Kid’s Gotta Be a Maniac

I started listening to the Two Book Minimum podcast the other day. I had lots of comedy podcasts on my feed but only one literary podcast, and Two Book Minimum is a combination of both.

I’m not a comedian but I like listening to them speak. Not when they’re doing bits, though, just when they’re sitting around and shooting the shit with each other. There’s a rhythm there that reminds me of sitting around at Dave’s house until five in the morning, or of working with Brennan and Fiala and then getting drunk together at the most disgusting bar in the world. It’s such a ridiculous term for someone who doesn’t do (is not qualified to/has no desire to pursue/would never even allude to the possibility of doing) comedy, but being able to riff with some people about nothing is a weird and rare gift, and since I don’t have that network within a short drive anymore, I can download an episode and just listen to other people do it.

You know, I’m not comfortable with “riff.” It’s not part of my job to use the word and it makes me feel like an asshole. Let’s call it what we called it back in the Little Corner of Moron: careening into ridiculousness.

The thing about careening into ridiculousness is that it starts with nothing. Nothing of importance, nothing of interest, nothing at all. But then one person says something, and the other person responds, and shit just keeps getting added to this pile of nonsense and it not only becomes important, but it’s also one of the funniest things you’ve ever heard. This doesn’t mean that other people will find it just as funny; often, they won’t. But by the time you’ve careened deep into ridiculousness, the onus is on the interloper to keep up, play along, or get out of the way.

But anyway.

The other lit podcast I listen to is Literary Disco, and when I’m not being mad at it for insisting that “Moby Dick” is one of the best literary works in history (IT IS NOT), I’m really enjoying it because the commentary provided is a lot like my thought process on the same books or, if I haven’t already read that particular book, I almost always agree on the theme of similar books.

This is why I’d be bad at a book club, by the way. Apparently they’re all about wine and gossip and while I adore one of those things (ahem, it’s wine), no one likes the schoolmarm who’s in the corner harping that we need to discuss the actual novel.

One of the recent Literary Disco episodes was about Charles Burns’ graphic novel “Black Hole,” and because “Black Hole” is about teenagers, the bookshelf revisit portion of the podcast required a book that was either also about teenagers or had some other teenager-y theme, such as angst or something the hosts had read when they were younger. As I listened to the hosts describing their bookshelf revisit picks, I thought “Man, I think ‘There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock’ would be perfect for this.”

Just then, one of the hosts named “Maniac Magee” for her choice, and although it wasn’t “There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock,” it was also written by Jerry Spinelli and was also one of my most favorite books when I was a kid. In fact, these books made such an impact and seemed so essential that I’m always surprised when people have no idea what I’m talking about when I mention them. Which seems particularly insane when it comes to “Maniac Magee” since it’s basically a classic and Jerry Spinelli is a huge figure in YA fiction.

Nevermind that I can’t get “There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock” on Kindle, and that the only cover design available from Amazon is awful (even compared to the cover of my book, below).

TheresAGirlInMyHammerlock1991

Just know that even without re-reading it or “Maniac Magee,” whole paragraphs leap into my head when I make the most innocuous of connections more than twenty years after reading them, and considering everything I’ve seen and read and listened to since then, that speaks to a work’s lasting power.

Before my nephew was born, I went to the bookstore and bought him the books I’d loved as a kid. I’d brought the guy I was dating at the time, and he wasn’t a big reader but he wasn’t a total idiot, either. It seemed to take forever to pick exactly the right books, and also I had to put a lot of choices back because I am not a millionaire. At the register, the guy I was dating raised his eyebrows at the total and said “You know this kid isn’t going to be able to read for years, right?”

Um, right. I knew that. And maybe he doesn’t read those books now. I don’t even know if he likes reading as much as I did (although it’s doubtful, since my mother tells me I used to lie to friends and tell them I was grounded when really, I just wanted to stay in my room and read for the day). But they’re still available to him, and if any of them can wriggle their way into his brain like “There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock,” “Maniac Magee” or any of the other books I’m going into overdrive remembering right now, then it would have been worth it.

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I’d Shame the Kid But I Won’t

Part of the benefit of living far away from your family is that you’re not required to spend hours at anyone’s house for holidays, or stay longer than you want to after dinner, or even use your only vacation days every year to visit them (but you still do and nobody even appreciates it). The downside to living far away from your family is that sometimes you miss stuff, like nieces or nephews who grew up with you only a couple of blocks away and now have to make do (and somehow still feel like you’re connected to them) with Skype.

I Skyped with my nephew last week. We don’t do that as often as we used to, what with the time zone difference and also he’s seven and apparently that’s the new age where all adults are stupid and he has no time for me asking questions anymore because every single one of his responses is dripping with exasperation and attitude. I guess I thought that kind of thing didn’t start until maybe age ten, but along with things like computers and hormones in milk and periods, the pissy part of adolescence has accelerated since I was a kid, and apparently boys today get shitty a lot earlier than they used to.

Aaaaaaand this is all I’m allowing myself to say about it. See, in addition to the general attitude, I learned another nephew-related thing during our Skype conversation and I. Did. Not. Like. It. One. Bit. And like a lot of other things I don’t like, I was initially moved to write something about it. It was the only thing in my head to write about (a flimsy excuse for not having posted in a week), but something kept pulling me back. I decided to give it a shot just to see what happened, but then, midway through the first paragraph, I stopped. It’s not that I liked the situation any more or ran out of things to say, it’s just that I realized that writing about the situation in detail wasn’t very different from posting a Facebook video of kids misbehaving, throwing a tantrum, or being shamed by their parents.

And I hate when people do that to their kids.

Look, I understand that as a parent, you have to deal with your kids stealing all of your sleep, money, time, and whatever that feeling is when you’re not experiencing stomach-churning anxiety and heartbreak every second of your life. Calm? Contentment? Something? I get it. You’re allowed to get those fuckers back every now and then. But I don’t think it’s okay when parents use social media to embarrass their children, especially when the children are just being children. You know, that kind of behavior that you should have been expecting when you decided to have a child in the first place. Kids scream. Kids cry. Kids act like megalomaniacal freakshow lunatics most of the time. You know this, right? Tell me you know this.

I know this, and having seen a few tantrums in my time, I get that some of the kid-related assholery is a lot more funny than it is tragic. I also get that once you live with that sort of thing, there’s some satisfaction in getting laughs or commiseration by sharing the information. But when you habitually post videos of your child’s screamy tirades on Facebook and you’re laughing behind the camera, I mean, who do you think looks like the bigger shithead in that scenario?

(Hint: it’s not your kid.)

I am thankful every day that the Internet in its current form did not exist when I was a kid, or even when I was a teenager. Mostly because I’m certain I would have handily humiliated myself about a thousand times a day back when my brain was ruled by hormones and I had only a vague understanding of personal boundaries. But now, looking through my Facebook feed every day, I’m thankful that my parents didn’t have access to the Internet, either, because I’m not really comfortable with the idea that every dumb thing I said or every dumb thing they didn’t like about me could have been posted across the largest social network in the world for every single person they knew to see in detail.

Think about that next time you want to gripe about your children. When you’re not just griping, I mean. Just griping is fine. You’re allowed to complain or admit that your kids aren’t perfect or express a desire to leave them in the backyard while you run shrieking down the street towards the nearest bar. That’s normal.

But when you continually document your child’s distress for the purpose of mocking them in a public space, you’re crossing a line. You’re violating an implicit trust you hold with them as their parent and provider, and more than that, you’re holding up their poor behavior not as an example of how unreasonable they are (because what 5-year-old isn’t unreasonable?!), but as an example of your own crap parenting skills.

And eventually, I won’t feel sympathy or pity for the person filming a 3am meltdown. I’ll feel sympathy and pity for the kid, because they’ve spent their entire life being made trivial by their own parents.

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The Fetishist

I’ve done it. I’ve spent almost a whole month eating right and exercising. I’ve reduced the number of calories I’ve consumed, I’ve burned off more calories than I’ve eaten, I’ve made valiant efforts at curbing sodium (even though everything including kale has sodium in it, you guys), and not once have I resorted to being the kind of dick who puts beans in their brownies or opens a valued customer card at the douchebag store (you know, the kind that sells multiple varieties of protein powder, several of them containing the words “cranked” and/or “jacked”).

It hasn’t been that hard. Overall, I eat what I want to eat when I want to eat it. It’s just that now, I’m aware that I could have 1/3 of a pint of ice cream before I go to bed or I could bank that calorie deficit and just drink some tea. The tea is infinitely more boring and not at all as satisfying as salted caramel gelato, but I’ve been saving my Fitbit progress reports and so far, I’m on track to lose more than one pound per week. With my only “I give zero fucks” days being Easter (for Seattle family dim sum) and my birthday (not until next month), this is finally math that I can use as an adult.

It’s just that now I’m starting to fantasize about food in really odd ways. I’ve heard that people do this when they’re starving, or when they’re on a prolonged wilderness hike where there’s no processed food around for hundreds of miles. To them, the food they want takes on an almost mythical status, and not only do they fetishize the taste and texture and experience of eventually eating that food, but even just thinking about it becomes a sensory experience.

Now, obviously I am not starving, and the last wilderness I experienced was the hiking I did this weekend (up and down the ravine a few times, but still inside of a park well within city limits). But earlier today I heard myself say “god, I could French kiss that doughnut” and I realized that I absolutely meant it.

And it’s not just doughnuts. It’s tater tot casserole. It’s bacon cheeseburgers. It’s those Russell Stover chocolate Easter eggs that are suddenly in every motherfucking flavor including birthday cake, which is surprisingly pretty good. It’s tall glasses of my own margaritas on glossy ice cubes. I’m not actually hungry, I know that, it’s just that I’ve started to imagine putting these things in my mouth and the whole thing just fills with drool.

Which I then swallow because it whets my appetite.

Kidding.

I realize that this may put me in league with all of those women I can’t stand, but you should now that I’m not talking about this at work. I barely speak about it to my friends (mostly because some of them, sort of understandably, think it’s insane and don’t realize that, considering my powers of self-loathing, it took me way too long to care about this shit and I’m not about to fuck it up now). I’m just exorcising a few demons here, probably because I could murder an entire chocolate bunny barnyard at the moment, and guess why? You don’t have to be the girl selling me chocolate and tampons at Walgreen’s last night to figure that out.

She could barely figure it out, because she handled my purchases – not only looked at, but touched and scanned and accepted money for them – and still asked me if I wanted a receipt.

“…Seriously?” I asked.

“Oh,” she laughed. “Hahaha. I get it. Try to have a nice night.”

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A Brisk Gait

The other day, I was walking from building to building at work when someone I don’t know fell into step behind me and exclaimed “that’s a brisk gait!”

I’d normally appreciate this kind of weird vocabulary, but in this case, it sounded like he was making fun of me. I normally walk fast, but at work I walk really fast, especially when I’m trying to get from one place to another in the very brief amount of time that constitutes my break. So, yeah, I do have a brisk gait, but it seemed kind of dumb for him to comment on it.

So I turned to this person I’d never even met and said “Are you making fun of me?”

“It’s a funny walk!” he said, “Like this!”

And then he proceeded to perform this exaggerated Muppet walk that looked like a power walker having a fight with somebody but only being allowed to move the arms and only below the elbows.

I do not walk like that.

I snapped, “I don’t walk like that and I’m at work. I have things to do. You probably do, as well.”

“No no, I didn’t mean that,” he backpedaled, although at that point I wasn’t interested in this thing that he tried passing off as an apology.

Seriously? You make fun of the way I look? Dude, you are a 50-year-old man wearing a Mark Ecko hoodie and a Tampa Bay Bucs hat. I don’t think you’re in the position to deride anyone’s appearance, especially the appearance of someone who walks like a totally normal person who just happens to have somewhere to go.

I have always walked fast. To start, my father is 6’2”. That doesn’t sound like a lot now – at least not compared to Graham, who is 6’4” – but when you’re four years old and trying to keep up, it’s pretty tall. And like me (or rather, I am like him), my father’s legs make up the long majority of his body. We are long people. We don’t so much walk as we stride.

(Actually, my dad only strides sometimes. Mostly, he ambles. It’s a peculiar walk and I will be happy to show you sometime in person but for now just picture a stretchy cartoon cowboy who doesn’t move his arms very much and actually still says “howdy” fairly often.)

So I’ve been walking fast ever since I was a kid just to match pace, and once I got older, I mostly had jobs that required me to move fast. Food service. Bartending. A fitness center (a few of them, actually). By the time I moved into cubicle monkey office work, the kind that makes your ass flat and the rest of you flabby, I was already in the habit of walking fast everywhere. It’s just how I am.

I don’t look weird, by the way. I may walk fast, but I don’t jut my elbows out or swing my hips around. I just walk in a regular way that might be a little bit faster than what this apparently slow idiot at my work is used to seeing.

I just can’t figure out why, barring an injury or disability or other real issue, anyone would choose to walk slow. Don’t you have things to do? Don’t you have to be somewhere? I assume you do, that’s why you’re ambulatory in the first place. What’s the hold up? Are you trying to “stop and smell the roses,” even though there are no roses and you’re just being a shitty lump in the supermarket parking lot? What are you waiting for?

I mean, just…just move your ass. You may think it’s silly to have a “brisk gait,” but I think it’s stupid to hold everybody up because you’re too lazy to get a goddamn move on.

Posted in I Just Can't, Paychecks Are Important, WTF | Leave a comment

Adulthood: Engage

You don’t need to get married, buy a house, have a kid or know how to decipher your 401(k) in order to feel like an adult. Those things might help, and I suppose that everyone does have different criteria for quantifying their feelings. But if you really want to feel like an adult, if you want to feel like you’re supporting yourself and paying your dues and somehow managing to get by, all you have to do is file your taxes.

I don’t know why I always put off my taxes. I got my W-2 early this year. It was handed to me at work on February 1st. I could have gone home that night and did them, but instead I put them on my desk and realized this past week that shit, I haven’t done my taxes yet so after work one day, I buckled down for 30 minutes and prepared myself to be disappointed.

You guys, did you know that in Washington, you don’t have to file a state return? I KNOW! All my working life I’ve been yanked around by Missouri (worst state for returns, they demand the most money and usually fuck it up), Virginia and California and finally I’m in a place where my federal return isn’t negated in any way by what a state says I owe them. The cost of living in Seattle may be a kick in the nuts, but at least it’s getting paid back in teeny tiny increments at one time of year.

Speaking of cost of living, I’ve started looking for a new place to live. Not seriously, though; that won’t happen until early next month. But I’m looking, and if taxes are the best way to make you feel like an adult, then weeding out fraudsters while apartment hunting is the best way to really invigorate your soul. It’s also a very competitive market here, as in, if you don’t get on a place in the first 20 minutes after it’s posted, you might as well not even try. I keep telling myself to not bother checking unless I’m feeling particularly ambitious and bloodthirsty that day.

I was not feeling particularly ambitious or bloodthirsty last night, though, which is why Courtney, Vanessa and I sat around my house and watched the Best of Unsolved Mysteries box set ($8.72, eligible for Amazon Prime!). It wasn’t as amazing as I remembered it to be, but it was still pretty good, also we surprise-recognized Matthew McConaughey in his first TV role and found out that Vanessa miiiiiight have telekinetic powers. I can’t prove it but I’m not 100% unconvinced, so for the time being, I’m just not going to startle her or make her mad because I don’t need any parts of my ceiling falling down around me.

At least I didn’t spend any money to stay home. I’m also not spending any money tomorrow when Graham and I go to the food show. Graham is definitely in the food service industry but I am only in there on a technicality, so basically, we’re going to eat free food and drink free booze all morning like a couple of super-organized hobos, and only one of us is doing it for work.

That’s what being an adult is like, kids. Filing your taxes, figuring out which of your friends has psychic powers, and scamming on free food and drinks whenever you can.

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The Separate Universe

When I first started at my job, one of my coworkers had a desk that was covered in clown figurines and true crime books. It wasn’t a strategy, either; she genuinely liked perchable, creepy-looking clowns and stories about gruesome murders that had actually happened. I kept meaning to take a photo to show my friends, but before I could do this, she left the company.

She still talks to some people from the office, though, and one of them still sends her celebrity gossip magazines once they’ve been read. Yeah. Those weekly gossip magazines you see at the supermarket? People actually read them. Not only that, but people actually subscribe to them, meaning that once a week, their mailbox receives its regular delivery of steaming hot garbage information and not only does the subscriber devour it, but they pass on the parts to a scavenger for further plunder.

Oh man. That last part was so salacious, I should write for those magazines.

But that would mean that I cared, wouldn’t it? I mean, I’ve had plenty of jobs I haven’t given a shit about, so it stands to reason that a person who writes for gossip magazines gives a similar amount of shit about their position (zero). However, I know what it’s like to want to write for a living, and I know the feeling when that living is paid for in 15-second bursts of advertisements that imply you’re not cool unless you’re drunk, and I know what it is to swallow any cheapness you see because while you’d love to write stuff that matters, what actually matters right now is paying the rent. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I still think that you’d have to care a little bit about what you’re doing, though, or at least know enough about it to lie convincingly. And while I’ve certainly done my share of degrading things for money, I have never been required to pen a breathless paragraph about any of the Kardashians, and for that, I am very thankful.

Even if we assume that the writers don’t care, we know that the readers do. The subscriber in my office cares a lot, to the point that she regularly asks me if I’ve seen what Tori Spelling’s husband did (no), or if I think that country music guy is going to stay married to his country music wife (probably not?), or if Juan Pablo really is an actual human herpes sore (I guess so, at least based on what Twitter said about him). And not only does this subscriber ask me about these people, but she gets worked up over what she reads about their lives. Like, truly worked up, as if their indiscretions are personally insulting because don’t they care that she cares about them.

I was talking about this crazy-ass behavior with another woman in my office, who said “You know, I’ve just told her before. I said, ‘you know these people aren’t real, right?’ but she just stared at me. I don’t think she gets it.”

No duh.

Psychologically, I understand that a part of your life must be empty if you’re trying to fill it with meaningless shit, and I suppose that at least it’s gossip magazines and not, say, crack cocaine. But I’ve also tried to understand why any of this is so meaningful to her while it’s completely vapid and hollow to me. Like, I understand Sinatra’s legacy, or Elvis, or any of these people who existed prior to this hyper-accelerated, hyper-disposable celebrity culture. There’s a reason Sinatra and Elvis still mean something today; they were talented, they were personalities. Today, though, and I don’t think I’m being crotchety when I say this, the emphasis is on making easy money fast by exploiting the most docile and/or willing product available.

This is why women who sign up to be on the Bachelor can brag they were on the front page of a goddamn magazine. And why regular, middle-class women who work in offices in shitty American suburbs care about it.

And it’s so weird watching her read these magazines in the break room, or hearing her talk about it, or seeing her become visibly upset by something in them. It’s as if I’m populating an entirely separate universe than she is, because there’s no way any of that stuff matters in mine. And nothing I say can convince her that it doesn’t really affect her life, either.

I can’t even convince her to look this bullshittery up on the Internet for free.

Posted in The Pop Life, WTF | Leave a comment

But They Stick

I am not a quote person. It’s not that I don’t believe that there’s no wisdom in quotes or that they can’t be helpful or uplifting at times, it’s just that the majority of people who collect them do so blithely, without regard to context or, in most cases, the greater work or theme, especially when so many of these quotes are lifted from pieces of fiction.

It’s like if someone has a framed quote from Thomas Jefferson in their living room. As an example, let’s use one of my personal favorites because I think it’s accurate and chilling, although I admit someone would probably not keep it in their living room:

“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”

Again, probably not going to be on display in someone’s living room, but let’s assume that it is, or that any of Jefferson’s other wise and prescient quotes is on display.

It’s fine that you think the quote is wise and prescient because it likely is, but Jefferson has a whole lot of other aphorisms to his name, and not all of them are so illuminating. And let’s not forget that Jefferson’s legacy at Monticello – what with its environmentalism, scientific pursuits, and architecture – was only made possible by the work of slaves, of which Jefferson owned many. So Jefferson was not the greatest American in history, and considering that, one could agree that displaying his wisdom in a home so you can see and be affected by it every single day could be problematic.

And whenever I think of the people who let themselves be guided by famous quotes, I think of what Dan Savage wrote about his friend in “Skipping Towards Gomorrah”:

“ When my friend saw me picking through her little wicker basket of affirmations, she folded her arms across her chest, cocked her hip, and said “Go ahead, Dan, make fun of me.” She was asking for it. So I pulled out an affirmation, said “I’m Adolf Hitler,” and then I read Hitler’s affirmation. “I’m a good person, and I want good things.”

“That’s awful!” my friend said.

“I’m Pol Pot: ‘I strive to spread love and understanding.’”
“I’m Richard Speck: ‘I am respected and admired, and people want to be near me.’”
“I’m Trent Lott: ‘My inner beauty is like a bright light.’”

By now, my sensitive friend was, yes, crying. I know, I know, I’m a terrible person. Which is precisely my point. The problem with setting out a basket of affirmations is that you’re assuming each and every person who comes into your home or spa is a good person who wants good things. With all the respect due a basket of laminated affirmations, I beg to differ. ”

This is why I don’t consider the below to be quotes, but rather pieces of work, and why I don’t use them as guides, but rather points of interest that have been sticking to my brain lately. It’s the words themselves or the way they’re strung together that causes them to appear in my thoughts every day, and while no one should necessarily let them rule their lives (except for maybe the T.S. Eliot one because coffee), it’s nice to think of them every now and then.

“Let us toast to animal pleasures, to escapism, to rain on the roof and instant coffee, to unemployment insurance and library cards, to absinthe and good-hearted landlords, to music and warm bodies and contraceptives… and to the “good life”, whatever it is and wherever it happens to be.”
-       Hunter S. Thompson, from “The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman”

“All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a Thousand Enemies, and when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you; digger, listener, runner, Prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.”
-       Richard Adams, from “Watership Down”

“I will bruise your lips,
and scar your knees
and love you too hard.

I will destroy you
in the most beautiful way possible.
And when I leave,
you will finally understand,
why storms are named after people.”
-       “Katrina,” M.K.

“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”
-       Neil Armstrong

“…I finished my plate and I still feel fine, several decades later. One must suffer to be beautiful, I am told, and since then I know that one must occasionally risk trouble to be happy, and I was very happy that day in the Swiss bar where all the best spies ate lunch.”
-       MFK Fisher, from “With Bold Knife and Fork”

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”
-       T.S. Eliot, from “The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock”

“At the Last, tenderly,
From the walls of the powerful fortress’d house,
From the clasp of the knitted locks, from the keep of the well closed doors,
Let me be wafted.

Let me glide noiselessly forth;
With the key of softness unlock the locks – with a whisper,
Set ope the doors O soul.

Tenderly – be not impatient,
(Strong is your hold O mortal flesh,
Strong is your hold O love.)”
-       Walt Whitman, from “The Last Invocation” in “Leaves of Grass”

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