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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."

"JOHN IS A FUCK. AND A FREAK. AND A FUCKING FREAK. Why do I miss him?"

teddy

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."

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?
Competence.

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

What is your favorite curse word?
"Fucktard."

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."

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.

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.

alden-couch.gif

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.

guest post: troll invasion

It had to happen eventually, I suppose. I met one of you. Rather, I had one of you barge into my life and stick your outstretched hand into my face. The following guest post is written by longtime Stank troll Chris, who is now my—sigh—co-worker. The unedited version was even longer. You're welcome.

• • •

I've heard John's name a number of times, but I've never had a formal introduction. John's "mentee," Elizabeth, was responsible for pointing me at checkraise, and over the last few years it has held a position of high esteem next to many other, and equally worthy, curmudgeons on my RSS feed.

After my recent transfer, his name began popping up more often. This time it wasn't coming from Elizabeth; the writers on THIS team knew him too. And when they said his name it mostly wasn't preceded by "That fucking…" or followed by "...the miserable bastard." They liked him. I'd transferred right into a lair of followers, sycophants, and former co-workers (including my manager, who John described to me as "the most exhausting person I've ever met."). My fate was sealed. I knew then that I'd get my introduction in short order. Or would I? After a few weeks of never seeing the guy, I had to ask of his whereabouts. "He only comes in once every few weeks," I was told.

Yesterday he showed up. I was told he was "in a meeting" but it's probably okay to drop in and say hello.

Folks, I've read this blog for some time now and I knew that barging in would likely be a bizarre situation. Aside from a few emails, this guy doesn't know me from Adam. I'm neither fan-boy nor sycophant, but I had to introduce myself if only to combat the preconceived notion that nobody in Seattle is pleasant or can carry on a conversation with a total stranger. His congenial nature is well known. I was sure he'd appreciate the gesture.

I found him in his boss's office. I was to leave soon so it was now or never. With a knock on the door, I was let in.

Me (extending handshake): "Pardon the intrusion but I thought I'd introduce myself while you're here - otherwise you'd think I'm a complete bastard."

John (accepting said handshake): "Okay."

Boss (looking disturbed and confused): "You know this guy?"

Me (as usual, I begin to over-explain myself): "Yeah we know each other through a circuitous combination of friends and acquaintances."

(John shoves the door into me. )

John: "Okay, now, FUCK OFF!"

SLAM!

In under two minutes, I'd managed to coax a FUCK OFF out of John and it took nearly no effort on my part. The look on his boss's face as the door closed? PRICELESS. It's exactly what the U.S. Military was hoping for when the phrase "Shock and Awe" was coined.

So now we've met. Elizabeth's world is likely crumbling down around her. I was only disappointed in that I didn't have enough time to show him pictures of my children.

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.

Amen.

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.

snowball.jpg

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.

Ditto.

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.

fetardation

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."

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.

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:

  • The entry for the Renaissance in Wikipedia refuses to give enough credit to Christianity.
  • Wikipedia often uses foreign spelling of words
  • Wikipedia removed and permanently blocked a page identifying its many biases
  • Wikipedia's errors spill undetected into newspapers
And the crux of the matter:
  • For example, even though most Americans reject the theory of evolution, Wikipedia editors commenting on the topic are nearly 100% pro-evolution. Edits to include facts against the theory of evolution are almost immediately censored.
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."

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."

Um.

"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.

Oh.


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

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.

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.

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.

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.

John's
DOs and DON'Ts
for football fans

DO DON'T
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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

mel.jpg

"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.

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

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?"

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:

  • Type 1 The presumed epithet. These are expressions that predate slavery, that have no discernible history of being used as epithets, yet are mistaken for one. The fallacy of equivocation is at play, here. Example: "calling a spade a spade."
  • Type 2 A Type 1 that came to be used as racial epithet. Example: "tar baby." (Also, interestingly, the n-word. The most hurtful word in English started out as a mere mispronunciation of the Spanish word for "black.")
  • Type 3 At least partially racist origins, post-slavery. Example: the Confederate flag. Sorry, but when the Idaho Klan uses it as a symbol, there's not much room for the "it's only about Southern pride" argument.
  • Type 4 Unequivocatingly racist, post-slavery. No one who uses these terms denies racist intent. You know what the terms are.

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?

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.

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

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."

"LIAR!"

"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.

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!


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.

CUT TO:
INT. BEDROOM — MORNING — 22 YEARS LATER

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..."

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