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White Dudes, Nobody Cares What You Think

14 Jan

Ever notice that many of the most ardent social progressives are young, single white guys? No matter what you do to get through your daily business, here’s ofay telling you that you’re doing it wrong. The food you eat is bad for you. The way you raise your children is wrong. The clothes you wear are evil because they disenfranchise some brown kids half a world away. There are alternatives, they tell us, in the form of sustainable, local wares that cost three times as much as the plastic-wrapped crap you get at K-Mart. But it’s all worth it! And you don’t have to give up anything, you can have all of your creature comfort treats and goodies. For example, you can eschew corporate ice cream for Bearded Know-It-All’s Iced Soy Milk, which tastes just as good. As piss-soaked snow.

It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that we in the Western world live pretty shittily. Why Professor Pothead has tasked himself with educating us, I have no idea. Because normally, socially-acclimated people don’t take advice from those on the fringes of society. I mean, you beanie cap-wearing weirdos think everything mainstream is wrong, that’s why you’re on the fringe. And now you want to tell me what shoes to wear? You opted out, buddy, the day you got that peace sign tattooed on your hand and decided to pierce your eyelids. It’s not about my prejudice, it’s about you living with the decisions you make. If you wanted to change the world for the better, then maybe you could have spent your college years learning about international politics or urban planning, or perhaps you could have gone and found work in a field other than dicking around on the guitar. You think tax laws are unjust, but you’ve never earned enough to necessitate paying taxes anyway. You act like you’ve got Phillip Morris by the balls because you roll your own cigarettes–friend, they own that tobacco, too.

You want to rail against Monsanto and tell yourself that shopping at thrift stores is more sustainable than Old Navy, be my guest. But no one is really checking for the opinions of surly white folks. Yeah, you’ve got seventy bucks for plastic shoes, but what you don’t have is two kids who need new shoes every year. What you don’t have is a mortgage, gainful employment, or the need to get regular haircuts. Your biggest concern is paying off your dealer. So perhaps as the Voice of a Generation, you fall a little flat. Maybe in ten years, when white people are actually a minority in America, we’ll listen to your pleas, if you have time to issue them in between finding work and keeping the lights on in your subsidized studio apartment. Come talk to me about Sri Lankan sweat shop workers after you get turned down at your twentieth job interview because the workplace has already filled their Mr. Charlie quota.

O Stalker, My Stalker

20 Dec

Used to be that stalking was hard work. It involved a lot of peering through high-powered binoculars and sifting through people’s garbage. You could follow someone to and from work every day for a week, and still not catch the details of their morning breakfast order from the McDonald’s drive-thru. Stalking was not for the faint of heart, or for the very sane. Mark Chapman lurked on Central Park West for three days before he saw an opportunity to shoot John Lennon. Three days of waiting, and there wasn’t even a brand new iPhone at the end of his loitering.

Nowadays, people throw the word “stalking” around like it’s harmless. And for the way it’s used today, which is to describe people who monitor others’ internet activity, perhaps it is. Because there’s no point in being stalked when you’re checking in to every location and uploading pictures of your family vacation for all to see. You’ve already done most of the work for a potential stalker. At one time, stalking burned up countless tanks of gas as creepy weirdos followed their targets incessantly to discern habitual movements. Now a stalker can sit on his fat ass munching Cheetos while you tell him and everyone else in the world what you’re doing all day long. It demeans the whole creepy voyeur community, quite frankly, and your claim to privacy rights seems a little disingenuous.

You see it about every other week, some rumor passed along facebook or twitter or what-have-you: a vague threat, cloaked in legal speak, about how the stuff you’ve posted is going to be repurposed for corporate number crunchers or outright sold to ad agencies. This is usually combined with a fake post or phony petition that will tell the dastardly powers-that-be how incensed we are to have our musings about Jersey Shore watched by White Devils. Friend, you’ve already given up the ghost. They had your number the day you registered to an e-mail address. Sure, you may be sharing your musings about rush hour traffic with your circle of approved friends, but that doesn’t exclude the people who run the freaking site. And it certainly doesn’t deter content aggregators from compiling whatever public information you do let loose for the perusal of every jilted lover and high school enemy that might do a google search for your name.

I think we’re too loose with the word “stalking.” If you’ve got an account at more than one social networking website, and you’re updating them frequently via your smartphone, then you can’t claim anyone is actually stalking you. They’re just reading the shit you’ve spewed into the ether. If you’re so paranoid that the people you’ve inconvenienced in your life and the corporations you hate are going to scrutinize your every move, then my advice is don’t fucking help them out with it. More than likely, the damage has already been done. Perhaps you should put in a little work, fake your own death and get plastic surgery so you can assume a new identity. Put in some effort like good stalkers used to do.

This is My Gun

29 Nov

Gun. It’s kind of a weird word, isn’t it? Gun. When you say it over and over, it starts to sound funny. It doesn’t seem like a word that would describe an efficient killing machine, it sounds more like the viscous by-product of rendering fat or the froth from using paint stripper or something. We shouldn’t call them “guns,” we should call them “bullet propulsion machines.” Maybe then folks will think they’re too complicated for the average person to comprehend, sort of like how the economy functions. What causes inflation? Fuck if I know. Leave that to the eggheads in Washington, I’ll be polishing my gun.

I don’t actually own a gun, have never thought about owning one. I’ve shot a few guns in controlled environments, it’s reasonably thrilling. I guess the pleasure is in having the power to instantly eradicate something from far away. One thing I’ve frequently done in the past is to defend America’s Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights–the Right to Bear Arms. I’ve done this vehemently, almost instinctively, gotten into protracted arguments on the internet and in person over the issue. I think I see myself as a Northeastern liberal who breaks all the rules by advocating for social services AND the right to own firearms. “I don’t own a gun…[pause for effect]…but I SUPPORT THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS!!!” Dun dun dunn! Overseas peaceniks are mortified into stunned silence, several redneck stereotypes swoon and reconsider their preconceived notions of lily-livered yankees. That’s right, I went there. Didn’t think a guy with glasses could be moderate on the topic of gun control, did you? I upset a status quo that exists solely in my mind and nowhere else.

You really have to think about the Second Amendment and what it implies. We can guess why it was instated: the Americans had just successfully completed a bloody war with the aid of guns and figured they’d do the handy devices a solid. “Thanks, guns, for helping us defeat the British. Tell you what: we’ll mention you favorably in a document. Sound good?” As part of a letter which would be sent to the King of England, the Second Amendment makes sense. It essentially suggests that Americans are strapped, so the British had better think twice before sailing their pasty butts across the Atlantic. Which, incidentally, didn’t work since we fought them again during the War of 1812. But the point is that the Second Amendment was meant to appear menacing, whether or not it was actually effective. One might say that this scrappy, upstart country had an axe to grind.

But what the Second Amendment implies is way scarier than what it attempts. If it is our right to bear arms, that suggests that there’s a reason to bear arms–that the only thing that can really protect us from attack is a bullet. And if you’ve got a gun to protect yourself, I’ve got to get one, or I’m just a target. Let me tell you, that’s a really scary and paranoid way to live. It sort of colors one’s perception of everything, as an “us vs. them” scenario, where you are either a gun-wielding, valorous defender of your family and property, or so much chattel to be forced around by a uniformed gestapo, under the thumb of a stockpiled junta. It sort of brainwashes us, gives us an implicit understanding that it’s all fun and games until the guns pop out, then it’s you or me. This country was founded with guns, won with guns, its very nature and topography formed by guns. All the fancy talking in the world can’t defend itself against a forty-five caliber bullet.

It’s worth mentioning, though, that if the only guns available were .38 Specials and Winchester Rifles, we wouldn’t be having such gun control discussions. The main problem isn’t that some kid found his dad’s Derringer and fired off a few wayward bullets. The issue is that people are picking up military grade automatic weapons and blowing away crowds. Many gun collectors don’t have a bunch of old Colts under a glass case, but racks and racks of automatic and semi-automatic rifles, with night vision sniper scopes and extended magazines so they can pump more hollow-tip bullets into someone’s face. This shit is really scary. If you’re an enthusiast with a handful of shotguns and rifles for hunting and skeet shooting, I suppose that’s one thing. But if you’ve got a collection so large that you need to dedicate a “gun room,” then you don’t live in a house. What you live in is an armory.

It’s amazing how we are affected by our contextual environments. I’ve sort of lived my whole life just accepting the Second Amendment as uniquely good and fair and worth preserving, without even considering that what I was promoting was conversely related to my personality. I am scared shitless of guns, whether I’m sitting near a cop’s holstered Glock 9mm on the subway, or watching some military guy march around Penn Station with his index finger extended along the trigger guard of an automatic rifle–even while holding a twenty-gauge shotgun myself, firing at rolling and launching clays with some good friends, I can’t get the fact that this is a device for instantaneous killing out of my head. If I had time-traveling super powers, I’d make sure that guns never existed. But since guns don’t kill people, people kill people, perhaps I’d have an easier time making sure that homo sapiens never evolved in the first place.

Here’s Why the World Owes Me a Living, Part Two

8 Nov

Here’s why the world owes me a living: I never got to play in a plastic ball pit.

I think that our tendency to perceive successive generations of children as having is easier than we did is an invention of the twentieth century, because prior to that time American children were treated largely as small adults. There were no board games, no playgrounds, no mass-produced toys or even very much kid-friendly literature. Except for offspring of the wealthy, kids were expected to work as soon as they were potty-trained, often some of the most dangerous jobs to which their small sizes were best-suited. Then the new century dawned, and things changed–for a lot of reasons, really. Advances in hygiene and education happening simultaneously with the Industrial Revolution meant more healthy children and fewer job opportunities. Labor laws changed so that they couldn’t work anyway, and mandatory public education kept them off the streets during daylight hours. Children, in the 1900s, were beginning to be treated like children, and all manner of industries sprouted up that catered specifically to them.

By the time I became cognizant in the early 1980s, my parents’ generation must have thought that bratty fucking kids were running the world. Relatively speaking, we were. In 1880, the average family would bring in just enough money to cover rent, food, and some needle and thread to mend worn hand-me-down clothing. In 1982, I’m sure my parents spent a full third of their income in Transformers toys that I broke within hours of pulling it from the box–sometimes as I pulled it from the box. I was being so consistently entertained by cartoons and kids’ shows and movies that I became almost completely inured to it, watching hours upon hours of television and absorbing nothing but the nagging need to get more Transformers. The world was my oyster, and still I would not know what it was truly like to be obscenely coddled because I never got to play in a plastic ball pit.

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about: those little pools of hollow plastic spheres that you see in McDonald’s playgrounds and Discovery Zones. It’s important to note that McDonald’s PlayLands were not always foam-covered jungle gyms and ball pits. When I was younger, these recreational spaces were made of porcelain and stainless steel, and consisted of various tooth-chipping devices dressed in the McDonald’s commercial characters of the day. There was an Officer Big Mac climber, which was entered via a claustrophobic, entubed ladder that led to the interior of his head, a Mayor McCheese merry-go-round, which was one of those self-propelled turntables that my family referred to as “the throw up machine,” a Hamburgular swing set where you swung from his outstretched, criminal arms, and a few other implements of whimsy and torture. Around 1987, at least in my area of Queens, these PlayLands changed, partly to suit McDonald’s new commercial campaign that didn’t include this colorful cast of retards. It was also a softer, gentler playground, all colorful and plush and safely contained by waxed rope nets. Of greatest interest to me was the plastic ball pit, which I believe to be the best simulation of swimming in a pool without needing to get wet. I believe this to be true, but have never experienced it myself, for when the ball pit arrived at the local McDonald’s where I grew up, I already surpassed the height requirement that would allow me entry to the damned thing.

Indeed, I was too tall for ball pits everywhere, from Chuck E. Cheese to Action Park. Should I get rich, I intend to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool with hollow plastic balls so I can capture this missed experience. But really, I will never be able to fully capture the experience of being a kid in the generation after mine, all stuffed with Fruit By the Foot and Sunny Delight, staying indoors and watching hours upon hours of original kids’ programming on Nickelodeon because my mom found out how many registered sex offenders lived on my block, being shielded from any instance where a woman’s naked breast or the implication of sex might pass my circumference, and shucking my shoes to play in plastic ball pits with other favored children. It’s made me a harder, colder person than those from the generations following mine, and perhaps that’s for the best. When the zombie apocalypse happens, I’ll know to contact Inspector Gadget and won’t waste time trying to get service on my smart phone.

More Shitty Movies That Are Great

11 Oct

I shared some of my favorite movies once before, and if you’re so inclined you can check out my prior offerings. But just to recap: I’ve been watching crappy horror and sci-fi flicks for almost as long as I’ve been alive. It’s a venerated tradition, passed down from parent to child, and one I’d like to pass down to you since kids are assholes who can’t appreciate true cinema, or anything not fully-rendered in computer graphics that leaps off the screen like projectile vomit.

Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, 1971

If you’ve never seen a Godzilla movie, this is not the one with which to start, because it is hands down the most tripped-out and darkest film in the series. It carries a strong ecological message thoroughly diluted by surreal cartoon segues and inexplicable scenes, like when the human protagonist goes to a night club and hallucinates that everyone’s got fish heads. I don’t mean that they’re holding fish heads, I mean that their human heads have been replaced with oversized heads of fish. Then, the Smog Monster–a gigantic, shuffling turd with eyes–steps up to a smokestack and pulls a righteous bong hit (which makes his eyes glow super-red…totally). Another unusual thing about this movie that isn’t canonical with the series is that a lot of people die after whiffing the Smog Monster’s smoky farts. That doesn’t stop the survivors from whooping it up on the slopes of Mount Fuji as an Armageddon Eve celebration. The DVD version allows for English and French subtitles, but I suggest you watch the dubbed version if only to hear the awesomeness that is the theme song.

18 Again!, 1988

There were few kids-as-adults type movies that hit theaters in 1988: Big, Vice Versa, Like Father, Like Son. But there’s one that gets overlooked…okay, so all of them get overlooked, besides Big because it was the only one that didn’t seem like a made-for-TV movie. But the most overlooked one is 18 Again!, starring Charles Slattery and that irascible, cigar-chomping vampire George Burns. George slips into a coma and is visited by his grandson, played by Charlie, and then through some sequence of events that I forget they trade spiritual places, so that George is an old man in a young man’s body and Charles is…I guess some old guy in a coma. The movie is worth seeing for Slattery’s crummy George Burns impersonation, but I’ve always been tickled by the fact that this was probably George Burns’ easiest job ever since he spends almost the entire movie lying in bed, feigning sleep. This is acting? I sleep at work all the time, no one has offered me any Academy Awards. I don’t recall a whole lot of the plot, but it’s an 80s comedy movie so you’re bound to see some tits.

Rappin’, 1985

The inclusion of hip-hop into mainstream American culture was not completely organic or seamless. There were a lot of attempts, both credulous and ludicrous, to bring rapping, deejaying, breakdancing and writing graffiti into places beyond American urban centers. It’s difficult to stand here, decades after the fact, and determine if these attempts actually aided hip-hop’s emergence into the spotlight, or if they were symptoms of a growing cultural awareness of what was going on in the South Bronx. It’s not difficult, however, to spot an impostor, as we do with the movie Rappin’ starring Mario Van Peebles and featuring Kadeem “Dwayne Wayne” Hardison of A Different World fame. The movie is about Mario’s character, newly-released from jail, seeking to rehabilitate his beleaguered neighborhood by winning a rap contest. He proceeds to succeed in his endeavor by delivering some of the shittiest, corniest rap lines this side of “Rappin’ Rodney.” It’s worth watching until the end credits, when the entire cast kicks verses about their roles in the movie, essentially reiterating what you’ve just watched. In fact, you can fast-forward to the end and spare yourself the pain of watching Mario Van Peebles try to act hard in a mesh tank top and sensuous Jheri curled hair.

Bully For You

10 Oct

I wasn’t the victim of a prolonged bullying campaign as a youngster, indeed I doled out far more than I got. Sure, I was taunted at times, mainly for being a nerd, but these were occasional epithets shouted from passing cars or from positions of safety across the street. In high school, there were a few objects of my own derision–slighter kids that I perceived as being more nerdy than I–but even that was little more than an occasional sarcastic comment or humiliation. I don’t know that any of the kids I poked fun at harbor dreams of vengeance against me today, but I’d hope that they don’t. If the best revenge is living well, then they may savor their victory over me because my life is a fucking mess.

I saw plenty of peers bullied more ardently, of course. There were more than a few children who gave up their lunch money on a daily basis to a kid one or two heads taller than they. Some girls couldn’t traverse certain hallways for fear of having their hair pulled and clothing ripped clean off their bodies by other females. And yes, I can remember some kids getting the shit beaten out of them for no reason other than being different. These aren’t pleasant memories, and in my adult state I wonder why I didn’t take some kind of stand and renounce these oversized teenagers and their bullying ways. Then I remember that, at the time, I was a teenager myself, and it was all I could do to maintain the status quo. It’s not like I was glad to see these poor saps get punched in the stomach and their jackets thrown into trees where they could not be retrieved, I was simply glad that it wasn’t happening to me.

There’s no great excuse for bullying, and far more intelligent people than I have written founded words as to why it happens. But there’s one thing about the bullying that happened when I was young versus bullying today: it ended after school. Maybe this is more of a New York thing, where we leave school by hopping on various city buses and subways, returning to densely-packed apartment buildings containing tenants of every strata. I suppose if your school enrollment is the sum total of the few hundred kids in your small town, you might get shit after three o’clock. But when school ended, behind front doors and before an afternoon of shitty cartoons, the bullied could have their respite. Today, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Kids are connected to each other 24/7 via a plethora of electronic means, and the ability to humiliate another has increased tenfold. I recall a story where a girl’s love poem was xeroxed and posted all around the school for everyone to jeer at. She was embarrassed and spent an entire day scouring the campus to eradicate all traces of her creativity. Nowadays, one can set up a multimedia website dedicated to dishonoring another person’s whole existence. That site can be forwarded around the world, until your shame is global.

I think that my generation and even older farts than I need to realize that bullying today is different than when we were younger. We have a collective tendency to dismiss bullying, to regard it as character-building and largely inconsequential. That was true in my school daze, but no longer. Certainly, I entertained dark fantasies in youth of murdering my every antagonist and exacting satisfying revenge on those I perceived as enemies. But I also had fantasies of looking up particular teachers’ skirts, or becoming the most popular kid in school by performing some undefined heroic act. They were fantasies, ones which I wouldn’t and couldn’t act upon in my frenetic state of hyper awareness. Today, it seems every school has its “freak out,” where some kind of violent act by a bully’s target or targets is ferreted out and sometimes enacted on the student body. The idea of committing violence at school is nothing new, but the reality of its occurrence once or more per semester certainly is.

I don’t have any suggestions on how to stop bullying, to be sure I don’t even know what are the exact causes. Surely bullies pass their own self-loathing down the line to kids, who then turn around and bully others. But one thing we should not do is dismiss it, to suggest that bullying can be dealt with through talking or that our kids should “pop ‘im one” to stop an assault. Because bullying is not the same as it was when we were younger. Kids are dying over this shit, now tell me what kind of character is built from that experience? The only lesson learned there is that life is cheap.

You’re Not Having a Baby

5 Oct

Congratulations on your pregnancy, but you’re not actually having a baby. It will be a baby when it’s born, but that will likely comprise the shortest period of his or her life. You’ll feed, bathe, and teach this baby in its most formative years, and this will help form a lasting bond between the two of you, one which you will attempt to strengthen throughout your lifetime and your child will diligently attempt to reject.

Say you’re having a child, that’s more truthful. You’re having an actualized, self-aware human being who cannot wait to test his or her new art supplies on your nice clean walls. A child you will have to chastise for furtively clutching their genitals in public. A child that introduces you to a world of kid-centric inanity of which you could not previously conceive. Whatever you enjoy doing now will end when this kid is born, it will be replaced by trips to the toy store and incomprehensible children’s movies and long, rambling stories about what happened in some cartoon that day, and why this means you need to buy the new Sgt. Slutbag of the Jersey Shore Patrol doll. But it’s not all horrors and trials raising children, there are many rewarding moments like when your offspring mispronounces “pasketti.” No, it’s not so bad having a child, which is why I think people should announce that they are having a teenager.

No one can possibly like a teenager, they will simply not allow it to happen. Prepare yourself for shitty attitudes and deep, hair-blowing sighs heaved in your direction. You will never know how stupid you really are until you have a teenager, and then they will remind you of this fact at every turn. Appreciate having your wallet rifled through, your clothing purloined, your newly-purchased food mysteriously vanish just as your teenager asks what’s for dinner–a meal that he or she will absolutely despise, no matter what the composition. Try to feel enchanted when your darling baby tells you that he or she didn’t ask to be born. Embrace the fact that your kid is going to want to fuck, constantly, and you will have to stoically ignore their crusty underwear stains and obnoxious pornographic materials. Still, you can probably remember being a teenager, and knowing that folks often come out the other side of puberty perfectly cordial. So if you can muddle through this period (heh), then you can begin the next stage of development, one which you likely did not consider before getting knocked up or doing the knocking: the clinging young adult.

The legal responsibility for your child will end when he or she turns eighteen, but realistically you’ll be supporting them for a while beyond that. Be sure to scrimp and save for an overpriced college tuition so your progeny can blow it all on a degree in Medieval Literature. You’ll know that cash has gone to good use when the student comes home on break and reinforces how clueless you are. Anticipate coming home from your regular workday to find every dish in the house sullied and left in clattering heap that towers over the edge of the sink. Get used to the smell of marijuana wafting through your household and listening to your offspring detail numerous hare-brained schemes, many of which will require an investment on your part. Luckily for you, your legal and a large part of your social responsibility to your adult brat has concluded, and now you can show him or her the door.

Which brings us to what you’ve really had all along: an ungrateful, bitter adult, one who will never call and might visit once a year, if their partner allows. After all the shit you’ve been put through, this bubbling baby, this cranky child, this morose teenager and shiftless young adult now blames you for his or her existential anguish, and the best evidence for your kid’s spiteful attitude is that you will see him or her maybe two dozen times in the last twenty years of your life. This is what you’ve wrought, not a loving, needful baby, but an angry, mordant adult whose absence serves only to make your twilight years lonelier than they might have been had you been childless. Though I suppose if we choose to look at it in these terms, no one would have children ever again.

I Got Rid Of My Old Television

12 Apr

We moved into a nice, affordable two-bedroom apartment at the beginning of 2003, coinciding with the departure of a downstairs neighbor about a month later. He was not vacating his studio apartment voluntarily, mind you, but at the firm, legal request of our mutual landlady. He hadn’t paid rent. In a while. Presumably cash-strapped, he offered to sell his lightly-used, practically brand new Samsung high-definition television–at less than half of its original price, to boot. This was too good of an opportunity to pass up. Though we, ourselves, were light on loot at the time, having just moved and all, we scraped together the five-hundred bucks our neighbor wanted for the television and a shitty TV stand that looked half put-together. We were satisfied in the feeling of having come out ahead in this particular transaction.

Until we tried to move the thing upstairs.

This television weighed four-hundred pounds, if it weighed an ounce. Why such a television would be made for the home consumer, considering it required a pair of professional weightlifters to move it, beggars explanation. Compounding the problem of relocating this appliance to our apartment was the fact that it had been designed by some Lovecraftian aficionado well-versed in non-Euclidean geometry, for though it seemed to have a number of corners and crevices, the television could not be accurately gripped or held by any being with an outstretched span less than that of an orangutan. We moved the television upstairs, step by step, taking frequent breaks to pant and curse. Several times, I considered giving up, leaving the television on the stairs, and navigating around it when entering or exiting the apartment. But we got the thing up to the second floor and somehow–I do not remember how–perched it atop its accompanying television stand.

A couple of years later, our pairing parted ways and we divvied up our belongings. I gave her my older television, a second-hand tube set with roughly a thirty-five inch screen. I took what I believed to be the better, newer television. And so began seven years of lugging this terrible behemoth from apartment to apartment, anxiously worrying whenever tasked to budge it, expelling deep relief once I’d secured it in a location from where it would not need to be shifted again, at least for a while. I actually moved only three times since 2004, which is relatively stable for dwelling in New York City. Twice, I hired movers, once I moved myself with the help of a very strong friend. Each time, the Samsung television needed to be moved, and each time it presented the biggest problems. The television became a proverbial elephant in the room, and weighed about as much by my estimation.

Over time, the television’s other limitations surfaced. For one, I had lost or had never received a remote control. More importantly, though this television claimed to have high-definition resolution, it simply did not. I don’t know if the meaning of high-definition changed from the early part of the century, or if it was a bold-faced lie, but the very year we got our massive television, I got a high-definition cable box and invited a bunch of people over to watch the Super Bowl. The total lack of a crystal clear picture was obvious and immediate, and we ultimately switched back to regular digital television before the second half started. More recently, since most newer programs are broadcast in widescreen, I was missing the extreme left and right of my picture. It was screwing up my Netflix and Hulu menus and generally soured my television addiction. Watching that Samsung television in recent years was probably akin to a junkie on methadone: it does the job, but it’s not quite the same as the uncut dope. So, I endeavored to get a new television.

Of course, the new TV is almost twice as large, screen-wise, but weighs one-fifth of the Samsung. I shoved the Samsung into a corner while setting up the new appliance, and it stayed there a week. “How are you going to get rid of it?” my knowledgeable friends and family asked. “When do you want to move the old TV?” my girlfriend gently prodded. I despaired. I didn’t know how to get rid of this television. People suggested I advertise it on craigslist, but since the thing could only be moved by two or more stalwart lumberjacks, I envisioned a stream of people trampling through my house to look at this pig in a poke, rightly decide that they couldn’t budge it, and exiting only to leave me with the monstrosity and the dirty feeling of having a stranger judge me for my Batman comics collection. I considered taking the television apart and disposing of it in pieces, but a friend advised against this as a substantial charge can remain within the recesses of older television sets. I worried, I fretted. I tried to ignore this gigantic television lying dormant right next to my seat on the couch. “Maybe I can pass it off as sculpture,” I pondered. I wondered how much trouble I’d get into for shoving the television off of my balcony, and even how I would shlep the thing four measly feet to do that much.

Then, in a fit of hopeless exuberance, my girlfriend and I got rid of it. How we did it is not important, and I don’t know that I could even describe it. The important thing is the extreme feeling of relief upon expelling the beast from my apartment, from my life. It was more than the weight and size of the physical thing, that Samsung television amounted to a quarter-ton badge of shame signifying my familiarity with shitty prime-time sitcoms and interminably boring sporting events. As with many such feelings, I wished I had gotten rid of the damned thing sooner. We all carry our impossible televisions through life, metaphorically and sometimes literally, feeling like these are our crosses to bear, the things we’re given with which we’ve got to make do. It isn’t true. I’ve got a new television, but it doesn’t carry with it the worry and discomfort of my old immovable, anxiety-laden set. Getting rid of that headache sooner would have been worth missing all of the episodes of Family Matters re-runs that I watched in the interim.

Here’s Why the World Owes Me a Living, Part One

13 Feb

Here’s why the world owes me a living: neither of my grandmothers could cook for shit.

Actually, it is possible that my maternal grandmother may have been a good cook, before I met her. I really wouldn’t know. In my lifetime, nearly all of her meals were frozen fare, either boil-in-the-bag pasta or some gelatinous TV dinner heated in the oven. Though she watched me every day after school until I was thirteen, when she passed away, she never made anything for me beyond a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, recipe was as follows:

Two slices Wonder® white bread
Three slices Oscar Mayer® ham
Two slices Oscar Mayer® American cheese

Create sandwich from ingredients. Heat in oven until cheese has nearly evaporated and ham no longer glistens. Fish out of the oven and serve on an unfolded napkin. Serves one. Do not cut the sandwich before serving, or the ham slices will slide against each other and damage the meal’s integrity.

Just because my grandma didn’t cook for me, doesn’t mean there wasn’t food in her house. Many of my lifelong eating habits were learned while watching Inspector Gadget in my grandmother’s smoke-filled living room. At all times, she had a bag of Lay’s potato chips and a two-liter bottle of Pepsi that she kept on hand specifically for my brother’s and my consumption. I would also receive a daily ration of one “fresh” Kit-Kat candy bar, kept in the refrigerator to maintain maximum freshness (which had the side benefit of making it hard enough to eat each chocolate-covered wafer like a miniature corn on the cob), and sometimes I’d get a special treat: a Hershey’s ice cream pie with chocolate sauce and a tablespoon of strawberry preserves in the middle. I’d eat about two thousand calories in my grandmother’s living room before my parents got home and made dinner. This was in the 1980s, when many people thought diabetes was a sissy disease for people that couldn’t handle their corn syrup. While my maternal grandmother, to my memory, never cooked anything worthwhile, she never really tried, and her house was well-stocked with plenty of kid-friendly food (read: sugar) so I could at least learn the American tradition of equating food with love. My paternal grandmother, on the other hand, really couldn’t cook worth a damn.

I have heard tale told of her poor culinary skills for years: meatballs she would make in a pressure cooker, rendering them into little grey hi-bounce balls. Pot roast cooked to the consistency and taste of leather. Being that I wasn’t raised by my grandmother, I didn’t have many opportunities to sample her victual creations. My brother and I would stay over her house every year on New Year’s Eve, and presumably she fed us, but I can’t recall one dish she prepared while I was in her presence. That doesn’t speak well for her cooking. I do remember that my grandparents’ house was always well-stocked with bruised, gently rotting fruit that perfumed the air with the scent of a zoo. And my grandmother had an old adding machine from the 1950s that I liked to play with a lot, but I couldn’t eat that.

My personal memory of my paternal grandmother’s cooking is limited mainly to two dishes: a Yiddish pastry called rugelach, and a baked casserole called kugel. Rugelach is a simple little dessert, consisting of cookie dough shaped into a crescent and baked with a dollop of jam inside. Every time I heard that my grandparents were coming by for a holiday or some other event, I dreaded the hard, flavorless rugelach cookies that my grandma would bring in a blue cookie tin lined with wax paper. That they were cookies–a pleasant dessert, even–was something their recipients would need to be told, because there was nothing sweet or palatable about my grandma’s rugelach. The bottoms were always burnt and the treat had the consistency and taste of a dog biscuit. I would eat one, for reasons I can’t now discern, by gingerly nibbling away at the ends of the cookie until I reached the center, where a smear of jam had been begrudgingly tucked into the pastry’s folds. Over time, this quantity of jam decreased and decreased until it could only be detected by an electron microscope. It wasn’t until I was an adult and had the opportunity to eat rugelach from a bakery that I discovered it was actually supposed to be sweet and edible. I thought “rugelach” was a Yiddish word for “flavorless tooth-breaking cookie of sadness.

The tale of my grandmother’s kugel is more about her unyielding bitterness than her lack of culinary talents, because in fact her sweet potato kugel was good. Very good. Good enough that I anticipated it when she brought it over for Passover dinner every year. I remember there were sweet potatoes and raisins in it. Unfortunately I can’t remember any of the other ingredients, which is a damn shame because the recipe seems to have been lost to the world, buried along with my grandmother. Her sweet potato kugel stood out like a sore thumb against the tapestry of other dishes my grandma prepared, poorly. As a teenager, I relayed as much to my grandmother, and asked why she only made sweet potato kugel once a year. “Well, then it’s special,” she replied flatly, as if to confirm my suspicion that the other food she made was, indeed, a punishment for some untold transgression. “Well, grandma,” I replied sweetly, “I love your sweet potato kugel. I look forward to it every year. Feel free to bring it by any time, whether it’s in the Spring or not!”

And she never made sweet potato kugel again for the rest of her life.

This is why the world owes me a living, or at least one of the reasons. I have heard of grandmas whipping up sticky cakes and delicious cookies by the gross before their grandchildren awoke. All manner of matronly, loving ladies with names like “bubbie” and “nana” and “gramma,” all perpetually wrapped in aprons and permanently wielding wooden spoons that continually stirred giant pots of secret, delectable meals whose crafting had been mastered a dozen presidential terms ago. People bolstered by these lovingly-prepared meals have gone on to become happy, productive members of society, secure in the knowledge that there is some good in the world, because they know their grandmothers made the best gosh darn snickerdoodles. Me, I had to eat warm ham sandwiches and homemade dog biscuits. Frankly, I think I should be commended for not becoming a serial killer.

Dear Mr. President: Leave Me the Hell Alone

10 Feb

It’s amazing to think that not but two-hundred years ago, many Americans didn’t know what their president looked like. Most likely they never got to hear him speak, would never see him in action campaigning for their votes or delivering addresses. Those living in or near the largest urban centers might have had access to a tabloid newspaper, wherein they could see a line drawing of the president. A few thousand lucky people nationwide might see the presidential hopeful’s East Coast campaign speeches and ceremonies. The vast majority of American citizens would never see the man’s actual face, never witness his mannerisms or gauge his idiosyncrasies. It seems strange to us, in this day and age, when a person is elected to office based mainly around how he presents himself, and not his ideas, to the public. It’s especially strange in 2012, when I, personally, receive upwards of five fucking e-mails a day from President Barack Obama and members of his family or the people he works with.

I’ve heard of needy, but this is ridiculous. President Obama is worse than some jilted girlfriends I’ve known. And it’s not just structured e-mails outlining his strategies and plans, but quick messages just to let me know that he’s thinking of me. “I’m about to stand before Congress and act like they’re not a bunch of fuckwits while asking them to pass some legislation without tacking a bunch of anti-abortion bullshit to it, and I’d like to thank you for your continuing support.” I know you’ve probably got some pre-podium jitters, Obama, but give me a break. There’s nothing more pathetic than someone constantly seeking your approval and praise. How about this, Barack: go get ’em, champ! I believe in you. It gets increasingly difficult to believe in you when you’re constantly looking for me to pat you on the back every time you sign your name. How would you like it if I messaged the Oval Office every time I turned down a slice of cake or some fattening food? Which never actually happens, but hypothetically. Just sayin’.

And it’s not just the president, but his wife Michelle, his vice president Joe Biden, and the fucking Vice President’s wife Jill. Who’s next, the Obama family dog? Plus there are the endless e-mails from Obama’s campaign staff and cabinet that reiterate the same shit Obama writes about in the first place. That’s how you know they’re sending these behind his back, probably because they don’t want Barack to think that their faith in him is assailable. “Hey, this is Jim Messina, one of Obama’s political staffers. I’d just like to say that I think you’re great for supporting the old bean. Don’t tell him I wrote you, okay? He’d be so pissed off if he knew.” Meanwhile I’ve got half a dozen e-mails from Obama in my e-mail in-box that are the conversational equivalent of “whatcha thinkin’?” I’ll tell you what, if you want to know if I like Obama or “like” like Obama, then why don’t you pass me a note in study hall and see if I’ll go to the homecoming dance with him? Because if you keep sending me more e-mails than, I’m definitely not going to like Obama “in that way.”

I think the final straw came a few months ago when there was some kind of contest where the prize was dinner with the president and his wife. It all started innocuously as a couple of e-mails detailing the requisites for this contest, but then the missives became more and more desperate. E-mails from Michelle Obama asking me what I planned on wearing to the dinner and what kinds of questions I had to ask her husband. E-mails from Barack thanking me for my interest and telling me how much he looked forward to dinner with me and a guest of my choosing. Buddy, I didn’t even respond to your fucking invite in the first place. Take a hint for crying out loud. Harassing me about what I’m going to wear and whether I’m allergic to shellfish isn’t going to make me want to come to dinner. I’ll tell you what, Mr. President: let’s limit the e-mails to twice a year, once on Christmas and once on my birthday. We can catch up, trade stories, shoot the shit, and part as friends. Because at the rate you’re going now, I think I might have to get a restraining order against you and your White House staff.

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