January 2008 Archives

paperweight

Duly terrified of a life where everyone she knows works at Microsoft, Lilly's been taking classes. Among these is a glass-blowing class, so my Christmas present was, I suppose, inevitable.

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I chuckled when she handed it to me. "You don't seem thrilled..." she said glumly.

"No, no. It's not that. I just reminds me of every art class I ever took, where—no matter what I was trying to make—my every effort eventually became a paperweight that I gave to a relative."

Now she laughed. "That was supposed to be a vase!"

what we really need: bigger speed bumps

Whenever I drive through Metamuville, its senior citizens invariably give me the "lower the roof" hand signal. "SLOW DOWN!" they scream, causing me to look at the needle bisecting the "25" on my speedometer. I usually respond by gunning the engine.

Metamuville Road, which is my only means of seeing someone under the age of 104, has become their battlefield. Literally. In my five years here, I've seen three dead bodies, each killed by a Metamuville geriatric. Unfortunately, the bodies were not their own.

The Gray Mafia was recently shocked to discover that an arterial road has run past their houses for the last 60 years, and they want it gone. The constant speeding is a menace to pedestrians, they say, without a whiff of irony, about the zero pedestrians injured on this road. The county declined their demands for installing gated checkpoints every block or so. It's a public thoroughfare, the county explained, not a private country club. The Gray Mafia organized and whined until the county relented a bit, and soon speed bumps appeared.

I hate them, of course, but I especially hate that they were imposed on me by people whining about a condition that existed when we all bought our houses. I am not alone. A petition is circulating to get rid of the speed bumps. People often display petitions at the Metamuville Grocery, and so was it here.

It came down after a day. The Gray Mafia mobilized and threatened the new owner with boycotts if he allowed the petition to be displayed. One geriatric wrote him a letter howling that the owner "wants to harm my grandchildren" and "has no sense of community." Because that's what constitutes a sense of community, you see: preventing the community from considering the side of an issue with which you disagree.

Meanwhile, life and death go on. The same day the letter arrived at the store, an 80-something woman with an overdeveloped sense of community tried to park her car inside Metamuville Realty.

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hart to hart

Whenever I get an eye exam, I invariably think of Robert Wagner. When I was a kid, you see, I watched an episode of "Hart to Hart" that scarred me forever. That week's murder mystery centered around someone getting an eye exam. The lens calibration machine—"Better? Or worse?" One? Or two?"—was outfitted with spikes that shot into the patient's eyeballs. The patient slumped, his face permanently mounted to the machine and blood trickling through the lens holes.

Some shit can't be unseen.

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Was the killer brought to justice? Did the episode end with Robert Wagner grappling with the killer while Stephanie Powers looked on, her hands shaking stupidly on either side of her face while she screamed "Jonathan!" and, betraying that she had never done anything athletic in her life, awkwardly kicked a stray gun away from the fight? Did you never see an episode of this show?

reader mail: yikes

You know who you are.

dog jobs

I didn't achieve self-awareness until a female friend recently professed her affection for a fire fighter. That's when my bias kicked in. "But they're all dogs!" I said.

I do not, of course, know this. I only suspect it. Without exception, every fireman I've known has been a narcissistic cheater—all they did, all day every day, was work out and place booty calls. And apparently I've come to hold this against an entire profession. Firemen will always bottom my list of Guys I Don't Want My Friends to Even Know, Let Alone Date. Their similar freedom from supervision have made me skeptical of stay-at-home dads and realtors, as well. And several other professions have earned their way on to my radar.

Cops. Two kinds of people become cops: altruists and assholes. I have no problem with the former. My friends have only brought home the latter. My favorite was the guy who serially pulled over cute co-eds. His idea of a meet-cute. Charming.

Physical therapists. Where some guys are creeped out by male gynecologists, I'm creeped out by male PTs. This comes from my having dated two female PTs. Familiarity definitely bred contempt. About their male counterparts, both women reported a culture of scheming, preening creeps who, at best, boasted about feeling up their female patients and who, at worst, boasted about screwing them. Bonus demerits for the cadaver-penis sword fights staged in college.

Anything at Microsoft. Nothing good can come from this. True story: when I hired one of my students, Darcy, I told her "If you date a guy from Microsoft, you're fired." And I meant it. Having long since had my soul sucked out by these people, I'll be damned if I'm responsible for Darcy's intellectual, emotional and spiritual destruction, as well.

Bartenders. I don't actually have any data to substantiate this. This profession is just packed with so much potential for sexual conquest, I can't ignore it. If I were a creep, this is exactly how I would make my living.

thai leaders criticize woods

pga_g_earl1998_275.jpgAUGUSTA, GA  (Stank Press) - The backlash over two Amazing Race contestants saying that the only thing they know about Taiwan is that "we like Thai food" continues to ripple through the American Thai community, and their attention is focusing on half-Thai golfer Tiger Woods. Woods has typically avoided public lockstep with his ethnic community, a fact not lost on his fellow Thais. "We demand that CBS fire the contestants in question," says noted Thai rights leader Na Songkhla. "Their subsequently losing the competition is insufficient redress for this grotesque slight against our people. It's a shame that the most famous Thai in the world is so out of touch with his community. We demand that he publicly validate what we think."

NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown concurs, and then some. "Woods doesn't have the guts."

Brown reckons Woods is not outspoken because the golfer fears losing hundreds of millions of dollars in endorsements. "He waited until it was politically correct to come out when he should have come out right away. He should be in front of the cameras, decrying these comments with Pad Thai dangling from his mouth as a show of solidarity with his people."

Woods had no comment for this story. Typically gutless.

new math

Ever since I wrote the post about the IQ difference between me and Beth, one particular bit o' math has haunted me.

(My IQ - Nadine's IQ)2 < (Beth's IQ - My IQ)
I mean...you try to sleep at night.

conflict of interests

I've mentioned before that my living will stipulates that Allie controls my plug. I can't imagine anyone more predisposed to pulling it, so it's a win/win for everyone.

Meanwhile, my actual will directs her to spread my ashes over Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. This was merely annoying to her pre-9/11, but now that scattering white powder over a stadium will surely come with a penalty, she is decidedly unhappy. My will provides for her airfare, dust cropper rental and bail, but nothing satisfies the selfish little thing.

She does not want to be cuffed and stuffed because of me. It's recently occurred to her that her salvation lies in her dual role. "If you're in a coma," she coos, "I'm keeping your ass alive until I die." She thought it was the perfect solution.

While boating last week, I rounded a corner and came upon a nuclear submarine with a considerable military escort. Now I don't know what sort of boat al Qaeda fancies, but apparently it looks a lot like my own, 'cause I get boarded all the time by heavily armed teenagers looking a lot like the kids protecting this sub. I stopped my engines and called Allie in order to kill time. Appraised of my situation, she implored me to just cut a straight line, over the sub, to my slip.

"Best case, there won't even be a body for me to dispose of."

reader mail: four things

I glared at the oncoming road. "I hate my readers."

Allie chortled and drove on. No more really needed to be said. She knows.

"I really, really do."

You routinely call me, among other things, a fascist Bush apologist and a bleeding heart pinko. I've long considered my personal Holy Grail to be a single post that elicits both responses. So far, the closest I've come has been consecutive posts. I'll keep trying.

Monday's Four Things post achieved a sort of fame, though, in that it inspired seemingly opposite reader vitriol. No one could pass your tests, read some. No wonder you're a miserable fuck. Yet others took exception to the notion that anyone they have ever met would lie to them, fail to stop an animal from being abused, or have friends whose affection amounted to no less than a Nobel Peace Prize in homage.

To the former group, I say that these are indicators, not tests. If this were a test, I would fail too. There are no scores; there's no passing or failing. Get over your notions of judgment and think of this as anthropological observation. It's where someone falls on the continuum of human failing, and how they respond, that interests me. Over time, I've come to believe these four bits of data about a person tell me far more than the sum of their parts.

To the latter group, I obviously have nothing to offer. Go in peace. Or in contempt. The important thing, really, is that you just go.

cloverfield

When I bought my movie ticket yesterday, I was confident that Sarah would not call. She was deathly ill, and I was on ambulance duty. "Call me if you need a ride to the doctor," I'd said.

"Okay."

"Seriously. Don't be proud."

"Okay."

We both knew she would be exactly too proud, and shortly after I got my morning phone call ("Even though talking on the phone for 20 seconds utterly exhausts me, I'm well enough to drive a car for an hour"), I was sitting in a movie theatre. Bring on Cloverfield!

For the first twenty minutes of the movie, nothing happens. Just-too-cool, pretty 20-somethings Babble Importantly about the fluffy drama of their lives, as if any of them will even know one another into their 30s. And then a monster attacks New York City. This is the exact moment Sarah called for a ride. She'd changed her mind.

On vibrate, my phone felt remarkably like a noisy, yet-unseen monster decapitating the Statue of Liberty. As if in response to the events on screen—no one told me this was a monster movie!—I stood bolt upright, without bending my knees, and I dashed from the theatre, never to return.

"Oh, go finish your movie," wheezed Sarah.

"It's okay," I said, suddenly overcome with concern for her well being. "I really wouldn't mind if those people never saw me again."

race or gender?

I was gonna file this under "Politics," but I decided "Rudeness" was more appropriate. Black women, prepare to have your intelligence insulted. My favorite part is where they say of the Obama vs. Clinton choice:

For these women, a unique, and most unexpected dilemma, presents itself: Should they vote their race, or should they vote their gender?

No other voting bloc in the country faces this choice.

Right. Except for a little demographic I like to call "white guys." Fantastic logic.

the only four things i need to know about you

Jane was a big believer in the seven-point status check. Upon meeting a man, she would scan him up and down, estimating his worth and divining his soul from such indicators as the shoes and watch he wore. Jane was religious about her status check. "I don't have to eat the whole pie to know what it tastes like," she declared. I doubtlessly failed her test. This pie hasn't worn a watch since he gave up working hard.

I have a status check of my own, but it's a tad less material. Old friends might recognize my criteria, for they probably came in the form of questions back when we were new friends. These are the only four things I need to know in order to know a person. Everything else, I think I can extrapolate from this.

Who are your friends and enemies? What is the worth of the people whose approval you value? Are they evil? Are they pointless, preening, narcissistic airheads? That is, do the wrong people like you? Do the wrong people dislike you? This suggests that you lack moral courage. And that suggests a crippling need for approval that people will exploit. A corollary: who are your heroes? Seeing who you admire tells me your values—who you'd like to be. If it's just Jesus or your parents, that indicates your world is pretty small. If you have no heroes, that tells me your world doesn't exist much past your own skin. And if your heroes are Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Rumi, that tells me you're from Seattle.


checklist.jpgWho was your big heartbreak? This criterion admittedly comes from observer bias. If you've never had your heart ripped out by its roots and stuffed into a Cuisinart on Puree, then you missed out on a part of life that is, in my estimation, crucial to fully developing humility and empathy. Life's buzzsaw has a way of taking off our rough edges. Or back to my original metaphor: having been pureed myself, I would die before I'd toss someone else into the blender. How about you?

How do you lie? We all lie every day. "I'm fine," we tell the cashier. "You look great," we tell the relative. But when I lay out my Burmese Liar Trap, do you tell me lies of omission? Do you insult my intelligence with misdirection? Or with bushels of superfluous detail designed to make the lie sound more real? Or with subject changes, such as criticisms of me? Do you try to win arguments with eleventh-hour, deus ex machina introductions of new "facts?" Do you so try to control people's perception of you that everything that comes out of your mouth is at least 37% bullshit? Beyond technique—which is largely a function of your intelligence and your respect for others' intelligence—there's genre. If you lie about what you do for a living, we know you're insecure about your professional worth. If you lie about your whereabouts last night or the gender of who you were with, we know you were, at best, sneaking around. And if you lie about doing something, we know it's more important to you to be thought a certain way than to actually be that way.

How do you react when others are harmed? When someone is cruel to the defenseless—say, a child or an animal—do you stop them? When you see a friend royally screw someone over, are you closer to renouncing the friendship or to saying "Well, they've always been nice to me" and retaining it? These are tests of your moral center. People with moral centers protect the defenseless and don't require that evil be perpetrated on themselves before they're moved to act.

I've shown you my measures of a person; now show me yours.

eyes the size of manhole covers

Elizabeth and I were preparing to watch a movie when one of us set some chocolates on my coffee table. In the time it took me to get drinks, the candy disappeared. It was unlikely, although not unprecedented, for Elizabeth to have scarfed that much candy that fast. I glared at Ed, who was in her bed, smacking her lips and all but picking her teeth with a toothpick. "Father," her eyes said gratefully, "That was exquisite. Thank you. You really should have had some, though."

Chocolate is, of course, poisonous to dogs. I poured Ed a bowl of milk and added a few tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide. "Would you like a little something to wash that down?" I cooed, for if I betrayed my rage Ed would have refused to drink anything I put in front of her. Ed slurped it down, and before long Elizabeth and I were sitting on my couch watching not a movie but Ed barfing on the balcony. Good times.

Properly escavated, Ed slinked back to her bed, and I had a new problem. On my patio was a tower of foamy puke about ten inches high and a foot in diameter. It was massive. Ever clever, I got a cookie sheet and slid it under the tower, more or less, and I carried the cookie sheet through the sliding glass door and into the living room. Kinda. What I actually did was ram the cookie sheet into the door frame, arresting my movement and causing the pile of puke to launch across the sheet toward an alarmed Elizabeth, seated not two feet away.

I wish I had a better ending to this tale. I somehow managed to stop the puke's once-promising ballistic trajectory. I will tell you this, though: I will never forget the look on Elizabeth's face.

172

I've always suspected that folks who disdain the worth of IQ tests are, in fact, merely displeased with their own score. "If the test treats you like that," I hear their mothers say, "Then it's not a very good test, is it?"

In my own family, we all know one another's scores. And I could have accurately stack-ranked its seven members based on visible evidence. But no one I know has an IQ more in-your-face than Beth, who might as well have had "172" tattooed on her forehead when we met as teenagers. And as if to demonstrate the IQ chasm between us, I was always far more interested in her score than she was. Obsessed, really. I would not rest until I beat her at something intellectual. I was accustomed to being The Smart One, and I would be damned if I was going to concede the belt without a fight.

Remember the scene in the Matrix when Neo, bored, fights the agents with one hand behind his back?

dunce cap.jpgBeth always tried to talk me out of yet another humiliating defeat, but the more losses I accrued, the greater my competitive zeal became. No matter the subject matter, I would hit an intellectual wall where relativity or calculus or reading music made no sense to me anymore. Beth had no such wall. She understood every subject perfectly, the first time, from capa to coda. I tried standardized tests. We took writing assessments. We raced to complete a maze printed on McDonald's children's menus. Loss, loss, loss. One time I famously lost a Cosmo quiz on What Guys Really Want in Bed.

"John, stop. I'm begging you. Stop doing this to yourself."

"Fuck you."

"Why is this so important to you? It's like me obsessing over beating you at arm-wrestling."

"Seriously. Fuck you."

As you can plainly see, dear reader, the IQ difference is observable even here. Don't tell me the tests don't mean anything.

Although three years my junior, Beth took the graduate school exam five years before I did. Sigh. Late one night, I checked the mail and found my scores awaiting me. And when I opened that mail, a most succulent, scrumptious, drop-dead gorgeous 800 greeted me. I had somehow blundered into a perfect score on the logic portion of the GRE.

2am, 2 schmay-schmem. I called Beth.

"WHAT DID YOU GET ON THE LOGIC SECTION OF THE GRE?"

"Um. Hi, John?"

"WHAT DID YOU GET ON THE LOGIC SECTION OF THE GRE?"

"Oh, honey, don't ask me that. I don't remember."

"DON'T CONDESCEND TO ME. WHAT DID YOU GET ON THE LOGIC SECTION OF THE GRE?"

"You don't want to know."

"I ASSURE YOU, I MOST DEFINITELY WANT TO KNOW."

She sighed, knowing I wasn't going to rest. "Okay. 800."

"ME TOO!" And phone in hand, I did a victory lap around the room, having finally—finally!—tied my brilliant persecutor. Oh thank god. It's over. I would never challenge her to an intellectual competition again. I would reboot my record and retire a very respectable 0-0-1. And she—

"That's great!" she said. "How many did you miss?"

I lowered my arms. "Hmm?"

"How many did you miss? Your score is curved based on the other folks taking the test."

I squinted at the document. "Two. I missed two."

"That's fantastic, John. Congratulations! I missed one, myself."

And thus did I retire from our competitions with a sterling 0-0-0 record.

the body

The apartment complex in which Mason and I used to live was atop a huge ravine. At the bottom of the ravine was a trickling creek that wasn't even big enough for a canoe, and on the other side of that was more ravine and another neighborhood. Just how elegant were these neighborhoods? Both sides of the creek were littered with abandoned appliances. I always wondered who undertook the task of carrying a washing machine down a ravine in order to save five bucks at the dump.

Our basketball court was next to the creek, and folks would tiptoe across the creek to play. In the tradition of humans who have to draw arbitrary distinctions to feel better about themselves, we thought the creek kids were beneath us. They were pure trash, thugs. Not like us.

One morning, Mason and I were shooting baskets when one shot, doubtlessly mine, hit the outside of the rim and ricocheted toward the creek. Mason lunged after it, chasing it to the edge of a little rise, where he abruptly stopped. I caught up and gaped at what had caught his attention. Abandoned next to the creek, like so many appliances, was a body. He was maybe 15. His shoes were gone.

We didn't recognize the kid him from a distance, and we weren't exactly rushing down there for a closer look. Instead, we debated at length who was putting himself more at risk: a black guy calling the police and thereby ensuring himself a perp walk and hose bath, or a white guy calling the police and thereby ensuring that the culprit would eagerly dump said white guy's body between the Frigidaire and the Maytag dryer. It was a lively, unresolvable debate—a ghetto Zen koan.

"What makes you think whoever killed him was black, anyway?" Mason retorted.

"Because I didn't do it."

"Oh. Right," he nodded, still looking at the kid.

And so it went for several minutes, until the kid, his daydreams in the sunny spot next to the creek disturbed by the ramblings of two nearby morons, stood up. He grabbed his shoes, put them on, and started toward the creek.

"Or there's that," Mason said.

polka dots

I've recently had a new conversational experience. I've written previously about being the only white guy in a social group. And in private, I've talked to the other members of that group, comparing notes about my situation vs. their own experiences with being a polka dot. But never before had I met another white dot with whom I could compare notes. The notes are astoundingly similar, right down to what we loathe (and miss) in milquetoast Seattle.

Interracial relationships are just plain different here. They don't really exist in any way familiar to me. If I talk to local black friends about race, you can bet they're from somewhere else. The topic is awkward here to the point of being thought, for lack of a better word, impolite. And while I certainly see the idealistic upside of a raceless existence, something's missing. Something I enjoy. Something I miss. Examining differences is critical thought. It's a way of engaging with another human being, of understanding, of becoming closer, of broadening one's own life. Black or white, these things are not often priorities in Seattle. Racially speaking, living in Seattle is like always vacationing where you've already been. It's affirming, but are you exploring? Are you learning anything? Are you having as much fun as you could?

I feel it most strongly not when I'm here, but there. When I'm home in Columbus and I'm mercilessly teased. Or when a stranger in a Detroit bar confides in me that the cops he fears most "aren't the white guys, but the brother man," and talks at length about absurdly complex problems I will never face and would otherwise not know about. Or when I find myself a polka dot in St. Louis or Pittsburgh or Miami and I receive the familiar, if nameless, nod of reassurance that I've given and received most of my life, from both sides of the polka dot equation.

We don't do that here. It's impolite. Or maybe it's as one friend once sighed: "Everyone here is repressed. Why would we be any different?"

That's affirming. I guess.

your cheating heart

Predictably, by far the most common answer to yesterday's survey was "cheating." You also mentioned rape, incest, lying of any kind, lying about money, prolonged unemployment, physical abuse, cruelty to animals, drug addiction, porn, and strip clubs, among others.

With regard to cheating, men were categorical about it. No cheating of any kind. Period. Fini. We're simple that way. Women, however, often qualified it: not if it's serial, not if it's more than once, not if it's more than one partner, not if it's love. Much allowance was given for a single drunken mistake. I'm tempted to write one Stank troll's husband and let him know he's got one "get out of jail free card" coming to him.

It's not often I identify more with men than with women, but here I toe the gender line. One and we're done. The details don't remotely interest me; in fact, after the Big, Stinky Detail is revealed, I'd rather not hear any more. Does that make men less tolerant than women? More possessive? Less inclined to rationalize away betrayal? Maybe.

dump truck

Could your significant other do something so heinous, there's no way you could rationalize forgiving them? It seems an obvious question, yet women stay with wife-abusers, kid-abusers, even murderers (!), all of the time. Me, I don't bear grudges in a relationship—not for the cumulative little stuff. What we argued about last year isn't interesting to me. So in that regard, I'm forgiving. But for major betrayals, I'd be backing up the dump truck so fast, its beep-beep-beep would sound like a smoke alarm going off.

It's this slippery notion of "major" betrayal that inspires today's survey. Have at it. Addendum: I added gender. The responses seem to be polarizing on gender lines.

reader mail: ed and the whales

One of the many "Ed" responses to last week's "What should I write about?" survey suggested that, if possible, I should write about both Ed and whales. Only one such story is possible, but for what it's worth, here it is.

It was 2005. I'd been reading reports about a half dozen orcas who had been raising hell with the seal population all over Hood Canal's 70 miles. I'd gone looking for them several times, but even enormous underwater animals proved damned hard to find overwater. At this point, it became a grudge. I packed my idiot dog and her food into my boat and resolved not to come back until there be whales.

Ed was a grudging partner. She tolerated the boat. It was something she did because I, not she, enjoyed it. (Enter a blowjob joke here.) But she was game, and after a fruitless day of searching we moored at a slip at the south end of the canal and spent the night. She was relieved that the constant pounding of the boat relented for a time.

The next morning we set out again, and within five minutes we saw a furious, violent thrashing in the water ahead of us. There was no doubt that we were not only seeing the orcas but that we were seeing them hunt. I stopped several hundred yards away. These were mammal-eating transients, not the tofu-and-sprout-eating local resident orcas. I dropped my hydrophone into the water, and Ed and I listened to their excited chatter. And then they noticed us.

Two enormous adults headed right at us, repeatedly breaching into the air as they lunged in a straight line toward my increasingly tiny boat. I did the math.

Boat: not quite 2000 pounds when wet.
Two mammal-eating orcas: 24,000 pounds.
I fucking hate math. As I called in the sighting and attempted to film the action on my camera, the whales went all Jaws on me, plowing through the surface of the water, like torpedoes bull-rushing the side of my boat. I cannot begin to explain how primal your feelings become when a carnivore this huge and powerful takes such an aggressive interest in you. You feel utterly fragile and so, so slow. Yes, I knew they weren't going to eat me. And I knew they probably wouldn't sink me. I knew these things. I just couldn't feel them.

I watched them plow all the way to the side of my boat. I never saw them veer. I braced for the inevitable impact. Ed, meanwhile, noticed the whales and hung herself out the side window. And just before the first whale glided gracefully under the boat—with a wad of bloody, pulpy seal remains visibly clenched in her mouth like a gum bubble—she rolled to her side to look at my idiot dog. Her eye couldn't have been a yard away from Ed's dangling legs and head.

Ca-righst. Does Ed look like a seal hung on a hook? The whale wasn't scoping me out, after all. The two females headed off into the sunrise, chattering away, perhaps speculating about the hairy, curiously retarded seal they'd just seen. And I realized I was supporting my weight with my arms, lest my knees collapse.

• • •

Here's a clip of me calling in the sighting. I'll warn you now that my camera's 30-second limitation kicked in just as it was getting interesting. This clip is more remarkable for demonstrating Ed's aforementioned retardation.

overtaken by events

I realize Sunday newspapers are printed well in advance, but in this case a reprint just miiiiight have been tasteful.

Did anyone else recoil at the sight of this week's Parade magazine cover? Two weeks after her murder by Islamic extremists, Parade declared Benazir Bhutto "America's best hope against al Qaeda" and "what the terrorists fear most." Now that's journalism.

Clap. Clap. Clap.

The first time the AW and I ate at Holly Hill Gardens, we, like everyone, were dazzled by the beauty of the landscaping and the warmth of the restaurant area. Lousy with doilies, mood lighting, and $9 jars of jelly, Holly Hill is the quintessential Best Places to Kiss kind of restaurant.

The kitchen is closet-sized and nestled in the corner of the seating area. If you want, while you dine you can watch the cook pivoting from sink to stove to cutting board. Perhaps the best of the cooks is the owner, Stan. Stan looks like a jovial hippie burnout who, more to his surprise than anyone else's, somehow managed to survive ingesting truckloads of drugs in the 60s and 70s. And not flatbeds, either. Big rigs.

On our first visit there, the AW and I sat outside in the gardens. She ordered an omelet. It was bland. Not finding salt and pepper on the table, she asked the server for some. Stan stormed outside to our table, sans salt and pepper, and demanded to know what was wrong with her eggs. "Eep," said the AW.

The waitress apologized and explained that Stan is, in fact, pretty much an asshole. He had screamed at her for trying to sneak seasoning out the door. She is banned from putting salt and pepper on the tables, as he's already seasoned the food perfectly for all possible palettes.

"Can you get me some ketchup?" I asked her.

She shuddered, hoping this was just an unfunny joke. "N-N-No."

• • •

Book in hand, I was dining alone at Holly Hill one day. Sarah was there, ignoring me so that she could attend to the party of 8 behind me. Stan was in the kitchen, positively enraged that nine assholes presumed to give him money all at once.

At the large table was a child, maybe 5 years old. Old enough to know better. He soon started making bratty noises, and slowly but surely he crescendoed into a full-on, bratty wail. The kid's cry was piercing, obnoxious. And then Stan blew. Everyone in the restaurant leaped in their seat at the sound of Stan's scream. It was an explosion of pure, malevolent rage.

"OH, HELL NO!" he bellowed from the kitchen, pointing a bloody 10-inch chef's knife directly at the child. "NOT IN HERE!"

I'll give Stan this: the child immediately shut up. As did the parents. And Sarah. And me. I was deliberating whether Stan was a hero or villain when I glanced at Sarah. She looked back meaningfully, then buried her face in her hands in the international sign for "Fuck me. I just worked today for free."

We look back on this as the day we bonded. We're war buddies now. Terror and violence do tend to have a cohesive effect. And Stan? He doesn't remember the incident. Maybe it's all the drugs. Or maybe it just wasn't unusual enough to make bar. Wistfully, I choose the latter.

feeling it comes last

The survey results are in, and although I didn't gather any great ideas for the next great masterwork (Your #1 request is a whole book about Ed? Seriously? "Chapter 17: Coming home to discover Lake Pissicaca"), there were a few suggestions that at least merit exploration here.

for me, I've always been curious about that post where you and a new girlfriend were out and you were both hedging about shitty childhoods. You said something in that post about 'you just decide to get over it.' And I don't know how you've gotten from there to here, but on a number of occasions, I've wanted to have a drink with you and ask you that question.
A drink? Sorry, nowadays I only drink to excess.

I'm afraid there's no secret for me to share. It just is. I didn't decide to get over anything. It was more of a philosophical change that evolved over time, when I recognized that by letting my family affect me, I was complicit in, even integral to, my own misery. There was no therapy, no self-help book, no great epiphany that led me to that point. I just got fed up enough that I said "fuck 'em." They did all the hard work.

If there was one seminal moment where someone articulated this notion to me, I know exactly when it was. It was actually years after I told my family to piss off, in the immediate Fucking Amy aftermath. I was reeling and despondent, and Beth's was the shoulder I saturated most. She was unfailingly patient and caring. I don't know how someone can listen to that much psychotic hurt, over and over and over, without seriously investigating a murder-suicide thing. But she did. She probably logged two man-months of listening to me whine pitiably. Finally, after lasting much longer than a lesser person possibly could have, the Most Intelligent Person I've Ever Known gently booted me in the ass.

"John, I want to say something. And I want you think about it before you respond."

"Okay..."

"If this chick ruins your life, whose fault is that, really?"

Harsh. Dead on, but harsh. And I didn't get it immediately; I heard it but couldn't feel it. Which is why TMIPIEK insisted that I think about it for while. By then she was accustomed to pausing so I could catch up.

pulp friction

For the first time since the Travel Channel started airing the World Poker Tour and shattering ratings records in 2003, I ventured into a poker room last week. It's saddening. Gone are the games I loved. Gone are the characters I loved even more. Everyone's younger, dumber, ruder. They only want to play what they see on TV. They only know how to play what they see on TV. It made me positively ache for yesteryear.

Like this one time...

A buddy and I were playing at a Stud table in the Plaza, a true shithole of a poker room off Fremont Street in Vegas. I was grinding along, amassing a nice stack of chips a little at a time. I played well that day. I didn't chase hands, and if I went to the river—the final card—you could pretty much bet you should have folded a few raises ago.

Seated far from me but next to my buddy was someone who could be a character from...from...a literary reference fails me. The man clearly lived in the Nevada sun his whole life. He seemed about 60, but after so much irradiation, who can really tell? Cows' skin is less leathery than his. Permanently the color of peanut butter, the man had a great shock of white hair sprouting out of his scalp and ears. He was unshaven, and one suspected that if he actually took a razor to the many ridges of his face, carnage would ensue. He wore the same faded, tattered jeans and flannel shirt he'd been wearing since Roosevelt's first term. Teddy Roosevelt's. He capped the ensemble with a mangled straw cowboy hat, snakeskin boots into which he tucked his jeans, and a gigantic silver and turquoise belt buckle. When I would raise, he glared at me with one good eye. His left eye had seemingly been punctured by a pencil. Yet there it was on proud display, ancient gray pulp with the remnants of a hole in it, staring at us all from its socket.

He was also a poor player. My stack dwarfed his, and I mercilessly raised into him all night long. I pulled out all the stops, checkraising, feinting, buying pots. I could tell he was getting discouraged by my aggression and good luck. Suddenly, security came to the table and forcibly escorted Ol' Pulpy away. He did not go away lightly. To my ever-mounting surprise, he pointed his scaly finger at me, screaming that he'd slit my throat in my sleep. Me? Me? What did I do? I didn't have him thrown out of the Plaza.

No, my buddy had. Apparently that last threat was one but one of many Pulpy had issued upon my person, not suspecting that the other player in whom he was confiding was, in fact, the friend of his intended victim. I had been blissfully unaware. It was all well and fun for my buddy—who was saving up anecdotes with which to regale me later, if I lived—but when Pulpy snarled something about finding out where I was staying, that's when my travel companion selflessly rushed to action. My hero.

no good deed

When Dorkass and I were each furiously dating, we somehow ended up spending every Friday night together. We certainly never planned to. It just happened that way. We killed time together by killing one another, specifically in the old Nintendo 64 game GoldenEye. Many hours that would otherwise be spent lamenting one or both of us being stood up were instead spent pumping one another full of bullets. And grenades. And rockets. And proximity mines. And we saw that it was good.

goldeneye-03.jpg

A few weeks ago, we were reminiscing about GoldenEye. We'd each long since discarded our old N64s, but I got to wondering: how much could a 12 year old machine possibly cost? And thus did I agree to buy an N64 and GoldenEye if Dorkass would take a boat to my house. And she did. And we ate cake and killed one another countless times. And it was good again.

"Be sure to write in your stupid blog that I came out here for this," she chided, shortly before tripping over a cable and breaking my newly acquired machine.

No problem, numbnut. Consider it written.

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