October 02, 2008

why, indeed

Nine years after we last spoke, I found myself having a drink with an ex. Let's call her Jenn. I'm not sure why she initiated it, but if I had to guess, I'd say she just wanted to make sure her legacy isn't...well, to make sure I don't hate her. Mission accomplished. Then evening led to reminiscences, which led to divergence, which led to an argument about past events, which led to her house, which led to her journal.

Yep. She kept a written record of when we dated. And to win the argument, she let me read it. She's even letting me publish parts.

My first impression was how not-into-me she was when I was really-into-her. The less said about those parts, the better. She was infatuated with someone else when I came on the scene, and he blew me off the pages for three months.

But then, quite suddenly, there I am.

"John: what a wonderful husband that man would be."
That's my first mention? Holy crap! But then she talks about how she thought of the other guy when she was traveling with me. Which explains a lot about that weekend, come to think of it.

And then the Boy gets engaged. Much more angst. And suddenly, I'm starting to understand why this chick yanked me around, as this was all happening when we were first dating. I spent much of that time trying to figure that out.

"John - I'm liking him more and more. But I don't know. He's trying to break through my walls. I know that he is. They're trembling. They won't fall."
They fell. Soon:
"I question my feelings for John. Could I love him, I mean really love him? I don't think so. He stresses me out, with his irritating, persistent nonchalance."
Really? I thought you were the nonchalant one, sweetheart. Later:
"Things happened emotionally, physically. I thought I handled myself very well..."
You're the only one.
"...I love this guy a lot but there is something that would never work. I don't know. I don't know if I get this feeling more from myself or from him."
Yikes. And then the part that has made me think of little else since:
"Sometimes I don't trust him because I feel he is deliberately trying to hurt my feelings. And that is not acceptable."
The journal goes on to describe our relationship over the next couple of months, and then its end. But it's this last point that lingers. I did try to hurt her feelings. I remember doing it. I don't remember why. And I'm pretty sure I've played that game since. But here were the consequences of my conduct, staring at me unblinkingly from the parchment. Did we ever recover from the feeling she described? Have I sabotaged this and other relationships with emotional brinksmanship? I hope not, but hoping here already feels like a conviction.

Hence my two weeks of self-assessment.

What a fascinating anthropological dig this was. I'm forever grateful to Jenn for sharing. I leave you with my two favorite entries. See if you can guess which one is from the end.

"I'm sitting here talking to John. My new "boyfriend." Life is crazy. First we're murderous, then we're okay. What's to come? How in hell is this going to work? We're either so good or SO BAD."


posted by john at 06:25 AM  •  permalink

October 01, 2007


Of all the jobs I've held, "construction worker" is most likely to cause unexpected (and unwarranted) respect, "beret-wearing busboy" is likeliest to cause demands for photos, and "managing editor of a health and fitness magazine" is most likely to cause choking and gasping. The job people seem most intrigued by? "Stock boy in a candy warehouse."

Someone has to deliver candy and cigarettes to all the mom and pop stores, and that was us. My job was to move boxes around. Off the truck, on the truck. Only rarely did I see candy, and if I did, it was disfigured beyond all palatability. Sorry to disappoint.

I was the college kid, and as such, I was the target of much abuse from those who'd never caught so much as a whiff of dorm mold. There was no subtlety about it. "Hey dumbass," the owner's son would yell across the warehouse. "Drop your dick for a second and college me up some Goetz caramels."

Everyone would laugh and high five. It was a great fit for me.

My first day, I was introduced to Teddy Cope, the longtime warehouse foreman who had recently been demoted to make room for the owner's son. Which is to say that Teddy had lost his title and pay, not any of his responsibilities. He would still train me. Teddy was a marvel. In a country where the average lifespan of a black man is 64, Teddy had somehow lived to be 127. His teeth hadn't made it past 42, however, and when he smiled you wished for nothing more than for him to scowl again. He walked slowly, efficiently, expending not one step more than necessary to perform a given task. And my personal lexicon was forever changed by the invective that poured past the cigarette flapping omnipresently on his lower lip.

"Teddy, this is John. He's replacing your boy Mike. He's all yours."

Teddy, slumped over the back of a dolly, glared at me. "Jesus Christ pushin' a hand-cart," his cigarette flapped. "Who are you related to?"

You'd think his disdain for me would be tempered by my not, in fact, being related to the "saltine-assed motherfuckers" who'd recently bought the place, but I was doomed. Nothing I did was good enough. Sometimes he couldn't wait for the truck drivers to get back at the end of the day so he could regale them with stories of my bumbling.

Teddy was a curiosity. He listened to country music. He loved Willie Nelson. This drove me insane. He smoked constantly. He cursed unremittingly yet yelled at me if I even began a profanity.

"Oh, sh—"

"Yooouuuu be careful." He'd wag a finger at me.

"But you swear all the time."

"Fuckin' a. But I don't want to hear it out of you."

Teddy was full of colorful expressions. It was from him that I learned such mainstays as "Tear you a new one," "Get your head out of your ass," "I need you like I need a second asshole," and his daily mantra: "John, I'm so happy I could just shit all over myself." Those all made immediate sense to me, and I adopted them as my own. Other expressions didn't quite make the cut. "And if roosters had titties, they wouldn't crow until 10:30." comes to mind.

Teddy and I lived near one another, and to curry favor I'd taken to swinging by his bus stop and picking him up every morning. It was during these trips, free from the previously undetectable constraints of a professional environment, that I learned what an abomination the entire cracker race is. He'd rail. I'd listen. Then I'd remind him that a cracker was giving him a ride. He'd point his flapping cigarette out the window. "Yeah. Well. You're just trying to curry favor."

His apartment was next to a high school, and on Friday nights he went to games alone. I thought this was unfathomably cool. I still do. I hope that when I'm 141, I can do the same. I joined him a few times, and my education as a self-loathing white guy continued under the lights. Every time a Big White Stiff screwed up, Teddy guffawed, nudged me, and pointed, lest I miss it.

One day, we were unloading a truck, in our usual positions. Teddy was behind the dolly, smoking a butt, and I was unloading heavy cases of Snickers bars. I dropped the first one on the dolly instead of setting it down, and the dolly recoiled. I heard the sickening sound of celery snapping. Those were Teddy's ribs. He glared at me, eyes bugging. He made not a sound—the most terrifying sound in the world. I thought he was just building up speed, but the eruption never came.

After a few hours, after the severity of his injury had become apparent, he asked me to topple a tall stack of cases. I did. He then went into the owner's office and said the stack had fallen on him, and that he needed to go to the hospital.

As I drove him to the hospital, I thanked Teddy for his white lie. This was the difference between my getting fired and not. He nodded, knowing well that he'd saved my job. I wasn't exactly sure what constituted being a cracker (this seemed to morph on me), but I knew Teddy's gesture was crackerdom's exact opposite. He smiled his best evil, gummy smile. "If you thought I was rough on you before, kid, just you wait. I own your ass now."

My pride kicked in. "Yeah, and if cows had boobs they'd, um, be, um.."

"Ca-righst. Just stop. I'm beggin' you. You were making such strides."

posted by john at 07:42 AM  •  permalink

September 10, 2007

reader mail: pivot questionnaire

From dubious Stank troll Jenni comes a delightful request: "Your royal Stankship," she begins, "Would you, per chance, deign to answer the Bernard Pivot questionnaire?"

Maybe it was the butt-kissing, more than the request, that was delightful.

What is your favorite word?
Anything with the suffix "-tard." It's my all-purpose insult. "Seatard" is probably my most used such insult because, well, in Seattle I'm surrounded by them.

What is your least favorite word?
"Dysfunctional." As in family. Wally, I've seen shit that would turn you even whiter. Get over yourself, grow up, and take ownership of your own problems already.

What turns you on?

What turns you off?
Pretense. See "Seatard," above.

What is your favorite curse word?

What sound or noise do you love?
The Michigan football team being booed in their own stadium.

What sound or noise do you hate?
My boat hitting a submerged log.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Private investigator. I can't believe they get paid for surfing the Web. And for sitting in a car, eating Cheetos and stalking other people's spouses. I'd truly be making my hobby into my job.

What profession would you not like to do?
Anything on the Vista team at Microsoft. See "competence," above.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
"Surprise, motherfucker."

posted by john at 06:57 AM  •  permalink

September 05, 2007

the electric wire

When I was little and my family was still intact, we lived in what was, to us, the country. That the suburbs were two miles away mattered little to a child. Creeks were raging rivers, cow pastures were vast expanses of wilderness, and yet-to-be-cleared trees were forests.

The aforementioned cow pasture was across the street from my house and, significantly to my young psyche, it was surrounded by an electric wire. Touching it was a rite of passage in my neighborhood, as was peeing on it. (The secret: stand far enough away that the stream breaks up.) For the most part, the wire was a minor obstacle under which we all reflexively ducked on our way to someplace interesting. I must have ducked under it a thousand times, feeling it on my back, scraping harmlessly down my coat. One time when we were all ducking under the wire, I somehow got it inside my lips. Good times. I hear.

One winter, a group of us hid near the road, out of sight, and hurled snowballs at passing cars. It's easier said than done. Cars is fast. The prestige shot was leading the car by so much that your snowball exploded spectacularly on the windshield, which was, to our collective astonishment, a practical use for geometry. Finally.

After several hours of snowballs and "Angle Side Side" jokes, we salivated as a cargo van approached. Low hanging fruit! As it passed, we pummeled its enormous side with snowballs. Before it had even screeched to a halt, the side door exploded open, and a bunch of teenagers armed with baseball bats poured out.

We scattered. Some ran into homes, others into woods. "GET THE SLOW LITTLE ONE!" I heard behind me. Shit. I knew who that was. And thus did my puny legs churn in a panic, keeping me a few seconds ahead of an angry horde of pissed off, bat-wielding teenage villagers.

The wire,
I thought.

I knew if I could make it to the electric wire, I had an advantage. I made a right angle turn and sped right for it. I headed for a path where there were no cautionary signs, and I ducked under the wire at full speed. I kept running, kept listening.

I'm not sure how many of them hit the wire. I just know they harmonized.

Their pursuit stopped immediately, and I've always wished I'd stopped to see what happened. I content myself, though, to know that in the decades since, they've doubtless told an even better story, one that stars a mysterious prepubescent Rambo. Only, you know, little and slow.

posted by john at 08:11 AM  •  permalink

August 12, 2007

geriatric road rage

Concluding the "Fuck off John" theme, with which I'm bored already

In the five years I've lived in Metamuville, I've been followed home three times. Each incident was identical: I had just legally passed a geriatric who was driving below the speed limit. In one case, the person was driving dangerously, weaving left of center and slamming on the brakes when going downhill. A few minutes after I passed him, he appeared in my driveway. He was my non-Percy neighbor, also a ROWF (Rich Old White Fuck) with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement.

"I'm your neighbor," he said, feigning cheerfulness. "I know I should have introduced myself before now," he said of three years of him ignoring me, "But I just wanted to tell you that that pass was very dangerous. You could have killed a kid."

"You mean the pass in a passing zone, on a clear day, when you were going 24 in a 35 and randomly slamming on the brakes?" I snarled. "Yeah, I'm the public menace." He started to argue legalities. I didn't let him. "Go look at the lines, asshat. And then go cut up your license. Time to hang it up."

While he argued, I walked away. That would be our last conversation.


The last incident was more entertaining. The ROWF in question sped up as I passed him, trying to make me ram head-on into an oncoming car. He then followed me aggressively. I turned away from my house and into a housing development, hoping to loop around and lose him. As I exited the development, his truck lurched to a stop in front of me, broadside, blocking my path.

Now where I'm from, this act means only one thing: someone is going to the hospital. Or, optionally, the morgue. In Seattle, this act apparently means something entirely different.

Unfortunately for the ROWF, I am not from Seattle. Even more unfortunately for him, because of my foliage-lined driveway, I keep a machete next to the driver's seat. I grabbed it and and erupted out of my car, toward him, brandishing the weapon low as I stormed straight at him. This 70-ish white guy's expression melted from sanctimonious rage into, well, the look of a 70-ish white guy who had just grossly miscalculated. He rolled up his window.

"Is your door broken or something?" I taunted. "Oh, my mistake. I thought you wanted to kick my ass." He stared at me, silent. "C'mon out. No? Nothing to say? Then kindly move your motherfuckin' car."

He did, bravely giving me the finger as I pulled away.

One of the great comforts of living in Metamuville is knowing that my enemies won't live for much longer.

posted by john at 10:12 AM  •  permalink

June 20, 2007

guy’s prayer

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the rules by which we live. And by we, I mean men. It would truly suck to earn less than $1.27 for every dollar they earn, and we thank you.

Thank you, too, for the pocket veto. If we weren't able to stall and stonewall and pretend that we're "thinking" or "don't understand," if we had to actually respond in a timely fashion to our partners' requests, travesties like careers and babies and new curtains and compromise would happen more often. You are most wise, and we praise your name.

praying.jpgThanks for making them—and more specifically not us—sluts and bitches. That's useful for deflection (see below).

Effort equity really sucks. Thanks for a system where if a guy is lazy, aimless or selfish, people blame the woman for putting up with it. All praise to you.

Thank you for low standards. If women could reasonably expect us to put in more than the bare minimum effort required to keep them from leaving us, we would have less time for ourselves.

Thank you for letting us transfer guilt when relationships fail. If women didn't hold themselves accountable for guys' every failing, if they didn't desperately grasp for things with which to flog themselves, the end of a relationship could get pretty painful for us guys.

Hell, thanks for our overall lack of accountability. It makes deflection so much easier. We're not thoughtless or rude or selfish so much as her expectations are inconsistent or just plain unreasonable. This is a fine system, a just system. Thank you for placing the burden on their lowering the bar and not our clearing it.

Thank you for putting parenthood stigmas entirely on them. No one ever lectures the dad about breastfeeding or about his foisting his kid off on strangers so that he may have a career. We do not miss it, and we humbly thank you.

Thanks for religions that promote stuff like clitorectomies, wives obeying their husbands, and more perks for men in heaven. Not everyone buys into this crap, but the cultural benefit to us is undeniable.

I could go on, Lord, but I'm too used to putting the bare minimum effort into my relationships. If I need to pray more to get into heaven, lemme know, and I'll pray harder. In the meantime, I'll just summarize:

Thank you for letting men write the rules.


posted by john at 06:59 AM  •  permalink

June 13, 2007

stank retrospective: my favorite photos

In this page's eight years and change, I've run a lot of random photos just for the sake of having something visually interesting. And then there are the photos I loooove. For no reason, here are some.

This is quite possibly my favorite photo that I've ever taken. This is Dorkass' little sister, Dorkbutt, on New Year's Day, 2000. She had been my millennial date. And yep, that's a snowball impact crater on her forehead.


You just can't beat Percy's belly-button cameltoe. You can try. You will fail.

It's impossible to pick a favorite stupid church sign, but if I had to, I'll go with this one. That weasel.

I took this photo of my boat and Jeep for the benefit of the Darwin Awards, but I ended up living.

This was satisfying in that Lynn and Sue had just walked through this screen six times, claiming it was invisible.

This one speaks for itself.

Two Steelers-related photos make the cut. The first is of a fan. Following Ben Roethlesberger's motorcycle wreck, she was tailgating outside the hospital where he was still in surgery. Coolest. Fan. Ever.

And of course, there was this Flash animation of the Super Bowl pass interference that I still relentlessly hear never occurred.

If you have to ask, you'll never know.


Stank troll Jan of Germany thought of my fat man's crease when his son was born. The result is my favorite troll-submitted photo.

This photo of Pat Robertson taking a massive dump makes the cut because (other than a pic of the Mythbusters twinkie) it remains the number one Google draw to this page. Go figure.

pat robertson praying

Many pictures are favorites because I couldn't believe my luck in finding them on Google Images. When I posted about being the White Guy in a neighborhood, not to mention about being called "Egger," I found this utterly perfect representation.

Same thing with this photo of a single living flower amongst a bunch of wilted ones. Is there a better metaphor possible for being friends with your ex?

When I posted my review of Bride and Prejudice, I talked at length about the clumsy, vehement anti-Americanism spouted by the female lead. And when I googled her, I found this hilariously hypocritical picture.

When I ridiculed Newsweek for topping its "Women in Leadership" cover story with a feature on Danica Patrick, this made for a lovely juxtaposition.

Nothing can compared to the serendipitous pic I ran with the Yoko post, though. I had already written the post, including the line

No, I'm talking about a descent into a sort of madness, where the whispers in his ear become his unquestioned perception of reality. Suddenly, you and your friend have conflicts.
When I later googled Yoko Ono, this utterly perfect picture popped up. It gave me chills. Still does.

posted by john at 04:58 AM  •  permalink

June 07, 2007


On New Year's Eve a few years back, the AW and I were in a bar in remotest Bumfuck, British Columbia. She wanted to dance. I did not. This was nothing new. She arose and said that if I would not dance, she would damned well find someone who would. Then she strode across the room and asked some random guy to dance with her. And I spent the minutes before midnight sipping my drink as I watched them on the dance floor, she drunk, he with a tentpole erection as he danced with my girlfriend.

"Jesus Christ. You think every guy is only interested in one thing," went the fight later, shortly before I played the erection card. "You're such an asshole, sometimes. He was a really nice guy. It was just dancing."

This is a conversation I've had all my life. Apparently, I always will. I will never go broke by betting on the basest instincts of my own gender, nor will I lose by betting on women's capacity for seeing some sort of noble, meritorious homage in the attentions of men. The prettier the woman, the more noble the homage. I have never once been proven wrong. I am invariably proven right. Yet I have never won this argument. My suspicions are always deemed manifestations of my own character flaws. It's my personal relationship Vietnam—I've won every battle, yet I've lost the war.

I think I shall give up. This is the new John in an old situation:

"Wow, they gave you a job as a web designer, even though you haven't a lick of relevant skills or experience? And before you even start your new job, the sales guys want you to join them at their skiing weekend at Whistler? Why, I'm sure that's above-board! Go! Enjoy! I'm sure that any sales guy who bangs you is of the very noblest and homage-giving stock. And of course, if I didn't congratulate you on your new job, that would be evidence that I don't believe in you. So congratulations! All those seconds of hard work have finally paid off."

posted by john at 06:43 AM  •  permalink

April 09, 2007

lies i love telling

"Sorry, I already have lunch plans."
Told to: Someone at work, usually my boss, who wants me to attend an excruciating birthday lunch with my co-workers. I'd rather clip my toenails in a Cuisinart. Lunch is my time.

"September 31."
Told to: Again someone at work, when they ask me when my birthday is.

"She's my ex-girlfriend."
Told to: Bona fide loser who expresses an interest in one of my friends. This is vastly more effective than saying she's got herpes. It's a complete interest-annihilator. Only once did I have to follow this up with the phrase "sloppy seconds" in order to repel the guy.

"Bad sushi."
ist2_1734967_man_sitting_on_a_toilet.jpgTold to: Someone who doesn't know me very well, 'cause I never eat sushi. But if you're going to feign illness, go for something 1) unprovable and 2) about which no follow-up questions will be asked, lest your answer again include an allusion to wood chippers.

"Friends in Spokane."
Told to: Someone inviting me over for a holiday—someone who, suspicious, asks with whom I'm spending the day. Not that there aren't friends in Spokane, but I'm probably just sleeping in.

I'm miserably busy.
Emoted to: bosses, love interests, pretty much anyone who measures their own success by how miserable I seem to be. I learned this in grad school. I didn't have to actually work hard on my thesis. Just so long as I carried around a big stack of books and looked like I was about to cry, the faculty was completely satisfied and left me alone.

"I'm between jobs."
Told to: Contractors who are bidding on something.

"I work for Avis."
Told to: Anyone who asks me where I work. I used to say "Boeing," but then I ran into someone who actually worked there. Excruciating, but still less so than admitting "Microsoft."

"I have no living relatives."
Told to: Anyone asking about my family. Same diversionary effect as "Avis," except that I don't really want to work at Avis.

"Wow. Ed really adores you! She's usually so shy with new people."
Told to: Women. It works because they want to believe there's homage in my dog's perpetual butt-wiggle. If Satan himself appeared in my living room, Ed would whirl around his feet, whoring for him to scratch her ass with his pitchfork.

posted by john at 08:19 AM  •  permalink

March 05, 2007

good wiki, bad wiki

Wikipedia allows everyone to contribute to its encyclopedia's articles, and that allows us to arrive at Truth—or if not Truth, some sort of triangulated approximation of it. Anyone in the world may edit its entries.

Clearly, Wikipedia has a liberal bias.

Fortunately, some enterprising right-doers have created a new wiki repository for Truth. You can tell it's unbiased because they call it "Conservapedia." And you can tell it's conservative because they don't mention supply-side economist Jude Wanniski or Congressmen J.C. Watts or Orrin Hatch.

As the site points out, Wikipedia is guilty of liberal bias on 29 documented occasions. For example:

And the crux of the matter:Conservapedia's claim of "facts against" evolution includes a citation, and if you follow it, the citation leads straight to damning evidence: Conservapedia's own evolution article.

It's about time.

In fact, if you search for "evolution" on Conservapedia, you're immediately redirected to the "Theory of Evolution" article. A search for "intelligent design," on the other hand, leads straight to the article "Intelligent Design."

The "affirmative action" article is an unbiased masterpiece, dispensing with meely-mouthed critical thought and getting straight to what needs to be said. Its first sentence:

Affirmative action is an area in which government policy is contradictory.

Smiting bias at every turn, Conservapedia tells us that Islam has origins in Paganism, that "significant studies" show that homosexuals aren't born that way, and that the Spanish Inquisition was a method of torture. And finally, someone got the Crusades right. The fourth Crusade was tragic because it "never reached the Holy Land and ended with the crusaders’ sacking Constantinople—a Christian city."

"It seems that the Christian armies lost sight of our goals to bring and spread love and Christianity along the way, " the unbiased author continues. "The Crusades went against our Christian teachings."

posted by john at 07:59 AM  •  permalink

February 21, 2007

mormons and me, part i

Before I left Ohio, what I knew about Mormons could be summed up in four words: "the Osmonds" and "Danny Ainge." Like with out-of-closet gays, I couldn't name a single Mormon I knew.

When Maddie and I simultaneously went to grad school, she in Indiana and me in Washington, I paid for her expenses by keeping mine very low. I took out a student loan, sent her the money, and myself lived in a dorm. My living in that dorm for a year led to my meeting Elizabeth, which is all well and good, but it also led to my meeting Fucking Amy and Mormonism.

The latter came in the most insidious form of all: an utterly charming, bright young redhead named Leanne. Hoping to just serve my time and move to proper accommodations, I hadn't wanted much to do with my fellow residents, but Leanne wore me down. She wouldn't take no for an answer, pounding on my locked door until I relented. There was no resisting her. We became friends.

Many a night we'd sit in my dorm, she sharing the excitement of her newfound love with the guy down the hall, me sharing the pain of what turned out to be the end times with Maddie. Leanne was becoming an English teacher, and I was teaching for the first time. We talked about teaching, life, love, plans, dreams. I got sucked into this fantastically warm, kind woman's orbit.

Religion didn't come up that much, but I knew hers was important to her. It was that Osmond thing I knew nothing about. Rather than admit ignorance, I went to the library. There was a surprisingly deep collection of books about Mormonism, both admiring and damning. I skipped past those and cracked open a more neutral, academic source, the Harvard Theological Review. An hour later, I shut the book and stared out the window.

This was the most moronic religion I'd ever heard of.

Some American teenage brat claims that he's talked to an angel and now leads the one true religion, and these morons actually, like, believe him? I thought. What the fucking fuck? For God's sake, the angel was even named "Moroni." And then there were these magical gold plates no one ever saw, instructions from God to revise the bible and, presumably, to marry as many teenage girls as possible before it became politically inexpedient.

It turns out I hadn't known any Mormons previously because Midwesterners ran 'em out of the Midwest in the 1800s. I too wasn't in danger of becoming a Mormon anytime soon, but I also didn't hold it against Leanne. I believed in her, if not her especially silly religion.

Meanwhile, I became friends with another young woman, Hilary. She hailed from Salt Lake City and had been raised Mormon, but she had walked away as a teenager and never looked back—except when the church came knocking on her door, which was apparently very, very often. Hil was mildly amused that I was becoming close to a Mormon and even more amused by my ignorance. She took it upon herself to get me up to speed. I learned about the Holy Mormon Underwear. I learned that wouldn't be allowed into the Temple when my friend got married. I learned about the vow of masturbation. I learned about in absentia baptisms of the dead. I learned about the baby heaven full of souls waiting to be birthed by good Mormon girls.

This religion just kept getting stupider and stupider.

Hil got personal. "Let me guess. She's the most upbeat, kind, cloying person you know."


"Let me tell you what's going to happen with your friend," she declared with jarring confidence. "She's going to marry the first Mormon guy she meets here, and she's going to marry him fast. He'll be just back from his mission and horny as hell. They'll start crapping out kids by the bushel, and she'll spend the rest of her life in total subjugation, dropping litters and doing chores for the church. Guaranteed."

"Not Leanne," I said. "You don't know her like I do. She loves teaching. Her whole world is teaching English to ESL kids. Yeah, she's dating the only other Mormon in our dorm, and yeah, he's just back from his mission, but she's even told me she won't get married for six years. Until her career is established."

"Mmm hmm," Hil replied.

"Besides, the guy is a thoughtless lump. She'd never marry him."

"Of course not."

After Christmas break, Leanne came back with an engagement ring on her finger. Lump had proposed exactly three months after they had met. Leanne had accepted. They were getting married in the summer and would celebrate their three-month wedding anniversary a year to the day after they met.

"What about waiting until you were 27?" I asked.

"Oh, forget that!" she squealed, delighted.


Tomorrow: I become a follower of the latter-day Prophet Hilary.

posted by john at 07:53 AM  •  permalink

February 19, 2007

such a chickdom

A female friend was bouncing her relationship troubles off me, and my response was not what she expected. Enough about him, I said. Let's start by working on you. And so we did, for several hours, me being alternately supportive and, as needed, gently critical. Finally the conversation led to an observation I've heard several times previously.

"You're such a chick, John."

I suppose it's meant to be a teasing affront to my masculinity, but truth be told, my masculinity's just fine. I actually consider the remark high praise. I've never really had much use for men, beyond pizza and football. I don't get them. They don't get me. With a few exceptions, the men I've known have been slugs who did the bare minimum necessary to keep my friend from leaving them.

baby chick on jar.jpgWomen, meanwhile, have been huge influences. I was raised to adulthood by a single mother and raised to manhood by a handful of girlfriends. It was the latter—not my dad, not my brother—who taught me how to be a man. From them, I learned what families should be. They taught me how to love, how to empathize, how to deal with life's triumphs and setbacks, how to control my temper, how to stow my shit-childhood away in the past where it belongs. Mom and the girls had help, too. Most of my bosses and professional partners have been women. All of my closest friends are women. My mentors and proteges are almost exclusively women. Even my heroes have been women.

"Such a chick?" So be it. Every redeeming quality I possess, I learned from a woman.

posted by john at 08:27 AM  •  permalink

February 13, 2007

ed’s debra winger moment

When my dog, Ed, was a newborn pup, Elizabeth was staying with me. This cemented two things: 1) Ed forever adored 21 year old girls, and 2) to Ed, Elizabeth was Mom forevermore. They don't get to see one another often anymore, but when they do, Ed goes positively batshit.

When things looked so bleak recently, I sent Elizabeth a message that I was afraid Ed's end might be very near, and would she like to say goodbye? Ed bounced back, of course, and the goodbye never happened. But given Ed's prognosis—"horrendous" spinal arthritis that will cripple her in months, not years—I resolved to take Ed to see Elizabeth the next time we got together.

The sheer sadness of it all struck me as I was bathing Ed Sunday night, trying to make her pretty for her mom. It walloped me again when I was brushing her Monday morning. It was impossible not to think of the scene in Terms of Endearment where a dying Debra Winger, about to say goodbye to her kids, pauses to put on makeup. If you gotta check out, check out pretty, I guess.

Elizabeth and I chatted a while, but inevitably it was time for the main event. Elizabeth sighed and pulled some tissues out of her pocket. "Just a sec. I'm gonna go get some more," she said and disappeared.

The reunion was complete pandemonium, as always. Ed climbed all over Elizabeth, unable to get close enough even while standing on her lap and tunneling her face into Elizabeth's abdomen. Elizabeth held it together, which is more than Ed and I can say. Ed trembled with...joy, I guess. She couldn't stop shaking, a behavior I'd never seen before. Even her teeth were chattering. She was overwhelmed with joy, but the joy had a sad desperation to it. As I drove home, I wondered if this was like when I was a kid and hurt myself—how I so desperately needed Mom more than all the other people on Earth combined.

Curled up on the back seat, Ed stared into space and whimpered softly the whole way to the ferry.

posted by john at 08:28 AM  •  permalink

January 30, 2007

mr. good hand, mr. bad hand

All told, I was lucky. I could have been doubled up with one of my slob teenage sisters, but instead I slept in the bottom bunk under my brother, Russ. At 14, he was nine years older than me and the acknowledged master of all things worth knowing. All these decades later, in fact, he still claims to hold this title.

(An aside to prospective parents: a nine year gap between brothers is insanely cruel to the younger party. By the time I was big enough to fight back, he was a practicing dentist.)

I don't remember much about those years. I remember crying one time because my nose was stuffed and I couldn't breathe, and I remember Russ yelling at me to stop. I explained. He replied that it was, in fact, possible for me to breathe through my effing mouth. A life-changing revelation.

Mostly, I remember the occasional visits from Mr. Good Hand and Mr. Bad Hand.

handSignal_ok_200x200.jpgSometimes, a hand would appear. Hanging from the bunk above, it would watch me. Sometimes it beckoned me. If it was the entity I came to think of as Mr. Good Hand, he would perform intricate hand-shakes with me, give me five, thumb-wrestle, even give me candy. But if it was Mr. Bad Hand, run for cover. Mr. Bad Hand would give me searing Indian burns, peel my thumb back until I screamed, crack all of my knuckles at once, fling me out of bed, or worst of all, yank me airborne and wedge my tiny body in the two-inch gap between the top bunk and the wall. Sometimes I even had to wake up my brother and have him unwedge me.

The genius of Mr. Good Hand, Mr. Bad Hand was that they were utterly indistinguishable. I tried to recognize them, but there was no apparent pattern to which side of the bed they would appear on. Even the placement of the thumb seemed to change. Most insidious of all, Mr. Bad Hand sometimes pretended to be his kindly twin, only to later announce himself in a horrible and painful reveal. Beware bad hands bearing candy.

Why touch the hand at all, you ask? Why didn't I learn that my participation was central to my own torment? Because I had to know. I simply had to know which hand was watching over me. No amount of bunk wedges could dissuade this lethal curiosity.

It was good practice, as it turns out, for dating.

posted by john at 06:44 AM  •  permalink

January 10, 2007

fan DOs and DONT’s

Even when Ohio State still led—hence before I was questioning my very birth, let alone why I was at the championship game—I wondered if I should really be attending games in person anymore. The bigger the game, the more deplorable fan conduct is becoming. I spent most of the Super Bowl and BCS championship wishing I could see the game. Thanks to my fellow fans and their underdeveloped senses of consideration, I would guess I saw maybe 70% of the Super Bowl and 40% of the BCS. When you're shelling out this kind of bank, those percentages inspire murderous daydreams. Visions of shivs, specifically.

Because of the overwhelming evidence that football fans are not born with this knowledge, I hereby bequeath to fandom this primer.

DOs and DON'Ts
for football fans

Stand and jeer when the opposing team is on offense, especially on third down. Stand the whole time. See the fans behind you? See how some of them are short, old, handicapped, or lazy? They cannot see through you. While you're still turned around, please also note the nice seat the team provided for your use. See how they didn't provide risers?
Stand and cheer after great plays. Leap up in the middle of the great play. I'd like to see how it turns out, thanks.
Get front row seats. I sure wish I had. Inexplicably stand up so that the 5000 dominoes behind you all must do likewise.
Sit the fuck down. Seriously. Argue with people when you're politely asked to sit down. For example, "It's the Super Bowl!" is not really a compelling argument for impeding a crippled 70 year old's view of the Super Bowl. (True story. He'd just had knee surgery and was on crutches, yet he was told off for very nicely asking someone to sit down.)
Proudly wear your team's colors. Wear an oversized rainbow afro that completely eclipses your neighbors' view of the field. If you must get on TV, paint your chest like a man.
Proudly wear your team's colors. Wear those asinine "ladies' versions." Your team's colors almost certainly do not include pink.
Make comments to your neighbors. That's what fandom is all about. Yell comments to players and coaches 2000 feet and 40,000 fans away. Amazingly enough, they cannot hear you.
Bitch about our mutual team. That's really what fandom is about. Attribute player/coach failings to race, sexual orientation, etc. I didn't shell out good money to be slimed, thanks.
Participate in team chants. Here we go, Stillers, here we go! Drunkenly inform your fellow fans that they suck because they don't join your theatrics. Double-penalty for ignoring the game in order to lecture "inferior" fans.
Say hi to friends at the game. Call them on your cell phone, stand up, and wave. See "shiv," above.
Good naturedly needle opposing fans. Buy them a beer, while you're at it. We're all one fraternity. Ruin the game for them and everyone else. The right to unleash your pent-up hostilities and ruin someone else's good time is not included in the price of your ticket.
Root for your team at road games. Clamor for everyone's attention. This is about the game, not about you.
Bring signs Hold them overhead during plays. This really needs to be said? Jesus Christ, people. And by "during plays," I don't mean "lower it a millisecond before the snap." To those of us without rainbow afros and "Romo is a homo" signs, watching pre-snap shifts is an integral part of the game.
Urinate as needed. Walk in front of me during a play. During a 3 hour football game, there are 2 hours and 48 minutes of down time. Use that.

posted by john at 02:07 PM  •  permalink

December 20, 2006

somebody’s daughter

On my flight home from Chicago, I was seated next to a young woman in army fatigues. About 18, Maya sported the very familiar dialect of Yakima, WA (Fucking Amy's hometown). That was my first thought. My second thought was "Who enlists in the army during a war?" I devoted considerable time to thinking of a polite way to ask just that. I never succeeded.

armyboots.jpgMaya was a bitty thing. Her hair cropped short and her tiny frame swimming in her camouflaged uniform and army boots, she looked like somebody's daughter playing dress-up in Daddy's work clothes. You wouldn't really guess her gender until you saw her eyes. Giant, expressive, Disney character blue eyes.

She brought nothing to read or eat on our cross-continental flight, choosing instead to stare at the seat ahead of her and peruse its barf bag. When I declined the airline's offer of cheese and crackers, Maya asked if she could have mine. She packed it away for later. Finally realizing, I offered her my newspaper and football magazine, which, along with my trail mix and bottled water, she guiltily consumed. Hers was the sheepish acceptance of the very poor. She was visibly humiliated by having to accept the smallest kindnesses. The smaller, the more shameful.

She was going home, on leave for the holidays. Maya had just completed Basic Training and begins Advanced Infantry Training in two weeks. As she told me about AIT, she locked her eyes on mine in an excruciatingly sad, "You do understand what that means for me, right?" moment.

Yeah. I know what it means.

I tried to change the subject to happier things, like going home for Christmas. But there, too, was only more sadness. The thought of going home brought her no comfort. And it was then that my question started to answer itself. Who joins the army during wartime? Someone who's completely out of options at 18. Someone whose life is so awful, so bereft of hope, that war is a comforting step up.

Maya didn't have many paths from which to choose, and they were all horrible. She didn't turn to drugs, public assistance or crime; she turned to the only remotely positive option she had. The rest of us are blessed with nepotism or beauty or luck or wealth or intellect. But Maya? The only thing of value she has to offer the world is her mortality. The world accepted.

Knowing she had zero money and eight hours before her connecting flight, I gave her some cash with which to buy food and entertainment. I am certain that she spent none on the latter. That forty bucks probably represents twenty meager meals to her. She sheepishly accepted, eyes again welling. That's what I'll remember most about Maya. Her eyes welled every time she looked up.

A little teary myself and feeling utterly helpless, I shuffled out of the airport. I imagined seeing Maya's photo on the local news sometime in April, her gigantic, defeated blue eyes staring back at me. I wondered if anyone else would even care.

Most of all, I wondered whose daughter this is. I'd like to speak to them.

posted by john at 09:31 AM  •  permalink

December 06, 2006

ever wish you could give people gift certificates for therapy?

My dog, Ed, was hospitalized, and I went to the office. This was last Friday, and I was doing a lot of staring at my shoes. Ed's little medical episodes, her periodic confluences of symptoms, are getting more and more frequent in recent years, and I take very seriously my responsibility to decide which episode will be her last. I was well into that decision-making process as we waited for the meeting to begin, and I was, well, sad. Grave. Contemplating ending Ed's life will do that to me.

My co-workers asked about her, and I told them about the week's events. Sympathy was expressed and accepted, and I reminded them that Ed is, in fact, a very old dog. And then I was eviscerated.

"Don't say that!" Jill screamed at me, actually trembling with anger. "I completely reject that somehow, it's less sad or less tragic when someone dies just because they're old. That doesn't fucking matter. It's always a tragedy!"

I was shocked to be attacked as uncaring, particularly after a week of wiping up Ed's bodily fluids and carrying her lame body around. "But—"

"Bullshit! People try to make themselves feel better by diminishing the importance of someone dying, saying 'it was their time,' but it's bullshit! Hurtful bullshit!"

Everyone looked down, wishing they were somewhere else. Me, I wasn't sure how to respond to being attacked. I apologized for being insufficiently despondent and promised to do better at feeling worse. It was the perfect capper to a perfect week, really.

But you know what? It is easier to accept when Grandma dies than when a child dies. It is less sad when Ed develops debilitating health issues at 12 than it would have been at 3. Grandma and Ed would agree. A geriatric dog develops geriatric dog issues, and I'm supposed to treat this like it's a tragedy? Shall I complain about water being wet, too? Not every sadness should be milked for every last drop of drama.

posted by john at 07:25 AM  •  permalink

November 29, 2006

remember that morning?

Remember that morning where you woke up at 5am because something seemed wrong, and you went downstairs and heard water running, and you went outside into 16 degrees and found that the garden faucet you'd carefully insulated had burst anyway, so you grabbed your tools and flashlight and threw them in the car and drove down the driveway to the water shutoff, only to find that overnight three trees had fallen across your driveway, so you had to carry all that crap on foot through the black tundra and then dig out six inches of snow, trying to find the water main in the dark, and a bramble whipped your face and gashed it, causing blood to slowly trickle into your mouth while you shoveled, and then after an hour you found the water main and turned it off, and then you four-wheeled through Percy's lawn and down his driveway, and you drove past all the abandoned cars to the rental place and got a chainsaw, and then you cleared the driveway so that the plumber could get in tomorrow when he "might" be able to squeeze you in, and then you went back inside and your dog, unable to get outside because her door was frozen shut, had deposited noxious, runny diarrhea all over three rooms of the house, and you went to clean it up and, oh yeah, the water's off, so you did the best you could with paper towels and Aquafina but the vile stuff was tacky like orange epoxy, so you were left to smell its noxious smears until God knows when, and then you went to clean your hands and the gash on your face and, oh yeah, there's no water, and then you looked at your dog and her entire back half was matted in orange epoxy? Remember that morning? No, you don't. Only I do. Just me.

posted by john at 07:23 AM  •  permalink

November 22, 2006

the dying is easier to take

One of us near life's mid-point, the other near its end, Miss Sue and I had an unusual conversation last week. Her lifelong best friend just moved to Arizona, and Sue's socially decimated. She described their relationship at length, especially its irreplacability and the big hole left in her life now. I asked why the friend left Spokane. "Her kid lives in Arizona," Sue shrugged. "And he wanted his mom near him."

She picked at her salad a bit. "That's what it's like when you're old, you know. All your friends move away. Or die. The dying is easier to take than the moving away."

The parallel was obvious. "Is that the geriatric version of all your friends having kids and disappearing?" I asked.

"Yeah. It's exactly the same feeling."

Great. Something to look forward to.

Sue pressed on. "And there's a middle stage. When the grandkids come along, they all disappear again."

"Jesus Christ. Any other cheery nuggets to share?"

"Yeah. Just go ahead and make new friends. These aren't coming back."

posted by john at 08:41 AM  •  permalink

November 16, 2006

musings at the urinal in the johannesburg of michigan

Men do not typically converse when standing at urinals. The same is not true at urinal troughs, however. The ritual blending of excrement serves to break down otherwise insurmountable social barriers. Urinal troughs are rare in modern times, having been replaced by the more distinguished personal urinal and indoor plumbing. Except at Michigan Stadium, of course, which is where this story took place last year.

The man attending to his business beside me was about my age and wearing Ohio State colors, complete with a 5-foot buckeye necklace that put my own to shame. I asked him when he attended; we were there for some of the same years. We joked about OSU, but we saved our real venom for the Michigan fans. He asked me if I'd noticed anything about the racial composition of the crowd.

Of course not. White guys are oblivious to such sensitivities. I hadn't noticed the racial composition of a crowd since I was lost in in East St. Louis in 1999. "Check it out," said my black fellow buckeye. "It's like you're at the opera in Scandinavia. And we're what, 30 miles from Detroit?"

Michigan fans, lily white all, just stared at us, not knowing quite how to refute this.

Let's take another look at the photo from the other day, shall we? It'll be like "Where's Waldo?" only with uncomfortable these-people-just-voted-to-ban-affirmative-action? overtones. See if you can find the black guy a half hour from Detroit.

posted by john at 07:30 AM  •  permalink

November 09, 2006

into the craven mind of the american male

A few years back, Dorkass had the distinct pleasure of watching her boss (me) start hanging out with her little sister. I fondly remember the accusations of untoward intentions, accusations that usually bubbled up during our weekly 1:1s. Dorkass' delight peaked when li'l sis and I started getting on airplanes together. To Dorkass, this collision of worlds was decidedly unwelcome. I can just imagine her parting words to her sister: "Never forget he's a complete dog! If he gives you something green, for the love of God, don't drink it!"

Worse, though, was when I started carousing with Dorkass' ex-husband, Jim. "Usurper!" she charged.

I have no idea why it so bothered her.

"Ya know what Dorkasses's pwoblem is?" he began every drunken sentence, as I set my pool cue down to take notes. This shit's pure gold. I'll sneak this material on to her performance review.

The friendship didn't last, however. Jim was in full-blown post-divorce womanizing mode, and I lost interest in that pretty quickly. He was in that unseemly zone where every woman, regardless her status or interest, was a prospective Next! This especially applied to exceedingly young women. When a middle-aged guy is shamelessly trolling for 18 year olds, eventually dating at least one, you do wonder why you're hanging out with him.

I shared these concerns with Dorkass one night, and she revealed that Jim had mentioned his taking out a personals ad. After a pregnant pause, we lunged at my laptop. And there it was, a preening pack of lies aimed at disguising what a lump he was. We debated whether "adrenaline junkie" or "I love to read" was the funnier line, and then I had my brainstorm. I invented Sam.

SamLuvsYa was a sweet, simple 18 year old high school student who found his ad intriguing. She had little to say except that, although he's really too old for her, she thought he sounded fun. She made a token attempt at small-talk. "Who r ur fave writers?" she asked. She was, by any measure, an utterly unremarkable child with horrible spelling. And then I attached this photo.


"Yes, I'm older," Jim replied at considerable length, trimming a few years off his age. "But one of the things the wisdom of time has given me is the insight that love is ageless."

"How generous of him!" Dorkass howled, both of us doubled over in laughter as we read his overwritten, deliriously fawning response. It turns out he, too, found Sam intriguing. It must have been the "r ur." I don't know what else it could have been. Oh, and his favorite author? There are too many to mention, but if pressed, he'd have to say "Shakespeare."

"Not unless it's Steve Shakespeare of Men's Health," Dorkass snorted.

We never came clean. And Sam? She went away to college. Damn kids today.

posted by john at 06:33 AM  •  permalink

October 31, 2006

killing billing

When I was fresh out of college and the unquestioned Supreme Authority on Everything, I slummed as a technical writer at EDS. This experience netted me two enduring impressions.

The first was when my mentor, a senior writer named Al, looked at my timecard. He squinted at it for a long time. "John..?" he finally drawled. "Are you reporting the hours you actually worked?"

Yes I was.

"Son, son, son. Lemme 'splain how this works." He all but sat me on his knee. "At the end of the week, when you're filling out your time card—listen to me now—it ain't how many hours you actually worked. It's how many hours it felt like."

The genius of this system was immediately apparent. I took to timecard padding like a duck to, well, a really hot, drunk female duck who's on the rebound.

And on it went, through my years as a manager—"Is this how many hours it felt like? No. Gimme a pencil."—and beyond. My masterpiece was when I was still a contractor, though. Having worked a horrendous, legitimate 86 hour week, I added 10 hours. Seeing the big "96," my boss sighed, thanked me for not quitting, and told me to add 10 hours to my timecard. And thus did my 106 hour timecard come into being. I still have it.

So wherever you are, Al, thank you for nurturing my chrysalis sense of entitlement. It really blossomed later on. Today, my life is a veritable monument to your teachings.

Tomorrow: the second enduring EDS lesson

posted by john at 07:41 AM  •  permalink

killing billing

When I was fresh out of college and the unquestioned Supreme Authority on Everything, I slummed as a technical writer at EDS. This experience netted me two enduring impressions.

The first was when my mentor, a senior writer named Al, looked at my timecard. He squinted at it for a long time. "John..?" he finally drawled. "Are you reporting the hours you actually worked?"

Yes I was.

"Son, son, son. Lemme 'splain how this works." He all but sat me on his knee. "At the end of the week, when you're filling out your time card—listen to me now—it ain't how many hours you actually worked. It's how many hours it felt like."

The genius of this system was immediately apparent. I took to timecard padding like a duck to, well, a really hot, drunk female duck who's on the rebound.

And on it went, through my years as a manager—"Is this how many hours it felt like? No. Gimme a pencil."—and beyond. My masterpiece was when I was still a contractor, though. Having worked a horrendous, legitimate 86 hour week, I added 10 hours. Seeing the big "96," my boss sighed, thanked me for not quitting, and told me to add 10 hours to my timecard. And thus did my 106 hour timecard come into being. I still have it.

So wherever you are, Al, thank you for nurturing my chrysalis sense of entitlement. It really blossomed later on. Today, my life is a veritable monument to your teachings.

Tomorrow: the second enduring EDS lesson

posted by john at 07:41 AM  •  permalink

October 30, 2006

sports bigamists

An old girlfriend had a system in roulette. It primarily consisted of her sitting at the table and looking beautiful until some rich dolt tried to ply his way into her pants by placing an enormous bet on her behalf.

"Dinner's on me!" she'd say later, clutching fistfuls of cash.

Until the dolt materialized, she had another system. She bet on everything. For any given spin, she'd have a dozen stacks of chips out there. Some on odd numbers, some on numbers outright, some straddling numbers, some on rows of numbers. The idea, she explained, was to hedge her losses by betting on as many outcomes as possible. She never won big, but it also took her a long time to go bankrupt. And she had the satisfaction of winning on nearly every spin.

I think of her whenever someone tells me that they're a Seahawks fan and a Rams fan, with a side bet on the Dolphins, and they grew up a Colts fan, so they claim them too, especially when they're winning. This fan, too, is someone who bets on as many outcomes as possible. This fan wants to win on nearly every spin.

general_steelers_logo_44529.jpgBubba is like that. He's a sports polygamist. A renaissance fan. This Football Weekend, we're seeing no less than four teams he claims as his very own: the Seahawks, 49ers, Falcons, and Panthers. nfc.jpgI wanted to get window flags for our rental car. My window would fly the Steelers' colors, of course, but I had no idea what to get for his side. Does the whole NFC conference have a flag?

I don't get it, and he doesn't get my not getting it.

Those of us who marry a team during childhood—and stand by them faithfully, for better and (mostly) worse—have little regard for sports bigamists. We're content to let them exist as inconsequential background noise, but invariably, these people want to talk trash. When the Steelers lose, the gloating mail comes in.

This is exactly as meaningful as a guy who pays for hookers, then brags—to someone married for 30 years—about how much he gets laid. Um, yeah, that's kinda what hookers do. Congratulations on getting laid and all, but what about this transaction entitles you to call the hooker "my girlfriend?"

posted by john at 08:09 AM  •  permalink

October 25, 2006

time to homo sapiens up and face this thing that’s like a quagmire, only more of a deliberate trap

Don't say "homo!" say the trolls of my imagination.

Reaction to my defense of calling a spade a spade continues to trickle in. Heartwarming, it is, to again be reminded that people are just people. Black or white, rich or poor, young or old, male or female, we are all united in our one overarching goal: to be the most offended. To beat someone else over the head with the club of our own moral superiority. It's clear that my attempt at dialogue on race and language has degenerated into a competitive game of Outrage! New, from Parker Brothers!

Ah, unity.

It's a dark day indeed when on this page I quote Marky Mark in Planet of the Apes.

"Everybody shut up. That goes for all races."
The most fun part for me: in one ear, being called an oblivious white guy who doesn't understand the harmful effects of calling spades spades; in the other ear, hearing from Oblivious White Guys (OWGs) who don't think there's anything wrong with saying, well, pretty much anything. I especially enjoyed their equating my spade with the poor, misunderstood Confederate flag.

Pardon me while I scratch. I'm suddenly itchy.

We're talking about apples and anvils. I know I'm me and not you and am therefore not entitled to an opinion, but I propose that any reasonable discussion starts with an epithet taxonomy. Here's mine:

Reader reactions have overgeneralized in polar ways. OWGs maintain that any attempt to deem Type 1 "racist" forgives the use of 2s and even 3s. Charming, no? Meanwhile, others don't distinguish between types at all—for me to protect Type 1 is for me to endorse them all, to say that words don't matter.

To be clear, my original point was merely that Type 1 words didn't belong with the others. I'll now add that their inclusion undermines the discussion. I thought, and still strongly feel, that it's a dangerous over-correction to go out looking for expressions to pronounce "racist." When they achieve Type 2 status, I'm all for revisiting 'em. Sensitivity is called for. Language does hurt, even kill. This dialogue is important and should continue, vigilantly and objectively. This is what I was attempting to do when I got pummeled.

Since that post, I've learned two things. First, OWGs cling to easy targets (like this overreaching exercise given to dorm residents at the University of New Hampshire) as evidence that any dialogue on language and racial sensitivity is silly and fruitless. That is not, however, what I see. I see an noble effort sabotaging itself. I'll argue that by ditzily scrambling innocent Type 1s into their examples, the exercise's authors—almost certainly well-meaning and white—completely undermined their own credibility and, ironically, engendered resentment toward minorities. Want proof? Read my mail. You will see misspellings you never imagined possible.

Meanwhile, several black readers were surprised that, when I'm told that my language is racist, I hear "you're racist." They took great pains to explain that we're talking about racist language, not people, but I'm unconvinced. Is it really that far of a stretch? When I say that someone's statement is "stupid," does that not impugn his intelligence? When I say that his comments are "evil," does that much allow for sainthood? I see precious little distinction between "someone who says racist things" and "someone racist." These folks could, of course, reasonably counter that they're only responsible for what they mean, not for what I hear. But then that argument would extend to garden tools, now, wouldn't it?

posted by john at 10:33 AM  •  permalink

October 23, 2006

them wacky ohio state universities

Whenever someone wants to make fun of my alma mater, they invariably go after an article. The article. For when I was a student at OSU, the school saw fit to add a "the" to its name. They're "The Ohio State University." Rather, they're "T • h • e Ohio State University." The bullets is important.

The idea was to sound more elite. My suggestion that they heighten their prestige by changing their name to "Bumfuck Community College Extension Campus" fell on deaf ears.

We all cringed. I thought it was moronic, of course, and I wondered how many hours were wasted in committee dreaming up this answer to a question no one asked. In protest, I made my tuition checks out to "An Ohio State University." Turns out they cashed just fine.

posted by john at 08:03 AM  •  permalink

October 12, 2006

the ed i'll miss most

About the only time my geriatric dog, Ed, springs out of bed nowadays is when she sees me pouring a tawny and cutting a cigar. That signals hot tub time, and apparently it means more than onetime favorites mealtime, ride time, or defecation time.

It started about a year ago, when her physical slowdown became obvious—I started thinking about the inevitable. Specifically when in the hot tub, I started thinking about how much I'm going to miss her when she's gone. It's made the hot tub a melancholy place. Oh sure, there will be other dogs. They won't be Ed, though. For that reason, I took a camera into the tub tonight. Pardon my indulgence.

Here she is keeping watch for whales. Okay, raccoons.

ed hottub 029.jpg

And here she is, whoring for cigar smoke blown in her face, which for some reason she loves. The chances of her sneezing in my eyes are approximately 1:1.

ed hottub 042.jpg

posted by john at 07:35 PM  •  permalink

the old last-time-i-saw-my-dad story

Family Week concludes, as threatened, with the original last-time-I-saw-my-Dad story.

• • •

Like many little kids, I couldn't wait to grow up and leave the family. Like few, I actually did.

When my brother sent a message into the fog, our dad had no idea where I was or how to find me. I hadn't seen him in four years. I fully intended to make it a lifetime.

"Dad's trying to drink himself to death," my brother told me.

"How's that new?"

"He really is trying to kill himself. He hasn't eaten in two weeks, and he's drinking nonstop. His bloodstream is pure alcohol. He's trying to commit suicide."

I didn't say what I was thinking: Maybe that's for the best. "Well, take away his booze."

My brother continued. "He's requested to see you one last time before he dies."

"Oh hell no. I have no interest in saying goodbye to a drunken martyr."

We talked some more, my brother trying to talk me into fulfilling the request, for the family's sake. He thought it might make a difference.

"If I go, I'm calling the sheriff and having Dad thrown in the drunk tank," I announced.

My brother didn't object. I was the perfect candidate to do so, after all. It's not like I was going to be cut any more out of Dad's will. And thus did I drive to tiny London, Ohio, against my better judgement. As I approached my father's house, every corpuscle in my body tugged me away. But once you've committed to such an enterprise, I reasoned, you're going straight to hell if you back out. I searched the neighborhood for the address my brother had given me, for a house I had never seen. When I came upon a house with a gigantic statue of the Virgin Mary in the front yard, I slammed on the brakes. It could be no one else's home.

The back door was unlocked, and the house wasn't as decimated as I would have thought. My brother had reported that my dad had spent all of yesterday trying to call him, so impaired was his mind and dexterity; I had expected a war zone. There were a few magazines and newspapers scattered about, but it was otherwise neat. I did some quick reconnaissance. I found it downright creepy to break into this strange, silent house and see long-forgotten artifacts from my childhood—lamps, paintings and such. I paused to look at pictures of the family hanging on the staircase wall. And then in the kitchen, I found a rifle lying on the kitchen counter. Next to it was an illegible note. It looked like toddler scribbling. If my dog, Ed, attempted to write a note while blindfolded and clenching the pen in her butt cheeks, it would be no less legible.

I could put it off no longer; it was time for the main event. I found my way to the bedroom, where Dad waited for me. Unconscious, buck naked, one leg off the bed, one leg on, and ol' brownie winking at the world. I winced and covered him up. The man reeked of alcohol and vomit and alcoholic vomit. I tried to wake him. It couldn't be done. It took me an hour to get him to sit upright and focus his eyes on me. When he did, he thought I was my brother and mumbled something about his rich son taking yet another day off. I informed him that I was not, in fact, my brother.

"Do you know who I am, Dad?"

He squinted. "John...?"

"Yeah, Dad. It's me."

With surprising speed, he lunged at my throat, wrapping both hands around my neck and trying to crush my windpipe with his thumbs. I smacked him off. He apologized. Then he lunged at my throat again.

We played choke-me-punch-you until he got tired, and we sat on the edge of his bed until his breath returned and we could resume. It was then that I noticed his toenail polish. It was sloppily applied—apparently Ed had been clenching the brush in her butt cheeks—but it was definitely toenail polish. And fingernail polish. And rouge. And was that mascara? What had my stepmother done to him? And then my dad uttered the words that would rock my moronic family. Here they are in unfiltered drunkenese:

"Tho....tho...tho....I I I I I I g-guess b-by n-now you you you've phiggered out dat...dat...dat myour old man's a...a...a...tr-tr-tr-transvebspite."

Actually, I hadn't. Thanks for the anecdote, though. I promise to use it only for good.

I explained to him the deal: I was throwing out all the booze, and he was eating, or I was calling the sheriff. I got up to go to the kitchen. He did something approximating my movement, but not really, tumbling like an armload of empty liquor bottles to the ground. I helped him up. Leaning on me heavily, he nevertheless lunged for my throat. Ker-PLUNK-PLUNK.

I got him to the kitchen table and began to cook whatever I could find. He told me how I'd wronged him by disappearing. He accused me of being on drugs.

"I hope you fully appreciate the irony of that statement someday," I snapped.

Oblivious, he plowed on. He told me what a stupid fuck-up I was. Why, I couldn't even get through college.

"Actually, if you'd bothered to check, you'd see that I did."


"I graduated."

"Bullshit! Liar!"

I had actually anticipated this particular line of abuse, as it's where he'd left off four years earlier. I pulled my Ohio State diploma, still in its bright scarlet binder, out of my backpack. I flipped it to my dad. "There ya go, Sherlock."

He held the diploma, tried to focus on it, and promptly drooled on it. A big, globular ball o' toxic slobber plunked its surface. And then he dropped the binder, and it slammed shut. To this day, my undergraduate diploma has a huge orange smear. If anyone, God forbid, needs my dad's DNA sample, look no further.

He had me read the diploma to him—a hilarious request, in retrospect—lunged at my throat twice more, and fell down countless times. I don't think he ever ate. Finally, my sister Linda called. I gave her the report, and she said she was coming later and thereby got me off the hook. Except for anecdotal fodder, my descent into revulsion had been a complete waste of time, a wholly unnecessary compromise of my principles. Lesson learned. I was still on the phone when Dad appeared in the doorway.

"Hold on a second, Linda. Dad pulled a gun on me." I set the phone down.

"John? JOOOOOOHHHHN!" said the tinny voice on the other end.

There dad was, cackling with glee and trying to aim the loaded rifle at me. Fortunately, the man who could scarcely stand could point a rifle even less, and I was able to disarm him before anything could happen. But the deed was done. My dad had pulled a gun on me.

I took that opportunity to leave. "Why??" he said angrily. All I wanted was to get out the door and back to the comforts of the fog that hid and protected me from my family. Desperate to extricate myself, I made whatever promises to see him again that it took. He accused me of lying. For once, he was right.

• • •

I drove back to Columbus, where I picked up Maddie at her workplace and took her out to dinner. We sat in a booth, facing one another. I thought she was wincing because of my story, but she informed me that my breath reeked of alcohol. That's how drunk (and near) my father had been. The alcohol in his exhalations had so saturated my lungs that even an hour later, my own breath reeked of his.

• • •

There are many epilogues to this story, but one of my favorites is the most recently discovered. A year after the encounter, when he was relatively sober, my dad's account included some editorial commentary.

"I forgot to check whether the diploma was real," he snorted. That he was unable to hold or read it without help? Not mentioned. The drool? Didn't make the cut. The swipe at my character? There as always. Truly, I must be on drugs not to want to be around people as kind and decent as them.

posted by john at 08:52 AM  •  permalink

October 11, 2006

the new last-time-I-saw-my-dad story

Dirt and I were driving past fields in Iowa somewhere, talking about love and life. At one point he asked, "So when's the last time you saw your dad?"

I described for him the scene. It was 1997, and my sister was visiting me, and Dad decided to tag along. Before we'd left the airport, he was questioning everything. Where I parked was stupid. My car was stupid. Seattle was stupid. Microsoft was no Boeing. I clearly remember spiraling down the parking ramp at Seatac and thinking "Jesus Christ, that's five insults, and we're not even out of the freakin' parking garage."

The weekend was progressively more hostile. His visit was an angry inspection. The more he saw evidence that I had, in fact, succeeded without him and that I was not, in fact, on/dealing drugs as he'd been telling people for a decade, the angrier he became. He questioned whether my job really existed. He corrected the way I filled my gas tank. Because my rental house was more house than one person needed, he accused me of hiding a roommate and demanded to know where she was. He eviscerated a poor teenager working at Subway for daring to ask what ingredients Dad wanted on his sub. Mortified, I gave the kid five bucks as we left. "The kid is a dumbass," I was told, "And you're a dumbass for tipping him." And on and on. And finally, when I was putting the top up on my Jeep and politely declined his help, saying that it would be quicker for me to just do it, he erupted in profanity. I believe "motherfucking dumbass" was what he so eloquently called me in my own home.

The rest is a blur, but I remember a lot of adrenaline and shouting. I chased him up the stairs, shoving him in the chest and very badly wanting him to give me an excuse to throw him off the balcony. Dad declined to take a swing at me. "I guess you only hit women and little kids, huh?" I seethed, fists clenched. "You pussy."

I explained in very certain terms that he would never again be in my home. I hugged my shell-shocked sister and whispered to her that she was always welcome. When I last saw my dad, he was shuffling off to his plane. By the time the story circulated around Ohio and filtered back to me, I was quite the villain indeed.

"But you know what?" I told Dirt. "That wasn't that part that bothered me. What irked me most is that this replaced my old last-time-I-saw-my-Dad story, which was a sordid spectacular. A much better story."

"Do tell."

Tomorrow: the old last-time-I-saw-my-Dad story. Guns! Violence! Nudity!

posted by john at 08:14 AM  •  permalink

October 10, 2006

the miracle baby

OHIO - Every argument my mother had with the teenage me distilled down to this essence: I blamed her for my having been born, and she blamed me.

"Why the hell did you even have kids? You hate your kids!"

"Believe me, John," Mom would snarl as hurtfully as she could, "All of my children were accidents."

"They know what causes kids, you know. Nicely done."

Variations on that conversation repeated throughout my adolescence. We had it many, many times. My mother was exactly the sort of person who needed to make it clear that your very existence ruined hers, and she never missed an opportunity to remind you.


It's 2006, and Mom has been dead for two decades. My eldest sister reports that she ran into an old friend of the family, Father Carmine, who I remember in name only. When I was very small, priests would come over to our house and conduct some sort of service in our living room, right in front of the piano. I think one of them might have been him.

All these decades later, to my sister's complete shock, he remembered her. The man must be 80 by now, yet he remembered our mother, father, and all the kids by name. He asked about each of us individually. And when it came to the last, he asked, "And how is the miracle baby, John Paul?"

"What." my sister monotones in my imagination.

And then Father Carmine told her about how my mother so desperately wanted a fifth baby, about how they prayed together that she would conceive.

Now, I'm at a loss to explain how a 34 year old mother of four who didn't practice birth control can get pregnant and have it proclaimed miraculous. And I do not care how. Behold the wonder, the splendor, the divine intervention that is me. Behold John, the Miracle Baby!

It didn't take me long to abuse my new status. "Well," I said to my sister pityingly, putting my arm around her. "We wanted children often have a different perspective..."

posted by john at 08:16 AM  •  permalink

October 05, 2006

the unveiling

Last night I went out for drinks with a new friend and we showed one another our scabs. I always let the other person go first. She doesn't get along with her parents, who continue their lifelong practice of not much caring about her. The effects are obvious; she's twitchy, nervous, eager for approval. She makes curious relationship choices. She's in therapy, even though she doesn't think it's ever done her a lick of good or ever will.

"How about you?" she asked. "Do you get along with your parents?"

Here we go.

A simple "not really" will precipitate another question, which will precipitate another, and soon this will be a cross-examination. I know from past experience that in 30 minutes' time, this friendship will be forever changed. She'll fall in love with me (or more precisely, with the notion of repairing me), recoil in horror, or some contorted combination of the two. Mind you, I won't volunteer any information. It's just that for every follow-up question she will ask, the answer will be "Yes." On life's grand childhood trauma quiz, I get an A. Not a 100%, more like a 95%, but an A nonetheless.

It's 30 minutes later. Her drink is empty, her eyes are the size of manhole covers, and her arms are flailing wildly.

"How does that not affect you?!?"

"My family? It does."

"I don't see it."

"Oh, they're there. They're always there in the back seat of my mind, chattering in my ear. But I don't let them drive."

"But...but...how can you, like, just decide not to let it affect you?"

"Well, it'd be naive to think that it doesn't affect me at all. I mean Jesus, just look at my life. How many people like me do you know? But yes, at a certain point, I did decide to stop whining and take ownership of my own issues as best I could."

"Yeah, but how?"

"I just got fed up with my family's twistedness and decided that from that point forward, anything wrong with me was my own fault."

"Yeah, but how?"

"I just told you how."

"No you didn't."

And so it will go, forever, neither of us ever understanding the blocking issue for the other. I have friends who get it, and I have friends who don't. The ones who get it? At some point they'd decided to take ownership of their problems, too.

I have a new theory that parents who are off-the-charts, comic-book-villain bad are actually doing their kids a favor. It's not hard to make a dissociative break from comic book villains. They bear no resemblance to me or to real life, the child can honestly say. They have nothing to do with my reality. The child is forcefully shoved toward this realization. He's forced to man-up. Meanwhile, the kids with the merely shitty parents get no life-changing shove. No epiphany. They likely remain in their moderately negative parental dynamic forever, doomed to a desperate, grasping lifetime of "Yeah, but how?"

You heard it here first: parents, if you're going to mess up your kids, do them a favor and really pile it on. They'd thank you for it later, if they were still speaking to you.

posted by john at 07:54 AM  •  permalink

September 26, 2006

the time the approval whore screwed her courage to the sticking place and stood up to my abuse

I've had exactly two interactions with the AW since our relationship officially gasped its last. The first was several months after the breakup, when I was acquiring from her my ancient laptop. This gave me the chance to fire an unused bullet. "Be sure to comb it carefully for my old emails and save them to roses.txt," I said.

The next and last contact was no longer than that, but it has far more backstory.

In the years I was trying to return to teaching, I made contacts at an area university that happened to be the AW's alma mater. Every year, they invited me to be a guest speaker at their Spring careers lecture, where I conducted a writing workshop. Every year, I invited my girlfriend to come with me to her alma mater and see me in my natural element. And every year, she yawned and declined.

One November, the university offered me a job in the spring. I accepted. In December, the AW and I broke up. In March, I stepped behind the lectern again. In April I saw, on the walls outside my office, flyers advertising the guest lecturers who would be speaking to my students.

"Approval Whore, a manager from the Microsoft Corporation..."
Letting go of the fact that she wasn't a manager, I was incensed. Now, now she has an interest in the lecture series? I had an exceptionally cool class, and I told them about the ex weirdness. What I found disrespectful and hypocritical, they thought downright psychotic. "I'll give you guys killer questions for her—about her infidelities, her arrest in Oregon, etc." We all had a good laugh and then agreed that the easiest course was for none of them to attend the lecture.

Soon I got mail that announced the guest lecturers, and I took that opportunity to make my displeasure known. I forwarded it to the AW.

"Thanks for the respectful distance. I'll be sure my students are exceedingly well prepared for your Q&A."
That would be our last contact.

I showed the flyer to friends on her team at work. "You don't have, like, skilled people you could send to talk to my students?" Word trickled back that she hadn't mentioned the lecture to anyone there, not so much as to ask for the day off. And then I didn't think about it for several months.

The day of the lecture, the AW marched into her boss's office and excitedly announced that a special, "spur of the moment opportunity" to lecture at her alma mater had just dropped into her lap. Yes, the AW would need to miss deadlines and screw over people at work, but this opportunity was just too special to pass up. The boss grudgingly let her go. And while she was gone, the flyer made its way from my friends to the boss.

When the AW returned and boasted about how fantabulous a lecturer she was, the boss confronted her about the flyer. Caught in a needless and gargantuan lie, the AW then did what she does best. She burst into tears.

"I don't know how much you know about my personal life, but I'm coming out of a really abusive relationship situation," she sobbed about her cheating on me and my not caring.

"He's been trying to bully and intimidate me," she wept about her following me to my new employer and volunteering to meet my students. "I used to cave in, to let him control me. But here, this one time, I finally stood up to him! And I'm proud of myself for having the courage to face down his intimidation! I'm proud of myself for going!"

Welcome once again to Planet AW, where lying, cheating, and gross disrespect are unassailable virtues. And oh yeah. She's a manager now.

posted by john at 09:12 AM  •  permalink

September 23, 2006

newsweek: women in leadership

The latest Newsweek cover features their annual salute to women in leadership roles. In her regular editorial, that well-meaning airhead Anna Quindlen hails the very existence of this salute as a breakthrough for womankind.

Were it executed well, I might well agree. But Nancy Pelosi, the imminent first female Speaker of the House and highest ranking woman in our government ever, is not mentioned. That noted marginalizer of Cheney and Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice, is not mentioned. Sherry Lansing, the first woman to head a movie studio and the woman who green-lit Titanic? Nope. Indra Nooyi, the first female CEO of Pepsico? Shamila Kohestani, an Afghan woman who defies very real death threats from Islamic fundamentalists in order to play soccer? Oprah, even? Anyone? Anyone?

No, with a world of accomplished females to choose from, Newsweek led the story with noted leaders Danica Patrick and Queen Latifah. A breakthrough for women, indeed.


posted by john at 11:22 AM  •  permalink

September 21, 2006

when sociopath met psychopath

I ventured into the outside world yesterday, always a mistake. Leaving my Jeep at the mechanic, I accepted a ride home aboard their courtesy van. A forty-something woman named Marge appeared, keys in hand. "Ready freddie?"

It would be the last vaguely sane thing I heard her say.

Things I learned during my ride with Marge:

I assured her that I hate kids. "Seriously. Ask anyone."

posted by john at 07:42 AM  •  permalink

September 14, 2006

photo negative life

During our conversation, Pam and I wallowed gleefully in scorn for three demographics that happen to irritate us both to no end: 1) young suburban whites who try to glom on to black culture, 2) young suburban blacks to whom every perceived slight is "racist," and 3) Pam's husband. Number three has nothing to do with the other two. I just wanted him in there. "Talk about your bait and switches," Pam groaned. "The man put on fifty pounds on our honeymoon."

That comment would bring me a whole lot more pleasure if I hadn't gotten even fatter.

• • •

I held forth for a time about how I hold accusations of racism to the same burden of proof that I hold accusations of lying or stealing, and about how, at times, younger blacks have become angry with me for not taking their word for what white folks are thinking.

Pam chuckled her agreement. "But let me ask you something. Just as an exercise. Do you think you'd be living the same life if you'd been born black?"

Of course not, I thought.

"Of course not," I said. "No way." This exercise was easy.


Why? Why. I stammered about racism and white privilege for a while. She let me. I tried to conjure evidence to back up my claim. I soon retreated into quiet reflection. It's not often that someone smarter than me comes along and traps me, but here I was, dangling by my ankles, my shirt over my head. I do not like the feeling. This must be what life is like for Dorkass every damned day. I reacted with typical grace.

"Fuuuuuuuuuuck you."

"The whys ain't so easy, are they?"

Indeed. The whys are a bitch. They're hard to quantify, or even to list speculatively. All the little advantages I've enjoyed and all the additional burdens placed upon my black peers—I know of these things, but I cannot readily prove their existence. Much like with a black hole, we understand the existence of institutional racism without being able to directly observe it.

I do not know, for example, that the linchpin people who've profoundly shaped my life would not have done the same if my skin were a different color. But it seems naive to assume that everyone would have treated me identically, does it not? With a couple exceptions, these twenty or so folks all looked very much like I do. I'd like to think that's not a variable. I just can't make myself believe it.

Pam was cleverly putting me in the shoes of having to prove racism. Point taken. My burden of proof was impossible to satisfy. Klansmen don't come along often; the everyday realities are far subtler than that. All the more reason to use the r-word judiciously, in my estimation. It's fine and healthy to scan for it, to debate it. But casually diagnosing it? I think the whys should be a bitch for all concerned.

posted by john at 10:54 AM  •  permalink

August 25, 2006

the amazing adventures of tardo, the dog wonder

My dog, Ed, is nearly 12. She's a former athlete well past her prime, and I'd long since concluded that her adventures were behind her. This is, after all, a dog who can no longer get out of bed unassisted some days, let alone jump into the back of my Jeep. My lifting Ed around is something with which we've both had to get comfortable in her dotage.

I was wrong. Ed had one more spectacular in her.

Yesterday, Dirt and his buddy Jim came over to my house to fish for salmon. I remained in the house, preparing dinner, while they went to the beach stairs.

"No, Ed," Dirt told her as he locked the gate at the top of the stairs. "Not this time." And then he saw a black and white blur shoot past his side. Ed had decided to leap for the staircase.

"Krypto the Superdog there bloody launched herself off the cliff, trying to clear the railing and land on the stairs," Jim recounted later. "She missed by about eight feet."

edsleap_sm.JPGSo if one misses the staircase, you might ask, where exactly would one land? An excellent question, one I wish the retard in question had considered. It's a precipice. Straight down for ninety feet. No one could survive this fall.

Dirt and Jim didn't even have time to vocalize before it was over. Tumbling, scratching, occasionally grazing earth, Ed reached the bottom in seconds.

"How fast was she going?" I asked.

"About ((32 feet per second) per second)," Dirt replied, his eyes still wide with disbelief. "And then she landed in sand, shook it off, and started prancing around the beach like it was all a part of the plan. She was chasing our lures into the water for an hour. Which, ironically, is what I was closing the gate to prevent."

It's 14 hours later at this writing, and Ed is resting in her bed, which she needed help exiting just now. Goldbrick.

posted by john at 07:38 AM  •  permalink

July 09, 2006

old town, new town
red town, blue town

eastern washington barnMost people are surprised when I tell them that Washington state is mostly desert. The mountains and waters and mild weather you see on the postcards comprise only the western quarter of the state. Cross the mountains fifty miles to Seattle's east, and suddenly you're in an arid desert that continues for 200 miles until you get to Spokane, where pine trees suddenly pop out of the rolling yellow hills, where it hits 100 every summer and -10 every winter. You'd never guess you were in the same state.

That's where I lived for two years when I first arrived in Washington.

Much like their geographical differences, there's a sharp cultural and political divide between eastern and western Washington. Paint the areas east of the mountains red, the western areas solidly blue. And me, I've had the great misfortune to live in conservative Spokane when Clinton was ruinin' the country and in liberal Seattle now that W. is.

Is that ever tiresome.

If you ever get the chance, open the Spokane Spokesman-Review to the letters to the editor. Here's a synthesis of what you can expect to find:

To the editor,
When are Americans going to WAKE UP and realize that their country is being taken over by the anti-gun choice and tax-and-spend Dumbocrats? They had their chance and all they accomplished was BLOW JOBS! And now we have a President who walks with Christ and all they can do is criticize! Stop the country! I want to get off!!!

— Cooter P. McNugget, Hayden Lake


The letters are excruciating, yet you cannot avert your eyes. They beckon like sirens to the rocky shoals of your mind, they do. Nor can you long avoid having redneck world views shoved down your throat. "I swear to God," said one woman of Washington's new ban on smoking in public places. "The gummint just wants to control everything nowadays."

"Oh, they do not. This is reasonable. It's not like secondhand smoke is good for you."

"Tough. People have been breathing it for decades." And then she indulged in the stupid man's preferred form of argumentation: say the same thing, only louder and with a personal attack chaser. "THE GUMMINT HAS GONE TOO FAR! WHAT DO YOU WANT NEXT, BANNING FATTY FOODS?"

Because the AM radio tells them to, Spokanites complain about taxes a lot. And even those who pay zero taxes manage to complain about any public services enjoyed by those of us who shovel towering heaps of cash to the government. I once endured a Spokane retiree and a lazy-assed, white-trash, unemployed mooch of a Spokane husband complaining about how their taxes went to pay for my ferry.

"What taxes? Would you like to compare tax burdens? I guaranfreakingtee you I paid more in taxes last year than you've earned in any year of your life." They declined.

When I lived in Spokane, Limbaugh was lord, Clinton was Satan, and I couldn't wait until I was no longer pummeled by idiots' opinions. And then I moved to Seattle, and only the idiots changed.

"Hi, I'm Dawn and I drive a hybrid and go through your garbage looking for recycling fouls and wear no deodorant except for this herbal stuff I buy at the food co-op and I'm a vegan well almost but not quite because I have a silk blouse but it was made from free-range grain-fed silkworms in Tibet and I don't support Bush."

"Hi, I'm John, and I didn't ask."


seattle ferry mountains puget soundA friend once observed that Seatards don't show you who they are; they instead rattle off a list of trends that they've bundled together in lieu of a personality. There's no depth whatsoever to it. They'll speak smugly, and loudly, about owning a hybrid, yet their old car is still out there guzzling fossil fuels for someone else, making their purchase no more environmentally significant than any other conspicuous instance of consumer consumption. I've already railed about the stupidity of their electric busses. Their diversity parade? Please. You'll never meet a less diverse group of people than the Seattle ditzy left. Trust that they went straight from that parade back to social circles who uniformly look and, for lack of a better term, think just like them.

As evidence of Bush's election fraud, several Seatards have said the following to me: "I don't know anyone who voted for him." And they're earnest in this belief. So malformed is their intellect, they think this indicts the election results more than themselves. In a country in which a smidgeon more than half voted for Bush, they have labored to know none of them. Diversity, indeed.

So where does this leave me, other than feeling uncomfortable and vaguely assaulted on both sides of the state? I found myself preferring Spokane folks, though until yesterday I wasn't sure why. They're less educated, demographically. Marginally whiter. Flag-waving, gun-toting, ill-read drones of the AM radio–right. These are not qualities that I admire.

But yesterday when I was in Spokane, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of telling a friend that something he said offended me. And he asked why. And I told him. And he said he'd never considered that. And that was the end of it.

I felt a thud of realization: this was the difference. This conversation has never happened for me in Seattle. I can't imagine it ever happening. No, I would simply be blamed for my own offense. The idiocy in Seattle is not by lazy happenstance but by willful design. Whereas the irritating idiocies in Spokane are largely born of ignorance, those in Seattle are rooted in pretense and hypocrisy. And therein lies the crucial difference.

Ignorance can sometimes be cured.

posted by john at 10:13 AM  •  permalink

June 26, 2006

pity this

When I took my leave of grad school and Spokane, I promised my friends Sue, the Creative Writing secretary, and Lynn, my boss, that I would stay in touch.

They laughed. "Yeah, we've heard that one before. We'll hear from you for a year, maybe two, and then never again. You'll just fade away. They always do."

This Thursday, 12 years and three weeks after that conversation, Lynn and Sue arrive at my house again. I will remind them of their scoffing a decade ago. They will beg me to fade away with dignity.

• • •

Mothering. You can't spell "smothering" without it.

mopping.jpgWhile I love being with my old friends, there's one component to their mothering I could do without. To their generations, it's positively freakish for a man over 24 to be unmarried. He is presumed helpless—drowning in his own loneliness and filth—whatever the case might actually be. Without a wife to mop the floors, my floors must be disgusting. They must be. That the maid mops them a couple times a month is immaterial, at least until I marry her. And thus will our time together include many a comment about my complete inability to function. Good times. Good, sexist times.

I will have heaps of pity piled upon me during this visit, and not for my stupid elbow injury, losing all my friends at once, Percy continuing to live—or anything else for which I might actually deserve pity. Nay, I will be pitied for not making the same choices they did.

This leads us to an emerging peeve of mine: when people profess pity for you about something with which you're actually quite happy.

"No, you're not," they seem to be saying. "Snap out of denial and be miserable."

Any time I'm less than elated, it's because I'm single. My feh time at the Super Bowl? It had nothing to do with Detroit or corporate sterility or a crappy game. "I just wish you'd been able to take someone with you," ached Lynn.

"Um, there wasn't exactly a shortage of volunteers. I just thought that given my good fortune in scoring tickets, the money from the second ticket should go to char—"

"I think you would have had a better time if you weren't alone." She sounded ready to weep.

"I go to games alone every year. I love doing that."


Ca-righst. Do graduating students really fade away, or is it more of an all-out sprint?

posted by john at 07:09 AM  •  permalink

June 14, 2006


My Inbox has been filled with piffle this week.

It turns out that I'm an anti-choice freedom-hater. And I'm also anti-Freedom of Choice. I'm not sure if there's a difference, 'cause, well, it's all so much meaningless marketing piffle masquerading as philosophy.

I blame the abortion debate. I'm sure the Piffle Wars predated the abortion dialogue (dueling monologues, really, but I digress), but if in modern times there were ever an issue in which everyone hid behind meaningless euphemism, that's the one. I, myself, am both pro-choice and pro-life. I like choosing, and I sure as hell like living.

At any rate, as soon as I hear such a slogan invoked, I tune out. "Use your words," I say in my imagination.

Which brings us to this "Freedom of Choice" nonsense with regard to motorcycle helmet laws. How noble that makes vainglorious stupidity sound. How heinous someone must be to oppose "Freedom of Choice." Bravo.

Alas, merely casting helmetless motorcycle riding as a civil liberty does not make it one; it is a privilege, not a right, and as such it is reasonably regulated by the people who issue you a license and ultimately pay for the roads and your reconstructive surgery.

In the spirit of compromise, though, I'll ally myself with helmet "Freedom of Choice"... just so long as that freedom extends to my health insurance company choosing whether or not they'll pay for repairing the fruits of motorcyclists' vanity.

Hell, I'll even support this imaginary civil right as soon as I hear women assert its existence, which would disprove what I really think: helmet "Freedom of Choice" isn't so much a moral stance as a vain, unimaginably stupid penis thing. Somehow I doubt they'd protest as much if, say, bad-ass leather jackets were required.

posted by john at 11:49 AM  •  permalink

June 13, 2006

why i love sports fans, part ii

Steelers fan Nichol Mitchell, tailgating outside Ben Roethlisberger's hospital


If there are indeed football gods, Steeler fans just might be their most beloved children.

posted by john at 01:44 PM  •  permalink

June 12, 2006


By the time Carrie arrived at Microsoft, I'd been there about a year. Which is to say, I was already broken, disillusioned—my standards in a breakneck freefall. She was all the things I do not trust: cheerful, earnest, hard working, pretty, Canadian. She looked like a sorority girl, and at first I looked right past her. A mistake.

Her body might have spent hours in interminable meetings about MPEG compression, but her mind was on more elegant things. For one, the girl loved writing. Everything about it, really. And in this, we bonded. Long after we'd both left that team, we kept in touch. Usually it was to share an article or some buffoonish instance of illiteracy perpetrated by a peer—"My hand to God, today a PM used the noun bucketization"—but sometimes there were impassioned dialogues about our mutual longing for travel, for more meaning and beauty in our lives. For more, period. A year farther on the burnout train, I was well ahead of her. She listened with interest as I prepared my exit, as I researched doctoral programs and small towns and African safaris.

And then one day, I got goodbye mail. Carrie was leaving, intent on a bigger life. The burnout train has a passing lane.

"All our conversations got me thinking," she wrote. "I have to get out of here and live a little."

Time passed. I settled on a small town, Metamuville, and re-entered the world of teaching I had loved and missed. But I also cheated—I stayed within range of Microsoft, unwilling to spit out its golden teat. After about a year without contact, I googled Carrie.

She was in the very same graduate program I had chickened out of joining. Bitch!

nepal.jpgI gagged out congratulations, even though it felt like my dream had been usurped. She did so unknowingly, of course—it was just a big coincidence. And even though I forsook twelve dreams so that I could live the one, seeing my doppelganger there, walking that path not taken, made me feel all the more soulless. And it would get worse.

She showed me the articles she'd written from Nepal, the photos she'd taken from Kilimanjaro. Fume, fume. "So enough about me. What are you up to?" she asked sweetly, clearly not knowing I was trying to reach into the monitor and strangle her.

And then she married a doctor and returned to Canada, and another year passed until I googled her again this weekend. I found more of her writings, from as recently as last month. When she was trekking Mount motherfucking Everest.

Can the space program be that far behind, really?

posted by john at 12:54 AM  •  permalink

June 05, 2006

reporting to the nearest counter

Dorkass coined the expression when I was agonizing just-a-little-too-much about the intentions of the girl I was dating. Dorkass had seen enough. She was disgusted.

"Report to the nearest counter and turn in your penis," she sneered.

We were both immediately delighted with the expression. We use it all of the time now, whenever we see some guy being weak, needy, simpering. "Report to the nearest counter, pal," we'll chide.

"Huh?" he'll reply.

• • •

I am less than a man.

This realization hit me Saturday night, when I sat on Dirt's back deck and listened to Dirt and his cousin trade stories. Both are former star college athletes and former pro players, one in football and the other in hockey. So right. What can I possibly offer this conversation? The Hunkering story? The Best Pass I Ever Made story? No, I decided to just shut up and smoke Dirt's expensive cigars and drink his '77 tawny and listen.

I listened to tales of their grisly injuries, both those they inflicted and those inflicted upon them. About the insane, testosterone-crazed characters they met. About the many, many teammates' little sisters they boinked. About border runs after bed-check. About what it's like to play against the best athletes in the world.

I spent college studying literature and going home every night to my girlfriend and setting picks on morbidly obese guys and having sex with one woman, I thought. Hmm. Perhaps it's best not to share.

The story that sent me over the edge follows. Dirt's cousin took a 100 mph slapshot in the eye, shattering his eye socket and leaving hamburger-like tendrils of meat where his face used to be. The state of New York determined that the injury entitled him to $10,000 in workman's comp funds, to be put toward plastic surgery. What did he do with the money? He smeared Vitamin E oil into the facial hamburger and bought his girlfriend an engagement ring.

"Report to the nearest counter," Dorkass said in my imagination as I drove home. "That is a man."

posted by john at 09:31 AM  •  permalink

May 31, 2006

jeep wave

A decade ago, Allie challenged my assertion that the male friends hanging around her were, in fact, romantic hopefuls pathetically awaiting their turn. Mine was a limited, biased view of these men, she thought. Not all men are like that, she argued.

Having since fended off the advances of every last one of them, she has changed her view of our original argument. It's not "when John was right and I was wrong." Heavens no. It's not "when I learned about the nature of men." No, it's "when John systematically destroyed my trust for all mankind."

I've had similar conversations with several women since, and I have a go-to anecdote I like to use.

the_jeep_wave.jpgWhen Jeep drivers pass one another, they wave. As with all social endeavors, I put in the bare minimum effort; a half dozen times a day, I lazily extend my fingers, letting my palm remain on the wheel. After eleven years, the practice is ingrained. Sometimes I wave to Jeeps from a rental car.

Once in a while, the person in the other Jeep is a beautiful woman. Enter the anecdote.

I don't see the beautiful woman make the same minimal, reflexive, bored gesture that I do. No. I somehow manage to see actual interest in me. "Hey! Whoa! She waved! Maybe I should turn around!"

Yes, it's moronic. Yes, it defies all logic that someone so versed in the mundanity of the Jeep wave and the eager stupidity of men should have such an impulse. Nevertheless, I have the impulse. Every single time.

"That's insane!" say the women who hear this story. Yes. Yes it is. But your relationships with men make just a little more sense now, don't they?

posted by john at 07:52 AM  •  permalink

May 07, 2006

the ballad of greg biekert

A note for non-sports types: this will seem like a football story, but really it's a story about smiting a celebrity. So keep reading.

• • •

tomczakian [tom-ZAK-i-an] adj. - said of a moronic act of intense granduer and cruelty.

Mike Tomczak was a quarterback at Ohio State when I was a kid. He had his moments, but he also had an uncanny gift for idiocies like taking modeling jobs that violated NCAA rules and, worse, throwing untimely interceptions. On a throw to the sideline (called an "out" pass), he would loft the ball so high and so slow that a moth could alight upon it mid-flight. Tomczak got to the point where I would see him begin to throw an out and the world would click into slow motion. "NNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO..." I would yell in an otherworldly baritone. As soon as the defender intercepted the ball and began his sprint toward the end zone, the world clicked into double-time.

Every sports fan has That Guy. That unspeakable bastard. That irredeemable fucker clearly put on this earth just to torture you, only you, in repayment for some atrocity you committed in a previous life. Tomczak was mine.

He cemented his status during a crucial game against Purdue. Down by a touchdown with something like 30 seconds left, having driven Ohio State the length of the field, Tomczak dropped back to pass, surveyed his options, and, not liking what he saw, calmly threw the ball out of bounds to end the play.

On fourth down.

Purdue ball.

Game over.

When he graduated, I breathed a sigh of relief. Still, it pained me that during his rookie year in the pros, he got a completely undeserved Super Bowl ring as a backup on the Bears. But I let it go. Live and let live. Mike "Out" Tomczak was someone else's problem now. And then my Steelers signed him.


Astoundingly, he hung those out passes in the air even longer in the pros. In the time it now took those passes to complete their arc, defensive players could stroll under them, choreograph their touchdown dance, make their grocery list, do their taxes, and complete half a crossword puzzle. Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! went the interceptors the other way. Every year, I kept waiting for someone, anyone else to secure the quarterback position. Every year, I heard those damned whooshes!

On Football Weekend '97, we went to Jacksonville for the city's first Monday Night Football game ever. In a game that was blissfully Tomczak-free, my Steelers and the Jags battled all night long, and finally the game came down to the Steelers needing to make a chip-shot field goal with only two seconds left. The field goal team took the field. Through my drunken haze, I noted Tomczak trotting out to hold the ball.

"TOOOOOOOOM-zak!" I bellowed. "TOOOOOOOOM-zak! "TOOOOOOOOM-zak!"

He bobbled the snap. The kick was blocked. Jacksonville scooped it up and took it 80 yards for a touchdown. Game over. My buddy stared at me. "Maybe you shouldn't have said anything to him."

I sobbed into my hands.

Mike Tomczak TomzcakTomczak lost a few more games for the Steelers before the owners finally sobered up and cut ties. He signed with the Lions and on August 18, 2000 suffered a career-ending broken leg. Most fans didn't take notice—the player, game and team were just too insignificant—but not me. For doing God's work, Raiders linebacker Greg Biekert—my new hero—received some fine cigars.

And that, I toasted anyone within arm's reach, is the end of that.

And then he got a job on the Pittsburgh Sports Tonight TV broadcast, and he was preening for the cameras in my living room every night. I shook my fist at the heavens. How is this prick still in my life six teams, 2500 miles, and nearly two decades later?

At 6am on September 11, 2001, my girlfriend and I were sitting on a plane, on our way East for a trip that would culminate at the Steelers' opener in their brand new stadium. The trip and the game never happened, of course, but I was determined to see the new home opener in October. She declined to get on a plane, so I went alone. In a very sober affair, I watched my boys beat the Bengals, and then I adjourned to a bar near my suburban motel. I walked inside and immediately heard Tomczak on the radio. Shit. He's got a local radio gig, too. I took a seat at the bar and nursed a Long Island, staring absent-mindedly straight ahead...at Mike Tomczak.

He and his partner just happened to be doing their post-game broadcast from the bar that just happened to be nearest my hotel after the game that just happened to be the makeup home opener. Jesus, what are the odds? Sigh. About 1:1. I sat there and glared at him, and then I told the other patrons about my Tomczak curse. When leaving, I decided to hit the bathroom first. I opened the door with some urgency.


I clobbered Tomczak on the ass, knocking him into the paper towel dispenser. He had been talking to his broadcasting partner, who was still at the urinal. "Wham!" laughed the partner. "Nailed by a blind-side blitz!"

I apologized, a reflex for which I despise myself to this day. Tomczak left, and I assumed the urinal next to his partner. He made more blitz jokes. "Actually," I said. "That was a long time in coming."

"How's that?"

And then I spilled my guts. I told the whole tale. The partner was delighted and couldn't wait to get back to his microphone. On my way back to the hotel, I tuned into the radio station.

"Jerome Bettis passed 10,000 career yards rushing during today's game, but before we get into that, Mike, I want to talk about something that just happened in the men's room. Some guy burst in and clobbered, I mean really walloped, you in the backside with the door. At first I thought it was just an innocent accident, but now I'm not so sure. After you left, he told me how he feels that you've victimized him his whole life, first at Ohio State, and then with the Steelers. He even said he considers you some sort of karmic punishment for something horrible he did in a previous life."

"What?!? What did I ever do to—"

"Well for starters, he said that at the end of the game against Michigan, you threw the ball out of bounds on fourth down."

"IT WAS PURDUE! If he's gonna call me out like that, he should get his facts straight."

"Oh that's right, he said Purdue."


And on it went. He completely humiliated Tomczak. He publicly flogged my longtime persecutor with the weapon I, myself, had crafted and handed him. I laughed myself to the point of near-unconsciousness. I didn't even care if I had a heart attack. I could die in peace now.

Not long after, Tomczak disappeared completely from my life, never to return. Coincidence? Perhaps. Or perhaps I'm his karmic punishment for some horrible things he did in a current life.

posted by john at 04:46 PM  •  permalink

May 03, 2006

you don’t know me

It happens about once per month. I'll get an email in which someone who knows me only through this page purports to know me. Sometimes the emails are thoughtful, even concerned and psychoanalyzing. I'm too self-flagellating, too hung up on something in the past, etc. And sometimes the emails are less kind.

One day a few weeks ago, I received two such evaluations of myself. The first proclaimed me a thoughtful, sensitive, ideal man; the second derided me as a misogynist and included my favorite line of all time. Consider the whole paragraph [sic]:

Guys like you make me happy with my hairbrush, because you are a repulsive and self centered twat. Hey yes, how does it feel to have some of those sexist drogatorys used, you would be proud if I called you a dick, but no, I am calling you a twat, and you are a bitch too, and even a cunt, even a cunt from hell. And incompetant, so how do you expect us to find you sexy?

Marriage proposal or drogatory, I found the confluence of those emails to be pretty scary. If you know me just through this page, then you don't know me at all.

Despite appearances, the content here is not all that intimate. You don't really see the wrinkled old man behind the curtain. The Stank persona, while me, is but a carefully controlled subset of me. Everything here is cherry-picked to serve that persona without betraying my privacy. You don't see me rip friends until I've given up on the friendship. Likewise, you never know when I'm dating, let alone who. If you need to know who I'm angry with/sleeping with, you already do. Likewise with my demons. By the time they become fodder for this page—the exes, Dad, Mom, etc.—you can rest assured that I consider them long past. They're harmless, slayed demons. You don't get a whiff of the harmful, live ones. Does this make me dishonest? That's subjective. I would say "not always forthcoming."

Either way, the headline stands. Before you tell me who I am, please consider that you likely haven't a notion, yourself.

• • •

I will admit to one gleefully deliberate form of dishonesty on this page, something I just can't help: sometimes I crucify Dorkass by cherry-picking facts about her. For instance, when I chided that someone from her IP address was searching for the word "Dorkass," that was true enough. What I didn't say: it was me, visiting her house. The more I cheat, the more agitated she becomes, so the more I cheat. And the circle of strife continues.

posted by john at 06:45 AM  •  permalink

April 22, 2006

a day in the life of john (2006)

6 am - Wake up. Stretch. It's all downhill from here.

6:01am - Check personal e-mail. Not a peep from my friends. Thank god for Internet trolls.

9am - Commute. Drive by Metamuville store, cringe at the owners' patheticly self-promoting sign: "Roses are red, Violets are blue, Ava is sweet, And our doughnuts are too."

11am - Try to scare up a lunch date. "If I take a lunch, that's just that much later I have to work, and I won't be able to pick up my baby from the complete stranger," they say.

Noon - Lunch alone.

1pm - Chat with Mom #1. Her baby is really, really unique and endlessly fascinating. The child likes crinkly sounds and bright colors, everything goes right into her mouth, and she sure is a handful! "But enough about my kid," Mom says. "What do you think about my kid?"

screaming baby2pm - Have the identical conversation with Mom #2. "She just makes the cutest expressions!" she says.

3pm - Have the identical conversation with Mom #3. "She just makes the cutest expressions!" she says. Well, someone's gotta be wrong, I grumble. She gets cross. "Validation, please. A real friend would pay unremitting homage to my baby," comes the reply, or maybe that's just what I heard. "YOU WILL PAY HOMAGE!"

3:30pm - My co-worker cancels, at the last minute, the meeting for which I traveled 160 minutes and paid $25 in gas and ferry fees. "My kid has a thing."

3:31pm - Plan Football Weekend such that Bubba's wife and two kids can fly with us and visit family. Otherwise he can't go, you see.

4pm - Receive e-mail with baby photos. My oh my, gosh almighty and yes indeedy, that is just, um, let's see...the...cutest baby ever? Ah, you're welcome! And your baby's so distinguishable from the rest! Yep. Yep. Say, what do you think about Iran enriching uranium? A scary, can't-win situation, that. "Now that I'm a mother," the reply comes, "Those sorts of things really bother me."

5pm - Meet Mom #4 and appendage for dinner. The baby shrieks nonstop, and little is done to make it stop. Everyone in the restaurant glares at me. They want to kill me. I want to help them. Mom shrugs. "There's nothing I can do about it." I ask her if she's ever heard of the technological innovation called "babysitters." Or "condoms," for that matter. I'm told I'm rude. What? I'm sorry, what did you say? All I can hear is your little birth defect being extra miraculous.

5:57pm - Drive past Metamuville store on way home. The sign now reads: "Ava says 'ice cream and I are cool treats!'"

6pm - Play cards with Mom #5. She asks about the baby of Mom #4, even though she's never met the people and never will.

7pm - Quality time. Cigar. Tawny. Hot tub. Alone.

11:35pm - Save me, Letterman!

11:36pm - Letterman mentions his son Harry for the first time that evening. I realize that nowadays, I can't tell Letterman from my friends any easier than I can tell my friends from one another.

11:51pm - Letterman asks vacuous supermodel about her kids. She takes the hint to ask him about Harry. They conclude that their kids make just the cutest expressions. After five minutes of brain-gooifying discourse about sippy cups and table-walking, the sweet, sweet release of unconsciousness comes. Or maybe it's death. If I'm lucky, it's death.

6am - Damn.

posted by john at 11:05 AM  •  permalink

April 20, 2006

the great playhouse massacre

For my tenth summer, Mom shipped me to Los Angeles to live with my father. What was billed as a get-to-know-your-dad-better growth experience was, in fact, complete subterfuge. Mom was secretly selling my childhood house that summer, and she wanted me out of the picture. Was she protecting me? Protecting herself from my certain histrionics? Protecting the house's resale value by hiding its worst feature? Yes.

She would live to regret not being forthright with me. I would have removed, for instance, the teacher-photograph-adorned dartboard from the basement wall. But in retrospect, when you erect such a thing, don't you hope that your teacher will someday discover it? To Mom the incident was just a lost sale, but to me, it was a watershed moment. This was when the vindictive Mrs. Meague was confronted by the depths of my scarring at her hands, and, perhaps, to feel the guilt she so richly deserved to feel.

Sorry, Mom, I would only feel good about that. If not for me, for the next kid forced to move his desk from the "good side" of the room to the "bad side" so many times, the desk could have come with an odometer.

• • •
Years earlier, my dad had built the older kids a playhouse. It was quite sharp: a full-blown framed house on 8-foot stilts, complete with a wraparound deck and railing, slide, trap door and rope-ladder. By the time I was able to climb the rope ladder, the other kids were too old for such things, so I had the playhouse to myself. I decorated it as a 10-year old boy would, adorning its walls with hand-drawn posters of Steelers and other superheroes. Aquaman alone merited an entire shrine. The playhouse was littered with relics of my "inventor" period, which I kept for the benefit of future historians chronicling my earliest signs of greatness. The two irregular blocks of wood held together with model glue and several still-protruding nails served as the playhouse's indoor solar-powered refrigerator, for years ensuring that drinks never rose above room temperature.

As my siblings entered their late teens, they became engrossed in mysterious new hobbies that required great deals of privacy. They summarily reclaimed the playhouse. Suddenly, I found the rope ladder gone and the doors locked, and when I knocked I was emphatically told to go away. The next morning would be an archaeological dig, with me finding the occasional spent doobie or condom wrapper and holding it up to the sunlight for closer, squinting examination. Beer bottles littered the floor, and the solar refrigerator was tossed aside like so much scrap wood. My painstakingly drawn posters were utterly mangled, literally hanging by threads. I was incensed.

Fortunately, Saturday morning cartoons had shown me what to do in such a situation. Putting my old inventor hat back on, I rigged a simple revenge mechanism. Tying one end of a rope to the inside of the door and another to a hammer, I then hung the hammer on the wall opposite the door and fastened the rope's mid-point to the ceiling. When an intruder opened the door, the rope would tighten, the hammer would swing across the room, and pow! Just desserts would be served.

For good measure, I pulled the rope ladder into the playhouse and jumped to the ground, thereby ensuring that whoever entered would have to climb up the slide (a technique favored by my siblings) and use the rigged door. And for several weeks, my friends and I would stand aside when opening the playhouse door, like TV cops busting into a hostile room. WHOOSH! the hammer would shoot between us, violently thrashing when it reached the end of its arc. And then I forgot about it. And then I went to California.

• • •

"Did you see John's playhouse, Timmy?" my mom cooed at the 8 year-old child of a prospective home-buyer. "He's got it decorated really neat. You should go take a look. Oh, the rope ladder is gone? I think the kids just climb the slide. Go check it out! Have fun!"

timmy.gifAnd then, as Mom would recount many times later, we heard the scream. The Scream of Purest Terror in the History of All Mankind.

My Wile E. Coyote booby trap had grazed top of the the kid's head, cutting his scalp, and to hear Mom tell it he left behind a greater volume of blood than a dozen 8 year-olds could possibly contain. "Needless to say," the story would inevitably conclude, "We lost the sale."

I felt terrible that he had sprung my forgotten trap, and not just because he had deprived my sisters of their rightful fate. He was an innocent. Timmy, if you're out there, I'd like to apologize both for the scalp and for any subsequent decades of therapy. If it helps bring you any peace, know that I was punished severely. In one of the great beat-downs in west coast history, my dad got me first. And then with brazen disregard for the illegality of double jeopardy, my mom got me again when I returned home. I didn't even mind. Although I wasn't ordinarily a big fan of corporal punishment, in this case, I made an exception. I deserved what I got.

That realization, however, was slow in coming. When I explained to my parents that the the booby trap was actually intended for their other children and why, their anger abated a bit. Alas, I stoked the rage again by asking Mom if she had thought to reset the trap.

posted by john at 08:29 AM  •  permalink

April 13, 2006

how do you sleep?

Tell me if this is familiar.

john lennon yoko ono You've got a friend. You get along fabulously. One day, a woman appears in the periphery of his life, hanging around just a little more than she should, trying to get his attention in any way she can. She's needy. Compared to your friend, she's wholly unremarkable. You might even feel a little sorry for her. Then one day, they're dating. Okay, fine. You welcome her. And then bit by tiny bit, you watch the man who was your friend be chipped away. I'm not talking about normal new-relationship triangulation, where this new influence causes your friend to change and evolve. That's natural and healthy. No, I'm talking about a descent into a sort of madness, where the whispers in his ear become his unquestioned perception of reality. Suddenly, you and your friend have conflicts. You question yourself but find that his other relationships are weirding out, too. He's suddenly secretive. He's distrustful of your motives, and he's not the least bit inhibited about telling you what you're really thinking—which often is shockingly far from anything that's ever crossed your mind. He's uninterested in hearing your thoughts; he already knows them. He does not allow his certainty to be diminished by data. You don't know for sure where this weirdness came from, but you strongly suspect. "This is between you two," the woman makes sure to say about each of his suffering relationships. "It has nothing to do with me." Yet his every question feels like an errand, and his every e-mail seems vetted. The new unease in your friendship breeds more unease, and you grow farther apart. You find yourself not really knowing this person anymore, nor caring to. And then one day your friend is gone entirely, and you just shrug. I've had two such friends, both male, both gone. The women whispering in their ears? Still there, still whispering. I call them "Yokos."

At first I thought Yoko unique to the first friendship, but then Yoko II appeared, so now I wonder how common it really is, and whether this happens with the genders reversed. Do tell.

posted by john at 09:01 AM  •  permalink

April 05, 2006

melon baller

By special reader request, here is the melon baller story. Once again, we mine the fertile, sanity-hanging-by-a-thread period of a decade ago.

I was standing in the glacial returns line at Target. Bored, irritated, I scanned my environment for a means of entertaining myself. The wedding/baby registry machine was to my right. "Hmmm," I thought. "Let's do the math. Fucking Amy broke off our engagement 29 months ago. Six months off for appearances, four months of searching for a man exactly like her father, 19 months of stalling to get to the magical, round we've known each other for two years mark....this is about the bare minimum time she'd need to get re-engaged. Let's see."


"Ho-ly crap." The wedding was in a few months.

My mind reeled. My math was right, or at least it wasn't wrong. But who really expected a hit? And who registers at Target? I have no recollection of returning my item. I printed the registry and went home to reel some more.

For the next couple of months, I had an engrossing new hobby: fantasizing about crashing the wedding. It's not like I didn't know where it'd be: the very church we hadn't wanted to use for our wedding and that her parents had strenuously insisted upon. ("With all due respect, Ken, it's not your wedding. It's ours," I'd said. "No, John, you're wrong. It's ours," came the reply.) But what to do? Pipe up when the minister asks for objections? Perhaps I could sit in the congregation, let my cell phone ring about 20 times, answer it, stand up, and drolly announce "Amy, it's Jesus. He wants to know why you're wearing white." Or should I ask to dance with the bride? Catch the bouquet with a flourish? I had many discussions with fellow jiltee Elizabeth, who was game to help with the cell phone or parking lot fliers or whatever I decided to do. As satisfying as revenge would have been, though, there was one undeniable truth: seeing Amy and her family would punish me more than it would them. I just didn't want to get slimed again. Yet the serendipity of it all compelled me to use this info somehow, didn't it? And thus I decided to amp it down to a sterile little mindfuck that would constitute no burden on me whatsoever. Perhaps if I simply sent a gift. Yes. That was the right tone. But not months ahead of time—two weeks before the wedding would suffice, right during the highest-anxiety period. With any luck, that would be two weeks they spent dreading the thud of my other shoe. Another shoe that would never come. Perfect.

I perused the registry for something appropriate. "Maybe I can send the groom knives," I thought. And then I saw it. The I-can't-even-believe-this answer to my prayers: they actually registered for a four dollar mellon baller. (I pause to let the spectacular white-trashedness of it all sink in. Ready? Resume.) And thus did I etch "Happy Balling!" on its handle and ship it to the groom two weeks before the ceremony. There would no thank you note. Ingrates.

• • •

Three years later, I was waiting in line at the same Target. "Well, my math was right the first time, and according to Hoyle you start procreating at the two year mark, so..."


"Ho-ly crap." The baby was due in a few months. But no, I didn't send them the First Christening doll for which they registered.

posted by john at 06:24 AM  •  permalink

March 01, 2006

now 95% sane!

guard towerPart by circumstance, part by design, I'm leading a more and more solitary lifestyle. It is not, as so many inquire, all that lonely. When I want companionship, I venture out. It's that simple. Look ma, no loneliness. It takes a lot to make me lonely nowadays, though. During my break from work, I decided to see how long I could go with minimal human interaction (read: paying grocery clerks). I made it nearly four weeks before I started getting squirrely. And then I visited Katrina and Dorkass, and I was reminded why I avoid humanity, and I was ready for another 17 weeks alone.

No, loneliness is not the problem. Spoiledness is.

I noticed it this weekend when I ventured to Port Townsend to shop for Even More Useless-But-Cute Household Crap I Don't Need. I used to make this trip with AW all the time, and I noticed her absence. Specifically, I noticed how bloody wonderful it was to go just to the stores I liked, to leave as soon as I was done, to not have anyone telling me that the vase I liked was ugly. Yes, I missed the interactivity of shopping together ("Get a picture phone," Dorkass suggests), and I missed having someone to blather to at lunch. But these are trifling cons compared to the pros. I love being in complete control of my environment.

By "control" I mean this: dictating what we do, where we do it, and with whom. Most of life is a tug-of-war between the parts we control (home, entertainment, friends) and the parts we don't (work, S.O., family). A few years ago, I controlled maybe 50% of my life. Now that number's more like 95%. My working from home 4 days a week has much to do with that achievement, as do my singleness and my willingness to be alone. Cut off most human contact, and you too can control your environment. 95% of the time, I don't do what I don't want to do, and I don't suffer fools. It's addictive.

At this point, some readers are thinking this sounds awful; others think it sounds like bliss. Only you know if your insides are wired such that hitting 95% is desirable. It is for me. No one who knows this particular duck is surprised to see him happily wallowing in these particular waters, but what has surprised me is my greed for it. I want more control. I resent the hell out of that remaining 5%. 95% of my life is idyllic, mellow, devoid of conflict and rancor and pettiness. If someone or something brings negativity, they're gone. Poof. No debate. My life is governed by an electorate of one. The remaining 5% of my life? It drives me mad. I want it eradicated. It can't be, of course. For as long as some degree of human contact is necessary, that 5% I can't control will be there. What's surprising, and more than a little alarming, is that I'm less and less capable of dealing with the 5%. When that portion of my life was 50%, I dealt with it far more easily. It was just my everyday crap, same as yours. But now when I have to drive the 10 minutes to Albertsons and wait in line for five minutes, I'm irritated beyond all reason. It's the worst part of my day. I can barely deal. This strikes me as slightly insane. What happens if, god forbid, I have to lead a normal life again someday? If I have to do something drastic like—gasp!—work in an office and actually interact with people I don't like? Or share in decisions with an S.O.? I think I'll implode.

I'm thinking 80% is probably a healthier number, lest my my social-coping muscles completely atrophy. Time to join some book clubs or somethin.' Just as long as I get to create the reading lists.

posted by john at 07:39 AM  •  permalink

February 07, 2006

home lost

At a glance, my old Columbus neighborhood is largely as I left it. The people all look the same and drive the same cars. Literally. But since I left, affluent neighborhoods have popped up 10 miles to the east, and the drain on businesses is jarring. A mall the size of Bel-Square is a dirt lot now. It was the affluent mall. Gone. Homes and apartments sit empty, unadvertised. The huge strip mall (think North Bend outlet mall) near my apartment, which was thriving to the point where parking was a challenge, contains just an Asian market and pizza place now, with 25 empty stores in between. Iconic local businesses older than my parents have long closed, and since nothing replaced them, their ghostly, neglected exteriors remain to haunt survivors. Massive grocery stores are empty. Gas stations sit abandoned. I couldn't help but think this is phase one: all the businesses pull out. There aren't any homeless folks, squatters, rubble, graffiti or the like yet, but it seems inescapable. It's just a matter of time.

A week ago tonight, I ordered dinner from the pizza place, my old pizza place, the one whose phone number I still have memorized 14 years later. When I saw all the empty stores, I gasped and stared. I still haven't processed what's happened to my old neighborhood, what's still happening to it right now. The pace of deterioration is unfathomable. When I went inside to get my pizza, I was greeted (just as I would be at my old White Castle the next day) by a wall of bullet-proof glass. They slid my pizza to me using a huge extendable tray, just like at the bank. The guy saw me fighting tears. Somehow, he knew. "Isn't it sad what we have to do now?"

Sad. Horrible. Words aren't sufficient. Seeing all that, knowing what's to come...a part of my insides died last week. One of the few remaining good parts, too.

posted by john at 04:22 PM  •  permalink

January 29, 2006

can you tell me how to get, how to get to snobbery street?

"Snob," like "politically correct," is a term often abused. Just because someone thinks you're saying appalling or moronic things makes them neither snobby nor PC. Such a claim, like all ad hominem attacks, smacks of desperation, if not full-blown intellectual bankruptcy.

I'm sorry. Was that snobby of me to say? Well then, I'm a snob.

• • •

My sister has a new boyfriend, and with that, a whole new belief system. Yep, she's one of those people. She was railing about how W is "the stupidest [sic] President we've ever had!!!!!" I asked how familiar she was with W.H. Harrison, Jackson, Grant, and Buchanan. She wasn't. I asked her if she knew what W's academic background is. She didn't. "Well, considering how you're unfamiliar with both W and history, how can you assess the one's place in the other?"
"Don't be such a snob," she said in lieu of I see your point. I should learn more before issuing personal attacks. Gosh, dear brother, you're nearly as smart as you are handsome!!!!! "What, did you vote for him?"

Actually, no. I think the man's a menace.

"Then why are you defending him?"

It was that moment when I realized that she's right about my being a snob; she's just wrong about how. A few days of self-examination, and voila. The list of things I'm snobby about follows.

posted by john at 11:50 AM  •  permalink

January 22, 2006


Funerals are never fun, but funerals of the virtuous and impossibly beloved are downright depressing. Listening to how his life touched others, I found it impossible not to take stock of myself. "Man. I gotta make some changes." I surveyed the hundreds of grievers in attendance. "I don't even know this many people. How many would show up for me? Hrm. Maybe if I pretend it's the reading of my will."

I'll tell ya one thing that ain't happening at my service: an open mic. As person after person spoke of how the deceased touched their lives, I imagined my friends similarly passing around a mic.

"Sumbitch died owing me money, just like he always said he would," Katrina says.

"He hit me," Dorkass offers.

"Me too," her little sister chimes.

"Dating him was like living near radioactive waste," Maddie says. "After a time, your blood just starts to turn bad."

Allie pats the casket fondly. "Thanks for the power of attorney."

A minister bows his head, hushes the crowd, and speaks. "Uh, the check from the estate bounced. Who's covering this?"

"John was my role model and mentor," Elizabeth says. "Fuck him."

"He creeped me out and I'm relieved he's dead," Courtney says. "I'm just here to poke the corpse with a stick."

My family checks in. "Mine! Mine! MINE!"

"Speaking of when I played for the Bengals..." Dirt will begin.

Sue staple-guns a note to the casket. "I made you a list of things to do differently in your next life."

"The casket is really ugly," Minette declares.

"He didn't know what it's like to be black," someone chides.

"He was my brother," Percy sniffs. "I will miss him every single day."

It's not worth it. I choose life.

posted by john at 09:30 AM  •  permalink

January 20, 2006

family is not a hate value

I always figured if I had a son, I'd say, "Boy, I've got one hyphenated word for you: long-snapping. You're only on the field for punts and extra points, you never take a hit, you don't have to shower after the game, and the NFL rookie minimum is $650,000 a year. So let's go. Throw Daddy the football from between your legs. That's it. Now try not to bounce it."

I still think that's a mortal lock of a retirement plan. Specifically, my retirement.

If I had a daughter, I have no less of a lock in mind. "Girl," I'd drawl like Robert Duvall, or maybe Solomon Burke, "You'll never go broke if you make your living telling people what they already believe. And if you tell them everyone who disagrees with them is a bona fide idiot, you'll be obscenely wealthy."

Hopping around the web tonight, I came across the Top Ten Conservative Films of 2005. A conservative film is not, as I would have thought, a documentary about textiles that was made on-time, under budget, and released slowly, perhaps opening in Des Moines.

Conservative cinema does more than entertain; movies that do no more are visual candy. It instructs and inspires. Conservative films celebrate virtue. They tell timeless tales of individuals overcoming all manner of adversity to achieve true greatness. They’re about honesty, loyalty, courage and patriotism. They’re concerned with conservatism’s cardinal values – faith, family and freedom.

I've carefully combed every dictionary I can find, but no definition of "conservative" includes words anywhere close to instruct, inspire, celebrate, virtue, timeless, overcoming, adversity, greatness, honesty, loyalty, courage, patriotism, cardinal, values, faith, family, or freedom. It's almost like the author made all that crap up. Other than that, though, he's spot-on. The dictionaries use many of the same prepositions.

While I'm itching to speculate as to what the author would consider the characteristics of liberal cinema—how much does "cowboy" mitigate "gay?"—I'm far more interested in defining Stank cinema. Stank cinema trumpets my pleasing appearance and soothing natural odor. It celebrates me and those who celebrate me, of whom there should soon be more, if the movie is truly Stank. It instructs others to think exactly like me, to share my values, to hate the same people I hate. It's about cardinal Stank virtues, namely how honesty, loyalty, courage, patriotism, faith, family, and freedom are all somehow inextricably tied to me. Dishonesty, disloyalty, cowardice, America-hatin', godlessness, orphanhood, and slavery? Those are Michigan values.

posted by john at 01:26 AM  •  permalink

January 19, 2006

unlearned prejudice

I've been mulling over how to discuss two forms of prejudice I find particularly hurtful, and then it dawned on me that they should be presented together. Not because their perpetrators have anything in common, mind you, but because it'll irritate all the right people.

the unfiltered white racist

Many of you know him. This is the white guy who thinks it's okay to blurt racist comments in front of any other white person. He has cousins—the obnoxious homophobe, the chatty misogynist—but the first guy is the most common in my experience. Unfiltered whites span the education spectrum, which rather surprises me. One would think that education would temper racist comments, but no. Education just makes the hateful words bigger. My first example is mild. I recently had houseguests, a friend and her idiot husband. We had tennis on TV, and we were all intermittently watching Serena Williams beat someone. When she won, she leapt in the air and ran over to shake her vanquished opponent's hand. And the idiot husband turned his head away from the TV and snorted.

"Jay-zus ca-righst, she even jumps up and down like a black chick."

Forgetting the obvious question about the apparently distinctive nature of jumping black chicks, as racist comments go, this is downright tame. But it still filled my head with resentment. Oh. My. God. You tool. You're actually rooting against her because she's black. Jesus Christ, indeed. Out of the world of possible choices, my friend married you? What makes you think it's okay to say that in front of me, you piece of shit? What makes you think it's okay to say that in my house, my home, my sanctuary away from people like you? This particular episode ended with my friend taking her idiot husband outside and suggesting that perhaps such comments, however mild, should be repressed around me, but the damage was done. If men are icebergs, I no longer want to know what hideousness lies beneath his surface.

My next examples hurt more, both because of severity and because, well, the perpetrators and I are composed of essentially the same genetic material. You betcha, I gots some racists in my family. My brother, a dentist with some 20 years of education, a born-again Christian who oozes Jesus' love out of every pore, is an unabashed racist. He is a regular user of the n-word. And not in any spontaneous "Some n-word just cut me off!" fashion, either. He enjoys using the word. It clearly makes him feel superior. When our old high school considered installing metal detectors, I of course thought of Columbine. Not my brother.

"It all went to hell after the n-word moved in."

Unlike with the Serena Williams incident, where my hands were somewhat tied, I have no desire to get along with my brother. I told him that what he said was moronic and offensive. You know what's coming next. I'm an overly sensitive purveyor of "political correctness." That little bit of hilarity aside, I'm left with similar feelings: What makes you think it's okay to say this to me? Maybe I was adopted.

My sister, meanwhile, doesn't even wait for an excuse to use the n-word. She uses it like you or I use pronouns. She too has 20 years of education, but eight of them were spent in the third grade. To my horror, she send out broad-distribution email in which she recounted a story where she and her husband rooted through a burned-out building and emerged covered in soot, looking like-you-know-whats. With two exclamation points. Ha, ha. What makes you think it's okay to say this to....my god, look at all the names...all of us?

Sometimes 2000 miles' distance ain't nearly enough.

the chiding young black

I'm developing a new prejudice myself, and it's one I could just as soon live without. I no longer want to discuss race with young blacks. All too often, such conversations end with me being chided, dismissed. I used to talk about racial matters with blacks under the age of 40 all the time. It was an everyday, unspectacular, often humorous dialogue, like talking about current events. We were simply discussing the state of our world, sharing our very different experiences, and we gave audience analysis very little thought. I no longer feel as though I can do this freely.

I don't know what's changed. I'm older, certainly. I've moved from a black neighborhood in a city that's 24% black to white neighborhoods in a city that's 8% black. And there's been a weird backlash from whiny white guys, who bitch and moan about "reverse discrimination" and the trifling inconveniences of measures that combat gross injustices. I hate those guys, too, and I fear that my looking like them sometimes makes my motives suspect. I don't discount those significant variables. But honestly, and I offer not a shred of evidence to back up this feeling, I think it's this point in history. I don't think it's a coincidence that I still can comfortably discuss race with people old enough to remember the civil rights era—hence my "under 40" disclaimer. We're a generation removed from the civil rights era, now, and people who have grown up enjoying rights previously denied people like themselves are, well, different. At least they discuss race differently. I'm sure we all discuss race differently from the previous generation, whatever our hue.

In my previous life, a deliberate plucking of the racial line was a sign of comfort and acceptance. The example that leaps to mind was a common accusation of the day: that white people referred to black athletes by their first name and white athletes by their last, and that this was some sort of diminishment of black athletes. It's obvious to any fair-minded person that Magic is "Magic" and Bird is "Bird" simply because "Johnson" and "Larry" are dull, undistinctive names. (Poor Larry Johnson.) Just like Jordan is "Jordan" and not "Michael" and Peyton is "Peyton" and not "Manning." The charge was pure silliness, and we all knew it. We used humor to defuse the issue.

"Don't call me 'Shaun' anymore. Racist mu'fugga, always diminishing me. To you, I'm Mister Thompson from now on"

"Yeah. You keep dreaming, pal."

"Don't call me 'pal' anymore, either. I ain't your 'I got black friends' friend."

"Why would I brag about having black friends? I'm ashamed of you mothirfuckirs."

And so forth. It was an innocent, everyday exchange spawned from comfort with one another and discomfort with some loud people who happened to look like us. It's important to note the element of satire. We found it reassuring and therapeutic to make fun of people who would much rather we distrust one another. End result: more trust.

Now, let's imagine what that exchange would be like if it happened today between me and a chiding young black. Based on my experience, this is what I'd expect:

"Sports announcers use blacks' first names to diminish them."

Their pronouncement will have no trace of satire. I'll give my counter-example. They'll sigh. "It's racist," they'll intone, apparently expecting me to either 1) acquiesce and agree or 2) agree and acquiesce. My choice.

Now, when one person, any person, makes an accusation against an individual, I expect them to meet a nominal burden of proof. All the more so when it's as grave an accusation as racism. A lifetime of calling bullshit on people has taught me that when you ask for proof, you're often greeted with irritation. But until recently, the pattern of people who were irritated was random. No longer. I have met an entire demographic who thinks my expectation of evidence is unreasonable. Ask them to meet a burden of proof at your own peril.

"What's your proof? For every anecdotal example you cite, I can give a counter example. You call someone 'racist,' and you better have more than a feeling. That's a serious charge."
So far, so good. This is the same argument I make all the time to people of all colors and flavors: I've heard your conclusion; what are your premises? And normally, the person either lists them, admits indulgence, or reacts with hostility. But not the chider.

Are you ready? Here it comes. The granddaddy of all trump cards, the nuclear bomb designed to put me in my place and end the debate in a rout.

"You just don't know what it's like to be black."

Another chiding young black will chime agreement right away.
"No white guy could. The first-name/last-name thing couldn't really be for any other reason, but he'll never see that. A white guy couldn't possibly know the inner thoughts of whites as well we do."

Okay, I made that last line up, but that's what I hear. Outnumbered and buckling from the sheer weight of their evidence, I put my alabaster tail between my legs and scurry off, never again to question their pronouncements of racism. Okay, that's not true either, but the attack does discourage dialogue and encourage discomfort, and it does diminish my viewpoint based not upon its merit but upon my skin color, and those ain't exactly gains. End result: less trust.

I wouldn't have thought it, but the unfiltered white racist and the chiding young black do have something in common after all. All together now: What makes you think it's okay to say that to me?

posted by john at 07:38 AM  •  permalink

January 09, 2006

the six-month war: allie

Allie was my first girlfriend in the post–Fucking Amy era. She's the most empathetic person I've ever known, and as such she attracts broken men like my dog, Ed, attracts stink. So was it with me. For our ex-ship, I like to say, we retained the best and worst parts of our relationship. The best part is our friendship, which has only gotten closer. Much to her lament, she's the person with whom I speak about everything—hopes and fears, boasts and insecurities, projectile vomit and diarrhea. She, not her successors, is the one with the housekeys and passwords. One could certainly read into that—no wonder it never works out; you trust another woman more!—but for me it's a matter of hard-learned pragmatism. I give her the keys simply because I know I won't later have to change the locks. Stand by me for a decade and you too can have a key.

And now for the worst.

You know that one ex with whom you argued constantly? She's mine. Drove me positively insane. "Slavery was a bad thing," I might observe. "And chlorophyll makes grass green."

She would bristle. "I don't know why you say these things. You just generalize without thinking things through. You need to stop watching cable TV news. Not that you're entirely wrong, but I can think of 187 reasons why you're oversimplifying, and now I'm going to enumerate them in excruciating detail until you beg for mercy. You'd better sit down."

"Oh, I know you're right," I would offer hopefully. But it was too late.

"No you don't. You never know. When I'm done enumerating the 187 things you overlooked about slavery and grass, I have many compelling illustrations of how you never admit I'm right."

"I just did!"

"I mean internally, John. Jesus H. You're really obtuse, sometimes."

This was every debate with her. Tales of three notable battles follow.

Round 1: Allie wins

We're in the Kingdome watching Rick Mirer suck, and our minds wander. Allie nudges me and gestures toward some 19 year-old failed pole dancers. "Which Sea-Gal do you think is prettiest?" she asks.

(Yeah, I know. Rather, I know now. You don't answer this question, or you pick the homely, uncoordinated one and call her "real." What you most decidedly don't do is think that your girlfriend is actually interested in which cheerleader you'd most like to see naked. Nevertheless...) I meticulously survey all 32 women and silently evaluate their appeal. I undertake this assignment with all due gravity, first prioritizing the variables that comprise a hot cheerleader, then using a complex algorithm to narrow the field to four, then two, then one.

"Don't tell me," Allie says. "Let me guess." And then she points to the very same cheerleader, an apple-cheeked brunette that 99 out of 100 men would overlook.

"Wow! That was a 1 in 32 chance, and you nailed it. That's impressive."

"It wasn't hard," she shrugs, turning her attention back to the game. "I just picked the one who looks the most like fucking Amy."

It took years, but my testicles eventually grew back.

Round 2: I win

We're arguing. "You know what your problem is?" she asks. She would eventually be awarded the registered trademark on this sentence.

"You can't handle dating someone who's an intellectual equal or more. I think you seek out unformed, stupid young girls who'll look up to you and hang on your every word like it's some holy—"

"Actually," I interrupt the former B student, "You're the first woman I've ever dated who wasn't the valedictorian of her high school and summa in college."

Why is this on my top three list? Because it's the only time in a decade that I stunned this woman silent.

Round 3: I "win"

I say something pissy about something. Allie heaves an exasperated sigh. "You know, you don't have to say every negative thing that pops into your mind. It's exhausting."

"I don't."

"Yeah, right."

"But I don't! For instance, take the last hour. When that little old lady at Safeway tripped and face-planted, I almost said 'Clean up in Aisle 6.' And then..."

I proceed to list every awful, hateful thought I'd self-censored in the last sixty minutes. I don't remember how many there were, but I remember it took about an hour to recount them. And I likewise remember watching the ever-mounting horror on Allie's face as she realized that she had grossly miscalculated. "I thought you had a soft, cuddly core underneath all the bluster. But my God...underneath the facade of sneering and piss is actual sneering and piss."

"And you think I can't admit when you're right."

posted by john at 05:50 AM  •  permalink

December 27, 2005

the six year war: maddie

Among my girlfriends, Maddie was the one most like me. Not coincidentally, she holds the John endurance record at six years. They were six crucial years of my life, too: 21 through 26. In as a boy, out as a man. In an angry ass, out a marginally less angry ass. And no one had more of an influence on that non-transformation than Maddie.

She's a genius, and she delighted in the myriad ways she was smarter than me. My mispronunciations—most famously, "the plan went AW-ree" and "they showed a lovely career MAWN-tudge at the ceremony"—became recurring jokes that spanned decades, and believe me, I'm not the one telling 'em. To this day, my serial inability to spell a-m-o-n-g without a U delights her like flowers delight other women. She was cruel as a cat. "Come on," she'd implore. "Let's play Concentration." This is exactly analagous to my challenging my dog, Ed, to thumb-wrestling. "Or let's do the Reader's Digest vocabulary test. I'll even spot you ten questions." There are only 20.

She was easily the angriest of my girlfriends. To use my favorite illustration, I must digress about a different woman:

I was telling Katrina about a date the night before, a first date with a woman for whom I had high hopes. When I got to the part about going downtown during rush-hour, she became concerned. "Tell me you weren't driving."

"Yes, I was."

"Oh sweet Christ. Did you honk your horn and curse out the window at people?"

"I don't know. Why?"

"My point exactly. You should know. I don't ever ever ever want you taking a girl into gridlock on a first date again. I'd known you for a year, and I nearly soiled myself from fright."

This assessment of my conduct is the norm. Maddie, then, has the following distinction: she is the only girlfriend to react to my enraged honking, cursing and finger-flying by reaching across my chest and leaning on the horn because the rage I had expressed wasn't remotely adequate.

I owe Maddie a lot. She supported me during my interminable undergraduate years, without complaint or much hope of ever seeing that money again, and I'm not sure why. Love, sure, but still. That's a lot to ask of someone. For my part, I tried to get through school as quickly as possible, loading up on 21-25 hours for six straight quarters, a laughable amount of information to process for someone routinely spotted 10 points in the Digest vocabulary quiz. When she came home from work, Maddie would help me with my Spanish flashcards, coming up with mnemonic devices to help wedge la aspiradora in some crevice of my feeble memory. She, of course, learned the language long before I did. "Oh, come ON!" she'd plead. "This one's easy! And you knew it a hour ago!"

I knew her facial expression well. Somewhere between sobbing and bloodletting mania, it was the exact same expression my engineer father had worn at 2am when trying to push me over the long-division hump. "I really need to get a paternity test," he said in my imagination.

"I really need to get a boyfriend who can find his ass if I cement-nail his hands to it," she said in actuality.

"How's that?"

"I said, what's dolencia?"

posted by john at 07:48 PM  •  permalink

December 23, 2005

wonder of wonders

Steeped in Catholic tradition as a kid, I thought I knew what a "miracle" was. It was turning water into wine, or walking on water, or God saving people from the killer hurricane He sent. Maybe it wasn't necessarily divine, but it should certainly have an element of the immortal about it, like the end of the Cal-Stanford game. Football fans don't need me to say which Cal-Stanford game. The miraculous one. If every game ended that way, it wouldn't be a miracle, now, would it?

Thrice. That's how many times I've heard ordinary childbirth referred to as a "miracle" in the last 24 hours. Most of my friends have been experiencing miracles, lately. Identical miracles. It's like Starbucks started selling mass-produced miracles along with the coffee mugs and dreadfully lousy CDs. Miracles are threatening to overpopulate and starve themselves out.

"When your dog did the exact same thing in your garage last year, was that a miracle?" I ask.

"You're so smug/self-righteous/pretentious," snorts the person claiming that cranking out one of the nearly quarter-million babies born every day is miraculous.

posted by john at 12:28 PM  •  permalink

December 18, 2005

you hot. me love you.

King Kong Adrien Brody Naomi WattsYou know how it feels. You're the best looking guy in a crowded room. You spot the finest available specimen of womanhood; she pretends not to notice. You both smolder in silence, or perhaps you meet cute. You talk only once or twice, probably arguing about who's more stuck up, and then wham! Her parents take her to Bangladesh for an arranged marriage. Or Native Americans kidnap her and force her to hike through some really gorgeous scenery. Or a giant ape whisks her off to sleep in a bat cave. You know exactly what to do: risk everything to save her. Why? Because you're the two best looking people you know.

No? So why?

"Because I love her," you say, mouth clenched, eyes moist. But in a manly way.

I don't know if screenwriters ever get laid, but there's a preponderance of evidence that they've never been in love. I don't even recognize what they call falling in love. Where's the nausea? The imperviousness to all other forms of pain? The impossibility of relaxation? The hand-wringing over imaginary slights? The blue balls? The diligent face and leg shaving? The long, greedy, rapturous talks until dawn? The euphoria? The terror? The dropping of friendships? The urgent reading of their favorite books—books which you would never, ever otherwise pick up? The improved wardrobe? The mix tapes? The inability to think or talk about anything else? The beard burn? The recasting of deep-seated character flaws as adorable imperfections? The frustration with the limited bandwidth of the human ear, which keeps you from learning everything about this person at any acceptable rate? The glacial passing of time until you can see the person again? I could go on, but I think I've made my point: if you've ever been in love, how bloody hard is this to write?

Alas. Whenever I see love bloom on screen, here's the dialogue I hear in my head:

Male lead: "You hot. Me want put thing in you."

Female lead: "As I am contractually obligated to do so, I love you too."

posted by john at 05:57 AM  •  permalink

December 07, 2005

sleep in heavenly peace

Many people romanticize the dead. Misdeeds are forgotten like credit card debt, and even the most hateful people are beatified. Like so many social niceties, this ability eludes me. Bitch in life, bitch in death, I say.

Which brings us to Mom.

In all fairness, my mom had a brutally hard life, and not coincidentally she wasn't much of a mother or human being. She was an orphan at 9, raised by cousins. She married my abusive dad and bore five children, three of whom estranged themselves from her. By age 8, I was taking photos of her battered face, as evidence. I thought this was normal. An impoverished single mother at 45, and with only a degree in home economics (!) to fall back on, she wiped butts for a living until she finally contracted cancer and checked herself into the hospital where she worked. Cancer, remission, cancer again. One morning, she was driving herself to her radiation treatment when a guy turned right on red in front of her vehicle, clipping her and sending her car careening off a 50-foot high bridge on to a rock embankment below. The impact pulverized several of her vertebrae—in between breakfast and lunch, her height went from 5'5" to 5'2". In addition to the aforementioned poverty and several flavors of cancer, now she battled paralysis and acute claustrophobia until her merciful death at 52.

Right. In her shoes, not many among us would be a great parent. You have to have your own house in order before you can help build someone else's. For that reason, I give her a pass. Although I can't pretend she was kind, I can understand why she wasn't.


Like many mothers, mine nailed herself to a cross every Christmas. There was screaming. Bawling. Jealousy. Guilt trips. If we kids so much as spent Christmas Eve with Dad, cue the histrionics. One year, my brother and I spent Christmas Eve and morning with her, intending to head up to Dad's Christmas night. I knew I was getting a bike, and I had every intention of collecting. The theatrics were otherworldly. We were "hateful" for going. My brother, putting himself through school, spent a week's salary on a new phone for Mom. She opened it and snorted, visibly disgusted. "I wanted almond." We stared at her. "This is beige." I, meanwhile, had spent vast sums of grasscutting monies on a butcher block. Mom's knives rolled around freely in the utensil drawer, you see, and her doctor had warned that in her condition, any cut could be fatal. "What a waste of money," she snapped. "I already have knives." And on and on. While my brother and I played cards in the living room, thanklessly running out the clock until we left for Dad's, my mom bawled in her bedroom, at one point opening the door so that we could hear her better.

The next year, she slid into a coma on Christmas Eve. The Wailing Christmas would effectively be her last, the indelible yuletide memory of herself she implanted in her kid's memory. I've thought of her pathos every Christmas since.

The lesson has been lasting. I have an allergic aversion to my mother's sort of theatrics. Since I don't know when my own time is up, I try to treat every holiday and milestone as my last. Not for me. Not even for my loved ones. For my legacy. Who wants to be remembered every Christmas hence as a miserable, self-pitying, jealous person who's better off dead?

Merry Christmas, Mom. You always did find the perfect gift.

posted by john at 07:18 AM  •  permalink

December 02, 2005

the cry list

Saintly Steelers owner Art Rooney had just died, and I was watching Frank Deford's benediction on TV. Maddie walked into our living room and stared at me.

"What. The. Fuck."


"You're crying."

"I am?" I wiped a tear or two from my cheek. "Oh. It's been known to happen, you know."

"Amongst warm-blooded animals, yeah."

"Get off my back. I'm watching this."

Pacing so as to gather momentum, she waited for Deford to wrap it up. Then she let me have it. "I was there when your relationship with Celeste fell apart. Absolutely no tears. When you told your family to take a flying leap? No tears. When you got fired? No tears. All the rough times we've had? Bupkis. When you broke your leg and severed your pinky? Nothing. Did you even cry when you took your mother off life support? Or when she died?"

"No. That was a good day."

"But when the old fart owner of the Pittsburgh fuckin' Steelers dies, look out, here come the water-works?!?"

"But he was a great—"

AUGH! AUGH! AUGH! I am so not in love with this man!"

• • •

Since that afternoon, my every conversation about crying has been a variation on that theme, so I tend to avoid them. It's not that I don't cry easily. It's actually frightfully easy—I could be crying in five minutes, if I wanted to be. All I'd have to do is pop in the Walter Payton edition of "SportsCentury" and watch the last twenty minutes, where poor Walter is dying and having to defend himself from vicious tabloid rumors. Or watch Magic Johnson's devastating 1991 press conference. Rips me up every time. And nothing triggers a response as reliably as anything to do with Ohio State's 2003 championship game. It was emotionally exhausting. I was there. I cried there. So did everyone else. And when I see the footage, I'm transported back to that feeling. Hell, I even teared up when the now-seniors left the field for the last time three weeks ago.

It's odd that sports figure so prominently in my Cry List. Even I know that's rubbish. It's not exclusively a sports-related list, though. Pretty much anything about the WW2 generation also gets to me. A sure tear-jerker: a videotaped interview with an elderly Frenchwoman who's describing Nazi occupation. She was under the porch, terrified and hiding from Nazi troops, when American GIs appeared. Her account gets me every time. If I read the part of my will that addresses what should be done with Ed in the event of my death, cue the tear ducts. And if I pick at Cheney scabs, that's guaranteed to do it. Which brings us to what inspired this discussion: me-sa going home. Commence scab-picking! Any trip to Spokane requires a full week of emotional bracing and is followed by a full week of emotional detox. I wonder if it would make Maddie love me more or less to know that a girl can, in fact, make me shed tears. Just not her.

posted by john at 12:40 AM  •  permalink

November 25, 2005

what i’m stankful for

All the drippy "What I'm thankful for" blogs are making my teeth hurt. Enough of that spooge. Things I'm thankful for:

posted by john at 11:46 AM  •  permalink

November 24, 2005

guest columnist:
my ex-point guard

Before I abandoned the idea of guest columnists, unbeknownst to me, d'Andre (1 | 2) had already written his "ex–point guard" piece. As his making verbs agree with subjects is equivalent to the rest of us relocating an entire mountain range—not the Himalayas, maybe, but certainly the Andes—he's rather insistent that I publish this. I yield to the eldest. But I'm gonna bury this fiction on Thanksgiving day, when I have two readers. Him and his wife.

• • •

I met Egger's fat ass this last June. The rest of him, I met in the early 90's. I remember the day clearly. It's not often I make the sort of mistake in judgement about someone that I made that day. (Background: We all lived on Cleveland Ave in Columbus. It wasn't the blackest neighborhood I've ever lived in...but only because of Egger being there. You know how light can't escape a black hole's gravity? He's got the opposite effect. He's a white hole. You can feel him sucking the blackness straight out of you. Soon I was enunciating "mu-THIR-fu-KIR" like I was at the Queen's tea. It's a good thing he left when he did, before we were all country line-dancing.) We were all gathered on the neighborhood basketball court, maybe 12 of us. The court was small so we usually played four on four. We shot free throws to see who picked teams. This cube-shaped, appliance-looking white guy I'd never seen before makes his first three free throws. He had perfect form...nearly motionless. Little did I know that described his WHOLE game. I ended up being one of the two guys to pick teams. With my last pick, I committed my great mistake in judgement.

"And the white guy to shoot jump shots."

You have never seen a white guy less able to make open jump shots. Never. Remember Will Perdue? Lights out by comparison. And was Egger ever sloooooow. God almighty, was he slow. You know how TV announcers say that some plodding white dude has "a quick first step?" I used to tell Egger that he's got "the quickest 12th step out here. But that's because it only takes the rest of us 9 steps." To Egger's credit, he knew he stunk, and he passed the ball like it was radioactive. Between that and his proclivities toward violence, he was someone you wanted on your team and not the other. Yes...I said violence. This guy sets picks the way tire spikes stop cars. His picks don't merely disrupt the flow of the game. They disrupt continence. You're covering your man, and you hear someone start to call out "pi-" and then you see white spots, black out, and wake up in a puddle on the ground. Worse, he set illegal moving picks, too. You'd be backpedaling on defense, minding your own business, and then WHAM! Puddle. This was his genius. His great equalizer. He had players of superior skill with their heads on swivels, frantically looking for him instead of following the ball. He'd tell you it was out of respect. I tell you it was out of self preservation.

When I visited Egger this last summer, he spun a tale about the greatest pass he ever threw. I remember it well because it was to me. He was at the top of the key with his back to the basket, and I cut baseline behind him. He threw a no-look bounce pass behind his back. Then he turned around and saw me reverse-jamming it in. This is all true. What does Egger leave out? He sprayed it. The pass missed me by a mile and bounced off another player's leg. It was pure, blind-ass luck that it came anywhere near me at all. Too bad he didn't call "bank." He's right about one thing though. This was definitely his career highlight.

posted by john at 07:33 AM  •  permalink

November 11, 2005

overplaying a hand

My favorite breakup—and by "favorite," I mean the only one I look back on with any fondness whatsoever—was downright fun. I was in Month Six of a one-month fling. Steph was making me insane. She was an astonishing, lethal combination of inept and confident. Inept, I can tolerate. Confidence can actually be very attractive...when warranted. But combine the two traits and you have a person who should come with warning buoys. Bungling at a level I previously hadn't known existed, she worried me nonstop. I couldn't trust Steph to do anything adequately, or at all. The sex was fantastic crazy-chick sex, but even that lost its considerable appeal. Knowing I'd put it off for too long already, I determined to break up with her over the weekend. Mid-day Saturday, though, she decided it was time for her own power-play. She presented me with a list of my faults, the non-negotiable list of things about me that would just have to change. And thus did her ineptitude continue to the very end.

In the middle of her speech, I chuckled and raised my hand. "Wait. Stop."

"No. This is important to me."

"I'm sure, but it's about to be overtaken by events."

And then, much more ruthlessly than I'd planned, I dumped her. I told her why. She cried. She tried to retract her list. But of course the list was a coincidence, not the cause, so I was unswayed. But every time I've since been clubbed with a list of my inadequacies, I've thought back with nostalgia to the time when I just didn't give a crap. There's no other word for it: it was sweet.

• • •

I find myself revisiting this territory from time to time, usually with acquaintances. Someone who contributes little to my life or the world, who's been nothing but a time- and energy-sink for me, will see fit to level criticism. Never once do they consider what I ask myself about them all of the time: what's in this for me, again? The homage of their company, I guess.

Guess again.

I think we'd all do well to critically examine our role in our friends' lives, to ask of ourselves "what's in it for them?" I ask this about myself all of the time, and I'm not always pleased with the results. Take Katrina. (Please.) I have no idea what's in our friendship for her. I try hard to be a worthy friend, but I still don't give as good as I get. At some point, some folks are just better people, I suppose. But I credit myself with trying, which is more than I can say for a great mass of parasites who view friendship as a cynical economic exercise—as harvesting the most attention and affection they can for the least investment possible. And invariably, these same people are the ones who, like Steph, overplay their hands. They issue demands from/take shots at/lay guilt trips on the very people to whom they have made themselves disposable. If not actual liabilities. And I guess we should thank them for, like Steph before them, making our doing the right thing easy.

Moral: Before you fling attitude about, ask yourself if you're worth it.

• • •

Offers Katrina on why, despite the inequities, she continues to be my friend: "Habit."

posted by john at 11:26 AM  •  permalink

November 04, 2005

david letterman
saved my dog’s life

Ed ate rat poison yesterday.

I saw the guilty, just-stole-a-snotty-kleenex-out-of-the-trash look on her face as she slunk out of the pantry. I keep no food within her reach, though, only tools, so...oh shit. The tools were pushed aside, and the rat poison cake was gone. My mind snapped back to a Carson episode from 1991. David Letterman was the guest, and he was telling a hilarious story about his dog, Bob, eating spoiled meat. Curiously, Letterman's whole forgotten anecdote came back to me. Vividly.

...and then the vet said, "But if it were my dog, I'd want to get that meat out of there."

What did Letterman give the dog again? Think, John. Think.

So he said to give Bob a tablespoon of peroxide.

Do I trust this 14 year old memory? Of a comedian's act, yet? Do I have a choice? My dog is ingesting rat poison as we speak. How the hell do you get a dog to drink a tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide?

So I get a tablespoon and the bottle of peroxide and I put Bob in a headlock. And for the next ten minutes, it's collegiate wrestling.

Funny line! But focus, John, focus.

Finally I get a Windex bottle, fill it with peroxide, pry open Bob's mouth and squirt, oh, I don't know, about a quart down there.

While I prepare the Windex bottle, I'll just add some peroxide to milk and see if she'll drink it. Oh, good.

And Johnny, it was like magic. It happened instantly.

"Ed, get outside."

Boom! There's the meat again, pretty much just like the last time I saw it.

Boom! There's the rat poison again, pretty much just like the last time I saw it.

Only it had quite a head on it now.

Only it had quite a head on it now.

ed blanket 002_sm.jpg

A miserable Ed, recovering last night. She seems to be fine.

posted by john at 08:58 AM  •  permalink

October 22, 2005

life, schmife.
choice, schmoice.
i’m now just plain ol’ pro-abortion.

Especially if it involves anyone involved in the production of this maudlin, ham-handed, steamin' pile of pathos. And forget this second trimester nonsense; I'll abort them well into their 60s. Listen to it. You'll understand. If you can hear this without thinking of 1) the Chipmunks, 2) South Park, 3) the Lollypop Kids, or 4) suicide, I salute you.

The backstory:

Lil' Markie (Volume 1)
There's no photos or credits anywhere on this album. Just the sickly drawing on the cover and a list of song titles. I bought it for 50 cents on a hunch after noticing the title: "Diary of an Unborn Child".

As far as bizarre Christian LPs, I gotta say, this is this most extreme thing I've ever heard. It's some full grown man with a munchkin voice, singing terrifying songs about drug use, abortion and being a fat kid and each fill me with a profound sense of dread, horror, and disgust.

At one point, he acts out the part of a baby fetus, telling how happy he is to have fully formed fingernails at 4 1/2 weeks, and a well functioning heart after 6 1/2 weeks, etc., etc.

And then ... You can guess what happens.


posted by john at 07:45 AM  •  permalink

October 18, 2005

kids lite

Disclaimer: before I discuss this latest parenting debacle, I need to clarify something oft misunderstood. I do not hate children. Nor parents. I do not care if people procreate any more than I care if they buy a sedan. It's not my business, not my place, not my interest. Any frustration I've expressed in this space is simply the result of my losing a significant percentage of friends to parenthood. Yes, "lose." I'm delighted that my friends are happy, but I miss them, and the little shadow-of-what-it-used-to-be audiences I'm granted, while appreciated, are salt in the amputation stump. I do not, you see, have a demanding infant with which to fill my newfound free time. I'm still right here, right where I was with you, without you. It sucks, frankly. It's merely unpleasant at an individual level, but collectively, it's been socially decimating. Am I being selfish? Probably. But I can't believe it's any healthier to not miss my friends. Anyway. I'll deal. The larger point is that it's not really about kids at all. Got it?

• • •

Two friends, let's call them Kathy and Mike Mulligan, are in the family way. Eighth verse, same as the first—man, am I ever numb to this by now. A couple months ago, they were me. Together we mourned lost friends, and we cynically toasted our own eternal childlessness. Somewhere in the discussions, birth control came up, and she said they used none. "Are you insane?" I asked. "Pretty please, allow me to drive you to the freakin' drug store." No, she replied, it'll be fine. She is unable to have kids. Her only evidence: a lifetime of being careless with birth control. Her logic made me nervous then, and now voila. Tardo Jr. is en route.

Wishful thinking, sadly, is how they make all major decisions. Concurrent with their careful conclusion that no birth control was necessary: a $150,000 home remodel. They're turning their house into a bed and breakfast. When they entered six digit territory, I asked what the zoning restrictions were.

"Hmm?" came the reply. Turns out they hadn't checked.

"I'm sure it'll be fine," they said. Turns out it's not fine.

A week after the remodeling conversation, when news of the pregnancy broke, I wanted to bitchslap them. Not for having a baby, but for having a baby for the most moronic reason imaginable. Kathy asked me to look up abortion law on the web. She was unsure if she wanted an abortion, but Mike was sure. Damned sure. He even joked about throwing Kathy's pregnant body over the cliff. Ha, ha.

Welcome, Tardo Jr. You will be loved.

So now we're having a baby, but we're having it Mulligan style. "How are you going to run a shop with a newborn around?" I asked.

"Oh, it'll be fine. No problem. We'll just set up a playpen in the boutique."

"It's not that easy. Newborns turn your world upside down. You won't be working."

"It'll be fine," she repeats crossly, getting peeved at me for daring to question the wisdom of The Plan. She's offended? I'm offended. Do I dare mention their previously established genius for foresight? Nah. I let it go.

No, I do not hate children. But I sure do detest when people create children lightly. If any decision calls for some care, some gravity, I'd think it the decision to create a human being.

Alas. It'll be fine.

posted by john at 07:42 PM  •  permalink

October 13, 2005


wilted.gifI've learned to mention it by the second date. Just so ya know, some of my closest friends are ex-girlfriends. There's nothing whatsoever to be concerned about—if we wanted to be together, we've had plenty of chances—but some women find it off-putting. So if it weirds you out, please let me know sooner rather than later. Dategirls are never offput by this early on. If anything, they misinterpret this as evidence of a loving, forgiving nature that I do not actually possess. So why give the little speech? To set up the speech six months down the road, when Dategirl's traumatized by, say, Maddie knowing that the chicken masala gave me food poisoning. To me, this is a no-brainer. What good is having diarrhea, after all, if you can't graphically depict the symptoms to your appalled ex-girlfriend? "But that's so intimate..." Dategirl will say, suddenly feeling threatened. And then I launch into the 6-month speech: "Look. I was straight with you from Day Two about this friendship. You have no right to have a problem with it now..."

• • •

Allie and I have long looked for a project we can write together. I thought I had a pretty good idea: a he-said/she-said guide to being friends after a breakup. She gently declined. "Why on earth would I wish this friendship upon another living soul?"

So I guess I'm writing this on my own.

First of all, much as most relationships shouldn't happen, so is it with ex-ships. Most exes should just go away. Far away. I know it feels good to know that this person doesn't hate you, but that's no reason to invite the unique strains of ex-ship into your lives. I personally think the strains are worth it. I like that these friends know my every last wart and button; that they turn up my thermostat without asking; that they decide that the vase looks better there and presume to move it; that I can make them scratch that spot on my back I can't reach; that they know they can criticize me with impunity. I don't enjoy this level of platonic intimacy with any other friends—they haven't earned it, and neither have I—and I've yet to meet a Dategirl for whom I'd even consider giving it up. I'd sooner be alone for the rest of my life.

But it ain't easy. I've tried ex-ships and failed. I don't pretend to know all, here, but my experience is that the following ex-ship scenarios are doomed:

posted by john at 09:21 AM  •  permalink

September 30, 2005

the validation manifesto

Several women have already stopped reading. Several weary women.

I've referred to my "Validation Theory" many times on this page, but I've never spelled it out. Simply put, I believe that the primary social force in the world is the human need for validation. In the bulk of human interactions, we are either seeking or granting endorsements. Simple, no? This theory scales like a motherfucker. Once you start filtering human behavior for validation, you see nothing else.

And yes, I'm fully aware of the irony here. I'm waxing about my belief system on my web site. Self-indulgent and validation-seeking behavior if ever there were one. See how well it scales?

So say I'm right. So what? It's a harmless enough social force. Sadly, it is not, for the Validation Theory has a very ugly corollary: most people view validation as zero-sum. If I'm to feel good about myself, you cannot—unless you make the same choices I do. But if you don't, any happiness you feel invalidates my own and must be denigrated.

My favorite example of zero-sum-validation thinking will forever be the Christian bumper sticker

Know Jesus, know peace

No Jesus, no peace

If you want to drive a fundy positively insane, show them how happy you are without their religion. That so invalidates everything they believe, everything in which they've invested their self-image, they cannot even consider the possibility. Nope, you're Satan's intermediary.

All the new moms in my life have experienced a zero-sum crossfire lately. If they continue to work, stay-at-home moms revile them as bad parents. If they stay at home, their professional colleagues snort disdainfully about "breeders." The invective is harsh, unrelenting, and unsolicited, and it invariably comes from women whose own choices are being—cue the organ music—invalidated.

Let's view recent posts through the validation filter.

And on and on. The need for validation is why people dress up and wear make-up. It's why they buy expensive things. It's why people pair up. It's why lousy relationships persist well past the establishment of lousiness. It's why people have kids. It's why they pray instead of taking kids to doctors. It's why your family goes batshit if you don't come by and stare at the TV with them often enough. It's why managers create direct reports aliases (e.g., "Jim Jones' Direct Reports") that are of no conceivable use to anyone but them but that inconvenience many. It's why we insulate ourselves with people who affirm our belief systems. It's why seemingly good people can rationalize doing horrible things. It's why we want our friends—strangers, even—to couple/parent/buy something/change cities/etc. like we did, and it's why we feel curiously rejected when they don't. It's why we feel self-conscious about dining or going to movies alone. It's why people with no education disdain its necessity, and it's why I so value it. It's why people find a way to diminish your new house/car/S.O. It's why the top-10 non-fiction list is half books about how smart you are, half books about how stupid "they" are. It's why readers send me email arguing "I don't seek validation from other people." It's why people kill those who don't share their beliefs. It's why they want to introduce matters of faith into the science classroom. It's why I go weak-kneed every time I hear "Lover Lay Down" and remember that the sexiest woman I've ever known actually thought of me when she heard that song. It's why my brother and sister-in-law would rather lose me altogether than admit that the John mythology they've concocted is untrue. It. Is. Everywhere.

• • •

What, if anything, is to be learned from this? Like any point of view, it's subjective. It's a theory that happens to fit the facts. A helluva lot of facts. What began as a desperate attempt to explain one person's behavior became a plausible explanation for most of mankind's behavior. Does this make it right? Is it the only possible explanation for a given behavior? Of course not. But I've yet to come across an alternative explanation that scales so, so well across all of human behavior.

Although I found the theory life-changing, I didn't exactly find it life-affirming. Understanding validation, both your need for it and others', is not an A-ticket to bliss. The benefits are more subtle than that. I look at it more as something to keep an eye on within myself. When someone upsets me, I question why, filter for my validation needs, and very often am able to let it go. This is a good thing. I take great pains not to feel invalidated by others' beliefs or choices, and that eliminates much of life's unnecessary misery. And of course, the rhetorician in me benefits from appealing to others' validation needs. At this point, Allie and I are pretty overt about it.

(phone rings)

Allie: Hello?

Me: I need some unconditional validation.

Allie (bored): You're so smart.

Me: Thanks.

So there you have it, my world view, honed by years of wondering why so-and-so is acting that way. And if you don't agree with my Validation Theory, well, you're just stupid.

posted by john at 08:20 AM  •  permalink

September 22, 2005

fake wedding

Elan and I met on Valentine's Day. Intoxicated by whimsy y mas tequila, we had some woman marry us in a bar that night. When we subsequently went to Vegas a few months later, it seemed only natural that we mock-renew our mock-vows in the nation's most mock-romantic mock-city. "I want to try a sociological experiment," I said. And thus did I email Dorkass the following two photos, my only comment being "Hey mom, look what we just did."



Bedlam ensued. My experiment worked beyond my wildest dreams. Dorkass was, by all accounts, hysterical. She went so far as to contact the chapel, which I'd instructed to say that yes, we were really married. Dorkass being the Western world's leading disseminator of information, it wasn't long before Elan and I were crushed in email and phone calls from across the country. People panicked. People congratulated us. Jilted men worldwide knocked the earth off its axis a bit by simulatenously screaming "Him?!" Someone ran an announcement in the Microsoft newsletter. My co-workers voted on baby names and filled my office with 300 pounds of rice. In retrospect, our only regret was that we didn't register for gifts.



Once again, the evolution of communications:

Tell Dorkass

posted by john at 08:26 AM  •  permalink

August 31, 2005

welcome to the world, TBNL

And at long last, we have the final, all-caps BOOM! of this summer's amniotic fireworks display, as Dorkass perpetuates her genes and thereby single-handedly sets human evolution back several epochs. I note that on this day, as on any other, all labor ceased before 3pm.

I have no name with which to greet the child, as her arrival one day after the due date caught her parents by complete and total surprise.

posted by john at 06:41 PM  •  permalink

January 01, 1800

the aretha franklin chronicles

part one

Originally published September 19, 2002

I'm off to the East Coast to see Aretha Franklin on her last concert tour ever. Hopefully 'Reethy will not be in one of her legendary moods and will go on stage as scheduled. Chancy or not, I've gotta see the Queen while I can, or I just don't think I could live with myself. I'm hopeful, of course, that she sings her two obscure songs that I'd like on my movie's soundtrack, but I ain't holdin' my breath. I'll settle for a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Originally published September 24, 2002

3000 miles by air, six hours by car, and the bitch doesn't show up because her sister died. 

Hmm. Turns out her sister died 11 days earlier. 

Hmm. That's a full 9 days before I last confirmed that the concert was on, right before I got on a plane. 

Hmm. When my mom died, I showed up for work the very next day. 

Hmm. That's $500 on airfare...
$350 on hotel...
$210 on the rental car...
$78 on parking at Sea-Tac...
$180 on the dog kennel...
3 precious vacation days used up...
...yet she was so overcome with grief that even with a nine-day window, she couldn't give her fans notice of their imminent buttfucking. Nay, she couldn't be bothered to use lubricant. What a thoughtful human being. What a pro. The show must go on, indeed.

Oh yes, fuck you straight to hell, Aretha Franklin.

Originally published November 3, 2002

Whadya know. Karma usually takes longer.

Aretha Franklin Property Burns Down
[LatelineNews: 2002-10-29] BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - An $800,000 Michigan house owned by Aretha Franklin burned down. Nobody was in the 5,000-square-foot residence at the time of the Friday morning blaze. Fire Chief Leo Chartier said flames were shooting through the roof when firefighters arrived just before 6 a.m. Friday.

The house, which firefighters said was completely razed, had an estimated value of $812,900, according to township records. The cause of the blaze is under investigation.

I hope authorities don't spend too long piecing this perplexing enigma together. What came around, went around.


Editor's note, July 2005: In January 2003, when I was sitting in the Phoenix airport still basking in Ohio State's championship glow, the airline offered me a free ticket to anywhere I wanted to go if I would accept a bump to the next flight and thereby be able to finish watching Michael Vick beat Green Bay at Green Bay in January, which had never been done. Yep. It was quite a roll I was on. En route back to Seattle with my voucher in hand, I realized what it represented: a free ticket to try again with Aretha. And thus pull victory out of the jaws of defeat.

Originally published March 27, 2003

The rescheduled Aretha Franklin concert is in a couple months. Mrgm. I taste copper.

Originally published April 16, 2003

God help me, I'm flying to Hyannis, MA to see Aretha Franklin. And may God help her if she doesn't show again. What will it be this time? The death of her dog two weeks earlier? A really sore, chafing thigh pimple? Arson? Whoop, I guess that 's been done. Well, the arson of her dog's thigh pimple, maybe.

Originally published April 17, 2003

Cocksucker of the Day Award

To Ticketmaster, who irritably hissed that there could be no refund for the original, postponed Aretha Franklin concert, for which I pointlessly took vacation time, spent a small fortune, and flew six thousand miles—after having diligently reconfirmed it with them just prior to my departure. If people three offices down heard the eruption of profanity through my closed door, imagine how the guy at Ticketmaster felt. I got my refund, which cost Ticketmaster the COTD Award but saved their souls.

part two

Originally published August 21, 2003

I'm heading back East tomorrow to visit friends and—sigh—attempt to see Aretha. If she dogs me again, well, pay no attention to the media reports.

Originally published August 26, 2003

There's much to say about my New England swing, but the crux can be summed up in two magical little words: she showed!

And Aretha and me, we patched things up.

The Cape Code Melody Tent is a unique venue, a circular seating area around a rotating stage. There are only about 20 rows of seats, so to say there's not a bad seat in the house is to undersell; there's not an non-excellent seat in the house. As we waited, Amy, Rob and I placed bets on how long Aretha's set would be. I said 70 minutes. Rob, who's apparently watched far too much Price Is Right, said 71. Amy, prone to all sorts of fancifully optimistic blunders (moving back East without a job offer, joining the Green Party, drinking with me, etc.), predicted 90. I "won" when Aretha took the stage for 64 minutes. Mind you, that includes at least 10 minutes of breaks, an inexplicable homage to Nelly's "Hot In Here," and the pre-encore exit theatrics—none of which involved her actually singing.

Yet I loved the performance. It was the first time at a concert where I've felt star-struck, where I got chills from just seeing the person. This effect was heightened by some teasing showmanship. First, the band took their place in the pit. Ten minutes passed. Then the backup singers took the stage, and it seemed the show was imminent, so the crowd started clapping in unison as if in a Roman coliseum. We're marking time: Clap. Clap. Clap. Clap. And then the minutes passed. And we petered out. And the backup singers sat patiently. And the crowd started squirming. And minutes more passed. And then off in the distance, we heard a siren. And then it hit me: oh my God, the bitch dropped dead from a heart attack. And then the lights went out, and the crowd went apeshit, and I saw an eruption of camera flashes going off outside the opposite side of the arena. A dark shape poised at the top of the aisle opposite my seat. Is that her? I can't tell. The shape stood there as the backup singers took us through a medley of very familiar songs, including "Think" and "You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)." And then the MC grabbed the microphone and channeled a boxing announcer. He presented the uncontested Queen of Soul, who was suddenly and brilliantly illuminated as she and her bodyguards made their way down the aisle toward the stage. It was a entrance worthy of the heavyweight champ.

Fittingly, the first lyrics she belted were "I'm Here!"

I was afraid that at 70ish, Aretha would have lost something. Perhaps that something is stamina. But what the show lacked in length, it made up for in energy and passion, and that old lady sure got the assembled milquetoast Cape Cod Country Club jumpin' like they were in a Birmingham Baptist church. She alternated between torchy ballads and upbeat hits, and while the crowd leapt to its feel and danced for "Respect," "Chain of Fools," and "Freeway of Love," it was the ballads that I enjoyed most, particularly the magnificent anthem "Make Them Hear You" and a lovely, breathy encore cover of "I'll Be Seeing You." (The only clunker was her inexplicable cover of the Pocahontas crap-fest "Colors of the Wind." Was that for the zero 12 year olds in the audience?)

As I said, I got chills. Repeatedly. It combined the best of concert going experiences with a palpable sense of divinity, or at least of being touched by history. I beamed. I teared up. I didn't want it to end. I'd traveled 184 miles for every minute she sang—over 3 miles for every second—and I consider it a bargain.

posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

my first ban

Originally published July 6, 2003

Over the holiday I hosted the same Mormon friends that almost provoked me to murder-suicide during their last visit. Speaking of last visits, they are not welcome back. Never ever ever ever ever ever ever. It's about respect. It's about responsible parenting. But mostly, it's about self-defense. For the benefit of my other friends with children, this weekend I compiled the following parenting primer.


DO Ask if you can help out with cleaning up.
DON'T Insist on "helping" when I decline.
DON'T Then use 409 on my nice wood table.
DON'T Then let your kids color on my newly unfinished table instead of in their coloring books.
DO Listen to me when I say that the garbage disposal isn't functional.
DON'T Neglect to mention, on hearing this, that  you already crammed enough foodstuffs down there to feed Uganda. Not only did this little surprise enrage me later on, it took me hours to unclog.
DO Bring your kids. Ed and I like kids.
DON'T Let your kids be cruel to my dog.
DON'T Change your three [sic] year old's diapers on my linens, get shit on the linens, and then do nothing about it. My linens sometimes touch other guests' faces. Like last night.
DON'T Let your kids use my towel bar as a jungle jim.
DON'T Gently set the broken towel bar against the hole in the wall in an effort to conceal the damage until you're gone. The illusion lasted only until my next shower. I look forward to repairing this, too.
DON'T Let your kids swing my binoculars on their strap like a propeller. They were a gift, I like them the way they are, and I'd like to have them for a while.
DON'T Act like I'm the unkindest fucker on the face of the earth for quietly taking them away from your child.
DON'T Negotiate with a screaming, pouting brat. Most especially, don't negotiate using the binoculars I've already taken away from the screaming, pouting brat. And most certainly, don't tell me I have no voice in this issue, then give the little demon my binoculars over my objections.
DON'T Let your toddler use my speckle-glass soap dispenser unsupervised.
DON'T Blame me for having a glass soap dispenser and tell me that everything should be plastic. I'm the one who chose not have children, remember? Among other benefits, I can and do have nice things. The vow of poverty and insular life of plastic you chose is your burden and no one else's. The world isn't made of plastic; your kids need to learn this sometime, but how can they when breakage is the world's fault?
DO Offer to replace what your toddler broke.
DON'T Act surprised and indignant when uncharacteristically, I accept your offer. Maybe you'll learn something about a little thing called "responsibility" this way.
DON'T Whine further that my soap dispenser was too expensive. Shut the fuck up.
DON'T Attempt to weasel out of accountability with sad tales of your impoverishment. Seriously, shut the fuck up.
DO Teach your kids things like "use your indoor voice," "the butcher block isn't for playing with," "the oil bottles aren't for playing with," "don't take food from the doggie's mouth," "don't club the window with the bell," "don't climb the new blinds," "don't poke doggies in the eye, it hurts them," "don't run full speed and ram your palms into the picture windows," "don't stab the flat-screen monitor with a pen," "don't play near the edge of the cliff," "don't run with sparklers toward the big pile of explosives," "don't kick the TV," etc.


DON'T Make me be the one to say these things—especially when you're present. This, this is when you finally shut the fuck up? What no doubt seems to you an opportunity to offload parental burden for a time is, to me, thoughtless and rude. Why don't you divert some of the energy you're devoting to whining about the soap thing and use it to, you know, parent? In addition to being the status that constitutes the dubious sum of your life goals, "parent" is also a verb.
DON'T Bring three children into this overcrowded, hungry, resource-depleted and pollution-stricken world, talk about your ditzy spiritual need for a fourth, and then babble pretentiously about recycling. You're fucking eco-terrorists. Literally.
DO Reason with your kids. The whys are just as important as the whats.
DON'T Give your kid the exact same lecture—in the exact same tone, with the exact same lack of consequences—for not washing his hands as for continuing to play at the edge of the cliff after three warnings. I don't know if you've noticed, but your kid is tuning out your incessant lecturing to the point where it's physically endangering him.
DO Negatively reinforce. I'm not saying you have to beat the kid, but when he's being gleefully disobedient, I think removing TV, dessert, beach privileges etc. will not result in lasting emotional damage. It might even save his life. And as a bonus, our friendship.
DON'T Make repeated threats of punishment that you know you won't follow through on. I don't know if you've noticed, but your kid knows you won't, too.
DON'T Tell your kid that the cost of watching fireworks is that we all have to clean up the next day, then let him goof off while the rest of us clean up. Oh yes, that's right, you didn't let him.  You lectured him and told him he wouldn't be able to go to the beach if he didn't help, right before he went to the beach after having not helped.
DON'T Get on my case when I tell him he's "useless." While I appreciate your corrections of my unaffirming word choice ("John! We don't say that! We say 'you're not being very useful.'"), you have to understand that my comment was already quite sanitized. The original was, "You lazy, useless piece of mindless Mormon shit, you're being raised to be a worthless, irresponsible, ungrateful, unemployable, misogynistic carbon blob of a burden on society who does just the bare minimum to get what he wants, just like your father. Hey, speaking of trash, why don't you pick this stuff up like you promised, before I indulge my inner father and boot your sorry, slothful ass into the ocean?"
DON'T On your way out, tell me fanciful tales of even more neglectful parents than you. You'd have to actually give your kids live munitions in order to be worse parents.

posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

my japanese family

Originally published August 5, 2003

A day threatened for a decade has arrived: I sent for grad school friends Lynn and the revered Ehama-sama to collect an old debt. They're painting my house. For four days. Much as when I think of home, I think of Spokane and not Columbus, when I think of family, I often think of these two and not my biological kin. It's in this spirit, therefore, that I shall spend this week here listing the mothering and smothering sistering that transpires. Wow. How overwritten it that?

I predict that the first reference to my singleness will occur sometime midday Wednesday. Place your bets and watch this space. Here are the mounting motherings:

posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

percy, the euthanasia poster child

Read the entire Percy saga here -John, November 2010
• • •

Originally published August 7, 2004

"You drive ninety minutes from work in order to be 20 feet from your neighbor?" someone once remarked. Sigh. Yes I do. Our house configurations are such that I seldom have to see or hear them, not unless they come over. Which unfortunately they do.

Percy and Thelm@ are septuagenarians, if that's the one that means "in their 70s." They're typical of the residents where I live: old, middle-class white folks who retired to country beach houses. It's not my favorite demographic. If you pass them in a passing zone when they're going 45 in a 55, which is sadly zippy around here, they'll follow you home to lecture you. When new ownership bought the local grocery and put the local coffee klatch's mugs atop a doily on a nice table, she was repeatedly chewed out for having moved the mugs three feet from where they'd been since the Creation. And so on. I've been advised not to turn this into a "geriatric old fucks with overdeveloped senses of entitlement" tirade, lest I lose the reader.

But they are.


The Common North-American White-Breasted Geriatric (Anus rictus)


Which brings us to Percy, whom I first met during my house inspection. He walked over and introduced himself, then proceeded to stand there, silently and awkwardly, forcing everyone to work around him. Why he felt it his place to inject himself in my house inspection, I can only guess, but soon I would long for those early days of awkward silences between us. A brief history:

To be continued.


posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

egger and d ride again

Originally published April 12, 2005

d'Andre contacted me last week. He's coming. And I'm increasingly nervous.

If we talked more than twice a decade, I'd call him one of my oldest friends. But we don't, so I won't. He was my neighbor several lifetimes ago, in an apartment complex far, far away. None of us had any money. That was a given. We were all on the downside of advantage, yet that was easily the happiest, tightest-knit neighborhood in which I've ever lived—even for the polka dot, the piñata, the prematurely balding white guy saddled with the nickname "Egger." I'm not going to repeat them here and just give friends ammo, but trust that I am among the leading authorities on "cracka" jokes in any hemisphere. The unremitting verbal abuse I took was never hostile—it was affectionate, even—yet I'd be lying if I said I was completely at ease with my status.

Which, if I might digress, was a growth experience for me. I've tried many times to articulate this, and I don't know that I've ever succeeded. It begins with there being no "white experience" comparable to the set of unifying common experiences that members of a minority group share. A wealthy Vietnamese-American man in Fresno will have a base set of experiences in common with an impoverished Vietnamese immigrant girl in Louisiana; for all their differences, they deal with the same stuff every day of their lives, and they understand that they have this link. They're of the same tribe. People outside the tribe can achieve acceptance, but the very nature of tribes is such that they'll never achieve inclusion. (A nested digression: for my money, "8 Mile" was pure fantasy. If I'd tried to co-opt a black identity like that, scoffing rejection would have been the best response I could have hoped for. Acceptance starts within; your only hope for acceptance is to be who you were born.) Anyway, for whatever reasons—being in the majority probably chief among them—white Americans don't have that unifying sense of identity, of tribe. We don't think of ourselves or each other as white unless made to. It just isn't naturally a part of our self-image. It flat-out doesn't cross our minds. It doesn't come up. Where the growth came in, then, is that for better and worse, I became hyperaware of my racial identity. It's healthy business for someone in the majority to taste being a minority, and during this time I saw myself as white, as excluded, as different, morning noon and night. And I had lots of help with seeing that. Lots and lots. My chops were busted, my chain yanked, my buttons pressed, my goat gotten, my balls busted, and my place, um, me, um, put in.

Wrote myself into a corner, there.

Now I don't mean to say that I was targeted for exclusion, or verbally abused more than anyone else, or a victim who didn't himself dish out abuse. Trust me; I wasn't. We were gleefully unemployed young men with too much time on our hands, and in the grand tradition of that species, we invested more energy into not working than any job has demanded of me since. We watched girls. We watched one another's girls. When there were no girls, who oddly enough seemed to have jobs that occupied much of their time, we talked about watching girls. We balled, of course. We held great socially conscious debates like Terminator vs. Predator and Magic vs. Michael. We repaired one another's junk-heap cars, each of us having our specialty. (I was the "repairing brakes without paying to have your rotor turned like it really should be" guy.) We swapped car parts freely, the theory being that between us, we owned a single functional Frankencar. We played chess and dominoes, we schemed about how to earn money by playing basketball poorly all day, and after playing basketball we watched cartoons while eating cereal on my girlfriend Maddie's new couch juuuust as she was coming home from work. (How many times do I have to say I'm sorry?) But mostly, we sat around and crafted insults. Nothing was out of bounds; no little difference, no wart, was above public examination. The sober guys insulted the stoners. The stoners insulted the crackheads. The taller guys insulted the shorter ones. The guys who were going to college insulted those who didn't, and vice versa. The guys who didn't live with their mothers insulted the guy who did. The guy who was fired by UPS insulted the guy who was fired by USPS. The guys with acne insulted the fat guys. The young guys insulted the old guys. The white guy insulted the Mexican guy. And everyone insulted the white guy.

Yes, d'Andre is coming.

About five years older than most of us, he gradually assumed a role of elder statesmen. The perks of high office: no one ate more of my cereal, no one made more cracka jokes, and no one else decided that Egger'd taken enough abuse for today. He might publicly and mercilessly skewer me, but he'd be damned if others did, not on his watch. I was his boy. Or maybe just his personal punching bag. I'm not sure there's even a difference.

The single funniest ad lib I have ever heard spilled from his lips.

"Hey Egger, can you put on a hat?" he says as we jog back on defense.


"The glare off your head is really messin' with my jump-shot." Much snickering ensures.

"Baldists," I shoot back pathetically.

When d'Andre feigns offense, he always asks a question twice.

"Baldist? Baldist?!" He puts his hands on his hips and affects an exaggerated white dialect. "I am nothing of the kind."

More snickering. He continues.

"I like bald people."

The laughter builds.

"There's good ones."

The crowd roars its approval, waiting for the kill.

"I have bald friends."

Complete pandemonium.

I honestly don't remember finishing that game. I do remember grown men propping one another up as they laughed and flicked tears off their cheeks. Hell, I'm still tearing up, just writing about it. This was fairly typical of our dynamic, which is to say he generally got the best of it.


One glorious day, we climbed into his car, he turned the key, and the CD player resumed playing what he was last listening to. Realizing simultaneously the significance of the moment, we listened and stared straight ahead at crows picking through a dumpster. Finally I spoke.



"Is that Careless fuckin' Whisper?"

He started backing the car out of its parking space.

"I wish I was dead."

And thus was my go-to punchline born, a veritable nuclear warhead added to my arsenal. Andrew Ridgley and wake-me-up-before-you-go-go jokes would soon abound. Once I'd beaten him to death with it, I dug him back up and beat him some more.

The last time we talked, I called him after five years of silence and asked for a favor, a monstrously unreasonable favor.

"Hey, d. It's John."

[Complete silence]

"We ran at Mesa Ridge?"

[uncomfortable fidgeting]

"You know," I cringed. "Egger."


"No two are alike! Still, I'm touched you remember me," I said through grit teeth.

"Remember? Remember?! Man, we still  talk about the time you blocked a brother's shot."

"Hey, it wasn't just—"

"Damndest thing I ever saw."

"— the one ti—"

"We never let that sorry sumbitch play again."

What, did he have this material on a legal pad next to the phone for five years, just in case I called?

And thus did I lose control of the conversation. Just like old times. But in the end, the man followed my now-ex Maddie's sleazy boyfriend for two days, confirming suspicions that he was not only cheating on her but with her—he was married, with kids, and even had another girlfriend on the side. d'Andre didn't even consider not performing this garish favor. He remembered Maddie being kind to him, and that was all the incentive he needed. What a sense of honor, of loyalty. Can you imagine? After five years? Hell, my current friends groan about getting on a ferry to see me once a year if I pay.

d'Andre is coming. Yeah! No! Excitement and anxiety.

Yes, this summer my old friend and antagonist, the man after whom I named the older brother character in my screenplay, is visiting Seattle. I'm excited to see him, but man, are my old excluded-outsider insecurities ever getting inflamed. Those little differences I used to be ridiculed over?

They've grown. A lot.

I think it's safe to say that no one from that old neighborhood has seen their lifestyle change as much as mine has, which does not bode well for when ol' Egger is put under a microscope this summer. Every square inch of my life is packed with ripe comedic fodder. Katrina did not exactly help my anxiety level.

"What's he going to say when he sees Metamuville?" (white population: 104%)

"[unintelligible groaning]  Probably something with 'saltine-assed' in it."

"What about your gay man's kitchen and all the doilies in your guest room?"

"Holy crap. I am so toast."

"If he breaks your designer speckle-glass soap dispenser," she giggled, "Will you make him pay the $130?"

"Oh sweet christ."

"Will you tell him you accidentally gave Bill Russell the finger in traffic last winter?"

"Hell  no."

"Don't forget your purebred English Springer Spaniel on her princess bed."

"Right. I'll kennel her."

"And Percy."

I hadn't thought of that. d'Andre is going to meet Percy. Yep, death would be so sweet right about now.

In the meantime, I'll continue to fervently pray that sometime in the last 13 years, d'Andre sold out, too.

posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink


The origin of "WTFF" is only vaguely more interesting. When I was a manager, I'd read behind the writers' work regularly. Some writers were impeccably clean on the very first draft. I call them "my favorites." Some sucked bilgewater (as the editor, Annette, put it), no matter how many drafts they got. I call them "Roxanne." And one turned in excellent final drafts but really—insanely—weak initial drafts. She answers to "Dorkass." If the words stuck to the page, she figured, she'd done her job and met her deadline. She'll fix it later. Off to the mall! She specialized in the glittering generality. "Windows can be faster than nearly each and every one of the other alternatives," she'd type just to fill up space so she could get to the Bon Home sale. "Almost every last one of them."

One day, when I was working a weekend in order to read the draft she'd handed off before going to Banff, I came across the following. This is verbatim. "The new, comprehensive migration tools provided with Windows help you migrate items comprehensively."


On Monday Annette sniffed, "I guess I've been doing it wrong all these years, giving actual feedback when all I had to do is swear like a 10 year old." She then proceeded to butcher the phrase in her memory, and now half the world thinks I say "what the fuckity fuck."

posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

if you’ve ever wondered who voted for Bush twice, wonder no more

My sister-in-law Maria is a throwback to the turn of the century. The 3rd century. She married her high school boyfriend at the worldly age of 18, and, not much seeing the point of getting her Mrs. degree when she already had her Mr., she instead became a rollickin' fundamentalist and raised their three kids in a hermetically sealed environment where Harry Potter books are banned and Jesus controls such minutia as who wins the election for class treasurer. With no sense of irony whatsoever, she will talk about Jesus' love out of one side of her mouth and utter the vilest hate out of the other. Her utter lack of curiosity about the world—I've never known her to read, travel, or in any way educate herself beyond being told how righteous she is by fellow churchgoers—inhibits her not at all. No, she is a bona fide expert on matters she knows nothing about, and she makes sure you know it. To say she is a gossip is inadequate. Remember Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched? Breed her with Jimmy Swaggart and give their love child an 8-ball of cocaine, and you'd have Maria.

When I was 19 myself, my relationship was teetering, and I was in danger of flunking out of college, so I withdrew. I tried again the next quarter, but my mind was still on my relationship, so I withdrew again. I did not tell my family, whose first through 92nd instincts are to attack, about my withdrawing. I didn't really need the additional grief, what with their already perforating me about my relationship issues. So I told them I was still in school. Suspicious, Maria took it upon herself to call the registrar and prove this was a lie. She trumpeted the news of my failure and cover-up to the four corners of the world. Fortunately for me, her world is exceedingly small.

You might think it all youthful sound and fury, signifying nothing, but it proved to be the enduring, defining moment of our relationship. Lo these many years later, nearly two decades in which Maria's seen me for maybe 20 hours, she still basks in triumph. I am a proven liar. This is established. It is what defines me. It is all she knows of me, or cares to know. You know John? Oh, he's a pathological liar now. I'd feel sorry for him if he weren't such a liar all the time. School? Career? House? Probably all lies. Any money he has is probably from selling drugs, but I'm not sure about that one. He has nothing to do with me because I know what a liar he is.

This is now a joke amongst my friends. If I say I'm picking a family member up at the airport at 3:00, Allie will press my Maria button. She insists on using an elongated y for maximum effect.

"Are you really, or are you lyyyyyyy-ing again?"
"Fuck you also."

It's a reliable button.

These days, conversations with Maria are the toll I have to pay in order to talk to my brother. They invariably go down one path: my continued friendships with ex-girlfriends.

"So, are you still in touch with, um," she'll say, pretending she doesn't have the name handy in her phoneside RIMS (Rolodex of Intelligence info and Malicious Speculation), "Allie?"

"Yeah. She's one of my closest friends. She's family."
Maria doesn't pick up on what I thought was an unsubtle dig. In fact, judgment is swift and scornful.

"See, I don't get that. I don't get that at all. If your brother still hung out with his ex-girlfriend, it would drive me insane. Insane!"

My mind parses the Fellini movie that are my disjointed memories of the 70s, searching for anyone else my brother might have ever dated.

"You mean...Tina from the 10th grade?"

"Yeah! I would be sooooo jealous."

"Well, believe it or not, relationships change a bit after high school." Another unsubtle dig impacts harmlessly on her surface.

"And [insert some girl's name] didn't mind?"

"Not a bit. I'm upfront about it from the first date."

"Are you sure? I think it's probably what broke you up," she'll declare (and no, she has no more information than this post contains).

"I'm sure," I growl, realizing for the first time that this is the speculation in Ohio.

"And what about Allie's boyfriend?"

"He's my fishing buddy."

"That's just so weird."

"Compared to what? It's not that uncommon. If we loved and enjoyed one another when we were a couple, why can't that evolve? Why would it end just because we're not right for each other romantically? My life isn't that black and white."

Maria ponders, scouring her world for an apt analogy.

"So it's like Ross and Rachel."

The right lobe of my brain fires off a quick message of sympathy to the left lobe: Yeah. I heard it too. Jesus H. Christ. Just say yes and ask for your brother again.

"Um, I guess. Only we don't, you know, secretly want to get back together. And, um, we really exist."

"It's just so weird, John."

"Yeah. So is my brother back yet?"

posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

chex and balances

Originally published April 9, 2005

The other night I was out with friends, and talk among the married folk turned toward the love lives of we singletons. Why? Because married lives don't interest even the married. When it came my turn, my "type" was discussed. Terrell used a visual aid, pulling her hair back into a knobby little brown ponytail.

"Brown ponytail," declared Dorkass.

"Brown ponytail," said Jill in near unison.

And thus was swift judgment rendered. I felt stereotyped.
"All I'm looking for," I said with great gravity, sipping my bourbon for effect, "Is a girl who's read Tolstoy and who can turn a double-play."

And the stunned ahhs rang out around the table. Daaamn. I don't know anyone like that. Pleased with myself for having mounted my perch above them all, I smiled in smug silence. Yet I knew I would have to atone for this moment later.

That moment came with distressing speed. The next morning, I tried my line on my ex Allie. "All I'm looking for," I repeated, "Is a girl who's read Tolstoy and who can turn a double-play."

"Ca-righst almighty," she snorted as she laughed. "You've never even picked up Tolstoy, and you hit into double-plays more than any other 10 men I know."

"I know."

"Why didn't you just say 'brown ponytail?'" she said from under her brown ponytail, now accented with flecks of grey.

This, for the uninitiated (and Maria), is what being friends with an ex is like. If you can get over the blame hump, which honestly takes at least a year of buffer time, if your current SOs can get over the jealousy hump, and most of all, if you were great friends when you were a couple, you can grow a friendship unlike any other. It's flat-out closer. You know one another eerily well, right down to what you've read and how you hit a softball. You know where one another's buttons are better than you know your own, and on special occasions, you lean on those buttons for the pure evil joy of it. You know how your closest friends will open your fridge and ask if they can have a drink? Exes don't ask. And they'll go a step further, adjusting your thermostat to their liking as soon as they enter your home. Politeness rituals long ago worn away during your romantic era, they say the bluntest things—but they say them out of love, so you prize it. If you're stranded, they have to come get you no matter how inconvenient it is, and you don't feel the slightest bit guilty. Ditto with your bail if you're jailed, although it hasn't come to that for me yet. And they still have to give you rides to and from the mechanic. One of my favorite features.

I've seen two exes get married. More than that are married, of course, and all seemingly to a man named Gary, but I was actually present at two of the weddings. (And even invited to one of them! [rimshot!]) I was oft asked how I felt. How did I feel? Happier than I would for any friend, any family member. I don't know how a dad feels on his daughter's wedding day, but I imagine it's the closest analogy. I felt pure joy for these women and their happiness—and I felt like a proud investor in that happiness, an integral participant in the formation of the human being dressed in white. No matter how close a typical friendship might be, I never feel that.

• • •

If you haven't seen it, allow me to introduce The Ex Files (sidebar), which serve as a repository for some of Allie's best lines.

posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

after shooting this footage, john and his idiot dog were never heard from again

Originally published February 6, 2005

I cannot remember a better day than today.

Today began yesterday, naturally. I packed up Ed the dog and boated south to Dabob Bay, at 30 miles away the nearest location where the ever-elusive transient orcas have been recently sighted. It is also occasionally a restricted military area, as the nice man with the deck-mounted, high caliber machine gun patiently explained to me. After a half hour of weighing my options, I decided to go all the way to Hoodsport, the southernmost location the whales have been spotted, and work my way back north the next day. I found a slip at the absurdly nice Alderbrook Resort in Union, where I slept on the boat Saturday night (room: $300; moorage: 11 bucks). A quick check of my email revealed that the orcas were indeed in Dabob Bay when I was talking to the machine gun. Shit. So I grabbed some breakfast, fell in love with a waitress named Emmy, and hit the water as soon as the fog lifted at 10am. I was watching whales by 10:15. I lowered the hydrophone into the water, and soon the stereo was alive with their cries. They put on quite a show—hunting, playing, spy-hopping, diving. They stayed about 1000 yards away.

Until two of them noticed me.

It happened while I was on the phone with an orca researcher, reporting my sighting. One breeched a mere fifty yards away, coming generally toward me. Then he breeched again, only 20 yards off. Then he and his buddy plowed through the water straight at my port side, not even pretending to want to avoid a collision. You've seen this on nature programs, sure. But from the comfort of your couch, you have no idea how fragile you'll feel. Yeah, you know ahead of time that these animals are 27 feet long and weigh six tons each, and yeah, you've seen them at Sea World or maybe from a large vessel, but when you and your tasty mammalian companion are on a 22 foot, 1800 pound boat being bull-rushed by 24,000 pounds of predator...well, it's an adrenaline rush like none I've ever known. If I'd had time to think about it, I would have lost all bladder control, too.

The whales did not hit me, of course. I braced for it, involuntarily getting low to the floor, but there wasn't so much as a dorsal fin scrape. They even somehow avoided the thin 45-foot hydrophone cable. I don't know how they missed my port side. I never saw them flinch; they disappeared only because eventually, the boat obstructed my view of the water. When close, one of them looked at me, or maybe at Ed. He had the pulpous remains of a fresh kill clenched in his jaws. That lucky seal passed within a yard of my feet as the whales swam under me. A second later, my heart was palpably pounding and the whales were to starboard, swimming away, probably laughing amongst themselves.

My camera, sadly, has a 30-second limitation on the length of its video clips. It's never been more aggravating than today, and you'll see why: I missed filming my close encounter. I did, however, get footage of a breach and of the beginning of the charge. And of my idiot dog's schnozz.

posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

duerko del asno

Originally published May 2, 2005

Minette smelled something rotten with the below fake, but god bless'er, Dorkass bit, even after I said it was taken at "Point Adobe."

But now that I've done the hard work, it's time for the CheckRaise World Tour.








may day

Originally published May 1, 2005

Yes, it's fake. I saw bupkis.

posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

whale photos

Originally published May 17, 2005<

The gray whale from two weeks ago.


Hood Canal transient orcas from last week





The same swim-under I shot, just clearer. You're looking at the nose of an upside down orca as it's coming toward the camera, right before it swam under our feet.

posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

the checkraise crew:

john, your captain
minette, your naturalist
dorkass, your ballast

Originally published April 30, 2005

Yesterday was a fun day of whalin', a day that included two beachings (one accidental), bone-jarring four foot waves, the repainting of both sides of my boat, and a boarding by two young men with two big guns. Three, if you count the enormous machine gun mounted on the bow of their Coast Guard boat. I passed my inspection, but that didn't stop a gleeful Dorkass from trying to make a John-skewering anecdote out of it.

"So did he do something wrong?!? " she asked in the same hopeful tone that a child asks "May I have some dessert?" She eagerly had her camera out, hoping to capture for posterity my arrest or, better still, my pistol-whipping. Alas.

Perhaps it was the disappointment, perhaps it was the unremitting waves, but soon her breakfast was adorning the starboard side of my boat. Unfortunately, the waves were coming at us from the same side; with the boat tilted, we were corkscrewing into them. "Tell her to puke off the other side," I snapped, fraught with concern for her comfort.

Oh yeah. And there were whales.

Our best guess is that we observed 1-2 adult and 1 juvenile gray whales as they circled and fed in 50' deep water. We saw several deep dives (which I presume is when their flukes appeared), countless blows, and a lotta barnacles. I got a good look at one's blowhole, and Minette saw a full body roll. The highlight for all was when we lost track of the whales and then an adult surfaced and slowly passed the boat, not 50 feet away. Just exhilarating.

posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

metamuville crime wave!

MetamuMart Grocery, Trading Post & Provisions was hit last week. Thieves punched out a window and stole some beer and, tellingly, some cough medicine. Dirt Glazowski, the store owner, who's a dead ringer for Howie Long and did, in fact, play professional football for a time, has been a litany of profanity ever since. In addition to the classics, his every sentence is also peppered with the words "derelict," "reprobate," and "beat into a twitching mass of pulp on the ground." His wife, Kiki, has skidded into depression. As their friend, I've taken both sides, simultaneously assuring Kiki that it'll never happen again while helping Dirt plan his installation of a Burmese tiger pit in aisle 4.

The area old farts have rallied, too. A letter to the editor in support of "the kids" Dirt and Kiki appeared, addressed "Dear Meth Heads." Okay, good start. The letter goes on to scold the thieves and their lowly place in this world. You're parasites. Addicts. Degenerates. "Apparently, all you see when you meet people like Dirt and Kiki is a source of drugs."

Unable to speak, I stabbed the sentence with my tear-soaked finger. Kiki was mortified. I showed it to the contingent of gossipy old farts always on hand. They didn't get it. Even funnier.

• • •

That the Glazowskis and I would become friends was inevitable, as we're the only people under 40—hell, under 60—in town. The first time I had them over, we watched the sun set and roasted brats in my backyard. As we pounded drinks, Dirt told stories of gridiron glory while I fawningly hung on every word and Kiki did a rather remarkable Terry Schiavo impression.

An Ohio State player blew your knee out and ended your career? Great, great!

"Was there anyone you really enjoyed hitting?" I asked.

"Mike Tomczak," he answered without hesitation. "I hated that prick."

"Same here," I replied. "Do you lie awake at night wishing you'd hit him harder, too?"

posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

dear fucking amy

if i've learned anything at my job,
it's how to call a bug a feature

Originally published August 6, 2004

Dear Amy,

Certain though I am that this date in history holds no significance for you, I will never forget where we were ten years ago today. A recap:

You  You went from from deliriously happy that we'd decided to get married; to uncharacteristically quiet and uncommunicative as I defended us from your parents; to being quiet and uncommunicative from your grandparents' house in remotest Oklahoma, contrary to the promises you made to both me and your employer that you would be in Seattle. All in a three week span—three weeks in which we didn't see one another.

Me  Moving to our mutual choice of new cities, Seattle, I went from deliriously happy and lucratively employed to neither, coincidentally in that same time span, finally deciding that if, as I'd said, you had no business being in Oklahoma while your relationship foundered, I certainly had no business being here. So ten years and two days ago, I walked into my stunned boss's office and said "I'm very sorry to leave you in the lurch like this, but I need to quit. Right now. There's something I need to attend to, and I really don't know if I'll ever be back." I hopped in my little Subaru and drove 2000 miles straight to Oklahoma in order to figure out what had just happened to my relationship.

I arrived on August 6, 1994, and I pled with you to communicate. You flicked your hands futilely (in the international gesture for "I don't know what to say") and told me that your feelings had changed. What feelings? For me? How? You haven't even seen me! "They've changed," you kept saying, maddeningly in passive voice, and with that fucking clueless hand wave, every single time. Kicked in the stomach emotionally and exhausted from the ordeal of the drive, I had no chance of understanding. Not that you offered much for me to make sense of. As I finally managed to extricate myself from those repetitive, one-sentence conversations, we made our final requests of one another. You told me, "I need you to let me go." And I told you, "I'm not understanding what just happened. Please, I'm begging you, choose the right words and write them down." And then, out of the purest love for another human being, I forced myself to do the single most painful thing I've ever done: I let you go. A thoroughly broken man, I left Oklahoma and returned to a life in a new city with no friends, no family, no job, no home, no money, and oh yes, lest we forget, no you. I had bet big, and I had lost big.

One month of sheer bliss later, I got a half-page, handwritten note that said simply, "My feelings have changed. I don't know what else to say."

In other words, now it's ten years later, and I'm still waiting for you to keep your word.

Meanwhile, life has obviously gone on. Over this last month I've done what I seemingly do best—remember relationship anniversaries—and as I've ticked off ours, I've been surprised to realize that I have you to thank for much of who I am and what I believe today. You taught me that:

  • You must run your relationship in such a way that you have no regrets later.

    In your case, this meant betting my entire life and losing, but I have no regrets. Which is kinda the point. Since you, I've made sure to do due diligence with every relationship, whatever its chances for success, because above all else in life, I don't want to be someone else's Amy.

  • We have a moral obligation to make a good faith effort at leaving people in as good a shape as we found them.

    Friends reading this are nodding their heads with recognition. They've either heard this counsel from me regarding their own breakups, or they're your successors and, because of this maxim, are still my friends today.

  • We know we've done someone wrong when we need to purge our lives of witnesses.

    Tell me. Other than your family, who in your present life ever met me? Or for that matter, who in your life as of August 7, 1994? Such restructuring makes inventing self-absolving mythology easier, I'm sure, but it's hurtful to those who care about you. But hey, thanks for Elizabeth. She's one of my favorite people on the planet.

  • The dominant social force is the human need for validation.

    This one took me a long time to figure out, but what became a guiding philosophy of my life originated from my desperate attempts to deconstruct, in the absence of any honest information from you, not just what had happened to my life, but why. I saw how your parents (and in retrospect, even I) controlled you by granting and withdrawing approval, how you subtly changed yourself to please whomever you were with at the time, and before long, I was noticing similar dynamics everywhere I looked.

  • The easiest source of validation is religion.

    Sure, there's always Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore to tell people how smart they are and how stupid the other guy is, and people attracted to such cheap validation are utterly repulsive to me. But nothing can rival the professional validation-pushing machine that is religion.

    It was an amazing spectacle, watching a family that purported to walk with Christ do dishonest, self-serving, hurtful things in Jesus' name. But through the pain I did notice the impenetrably circular and self-justifying nature of the dynamic, how these dubious Christians surround themselves with like thinkers in a great validation circle-jerk:


    "I'll say you're a great person if you say I'm one!"


    "Isn't Jesus great, too?"

    "Yes, and you're great for saying that."

    "Anyone who doesn't know Jesus doesn't know happiness."

    "Oh, I agree. That bumper sticker is, like, so wise. We're happy and they're totally not. So let's not talk to them."

    "Right. Or read their books. That's how Satan works, you know. Through intermediaries. He's tricky that way."

    "Yes, yes, it's better to insulate ourselves with people who already think exactly like we do."

    "Right. Like that woman who was legally separated from her husband and getting a divorce, the one who started going out on dates. We sure cast her sinning butt right out of the church, didn't we?"

    "With great force! That sinner didn't know what hit her."

    "I mean good gracious, the last place Jesus would want a sinner to be is in church!"


    "Might I add that you're great for thinking that way?"

    "Right back at ya. Isn't fellowship great?"

    "Yes, yes."

    "You know, my daughter Amy is great."

    "Yes, I've met her. She's great indeed."

    "Let's call her at her dorm in Cheney. [call placed]  Oh, there's no answer. Just like there hasn't been for a whole year, no matter what day of the week I call—morning, noon or night. That's so funny! She must always be at church."

    "She must be, 'cause she's great. And you're great for raising her!"

    "It's great of you to say so. Now let's pray for Jesus to enter her boyfriend's heart and finally show him some truth."

    "He's a heathen? That's not so great."

    "I'm not at peace about it. Should I expunge him?"

    "What would Jesus do?"

    "Let me pray about it. [call placed]  Jesus told me to give my daughter a pop-psychology self-help book about what's wrong with her relationship."

    "It'd be not-so-great to disobey the Lord."

    "I am but the humble servant of His will."



    Yes, you taught me that to this sort of people, truth is always a distant second to perception. To these people, it isn't the actual presence or absence of sin that matters—only the appearance of sin. Truth is irrelevant. It doesn't matter how folks actually conduct themselves, so long as they look the right way and spout the right platitudes. They get a pass. You got a pass. You're so great.

    Trust that in absentia, you and your family have been quite the witnesses. Whenever I meet some mental defect considering your family's hurtful brand of religion, I never pass up an opportunity to share my observations. I call the talk "What the Ritters Taught Me." It usually isn't hard to dissuade people. All I have to do is quote y'all.

  • Honor matters above all.

    Having one's soul pureed because of someone's moral cowardice—and then having that someone's conduct rewarded by a bunch of unknowing, unthinking, goose-stepping Nazis—does tend to give one an appreciation for the value of honor. The greatest compliment I ever received was when, a few years after you, I repudiated the advances of a woman whom I loved dearly (I did so because her head wasn't yet right). After my honest explanation, she replied softly, "You have the strongest sense of honor of anyone I've ever known." As things turned out, that decision cost me any chance with her. I have no regrets, though, because I have my honor, and a cherished compliment, to remember her by. I have you to thank for that compliment, and for the fact that it meant so much that seven years later, I remember the date I first received it. At the time it was a much-needed salve on my Amy scars, you see. It wouldn't be the last time I would hear that, either. Thanks to your fine counter-example, my honor walks with me down every path I take, and when I turn my back to it, when I look at my reflection and recognize traces of you, I am devastated. And then I make good. Best of all, I don't need to tithe on Sunday in order to get my subsequent validation. It comes to me naturally. On merit.

  • Ten years ago today, in a bizarre scene in a Bartlesville movie theatre, I sat in awe of how you were able to enjoy the movie, and laugh just-a-little-too-much at its jokes, when sitting next to you were my torn and mangled remains. I remember tearfully whispering into your ear that you'd ruined my life. That wasn't bitter hyperbole; you had. You had unconscionably scraped off a human being whom you had purported to love—and who had bet everything on that assertion—and you left him to die. And die he did. But not quickly, not mercifully. That would require some sort of closure, some semblance of explanation, a modicum of empathy from you. No, he died g‑l‑a‑c‑i‑a‑l‑l‑y. Years seemed like centuries. It took him three full years before he could sustain a flicker of happiness for more than 10 minutes, before he could sleep through the night. Three excruciating, hollowed-out, second-guessing years. A new person emerged, of course, a more self-possessed, principled man with a lot of love in his life, a person who learned much from you. And on this historic anniversary, that person would like to thank you. Despite and because of our end, I'm a better human being for having known you. Whatever other virtues you might lack, you're certainly a memorable teacher. It's ten years later, and I still think of you daily. But it ain't because you're so great.

    Still waiting,


    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    bacardi: check

    Originally published May 12, 2005

    And with a quick snip, Annalie embarks on a lifetime of having to spell her name for people.

    Welcome to the planet, Johnetta!

    Oh. I guess they went with second choice. The dream is all up to Annie and Eric now.

    Also born on this date: Steve Winwood, Ving Rhames, George Carlin, Florence Nightengale, Katharine Hepburn, and (this one gives me goosebumps) Yogi Berra.

    foreshadowing, indeed!

    Originally published May 11, 2005

    Katrina's little girl will be born on May 12, a tad early. Mom is in excellent spirits. Baby looks fine. The men in the vicinity of Mom and baby are completely whack. Thus endeth my report for now.

    The original Lionel (a.k.a. Spazzie McDrama) took it upon herself to send out mail proclaiming Katrina hospitalized. When it arrived, I was seated next to a very surprised Trinie at her dining room table. I said it then, and I say it now: people who eagerly trumpet other people's drama as their own, who contrive to use others' news to draw attention to themselves, are vermin.

    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    what would jesus steal?

    Originally published March 3, 2005

    Bill Watterson, the inspired creator of Calvin and Hobbes, who retired at the top of his game at the height of the strip's popularity, has always zealously defended his creation from being commercialized. "My strip is about private realities, the magic of imagination, and the specialness of certain friendships." he explains. "Who would believe in the innocence of a little kid and his tiger if they cashed in on their popularity to sell overpriced knickknacks that nobody needs?" So every stuffed Hobbes, every decal you've seen of Calvin urinating—those are brazen copyright theft. They're unlicensed, and Watterson is perpetually battling those who profit from stealing his work.

    Which brings us to the instance that amuses me the most. Yes, nothing says "I walk with Jesus" quite so much as shameless theft. And nothing says you're secure in your faith quite like receiving validation from affixing an illegally used cartoon character to your pickup truck.

    (And before some hysterical born-again fucktard with atrocious spelling points out that I too possess the very stolen good I deplore, the picture at right resides on the thief's server.)

    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    requiem for a flake

    Originally published March 7, 2005

    When the word came, it wasn't unexpected. Stan had been dying for a long, miserably long, time. This tempers the sting of loss not at all. A world that can ill afford to be less good is decidedly less good today.

    I've thought for hours about how to eulogize my friend. I'm reticent to make it about me—I find that self-serving and distasteful—yet I do not know how to extricate myself. I likewise hesitate to dwell on Stan's orientation, yet I do not know how to remove our differences from my Stan the Flake stories. We celebrated, even clung to those differences. All my best stories are about our Odd Couple dynamic. So I'm not going to put any artificial limitations on this. I'll just type, and if it gets unbearable, stop reading.

    When we met in September '94, I was a freshly hollowed out human being. We needn't spend time rehashing that period, but to recap: I abruptly had no relationship, no friends, no income, and massive debt in a new and chilly town, and my new hobby was going to bed at 5pm. There was no reason in the world for anyone to want to be my friend. That's not modesty; it's an ugly fact. I had nothing to offer another human being. And at the time in my life when I had the least to offer another person, one person figured it out and took it upon himself to reach out to me and be my friend, anyway. There is no repaying a debt like that.

    Lord knows why he reached out. Stan the Flake: worldly, buff, health-obsessed, vegetarian, alternative medicine-promoting, alternative-everything promoting, flamingly gay man from whitest small-town eastern Washington. Me: provincial, beef-fed, dousingly straight Midwesterner from a black neighborhood, a fellow who'd never knowingly met a gay man in his life, let alone heard of the putrid herbs and teas littering the Chinese pharmacy that was Stan's kitchen. Much as there was no reason for him to be my friend, there was no reason in the world to think he could  be. Yet...yet...

    • • •

    In my will, I instruct my executor to forego any kind of service and instead invite my friends to participate in a John roast. One of my regrets about that decision has been that I, myself, would never get to hear Stan tell stories similar to the below, only with himself installed as the hero. Alas, now no one will hear those stories. Here are mine.

    • • •

    "How many hours have you put in this week, John?"

    "75. But it's only Saturday."

    "You and your death wish. Here. Take this. And don't take it with fucking Diet Coke. Get some water."

    "I already have a mother. Get that muck out of my face."

    "Now look. You're incredibly stressed, and you're susceptible to all ki—"

    "Say 'susceptible' again."

    "Thutheptible. Oh goddamit, I do not either lithp."

    "Only when you're agitated. And you don't normally stand with your hips cocked, either."

    "That ith not a gay thtereotype."

    "Oh yeah it is. With hands on hips. Yeah, just like that."

    "Fine. You justh go ahead and work yourthelf into a coma. My fault for caring, ya fwuckin'  cornpone bible banger."

    And he would pirouette and leave. And I would swallow whatever pond seepage he left in a Dixie cup. This, you see, is how men say they care about one another.

    • • •

    Briefly convinced that a woman was the cure-all for all my problems, Stan emailed me a spreadsheet put out by the Microsoft gay and lesbian group.

    "Stan? Why did you send me a spreadsheet identifying all the gays at Microsoft?"

    "Yeah!" Stan replied with way too much earnest exuberance. " I figured it might help you if you could weed out the lesbians!"

    [about 10 seconds of silence]

    "You. Sent me. Me. Me, Stan. Think about what you've done, here. Me. Malicious me. A list of all the gays at Microsoft."

    "Well not all of us," he chirped. "Just the known ones!"

    • • •

    More recently, a group of us were downtown, and Stan and I were in the back seat bickering. A collision sent our car spinning some 500 degrees in the middle of a busy street. Everyone was okay, but we were startled speechless. I finally broke the silence. "You know," I growled disapprovingly at Stan, "I always figured when it came my time, it'd be a beautiful woman by my side."


    •  •  •

    In trying to boost my self-worth, Stan once gave me one of the greatest compliments I've ever received. I didn't deserve it, but it was still impossibly great. There's a sweet strangeness, or perhaps a strange sweetness, in a gay man trying to buck up his straight friend by telling him what his attractive qualities are. And nonsense or not, the unusual sentiment behind it was wondrously caring. That was Stan. His grace transcended differences that for others would have comprised an insurmountable chasm.

    Huh. How about that. Stan is the hero of my stories, too.


    For obvious reasons, names and chronologies have been scrambled a bit. -jh

    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    if i were terri, she never would have left her fate in the hands of idiots

    Originally published March 23, 2005

    If there's a lower form of life than people who make their kid carry signs in support of their cause, well, I can't think of it this morning.

    But to answer the kid's parent's question, if I were Terri Schiavo—if I've had no brain waves for a decade, if my unfathomably selfish relatives are force-feeding my lifeless body because of some moronic delusion that I'm "laughing and crying with them," if I become the pedestal upon which sleazy, grandstanding politicians jockey for visibility—pretty please, with a cherry on top, pull the fucking plug.

    Toward that end, I put my plug in the hands of an ex. I figure that'll ensure zero mercy. "Can I pull it now?" she asks.

    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    easter homily

    Originally published March 26, 2005

    On this sacred day, I ask my life-loving fundamentalist fans to please take a break from sending death threats to judges and instead celebrate the anniversary of their savior's murder and subsequent transmogrification into the Invisible Man in the Sky. Can I get an amen?

    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    the most chilling 5-word phrase

    Originally published April 11, 2005

    I was getting breakfast at the MetamuMart this morning and a horrifying flyer caught my eye:

    First Annual Metamuville Talent Show

    "How many spoons acts can you stand?" I asked Kiki, the store owner.

    "It gets worse," she groaned. "There are no fewer than three square dancing demos."

    This got me thinking. What are the five scariest-assed words in the English language? "First Annual Metamuville Talent Show" is bad, but not the worst. I see four distinct genres.

    You have the professional:

    The familial:

    The friendshippy:

    The romantic:

    and my winner, also romantic:

    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    this place where i belong

    Originally published April 17, 2004

    Sue's guest room is mauve now. Ew.

    I hadn't stopped in Cheney the last couple of times I visited Spokane. It ain't for lack of wanting to; it's just difficult for me. It's like looking at a photo album chronicling the happiest times of my life, only everyone I cared about is airbrushed out of the photos. Nothing remains but the backgrounds. And yeah, that aches.

    Nevertheless, to merely pass the exit for Cheney feels as wrong as driving by my mother's grave. That time, those people, that me—these things and their passing must be acknowledged. So when the pine trees appeared around Tyler, I took the newly named Michael Anderson highway, wove through the familiar rolling yellow hills, traveled back in time, and stepped into those photo backgrounds alone, fairly wallowing in sadness.

    There's where we met. There's my first classroom. There's where we ate on our first date. There's the PUB. I wonder who Mariko's lunch date is with nowadays? There's the railroad tracks I used to walk at night. There's Hilari's shitty apartment. I gave her a blanket to use as a curtain on that window. Huh. Same blanket I use every night, still. She just vanished. There's my first place. I wonder if the ping pong table is still there. There's where we had our first kiss. There's Phil's old place. That stupid slanted half-step nearly killed me, and they still haven't fixed it.  He just vanished, too. There's where we used to throw the frisbee and I would hit her softballs so she could practice fielding. Man, she sucked at ground balls. There's Patterson 266, the classroom where I met Katrina and Pam and Mark. There's Elizabeth's old house, and Sharon's, and Karen's. Poor Karen. There's the hills Pam and I went horseback riding on. There's that vet that tried to stick me for $200 for dropping off a dead dog. Talk about blood and a rock. There's another place we ate on our first date. Jesus Christ, how many times did we eat that day? There's where we lived. What a happy house. Okay, driving on, I can't remotely deal with that.

    Symptomatic of the fact that we were all broke, there were two Trash TV nights in our circle. In Spokane, it was Melrose night; in Cheney, it was Star Trek. When Deep Space Nine premiered, we were there. I remember growing bored during the DS9 series premiere. Sisko had lost his wife years earlier, an event we come to relive in flashbacks. He's simultaneously trying to explain the concept of linear time to aliens who live outside time—they have no sense of future or past. They find the notion baffling. What vexes them, it turns out, is Sisko himself. If the past is in the past, someplace you cannot return, why does he insist on continuing to reside there? I remember yawning at that point and looking at Phil, who was visibly devastated, and thinking "Jeez, what a puss." Well, today I'm the age he was then, and perhaps not coincidentally, I get it now.

    Lo, I am basking in irony.

    A few hours after my Cheney tour, I sat in Sue's living room, covered in mauve paint and reminiscing with her and Lynn. These reminiscences only become more brutal over time, as we wonder whatever happened to so-and-so or talk about someone else's lovely memorial service. It's sobering.

    "What was the name of that girl you dated here, John?" Sue asks.

    "Fucking Amy," Lynn and I groan in unison. I frantically search my mind for a new subject. There's one!

    "Say, does the ironing room need repain—"

    "Man." Lynn shook her head. "I've never seen anyone get creamed as bad as you did. I mean, you were completely destroyed. Bet it all and lost. I sometimes wondered if you'd ever recover. But, thank God, you eventually pulled out."

    "Yeah," I stared at my feet. "I'm all better now."

    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    family is relative

    Originally published June 13, 2005


    Everything you need to know about Percy & Thelm@ and my sister Julie are contained neatly in one anecdote. That is, this encounter is typical of my every encounter with these people. To fully appreciate the anecdote, know that I left out nothing. This was the unembellished sum total of their contact.

    Having not seen Percy and Thelm@ for the first couple days of Julie's stay, we finally saw Thelm@ poking her head out her door as Julie and I were departing.

    As I climbed into my car, I hear my sister happily (and typically) scream "I'M HIS SISTER!!!" across the yard.

    Thelm@, having no window overlooking my house nor any reason whatsoever to care, was nonetheless unsurprisingly unsurprised. "Yeah, that's what we were figuring. You were here before, right?"


    "Please shut up," I asked.

    "What?!" My sister whirled, surprised. "I didn't want them to think that you were having some girl over."

    "Huh? Who gives a crap?"

    "She asked."

    "No she didn't."

    "Well, she waved when she saw us. She was curious."

    "Of that, I have little doubt."



    d'Andre's much-anticipated visit was surprisingly mellow, for two reasons: 1) he brought his bride, the refined and ladylike Pam (henceforth d'Pam), who lent sorely needed sophistication to the occasion, and 2) we're mellow old codgers now. It was a pleasure to see my friend again and to compare our wildly divergent paths from our common point of origin to our not-too-dissimilar stations in life. It was a meeting of friends unlike any to which I've previously been a party. It was a comprehensive catching up, a touchstone, a status report covering 14 dramatic years in which we'd both known everything from abject failure to giddy accomplishment. 14 years. That's, like, 56% of a Jen. And we covered all 14 in great detail—we literally began with my driving the U-Haul out of the apartment complex. There's something uniquely bonding about originating from the same time and place and circumstance, a feeling conspicuously absent from my life. And the more we talked, the more I came to appreciate my commonalities with my friend and foil. I think even d'Pam learned something about her husband and from where he came. If I know women at all, she went to bed prouder of him than she'd been the night before.

    We watched the passing lights in the shipping lanes, our feet on the fire pit and margaritas in our hands, toasting one another and friends long gone. "Who'd have thought one of us'd be here?"  d'Andre mused, shaking his head.

    "Who'd have thought one of us would marry a Ph.D in biochemistry?" I added.

    A nearly sheepish d'Andre bussed the beautiful Dr. on the cheek. "Who'd have thought she'd marry one of us?"

    I clinked his cactus glass. "Here's to marrying up."

    •  •  • 

    All right, thanks for indulging me. I know what you came for. There weren't many insults, but here ya go.

    I'm pro-Pam.

    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    Originally published February 6, 2005

    "What the Fucking Fuck?" awards   tom delay

    House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, inciting fundamentalist wrath on on the judges who allowed Terry Schiavo to die naturally:

    "The time will come for the men responsible for this to pay for their behavior!"

    Tom DeLay, on his paying his wife and daughter half a million bucks in election funds as "advisor salary:"

     "Politics is a tough business and it is difficult to trust people." 

    Tom DeLay on Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy:

    "He said in one session that he does research on the Internet? That is just incredibly outrageous!"

    "What the Fucking Fuck?" awards   honorable mention
    nah, these aren't desperately empty people searching anywhere, and i mean anywhere, for meaning

    "(AP) A steady stream of the faithful and the curious, many carrying flowers and candles, have flocked to an expressway underpass for a view of a yellow and white stain on a concrete wall that some believe is an image of the Virgin Mary."

    I know what they mean. I think I've seen the face of Satan in my guest bathroom toilet bowl.

    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    solidarity, brothers!

    Originally published October 7, 2004

    Turns out I'm not the only man who doesn't want to see his own butt on women. Go figure.

    generational division

    Originally published October 7, 2004

    Miss Courtney and I mixed it up a bit last week, when I had a snootful and started holding forth about what was wrong with Gen-Yers like herself. I didn't get too far before I committed heresy in her book. I criticized modern women's jeans. Specifically, I criticized the way jeans now de-emphasize a woman's curves and make her butt look as square and flat and featureless as my own. Courtney was aghast, calling jeans that go up to the waist and leave no ass-crack exposed "revolting." On this we agreed to disagree, but it got me thinking that I should start keeping score. Feel free to send me your suggestions.


    Category Gen-X Gen-Y Winner
    Jeans, seat Women's butts look like women's butts


    Women's butts look like Bob the plumber's butt X
    Jeans, legs At young age, we hunted down and killed boomer-created travesty that was bell-bottoms That they brought them back is bad enough. That they brought back their parents' fashion mistake is a moral outrage. X
    Use Internet primarily for Porn, emailing porn, peer-to-peer shared porn Misspelled text messages X
    Whine "Our parents beat the crap out of us, which constituted abuse" "Our parents made us wait until we were 17 before they bought us breast implants, which constituted abuse" X
    Biggest concert draw Dave Matthews Band Britney Spears X
    Action star Harrison Ford Ben Affleck X
    Old fart actor embarrassing himself with leading ladies 30 years his junior Sean Connery Harrison Ford X
    Brainy actor Edward Norton Tobey Maguire X
    Ingénue Molly Ringwold Katie Holmes Y
    Smirking himbo Bruce Willis Vin Diesel X
    Star Wars IV, V, VI I, II, III X
    Dominant athlete Michael Jordan Tiger Woods X
    Best boxer Mike Tyson No one Y
    Skank athlete Katarina Witt Anna Kournakova Y
    Presidential scandal Iran-contra Blowjob X
    Blowjobs ...are foreplay ...are handshakes X
    Youthful fashion excess Stirrup pants and acid-washed jeans Bare midriffs and exposed thongs X
    Attitude toward baby boomers Disgust Resentment Push
    Workplace innovation Abolishing dress code Causing need for resurrection of dress-code X
    Boy band Duran Duran N Sync X
    Nightmare first car VW Bug Mini-van X
    Dream car Mustang VW Bug X
    Outrageous piercing Upper ear Everything else X


    Conformity Too lazy to conform Non-conformists get lower-back tattoos just like all the other non-conformists' X


    Michael Jackson Black, sane Not X
    Lexical innovation "Like" as every conceivable part of speech "The bomb" as an adjective X
    Hope for the future of mankind Me Courtney Y
    Generational nickname Gen-X Gen-Y



    Xers in a landslide.



    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    stepping in it

    Originally published November 10, 2004

    A friend and I recently swapped Exceptionally Dumb Moments in Dating, and it occurs to me that that's ripe fodder for this space. Without further adieu (or pride), here are some of my not-so-finest hours:

    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    dear approval whore

    Originally published December 10, 2004

    Dear Approval Whore,

    Certain though I am that this date in history holds no significance for you, I will never forget....oh, never mind.

    Whadya know, you were right. Try though you gamely did, you weren't able to hurt me as much as Amy. Nevertheless, I'd be remiss if I didn't celebrate the one year anniversary of the last time I pretended I didn't know you were lying through your teeth - teeth that, as it happens, are as counterfeit as most everything else about you. Yes, a year ago today was my liberation day.

    I've missed you exactly once. I was enjoying the simple pleasure of a sunset, and I thought "Gee, I wish she were here to say something pretentious to ruin this." No, of course I jest. I haven't missed you even the one time. Turns out I have little taste for the needless dishonesty and "Us" magazines littering your life. So little, in fact, it's time to stop reminiscing and move on to something more stimulating, like watching the fluorescent lights flicker.


    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    the approval whore

    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    don’t take me down with you

    try repressing

    Originally published May 4, 2005

    Making the blog rounds the other day, I came across a link to the below missive. I've been mulling over a response ever since. My first reaction was that I owe a lot of good women an apology for thinking that vermin like this were figments of their imagination. I apologize unreservedly.

    My second thought was of adults who spar with yappy teenagers. No satisfaction can come of it; no one respects you for making a child look foolish, and the child won't understand that he lost.

    My third thought was anger—anger toward his female enablers/victims, without whose consent and collaboration this guy might have learned to be a thoughtful and responsible human being. Oh well.

    Which brings us to where I am at this writing, irritated that this swine has excused his behavior by making generalizations about my gender and thereby impugning the character of every man. The generalizations, like the entire post, are unmitigated nonsense, a steaming pile of horse shit obviously designed to distract a very specific reader from his selfish misdeeds. He is the Irrepressible Shaun, and if that charmingly self-deprecating, self-bestowed nickname evokes thoughts of the Great and Powerful Oz, that's appropriate. Now I'm going to show you the pathetic little man pulling levers behind the curtain. Mouse over the horse-shit icons for line-by-line translations.


    a little honesty here  "Very little. The Pinky and the Brain quote is accurate." 

    Ok... Time for some honesty here.  
    "OK, I'm in trouble, so now I'm going to spin this so that it's your fault for being angry that I'm a complete swine."  Last week my friend and all of her friends were really disappointed and angry at me for showing up at the friend's event with another female.   "See how I'm putting it on you, right out of the gate? You're the one who's angry. I just 'showed up.'"  The friend who was throwing the event told me that I misunderstood why she was disappointed in me. The other two were just angry and assumed the protective girlfriend stances. Cool, I expected that.  "Your friends are all fine lookin'." 

    Well, I want to shed some light  
    "Let me educate you, dumbshit."  on how I function   "Again, I just am. My behavior is a fait accompli, like the tides or taxes, that you just need to accomodate."  with respect to the opposite sex  "Because a man would put his fist through my teeth."  . First of all, I admit that I can be pretty selfish at times.  "Tides, taxes, selfishness. See how this isn't my fault?"   I would like to think that I balance this flaw in my character by being considerate "For my convenience, I have revised the definition of 'selfish' to include 'considerate.'"  gentle and funny,  "Damn. I forgot 'modest.'"   but that's probably not a true depiction of my actions on a consistent basis.   "Feigning a little candor here, even though I qualified it, so that I can..."  At the end of the day, I'm still just me. "...deflect any possible criticism back on my critic."

    Now, I like females... alot.  
    "Just in case you want to throw your legs wide open, lemme make this perfectly clear." I find them extremely interesting.  "Check out my depth." I enjoy observing how they process information, react to different stimuli, and engage in relationships with males and females.  "Back to this being your fault. You process information differently." All of these things are done differently than I, and most males would do them, however.  "Yeah, I'm a pig, but what are your alternatives?" So that's where my primary interest lies. Ok, maybe not my primary interest "Your legs are STILL together?" , but I do enjoy observing and attempting to understand all of these dynamics.

    Face it
    "And by 'face it,' I of course mean a respectful 'in my opinion.'" , men and women are entirely two diffferent [sic] species of human being. "So if you disagree, you're specist."  We are sooooooooooo different. Women generally require approval from the group (the girlfriends) prior to making most decisions John: WTFF? What women are you talking about? Do you know only women you met in clubs? , while most men don't necessarily rely on the group approval from "our boys."  John: Ah, there's your problem. Try hanging out with a few men sometime. I'll give you an example. Men, how many times have you met a woman at a club or wherever and dug her while at the same time she was digging you?  John: Never, actually. Poseurs, puke, herpes and GHB: how romantic. Things went so well that you two decided that the night shouldn't end just yet.   John: God, you're a catch. You suggest that she should go somewhere alone with you, and she agrees.   John: Her too. Get yourself to a clinic before body parts start fallin' off on you. Of course, your  "my"  dream night   John: You might try dreaming a bit bigger.  with your   "my"  new friend  "easy and/or drunken chick with absurdly low self-esteem and no discernable standards whatsoever"  John: so can we assume that every time you use the word "friend" in this post, you really mean "piece?"  won't happen because she came to wherever you met her with "her girls" and they're not having that. They literally swoop the chick that you were digging away while you're just standing there like "dayum, that was just wrong."  "Uppity, blue-balls causin' bitches. How dare they? They must need me to shed some light."  Now, how many of you also know that if her girls weren't there "blocking" that she would go with you?  John: I'm warming to this "different species" theory of yours.  Now, I know that women need to protect one another and all of that, but the point of the example is to demonstrate how women typically make decisions that are popular with the group.   "Women who keep me from spraying sperm into their alcohol-impaired friend are just slaves to group approval."  Same example, if "her girls" were equally digging "your boys" then the decision to all hook up later would have been a unanimous YES!   John: I'm thinking "diseased marmot." 

    I also have a theory that 80% of the women want to kick it with 20% of the men.  
    "But we men aren't shallow like that."  If you are fortunate enough to be a member of the 20% club "In case you haven't gathered, I'm the bomb. Really! I have references!!!"  then you will mathematically have more opportunities to mate. That's one of the perks of being in the club."It's not a fatal character flaw; it's a perk."   Now here is the part that women have difficulty understanding."Let's not mince words. You're flat-out stupid."   They "You"  don't get why men "I"  have a difficult time "turning down""The quotes are because 'turning down' means anal only."   opportunities to mate. Women generally aren't as promiscuous as men can be. Thank God for that! "You don't know the pain of being a man. It's hell."   Men, however, have tendancies [sic] and inclinations to go into what I call "reptile mode." That's when our behavoir  [sic] becomes dayum near instinctual "Whatever shit I pull isn't my fault."  , uncomplicated "Whatever shit I pull isn't my fault."  , and predatorial [sic] "Whatever shit I pull isn't my fault."  , tossed in with a dose of "The Brain."  "The bard." 

    Pinky: "What are we doing tomorrow night Brain?"

    Brain: "The same thing that we do every night Pinky, try to take over the world!"
    John: First boys, now ficticious mice. What's the matter with grown men that really exist, again?

    Yes, we 
    "I"  go into reptile mode and try to conquer a woman's body. I don't even think that this act is about sex though. It definitely seems to be about power.  John: That's also the appeal of rape.   Why would a member of the 20% club need to conquer more than one woman at a time? Because he can. It's not right, ethical, or fair. It's just how it is.  "Have I mentioned that I'm blameless and you're not?" 

    Now here comes the down side.  
    John: Jesus Christ pushin' a hand cart. This was the UP side?  When a 20% member is not in "reptile mode" he is capable of carrying on normal, productive relationships with members of the opposite sex.    "I hear."  Please remember, however, men and women are entirely two different species of human beings.    "As previously established when I, um, er, said so."  We interpret sex entirely differently. I believe that for most women    "You, when you're calling me out"  sex is a deeply intimate and emotional act, therefore there's very low tolerance for reptiles.    John: but I thought she was "digging you?"  In contrast, men    "me"  operating in reptile mode    "all the time"  are capable of compartmentalizing mating into something less emotional. It simply becomes "booty" not literally, but in the sense of something plundered after the reptile has conquered his prey. In the end a reptile becomes nothing more than a predator who inflicts pain and suffering. Most of the time unintentionally.  Nevertheless, it's pain just the same!    "Despite all the obvious time I devote to conjuring my self-absolving theories and rationalizations, I'm sweetly naive."

    Men, if you have reptilian tendencies and you are an active member of the 20% club you are obligated to establish boundaries with the opposite sex from jump.   
    "Lemme feign some sort of epiphany to get myself off the hook, yet do it in such a way that I make it look like it's other men who are thoughtless." That way, you provide the female with the opportunity to accept or reject the emotional risks associated with investing her feelings into a 20% club member who possesses reptilian inclinations."I absolve myself of any and all responsibilty for my future sexual digressions. Any hurt from here on is your fault. As opposed to the hurt I just inflicted, which is your fault."

    In the end, honesty is always the best policy.
    "Just look at how I turned unabashed predation into a virtue."  I will try to remember that."Justifiably defensive BWNC (Brother With No Class) seeking any female who makes him feel like an honored member of the 20% club via meaningless sex he can later boast about in his blog. Vulnerable women only. No eggheads. Disease-free a plus. Low standards a must."

    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    percy update

    It is perhaps appropriate that I find readers' #1 request so annoying: we want more Percy.

    "Would it kill you to go to arizona for material?" asks Dorkass.

    The problem is that Percy and Thelm@ spend half a year in Arizona. They are a combined 202 years old, after all, and the law is the law. But fear not; Percy peeked in my window just last night, so updates cannot be far behind.

    In the meantime, I give you a photo of the Metamuville Koffee [sic]  Klatch [sic] , of which Percy [sic]  is a member (though not pictured). Yep. This is my world now.

    Save me.

    Just out of frame on the back wall are photos of deceased Klatchers, each adorned with a little brass plaque with a saying that manages to be both cloying and repulsive: "Bob Magoo, Gone Fishin' In Heaven's Lake," "Betty Struedel, Knitting God's Afghan," and the like. It's utterly fuckin' mortifying.

    Other activities in town:

    • Newcomer Tea
    • Yodeling/line dancing night
    • Prayer Canaries
    • Boot Scootin' Grannies
    • ROMEOS (Retired Old Men Eating Out)
    • Solitarians (widows)
    • and my personal favorite, the Metamuville Huggers

    I strongly suspect it's the same six people doing each activity.

    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    it took percy a whole day

    A creeped-out Kiki called me last night. It seems that while she was stocking shelves, Percy took it upon himself to lecherously run his fingertip up her back.

    Oddly enough, he's never seen fit to touch me affectionately. Or at all.

    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    ed's theme

    Originally published September 19, 2003

    (Sing today's entry to the Beverly Hillbillies theme)

    Let me tell you the story 'bout a dog named Ed.
    Couldn't find'er ass if it wuz stapled to her head.
    N'fected foot, eye tu-mor, and blood a-running down her rear—
    It's only September and it's been a three cone year.

    Head cones, that is.

    Plastic obedience.

    Well next thing you know, old Ed's a one-dog symphony.
    "Click, thud, scrape, bonk" (That's the cheap shot to my knee.)
    I spent five hun-erd dollars just to get her from a neighbor,
    Shoulda saved myself that money and had someone euthenate her.

    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    you’re so lucky

    Originally published May 25, 2005

    As Dirt Glazowski and I smoked cigars on his deck last night, watching the sun set over Puget Sound, we remarked that he is truly blessed. Sheepish, he then confessed something that increasingly bothers him: people urgently dismissing his new lifestyle as mere "luck." This is, after all, a man who a year ago left his career and family in Minnesota to move to a town 2000 miles away, where he knows no one but his wife and where he now makes sandwiches 12 hours a day for a living. But the move also allowed him a lovely waterfront house—affordable because it's in the middle of nowhere—and that moment on his deck last night. And he thinks the sacrifice well worth it. But the determination of some people to dismiss the fruits of his sacrifice as mere "luck" visibly hurts.

    They don't have to be happy for him, but why must they go out of their way to diminish his hard-won happiness?

    "You're so lucky."

    I hear this sentence a lot, directed at me and friends both. Sometimes the sentence is rote politeness, like "Hi, how are you?" and nothing more. Sometimes it's an expression of like-mindedness, as in "Wow. How cool! I'm happy for you." I often use it that way myself. And then there are the sometimes about which I'm writing, the sometimes when the person repeats the sentence purposefully, defensively, even somewhat angrily. Often times they grab the listener's arm for added gravity. "You're. So. [beat]  Lucky." The intonation is not one of a compliment, but one of resentment, as in listen to me—it's exceedingly important that you understand that the only difference between you and me is that you're a fucking luck sack. Sometimes they even say as much. "Yeah, I thought about doing x, too," they'll explain, and then they'll say something derogatory about x.

    In my own case, I never hear "you're so lucky" more than when showing whale photos. With this assessment I do not disagree, as most things in life are one-third luck, least of all finding wild whales. But I find the resentment thing off-putting, even insulting. I'm sorry, but blind-assed luck isn't all there is to it. Luck is, as they say, the residue of design. Consider the whales. For me to be floating out there two Fridays ago, I had to make the following decisions.

    • First and foremost, I'm single and childless. I've repeatedly traded companionship, family, security, validation from other human beings, and having someone to change my colostomy bag when I'm old for the flexibility (career, time and money) I now enjoy.
    • 13 years ago, I decided I did not like the pedestrian direction my life was headed, and I changed course dramatically, knowing that this would require that I move 2000 miles from anyone I knew and would likely torpedo my six-year relationship. But I wanted to get to the Pacific Northwest above all else. I bet on myself, and I won.
    • 11 years ago, I moved to Seattle, again by myself, again to rebuild, again betting on myself and winning. Moreover, I made an uneasy alliance with a company that I truly despise because trading my services for its cash was the best route to where I wanted to go.
    • 3 years ago, I bought my dream house in Whale Central, some 80 minutes from work, thereby committing myself to quitting soon. I bet on my ability to earn a living in the sticks.
    • 1 year ago, I decided to make that switch to vending, if a bit earlier than planned. I left job security, health insurance, vacation time, sick time—trading it all for more flexibility with my time. Even in the face of job uncertainty, I stuck to the plan and dropped half a year's salary on a boat.
    • In that year, I've gladly worked for two kind people whom I used to outrank, which certainly wouldn't have been possible if I'd conducted myself like many at MS. Or if my ego were invested in work status.
    • In that year, I've also cracked the books hard, teaching myself how to boat in tidal waters, about the movements of whales, about using a hydrophone, about studying them safely. Every day, I track their movements in the area, trying to discern their patterns. I've gone out dozens of times and failed, usually on weekdays.
    • Two weeks ago, I noted a high probability of whales in good boating conditions, and I headed out on a Friday, knowing that I would have to work on the weekend to make up for it. And then I put my tiny boat in the path of 60,000 pounds of mammal-eating predators, one of which came within three feet of landing on me.

    "You're. So. [beat]  Lucky."

    No doubt. But unless you too have eschewed the path of least resistance and bet on yourself, kindly shove your resentment up your ass.

    •  •  •

    A favorite and relevant Simpsons line:

    Selma just got married, and her sister Patty is saying goodbye at the limo. Patty doesn't know quite what to say.

    Selma: "Just tell me what I most want to hear."

    Patty: "I am eaten alive with jealousy."

    Selma (embracing her): "Thank you!"

    •  •  •

    The flip side of all this is that I, too, feel twinges of jealousy when I look at friends' lives and see paths not taken. Dorkass' new palace makes my house look like something that fell out of a cereal box; I bet her back yard has 3x as much square footage as my entire place. The Kerrs uprooted and got away from retarded Seattle people, and for that I'm eternally spiteful envious. The Coxes conspired to have a positively brilliant and beautiful little girl. Elizabeth is moving back to Cheney. And on and on. It's only natural, I think, to look at the fruits of their choices and feel some jealousy. Where a lack of health comes in is when jealousy ceases to be homage, when it and happiness for your friend are mutually exclusive. Their happiness is of a variety I did not choose, and yes, that makes me pause and reflect and even second-guess, but it does not threaten my own. I'm delighted for them. Is that not how it's supposed to work?

    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    more great moments in parenting

    Originally published May 30, 2005

    In rural Minnesota this weekend, a four year old child at a family picnic was shot and killed by a relative. The child wandered behind the paper targets being used for target practice at this family function. Right about now, you're asking yourself what parent thought "target practice" and "family function" should be in the same sentence, so here's another little tidbit to digest: the same kind of parent who dressed the kid in camouflage for the occasion. According to the sheriff: "While the paper target didn't completely obscure the child, he was wearing camouflage pants that made him difficult to see against the foliage." I suppose there's some evolutionary advantage to the parents' genes not proliferating, but I sure wish it'd been achieved through their deaths and not the kid's.

    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink

    who would jesus slander?

    Originally published June 11, 2005

    My older sister's visit supplied a few more theories circulating about me back home. My born again Christian brother and sister-in-law, no doubt emulating Christ's well-documented malicious speculation about people he didn't know, have publicly declared the following:

    • When I psuedo-married Elan in Vegas, I lied. I really got married.
    • A decade ago when I took my friend Tammy to my sister's wedding, she wasn't really my friend. She was someone I hired from an escort service. (Although stunning runway models will secretly marry me, I apparently have no friends I can use as wedding dates.)
    • The Approval Whore wasn't really my girlfriend. She was a friend who was lying for me for four years and is now suddenly gone. (I apparently now have friends and  no longer need to hire escorts, which I guess is progress. I haven't figured out where Elan went that a fake girlfriend became necessary, though. It's all so confusing.)
    • My house is not really my house. It's a rental I use to fool Julie when she's here...because I'm a druggie, you see, and I couldn't afford both the house and the drugs...because I gotta be on drugs...because there's no other possible explanation for my disliking people as kind as them.
    • They know me better than Julie, the only family member to see me in the last eight years, the only one to come to my home, and the only one who's spent more than a couple hours in my presence in 18 years. Because she's gullible, you see.

    As you can see, they are fantastically central to my universe. Like Annette observed: "They think they're so damn important that you'd bother to put on that dog and pony show for them? No matter how you swing it, it's a me, me, me thing."

    I can't help but see parallels between these intellectual giants' zealous, truth-be-damned beliefs about me and their equally zealous, equally spurious religious beliefs. It's all about being right, about being better, about telling everyone—damn the abundant evidence to the contrary. And you know they must be right, 'cause they agree with one another so fervently.

    Praise the lord and tighten my blinders, honey!

    • • •

    In trying to explain their zeal—why their John mythology is so obviously more important to them than John himself—Julie offers the following explanation: "They just don't understand why you don't want anything to do with them."

    Should I send it gift-wrapped?

    posted by john at 12:00 AM  •  permalink