The Babysitter

The Babysitter was a special kind of mean. Downright sadistic in fact. She made the two boys — Charles and, the smaller one, Teddy — do yard work that The Babysitter’s own husband (a mechanic with 27 years under the hood) refused to do.

Yanking up those sharp weeds that were wont to cut your fingers and scrape your palms. Pushing a wheel barrow of dirt from the front of the house to the back. Digging holes with shovels that The Babysitter wasn’t even sure she needed to be dug. Etc., etc. And all without gloves. The Babysitter had gloved her own hands, mind you. But Charles and Teddy were never furnished their own pair because, in The Babysitter’s words, “only sissy little Susans needed gloves,” and, when the look in Charles’s eyes seemed to imply “Well, then doesn’t that make you a sissy little Susan, Babysitter?” The Babysitter told Charles that the Glove-Sissy Metric only applied to “tiny cretins who had yet to conquer puberty.”

Then The Babysitter took a long hard gulp on the pink lemonade she refused to share — from a NASCAR themed cup packed to the brim with crushed ice — and told Teddy that “the rate at which he pulled weeds from the ground was pitiful and entirely unacceptable” and if he wanted to eat lunch today he would double, nay triple his weed extracting efforts.

Lunch was the same everyday: Cold Spaghetti-Os and half of a formerly green but now mostly brown apple. Charles, knowing his brother better than The Babysitter ever could, took much satisfaction in the fact that Teddy actually preferred his Spaghetti-Os cold, something the two boys kept to themselves for fear The Babysitter would heat Teddy’s Spaghetti-Os up in the microwave, or maybe even the oven, if she found out.

If ever Teddy had to use the bathroom while at The Babysitter’s, The Babysitter, being a total natural at humiliating small boys, would stand outside the bathroom door and ask Teddy things like “Do you need a spoon?” or “Can something so small even be located?” Then The Babysitter would let forth a laugh so maniacal and shrill and hoarse (due to the pack a day she consumed heartily), that Teddy would often freeze right up and not be able to release himself for weeks on end.

When Teddy emerged from the bathroom, a look on his face like he’d seen a literal ghost, The Babysitter would tossle his hair aggressively and tell him to “lighten up already, Tedster,” and “Don’t you know a joke when you hear one, dumbo?” and “Look, your brother thinks it’s funny,” a claim that created in Charles’s gut a sort of burgeoning heat that burned up his throat and out his ears because Charles found nothing funny about The Babysitter (other than her third chin maybe, or how she clearly thought no one noticed when she constantly picked her wedgie) and would never laugh at jokes that were at his younger brother’s expense, not ever.

The Babysitter also had a daughter, who was little more than a younger, skinnier version of The Babysitter in terms of her willingness and ability to treat Charles and Teddy as if they were mutts fresh from the street. Once, Charles, Teddy and The Babysitter’s daughter were playing Nintendo Power Pad in the basement when Charles and Teddy’s mother, Anita, arrived to fetch her children.

When Charles and Teddy started to clean up the Nintendo Power Pad — knowing as they did that failing to do so would strike afoul with The Babysitter and result in them being punished with even more back breaking yard work beneath the scorching sun — The Babysitter’s daughter told them not to fret, that she would clean up and they shouldn’t keep their mother, Anita, waiting.

But when Charles and Teddy returned to The Babysitter’s home three days later, The Babysitter stuck a long sharp claw in each of their faces and scolded them, in a fury of coarse language punctuated with ejected spittle, for not cleaning up the basement before they left, and how dare they do something so defiant and rude and inconsiderate of The Babysitter’s daughter,  who was only amusing the boys, Charles and Teddy, when she played Nintendo Power Pad with them  in the first place.

As it turned out, The Babysitter’s daughter left the mess uncleaned — in fact, had thrown a couple extra items onto the floor that Charles and Teddy had never even seen before, let alone played with — and then reported to her mother, The Babysitter, that Charles and Teddy had vehemently refused to help her tidy up.

As retaliation, The Babysitter put Charles on Scrubbing the Oil Stains From the Floor of the Garage Duty, which had never even been a duty until The Babysitter thought it up while angrily contemplating how best to punish Charles and Teddy for not cleaning the basement (or, more accurately, for failing to realize that The Babysitter’s daughter was the kind of child who would tell other children that she would take care of a messy basement and then leave said messy basement as is and then tell her mother that those children had refused to help her clean the basement) and Teddy on Pulling Out the Disgusting Soaked Clumps of Hair from the Shower Drain Duty, the execution of which made Teddy sweat and gag and then throw up a few times in the toilet, which The Babysitter of course made Teddy scrub clean until the porcelain was damn near wearing thin, at which point The Babysitter accused Teddy of “trying to destroy her property.”

Seven years later Charles and Teddy purchased 29 cartons of eggs, 17 boxes of plastic forks and knives, and 418 rolls of toilet paper with which they vandalized The Babysitter’s house and yard and shitty mini-van with a kind of glee that one would have thought only lottery winners and folks who have recently been told they no longer have cancer could emotionally muster.

On Doing a Good Deed

I was at my local public library the other night preparing to check out my third straight Nora Ephron book — part of a recent effort I’ve undertaken to increase my knowledge of the ‘American Female’ — when, in my periphery, I noticed a little boy reach up and pluck a telephone off the wall.

This startled me because until that moment I don’t think I ever noticed a cherry-colored telephone strapped to the wall, despite ostensibly walking past it hundreds of times in recent months. Perhaps my 21st century mind had simply blurred it out, had trouble fully registering a landline phone, an object more rare than a black person at a Rascal Flatts concert.

I love that the phones in libraries are red. Because, in my view, not being able to find the book you’re searching for is a crisis exactly on par with impending nuclear war. 

“We’re looking for The Time Warp by H.G. Wells,” the young boy said into the receiver. He was about five feet tall, brown-skinned, puffy winter coat sagging off bony shoulders, as if he’d been forced to wear it, against his will, by an insistent mother. His friend — or older brother more like — hovered slightly behind him, “It’s called the Time Machine,” he corrected.

As it happened, I could both hear and see the employee on the other end of the line because she was only about a hundred feet away, standing at the help desk and looking in our direction. This gave the developing situation a satirical feel that made it seem like the beginnings of some kind of lame sketch comedy act where two people in very close proximity talk to each other on oversized cell phones, one unable to hear the other.

When I realized this woman was not going to help, other than to impatiently tell the boys to “find it by looking under the author’s last name,” I suspended my own search (for something called I Feel Bad About My Neck, a book that was sure to be super enlightening) and did this woman’s job for her.

“You guys know what to do right?” I asked. The young men were shy, rightly tentative about a random and grossly-bearded white-man suddenly speaking to them. They probably would have preferred the assistance of the middle-aged woman in the cat-themed sweater, as opposed to a guy who looked both homeless and hungry. They silently shook their heads in the negative, half their eyes saying ‘please help us’ the other half saying ‘please don’t hurt us.’

I suspended my desperate campaign to unravel life’s greatest mystery (how women ever find anything in their purse) and led them down the carpeted aisles of Westerville Public Library. Curious but hesitant, they followed closely at my heels as I pointed to signs slapped on the ends of the stacks and explained that, when it came to fiction, the books here are organized alphabetically (as opposed to the number system used for non-fiction).

I took them to the stack labeled ‘Vi-Wo’ and asked if they understood that ‘We’ was somewhere in between and thus could be found here (if these unhelpful librarians could be trusted that is, and I suppose they could). Then I reminded them to look at the stickers at the bottom of the spine until they found Wells and hopefully his book The Time Machine.

In other words, I put them in a position to succeed without just doing it for them. I taught them to fish, if you will, rather than catching them their dinner.

Nine minutes later they emerged from the stack, book in hand, smiles on faces.

Better slow than never I always say. You would have thought they’d discovered a new continent.

“Find it?” I asked.  

“Yes. Thank you,” they shyly responded.

I gave a silent, but triumphant thumbs-up and went back to my computer (which informed me that a book called Wallflower at the Orgy was available and ready to be over-analyzed).

“Have a good day,” the smaller boy said looking back at me, puffy blue coat still sagging off bony shoulders.

“You too buddy,” I responded, and my two new companions disappeared into the night, science fiction novel securely in tote.

Alone again, I smiled and felt oddly prideful. I’d helped two kids find a book. It was exceedingly simple, and yet oddly profound. In truth, it was probably the best thing I’d done in months, if not years. That this was a sad and pathetic realization tried to seep into my mind, but I brushed it back with my brain-broom and remained entirely satisfied with myself for doing such an honorable deed.

I’d helped further child literacy. I’d connected a young mind with an older, probably genius one. It felt as though I’d introduced two close friends who then immediately stole away to have their own private conversation without me; that is, if my friends were the kinds of people who liked to talk about weird English dudes traveling through time.

I’m sure Nora Ephron and H.G. Wells would have agreed: Children should always be able to find the book they want. It appalled me that once the emergency-colored phone rang the employee who answered it didn’t instantly drop everything to assist these young men, the future of America after all.

Why was the phone red if the people answering it weren’t going to behave in a manner consistent with all that’s implied by a red-colored phone? Are the people overseeing our nuclear arsenal also answering red-colored phones like it’s a call from their grandmother – all lazy and uninterested? 

What could possibly be more pressing to a public library employee than helping a couple little brown boys find a book? It would be like a Starbucks barista refusing to pour the milk, or a pharmacist refusing to wear a white coat.

We’re all so blah. Everything and everyone is blah. Blah blah blah. If I owned a time machine I’d go back to that moment when I helped two young kids find an old book. It made me feel, for the first time in a long time, the opposite of blah. And that’s really meaningful.

Now what’s this about orgies?

The Only Recurring Dream I’ve Ever Had (I Think)

I’m back in school — sometimes it’s high school, other times it’s elementary school — and something very problematic is building. The issue? I haven’t been attending math class.

As far as I know, this is the only so-called “recurring” dream I’ve ever had. Of course, there’s no way to know for sure — most of the dreams I’ve ever had were forgotten the instant I opened my sleep-encrusted eyes (especially the days when I woke up with a morning wood that demanded my immediate and unwavering attention).

Now if I were to tell you I’ve been having a dream where I’m a kid again and I don’t have to attend math class, you’d likely think it was the greatest dream ever conceived — unless you happen to be math prodigy Terence Tao, in which case the prospect of missing calculus would be an unthinkable hellscape.

I’m currently reading Chuck Klosterman’s But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past, a thoroughly thought-provoking book about how history is shaped and how the things we take as true today will almost certainly be viewed as wrong by future generations.

In it, Klosterman writes that “[t]he psychedelic weirdness of dreaming can be explained by the brain’s topography: The part of your mind that controls emotions (the limbic system) is highly active during dreams, while the part that controls logic (the prefrontal cortex) stays dormant. This is why a dream can feel intense and terrifying, even if what you’re seeing within that dream wouldn’t sound scary if described to someone else.”

This seems to explain why when I tell you about a dream that was highly stressful to me subjectively, you can’t objectively grasp why that would be the case. So you didn’t go to math class, what’s the big deal?

Anyway, the feeling I have while in this particular dream is this: It’s late in the semester and I haven’t gone to math class a single time. However, and this is where the dream’s disturbing nature comes in, due to some kind of administrative glitch no one has noticed my serial absence. I’m fully getting away with skipping algebra lectures (which, now that I say it aloud, sounds more like a wet-dream than a nightmare).

Precisely what makes this dream so intense and uncomfortable is twofold: 1) I’m killing it in my other classes — straight As presumably — and my teachers all consider me to be more of a peer than a student (in other words, I have a lot to lose); and 2) I (meaning my dream-self) am carrying a mental certainty that the ruse will inevitably be discovered at which point I’ll either be failed unceremoniously or summarily executed by firing squad, depending on how seriously the people of my dream universe take the proper execution of PEMDAS. 

Here’s what I find so interesting about this dream. Growing up, I neither loved nor hated math. So it would be wrong to say that I’m having a dream about missing math class because in real life I always wished I could and my subconscious has constructed a scenario where I get to freely avoid the thing I hate.

But it would also be a misinterpretation to say that the dream is highly uncomfortable because I loved math class and missing out on it has created a low-level anxiety in the mind of my dream-self.

Maybe this dream is about responsibility and how the failure to uphold our responsibilities weighs on the mind. Dream Me doesn’t feel anxious because he’s missing something he enjoys, he feels anxious because he’s missing something that “needs” to be done regardless of whether he enjoys it.

This dream might actually be a result of something that happened to me in junior high. In the 8th grade I enrolled in Honors Algebra II. Most students didn’t take Algebra II until 9th grade, but I was a little ahead of the curve so I got an early crack at it. And let me tell you, it couldn’t have gone worse. I failed the class miserably and had to retake it the following year.

Now I didn’t fail because I never attended class, but this might as well have been the case. Although I was physically present (attendance being just about the only points I accrued that year), I wasn’t actually there in any real sense.

Perhaps my recurring dream is some sort of residual anxiety about not doing my math homework in the 8th grade, something that had almost zero consequence until the moment it had severe consequences — having to sit out baseball games, having to explain to my parents a report card that went A, A, A, A, F, and subsequently having to retake a class I enjoyed about as much as Hitler would have enjoyed going to Temple.

Or maybe my dream as I’ve described it here never actually happened, and because of my real-life experience in the 8th grade, I’m unconsciously basing my take on the dream on something that really did happen. Or maybe Chuck Klosterman is just in my head and I’ve become momentarily convinced that nothing we think is factual about the past is actually true (including the fairly lucid dream I had less than 24 hours ago).

What’s interesting is how my subconscious brain took this real event and made it a bit more (or, depending on your sense of drama, less) dramatic for my dreams by making it so I didn’t show up to class at all (rather than taking my seat every day and proceeding to daydream about Lindsey Wilson’s suddenly bosomy chest for an hour straight.)

By the way, how can any 8th grade boy reasonably be expected to focus on the quadratic formula with girls literally becoming women all around him? It’s like asking someone to study the water temperature in the Playboy mansion grotto. That’s right, I blame boobs for my failing algebra in the 8th grade.

I wonder if the inverse ever happens; did one of my female classmates fail biology because she couldn’t stop thinking about my recently dropped testicles? If so, consider this essay my formal apology to that poor (but not unreasonable) girl.

This Boobs Were To Blame interpretation would certainly satisfy old Freud, who thought everything we did (or didn’t do) could be inextricably linked back to sex. Jung might say that my dream is a result of the fairly universal human hatred of math and the connection I share with all those living and dead who have ever dreaded being called to the front of the class to solve for x.

Either way, the next time I have this recurring dream I really hope they finally catch on so I can be punished for skipping an entire semester of math and move on to more important things — like trying to get Lindsey Wilson to finally flash me her breasts. Because that sounds like a dream worth having.

Football is the Opium of the People

The following essay expresses respect for Karl Marx and disdain for the sport of football, not exactly common positions in today’s America, where socialism is about as popular as onion-flavored gum and Tom Brady could probably be elected emperor for life. I hope you’ll read the essay though before using it as toilet paper; but if not I fully understand. 

I suspect that everything Karl Marx said about religion could be said of football in modern day America. Football is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the American people.

As to not lose our minds in reaction to the state of our world, we (as individuals, but also as a collective) require illusions. And these illusions (year-round sporting events, for instance) distract us from facing the conditions of our world and making efforts to improve upon them.

This is my thesis: That football is bad for us; that it consumes so much of our time and energy that we don’t have enough leftover for things that actually matter, like voting and understanding politics and history (and reading this blog).

In his (ridiculously-titled) book A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843), Marx wrote that “Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering.” I would assert that suffering as a sports fan (buying Browns season tickets after a 1-15 season) is actually the manifestation of our suffering as human beings.

In other words, we don’t actually care about the Cleveland Browns; we’re just so damn miserable that we behave as though we do. The spectacle of football in America — on both the collegiate and professional level — is our favorite method of escape. It acts, as Marx might put it, as a narcotic. And that narcotic is consumed on a massive scale. More than 110 million people watched the Superbowl last Sunday. That means fully 1/3 of our country was, for a period of about four hours, completely checked out. Does this make anyone else uncomfortable, or is it just me?

“To call on [people] to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions,” Marx said. Our condition (the way we live, the way we struggle for justice in the world) requires illusions because the truth of it is often too much to handle.

But if we stopped lying to ourselves, we would stop needing to lie to ourselves. If we faced harsh realities, we could change those harsh realities and we’d no longer need to refuse to face them (because they’d no longer exist, because we improved them).

I realize this all sounds very tautological and circuitous, but blame Marx, not me. This is basically just a fancy way of saying that yes, ignorance is bliss, but it’s no way to live.

Football in today’s America serves as the ultimate preservation of the status quo, like a dam that stops water from flowing. It serves the same purpose as the Gladiatorial games did in Ancient Rome, where the emperor of the day would put on elaborate competitions in stadiums filled with the poor and working class. 

The events were spectacles of violence and brutality, in which the strongest and most fearless men in the society risked their lives for the entertainment of others. These were often men who came from very little means — men who could do things with their bodies regular folks could hardly fathom.

When the spectacle was insufficiently entertaining — when the lower classes started to become restless — even more elaborate events were put on. I’m thinking here of when the emperors would fill the Colosseum with water and stage mock sea-battles with actual ships. Stadiums were reconstructed to house more and more spectators, all so guys like Caligula could keep fucking their sister and slaughtering farm animals.

When I think about last week’s Superbowl LI (we even use roman numerals to delineate the game), I wonder what the opportunity cost might be. Would a man like Donald Trump have been elected to the most powerful position on Earth if fewer people loved watching football?

This argument isn’t very conventional, but that doesn’t make it wrong. If you accept the fact that Americans aren’t civically engaged enough, and that time and energy are finite resources, then it becomes harder to argue that football is an exclusively good thing.

One thing we learn from the Daenerys Targaryen story line on Game of Thrones is that the masses will become restless if they do not have violent entertainment to keep them docile and subservient. And, from Dany’s perspective, this is a highly dangerous prospect that could potentially threaten her status as ruler.

Recall the character Hizdahr zo Loraq, the gold-dress-wearing pro-slavery twat from the city of Meereen who convinced Dani in Season 5 that she needed to bring back “the fighting pits,” lest the lower classes become restless and seek to challenge her status as Khaleesi. It was an argument for tradition, but it was also an argument for preserving the status quo — an argument based on keeping everyone right where they were.

Well, it’s the exact same thing in 21st century America. If we didn’t have our “fighting pits” we’d probably direct more of our attention and energy to how exactly the ruling class operates and whether that modus operandi benefits us, the non-ruling class. The fighting pits keep everyone — both rich and poor — right where they are, frozen in their current condition within society at large.

In his essay “The Coming Revolt of the Guards” (featured in his book The People’s History of the United States), Howard Zinn writes the following:

“One percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. The rest of the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the 99 percent against one another: small property owners against the propertyless, black against white, native-born against foreign-born, intellectuals and professionals against the uneducated and unskilled. These groups have resented one another and warred against one another with such vehemence and violence as to obscure their common position as sharers of leftovers in a very wealthy country.”

But I would add another kind of needless rivalry among the 99 percent: Bengals vs Browns, Patriots vs Jets, Steelers vs Ravens, Raiders vs Niners. These are meaningless divisions that have the highly meaningful effect of obscuring our “common position as sharers of leftovers in a very wealthy country.”

In fact, one might argue that, because most people are apolitcal (and the divisions Zinn outlines are overtly political), it is our constructed rivalries as sports fans that are the most consequential in terms of arbitrarily dividing us; that do the most work in keeping us from making realizations about our society that would disfavor the wealthy and the powerful.

With all that said, feel free to now use this pro-Marx anti-football essay as toilet paper. At least that way I’ll know it was useful.

Why I’m a Republican

I’m a Republican because I don’t think clean air and clean water are fundamental aspects of human life. If a business can make a profit, then it should — regardless of any effect on the “environment.” When I say I’m a free market capitalist, I mean that the market, and those who operate within it, should have the freedom to do whatever the hell they want.

I’m a Republican because I don’t think the doctrine of murder applies to police officers. If a cop fires his weapon into the back of a fleeing 50 year old man from South Carolina, then I will automatically give that officer the benefit of the doubt. Nuance, in other words, is unnecessary. If an officer discharges his weapon, he had cause to do so. And that cause is never because he’s a racist or because he’s poorly trained or because he’s a sadist who used to get bullied in junior high and now seeks to exact retroactive and very abstract retribution for the mistreatment he once received.

I’m a Republican because my conception of freedom includes the right to own as many firearms as I want and no so-called “body count” — no matter how high — will change that view. In other words, if a magic wand could be waived, reducing all guns to ash and resulting in 0 gun deaths per year I would not waive that wand because it would also mean I could no longer go hunting. And preserving my favorite hobby is far more important than saving the lives of people I don’t know and will never meet.

I’m a Republican because I believe in textual originalism and because conservative judge Richard Posner was wrong when he characterized the majority opinion in Heller v. District of Columbia as politically motivated “judicial activism.” He was wrong when he pointed out that Antonin Scalia, that great proponent of originalism, had contradicted his stated and supposedly deeply held judicial principles by reading into the Second Amendment rights that were not explicitly stated in its language.

I’m a Republican because, honestly, I don’t care if climate change is real or not so you can go ahead and end that debate now. From everything I’ve seen on the matter, no major changes will be felt for decades, maybe even centuries. To put it simply, I wont be alive when the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan and the things we fear most about climate change come to fruition. Asking me not to drive a Hummer while I’m alive so that the weather will be nicer when I’m not is ludicrous and, frankly, offensive to my intelligence and my right to be awesome.

I’m a Republican because I don’t accept the underlying premise of government assistance programs. The relevant assumption is that there are people in America who are in bad life situations to no fault of their own. In my view, if someone is in need, if they lack requisite resources, it is their own fault and thus they do not deserve the assistance of those who do work hard, those who have decided to take advantage of the endless opportunities this great nation provides. I’m a Republican because empathy — even for food-insecure children — is a liberal man’s game.

I’m a Republican because, although I proclaim to love the Constitution of the United States, there are aspects of it I resent. For instance, Christian prayer should absolutely be allowed in schools and the institution of marriage should absolutely be limited in its availability.

I’m a Republican because I think Ronald Reagan was the greatest president this country has ever known and if we weren’t so hostile to religion we could finally recognize him as the saint he so clearly was. He showed strength when he refused to hear the mealy-mouthed complaints of those stricken by HIV and AIDS. It’s not a president’s job to show initiative during a health crisis. Presidents should focus primarily on making the rich richer, as Reagan did with every fiber of his borderline senile being. I also don’t understand the fuss around an administration that agreed to illegally sell arms to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages. Negotiating with terrorists is only bad when the boys we send to do it are wearing blue. I also can’t fathom why it’s such a big deal to use the profits from selling arms to Iran to fund militia forces in the country of Nicaragua. Admittedly, I don’t know much about arms embargoes and the so-called Boland Amendment, but I imagine they are little more than liberal created schemes to curtail the freedom of God-fearing folks everywhere. Communism is a scourge, and every effort to stop its spread should be undertaken, no matter the cost.

I’m a Republican because “Reaganomics” (aka supply-side economics aka voo-doo economics) is the best fiscal policy since the advent of currency itself. Corporations raking in record-breaking profits is good for the little man; and if it’s not good for the little man then maybe the little man should, I don’t know, eat more spinach or something. I’m a Republican because “income inequality” is a figment of the liberal imagination, the only strength of which is as an example of pretty stellar alliteration. Reagan’s transfer of wealth from the lower classes to the American aristocracy was a thing of beauty, on par with Beethoven’s best symphony and Twain’s wittiest scribblings.

I’m a Republican because I believe regulations are bad for business and that Wall Street, despite its unique ability to completely dismantle the global economy, should be as unfettered as possible. I’m a Republican because I don’t think there’s anything unethical about banks operating as both commercial entities and investment entities. I also find no problem with financial institutions lying to their own clients and betting against the advice they give out. People should be smarter than that. They should be precisely schooled on the technical nuances of monetary policy in order to shield against the rampant greed of those they’re supposed to be able to trust. In other words, fiduciary smulooshinary. Ever heard of a little guy named Darwin? Not that I believe in evolution or anything, but ‘survival of the fittest’ is a thoroughly sound policy to integrate into society at large.

I’m a Republican because I believe unions are an archaic holdover from a past unworthy of revisiting. If employees don’t like the way their employers are behaving, they should find a new gig (and maybe not let the door hit them in the vagina on the way out). If you aren’t willing to work in harsh conditions, can it really be said that you’re willing to work at all?

I’m a Republican because I don’t believe there’s any such thing as too much defense spending. Arguments that America’s military is as big as the next 8 or 10 countries combined are without merit, meaningless spats of rhetoric that add little to modern-day discourse. I’m a Republican because I think we should reduce government spending (drown it in a bathtub as my close personal friend Grover Norquist would say). But that discussion doesn’t touch or concern what we shell out for Goliath aircraft carriers or military bases in places like Germany. One never does know: The next Hitler could be Mien Kampfing it up in some German jail cell as we speak.

And finally, I’m a Republican because our mascot is just better. A donkey? Really? What jackass president originated that? Also, have I mentioned how much I adore Andrew Jackson?

A Short History of American Assassination

In case anyone has forgotten this little nugget of American political truth, four presidents — our best one, our best-looking one, and two that most people have probably never even heard of — have been assassinated by a gunman’s bullet. Considering there have only been 44 — yes, 44 — commanders in chief, this means that 9% of our presidents have been assassinated. Not exactly a great track record.

But in truth, we’re lucky the number isn’t even higher. It could easily be ten or twelve assassinated presidents if certain events throughout American history had gone down just a bit differently.

In 1835, for instance, Andrew Jackson got lucky that guns occasionally misfire when a guy named Richard, with pistols in both hands like he was Neo from The Matrix, tried to murder Jackson on the steps of the Capitol Building. In a stroke of luck that rivals Marc Antony getting to marry J-Lo, both guns misfired and allowed the 68 year old President to subdue the would-be assassin with his walking cane. This event is the origin of calling a person a ‘dick’ if he acts like a jerk, and the image of the angry old man shaking his cane at misbehaving “youngsters.”

An October 1909 plot against William Howard Taft was barely foiled by the head of Taft’s secret service and a Texas Ranger (named C.R. Moore, which I’m pretty sure was just an alias for Chuck Norris) when the two men wrestled a pistol from the would-be assassin just feet away from Taft (had the gunmen gotten a shot off, there’s no chance in hell he would have missed his 300 pound target).

In 1912, shortly before a campaign speech in Milwaukee, Ted Roosevelt was shot in the chest by his stalker, a hyper-religious and lovesick man who believed ghosts spoke to him and was thirsty for the eventual 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (he really really didn’t want Roosevelt to win a third term).

The bullet was slowed down by Roosevelt’s metal glasses-case, which (probably) prompted playful headlines like “For TR, Being a Nerd Pays Off,” and  Roosevelt then finished his 90 minute speech. With a bullet. In his rib cage. Me on the other hand, I once called in sick after stubbing a toe.

The mayor of Chicago and (at least) two civilians were shot in an attempt on FDR that took place in Miami, Florida, the day after Valentine’s Day 1933. The gunman, Giuseppe Zangara, was convicted of two murders and executed a month later. Justice in 1930s America was apparently swift. The case basically creates the concept of Death Row (and of dragging shit out as much as possible in our criminal justice system).

On November 1, 1950, several White House policemen were wounded by two Puerto Rican activists who wanted to put a bullet in Harry Truman’s ear (probably for his stance on the designated-hitter).

In April of 1972, adequate security stopped Arthur Bremer, who had his sights on Dick Nixon. A few weeks later, George Wallace would not be so lucky. 

“It is my personal plan to assassinate by pistol either Richard Nixon or George Wallace. I intend to shoot one or the other while he attends a campaign rally for the Wisconsin Primary.” — the diary of 22 year old virgin Arthur Herman Bremer.

In 1975, two women (an FBI informant who was obsessed with the kidnapping of Patty Hearst and a Charles Manson follower nicknamed ‘Squeaky’) tried to shoot Gerald Ford within a three-week period in California.

Friends of mine who are Ohio State football fans would, at this juncture, wish for me to say ‘Fuck Michigan.’ But apparently it’s Californians who hate Michigan football the most. Unless it was something not related to college football that upset them so. But that’s a big unless. It was definitely probably because he played for Michigan.

Speaking of Ohio, a mentally ill drifter from the Buckeye state once brought a gun full of blanks to a Jimmy Carter speech in Los Angeles on May 5, 1979. It has been said that Alabama ‘brought a gun full of blanks’ to the Sugar Bowl in last year’s national semifinal game.

In 1981, Ronnie Reagan was shot by a guy who was apparently extremely upset about what happened to Jodie Foster in The Accused

I’ve got it! I’ll kill the President of the United States. That way, Jodie Foster will hear about it and want to be my girlfriend. — John Hinckley, Jr., probably.

A suicidal gunman fired a semi-automatic rifle at the Clinton White House in October of ’94. Three tourists tackled the guy before he could fire his thirtieth (!) round. Those tourists were rumored to inspire the three American heroes who recently thwarted a gunman on a train from Amsterdam to France. They hung their posters on the wall like they were Van Damme and Seagal, and vowed to one day kick the shit out of a man with a gun.

A pair of white supremacists from Tennessee (of course they were from Tennessee) and a guy who believed Barack Obama was the Antichrist tried to shoot our 44th president in separate gun-related plots. Had they succeeded, people who are pro-gun would not have budged an inch, especially those from Tennessee.

Of course, presidents aren’t the only men who have been the target of odd assassination attempts. At the age of 40, John Lennon was shot four times on the streets of New York by a guy he’d given an autograph to just hours earlier. While a hotel concierge named Jay attempted to stop the profuse bleeding in Lennon’s torso, Mark David Chapman sat down calmly on the sidewalk and awaited the arrival of police. On his person was a copy of JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.” — Holden Caulfield

In the summer of 1968, United States Senator Robert Kennedy was shot dead by a guy whose last name was the same as his first (which somehow makes the whole thing even more aggravating and tragic). In his bid for the Democratic nomination in ’68, Kennedy won four state primaries — Indiana, Nebraska, South Dakota, and California — and the DC primary.

Sirhan Sirhan lay in wait beside an ice machine, fingering his revolver as his target headed for the hotel’s back exit. When Kennedy stopped to shake hands with kitchen staff, Sirhan fired multiple shots. An FBI Agent, George Plimpton, an Olympic gold medalist, and Kennedy’s bodyguard, former defensive tackle for the LA Rams Rosey Grier, forcibly subdued the shooter. As Kennedy lie dying on the floor of a hotel kitchen, a gun-wound in the back of his head, a 17 year old busboy named Juan knelt beside him.

This of course came just two months after civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down while standing on the balcony of the cheap motel he was staying at. This happened shortly after King and his associates engaged in a pillow fight in their room (a true story), which makes his death the saddest thing that’s probably ever happened (other than the night I lost my virginity, an event that made all involved parties cry for an entire week straight).

On Joe Lunardi

As far as I’m concerned the only good thing about the frigid month of February, other than its brevity and Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, is that it’s the month before March Madness. That’s right I said it. Valentine’s day can suck it. Unless my future girlfriend and/or wife happens to love Valentine’s day in which case IT STILL FUCKING SUCKS BECAUSE VALENTINE’S DAY FUCKING SUCKS.

However, March Madness (the best sporting event in America not called a hot dog eating contest) is not without flaw. And I’m not talking about the fact that your girlfriend’s bracket will inevitably win your pool even though she once asked you if an offensive foul was when one player said something offensive to another player. Or the fact that she insists “The Final Four” refers to the remaining contestants on the Bachelor. No, I’m talking about ESPN’s Resident Bracketologist Joe Lunardi, March Madness’s biggest flaw and the single worst thing about college basketball.

Each year around this time, ESPN brings us seemingly endless updates on Joe Lunardi’s precious bracket. And the madness seems to start earlier and earlier every year. As early as last week, Lunardi was already telling ESPN viewers that Syracuse shouldn’t be in this year’s tournament. He said the same last year, when Syracuse ended up in the Final Four that doesn’t involve hooking up on national TV to win a measly rose. I doubt Lunardi can get a table anywhere near New York.

Lunardi is like a human fart cloud. He arrives suddenly, as if from a dank and dark hole, changes the environment with his stench, and then dissipates into thin air, leaving those who remain to deal with his disgusting presence.

Joe Lunardi Professional Bracketologist is a position that simply should not exist; that it does evidences how cynical we can be. Constantly speculating, on national television, about which groups of boys get to see their dream come true and which do not is exploitative, masturbatory, and highly obnoxious in its Lunardian execution. The way Lunardi is advertised and regarded as some sort of prophet giving us information directly from a deity — information we’d never otherwise be privy to. I don’t know about you guys, but I prefer my prophets not to wear turtlenecks.

Joe Lunardi Professional Bracketologist is a byproduct of the worst aspects of our culture. Namely The Monetization of Everything, including stuff that should be left unmolested by the forces of greed and profit — like the playing careers of amateur athletes. 

Every year some half dozen (or more) college teams — collections of 19 and 20 year olds — grind through a long basketball season (grueling practices, nagging injuries, hotels in wintry cities that are not their own) only to be placed, at the conclusion of said grind, on the so-called Bubble by a man who looks like a sausage in a sweater (and whom I’d bet large sums of cash couldn’t jump over his own iphone). According to Patchouli Joe, these teams are, for various very clever and even technical reasons, unqualified for further participation in the sport they love, the sport they play without monetary reward.

And I say “even technical” because, honestly, who cares? Who gives a happy horse shit if the NCAA bracket can be predicted a couple weeks before we find out what it actually is? Who does this benefit, other than Lunardi and his pizza-greased palms?

It would be like if I happened upon a pickup game on the streets of Columbus and was paid by a powerful corporate entity to make a list — constantly changing and more useless than a Color Me Badd reunion tour — of who I thought the best players on the court were. Even worse, my trivial rankings (because even if they’re “correct” they’re trivial) might even affect which players got to keep playing. In other words, who the hell am I?

Has anyone ever bothered to ask if the people who create the actual NCAA tournament bracket watch ESPN? Do they see Joe Lunardi spewing his predictions for the tournament on a seemingly daily basis? Are they (consciously or unconsciously) persuaded by this? It’s the same reason we don’t let jurors watch television coverage of the case they’re on; because that coverage will inevitably include speculation on what the outcome should and might be. And when people hear opinions — especially those delivered on fancy sets with fancy technology — they tend to have their minds made up for them. This is especially noxious when a group of people have been assembled for the precise reason of coming to their own unbiased conclusions. Is anyone stopping the selection committee from poisoning their minds on Joe Lunardi prediction segments? Did Joe Lunardi predict the entire field in 2013, or did his predictions help determine it?

Never in the history of employment has there been a person less deserving of the position he holds. And I say this in the direct wake of Rick Perry becoming the United States Energy Secretary (a task that includes overseeing the largest nuclear arsenal in the history of mankind). And I don’t mean that he’s not “good” at it. I mean that he doesn’t deserve to have a position where he’s famous and rich and treated as some kind of Nostradamus. The only thing Joe Lunardi is an expert on is being able to fit a fat head through a tiny turtleneck hole. 

Too often we forget that college athletes are unpaid amateurs, and this classification ought to exclude them from some media-based posturing that is more suitable to adults receiving paychecks. Most, if not all, of the senior athletes being placed on Bubbles and First Out Lists will never play the game again. Does anyone honestly believe Joe Lunardi has an appropriate amount of sensitivity for this reality? By trotting out Lunardi every year to fart and burp and scratch about which teams are deserving of a spot in the post-season, ESPN is being overly capricious with the playing careers of amateur athletes. Deciding who gets to play in the NCAA Tournament should be done only by a committee of unknowns who don’t appear on television for a living and who fully appreciate the magnitude of what it is they’re doing. Not some fast-talking chode who’s just trying to pad his own resume as a “Bracketologist.”

This is to say nothing of the self-regarding and obnoxious persona of Mr. Lunardi, who will reliably whine (on the airwaves provided by ESPN) if the selection committee doesn’t exactly see it his way. This self-pitying article makes it pretty clear Lunardi cares more about his picks being validated than he does about the careers — and lives — of those he’s judging.

There are few feelings like the one that envelops a college athlete the moment his long career ends. To play basketball from the time you can walk until the culmination of a senior year that’s made walking difficult through aching knees and bum ankles. To give every fiber of your being to the sport — from shooting in badly paved driveways to AAU trips to Vegas to playing in dusty high school gyms to sacrificing a normal college experience (and all the pizza, parties, and Xbox that that entails) to competing on a level most cannot begin to comprehend — only to have a corny twat in a turtleneck tell you that you don’t pass muster. It’s a fucking travesty, and Joe Lunardi and the ESPN suits who enable his hogwash should be ashamed. Let the kids play. And let them do so without having to wade through the fart cloud that is Joe Lunardi.

The Godless Father

When my big sister asked me to be Godfather to her third child l knew I had an existential decision on my hands. For most people – those who don’t describe themselves as “an atheist more militant than Dick Cheney with a hard-on” – being asked to be a Godparent is an honor they wouldn’t hesitate to accept. But for me, someone who would rather hear DMX commentate a monster truck rally than listen to a religious sermon, the request posed quite the conundrum: Do I stand by my deeply-held principles or do I betray them in order to support a loved one?

The last time I was faced with such a dilemma I opted for the former and decided to continue my longtime boycott of taking out the trash rather than help my mom clean up the kitchen.

The reason my sister didn’t ask for her first two children was because she knew my atheism ran deep and figured I’d be uninterested in acquiring a title with the word God in it (unless, that is, the world was finally prepared to refer to me as The Goddamn Man, a nickname I think I’ve earned). She also knew that merely contemplating fatherhood made me sweat in really weird places. 

But now she was out of options, had exhausted her short list of potential godparents, and was desperate enough to ask her heathen-of-a-brother for a solid. It was a bit like when the boys of The Sandlot let Scotty Smalls play left field even though he didn’t know Babe Ruth was a man – because there was simply no one else available.

I told my sister I’d have to think it over and went to weighing the pros and cons.

I first had to admit that I actually liked the idea of being called “The Godfather.” I once tried to get my high school girlfriend to refer to me as such during dirty talk, but it made her laugh so hard we had to stop having sex altogether. Apparently my ability as a lover was not as God-like as I once thought.

It was also fitting because, since a young age, I’d been in the habit of making people offers they couldn’t refuse. Like in the 5th grade when I told Ben Harding that he could either lend me his rad bicycle for the weekend or I’d tell everyone in school how he liked to eat his own boogs. Or when I gave my neighbor Brian Baldini the option of selling me his Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card or being served a delicious knuckle-sandwich. (Baldini made the wrong choice and walked around for the next month with a black eye and a fat lip.)

On the debit side of the ledger would be the idea of professing to a room full of people (and a bunch of old men in funny costumes) that I believed there was a benevolent entity in the sky who looked over humanity and monitored our every move, even though I actually thought there was a better chance Ryan Lochte would win a MacArthur genius award.

As most atheists admit, it’s certainly possible that there’s a God. Though it’s also possible eating Taco Bell every day won’t clog your arteries and having sex with prostitutes named Monica Motor Oil won’t give you herpes.

With this prospect in mind I had to wonder if a powerful deity I’d enthusiastically denounced might take offense to my presence in a place of his worship. The New York Knicks’ greatest enemy, Michael Jordan, got booed every time he walked into The Garden. (And yes: I like to think of myself as the Michael Jordan of atheism, and have seriously considered adding this to my resume.) Was heckling allowed in church? Would the fundamentalists throw their nachos at me? Was it possible my shorts would burst into flames the second I landed in a pew? Are you allowed to wear shorts in church? Did God hear me call him “the greatest terrorist of all” that time I debated religion with a bunch of strangers on facebook? Would he punish me by making me lose control of my bladder in front of the entire congregation? Does God have a sense of humor? Does he think bodily functions are funny? I assume he must. He is the inventor of the fart after all.

After giving it proper consideration I told my sister I was in. I’d be her son’s Godfather under two conditions. First, and most importantly, I would henceforth be known as The Godless Father (to remind folks of my true metaphysical position and because I’m pretty sure my family would murder me in my sleep if I didn’t stop doing Marlon Brando impersonations in public places).

And secondly, despite the lies I was willing to tell the priest running the baptism, if I were ever actually in a position of raising the poor child, I’d be free to tell him that it was perfectly fine to question the claims made by Catholicism – especially those having to do with virgin births because I think it’s important for young men to know that conception is never immaculate (nor is it supposed to be ;)) and should always be treated with respect. Conception is a bit like jumping out of an airplane: before “letting go” one should consider all possible (and life-altering and bloody) consequences.

In the end, the decision was actually pretty easy. My being a brother and uncle is more important than my being a person who doesn’t buy everything he’s pitched. I couldn’t in good conscience tell my sister no; or, for that matter, my cute little baby nephew, who, like Bruce Willis in Look Who’s Talking, is somehow able to speak and would surely have told me to kiss his very pampered buttocks if I denied his mother’s request. Besides, people go their entire lives pretending there’s a God. I suppose I could it pull off for a few hours.

On the big day, I donned my nicest attire (and by “nicest attire” I mean the dress shirt I owned with the least amount of food stains on it) and prepared to lie my ass off to a priest. How does one prepare to lie to a priest, you might ask? Well, it’s actually similar to preparing to play the game of football. 1) Smear eye-black on cheeks 2) pull on jock-strap 3) inject forearms with animal tranquilizers and 4) convince yourself that it’s a perfectly safe endeavor and you’ll make it out alive as long as you stay away from dudes who like to punch young boys in the crotch.

In a way, my being an atheist made this prospect much easier. I have no problem telling a few lies to a priest if it’ll make my sister happy because, in my view, there is exactly nothing special about priests. They are just people, and churches are just buildings, and the Bible is just a book. Which makes lying to a priest no different than lying to the salesman at Barnes and Noble who asked me if 50 Shades of Grey was my favorite novel.

Because I don’t make a habit of wasting my weekends in a church (because they don’t let you bring booze and weed) I made sure to pay close attention to the service. Most folks had probably heard it all before and were only there for the attendance points (which makes church a lot like boring college classes that you think might actually make you stupider if you listen too closely).

In fact, I’d bet that no one was paying more attention than me; most people were either playing on their phones or corralling incorrigible children or asking each other if they remembered to set the DVR or just sitting in a sort of general space-out that consisted of a lot of neck cracks and barely veiled sighing. The priest could have called for a genocide of the world’s entire population of baby kittens and I’m not sure anyone would have noticed.

Church is a place where daydreams are truly perfected.

Mostly the priest rambled on about the resurrection, which Catholics seem to be particularly obsessed with. It makes some sense though; most people are desperate to believe that death isn’t the end, which is why they worship a man who purportedly proved that it isn’t. Although it might be noted that the people who served as “eyewitnesses” to the “event” were a bunch of illiterate women who probably had so much sand in their eyes they couldn’t see past their own noses.

The priest told everyone listening that they should love God above all else, which I find entirely impractical. I mean, is this admonition supposed to include pizza rolls? What about morning sex? Surely this priest doesn’t expect me to love God more than naked women and Italian food.

This is my big problem with religion: It’s incredibly self-deceiving. Love thy neighbor? You mean the one who insists on playing Insane Clown Posse until four in the morning? Who cooks really weird Indian food, the stench of which seeps straight through the walls? Who drives a supped-up Honda Civic which he apparently believes necessitates not one but two parking spaces at all times. You mean that neighbor?!

Jesus clearly never lived in an apartment building.

Probably the oddest segment of the service was when a middle-aged white couple, who I first took to be professional Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar impersonators (which, for all this atheist knows, is something that happens in church), took to the lectern to tell the assembly, in truly jarring detail, about their once-failing marriage, and how counseling and the power of prayer helped save it. It was basically a 20 minute infomercial on how talking to an imaginary friend can help you move past your husband’s infidelities. But is this really appropriate commentary for children to be hearing? Is of this stuff appropriate for children to be hearing?

Most parents won’t let their kids watch an episode of Law and Order, but they’re perfectly fine drubbing them over the head on a weekly basis with a violent story about a bloody crucifixion, a reminder of which hovers ominously above the pews in the form of a Giant Crucified Christ, nails-through-the-hands-and-feet and all.

With that said, I bet Jesus would make a fine marriage counselor. You’d barely have to speak because he would instantly understand your woes (having heard it all before and already knowing exactly how you’d articulate it). Plus he’d always know if you’re wife was telling the truth when she said she never thought about giving Ted Byers, your son’s karate instructor, a blow job. And he’d surely possess other-worldly relationship advice (“Don’t go to bed angry…or without praying to ME!”). Though I do wonder if his open-toed shoes and dusty robe would make for appropriate office attire.

The priest then droned on and on about Jesus and his 12 homies apostles. One thing is certain: Jesus’ squad was deep (“out front of Four Seasons looking like a damn football team” all repping one thing . . . the divinity of Christ Almighty). I mean, how many people can claim they have not one but two close friends named James? I wonder if that ever got confusing? Did one have to go by Jim or James #2? Was the one who went by Jim jealous of the James Jesus clearly liked better?

In many ways, the 12 apostles were the original frat bros. I wonder what kind of initiation Jesus put them through. Did they have to drink themselves silly for an entire week and wash all his dirty socks? Did Jesus give them terrible nicknames and make them wear pink tank-tops in public?

I’ve always found Judas to be the most interesting apostle. The guy betrayed his best friend for a little bit of cash, which makes him a lot like that asshole who got Patrick Swayze killed in the film Ghost. Just like Jesus, Sam Wheat lived on in spirit and brought his betrayer to justice. Come to think of it, that entire film seems to be one big allegory about the story of Jesus’ death, with Whoopi Goldberg representing the very first Christians (who were certain they could communicate with a murdered man) and Demi Moore being those who were skeptical but were ultimately converted through the power of miracle.

Twelve has always been a significant number for me as well. It was the number I wore when I played little league, and also happens to be the number of women I’ve slept with. I’ve been stuck there for years because I have a serious case of triskaidekaphobia and will thus require a threesome for my next go-round so I can skip 13 and jump safely to 14. Any and all takers can reach me at 614-555-5555.

(This joke is such a gross overestimation that I can not let it go without disclaimer. I have not had sex with 12 women, unless we’re counting really affectionate plastic dolls.)

I also don’t understand the thing where everyone shakes hands with the people around them. Surely there’s a better way to foster feelings of community and brotherhood – at least during flu season. Yes, I would like peace to be with you, but I would also like your germs to be with you. A fist-bump would be much more sanitary. Or, you know, we could do that thing where you grab the other guy’s forearm like they used to do in Ancient Rome.

When the tithing baskets started to circulate my baby niece wanted to drop something in so I pulled a one dollar bill from my wallet and handed it over. She placed it in the basket and I felt a cold shiver envelop my entire body. I don’t always donate money to the Catholic church, but when I do I feel extremely uncomfortable about it.

In fully embracing my role as a one-day Catholic, I realized that I would make an incredible spy. I’d infiltrated an organization I loathe and no one was the wiser. In fact, I blended in better than a gay man at a Cher concert. I was even able to recall some of the prayers, which were apparently drubbed into my head adequately as a child, before I quit attending CCD classes. And when I say quit attending I of course mean that I got my parents to stop making me go by throwing tectonic-meltdown-level tantrums an hour before we were supposed to leave every week. I basically pummeled them into submission with my prodigy-like ability to be stubborn and emotional at the ripe age of 9, until I no longer had to do the thing I didn’t want to do. But I’m sure this will-power comes from the spirit of Jesus Christ, and not the fact that I’m a descendant of a bunch of screaming animals.

Once mass fiiinally ended, and all the snot-nosed riffraff vacated the premises, the baptism began with a series of inquiries from Father Willard, a jolly-looking fellow with grey hair and a belly that protruded gently from his green and white cassock:

Do you renounce Satan and all his empty promises?

Not if Satan really looks like Elizabeth Hurley I don’t, which according to the (surprisingly not Oscar-winning) film Bedazzled she does. I’d sell Satan my soul if she looked like Elizabeth Hurley. Hell I’d sell her my nephew’s soul if she looked like Elizabeth Hurley.

Do you believe in the God the Father, the almighty, the creator of heaven and earth?

Well, seeing as I have trouble making a turkey sandwich without getting mustard all over myself it’s a little hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea of someone successfully creating an entire earth. That the big man built Heaven isn’t quite as impressive. Just a bunch of empty air and clouds really. Maybe the occasional pearled gate.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?

Whoa. Talk about a loaded question. And coming from a complete stranger no less. I don’t even like telling the guy at CVS my phone number so I can get a discount on cheap wine and Cheetos, so discussing my thoughts on the most important matters of life and death with someone I’ve never met and have no reason to trust is a little difficult. I suppose I recognize that Jesus (or a man very much like him) did exist, but do I think he can read minds? I certainly hope not. At least not when I’m thinking about Reese Witherspoon and what color of panties she may or may not be wearing. Plus the only Mary I ever knew loved the ghetto D so I’m skeptical about the whole Immaculate Conception bit. And can we talk about how the idea of Jesus’ resurrection is basically the original zombie story. They killed the guy. They buried his body. Then he rose from the dead and when people noticed him they shrieked real loud. If Rick Grimes had lived in Jerusalem circa AD 30 he probably would have put a hatchet through Jesus’s skull.

I hope none of this constitutes blasphemy.

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

Again, highly loaded. I appreciate it as a time-saver though. Life is way too short to spend a bunch of time going through the motions of silly religious rituals just so you can say you did. As for the Holy Spirit – if I understand it correctly, and I think I do – it’s basically like God has crop-dusted everywhere and we’re all walking through it constantly. I believe that’s what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. The communion of saints might explain why I keep hearing the voice of my great-grandfather, a deceased Irishman named Liam, rattling on about how there’s never enough whiskey in the goddamn house. The forgiveness of sins, and the idea of The Scapegoat as a whole, is a) really macabre b) dark as hell c) super weird d) makes me uncomfortable and e) probably immoral.

A short list of sins I’ve committed that Jesus apparently needed to die for: 1) I once stole 32 cents off my sister’s dresser (that’s one quarter, a nickle, and two pennies). 2) Once, in the 4th grade, I sketched a cartoon God into one of my binders. He had a long white beard, sandals, and highly unflattering shin bones. Melanie Reznick told me it was a very bad thing and then ratted me out to the teacher. I’m sure she lives in a nunnery today. 3) I once said goddamn around fifty times in about three and a half minutes. It was the verbal aspect of my reaction to the Red Wedding. The physical aspect came later, when I cried for 2 hours straight and considered sending George R.R. Martin a death threat 4) I once thought that a Sunday morning was a Monday morning and accidentally drove all the way to work until I realized it was still the weekend and no one was there. 5) I once had sex on my parent’s bed, which wouldn’t have been too dishonorable if I had washed the sheets before they got home. But a Step by Step marathon was on that day and I forgot.

Is it your will that Kane be baptized in the faith of the Church, which we have all professed with you?

Not exactly. But it is my sister’s will, and she’s kind of a bad-ass so I don’t really want to cross her. Hey, cross her. Get it? Religious puns are my favorite kind.

My brother-in-law lowered his son’s head over the bird-bath of water and Father Willard drizzled some onto my nephew’s tiny face. Then he smudged some oil of the catechumen across his forehead in the shape of a cross and we all mumbled the Lord’s Prayer in unison.

(Which is actually a beautiful little poem. “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” is some really decent writing. Too bad we can’t just enjoy it as art, and have to pretend it’s more than what it is. Because if Jesus really did write this, then he’s not currently getting his due as a poet.)

Because my zany mother is technologically inept she actually asked Father Willard for a “re-do” so she could snap a proper photograph. The Father was a good sport about it and we all laughed about the fact that we couldn’t take our mother anywhere. This made my nephew’s baptism a bit like soldiers raising the American flag on Iwo Jima during WWII – redone and staged for the purpose of capturing the necessary photographic evidence.

And with that, my nephew was officially integrated into the Catholic Church (no longer had to worry about being stuck in purgatory, which seems a lot like being in line at the DMV, not sure if you’ve completed all necessary steps to get your goddamn license back). As for me, nothing I saw the day my nephew was baptized has made me rethink my views. If the next time I order a pizza Reese Witherspoon shows up with it wearing pink lingerie then I will admit that God exists. Until then I shall remain The Godless Father.

A Short Rejoinder on the Pee Trough

In the year 2017, there are certain things that simply should not exist. Twinkies, homophobia, and a Donald Trump Presidency being the examples that come most immediately to mind.

The pee trough is another. 

I’m not sure if women are even aware of this, but men, on occasion, still collectively urinate into a wall-to-wall metal trough that hangs waist high and accommodates between 8-15 men at any given time. The logic of the pee trough – to give you an idea of its basic essence – is the same as that of feeding hungry pigs. Mass availability prioritized over cleanliness.

To put it bluntly, the pee trough is an abomination, and it has no business in a civilized and polite society like the one we’re all pretending to have. I remember the last time I peed into a trough like it was a dark and horrifying nightmare that disturbed my sleep and then haunted my every waking moment.

The year was 2015. It was a late-August evening in Lancaster, Ohio, a picturesque little town slightly southeast of Columbus (the kind of place they set slasher films in). I was with two friends at an outdoor Blues Traveler concert imbibing 16 ounce cans of Natural Light and bopping along to the sweet sounds of John Popper and Co. Once my bladder could hold no more of the electric spirits I’d graced it with, I tentatively made my way to the trailers doubling as restrooms on the far south end of the park.

The scene I came upon was harrowing and grotesque, the kind of sight that imprints itself onto the spongy goo of your brain and can never be scraped away. Twenty-five grown men smashed into a space no larger than most dining rooms, half of them with dongs dangling in the stiff summer air, jockeying for position and eager to evacuate beer-filled bellies.

Burps and farts rang out like explosives, rattling the flimsy walls around us, and, seemingly, the very foundation of the trailer. The slicing sound of powerful streams crashed hard into the glistening metallic trough, some unfortunate amount ricocheting back toward the anxious crowd in disgusting spritz and flecks of bodily fluid.

Incrementally, inch by arduous inch, I moved toward it, as though I were being slightly nudged toward my own wicked demise. With each step, the wet smack of shoes sticking to the floor, the mindless drone of men holding bladders, the faces of desperate creatures contemplating physical violence to achieve their ends.

Alas, my time came, and I readied myself above the trough, a vat of human decrepitude that held a slight puddle of foamy urine not yet drained. The putrid scent of a hundred formulas mixing and coalescing – [gag] – ascended my nostrils, pushing my chin to my shoulder. I closed my eyes, held my breath and pushed my gut as hard as I could, feeling the concentrated death-stare of impatient concert-goers digging into the back of my head and doing my best to imagine a happier time.

“What’s the hold up?” one random voice said.

“More than two shakes counts as jerkin’ it,” another added.

“You fitna marry that pee trough, boy?” yet another shouted.

Although sans pitch forks, these men were very much a mob, and I feared what they might do if pushed far enough. I’m convinced the worst riots in history were exacerbated by the absence of bathrooms, instigated by the dearth of places to urinate in an orderly fashion.

I finished my business and anxiously zipped myself back up. Small drops of urine, those left unshaken in my desperate haste to remove myself from a waking nightmare, seeped into my boxers in annoying little stains of wetness. I shoved past the sturdy shoulders of men zombified by the intense and singular urge for urinary relief.

When I finally emerged from the trailer, delirious and confused, the pungent stench of urine now singed to my nose hair, I let out an exasperated breath like I’d just escaped a mustard-gassed trench. I tried hard to enjoy the rest of the concert, but couldn’t stop the images of peripheral penises and wobbly drunken men emitting their bodily fluids from trampling across my now unstable psyche.

When my friend, noticing the hazy gloss in my eyes, asked if I was okay, I told her I wasn’t sure. I’d experienced something terrible, and immediately fell into a post-traumatic stress that shook me to my very core. I felt violated, and yet somehow partially to blame for the barbarism I’d just endured. The playing of blues music has never been more fitting.

Believe it or not, the pee trough is the reason I don’t have children. I refuse to bring a son into a world that includes such perversity. To pluck an innocent soul from non-existence and drop him into a shoulder-to-shoulder line of farting and urinating men – I must be mad. We all must be mad.

The Rise of Political Hipsterism

The term ‘hipster’ is defined in contemporary American  culture as a person — usually a young person — who enjoys things (music, food, clothing) considered to be outside the social mainstream. It is often used in a pejorative manner to describe someone who exudes an air of superiority when discussing things like musical taste.

Regular Joe: “I really like Kings of Leon.”

Hipster Joe: [scoff]

Regular Joe: “Something the matter, Hipster Joe?”

Hipster Joe: “Kings of Leon? Really? You should listen to The Black Angels instead. Ever heard of them?”

But there is a new kind of hipsterism formulating within American culture at large. The 2016 presidential election, among the many things it did, gave way to the rise of political hipsterism.

A political hipster is someone who develops his personal politics primarily as a means of refuting current mainstream political views, and usually with the intent of advertising this stance to others. Because, in today’s world, what you are matters far less than what you seem to be.

It’s the same reason so many people take to the Internet to decry supposed acts of racism or sexism. They want to be seen doing so. It’s not really about curtailing discrimination, it’s about advertising themselves as someone who would curtail discrimination. With political hipsters, it’s not really about rejecting the status quo so much as it’s about advertising themselves as someone who rejects the status quo.

The worldview of a political hipster is highly contrived, created, as if, in a laboratory by a team of scientists who are always sure to keep a close eye on any current trends and tastes, making sure that nothing ultimately espoused could possibly be classified as “mainstream.”

Political hipsterism really came into view during and after the (what will surely be considered historical) 2016 Presidential Election, in the form of young American millennials refusing to support either of the mainstream candidates (opting instead for a third-party candidate with 0% chance of winning, or, even worse, not voting at all).

Political hipsters like the idea of others thinking of them as above the political fray and outside the mainstream of political thought; as being more enlightened than folks who would dane to support well-known, party-affiliated political candidates.

I don’t doubt that there were tens of thousands of young Americans who, despite knowing little about libertarian policy, publicly touted their support of Gary Johnson. Not because they appreciated Johnson’s tenuous grasp on policy (or reality for that matter), but because supporting Gary Johnson was, wait for it, the hip thing to do.

And why was it hip to support Gary Johnson for president? Simple: Because not that many people were, and doing so offered the opportunity for (highly confused) young Americans to advertise themselves as a unique non-conformist who wouldn’t be taken in by any politician who garnered mass appeal.

In fact, I don’t doubt that political hipsterism accounted for some of the support Bernie Sanders received during the primaries. Because it was hip for a young college-aged individual to dig on a 75 year old grey-haired curmudgeon who didn’t mind calling himself a socialist. There was a dynamic to the situation that was exclusively about the peculiar optics it presented, and which had very little to do with the merits of Bernie Sanders as a presidential candidate. 

But in the end, political hipsterism amounts to little more than political nihilism. The prima facie rejection of any person, idea, or movement who is deemed to be too much a part of the status quo is a highly untenable — not to mention ridiculous — position that offers no true guidance in making logical choices about who we support for office. Might we discount the next Abe Lincoln because he’s too popular?

Put simply, we (the American populace, but specifically Generation Y) cannot allow not voting to become a fashionable activity. Imagine every four years some contingent of Americans participating in political events and discussions merely to tell us that they won’t be participating.

Instead, we should shame folks who don’t vote, because that’s exactly what they deserve. I worry that the 2016 Presidential Election planted a seed of sorts. And that seed will blossom into an entire demographic of people who no longer view voting as essential or important or meaningful in any way, but as an act that a) betrays some higher level of enlightenment (feel free to imagine here the movement of a wrist mid-HJ) and b) proves one to be part of the problem of our society.

These inane, childish notions must be combated by adults who know that political progress is an ugly game of back-and-forth, not a dramatic scene at the end of a movie where everything grey turns green and no further work is required because, while we were sleeping, everything changed for the better.

As a generation, we can ill afford such political capriciousness. We should aim, rather, to be political realists — pragmatic, measured, and, most importantly, utilitarian. Choosing Hillary Clinton may not have been the hip thing to do — it presented little opportunity to advertise oneself as unique in any real way — but it was very likely the course of action that was best for the greatest number of people, and this should have made her the obvious choice.

Passing Clinton up because we were too busy advertising ourselves as non-conformists with interesting (rather than useful) political views is entirely unacceptable (See: The Donald Trump presidency). Generation Y has a great, but as of yet untapped power. We can dictate the political future of our country, we just have to care enough to do it.