Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ebola Bucket: The Best of 2014


At times, 2014 seemed like a year in a different decade, the decade in question varying widely depending on the world event. Terrorist beheadings, out-of-control cops, racial strife, government standoffs and so on — it’s as if this year’s national and world events had something for everyone who loves the worst of many different time periods. (We also lost a lot of great people, from Robin Williams to Shirley Temple Black to Ruby Dee to “Stephen Colbert.”)

My usual convention when naming my year-end blog roundup is to mash together two words that most exemplify the year in news. But most of this year’s big stories were simply too sad for such use, so I went lighter with it. Hence one of the words being “Ebola.” Yep, 2014.

For me personally, 2014 was a mixed bag. My social life was nearly nonexistent this year, but it was also my first full year of employment since 2010. My brother nearly died from something that kills everybody, but he fully recovered in time to see his second daughter born four months later. I started 2014 with five months of intense sciatic pain that left me limping and popping back pills every six hours, but a chiropractor corrected that within a collective hour and a half. In March, after seven months of living bare in my Reno apartment (and 18 months total living out of a travel case), I finally had my furniture and belongings again. I watched from afar as the Saints faltered in the Superdome, but also got to see the Ragin’ Cajuns win the New Orleans Bowl there yet again (this time against my new home team).

The good news is, 2015 is upon us, so we can soon expect all of the wonderful advancements and relatively benign world we were promised in Back to the Future II. I can’t wait for Queen Diana to fly over in her car to bring us hoverboards! (I promise that’s the only time I’ll make that joke, but can’t speak for the rest of the Internet.)

As usual, you can find my personal favorite pieces of writing from 2014 divided up into the categories below. Stretch first and consult your physician if soreness persists. Have a great year!

Best of 2014 — Reflections


Thoughts about life in general, mostly whipped up at the coffeehouse or in my home office-like space (in other words, when I was avoiding life in general).

You should go (1/8)
I’ve cycled through every emotion on the Louisiana issue: never wanting to leave, open to leaving, dying to leave, feeling homesick, returning, open to leaving again, dying to leave again, leaving again. As of now, I’m not sure I’ll ever be back. But you never know. Those of you on life’s road-fork shouldn’t let anyone tell you there’s only one acceptable way to feel; it’s up to you. Community is important, but ultimately, it’s your life.

Obvious (?) thought of the day (2/20)
This ties into something I've thought a lot throughout my life — it's tough to be good. There really isn't much incentive to be good, because bad people are so much better at being bad. Being laid-back, humble or meek guarantees that you'll spend your life fending off type-A predators. (In America especially, being bad is often very good for business.) Conversely, virtue is its own reward. You can't expect people to reciprocate or pay it forward. All you can do is be the best person you can be and hope it rubs off at some point — all the while not letting others' shortcomings rub off on you.

The tricky magic of Louisiana (3/13)
He wants fellow out-of-staters — in particular, the ones who have a hand in shaping national and world perception of Louisiana — that the “magic” is an entirely different kind than they're imagining. One grounded and coexisting with real life. A real, and better, magic.

The closer something seemingly magical is to reality, the more compelling I think it is. South Louisiana is a fun place to visit and live because it is a unique and energetic place with lots of history, attractions and friendly people. It has its share of spiritual curiosities, but even if you don’t believe, you’re still immersed in charm. All of this is true without any need to make a netherworld of the region; it's even more amazing because it is all real. That’s all Thier is saying, and he’s so right.

The harsh truth about harsh truths (3/14)
One trait that fascinates me most about people is — for immediate lack of a better term — the need to be slapped. ...

I suspect this is a privileged, upper-middle-class phenomenon, where the well-off have to fabricate challenges for themselves. The rest of us don't have to bother with searching, because the challenges slap us every day. And because we've had to struggle with life's obstacles rather than have the luxury of inviting them in if we please, we have a more nuanced and empathetic understanding of the circumstances.

The downside of arrogance (3/19)
All arrogance is undeserved, because no birthright, no achievement, no higher ground, no sense of certainty ever justifies it. Arrogance arises not from being correct, but from the narcissistic need to be right, and better, all the time. When that urge takes hold, people can be very, very wrong. Even when they're right.

A letter to all the "nice" guys (5/27)
“I’M NICE, DAMMIT!” IS NOT A PICK-UP LINE. There’s a saying that if someone is nice to their friends but rude to their server, then they are not a nice person. That absolutely applies here. If you broadcast to the whole world, “LOOK AT ME, I’M A NICE GUY,” then explode in disbelief and rage the moment you get friend-zoned, you’re not nice. You’re “nice.”

I went to see the Emancipation Proclamation and this happened. 2014, everybody.
I'm (writing about) Batman (7/31)
Burton's Batman was a more serious take on the character that hadn't been done before, but it's still the right amount of ridiculous. Because Batman, like all superheroes, is ridiculous. As a kid, I particularly enjoyed the Gothic set pieces, which were radically different than anything I saw in my everyday life. That helped to immerse me in the action and, more importantly for me, separate it from the real world.

Many people prefer the Nolan films because they did the exact opposite. Gritty reboots are big these days, but most have skewed too dark for my tastes. They try to be true-to-life, and succeed. Too well.

Is it love, or the idea of love? (8/5)
It’s one thing to casually mention in conversation that you’ve never been lucky in love (and even longing isn't that bad in small doses). It’s another to bemoan it. The bemoaning is what makes it a turnoff. It gives the impression that you are insecure and will thus glom onto anyone. You might be looking for the perfect person, but they won’t bite if they feel like you’re more in love with the idea of them than the actual person that they are. I want someone who likes me for me, rather than who likes me for being a check on a checklist.

Crafting singles: A slice of American cheese (9/16)
If there is, in fact, a rising rate of single people, that's less likely a testament to the prevalence of apps (always a weak argument in any case) than to the broadening acceptance of lifestyles. Fewer people are hitching up these days for the wrong reasons, which if anything strengthens the institution of marriage, and empowers individuals to have confidence in whatever decision they make.

Some of the reasons Weird Al rules (9/27)
Weird Al’s enduring talent, and ability to seamlessly mesh with today, is why he’s the only person who could appear on both Family Double Dare and @midnight and have it make perfect sense both times.

Saturday morning cartravesty (10/7)
Saturday morning cartoons (and their live-action counterparts in the same vein) were more than the sum of their parts. They were the introduction to the weekend for kids. ... Another thing I dug about Saturday morning was that it was the only time of the week the TV was just for us kids. Adults went off and let us watch, and the networks seemed at those times like they were run by fellow children. For the first time, I felt like the TV wanted to talk to me (and wanted me to want things, which I then did).

Move it or ... well, don't (11/3)
I absolutely recommend moving away, because it’s a learning experience that not only educates you about how others live, but will also teach you much about yourself.

If you want to. Because it’s not for everyone.

Best of 2014 — Desk Jockeying


Social commentary, from when I could stand to confront society.

Bigotry is a luxury of people with so little sense of genuine repression that they have to invent reasons to hate others and, from thin air, fabricate a sense of persecution. Their gripes come not from loss of freedom, but from the loss of freedom to deny others freedom.

If I had 30 seconds on a rooftop to scream something to a massive crowd, it would be this: Everyone thinks they are correct! People don’t actively traffic in ideas they know are wrong. The only thing any of us knows for sure is that we don’t know for sure. You are no more correct than I am, just more certain. So let’s have a nation of practical and secular laws so we can get along, OK?

What are we afraid of? That the money will look silly? It looks silly now! You can mesh 21st-century microtechnology with a 1920s template only so much before it resembles a GPS on a Model T. At some point, you've got to get a new car. The roads are different. And so is the population.

I have been approached in dark parking lots in the middle of the night by young women asking me for directions. Police officers and security guards do not give me a hard time. No one ever thinks, "I won't hire anyone named Ian." No racist white person taunts me from across the street. In general, strangers aren't immediately suspicious of me. Even if I did give off a circumstantially bad impression, there would be at least an inkling of the benefit of the doubt. Basically, I have to earn any suspicion thrown my way — and even then, the threshold is higher than if it were someone with my same hoodie and my same baby face doing the same things, but with darker skin.

That is white privilege.

YOU DO NOT OWN WOMEN.

Trust issue (8/19)
Fighting is an intrinsic part of the American identity. We always need an enemy or, at the very least, someone against whom we can judge ourselves favorably. We like to be No. 1. The greatest country on Earth. Defenders of good, defeaters of evil. We want to believe we’re righteous in democracy, in spirit, in philosophy, in firepower. Hell, we even consider ourselves a First World country, because of course there has to be a ranking. We want leaders to ascribe to this philosophy, granted down from the heavens.

We see this in everything from flags to religions to politics to sports allegiances. We’re primally compelled to pick, and stick to, a side.

Atheism undermines that.

The tragic events in Ferguson have ripped open a lot of wounds, paramount among them racial conflict and the militarization of police. If what my first friend said is true, than Missouri might now be engaging in the brutal, shameful battles that the South once went through. It's an ugly way to open dialogue for something that should have been settled generations ago.

People who disagree with me know they’re wrong. And, in fact, that’s what powers their fervor — the desire to defy that which is correct, i.e., my absolute truth. Sure, they speak of “fairness” and “equality” and “empathy” and “everyone deserving a living wage” and “letting people feel comfortable in their own skin” and “not being bullied or killed just for being who they are,” but it’s all a sham. They want to confuse people by leading them astray from the absolute truth. To force everyone to think a certain way. 

I will not stand for that coming from them.

Say what you want about the supposed influence of big money and big power on elections (and there is much to say about that), but ultimately all those millions and all those favors are done for a single purpose — to attract votes. Because those votes are what allow leaders to assume, and maintain, power.

Many people — most of whom I wouldn't argue with in principle — operate under a notion that if you're not talking at every moment about the gravest ill in society, then you are foolish and part of the problem. That because a person can care only about one thing (apparently), it had better be the Most Important One at all times.

Best of 2014 — Getting Gamed


Best blogging about sports, of which there surprisingly wasn't much from me this year. It mostly took the form of 14 Saints record predictions (and one final joke pick), during which I twice picked the Saints to finish 7-9. It's like I had a crystal ball, but different.

At least the Ragin' Cajuns got to the New Orleans Bowl, again. And won the game, again. This year, they beat the Nevada Wolf Pack 16-3, which was awkward for me in all the best ways.

Abuse is complex. It's not defined exclusively by 100 percent satanic behavior by the aggressor and 100 percent cowering by the victim. The bullied often fight back, and even more often attempt to establish equilibrium. The aggressor also has moments of humanity. I'm not surprised to hear that Martin and Incognito occasionally connected as confidantes, any more than I am to see people in an abusive relationship getting along at times.

College athletics is a unique creature. In a nation that defines itself by its capitalist work ethic, we not only expect athletes to compete for free, but we also lionize that free labor. Unpaid internships are a hot-button issue, but athletes are usually excluded from that conversation. They shouldn’t be, no matter how much love for the game they have.

I’m all about the love of the game. But that love doesn’t exempt people from needing to eat and otherwise meet their basic needs. That’s what needs to be addressed.


Michael Sam is not Bizarro Tim Tebow. Yes, people make fun of Tebow as they tend to do with public figures who give them fodder, but that isn’t persecution. Tebow is an insufferably sanctimonious Christian in America, where it’s socially acceptable to be an insufferably sanctimonious Christian. In 1998, Matthew Shepard was killed for being gay. Tebow would have been drafted that year. So spare me the comparisons.

Statistically speaking (and from my own recollections), Brooks generally played well in his games. He was far from perfect and never won any titles, but this is also true of many quarterbacks who aren't nearly as polarizing. And it isn't his fault that he was quickly overshadowed by possibly the greatest man ever to wear a Saints uniform.

And that didn't change against Nevada.
“No. And even if I did, it doesn’t matter, because Saints, Angels and Padres are not blatantly offensive names. They’re simply words that can be used in a religious context, and — this is key — still are used by polite society today. When was the last time you heard anyone say ‘redskin?’”

“The other night at a dinner party. We had red skin potatoes, and someone joked that they now had to be called indigenous-American potatoes. We all laughed so hard that someone had do the Heimlich on Tanner.”

The return of small-money ball (9/30)
One of my main issues with professional baseball is its lack of parity. The NFL's revenue-sharing program ensures that every team has a shot every year — or, at the very least, that a few deep-pocket teams don't always have a built-in advantage over smaller-market teams. Major League Baseball, on the other hand, has widespread income inequality which, to paraphrase Bob Costas, means only a few teams are truly competitive and the rest are just selling ballpark ambience. 

Religion becomes a problem when it narrows thinking. When it convinces people that the world is a separate, unimportant entity, whose people are out to harm and condemn the true believers. When it convinces people that they are the chosen ones and that no one else matters. When it convinces fanatics already inclined toward control, murder and destruction that such actions are justified. And, most commonly, when it short-circuits the human capacity for introspection.

Watson, on the other hand, is the kind of Christian who makes atheists like Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins look insufferably obnoxious.

RUINED GAG OF THE YEAR


WHICH BECAME:


Best of 2014 — Sunshine


This section is for the funny and satirical things I wrote or filmed this year. I call it “Sunshine” because, like sunshine, these works can brighten your day or compel you to squint in discomfort. Also, because I had a blurry picture I took of the sun shrouded in a red evening sky and not much else to use.
Avoid a man if:

• He doesn’t have a beard. That means he can’t protect you against the bears. Indeed, you should look for primal, Darwinian characteristics in every aspect of his life. Is he muscular? Does he drive a 4x4? Can he chop down sequoia trees with a dull butter knife? Does he own 15 varieties of firearms? How’s his night vision? Is he undertaking advanced specialized training for the zombie apocalypse? You need all of these things to survive the desolate, frozen tundrascape that is 2014 America.

JOHN ASTIN
I see you were an apathetic and terrible basketball coach at Beacontown High whose only winning season was due to a werewolf. So I’m hiring you to coach that werewolf’s skinny, intellectual cousin — who we don’t know to be a werewolf — in boxing at the collegiate level, which he doesn’t yet know he’s going to do because this is all a wacky misunderstanding that apparently can’t be fixed. Not that this would make any more sense if they had recast Michael J. Fox like they clearly meant to.

PAUL SAND
This setup makes negative sense, but I don’t care, so I’m on board.

JOHN ASTIN
Oh, it only gets worse from here.

Other NFL divisions (11/24)
NFC More Butts
Winner of the “Fan names a division” contest on Twitter.
AFC Extra Crispy
It’s only a matter of time before the league gets this corporate.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (2014) (12/8)
NEAL PAGE sees an AVAILABLE TAXI, which apparently only he and KEVIN BACON see. They RACE for it. NEAL WINS, but TRIPS over a BIG TRUNK. KEVIN gives a SARCASTIC SALUTE to NEAL and TRIES TO GET IN.

CAB DRIVER
Sorry, Bacon, someone booked this cab with an app.

KEVIN BACON
Damn!

NEAL PAGE
You're messing with the right guy. (ENTERS CAB)

BACON then tries to buy another cab ride from a stranger.

UBER EXECUTIVE
I don’t have a good nature. Excuse me.


TWITTER FUN
Tuesday Morning Football
Watch What Just Happened Live Earlier
AfterMASHAftermath

Sad toys (2/8)
Hasbeenbro
Barbiennui
Easy Head in the Oven

Dog Movies (7/29)
Hair EVERYWHERE
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Panting
Scootch Pilgrim vs. the World

Penguinzzard
BEAR COMET!
Ice Suns of the Moon

#RuinADessert (10/15)
Chocolate chips on your shoulder
Chocolate Sudaffle
CakeKK

#HipHopBooks (10/15)
The Hitchhiker's Guide to Digable Planets
2 Live Crew of Dunces
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Gat

Sentence: Car insurance commercials. Forever.
Black Friday. You're the doors.
Buried alive. Oxygen. Cellphone. Busey.

CAPITALIST LETTERS: A NOVEL
For National Novel Writing Month in November, I began work on Capitalist Letters, a novel told in a series of short stories, news and magazine articles and from the points of view of inanimate objects. I only reached 21,843 words (the goal is 50,000), but I like it so far. Below are some excerpts:

All Lisa knew was, she wanted this to be done with already. Vomit dread, she called it, where the anticipation is worse than the action. She remembered a similar feelng of dread from her schooling, when the nuns would come down on her hard with the ruler, or sometimes not at all. Either way, it was a terrifying punishment for (usually) not praying in the correct posture. To this day, it was part of her spiritual OCD, even if she didn't believe anymore. God may or may not be a fluid concept of dubious reality, but the punishment authority figures could inflict was very, very real.

"Look at this fast-food restaurant. You know how much business we get from it? A ton. Literally. Tons and tons of people. They kill themselves eating here. They kill themselves working here. And for what? To keep a roof over their heads. So they can stay alive another day to go keep working at Big Burger Picnic. And to take care of their kids, whose chances are so shot from the outset that they'll be lucky in 15 years to go work at Big Burger Picnic. That's a good life? You think that's what a good life is?"

Lisa didn't know what to say. Whatever assertiveness she'd found in the car with Truman Echeverria had apparently died in it as well.

"That's not my life," she replied meekly.

Pressure cooker: (Yawn) "Good morning, all."
Abdominator: "Hey."
Best of Neil Diamond: "Mornin'."
Leisure suit: "TGIF!"
Pressure cooker: "Oh, is it Friday?"
Leisure suit: "I don't know. I lost track in 1983."

Back to Best of 2014 — Ebola Bucket home

Best of 2014 — Navel Gazing


Fascinating stuff I wrote about myself.

Will to live (2/16)
Over the years, I've lost many friends and family. Inevitably, someone said it was their time. And I would think, "If God has someone for all eternity, why can't we have them for a little while longer? It would still be eternity after that." Also, I bounced around happily in back seats as a kid, and I managed to escape injury. Does that mean God had a plan for me, and not those kids? Or does it mean God didn't deem me worthy of heaven's ball pit? So many questions, so few of them comforting and so many troubling — and none with definite answers.

On Tuesday, I received my furniture and effects after having them in storage for 17 months. I've lived for the past seven months in my apartment with what fit in my car and a few other items purchased since then — and the previous 9 1/2 months was spent at my parents' house, among their furnishings and shared bathrooms, keeping my toiletries and laundry in travel totes. In sports terms, I hadn't nested since the NFL was using replacement officials.

It's enough of a time period where you don't even miss things, but forget you have them, and forget you need them. It plays with your head.

Brenner's humor in all its forms resonated with me because he could mine comedy, or a meaningful anecdote, out of nearly anything. I've been working at that ever since. The forces that compelled me to start Not Right About Anything are rooted in Brenner's inspiration. Above all, though, I'll remember Brenner for a single, pivotal statement that's largely determined who I've been ever since.

The immediate aftermath on that June 11 day taught me many things about life. Some poignant, and some funny.

When my mom came into the kitchen, I asked her if Ninnin (as we called her) had died. "Yes, she passed away," she replied. That was the first time I ever heard that expression. Well, misheard it.

"She passed out," I would say for several days thereafter. Kids say the darnedest things.

We never exchanged phone numbers, social-media follows or even last names. I know her first name and where she's from — that's about it, and about what she knows of me. She said we were about the same age, but neither of us mentioned our ages (I'm sure 34 is far off for her). We promised to stay in touch, but that seems unlikely now.

That makes me sad. But in a way, it doesn't.




In the (fake) news

Internet braces for entire year of hoverboard jokes

THE INTERNET — As the year 2015 dawns, IT experts across the world are adding hundreds of miles of servers to accommodate what it expects to be at least 15 terabytes’ worth of references to the fictitious Mattel hoverboard seen in the film Back to the Future II.

Back to the Future II, released in 1989 and partially set in the year 2015, depicts the hoverboard — a floating skateboard without wheels — as a common mode of transportation. Though the hoverboard technology seen in the movie has not become a reality, Internet experts expect a minimum of 4 billion joke references to the toy in the next 12 months.

“We’re anticipating most of these references to be in the form of a question about where their hoverboards are,” said Miles Bratton, one of more than 850,000 engineers involved in the massive project. “That prediction opens the door to the possibility of overlapping identical hoverboard queries in our servers to save space. Because, really, people are unoriginal.”

Bratton suggested that in order to avoid potential overload during peak times, those wishing to make Back to the Future II jokes should diversify their references to include the fake movie Jaws 19; autopilot dog leashes; the Cubs winning the World Series; and/or the inexplicable return of Pontiac dealerships.

The server project is the largest of its kind since 2005, when the Internet discovered cats.

Politician admits to speaking at “Wipe Out Texas” rally

“I didn’t know that’s what it was,” he claims

WASHINGTON — Sal Stallworth, a newly elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives, acknowledged Monday that he spoke at a “Wipe Out Texas” rally in 2006, though he said he wasn’t aware of and didn’t agree with the rally’s message.

The political blog Cirque du Solons broke news of the incident last week, citing a newspaper brief from July 27, 2006. The post went viral, amassing 1.2 million hits in three days and attracting national attention.

Stallworth downplayed his participation in the rally, saying it was simply one stop in his campaign tour.

“I didn’t know that’s what it was,” Stallworth said of the anti-Texas rally. “I was a young politician trying to get my footing. I took every platform that would have me to spread my message, which centered around the flat tax, not wiping out Texas.”

Stallworth further denied any associations between himself and the rally’s sponsor, the Coalition to Eliminate the Lone Star State.

“I had no idea about the group’s aims, certainly not from their ambiguous name,” he said. “That was poor vetting on the part of myself and my staff, I admit.”

The CELSS, founded in 1980 and boasting 6,000 members, is led by Duke Dunn, a longtime fixture on the state-annihilation scene. He is most notorious for his series of books blaming America’s woes on the “Texan lobby” and “the Lone Starist media.” In April 2006, Collins was arrested for attempting to spray-paint "TEXAS GO HOME" on the Houston Astrodome, an incident that made national news.

“I missed that,” Stallworth said.

Video footage of the rally, posted by Cirque du Solons, shows Collins introducing Stallworth to a standing ovation, in front of a “WIPE OUT TEXAS” banner. In the video, Stallworth begins his speech by saying, “Remember the Astrodome!”

Stallworth defended his introductory remark by saying, “The Astrodome was once the Eighth Wonder of the World and now it’s vacant, decaying and overshadowed by Reliant Stadium. I was just reminding people to remember it, that’s all.”

He acknowledged that his indiscretion might look bad to some, but asked for understanding and forgiveness.

“We were a completely inept operation. Seriously,” Stallworth said of his 2006 campaign. “Just to drive that point home, we spoke at several more CELSS rallies and at an assembly that called for the stealing of children’s puppies. Chalk it up to youthful naivete.

“We’re much smarter now, I assure you.”

Protest wins over people it stranded in traffic

SAN DIEGO — A demonstration against police corruption that blocked Interstate 5 on Monday successfully brought trapped motorists over to the cause, organizers said.

An estimated 350 protesters formed a human barrier across the highway at approximately noon Monday, bringing lunchtime traffic to a standstill. Though motorists were angry at first, honking their horns and yelling at the demonstrators to get out of the way, a medley of chants from the crowd soon got the captive drivers to see the error of their ways.

Motorist Bryan Talley, who was at the front of the vehicle convoy, said the protest “made [him] think.”

“I was on my way back to work from my lunch break to meet an important client,” Talley said. “And I was pretty pissed at first that I had the bad luck of being stopped by the demonstrators. But then I realized that my luck was actually good. I finally saw what a sheep I was and how I’d let life and work get in the way of what I should have been thinking about all along, which was this group of protesters. They made it to where I couldn’t avoid it any longer. That was grand of them.”

Paramedic Erin Gladstone echoed similar sentiments. She was among the staff in an ambulance transporting a gunshot victim to the hospital.

“Normally, a disruption in the traffic flow is the last thing you need as a paramedic,” she said. “But the ferocity of the protest really got us all thinking. It certainly moved our patient, who mustered up all the strength he could to make a solidarity gesture before flatlining. His wife said it’s how he wanted to go.”

Not everyone was convinced, however. One snarled driver was photographed trying to drive around the line, an image that immediately went viral online with the caption, “Part of the problem.”

That driver, Marilyn Davidson, said she was missing an organizational meeting of Citizens for Fair Policing, a group that monitors police corruption.

“Because of the protest, I didn’t get to arrange a meeting between the CFP and the local police union,” she sighed.

“I’ve been behind the protesters’ cause 100 percent for a decade,” Davidson continued. “But after 20 minutes of being roadblocked, I was looking around for some cop cars, I can tell you.”

Buoyed by the success of the protest, activists plan to repeat the spectacle at an undisclosed interchange to bring attention to ongoing economic turmoil in Belarus.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Oh, for goodness sake

I get the general sentiment behind the song "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." After all, I was a kid for about 20 years, and in that time heeded everyone from Perry to Michael to Bruce, et al. who reminded me of said annual arrival.

But why can't kids cry or pout? Why are these the first two acts that come to mind? 

What if that kid's crying because their close relative died on Christmas Eve, they live in an abusive environment or they're in the midst of an existential funk?

What if they're pouting because ... any reason? Any child who doesn't pout once in a while is a robot and should be put under some real child's tree.

Yeah, I get it, it's because "cry" and "pout" make for easily rhymed lyrics. I can solve that problem as well:

Oh, you better not deal
You better not lie
You better not steal
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town!

Now that's a culturally relevant Christmas carol! Of course, there are also extenuating circumstances for all those scenarios as well, so I'm just going to not blog now.

Merry Christmas Adam, everybody.

Monday, December 22, 2014

My favorite nonexistent holiday songs

"Manger Anger" by Santa Slays

"Winter Wonder Bread" by William White and the Suburbanites

"I Saw Mommy as Santa Claus" by Shattered Innocence

"A Pitfall! Christmas" by the Activision '82 Singers

"Let It Snowball" by the Do-Nothings

"Sister Christmas" by Silent Night Ranger

"It's Not Tree Needles I Need" by Ornametal

"O Tannehill" by Miami Dolphin Machine

"Just Another Day" by an atheist paramedic with no seniority who works night shifts

"Obligatory Kiss" by Mr. Mistletoe

"I'll Be Rome For Christmas" by Rome

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Charles Manson

"Do They Know It's Dec. 14?" by Random Aid

"All I Want For Christmas (Is Stew)" by the Reasonable Expectations

"Little Bummer Droid" by Mannheim Stormtroopers

"Sleigh Rider" by the Brown M&Ms

"Away As A Manager" by the Mid-Level Business Travelers

"Dreck the Halls" by the Needless Cover Band

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Revised Saints prediction (Last one)

7-9

(Last week: 8-8)

If the Saints forfeited next week's game, I literally would feel no different about them than I do right now. This year's team is a disgraceful waste of talent. They have won a few and looked good in the process, getting everyone's hopes up, but then wet the bed when it counts. It didn't count more than it did today, and they couldn't have played worse than they did.

Five straight losses in the Superdome hasn't happened since 1980, and it's bizarre that such a streak happened after such a legendary home-win stretch. That doesn't flip so dramatically without a major core crisis. Something is wrong.

But I'm all out of caring for this season. The only reason I pick the Saints to win one more is because it's an away game against the Bucs and there's nothing to play for. It's the only kind of game these guys know how to win anymore.

At least the Ragin' Cajuns haven't forgotten how to win in the Superdome.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bad showing

Yesterday was a weird day.

First we heard that the U.S. has vowed to normalize relations with Cuba. Our strained relationship with the nation we can see from Florida's house has been disproportional for decades. I've never fully understood it beyond, "They're communists" and, "We've been this way for a long time." But we're friends with arguably worse regimes and inertia is always an indefensible reason to keep doing something. If we're so intent on winning hearts and minds on the other side of the world, maybe it wouldn't hurt to try it in a nearby nation whose people would probably be more receptive to it. That's got to work better than lingering spite against the aging leadership.

But in the finest tradition of "one step forward, two steps back," Sony announced the cancellation of The Interview. The Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy about an American shock-jock duo's interview/assassination mission on the leader of North Korea drew threats on theaters and a massive cyberattack on Sony from a group believed to be based in the nation. Numerous theaters dropped the film as a result, and Sony followed suit by canceling its showing entirely.

I can't believe this is a thing that happened in America in 2014 (well, maybe 2014, as regressive as this year has been, but I mean in general). 

I'm willing to bet that The Interview did not end with the mission accomplished. Chances are the Americans in it come off as bungling and arrogant as the bad guys (which is what the previews strongly suggested). No big-budget comedy would play this plot straight; even if funding and public relations weren't issues, it just wouldn't be funny that way. In fact, I'd bet that the movie humanizes the infamous dictator and has the guys second-guessing their motivations, and everyone involved becomes a little better as a result. 

But it just became harder to know, and that's disheartening.

(A few minutes after posting this, I saw a link to a clip that apparently depicts Kim Jong-un going in a way similar to Saddam Hussein in Hot Shots!, though said clip had already been removed. But maybe he's had a change of heart and then it happens. Or maybe it's just a bad attempt at comedy. Either way, the point's still the same.)

When I think back to the heavy-metal hearings of the 1980s and the flap by religious leaders over movies such as Life of Brian and The Last Temptation of Christ, I think, "Did grown, taxpaying adults really fret over the suggestive power of this stuff? What a weird age." One day, we'll all see The Interview and probably have the same reaction. The stakes may have been higher this time around, but that fact will put the movie in even greater perspective. It's often joked that people who protest films don't bother to see them first and miss the point completely as a result. And that such protests boost the movie's profile hundredfold, when it otherwise might have disappeared in the pack.

Never have the consequences of such misguided thinking been more clear.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Revised Saints prediction, part XII

8-8

(Last week: 6-10)

If the Saints play like they did for three quarters tonight, they will win the division. The inability to close is a genuine concern for this team — and I think if they lose one or both of the next two games, that will be why. But both sides of the ball showed tonight that they are capable of fire — in Chicago, no less. Raymond James Stadium, by comparison, seems a very conquerable venue at this point. 

But the Saints' more immediate challenge is against the Falcons, a game that may decide everything. If the Saints can remember how to win in the Superdome, they'll most likely apply that knowledge to their playoff game.

Rise up, New Orleans!

Monday, December 08, 2014

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (2014)

(A parody script on how it would unfold today)

Int. NEW YORK ADVERTISING FIRM, two days before THANKSGIVING.

STEVE MARTIN, LYMAN WARD and THE BOSS are looking at COSMETIC ADS. THE BOSS can’t decide. He is always about to SAY SOMETHING but NEVER DOES.

STEVE MARTIN
(WHISPERS) I gotta go. I have to catch a plane.

LYMAN WARD
You’ll never make the six!

STEVE MARTIN
Because it’s rush hour in New York City?

LYMAN WARD

That, and because it’ll take you way more than an hour to go through security. Probably two or three. Really, you never should have scheduled the six.

STEVE MARTIN
I guess I could go with you on the 8.


LYMAN WARD
Yeah, good luck with that. I probably won’t get home either.



Ext. NEW YORK CITY, RUSH HOUR.

STEVE MARTIN sees an AVAILABLE TAXI, which apparently only he and KEVIN BACON see. They RACE for it. STEVE WINS, but TRIPS over a BIG TRUNK. KEVIN gives a SARCASTIC SALUTE to STEVE and TRIES TO GET IN.

CAB DRIVER
Sorry, Bacon, someone booked this cab with an app.

KEVIN BACON
Damn!

STEVE MARTIN
You're messing with the right guy. (ENTERS CAB)

BACON then tries to buy another cab ride from a stranger.

UBER EXECUTIVE
I don’t have a good nature. Excuse me.



Int. AIRPORT. 

STEVE MARTIN is sitting next to JOHN CANDY, who are both waiting for a DELAYED FLIGHT.

JOHN CANDY
I know you, don’t I?

STEVE MARTIN
No.

Int. JET. 

STEVE is trying to get into FIRST CLASS.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT
I’m sorry. First class is full.


STEVE MARTIN
I have a first-class ticket.



FLIGHT ATTENDANT
You have a coach seat assignment.

STEVE MARTIN
Yelp will hear about this.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT
Oh, here, there, anywhere’s fine.

EXT. AIRPORT in WICHITA, KAN.

STEVE MARTIN
Hi honey. I’m in Wichita.

STEVE'S WIFE
Wichita, Kansas? What's going on, Steve?

STEVE MARTIN
The snowstorm closed Chicago, so we landed here.

STEVE'S WIFE
Thank you for letting me know.

STEVE MARTIN
Cellphones are so convenient.

STEVE finds an out-of-the-way MOTEL to spend the night via an APP. However, a TEXT ALERT informs him that flights are resuming shortly. He stays at the AIRPORT and soon after catches a FLIGHT, canceling his ROOM RESERVATION with the SAME APP. He flies HOME without incident, arriving at 10 p.m. He HAILS A TAXI with his UNBURNED CREDIT CARDS, no sweat at all, from the AIRPORT to his HOUSE. STEVE'S DAUGHTER answers the door.

STEVE MARTIN
Hiya, kiddo.

STEVE'S DAUGHTER
DADDY!

They all have THANKSGIVING and the DAY BEFORE together. 

JOHN CANDY still doesn’t have a home.

END

Talk about bowl me over ...

Furthering my strong suspicion that my existence is a real-life version of The Truman Show, the Nevada Wolf Pack of Reno will be facing Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns in the New Orleans Bowl.

My two-time alma mater against the school in the city where I live now. Cosmic! I think I will feel (more) like an outsider for the next two weeks, especially if I start wearing my UL letterman's jacket around town.

If nothing else, maybe I can get Renoites to stop calling the school "Lafayette." They can relate to this struggle.

I have an idea of how this game is going to go. But given how well I do with written predictions, I'll keep it in my head for now.

Ben Watson: When God is good

Like most decent human beings, I enjoyed Saints tight end Ben Watson’s Facebook post about Ferguson. It was an empathetic and thorough breakdown of his (and many of our) feelings from multiple angles that would have been impressive from a professional pundit, never mind a pro athlete playing in an increasingly sanitized league.

I am admittedly at odds with his conclusion that we need more God to keep this from happening again. I’d scoff at that from a Rick Santorum type, so it's fair not to shut a critical eye just because it was said by one of the few Saints who still gives a damn (pun obviously not intended).

But I’ve followed Watson on Twitter for awhile, so I know he means what he says. The teachings of Jesus — which are fantastic, no matter whether or not you ascribe divinity to them — clearly factor heavily into his life and outlook. And as his Facebook post proves, they don’t hinder his capacity to think clearly and thoughtfully.

Religion becomes a problem when it narrows thinking. When it convinces people that the world is a separate, unimportant entity, whose people are out to harm and condemn the true believers. When it convinces people that they are the chosen ones and that no one else matters. When it convinces fanatics already inclined toward control, murder and destruction that such actions are justified. And, most commonly, when it short-circuits the human capacity for introspection.

Watson, on the other hand, is the kind of Christian who makes atheists like Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins look insufferably obnoxious. Those guys are convinced that everyone with religious beliefs is any combination of selfish, delusional, ignorant and tyrannical. While there certainly lots of religious people who fit those descriptions, it’s foolish to dismiss all of them as such. Like Watson, for one.

Considering all the paragraphs that came before it, his call for more Gospel seems like a genuine call for peace and goodwill than the social control it so often represents these days. What Watson concluded might not be what I would say, but I respect it. I welcome it, even, because all too often we only hear the shallow, black-and-white thoughts of the fanatics and the charlatans. Those people make it easy to forget that the faithful aren’t a monolithic bloc.

As someone who subscribes to no faith apart from humanity, I would rather be around a good-hearted religious person — someone who employs their faith as a personal guidepost and not as a bludgeon — than a smug atheist who does nothing but point fingers from on high. Because extreme atheism has the same capacity for narrowing thought as religion, and that — not what faith someone adheres to — is the real problem.

Watson’s words are worth everyone’s time. Religious notions of sin are in the eye of the beholder, but hate, abuse and misunderstanding are real-world sins. Few yet have made that as clear as he has.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Revised Saints prediction, part XI

6-10

(Last week: 7-9)

Any readers I have left might notice that I'm writing these predictions earlier and earlier. Next week's might be out before the game.

The 2014 Saints don't want to play anymore. Your guess is as good as mine as to why, given that they're being handed a playoff berth on a platter made of silver mined by the least-subtle deity in existence. As I said earlier in the season, something must be happening behind closed doors that will eventually merit a magazine cover and perhaps its own Wikipedia entry. This group of talent should not be playing with this little consistency or heart. There's a reason for it. We just have to find out what it is.

Given their allegedly easy schedule and the bizarre fact that they only win on the road all of a sudden (and have two chances left to do so), they will probably win one of those and still make the playoffs somehow.

That doesn't change the fact that this is a very diseased football team at the moment.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Bo, it's cold outside

If I had to pick my least-favorite Christmas song, it would be "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Everything about that song suggests the presence of a tuna-and-mayo Jell-O mold, floors made of asbestos and enough Lucky Strikes to give cancer cancer. And let's not forget the Grade-A creepo sex attorney who immediately objects to everything the woman says until she concedes to "just a cigarette more" and apparently another drink she can't identify. The song ends with her submission and concession that yes, it's cold outside, so the feminine will is not a thing. Ugh.

On the other hand, the melody is catchy. So after about the seventh time my local Christmas-music station played "Baby, It's Cold Outside" five times in an hour, I thought, "Can't someone change the lyrics so I can listen to this tune without needing to decontaminate afterward?"

Then help, as it so often does, came from the Duke boys.

Tom Wopat and John Schneider have released a new Christmas album, and one of the tracks is "Johnny It's Cold Outside." It's exactly what you'd expect — a Christmas miracle.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Could it have been anyone other than them?

Under the Table and Dreaming by the Dave Matthews Band was probably, more than any other, the defining album of my high school years. It wasn’t the first CD I ever bought by a long shot, but it was one of the first current albums, and DMB was perhaps the first band I really got into entirely on my own.

Here’s what I mean by that: All my life, I have loved ’80s music. People tend to love what they know from the beginning, which explains everything from taste in music to religion and all else in between. So nostalgia is arguably a big influence in a lot of my jams. In my early teenage years, I had rediscovered much of the music I enjoyed years before on my mom’s silver Panasonic boombox. This put me out of touch with most of my friends, who were eyes-deep in the alternative or R&B hits at the time, but I didn’t care that much. (I did keep up to some degree, and I think of those early-’90s songs fondly now, but they were rarely heavily in my personal rotation).

But Dave Matthews Band was one of the few 1990s bands I got into in a big way, in terms of knowing every band member’s name, instrument, history and wanting to acquire as much of their music and merchandise as possible. I didn’t get into them because of my friends or sentimentality or because they sounded very ’80s, but simply because I liked their sound and image. (In retrospect, I realize now that I like a lot of stoner culture, even though I’m not and have never been a stoner.)

Indeed, stumbling upon DMB felt like discovering a treasure no one else knew about. (In retrospect, I realize now that I exhibit a lot of hipster behavior, even though I’m not and have never been a hipster.) I was surprised to find out that my friends also loved DMB, which might have been the first time I liked music at the same time everyone else did.

Under the Table and Dreaming was my soundtrack for 1995. I jammed to it, hummed deep cuts in class and even bonded with a girlfriend over the violin solo in “Ants Marching.” When I brought my copy to a party, I wrote my name on it so friends would know it was mine and love me more. Which is why I was so surprised to the see the entirety of the AV Club dump all over it. And also that they consider it a 1994 album.

I don’t know why everyone says Under the Table and Dreaming was their soundtrack for 1994. Sure, it came out in September of that year — but I listened to a ton of hit radio in those days, and also had a lot of friends that were all up on the latest music, and still I never heard of these guys until 1995.



In fact, I can pinpoint almost the exact day I first heard them. It was on a morning during the first week of July 1995, when I was taking a driving lesson in my hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana. I was about to cross the Pinhook bridge when the opening licks of “What Would You Say” came over KSMB. When Dave Matthews sang, “fleas and ticks jump everywhere,” I thought, “I think I remember this song from 1988.” It wasn’t until the DJ announced the artist and song title that I realized it was new. And a fan was born.

I have never stopped listening Under the Table and Dreaming since, and many cuts remain in heavy rotation on my iPod. DMB’s 1996 follow-up, Crash, was almost equally rapturous for me, but I don’t listen to it nearly as often these days. Their next album, 1998’s Before These Crowded Streets — the last of their albums I’ve bought to date — mostly remains in 1998 to me.

But Under the Table and Dreaming was a pivotal album of the 1990s. I think it holds up as well as anything else from the decade, and my much-younger sister’s (and all the people her age’s) love for the band seems to attest to that. The worst thing I can say about the band is what it did to my songwriting (I was a prolific songwriter from the ages of 13 to 20) — I began to model my lyrics on Dave Matthews’ style, which meant many of them barely made sense in my own head, much less in anyone else’s. ("Pay For What You Get" inspired my own title, "Start What You Finish.") But that’s hardly an indictment of the record.

I suspect that many people who dis the Dave Matthews Band now play to hippie-fan stereotypes, the band’s tendency to recycle songs and perhaps the bloat of their later mega-popularity. But in 1995, DMB was fresh, new and innovative. They scored the best of my teenage years.

And as far as I can tell, ants continue to march to this very day.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Life as an impulse purchase

(From Capitalist Letters)

A pressure cooker, an Abdominator, a leisure suit and The Best of Neil Diamond on cassette are stacked up in a closet.

Pressure cooker: (Yawn) "Good morning, all."

Abdominator: "Hey."

Best of Neil Diamond: "Mornin'."

Leisure suit: "TGIF!"

Pressure cooker: "Oh, is it Friday?"

Leisure suit: "I don't know. I lost track in 1983."

Best of Neil Diamond: "You were still being worn in 1983?"

Leisure suit: "I was only worn in 1983. That was the year Ken bought me."

Abdominator: "Ken was behind the times, huh?"

Leisure suit: "Yes. Yes he was. And still is."

Pressure cooker: "At least you got worn! I've never been taken out of my box. Just opened."

Best of Neil Diamond: "My shrink wrap is fully intact. I don't get it. Ken claimed he was a fan."

Abdominator: "You have good songs on you."

Best of Neil Diamond: "I know, right? I mean, at this point, who knows how hissy they sound. But Ken could still play me in his Cressida."

Pressure cooker: "The Cressida! Now there's something you never see in the closet."

Abdominator: "It must be so nice to get used that much. I got used three times, once by the dog. Does that count? If not, twice."

Leisure suit: "Looking at Ken, I'd say he could a few extra go-rounds on it. Then he could fit in me again."

Pressure cooker: "It'd take more times than that, I think."

Best of Neil Diamond: "If he put me in his Walkman, maybe he'd be inclined to jump around some more."

Walkman: "Nope, sorry, over here."

Abdominator: "Oh, shoot! Never thought you'd go out of style."

Walkman: "I blame compact discs. Since Ken changed out his collection three years ago, I've been tucked back here with corroding batteries."

Leisure suit: "How have we not seen you all this time?"

Walkman: "This bag of flip-phones has been in the way, and that smartphone just got thrown in here too."

Abdominator: "That's a pretty new smartphone. Still has a charge, even. What's it doing here?"

Smartphone: "Ken upgraded. My two years was up."

Walkman: "Two years? Man, they don't make things like they used to."

Leisure suit: "I think most of us would have taken two years of use."

Smartphone: "I still work perfectly. Ken only used five percent of my memory."

Leisure suit: "Huh?"

Abdominator: "So why did he dump you here?"

Smartphone: "Because the new version of me has a slightly better interface."

Leisure suit: "Well, welcome to the land of impulse buys."

Walkman: "And retired must-haves."

Smartphone. "Thanks. So what does that make me?"

Leisure suit: "Futuristic! Please, do tell us, what is life like outside the door? Is everyone getting along? Are cars flying yet?"

Smartphone: [Loses charge]

Abdominator: "Awww! I'll bet everything's going great out in the world."

Revised Saints prediction, part X

7-9

(Last week: 4-12)

I didn't watch one play of the Steelers game. I didn't even check the score until the Saints were up 35-16, which is when the Steelers did their too-little-too-late-but-just-barely dance. Also, just about every other team I wanted to win did today, including the Jaguars over the Giants, so clearly the world wants me writing instead of acknowledging that football exists.

I'm thinking now that the Saints aren't irrevocably bad, they just apparently completely flipped the script of home vs. road supremacy. Given that they have two road games left (both against beatable teams), I think they could manage 7-9 at this point, which could very well land them the division.

Weird.

I'm really bad at this prognosticating business.

Well, I finally lost at something

This month, for the second time, I participated in National Novel Writing Month. In 2012, I reached the winning 50,000-word count with an incomplete draft of If That's What You Want.

This year ... I wasn't even close. Final count: 21,843.

I met the average one day. That isn't zero.
And of course that bums me out, because as I so often paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, I want to do unbelievable on the hearing test. I hate to lose or come up short on anything, especially when it's something I put my heart into.

But it's not all bad, because the novel I wrote this time, Capitalist Letters, would be a stretch at 50,000 words. It's a story (or several intertwining stories) told through short narrative chapters, magazine and newspaper articles and through the point of view of inanimate objects. There's a journalistic economy to it. I joke that I can say 50,000 words' worth of something in 20,000 words, and this story might be 20,000 words' worth when it's complete. At this stage it's more of an exercise than anything, and some of it is frankly fluff. So we'll see how it goes. If nothing else, it gives me something promising to work on at a future time when life isn't so hectic.

Anyway, here's another excerpt from Capitalist Letters:

Lisa goes to heaven for a little bit


Well, that was weird.

The last thing Lisa remembered, she was driving, then she wasn't. She had apparently been picked up like her mother had picked her up as a child when she wanted to see things. Except that she didn't want to see what she was seeing — herself being cut out of what used to be car, but was now a jagged black tuxedo of torture.

The jaws of life, they called the freakish device they were using. It's the kind of machine you never see until you're too horrified to see it.

DADADADADADADADADA … DADADADADADADADAAAA!!!

That noise! That noise should ever be near a person!

That blood! That blood should never be on a person!

Am I alive? I sure don't look it.

"Follow the light," her mom told her as she embraced her. Mom looked a lot like some old picture Lisa had seen a million times. Anyway, wasn't Mom a lot older and nowhere near here? And didn't she typically not sound like she was not real?

"What light, Mom?" Lisa asked weakly, weaker than she was feeling, almost half-asleep.

Mom pointed up. "The light you see before you if you look for the light." Huh?

Then there was nothing. Darkness. And a bright white light in the middle of it, like a polka dot.

Lisa recalled that she'd read how the "light" was a human function, a misfire of the synapses, perhaps, that many people in the process of death or near-death mistook for the beacon to heaven.

Overanalytical even in the process of death.

"Follow the light!" A disembodied voice, maybe her late uncle's, echoed from somewhere indistinct.

"Follow the light!" Was that a Munchkin? Well, they were dead.

"Follow your nose!" Toucan Sam?!!

Light … light… light … light… echo … echo … echo …

Lisa didn't recall actually taking the advice, but there she was, suddenly in a gigantic, ornate lobby, not unlike one you'd see in an upscale urban hotel. Didn't Truman Echeverria own a hotel like this?

"Hello, dear," the receptionist called out to Lisa through a teeming crowd of people. There might as well have been everyone who'd ever died here, but the receptionist's eyes aimed at her like a laser in a room with a single object.

Lisa ambled her way to the desk, wondering if that really was Phil Hartman she'd just seen. And Gandhi!

"What happened?" Lisa asked the receptionist, again suddenly groggy.

"You are currently dead," the receptionist, whose name was Pam, replied too cheerfully.

"Currently dead?" Lisa asked in disbelief. "What on Earth does that mean?"

"Currently dead means you're not quite dead, but you're much of the way there."

"So there's hope?" Lisa asked hopefully, regaining her energy.

"Yes, there is, but why not stay here in heaven? It's the best place in the universe!"

"So heaven's real?"

"Yes, dear," Pam said. "I know you are a skeptic, but I'm here today to prove to you that not only is heaven real, but that you'll want to stay a loyal guest with us forever!"

"But … but … I have a life down there on Earth. A good one!"

"Really? A good one? Are you sure about that?" The receptionist asked with a skeptical scowl on her face. "Now, see, that's what I'm skeptical about. You're a computer programmer who's constantly badgered and belittled for being a woman. You're shy, and the world is built for extroverts. You're lonely."

"I have friends and family there," Lisa objected. "Friends and family who love me and don't want to see me dead! And I don't want to be dead either!"

"Come with me," Pam commanded, grabbing Lisa's reluctant arm. "I want to show you something."

The two walked into a sprawling ballroom that was oddly empty and quiet, considering the chaos of the lobby. Pam pressed a button and a giant screen lowered quietly from the rafters. The screen then displayed an image of Big Burger Picnic.

"Look at this fast-food restaurant. You know how much business we get from it? A ton. Literally. Tons and tons of people. They kill themselves eating here. They kill themselves working here. And for what? To keep a roof over their heads. So they can stay alive another day to go keep working at Big Burger Picnic. And to take care of their kids, whose chances are so shot from the outset that they'll be lucky in 15 years to go work at Big Burger Picnic. That's a good life? You think that's what a good life is?"

Lisa didn't know what to say. Whatever assertiveness she'd found in the car with Truman Echeverria had apparently died in it as well.

"That's not my life," she replied meekly. "I have a plum gig as a programmer. It's not without its faults, but it's my dream."

"But really, it's no different," Pam admonished. "You're at the bottom of the barrel, with very little chance to scrape to the top. They treat you like shit there …"

Lisa was surprised to hear the word "shit" in heaven.

"… And even in the best of situations, you still have to scrounge to survive every day just to have the privilege of breathing that polluted air, drinking that diseased water and eating the food that slowly drags you toward death's door. You. Truman. Nearly 7 billion others."

"Truman! Oh my God, where is he?"

"He's currently on hold with another representative."

"Representative?"

"Yes. You see, we serve as brand ambassadors to ensure that you select a quality experience in the afterlife over the miserable meat-grinder that is life below. Here, you will never have to worry about death, pain, loss or grief. It's something you should really consider. You're a great and strong girl, Lisa. You deserve a great and strong afterlife experience to go with it. And what better name recognition than heaven? Trillions of souls can't be wrong!"

"This isn't, like, an eternity of strumming a harp while flying on clouds as angels, is it?" Lisa asked timidly.

"Oh, heavens, no, dear," Pam replied. "No pun intended. Ha ha ha! You quickly find your place here. With more than 8 million career opportunities, you'll find the vocation that's right for you!"

"So you have to work in heaven?"

"But of course, dear! A community as magnificent as heaven doesn't just come together! You have to earn your keep, pull yourself up by your own divine bootstraps. But look on the bright side — no 401(k) and no taxes! You get to work as long as you want, and keep all your money! For all eternity! Maybe one day you'll work hard enough to climb the heavenly ladder and meet the big CEO himself!"

Lisa hesitated. She wasn't sure this wasn't actually hell.