May 2007 Archives

backpack attack

Realizing that I would need a backpack this quarter, I dug out my old Ohio State back-monkey to see if it still fit, lo these many pounds later. Surprisingly, it did. And then I tried to take it off.

Steadily mounting hysteria ensued. Unable to get a so much as a fingertip on a strap, I dashed ever-more-insanely through the house, trying to "clotheline" the backpack off on any and all surfaces.

Ever see a cat with tape on its paws? It was exactly like that.

the beth story

When I was a kid, mom was a nursing assistant at a local hospital. She droned endlessly about her co-workers, of course, and among her favorites was an especially gentlemanly doctor. He distinguished himself by being kind to the staff, and they adored him for it.

And then one day, he was arrested. He was accused of being a serial rapist. Mom was apoplectic. She vigorously defended him. And then the evidence mounted, and a very public trial ensued, and he was convicted on 90-some counts. Mom was stunned and heartbroken.

A few years later, I had co-workers myself. I was working at a library. Checking in magazines one night, I was chatting with the bright young page when I came across a magazine with the doctor's face (and the headline "Insane?") on the cover. I waved it in the air. "This bastard," I snorted self-righteously, "Is guilty as hell."

Beth smiled and nodded, stretching out the moment as long as she could before chirping "That's my dad," pivoting on her heel, and walking away. She seemed to mean it, but I flat-out didn't believe her. There was just no way. Yeah, they had the same last name, and yeah, they were both black, but I wasn't buyin' what she was sellin.' It was too big of a coincidence. She was just too impish about it. She was yanking me. I demanded to see a family picture.

The next day, she brought me one. Their Christmas card, as I recall. Very festive.

While I groveled and apologized, Beth gleefully reveled in my discomfort, and a fast friendship was born. She is among the most graceful people I've ever known—evident from this anecdote, I'm sure—and also easily the smartest. Even at 16, she babbled excitedly about fractal geometry, oblivious to the fact that I had zero understanding of what she was saying. She might as well have been talking to the stuff growing on her shower curtain, but I loved her for trying. Almost as much as I loved having her around when math needed to be done.

• • •

Astoundingly, the coincidences don't end there. Maddie, too, worked in that library, and after she and I started dating, we visited her dad, a retired Columbus cop. It turns out he was in the crew who arrested Beth's dad. It was absolutely surreal to hear an alternate account of the Night They Came for Dad.


I've been spending a great deal of time in Collegetown lately. It's one of the socially warmest places I've ever known, and I'll sorely miss it when the quarter's over. It's easy to understand why alumni dream of returning to Collegetown to raise their families. It's the kind of town where a longshoreman stops on the street to ask a hippie how his day's been. And he cares.

I was outside a landmark-but-closed Mexican restaurant, reading an article taped to its window. Locals were resurrecting the restaurant. A woman came outside to smoke and, noticing that I was another human being, chatted me up. I liked her instantly. I explained that I was teaching and spending the night up there. She explained that they were all painting furiously in the hopes of reopening that weekend. "C'mon in and help!" she chirped. I declined.

"What else do you have to do tonight?" she countered.

Nothing. Nothing at all. But I'm wearing completely inappropri—

"Turn your clothes inside-out!"

But my dog is in my hotel r—

"Go get her!"

And so did Ed and I join a small community of painters, furiously finishing their labor of love. Everyone told tales of what the restaurant meant to them. First dates, first kisses, food on credit. "How about you, John?" someone asked. "What's your story?"

"Um. I just kinda followed the ponytail in here."

• • •

I take great reassurance from the ease with which I assimilated into Collegetown. Seattle might not have damaged me, after all. Mindful of Katrina's insistence that Seattle is fine, that I'm just a moron who after 13 years here is still incapable of recognizing the boundaries between Seattle and the areas she herself deems icky, I've had a fun couple weeks. When walking around Seattle, I engage locals like I would in Collegetown. I'm warm. I'm inquisitive. I make eye contact. I make them so paralyzed with discomfort, they swallow their own faces. I expect a restraining order any day now.

wonder of wonders, a miracle a miracle


Percy told me today that they're putting the house on the market. This was after he studiously read the report (from Ed's dog-walker) that was under my welcome mat.

agony of defeat

Rummaging through long-buried archives, I recently unearthed a photo I'd never noticed before. This one really made me wish I'd bought my camera sooner. Or that Minette had gotten it instead.

orcas2 001.jpg

I also found my long forgotten version of Minette's now-kinda-famous double-breach photo. Here's hers:

And here, tragicomically, is mine. (Pause to imagine my old digital camera whirring and sputtering while the whales were in flight. "WHHHHRRRRR-chick-WHHHRRRRRR-click-chick-chick-WHHHRRRRRRRR- KACHICK!")

orcas2 061.jpg

Ever know, in an instant, when something is gonna cost you a fortune?


You tend to think of "death bed" as absolutely singular, like "virginity" or "Oprah." In a manner befitting such a drama queen, however, my mom occupied at least a dozen death beds. During one particularly grave episode, she summoned my siblings one by one. When she was done making Linda, who had estranged herself, weep, Mom sent for Celeste, my first girlfriend.

"My mom wants to say goodbye, I guess," I told her. "Or maybe it's a maudlin please-take-care-of-my-boy thing."

She dutifully marched in, returning 20 minutes later, tears streaming down her cheeks. And then she burst out laughing.

"John's a bum," Mom had thoughtfully cautioned her. "He'll never hold a job. Don't saddle yourself with him. Get out."

It's dawning on me only now that I have no ending for this post. Except that Celeste eventually took her advice.

a raspberry for myself

I feel compelled to point out that at one time or another, I've been guilty of many of the male idiocies described in yesterday's post. Especially the mooching. Loved the mooching. Born to mooch.

The point wasn't a celebration of my own magnificence so much as a belittling tip o' the cap to the men who make mere semi-consciousness look magnificent.

The Next Guy salutes you.

a valentine for men

Thank you, sir, for setting the bar so incredibly low.

Thanks for your porn stash. Thanks for mooching. Thanks for making her feel lonely when you're right there. Thanks for never once viewing the world through anyone's eyes but your own. Thanks for blaming her for your utter incompetence in bed. Thanks for trying to guilt her into lowering her expectations, rather than trying to meet them. Thanks too for being bad with money, for flirting with the admin at work, for being lazy, for not bathing, for making her clean up your spooge rags, for volunteering that you "wouldn't mind" if she got cosmetic surgery, for putting in no more than the bare minimum effort necessary to keep her. Most of all, thank you for not listening.

You're my bread and butter, man. I owe you.

white survivor guilt

I've never had any use for white guilt.

To me, the very notion is something synonymous with Seattle. Until I moved here, no one expected me to feel white guilt. Until I moved here, no white person who's never had a black person in their home haughtily corrected my use of the term "black." Nor had I been expected to dance on demand at the pleasure of some young black guy who was spawned on Mercer Island by his two, count 'em, two parents, who incidentally sent him to Stanford. "You'll never know what it's like to be black in this country," he'll prompt gravely, expecting the capitulation he's enjoyed his entire life from sniveling Seatards.

"True enough. Just like you won't know what it's like to be poor." In my experience, nothing offends more.

Survivor guilt, on the other hand, I think we've all experienced at one point or another. I've stared down my share of it these last couple days. As I've gone through the typical spasms, wondering Why him? Why not me?, I've been thrust back in time to our common point of origin. I escaped. Mason didn't. I'm alive. Mason isn't. We started at the same place, with the same cards. I wasn't any smarter than him. I'm certainly not a more worthy human being. I definitely didn't out-hustle him; I don't out-hustle moss. The only difference between us was that he had a family to support, which precluded college.

Well, not the only difference.

It wouldn't bother me as much if it didn't so conform to the Scientific Method, if they hadn't all predicted this result back in the beforetime. The white college kid would be fine. The Haves take care of their own. Meanwhile, the life expectancy of the Have-Nots is 64. Or, as it happened, much less.

I know rage is only the second stage of grieving, but I think I'll camp here for a while.

this play is dark tonight

My heart's not in this, and at the beginning of this relationship I promised you I'd never fake it.

I swear to come back all pissed off at, say, Percy next week. Deal?

dear mason

When I saw the 614 area code flash on my cell at midnight, I knew it was going to be ghastly news.

I'm sorry, man. I'm sorry you're gone. I'm sorry I left. I'm sorry I missed you when I was in Columbus last year. I'm sorry that until tonight, I didn't know that "Mason" wasn't even your real name. Thankfully, d'Andre put on some hand-puppets tonight and patiently explained to me that "Mason" was a reference to your jump-shot. Come to think of it, I'm also sorry for your jump-shot.

I'm John, by the way. Nice to meet you, Dave.

Killed by someone you didn't even know. I'm numb. What a waste. If I live to be 100, will this ever make a goddamned lick of sense? No one knows the details yet, but I bet you were being a hero again. I always worried that would catch up with you.

I'm probably not coming to your service. I want to, but I can't get away from my class. But the next time I'm home, I'm going to pay my respects to your widow and kid. I'm going to tell them about the time you quite literally saved my ass from a 5-on-1 beatdown. How before that moment, I didn't even think you could stand me. I'll tell them how you gave what you could not afford to give to people less needy than yourself. I'll tell them how nefarious people warily steered clear of you. And I'll tell them about how you caught me serepticiously packing my belongings for my cross-country move, how betrayed you felt that I was going to just disappear, and how you shook my hand and called me family. I never told you how much that meant, how much it still means. I'll have to tell your real family instead. I'm sure nothing I say will surprise them in the least.

Goodbye, brother. If there's a heaven, I hope the rims are just huge. And, of course, soft.

"loser" defined

The sequence of the conversation:

  1. Beautiful woman tells me she dreamt that we had a child together.
  2. Turns out this dream kid happened without our having had dream sex, which is pretty much the worst conceivable scenario. So to speak.
  3. Turns out I wasn't in the dream, period.
Turns out that you can get the bends from descending too fast, too.

overheard in a bar saturday night

Me: "Look at me. What is your gaydar telling you?"

Gay guy: "Abort?"

fight! fight!

I recently boasted that, siblings and Dorkass notwithstanding, I've never thrown a punch. I later realized I can no longer make this claim. That's a little disappointing.

Before last year, each story was the same: belligerent drunk comes after me; I get in his grill; I get punched in the face; I mock his impotence and offer him another shot; certain that I must be on PCP, he backs off. There were slight variations. Sometimes, for instance, I got punched in the ear. One time a guy fell down before reaching me. One time after absorbing a roundhouse to my mouth, I gestured to a guy's petite girlfriend and suggested that perhaps she should take the second shot. But the theme was more or less the same.

When I scored Super Bowl tickets last year, I sold one to a man in Houston. I made sure it went to a Steelers fan, of course, but I otherwise had no idea who would be sitting next to me. He arrived shortly before kickoff completely soused and holding two enormous beers, neither of which was for me. In the first quarter, he finished them (who could blame him, really) and left for more. He was a horrible drunk, constantly demanding attention from those around him. A perpetual high-fiver is bad enough, but he was also a chronic hugger. Shudder.

He annoyed me. He annoyed everyone else. They complained about my "friend" when he left. Finally, when Ward hauled in El's touchdown pass, his enthusiasm erupted. He tackled me with surprising force, wrapping his arms around my thighs and sending me tumbling into the little old man to my left, who was on crutches because of knee surgery.

That's when I punched the guy. Hard.

He was instantly subdued, sitting in his $3800 seat and desperately trying to stop his mouth from bleeding. He was apologetic. People patted me on the back. But of this moment, I have three dominant memories: 1) I completely missed celebrating the Steelers' "kill" moment, 2) the only thing I had on hand to stop his bleeding was my Terrible Towel, which is still covered in his blood today, and 3) he ruined my "never punched a guy in anger" story.

Thanks, pal. Why do I have the feeling you've ruined that for a lot of people?

This story is loathingly dedicated to my brother, Russ, who made it his childhood mission to ensure that I would have both the ability and need to take a punch to the face.

i miss my house. especially its locks.

I have, tonight, at long last, discovered something even more exasperating than a woman whimpering pointlessly about a man who clearly does not care about her—a man whimpering pointlessly about a man who clearly does not care.

You'd think a man would get it. You'd be wrong.

things i'm stankful for

Khristi, without whom in my history I would never be able to use the phrase "the strip club where my ex worked."

long suspected, now confirmed

Parents of my generation are the stupidest in all of human history.

academic twinkies

Yesterday I attended an all-day faculty meeting. I say "attended" because that was pretty much all I accomplished. I looked out the window a lot, squinting while I tried to will the sweet, sweet release of death. Alas.

I've been away from academia for too long. It's torturous for me now. Perhaps it was the long-winded Twinkie whose every unit begins with an acronym, like the seven components of good writing:

Respect for the reader
Entertaining all options
Staying in focus
Providing good organization
Enabling the reader
Changing prose as necessary
Technically accurate
twinkies.jpgI include this so that my friends can imagine my discomfort as the windbag pontificated about the virtues of this acronym for a half-hour. It's been successful beyond his wildest imagination, he says. The students get it, now. All they needed to become good writers was a little r-e-s-p-e-c-t.

Below are my exchanges with a professor who's been growing roots in her office for nine years.

• • •

"I don't know that I buy that for tech writing and editing to prosper, humanities classes have to suffer in stature," I say. "Why would it be a zero-sum game? Why is there this institutional resistance to our students being able to get a job when they graduate?"

A senior professor is appalled. "If that's what they want," she snaps, "They should transfer to the University of Washington."

• • •

An junior faculty member asks me how I look at resumes when reviewing them. "First, I look at the Objective," I begin.

"No one looks at Objectives anymore," corrects the same senior professor. "That's, like, so 20 years ago."

"I do."

"No one does."

"I'm saying that I do. Half of the resumes sent to you aren't even relevant to the job for which you're hiring, and that's the quickest way of moving people looking for part-time, FTE editing work out of the full-time, contingent writer pile."

"You could better get that from other sections of the resume."

"No I couldn't. I don't want to spend more than five seconds on a resume I shouldn't even have."

"The average is two minutes," she corrected yet again.

"Like hell it is. Anyway, my only claim is that I look for the objective first. You're really correcting me on what I, myself, do?"

"Hmmm. Maybe objectives are coming back 'in' recently and I haven't heard."

I'm exasperated. "I don't know that they were ever out, except maybe in academic textbooks."

"IT'S NOT JUST ACADEMIC TEXTBOOKS! I get my information by going to job fairs and talking with recruiters from actual companies. Including," she sniffed haughtily, sensing the kill, "Microsoft."

"The HR twinkies you talked to aren't doing the hiring. They never hire anyone except one another. Hiring managers hire. Hence the title. And more often than not, the managers rely on a network of contacts that completely circumvent Twinkie Central."


• • •

Yeah, Twinkie. An in someone with zero nutritional value who manages to get a job for which he or she is utterly unqualified. Someone with an improbably long shelf life. Like, say, nine years.


Warning: forecast calls for scattered misery, with a high blood-pressure system causing rising temperatures in the evenings.

Post-AW, my interest in relationships has been nil. At first I blamed her, specifically the incredibly foul taste that the final year left in my mouth. As time passed, though, that taste faded, yet no interest returned. Maybe I'm just getting older, I thought. Maybe I'm no longer chained to the ravenous beast that is the male sex drive. Or maybe I'm just evolving into a higher life form, one that doesn't lightly invite chick-misery into its life.

Wrong, wrong, and tragically wrong.

I'm disgusted to announce the imminent return of chisery. Whatever the cause (I think it's the regular exercise), I'm suddenly noticing women like last year I was noticing Saab convertibles. I can already feel the slides in intellect and discipline beginning. I wonder why so-and-so didn't call me back within 11 minutes of my leaving a voice-mail. I suddenly notice that my friends are hot. Worst of all, the eager stupidity of men is back with a vengeance. Hey, that bored chick made polite eye contact with me. That's practically a proposition. Hit on her! Hit on her!


I did not miss this crap. These have been happy times.

"That's a shame," sympathized a friend who on Sunday became shockingly hot. "You had a good run."

"So did you," I replied. "I'm sorry in advance."

equal time

Because I know you're wondering: if you flip the genders in this affliction, it's called "malsery."

stunning fact of the week

The actress who played Sylar's homely mom on "Heroes" this week? She previously played hottie Audrey in "Little Shop of Horrors."

the quotable allie

Again, I'll start at the end of the conversation:

"How do you do that, being a savior and a martyr at the same time? How is that even possible? It's, like, just you and Jesus who do that. And buddy, you ain't Jesus."

be prepared to be creeped out

Keep your eye on the careful revision to 17 year old Emma Watson's waist and bust.


Nah, that's not crass. I'd love to know who ordered the enhancements. What are the odds it was a guy, you think?

with friends like these

Response to the pranks post has made me think of one of my best mind-fucks.

I was meeting a friend and his woman in a bar. They were married. Unfortunately, they were not married to each another. I don't begrudge anyone a mistake or three, but this woman on whom he was draping himself was no reason to be breaking marriage vows. She was preening, manipulative. She spewed complete nonsense. I caught her in needless, self-aggrandizing lies from word go. She was, to summarize, a most unwelcome development.

Shortly after I returned from the jukebox, I saw my friend twitch uncomfortably. It might have had something to do with the song selection, which happened to be what he and his wife were listening to the first time they made love. Or it might have just been gas. A couple tunes later, the jukebox played the "first dance" song from his wedding.

He was no longer listening to our conversation, which was about, oh, let's say politics. Noticing his distant glare, the mistress tried to loop him back in. "What do you think, hon?"


Words to live by.

I remember the first time it happened.

It was New Year's Eve, and my friend Jayne and I attended a party. It was a typical Seattle social gathering, meaning it had the appearance (and depth of feeling) of a beer commercial—Seattle folks' only reference for social normality. Well, not quite like a beer commercial. No minorities are ever present. But the parties are attended by fine white stock from all walks of life, provided the walk was no longer than three miles.

squarepeg.jpgEveryone was very kind. "Nice to meet you, John," they dutifully said. These would be the last words spoken to me all night. I would be spoken at, of course. If only I'd found these people remotely as interesting as they found themselves, I would have been fine. As they stared through me and droned endlessly about god knows what, unable to discriminate between their every moronic thought and something that was of any conceivable interest to another human being, I glared at the only person I knew.

Aware of my misery, Jayne did nothing about it. She thought it was good for me, that the relentless waves of banal vainglory eroding my soul were sculpting me into a well-adjusted Seattlite. And so I feigned interest in their witticisms—"Ha ha! Hoo boy! I'd have thought someone pronouncing 'Volvo' as 'vulva' would get tiresome after the first 200 times, but dang it, some jokes just age like fine wine!"—and as soon as their backs were turned, I slipped out the back door. Only Jayne would notice my absence. She noticed the hell out of it, as I recall. Something about midnight and mothers fucking, I think. The memory's hazy.

This story has many stanzas, but they're all pretty much variations on the first.

• • •

It's amazing. Point me in any direction and fire me 100 miles, and it's like landing in a warm bath. My college town is jarring in that complete strangers make eye contact, smile, and ask me how I am. I made more friends in four days in Detroit than I have in four years in Metamuville. Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Chicago, Phoenix, Oakland, Kansas City, even New York—you name it, they're all warm baths to me. I can't bloody wait to hit the road. I'm tired of hiding.

who's scamming whom?

When I lived in my Redmond flop, my next-door neighbor was, without a doubt, psychotic. He barricaded his sliding glass door in books and magazines so that his landlord would not enter. Every time he saw me walk to or from my car, he lunged at me to share his latest conspiracy theory. He needn't have bothered. I'd already read about it in the note to the government he'd taped to his front door.

One day, he asked for five bucks for gas. I forget his tale of hardship, but does it matter? I opened my wallet and found only 20s. Shit. He gratefully took a 20, and I never heard from him again. Never even caught a glimpse of my once-omnipresent neighbor. Best twenty bucks I ever spent.


Percy and Thelm@ are back from Arizona. His first order of business was to ask me about my riding lawnmower, which I never use. He might like to buy it, he said. "I don't know if it even runs anymore," I replied, suggesting that he try it out first. He did. It ran.

It ran all the way into his garage, in fact, where it's been for a month. In that time, I haven't seen or heard from Percy once. Not one awkward silence. Not one inquiry about how much I earn. Not one rude question that barely veils criticism. Not one instance of him seeing me naked as he peeks in the window unannounced. And it's certainly not in his interests to let himself into my house, anymore.

Yeah, a part of me is bothered by the obvious abuse. A minority part. He can keep the mower; I wanna see how long I can ride this out. My relationship with Percy is, at long last, right where I want it.

yeah. exactly like that.

This week, the students are writing instructions. They have their choice of three tasks, one of which is "what John should do if one of you collapses, unconscious, in class."

Inquired one guy: "Is this like, you were telling another Microsoft story, and one of us keeled over from boredom?"

one last sequel

Remember this post, in which I railed about every one of the links in Bob's Top 5 being represented on someone's site—with one notable exception?

The offending site's offending owner is, it turns out, a Stank troll. She was rootin' through chestnuts this morning and found that old post. I've since been added.

Validation, surging!

Hmm. I'm last and Minette is first.

Validation, waning.

moron taxonomy
stupid church signs
super bowl xl officiating
percy chronicles

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