January 1800 Archives

sue

Originally published August 5, 2003

A day threatened for a decade has arrived: I sent for grad school friends Lynn and the revered Sue to collect an old debt. They're painting my house. For four days. Much as when I think of home, I think of Spokane and not Columbus, when I think of family, I often think of these two and not my biological kin. It's in this spirit, therefore, that I shall spend this week here listing the smothering mothering that emanates from Sue's mouth.

I predict that the first reference to my singleness will occur sometime midday Wednesday. Place your bets and watch this space. Here are the mounting motherings:

  • It's ridiculous that you have caller ID on your cell phone, too. (Not that it comes without.)
  • I'm not going to sleep in your bed and let you sleep on the couch. I insist on taking the couch, so that you can't possibly watch TV, use your computer, prepare my meals, clean up last night's dinner dishes, let the dog out, etc. until I wake up. So march right into that bedroom and wait for me to arise, you ingrate.
  • It's piggish to throw that McDonald's bag into the back of the Jeep instead of storing down by the brake and gas pedals.
  • The garden that you're tearing up in the fall needs to be weeded; oh, here I'll just do it.
  • That vase/chair/table/painting/mirror/towel/stool/keys/trash can would work much better in this other room; oh, here, I'll just move it.
  • It's piggish to have clean underwear in a basket in a closest. Here, I'll just bring your underwear out into the living room, show it to everyone so they can understand just how silly you are, and fold it.
  • You rich fuck, who gets granite countertops?
  • You're wearing that to paint?
  • You're making me filet mignon? Make it medium rare and you eat too much meat.
  • So. Does it ever get lonely, being single decade after decade like you are?
  • I don't like that vase/music/TV show/bread/cereal/bubble bath/wall color/painting/plant/pot/soap/sandwich/centerpiece/fuse box location.
  • You mean you're not going to remove that grating and clean it just because it's not visible unless someone moves the couch like I just did? Here, I'll just do it.
  • You mean you're not going to get on your hands and knees and scrub the kitchen floor just because you're replacing it in two weeks? Here, I'll just do it.
  • Your kitchen floor is disgusting, just disgusting. Not like when I pulled a dirty, damp, and unwashed cloth towel out of the washer—in which it had been incubating overnight—and wiped all kitchen utensils and food preparation surfaces with it.
  • What do you mean, "There's some stuff in the trash can by the road that you could clean, too"? Now that would just be silly.

the aretha franklin chronicles

part one

Originally published September 19, 2002

I'm off to the East Coast to see Aretha Franklin on her last concert tour ever. Hopefully 'Reethy will not be in one of her legendary moods and will go on stage as scheduled. Chancy or not, I've gotta see the Queen while I can, or I just don't think I could live with myself. I'm hopeful, of course, that she sings her two obscure songs that I'd like on my movie's soundtrack, but I ain't holdin' my breath. I'll settle for a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Originally published September 24, 2002

3000 miles by air, six hours by car, and the bitch doesn't show up because her sister died. 

Hmm. Turns out her sister died 11 days earlier. 

Hmm. That's a full 9 days before I last confirmed that the concert was on, right before I got on a plane. 

Hmm. When my mom died, I showed up for work the very next day. 

Hmm. That's $500 on airfare...
$350 on hotel...
$210 on the rental car...
$78 on parking at Sea-Tac...
$180 on the dog kennel...
3 precious vacation days used up...
...yet she was so overcome with grief that even with a nine-day window, she couldn't give her fans notice of their imminent buttfucking. Nay, she couldn't be bothered to use lubricant. What a thoughtful human being. What a pro. The show must go on, indeed.

Oh yes, fuck you straight to hell, Aretha Franklin.

Originally published November 3, 2002

Whadya know. Karma usually takes longer.

Aretha Franklin Property Burns Down
[LatelineNews: 2002-10-29] BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - An $800,000 Michigan house owned by Aretha Franklin burned down. Nobody was in the 5,000-square-foot residence at the time of the Friday morning blaze. Fire Chief Leo Chartier said flames were shooting through the roof when firefighters arrived just before 6 a.m. Friday.

The house, which firefighters said was completely razed, had an estimated value of $812,900, according to township records. The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

I hope authorities don't spend too long piecing this perplexing enigma together. What came around, went around.

interlude

Editor's note, July 2005: In January 2003, when I was sitting in the Phoenix airport still basking in Ohio State's championship glow, the airline offered me a free ticket to anywhere I wanted to go if I would accept a bump to the next flight and thereby be able to finish watching Michael Vick beat Green Bay at Green Bay in January, which had never been done. Yep. It was quite a roll I was on. En route back to Seattle with my voucher in hand, I realized what it represented: a free ticket to try again with Aretha. And thus pull victory out of the jaws of defeat.

Originally published March 27, 2003

The rescheduled Aretha Franklin concert is in a couple months. Mrgm. I taste copper.

Originally published April 16, 2003

God help me, I'm flying to Hyannis, MA to see Aretha Franklin. And may God help her if she doesn't show again. What will it be this time? The death of her dog two weeks earlier? A really sore, chafing thigh pimple? Arson? Whoop, I guess that 's been done. Well, the arson of her dog's thigh pimple, maybe.

Originally published April 17, 2003

Cocksucker of the Day Award

To Ticketmaster, who irritably hissed that there could be no refund for the original, postponed Aretha Franklin concert, for which I pointlessly took vacation time, spent a small fortune, and flew six thousand miles—after having diligently reconfirmed it with them just prior to my departure. If people three offices down heard the eruption of profanity through my closed door, imagine how the guy at Ticketmaster felt. I got my refund, which cost Ticketmaster the COTD Award but saved their souls.

part two

Originally published August 21, 2003

I'm heading back East tomorrow to visit friends and—sigh—attempt to see Aretha. If she dogs me again, well, pay no attention to the media reports.

Originally published August 26, 2003

There's much to say about my New England swing, but the crux can be summed up in two magical little words: she showed!

And Aretha and me, we patched things up.

The Cape Code Melody Tent is a unique venue, a circular seating area around a rotating stage. There are only about 20 rows of seats, so to say there's not a bad seat in the house is to undersell; there's not an non-excellent seat in the house. As we waited, Amy, Rob and I placed bets on how long Aretha's set would be. I said 70 minutes. Rob, who's apparently watched far too much Price Is Right, said 71. Amy, prone to all sorts of fancifully optimistic blunders (moving back East without a job offer, joining the Green Party, drinking with me, etc.), predicted 90. I "won" when Aretha took the stage for 64 minutes. Mind you, that includes at least 10 minutes of breaks, an inexplicable homage to Nelly's "Hot In Here," and the pre-encore exit theatrics—none of which involved her actually singing.

Yet I loved the performance. It was the first time at a concert where I've felt star-struck, where I got chills from just seeing the person. This effect was heightened by some teasing showmanship. First, the band took their place in the pit. Ten minutes passed. Then the backup singers took the stage, and it seemed the show was imminent, so the crowd started clapping in unison as if in a Roman coliseum. We're marking time: Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap. And then the minutes passed. And we petered out. And the backup singers sat patiently. And the crowd started squirming. And minutes more passed. And then off in the distance, we heard a siren. And then it hit me: oh my God, the bitch dropped dead from a heart attack. And then the lights went out, and the crowd went apeshit, and I saw an eruption of camera flashes going off outside the opposite side of the arena. A dark shape poised at the top of the aisle opposite my seat. Is that her? I can't tell. The shape stood there as the backup singers took us through a medley of very familiar songs, including "Think" and "You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)." And then the MC grabbed the microphone and channeled a boxing announcer. He presented the uncontested Queen of Soul, who was suddenly and brilliantly illuminated as she and her bodyguards made their way down the aisle toward the stage. It was a entrance worthy of the heavyweight champ.

Fittingly, the first lyrics she belted were "I'm Here!"

I was afraid that at 70ish, Aretha would have lost something. Perhaps that something is stamina. But what the show lacked in length, it made up for in energy and passion, and that old lady sure got the assembled milquetoast Cape Cod Country Club jumpin' like they were in a Birmingham Baptist church. She alternated between torchy ballads and upbeat hits, and while the crowd leapt to its feel and danced for "Respect," "Chain of Fools," and "Freeway of Love," it was the ballads that I enjoyed most, particularly the magnificent anthem "Make Them Hear You" and a lovely, breathy encore cover of "I'll Be Seeing You." (The only clunker was her inexplicable cover of the Pocahontas crap-fest "Colors of the Wind." Was that for the zero 12 year olds in the audience?)

As I said, I got chills. Repeatedly. It combined the best of concert going experiences with a palpable sense of divinity, or at least of being touched by history. I beamed. I teared up. I didn't want it to end. I'd traveled 184 miles for every minute she sang—over 3 miles for every second—and I consider it a bargain.

my japanese family

Originally published August 5, 2003

A day threatened for a decade has arrived: I sent for grad school friends Lynn and the revered Ehama-sama to collect an old debt. They're painting my house. For four days. Much as when I think of home, I think of Spokane and not Columbus, when I think of family, I often think of these two and not my biological kin. It's in this spirit, therefore, that I shall spend this week here listing the mothering and smothering sistering that transpires. Wow. How overwritten it that?

I predict that the first reference to my singleness will occur sometime midday Wednesday. Place your bets and watch this space. Here are the mounting motherings:

  • It's ridiculous that you have caller ID on your cell phone, too. (Not that it comes without.)
  • I'm not going to sleep in your bed and let you sleep on the couch. I insist on taking the couch, so that you can't possibly watch TV, use your computer, prepare my meals, clean up last night's dinner dishes, let the dog out, etc. until I wake up. So march right into that bedroom and wait for me to arise, you ingrate.
  • It's piggish to throw that McDonald's bag into the back of the Jeep instead of storing down by the brake and gas pedals.
  • The garden that you're tearing up in the fall needs to be weeded; oh, here I'll just do it.
  • That vase/chair/table/painting/mirror/towel/stool/keys/trash can would work much better in this other room; oh, here, I'll just move it.
  • It's piggish to have clean underwear in a basket in a closest. Here, I'll just bring your underwear out into the living room, show it to everyone so they can understand just how silly you are, and fold it.
  • You rich fuck, who gets granite countertops?
  • You're wearing that to paint?
  • You're making me filet mignon? Make it medium rare and you eat too much meat.
  • So. Does it ever get lonely, being single decade after decade like you are?
  • I don't like that vase/music/TV show/bread/cereal/bubble bath/wall color/painting/plant/pot/soap/sandwich/centerpiece/fuse box location.
  • You mean you're not going to remove that grating and clean it just because it's not visible unless someone moves the couch like I just did? Here, I'll just do it.
  • You mean you're not going to get on your hands and knees and scrub the kitchen floor just because you're replacing it in two weeks? Here, I'll just do it.
  • Your kitchen floor is disgusting, just disgusting. Not like when I pulled a dirty, damp, and unwashed cloth towel out of the washer—in which it had been incubating overnight—and wiped all kitchen utensils and food preparation surfaces with it.   
  • What do you mean, "There's some stuff in the trash can by the road that you could clean, too"? Now that would just be silly.

my first ban

Originally published July 6, 2003

Over the holiday I hosted the same Mormon friends that almost provoked me to murder-suicide during their last visit. Speaking of last visits, they are not welcome back. Never ever ever ever ever ever ever. It's about respect. It's about responsible parenting. But mostly, it's about self-defense. For the benefit of my other friends with children, this weekend I compiled the following parenting primer.


PARENTING DOs & DON'Ts WHEN VISITING JOHN'S HOUSE


DO Ask if you can help out with cleaning up.
DON'T Insist on "helping" when I decline.
DON'T Then use 409 on my nice wood table.
DON'T Then let your kids color on my newly unfinished table instead of in their coloring books.
DO Listen to me when I say that the garbage disposal isn't functional.
DON'T Neglect to mention, on hearing this, that  you already crammed enough foodstuffs down there to feed Uganda. Not only did this little surprise enrage me later on, it took me hours to unclog.
DO Bring your kids. Ed and I like kids.
DON'T Let your kids be cruel to my dog.
DON'T Change your three [sic] year old's diapers on my linens, get shit on the linens, and then do nothing about it. My linens sometimes touch other guests' faces. Like last night.
DON'T Let your kids use my towel bar as a jungle jim.
DON'T Gently set the broken towel bar against the hole in the wall in an effort to conceal the damage until you're gone. The illusion lasted only until my next shower. I look forward to repairing this, too.
DON'T Let your kids swing my binoculars on their strap like a propeller. They were a gift, I like them the way they are, and I'd like to have them for a while.
DON'T Act like I'm the unkindest fucker on the face of the earth for quietly taking them away from your child.
DON'T Negotiate with a screaming, pouting brat. Most especially, don't negotiate using the binoculars I've already taken away from the screaming, pouting brat. And most certainly, don't tell me I have no voice in this issue, then give the little demon my binoculars over my objections.
DON'T Let your toddler use my speckle-glass soap dispenser unsupervised.
DON'T Blame me for having a glass soap dispenser and tell me that everything should be plastic. I'm the one who chose not have children, remember? Among other benefits, I can and do have nice things. The vow of poverty and insular life of plastic you chose is your burden and no one else's. The world isn't made of plastic; your kids need to learn this sometime, but how can they when breakage is the world's fault?
DO Offer to replace what your toddler broke.
DON'T Act surprised and indignant when uncharacteristically, I accept your offer. Maybe you'll learn something about a little thing called "responsibility" this way.
DON'T Whine further that my soap dispenser was too expensive. Shut the fuck up.
DON'T Attempt to weasel out of accountability with sad tales of your impoverishment. Seriously, shut the fuck up.
DO Teach your kids things like "use your indoor voice," "the butcher block isn't for playing with," "the oil bottles aren't for playing with," "don't take food from the doggie's mouth," "don't club the window with the bell," "don't climb the new blinds," "don't poke doggies in the eye, it hurts them," "don't run full speed and ram your palms into the picture windows," "don't stab the flat-screen monitor with a pen," "don't play near the edge of the cliff," "don't run with sparklers toward the big pile of explosives," "don't kick the TV," etc.

 

DON'T Make me be the one to say these things—especially when you're present. This, this is when you finally shut the fuck up? What no doubt seems to you an opportunity to offload parental burden for a time is, to me, thoughtless and rude. Why don't you divert some of the energy you're devoting to whining about the soap thing and use it to, you know, parent? In addition to being the status that constitutes the dubious sum of your life goals, "parent" is also a verb.
DON'T Bring three children into this overcrowded, hungry, resource-depleted and pollution-stricken world, talk about your ditzy spiritual need for a fourth, and then babble pretentiously about recycling. You're fucking eco-terrorists. Literally.
DO Reason with your kids. The whys are just as important as the whats.
DON'T Give your kid the exact same lecture—in the exact same tone, with the exact same lack of consequences—for not washing his hands as for continuing to play at the edge of the cliff after three warnings. I don't know if you've noticed, but your kid is tuning out your incessant lecturing to the point where it's physically endangering him.
DO Negatively reinforce. I'm not saying you have to beat the kid, but when he's being gleefully disobedient, I think removing TV, dessert, beach privileges etc. will not result in lasting emotional damage. It might even save his life. And as a bonus, our friendship.
DON'T Make repeated threats of punishment that you know you won't follow through on. I don't know if you've noticed, but your kid knows you won't, too.
DON'T Tell your kid that the cost of watching fireworks is that we all have to clean up the next day, then let him goof off while the rest of us clean up. Oh yes, that's right, you didn't let him.  You lectured him and told him he wouldn't be able to go to the beach if he didn't help, right before he went to the beach after having not helped.
DON'T Get on my case when I tell him he's "useless." While I appreciate your corrections of my unaffirming word choice ("John! We don't say that! We say 'you're not being very useful.'"), you have to understand that my comment was already quite sanitized. The original was, "You lazy, useless piece of mindless Mormon shit, you're being raised to be a worthless, irresponsible, ungrateful, unemployable, misogynistic carbon blob of a burden on society who does just the bare minimum to get what he wants, just like your father. Hey, speaking of trash, why don't you pick this stuff up like you promised, before I indulge my inner father and boot your sorry, slothful ass into the ocean?"
DON'T On your way out, tell me fanciful tales of even more neglectful parents than you. You'd have to actually give your kids live munitions in order to be worse parents.

percy, the euthanasia poster child

Read the entire Percy saga here -John, November 2010
• • •

Originally published August 7, 2004

"You drive ninety minutes from work in order to be 20 feet from your neighbor?" someone once remarked. Sigh. Yes I do. Our house configurations are such that I seldom have to see or hear them, not unless they come over. Which unfortunately they do.

Percy and Thelm@ are septuagenarians, if that's the one that means "in their 70s." They're typical of the residents where I live: old, middle-class white folks who retired to country beach houses. It's not my favorite demographic. If you pass them in a passing zone when they're going 45 in a 55, which is sadly zippy around here, they'll follow you home to lecture you. When new ownership bought the local grocery and put the local coffee klatch's mugs atop a doily on a nice table, she was repeatedly chewed out for having moved the mugs three feet from where they'd been since the Creation. And so on. I've been advised not to turn this into a "geriatric old fucks with overdeveloped senses of entitlement" tirade, lest I lose the reader.

But they are.

 

The Common North-American White-Breasted Geriatric (Anus rictus)

 

Which brings us to Percy, whom I first met during my house inspection. He walked over and introduced himself, then proceeded to stand there, silently and awkwardly, forcing everyone to work around him. Why he felt it his place to inject himself in my house inspection, I can only guess, but soon I would long for those early days of awkward silences between us. A brief history:

  • Day 2. While I unpack, I'm having a crew tear out the decorative outhouses (surely an oxymoron) from the front yard and hack at the 30-inch high grass the previous owner had left me. Percy ambles over and asks if I'm having them tear down my outbuilding, too. "No," I say. "I'm tearing that down someday, but until I buy my flop, I need it for storage." He huffs off.
  • Day 3. The guys are still hacking at my acre of lawn with machetes and weed-wackers. Percy comes over. "So what's your philosophy on lawn care?" he says in an off-putting, accusing manner.  What the heck does that mean, anyway? "Grass grows. I cut it." He stares at me as though I'd talked in baby talk, then asks if he can borrow my tractor in perpetuity to mow his lawn. It doesn't work, I lied. He huffs off.
  • Day 5. Percy comes over. He points out that my back yard is filled with dandelions and asks if I'm going to fertilize. I say that, given that Puget Sound's at the edge of our back yards, it doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to see that's just poisoning the water and everything in it. So until I can find a safe way of weeding, the weeds stay. He stared at me like I'd just talked in Klingon. "I'll do it for you, then," he snapped, as if my lack of know-how was the issue. No, no you won't. Under no circumstances. He huffs off. Soon my yard was mysteriously dandelion free.
  • Day 20. Percy sees me installing planters on my balcony rail. "I hope those don't blow off!" he snidely snorted in a way that somehow indicated the exact opposite sentiment. Two years later, they're still there.
  • Day 30. Percy sees me power-washing the deck. "Are you staining or painting?" Staining. "What color?" Grey. He goes inside, presumably to update Thelm@, who presumably he's got tied up in the basement. He returns. "A natural looking stain would look pretty good, too." Uh-huh. "I need to get me a power washer," he says leadingly. "Yep. I sure do. Like yours. Yep." That night, I made sure my power-washer was locked up.
  • Day 31. I'm staining. Percy oozes over. "You going to paint the house, too?"
  • Day 50. For the first of many times to come, Percy inexplicably mows his lawn about 10 feet across our property line, effectively enlarging his own tiny yard.
  • Day 100. "You said you're getting rid of that outbuilding?" Yes. "So is that girl your wife or your girlfriend?" My girlfriend. How about Thelm@? He huffs off.
  • Day 200. I've installed a new garden where previously a debris pile lay, and behind it, I'm installing a lovely lattice around my deck, hiding the ugly cement foundation. Percy walks over. "How come you bought such little plants?" Because the mature ones cost 10x as much, that's why. "Oh!" he says with enormous satisfaction, "So you're not one of those Microsoft people!"
  • Day 300. Thelm@ somehow wriggles free long enough to tell me that she loves my china cabinet. Funnily enough, I've never had them over.
  • Day 350. The inevitable happens. Percy comes over while I'm walking around naked and, frustrated by the curtain I'd put on the front door, goes to the kitchen window to peer in before knocking.
  • Day 400. It happens again. One would think that seeing me naked once would be enough negative reinforcement. Alas.
  • Day 450. Tired of the neighbor kids cutting through my yard to get to the beach, I erect a fence on my property line opposite Percy's. Percy walks across my backyard to reach me as I work. "Well," he lies transparently, "I was going to talk to my neighbor, but I guess now I have to walk around."  I guess so.
  • Day 500. I begin my kitchen remodel. Seeing the old cabinets stack up on my deck, Thelm@ comes over. "Now what this house calls for is a country kitchen." Well, I'm going with cherry and granite. Sorry. "Oh. Well. I'm sure that can be nice, too."
  • Day 550. I buy my flop and begin moving items out of the outbuilding. "Are you finally tearing it down? When?"
  • Day 600. The kitchen remodel is done. Percy comes over with a piece of junk mail that had been left in his mailbox and knocks on the door. I answer, physically obstructing him from entering. He steps into my space and actually bumps chests, trying to come in. When it becomes obvious I'm not moving, he awkwardly asks for a phone number. I walk to my desk, and he glides on into my house, uninvited. He surveys the kitchen. "I'm going to have to memorize the details so that I can describe it to Thelm@," he hints subtly.
  • Day 650. The outbuilding is being demolished. I wasn't here for it, but the boys said that Percy was throwing his own items on their burn pile and generally interfering the whole time, even trying to get them to remove plants he doesn't like ("You taking those ferns out? Ferns are just weeds, you know.") and my clothesline rack. Mind you, these are my things. The crew was taken aback. "Dude," one finally said incredulously, "You live in a freakin' double-wide." They said he huffed off.

To be continued.

Sigh.

on WTFF

The origin of "WTFF" is only vaguely more interesting. When I was a manager, I'd read behind the writers' work regularly. Some writers were impeccably clean on the very first draft. I call them "my favorites." Some sucked bilgewater (as the editor, Annette, put it), no matter how many drafts they got. I call them "Roxanne." And one turned in excellent final drafts but really—insanely—weak initial drafts. She answers to "Dorkass." If the words stuck to the page, she figured, she'd done her job and met her deadline. She'll fix it later. Off to the mall! She specialized in the glittering generality. "Windows can be faster than nearly each and every one of the other alternatives," she'd type just to fill up space so she could get to the Bon Home sale. "Almost every last one of them."

One day, when I was working a weekend in order to read the draft she'd handed off before going to Banff, I came across the following. This is verbatim. "The new, comprehensive migration tools provided with Windows help you migrate items comprehensively."

My note was succinct: "WHAT THE FUCK? I MEAN, WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK?"

On Monday Annette sniffed, "I guess I've been doing it wrong all these years, giving actual feedback when all I had to do is swear like a 10 year old." She then proceeded to butcher the phrase in her memory, and now half the world thinks I say "what the fuckity fuck."

egger and d ride again

Originally published April 12, 2005

d'Andre contacted me last week. He's coming. And I'm increasingly nervous.

If we talked more than twice a decade, I'd call him one of my oldest friends. But we don't, so I won't. He was my neighbor several lifetimes ago, in an apartment complex far, far away. None of us had any money. That was a given. We were all on the downside of advantage, yet that was easily the happiest, tightest-knit neighborhood in which I've ever lived—even for the polka dot, the piñata, the prematurely balding white guy saddled with the nickname "Egger." I'm not going to repeat them here and just give friends ammo, but trust that I am among the leading authorities on "cracka" jokes in any hemisphere. The unremitting verbal abuse I took was never hostile—it was affectionate, even—yet I'd be lying if I said I was completely at ease with my status.

Which, if I might digress, was a growth experience for me. I've tried many times to articulate this, and I don't know that I've ever succeeded. It begins with there being no "white experience" comparable to the set of unifying common experiences that members of a minority group share. A wealthy Vietnamese-American man in Fresno will have a base set of experiences in common with an impoverished Vietnamese immigrant girl in Louisiana; for all their differences, they deal with the same stuff every day of their lives, and they understand that they have this link. They're of the same tribe. People outside the tribe can achieve acceptance, but the very nature of tribes is such that they'll never achieve inclusion. (A nested digression: for my money, "8 Mile" was pure fantasy. If I'd tried to co-opt a black identity like that, scoffing rejection would have been the best response I could have hoped for. Acceptance starts within; your only hope for acceptance is to be who you were born.) Anyway, for whatever reasons—being in the majority probably chief among them—white Americans don't have that unifying sense of identity, of tribe. We don't think of ourselves or each other as white unless made to. It just isn't naturally a part of our self-image. It flat-out doesn't cross our minds. It doesn't come up. Where the growth came in, then, is that for better and worse, I became hyperaware of my racial identity. It's healthy business for someone in the majority to taste being a minority, and during this time I saw myself as white, as excluded, as different, morning noon and night. And I had lots of help with seeing that. Lots and lots. My chops were busted, my chain yanked, my buttons pressed, my goat gotten, my balls busted, and my place, um, me, um, put in.

Wrote myself into a corner, there.

Now I don't mean to say that I was targeted for exclusion, or verbally abused more than anyone else, or a victim who didn't himself dish out abuse. Trust me; I wasn't. We were gleefully unemployed young men with too much time on our hands, and in the grand tradition of that species, we invested more energy into not working than any job has demanded of me since. We watched girls. We watched one another's girls. When there were no girls, who oddly enough seemed to have jobs that occupied much of their time, we talked about watching girls. We balled, of course. We held great socially conscious debates like Terminator vs. Predator and Magic vs. Michael. We repaired one another's junk-heap cars, each of us having our specialty. (I was the "repairing brakes without paying to have your rotor turned like it really should be" guy.) We swapped car parts freely, the theory being that between us, we owned a single functional Frankencar. We played chess and dominoes, we schemed about how to earn money by playing basketball poorly all day, and after playing basketball we watched cartoons while eating cereal on my girlfriend Maddie's new couch juuuust as she was coming home from work. (How many times do I have to say I'm sorry?) But mostly, we sat around and crafted insults. Nothing was out of bounds; no little difference, no wart, was above public examination. The sober guys insulted the stoners. The stoners insulted the crackheads. The taller guys insulted the shorter ones. The guys who were going to college insulted those who didn't, and vice versa. The guys who didn't live with their mothers insulted the guy who did. The guy who was fired by UPS insulted the guy who was fired by USPS. The guys with acne insulted the fat guys. The young guys insulted the old guys. The white guy insulted the Mexican guy. And everyone insulted the white guy.

Yes, d'Andre is coming.

About five years older than most of us, he gradually assumed a role of elder statesmen. The perks of high office: no one ate more of my cereal, no one made more cracka jokes, and no one else decided that Egger'd taken enough abuse for today. He might publicly and mercilessly skewer me, but he'd be damned if others did, not on his watch. I was his boy. Or maybe just his personal punching bag. I'm not sure there's even a difference.

The single funniest ad lib I have ever heard spilled from his lips.

"Hey Egger, can you put on a hat?" he says as we jog back on defense.

"Why?"

"The glare off your head is really messin' with my jump-shot." Much snickering ensures.

"Baldists," I shoot back pathetically.

When d'Andre feigns offense, he always asks a question twice.

"Baldist? Baldist?!" He puts his hands on his hips and affects an exaggerated white dialect. "I am nothing of the kind."

More snickering. He continues.

"I like bald people."

The laughter builds.

"There's good ones."

The crowd roars its approval, waiting for the kill.

"I have bald friends."

Complete pandemonium.

I honestly don't remember finishing that game. I do remember grown men propping one another up as they laughed and flicked tears off their cheeks. Hell, I'm still tearing up, just writing about it. This was fairly typical of our dynamic, which is to say he generally got the best of it.

Until.

One glorious day, we climbed into his car, he turned the key, and the CD player resumed playing what he was last listening to. Realizing simultaneously the significance of the moment, we listened and stared straight ahead at crows picking through a dumpster. Finally I spoke.

"D?"

"Yeah."

"Is that Careless fuckin' Whisper?"

He started backing the car out of its parking space.

"I wish I was dead."

And thus was my go-to punchline born, a veritable nuclear warhead added to my arsenal. Andrew Ridgley and wake-me-up-before-you-go-go jokes would soon abound. Once I'd beaten him to death with it, I dug him back up and beat him some more.

The last time we talked, I called him after five years of silence and asked for a favor, a monstrously unreasonable favor.

"Hey, d. It's John."

[Complete silence]

"We ran at Mesa Ridge?"

[uncomfortable fidgeting]

"You know," I cringed. "Egger."

"SNOWFLAAAAKE!"

"No two are alike! Still, I'm touched you remember me," I said through grit teeth.

"Remember? Remember?! Man, we still  talk about the time you blocked a brother's shot."

"Hey, it wasn't just—"

"Damndest thing I ever saw."

"— the one ti—"

"We never let that sorry sumbitch play again."

What, did he have this material on a legal pad next to the phone for five years, just in case I called?

And thus did I lose control of the conversation. Just like old times. But in the end, the man followed my now-ex Maddie's sleazy boyfriend for two days, confirming suspicions that he was not only cheating on her but with her—he was married, with kids, and even had another girlfriend on the side. d'Andre didn't even consider not performing this garish favor. He remembered Maddie being kind to him, and that was all the incentive he needed. What a sense of honor, of loyalty. Can you imagine? After five years? Hell, my current friends groan about getting on a ferry to see me once a year if I pay.

d'Andre is coming. Yeah! No! Excitement and anxiety.

Yes, this summer my old friend and antagonist, the man after whom I named the older brother character in my screenplay, is visiting Seattle. I'm excited to see him, but man, are my old excluded-outsider insecurities ever getting inflamed. Those little differences I used to be ridiculed over?

They've grown. A lot.

I think it's safe to say that no one from that old neighborhood has seen their lifestyle change as much as mine has, which does not bode well for when ol' Egger is put under a microscope this summer. Every square inch of my life is packed with ripe comedic fodder. Katrina did not exactly help my anxiety level.

"What's he going to say when he sees Metamuville?" (white population: 104%)

"[unintelligible groaning]  Probably something with 'saltine-assed' in it."

"What about your gay man's kitchen and all the doilies in your guest room?"

"Holy crap. I am so toast."

"If he breaks your designer speckle-glass soap dispenser," she giggled, "Will you make him pay the $130?"

"Oh sweet christ."

"Will you tell him you accidentally gave Bill Russell the finger in traffic last winter?"

"Hell  no."

"Don't forget your purebred English Springer Spaniel on her princess bed."

"Right. I'll kennel her."

"And Percy."

I hadn't thought of that. d'Andre is going to meet Percy. Yep, death would be so sweet right about now.

In the meantime, I'll continue to fervently pray that sometime in the last 13 years, d'Andre sold out, too.

who would jesus slander?

My sister-in-law Maria is a throwback to the turn of the century. The 3rd century. She married her high school boyfriend at the worldly age of 18, and, not much seeing the point of getting her Mrs. degree when she already had her Mr., she instead became a rollickin' fundamentalist and raised their three kids in a hermetically sealed environment where Harry Potter books are banned and Jesus controls such minutia as who wins the election for class treasurer. With no sense of irony whatsoever, she will talk about Jesus' love out of one side of her mouth and utter the vilest hate out of the other. Her utter lack of curiosity about the world—I've never known her to read, travel, or in any way educate herself beyond being told how righteous she is by fellow churchgoers—inhibits her not at all. No, she is a bona fide expert on matters she knows nothing about, and she makes sure you know it. To say she is a gossip is inadequate. Remember Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched? Breed her with Jimmy Swaggart and give their love child an 8-ball of cocaine, and you'd have Maria.

When I was 19 myself, my relationship was teetering, and I was in danger of flunking out of college, so I withdrew. I tried again the next quarter, but my mind was still on my relationship, so I withdrew again. I did not tell my family, whose first through 92nd instincts are to attack, about my withdrawing. I didn't really need the additional grief, what with their already perforating me about my relationship issues. So I told them I was still in school. Suspicious, Maria took it upon herself to call the registrar and prove this was a lie. She trumpeted the news of my failure and cover-up to the four corners of the world. Fortunately for me, her world is exceedingly small.

You might think it all youthful sound and fury, signifying nothing, but it proved to be the enduring, defining moment of our relationship. Lo these many years later, nearly two decades in which Maria's seen me for maybe 20 hours, she still basks in triumph. I am a proven liar. This is established. It is what defines me. It is all she knows of me, or cares to know. You know John? Oh, he's a pathological liar now. I'd feel sorry for him if he weren't such a liar all the time. School? Career? House? Probably all lies. Any money he has is probably from selling drugs, but I'm not sure about that one. He has nothing to do with me because I know what a liar he is.

This is now a joke amongst my friends. If I say I'm picking a family member up at the airport at 3:00, Allie will press my Maria button. She insists on using an elongated y for maximum effect.

"Are you really, or are you lyyyyyyy-ing again?"
"Fuck you also."

It's a reliable button.

These days, conversations with Maria are the toll I have to pay in order to talk to my brother. They invariably go down one path: my continued friendships with ex-girlfriends.

"So, are you still in touch with, um," she'll say, pretending she doesn't have the name handy in her phoneside RIMS (Rolodex of Intelligence info and Malicious Speculation), "Allie?"

"Yeah. She's one of my closest friends. She's family."
Maria doesn't pick up on what I thought was an unsubtle dig. In fact, judgment is swift and scornful.

"See, I don't get that. I don't get that at all. If your brother still hung out with his ex-girlfriend, it would drive me insane. Insane!"

My mind parses the Fellini movie that are my disjointed memories of the 70s, searching for anyone else my brother might have ever dated.

"You mean...Tina from the 10th grade?"

"Yeah! I would be sooooo jealous."

"Well, believe it or not, relationships change a bit after high school." Another unsubtle dig impacts harmlessly on her surface.

"And [insert some girl's name] didn't mind?"

"Not a bit. I'm upfront about it from the first date."

"Are you sure? I think it's probably what broke you up," she'll declare (and no, she has no more information than this post contains).

"I'm sure," I growl, realizing for the first time that this is the speculation in Ohio.

"And what about Allie's boyfriend?"

"He's my fishing buddy."

"That's just so weird."

"Compared to what? It's not that uncommon. If we loved and enjoyed one another when we were a couple, why can't that evolve? Why would it end just because we're not right for each other romantically? My life isn't that black and white."

Maria ponders, scouring her world for an apt analogy.

"So it's like Ross and Rachel."

The right lobe of my brain fires off a quick message of sympathy to the left lobe: Yeah. I heard it too. Jesus H. Christ. Just say yes and ask for your brother again.

"Um, I guess. Only we don't, you know, secretly want to get back together. And, um, we really exist."

"It's just so weird, John."

"Yeah. So is my brother back yet?"

chex and balances

Originally published April 9, 2005

The other night I was out with friends, and talk among the married folk turned toward the love lives of we singletons. Why? Because married lives don't interest even the married. When it came my turn, my "type" was discussed. Terrell used a visual aid, pulling her hair back into a knobby little brown ponytail.

"Brown ponytail," declared Dorkass.

"Brown ponytail," said Jill in near unison.

And thus was swift judgment rendered. I felt stereotyped.
"All I'm looking for," I said with great gravity, sipping my bourbon for effect, "Is a girl who's read Tolstoy and who can turn a double-play."

And the stunned ahhs rang out around the table. Daaamn. I don't know anyone like that. Pleased with myself for having mounted my perch above them all, I smiled in smug silence. Yet I knew I would have to atone for this moment later.

That moment came with distressing speed. The next morning, I tried my line on my ex Allie. "All I'm looking for," I repeated, "Is a girl who's read Tolstoy and who can turn a double-play."

"Ca-righst almighty," she snorted as she laughed. "You've never even picked up Tolstoy, and you hit into double-plays more than any other 10 men I know."

"I know."

"Why didn't you just say 'brown ponytail?'" she said from under her brown ponytail, now accented with flecks of grey.
"Ummmm..."

This, for the uninitiated (and Maria), is what being friends with an ex is like. If you can get over the blame hump, which honestly takes at least a year of buffer time, if your current SOs can get over the jealousy hump, and most of all, if you were great friends when you were a couple, you can grow a friendship unlike any other. It's flat-out closer. You know one another eerily well, right down to what you've read and how you hit a softball. You know where one another's buttons are better than you know your own, and on special occasions, you lean on those buttons for the pure evil joy of it. You know how your closest friends will open your fridge and ask if they can have a drink? Exes don't ask. And they'll go a step further, adjusting your thermostat to their liking as soon as they enter your home. Politeness rituals long ago worn away during your romantic era, they say the bluntest things—but they say them out of love, so you prize it. If you're stranded, they have to come get you no matter how inconvenient it is, and you don't feel the slightest bit guilty. Ditto with your bail if you're jailed, although it hasn't come to that for me yet. And they still have to give you rides to and from the mechanic. One of my favorite features.

I've seen two exes get married. More than that are married, of course, and all seemingly to a man named Gary, but I was actually present at two of the weddings. (And even invited to one of them! [rimshot!]) I was oft asked how I felt. How did I feel? Happier than I would for any friend, any family member. I don't know how a dad feels on his daughter's wedding day, but I imagine it's the closest analogy. I felt pure joy for these women and their happiness—and I felt like a proud investor in that happiness, an integral participant in the formation of the human being dressed in white. No matter how close a typical friendship might be, I never feel that.

• • •

If you haven't seen it, allow me to introduce The Ex Files (sidebar), which serve as a repository for some of Allie's best lines.

Originally published February 6, 2005

I cannot remember a better day than today.

Today began yesterday, naturally. I packed up Ed the dog and boated south to Dabob Bay, at 30 miles away the nearest location where the ever-elusive transient orcas have been recently sighted. It is also occasionally a restricted military area, as the nice man with the deck-mounted, high caliber machine gun patiently explained to me. After a half hour of weighing my options, I decided to go all the way to Hoodsport, the southernmost location the whales have been spotted, and work my way back north the next day. I found a slip at the absurdly nice Alderbrook Resort in Union, where I slept on the boat Saturday night (room: $300; moorage: 11 bucks). A quick check of my email revealed that the orcas were indeed in Dabob Bay when I was talking to the machine gun. Shit. So I grabbed some breakfast, fell in love with a waitress named Emmy, and hit the water as soon as the fog lifted at 10am. I was watching whales by 10:15. I lowered the hydrophone into the water, and soon the stereo was alive with their cries. They put on quite a show—hunting, playing, spy-hopping, diving. They stayed about 1000 yards away.

Until two of them noticed me.

It happened while I was on the phone with an orca researcher, reporting my sighting. One breeched a mere fifty yards away, coming generally toward me. Then he breeched again, only 20 yards off. Then he and his buddy plowed through the water straight at my port side, not even pretending to want to avoid a collision. You've seen this on nature programs, sure. But from the comfort of your couch, you have no idea how fragile you'll feel. Yeah, you know ahead of time that these animals are 27 feet long and weigh six tons each, and yeah, you've seen them at Sea World or maybe from a large vessel, but when you and your tasty mammalian companion are on a 22 foot, 1800 pound boat being bull-rushed by 24,000 pounds of predator...well, it's an adrenaline rush like none I've ever known. If I'd had time to think about it, I would have lost all bladder control, too.

The whales did not hit me, of course. I braced for it, involuntarily getting low to the floor, but there wasn't so much as a dorsal fin scrape. They even somehow avoided the thin 45-foot hydrophone cable. I don't know how they missed my port side. I never saw them flinch; they disappeared only because eventually, the boat obstructed my view of the water. When close, one of them looked at me, or maybe at Ed. He had the pulpous remains of a fresh kill clenched in his jaws. That lucky seal passed within a yard of my feet as the whales swam under me. A second later, my heart was palpably pounding and the whales were to starboard, swimming away, probably laughing amongst themselves.

My camera, sadly, has a 30-second limitation on the length of its video clips. It's never been more aggravating than today, and you'll see why: I missed filming my close encounter. I did, however, get footage of a breach and of the beginning of the charge. And of my idiot dog's schnozz.

duerko del asno

Originally published May 2, 2005

Minette smelled something rotten with the below fake, but god bless'er, Dorkass bit, even after I said it was taken at "Point Adobe."

But now that I've done the hard work, it's time for the CheckRaise World Tour.


 


 


 


 


 

 


 






may day

Originally published May 1, 2005

Yes, it's fake. I saw bupkis.

whale photos

Originally published May 17, 2005<

The gray whale from two weeks ago.

 

Hood Canal transient orcas from last week

 

 

Money!

 

The same swim-under I shot, just clearer. You're looking at the nose of an upside down orca as it's coming toward the camera, right before it swam under our feet.

the checkraise crew:

john, your captain
minette, your naturalist
dorkass, your ballast

Originally published April 30, 2005

Yesterday was a fun day of whalin', a day that included two beachings (one accidental), bone-jarring four foot waves, the repainting of both sides of my boat, and a boarding by two young men with two big guns. Three, if you count the enormous machine gun mounted on the bow of their Coast Guard boat. I passed my inspection, but that didn't stop a gleeful Dorkass from trying to make a John-skewering anecdote out of it.

"So did he do something wrong?!? " she asked in the same hopeful tone that a child asks "May I have some dessert?" She eagerly had her camera out, hoping to capture for posterity my arrest or, better still, my pistol-whipping. Alas.

Perhaps it was the disappointment, perhaps it was the unremitting waves, but soon her breakfast was adorning the starboard side of my boat. Unfortunately, the waves were coming at us from the same side; with the boat tilted, we were corkscrewing into them. "Tell her to puke off the other side," I snapped, fraught with concern for her comfort.

Oh yeah. And there were whales.

Our best guess is that we observed 1-2 adult and 1 juvenile gray whales as they circled and fed in 50' deep water. We saw several deep dives (which I presume is when their flukes appeared), countless blows, and a lotta barnacles. I got a good look at one's blowhole, and Minette saw a full body roll. The highlight for all was when we lost track of the whales and then an adult surfaced and slowly passed the boat, not 50 feet away. Just exhilarating.

metamuville crime wave!

MetamuMart Grocery, Trading Post & Provisions was hit last week. Thieves punched out a window and stole some beer and, tellingly, some cough medicine. Dirt Glazowski, the store owner, who's a dead ringer for Howie Long and did, in fact, play professional football for a time, has been a litany of profanity ever since. In addition to the classics, his every sentence is also peppered with the words "derelict," "reprobate," and "beat into a twitching mass of pulp on the ground." His wife, Kiki, has skidded into depression. As their friend, I've taken both sides, simultaneously assuring Kiki that it'll never happen again while helping Dirt plan his installation of a Burmese tiger pit in aisle 4.

The area old farts have rallied, too. A letter to the editor in support of "the kids" Dirt and Kiki appeared, addressed "Dear Meth Heads." Okay, good start. The letter goes on to scold the thieves and their lowly place in this world. You're parasites. Addicts. Degenerates. "Apparently, all you see when you meet people like Dirt and Kiki is a source of drugs."

Unable to speak, I stabbed the sentence with my tear-soaked finger. Kiki was mortified. I showed it to the contingent of gossipy old farts always on hand. They didn't get it. Even funnier.

• • •

That the Glazowskis and I would become friends was inevitable, as we're the only people under 40—hell, under 60—in town. The first time I had them over, we watched the sun set and roasted brats in my backyard. As we pounded drinks, Dirt told stories of gridiron glory while I fawningly hung on every word and Kiki did a rather remarkable Terry Schiavo impression.

An Ohio State player blew your knee out and ended your career? Great, great!

"Was there anyone you really enjoyed hitting?" I asked.

"Mike Tomczak," he answered without hesitation. "I hated that prick."

"Same here," I replied. "Do you lie awake at night wishing you'd hit him harder, too?"

dear fucking amy

if i've learned anything at my job,
it's how to call a bug a feature

Originally published August 6, 2004

Dear Amy,

Certain though I am that this date in history holds no significance for you, I will never forget where we were ten years ago today. A recap:

You  You went from from deliriously happy that we'd decided to get married; to uncharacteristically quiet and uncommunicative as I defended us from your parents; to being quiet and uncommunicative from your grandparents' house in remotest Oklahoma, contrary to the promises you made to both me and your employer that you would be in Seattle. All in a three week span—three weeks in which we didn't see one another.

Me  Moving to our mutual choice of new cities, Seattle, I went from deliriously happy and lucratively employed to neither, coincidentally in that same time span, finally deciding that if, as I'd said, you had no business being in Oklahoma while your relationship foundered, I certainly had no business being here. So ten years and two days ago, I walked into my stunned boss's office and said "I'm very sorry to leave you in the lurch like this, but I need to quit. Right now. There's something I need to attend to, and I really don't know if I'll ever be back." I hopped in my little Subaru and drove 2000 miles straight to Oklahoma in order to figure out what had just happened to my relationship.

I arrived on August 6, 1994, and I pled with you to communicate. You flicked your hands futilely (in the international gesture for "I don't know what to say") and told me that your feelings had changed. What feelings? For me? How? You haven't even seen me! "They've changed," you kept saying, maddeningly in passive voice, and with that fucking clueless hand wave, every single time. Kicked in the stomach emotionally and exhausted from the ordeal of the drive, I had no chance of understanding. Not that you offered much for me to make sense of. As I finally managed to extricate myself from those repetitive, one-sentence conversations, we made our final requests of one another. You told me, "I need you to let me go." And I told you, "I'm not understanding what just happened. Please, I'm begging you, choose the right words and write them down." And then, out of the purest love for another human being, I forced myself to do the single most painful thing I've ever done: I let you go. A thoroughly broken man, I left Oklahoma and returned to a life in a new city with no friends, no family, no job, no home, no money, and oh yes, lest we forget, no you. I had bet big, and I had lost big.

One month of sheer bliss later, I got a half-page, handwritten note that said simply, "My feelings have changed. I don't know what else to say."

In other words, now it's ten years later, and I'm still waiting for you to keep your word.

Meanwhile, life has obviously gone on. Over this last month I've done what I seemingly do best—remember relationship anniversaries—and as I've ticked off ours, I've been surprised to realize that I have you to thank for much of who I am and what I believe today. You taught me that:

  • You must run your relationship in such a way that you have no regrets later.

    In your case, this meant betting my entire life and losing, but I have no regrets. Which is kinda the point. Since you, I've made sure to do due diligence with every relationship, whatever its chances for success, because above all else in life, I don't want to be someone else's Amy.

  • We have a moral obligation to make a good faith effort at leaving people in as good a shape as we found them.

    Friends reading this are nodding their heads with recognition. They've either heard this counsel from me regarding their own breakups, or they're your successors and, because of this maxim, are still my friends today.

  • We know we've done someone wrong when we need to purge our lives of witnesses.

    Tell me. Other than your family, who in your present life ever met me? Or for that matter, who in your life as of August 7, 1994? Such restructuring makes inventing self-absolving mythology easier, I'm sure, but it's hurtful to those who care about you. But hey, thanks for Elizabeth. She's one of my favorite people on the planet.

  • The dominant social force is the human need for validation.

    This one took me a long time to figure out, but what became a guiding philosophy of my life originated from my desperate attempts to deconstruct, in the absence of any honest information from you, not just what had happened to my life, but why. I saw how your parents (and in retrospect, even I) controlled you by granting and withdrawing approval, how you subtly changed yourself to please whomever you were with at the time, and before long, I was noticing similar dynamics everywhere I looked.

  • The easiest source of validation is religion.

    Sure, there's always Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore to tell people how smart they are and how stupid the other guy is, and people attracted to such cheap validation are utterly repulsive to me. But nothing can rival the professional validation-pushing machine that is religion.

    It was an amazing spectacle, watching a family that purported to walk with Christ do dishonest, self-serving, hurtful things in Jesus' name. But through the pain I did notice the impenetrably circular and self-justifying nature of the dynamic, how these dubious Christians surround themselves with like thinkers in a great validation circle-jerk:

     

    "I'll say you're a great person if you say I'm one!"

    "Great!"

    "Isn't Jesus great, too?"

    "Yes, and you're great for saying that."

    "Anyone who doesn't know Jesus doesn't know happiness."

    "Oh, I agree. That bumper sticker is, like, so wise. We're happy and they're totally not. So let's not talk to them."

    "Right. Or read their books. That's how Satan works, you know. Through intermediaries. He's tricky that way."

    "Yes, yes, it's better to insulate ourselves with people who already think exactly like we do."

    "Right. Like that woman who was legally separated from her husband and getting a divorce, the one who started going out on dates. We sure cast her sinning butt right out of the church, didn't we?"

    "With great force! That sinner didn't know what hit her."

    "I mean good gracious, the last place Jesus would want a sinner to be is in church!"

    "Hallelujah!"

    "Might I add that you're great for thinking that way?"

    "Right back at ya. Isn't fellowship great?"

    "Yes, yes."

    "You know, my daughter Amy is great."

    "Yes, I've met her. She's great indeed."

    "Let's call her at her dorm in Cheney. [call placed]  Oh, there's no answer. Just like there hasn't been for a whole year, no matter what day of the week I call—morning, noon or night. That's so funny! She must always be at church."

    "She must be, 'cause she's great. And you're great for raising her!"

    "It's great of you to say so. Now let's pray for Jesus to enter her boyfriend's heart and finally show him some truth."

    "He's a heathen? That's not so great."

    "I'm not at peace about it. Should I expunge him?"

    "What would Jesus do?"

    "Let me pray about it. [call placed]  Jesus told me to give my daughter a pop-psychology self-help book about what's wrong with her relationship."

    "It'd be not-so-great to disobey the Lord."

    "I am but the humble servant of His will."

    "Great!"

     

    Yes, you taught me that to this sort of people, truth is always a distant second to perception. To these people, it isn't the actual presence or absence of sin that matters—only the appearance of sin. Truth is irrelevant. It doesn't matter how folks actually conduct themselves, so long as they look the right way and spout the right platitudes. They get a pass. You got a pass. You're so great.

    Trust that in absentia, you and your family have been quite the witnesses. Whenever I meet some mental defect considering your family's hurtful brand of religion, I never pass up an opportunity to share my observations. I call the talk "What the Ritters Taught Me." It usually isn't hard to dissuade people. All I have to do is quote y'all.

  • Honor matters above all.

    Having one's soul pureed because of someone's moral cowardice—and then having that someone's conduct rewarded by a bunch of unknowing, unthinking, goose-stepping Nazis—does tend to give one an appreciation for the value of honor. The greatest compliment I ever received was when, a few years after you, I repudiated the advances of a woman whom I loved dearly (I did so because her head wasn't yet right). After my honest explanation, she replied softly, "You have the strongest sense of honor of anyone I've ever known." As things turned out, that decision cost me any chance with her. I have no regrets, though, because I have my honor, and a cherished compliment, to remember her by. I have you to thank for that compliment, and for the fact that it meant so much that seven years later, I remember the date I first received it. At the time it was a much-needed salve on my Amy scars, you see. It wouldn't be the last time I would hear that, either. Thanks to your fine counter-example, my honor walks with me down every path I take, and when I turn my back to it, when I look at my reflection and recognize traces of you, I am devastated. And then I make good. Best of all, I don't need to tithe on Sunday in order to get my subsequent validation. It comes to me naturally. On merit.

  • Ten years ago today, in a bizarre scene in a Bartlesville movie theatre, I sat in awe of how you were able to enjoy the movie, and laugh just-a-little-too-much at its jokes, when sitting next to you were my torn and mangled remains. I remember tearfully whispering into your ear that you'd ruined my life. That wasn't bitter hyperbole; you had. You had unconscionably scraped off a human being whom you had purported to love—and who had bet everything on that assertion—and you left him to die. And die he did. But not quickly, not mercifully. That would require some sort of closure, some semblance of explanation, a modicum of empathy from you. No, he died g‑l‑a‑c‑i‑a‑l‑l‑y. Years seemed like centuries. It took him three full years before he could sustain a flicker of happiness for more than 10 minutes, before he could sleep through the night. Three excruciating, hollowed-out, second-guessing years. A new person emerged, of course, a more self-possessed, principled man with a lot of love in his life, a person who learned much from you. And on this historic anniversary, that person would like to thank you. Despite and because of our end, I'm a better human being for having known you. Whatever other virtues you might lack, you're certainly a memorable teacher. It's ten years later, and I still think of you daily. But it ain't because you're so great.

    Still waiting,

    john

    bacardi: check

    Originally published May 12, 2005

    And with a quick snip, Annalie embarks on a lifetime of having to spell her name for people.

    Welcome to the planet, Johnetta!

    Oh. I guess they went with second choice. The dream is all up to Annie and Eric now.

    Also born on this date: Steve Winwood, Ving Rhames, George Carlin, Florence Nightengale, Katharine Hepburn, and (this one gives me goosebumps) Yogi Berra.

    foreshadowing, indeed!

    Originally published May 11, 2005

    Katrina's little girl will be born on May 12, a tad early. Mom is in excellent spirits. Baby looks fine. The men in the vicinity of Mom and baby are completely whack. Thus endeth my report for now.

    The original Lionel (a.k.a. Spazzie McDrama) took it upon herself to send out mail proclaiming Katrina hospitalized. When it arrived, I was seated next to a very surprised Trinie at her dining room table. I said it then, and I say it now: people who eagerly trumpet other people's drama as their own, who contrive to use others' news to draw attention to themselves, are vermin.

    ideological whacking material

    Originally published November 30, 2003

    I'm irritated lately by an uptick in people aggressively seeking my validation of their political views. I blame Bush, who is nothing so much as utterly polarizing. But politics aside for a moment, why must I hear my plumber bashing the left? Why must I hear my co-worker bash the right? Why do they feel compelled, or even welcome, to inflict their views on me? When did this become socially acceptable small-talk? More to the point, did I fucking ask? Invariably, the monologue goes something like this:

    "John, you have got to read x."1

    (Me saying nothing, lest they be encouraged to elaborate)

    "You'd really like it. His writing reminds me a lot of you."2

    (Me saying nothing, lest I encourage them to continue, but doubtlessly I don a look of pain)

    "Say, you're not some sort of hard-core y, are you?"3

    I start to explain how my political views defy popular categorization—indeed, how most people strike me as ill-read masturbators and hypocrites—and the speaker, realizing that an ideological hand-job is not forthcoming, loses interest in conversing with me. Every single time.

    1 Where x is a book that lavishly validates the point of view the speaker held long before they ever picked up the book. The title is usually guilty of ad homimen, e.g., "The Godmakers," "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them," "Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years," "Stupid White Men ...and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation," "Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism," and so on.

    2 This chilling assertion is never, ever followed with any semblance of evidence.

    3 Where y is a demeaning, one-dimensional caricature of their ideological opposite.

    Do you read any of the above publications, listen to talk radio, think Fox News or the New Yorker is an unbiased news source, or actually raise your hand in church in order to get better reception? Do you think that Sadaam Hussein was somehow behind 9/11; think that any president much affects the economic cycle; deny that both Bush and Gore disgraced themselves in 2000, or think that that election was "stolen"; question the patriotism of anyone concerned about Bush's post-9/11 assertions at home and abroad; or any other such partisan fantasy? If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, do feel free to lose interest in conversing with me sooner rather than later.

    ed's theme

    Originally published September 19, 2003

    (Sing today's entry to the Beverly Hillbillies theme)

    Let me tell you the story 'bout a dog named Ed.
    Couldn't find'er ass if it wuz stapled to her head.
    N'fected foot, eye tu-mor, and blood a-running down her rear—
    It's only September and it's been a three cone year.

    Head cones, that is.

    Plastic obedience.

    Well next thing you know, old Ed's a one-dog symphony.
    "Click, thud, scrape, bonk" (That's the cheap shot to my knee.)
    I spent five hun-erd dollars just to get her from a neighbor,
    Shoulda saved myself that money and had someone euthenate her.

    stupid phone tricks

    Originally published August 17, 2003

    When removing the battery from my phone this afternoon, I for the first time noticed the sticker "To reduce risk of fire, use only Uniden-brand batteries."

    Shortly before that moment, I'd gotten a phone call from the sticker's presumptive audience: a local 80 year old woman. Or rather, my machine did. Because my battery was dead, the machine picked up. I overheard someone try an impossibly long PIN, then the telltale quavering, befuddled voice.

    BOOP!

    BOOP-BOOP-BOOP!

    BOOP-BEEP-BOOP-BOOP-BOOP-BEEP-BLEEP-BOOP!

    BLEEP-BIP-DIDDLE-DIDDY-BOOP-BOOP-DITTY-BEEP!

    [quite distinct] "No dear, I don't hear a thi—BOOP! BOOP!—doesn't work like Sally said it would. I don't know what I'm doing wrong."

    BOOP-BEEP!

    [distant] "Maybe it doesn't like you, like [indecipherable]."

    [At least four old women giggle. I put them on speaker phone so that I can speak.]

    "Ma'am?"

    BOOP!

    "Hello, ma'am?"

    BOOP!

    [promising silence]

    "I'm afraid you have the wrong numb—BOOP! BOOP!I said you have the wro—BOOP! BEEP! BEEP!—wrong num—BOOP!—wrong number!!"

    "Something about the wrong number."

    [distant] "Maybe we dialed the wrong number?"

    "That's what it said, the wrong number."

    "Yes, ma'am, you have the wrong number!"

    [long silence]

    [into phone] "I have the wrong number?"

    "Yes. This is the wrong number."

    [long silence]

    BOOP-BOOP!

    "Did you skip a fuckin' dose, lady? You have the wrong number!"

    [long silence]

    [to others] "You would not even believe what this thing just said to me."

    god squad

    Originally published August 1, 2003

    Finally, some enterprising soul posted Roger Ebert's brilliant editorial from the spring. Seldom has an article resonated with me as this one did and does.

    Praying is fine, but Bush should make up his own mind

    March 13, 2003
    BY ROGER EBERT
     

    I keep returning to thoughts of Bush's face and voice during that extraordinary press conference. He said he was convinced he was doing the right thing, but I sensed no enthusiasm for the task. He was not trying to persuade us, excite us, convert us or lead us. He was simply telling us what he had to do.

    The pope sent a cardinal from the Vatican to have an hour's discussion with Bush--not about politics, but about theology. The cardinal told the president that the pope disagrees that God supports an invasion of Iraq. ''God does not intervene in the affairs of man,'' the papal emissary said.

    This is sound Catholic theology--going back to Aquinas, according to a friend of mine who is informed on such things. It proceeds from the belief that God granted man free will, so that man could choose for himself between good and evil, heaven and hell. If God were to intervene, that would deprive man of the freedom to choose for himself, and thus take back from man the opportunity of deserving grace and attaining heaven.

    Bush did not precisely tell the Vatican envoy that the pope was wrong. But he did think the pope was wrong, because Bush's theology depends upon partnership with a God who is directly involved in the affairs of man--a God who lets us know His will, who speaks to us, who takes sides. Bush has not an atom of doubt, I believe, that he knows God's will, that God wants regime change in Iraq, and that God approves of Bush's decision to bring that about, by war if necessary.

    Now it may be that invading Iraq is the right thing to do. Saddam Hussein is an evil man. Iraqis have suffered under Saddam, hate him, and will not grieve if he is fatally regime-changed. If there is to be a war, I hope it is short and swift, does not claim many lives, and leads to a free and democratic Iraq. I hope it does not lead to a tragic toll of American and Iraqi dead, Middle East chaos,

    PRTMRN USA DSK 4PC PL SET

    Originally published July 10, 2003

    "I saw PRTMRN USA DSK 4PC PL SET on your online bridal registry and thought it just screamed you. I simply had to get you one of the twelve PRTMRN USA DSK 4PC PL SETs you asked for!" Oh, the warmth. And thus did I buy a placesetting as a wedding gift for the umpteenth time in my life. Historically I'm a good enough friend to shake down for an $80 place setting, but I don't quite make the cut when it comes to being invited over to use it. One would think there'd be a correlation there. One would be wrong.

    why conservatives should vote for john kerry

    Originally published August 14, 2004

    Let me preface this with a definition. When I say "conservative," I don't mean "people who want to regulate where other people put their penises." Nor do I mean people who use the label "conservative" as a euphemism for bigot; wealthy business interest; religious zealot; or AM radio first-time-caller, long-time-listener. I'm not even talking about Republicans. I don't see much conservative about 'em, really.

    No, when I say "conservative," I mean moderate, cautious, restrained. Conservatives do not put the cart before the horse or charge into wars without having their ducks in a row. (Pick your favorite zoological metaphor.) They don't whimsically use the Constitution to deny civil rights. They don't so much believe in small government as they believe big government is dangerously immoderate. They don't think that government does much very well and when possible, they'd prefer to let nature take its course. They're a mistrusting lot, generally presuming that people will act in their own crass self-interests, which is from where the penchants for a strong national defense and free-market principles originate. This paranoia also makes them famously resistant to change, always fretting about consequences. Consequences like doing irreversible damage to the deficit, Constitution, ally relations, and the environment. But I digress.

    As an exercise, let's view a dead horse through this redefined conservative lens. Take gun control. The battle lines are drawn, yes? Conservatives want little or no gun regulation, and liberals want some or total regulation. We're so accustomed to this reality that we don't even notice the philosophical hypocrisies at play. Conservatives championing unrestricted civil rights and liberals trying to take them away? Liberals championing a literal (read: moderate, cautious, restrained) interpretation of the Constitution, and conservatives presuming to divine the framers' intent? What's the difference between that and the much-ballyhooed "judicial activist judge" making similar presumptions? None. None whatsoever. Party politics has so warped the discussion that both sides have this issue exactly, 100% wrong. Yay, parties.

    This brings us to the upcoming election.

    I'm not going to make the argument that John Kerry is a conservative choice; he clearly isn't. My argument is that a President Kerry is a small, fleeting price to pay for getting rid of the ultimate bastardization of conservatism, the one currently wrecking our foreign policy, environment, and budget as he bloviates the size and intrusiveness of government like no one before. The one who wants to make penis regulation a "conservative" campaign issue. View the choice through a truly conservative lens: whose damage to the country, in the the end, is going to be more lasting? Bush has wrecked an entire political party, appalled even Republicans with his dismal environmental record, handed our grandchildren enormous deficits, and needlessly set our Mideast policy back a generation. These blunders are not easily undone. Government-subsidized squeegie guys—or whatever silliness Kerry ends up being in favor of—will be easily enough dismantled. Hell, it'll die in committee in Congress. And that's my larger point: the side effects of the medicine are far preferable—far more moderate, if you will—relative to the symptoms of the disease. Consider these vital differences:

     

    President Bush President Kerry
    A Republican Congress with a second-term President Bush who, freed from the moderating effects of running for re-election, is even more unrestrained. Power divided between branches of government, leading to gridlock and the sorts of prosperity a gridlocked government leads to.
    Allies continue working against us, in Iraq and everywhere.

     

     

    Allies given a political "out" and now free to assist us without supporting a man their constituents despise. We get a geopolitical do- over.
    Religious nuts' control of Republican party is emboldened and their Puritanical warping of conservatism continues unabated. At worst, religious nuts don't gain in stature. At best, they're blamed for the loss and educated fiscal conservatives wrest power back from imbecilic social conservatives.
    You're still identified with the bigoted reprobates who call themselves "conservative" in W's America.

     

    This will still happen. Sorry.

    But at least you got to smack the reprobates. Feels good, don't it?

    We know and understand our president's positions.

     

     

     
    As candidate, can't admit a mistake because he honestly can't think of one he's made.

     

     

    As candidate, won't admit a mistake because he's dishonestly running for office. At least it's pragmatic.
    More massive deficits—  only more so because of aforementioned re-election multiplier.

     

    Gridlock. Glorious gridlock.
    No conservative conservation option. Businesses continue to ass-rape the environment unfettered. Add re-election multiplier. This is a tough one. Modern liberals cannot be trusted with conservation, 'cause they pollute (heh) the debate with silliness like electric busses that, because of the resistance in the electric lines, actually end up creating more pollution and using more fossil fuels while libs pat themselves on the back for their right-mindedness. Worst case: they're still by far the lesser of two

    family is relative

    Originally published June 13, 2005

    julie

    Everything you need to know about Percy & Thelm@ and my sister Julie are contained neatly in one anecdote. That is, this encounter is typical of my every encounter with these people. To fully appreciate the anecdote, know that I left out nothing. This was the unembellished sum total of their contact.

    Having not seen Percy and Thelm@ for the first couple days of Julie's stay, we finally saw Thelm@ poking her head out her door as Julie and I were departing.

    As I climbed into my car, I hear my sister happily (and typically) scream "I'M HIS SISTER!!!" across the yard.

    Thelm@, having no window overlooking my house nor any reason whatsoever to care, was nonetheless unsurprisingly unsurprised. "Yeah, that's what we were figuring. You were here before, right?"

    "MY AIRLINE TICKET WAS $315 USUALLY I WAIT UNTIL IT'S $140 BUT THIS TIME WHEN IT GOT TO $315 I KNEW IT WOULD BE THE BEST I COULD DO BECAUSE YOU CAN'T FLY ANYWHERE FROM COLUMBUS FOR $139 ANYMORE!" my sister shrieked.

    "Please shut up," I asked.

    "What?!" My sister whirled, surprised. "I didn't want them to think that you were having some girl over."

    "Huh? Who gives a crap?"

    "She asked."

    "No she didn't."

    "Well, she waved when she saw us. She was curious."

    "Of that, I have little doubt."

     

    d'andre

    d'Andre's much-anticipated visit was surprisingly mellow, for two reasons: 1) he brought his bride, the refined and ladylike Pam (henceforth d'Pam), who lent sorely needed sophistication to the occasion, and 2) we're mellow old codgers now. It was a pleasure to see my friend again and to compare our wildly divergent paths from our common point of origin to our not-too-dissimilar stations in life. It was a meeting of friends unlike any to which I've previously been a party. It was a comprehensive catching up, a touchstone, a status report covering 14 dramatic years in which we'd both known everything from abject failure to giddy accomplishment. 14 years. That's, like, 56% of a Jen. And we covered all 14 in great detail—we literally began with my driving the U-Haul out of the apartment complex. There's something uniquely bonding about originating from the same time and place and circumstance, a feeling conspicuously absent from my life. And the more we talked, the more I came to appreciate my commonalities with my friend and foil. I think even d'Pam learned something about her husband and from where he came. If I know women at all, she went to bed prouder of him than she'd been the night before.

    We watched the passing lights in the shipping lanes, our feet on the fire pit and margaritas in our hands, toasting one another and friends long gone. "Who'd have thought one of us'd be here?"  d'Andre mused, shaking his head.

    "Who'd have thought one of us would marry a Ph.D in biochemistry?" I added.

    A nearly sheepish d'Andre bussed the beautiful Dr. on the cheek. "Who'd have thought she'd marry one of us?"

    I clinked his cactus glass. "Here's to marrying up."

    •  •  • 

    All right, thanks for indulging me. I know what you came for. There weren't many insults, but here ya go.

    • The first and best point was scored by—no surprise here—D. He had not seen me since I was in the peak physical condition of my life. As they passed the security station at Seatac, he saw me, stopped, stared, cocked his head, and said, "Santa?"
    • Not that he's not a tad bovine himself these days. "Rerun?" I replied, in my imagination six days later when I finally thought of a response.
    • When we got into my Jeep, I had Careless Whisper on the stereo. He looked at d'Pam knowingly. "Who called it?" Yeah, but did he call the vintage George Michael/Andrew Ridgely poster on the back of the guest room door? No.
    • Of my modern physique: "You're not 'Eggre' anymore. You're 'The Cracker Barrel.'" Then Pam hit him.
    • Of my Jeep: "The cracker box." Then Pam hit him.

    I'm pro-Pam.

    the approval whore

    dear approval whore

    Originally published December 10, 2004

    Dear Approval Whore,

    Certain though I am that this date in history holds no significance for you, I will never forget....oh, never mind.

    Whadya know, you were right. Try though you gamely did, you weren't able to hurt me as much as Amy. Nevertheless, I'd be remiss if I didn't celebrate the one year anniversary of the last time I pretended I didn't know you were lying through your teeth - teeth that, as it happens, are as counterfeit as most everything else about you. Yes, a year ago today was my liberation day.

    I've missed you exactly once. I was enjoying the simple pleasure of a sunset, and I thought "Gee, I wish she were here to say something pretentious to ruin this." No, of course I jest. I haven't missed you even the one time. Turns out I have little taste for the needless dishonesty and "Us" magazines littering your life. So little, in fact, it's time to stop reminiscing and move on to something more stimulating, like watching the fluorescent lights flicker.

    Best,
    john

    who would jesus hate?

    Originally published January 12, 2005

    The sign at the Kingston Christian church is a jaw-dropper, at least to me, and not just because everything is spelled correctly this time. Turns out you're hating the wrong people:

    COMPASSION IN DEFENSE
    OF SIN IS NO VIRTUE

    It is, of course, echoing Barry Goldwater's "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in defense of justice is no virtue." (Although I would bet my last 1998 stock option that they haven't the foggiest notion who it echoes.) But Goldwater, love him or hate him, was at least talking about himself. Are you like me? Do you read that church sign and see:

    FREE VIRTUE EVALUATIONS
    (NO GAYS, MINORITIES OR CAREER WOMEN, PLEASE)

    or

    ETHICAL HELP, 5¢

    or

    "KILLING HOMOS IS OKAY BY ME,"
    SAYS GOD

    stepping in it

    Originally published November 10, 2004

    A friend and I recently swapped Exceptionally Dumb Moments in Dating, and it occurs to me that that's ripe fodder for this space. Without further adieu (or pride), here are some of my not-so-finest hours:

    • Pulling into a date's driveway as she watches, I park next to her car and proceed to crush her door with my own.
    • Ordering any pasta dish. Ever. I end up wearing it.
    • A drunk woman across a bar decides she hates my date and loudly berates her worth and appearance. My date wants to go, but on our way out I chivalrously tell the woman off. I reduced her to a cowering, crying blob with my diatribe that unfortunately ended with "And I've got news for you, lady. You're ten times uglier than she is."
    • I tour Northern Idaho with a date of color. About as comfortable as jogging in Fallujah while wearing an American flag toga. Or through a kennel wearing nothing but meat boxers. Your choice.
    • Finding out over dinner that my immediate predecessor was Dean Cain, then being a hysterical, babbling, walking heart attack incapable of conjugating verbs for the rest of what would be, of course, a last date. I also ordered pasta.
    • Picking up a date at her parents' house, which adjoins a golf course, I'm early. I kill time by exploring a nearby fairway, then knock on the door. Introductions are made, a tour of the house is given. Five minutes later, I hear her mother shriek: "Who tracked dog crap into every goddamn room of the house?!?"
    • On a whim during a first date, I answer questions about my father honestly. She. Did. Not. Even. Stay. Until. The. Check. Came.
    • My date and I are awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call, and I let the answering machine pick it up, then lie there stupefied as it blares my ex's profession of undying love for me.
    • I date a former student (my own age and five years after the fact, thank you very much). We're making out at her place when out of the corner of my eye, on the bookshelf, I spot the textbook from my class. Really, other than Ed joining in, I can't think of a more efficient mood killer. A veritable control rod.
    • In a fit of romance, I fly my date to the east coast for a Valentine's Day concert. Thanks to a little, um, mishap, the trip concludes with an oh-so-romantic sojourn to a Daytona Beach abortion clinic, where we procured a morning-after pill that made her puke for the remainder of the trip. It was just like something from a Jane Austen novel.

    validate this

    Originally published November 5, 2004

    So a giddy W has reassured an anxious, divided nation that his efforts will be bipartisan. Kinda. "I'm going to reach out to those who share our goals." Um, maybe you should look up "bipartisan," fella. And in that inclusive spirit he added rhapsodically, "I've earned political capital in this election. I'm going to spend it. That's what I do."

    I suppose so. Sigh.

    While W drinks heartily from the cup that was actually a pretty damned close election, the left is greedily toking the validation pipe like it's their only source of air. If I receive that mildly-amusing-the-first-twelve-times "Jesusland" cartoon one more time, or see that British tabloid headline one more time, or receive any such self-aggrandizing jibe at people who voted differently from me, I'm gonna find my ballot, change my vote, and staple it to the sender's forehead. Enough already. They won. We lost. Must you add desperately defensive circle-jerking to our feelings of failure? Lose with some dignity, for chrissakes.

    [censored]

    Candidates should pay me not to vote for them

    Originally published November 3, 2004

    I'm reminded this morning of a comment I recently made to Ed's vet. The vet wanted me to put Ed on prescription dog food, and she suggested I buy a small bag, "Just in case she doesn't like it." Blinking, I didn't immediately understand. "OH!" I said, "You think I'll care! Don't worry. She'll eat it eventually. I can last a lot longer than she can. Just gimme the 40 pound bag." And after a few days of starving, Ed finally yielded and ate the dog food I put in her bowl.

    Mine, I think, is the same strategy the Democrats used in nominating Kerry. Kerry is objectionable dog food we were expected to pout about, then gag down in the face of the alternative. Oops. When the Democrats are performing a post-mortem on this election, which I presume will be sometime after they've taken off their shoes and socks and done the fateful arithmetic in Ohio but sometime before they agree to blame the stupidity of the electorate for their loss, I hope that they somehow manage to reflect upon the wisdom of running a douche on the one-plank "at least I'm not a turd" platform.
    As much as this day hurts them, it hurts fiscal conservatives more. Bigotry's and zealotry's coronation will cast them out of the Republican party for a generation. Fold up the tents, boys. The special interest whores are in charge. Praise the lord and get out.
    I'm going to extract what little solace I can from how devastatingly insignificant this must make high school graduates cum policy experts Michael Moore and Sean Penn feel.

    solidarity, brothers!

    Originally published October 7, 2004

    Turns out I'm not the only man who doesn't want to see his own butt on women. Go figure.

    generational division

    Originally published October 7, 2004

    Miss Courtney and I mixed it up a bit last week, when I had a snootful and started holding forth about what was wrong with Gen-Yers like herself. I didn't get too far before I committed heresy in her book. I criticized modern women's jeans. Specifically, I criticized the way jeans now de-emphasize a woman's curves and make her butt look as square and flat and featureless as my own. Courtney was aghast, calling jeans that go up to the waist and leave no ass-crack exposed "revolting." On this we agreed to disagree, but it got me thinking that I should start keeping score. Feel free to send me your suggestions.

     

    Category Gen-X Gen-Y Winner
    Jeans, seat Women's butts look like women's butts

     

    Women's butts look like Bob the plumber's butt X
    Jeans, legs At young age, we hunted down and killed boomer-created travesty that was bell-bottoms That they brought them back is bad enough. That they brought back their parents' fashion mistake is a moral outrage. X
    Use Internet primarily for Porn, emailing porn, peer-to-peer shared porn Misspelled text messages X
    Whine "Our parents beat the crap out of us, which constituted abuse" "Our parents made us wait until we were 17 before they bought us breast implants, which constituted abuse" X
    Biggest concert draw Dave Matthews Band Britney Spears X
    Action star Harrison Ford Ben Affleck X
    Old fart actor embarrassing himself with leading ladies 30 years his junior Sean Connery Harrison Ford X
    Brainy actor Edward Norton Tobey Maguire X
    Ingénue Molly Ringwold Katie Holmes Y
    Smirking himbo Bruce Willis Vin Diesel X
    Star Wars IV, V, VI I, II, III X
    Dominant athlete Michael Jordan Tiger Woods X
    Best boxer Mike Tyson No one Y
    Skank athlete Katarina Witt Anna Kournakova Y
    Presidential scandal Iran-contra Blowjob X
    Blowjobs ...are foreplay ...are handshakes X
    Youthful fashion excess Stirrup pants and acid-washed jeans Bare midriffs and exposed thongs X
    Attitude toward baby boomers Disgust Resentment Push
    Workplace innovation Abolishing dress code Causing need for resurrection of dress-code X
    Boy band Duran Duran N Sync X
    Nightmare first car VW Bug Mini-van X
    Dream car Mustang VW Bug X
    Outrageous piercing Upper ear Everything else X

     

    Conformity Too lazy to conform Non-conformists get lower-back tattoos just like all the other non-conformists' X

     

    Michael Jackson Black, sane Not X
    Lexical innovation "Like" as every conceivable part of speech "The bomb" as an adjective X
    Hope for the future of mankind Me Courtney Y
    Generational nickname Gen-X Gen-Y
     
    X

     

     

    Xers in a landslide.

     

     

    koffee klatch

    on the upside, it's nice to be thought of as a young'un

    Originally published October 5, 2004

    The small town I live in is a sleepy little community composed of constipated retirees, the grocery store owners, and me. Let's call the town Metamuville. The Metamuville grocery store—along with June the realtor, Bob the postman, and Bud the mechanic—is the only business in town, and it was recently taken over by a pair of 30-somethings. To their credit, they added such innovations as vegetables and bread my dog would be able to gag down, but like me, they feel a little out of place amidst the grey. They get yelled at for changing their inventory or for moving garlic cloves to the second shelf. They get yelled at for painting the window trim. They get yelled at for daring to buy the place from the 70ish former owner. They walk on eggshells.

    Every morning, the Metamuville Koffee Klatch meets, as it always has, in their back room. It is precisely what you think it is. Seniors from far and wide crowd the parking lot in order to congregate and bitch, presumably about the three young'uns in their midst. The Klatch is the local social fabric (along with something called the "Metamuville Huggers," which frightens me too much to inquire about). I've already made a pact with the store owners that, decades hence, should one of us someday spot another sitting down with the klatch, that person will have a clip or three emptied into his skull. "Don't worry about me," I tell them. "By that point, the John you knew is already dead."

    Which brings us to the gruesome side of the Klatch. When a member dies, that person's picture is hung on a wall in the grocery store. As if that's not morbid enough, they attempt... comedy, I guess... by affixing a witty personal caption to each photo. Millie is "Knitting God's afghan." Ben is "Bowling strikes on the Lord's lane." Helen is "Redecorating heaven." And so forth. It's macabre. It's tasteless. It's pathetic. It's maudlin. The owners want it off their wall, but they know that doing so would ostracize them from the community. So sadly, it's also permanent.

    who would jesus slander?

    Originally published June 11, 2005

    My older sister's visit supplied a few more theories circulating about me back home. My born again Christian brother and sister-in-law, no doubt emulating Christ's well-documented malicious speculation about people he didn't know, have publicly declared the following:

    • When I psuedo-married Elan in Vegas, I lied. I really got married.
    • A decade ago when I took my friend Tammy to my sister's wedding, she wasn't really my friend. She was someone I hired from an escort service. (Although stunning runway models will secretly marry me, I apparently have no friends I can use as wedding dates.)
    • The Approval Whore wasn't really my girlfriend. She was a friend who was lying for me for four years and is now suddenly gone. (I apparently now have friends and  no longer need to hire escorts, which I guess is progress. I haven't figured out where Elan went that a fake girlfriend became necessary, though. It's all so confusing.)
    • My house is not really my house. It's a rental I use to fool Julie when she's here...because I'm a druggie, you see, and I couldn't afford both the house and the drugs...because I gotta be on drugs...because there's no other possible explanation for my disliking people as kind as them.
    • They know me better than Julie, the only family member to see me in the last eight years, the only one to come to my home, and the only one who's spent more than a couple hours in my presence in 18 years. Because she's gullible, you see.

    As you can see, they are fantastically central to my universe. Like Annette observed: "They think they're so damn important that you'd bother to put on that dog and pony show for them? No matter how you swing it, it's a me, me, me thing."

    I can't help but see parallels between these intellectual giants' zealous, truth-be-damned beliefs about me and their equally zealous, equally spurious religious beliefs. It's all about being right, about being better, about telling everyone—damn the abundant evidence to the contrary. And you know they must be right, 'cause they agree with one another so fervently.

    Praise the lord and tighten my blinders, honey!

    • • •

    In trying to explain their zeal—why their John mythology is so obviously more important to them than John himself—Julie offers the following explanation: "They just don't understand why you don't want anything to do with them."


    Should I send it gift-wrapped?

    more great moments in parenting

    Originally published May 30, 2005

    In rural Minnesota this weekend, a four year old child at a family picnic was shot and killed by a relative. The child wandered behind the paper targets being used for target practice at this family function. Right about now, you're asking yourself what parent thought "target practice" and "family function" should be in the same sentence, so here's another little tidbit to digest: the same kind of parent who dressed the kid in camouflage for the occasion. According to the sheriff: "While the paper target didn't completely obscure the child, he was wearing camouflage pants that made him difficult to see against the foliage." I suppose there's some evolutionary advantage to the parents' genes not proliferating, but I sure wish it'd been achieved through their deaths and not the kid's.

    you're so lucky

    Originally published May 25, 2005

    As Dirt Glazowski and I smoked cigars on his deck last night, watching the sun set over Puget Sound, we remarked that he is truly blessed. Sheepish, he then confessed something that increasingly bothers him: people urgently dismissing his new lifestyle as mere "luck." This is, after all, a man who a year ago left his career and family in Minnesota to move to a town 2000 miles away, where he knows no one but his wife and where he now makes sandwiches 12 hours a day for a living. But the move also allowed him a lovely waterfront house—affordable because it's in the middle of nowhere—and that moment on his deck last night. And he thinks the sacrifice well worth it. But the determination of some people to dismiss the fruits of his sacrifice as mere "luck" visibly hurts.

    They don't have to be happy for him, but why must they go out of their way to diminish his hard-won happiness?

    "You're so lucky."

    I hear this sentence a lot, directed at me and friends both. Sometimes the sentence is rote politeness, like "Hi, how are you?" and nothing more. Sometimes it's an expression of like-mindedness, as in "Wow. How cool! I'm happy for you." I often use it that way myself. And then there are the sometimes about which I'm writing, the sometimes when the person repeats the sentence purposefully, defensively, even somewhat angrily. Often times they grab the listener's arm for added gravity. "You're. So. [beat]  Lucky." The intonation is not one of a compliment, but one of resentment, as in listen to me—it's exceedingly important that you understand that the only difference between you and me is that you're a fucking luck sack. Sometimes they even say as much. "Yeah, I thought about doing x, too," they'll explain, and then they'll say something derogatory about x.

    In my own case, I never hear "you're so lucky" more than when showing whale photos. With this assessment I do not disagree, as most things in life are one-third luck, least of all finding wild whales. But I find the resentment thing off-putting, even insulting. I'm sorry, but blind-assed luck isn't all there is to it. Luck is, as they say, the residue of design. Consider the whales. For me to be floating out there two Fridays ago, I had to make the following decisions.

    • First and foremost, I'm single and childless. I've repeatedly traded companionship, family, security, validation from other human beings, and having someone to change my colostomy bag when I'm old for the flexibility (career, time and money) I now enjoy.
    • 13 years ago, I decided I did not like the pedestrian direction my life was headed, and I changed course dramatically, knowing that this would require that I move 2000 miles from anyone I knew and would likely torpedo my six-year relationship. But I wanted to get to the Pacific Northwest above all else. I bet on myself, and I won.
    • 11 years ago, I moved to Seattle, again by myself, again to rebuild, again betting on myself and winning. Moreover, I made an uneasy alliance with a company that I truly despise because trading my services for its cash was the best route to where I wanted to go.
    • 3 years ago, I bought my dream house in Whale Central, some 80 minutes from work, thereby committing myself to quitting soon. I bet on my ability to earn a living in the sticks.
    • 1 year ago, I decided to make that switch to vending, if a bit earlier than planned. I left job security, health insurance, vacation time, sick time—trading it all for more flexibility with my time. Even in the face of job uncertainty, I stuck to the plan and dropped half a year's salary on a boat.
    • In that year, I've gladly worked for two kind people whom I used to outrank, which certainly wouldn't have been possible if I'd conducted myself like many at MS. Or if my ego were invested in work status.
    • In that year, I've also cracked the books hard, teaching myself how to boat in tidal waters, about the movements of whales, about using a hydrophone, about studying them safely. Every day, I track their movements in the area, trying to discern their patterns. I've gone out dozens of times and failed, usually on weekdays.
    • Two weeks ago, I noted a high probability of whales in good boating conditions, and I headed out on a Friday, knowing that I would have to work on the weekend to make up for it. And then I put my tiny boat in the path of 60,000 pounds of mammal-eating predators, one of which came within three feet of landing on me.

    "You're. So. [beat]  Lucky."

    No doubt. But unless you too have eschewed the path of least resistance and bet on yourself, kindly shove your resentment up your ass.

    •  •  •

    A favorite and relevant Simpsons line:

    Selma just got married, and her sister Patty is saying goodbye at the limo. Patty doesn't know quite what to say.

    Selma: "Just tell me what I most want to hear."

    Patty: "I am eaten alive with jealousy."

    Selma (embracing her): "Thank you!"

    •  •  •

    The flip side of all this is that I, too, feel twinges of jealousy when I look at friends' lives and see paths not taken. Dorkass' new palace makes my house look like something that fell out of a cereal box; I bet her back yard has 3x as much square footage as my entire place. The Kerrs uprooted and got away from retarded Seattle people, and for that I'm eternally spiteful envious. The Coxes conspired to have a positively brilliant and beautiful little girl. Elizabeth is moving back to Cheney. And on and on. It's only natural, I think, to look at the fruits of their choices and feel some jealousy. Where a lack of health comes in is when jealousy ceases to be homage, when it and happiness for your friend are mutually exclusive. Their happiness is of a variety I did not choose, and yes, that makes me pause and reflect and even second-guess, but it does not threaten my own. I'm delighted for them. Is that not how it's supposed to work?

    it took percy a whole day

    A creeped-out Kiki called me last night. It seems that while she was stocking shelves, Percy took it upon himself to lecherously run his fingertip up her back.

    Oddly enough, he's never seen fit to touch me affectionately. Or at all.

    percy update

    It is perhaps appropriate that I find readers' #1 request so annoying: we want more Percy.

    "Would it kill you to go to arizona for material?" asks Dorkass.

    The problem is that Percy and Thelm@ spend half a year in Arizona. They are a combined 202 years old, after all, and the law is the law. But fear not; Percy peeked in my window just last night, so updates cannot be far behind.

    In the meantime, I give you a photo of the Metamuville Koffee [sic]  Klatch [sic] , of which Percy [sic]  is a member (though not pictured). Yep. This is my world now.

    Save me.

    Just out of frame on the back wall are photos of deceased Klatchers, each adorned with a little brass plaque with a saying that manages to be both cloying and repulsive: "Bob Magoo, Gone Fishin' In Heaven's Lake," "Betty Struedel, Knitting God's Afghan," and the like. It's utterly fuckin' mortifying.

    Other activities in town:

    • Newcomer Tea
    • Yodeling/line dancing night
    • Prayer Canaries
    • Boot Scootin' Grannies
    • ROMEOS (Retired Old Men Eating Out)
    • Solitarians (widows)
    • and my personal favorite, the Metamuville Huggers

    I strongly suspect it's the same six people doing each activity.

    don't take me down with you

    try repressing

    Originally published May 4, 2005

    Making the blog rounds the other day, I came across a link to the below missive. I've been mulling over a response ever since. My first reaction was that I owe a lot of good women an apology for thinking that vermin like this were figments of their imagination. I apologize unreservedly.

    My second thought was of adults who spar with yappy teenagers. No satisfaction can come of it; no one respects you for making a child look foolish, and the child won't understand that he lost.

    My third thought was anger—anger toward his female enablers/victims, without whose consent and collaboration this guy might have learned to be a thoughtful and responsible human being. Oh well.

    Which brings us to where I am at this writing, irritated that this swine has excused his behavior by making generalizations about my gender and thereby impugning the character of every man. The generalizations, like the entire post, are unmitigated nonsense, a steaming pile of horse shit obviously designed to distract a very specific reader from his selfish misdeeds. He is the Irrepressible Shaun, and if that charmingly self-deprecating, self-bestowed nickname evokes thoughts of the Great and Powerful Oz, that's appropriate. Now I'm going to show you the pathetic little man pulling levers behind the curtain. Mouse over the horse-shit icons for line-by-line translations.

     

    a little honesty here  "Very little. The Pinky and the Brain quote is accurate." 

    Ok... Time for some honesty here.  
    "OK, I'm in trouble, so now I'm going to spin this so that it's your fault for being angry that I'm a complete swine."  Last week my friend and all of her friends were really disappointed and angry at me for showing up at the friend's event with another female.   "See how I'm putting it on you, right out of the gate? You're the one who's angry. I just 'showed up.'"  The friend who was throwing the event told me that I misunderstood why she was disappointed in me. The other two were just angry and assumed the protective girlfriend stances. Cool, I expected that.  "Your friends are all fine lookin'." 

    Well, I want to shed some light  
    "Let me educate you, dumbshit."  on how I function   "Again, I just am. My behavior is a fait accompli, like the tides or taxes, that you just need to accomodate."  with respect to the opposite sex  "Because a man would put his fist through my teeth."  . First of all, I admit that I can be pretty selfish at times.  "Tides, taxes, selfishness. See how this isn't my fault?"   I would like to think that I balance this flaw in my character by being considerate "For my convenience, I have revised the definition of 'selfish' to include 'considerate.'"  gentle and funny,  "Damn. I forgot 'modest.'"   but that's probably not a true depiction of my actions on a consistent basis.   "Feigning a little candor here, even though I qualified it, so that I can..."  At the end of the day, I'm still just me. "...deflect any possible criticism back on my critic."

    Now, I like females... alot.  
    "Just in case you want to throw your legs wide open, lemme make this perfectly clear." I find them extremely interesting.  "Check out my depth." I enjoy observing how they process information, react to different stimuli, and engage in relationships with males and females.  "Back to this being your fault. You process information differently." All of these things are done differently than I, and most males would do them, however.  "Yeah, I'm a pig, but what are your alternatives?" So that's where my primary interest lies. Ok, maybe not my primary interest "Your legs are STILL together?" , but I do enjoy observing and attempting to understand all of these dynamics.

    Face it
    "And by 'face it,' I of course mean a respectful 'in my opinion.'" , men and women are entirely two diffferent [sic] species of human being. "So if you disagree, you're specist."  We are sooooooooooo different. Women generally require approval from the group (the girlfriends) prior to making most decisions John: WTFF? What women are you talking about? Do you know only women you met in clubs? , while most men don't necessarily rely on the group approval from "our boys."  John: Ah, there's your problem. Try hanging out with a few men sometime. I'll give you an example. Men, how many times have you met a woman at a club or wherever and dug her while at the same time she was digging you?  John: Never, actually. Poseurs, puke, herpes and GHB: how romantic. Things went so well that you two decided that the night shouldn't end just yet.   John: God, you're a catch. You suggest that she should go somewhere alone with you, and she agrees.   John: Her too. Get yourself to a clinic before body parts start fallin' off on you. Of course, your  "my"  dream night   John: You might try dreaming a bit bigger.  with your   "my"  new friend  "easy and/or drunken chick with absurdly low self-esteem and no discernable standards whatsoever"  John: so can we assume that every time you use the word "friend" in this post, you really mean "piece?"  won't happen because she came to wherever you met her with "her girls" and they're not having that. They literally swoop the chick that you were digging away while you're just standing there like "dayum, that was just wrong."  "Uppity, blue-balls causin' bitches. How dare they? They must need me to shed some light."  Now, how many of you also know that if her girls weren't there "blocking" that she would go with you?  John: I'm warming to this "different species" theory of yours.  Now, I know that women need to protect one another and all of that, but the point of the example is to demonstrate how women typically make decisions that are popular with the group.   "Women who keep me from spraying sperm into their alcohol-impaired friend are just slaves to group approval."  Same example, if "her girls" were equally digging "your boys" then the decision to all hook up later would have been a unanimous YES!   John: I'm thinking "diseased marmot." 

    I also have a theory that 80% of the women want to kick it with 20% of the men.  
    "But we men aren't shallow like that."  If you are fortunate enough to be a member of the 20% club "In case you haven't gathered, I'm the bomb. Really! I have references!!!"  then you will mathematically have more opportunities to mate. That's one of the perks of being in the club."It's not a fatal character flaw; it's a perk."   Now here is the part that women have difficulty understanding."Let's not mince words. You're flat-out stupid."   They "You"  don't get why men "I"  have a difficult time "turning down""The quotes are because 'turning down' means anal only."   opportunities to mate. Women generally aren't as promiscuous as men can be. Thank God for that! "You don't know the pain of being a man. It's hell."   Men, however, have tendancies [sic] and inclinations to go into what I call "reptile mode." That's when our behavoir  [sic] becomes dayum near instinctual "Whatever shit I pull isn't my fault."  , uncomplicated "Whatever shit I pull isn't my fault."  , and predatorial [sic] "Whatever shit I pull isn't my fault."  , tossed in with a dose of "The Brain."  "The bard." 

    Pinky: "What are we doing tomorrow night Brain?"

    Brain: "The same thing that we do every night Pinky, try to take over the world!"
    John: First boys, now ficticious mice. What's the matter with grown men that really exist, again?

    Yes, we 
    "I"  go into reptile mode and try to conquer a woman's body. I don't even think that this act is about sex though. It definitely seems to be about power.  John: That's also the appeal of rape.   Why would a member of the 20% club need to conquer more than one woman at a time? Because he can. It's not right, ethical, or fair. It's just how it is.  "Have I mentioned that I'm blameless and you're not?" 

    Now here comes the down side.  
    John: Jesus Christ pushin' a hand cart. This was the UP side?  When a 20% member is not in "reptile mode" he is capable of carrying on normal, productive relationships with members of the opposite sex.    "I hear."  Please remember, however, men and women are entirely two different species of human beings.    "As previously established when I, um, er, said so."  We interpret sex entirely differently. I believe that for most women    "You, when you're calling me out"  sex is a deeply intimate and emotional act, therefore there's very low tolerance for reptiles.    John: but I thought she was "digging you?"  In contrast, men    "me"  operating in reptile mode    "all the time"  are capable of compartmentalizing mating into something less emotional. It simply becomes "booty" not literally, but in the sense of something plundered after the reptile has conquered his prey. In the end a reptile becomes nothing more than a predator who inflicts pain and suffering. Most of the time unintentionally.  Nevertheless, it's pain just the same!    "Despite all the obvious time I devote to conjuring my self-absolving theories and rationalizations, I'm sweetly naive."

    Men, if you have reptilian tendencies and you are an active member of the 20% club you are obligated to establish boundaries with the opposite sex from jump.   
    "Lemme feign some sort of epiphany to get myself off the hook, yet do it in such a way that I make it look like it's other men who are thoughtless." That way, you provide the female with the opportunity to accept or reject the emotional risks associated with investing her feelings into a 20% club member who possesses reptilian inclinations."I absolve myself of any and all responsibilty for my future sexual digressions. Any hurt from here on is your fault. As opposed to the hurt I just inflicted, which is your fault."

    In the end, honesty is always the best policy.
    "Just look at how I turned unabashed predation into a virtue."  I will try to remember that."Justifiably defensive BWNC (Brother With No Class) seeking any female who makes him feel like an honored member of the 20% club via meaningless sex he can later boast about in his blog. Vulnerable women only. No eggheads. Disease-free a plus. Low standards a must."

    Originally published February 6, 2005

    "What the Fucking Fuck?" awards   tom delay

    House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, inciting fundamentalist wrath on on the judges who allowed Terry Schiavo to die naturally:

    "The time will come for the men responsible for this to pay for their behavior!"

    Tom DeLay, on his paying his wife and daughter half a million bucks in election funds as "advisor salary:"

     "Politics is a tough business and it is difficult to trust people." 

    Tom DeLay on Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy:

    "He said in one session that he does research on the Internet? That is just incredibly outrageous!"

    "What the Fucking Fuck?" awards   honorable mention
    nah, these aren't desperately empty people searching anywhere, and i mean anywhere, for meaning

    "(AP) A steady stream of the faithful and the curious, many carrying flowers and candles, have flocked to an expressway underpass for a view of a yellow and white stain on a concrete wall that some believe is an image of the Virgin Mary."

    I know what they mean. I think I've seen the face of Satan in my guest bathroom toilet bowl.

    this place where i belong

    Originally published April 17, 2004

    Sue's guest room is mauve now. Ew.

    I hadn't stopped in Cheney the last couple of times I visited Spokane. It ain't for lack of wanting to; it's just difficult for me. It's like looking at a photo album chronicling the happiest times of my life, only everyone I cared about is airbrushed out of the photos. Nothing remains but the backgrounds. And yeah, that aches.

    Nevertheless, to merely pass the exit for Cheney feels as wrong as driving by my mother's grave. That time, those people, that me—these things and their passing must be acknowledged. So when the pine trees appeared around Tyler, I took the newly named Michael Anderson highway, wove through the familiar rolling yellow hills, traveled back in time, and stepped into those photo backgrounds alone, fairly wallowing in sadness.

    There's where we met. There's my first classroom. There's where we ate on our first date. There's the PUB. I wonder who Mariko's lunch date is with nowadays? There's the railroad tracks I used to walk at night. There's Hilari's shitty apartment. I gave her a blanket to use as a curtain on that window. Huh. Same blanket I use every night, still. She just vanished. There's my first place. I wonder if the ping pong table is still there. There's where we had our first kiss. There's Phil's old place. That stupid slanted half-step nearly killed me, and they still haven't fixed it.  He just vanished, too. There's where we used to throw the frisbee and I would hit her softballs so she could practice fielding. Man, she sucked at ground balls. There's Patterson 266, the classroom where I met Katrina and Pam and Mark. There's Elizabeth's old house, and Sharon's, and Karen's. Poor Karen. There's the hills Pam and I went horseback riding on. There's that vet that tried to stick me for $200 for dropping off a dead dog. Talk about blood and a rock. There's another place we ate on our first date. Jesus Christ, how many times did we eat that day? There's where we lived. What a happy house. Okay, driving on, I can't remotely deal with that.

    Symptomatic of the fact that we were all broke, there were two Trash TV nights in our circle. In Spokane, it was Melrose night; in Cheney, it was Star Trek. When Deep Space Nine premiered, we were there. I remember growing bored during the DS9 series premiere. Sisko had lost his wife years earlier, an event we come to relive in flashbacks. He's simultaneously trying to explain the concept of linear time to aliens who live outside time—they have no sense of future or past. They find the notion baffling. What vexes them, it turns out, is Sisko himself. If the past is in the past, someplace you cannot return, why does he insist on continuing to reside there? I remember yawning at that point and looking at Phil, who was visibly devastated, and thinking "Jeez, what a puss." Well, today I'm the age he was then, and perhaps not coincidentally, I get it now.

    Lo, I am basking in irony.

    A few hours after my Cheney tour, I sat in Sue's living room, covered in mauve paint and reminiscing with her and Lynn. These reminiscences only become more brutal over time, as we wonder whatever happened to so-and-so or talk about someone else's lovely memorial service. It's sobering.

    "What was the name of that girl you dated here, John?" Sue asks.

    "Fucking Amy," Lynn and I groan in unison. I frantically search my mind for a new subject. There's one!

    "Say, does the ironing room need repain—"

    "Man." Lynn shook her head. "I've never seen anyone get creamed as bad as you did. I mean, you were completely destroyed. Bet it all and lost. I sometimes wondered if you'd ever recover. But, thank God, you eventually pulled out."

    "Yeah," I stared at my feet. "I'm all better now."

    the most chilling 5-word phrase

    Originally published April 11, 2005

    I was getting breakfast at the MetamuMart this morning and a horrifying flyer caught my eye:

    First Annual Metamuville Talent Show

    "How many spoons acts can you stand?" I asked Kiki, the store owner.

    "It gets worse," she groaned. "There are no fewer than three square dancing demos."

    This got me thinking. What are the five scariest-assed words in the English language? "First Annual Metamuville Talent Show" is bad, but not the worst. I see four distinct genres.

    You have the professional:

    • Can you shut the door?
    • Stop fishing the company pier!
    • We are making some changes.
    • Thank you for your contributions.
    • Khristi is in your building.

    The familial:

    • Will you be my executor?
    • I just arrived at SeaTac.
    • Maria has a new theory.
    • How much do you make/did this cost?
    • I'll pay you right back.

    The friendshippy:

    • So, I have some news!
    • That's not what Karen said.
    • How goes the love life?
    • So I have this friend.

    The romantic:

    • Know what your problem is?
    • My parents are both living.
    • How old is this condom?
    • Did the condom just tear?
    • I'm late. I'm never late.
    • Oh. Yeah. I'm HIV positive.

    and my winner, also romantic:

    • We really need to talk.

    metamuville times

    Originally published March 30, 2005

    I certainly bash my town in this space, particularly the old farts who clogs its streets and s-l-o-w-l-y pull in front of speeding traffic. The dread Metamuville Road—straight, flat, fast—has claimed three more lives since December. And dammit, Percy is back from wintering in Arizona already, so walking around the house naked is indefinitely out. But days like yesterday are why I live here. On my way into work, I left my keys in the ignition as I stopped to give my lawyer the software he accepts in trade for his legal services. And then I again left my keys in the ignition as I picked up Ed's medication at the vet, where a bemused local store owner was picking up his golden retriever, who periodically wanders across town to hang out in the vet's waiting room. On my way home last night, I stopped at the tiny MetamuMart grocery to pick up a newspaper, and when I returned to my car, the store owner, Kiki, was wriggling into my passenger seat.

    "Am I giving you a ride home?" I asked her.

    "No, we're going drinkin'."

    I nodded to the three bald eagles perched on the nearby pilings, and then we went drinkin.'

    easter homily

    Originally published March 26, 2005

    On this sacred day, I ask my life-loving fundamentalist fans to please take a break from sending death threats to judges and instead celebrate the anniversary of their savior's murder and subsequent transmogrification into the Invisible Man in the Sky. Can I get an amen?

    Originally published March 23, 2005

    If there's a lower form of life than people who make their kid carry signs in support of their cause, well, I can't think of it this morning.

    But to answer the kid's parent's question, if I were Terri Schiavo—if I've had no brain waves for a decade, if my unfathomably selfish relatives are force-feeding my lifeless body because of some moronic delusion that I'm "laughing and crying with them," if I become the pedestal upon which sleazy, grandstanding politicians jockey for visibility—pretty please, with a cherry on top, pull the fucking plug.

    Toward that end, I put my plug in the hands of an ex. I figure that'll ensure zero mercy. "Can I pull it now?" she asks.

    requiem for a flake

    Originally published March 7, 2005

    When the word came, it wasn't unexpected. Stan had been dying for a long, miserably long, time. This tempers the sting of loss not at all. A world that can ill afford to be less good is decidedly less good today.

    I've thought for hours about how to eulogize my friend. I'm reticent to make it about me—I find that self-serving and distasteful—yet I do not know how to extricate myself. I likewise hesitate to dwell on Stan's orientation, yet I do not know how to remove our differences from my Stan the Flake stories. We celebrated, even clung to those differences. All my best stories are about our Odd Couple dynamic. So I'm not going to put any artificial limitations on this. I'll just type, and if it gets unbearable, stop reading.

    When we met in September '94, I was a freshly hollowed out human being. We needn't spend time rehashing that period, but to recap: I abruptly had no relationship, no friends, no income, and massive debt in a new and chilly town, and my new hobby was going to bed at 5pm. There was no reason in the world for anyone to want to be my friend. That's not modesty; it's an ugly fact. I had nothing to offer another human being. And at the time in my life when I had the least to offer another person, one person figured it out and took it upon himself to reach out to me and be my friend, anyway. There is no repaying a debt like that.

    Lord knows why he reached out. Stan the Flake: worldly, buff, health-obsessed, vegetarian, alternative medicine-promoting, alternative-everything promoting, flamingly gay man from whitest small-town eastern Washington. Me: provincial, beef-fed, dousingly straight Midwesterner from a black neighborhood, a fellow who'd never knowingly met a gay man in his life, let alone heard of the putrid herbs and teas littering the Chinese pharmacy that was Stan's kitchen. Much as there was no reason for him to be my friend, there was no reason in the world to think he could  be. Yet...yet...

    • • •

    In my will, I instruct my executor to forego any kind of service and instead invite my friends to participate in a John roast. One of my regrets about that decision has been that I, myself, would never get to hear Stan tell stories similar to the below, only with himself installed as the hero. Alas, now no one will hear those stories. Here are mine.

    • • •

    "How many hours have you put in this week, John?"

    "75. But it's only Saturday."

    "You and your death wish. Here. Take this. And don't take it with fucking Diet Coke. Get some water."

    "I already have a mother. Get that muck out of my face."

    "Now look. You're incredibly stressed, and you're susceptible to all ki—"

    "Say 'susceptible' again."

    "Thutheptible. Oh goddamit, I do not either lithp."

    "Only when you're agitated. And you don't normally stand with your hips cocked, either."

    "That ith not a gay thtereotype."

    "Oh yeah it is. With hands on hips. Yeah, just like that."

    "Fine. You justh go ahead and work yourthelf into a coma. My fault for caring, ya fwuckin'  cornpone bible banger."

    And he would pirouette and leave. And I would swallow whatever pond seepage he left in a Dixie cup. This, you see, is how men say they care about one another.

    • • •

    Briefly convinced that a woman was the cure-all for all my problems, Stan emailed me a spreadsheet put out by the Microsoft gay and lesbian group.

    "Stan? Why did you send me a spreadsheet identifying all the gays at Microsoft?"

    "Yeah!" Stan replied with way too much earnest exuberance. " I figured it might help you if you could weed out the lesbians!"

    [about 10 seconds of silence]

    "You. Sent me. Me. Me, Stan. Think about what you've done, here. Me. Malicious me. A list of all the gays at Microsoft."

    "Well not all of us," he chirped. "Just the known ones!"

    • • •

    More recently, a group of us were downtown, and Stan and I were in the back seat bickering. A collision sent our car spinning some 500 degrees in the middle of a busy street. Everyone was okay, but we were startled speechless. I finally broke the silence. "You know," I growled disapprovingly at Stan, "I always figured when it came my time, it'd be a beautiful woman by my side."

    "JETHUTH CHRITHST, HOW THE FWUCK DO YOU THINK I FEEL, JOHN?!"

    •  •  •

    In trying to boost my self-worth, Stan once gave me one of the greatest compliments I've ever received. I didn't deserve it, but it was still impossibly great. There's a sweet strangeness, or perhaps a strange sweetness, in a gay man trying to buck up his straight friend by telling him what his attractive qualities are. And nonsense or not, the unusual sentiment behind it was wondrously caring. That was Stan. His grace transcended differences that for others would have comprised an insurmountable chasm.

    Huh. How about that. Stan is the hero of my stories, too.

     


    For obvious reasons, names and chronologies have been scrambled a bit. -jh

    what would jesus steal?

    Originally published March 3, 2005

    Bill Watterson, the inspired creator of Calvin and Hobbes, who retired at the top of his game at the height of the strip's popularity, has always zealously defended his creation from being commercialized. "My strip is about private realities, the magic of imagination, and the specialness of certain friendships." he explains. "Who would believe in the innocence of a little kid and his tiger if they cashed in on their popularity to sell overpriced knickknacks that nobody needs?" So every stuffed Hobbes, every decal you've seen of Calvin urinating—those are brazen copyright theft. They're unlicensed, and Watterson is perpetually battling those who profit from stealing his work.

    Which brings us to the instance that amuses me the most. Yes, nothing says "I walk with Jesus" quite so much as shameless theft. And nothing says you're secure in your faith quite like receiving validation from affixing an illegally used cartoon character to your pickup truck.

    (And before some hysterical born-again fucktard with atrocious spelling points out that I too possess the very stolen good I deplore, the picture at right resides on the thief's server.)

    hater's leap

    Originally published April 4, 2004

    A friend of mine has a rather unattractive need to degrade others' acquisitions. It doesn't really hurt, as engendering others' approval is pretty much the stupidest reason I can think of to spend sweet, precious money, but it is a singularly repugnant quality to be around—especially when you're a couple decades removed from middle school. And it does repel me from my friend. Its manifestations have run from the trivial (sunglasses, attire) to the big-ticket (my car), all of which, I am steadily reminded, are in some way inferior choices.

    I know what you're thinking, and yes, this all sometimes seems like a childhood reminiscence to me, too.

    Nothing has triggered the ugly quite like my buying a house. I put off showing it to him just because I didn't want to hear whatever would surely be wrong with it. But eventually out he came, purportedly to borrow a trailer the likes of which he could have rented for less than the cost of the ferry. He and his girlfriend arrived, surveyed the place, left, and have not returned. There's no need to: they got what they came for.

    It took me a while to notice the pattern emerge. I mentioned last year that my friends and their kids came over. "Can those kids," he interrupted incredulously, "even make it up those stairs?" My house is atop an 80 foot bluff, you see, and you have to use stairs to get to the beach.

    "When I awoke this morning," I emailed him a few months later, "I opened my eyes and there was a bald eagle looking back at me, not 20 feet away."

    "Wow, a beautiful view like that must make you want to go suicidal and just throw your body off the cliff, huh?" he replied with typical skill and subtlety.

    And so on. This weekend, I hanged (hung?) out with him and family. His dad is considering retiring to the peninsula, and he sought my advice. I showed him on a map where I bought my house. In making conversation, he brought up what was clearly the only thing he'd been told: "You're up on top of a cliff, right?"

    Even though I have little idea why being 80 feet above sea level is a bad thing, I now know that it's most desperately supposed to be. People who never even saw the stairs, let alone used them, have decided that their existence is the defining, fatal characteristic of the home that has brought into their "friend's" life so much beauty and joy. And when the friend is so foolish as to be happy, why, it's their moral imperative to remind him that really, he shouldn't be.

    It takes its toll. I'd be lying if I said that all this didn't all have the desired cumulative effect. But there's no doubt about it: I do enjoy my house less for their efforts. In fact, I can no longer descend the beach stairs without feeling a great swell of shame and contempt.

    For my continued friendship with these people.

    My love of the ocean and beach and the 80 glorious feet that connect me to both continues undiminished.

    "So you wanna give me a tour of your new place?" my buddy asks of my modest Redmond flop.

    No sir. No, I don't.

    • • •

    Postscript: when I towed my trailer back home from his place, I had to pay the extra ferry fee myself.

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