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Okay, It’s a Mental Health Issue

13 Jun

Another day, another mass shooting in the United States of America. That thing to which we promised never to be inured has become just another routine horror show filtering down through our social media feeds. You could construct a flowchart: There is a shooting. Is the shooter still alive? Y/N if Y, is he a Muslim? If N, what was his last post on Snapchat? The President makes a speech, the usual sympathizers and internet trolls crawl out of the woodwork to be counted, and ultimately the internet becomes a verbal war zone between those who think guns are the problem, and those who think mental health is the problem. And despite having written about being afraid of guns a long time ago, I agree that mental health is the real problem. I mean, anyone who would take a weapon and shoot a bunch of people, either as an ideological statement or for killing’s sheer glee, is by definition crazy. It’s a crazy act. If you commit mass murder, you are crazy. It doesn’t matter how sane you seemed before mowing down a bunch of innocent, unsuspecting people, once you do that you prove yourself bonkers and therefore missed somehow by our country’s mental health system.

Which, incidentally, does not exist. The only Federal medicine that exists is MediCare, and it is tough to get covered for psychiatric care. But let’s say we’re going to finally do something about this problem, we’re going to seriously decrease the frequency of mass shootings in America and tackle this mental health thing once and for all. We’ll apply a significant portion of the Federal budget to this–say a trillion dollars, still a fraction of what we spent on defense in the last four years. Okay, so how do we start? Well, we’re only interested in people’s mental health where it concerns them buying automatic weapons, so any gun retailer, at shop or show, that sells automatic weapons will have a licensed psychiatrist act as consultant to this process. Each applicant for an automatic weapon will have a thorough examination by the doctor, who will then give their professional opinion on the mental state of this individual. Can we agree that a questionnaire won’t work? We’re taking this problem seriously now. So if you get a clean bill of brain health from the head shrinker, well you can just have as many guns and rocket launchers as you want. It’s what our forefathers intended! But what if the staff psychiatrist encounters someone that’s psychotic, who presents a clear danger to society? Well, he’ll be limited to one gun–just kidding, no guns for him. But we can’t actually turn him out onto the street, can we? Don’t we assume some responsibility here?

See, the problem with frequent gun violence being a mental health issue is that we don’t really have an answer to our mental health problem in this country, either. There’s no magic pill, no secret trick that can make a dangerously insane person sane. We can wait until they commit a violent crime, then they go to prison where they’ll sometimes get the help they need. But then they get released from prison, and there is no follow-up, and the cycle repeats itself. There are drugs that can help those with violent and anti-social behaviors–often by numbing the patient’s emotions totally–but these medicines are expensive and need to be taken regularly and forever. You know how sometimes you forget to take your Claritin, and your eyes run and you sneeze a lot more whether you are having an allergic reaction or not? Well, if you miss your risperidone for a few days, that’s when you snap out and start shooting.

Determining that the problem with gun violence in this country is a mental health issue is a false equivalency, because we can actively tackle the availability of guns, but we cannot adequately handle the problem with mental health. I will even concede the likelihood that most owners of assault weapons are conscientious, safe gun enthusiasts who take all the necessary precautions and would never dream of opening fire on an undefended person or people. But the problem is that it only takes one automatic weapon to kill fifty, and that’s why, a society who decides what is best for it based on what is right instead of what we want, assault weapons should be banned outright.

I would like to point out that at no time did I suggest limiting access to handguns or rifles, or to remove any existing owned guns from any household or owner. Just the assault weapons (and higher) going forward. Let’s slow this deluge of mass murders to a gentle trickle, okay?

9 Secrets Only Happy People Know (And They Ain’t Tellin’!)

18 Sep

You see predatory lists like this on Facebook all the time. “21 Pictures So Creepy You’ll Barf” and “You Won’t Believe What This Dad Beat His Child With at Disneyland!” and “15 Sexually-Harassing Text Messages So Obnoxious You’ll Fart a Hole Clean Through Your Underwear.” George Takei seems to have made a career re-posting these clickbait lists that exist primarily to install spyware on your computer. Most ludicrous are the ones that clearly have no factual basis behind them: “18 Secrets to Being An Awesome Parent” and one of them is “Encourage your child.” I decided to do my own take on one of these banal lists in hopes of encouraging your actual happiness, and not to make you feel shittier because projecting self-satisfaction is yet another thing at which you fail abysmally. So here are nine things that happy people know and employ in order to maintain their status as a happy person:

9. They Delude Themselves Into Believing Fate Exists

“Everything happens for a reason,” stated some dumbass who is coping with the death of their newborn child due to hospital negligence. And that person believes that because they are a self-important idiot. No ethereal agency or half-baked belief in cosmic justice is employed when things happen to you; things happen to you because time and space exist. In a cosmic sense, your fatal cancer is just as big an occurrence as a cow pooping, but if you want to appear happy and full of yourself, then you should believe that there is actually some causation between your existence and random, uncontrollable events. This is the way schizophrenics think, and they seem to be a jolly bunch!

8. They Outwardly Embrace Change Even If It Is Inducing a Panic Attack

One way to appear happy is to never be caught complaining, and the easiest way to do that is to appear as if you accept change even if it is making you insane inside. While people are bemoaning the weather, or some horrible news item, the happy person will just shrug and say something meaningless like, “When God closes a door, He opens a window!” Which is total bullshit, by the way, God is technically the arbiter of galactic equality so if He decides all the windows and doors should be shut, they will be shut. Or he might close a door on Earth but open a window on Planet XB-331 where the windows are more like intelligent sphincters that react to certain stimuli. The trick used here by happy people is the same one used by teenagers to seem cool and disaffected. Just brush off whatever comes and announce your unfounded belief that it is all part of a grand design of which they are a vital component!

7. They Pretend Not to Need Validation

You might hear someone refer to themselves as a “free spirit,” and, as those of us who are tethered to this dimension know, self-reflective announcements like this are almost always lies. It’s important to appear as if you don’t need anyone’s collusion or approval even if it is the very thing you crave most, and one of the shortest routes to get there is to be outwardly cavalier about criticism. “I march to the beat of my own drummer,” says the dilettante, and pretends not to notice the awe they have inspired in the plebes around them. This is an especially useful trait if you like to consider yourself an artist without actually practicing or producing any art.

6. They Act Supportive of Others’ Accomplishments While Silently Dying Inside

Not much will get you as many accolades as supporting and promoting other people in your field, because it makes you seem uncompetitive and therefore non-threatening in general. Secretly, you can wish death upon the author who got published before you, or the colleague who is newer to the job but got promoted ahead of you, but in public it should be all smiles and handshakes. What a great person you are, because you are so self-satisfied that you don’t need recognition or money, and you seem to be ridiculously buoyed by the accomplishments of others! This is also a good tactic because it will take some suspicion off of you when that accomplished person dies in a suspicious fire.

5. They Say That They Only Live In the Now

This must be pronounced at least once a day to someone within earshot: “I don’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow,” or “I live in the present, not the past.” Of course unless you have severe damage to the memory center in your brain, you likely torture yourself with the stupid things you’ve said and done years prior. That’s what we call human nature. This idea that we should willfully not regret anything is like pretending not to know English when bill collectors call. Again, it’s how you appear to others that matters here, not how you actually feel, so make sure a few people know that you are a right here, right now kind of person every single day, and they probably won’t detect your many crushing life regrets.

4. They Don’t Act Like a Victim While Explaining How They’ve Been Victimized

If you catch yourself complaining about a situation, you must be sure to pepper that discussion with a lot of dismissive phrases like “whatever, though,” and “but really, I’ve got no one to blame but myself!” People will consider you very independent and resilient even if you are seething with revenge fantasies against every person you believe to have slighted you. Your parents are probably the most to blame for your current misery, so be sure to talk a lot of shit about them while rolling your eyes and muttering, “Parents, right?” If the person you’re talking to starts looking horrified, you’ve probably gone too far and should interject, “But parents are parents. I still love them to death.” This phrase will work well because then you can imagine their deaths which will put a noticeable spring in your step.

3. They Are Very Body-Positive Even if They Are Moments Away from Adrenal Failure

If you’re fat, make sure you exclaim how you will not be fat-shamed and how much you love yourself even though you often eat an entire gallon of ice cream while crying. If you’re skinny, then just act really smug about it even if the lack of nutrients in your blood stream makes you feel like you’re on a robust LSD trip every day. The gym rats and people that revolve their lives around having a certain body type often have the worst body dysmorphia, so they are often the most vociferous about their look while be condemnatory of others. If you are not one of these people, you can put one on the fast track to suicide by commenting, “You look great! You really have lost/gained a lot of weight,” and then walk away. They will hang on that idle phrase for the next ten years.

2. They Feign Having Faith In a Higher Power

This one seems tough, but it actually very easy. You don’t need to subscribe to any of the available Gods and Goddesses that are regularly worshiped around the world, you can just claim to believe in a nameless “higher power” or just say you are very “spiritual.” It’s all meaningless, no matter how you slice it, but people are always amazed by what appears to be blind and unflagging faith. Many of these people project their own blind faith to others but will still be mesmerized by yours. Another good trick is to say you believe in the God of a specific religion, but then strip away every aspect of that religion so it appears you are actually communing with this all-knowing ghost. “I don’t think God is really against gambling, despite the evidence presented in this book containing the things God said.” It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole by disassembling the puzzle and turning it into a birdhouse.

1. They Smile All the Fucking Time

You have to have a placid, natural smile on your face at all times that you can be seen by others. This is a lot more difficult to achieve than one might think, because most forced smiles look like pained grimaces. Try to think of things that genuinely do make you smile, like the anguished, tortured screams of people you hate or naked people as your preference dictates. I like to think about how many people I see walking around each day are actually pedophiles or drug addicts. Sometimes, it’s even people in power who are judging the morality of other people’s actions–now that’s just funny enough to make me laugh out loud in the street! Your smile will both warm and annoy the people that see it, so be sure to wear one proudly every day!

Your Rights as a Homophobe

29 Jun

In case you missed it, the United States Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling last Friday guaranteeing same-sex marriages rights in accord with existing married couples. This led to big celebratory displays, rainbow flag waving and the changing of Facebook profile pics, and probably a lot of hot gay sex. But not everyone is on board with this legislation that will have no effect on anyone straight, and the much-maligned group of Professed Homophobes really feels like they’re getting the short end of the stick here. So I talked to a fancy, high-priced lawyer that lives in my head and asked: what rights do the homophobes have, in regards to marriage equality? The answers may shock you. If you’re an idiot.


Do I, a homophobe, have to like gay marriage?

They tried to sneak a mandatory appreciation for homosexuality in the dense legal wording of the Supreme Court’s statement, but you’ll be glad to know that the ever-vigilant Justice Scalia struck that down. The Constitution protects your right not to like same-sex marriage. Indeed, you don’t even have to like marriage at all! That hetero couple you think isn’t right for each other but went and got married anyway? You are legally allowed to think they make a crappy couple. No court in the land can stop you from thinking whatever you like about marriage or marriages, provided you do not impede the rights of those married or seeking to be married.


My church says homosexuality is wrong, but my boss at the Licensing Bureau says I have to issue marriage licenses for gay couples. What are my rights?

It is completely within your right to quit your job, or to quit your church, whichever you find easiest. You may also keep your job while silently disagreeing with the Supreme Court’s ruling, provided it doesn’t hinder your job. To wit: you must still issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples seeking to get married. The nature of the job is to issue licenses, not to act as a moral compass for engaged couples, or to let the world know you are giving a license begrudgingly. Can someone who doesn’t like fish withhold fishing licenses from eligible persons? Is a software license declared null and void if the applicant is ugly? No, these are bureaucratic dealings that have nothing to do with personal politics or opinions. Luckily, your place in the afterlife is not based on the federal and state forms that you processed, so you won’t lose any points with Saint Artemis or whoever is in charge at the Pearly Gates.


I’ve been married to my hetero partner for twenty-some odd years. How does this Supreme Court ruling affect my marriage?

It’s easy to feel like your marriage is less “cool” or unique now that people of the same sex can marry each other, but there’s no need to feel left out or like your union has been assailed. Justice Thomas was very careful to ensure that this legislation would not affect any existing marriages, nor would it change the rights granted to married couples going forward. In fact, the rights extended to same-sex married couples are identical to the rights already granted married couples around the country! It is not mandatory to marry someone of the same sex. You don’t have to get remarried in order to enjoy the privileges now afforded to same-sex couplings. Indeed, you have all of those rights already! So take a deep breath, relax and return to the same terse, strained relationship you already enjoy with your significant other. It’s your Constitutional right!

The Mind’s Eye

19 Jun

I once lived in an apartment ringed by a moat of shit.

It wasn’t a selling feature of the apartment, indeed when I and my two roommates signed the lease the area around the apartment was bone dry. It was a garden apartment at the basement level of a building that had lots of problems: scalding hot shower water, days on end with no heat, an unending cockroach infestation. I’d already established a regular and fairly antagonistic relationship with my building’s manager due to these continued issues, and when I came home from work to find a steamy, brackish lake spewing from a crack in the walk in front of my door, I was pissed. Funny thing is, I didn’t realize it was sewage at first. For some reason, I decided it was runoff from the laundromat across the street which was a ludicrous thing to believe. I stormed into the house and began commiserating with my roommate: “I can’t believe all of that water out there!” I yelled, “It’s always something with this apartment!”

“Yeah,” replied my roommate, “and now it’s a river of shit.” I looked at him blankly. “That’s not sewer water,” I informed him, “it’s from the laundromat across the street. I think.” Now it was his turn to be confused.

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“No, it’s shit. You don’t see the toilet paper in there?” I frowned and went back to the front door to examine the new body of water more closely. And then, I saw them: turds, bobbing around in this effluvia in which I could now clearly see wads of toilet paper. And worse, I began to smell it. Mere seconds ago, I detected no fecal odor but now it was undeniable. My apartment wasn’t surrounded by the murky but otherwise soapy water of a laundromat, but a disgusting, viscous moat of shit.

Once seen, of course, it could not be unseen. There’s more to the story, but what was so interesting to me that I was initially so sure that this wasn’t sewer water billowing in front of my house. I would have sworn to it. In fact, I spontaneously concocted a stupid story about the waste from a laundromat across the street–because, you know, coin-operated laundromats normally have dedicated sewage lines that run for blocks, for some reason–instead of facing the hard fact that I had poops at my doorstep. It’s incredible how your brain can trick you into seeing the things you want to see, instead of seeing things how they are.

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We saw this yesterday, when nine people were gunned down at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The murdered, like the vast majority of this church with historic ties to abolitionism, were black, the shooter was white. Right away, a survivor of this ordeal, left alive by the shooter Dylann Roof to tell the tale, explained that Dylann expressed hatred towards black people, who “rape our women, and you’re taking over our country and you have to go.” Before he was apprehended, a picture of the shooter surfaced of him wearing a jacket adorned with flags from Apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, which was Zimbabwe when it was a white-controlled territory. And lest you think I am up for a challenge to determine the origin of various flags throughout history, I am not. These flags were identified for me by several folks on social media who are much more knowledgeable than I.

And still, many newscasters, politicans and citizens were quick to quell any talk of racism. “This person is clearly mentally ill,” said many, implying that this made the killings apolitical. “An attack on religion,” claimed FOX News, who can no longer be faulted for lying under the “fool me twice, shame on me” rule. Few on my media feeds seemed to suggest that when a white person goes into a black church and kills only black people that the attack could be racially motivated. And that’s because they don’t want to see it, because we’d rather believe that this massacre, that cops shooting unarmed black teenagers on a bi-weekly basis, that the attempts to restrict voter rights along lines that would mainly disenfranchise black people are isolated incidents by crazies and malcontents, folks who are an exception to the rule. But the fact is that for American history, racism is the rule. Post Civil War Reconstruction began a hundred and fifty years ago and Civil Rights marches began fifty-five years ago, and we’ve still got so many black Americans laboring under a system of institutional racism that keeps white neighborhoods white, keeps menial jobs black, and maintains a general status quo that essentially allows police to shoot black people in the back and get away with it.

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The reason that white America doesn’t want to assume racism as a motivation is that it forces us to look inward, at our own motivations. How we have benefited, willfully or not, from the system that has been in place in some form or another for four-hundred years. It’s a difficult pill to swallow, especially since owning up to the fact doesn’t absolve your guilt. At some point, however, we have to take notice of our own hypocrisy and see things for what they are. You thought you were surrounded by the protective aura of being an enlightened free-thinker, someone who espouses equality and freedom but actually can’t see the forest for the trees. But it turns out that your protection was a moat of shit.

Larry “Bud” Melman, We Hardly Knew Ye

20 May

As you may be aware, the very last episode of Late Night With David Letterman will air tonight. It will be supplanted in September with a new late-night talk show starring Stephen Colbert, which will presumably be titled Late Night With Stephen Colbert. Call it a hunch. I wasn’t going to write about David Letterman’s retirement because, frankly, I haven’t watched a full episode of Late Night in about twenty years. I’ve seen interviews and pertinent clips on YouTube and the like, but I haven’t deigned to stay up late enough to sit through the entire thing. I used to, however; as a young kid watching Late Night With David Letterman was a nightly summer ritual shared by my brother and me–mind you, this is when Letterman came on after The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, so we were watching Dave during the 12:30-1:30 AM block.


I suppose I was around nine or ten when my official bedtime was lifted during the summer. I don’t remember there ever being a formal declaration, and indeed there may not have been. I had a television of my own in my bedroom, and there simply came a time that I ventured past the 11 PM nightly airing of The Honeymooners and Johnny Carson’s monologue to find out what lay beyond. For a while, my brother and I shared the one television, a chunky, white behemoth that was stolen from a hotel at some point and so got AM/FM radio along with VHF and UHF television. We would while away the evenings watching sitcoms and the occasional edited-for-TV movie, but by 11 PM we’d settled into a rhythm that would culminate with Late Night With David Letterman. And let me tell you, we fucking loved that show.


Those who never saw the show in its NBC days probably don’t know how really wild and revolutionary it was. There was a camera attached to a truss above the set that would careen about wildly and threaten to brain a member of the studio audience. There was a guy named Larry “Bud” Melman who was much-beloved by the audience but always seemed like he didn’t want to be there. Dave would have inventors, people doing Stupid Human Tricks (an offshoot of his more popular Stupid Pet Tricks), and other assorted weirdos and crackpots. Late Night With David Letterman was like a low-budget public access cable show, except that Steve Martin would show up from time to time. It was in stark contrast to Johnny Carson’s more staid, formulaic fare.


My memories of watching David Letterman are inextricable from memories of my brother, who would normally watch while stretched out on the linoleum floor of my bedroom while I watched lying in my bed. Throughout the night, I would test him on the time, which he almost always guessed down to the exact minute, a feat that amazed me as a kid (though I now suspect that my brother simply knew when commercial breaks happened relative to the half hour.) We’d both get really excited when Chris Elliot was on the program doing something weird and gross. Late Night With David Letterman in those days shaped and appealed to our senses of humor, and I doubt these episodes have aged well. We saw Crispin Glover almost kick Letterman’s teeth in, we saw Drew Barrymore bare her tits to him, we saw Harvey Pekar booted off the show, never to return–something that resonated with the two of us, since my father was a regular reader of Pekar’s American Splendor. And in the flickering light of late-night television, my brother and I bonded. We had few opportunities to do so back then and even fewer as we grew older and further apart. So to David Letterman, I tip my hat and thank you for thirty-three years of humorous service that helped shape the lives of two stupid kids from Queens.

Thank You, Crazy Idiot, for Dismantling the Patriarchy

27 May

A horrible thing happened last weekend: a kid named Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree in California and killed six people, wounded several others. It was another in a growing list of homegrown atrocities being committed at an increasing rate here in America. It’s gotten so common, there’s a list of questions that instantly generate once we hear about another mass slaying: Was it at a school? Were there guns involved? Were the guns obtained legally? Each one of these tragedies forces us to look at ourselves and our neighbors differently, mixing suspicion and empathy in unequal amounts to arrive at the unsatisfying conclusion that we, as a society, have our priorities out of whack. Rodger’s rampage had another wrinkle, though. It was preceded by a creepy video manifesto.

We perceive this awful, misogynistic video as unusual because it is reasonably coherent. We don’t expect our spree killers and maniacs to be so well-spoken, looking so normal. One result of this video, as well as the release of other vitriolic, hateful stuff Rodger produced, is a nationwide discussion about how women are still regarded as little more than fuck objects by our patriarchal society. And it’s been a good discussion. It led to a twitter hashtag, #yesallwomen, where women (mainly) detailed the inequities and harassment they encounter every single day. It’s caused a lot of women to speak up about otherwise routine stuff they deal with on the street, with their families and at their careers that many of us men might take for granted. It’s exposed a pervasive belief that women somehow owe men sexual satisfaction, that by not reciprocating on advances they are being prudes, or bitches, or doing something incorrectly. If the result of Rodger’s assault is that the male-dominated infrastructure weakens and crumbles, if it effects a real change in gender inequities, then perhaps we can extract some good from this terrible event. There’s one aspect of the whole thing that doesn’t sit right with me, however: it’s another case of a severely disturbed man being held as evidence of a misogynistic society.

Please don’t get me wrong. We do live in a misogynistic society. There are severe improprieties and injustices perpetrated against women in the United States that need to be addressed. But it doesn’t seem fair that the staged ramblings of a severely disturbed individual should be used to evince this fact. Yes, the way Rodgers talks in his video is in line with the way many men think–many men believe they are entitled to female attention, for sure. But many men aren’t going to commit revenge murders over it. Indeed, most men might harbor lots of misogynistic thoughts while interacting with women in a pleasant and professional way. But we don’t persecute people for thoughts, we persecute them for their actions, and the actions of Rodgers, and his justification for them, do not mirror mine in any way. I am very willing to be schooled by women in the ways I might have been less than egalitarian in my dealings. I want women to speak up, I want to know about the invisible oppressions I and my fellow males perpetrate without realizing it. But I will be damned if I’m going to let myself be lumped in with some cruel asshole who’s romanticized his first-world struggle.

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I suppose the discussion is what’s important, less so the impetus. Like I’ve said, if every guy reading the #yesallwomen feed takes it upon himself to correct his behaviors, and admonish the improper behaviors of those around him, then it’s all been for good cause. It’s a sad truth that only the most outrageous, horrifying incidents galvanize people to speak up–be it about gun control, how we care for the mentally ill, misogyny, or whatever else is sticking in our craw. I merely wish it didn’t take a hyperbolic example of a young man’s anger to get people to discuss gender politics. Because I am a man, and I have certainly behaved less-than-great to many women in my life, both knowingly and unknowingly. I deserve to be called out on these instances, I want to be instructed in the passive misogyny I carry from the earliest days of being taught. But damn it, I won’t be compared to Elliot Rodger. That guy is fucking nuts.

A Meeting of the Minds

6 Aug

An airport taxi pulls up to a trendy restaurant in the Malibu Hills whose name, “Hohu” is back-lit by purple neon. The back door of the taxi opens and comic book writer FRANK MILLER emerges, pauses dramatically, and drinks in the lush surroundings. He begins walking to the entrance of the restuarant. Past the colored fountains of mythical Ambrosia, past the live mermaids playfully swimming in giant tanks, right up to the door of “Hohu” which is an exact replica of the front door of the Wizard’s castle from The Wizard of Oz. The door opens ceremoniously and FRANK MILLER steps through it.
Inside the spacious and lushly-decorated restaurant we see a single, circular table with three settings and a dim lamp as the centerpiece. Seated at the table and facing the entrance are CHRISTOPHER NOLAN and ZACK SNYDER, famous movie makers. They wave FRANK MILLER over and gesture for him to take a seat, which he does…

CN: (grinning) I’m glad you could make it, Frank.

FM: (taking his seat) Please, call me Frank.

CN: I suppose you know why we’ve asked to speak with you.

FM: Of course I know. The whole goddamned internet knows. You want to talk about Batman.

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A slight and obsequious WAITER shuffles over to the table and, in a deep bow, utters

WAITER: Good evening gentlemen. May I take your drink orders?

CN: I’ll have a liter of angel’s tears.

ZS: I’ll have the chilled blood of a Dodo bird in a straight glass.

FM: A can of Schaeffer beer from 1958, please.

WAITER: Very good, sirs. WAITER exits, walking backwards and still in a deep bow.

ZS: Anyway.

CN: How was your flight, Frank?

FM: Let’s get down to brass tacks. You asked me here so we could discuss the Batman. So let’s discuss the character.

ZS: (nervously tugging at his collar) Hurm.

CN: Yes, well, no need for formalities. Obviously you know by now that the sequel to this summer’s blockbuster Man of Steel will feature Batman.

ZS: Indeed.

CN: And more than feature Batman, it will actually pit Batman against Superman. We were inspired by that scene from your historic comic book work, The Dark Knight Returns.

ZS: Oh yes. Very inspired. A runner appears with the drinks, arranges them at the table, and slinks away without ever making eye contact.

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CN: We would like to pick your brain about that scene, the characters, their motivations.

FM: Cracks his beer and takes a long sip from the can. I’ll make this real simple for you. Superman is a jerk, Batman is an asshole.

ZS: (with alacrity) Ulp!

CN: Hmm, yes. Our take on Superman was a bit different.

FM: I didn’t see your silly movie so I wouldn’t know, but I assume you made him a real pansy. And he is a pansy, but he’s also a government stooge. Batman stands in opposition to that because he’s a complete asshole.

CN: Right.

FM: (continuing) See Batman’s whole motivation is to avenge the death of his parents. That’s his only motivation. But he can’t avenge them without pummeling the shit out of everyone. And that includes Superman.

CN: What about Batman’s pursuit of justice?

ZS: Yes, uh, what of justice?

FM: Are you fucking retarded? Justice? There’s no justice, just pimps and hookers and junkies and pedophiles all heaped together in a pile of shit. And on top of that pile, the King Shit of all the little shitlings, is Batman.

The WAITER sidles up to the table, again in a deep bow, and speaking to his shoes, utters

WAITER: I beg your pardon, gentlemen. May I take your orders?

CN: I’ll have a Bengal tiger fillet with a side of Gingold.

ZS: I’ll have an everlasting Gobstopper in fairy’s wing sauce.

FM: Steak. Medium-well.

WAITER: Very good, sirs, I’ll bring that right out. WAITER backs away again, disappearing into the darkness.

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CN: Frank, let me ask you…do you like Batman?

FM: What do you mean?

CN: Well I wouldn’t expect someone who likes Batman to describe him as “King Shit.”

ZS: (nods spastically)

FM: Of course I like Batman! I’ve written dozens of Batman comic books!

CN: Of course, we must defer to your wisdom. Tell us more about the Batman, as you see him.

FM: Well another thing you should know about Batman is that he dislikes people.

CN: What?

FM: Batman dislikes people. Doesn’t care for them. They interfere with his mission.

CN: I see. If he dislikes people, why is he saving their lives all the time?

FM: Just to shut up their whiny mewling. He sees them as annoying hurdles in his war against Superman.

CN: Batman is at war with Superman?

FM: Of course, he’s at war with everybody.

CN: What about Robin?

FM: He’s at war with him.

CN: What about Alfred?

FM: He’s at war with that limey.

ZS: Sweating nervously, ZACK SNYDER looks about ready to pass out.

CN: Why does he employ them if he’s at war with them?

FM: First of all, he doesn’t “employ” Robin. Robin is some little dickwad that keeps hanging around Batman while he’s trying to wage war on everyone.

CN: Right.

FM: It’s almost more trouble for Batman to throw Robin off a cliff than you let him bounce around during fights. Plus he can distract villains and draw their fire.

CN: But Batman is shown to clearly care for Robin in the comics. Did you ever read Robin Dies at Dawn?

FM: Oh, I don’t read comics.

CN: What?!

FM: That’s kid stuff. I write comics, I don’t read the stupid things.

CN: (looks over at ZACK SNYDER who is pale and quivering) Okayyy…

A runner arrives with plates of food, which he sets before the seated men and quickly and silently absconds, never making eye contact.

CN: I don’t know if we are going to go in this same direction with Batman, Frank.

FM: (chewing on a piece of steak) Okay, what’s your take?

CN: Extends his arms and articulates his thumbs and forefingers as a makeshift frame. The movie opens in darkness.

ZS: Nods head enthusiastically. Darkness, definitely darkness.

CN: From the darkness, we see a shadowy fist emerge.

ZS: Darkness. Pitch black darkness.

CN: Is it Superman’s fist? Whose shaded fist can this be, issuing from billowy blackness?

ZS: Lights out. Dark. Darkness.

CN: Everyone’s going to think it’s Superman’s fist.

ZS: Everyone.

CN: But it’s not.

ZS: Darkness.

CN: It’s Batman’s fist. In a sequel to Man of Steel. Can you picture it?

ZS: Boom.

 photo malibu2_zpsbaf40596.jpg

FM: Yes, well, what happens in the movie?

CN: We haven’t gotten to that part yet. All we’ve come up with is the thing with the fist.

ZS: And the darkness.

CN: Yes, we came up with the darkness. We were hoping you would help us flesh out the plot.

FM: I see.

CN: Though honestly I’m not sure if we can use your hateful, spiteful Batman.

ZS: Nods slowly.

FM: Oh, so you want to use some pussy Batman? Like the Adam West bullshit?

CN: (thoughtfully) Hmm…maybe. But darker.

FM: Abruptly gets up from the table, pushing his chair back, and throws his cloth napkin onto his half-eaten steak. FRANK MILLER chews what he’s got in his mouth slowly and methodically, holding CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’s gaze with a piercing stare. After two full minutes, FRANK MILLER swallows his last bite of steak, clears his throat, and speaks. Gentlemen, you offend me. I thought you brought me here to teach you about the Batman, his motivations and complete hatred for humanity and life. But I was wrong. You’re just a couple of slick Hollywood hucksters who want to take the pure story of a complete douchebag’s struggle against sluts and jerkwads and turn it into some kind of rodeo circus. Well I, for one, will have no part of it. Don’t you know who I am? I’m goddamned Frank Miller! Good day. FRANK MILLER strides purposefully from the table and is enveloped in the surrounding shadows.

ZS: In a state of shock, begin weeping.

CN: Watches FRANK MILLER exit, then begins eating his dinner. Well that was unpleasant. Looks around the empty, darkened restaurant, and waves his fork at nothing in particular. It’s a bit bright in here, isn’t it?

Punch Wood: Mods and Rockers

16 Oct

There was a game for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System called Wizards and Warriors. It was a decent side-scrolling platforming game, where you played a knight (the titular warrior, I suppose) who jumped around slaying monsters and ultimately, perhaps–it’s been a long time since I played the game–a wizard. Along the way, you could gather power-ups to enhance your character, like a temporary high jump to get over obstacles, or the ability to fire bolts from your steely lance. There was one power-up, the Cloak of Invisibility, which was the most useless extra, to the detriment of gameplay. The problem was that the cloak didn’t merely make you invisible to enemies, but to your own eyes, so you’d invariably steer your sprite into a bottomless chasm or jutting spikes or some other hazard. Anyone who’s played the game will tell you they got this power-up a few times, then passed over it like poison for every subsequent playing. “Why did they put this shit in the game?” I remember thinking, “Someone should tweak the code to make it work.”


I had neither the experience or the gumption to do this myself, but eventually there would be a big community of people who modify video games, or “modders.” They make “mods,” which can be anything from extra levels in a classic Super Mario Bros. game to new items and types of gameplay for newer titles. Many video game developers release a tweakable version of their proprietary code, allowing independent fans to create new quests and textures, extending the shelf life of some games far beyond the fifty or so hours provided upon purchase. It’s happening with a lot of titles these days, but I don’t think it’s as ubiquitous and pervasive as with the game Minecraft. There are mods to adjust the basic performance of the game, and mods that completely change the entire gameplay. No longer can you necessarily mine and craft, instead you will survive and fight hordes of speedy zombies and other players while looting abandoned towns and military encampments. There are so many mods, from the ludicrous mods that add blocks made of shit, to amazingly complicated mods that allow you to set up entire rock quarries and create solar batteries for your jet pack.


It’s a curious business model, to create a framework and allow users to change their experience as they see fit. Imagine you went to see a movie in the theater, but were able to change the level of violence within to suit your tastes. Or picture yourself reading a mystery novel and you’re able to change the ending per your findings throughout the text. That’s sort of like what’s happening with Minecraft, though I suppose since it doesn’t offer a linear story with limited options, adding various “to do lists” to the mix makes good sense. Without any mods, what you’ll do for the most part in Minecraft is mine, smelt, and build, with a little hacking of archer skeletons and occasional forays into the Hell dimension for potion ingredients. The addition of a mod or two can increase the number and type of creatures that spawn around the land, or add new weapons, or change your avatar so that it looks like a character from the My Little Pony cartoon. Yes, I’m serious.


The Minecraft modding community is part of what makes the game’s fanbase so rabid and growing exponentially. By rights, popularity for a game which mostly entails wandering around empty spaces should have petered out a long time ago. But as long as people are still interested to mod this game as they see fit, interest will be generated among veterans and new players alike. With mods, the game that is all things to all people can truly have something for everyone, possibly even those who didn’t think they liked to play video games at all.

Get Minecraft and see for yourself at minecraft.net!

Perhaps I Was Too Hasty With My Snark

13 Sep

It occurs to me that I may have erred.

Last Thursday, September 6th, I posted an essay titled Those Pesky Other Human Beings. In this essay, I picked apart this tumblr entry, which had been making the internet rounds. I determined the linked post to be misguided, poorly-written, and somewhat condescending, so I eviscerated it in a particularly cruel and nasty style which is de rigeur throughout cyberspace. I didn’t write that way by accident, I’m well aware that I was pushing buttons and being aggressive because I wanted to provoke a reaction. And to that extent, I provoked the desired reactions.


There were a couple of comments on that piece by one Arya Markova, who provided me with a junior year poli-sci class definition of “privilege” and further told me how little I knew about the harassment of females. Her point was that I was blind to the mistreatment of ladies in public because it is not part of my male experience. I don’t argue that. The entire meaning of my initial essay was that UnWinona’s incident had nothing to do with Man’s inhumanity to women and everything to do with crazy people on the subway. Obviously, I failed in making that clear. It is my contention that, even if every sane male in the world was respectful of women’s privacy, never hollered at them or said rude things to demean them in public, that would not preclude some lunatic freaking out on them while riding public transit. No person or people can be held accountable for the actions of crazy people. They operate outside of the spectrum of normal human behavior; that’s why we call them crazy.


I am not dumb to the fact that some men–a large contingent of men, we’ll say–are routinely disrespectful towards women in public. I see it all the time. Indeed, I can’t say that some of my friends have never hit on women while out and about. I can say with absolute certainty that none of my friends have ever started slamming walls and crying out for their dead mothers, but that’s only because I don’t consort with severely mentally ill people. It’s sort of a “thing” with me. Still, even the dudes I know that might harass a female on the street, there would only be a few. And these guys, like most guys talk a good game, would be mortified if ever confronted by the objects of their derision. I believe this to be a fact. It’s a misnomer that most men hope a woman will be entranced by their cat calls and sexual promises, they do this to subjugate women, perhaps even subconsciously remind them of the limits of their power. The last thing they’re ready for is to have a woman take them up on their offers. Mind you, an even smaller subset of men are playing the odds, hitting on a passing succession of women in hopes that one will respond to their advances. But I believe that the vast majority of men who might say something offensive or otherwise approach a lady unsolicited are internally so pathetic that they can and should be ignored. Sure, they may act tough around their buddies or when they think a woman is vulnerable, but at home they’re cuckolded by their wives and their sexual activity is relegated to lonely evenings looking at furry porn on the internet. Believe me on this.


I thought about all of the times I’d been scared shitless by crazy people on the subway. Times I wished I could leap off a moving train as some guy started to scream at his invisible tormentors and twitch with psychotic tics. Times I huddled in the corner of a car praying that a wild-eyed, menacing pacer wouldn’t notice and antagonize me. I wish I could offer some advice on how to deal with these people, but since they are unpredictable there’s really no definite recourse. You might get attacked by crazy people on the subway, it’s an unfortunate fact of life. We can decry the institutions that release these mentally defective people, we can blame society for not providing adequate medical services for troubled subjects. But the reality is that, today, there’s not much we can do about it. In crowded, urban settings we mingle with psychopaths every day, and the best thing to do is avoid these people entirely. So we’ve got a shitty game plan for How to Deal With Subway Harassment: if it’s a guy trying to hurt your feelings by propositioning you, then ignore or glower at him. However, if it’s a crazy, dangerous guy, then your best recourse is to avoid this person entirely, try to get away and avoid his notice.

And then it occurred to me that one wouldn’t know whether a guy was a spineless creep or a violent psycho until they’d already been approached by him.


So with that, I realized the fallacy of my essay, that UnWinona’s tumblr post wasn’t about being frightened by a wacko on the LA Metro, but about the systemic abuse of being harassed by men that, unfortunately, did result in some one flipping out. If it was known for sure that all offensive men were harmless assholes, then there wouldn’t be the same issues. But the reality is that some men will get antagonistic, some men will behave as if women are obligated to pay them attention, and–though relatively few–some men will freak the fuck out, start hitting walls and threatening their targets, muttering about their dead mothers and acting wild. Indeed, some men will physically attack the objects of their passing desires. And to be on the receiving end of not knowing which way some guy will jump is a scary proposition. I wasn’t blind to this fact before writing my essay, but I was blind to its evidence in UnWinona’s post, for which I am very sorry and ashamed.

I’ve taken down my initial piece and replaced it with this tail-between-my-legs explanation as to why it’s gone. If you missed it, you didn’t miss much except for me being an outrageous asshole. There’s lots of other evidence to that on this site. Apologies to UnWinona, and thanks to my friends and Arya Markova, who made me consider my words and the words which spawned them more carefully. I’m not a perfect man, but for whatever it’s worth I have never, ever harassed a woman in public transit. It’s simply impolite.

Punch Wood

25 Jan

Imagine you find yourself awakening on an unfamiliar beach, blinking your bleary eyes at the glare of a rapidly rising sun. Before you is a seemingly endless ocean of clear blue water. Turning around, you see a strange and beautiful landscape of snowy pine forests, towering mountain ranges, rolling green hills, and expansive deserts, all adjacent to one another like a patchwork quilt. There are no obvious, immediate signs of civilization, no visible inhabitants save for a few bleating sheep and a couple of pigs meandering lazily along the terrain. You are lost, quite possibly stranded, and find yourself in a survival situation. Eventually, you’ll signal for help or find a way back to humanity, but for now you’ve got to worry about satisfying your most basic needs. What do you do first?

Well, if you’re playing Minecraft, you walk up to a tree and punch it with your bare fist until it coughs up a log.


Created independently by Markus “Notch” Persson in 2009, Minecraft is a game that is about playing. It’s simple enough for first-timers to quickly get the hang of, but complex enough to entertain and engross gaming veterans. The gameplay is basically as described above: you are deposited in a randomly-generated, nearly infinite world where you must survive. You begin by making rudimentary tools of wood, then use those tools to gather stone for an arsenal upgrade. After a little while, night will fall, and then it’s time to make a shelter because things come out in the dark.

Bad things.

Unspeakable things.


Namely, creatures that will be hostile and try to kill you. Should you be caught outside after the sun goes down, you’ll contend with lumbering zombies, precise skeleton archers, and exploding sneak artists known as Creepers. If you make it through that first night, then you’ll be in a good position to establish yourself and bolster your position in the coming days: expanding and securing your abode, gathering resources and mining precious ores, perhaps starting a farm with those two pigs you spotted when you first…arrived. With industriousness and a little luck, you can build your mud hut into an impenetrable kingdom, well-stocked with food and materials fit for a king. And you’ve done it. You’ve won the game.


Or perhaps you grow bored with living alone in your respectable but uninhabited kingdom and decide to strike out into the world. You explore your surroundings and find a land carved by winding rivers and impossibly deep ravines, where minerals are so abundant that great veins glint in the noonday sun. You must have them, so carefully you descend into the cavern and begin extracting precious metals while angry monsters swarm around you. Deftly, you murder them all, gaining experience points in the process which you then use to enchant your weapons for improved effectiveness. You are now this world’s mightiest warrior. Creatures tremble at your approach and the very land before you succumbs to your every desire. You are at the apex, having achieved as much power as reasonably possible, and now you have finally won the game.


Or perhaps you are bored with the reality as presented before you, and you decide to see what other dimensions have to offer. Carefully arranging the proper materials, you are able to build a portal to a fiery hell world known as the Nether, a world of eternal night, lit largely by treacherous seas of lava that fill nearly every available space. You’re beset by new species of monster: zombie Pig-Men that wander aimlessly with their golden swords unsheathed, gigantic floating Ghasts that emit sickening whines and shoot fireballs in your general direction. You discover a pitch black fortress made of unfamiliar materials, and from it you’re able to gather unusual resources that bestow new abilities when taken back to the normal Minecraft world. Using your newly-found resources, you craft new items and, eventually, potions that impart incredible powers. You are now a superhero, limited only by the number of buffs you can create. Without a weapon, you are the most formidable being in existence, and after repeated trips to the Nether, you’re able to dominate that dimension as well. You are now a denizen of two distinct worlds, master of both, lord of all you survey. Surely, nothing more can be accomplished. You must have won the game.


But there is yet more gameplay, including dominating stronghold fortresses buried beneath the ground, the discovery of a weird fungal landmass where cows grow mushrooms on their backs and give mushroom stew instead of milk, and yet another dimension to reach where you will have to slay a constantly regenerating dragon. And even then, you aren’t really done. You can continue to mine and build and fight to your heart’s content, alone or with friends on shared servers, either with the original “vanilla” game, or using any one of dozens of modifications that affect the game in a variety of ways. You can even create your own custom maps utilizing the same simple tools needed for regular play. As a result, the modding and custom map community for Minecraft is an entity all its own, propelling the simply complicated oxymoron that is Minecraft into ever-expanding–and possibly endless–territories. Much like the randomly-generated Minecraft world in which you spawn, every game is different, and every person plays in their own way.


It sounds like I’m gushing over the game, and truthfully, I am. There’s so much more that I could say about the Minecraft, but there’s no point when you can go and experience it for yourself right now. Go ahead. There’s a Java version right on the website you can tool around to get a feel for the game. It’s the merest glimpse of what Minecraft has to offer, so beware: it may whet your appetite for conquering dungeons and killing dragons. However, many before have fallen to lesser pursuits. Punch some wood.

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