Gimme A Witness

I was awakened last weekend, on a beautiful Saturday morning, by a knock on the door… Okay, I wasn’t awakened, it was 11:30, but I’d just gotten up and I was brushing my teeth when I opened the door, and I was greeted by a pair of shiny, smiling, well-dressed people wearing their very best “Sunday Go To Meetin'” clothes and carrying Watch Tower magazines.

Now this in and of itself isn’t a problem. I have two brothers who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’ve heard all the sales pitches, I’ve read the magazines, I’ve been to the meetings. In fact, I find that this familiarity with the pitch, this hipness to the word, is actually a great defense against these early morning attacks.

“Thank you,” I say, “but I have two brothers who are Witnesses. I don’t really need to have anything explained to me.” That usually puts the kibosh on the whole thing right there. “Ah, well,” they will surely say, “if his own brother couldn’t bring him over, well then, the Force is strong in this one.”

But not this time.

“Oh,” she says, “You’re Steve’s brother.”

Now, I’m not sure exactly why but it got the hackles up on the back of my neck … I felt like I had a target taped to my soul.

My immunity to Salvation, apparently, is legendary. Rather than being an indication that I am immovable, rather than marking the doorway with some invisible, unseen sign of the Dark Side that will keep future Witnesses at bay, protecting them from the black malevolence that is my resistance to divine rescue, there is instead a price on my head. My soul is now the Great White Whale of souls… the El Dorado of souls… the Super Bowl of souls. My soul is the stuff of legend… and my name is whispered in the smoke-filled back room of the Kingdom Hall.

So rather than throw their hands up in desperation, they looked at me with a gleam in their eyes, one very nice Church Lady, with lace around her neck and sensible shoes, and a fat, sweaty, happily rosy-cheeked guy with a suit and a tie that squeezes his neck out of his collar like a water balloon through a napkin ring.

“So your brothers are witnesses, and you … are not?”

That is correct, I assert. I am, in fact, not a Witness.

“Do you believe in God at all,” they press on, “or are you just a … non-believer?”

I’m not comfortable discussing this with you, here, in my doorway, in my sweats, with a toothbrush in my mouth, I answer. I haven’t had my coffee. This could go very wrong, very quickly.

“Just one last question,” he presses on, “and you don’t have to answer now. I only ask that you think about this.

“Do you actually believe that there is no divine intervention, no way to assure our everlasting salvation, that Mankind will just continue to go on, forever, in his current, depraved, selfish way, destroying himself, and the planet, wreaking havoc in a global attempt to consume and ravage and rape and kill, and that it will never end? That there is no higher purpose? That we can’t be forgiven for our fundamental nature and invited into the Kingdom?”

I thought he was going to ask me something hard.

“Of course,” I say, “What a stupid question. People are selfish, and short-sighted, and angry, and spiteful. They want cheap CD’s and free sex and more Jackass. They want cell phones, and DSL lines, and microwaves, and each and every one of them wants more than they need. No, there’s no higher purpose. It’s about instant gratification. Don’t you know? That’s why we have religion. It excuses us from being self-destructive rampaging pricks. Sorry, God, we didn’t mean to wipe your precious owls off the face of the Earth, we’re just men, we’re born with sin, it’s not our fault! You’re counting on that, or you wouldn’t be able to sell your little magazine with the picture of the lamb and the lion on the cover!”

In fact, it’s true that people want what they want, they want it cheap, and they want it now. Consequences be damned, whatever the price, I’ll eat hamburgers fried yesterday and warmed under a heat lamp if I can have it for 49 cents. I’ll buy a 50 gallon drum of mayonnaise if it gets the price per-ounce down under a nickel.

We’re a society of people who stand in front of the microwave and screams “hurry up! I can’t wait more than 30 seconds to get that macaroni and cheese inside me, give it to me now, make it go faster, screw it I’ll just snort the cheese powder through a straw and inject the noodles past my gag reflex with a turkey baster!”

We are a culture that measures the quality of our lives based on how instantly we get gratification. What is this, the Olympics? Is this life the hundred-yard dash of consumerism? What am I going to do with an extra 7 seconds? Does anyone actually organize their life in 7 second increments? Do I really need 7 more seconds of Ricki Lake, Internet porn, or Survivor? Whatever happened to the thrill of the hunt?

So I’m standing there in my sweats, without my coffee, with my toothbrush hanging out of my mouth, in my doorway, with this stranger trying to sell insurance against my eventual and assured Damnation, when the phone rings and I turn to them and say “Sorry, but I’ve got to get the phone.” They say goodbye, wish me a happy morning, and they are on their way.

I pick up the phone, and on the other end is a lilting Southern voice that says “Hello, Sir? This is Elvira from AT&T about your platinum card. I’d like to offer you a free service, to protect your purchasing power and your valuable credit rating, by insuring your balance and making your payments in the event your ability to pay is compromised. The service is free, Sir, for the first 30 days, and anytime you want to cancel you just call.”

“No thank you,” I reply, “I have two brothers with credit card protection, and I’ve heard all about it.”

“Just one last thing,” she pressed on, “and you don’t have to answer now. I only ask that you think about. Let me leave you with an 800 number, just in case you change your mind.”

So go ahead, that’s the message, overspend, consume, buy more than you need, make poor decisions, it’s what you do, it’s in your nature, it’s your original sin. It’s not your fault, and we won’t make you pay, there’s always an insurance policy, it’ll just cost you 3% of your balance per month and after you die we’ll send you to that Golden Valhalla where everything is free, the rivers run with wine, and elephant crap Web sites download in less than a tenth of a second.


That’s it. That’s all I got.

Almost Boyfriend Man

According to contemporary social myth, all it takes to be a hero is to be standing nearby when something bad happens. Given how often bad stuff seems to be happening, you and I are officially heroes.

If something bad hasn’t happened near you yet, fear not. It soon shall.

Lately, given my status as hero, I’ve been giving some thought as to what my super power might be, in that bad stuff has been happening to me for a long time, so it seems as though it ought to have made itself evident by now. I should have an inexplicable mysterious power, allowing me to accomplish amazing feats beyond the understanding of common men, like Spiderman, The Hulk, or Arsenio Hall.

Since we’re all heroes in this era of terror, I looked around at my fellow citizens, to see what kind of super powers others have been endowed with; what unique abilities and talents this time of stress and strain has borne.

I found a woman working in the customer service department at CitiBank who is bestowed with the amazing ability to keep any caller from finding the department that might be able to help them.

I discovered a man blessed with the unequaled power to appear at the front of any line he didn’t feel he needed to wait in.

And several people all appear to be sharing the talent to create a parking space in which to wait for their spouse in the red zone in front of Safeway where none of the rest of us could hope to get away with it.

I could sure use that one.

The more I thought about, the more I realized that I had, at various times, had and lost a series of super powers.

I used to be Fast Metabolism Boy, able to eat ice cream without having it go to my hips.

Once, I was Captain Fearless, beholding of the power to convince myself I was immortal. Not actually immortal, mind you. Just seventeen.

Unfortunately, those youthful super powers are fleeting, and unable to stand up to the evil Doctor Time.

I have, in the intervening years, developed a new and growing super power. My new super power is to make the people I care about go away.

For a while, I was Daddy Man, defender of the defenseless, larger than life, destroyer of under-bed monsters, maker of pancakes with funny faces on them.
Unfortunately, like Thor, like Pan, like Vulcan, like all heroes and Gods, our existence as Daddy Man depends on belief. When the worshipers find more mundane and secular objects for their affections, champions fade away like steam.

And I have been, on multiple occasions, Almost Boyfriend Man, good friend and confidant, cuddler and supporter, lover and dependable intimate, whose only threat is the dreaded Rejectionite.

Of course, along with each super power comes some kind of angst-filled irony; a sad estrangement from family and friends, or the need to carry on a life of lies to protect yourself and those around you from danger. Generally, a sad separation from the very society you are bound to protect. Superman can’t tell Lois who he really is. Spiderman must resign himself to loving that redheaded chick from afar. And Plastic Man must spend his time hanging out with the rest of the Fantastic Four, to whom, of course, he is simply the other lonely hero with no normal friends.

Almost Boyfriend Man avoids the dreaded Rejectionite by way of an uncanny ability to choose the exactly right woman at the exactly wrong time. Choosing the exactly wrong time gives Almost Boyfriend Man the opportunity to hang out with the exactly right woman, without fear of the dreaded Rejectionite. The dreaded Rejectionite, you see, is bound by the strict rules of Space-Time, and exists only in the exactly right time, when, if he had actually stumbled across the exactly right woman, he would open his lunchbox and find a pile of glowing stinking Rejectionite which would peel his skin like an orange. But never fear, Almost Boyfriend Man unflinchingly chooses the exactly wrong time, and spends his energy demonstrating what a great boyfriend he would be, were he a real boyfriend, and were this the exactly right time, creating healthy expectations and giving the exactly right woman all the information she needs to go out and find a real boyfriend.

Not exactly satisfying in the short term. But heroic in the sad, lonely, estranged from society like a guy who turns green when he’s pissed sense.

It’s been rewarding, being Almost Boyfriend Man. I’ve made many wonderful friends, and watched them leave for better and more satisfying lives which they all say they’d never have had the opportunity to enjoy had they not spent enough time with me to want to get away from me and start over. With any luck, the kids I’ve driven away from me will someday have the opportunity to say the same. They’re bound to realize how wrong they were sooner or later, after all.

But I find myself now hoping that the time for heroes is gone. I’ve had enough of difficult times catapulting me to heroism. It’s time to set aside the super powers, and try life as a regular mundane guy, a guy whose arms don’t stretch, whose eyes don’t shoot laser beams, whose focus is not the fear of the evil Doctor Time or the dreaded Rejectionite.

Or at least move on to a new and less isolationist super power.

I just want to be Mister Mundane. Able to avoid drama and angst with a single snore.

Oh, and a sidekick. Got to have a sidekick. Preferably, the exactly right sidekick.
Is that asking too much?

That’s it. That’s all I got.

Awkward Stage

We all go through an awkward stage, trapped somewhere between “got it all figured out” and “gave it all up”.

We like to think we only go through it as kids, as teens trapped between childhood and adulthood, longing to hang onto the simplicity of toys and imaginary friends and Saturday morning cartoons over a bowl of Super Honey Crunchy Nuggets with enough extra sugar to make the leftover milk too thick to drink without a spoon, and anxious to taste the freedom and opportunity of adulthood that we perceive the world is spitefully holding just out of our reach. We are exactly in between two better places to be.

In reality, we go through lots of awkward stages, a series of awkward stages, a plethora of awkward stages, one, long, painful, excruciating, lifetime awkward stage.

I’m going through an awkward stage right now, trapped in a funhouse of mirrors where everywhere I turn I see myself reflected back just slightly twisted, almost me but not quite me, a little wider here, a little thicker there, a little more transparent here, a little in the dark there.

I look behind me and I see myself in my son, all feet and hands like a Great Dane, trapped in the body of a man with the emotional maturity of a turnip. That’s the boy I was, trapped in amber, and as many times as I’ve said to myself “I wish I knew then what I know now” I can’t seem to get the young seventeen-year-old me that lives on in my son to accept the gift of what I know now. In fact, he refuses it like a bad meal and sends it back with his nose wrinkled, and so instead of being the more well informed me he has the opportunity to be, he is the obnoxious and self-righteous and irresponsible me I was all over again.

I look ahead and I see myself in my father, all Velcro shoes, stacks of newspaper clippings and heavily invested in the company of a cat. I am more receptive to his hand-me-downs than my son is of mine, perhaps because he’s mellowed with age and is making more sense, perhaps because I’m less my son than I am my father, but I also find that he’s no more receptive of my hand-me-ups than am I of my son’s. In other words, he won’t hear my advice to remain active, go on a date, take a trip, get a tattoo, pierce something, do just one of the things I hope I’ll still be doing when I get where he is rather than simply walking a daily route around the family room double-checking the volume setting on the answering machine and rotating the batteries in the remote control.

My awkward stage is pretty much just like my son’s, trapped between two unsatisfactory eras, and much like he can’t wait to get to my wonderful magical world of adulthood where life is all about driving and endless sex and drinking and staying out as late as he wants spending the hundreds of dollars per month he’ll make on anything he damn well pleases, I’m trying desperately to get to the freedom and flexibility of the golden years, where life is all reduced prices on movie tickets, free frozen meals delivered right to your door by volunteers with bags of groceries, and free money from the government in the mail every month.

What I can count on is that I don’t get to stay here, so I better not be getting too satisfied with how things are right now. This awkward stage is only tolerable if there’s something better coming along… being a cranky, tired, slacker teenager is only tolerable if we’re convinced that life as a grownup is all freedom and opportunity. Being a cranky tired slacker middle-aged guy is only tolerable as long as we’re sure that getting older will bring us freedom from the tyranny of the time clock, the freedom to wear black socks with sandals, the freedom to steal batteries. So don’t you dare tell me that ain’t the way it’s going to be, because then I’ve got nothing to look forward to, and like my son I’ll just be pissed off and stuck in between.

It appears that wherever we are, it is exactly halfway between two better places to be. Life is just one long awkward stage, desperately fleeing a crappy dissatisfactory past in search of a better situation that’s just a reflection in a twisted mirror where things are actually further away than they appear.

The only little joy I get is in knowing that my son will one day look back and realize how lucky he is at this moment.

If I was more insightful and less focused on being sure I don’t miss out on my own son’s disillusionment, because real dads wait for that day like others wait for the sweet sixteen, I might realize that my father, the me I’m going to be one day, is feeling exactly in between two better places to be, looking back at himself in me and wishing he were either here now or ten years older and plugged into a machine that does his chewing for him with a nurse to rotate the batteries in his remote.

But catching myself thinking how lucky I am right at this moment would take my focus off my own cynicism and perpetual dissatisfaction.

And we can’t have that.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.

Never Done

This essay was originally written and performed on KSCO 1080am on the second anniversary of 9/11. 

My father told me once that he was glad my mother had died first. He loved her too much to wish he had gone in her place, he said. The harder thing was to be the one left behind. He wouldn’t wish the pain and guilt and insecurity and loneliness and self-loathing on an enemy, much less on the woman he loved. Best for her to have gone first, he said. He alone would bear the crushing weight of the following empty years for them both. 

This staying behind and suffering stuff is heroic. Being the one who has to continue, guilty that we’ve survived, forcing ourselves to go out and see the latest Jim Carrey movie, buy a new washer and dryer, take a long evening walk and watch a beautiful sunset in an eerily empty sky that we know is being enjoyed by one less person than it ought to be. And as if that weren’t enough, we’re burdened by the responsibility of representing the deceased to the future, the responsibility of ensuring that the rest of the world understands how unfair it was, how unnecessary it was, how tragic it was, what a saint they were. We are all thrust into selfless heroism, for fifteen minutes, by virtue of our survival.

It’s funny how families only reunite at funerals. Well, weddings and funerals, but it does always seem to take some kind of tragedy to get people to hop on a plane or a bus and take a weekend out of their lives to stand around uncomfortably with people they spend the balance of the year badmouthing to their spouses, eating miniature spinach quiche and questionably warm shrimp.

When my mother died, my father and brothers and sisters and cousins and uncles gathered together for the first time in years. The tragic event is spent bonding. Oh, how we bond. We recall how much we miss one another, we re-tell those hilarious stories about Uncle Milo’s embarrassing toupee mishap, we reminisce about the years we spent as the best of friends, and make heartfelt apologies for our lack of communication… we promise to stay in touch. We were so close once… I miss you so… blood is thicker than water, family is everything, how did we let so much time get away, I promised your mother I’d raise you as my own, where’s that waiter with the Seven and Seven.

I went to another funeral, more recently… Not somebody I know, just a guy. The funeral of a guy who knew a guy I knew. Died of liver failure. Drank too much.

It was funny the way everybody completely ignored the way this guy died.
The guy had died a long and painful and unnecessary death of cirrhosis. A self-inflicted death brought on by years of drunken debauchery, parties and drugs and alcohol and general short-sighted irresponsibility.

Not funny. Just true.

What was funny was that those that spoke for him at the service stood up and told tales of a fun-loving, hard-living good old boy. Oh Yes, his old friends from the Program said, and they shifted their beers from one hand to another. They talked about his wayward youth, his motorcycle, the time he made his wife walk three miles to the store on a dark country road at 1am because he’d run out of Jack, he was such a card, what a wacky guy. Boy Howdy, his first wife, his kids, his brother agreed, and they laughed and they clinked their coolers and martinis in agreement. He was a misunderstood man, a dynamic and creative soul who couldn’t be shoehorned into a single relationship, a regular job, a responsible lifestyle. He couldn’t be expected to be something so mundane as a dependable parent or a reliable spouse. They were going to miss him, why did this happen, why hadn’t they seen it coming, they lamented the unfairness of it all, he was so young, it was so unnecessary, and his counselor and his priest and his third wife raised their glasses in unison and toasted the memory of a guy who had no faults.

Not funny ha-ha. Just funny sad.

This veneration, combined with the warm fuzzy feeling we get from our reunion with all the other surviving loved ones is a happy thing, because for a little while all the family drama is gone; we are galvanized anew in our rekindled familial dedication. We are all brothers… we’re filled with unconditional love for one another… the arrogance and dysfunction and the abuse and the misogyny and the hate and the intolerance and the inequity are gone, and we all put stickers on our cars, and play country music, and wave to each other knowingly with secret signals, hand over heart as we pass on the freeway, and we pinkie swear to become blood brothers and we’ll beat the crap out of anyone who questions our god-given virtue. We fool ourselves into believing that the arrogance, dysfunction and abuse and misogyny and hate and intolerance and inequity truly are gone, and that the stickers on our cars are the proof of it. That productizing our grief and pride with t-shirts and country songs and ‘very special episodes’ of Law & Order will make it so.

Clearly the loss is tragic. And it is always unfair. I would rather that no one had to pass, and if they do, it should be in their sleep, after a good meal and a fine sunset and the love of a soul mate.

And the surviving is hard. I would rather none of us had to be survivors, to suffer the going on, the persevering, the slow but inevitable normalizing of our lives and the guilt we feel over the eventual waning of grief.

Or the strange dereliction we feel in remembering with any fondness the closeness and intimacy and vulnerability we will always share with the soul who sat next to us on the couch while we silently watched the images repeat before our eyes in slow motion.

But unlike my father, I’m not happy that my mother died first. I don’t think that being the survivor is the harder role to play. As survivors, we’re given the bitter-sweet opportunity to pursue many things.
To avenge.
To remember.
To deify.
To correct.
To grow.
To learn.
To introspect.

My mother has been gone six years, and in the intervening time I’ve punished myself for not being a better son, for not appreciating the sacrifice she made, for not seeing the person she was beneath the mother. And in so doing I’ve set aside the petty differences I had with my father, forged a friendship that is stronger than our disagreements, and bridged our estrangement. I’ve allowed myself the latitude to be wrong, I’ve allowed my father the latitude to be wrong, and I’ve allowed her passing to help me become just a little bit better person, a little bit better father, a little bit better son.

Parents are just people, trying their best. It was a great revelation for me to realize that… and interestingly, being one didn’t do it. Losing one did. That it took my mother’s death to manifest that is a cruel irony, because she is probably the one person who would have taken more joy in this than me.

The real tragedy in my experience is in how we often don’t do those things. The real tragedy is the way we lie to ourselves.

We lie to ourselves when we think that tragedy offers no lessons, that we needn’t question our virtue. We do ourselves a disservice by insisting that we needn’t entertain introspection … by inferring that there are no lessons left to learn, and that we are the best that we can hope to be. We hurt ourselves when we learn nothing from tragedy but defensiveness and separatism, anger and mistrust, fear and hatred. We are all just people trying our best. It was a great revelation to realize that. Ironically, being one didn’t do it. Losing some did.

I miss you, mom. I’m sorry you suffered, guy who knew a guy I knew. I promise to not simply tell your story, to do more than defend and avenge, to do more than grieve, to be more than merely angry. I promise to try to be a different and better person, to be willing to introspect, to call, to visit, and to acknowledge that I am not, and may never be, done.

Our world is a much more complicated place than that. And we are, I hope, much more complicated beings.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.

The Great Big Book Of Me

Call me Ishmael.
It was a dark and stormy night.
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

Every good story needs a good opening line. Something that grabs you; that sets the tone; that establishes the tenor of all that follows, forecasting all the creativity, drama, success and adventure to come.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the opening line to my life.

“It’s Thursday, I’m tired, and tonight I’ll eat a hotdog.”

Welcome to The Big Book of Me.

Books are supposed to have introductions, and story arcs, and conclusions with character development and resolution.

Some books have complex storylines, and subplots about spys and illicit love and marvelous adventures.

My book is like Doctor Seuss without the rhyming. Just a mundane story about a guy who likes ham, and not at all poetic.

Chapter One: Childhood.

I was an only child. What that means for most people is too much attention, no sharing, and all the toys. For me, it meant both my parents had already been divorced, and lost their kids to their spouses. They both had complicated lives with too many kids in too many places, and I was about as lonely and average a kid as you could be. I went to school. I had a dog. I collected spiders and lizards, I listened to Mac Davis, pined for the Principal’s daughter, and wrote horrible poetry. When it was over, I was glad. I thought entering puberty was a good thing.

Little did I know.

Chapter Two: High School.

High School was easily the most horribly mismanaged series of opportunities any one person has the right to throw away. It was unremarkable, transient and unimportant; they were the beige Pillsbury Doughboys of years. I had the body of a man, and the complexion of an aggregate driveway. I was at the height of my sexuality, and scared to death of girls. I was independent, and paralyzed into inaction. I lived to get laid, and I was not getting laid. When it was over, I celebrated.

Chapter Three: That thing that comes next.

Being a young married expectant parent at twenty years old is the fastest way to bring the moderate momentum you’ve established to a screeching halt. No twenty-year-old friend of yours understands why you can’t pick up and take off for a drink, or a pizza, or a road trip. I loved my wife, and my children, and being married, and being a father, and yet I fought becoming whatever it was that it seemed to be inexorably leading to with all my fiber, and extended instead my irresponsible and unremarkable adolescence right through the childhoods of my offspring. Not funny, just true. Luckily, they were in their first chapters, and likely never even noticed.

Chapter Four: Middle Age.

The children are gone, I’m single and free, I’ve been laid by now so I’m pretty sure I know how to do it, I make way more money than a teenager, I can buy booze and cigarettes and porn, and I can stay out as late as I want. There is the potential for an exciting new chapter, a twist in the plotline, a sequel of unprecedented success.

Unfortunately, they call it middle age because that’s where you age the fastest – in the middle. It hurts when I walk, it’s hard to bring the porn into focus, and I have difficulty staying up for Letterman. Rather than newfound freedom and adventure, my life consists of going to work, working, and going home from work to recuperate. I have no exciting stories from my youth, no adventures to reflect on, no great political or artistic laurels upon which to rest.

The deal is, I’m a stalagmite. In the early years, time drops little lumps of crap on you, and slowly over time the crap adds to you. It makes you taller; it adds to the bulk of you, and you grow. You get more stable, one hopes, with time, while you simultaneously reach for the heavens.

Then, eventually, you’ve reached about as high as you can; you’ve absorbed all the crap you can, and the crap reaches its angle of repose. Any new crap that drops on you no longer makes you taller; it just rolls down the sides of you, making you wider. Thicker. It’s just more crap, and it doesn’t matter very much.

That’s my future. Wider and thicker. No more reaching for the sky … no more altitude to be had. I am, at this point, just absorbing the crap. The best to which I can aspire may be to eventually connect to the thing that drops the crap on me; to become one with the source of the crap.

Oh sure, I’ve endured, I have history, I’ve raised smart and funny and loving children, I’ve paid my bills and fulfilled my obligations and participated in society in my own banal transparent way. I have made the most out of my crap that I could.

So therein lies my story. No fiery conclusions. No O. Henry twists. No poetry. Welcome to The Big Book of Me. The best-laid plans of mice and men do often go awry.

I guess I have my closing line.

I should quit while I’m in the middle.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.

Real Men Don't Buy Kitsch

I was out doing a little shopping, a little consuming, prowling the aisles of the Cost Plus, the Ross Dress for Less, the K-Mart, the Everything’s a Dollar Store.

So I’m at Ross, and I’m cruising the Kitsch aisle (which is right alongside the Crap aisle, across from the Broken Stuff Somebody Else Threw Out aisle) when I find the perfect thing for my front door… a hand-painted wooden scarecrow with real straw hair, a horn-o’-plenty and a precious, dangling little sign that says ‘Welcome to Our Happy Home’ in sloppy printing with a backwards ‘E’.

Isn’t that pwecious? Who wouldn’t want that on their front door?

I have a hard time imagining that there are enough people in the world who would want this crap… enough actual people with pulses who need a papier-mâché night-light of a Hobo leaning on a lamp-post whose ass plays ‘How Dry I Am’.

If there was one blue-haired cat-raising Alzheimer’s patient that wanted one of these, I wouldn’t be surprised. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover there are five, or eight, or maybe even eleven.

But thousands? Maybe even tens-of-thousands? Did Nostradamus talk about this? Are the men with ice on their helmets marching forth from Prussia?

So I think about this a little harder… this thing is made up of maybe six or eight or ten individual parts, each one cut by a power tool from processed wood products, painted and stapled and tied together, hand-assembled by nimble foreign fingers somewhere overseas.

Then of course, they are wrapped and packaged and stacked into cartons, stored in a warehouse until Macy’s calls and orders twenty or eighty or a hundred for their discerning clientele. Then they’re loaded on a truck, and sent to a train or a boat or a plane and shipped to Macy’s and unpacked and unwrapped and priced and put on the shelf and dusted and straightened and inventoried and then re-boxed when nobody buys them and returned and stored until Everything’s 99 Cents and Up buys them in an estate sale and then packed and shipped and unpacked and re-priced and put on a shelf where I turn it over and find out that it’s selling for $3.99.

So I ask myself, how much can it cost to make this crap if you can put it through a hundred hands and 10,000 miles of travel and still make a profit at $3.99? How is this possible?

Who would have thought that there was such a valuable natural resource in political dissidents?

I used to make a real effort not to buy products made in oppressive regimes, knowing as I do that they’re often manufactured by prisoners. Not that there’s a problem with that… it’s the least they can do.

But I want my kitsch to be assembled by real criminals… I want to hang my $7.99 singing rubber bass secure in the knowledge that I’m keeping a murderer from getting bigger and stronger and badder and more dangerous by keeping him in the factory instead of the weight room.

I want to know that my collectible Ron Popeil-shaped Chia Pet was molded and boxed by a genuine rapist who otherwise would have been swapping cigarettes for a pleasant snuggle with a skinhead named Preacher.

I want to be pretty sure that the Who’s The Boss anniversary potholders hanging on my refrigerator were stitched by a guy who ran a red light with an ox.

But I don’t want my crap made by a guy who just wanted his kids to have an opportunity to read a book.

But what are we gonna do? I mean, I’ve looked at the bottom of a lot of cheap-ass merchandise, and it’s virtually impossible to buy unnecessary, poorly designed and shabbily manufactured excess crap that isn’t made by a political activist – it appears that he’s the guy that made half the stuff at Ross. And the more cheap-ass crap we all want to buy, the more some oppressive regime needs to create cheap-ass prison labor to produce it and feed it to us to keep our money floating overseas.

There’s no doubt that it’s important for us to keep our economy liquid – to keep our cash out of our mattresses, or retirement accounts, or CD’s or Municipal Bonds, and instead flowing from our pockets to the cash registers of 7-Eleven and Wal-Mart and Borders, so that cashiers and stock boys and truckers and airline pilots and wholesalers and importers and advertising execs and cleaning ladies and security firms and utility companies can all reap a little financial stability. It’s the ready availability of useless crap that ensures that tasteless Americans will continue to purchase and consume, keeping our dollars out of Health Insurance and College Funds and the Boys and Girls Clubs and the soup kitchens and invested instead in wicker pillow shams.

But since we’ve created a climate in which we can’t afford to work for a tenth of what we currently work for, and we steadfastly refuse to pay enough for our consumer goods to pay our own fellow citizens a decent living for assembling our cheap-ass crap right here, we have no choice but to purchase products manufactured by twenty-three year old college students who make the mistake of searching for “Democracy” on the Internet, or forty year old fathers who wanted their daughters to have an education. Without these Godless radicals serving their much-deserved time in the factories that produce so much of our critical consumer goods, the wheels of our robust economy might come to a screeching halt.

Then I remembered. This is America… we’ve got plenty of real criminals right here, we keep them in real good shape, and they’re serving time for real crimes. Carjackers, and snipers, and pickpockets, and gang-bangers. Enron executives, and child abusers, and cop-killers, and kidnappers.

Sure, they’re busy picking up trash on the side of the highway, putting honest State Employees out of jobs. They’re cutting fire roads in the wilderness, putting honest Parks Employees out of jobs. They’re pumping iron, and having anal sex, and watching television, and studying law, and filing appeals, and having anal sex.

Surely they’d be more useful helping generate cheap crap for us to buy and break and throw away so our wheels of commerce could continue to spin. Surely we’d be comfortable asking them to contribute meaningfully in a safe atmosphere carefully monitored by Labor Officials, so we could still have cheap crap without giving oppressive governments a reason to throw another college kid in jail.

And we’d never try to create more labor ourselves by jailing political dissidents. Hell, they’re more protected than Bald Eagles. They’re safe.

So I envision a world in which we assemble all the cheap-ass poorly designed and manufactured kitsch product right here, with our own labor, keep our money local, keep our economy flush with liquid consumer dollars, and export our excess knick knacks to other countries.

I hear we have plenty of extra US flag stickers.

Those would look cool on an ox.

That’s it. That’s all I got.

Where's My Ho?

I’m pissed as hell that Eminem has a movie. Not that it’s a huge hit, which is appalling all by itself, but that he has a movie at all.

Where’s my movie?

I’m not even a prick.

See, I was supposed to have had my movie by now. Or my book, or my sitcom, or my brief but turbulent and sexually charged political career. We’re all supposed to have our fifteen minutes.

But no. Eminem got my movie, and my hit album. And my ho’s. Somebody else got all my cool stuff.

Not any of the crappy stuff. I got all that.

I still have all my bills. I still have inadequate health insurance, poor eyesight, acid reflux, and underwear I bought in 1997. I still have an unused Nordic Track, an old pair of parachute pants, and a Duran-Duran album.

What I am missing is all the cool stuff I was supposed to have had by now. The money, and success, and opportunity, and advantage.

I know I was supposed to have cool stuff. It says so in the handbook that came with my privileged life.

Or should have come with my privileged life. Actually, I never got my handbook. But I presume I should have had one. And it’s pretty easy to guess what would have been in it if I had.

See, I’m a white male, a member of the privileged Patriarchy, to whom money and success and opportunity and advantage theoretically flock like moths to a flame. I’ve been told repeatedly and loudly throughout my life that the unfairly beneficial status to which I was born was the result of my color and sex, and it would result in greater achievement and prosperity than could ever be imagined by the not insignificant minorities of color and femininity.

So where’s my cool stuff? I seem to have missed a memo. Clearly, merely being white and having external hardware are not enough to guarantee the benefits of position. If I’d gotten the welcome basket that apparently is supposed to come with entry into the ranks of the privileged, I’d have found the handbook between the Beluga and the Silver Spoon… and it would have unlocked the secrets of the Universe. It would’ve told me the secret handshake that unlocks the bank vaults, the mysterious signals that telegraph to other members of the elite that we are brethren, like gaydar in a San Francisco dance club; I’d have the phone numbers of the Lotto pickers and the movie producers and the ho’s.

But no, youth culture is an oxymoron that has no use for me, and the cool stuff is going to Eminem, Britney Spears and Johnny Knoxville. The albums and the movies and the fame and the fortune and the ho’s are going to talentless short-sighted uninspired hacks wearing diversion in the form of transparent pasties and their pants around their ankles to distract you from the fact that they’re really mere angry, spoiled, inarticulate arrested adolescents with nothing of value to contribute but lengthy and tiresome complaints about the unfairness of life set to the sound of two cats being run over by a vacuum cleaner, and home movies of themselves swimming in raw sewage, or, when inspiration fails, the simple promise of a peek at their naughty bits if you’ll just please buy their latest derivative album. It’s easy to shock people; it’s easy to piss people off. They’re looking for a reason to be pissed off. They’re already pissed off. Getting apathetic, persecuted children to pay attention to you by taking your clothes off and screaming that life is unfair is shooting fish in a barrel. It’s simple, and uninspired, and boring.

But it’s easier than proposing solutions.

Youth is wasted on the young, and success is wasted on the undeserving, for whom a hit song means hollering about how much money you have and how bad you are and carries the ironic subtext that you’re laughing all the way to the bank and the people who keep buying your albums anyway are just idiots with no taste and nobody to model any thoughtful alternative; for whom creativity is confused with creating offense; for whom success and opportunity means a skanky bitch in a fishnet tube top and a condom dispenser on her belt. Apparently, to children, success looks like my grandfather at a slot machine in Vegas, with old-guy giant glasses, baggy velour sweat suits, rings the size of toasters and necklaces like anchor chains off a Princess Cruise Liner and a hooker on his elbow.

If I’d had my handbook, I’d have bought much cooler stuff.

We’ve no one to blame but ourselves. You get the government you deserve, and likewise we can complain that youth culture is destroying our children but if we simply withheld the cash it would go away. It is a symptom of our own apathy and disassociation. We give Eminem money, we reward his angry mediocrity by giving him permission to sell his message to our children and we give them the money to buy it; we give our daughters Christina Aguilera CDs, then send them to the eighth-grade dance dressed like hookers and strippers, hidden under a layer of makeup applied with a spatula, in a g-string made out of licorice.

I get by only because I tell myself that this flavor of the month too will pass… Vanilla Ice is delivering pizzas, Ice-T is that angry black cop on Law and Order and nobody remembers his music, Mister T is selling long distance, though I’m not sure what that has to do with anything. And one day MTV will chew Eminem/Ludacris/Reediculous/Felonious Punk up and spit them out as soon as an angrier and louder child shows the ability to sell more Kias and Mountain Dew and Old Navy, and they’ll realize that MTV never cared about their message at all but only for their ability to sell Red Bull to pre-teens, that they were merely ho’s themselves, and their important, insightful modern poetry will go the way of Men Without Hats and the revolution will start all over again because youth culture has no use for history and so neither the tools nor the patience for genuine cultural evolution.

In the meantime, I’m looking for my handbook. I checked under the stack of past due bills… it wasn’t there. It wasn’t stuffed in the pile of resumes that got returned unopened, or accidentally folded into the classified sections that are piling up on my coffee table. It wasn’t in my wallet. It would have been obvious there.

I’m looking for it because I know that someday the tide must turn; that one day it will no longer be the boorish, loud and angry half-clothed purveyors of violence and hatred and bitterness and irresponsible anonymous sex that are rewarded with success and money and opportunity.

It’ll be my turn.

And I’ll be pissed.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.


I was ordering a burger at McDonald’s but I couldn’t take my eyes off this chick’s eyebrows.

They were the kind of eyebrows that look like they must be an accident; but they can’t be an accident because they match.

Her real eyebrows are gone. The place above her eyes where the eyebrows should be is just a bald ridge of bone, like maybe they got burned off in some terrible deep-fat fryer accident on the night shift; her forehead is the shiny smooth dome of Captain Picard from her hairline to her eyeballs.

In place of her eyebrows there are, instead, two great huge brown arcs, each one half the famous McDonalds logo in of itself, one golden arch over each eye. There is nothing about either one that is remotely like an eyebrow; each is nearly a half-inch thick, square at either end. I’m sure, as I’m staring at them, that they’re the result of a magic-marker. A big fat wide permanent felt-tip laundry pen has left behind these two ridiculous St. Louis Arches, two amazing tourist attractions, the eighth and ninth wonders of the world. People probably come from miles around to this McDonald’s to see this woman’s eyebrows.

She’s looking at me with this permanent look of utter astonishment, a snapshot of surprise frozen on the front of her head like a clown in rigor, and I realize that she’s been asking me if I want to Super Size my meal and I’ve just been staring at her Super Size eyebrows and have completely forgotten why I’m even there. It blows my mind to consider that she’s done this to herself on purpose … that this wasn’t something somebody did to her when she was passed out on the couch, while they were waiting for her bra to freeze. This is by design… and I’m assuming it means that she’s happier with these two amazing tags on her head than she was with the face that God gave her.

Doesn’t she have any friends? Doesn’t someone on the planet care enough about her to tell her about the two things living on her forehead? They’d tell her if she had a hunk of pesto stuck in her teeth. Letting her go out in public like this is like letting her go out with a ‘wide load’ sign taped on her ass. It’s like tattooing ‘oops’ on your forehead.

But people do weird crap to themselves all the time. Seventy-year-old ladies who dress in purple sweatsuits with purple hats and purple sunglasses with rhinestones and glitter, like big velour TeleTubbies. Their kids let them go out to breakfast at Denny’s like this. I was at Disneyland when I saw a guy with a feathered mullet, black fishnet tank top, gold-capped teeth and silver parachute pants. This was not when parachute pants were cool (yes, they were cool once, I tell myself). He apparently didn’t have any friends either. And it’s clear that nobody with a comb-over has any friends. But all these people, the purple sweat-suit comb-over mullet crazy eyebrow people really believe that they look good, and that’s sad.

Baggy-pant skater boys with their boxers hanging out think they look good. Rappers with “Ridiculous” carved into the gold Buick grilles they keep on their teeth think they look good. Guys with 36-inch waxed handlebar mustaches think they look good. We all think we look good, and the only thing that keeps us from knowing what we really look like is the fact that nobody really cares enough about us to tell us the truth.

So as I’m standing here staring at this woman I’m wondering whether or not I should say something to her … something like “don’t move, there are two scary-ass centipedes surrounding your eyeballs”. Something like “how nice of you to let your kids do your makeup for you”. Something like “All this time I thought Ronald was a guy”.

I’d be doing her a big favor with a reality check like that. Calling it what it is. Doing the thing her friends would do for her, if she had any.

But I don’t. And I’ll tell you why.

Because I don’t want anyone doing it to me. I like the delusion I’ve created for myself with regard to my hair and my ass. I don’t really care at this point to hear that it’s George Costanza I look like and not Bruce Willis. It’s not important. What’s important is that I believe the 3700 calories wrapped in my Super Sized Big Mac and fries don’t show on me.

I’m sure she thinks her eyebrows are beautiful. It’s not important that I think they’re not.

So yes, I say to her, I’ll super-size that. Give me some extra fries and a slab of cheese, and deep-fry me a stick of butter while you’re at it. And by the way, your eyebrows look lovely and normal and not at all freakish and scary.

And don’t let me catch you staring at my humongous ass as I walk away.

The power of positive thinking.

I never thought I’d hear myself say that.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.

The "Boys Who Like Girls" Scouts Of America

My son used to be in the Boy Scouts. He is not any more. This is not because he’s gay, although I suppose it’s not impossible. It’s because he’s easily bored, and the people who run the local Boy Scout troop are utter morons.

My son likes to play outside, camp, build things, and get dirty. Somehow, the Boy Scouts couldn’t keep him interested. Boy Scouts don’t spend time tying knots any more. That’s what those kinky fags do. Teach a boy to tie knots, he’ll start tying up his playmates.

They spent a lot of time saluting the flag. I was surprised at that, considering it sounds so much like fag.

But I can see why the Boy Scouts consider homos such a threat. It’s an organization that depends on testosterone driven masculinity, after all. Women have nothing to do with the Scouts, except as den mothers, and then their job is to bring cookies. The Scouts is run by men, as it should be. Grown men who, as Scouts themselves, grew up hanging out exclusively with other boys, and now want to spend their adult lives volunteering all their spare time to wear a uniform with shorts and badges and nurture young boys in large groups away from the prying eyes of women and parents.

All of which will teach the boys the important lessons in manhoodly behavior.

Like hanging out exclusively with other men. Camping together, earning sewing badges together, mending one another’s uniforms together, cooking together, camping together, carving little bolos in the shape of strapping Native American braves together, sleeping in tents together, bathing in streams together.

All of which would clearly be threatened if there was a fag there.

How inappropriate would that be?

To ensure that there would be no confusion, the troop voted to call the organization “The ‘Boys Who Like Girls’ Scouts of America”.

At that point, I announced that I would consider joining myself, insofar as I, too, like Girl Scouts.

I was embarrassed to discover that wasn’t what they meant. Too late, however, to intercept the restraining order from the local Brownie Troop.

In any event, my son will now be taking part in another, perhaps more macho American male pastime. Playing football in the Pop Warner league.

Huddling together. Showering together. Acknowledging one another’s successes with friendly pats on the buttocks.

I’ll be honest, though, at first I wasn’t sure how I should feel about all this; I thought that perhaps I should make him stay in the Scouts, just to teach him about commitment and follow-through.

To get an opinion, I called Doctor Laura. Just to be sure.


ME: Hello, Doctor Laura?

Dr. L: Yes.

ME: Hi Doctor Laura. I’m a first time caller, and –

Dr. L: what’s your question for me?

ME: Well, I’m my kid’s dad –

Dr. L: Am I not making sense here? I thought I was speaking English.

ME: I’m sorry, Doctor Laura –

Dr. L: I don’t do therapy here. I answer ethical and moral questions. Is this a question of morality?

ME: I have a question about my son –

Dr. L: Do you live with his mother?

ME: Well, no –

Dr. L: And whose fault is that?

ME: I’m not sure what –

Dr. L: I’ll tell you whose fault it is. You’re the one who failed. You put your penis inside his mother, and ejaculated, and made a baby, because the orgasm felt good, and now you don’t want to be a man and take responsibility and live with his mother and make a family and a home for him?

ME: But we –

Dr. L: But we wanted “happiness”. We wanted “fulfillment”. What you wanted was to walk out on your responsibility because you don’t understand commitment. Isn’t that right?

ME: I just wanted to know if my son should stay in the Boy Scouts.

Dr. L: Do you want him to grow up to be a fag?

ME: I don’t really care –

Dr. L: Isn’t that just the problem with the world today? Nobody cares, nobody makes a commitment. Nobody wants to have an opinion, nobody wants to judge, nobody wants to throw the first stone, nobody wants to hang heathens, nobody wants to drown witches. Everybody just wants to “live and let live”. If we all just led the kinds of lives we wanted, where would we be then? Where would we be?

ME: *click*

So my son left the Boy Scouts, and now will play football.

And on Monday nights, we will watch the game, appropriately without the company of Dennis Miller, a man with big hair, delicate hands and neat custom tailoring, and all will be right with the world.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.

Where Did This Old Man Ass Come From?

Where did this old man ass come from, and why is it following me around?

I remember when I used to fill these pants out like freakin’ Barishnikov … well, not these pants, since these are the pants I bought when it was made abundantly clear that big bottom bells were no longer de rigueur.

I knew that because I couldn’t find them in a real store anymore, and the only place they had ‘em was the Salvation Army thrift store … where they got sent after 15-year-old slackers realized they were no longer cool.

Either that, or I had to special-order them from K-mart, having them transferred from another store in another town where good taste and grunge hadn’t yet reached. Which I thought was very cool, having my pants special-ordered, almost as cool as having them professionally tailored, until I realized that the pimply-faced cranky night manager was pointing at me from behind the special-order kiosk, whispering to the crew that they should all show up next Tuesday on the off chance that I’d actually try them on before I left.

I suspect that somewhere, now, on the internet, is a 20 year old security tape of me looking at my ass in the mirror and wondering if the pants are long enough to get suitably shredded beneath the heels of my loggers boots, on a website called can_you_believe_this_loser_hasn’

So now I wear these husky dungarees, these roomy-fit dungarees, the pants with the zippered front because button-fly is just entirely too time consuming, and unsettlingly untrustworthy, and I look at my ass in the mirror before I leave the house and I realize that the waistline is riding just a little too high and if I backed up against the wall there’d really be no space to slide a pencil behind the small of my back. My ass is now basically just the non-descript area between my hips and the backs of my thighs, a fly-over state with little to offer but an unobstructed view of the horizon and a salt-flat you could play billiards on. Some unfortunate women have cankles, where their calves just run right on through to where their ankles are supposed to be and into their feet. I have a Paul Reiser ass. An ass that makes it look like my pelvis is tilted backwards and someone is leading my around by my penis.

The point of all this is that I have no idea where this old man ass came from.

But I have my suspicions. I’m pretty sure it belongs to the old man that been hitching a ride behind me from the beginning, waiting patiently behind the idealistic, sexy, naïve, ballsy and adventurous imposter that we like to spend our best years pretending knows jack … quietly whispering to himself that the imposter’s days are numbered, that time will be unkind, that gravity will take its toll, that patience will wear thin and the knocks will come harder until the imposter finally flees in a whiny escape, arms flailing and batting at the unflinching unfairness of it all like a swarm of relentless bees, and the old man can step in and take his rightful place, just and right and true, even if he can’t fill out the pants.

The promise of the old man ass is that it signifies experience, and a theoretical amount of wisdom. The old man ass has been patiently observing, cataloging the mistakes and the arrogance and the poor judgment, and making a laundry list of ‘crap only a moron would do’ to share with the new young imposters in the form of stone tablets etched with the diamond-edged accuracy that only insight into the truth of the universe can afford.

The drawback of the old man ass is that it is stunningly unattractive. The old man ass is the result of time, and mileage, male pattern baldness, drunken debauchery, disappointment and failure, car insurance payments and the loss of love. The old man ass has given in to gravity, no longer tries to fill out the big bells, and given its lack of volume and its afterthought position, is often too little too late. It’s like having an elderly Siamese twin that only wants to watch home movies and slide shows of the family trip to Ohio when you want to watch MTV’s Spring Break in Tahiti, and it’s holding the remote control. It remains in your shadow; you forget that it’s there, and you blissfully carry on as though you still filled your tights like Barishnikov, and you only catch sight of it when you peek in the mirror, look for that Barishnikov ass, and there’s that Paul Reiser, high-waisted, no-man’s land where your ass used to be. And the dirty little secret is that your not being led around by your penis, you’re being pushed around by your old man ass.

Thank God I read the tablets, and saw the inscription “thou shalt not commit heinous acts of fashion and arrogance”. I’m glad I’m not in those big bottom super bells any more.

The old man ass is right about a lot of things. But it’s not right about everything. Why does it need to be an old man ass? Why doesn’t experience and mileage and wisdom come with more attractive options? Why can’t it be the old man set of rock hard pecs? Or the old man luxurious head of hair? Or the old man prostate the size of a pea? Or the old man patience of Job?

The trick is to find a way to get the old man ass to fill out your comfort-cut JC Penney’s wanna-be Levi’s – to lose the shirt with the snaps and the paisley yoke, the mood ring, the shag haircut and the puka shell necklace, and hang onto the idealistic, sexy, ballsy and adventurous Barishnikov ass that still looks good in a fashionable pair of tights.

If I figure it out, I’ll be sure to share it with you. Etched on a pair of stone tablets. I’ll be the guy with the ass.

That’s it. That’s all I got.