The path soon disappeared. Eventually we were scaling fences in a panicked attempt to find any sort of sign of civilization before the sun went down. That effort failed. Soon it was pitch black and very cold, and the only sounds whatsoever were coyotes and my unremitting cursing.

"You know, Phil, sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a pretty good goddamned reason," I observed helpfully.

"It's getting cold. We should probably huddle for warmth," suggested the last human being on earth who should have proposed snuggling at that moment.

Eventually we enacted a plan where we would walk a straight line until we ran into a road or circumnavigated the globe, whichever came first. It was close, but eventually we found a road. A few miles down the road, we found the entrance to the refuge, and a few miles down that, my car. The quick 1.5 mile walk had lasted, minimally, 12 miles and 17 hours.

• • •

On Sunday, Fredo and I embarked on the same 1.5 mile walk. It lasted for 1.5 miles and 30 minutes. When two roads diverged in a wood, the stupidest dog who has ever lived chose the one that looped back to the car.


working on a saturday at 5am

In my seemingly never-ending quest to replace Amy, I'm again looking for a graphic artist. This means looking at art samples, which led me to a British insurance company's infographic about the dangers of listening to music whilst driving. Here is one portion.

driving songs dangerousness infographic_sm.PNG

And like everyone else who read this, I was drawn to one inescapable outcome.

Untitled.png

Still, I call bullshit. Everyone knows Ray Charles' Mess Around is his most dangerous driving song.

i cannot even collect myself

she's with the band

I'm casually looking at rural houses. I really like this one area about 20 minutes from the edge of Cooterville. Heavily wooded, giant slopes, and a river. There's a small cafe that serves exceptionally good food, and I always make a point to stop there for lunch. Today it was staffed by two insanely hot women. One was in her low 20s, the other maybe 35. While I ate my lunch, they bustled about distractingly.

"Hey mama, what was that order?" said the younger one.

What.

"Maybe it's a nickname?" I thought, but further observation led me to the inescapable conclusion that yes, they were indeed mother and daughter. No one guilts quite like a mom.

• • •

My childhood best friend became a high school marching band director straight out of college. One does not accomplish this in a desirable place to live, however, and he relocated to a tiny one-light town 90 minutes out of Columbus. Corn fields abutted the school grounds on three sides. It was just far enough to be the perfect getaway for me, and I went to most of his games and watched some epically lousy football and band music. Inevitably, I got to know the kids, to whom I was an old man at 22. Most of them never dreamed of leaving that town, and those that did largely didn't leave anyway, not even to college. Out of the 20 or so kids whose names I remember, one left the area. She now lives in Columbus. She's the worldly one.

Pregnancy was more common in that band than broken reeds. Out of 30 or so girls, 8 got pregnant one year. I had thought that the teenage girls of my high school were the most irrational creatures I would ever meet, so I was fully caught off-guard by competitively pregnant teenage girls. The crying, the hysteria, the recriminations toward everyone but themselves....shudder.

"I think I'm done here," I told my friend. "This is getting really depressing." He understood and wished aloud that he, too, could escape this bumpkin baby factory. Kind as they generally were, those band kids frustrated me to no end. They were seemingly born without ambition or curiosity. It saddened me. I saw their entire lives unspooling before them, and it wasn't pretty.

• • •

In the cafe, I did the math. Mom was essentially one of those band kids, all grown up and slinging sandwiches side-by-side with her onetime baby bump, who, I feel safe predicting, never once considered a life elsewhere, either. Perhaps there is such a thing as too small-town. I wondered if the daughter had a 7 year old of her own. As I drove off, I wondered if maybe I'm done with this small-town, too.

the marriage wrecker

No doubt protesting his seventh hotel room in seven days, Fredo took a whiz on the rug. I could smell it all too well, but I could not locate it. And so I bought a black light flashlight, which illuminated it brilliantly and allowed me to mitigate the odor. As a bonus, I now have the means of instantly destroying any marriage.

To use the Marriage Wrecker:

  1. Take the wife into their bathroom.
  2. Turn off the lights.
  3. Shine the blacklight on the floor, the rug, the walls, the ceiling, the floral arrangement, pretty much anywhere urine shrapnel can conceivably fly.
  4. On her laptop, helpfully google "Attorneys."

unparticular

Within 12 hours of arriving in Cooterville, I was at a body shop, scheduling my Jeep's repair. They would get to me in two weeks, and they would arrange things with Avis to have a rental car ready to go.

Yeah, right! I snorted to myself, still fresh from Pittsburgh. I'll remind both of you 16 times and you still won't be ready as promised. But I resolved to give Cooterville a chance. This is a new town, a new culture. I would not let the scars of Pittsburgh affect me here. I would try trusting people to do what they said they were going to do. Deep down, did I fully expect to hear the familiar bullshit about staffing problems or my own failure to meet a secret requirement? Yes.

To. My. Very. Core.

This morning was two weeks later. I pulled into body shop 15 minutes early, parking next to my rental car and the waiting Avis agent. Within view were the parts for the Jeep, ready for installation.

I know this means nothing to you normals, but I actually dabbed a tear. It's really over.

These days I'm living in an extended stay hotel. My possessions are in pods stored in a nearby warehouse. The equity from my houses is in savings. I'm running my business from what is, I assure you, the only hotel room in Cooterville that contains a LAN. This is the plan while I look for a new home. Minimum vulnerability. Maximum flexibility. I'd been looking forward to this day for a year.

But it's a thin line between The Plan and homelessness. I was pulled over by a cop the other day and realized that no honest answer to his questions would satisfy him. No, that's not my current address. I don't really have one. I don't really have a state of residence, let alone an actual residence.

"Yes, that address is accurate," I lied.

With my assets hidden from view, there's a striking resemblance between my life now and my life decades ago, when I was dirt poor. I live in essentially a one-bedroom apartment, and my neighbor is batshit crazy. I use a common laundry. My car has body damage. There is fix-a-flat in my car for the first time in decades. I have very few clothes. (I can hear you in my head, Allie. Stop shitting on my point.) I pull my stereo out of my car at night. Today I bought lock de-icer and used the term "cold-cranking amps" for the first time in a very long time. There's a striking lack of diversity in my life, only this time it's unemployable white miscreants. I bought a locking gas cap. Not coincidentally, I hear police sirens a lot.

By complete coincidence, the only extended stay hotel in Cooterville that accepts dogs is 100 feet from where I crashed in a friend's apartment in 1993. I see my old home every day. "Jeeeeeeezus," I wince. Sometimes it feels like 20 years of progress didn't even happen.

diplomatic corps

"Hire whoever you want," I once said to Amy, but then I thought better of it. "Wait. Native English speakers only. I'm not dealing with that at my own company."

She sighed the familiar, exasperated sigh of a woman who's tired of my every utterance. "Whatever."

She then set up our interview with a guy named Giovanni Benedetti.

"ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" I shrieked.

"He's English."

"No, he's in England. He probably just got off the boat. Have you spoken to him?"

"No."

"I swear to god, Amy, if he sounds like the Mario brothers..."

But Gio was fine, a proper English gentleman whose crisp pronunciation was such that I figure he was annoyed with the sound of my voice. In which case, welcome to the planet's least exclusive party, Gio. Meet Amy, your hostess this evening.

Yesterday I made an appointment to interview another Brit, googling her only after the meeting was scheduled. Oh, no! She's very Indian. So is her entire family. Like dots-on-the-forehead Indian, my most dreaded of accents. I cannot penetrate it. It's machine-gunned gibberish to me. I say "Excuse me?" a lot, but I just respond "Yes" in the dark a lot more. And this is how I ended up working for an Indian multinational a few years ago, quite against my will.

As the appointment approached, I said a silent prayer to whatever invisible man in the sky might be listening.

To whom it may concern,
Please let her be Gio's sister. Or at least born in the UK. Just not Scotland, okay?
Regards,
John
I met with her. She sounded like Kate Winslet.
Thanks, bro.
Do I owe you a dead sheep or something?

auld lang syne

This morning I sent my Pittsburgh accountant my financial information for the third quarter. She replied with a bunch of questions, one of which was "Are you hiring new people?"

"What an odd question," I thought. "What possible purpose could t—"

That's when I saw the strange email on the CC line. A quick googling revealed that he's in my line of work. My accountant had added a job-seeking stranger to the email with my financial information on it.

I'd say it was a definitive Pittsburgh moment, but she would have had to take another two weeks and several reminders in order to fuck up this badly.

the only gun control we need

Make guns look less like giant penises and more like vaginas.

Poof. No more gun problem.

• • •

After every mass-shooting—now there's a definitively American prepositional phrase, kids—reasonable people reasonably want to revisit the reasonable "well-regulated" part of the second amendment, and the NRA and their legions of elected whores reliably go batshit, decrying the political opportunists crassly exploiting a tragedy.

Yes, never forget who the real victims in Las Vegas are: the NRA.

acclimatization

Until recently, how much I could lift was purely a function of muscular strength. It wasn't a question of whether I should lift something, only whether I could. This is sadly no longer true. Now, how much weight I can lift has more to do with the failing point of tendons and ligaments. For really the first time, I feel youth's absence.

Last weekend, I was asked out by a girl less than half my age. So implausible was this, I didn't even recognize it. After she spelled things out for me, I found her creepy. "Old enough to be her father" understates things. In this town, odds are excellent that I'm a good deal older than him. The ew factor was very high. I try to see the compliment in her overture, but I can't. I just wonder what's wrong with her. Thanks for teaching me a new way to feel old, hon. I needed another.

• • •

The Child Bride was the weekend's Cooterville Moment I.

Moment II was at a Steelers bar, when someone seeing the score of another game asked, "How many touchdowns is in 56 points?" Egad, I thought. Show some dignity. And then every last person in the room turned and looked to me to provide the answer. Only one adult in twenty could divide 56 by 7, and worse, they all knew who it would be. I humbly submit that if I'm the consensus math expert in a room, a sterilization program is in order.

Moment III was when I was looking at real estate. I inquired about septic. "We're not primitive here, John!" the realtor scoffed, playfully slapping my arm. "We put in sewers last year."

Moment IV was a different house. A half mile away, I came upon a bunch of vehicles parked willy-nilly at the side of the country road. That's odd. They're all pickup trucks. As I passed, there was a deafening eruption of gunfire. It was an outdoor shooting range, with people firing guns maybe 30 feet from my window.

"Well, it's two weeks before hunting season," explained the realtor, as if it's my expectations that are insane.

defying gravity

I was watching CBS' coverage of the Las Vegas mass shooting when the anchor introduced an actress. As the anchor recited her acting credits, I awaited the connection and wondered if she had lost a family member. It turns out her credits were the connection. She was on CSI: Las Vegas.

I have nothing to add.

no no vaseline

About 2500 miles and exactly two weeks after I last locked up the brakes, it happened again. Not a mile from my Cooterville hotel, Cooter P. McNugget shot across my path, again requiring that I lay rubber. At least this time, I avoided a collision.

As before, I have a recording of the incident. This time, however, I will not be sharing. I can be heard absent-mindedly rapping in the background. Trust that this monument to whiteness was destroyed with great prejudice.

that boy ain't right

When the accident occurred, Fredo was free-ranging in the back of my car. His safety was my first thought. First seizures, then thyroid problems, then lyme disease...surely, a severed spinal cord was Pittsburgh's next gift to us. As I turned around to look at him, I was already imagining 10 years of carrying him outside and holding him up while he pooped. But he was fine. More than fine. He was beaming with pure joy, tail wagging as he excitedly panted in my face.

"Again! Again!" his body language said.

cooterville

I have arrived at what, I think, for the next five minutes anyway, is my final destination, a town in Washington state I shall call Cooterville. I named it this after Cooter P. McNugget, the quintessential Cooterville resident. He has 12 years of public education, yes, but four of them were spent in the sixth grade. He does not read. His Facebook job status is "It's Complicated." Yet he does not let his utter and complete lack of accomplishment or authority prevent him from going batshit about a football player kneeling for the national anthem. This is my home now.

Cooterville is white. Really white. Blinding white. I encountered a black guy today, and I instinctively gave him directions to the freeway. I do not consider oppressive whiteness to be a feature. It is at its best dull. It is at its worst cancerous.

I watched the Steelers’ game yesterday at the local Steelers club. At a whole 18 months’ residency, I was the closest thing to a native Pittsburgher there. “It’s disgraceful!” snorted the Cooter seated opposite me about the Steelers avoiding the whole manufactured anthem bullshit-distraction-from-treason. I asked her what was wrong with me. I love my country. I stand for the anthem. Yet I’m not the least bit invalidated by players kneeling in a dignified protest about a legitimate concern, let alone am I driven batshit psychotic about it. She waved me off, and I have no doubt that she despises me for my lack of oh-who-the-fuck-cares.

funeral for a fiend

The Pittsburgh experiment, declared a failure long ago, finally breathed its last on Monday. As the new owner led me out the front door, I gave the house two stabbing middle fingers behind my back. The owner turned around suddenly.

"I really like these doors!" he chirped.

Oh, me too, buddy. I've never liked them more than I do at this moment. Enjoy the bottle of Everclear I left you in the bar. You'll find that alcoholism helps.

good luck chuck

Two weeks ago, the house failed me one (hopefully) last time, incurring a $1500 repair when under contract. I can't even feel that particular pain anymore. I've had a bouquet of dicks shoved up my ass for a year, now, and one more isn't really going to move the needle on my discomfort. Then the accident happened. Then the same day I shipped my backup credit card and other essentials to my destination, my remaining credit card was compromised. "Why would you steal someone’s credit card number just to go to Jack in the Box in California?" I wondered while I reflexively bent over.

But then something weird happened. Good luck appeared. I was wary. I didn’t recognize it at first. If this guy is good luck, I'm his dog.

I was miraculously able to transfer enough cash to pay my movers and for lodging for the next month. The movers showed up five minutes early instead of two days after never. The southern Baptist millennial realtor’s insurance company wrote me a $4000 check with a smile. My damaged turn signal was just a loose connection, putting me back on track for my long drive. These things might not seem significant to you normals, but this is the sort of luck I haven’t seen in a year. The wanted kind. Let's hope it parlays into someone else pulling in front of my car so that I can double-dip on collecting.

paranoia will care for ya

My insurance company and his were already squabbling about percentages of blame for the accident. My insurance company's Claims Sloth was explaining how these things work—“He said you were going 80, so it’ll probably be 75/25 liability between the two of you.”

“I was going under the speed limit.”

“Well, I’m afraid he said you weren’t."

“So he saw me well enough to assess my speed with certainty, yet he drove across my path anyway?”

“Heh. Yeah. Listen, John, that’s just how these things g—“

“Thank god I have a dash cam, then.”

“You do?”

“Yep. And if you time it and count the lines and convert feet per second to miles per hour, I was doing 33-36.”

“What was the speed limit again?”

It was 40. And voila, the guy’s insurance company, upon seeing their short hairs clutched by vice-grips, called me to accept 100% of the liability. They’re suddenly so nice about it, too.

• • •

Upon hearing this story, Allie audibly shuddered. “Every time your paranoia is positively reinforced, a part of my soul dies,” she sighed.

spittake

A sports talk caller was ripping a Steeler for blowing off training camp. "Dat just don't fly in a hard-workin' town like Pittsburgh," he concluded.

Maybe I should pull over and compose myself, I thought.

In my industry, there's a position called a program manager, or "PM" for short. They do not manage people, yet they're responsible for marshaling them toward the greater group goals. I've always avoided this job like it's gonorrhea. All of the responsibility without any of the authority? What you've got there is the cure for happiness.

Which brings us back to Pittsburgh. I have to PM every last person here, especially the people I hire. If I do not call a person with whom I made an appointment to remind them of their commitment, they reliably do not show up. “Oh, you still wanted to meet?” they’ll say later, with some difficulty because of their constricted windpipe. They do not understand my anger, and although it took me a while to wrap my head around it, I now understand why. No one here is expected to do their job. They’re not expected to do it well. You can reliably expect them only to blow you off and to later act as though man, you sure is patikilar.

I’d bet $20 that the caller was at work when he called, doing absolutely nothing except billing.

ye pods

My pods arrive today, and with them the beginning of the end of my discontent. It almost makes up for my going away present from Pittsburgh, caught by my dash cam in glorious 1080p. This guy actually filed a claim against my insurance. He's a southern baptist millennial realtor, the entitled-asshole hat-trick.

the great sell-off

In 2002, I bought a cheapo placeholder dinette set for my new Metamuville home. It somehow made it to 2017, but it will make it no farther. I've been ruthlessly unloading stuff. The more cubic feet it occupies, the more likely it's staying here. Everything's going into pods. I'm a pod person now.

This has meant the return of my favorite species, the Craigslidiot, into my life. "20 pound gold brick for $3," my ad could read. "Will you take 75 cents?" eight people would respond. "How about a trade for my chainsaw? It worked in 2009."

Those people are easily enough ignored, but then, inevitably, a few of them make it into my home.

"You want some boxes to use as padding?" I said. "Nah," said the guy throwing 11 pieces of free-range metal furniture into the back of his truck. At least he had shame enough not to call and complain after running them through the cheese-grater that was his ride to South Carolina.

"You seriously don't want to ship that TV on its back. Glass has a low tensile strength. Ship it vertically," I said to deaf ears a mere hour before the guy wrote to complain that the clearly defective screen had cracked.

"The chairs disassemble like this," I said, but I was waved off right before the guy ripped the leather on my door jamb, which was substantially narrower than what he was carrying. "FUCK!" he yelled at the gods who were clearly out to get him.

Stupid gods.

Today I learned that the Romans didn't have a numeral for "zero." They just used the word for "nothing."

This morning I left the house without my phone, which meant I was at the mercy of the Pittsburgh FM dial. In an hour's time, I heard one song recorded after 1985. It was recorded in 1993.

That station played "Last Dance for Mary Jane, "I Heard It from the Grapevine," "Take Another Piece of my Heart," and some Christian song—oh, let's say it was called "Hey Jesus Your [sic] So Fine Your [sic] So Fine You Blow My Mind Hey Jesus! J-E-S-U-S! Hey Jesus!" They played those songs back to back. I humbly submit that there is no audience on the planet for that song block.

gutterball

img_0381-650.jpgWhen I was 12, I guilted my mother for never coming to watch my soccer games. She sighed and decided brutal honesty was, as usual, the best way to get me to shut up.

"I can't stand watching you run," she said. "It's like watching a bowling ball skip across a cow pasture."

This is sadly accurate. It's also true of how I walk. I walk with great force, and I don't exactly stop on a dime. Melinda Gates herself can attest to this, but that's another story.

The other night, I left a restaurant at my usual pace. I stepped off the curb and strode toward my car, not seeing a second curb—a cement parking curb that the restaurant had thoughtfully painted the same color as the asphalt. I went down with incredible force. If you told me I smacked the pavement with 1000 pounds of force, I would believe you. I bounced. And for the first time in decades, I heard a group of people gasp at my own injury. I can't say I missed that sound.

"Who. The fuck. Paints a parking curb black," I groggily said to the onlookers helping me up. One of them insisted that I go inside and complain to the teenagers making minimum wage. I declined.

"It doesn't hurt now, but it's going to hurt tomorrow," she mothered.

"I assure you that it hurts now," I replied as I staggered to my car.

It's two days later, and my long-bad elbow sounds like gravel sloshing around in a can of paint. It's an odd sound, at once both moist and crunchy. It is unwelcome right before a move, but at least it repels the many people I make listen. Here's hoping it's days of entertainment, not months.

things i'll miss about pittsburgh, part ii

Pittsburgh is blessed to be home to the Carnegie family, without whom this would be an ethnic Topeka. Among their many contributions to local culture is their art and natural history museum, which is simply ridiculous for a town of this size. I call the impressionists room "the Andrew don't mess around room." Renoir next to Monet next to Van Gogh next to Degas next to Manet next to Pissaro. At some point you cease being overwhelmed by the sheer density of it all and become overwhelmed with the sheer luckiness of this town. So you go downstairs and look at the T-Rexes.

Sure, I could show you pictures of the T-Rexes or Monet's largest Water Lillies painting. But I'd rather make fun of unfortunate signs I saw there. Andrew truly spared no expense except an editor.

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summation

Thanks to longtime Stank troll Marta for sending in this cartoon. It's perfect.

movie_fan_art_slide_show-slide-5.jpg

boat ride

Perhaps my dog, Fredo, was doomed when I named him. Like his namesake, he is helpless, sweet, a complete pussy, and prone to whoring himself out to my enemies. But most of all, he is dumb. Good lord, is he ever dumb.

His water bowl is downstairs. Whenever I come home after a lengthy absence, I tend to go straight down there, because that's also where the TV is. It's at that point that a parched Fredo fills his hump with water, slurping mightily for several minutes. Because he certainly couldn't go down the stairs without me.

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