February 2014 Archives

"That's child abuse!" I texted Katrina's 9 year old this morning. She readily agreed.

declassified: my melinda gates story

The world's wealthiest woman and I once had a "thing." True, she did not seem particularly aware of this fact, but let us not split hairs.

My office was once five feet from Melinda Gates'. In the manner of eating, drinking, peeing human beings in close proximity, we crossed paths several times a day. It didn't take me long to notice that normal polite acknowledgements of another human being's existence were not in her social arsenal. When we passed, there was no eye contact, no courtesy nod, no recognition. I was a passing air molecule to her, except not useful.

My peers reported similar non-treatment. Melinda acknowledged no one. In fact, women sitting in a bathroom stall could tell when Melinda entered the room, because a "cone of silence" immediately enveloped everyone.

Being a dork who didn't particularly value his job, I took it upon myself to force her to acknowledge my existence. I cheerfully said "good morning," which went unreturned. I sneezed. No "bless you." I startled her with loud noises. I did pratfalls. One time I held open a door for her, and she stood there, staring at her feet, refusing to go through. I'd say that the harder I tried, the harder she resisted, but the cold truth is that I doubt she could have picked me out of a lineup.

I left that job in abject failure, and soon Melinda left the company altogether. I figured that was the end of the story.

Six months into my new job, I returned to my old office to visit friends. As I whirled and left, I clobbered Melinda, who, visiting someone herself, had not seen me coming. In that staggering second, as I helped her regain her footing, a miracle happened: she made eye contact. True, it wasn't exactly warm, but I'll take it.

"Didn't you see me?" I chided.

She averted her eyes and drifted away.

dog parade_sm.jpg

reader mail: the ex-wife

Distinguished Stank troll Marta asks why Nicole married a non-fundamentalist, a question I myself asked Nicole. She replied that she'd planned to deal with the religious differences after the wedding.

"Good call," I glared.

"Wasn't it, though?" she chuckled sadly.

• • •

Nicole and my fundamentalist sister-in-law Maria are still in touch. Longtime readers may recall that my sister-in-law has spent the last couple decades unironically fabricating stories about me lying. This is but one ripple in her vast reservoir of malice. Manufacturing drama is to Maria what eating doughnuts is to you and me. A high school graduate, she has an honorary doctorate in stirring shit. A Ph.Doody. Every time Nicole got remarried or pregnant, for instance, Maria leaked it to my sister, with the proviso "don't tell John. He might be weird about it." This was less a concern than a fervent hope.

Nicole is not immune from the stirring. The last time I spoke to Maria, she regaled me with a story designed to demonstrate how bonkers Nicole is. According to Maria, they were at an anti-abortion rally in Washington, DC. Hundreds of protestors poured across the street against the signal, and Nicole stood still on the curb, making them flow around her.

"C'mon, Nicole!" Maria urged, tugging at her. "Let's go."

Nicole refused to jaywalk with the horde. "No. I want to be a good witness."

Maria snorted this line derisively, as if that were the insane thing about their trip. But I give Nicole points for consistency. In the eyes of her god, jaywalking is as bad as ethnic cleansing.

declassified: when my life changed on the toilet

I married my high school sweetheart. Married at 20, divorced at 21. I haven't mentioned this much on Stank, not because it's a shameful secret but because over time, it's become one of my less significant relationships. As high school sweethearts should be, I reckon.

Nicole was indeed a sweetheart. A wonderful, loving, caring, funny, endlessly patient girlfriend who had to explain things like cuddling and trust to someone who'd never previously imagined them. I still have incredibly fond, grateful memories of the girl I married. Of my wife, not so much.

People ask me what possessed me to get married so young, and my answer is as unsatisfying to them as it was costly to us: I dunno. It seemed like the thing to do. Surely my mother dying had something to do with it, and her mother trying to prevent us from seeing one another certainly ratcheted up the need. (Kids, here's a pro tip: if your mothers factor into your top two reasons for getting married, you're too bloody young.)

In the months leading up to the wedding, months dominated by planning that wedding, Nicole made new friends. Close friends. I thought nothing of it. We were in college. Of course she made new friends.

The weirdness commenced on the honeymoon. (Another pro tip: if you can only afford a state park lodge for your honeymoon, you're too bloody young.) She was being weird in bed. After three years of eminently predictable sexual behavior, she was doing and requesting weird things. And not good weird. Weird weird. She was barking orders like a traffic cop. A tame example: she asked me to trim my fingernails. Mind you, there was no problem she was fixing. (Indeed, it is not possible to trim my fingernails any more.) She just cheerfully thought it was a good idea. It was an odd but surmountable request, in and of itself, but throw in a couple dozen more such oddities, and the "weird" feeling grew. Where's my girlfriend? I want to make fun of my wife with her.

Soon nature called. I found myself sitting on toilet, looking at a paperback book she'd left behind. The Act of Marriage, a Christian guide to sex. Wincing, I gingerly opened it. I gasped. I turned its pages with increasing urgency. On them, I found the entire history of my Week of Weird. This was her playbook, her incredibly dull playbook, and I'd been unwittingly running its plays.

"Ask him to trim his fingernails," the authors intone. I slammed the book shut and stared at the floor tile.

All these years later, I remember every detail of that bathroom. Adrenaline and heightened senses will do that to you. I sat there a long time. I feared that I didn't know my new bride as well as I had a week earlier.

The worry was well-founded, as the new friends were all rollicking fundamentalists. That is not me. I thought I'd married a normal Episcopalian, in her normal Episcopalian church with its wine and cheese parties, but within days I was being dragged off to a rollicking charismatic church with arm waving and tongue-speaking. After one interminable sermon about how man's law is God's law (premise: "give unto Caesar what is Caesar's"), she told me to drive slower. Speeding is violating God's law, and since all sin is equal to the Lord, my driving 45 in a 35 was morally equivalent to murder.

What. The. Fuck.

At the time, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for protesting an evil regime. I carefully asked my wife if he was going to hell for this. That, she could not say for certain, but he was certainly sinning before God by breaking Pretoria's law.

"Soooo...Nelson Mandela is as bad as Stalin or Hitler?"


"Get the fuck out of my car," I said in my imagination later that night when, unable to sleep, I polished the story to a fine sheen.

She believed it with her whole heart. That preacher had warped her inside of an hour. Around the time she asked me to pray for us in the ice cream aisle, I knew it was over. I gave up at 7 weeks. I seethed with anger, as only a trapped almost-teenaged boy can. I shoved her away, into the waiting arms of cultists, a mistake that weighs on me to this day. She moved out at 9 months, ironically at the urging of fundamentalists. I was bad for her, you see. Soon we were standing before the judge.

"And you both agree to the terms of this dissolution?" he asked.

"Yes," we chimed.

"Are there any kids?"

"No," we answered.

He looked at Nicole. "Are you pregnant?"

She paused. I turned to face her.

• • •

The phrase "time stood still" is overused. I know this because in that moment before the judge, I witnessed time standing still, and it's nothing like what you people are talking about. His question hung before me like bullets in the Matrix.

• • •

The answer was eventually an unconvincing "No," and the gavel fell.

I saw Nicole only once more after that, five years later. It was a stiflingly hot and humid day, and I'd been playing basketball. Maddie and I were going out to dinner, so I'd hopped in the shower. I was crisp and clean as I dashed into the building Nicole and her mother were exiting, miserable and matted in sweat. We nodded to one another and moved on, and for the rest of the evening I delighted that I'd been wearing a hat that concealed how much hair I'd lost.

An ugly win is still a win.

declassified: the bunny boiler part ii

Continued from here

For a time, the texts and calls seemed like a drumbeat, an inexorable march to violent conflict. Rob's violent outbursts in front of his wife and kids were alarming. Also, Rob is a gun guy. I know this because when he gave me the tour of his house, the tour stops consisted of his gun collection, his rack of free weights, and his posters of steroided-up militia brandishing giant guns.

I looked at the baseball bat next to my bed, and it looked feeble indeed. So I went through the 24-hour drive-thru at Cooter McNugget's Gun and Liquor Emporium and got myself a gun.

I jest about Cooter. Plausibly.

(An aside. This is one of my favorite stores ever: they sell hardware, guns, and liquor. I just love that this combination exists.)

Anna's work on the charity was noticed by community business leaders, and out of the blue, they offered her a job. I was thrilled. So was she. She's not qualified to do anything, you see. She's uneducated and had devoted her prime to raising a Nazi's spawn. She was trapped. This offer was a get-out-of-jail-free card.

The next day, Rob came home and said that they were moving to Germany. He'd magically been transferred.

My heartbreak for Anna and contempt for his clumsy sleaze were mitigated by my happiness for myself. He was moving thousands of miles away from me. I would have preferred he died outright, but this was good too.


Now they're back, and I haven't heard a peep from him. He's been busy moving in with a bar skank 18 years his junior and 9 years older than his daughter. Godspeed, bar skank. The kids tell me they really appreciate listening to all the sex.

declassified: the bunny boiler

Anyone who burns 1200 calories per day wishing that specific people would die should probably not own a gun.

I'm not a gun guy, anyway. I have no desire to fire one, nor clean one, nor pay money for one. Several of my friends are enthusiastic gun guys, and they might as well be gays nudging me to check out the ass on that dude over there. Not my thing. I don't get it, and I never will.

Yet a couple years ago, I bought a handgun. It was easy, as I live in a country where having a driver's license and a pulse constitutes being a well-regulated militia.

And what led me to this choice? Charity work.

Cigar.jpgAnna and I met through doing some volunteer work. She asked me how I'd gotten involved. I had just caught two chicks in a row cheating on me, and I was trying to distract myself with something constructive. "Me too!" she replied. Her husband, an Army man, had just been banging some bar skank. Now at this point, my antennae go up. I just can't help it. She's kind and hot. But I resolve to do right this time. I will get to know the husband, to help keep things on the straight and narrow. But if I happened to be NEARBY when the marriage disintegrates, just minding my own business, Karma couldn't hold that against me, right? Right.

I met the guy at a charity event. He's a 6'4", 240 pound, triangle-shaped pile of muscle and 'roid-rage. A Nazi post-child. Anna had told me he's a Steelers fan, so I chit-chatted about them, but he was standoffish. Not just with me, with everyone. He was unimpressed by everyone and everything, and he was clearly not pleased about being there. So I thanked him for letting Anna spend so much time away from home for the cause. This REALLY set him off. "Yeah, well, I had to put my foot down about that. Shit wasn't getting done around the house. Dinner wasn't ready when I got home from work. So I had to say, 'I'm sorry, but you ARE the woman...’"

I don’t remember much after that. I stopped listening and started nodding my head, which is what I do when I'm trapped with an idiot yet must remain polite. People at Microsoft have seen this often.

"Rob likes you!" Anna texted me that night. "He never likes anyone!"

When they were in Metamuville for fishing, she invited me to join them. Rob, who I’d only met the once, for 20 minutes back three months earlier, was very happy to see me. He shook my hand warmly and offered me a cigar. I invited them over for dinner and he accepted. Within 5 minutes, he reciprocated by inviting me to dinner at their place, and to his promotion ceremony, and to Christmas. Wow. Um. OK. We’ll see.

After a bit, Anna decided to fish down the beach a ways. “Don’t leave my line of sight,” Rob barked. “Okay,” she replied. Mind you, this was a crowded public beach on a sunny Sunday afternoon. His motivation has been much debated since, but really, all that matters is what he said next, to their nine year old girl: “Deena, do you have your phone?” The child nodded. “Okay, well if Mommy takes you where you can’t see me anymore, call me.”

At this point, I was really regretting inviting them to my house, but there was no turning back now. Over they came. I tried to tell my Mike Tomczak story, and this self-described Steelers fan had never heard of the Steelers’ former starting quarterback. And just when I thought the evening couldn’t get any more unseemly, it did.

“You’re just like me, John!”

“Doesn’t John remind you of me?”

“John, I knew you were my type of guy when I saw you light up a second cigar without even thinking about it.” (“A second one?!” Dirt asked, incredulous.)

And my personal favorite: “Why have you been keeping us apart, Anna? YOU JUST DIDN’T WANT ME TO HAVE A FRIEND!” This was not said in humor. It was spat like a 7 year old would spit it. He was genuinely upset.

He dominated the evening. Everything was about him. The kids and Anna didn’t tell any stories that didn’t begin at the command “Tell John about the time I…”

When they left, I felt the enormous relief you feel when a truly insane person leaves your home. And then the next day, I started getting texts from an unfamiliar number. “Dude. You’re totally contagious. I’m technical writing this morning.”

Who the…?

bunnyboiler-thumb-420x315.jpgOh dear god. A man-crush. In the days that followed, the texts and invitations have poured in. He’s told me that they don’t socialize, ever, and that our friendship is very special indeed. In fact, I’m his only friend. Yes, folks, we have ourselves a bunny-boiler.

“I’m trying not to find this funny, but I’m sorry. This shit is at least half-funny,” Katrina said.

“He’s gonna ask you to be in a three-way,” Dorkass predicted.

“How’s your boooyfriend?” d’Andre chirped.

In the intervening months, Anna:

  • Came to tell me that his affair was her fault, because she was spending so much time away from home.
  • Stopped going to school. Uneducated, she'd started school after his affair, so that she had a possible escape route, but now he was insisting she stop and recommit to the marriage. Oh, and he wanted her to quit her job, too. So she did.
  • Called me in a panic. She was fearing for her safety and that of their children, because he was flying into a rage and punching holes in drywall. “He’s bipolar,” she said later. “That’s treatable. So what are you doing about it?” I replied. Answer: nothing. Her plan was that his mental problems would get better on their own, and his plan was that she’d learn to live with it.
The texts continued, and I declined all his invitations to come over. I was, of course, thinking his guy is gonna snap at me, at his wife, at the kids, at anyone who’s handy. I was being cordial but distant. I was very, very busy with my job. I just hoped he went away without hurting anyone.

About a month into this, I ran into the kids at the park. “You’re my dad’s best friend,” said the seven year old boy of the psychopath I’ve known for five total hours. “And you’re his!” Let’s not even speculate on what conversations at home led the child to parrot this. “My dad doesn’t like anyone. But he likes you,” added the little girl. “Do you like him? Please say you like him.”

“I like anyone who gives me cigars.”

That satisfied the kids. Then the girl felt compelled to add something.

“I don’t think my mom likes you very much, though.”

To be continued

opening the stank vault

This week, I'm running some long-written, previously unpublished posts.

I occasionally write a post and elect not to publish it. Sometimes it would upset someone I care about, sometimes it would be counter to my professional interests, and sometimes it's just stuff I don't want to be public knowledge. One time, it was because I was afraid violence or even death might result.

That's the puppy I'm declassifying first.

hideous baboons and nazi muslims

I'm rewatching Ken Burns' Civil War miniseries for the first time since the 90s.

Last time, I watched it with my buddy Phil. I was born, raised and educated in Ohio. He, South Carolina. Around the time I was gushing about Sherman's foresight in making war on civilians, the 8312th battle of the American Civil War broke out in my living room. The First Battle of Cheney, WA was a furious and bloody affair.

I remember being shocked by Phil's anger. Why the pride? Where's the shame? Uh, didn't you guys fight for pretty much the worst causes in the panoramic history of awful causes? I began to enumerate the South's sins, as if they were news to my friend. Slavery. Mutiny to protect slavery. Killing to protect slavery. Killing to expand slavery. Drafting a new Constitution that protects slavery. Sumner. Killing surrendering soldiers. Andersonville.

"I'M NOT SAYING THE WRONG SIDE WON, JOHN!" he screamed, spitting my name like an epithet.

• • •

Last time I watched this miniseries, I was struck by the petulant hysteria leading up to the war. Around the time that pre-war Southern Democrats were accusing that hideous baboon Lincoln and his whore wife of promoting the miscegenation of the white race, I thought "Jesus, people were nuts back then." It was unfamiliar to me. We have evolved, I thought.

Watching it through modern eyes, it's sadly more familiar. Bitter people gleefully fabricating and repeating slanders. Bitter people whining—the very moment they don't get their way—that they should form their own government. Bitter, stupid, villainous people somehow, against all reason, claiming victimhood.

We are a consistent people.

On Seattle's eastside is a software company called Epic Games. You think you're already annoyed, but check out their web site.


Presumably the team meetings consist of suburban white kids calling one another racist epithets and claiming to have banged one another's mothers.

one big human family


I recently cleaned out my most dormant of closets. There in the back, under an Indiana Jones–like layer of dust and cobwebs, was the Macintosh Plus I bought in 1989 and used as an undergrad and grad student.

I wonder...

I plugged the museum piece in and heard the distantly familiar grunting of its external hard disk. Soon, I was looking at a time capsule from 20 years ago. I raced downstairs to see how valuable this machine is now. (Answer: not.) I got distracted with some work, but the relic upstairs beckoned. I wonder what kind of a pretentious twit I was in my 20s? The evidence is in suspended animation, right up there. Since investigating involved a flight of stairs, it took me several hours to get curious enough to look.

The first thing I fired up was a grammar tutorial I created in grad school called Wrangling Modifiers. (That last phrase is, in fact, a misplaced modifier, an irony I have elected to keep.) I'd programmed it in primitive old Hypercard, which I thought would be good for a derisive snort or three. And so I looked at my work of 20 years ago, eager to mock my own youthful impudence and pretenses.

What I saw floored me. Frankly, it's taken me several days just to come out of the fog of depression and write about it.

It was brilliant. I was brilliant. In a way I haven't been in a very long time. I don't even remember being this capable, so long ago it was. The program itself was amazingly sophisticated, given the medium, and its content was best-in-class. I could see the months of copious pedagogical research, lab testing, and meticulous execution.

Two feelings crush my soul:

  1. I haven't done anything approaching this quality in the 20 years since this project I had just randomly opened.
  2. I am no longer capable of this quality of work. Not even a little. My younger self was staggeringly brighter and more competent than my present self.
I look at my work of 20 years ago, and I don't feel pride. I feel like a tragedy. An ongoing tragedy.

I'm not sure what do do with this feeling. Sure, I'd like to blame Microsoft for 16 years of plopping me into meetings about increasing organizational visibility. Sure, I'd like to blame the intellectual ravages of age. But I suspect this is my fault. Here was the proof before me; I've suffered a truly staggering intellectual fall. And I don't think I was pushed. I think I leaped.

Cue the self-loathing. Right after I power down the Mac and watch The Amazing Race 24.

a bear walks into a bar

"Wanna go drinking tonight?" asked Mike.

I hadn't been out in months. It sounded good to me. But where to go?

"Let's hit the Diesel," offered Mike. I googled the place. Egad.

I was immediately suspicious. "Um. Are you trying to use me to pick up bears?"

"No. God no. Don't be gross. Not my type at all. I'm trying to use you to get free drinks."

you don't say


hawk talk balk

Unless your name is Katrina, you haven't spoken to me about the Seahawks for 8 years. Not once since their last Super Bowl appearance. And before that, not once in 12 years, period.

I know I'm the only person you know who watched football a month ago, but it's too late. Go "we" someone else.

moron taxonomy
stupid church signs
super bowl xl officiating
percy chronicles

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