June 2010 Archives

hoarse

I don't know if this is a universal truth, but Mike sure crystalized my situation. His observation about my former love interest and my coming to terms with her all-consuming need for comforting fictions about her life:

"It's a nauseating experience, to accept that someone you've loved is actually so broken that she can't possibly understand you. You might as well shout into the wind."

rimshot

So when you call your sibling for the first time in six years, try this ice-breaker:

"What's it been, six years?" he asked.

"Yeah. When Dad died. We haven't had a third parent croak, so that seems about right."

"Ha ha. So, man, how are you?"

"Well, funny you should ask. I need a kidney."

[exquisite silence]

2458.6 miles

I called my brother in Ohio this weekend.

"What's it been, six years?" he asked.

"Yeah. When Dad died. We haven't had a third parent croak, so that seems about right."

At issue was our mentally ill sister, who is bottoming out. I thought it was time for some coordination of our separate efforts to help her. Still, it took several weeks of bracing for me to place this call.

"What's the over/under on the first time he mentions Jesus?" I asked Heather. "And what is it for his first racist remark? I say inside of 10 minutes for both. You pay me triple if he gets both things in the same sentence."

"He won't really say that stuff, will he? He hasn't spoken to you in six years!"

"I'll put you down for over, then."

For the record, "May God bless you and keep you" is on his answering machine greeting, which I had to endure while he screened the call. And the first racist comment came in at a blazing four minutes, seventeen seconds.

You will never go broke betting against my family.

relationship debris

My life is very meta. Here I am talking about one ex with another.

Me: "Maddie writes me that she now works near where my mom and I used to live, and that she often takes her dog to MacGuyver Park (where a teenage me took my dog), and that she always thinks of me when she's there. I suppose it would be rude of me to respond that I have zero recollection of ever having mentioned that park to her, let alone taking her there?"

Allie: "It's sweet she even thinks of you. Don't ruin it by being yourself."

Me: "Curiously, I remember going there with Celeste. I'll mention that too."

• • •

Celeste was Maddie's immediate predecessor. If a girlfriend is guaranteed to resent anyone, it's her immediate predecessor. I've always found that more cute than annoying, but the disturbing thing is that it outlasts the relationship. Maddie still resents Celeste. What is that? I don't still resent Dean Cain. Much.

i bet

Snippets from this morning's AP article:

MARS, Pa. (AP) -- Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has run the camp at Mars Area High School the last two years, but begged off after offseason legal problems that saw him accused of rape at a Georgia nightclub in March, but not prosecuted.

Camper Bethany Carcaise, of Illinois, says she misses Roethlisberger "because he used to play with us more. He acted like a kid."

the magical restorative powers of x-rays

Dex injured her tail Saturday night at a beach party. All day Sunday, it bent midway at a grotesque right angle. She was unable to wag it, in obvious agony, and unambiguous about not wanting me to touch it. So on Monday, I agreed to pay the vet "emergency" rates if she would squeeze me in. She took $200 in x-rays. The moment my credit card cleared, Dex started wagging her tail furiously, seemingly unhurt.

Is it the x-rays that are the medicinal miracle, or is it the cash? 'Cause I can PayPal her care next time.

junk bonds

Ordinarily, I'd be all over making fun of Dorkass' little sister. But this time, my heart wasn't in it. The topic: her annoying romantic choices.

Yep. I was real quiet. So quiet, you could hear a glass house drop.

Lately I've given thought to my own annoying choices, my own poor investments of myself. When I'm in deep, I work hard and pay attention. I listen and internalize what she's saying. I wriggle around inside her mind until I know not only what she loves today, but what she will love tomorrow. (Curiously, this seldom seems to include me.) And then tomorrow comes, and my yield on that investment reveals itself to me.

To just me.

"I wonder if x knows that her favorite chef opened up a tapas place that's lousy with goat cheese and artichokes? I'll send her a quick—oh. Right. She'll probably just use that text to generate a month of drama. Never mind."

or

"Wow! y would absolutely love to go to this show! What are the odds that her two favorite performers would share a stage? I should totally grab some tick—oh. Right. She slandered me good and proper. Never mind."

or

"These earrings are a perfect match for z's gold necklace. Holy crap. She would flip out! I should grab them before—oh. Right. She couldn't keep her knees together."


At least you can write off asinine financial investments and be done with them. These errors, on the other hand, just keep shedding precious capital in perpetuity.

When I set out last week to find dueling images of W. and Obama being cast as Hitler, I knew, of course, that I would find many. This is what humans do. When melodramatic slander (where we are victims, yet) is possible, mere disagreement simply will not suffice.

What I wasn't expecting was to find the exact same Hitler image retouched to slander both presidents. Plagiarized ad hominem—a more pathetic statement about the state of modern conversation, I cannot conjure.

Do you suppose that in Hitler's day, people felt they had to compare him to anyone else in order to make their point?


brand identity

I accidentally put both feet into the world of brandom when I bought a P.O.S. truck to tow my boat once a year. It is 23 years old, worth maybe a grand, and I don't trust it to go 40 feet without breaking down. And when it does break down, that is one repair that's exceptionally hard to authorize. This truck means less than nothing to me. It's a glorified crescent wrench.

"Oh, good! You got a Ford!" some guy will coo approvingly, fussing over the longevity of this particular Ford.

I glance at the logo on the side of the truck to make sure it's indeed a Ford. "Uh, yep."

-i558.photobucket.com-albums-ss25-jboyle88-calchvy.jpgAnd then he'll wax about how much Chevy and "rice-burner" trucks suck by comparison. Except he won't actually tell me why they suck. Just that they do. Because this is important. To him. Because he roots for brands the way you and I root for sports teams.

ipad_blender.jpgIt works the other way, too. I own four Windows machines, a PS3, an X-Box 360, and two Apple products: an iPhone and iPad. I am routinely derided as an Apple fanboy. "Um, there wasn't even a competing product when I bought those. Still isn't for the iPad. Am I supposed to throw them out?"

"The iPad is so stupid. It doesn't even support Flash or USB," they'll always reply.

"You'd be surprised how seldom that comes up. Like, never. But if it ever does, I have no shortage of devices I can use."

"You shouldn't have to. It's useless," they sniff, basking in their expertise on matters they know nothing about.

In one way, this is nothing new to me. I work at Microsoft, where the Zune is still hailed as a superior alternative to that ridiculous piece of crap that is the iPod. But that's almost understandable. Microsoft values us, and for that to be worth anything whatsoever to our self-esteem, Microsoft cannot be this mistaken. That, I get. I mock, but I get.

Perhaps I'm just increasingly aware of it, but it seems that people in general are increasingly becoming emotionally invested in corporate brands. Ford over Chevy. Nike over Reebok. Coke over Pepsi. Krispy Kreme over everything. Everything over iPhone. Something that doesn't exist yet over iPad. DNC over GOP. Vice-versa.

obamabush.jpg

Receiving validation from my brand choice, or being invalidated by yours, strikes me as an extension of my elementary-school bus stop, where we ruthlessly assessed one another's possessions and their implications for our character. It's rather unbecoming of adults. As a rule of thumb, I humbly submit that it's mentally healthier, not to mention cheaper, to value things that aren't advertised.

reader mail: the seattle police

Troublemaking Stank troll Jean asks me what I think of the recent controversies with the Seattle Police. Meanwhile, d'Andre and Allie both send me this clip. That's when this job is easiest: when y'all do it for me.

Of course, the clip isn't entirely relevant to the teenager who just got punched in the face. No where does Rock say "don't shove the arresting officer." So really, if you think about it, it's Rock's fault.

makehomosexualsmarry.org

I've long supported gay rights. This isn't so much out of a sense social justice as a deep inner need not to talk about gay rights anymore.

"You still want to get married? Jesus Christ. Knock yourselves out," I sneer, trying to hide my fear that they too will disappear down the rathole that's consumed a great many of my friends.

I must have gotten through, 'cause two gay friends sent me this clip in the last week with the message "It's like you made it." Which is nonsense, of course, because it would have been told from the viewpoint of their neglected straight friend.

Speaking of gay, I spent all day yesterday in my car listening to Glee albums. So long as Kurt's sexual orientation is a focus, they really need to watch which lines they have him sing.

In To Sir with Love, to his male teacher:
"What can I give you in return?"

In Anyway You Want It:
"Workin' hard to get my fill,
Everybody wants a thrill"

Mind you, if this was on purpose, I absolutely applaud. But somehow I think that's giving the the creators of the execrable Madonna episode too much benefit of the doubt.

the show

As I sat in the interview chair—my feet hurting from wearing non–slippers, my legs chafing from slacks, my dignity clearly left on the curb—it occurred to me how much like dating interviews are. For your consideration, I present a sanitized and idealized version of myself. I shall now pretend to be something I'm not so that you'll give me something you otherwise wouldn't. And I won't believe a single word you say, because I know you're doing likewise.

At least they paid for dinner.

The employees at my local Home Depot have clearly been told to let no customer walk fifteen feet without being bombarded with offers of help. Once in a while is fine, especially if I look confused, but they are relentless and indiscriminate.

"HiWelcometoHomeDepotHowCanIHelpYou?"

"Hi," I say, walking a third foot into the store.

"HiWelcometoHomeDepotHowCanIHelpYou?"

"Hi," I say, walking a seventh. And then I jog a little. Faster target, harder to hit.

When you're an English major trying to calculate how many beams, brackets and screws your new fence will require, three interruptions is a lethal dose. But seriously, what's the point of asking a customer who's looking at paint tiles how you can help him? Does that not invite exchanges like these?

"How can I help you?"
"Yes. Can you tell me where your paint tiles are?"
"Uh, right here?"
"Then I guess you can't help."
and
"How can I help you?"
"Yes. Can you pick a color that matches my bathroom vanity?"
"Uh."
"Then why did you ask?"
Both of which occurred within minutes of one another. Like a bad trial attorney, they never ask yes or no questions. It's never "good morning" or "this is my department, so give me a holler if you need anything." It's "What are you looking for, and what project are you doing?"

"I'm remodeling my basement. You remember that dungeon in Pulp Fiction?" I said in my imagination, just now, too late.

construction worker 9638.JPGI decided to complain about the constant interruptions. Ironically, the manager kept me waiting ten minutes. "I'd like to give you some customer feedback," I said. "It's obvious that there's an initiative for the employees to ask us if we need help, but they really need to dial it back. I can't walk fifteen feet without being interrupted. That's not helping me. It's distracting and exhausting. It's well intentioned, but it's just too much."

He winced at me with a disdain I'm reserving for when Dex craps in my creme brulee. Clearly, this stupid customer knows nothing about the customer service that he requires. "I'm sorry my employees disturbed you," he sniffed sarcastically and slowly walked away.

Wow. W-o-w. Condescended to by a 60-something still working at Home Depot. Ask me what you can do for me now, motherfucker.

Reason having failed, I now employ strategy. My phone is on my ear the whole time, which helps. I avoid the center aisle, which has become a gauntlet indistinguishable from a swirling swarm of strippers aggressively offering a lap dance. And our role is exactly the same: "No, thank you. No, thank you. No, thank you. No, thank you. Seriously, can I just have two minutes to myself?"

And like strippers, I'm sure the Home Depot employees are all really college students that like us every bit as as much as they purport to. The only difference between those wearing an orange apron and those donning a g-string? The strippers know better than to interrupt your phone calls with their unwelcome offers.

out of the box, indeed

"Tell me about a time where you thought out of the box," said my interviewer, literally reading off of a card given to her by HR.

And so I spoke of a staffing need where I needed very senior people but I couldn't promise steady work. And I found exactly these people: the many new mothers in my life. A mutually beneficial solution, to be sure, but perhaps my phrasing could have been better.

"...and so I tapped a bunch of new Moms."

I decided to break the deathly silence myself. "I think you should go ahead and laugh at me now instead of later."

stars...they're just like us!

The commentary track for the film Serenity had several choice tidbits, none better than this one.

Prior to his shirtless scene, lead actor Nathan Fillion dieted. And he had a Dr. Pepper and doughnuts awaiting him off-camera for the very moment his scene was complete.

mom check: broccoli

It's a time-honored standoff between mother and child, and Mom and I were no different.

The problem: broccoli. Specifically, this most-hated of 'occolis was the one vegetable that my dog, Missy, refused to eat under the table. Even under plausible threat of starvation.

The stakes: my having to eat broccoli.

The players: Mom and me. Certainly not that traitorous bitch Missy.

The setting: the kitchen table, about three hours after everyone has finished dinner and departed.

I would sit there alone, staring at the cold green slop on my plate. It's important to note that this was never a palatable warm sprig. My mom's idea of preparing broccoli was to boil it until you could twirl it on your fork like pasta, then serve it stone cold. Before you judge me, try this. Absolutely vile. Not to mention she cooked the nutrients right out of it, so this was purely an exercise in cruelty.

Mom and I both knew that soon, the irresistible force of broccoli would clash with the immovable object of bedtime. My plan, as ever, was to make her choose one. As bedtime neared, she would begin negotiations. "Just eat half of it."

"Surely you jest."

Half became three bites, which would be slathered in cheese or fudge or whatever it took for Mom to claim partial victory. But I knew Mom's partial victory by another name: John's partial defeat. As bedtime hour neared, I dug in my heels.

I knew she was caving when she started talking about the kids starving in Africa. Just hold on, John. You're almost there. As soon as she starts extolling the healthy virtues of br—

"You know, you can't not eat vegetables. You're gonna die. It's the healthiest food in the world."

Booyah!

"Yeah, well, someday it'll be available in a pill. I'll take that instead."

"It will not."

"Will too."

As usual, Mom's argument has been tossed into history's ashbin.

51fXWJMTvpL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

And hell no, I don't take the pills.

isn't it romantic

Back in the day, Sarah and I racked up monstrous cell phone bills. She had one carrier, I another, and this was before unlimited minutes to any phone. Add it up and my phone bills routinely exceeded $400. So in a testament to just how much sense cell phone charges make, I bought her a second phone, put it on my plan, and cut my monthly bill by 80%.

And then we broke up, and I didn't want to pay for that second phone any more than I now want to buy stock in Pan-Am airlines. I tried everything, even resorting to "She'd dead. I can't believe you people are doing this to me."

Falling in and out of love, defined.

• • •

Epilogue: no dice. Verizon doubtless hears that one all the time.

well.

Flo was visiting with her daughter, age...oh let's say 7. Could be 8. Certainly no more than 19. Flo had already raided the liquor closet and had her butt parked on my deck, and her daughter joined her. I cut a cigar and went outside. I could feel eyes on me as I lit up. It was time to step up and be a role model, I decided.

"Don't ever smoke these," I said with smoke bellowing out of the corners of my mouth. "They're horrible for you."

"Then why do you smoke them?" the child asked.

"Because no one cares if I die."

They nodded, not saying a-ny-thing.

casual

I'm interviewing for a job for the first time in 14 years.

"What's the atmosphere like there?" I asked my contact at the new company. "Like, do I go business casual?"

"Exactly, business casual. Slacks, dress shirt, dress shoes, jacket."

And with that one sentence—that one word, really—I realized that I truly have no idea how the real world works anymore.

To them, casual = no cumberbund

To me, casual = no socks

The conversation was like my nightmare Final Jeopardy board...if Trebek were really, really cute.

"So are you close to your family?"

"Ever been cheated on?"

"Explain to me exactly what it is you do for a living?"

"Are you religious?"

"How old was she?"

well, I don't accept you, Kurt

Perhaps you heard about the Glee dustup. This Newsweek writer, a gay man, suggested that society isn't ready to accept gay actors in straight roles like we are the reverse. As an example, he offers up Glee guest star Jonathan Groff, a gay actor whose portrayal of a straight character had, in my view, been so flat and cartoonish that it bordered on series-wrecking. I hadn't thought it was because he was gay. I'd just thought he couldn't act. But in the writer's view, Groff doesn't work because the viewer can't stop seeing him as a theatre queen.

My initial reaction: meh. I don't see it. I think the boy just can't act. The questions the article asks about society's comfort with gays in the media are important, but I found its thesis unconvincing. I turned the page and forgot about it. A few days later, I learned from a hysterical Ryan Murphy (Glee's creator) that I'd read a "bigoted" piece that called on all gays to remain in the closest. I had? I went back and read the article again. No, I hadn't. Nevertheless, Murphy went full-tilt Jesse Jackson, calling for a boycott of Newsweek and apologies from all concerned. I was particularly concerned with Murphy's loose use of the term "bigoted." I saw far, far more hatefulness and ad homenium in Murphy's response than I did in the original article.

Which brings us to Kurt.

Kurt is an openly gay teenage character on Glee, portrayed by a gay actor. Through him, we see things never before seen on TV, most notably the rocky-but-accepting relationship between Kurt and his Mellencamp-loving, tire-store-running father. My gay friends uniformly point to that relationship as a watershed moment for gays in the media, something they wish they'd seen when they were growing up and dealing with the same issues. I can see that.

tn-500_dglee_ep120-sc16_010.jpg

I like Kurt. He's impossible not to like. But I'm increasingly uncomfortable with how Murphy uses the character. Kurt—specifically Kurt's gayness, because the character apparently has no other qualities—is the metric by which we measure other characters' worth. Time and again, teachers, parents, and other students must choose whether to accept Kurt's flamboyant queenishness. He and his gayness are trotted out and made to sing a woman's part; dress like Lady Gaga at school; or, god help us, join the football team and perform the Single Ladies dance on the field during a play. And the other characters must unconditionally embrace these obnoxious stereotypes. The jocks on the football team not only accepted Kurt, they joined him in his dance and (cringe) won the game because they did. The message isn't complex: by embracing Kurt's gayness, you are redeemed. You transit from villain to hero with one twitch of your hips.

And what's wrong with a message of acceptance, you might reasonably ask? Nothing. Nothing at all.

But who, exactly, has Kurt accepted? I've seen him insult the other characters for being boring, or poor dressers, or stupid, or lower class, or slutty, or "such a boy." The moment Kurt's loving, nay, saintly father admitted that he'd had to adjust his expectations of going to ball games and talking about girls with his son, Kurt smacked him with a bitter "I'm sorry I'm such a disappointment to you." I've watched Kurt stalk a straight boy, no less a straight archetype than the school's quarterback. In service of his unrequited crush, Kurt tried to break up the boy's relationship, decorated the boy's bedroom like a whore's boudoir, and lunged at his face with a moist towelette. Then Kurt acted wounded when the implausibly patient boy's rebuke included the word "faggy." The next day, the boy sought Gay Jesus' forgiveness. Kurt would have none of it.

"I thought you were different," he sniffed, wounded.

"I am different," protested the quarterback.

All the attention went to the epithet, but I am increasingly bothered that Kurt does not extend to the world the same tolerance that he unceasingly—and loudly—demands from it. The world must unconditionally accept him, never he it.

This is one-dimensional fantasy. Some might even say it's bigoted.

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