July 2008 Archives

where credit is due

You know that money I owe you? That book I borrowed and never gave back?

No. You don't. Unless your name is Frank, who I owe a pizza, I don't owe you one goddamned thing.

The barbecue debacle 10 days ago got me thinking about how much money I accidentally spend on friends. It usually goes like this. We'll make plans. To facilitate things, I'll offer to pay for the groceries or tickets or whatever. They'll promise to pay me back. And then it never comes up again.

In most cases, it's honestly forgotten. Indeed, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it's my own fault for offering. So I'm going to knock that off. Shortly after the BBQ, I sent out reminder e-mails. So far I've collected five books, three DVDs, a chainsaw, and $1150 from seven different people. Today I received the record-holder returnee: my "Best of War" CD, lent in 1997.

Another guy owed me $480 for two years. He sees me all the time, yet I had to be a dick about it. Did he apologize for my having to ask him, two years later, to repay? Was he sheepish? Nope. Actually, he's pouting. Apparently it was a gift.

the seinfeld chronicles

During that glorious period of my life when I was mooching off my girlfriend, Maddie, there were inglorious bouts with something I've come to derisively call "employment."

One such lapse was my working as a chauffeur. The job was mostly nerve-wracking, as the general motoring public tends to go "Oh look! A limo!" and lurch toward the object of their focus. One might think I met a lot of celebrities, but for the most part I met frat boys who puked in the car and young newlyweds who forgot to tip.

There were two exceptions. I spent the longest day of my life with Miss Ohio, who, it turns out, is endlessly victimized by her own beauty. And then there was the gig for which I volunteered.

Maddie and I were huge stand-up comedy fans. We recorded Carson and Letterman every night, then watched them the next night over dinner. Among our favorite comics was one Jerry Seinfeld, who, low and behold, was playing Columbus that weekend. I asked for the job. No one contested. No one knew who he was.

And thus did I spend my weekend with Jerry Seinfeld, trying in vain to lug his luggage (he refused) and open his door (ditto). Instead, we talked. I broke the ice while hurtling down the interstate. I told him my girlfriend and I had caught his act for years. "She thinks you're really cute," I growled and hit the door locks. "Kinda ironic, don't you think?"

We talked about traveling, about relationships, about celebrity. Mostly, we talked about stand-up. I caught his act twice, and afterward he grilled me about what worked and what didn't. I was amazed by how seriously he analyzed the comedic craft, with a stranger no less. You'd expect there to have been more joy in it, that maybe he would tell me about the sister or girlfriend who inspired his "cotton balls" routine. But no. He was a pleasant, serious professional.

He told me about the pilot he was making for NBC, but he clearly didn't expect much to come from it. It would be called "The Seinfeld Chronicles," and it would answer the question he's asked most often: "where do you get the ideas for your jokes?" The show would, of course, go on to lose both this premise and two words from its title.

Afterward I bragged endlessly to Maddie, who wanted to throttle me, and to friends, who had no idea who this guy was. In 1996, when I reconnected with one such friend, I reminded her of the time she was unimpressed with my celebrity weekend. She remembered, rolling her eyes a bit.

"That was Jerry Seinfeld," I said.

She plotzed.

• • •

18 months later, my ex-boss, the owner of the limo company, called me.

"DID YOU SEE WHAT SEINFELD IS ABOUT THIS WEEK?" he said. No, I hadn't. "The entire episode takes place in a limo! I wonder if you'll be in it?"

I wasn't. But I'll tell you this much: that was among the the longest six days of my life. Miss Ohio had nothing on Seinfeld.

the return of marge

I took the Jeep in for repairs, which meant the return of creepy-ass shuttle driver Marge into my life. When I called and arranged a shuttle, it had never occurred to me that Marge would still be alive and walking the streets. And then her van pulled down my driveway.

"Oh. Right. Shit."

We weren't out of Metamuville before Marge was railing about her cheatin' ex-husband. I didn't ask which one. You never ask a psychopath an open-ended question like that. She then rambled about her therapy sessions. I'd never before been so thankful to hear someone discuss the details of their therapy. Lest I be too relieved, her program includes hypnosis.

With about five miles to go and no end to the hypnosis thing in sight, I started to tune out. But Marge reeled me back in with perhaps the smartest idea I've heard in years. She's going to have her hypnotist convince her subconscious that she likes exercise.

I am so doing this.

"You will enjoy the treadmill. The treadmill is no longer the worst part of your day, but the best," he'll tell me.

"You will enjoy the treadmill. Every step you take on the treadmill is you wacking one of your ex-husbands," he'll tell Marge.

Best idea ever. Finally, a use for psychopaths.

batmen and robbin'

Mere days after I posted about keeping a baseball bat next to my bed, people I've met used their own. Go bat go!

Yep. Now I'm gonna be buried next to my bat.

reader mail

My mail this week fell into four categories:

Exactly three women suggested that my "other" arm be stowed under the woman's neck. I'm not sure if my female readers have Bluto necks or if their men simply have Olive Oyl arms, but in either case, this solution ain't working for me.

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legacies

Perhaps it's a flaw in my psyche, perhaps in the y chromosome, perhaps in the human genome. When a woman I like portrays herself as the faultless victim of other men's expectations and behavior, I buy her bullshit narrative completely. Tell me more, sweetie. He did what? Long after the cracks in her stories have become canyons, when things sour between us, only then does it occur to me that I will join that very same pantheon of infamous men. Of course I will. Why wouldn't I?

Knowing my bogus legacy so well drives me mad.

sales-job-interview-need-to-knows.jpgGirl A ridiculed her ex for crying when she dumped him, and I too mocked his manhood. Then I cried when she dumped me, and my place in history, I suspect, is quite secure. And deservedly so.

Girl B? The guys she cheated on were porn addicts or rage-a-holics who were this close (you can't see, but it's really close) to being physically abusive toward her. And then she cheated on me, I left, and I too was reviled as "scary."

Girl C was always used for sex by guys, then thrown away. She liked me because I was different. I would change her life. So what did she say after I dumped her for being a chronic imbecile? I have a guess.

Girl D cheats on guys because of their deep emotional problems. And now I wonder which of my pathologies caused her to cheat on me.

And on and on. I'm by no means a model human, but I do tend toward treating women with respect. It would be swell to get some return on that particular investment, but I'm not holding my breath.

They say the cardinal sin in a job interview is to bad-mouth your former employer. Your interviewers will rightly see themselves as future objects of your scorn. This makes sense. I never do it, and when I'm interviewing candidates, red-flags pop up when they do.

Would that this foresight extended to all parts of my life.

you'll really like them

Two great mysteries vex me.

1) What is a guy supposed to do with his extra arm while spooning? His choices are to lie on it, which lasts about 4 minutes until the embolism occurs, or to contort it awkwardly over his head, thereby wrenching it out of its socket. Both are painful. Guys, any solutions? Amputation is on the table.

2) How did Whole Foods ever earn its halo? I've never had a meal originally purchased there that wasn't conspicuous in its utter flavorlessness. The Louisiana Hot Sausage tasted exactly like the bangers I bought for the kids, which is to say, like Indianapolis tap water. The meat sucks. The produce sucks. The choices of staples suck. And the people who shop there are plastic, pretentious, tasteless, soulless fucks who suck.


You ain't artsier than me
'Cause you only read books, don't watch tv.
You ain't artsier than me
'Cause you shop at Whole Foods
In open-toed shoes

- "Artsy" by eDIT with the Grouch


"My neighbors are coming," Kelly told me. "They're a hoot. You'll really like them."

Why do people promise me this? I hate everyone.

I didn't pay attention to their names during the introductions, so let's call them Ken and Barbie. While I prepped bland food in the kitchen, they and our hosts stood on the deck and drank wine. At one point I expressed hope that Whole Foods would come through, for once, and you would have thought I'd insulted Barbie's messiah. "I LOVE WHOLE FOODS WHAT'S WRONG WITH WHOLE FOODS?" I told her that the food sucks. She concluded that yes, she could see why I wouldn't want to go there. "Yes, they're very expensive."

It was officially time to pay attention to Barbie. She's your prototypical eastside kept woman, with her freakishly unnatural yellow hair, Versace capris (!), and yes, open toed shoes. At Whole Foods, I had just been bumped into, without acknowledgment, by a dozen of her self-centered ilk. I know Barbie.

After meditating on my single status for everyone's amusement, she moved on to dogs. In that among the options I'm considering is getting a purebred dog, I am the devil. "There are so many puppies available for adoption, we'll be sure to find you one," she said. "Don't get a purebred. That's irresponsible and I could never do that when the world has so—"

I was then I stopped listening. I have this speech memorized. As this stranger shoved food that I'd purchased and prepared for her into her cry-hole, I reflected that she's a living metaphor. She actually bit that hand that was in the process of feeding her.


If you're cool with me, then I'll look past the void in you.

- Same song

gratitude

Two weeks ago, my co-worker Kelly had a family emergency that required that she fly off immediately. This left her husband in a stressful situation where he was watching their two kids, one of whom is autistic and requires undivided attention, while trying to work from home. Kelly was freaking out and asked me to take him beer and verify that the kids were alive. It seemed kinda invasive and insulting, but I did. I embarked on a 5 hour round-trip to their house with $120 in groceries and alcohol.

Two days ago, to thank me for that effort, Kelly invited me for dinner. "We're grill challenged," she said. "Can you cook?" Um, sure. I'll stop and pick up stuff en route. And thus did I buy another $85 in groceries and courier it five hours to their house.

Where I spent the evening cooking for my hosts. And their neighbors. While they talked and drank in another room. And at the end of the day, I was lauded for all my expense and effort. Lauded. As in not compensated.

To summarize, my thank you for driving five hours and buying them $120 in groceries was to drive 5 hours with $85 more in groceries and refine said groceries into a meal for them and their neighbors. I suppose I should be grateful that I didn't have to clean up.

Lauded.

"Please," I said. "I can't afford any more of your gratitude."

i, phone

"I want to have sex with this phone," I purred into my new iPhone.

"HANG UP! HANG UP FIRST!" said the person on the line.

What a marvelous, life-transforming piece of technology. This is not, as I would have thought, merely a phone with a couple of extra features. It's whatever I want it to be. Thanks to the App Store, I've easily installed free features that are already changing my life in ways both subtle and not so.

An app that uses GPS to determine the nearest bus stop (and route, from where I am to where I want to be) is perhaps the most practical, or it would be if I ever deigned to use Seattle's shitty public transportation system. By far the most amazing free app is Shazam, which listens to any song and correctly identifies its title and author within seconds. Useless? Yep. And irresistible. There are thousands of these apps.

The GPS and Web-browsing features combine to allow me to watch "me" drive across satellite photos in real time. While practical, especially when I plot my destination, too, this turns out to be dangerous. Sometimes virtual-me swerves off the road to the right, and real-me compensates by lunging left of center. Ah, progress.

gps.jpg

term limits

With all due respect to Mr. Sedaris, the single funniest line I've read this year comes from Lewis Black's new book:

"It would be nice to be in a relationship with a woman who might carry my child to term."

the bat

When d'Andre and Pam visited a few years ago, I gave them the nickel tour of my house. d ridiculed me unremittingly, as is his wont, and Pam heaped supportive praise upon me, as is hers. Until we got to the master bedroom.

"Jee. Zus. Christ." She was staring at my baseball bat. Apparently her husband sleeps next to one just like it. And thus did their point of contention overflow into my life.

The following dialogue ensued.

We need them for safety,
we explained.

You can afford a gun and a security system, she countered.

We'll take them, too, but we're keeping our baseball bats. Besides, that stuff is antiseptic. I want the satisfaction of hearing skull cracking.

I get why you had them back in the day, but now you both live in neighborhoods that haven't had a violent crime since the 30s. The 1730s.

But that's Edgar Martinez's bat!

It still doesn't belong in this otherwise lovely room. Everything's so tasteful and elegant, and then there's...this...club.

d'Andre and I argued with Pam for a while that the bats are, in fact, absolutely necessary for a good night's sleep. And then we argued with one another about whether "down comforter" or "ghetto tazer" was the better term.

Three years later, both bats remain permanent parts of the respective decors.

i have nothing for you people

So watch this instead. It's been cheering me up all week.

easy being green

My team at Microsoft has moved to a new building on a new campus. I'll skip the architectural review and get straight to what most annoys me. It's a "green" building.

Green, I discovered yesterday, means that the kitchens are stocked with compostable paper cups. Imagine, if you will, what happens to a compostable paper cup when it's left half-filled on a desk for a week. Ironically, that compostable paper cup required that I throw out about three reams of paper.

And then there are the low-flow, we-flush-for-you, planet saving toilets. Someday I hope to see one that isn't already packed with well-marinated feces. The toilets' flush success rate is simply not up to Western standards, and there's no way to manually compensate.

It's a worthless idea, ineptly executed and imposed on people who never asked for it, and now we're all standing in untold volumes of shit. Why, it's almost like we made these toilets ourselves.

• • •

Epilogue
Longtime Stank troll (and, lamentably, recent co-worker) Chris says:

You forgot to mention the compostable "plastic" spoons that melt when exposed to hot fluids like coffee or tea

physics is our friend

Perhaps it's because my dad and I connected so few times that I remember this so vividly. We were all on his boat: him, me, my idiot stepmother, and my stepsister Erin, who was my age. At 15, Erin had already been arrested more times than I can accurately remember. 10 times? 12? 30? I don't know.

Despite her predilection for kicking my dad in the nuts, I hated her. The day we met, at their home in L.A., 10 year old Erin had put cigarette butts in the bathroom toilet. "LOOK AT WHAT JOHN DID!" she screamed gleefully. My dad glared into the toilet, then at Erin. "Man, did you ever just try to frame the wrong kid in the wrong way." And then he beat the crap out of her.

My relationship with Erin remains unchanged to this day.

So anyway, five years later, we're speeding along on Dad's boat, and Erin is reclined on its stern, lying just above the props. Her mother screamed at her. "Erin! Get down! If you fall off you'll hit the propellers!"

Erin rolled her eyes. "Duh. If I fall off, the boat will just move away and I'll miss the propellers."

My stepmother turned to my aeronautical engineer father. "Is that true?"

My dad took a beat longer than I'd expected. "Yes. Yes, that's right. The boat will move away."

And then he squinted at me, subtley shaking his head in the international sign for Don't you dare say a word.

• • •

I just told that story to Allie. "That's the first story about your father where I see any of you in him," she said, not particularly meaning it as a compliment.

life lesson i've learned too late

No matter how tempting the proximity of the firepit is, on the 5th of July, never dispose of spent firework casings by throwing them in a bonfire. "Spent" is a relative term, it turns out.

491.jpg

stack-ranking prejudice

A self-described "very liberal" former student observed the following about the upcoming election. Of McCain, she remarked "I could never vote for someone that old." She said this in the same faux circumspect manner that someone of my parents' generation would say they wouldn't vote for someone black. Hearing this, Kate and I looked at one another. True, our country hasn't exactly discriminated against old white farts running for President, but still, the parallel tone made the the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Hers too.

This led to an exercise. "Stack-rank the following demographics in terms of most likely to be elected President to least likely," Kate said later. The candidates:

a woman, a Jew, a Muslim, an Asian, a Hispanic, a gay man, a lesbian, and an atheist.
"It sounds like a setup for a really ambitious joke," I said. "A woman, Jew, Muslim, Asian, Hispanic, gay guy, lesbian, and atheist walk into a bar..."

We assumed mutual exclusivity. That is, the "woman" is straight and white and walks with Jesus. I made my list.

Asian
Jew
Hispanic
Woman
Athiest
Gay man
Lesbian
Muslim
Kate, a white 39 year old woman, made hers.
Hispanic
Woman
Asian
Jew
Lesbian (if she was quiet about it)
atheist
gay man
Muslim
A lively discussion ensued. Hispanics will be a huge voting bloc. There aren't that many Asian politicians. Why the gap between gay man and lesbian? Lesbians have two demographic strikes against them (woman and gay), but a lesbian will be considered a stronger leader than a "pansy" gay man. A year ago, I would have ranked "black man" about sixth.

And then I sent the question on to Mark, a 40ish white gay man. His list was identical to mine. "Where would you put handicapped?" he asked. "FDR didn't have to deal with TV." Okay, um, I'll put paraplegic after "woman." One thing all three of us agreed upon: there's an invisible line bisecting this list. The line divides "could happen" to "not if I lived to be 200 would I ever see this." And all three of us place the line after the top 4 (5 if you count handicapped).

Then I sent the list on to the 22 year old white girl who started this all. Her response:

woman
Jew
atheist
Asian
lesbian
gay man
Hispanic
Muslim
She shatters the imaginary line. And clearly, she's smoking crack about Hispanics. And I wonder if any demographic would put Muslims anywhere but dead last? Like Mark, she wanted to add one: "Where would you put really ugly person?"

Sigh. Goddammit. Okay, my final list:

Asian
Jew
Hispanic
Woman
paraplegic
Atheist
really ugly person
-----------------
Gay man
Lesbian
Muslim
with a "never in my lifetime" line after "ugly." To my mind, the order of the things above the line is pretty pointless. All a group needs is its own Obama, and it has its candidate, but who saw him coming, really?

I'm especially interested in the opinions of folks not represented by our pasty white panel of four. Any ugly lesbian Muslim Asians out there? Shoot me your list.

helmut

Dirt and Kiki are back from Arizona after a year away, and again the air is filled with smoke. I pulled the Jeep into their driveway the other night, a fistful of Ashtons in my hand. Their geriatric German Shepherd, Helmut, trotted out to greet me. Normally reserved, this time he beamed. There's no smile like a dog's when they're genuinely thrilled to see you. I skritched his ears for a good minute while he whimpered with pleasure, and then I stood up to go do the same to Dirt.

dirt.jpg

Helmut stuck his massive head into the Jeep and looked in the back. And I felt all of the wind go out of me. I'm sorry, boy. She's not there.

With no wiggling Ed to greet him, Helmut walked over to the deck, sighed dejectedly, and slumped in a heap for the rest of the evening. "Yeah," I said. "I know the feeling."

career highlight

"Don't say that you were reading Entertainment Weekly," Blondage advised. "You'll get ridiculed."

So anyway, I'm in the hot tub—sipping a '77 tawny, wearing a top hat and reading the New Yorker—when I come across a cartoon. It's about the guilt we feel about not reading enough. It's mildly amusing...until I come across this panel:

win98manuals_sm.jpg

To summarize: out of all of printed history—out of the entire spectrum of possible books the artist could have selected as representatives of hellish reading—she chose L'Amour, low-carb cookbooks, and something I wrote.

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