Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I don't know why, exactly..

...but this cracks me up.

Usually, weird for the sake of weird is contrived and lame:

But sometimes it's brilliant!

(That one has been banned though)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Partial writer's block

I would really like to write a movie script. I think that it would be fun to see something I wrote up on the big screen. Or even a medium sized screen. Or even on a straight-to-DVD release that "premieres" at Wal Mart. But I find it very difficult to craft a complete story from beginning to end. I'm like the New York Mets; I just can't seem to close the deal (um, I'm talking about in regards to writing here...heh heh!). I think it's because I lack discipline, have a short attention span and am dumb. For example, here's a page from a script I wrote:


MICHEAL STRONG, thirty-two, handsome, and Ivy League educated. He wears a professional, but obviously not expensive business suit and carries the old, beat up valise his father gave him before he died. He could have made a lot of money as a partner in a high-powered law firm in New York City, but he chose to stay home and serve the poor but proud people of his hometown of Chickpea County (which is somewhere in the Deep South where people are poor but of solid character and not racists) who really need his help. Sometimes he wonders if he made the right choice. He has his father’s steely resolve and deep commitment to ethics and principles but he has yet to meet the incredibly beautiful woman who points this out to him.

He stands opposite RICHARD STANE, fifty-five. He is physically and psychologically imposing, standing at 6 feet, 18 inches tall and wearing a $50,000 suit and a watch that costs more than a helicopter. He is a partner in a high-powered law firm in New York City representing a corporation that intends to build a huge cancer factory in the middle of Chickpea County and not give the residents any money at all.

STRONG leans in and points a finger defiantly at STANE.

Listen, Stane. I’m sure you’re used to getting your way, based on you being who you are –- and what you represent. But I’m not afraid of you. And I’m going to fight you on this, you hear me? Every step of the way, you son of a bitch.

I respect that, Michael. And in a way, I admire it. I used to be like you. Young, idealistic, hungry. Then I saw the big picture. I’m sure you will do your best and I’m looking forward to seeing what you’ve got. I love a challenge, and I find them exceedingly rare to come by these days. But let me tell you something. I always win. Always. I didn’t get to where I am by being scared away by the barking of small dogs defending their yards. Do you understand what I’m saying to you? You’re a small dog, Michael. And I’m coming into your yard, like it or not.

Suddenly, MICHAEL kicks him in the shin.

Ow! What the fuck!

STANE retaliates with a spinning kick to MICHAEL’s midsection

It goes on like that, with them kicking each other, for another 38 pages. Well, there's a car chase in there too, but you get the idea.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Seeing is believing

I think my favorite thing about the internet is the opportunity to see things that you never imagined you would. Such as...

And this...

Great googly moogly!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Open door policy

The people who live in the apartment beneath mine moved out recently with no notice, leaving the apartment abandoned. I started noticing official looking envelopes from the cable, phone and electric companies taped to the door that would eventually fall on the ground because nobody was there to get them. I don't know how often this happens with apartments but it can't be that uncommon. I can think of all kinds of reasons why somebody might want to break their lease and sneak out in the middle of the night. One day, I looked at the door and it didn't seemed to be closed tightly. This, I thought, might not be normal. Here's what happened (NOTE: Certain elements of the account listed below might not be, um, entirely factual)...

  • DAY 1: I call the management office to tell them about it and am told "Thanks, we'll take care of it."
  • DAY 2: I get home kind of late, notice the door still looks slightly ajar, and call the after hours emergency maintenance number for the complex. I'm told "Thanks, we'll take care of it."
  • DAY 3: The door still looks the same and I start thinking maybe it is closed but just doesn't look right. I push the door to see what happens. The door swings open to the abandoned apartment. I close it but can't lock it because it's a deadbolt that can only be locked with a key or from the inside. So I call the management office to tell them about it and am told "Thanks, we'll take care of it."
  • DAY 4: I call the sheriffs office and explain the situation. The dispatcher replies, "So you're locked out of your apartment?", which isn't remotely close to anything I said. The dispatcher asks why I hadn't called the apartment management so I explain...again...that I had already tried that. The now-annoyed dispatcher says "Well, why would you call us?" I reply, "Oh, I don't know what I was thinking. What could possibly take place in an unsecured abandoned dwelling that would be of interest to law enforcement? Forget I said anything. Sorry to bother you." And I hang up.
  • DAY 5: Curiosity being what it is, I decide to take a look around the apartment (I have a thing for vacant, abandoned buildings that I should write about some time), sort of hoping to not find any dead bodies. There's definitely nobody living (or dead) there but they didn't take all their stuff. There is a small chest of drawers, a suitcase, two DVD players, and some cups and dishes. Plus, there's electricity. Odd.
  • DAY 6: I wonder if I should help myself to the DVD players and if that would be considered stealing. Seems like they don't really belong to anybody right now. These are Schroedinger's DVD players, although I don't think that's the name of the people who lived there.
  • DAY 7: Forget it, I don't need any more DVD players.
  • DAY 8: I find myself in a state of, oh, let's see, I'll call it digestive distress. I really don't want to befoul my sparkling clean bathroom with a potential bowl choker (Too much? Yeah, I agree. Sorry about that). It occurs to me that there is a perfectly good bathroom nearby...
  • DAY 9: Thinking of the previous day and how much money I spend on my water bill every month, I take all my dirty dishes downstairs and use the dishwasher.
  • DAY 10: I shave, take a shower and brush my teeth in the downstairs apartment.
  • DAY 11: Coming home with a heavy load of groceries that I'm too tired (lazy) to take upstairs, I put them in the downstairs fridge. I later cook and eat dinner (and wash the dishes, of course) there.
  • DAY 12: Having cut expenses, I now start brainstorming ideas on how to turn a profit.
  • DAY 13: I place on ad on Craigslist, offering the unit for a very reasonable hourly rental rate to unlicensed professional gentleman's companions as a place to ply their trade. I get a lot of replies but many concerns regarding the privacy and safety of the location. I reassure them that the cops have told me personally that they have no interest in visiting any time soon.
  • DAY 14: I am now the proprietor of a brothel. Not sure if this makes me a pimp or a landlord, I decide on the title of Pimplord.
  • DAY 15: The DVD players come in handy.
  • DAY 16: I go downstairs to do a load of dishes and find a bunch of dudes sitting around the living room, waiting. The bedroom door opens and eight of them are invited inside. Gross. I don't wait around for the dishes to finish.
  • DAY 17: A truck shows up to deliver a donkey. I didn't think to charge extra for pets. Shit.
  • DAY 18: The noise from downstairs is making it very difficult to sleep at night. Since I can't exactly complain to management or the cops, I take the money I'm making and check into a hotel.
  • DAY 19: There is now so much intense and varied prostitution-related activity going on that I no longer feel that it is hygienically safe to visit the downstairs apartment. I don't even bother to collect the day's rent.
  • DAY 20: Three big guys in suits and dark glasses are waiting for me when I get home, with an interest in what's going on. I tell them about it and show them around. They're very impressed with the amenities, the proximity of the pool and how convenient the location is to retail shopping and restaurants. They're somewhat disappointed that there isn't a fitness center but I point out that there is a racquetball court, which pleases them. They make an offer to buy me out, consisting primarily of not giving me any money but allowing me to retain use of my limbs and internal organs. I gladly accept.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

From the "Stupid behavior by guys named George whose last name doesn't start with a B" Department

George Michael has been busted again. Here's an excerpt from his latest apology issued through a publicist:
“I want to apologise to my fans for screwing up again, and to promise them I’ll sort myself out. And to say sorry to everybody else, just for boring them.”
Every individual would probably define 'finally hitting bottom' differently but if there's a level below feeling compelled to issue a public apology for your latest inappropriate activity in a public restroom because it induces tedium, I don't know what it is.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Clay Aiken is gay!

Ok, everybody just remain calm. All is well. Most of us knew this was coming and we have a plan in place. If everybody sticks to it, we should be able to keep casualties to a minimum. We are going to address the two groups of people that this announcement affects...

GROUP A: PEOPLE WHO ARE CLAY AIKEN - Mr. Aiken, the relevance of this declaration to you and your personal life is self-evident. Therefor, you really don't need to be here for this. Congratulations! or Rock On! or whatever sentiment is appropriate under these circumstances. Seriously, go forth and enjoy life. Thanks.

GROUP B: EVERYBODY ELSE - All right, there appears to be more people in Group B than Group A so we're going to need everyone to quiet down and pay attention. Please take a second to look at the following three categories and identify into which one you fall:


If you do not fall into the first two categories, you are ineligible to give a shit. Positive or negative, pro or con, it doesn't matter because it's none of your business and nobody cares. Nobody needs your shit. We have too much shit as it is. So keep your shit to yourself because we are not going to take your shit. Thank you.

(Note: we did give momentary consideration to including a fourth category, WOMEN WHO WERE HOPING TO BECOME ENGAGED IN A ROMANTIC AND/OR SEXUAL RELATIONSHIP WITH CLAY AIKEN AT SOME POINT, SOME DAY. However, rest assured that Mr. Aiken's announcement has absolutely no affect on the likelihood of your intended desires ever being realized, so feel free to continue maintaining your pointlessness.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

That's not a knife. THIS is a knife!

The other day at work, a guy came in off the street and proceeded to threaten one of my co-workers for no reason. Don't get the wrong idea; I don't work in what would be considered a "bad" neighborhood. Not that it matters. As we've all learned, although there are "good" and "bad" neighborhoods, violent crime and weird shit can happen anywhere, any time. This was (or more accurately, was almost) just one of those things.
The guy was obviously disturbed and having a bad day, I guess. The incident didn't last very long and he left right away without doing anything more severe. The whole thing happened so quickly that nobody reacted while he was there. But after he left, another of my co-workers went into a back room and came back with a machete, exactly like the one pictured here. My first thought was "why do we have a machete?", followed almost instantaneously by "why don't I have a machete?", because I've never had one and now I want one.
Aside from sugar plantations in Haiti that are plagued by voodoo-animated zombies, I'm not sure there are that many companies that are going to paste a "PROTECTED BY MACHETE" sticker on the front door. Pepper spray. A silent alarm system. Dobermans. All traditionally acceptable methods of defending the modern workplace and those who work there...for pussies.
A machete is the kind of defense system you probably only ever have to use once. Think about it: if some thug gets a limb hacked off while trying to commit a violent crime, that's the kind of story that is bound to circulate among, and give pause to, the denizens of your local underworld. If you think you're going to get that from an alarm that doesn't even make an irritating noise, an airborne eye irritant or a puppy dog, you are dreaming and seriously underestimating the resolve of the criminal element. Even a gun can't give you that. Shootings are so downright mundane anymore that, really, who gives a shit? No, there's only one way to be known as "That Place Where They Chopped That Dude's Arm Off, My Cousin Was In County With Him And He Told Me All About It".

Machete. Accept no substitute.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Clark Brooks: Soundtrack composer

Check out this (extremely) short film...

That's MY song!! I can not (or rather, will not) identify who any of the characters in the film are, or even what the hell is going on, but...THAT'S MY SONG! See where it says "Soundtrack" and "Artist" in the little, classic MTV-style credit box in the bottom left corner at the :29 mark? THAT'S MINE AND ME!!

Who wants to buy my album*? Who wants to download it illegally and not pay shit for it? Who wants me to score their less-than-sixty-second-long film? Who wants to set up a web site that chronicles the minutiae of my life and celebrates the magnitude of me as a modern renaissance man in a desperate plea for some kind of love and attention, or even just a little significance?
Oh, wait a minute....

* Yes, I have one.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A short conversation about pharmaceutical marketing

"We need your help. The boys in the lab came up with something new and corporate wants it on the shelves by Tuesday."

"Whaddya got?"

"It's called tamsulosin and it's used to improve urination in men with benign prostatic hyperplasia."

"Has it been tested extensively so possible side effects that maybe even more harmful than the condition the drug is designed to treat in the first place have been eliminated?"

"No, but
here's a list of those side effects that you can just list in the ad copy."

"Okay, standard operating procedure then."

"Right. Management just needs you to come up with a consumer-friendly, easy-to-remember name."

"And what's it supposed to do again?"

"Basically, it maximizes the flow of urine."

"Tell them I'll be leaving work early today."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Chick flick indeed!

Much is being made of the fact that the film "The Women" features an all-female cast, no men whatsoever. Personally, I don't know what the big deal is. I've watched lots of movies with no dudes in them.

I'm just sayin'...
(And before anybody wants to get angry about me being a sexist, take a look at that poster for the movie. Yeah, I didn't do that.)

Watch this!

Tonight. 10PM (Eastern). FX. Don't miss it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hands-on advice

I was waiting on a customer today, passing a pen, paper and cash back and forth between us. Immediately after the transaction was finished, he left, and the customer who had been right behind him said, "You need to know that I was just in the bathroom with that guy and he did not wash his hands when he was done."
Oh. Thank you. Good to know.
"I'm telling you this because a couple years ago, I was extremely sick. I had become infected by some kind of deadly bacteria that was literally liquefying my internal organs from the inside out."
Good god, that's terrible!
"And even though it's impossible to know exactly how I got it, the doctors said it was entirely possible it could have been from something as simple as contact with someone who didn't wash after using the bathroom. So now I'm very sensitive about things like that. I'm sure you understand."
I do. And I sincerely appreciate the heads-up because that's gross!
"Yeah, I'm only now really getting back on my feet.
Well, that is remarkable because you look fantastic now!
"At one point, I lost well over 100 pounds in a matter of months."
...Say what now?
"Oh yeah. It was terrible. I literally couldn't eat so much as a single grain of rice without severe discomfort."
Is that right...
"Yep. I was on a regimen of Gatorade and water, and even then, sometimes I couldn't even handle the Gatorade because of all the potassium in it. You could almost see the weight actually falling off of me."
"Oh yeah. I looked dramatically different every day."
And this was just from going into public restrooms and licking the fixtures?
Nothing. Say, exactly how long do you think it took to get down to where you are now?
"I had a life threatening disease. And even though I survived, there were times I wished I hadn't..."
Yeah, yeah, I heard you. Listen, which bathroom were you just in?

David Foster Wallace's commencement address at Kenyon College, 2005

(If anybody feels like perspiring [cough], I'd advise you to go ahead, because I'm sure going to. In fact I'm gonna [mumbles while pulling up his gown and taking out a handkerchief from his pocket].) Greetings ["parents"?] and congratulations to Kenyon's graduating class of 2005. There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"
This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story ["thing"] turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.
Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I'm supposed to talk about your liberal arts education's meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let's talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about quote teaching you how to think. If you're like me as a student, you've never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I'm going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we're supposed to get in a place like this isn't really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I'd ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your skepticism about the value of the totally obvious.
Here's another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: "Look, it's not like I don't have actual reasons for not believing in God. It's not like I haven't ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn't see a thing, and it was fifty below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out 'Oh, God, if there is a God, I'm lost in this blizzard, and I'm gonna die if you don't help me.'" And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. "Well then you must believe now," he says, "After all, here you are, alive." The atheist just rolls his eyes. "No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp."
It's easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people's two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy's interpretation is true and the other guy's is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person's most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there's the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They're probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists' problem is exactly the same as the story's unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn't even know he's locked up.
The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.
Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness because it's so socially repulsive. But it's pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute center of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.
Please don't worry that I'm getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being "well-adjusted", which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.
Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education -- least in my own case -- is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.
As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.
This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.
And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. Let's get concrete. The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what "day in day out" really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. One such part involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration. The parents and older folks here will know all too well what I'm talking about.
By way of example, let's say it's an average adult day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging, white-collar, college-graduate job, and you work hard for eight or ten hours, and at the end of the day you're tired and somewhat stressed and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for an hour, and then hit the sack early because, of course, you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there's no food at home. You haven't had time to shop this week because of your challenging job, and so now after work you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It's the end of the work day and the traffic is apt to be: very bad. So getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there, the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping. And the store is hideously lit and infused with soul-killing muzak or corporate pop and it's pretty much the last place you want to be but you can't just get in and quickly out; you have to wander all over the huge, over-lit store's confusing aisles to find the stuff you want and you have to maneuver your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts (et cetera, et cetera, cutting stuff out because this is a long ceremony) and eventually you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren't enough check-out lanes open even though it's the end-of-the-day rush. So the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating. But you can't take your frustration out on the frantic lady working the register, who is overworked at a job whose daily tedium and meaninglessness surpasses the imagination of any of us here at a prestigious college.
But anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front, and you pay for your food, and you get told to "Have a nice day" in a voice that is the absolute voice of death. Then you have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive, rush-hour traffic, et cetera et cetera.
Everyone here has done this, of course. But it hasn't yet been part of you graduates' actual life routine, day after week after month after year.
But it will be. And many more dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless routines besides. But that is not the point. The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing is gonna come in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm gonna be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop. Because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it's going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is.
Or, of course, if I'm in a more socially conscious liberal arts form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic being disgusted about all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUV's and Hummers and V-12 pickup trucks, burning their wasteful, selfish, forty-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper-stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest [responding here to loud applause] (this is an example of how NOT to think, though) most disgustingly selfish vehicles, driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers. And I can think about how our children's children will despise us for wasting all the future's fuel, and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and selfish and disgusting we all are, and how modern consumer society just sucks, and so forth and so on.
You get the idea.
If I choose to think this way in a store and on the freeway, fine. Lots of us do. Except thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic that it doesn't have to be a choice. It is my natural default setting. It's the automatic way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I'm operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the center of the world, and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities.
The thing is that, of course, there are totally different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stopped and idling in my way, it's not impossible that some of these people in SUV's have been in horrible auto accidents in the past, and now find driving so terrifying that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive. Or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to get this kid to the hospital, and he's in a bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am: it is actually I who am in HIS way.
Or I can choose to force myself to consider the likelihood that everyone else in the supermarket's checkout line is just as bored and frustrated as I am, and that some of these people probably have harder, more tedious and painful lives than I do.
Again, please don't think that I'm giving you moral advice, or that I'm saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it's hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won't be able to do it, or you just flat out won't want to.
But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's not usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you what to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it.
This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.
Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship -- be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings.
They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing.
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving and [unintelligible -- sounds like "displayal"]. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational the way a commencement speech is supposed to sound. What it is, as far as I can see, is the capital-T Truth, with a whole lot of rhetorical niceties stripped away. You are, of course, free to think of it whatever you wish. But please don't just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.
The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.
It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
"This is water."
"This is water."
It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.
I wish you way more than luck.

Monday, September 15, 2008


I know from feedback that I've gotten over the years that posts about sports are not among my readers favorites. And I know that even among those who do enjoy sports that absolutely nobody cares about somebody else's fantasy sports exploits.

That said, let me tell you about my fantasy hockey league.

Unlike most fantasy sports, where a comprehensive knowledge of a wide variety of statistics and the ability to analyze those statistics in order to forecast future performance is of vital importance, there is only one stat that matters in our league: penalty minutes. Very simply, teams that win are those that have the most guys breaking rules and getting caught doing it. Actually, this year we wanted to include goaltenders so we're also tracking losses by goalies. It's still all about rewarding bad behavior (Losers = Winners!). I just think it's beautiful that the best thing that can happen is for two guys on your team to get into a fight with each other. That's a minimum of 10 points right there. My team, the Wimauma Surf Midgets, had a good regular season but choked big time in the playoffs. Fine time for a bunch of grown men to suddenly start minding their manners.

Pictured here is our championship trophy, the Thugly Cup, unofficially sponsored by Prairie Belt Smoked Sausages in a can. You can learn more about potted meat products (and other ill-advised dollar store purchases) here, after which I think you will have a deeper appreciation of the spirit of this particular league. In case you're wondering, yes, the sausages are still in there. I offered to empty the can when I took it to the trophy shop but the lady said not to worry about it. She was awfully casual about it. Apparently this was not the strangest trophy she's ever made. This simultaneously disappoints and intrigues me. I may need to do some research.

Anyway, we still have open slots for new teams. If you're interested in owning your very own team of cement-headed goons, taking a stand against Lady Byng and everything she stood for and maybe getting your greasies on that sweet, sweet trophy, let me know.

BONUS: Here's a close-up picture of a can of Prairie Belt sausages. There's an awful lot to love about it but I think my favorite thing has to be the "serving suggestion". Yes, the manufacturer suggests you serve them in a pile on a tiny plate with a side order of Jerry Mathers head. Magnifique!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Are we f***ing kidding me?

This is an issue?!?

Thank goodness we live in a country that isn't mired in war and economic crisis where we can devote time and energy to speculating on what the candidates to be our next leader may have meant by what they didn't say.

Personally, I'm far more upset about the assertions that pitbulls play hockey, hockey players wear lipstick and pigs moms are pitbulls that have also not been made by Obama, McCain, Biden, Palin or any Clintons. Somebody really doesn't need to not step up and not address these concerns.

Monday, September 08, 2008

I hit 400!

While poking around in the stats the other day, I realized I recently put up the 400th post on this very blog.
Huh. How about that?
This is an occasion that should be marked with quiet reflection, cold beverages, a parade that devolves into a street brawl or a combination of certain aspects of all of that.
Many of those of you read this blog have been reading since the beginning way back in June 2006, for which I am obligated to thank you sincerely and question your use of leisure time, of which you obviously have far too much.
I should also thank the various people I don't know even know who continue to engage in bad behavior, poor judgment and general stupidity which confuses, entertains and frustrates me simultaneously. When I started this blog, I wondered how soon I'd run out of things to write about. Thanks to you, I know now that will never, ever happen.
That said, I'm feeling kind of...oh, I don't know, under the weather, I guess?...so I think I'm going to take a little break. Not quitting, just a break. I don't know for how long. It may last days or weeks or longer, unless it's shorter. I may actually be back at this again tomorrow or even later tonight. Unless I'm not. But in the meantime, thanks tons, for everything. Seriously.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Teach your children well...because I don't want to

I guess what I'm trying to say when I go on tirades like this is I just don't understand why all of you can't get together and make my life easier. After all, there are many, many more of you than there are of me. It shouldn't be difficult to get at least a few of you to form a committee or something to figure this stuff out. I promise, we'll all be happier if some of these things could just...go away.
For example, I came home tonight to find some stupid neighbor kid beating on a tree with a tire iron (just like the one pictured here). I didn't recognize him so I think he's new to the neighborhood. There has been an influx recently of children moving into my complex who are up at all hours, even so-called school nights, screaming at the top of their lungs. And I'm not talking about standard yelps of joy and delight that result naturally because that's what children at play sound like, I'm talking about shrieks of terror that result when you realize you were apparently mistaken about John Wayne Gacy being dead because that sure looks like him barrelling towards you at 50 mph behind the wheel of an ice cream truck whose chimes are playing "Helter Skelter" backwards. I used to be able to tell the difference. Seriously, the first few times I heard this screaming, I bolted outside fully expecting to see a homicide in progress. Nope, just kids running around, not even actually doing anything, and screaming for the sake of screaming. I've since learned to ignore it, which I'm not sure is healthy. So anyway, I think this is one of those stupid kids.

Okay, mom and/or dad, for starters, your kid is outside playing with a tire iron. You either didn't know this or you condone it. Regardless, this is something you need to get in front of and pull the plug on pronto. Because while I'm glad he's hitting trees instead of cars...or people...in the parking lot, I'm sure it's just a matter of time before that's not the case. Trees don't really show dents, or shatter, or bleed, so their entertainment value as something to hit is pretty limited.
Secondly, why hit a tree in the first place? Or for that matter, engage in hitting as a play activity at all? Is that necessary in any way, shape or form? Without going all Green on you, would it kill you to maybe teach your little dumb ass some respect for nature and stuff?
Thirdly, it's a friggin' tire iron. And your child is playing with it. A tire iron, for Chrissakes!

On an impulsive first reaction to seeing this, I told the kid to knock it off. Actually, what I said was "Hey, stop that", for fear of him being one of these smartasses whose defense later might be to point at me and say "He told me to...". The kid did stop but at the same time an adult male head popped up over the edge of an upstairs balcony and scowled down at me. Oh great.
There are exactly two reactions a parent will have when you as an adult speak reproachfully to their offspring:
  1. "Oh geez, my kid is such a dipshit. I'm so, so, so very sorry!"
  2. "How dare you voice criticism of any kind towards the ever-precious fruit of my loins? Prepare to be disemboweled."

This guy didn't say a word but I knew which one I was getting. So in an effort to not escalate hostility (I really don't need to get into any kind of altercation in defense of some ridiculous tree that isn't even mine) I attempted to plead my case with word things. "He was hitting this tree. With that tire iron. See? See where the bark is all chipped away? He did that. Him. With the tire iron. I told him to stop doing that because he shouldn't be doing that. That's what I was saying to him, you know, when you looked down and saw me saying that to him." All I got in response was a look that said not only did he not care that his son was using an auto repair tool for a purpose for which it was not designed but he was going to come down and take a turn or two at it himself once the kid was done, which was either because I sounded like a complete idiot or that's exactly what he was planning to do.

At any rate, I gave up and went upstairs, resigned to the fact that I had done all I could do, which was nothing at all, and hoped that if there's screaming tonight, there's a reason and I sleep right through it.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

i STILL h8 txt msgs

Nothing's changed. I'm just particularly annoyed with a certain aspect of text messaging right this minute: the "auto complete" feature on my phone. Like text messaging itself, it's supposed to be a convenience and a time saver but in reality, it's neither. What's supposed to happen is, as you begin typing a word, the phone anticipates what you're going to say and presents that word to you. If that's the word you want, you can select it without typing out the whole thing. Great, right? Wrong.

For instance, today I received a question via text message and the answer was "ketchup & mustard".
  • Typing KET it suggested "kettle".
  • Adding C and H and U and P it never suggested anything. Is "ketchup" really that uncommon a term? I bet if you were playing Family Feud and the topic was condiments, it would be a top five answer. I can't imagine the word "kettle" comes up all that frequently in conversation among techno savvy 21st century Americans. Although to be fair, neither does Family Feud.
  • Typing MUS it suggested "must".
  • Adding T it suggested "musty".
  • Adding A it suggested "mustache". How often do people need to text the word "mustache" that the phone company would decide to include that in the basic vocabulary? Plus, how hard would it be to make this program evaluate context in order to offer better suggestions? I just typed "ketchup" (no thanks to you, phone). Why in the world would I want to type "ketchup & mustache"?
  • After adding R it finally came up with "mustard". The handy dandy auto complete feature saved me the trouble of typing one letter.

Man, I really hate text messaging.

DogTown: Saving the Micheal Vick dogs

Without getting into the debate on whether or not former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Micheal Vick is a human piece of excrement (hint: he is), the National Geographic Channel has produced an excellent documentary on the rehabilitation of some of the dogs seized at Vick's "Bad Newz Kennels" after his arrest. It's a special two hour episode of the series "DogTown" that is heart-breaking, infuriating and ultimately uplifting. It airs again Sunday morning at 11:00AM.

Getting back to Michael Vick, the fact that I am completely incapable of understanding or tolerating people who exploit and abuse animals (or any weaker creature for that matter) is the primary reason why I could never, ever be a cop. Hopefully, there is still a line of work I could get into some day though:

"Hey Satan, who's the new guy?"
"His name is Clark. I've assigned him to working with bullies."
"Wow. He's...enthusiastic."
"Yeah, he's really committed."
"Maybe a little too...? I mean, we are demons and this is Hell, but..."
"I try not to think about it, Larry."

Yeah, I think there are demons in Hell named Larry. You got a problem with that?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

This suits me fine

Men's Wearhouse, the largest men's dress apparel retailer in the United States, has launched a charitable initiative designed to help men who need help seeking employment.

"For many unemployed men, a new suit is the first step toward a second chance. During the National Suit Drive, every one of our over 550 stores will be collecting gently used professional attire to benefit at-risk men and youth transitioning into the workforce. All clothing we receive will be distributed throughout the community by local nonprofit organizations."
(Click here to learn more)

This sounds like a fine idea, especially considering just how dire the job market is right now. The fact is, the kind of professional image an individual projects could very well be the deciding factor in whether they get a job or not.

The only problem I see with it, and I'm sure the odds of it happening are infinitesimal, is what if you were applying for a job and you lost it to some guy wearing one of your old suits? Man, that would be the karmic equivalent of prison rape.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Army Stories: The M & Ms incident

For those of you who don't know, I served four years in the U.S. Army. If you paid taxes between 1982 and 1986, you helped me buy a lot of beer, go to Europe and gather evidence as to why legalized prostitution is a good idea. Yay, freedom! Also during that time, I had some experiences that resulted in some pretty good stories. After some popular demand, I am going to post them here, in chronological order.

I did my basic training at Ft. Knox, Kentucky in the fall of of 1982. I don't think they do basic training there anymore, but at the time we thought it was pretty cool because they had shot a lot of the film "Stripes" there, including the reception station, the place we got our first haircuts, the obstacle course, the uniform issue facility and the parade ground:

We didn't get to experience a whole lot of Bill Murray-esque hijinks though. It was an intense period with a lot of material to learn packed into a mere 8 weeks. During that time, there were two things we concentrated on more than anything else: exercise (especially push-ups) and the
M 16 assault rifle. The logic being that if you got into combat, freaked out and forgot almost everything else, you should still be physically fit and able to shoot people. We went everywhere with our M 16s and learned everything there was to know about them. We learned how to fire them (of course), how to clean them, how to take them apart and put them back together again and even how to salute with them. One of the things we learned that was not in the official curriculum is that if you open the little storage compartment in the stock and take out the cleaning kit, you could put a whole bunch of M & Ms in there instead, the presence of which made what few breaks we got during the day much, much better.

You don't have to be familiar with army training guidelines to know that this was not an approved use of this equipment, not to mention we weren't supposed to be snacking in the first place. And as trainees, we were not allowed to do anything whatsoever on our own. So-called "free time" at the end of the day consisted of studying, cleaning footwear, reading and writing mail and maybe, if you were really feeling self-indulgent, having a bowel movement. There was no throwing on a pair of jeans and unwinding at the club or kicking back and watching tv or going shopping at the
PX. Unfortunately, that's where the M & Ms were, which meant the only way to get the candy we weren't even supposed to have was to violate a basic order. Hey, you can't have omelets without breaking eggs and if you're in basic training at Ft. Knox, you can't have candy without breaking rules. We handled this in a very democratic fashion. Almost everybody in the platoon (approximately 40 guys) wanted them so we all took our turn sneaking out of the barracks and up to the PX in three man teams at night.

On the night it was my turn, we had made our purchase and were on our way back, feeling pretty good about ourselves, when a truck pulled into the parking lot. One of us (not me) said, "Hey, wouldn't it be funny if that was the duty sergeant, coming to check if any of us had snuck out?". It turned out to be surprisingly unfunny, considering that's exactly who it was, busting the three of us with seven and a half pounds of M & Ms. He yelled at us right there, made us do copious amounts of push-ups, took us to brigade headquarters which we had to clean until 2:00 in the morning and, of course, confiscated the M & Ms. When we got up three hours later, we stood in line outside the mess hall waiting for breakfast and wondered what would happen when our platoon sergeants heard about it. For a few minutes, we thought maybe we'd get away with the previous night's punishment. That illusion was shattered when we heard Staff Sergeant Basil (who could have been an opera singer, seriously) bellow "They did WHAT?!?" from inside the mess hall. We looked at each other and silently communicated the message, "Yep, that's for us." He came out, screaming at us, made us do still more push-ups and the three of us missed breakfast. We took the rap for the rest of the platoon, telling him we bought them just for us. I'm sure he didn't believe us but I honestly think that helped because all things considered, the punishment really wasn't that bad.

We were, however, treated to watching drill sergeants eat our M & Ms in front of us all day long.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Moral dilemmas stink

Here's something my mom shared recently:

"I had an unusual encounter the other day. It's 4:15 in the morning and I am leaving our complex to go to work. In the middle of the parking lot is a skunk that is staggering around because he had a cardboard coffee cup stuck on its head. I really felt sorry for the guy but didn't want to take the chance of getting either sprayed or bitten by a rabid animal. Everyone at work would have loved me if I came in smelling like skunk."

That is a toughie.

Skunks are harmless unless provoked and they're kind of cute. They're basically kitty cats with an incredibly effective chemical weapon. Nobody wants to see one in distress. The cardboard cup would obviously not be stuck on his head if not for some slovenly, careless human being. Anybody who is a responsible member of the human race would recognize that and want to make things right by removing the cup and disposing of it properly as something of a gesture of apology. However, the skunk was undoubtedly in an "Ohshit!Ohshit!Ohshit!" state of mind. Blind, disoriented and with one single method of self defense at it's disposal, it probably felt like Clarice Starling stumbling around in the basement after Buffalo Bill turns off the lights and puts on his night vision goggles:

Yeah, mom, there is no way you don't get sprayed in that situation.

If you've never smelled skunk spray, it's impossible to describe because it doesn't smell like anything else. It's pungent enough to ward off bears, you can smell it up to a mile away, a concentrated dose of it up close can cause skin irritation, even temporary blindness and nature came up with that shit all by itself before we started discarding our coffee cups on the ground. When I was at Fort Knox, the place was overrun by skunks at night and we were instructed in no uncertain terms to give them a wide berth, even if it meant temporarily abandoning a guard post. By day, we trained to battle the armies of the mighty Soviet Union and by night we hid from Pepé Le Pew. That's how powerful skunk spray is.

And this doesn't even take into account the rabies factor.

So the choice is attempt to remove the cup from the poor animal's head and get drenched in flaming, toxic ass-urine and/or a bite that results in a viral zoonotic neuroinvasive disease that causes acute encephalitis. Or hope the skunk figures out how to get it off by itself, with or without the help of his anthropomorphic woodland pals.
Like I said, that is a toughie. I don't honestly know what I would have done (although I have a pretty good idea). I'm just kind of glad to see that I'm not the only one in my family who finds themselves in these kinds of predicaments.