Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hitting pay dirt at rock bottom

Today is March 31, which means (barring any left-field, last-minute development) that this is the first full month I have not worked since July 2006.

As many of you know, my last day with my previous employer was Feb. 10. I left on my own volition to move back to Louisiana, where I’ve made it a priority to reconnect with friends and family while seeking employment. Near the end of February, I nabbed some freelance work through a good friend. That, combined with a generous tax refund, has helped me get through the month (and most likely April as well) in good financial shape.

Good thing too, because that whole stereotype about unemployed people being lazy drains on society is not as true as I sometimes wish it was. If anything, I feel busier than ever. When I pulled night shifts in Springfield, I often spent my days cleaning/thinking about cleaning my apartment, taking leisurely walks, biking, writing or doing less than nothing. While I had many friends, I didn’t have much time for socializing.

These days, I tend to wake up shortly after dawn, do some writing and lots of e-mailing, search for jobs and frequently drive out of town to network and/or visit with friends. I often help with cleaning my parents’ house, because having four dogs is four dogs more than I’m used to. I run errands for myself and the family and I’m constantly bombarded with invitations to hang out. Except for the dog hair, it’s pretty much the balance I always wanted when I had my own place.

Also, my money’s stretching a lot farther than it did in Missouri. I hardly ever had this much money at one time when I was working. Lesson learned on that!

Of course, there are the expected drawbacks. I don’t currently have income or health insurance. As someone famous for liking his own space, I find sleeping in the living room of a house where four other people live to be an adjustment. Also, there are days like yesterday where I find myself with literally nothing to do (which is why you saw two blogs yesterday).

But overall, I feel better about my situation than I did the last time it happened. Before moving back, I had vowed to not be reclusive and to pursue things I had not been able to do within the confines of my last job. And I’ve done that. I’ve stayed busy writing, both here and elsewhere. I’ve stayed in shape through biking and vigorous Wii Fit sessions. I’ve actively pursued social opportunities. And in the process, opportunities have found me as well. I’m currently weighing several.

They say time flies when you’re having fun and a watched pot never boils. Between those two proverbs, it makes sense that it hasn’t felt like a month and a half. In a way, it’s felt like a couple of weeks. In other ways, it’s felt like a year. But what it hasn’t felt like is a miserable slog.

And can I ever tell you about a miserable slog! I couldn’t buy a job between October 2005 and July 2006. It certainly wasn’t from lack of trying. As many of the same people who had encouraged me drastically changed their tone, and friends began to drift away, I wondered why the whole world seemed to be deserting me. I often spent nights in my room uncontrollably pacing and bawling my eyes out. That’s an all-consuming feeling I hope never to channel for the rest of my life. (To say nothing of many of the blogs I wrote in that time period. Wow!)

Fortunately, it’s nothing like that this time. In fact, I feel quite happy and productive. There are plenty of pockets of suckitude, but it doesn’t feel hopeless.

I’m not sure what changed between then and now. Maybe it’s experience. Or confidence. Or that I’m spending my days doing things that make me feel productive. Whatever it is, I feel more fulfilled than I did at times when I was working.

It’s interesting how we as a society define productivity. Mainly, we define it by if and how someone makes money. If you take my current situation and add a paycheck, no one would argue that I have an active, fulfilling life. Without a steady job, though, some could attach a stigma to it. On the other hand, what if I stopped all of my hobbies and socializing and took a job doing repetitive and redundant grunt work? Even my work meant nothing and I went home to nothing, that would qualify as a success in some peoples’ eyes.

Americans like to talk about self-sufficiency, which I support 100 percent. But I think there are two types of people in America: those who enjoy making money and those who do it to get by. Plenty of both types abound, but I suspect there are much more of the second than the first. Almost everybody has or knows someone who has hung up their pursuits because they don’t pay the bills, and taken on full-time work that speaks to nothing of their interests and character. What does that do to a person over time?

I understand that other considerations come into play, mostly with regards to families and other obligations. (In that respect, I’m lucky. All I have is a car note that’s almost noted out.) And that for many people, raising kids and paying the bills is fulfilling enough. But I still find it interesting that, say, an artist who chucks the canvas for a drone job in data entry is more likely to earn respect with the bootstrap crowd. After all, now the dreamer is doing something with his life, right?

Conversely, aspiring entrepreneurs have it great in this country. Even if they fail, we appreciate them for taking the risk. They do success right, we’re told. A classic rebuttal to claims of a poor job market is, “Well, why don’t you start your own business?” My answer to that often is, “The same reason you shouldn’t be writing.” We all have different interests, abilities and resources. It just so happens that some interests are more lucrative than others, irrespective of the sacrifice and labor they require. I wish it weren’t that way. I don’t know what the answer is, or even if there is one.

Well, that’s one thing that never changes, job or not: I’m always having incomplete philosophical thoughts.

In any event, I’m looking forward, not backward. This attitude is probably the most important difference between the misery of 2006 and the hope of 2011. Oops, I had to look back to say that. OK, looking forward now. Bring it, life!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Interview with a humorless liberal

One of America’s most venerable stereotypes is that of the “humorless liberal,” that odd person who is too busy being indignant at the injustices of the world to have a sense of humor about anything. But as the politically incorrect often say, stereotypes exist for a reason. So I recruited a humorless liberal at our latest meeting for an exclusive interview.

Ian: Thank you for sitting down with me.

HL: Thank you. I always appreciate a forum in which to air my grievances.

Ian: So what led to you become a humorless liberal?

HL: I care about the state of the world. There’s war, famine and other types of brazen injustices all over the world at any given time. I feel that moments of levity during those times is the height of inappropriate behavior.

Ian: So do you think conservatives are too quick to mock real world problems?

HL: Yes. But I think many so-called liberals do too. Like you, for instance.

Ian: Like me?

HL: Absolutely. I’ve been reading your blog for years and I read your Vermilion columns before that. And I have to say, you don’t take things very seriously.

Ian: Well, I beg to differ.

HL: The guys who wrote the column before you did it right. They reached out to the sheeple by jarring them out of their bucolic campus fantasies and into the dark, gritty alleyways where truth lives.

Ian: Yeah, I got the impression that these guys never smiled or tolerated anyone else doing so either.

HL: Who’s got time to smile? There’s earthquakes and nuclear meltdowns going on in Japan! We’re doing regime change all over again in Libya! There could very well be another civil war in America if the greedy corporatists continue to wage their all-out assault on the working class. Wake the fuck up!

Ian: I’m well aware of all of this. I think about it every day.

HL: You wouldn’t know that from your writing. Anyone who reads you for news would miss a lot of important events.

Ian: Anyone who reads me for news is ignorant to begin with. I don’t pretend to be a source for news. I write commentary on whatever I feel like talking about. I hope that I can make topics interesting and engaging. If I can’t, or otherwise have nothing to add, then I won’t address the subject until I can. I mean, I’m sure I could fluff out 600 words on why domestic abuse or corporate personhood is bad, but I’m not sure anyone would bother to read it.

HL: The point is not to be entertaining. The point is to be right.

Ian: There’s no point in being right if you’re boring everyone in the room. And if you write dissertations for a newspaper or blog crowd, then you’re doing worse than being boring; you’re actually turning off people. Today’s Republicans push the most wretched ideas, but they sell them so well. You know why? Because they make it seem more fun. They say, “You can be with us and laugh and enjoy your freedom, or you can side with them and feel guilty and outraged all the time and take everything deadly seriously for the rest of your life.” That’s the problem with the Democratic Party especially; they have the political and moral high ground, but they won’t let themselves appeal to the people in quite the same way. Instead, they let right-wing pundits and entertainers trash them and everything they stand for.

HL: The irony is, the right has more outrage per square inch than anyone. And they have so little to laugh at. All their “humor shows” have laugh tracks, even the ones with live audiences. And that’s because their jokes always run along the lines of, “Barack Obama’s initials are B.O.” or, “Why does Obama not have a birth certificate? He burned it up with his cigarette before he could put it on ACORN’s teleprompter.” Or they joke about liberals who, by the way, all drive Priuses and eat granola bars made of tree bark while wearing tweed jackets. Or they joke about Joe Biden being stupid, when really he’s embarrassing.

Ian: That’s funny! No offense.

HL: None taken. The main problem with conservative humor is that it directs its energies toward easy, unsophisticated jokes that target misrepresented characters. Furthermore, conservatives are almost terminally unable to poke fun at themselves. That’s why “1/2 Hour News Hour” was such a flop. It tried to be a Daily Show clone, but instead it was a hyper-partisan brew of political jokes that cared more about reinforcing political allegiances than being funny.

Ian: In other words, The Daily Show as Fox News saw it.

HL: In other words, distorted. The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and The Onion, just to name a few, have liberal bents but freely satirize all sides. All three have made savage attacks against liberal figures in ways even liberals can laugh about. They go by what’s funny, and they aren’t afraid to go dry or wry.

Ian: As a humorless liberal, do you see those media outlets as a liability?

HL: Are you kidding? I never miss any of them! They’re the wittiest things going.

Ian: But how do you reconcile that with your humorless stance?

HL: I’m just a humorless liberal and that’s that.

Ian: What makes you think so?

HL: About a year and a half ago, I was at a party and somebody told this joke: “What’s the difference between a zoo and the White House? The zoo has an African lion, but the White House has a lyin’ African.” And I didn’t laugh.

Ian: Who wouldn’t guffaw at such a universal truth?

HL: Clearly, I have no sense of humor.

Ian: That was sarcasm.

HL: So was what I said.

Ian: I guess we’re a lot alike after all!

HL: Yeah!

Ian: So one question remains: If you do, in fact, have a sense of humor, what was all that flack about me earlier?

HL: Oh, that? Satire.

Ian: Brilliant!

History is written by cartographers

Yesterday, I attended the John Breaux Symposium at LSU. I will write more about the discussions and thoughts they spurred within me later on.

But first, a quick thought. During one of the discussions, Amy Walter of ABC News made a reference to “Tucson.” I read that again in an article this morning. Both referred to the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. It reminded me of something that’s bugged me at least since high school: Why do we refer to tragedies by the name of the place?

On one level, I understand why. Pearl Harbor. Hiroshima. Three Mile Island. Vietnam. Chernobyl. Rwanda. Columbine. The mention of these places immediately slap you with the magnitude of what happened there. And I guess that’s the point. We should never forget history’s tragedies, and however we go about remembering them is a good thing.

But on another level, it’s sad. After all, these places didn’t cease to exist once history turned its pages. They’re all complex places with complex people, with an extensive past and continuing future. Yet they will always be known first and foremost for the worst things that ever happened there. And that map seems to be growing all the time.

World history has always been bloody, and I’m not suggesting that we pretend it isn’t. But there’s got to be a better way to remember it than to reduce it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Questions I have about Back to the Future

The Back to the Future trilogy ranks among my favorite movies of all time. Still, sometimes I wonder about nitpicky things in the films...

Toast is always burning in Doc’s house.

Remember that legendary opening to the first film? With all the clocks going off simultaneously? The TV and radio being flipped on? The motorized arm turning Einstein’s dog dish into a mystery meat mountain of Kal Kan? The blown amplifier? The steaming coffee percolator with no pot? The burning toast in the smoking toaster? That’s all still going on even at the heartwarming end of Part III. Oh, and the crate of plutonium, too.

At no point in any of the three movies does Doc ever enter his lab in the correct 1985. Because he’s been hiding all week, it’s safe to assume that the plutonium in his lab is not the same crate he uses in the Magic Name-Changing Mall parking lot. And it’s safe to assume that all the neglected gadgets that provide comic relief during the opening credits won’t be so funny when Doc’s lab joins the rest of his mansion. In pieces.

Also, Doc’s truck is still in the mall parking lot, with the plutonium crate on the pavement and a van of dead terrorists crashed nearby. And lest there’s any confusion, the truck is emblazoned with, “Emmett L. Brown, 24-hour scientific services.” These days, that circumstantial evidence might be called, “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.”

Not that it really matters, right? After all, Doc winds up living out his retirement years in the 19th century. Well, not so fast...

Doc emerges in 2015.

In the time between Doc dropping Marty off at his house at the end of the first movie and picking him and Jennifer up the next morning, Doc has spent an unspecified (but apparently substantial) amount of time in the future. He returns with new fashions, a flying car, Mr. Fusion, a 2015 license plate and a new spleen and colon. Which means, among other future chores, Doc learned how to drive a flying automobile and stood in line at the DMV. Possibly complicating this process was that Doc most likely hadn’t been on the California grid for several years. Early in his adventures, Doc said he was eager “to see the future beyond my years.” So even if Doc hadn’t wound up in the Old West, he probably would have died at some point prior to 2015. Have you ever tried to get a driver’s license after you’re legally dead? Pain in the ass.

But even if we accept that Doc spent his life in Clara Clayton’s petticoats, this means he vanished in 1985, right about the time his truck and house were discovered abandoned with plutonium inside them, and a vehicle in his name was discovered destroyed by a diesel train.

In any case, Doc arrives in 2015 to register the same DeLorean that had been destroyed in 1985, and to get a license with presumably with the same address he had in 1985. While he was blissfully unaware of his own destiny. Future society might have abolished lawyers, but Doc sure could have used one when he was arrested on the spot.

In fact, I think this entire period would make a great fourth movie, especially updated to more accurately reflect what we can expect four years from now. On the other hand, they’d have to pretend flying cars and hoverboards will exist, and that’s just too much heartache these days.

Goldie Wilson III got a glimpse of the time machine.

After learning how to fly an automobile (or maybe before?), Doc brought in his DeLorean for a hover-conversion. If the retractable axles and undercarriage lights are any indicator, this was an involved process. Certainly someone working on the car would have wondered what the deal was with the time display, flux capacitor or any of the numerous buttons, lights and pipes that make the time machine tick. To say nothing of the plutonium intake. (Mr. Fusion is more of a wild card, but still...wouldn’t someone have questioned that setup as well?)

And so did Biff Tannen.

In the opening scene of Part II, Biff becomes the first person to witness a flying car. After Doc rather conspicuously reaches 88 and hits his temporal stride in the sky, we’re left with a reaction shot of Biff’s face while he asks, “What the hell is going on here?” We see him resolve the question 30 years later. But that doesn’t explain why, at the end of Part III, he’s nice and not at all freaked out by the amazing occurrence from the day before. You’d think he’d at least have asked Marty if he’d seen it, especially since Biff is most likely aware of the Marty-Doc dynamic.

Biff masters time travel rather fast.

Granted, he had all the time he needed to learn the intricacies of the time machine. Still, he managed to learn the correct speed, fueling protocol and manipulation of the time controls in admirably fast fashion, considering that literally two other people had any idea it existed. He also apparently hid the car quite well during his sojourn in 1955. As for the sonic booms, well, apparently Doc and Marty missed all six emanating from Hilldale, even as they worried about the time machine falling into the wrong hands.

Biff returned to the wrong 2015.

Even if you buy the theory that history changes via ripple, as is often seen and implied throughout the trilogy, the 2015 in which Biff returns should already have been altered into the bad Biff future. Otherwise, the DeLorean should never have returned to that tangent any more than Marty returned to the original tangent where his family was a bushel of sad sacks.

Marty and Jennifer should have known about their future appearance.

Why wouldn’t it occur to old Marty or Jennifer that, hey, isn’t today the day we visited ourselves 30 years ago? And why wouldn’t 2015 Doc be hanging out with 2015 Marty? It’s not like the destiny question comes into play at that point...

How did Doc get the DeLorean on that railroad ramp?

During the scene where Doc pledges his love for Clara and his resultant reluctance to travel back to 1985, Doc and Marty roll the DeLorean off a set of raised tracks onto the railroad tracks. But how did it get there in the first place?

Why would the empty grave picture/blank fax still exist?

It’s understandable that Marty would take a picture of Emmett Brown’s grave in 1955. It’s even plausible that he would have taken the same pic after it changed into Clint Eastwood. But in the end, once both men’s futures are secured and the headstone breaks, the grave fades away entirely. So at that point, someone traveling to that point in 1955 would see Marty taking a picture of a blank space. Why? And wouldn’t another grave be there instead of nothing? And what is Marty’s impetus to travel to 1885 and rescue Doc if there’s nothing to prompt him?

Same deal with the fax from the future that Jennifer collects after Marty gets fired. Since he’s no longer fired, why doesn’t the entire paper vanish? Surely Jennifer wouldn’t have felt compelled to yank a blank piece of paper from the fax machine...

Why didn’t Marty fade out the second time he was in 1955?

In the first movie, during his final chance to see his parents fall in love, Marty begins to vanish both from his picture and from the dance stage. When Marty shadows Biff in the sequel, that same moment of endangerment should have caused Second Marty to momentarily fade away as well. They could have timed it in Part II at about the time Marty has his hand trapped against the desk by Principal Strickland. Can you imagine Marty’s horrible pain relieved when his hand disappears? A missed cinematic opportunity, if you ask me.

How did Doc know at what second the lightning would strike?

Doc’s “weather experiment” relied heavily on an exact convergence of time and circumstances, down to the second. It went awry enough without considering the idea that the lightning could have struck at 59 other seconds besides 10:04:01 p.m. Maybe they knew because of the article on the “Save the Clock Tower” flier? Come to think of it...

Were there no witnesses to the clock tower lightning bolt?

The “Save the Clock Tower” flier Marty receives in 1985 features a copy of the Hill Valley Telegraph front page from Nov. 13, 1955. The main story involves the lightning strike on the clock tower. So apparently, someone had to have witnessed it. But who? Nobody besides the police officer shown earlier talking to Doc was even seen to be around the town square over the course of the entire evening. Anyone else who happened to be there surely would have told the reporter that the lightning bolt was only the secondary story of the night (after all, a weird car disintegrated in the same location at the same time!). Consequently, would Doc have made it into the story that inspired him to harness the lightning in the first place?

Great Scott!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A tex t'ing

Sometime in my late teens, I decided I hated talking on the telephone, and I still do. I’m not really sure why.

It could be because I find it extremely difficult to do anything else while concentrating on the phone. Or that the lack of visual cues has led to some unintentionally tense conversations. Or that the prevalence of cell phones has radically altered the soundscape to where no one introduces themselves or asks if you have time to talk and you’re expected to always be instantly available. Or maybe it’s all that and more.

Don’t get me wrong; I like the telephone. I have no problem using it to set up appointments or to have short (or even long) conversations with friends, family and colleagues. It’s just that I will always prefer the face-to-face mode of communication.

Texting, on the other hand, is just evil.

Again, I’m not sure why. I love e-mail and Facebook and I chat frequently. As my mom likes to say, I write better than I talk.

My dislike of texting could be that it’s like talking on the phone, minus the good aspects. It could be because my phone is more than four years old, and typing is laborious. Or maybe because every human being I cross has a phone that’s constantly chiming, everywhere I go, every minute of the day. Or that when I’m with actual people in person, they tend to be more interested in their chats than with their actual company (not you, you’re OK). Or maybe it’s all that and more.

Don’t get me wrong; I like texting. No I don’t.

But I still do it. Because in this age, it’s necessary. And sometimes, typing those letters is the only way to be heard.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Aged Bands

Arth Rida
Black Crowes Feet
Panic! At the Doctor
Crowded Nursing Home
Beach Bellies
Grandfather Alarm Clock
Rascal-Riding Flatts
Dave Matthews Memorial Band
Taylor Sluggish
Sal-Lo Green
Savaged Garden
Deader Kennedys
Men Not at Work
Fishin' Hole Surfers
Smashing Pensions
Five Not Fighting
The Replacement Hips
Katy Weary
Men Without Hair
A Matlock of Seagulls
James Ailer
Randy Oldman
Bachman Turner Sunday Drive
Older 97s
Mumford & Grandsons
John Cougar-Lover Mellencamp

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

When I was a Schmuck

And now, the very first thing I ever had published online. The eclectic comedy website was one of the first websites I ever frequented. It's long gone; in fact, my first contribution appeared in what turned out to be its last edition. I turned in one other piece of writing, titled "I knew Y2K was a hoax," but Schmuck folded before it could see the light of day. I no longer have that piece of writing, though I remember that it wasn't very good even by my lenient late-1990s/early 2000s standards. Still, I was already hooked on the publicity and feedback. Credit or blame this article for everything that's followed since.

I wrote the below piece on a lark and submitted it. Somehow, they took it and ran with it (the note under my byline was theirs, by the way). I didn't even own a computer at the time, so my first experience seeing my name in huge letters and as a link online happened at the public library. I printed the article for posterity (good call), and that is what you're seeing here. I also printed out the link list, because my name was on it. In 1999, that was a big deal.

And no, the first word of the title isn't an allusion to an obscure Cajun subgenre of pop music; it's their typo. Schmucks.

Ah, the good old days

My relative inactivity for the past few days can be blamed on travels, luncheons and other productive things that put a crimp on my online output. Today is no exception, because I am currently sizing up my clips. While combing through my perhaps too-expansive archives (it's starting to look like Hoarders in here), I found the document below. I wrote it during my stint as a college newspaper columnist, in 2003. It was a column I didn't have the balls to submit, and that's saying something.

Monday, March 21, 2011

New Rules

Rule #166: Reflexive Reactionaries
Unless I specifically ask, I don't really care what you think about the Federal Reserve Bank, the Illuminati or 9/11 conspiracy theories. If you're talking about these things, I already know your stance.

Rule #167: Captive Audience
Anyone who says pundits like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, et al. are needed to tell the truth officially gives up the right to complain about lack of objectivity in the media. If those jokers are your barometer, then your objectivity is the problem.

Rule #168: Rack and 'Pinion Clearing
There is a difference between hard news and editorial content. Understand the difference, and accept that both have their place in journalism. Don't get bent out of shape when an editorial expresses an opinion — that's kind of the point. Likewise, don't mistake editorials for hard news, no matter how much networks like Fox News try to blur the line.

Rule #169: Set a Spell
I know now isn't the best time, but can't we just ask Muammar Gaddafi how to spell his name? I've got a paperback book from the 1980s titled "Khadafy" and I want to clarify whether or not we've got two (or two dozen) Libyan despots to deal with.

Rule #170: Barking Up the Learning Tree
Dogs have to get smarter. You cute fellas have the loyalty thing down. Now will you realize that I'm not an intruder every time I move to a different room or stand in the driveway for more than a minute?

Friday, March 18, 2011

"Nothing is so boring as listening to someone describing a dream." - George Carlin

I had a dream last night that the battery on my cell phone squirted me in the eye, and it burned. When I got to a mirror, my entire right eye, socket and cheek were purple. When I pressed the flesh, it hurt like hell. My mom and sister walked in the room, but didn't react to my face. When I asked them about it, they said my face was fine. I looked in the mirror and, sure enough, everything had cleared up. And my face no longer hurt to the touch. Well, I still did have what appeared to be pinkeye, but that went away once I found myself in the bathroom at Barnes and Noble. Still, both of my eye-whites were yellowish and veiny (that was perhaps the most detailed part of the dream). Could there be a message in that?

I woke up to the jingle my cell phone makes when the battery's about to die. For a month now, the formerly long-lasting battery has tended to go from full to zero all at once. The battery itself is misshapen, probably from being dropped one too many times, and has to be held in with Scotch tape. No battery fluid has shot into my eyes like a grapefruit, but it's just a matter of time.

Sometimes dreams are literal.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pretty picture dump

I'm currently reorganizing text and art files on my laptop. Yes, I know it's St. Patrick's Night, but I'm a McGibboney. You can kiss me Irish bragh any evening.

Anyway, here are a few graphics of varying quality I made over the past few months, and a cartoon I drew the other day. Enjoy.

A real picture from the real website of a real mega-church in Springfield, Missouri.
One of Lafayette's biggest real estate firms is Van Eaton & Romero. I cannot see their logo without conjuring this mental picture.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Call it Shaken Baby Stockholm Syndrome

Who needs video dating when there's YouTube?

After watching this video, I couldn't help but be smitten by this woman. So I did some searching and found her apartment complex, jumped on a flight and asked her out.

Me: "Hi there!"

Her: "Hi! Can I help you?"

Me: "Yes. I love you."

Her: "Really? That's weird. We don't know each other."

Me: "That's true. But God works in mysterious ways."

Her: "I've been praying for a boyfriend. But I need a sign."


Her: "Oh, thank you, Lord, for shaking me out of my doubts!!"

Me: "Now will you go out with me?"

Her: "Of course! But how do I know you're The One?"

Me: "Before I got here, I murdered your entire family."

Her: "Really?!! That's so amazing!"

Me: "Even the hamster."

Her: "Why the hamster?"

Me: "Because I had to show that hamster that I am the one for you."

Her: "Hamsters aren't people."

Me: "Yeah, but he lived in the house."

Her: "Good point. Everyone who lives in a defined set of borders is exactly the same."

Me: "Exactly. You made that point quite well in your Japan video."

Her: "I know! Wasn't that disaster amazing?"

Me: "I doubt there are any atheists in Japan now, right?"

Her: "No way! God's so good. He answered all our prayers!"

Me: "So you were praying for God to shake Japan and cause a nuclear meltdown?"

Her: "Specifically. All week long. And now I can't contain my joy."

Me: "Great news indeed. So what's next for you?"

Her: "I'm now praying for God to strike the U.S. There are atheists all over the country. And I'm on my knees every morning and night imploring God to just destroy America, every square mile of it, until the skeptics come around to how amazing God is."

Me: "I don't possibly see how that wouldn't work wonders."

Her: "I know, right?"

Me: "It would make our first date a bit awkward, though, you know, if we were able to have it."

Her: "Yeah. I'd rather our first date be postponed by the opening of the Earth's molten core and the swallowing of all the unrighteous while the true believers fly to heaven in the Rapture. Preferably on Easter Sunday."

Me: "It'll be my treat."

Her: "The world would be such a joyous place if everyone died."

Me: "And we became a Christian nation, at least for a few minutes."

Her: "Amen."

Me: "So, Judgment Evening at 7?"

Her: "It's a date!"

[Her parents' minivan pulls up.]

Her: "Hey, wait a minute! I thought you said you killed my family?"

Me: "Um... no. I would never kill anyone. In fact, I've never even met them and just guessed you had a hamster. And I abhor any form of aggression against women. I just thought that's what impressed you. Sorry."

Her: "Sorry doesn't cut it. God is never sorry. He works in mysterious, and violent, ways. And if want to be with me, well, you're going to have to do better than just talk the talk."

Me: "So are we still going out?"

Her: "I wouldn't go out with you if you were the last man on Earth."

Me: "But I will be!"


Me: "Good heavens!"

Monday, March 14, 2011

A good man (me) speaks

I wrote this for a friend who asked me to write a direct rebuttal for a class she teaches. Not sure if she's going to use it, but I will.

Author Kay S. Hymowitz wonders, “Where Have The Good Men Gone?” The essay, published Feb. 19 in The Wall Street Journal, is an excerpt from her new book titled, “Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys.” It’s a criticism of the new generation of American males, who she alleges are not living up to their responsibilities as adults.

To answer your question, Kay, we’re hiding from women like you.

I’m exactly the sort of “pre-adult” that Hymowitz accuses of being the problem. At 30 going on 31, I’m still single and just barely past the age group on which she focuses. But my twenties played out very much in the manner she abhors, and my thirties haven’t changed me much. Hymowitz might say I need to grow up. But I would argue that it is her notion of manhood that needs to mature.

Right away, Hymowitz plants herself in the old school of gender roles, pining for an ideal past that may or may not have ever actually existed.

Not so long ago, the average American man in his 20s had achieved most of the milestones of adulthood: a high-school diploma, financial independence, marriage and children. Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. This "pre-adulthood" has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it's time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn’t bring out the best in men.

What, exactly, is a man’s “best”? Is it when a man is his happiest, healthiest and most prosperous? Or is it when he provides for his family at the expense of everything else in his life, no matter what emotional toll it takes on him? And must the two be mutually exclusive?

This excerpt hints at what I assume will be the underlying tone of Hymowitz’s book: that men don’t act like men because women don’t act like women. The author apparently pines for an age in which women weren’t so upwardly mobile, and men had no choice but to devote all their energies to providing for them. As a man, I find that disgusting. I hope women do too.

Hymowitz cites the movie “Knocked Up” as a solid example of the current gender gap. Fittingly enough, I hated that movie, for the same reason I don’t care for her thesis. Both suggest a notion of “growing up” that would make any man want to crawl right back into his mom’s womb.

Still, for these women, one key question won't go away: Where have the good men gone? Their male peers often come across as aging frat boys, maladroit geeks or grubby slackers—a gender gap neatly crystallized by the director Judd Apatow in his hit 2007 movie "Knocked Up." The story's hero is 23-year-old Ben Stone (Seth Rogen), who has a drunken fling with Allison Scott (Katherine Heigl) and gets her pregnant. Ben lives in a Los Angeles crash pad with a group of grubby friends who spend their days playing videogames, smoking pot and unsuccessfully planning to launch a porn website. Allison, by contrast, is on her way up as a television reporter and lives in a neatly kept apartment with what appear to be clean sheets and towels. Once she decides to have the baby, she figures out what needs to be done and does it. Ben can only stumble his way toward being a responsible grownup.

I balked at “Knocked Up” for turning devoted family man Paul Rudd’s fantasy baseball draft into a symbol of his immaturity; wife Leslie Mann, who discovered the draft while spying for infidelity, berates him afterward for having something of his own. In the movie, she goes out to clubs and continually nags her husband, and yet she is supposed to be the good guy, er, woman. At least insofar as any women have redeeming qualities in the film.

Intentional or otherwise, the message of “Knocked Up” is that men must choose between their families and everything else that sustains them. You can’t have both. Unless you’re a woman, then you can, provided your “grown-up” man works hard enough. This is a film about growing up? For a guy like me, it’s the best argument against it.

Because who really wants to live someone else’s life? I don’t. I resent being told where I’m supposed to be at a certain age. As long as I’m diligent, responsible and self-sufficient, and I’m not hurting anybody, whose business is it how I live my personal life? And what does anyone gain from forcing people into obligations that may make them miserable?

It’s never been my goal in life to be the breadwinner of a 1950s-style suburban unit. And I’ve never been attracted to women who pined for nothing but bliss in the kitchen. If that setup works for others, great. But I would hope that it was organic rather than forced.

Personally, I love a woman who has a variety of interests and opinions, whether or not I share them. Likewise, anyone who passes through my picky filter will love me for who I am, not what I can give them. I don’t need someone to complete me or train me, and I’m not interested in doing the same to her.

That’s assuming that particular story line ever happens. I’m not one to connect the dots of my future. Who knows what the future will bring? Not me. And certainly not Hymowitz. Unlike her, however, I know that there’s more than one outcome that will bring me fulfillment. Not knowing actually makes it more interesting.

Hymowitz insists “the domestic life” is the most desirable trait for everyone. That’s shaky ground, but she really runs with it:

In his disregard for domestic life, the playboy was prologue for today's pre-adult male. Unlike the playboy with his jazz and art-filled pad, however, our boy rebel is a creature of the animal house. In the 1990s, Maxim, the rude, lewd and hugely popular "lad" magazine arrived from England. Its philosophy and tone were so juvenile, so entirely undomesticated, that it made Playboy look like Camus.
At the same time, young men were tuning in to cable channels like Comedy Central, the Cartoon Network and Spike, whose shows reflected the adolescent male preferences of its targeted male audiences. They watched movies with overgrown boy actors like Steve Carell, Luke and Owen Wilson, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Will Farrell [sic] and Seth Rogen, cheering their awesome car crashes, fart jokes, breast and crotch shots, beer pong competitions and other frat-boy pranks. Americans had always struck foreigners as youthful, even childlike, in their energy and optimism. But this was too much.
What explains this puerile shallowness? I see it as an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men.

It’s difficult to know where to start first. Let’s just say that Hugh Hefner and the Frat Pack have a lot of explaining to do, what with the human nature they created all on their own. Perhaps in the Playboy Mansion Laboratory?

But even if we’re to assume that the decline of the American Alpha Male does fall at the feet of pop culture, what role have similar influences played on women? Hymowitz doesn’t say. Maybe she doesn’t think that movies or magazines sway women (which begs the question of what snapped them out of Suzy Homemaker mode in the first place).

In the end, Hymowitz gives women a final nudge of blame for letting men fall into this sequel cycle of adolescence. How? By not being hard enough on men, apparently.

Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men's attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There's nothing they have to do.
They might as well just have another beer.

I don’t know about all women, but Hymowitz certainly makes me not only revert to the sandbox, but bury myself in it. Her one-size-suffocates-all social mores and gender archetypes are an affront to both sexes and a bump in the road to embracing all walks of life.

It’s 2011 — long past the point where we can harbor illusions that there is a solid life track for anyone. It’s been a few decades since we all connected the same dots, and today’s uncertain economy pretty much guarantees that many 20-somethings are going to hit considerable snags. They should not be judged for doing what is necessary to address those issues. And they certainly shouldn’t be judged for how they live their lives in the meantime.

This is a scary and exciting time in history, and the last thing we need to do is ostracize people for how they choose (or not choose) to make sense of it. And certainly not resist societal changes that make life more diverse and interesting.

Never rule anything out, Kay. You may find you like beer too.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Look who was on the front page of Daily Kos yesterday, and still is as of this post.

I posted my letter to Republicans as a Kos diary, and it connected with a lot of people. Some friends of mine posted it on Facebook, and that led to some, let's say, interesting debate. Those exchanges and the ability to articulate my feelings to diverse audiences are what drew me to writing in the first place. I think I'll do this more often.

But remember, you saw it here first!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Dear Republican Party,

We seriously need to talk.

As you’re already aware, I’m not likely to vote for you. I just registered as a Democrat for the first time after having been an independent for many years and having lived in a state that doesn’t register by party. Despite my liberal views, I have always been skittish to align with the Democrats or any other party, my rationale being that I will consider any reasonable viewpoint regardless of its source (and conversely, not accept an irrational stance just because I like who said it). I’ve always held a healthy respect for the belief that a smaller, streamlined government has its merits. And I respect that many citizens are inclined toward conservative values via the same careful consideration through which I realized my own views. And in the end, we’re more alike than different in our wants and needs.

And yet, here I am, registering as a Democrat. Why? Well, it’s certainly not because I like everything the party does. But I also see considerable merit in that camp. And I frankly can’t in good conscience call myself an independent. That would imply that I am able to toggle the virtues of both sides. And that used to be true. But it isn’t now.

The ability to understand opposing viewpoints is a basic requisite for any journalist, as it should be for any human being. Which is why I want to ask of you, Republicans, as a party:

Why do you hate people?

Now, don’t be so quick to dismiss that as a glib question, such as the one people like me sometimes get asked when earnestly expressing a political view: “Why do you hate success/the wealthy/the free market/religion/etc.?” This isn’t some semantic twisting of a point of view to bring forth a sense of persecution and division. I really want to know why you hate people. And yes, you do hate people.

You didn’t used to hate people. Even the greed of the Reagan era was more about a love of wealth than an active disdain for a massive segment of Americans (though there was some of that too). Today, however, every decision you make seems to be about depriving a group of this, or trying to stall that, or diminishing someone’s rights, or pitting Americans against one another through some fictitious hierarchy of patriotism.

Amid all the partisan rancor in Congress, and among the American people, I see a tale a two very different agendas. Though they have their problems, the Democrats stand for things. Health care reform. Allowing gay rights to marriage and military enlistment. Consumer protections. More thorough nutrition information. TARP. Student loan reforms. Investment in green energy. The list goes on and on.

And what do you offer, Republicans? Nothing but excuses. You occasionally express a token concern for many of the same issues, but it’s as thin as your budget proposals. Your leaders and pundits will criticize literally anything President Obama and the Democrats do, no matter how ridiculous a stance that entails. Or you say now is not the time for reform, what with the tough times and all. Gee, how convenient! The Party of No, which is most to blame for our crisis in the first place, wants to wait until the economy improves to step out of spite mode. Why do I feel like you’re dreading that moment? It’s as if you have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are.

It certainly explains many of your highest-profile politicians of the past few years. Sarah Palin’s appeal seems to hinge on two things: 1) her folksiness schtick and 2) her ability to alienate half of the electorate. Your party likes that she is not overly intellectual and that she speaks only to whom she deems “American” Americans. Someone as divisive as Palin would seem to be a terrible choice for any high federal office (and proved as much in 2008), and yet her name remains in the pool of viable candidates. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has seen his presidential cred diminish because he successfully implemented health care reform in Massachusetts — reform very similar to what the Democratic Congress passed. And that just isn’t divisive or spiteful enough for your ticket, is it?

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker seems to be priming himself for a bright Republican future. Engineering a budget crisis in his state and then using it as a pretense to strip public workers of their collective-bargaining rights — that’s about as bold as they come. Fortunately for him, decades of anti-union rhetoric has ensured he isn’t completely ostracized for his brazen action. We’re long since accustomed to cutting vital public-sector jobs to the bone, and then draining most of the marrow in that bone. We taxpayers pay their salaries, and we’re sick of it! What do teachers, cops and firefighters do that’s so important anyway, right? It’s funny how everything with you guys comes down to taxes, and how high and unnecessary they are. Walker himself tweeted that the cutback on union rights was a victory for taxpayers. And I guess it was, in the sense that theoretically they’ll each save a buck or two in the future. As for the quality of schools and public works, as well as the tax fallout from the poverty and crime that this could perpetuate later, eh. There’s literally nothing that doesn’t come down to selfish penny-pinching with you guys. That and your inability to concede that taxes and unions have any benefits at all is the height of political immaturity.

And don’t even get me started on Rep. Peter King. He’s about as perfect a Republican specimen as you have these days — a formerly reasonable politician who flipped after 9/11 and has sought to persecute American Muslims ever since. Apparently taking Ann Coulter’s defense of Joseph McCarthy to heart, King is now holding hearings on Muslim radicalization in the United States. His allegation is that Muslim Americans didn’t and aren’t doing enough to alert the government of terrorist activity. It’s wrong on its face, because Muslim groups proved to be quite helpful after 9/11. But on another note, I’m reminded of a line from the movie “Reno 911: Miami,” in which a deputy asks a black man at a party, “Are you Suge Knight? Are you Jay-Z? Are you any of them?” Because this is what your officeholders do: assume every race and religion (well, almost) bands together as a monolith and you can’t tell them apart. Consequently, your policies stink of prejudice. I don’t see you asking every gun owner why they aren’t doing more to turn in potentially trigger-happy brethren. Or that giant corporations must do more to prevent corruption within the business sphere. I guess in those cases you would say (without irony) that the majority are peace-loving and ethical entities not represented by the bad apples.

Also, you’re bought off. But you knew that. Hell, you’re proud of it.

I direct my anger toward your party’s leadership because I pity the Republican voter. Today’s GOP stands only for greed, spite and division, all of which hurt the vast majority of American people. By definition, you don’t serve the interests of anyone beyond a tiny, exclusive class of people. And yet, you can always count on enough support to remain a perennial contender. That, I’ll admit, is slick. You successfully appeal to struggling Americans by stoking their fears and resentments. You’ve built entire media empires and industries dedicated to the cause. And it works like a charm; even many who can see a direct cause between their troubles and corporate downsizing, for example, will still vote for you because you’re “pro-business.” Or they might be crushingly poor, but still vote for you on the basis that they’ll be super-rich someday and want taxes to be low when they get there. Even if that means they’ll have to struggle more now. Or they might have Muslim or black friends, but they still believe that they’re all terrorists or welfare cheats, except for their friends. Not to mention that Democrats are evil in their eyes, because of one or two wedge issues, so there’s never an alternative.

So, yes, I think today’s Republican Party is a morally bankrupt, astonishingly childish shell of its former glory. And even though I’m no conservative, it worries me that what should be a valuable counterweight to the Democratic Party is instead occupying itself with obstruction and bigotry and flirting with its most extreme, anarchic elements. And if it takes a beating in 2012 for you to see that, so be it. But I’d rather you realize it now so that the American people can have some real choices next year.

Otherwise, don’t be surprised if more voters say no to the Party of No for a very long time.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

What this would have been

I wanted to write a list of brazen political battles the Republicans were going to pick next, but I couldn't make it funny or sufficiently outlandish. It just seemed like a list of ideas they'd steal and take on its face.

Sometimes this stuff writes itself. Other times, I wish it didn't.

Big rant coming.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Cleaning the Lent trap

Let me start off this blog by saying I'm not Catholic. To the extent that I have a religious background, it is Catholicism. But as an adult, I don't identify with any religious denomination. As I've said before, I just don't know. And I know that I don't know.

So for me, Ash Wednesday is not a particular day of penitence. But I do appreciate the sentiment. I sacrifice every day of my life, as I imagine everybody does. You have to in order to get through life's rich pageant of adversity. And I wish that more people would apply the renewed focus to sacrifice that Ash Wednesday brings to every moment of their lives. 

Every year, we ask the question: "What are you giving up for Lent?" My conservative friend Nick Bouterie made an excellent point on Facebook today: He said that, as a devout Catholic, he can't eat a bologna sandwich on Friday, but he can whip up an elaborate Cajun seafood dish with all the trimmings. 

It begs an interesting question: What exactly does it mean to sacrifice? Is it strictly adhering to loophole-laden dogma? Is it about the spirit of giving to others? Is it sensible self-improvement? Can it be all of these things? Something else entirely?

America, for better or worse, is a country that lives and dies by greed. We've been so conditioned to accrue wealth and consume that many of us have forgotten that not every aspect of life is about profit or having the latest gadget. We've forgotten that active citizenship, charity and humanity compose our DNA just as much as capitalism. But the rough economy has forced (or in some cases, rationalized) many of us to focus on our own pockets at the expense of big-picture issues.

How many times have we heard it? "We need to fix the economy and address the deficit. THEN we'll worry about the environment!" Or, "Obama should be focusing on jobs, not health care reform." To say nothing of the virulent anti-tax rhetoric that comes down to, "I hate paying taxes to help people I deem inferior to myself." That isn't to say that some of these aren't valid concerns. But our leaders often portray them as mutually exclusive and time-insensitive, which gives them a convenient out in sincerely addressing them. As a nation, we've never been more self-defeatingly selfish.

My reaction to this isn't anger — it's sadness. I feel that most people — even the loudest, meanest anarchist — is, deep down, someone who wants a fair shake and comfort for themselves and their families. And whether it's through genuine hardship, inflammatory rhetoric, apathy or any combination thereof, sacrifice (even self-sacrifice) seems out of vogue these days. Perhaps Ash Wednesday can help remind people that we're all in this together.

Freedom blog (Illustrated sex toy edition)

So there's this commercial for the Trojan Vibrating Triphoria that often airs during Comedy Central's late-night lineup.

(Has there ever been a better lead for a blog here? I defy you to find it.)

For those of you who haven't seen it, the spot takes us to a bridal shower, where the lucky bride-to-be receives the advertised product not once or twice, but three times. Upon opening the first one, she asks who gave it to her. One of the girls says she did, and she has the electrified hair to prove it! But then two more of her friends say the same thing and sport the same back-swept hair, which leads the party to devolve into helpless laughter.

The ad then cuts to the couple's home, where the betrothed mentions to her man that she got three of the vibrator they always talk about (!) to which he joyfully replies, "suh-WEET!"

Trojan doesn't go out of its way to explain how the shower girls wound up with their hair that way — Did they just have sex 10 seconds ago? What position could they possibly have been in? Why would no one have noticed their hair up to that point? — and they make the joke three consecutive times. And let's not even get into the guy's enthusiasm. I suspect the marriage won't last long.

All in all, it's a silly, cheesy spot for a product I don't plan on using and I know no fiance of mine would ever need. Ahem.

So why am I writing about this ad? Well, if you watched it, you may have noticed this bit of fine print:

What it means is, whatever state these ladies live in got over the Civil War.

It also means that every time Comedy Central airs this ad in Louisiana, it's cut off several seconds in and usually replaced by something more to Jesus' liking, like hunting rifles. What's funny is that the ad still has time to articulate the product and its website before it blacks out (cutting off the fine print that says, hey, you can't order it). It also means the substitute ads start later and bump into the shows.

Southwest Missouri is as Bible-thumping Christian as they come, and yet they air the ad with no problem. Nobody gets hurt, Trojan gets some business and viewers don't have to guess which guest is taking the chair on The Daily Show.

On an intellectual level, I've pretty much always known that Louisiana and other Deep South states have tight community broadcast and adult-commerce standards. But seeing it in action now that I've lived elsewhere gives me a sinking feeling, like I've regressed. And it makes me wonder how a state that puts on such outrageous pageantry as Mardi Gras can be so backwards on the airwaves.

I'm not saying that Trojan ads should be on every Saturday morning cartoon show. What I'm saying is that when even tame ads for adult products get censored on late-night cable TV, and the items are not for sale due to "moral" concerns, then something is wrong. Actually, lots of things. And where these "moral" concerns interfere with freedom, such as in purchasing safe, legal products and/or barring a segment of society from basic legal rights, then it crosses over from outrageous to unacceptable.

On top of costlier insurance premiums and gas prices, this is just one more high price to live in Louisiana. Maybe this is the kind of price we ought to roll back.

Monday, March 07, 2011

A picture that needs no context

Someday in the future, I might use this picture to illustrate my ferocious stride toward uncovering the truth or how I run with the punches when life hands me lemonade or something like that.

But for now, let's just say it's a well-timed shot of me bouncing for beads at the Krewe of Thoth parade on Canal Street.

I had to wait until Bacchus to get any swag. The gladiators were less receptive to the charms of my bead-beaming lady friends than the Thothers. Slightly.

Also, my group defied The Man. I won't say how.

Happy Mardi Gras!

Friday, March 04, 2011

You take the good, you take the bad

The pros and cons of my current arrangement:

• No rent to pay
• Nothing to pay rent with

• I have my nights free
• I spend most of them asleep

• Flatscreen TVs and hi-def, premium digital cable
• They’re constantly blaring shows I can’t stand

• Shared wireless Internet
• Shared wireless Internet

• There’s a Wii Fit here
• I used to belong to the Y

• There are dogs to play with
• Dogs are loud and stink a lot

• No more work-related stress
• Work-free stress is often worse

I once read an article by a blind writer who said that the scariest thing someone like him encounters is a wide-open space. He likened it to someone with sight closing their eyes and sprinting through an empty field. I feel like that sometimes. But I often do even in the best of circumstances.

Oh well. At least Mardi Gras will soon be upon us.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

License for looks that kill

Yesterday, I got a Louisiana driver's license for the first time in four years. The last one I had was four years old and about to expire when I moved to Missouri, so this new one is actually the first Louisiana license I've acquired in eight years. The passage of time is clearly evident in a side-by-side comparison of the respective photos.

2003                                           2011
• Much like the Earth itself, I'm producing less oil than I used to.
• They've since put an airbrush filter on the DMV camera.
• Nevertheless, the camera always adds 10 pounds of muscle, mostly to my neck.
• I manage to make almost identical facial expressions eight years apart, even though the license in between these looked completely different. Must be a state thing.
• I used to do way better with that digital signature thing. Come 2015, I'll be marking it with a scraggly X (which will look like a T, or a G).
• In 2003, I had a bad haircut. In 2011, I don't have a haircut at all.
• In 2003, I'm eager to take on all that the future has to offer. In 2011, I'm happy that all the future's had to offer hasn't scarred me on the outside as much as it has on the inside.
• I'm on a horse. No I'm not.