Category Archives: Fear

Give the Newlyweds Some Napalm and a Bazooka

I’m drinking to celebrate the fact that, as of today, I’ve been to more weddings than funerals this year. I’ve grieved that several of my loved ones passed beyond the reach of man, although at least I hadn’t loaned any of them books. On the other hand, more than twice as many friends promised to love and honor each other forever, and they celebrated by accepting ugly wall clocks and pretentious 1-cup coffee makers.

It’s a happy situation. I’m therefore drinking vodka, which is nasty, rather than tequila, which is loathsome.

As I listened to the vows in today’s ceremony, I thought about my own wedding vows. If I wrote my marriage vows today, they’d be vastly different from the ones I wrote for my actual wedding. In addition to love, honor, and cherish, I might include vows like:

  • I promise to do whatever it takes to keep you warm, even if it means adopting more cats to pile on the bed.
  • I promise to pay attention to things you like so I can buy them for you later.
  • I promise to pay attention when you tell me I’m acting crazy.
  • I promise never to cook Garlic Orange Chicken Stir Fry again.
  • I promise not to make fun of your addiction to making lists.

Then I realized most of that was pretty dumb and not at all what I want to say. Then I thought about what I want to say instead of that. Then I drank vodka, which kind of helped. Then I decided that I really wanted to talk about how marriage changes things. I mean, one moment you’re in love, and the next moment you’re in love and married. What the heck does that mean?

Here’s the short version. Love is a gift you give your lover. Marriage is a war you fight against yourself.

Here’s the long version. I think the “love is a gift” part is pretty understandable. It includes basic things like giving flowers and back rubs, physical intimacy, and treating your lover no less courteously than you would treat a librarian or a beloved English actor.

On another “love is a gift” level, whenever I’m out later than expected, I call my wife. She does the same for me. As I call her, my buddies may harass me by saying she “really has me on a short leash.” I explain that I’m glad she at least cares where I’m at instead of using my absence to frolic with a grunge-punk band and shoot dope under her toenails. Besides which, being so paranoid about really short leashes makes them sound like they have tiny penises.

The “marriage is a war” part is less obvious. Whenever my wife and I behave like loving, caring individuals, no war is necessary. But sometimes we act like regular people, which is to say irrational and thoughtless. When I feel my wife is acting that way, I have decisions to make and possibly a war to fight.

Here’s an example. I indicate to my wife, I think successfully, that I’m interested in a little hanky-panky later in the evening. I receive promising indications, but not a positive confirmation. We go to dinner with a friend, and my wife orders a barbeque plate of heroic proportions. I anticipate her request for a doggie bag, but it never comes. She enjoys the entire meal. Now any attempt at hanky-panky that evening would result in nothing but her shrieking like a rabbit caught in a gate.

My war against myself begins inside my head.

“Was I clear? I know I was clear. Does this mean something? Maybe she’s not too interested in me anymore. Or maybe I wasn’t clear. Did she have to order the big plate? It’s not like we were going to a French restaurant or something. We can go to this place anytime. Am I less desirable than a barbeque sandwich? I don’t know what to say to that. That can’t be right. But hell, she didn’t have to eat the whole dinner—she could have taken part of it home for tomorrow. Am I less sexy than half a barbeque sandwich? I can’t ask that! What if she says yes?”

At this point I am losing the war. I have taken something she did that annoyed me, and I’ve transformed it into a marriage-threatening cataclysm that I can’t talk to her about because I’m terrified of what we might say. Even better, as long as I don’t say anything, this will now creep around unseen in our marriage like a French Resistance fighter causing more creative and disruptive sabotage forever after.

How do I win the war? I risk everything. I open my mouth and say the stupid things I was worrying about. Even if it hurts my wife, hurts me, and hurts the guy who made the sandwich. I listen to her possibly-horrifying responses, because if our marriage survives this then at least we won’t have it under the surface tearing our marriage apart.

That’s what I mean by marriage being a war you fight against yourself. I’m not sure what that would look like in a wedding vow. Maybe something like:

  • I promise to fight for us. We’re worth risking everything for.

Now I’m going to cook dinner. We’re having soup. And vodka.

It was a beautiful water-side wedding. An hour later the groom’s father whispered to him, “Son, you’ll be fine if you just have some guts and don’t act like one of those guys with a tiny penis.”
It was a beautiful water-side wedding. An hour later the groom’s father whispered to him, “Son, you’ll be fine if you just have some guts and don’t act like one of those guys with a tiny penis.”

Photo by Brocken Inaglory.
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Retirement Will Mean Nothing Unless My Friends Are Weeping With Envy

I fear that retirement means I’ll be mopping the bathroom floors in some Wal-Mart until I die. Or maybe I’ll need heart surgery I can’t afford, and I can only stay alive by hooking my femoral artery to an electric pump that I drag behind me on a Radio Flyer wagon until I drop dead. You may have these same fears, if you’re within screaming distance of retirement age like I am.

I also fear that my modest retirement savings won’t be shored up by Social Security payments as I had once hoped. In fact, I now worry that when I retire, the social safety net will consist of Social Security employees creeping around my house at night looking for stuff they can pawn to pay down the national debt. That’s a lot of fear there. It makes people do dumb things. It makes people believe the most ridiculous things.

A lot of generous people out there want to help me overcome my fear. They want to empower me to take control of my retirement destiny. They promise to teach me how to transform my meek, disorganized savings into an army of financial conquest. I’ll need to pay them for this generosity, of course. Nothing worthwhile comes without suffering. Dozens of movie training montages have taught me that.

The thing that makes these teachers so astoundingly generous is that they won’t just help me shoot my retirement fears in the chest like I was Wyatt Earp. They will also teach me how to transform my humble savings into a huge, roaring pile of money, so I can buy opulent houses and Italian sports cars. Not only will I never have to worry about money again, I can make everyone else feel bad because they’re not as rich as me. It’s like these teachers are giving me a horse in a town where everyone rides goats. That’s a lot of greed right there. It makes people do dumb things. It makes people believe the most ridiculous things.

Fear and Greed are two of the four horsemen of bad decision making. Fear kicks you in the stomach, and then Greed punches you in the brain. Together they can make people do and believe almost anything.

For example, there are some dudes on the radio in my town who have been pimping their investment seminars for years. I turn on the radio in the bathroom while I shower, so I hear them on the weekends. They always talk about how much money their students make. Years ago the returns were impressive but theoretically possible. After a while they started talking about bigger returns, which I guess someone could achieve with a lot of luck. Then they began describing returns that you could only reach with a magic lamp or half a dozen senators in your pocket.

While I was shampooing my hair this morning I thought I heard these fellows say that their most effective investment technique is now yielding a 100% return every month. I assumed I was having a stroke, or perhaps hallucinating because a brain-eating amoeba was swimming up my nose. But as I toweled off a few minutes later they said it again.

Bear with me while I illustrate how stupid and outrageous that statement is. Say you took $10,000 and started investing with their technique this month, which is September. At 100% return per month, by Halloween you’re at $40,000, and by New Year’s Eve you’re up to $160,000. By April Fool’s Day next year you’ve passed a cool million, and by Halloween next year you’ve leapt ahead of Bill Gates to become the richest person on the planet.

In a little over two years you’ll own all the personal wealth on planet Earth ($223 trillion). Congratulations. My birthday’s coming up. My Amazon Wish List is updated, and I’d like either Mary Winstead or Allison Janney to pop out of my cake.

Of course this example is carried to a ridiculous extreme. But that doesn’t make it any more ridiculous than what these fellows are saying on the radio. Yes, they include a quick disclaimer that the results discussed aren’t typical and shouldn’t be used to make investment decisions. Their butts are covered. And frankly, I expect low-lifes to be low-lifes. It lends a certain comforting predictability to the world.

I am rather put out with the radio station though. This is an old and reputable organization, and since it operates on the public airwaves I think it bears a little responsibility for what it splashes across those waves. If this is the way it’s going to be, maybe I’ll start teaching people how to double their money every week using my secret, patented method for processing lithium out of cat feces and selling it to battery companies. Sure, it’s just taking advantage of desperate people, but Wal-Mart’s going to need somebody to mop their bathrooms.

Will I be driving this to the country club and the spa for confident straight guys when I retire?
Will I be driving this to the country club and the spa for confident straight guys when I retire?

Photo by Robert Paprstein
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by theFree Software Foundation.

Or will this be the only Lamborghini I can afford to drive to Big Lots and the liquor store?
Or will this be the only Lamborghini I can afford to drive to Big Lots and the liquor store?

Photo by ChiemseeMan (public domain).

Something to Amuse and Perplex the Entire Family

Last night I looked up from writing my novel synopsis and eating peanut butter cookies, and I realized that this blog has achieved a phenomenal milestone. It has existed for 660 days. The significance may not punch you in the face right away, so I’ll explain. The numeral 660 is the area code for Sedalia, Missouri. That town is only a two hour drive from Branson, Missouri. I visited Branson once. I think it’s pretty much how Las Vegas would look if it were built by the cast of Hee Haw, and yet the place entertained me in spite of myself. Ergo, milestone. Don’t you feel silly that you didn’t see it for yourself?

In celebration, I devoted a few minutes to thinking about the posts in this blog, and the number of posts (176) made it hard to keep them straight in my brain. If my tentacular mass of prior posts confuses me, then it probably confuses more recent regular readers, not to mention folks who stumble across the blog.

And I don’t know about you, but when I find an interesting blog with a long history, I’m puzzled about how to locate the parts of that history I might be most interested in. I know that’s what categories and tags are for, but what does it really mean when a post is tagged “camel”? How to ride one? How to raise them? How do they taste roasted? Do you prefer regular or menthol? It would be nice if the blogger would do some extra work for me. I have my own work that needs to be done and cookies waiting to be eaten.

A quick survey revealed that while this is my general humor blog, it does often follow certain themes. Creativity, marriage, work, family, fear and confidence are common themes. In addition, 33 posts mention movies, 35 posts mention death, 17 posts include strong profanity, 7 posts mention snot, and immersion blenders figure prominently in 2 posts. Cats appear in a full 100 of my posts.

Okay, this is a perplexing mess, and I’m cutting through it right now. I’ve extracted eight general groups of posts and a few posts from each group. You can find them below, along with a sentence or two describing each group to help you decide whether those posts might be interesting to you in any way at all.

My Wife

In order to understand a lot of my posts, it helps to understand my wife. This group of posts describes about 10 percent of her being, but that’s the portion she employs daily, not the 90% capable of sinking you like the Titanic. We’ve discussed getting t-shirts that say “Bill will make you cry. Kathleen will make you disappear.”

Travel

These posts chat about a couple of our recent vacations, both of which almost killed us. Jamaica was romantic. Disney World was nostalgic. Both were horrifying in their own way.

Family

My mother died last year, so these posts may not make you pee with laughter the whole way through. Some are a bit somber, but I tried to avoid maudlin.

Baron Yörg Goes to the Movies

My acquaintance Baron Yörg, a 500 year-old vampire Lord of All Things Foul and Unholy, provides the occasional movie review. I’ve been begging him to review Bambi, but no luck so far.

Jobs

Employment and unemployment seem to weigh on everyone these days. In these posts I touched on employment challenges, with a subtext of living in a ditch and eating dirt, rejected by everyone with more than four teeth, and forced to count my lice to keep from going insane.

Death

These posts contain a below-average number of chuckles, but they do touch on some real ways that death forces itself upon us.

Weirdly Philosophical

All right, maybe this shouldn’t even be a category, but these posts look at some odd aspects of living in the world, such as fear, failure, and walking around with a metaphorical stick up one’s backside.

Top 3

These were the three most frequently viewed posts that didn’t fall into any of the other categories. Yeah, I didn’t do any work at all to list these, but they seem cute to me.

I hope this presentation was helpful to folks interested in checking out some of the older posts. Putting it together helped me. I had no idea I’d never written a post containing the word “spleen.” Until now.

If we're going back in time, let's go all the way back.
If we’re going back in time, let’s go all the way back.

Yes, Your Mom Was Trying To Kill You

I’d like to make a few hundred Christmas cookies, but most of the people who might eat them are relocated, dead, or not speaking to me. Instead, yesterday I window shopped for cookie ingredients. Yes, it’s pathetic, but I could be strapping reindeer antlers onto my cats and sucking the rum out of fruitcakes. History shows that I’m not above such things.

I admit that in past years my desire to make cookies sometimes exceeded my will to make cookies. I devoted too much time to other holiday activities like writing Christmas cards and playing World of Warcraft. No choice remained other than slinking to Tom Thumb to score some pre-made cookie dough, as if the Pillsbury Doughboy were a street corner dealer of bootleg holiday cheer. Yesterday, out of nostalgia, I glanced at the cookie dough tubes as I sailed past towards the chocolate chips. I jerked my cart to a halt, and I said, out loud, in the middle of the aisle with toddlers around, “Holy sheep shit from hell.”

This is what I saw.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t eat the raw cookie dough. At least they said “please.” I’ve heard rumors that raw dough may not be good for you, but I figured that’s because it clogs your arteries and makes you die, which we all know is a small price for eating cookie dough. I didn’t realize that cookie dough’s perils warranted an actual warning label. Since childhood I’ve eaten a barrel of the stuff, and almost everybody I know has eaten it too. I’ve never heard of a person who, when provided access to raw dough, didn’t instantly stick some in his mouth.

I didn’t know what was going on, but I decided to go home and find out.

As a member of the ever-evolving species homo sapiens, I employed our latest strategy for responding to life-threatening situations. I went to Google. I “googled” the phrase “raw cookie dough kills you dead.” I got five brazillion hits. (That’s a real number—kind of. Look it up.) I only had time to read two brazillion of them. WebMD, the Centers for Disease Control, the New York Times, and many others agreed—raw cookie dough is horrible. Don’t eat it. While you’re at it, stay out of the cake, brownie, and biscuit mix too. If your mom offers it to you, spit it out.

Here’s the deal. Back in 2009 an e. coli outbreak made 77 people sick. Doctors looked into it and figured out that they all ate cookie dough that must have been contaminated somehow. They ruled out eggs (pasteurized). It couldn’t be the sugar, molasses, baking soda, or margarine (all treated for pathogens). If you’re about to suggest it was the chocolate, shut the hell up right now. It must have been the flour, which is horrible, nasty stuff never treated for deadly substances, even though humans have been eating it for thousands of years. The doctors didn’t uncover hard evidence. There was no smoking flour gun. But by process of elimination, flour must have been the deadly ingredient.

These doctors are called epidemiologists, and they study what makes bunches of people sick and/or die. They probably pegged it when they blamed the flour. I believe them.

With the smooth efficiency of a guided missile cruiser, our medical professionals, our government, and the news media terrified people across the nation by exposing the raw cookie dough threat. Bake the dough before you eat it, or you’re courting death. No exceptions. Well, the raw dough in ice cream is okay. It’s “likely” treated in a way that makes it safe. That’s what the doctor said. “Likely treated.” I’m sure they don’t want to make Ben and Jerry do away with a popular flavor.

I’m going to piss off every person reading this by saying, Let’s Do The Math. Hang in there with me.

How many people eat raw dough? About half of college students eat raw dough. Lots of them buy it just to eat—why cook it? That means about 11 million of them eat raw dough.

How many of them get sick from it? Well, the 2009 outbreak was 77 people, not too big, and that’s based on the whole population of the USA. Let’s be generous and say that lots more students get sick—maybe 1,000 per year. That makes their odds of getting sick about 1 in 11,000.

On the other hand, falling down also hurts a lot people.  Your chance of falling down and hurting yourself badly enough to go to the hospital is about 1 in 40 each year.

But let’s give these students a break—after all, they’re quicker on their feet that an old guy like me. Maybe their chance of getting hurt falling down is only 1 in 100.

That means that these students are about 100 times more likely to get hurt falling down than to get sick from eating raw dough.

So what I want to know is when I’ll see a big story on CNN about the dangers of standing upright, along with some stern warnings about dragging yourself along on your ass everywhere you go so you don’t fall down and die. If you happen to catch that news report, please tweet me.

I hear the objections. Walking around is necessary, while eating raw dough is optional. Well, if you’ve ever gone over to your girlfriend’s house and found your clothes and your laptop scattered across her front yard, you know that eating raw cookie dough is non-optional.

I won’t advocate that you eat raw dough. I can’t. If I do then some slope-browed yokel will eat four jumbo tubes of the stuff and sue me all the way to Armageddon. But I myself am a little tired of giving in to manufactured terror, and if eating sugary globs of dough counts as a blow against cowardice and stupidity, then I’m happy to strike that blow.

Besides, this sets my precedent for the day when doctors say orgasms are bad for you.

The Happiest and Most Terrifying Place On Earth

We have returned to the scene of my wife’s childhood psychological violation.  Many people can empathize, but not many can understand it on a visceral level. I know I can’t. All I can do is hold her hand while she’s drawn through an inexorable maelstrom of insane colors and noise.

We’re riding the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disney World.

She handled it magnificently, considering the trauma she experienced as a little girl. Back then, her parents and brother boarded the big, dumpy boat with her, along with a dozen strangers, and they eddied into the plaster tunnel at bayou speeds. The little cosmopolitan robots were cute, and the song was perky. It was tingly fun for a little girl. It looked a lot like this:

Then the ride broke down, somewhere in Scandinavia. The polite Disney cast members assured everyone that they were safe, things were under control, and the ride would resume soon. Ten minutes later everyone was fidgeting and bickering. Someone asked if the music could be turned off, since each section of the ride plays just a small part of the song over and over. In ten minutes the words “…that is time we’re aware, it’s a small world after all…” had been sung by chirpy kids without stopping about 120 times. No, they couldn’t turn the song off.

Thirty minutes after the breakdown, the arguing and muttered threats began. An emergency exit stood no more than ten feet from the boat, which was now stinking of frustration and fear. Couldn’t the cast members let the guests leave by that door? It’s only ten god damn feet away, for cripe’s sake! No, they couldn’t let the guests out. It wasn’t safe. The guests implied that it wasn’t safe to keep them in the boat listening to this relentless gush of sugary crap, if you know what I mean. A security guard made himself evident a few minutes later.

An hour after the malfunction, the weaker specimens had broken. Whimpers crawled up from the floor of the boat as children clutched their parent’s trendy bell bottoms or hairy legs. The kids who clung to their faculties learned a lot of bad words listening to the adults. They also heard about a lot of creative techniques for killing shitty little high school dropouts drunk on their own pathetic power.

When the eight infuriating, sanity-shredding bars of “It’s a Small World” had played about 1,000 times, the boat jerked, clanked, and slogged forward. The guests exited the ride like G.I.s wading out of a stream in the Mekong Delta. Thanks a hell of a lot, Mickey.

Today my wife drove a spike through the chest of the “It’s a Small World” ride. She sat tall, gazed at the horrible, wiggling ambassadors of world peace, and even laughed at the llama with the giant teeth. I consider it a mighty accomplishment on this, our first day at the Happiest Place on Earth.

And yet, in the seat behind us a little girl moaned, much like a distressed elk, “Out… out… out… ” Her mother soothed her and comforted her and promised that it would all be over soon. Nothing eased this child’s pain. It was like, you know, the Circle of Life or something.

Four Grams of Chewy Goodness

I realized that my wife truly loved me when she threatened to kill me. We were still living in sin at the time, we were poor, and I had a pretty sharp eye for a bargain. As we sailed down the grocery aisle one day, my wife said, “Look, root beer.” She said it like she might have said, “Look, white whale,” if she’d had one leg and looked like Gregory Peck. She hove to and cut a small bottle out of the pod.

I objected right away. It’s not that I didn’t want her to have root beer, but I didn’t understand why she was buying a small bottle. Root beer in the small bottle cost 4 cents per ounce. Root beer in the giant bottle cost 3.8 cents per ounce. No economic logic could justify it. She might overpay by as much as twelve or even thirteen cents. I presented my position in detail and with determination. At last she grabbed the giant bottle and said, “Fine. But when this root beer goes flat I’m going to pour the whole bottle down your throat,” which would have soon resulted in my death from acute root beer poisoning. At that moment I knew it was real love and that she was the girl for me.

I said all that in order to say this: I’m still a pretty sharp shopper, but my wife taught me there’s more to shopping than price. So when I saw the words “50% OFF” this morning, I did not snatch the item like a snot-stained toddler full of Froot Loops and jam. Instead, I eased my 14 liters of Diet Coke out of the aisle and pondered this opportunity. These were candy bars. Fate was offering me half-price candy. Where I come from, turning down half-price candy is like poking your finger in God’s eye. Life will not offer you anything better that day, unless you stumble across Liv Tyler in a chocolate Ferrari full of cocaine.

As I reached for the candy bar, trembling when I realized it was a giant-sized, two-piece bar, I scanned the wrapper for any promises of extra nuts or a prize inside. What I saw astounded me more than if this candy had been Bluetooth enabled. The wrapper said that this candy contained “4 GRAMS of PROTEIN”. “PER PIECE”. That’s 8 GRAMS of PROTEIN. TOTAL.

I am not kidding.

That was a lot to comprehend. I tried to imagine why someone thought a “high protein” label would make people desire this candy even more. It’s already candy. If candy had directions for use, those directions would say, “Remove wrapper. Place candy in rusty spoon and melt over open flame. Inject candy directly into vein. Repeat until dead.” No person on Earth can be convinced that this is healthy candy just because it has 4 grams of protein in it. What brains came up with this sales tactic?

Then I realized that I can answer this one. During my patchwork of vocational adventures, I have sat in meeting rooms where people thought up ways to sell stuff. Based on my experiences, I imagine that the conversation at the candy company went about like this:

BOSS: Only half the people in the country buy our candy. How do we make the other half buy it too? Let’s brainstorm here, people.

LACKEY: We could make it taste better.

BOSS: I said brainstorm, not throw out crazy ideas! Go get me some coffee.

TOADY: Hey, we put ‘em on sale! Instead of ninety cents each, we sell ‘em three for $2.80.

LICKSPITTLE: That’s horrible. People would be paying more for three than for one at a time.

TOADY: That’s the great part. Most of the morons can’t divide by three.

BOSS: It’s not a bad idea, but we need to reach the cheap bastards who don’t already buy our candy.

LACKEY: Here’s your coffee. Maybe we can just toss candy bars over everyone’s back fence and then charge them for the candy on their utility bill. Nobody ever looks at their utility bill. They just pay it.

LICKSPITTLE: That will never work. It’s fraud. We’ll all get put in jail.

BOSS: Maybe… put it on the parking lot and I’ll run it by legal. What else?

TOADY: We slap a “Made in the USA” tag on every wrapper! A red, white and blue one!

LACKEY: Do we make them in the USA?

[EVERYONE LOOKS AT EVERYONE ELSE]

BOSS: Probably.

LICKSPITTLE: The wrapper’s made in China.

BOSS: Shit!

LACKEY: So what do these cheap bastards who don’t buy our candy have in common?

BOSS: They’re not fat.

TOADY: Perfect! We use the time-tested marketing strategy—fear! They’re afraid of getting fat and dying, so they’re always on diets, right?

LICKSPITTLE: Um… I guess. I’m always on a diet.

BOSS: I see where you’re going with this. What’s the popular diet right now?

[EVERYONE LOOKS AT LICKSPITTLE]

LICKSPITTLE: Low carb/high protein. If my wife puts another chicken breast on the table, I’m going to shoot myself.

TOADY: Okay! We just plaster the grams of protein on the wrapper in big-ass text like it’s a huge amount of protein, and people on diets will buy like crazy.

BOSS: I see. Yes, they want candy anyway, so this is just giving them permission.

LICKSPITTLE: Wait. How many grams of protein are in our candy?

TOADY: Who gives a shit? The fewer the grams, the bigger we’ll make the letters!

BOSS: Perfect! That settles it. Great job, everyone. Pass me a donut.

I’m sure that’s how it happened. As a point of interest, if you were on a high protein diet and got all your protein by eating these candy bars, you’d consume 100,000 calories a day. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but it would be enough calories to force you into your fat jeans by the end of the week.

That sales technique did not snare me, I’m proud to say. I owe that to my lovely wife, who expanded my consumer consciousness beyond questions of mere price. I can see past claims about protein, new and improved flavors, and contests I couldn’t win if I had the powers of a Greek god. I stand immune.

Of course I bought the candy. It’s half-price candy. I’m not stupid.

I’ll Just Be Sitting Over Here Talking to the Blind Dog

I like almost everybody. That’s why I hate to be around people.

I don’t mean that I like everything about everybody. That’s some kind of psychiatric illness, and I’ve already got all of those I need. And there are a few people I’d just like to stab a lot and be done with them. But I can find something to like about almost everyone, even if I just appreciate seeing my own folly in them. For example, at midnight when I’m eating my pancakes at I-HOP, maybe a guy staggers in drunk, knocks over the trash can, screams an apology at the cash register, and passes out in the booth behind me, mumbling in his sleep about some girl named Christie. I think, Yeah, I remember doing that. Hang tough, brother.

So if I like people, why don’t I want to be around them? It’s just exhausting, that’s why. Dinner with a couple of friends is pretty easy, but big herds of people wear me out. First, I’m deaf in my right ear and too vain to get a hearing aid, so I spend a lot of time trying to guess what people are saying. I’m not a good guesser, so my guesses are often a lot more colorful than what was actually said. Someone might say, “Next Saturday is the Jam and Jelly Festival,” and I’d probably guess something like, “Next Saturday is the Fast of Sweaty Genitals.” When I respond to that person, my statement will seem logical to me, but to the 20 people around me at the Chuck E. Cheese birthday party it may seem eccentric.

Second, even when I understand what people say, my immediate response tends disrupt the conversation because I say weird things. I know that will shock my friends. For example, a person may say, “My neighbor’s tree is growing over my backyard. It’s getting to be a problem.”

Then I might say, “You have sort of a Sudetenland problem. You have to hold the line with these guys, or before you know it they’re on your patio, and then they’re dive bombing your garage, and then they’re sitting around the pool with all the cute French girls drinking your wine and invading the shit out of Russia. Then you’ll have to bomb them into rubble, and then you’ll have to rebuild their house and station troops there for 50 years. So just cut the damn thing down in the middle of the night and blame it on raccoons.”

At that point everyone stops and looks at me for five or ten seconds. They’re all really uncomfortable, and then they go back to eating and drinking and talking about assassinating the president of their homeowner’s association as if I’d never spoken. All right, I just made up the assassination part, but that emphasizes the problem.

That sucks. I don’t want all those people to be uncomfortable. After all, I like them. So I try to instead say something like, “Bummer. Have you asked them to trim it? Maybe bring them a pie?” That’s an okay response, but the effort required to not talk about the Sudetenland and to instead talk about pie is fatiguing. When I come home I’m exhausted, and I have to hibernate in my cave for a few hours to recharge.

This causes problems for my wife. She likes people, too. At least she likes me, which proves she’s forgiving enough to like just about anybody. But she loves being around people. It charges her up. I suspect it’s because she’s not expending much energy to stop herself from saying whatever she’s thinking, because she isn’t thinking about the damned Sudetenland. That must be nice. But she wants to go to every let’s-drink-wine party and jam and jelly festival that comes along, and I only want to go to the birthdays of my less popular friends, attended by three guests and a blind dog. After 20 years of this she’s comfortable going to big parties by herself, which I appreciate. But it can still be awkward when she walks out of the house looking like a kid who expected a bicycle and instead got a scratchy wool hat with pom-poms and pink bunnies crucified all over it.

I do better when I have a job. When I can cut slices of cake, or hand out name tags, or calculate way too big a tip, I’m a lot happier. I don’t have to sit there guessing what people are saying. I don’t have to hold back from explaining the parallels between the shell casing ejection mechanism in automatic rifles and my dinner partner’s hemorrhoid problem.

Alas, not many social invitations specify a job. “Please join Sherri and Bob at their Baby Shower to help them celebrate the joyous upcoming birth of their daughter. You’ll be washing the dishes. Bring gloves.” That sort of invitation is sadly uncommon. So, if I don’t show up at your birthday party, please don’t be offended. It’s only because I like you.

What about you? Do you avoid public gatherings like you’d avoid syphilis, or do you hit every party as long as the guests are conscious and there’s at least one dirty glass to drink from?

The last party I went to felt kind of like this.

Photo by Ant Mulligan, from Mala Mala Game Reserve.

 

 

 

How to Get Stabbed In Your Sleep By a Woman

When something says, “All Guys Need to Read This,” I pay attention. I figure it may be critical information about prostate health, or maybe a TV show where they blow stuff up. So when I read a post titled “All Guys Need to Read This” and found it full of advice on dealing with women, I felt perplexed. I was pretty sure that guys who prefer other guys don’t need to read it. But beyond that, it’s full of lousy advice written by some well meaning fool.

The post laid down 14 points regarding manly devotion to a woman, and I am not making any of them up. I don’t want to dismiss all of them. A few seem solid, whether you’re dealing with a woman or a man. Some even seem solid when you’re dealing with a child, or a cocker spaniel. The solid ones include:

  • “When she says that she loves you she really does mean it”
  • “When she tells you a secret keep it safe and untold”
  • “When you see her start crying just hold her and don’t say a word”
  • “Kiss her in the pouring rain”
  • “When she steals your favorite hoodie let her wear it”

I support every one of these. For example, if she says she loves you, and you think she’s lying about it, why are you even talking to her? Send her to the movies and change the locks while she’s gone. If you intend to share someone else’s secrets, you’re just a jerk. When someone you love starts crying, don’t try talking them out of it. That’s like walking into a fire and tossing around a few nuclear bombs. Kissing in the rain is always good in movies, so we know it has to be good in real life. And if someone you love wants to wear your hoodie, are you going to fight her for it? Hit her in the knee with a golf club?

The problem with all of that wisdom is that the only advice here worth uttering is the warning about shutting up when someone cries. I wasted 15 seconds of my life reading the others, and that’s time I could have used to eat one of those little bags of potato chips.

Let’s look at the rest of this instruction manual for people with penises.

  • “When she pulls away pull her back”

Maybe this guy intends to express his love, but he’s expressing assault in my book. When a woman pulls back, she probably wants to get away from your annoying words, behavior, or smell. Let go already.

  • “When you see her walking sneak up and hug her waist from behind”

This one seems problematic. I can see it being romantic under certain circumstances, like walking around the house with nothing much going on. But if she’s doing something interesting or important to her, snatching her around the waist is kind of like saying that what she’s doing doesn’t mean crap compared to your interest in a quick grope. Use with discretion.

  • “When she’s scared protect her”

What are you protecting her from—a jaguar that jumped through your living room window all of a sudden? You may get disemboweled in a pretty snappy fashion then, but okay. However, fear can be good. It tells us we’d better do something, and that thing is usually good for us. Don’t prevent her from doing that good stuff for herself because you were protecting the hell out of her.

  • “When she grabs at your hands hold hers and play with her fingers”

If that’s what she likes, sure, but as general advice this is just weird.

  • “When she looks at you in your eyes don’t look away until she does”

Maybe this is supposed to be romantic, but it sounds like a prelude to a gunfight to me. So you hung in there and stared her down until she looked away first. Is that a good thing, or is it like trying to establish dominance with a Rottweiler?

  • “When she’s mad hug her tight and don’t let go”

I’m sorry, but this is the stupidest advice ever. When she gets mad, it’s for a reason, and being restrained like that guy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest will solve the problem in only a tiny percentage of the cases. I don’t advocate doing this unless you want to get bitten on the face.

  • “When she says she’s ok don’t believe it”

I was wrong, this is the stupidest advice ever. If you both want to go insane trying to figure who’s sending what secret signals and who’s playing what game today, this is the ideal thing to do. If you’d prefer not to sit in divorce court arguing over who gets the chipped plates from JC Penny, then cut this crap out.

  • “Treat her like she’s all that matters to you”

She’s the only thing that matters to you, huh? I guess that means she’s responsible for your entire happiness then. That’s no pressure on her, though. After a few years she’ll leave you or stab you in your sleep.

  • “When she runs up to you crying, the first thing you say is, ‘Whose butt am I kicking baby?’”

Because when she’s upset the most important thing to do is threaten violence. That will make her feel better right away. Bonus points for using the word “baby” in the context of a felony.

Thanks for hearing me out on this. These are just my opinions, but I think there’s a chance that I’m right, and the possibility of it approaches 100%. Now I’m going to spend the evening with my wife, without assuming that she doesn’t mean what she’s saying, without treating her like a kid I need to take care of, and without the risk of my nose being bitten off.

This young lady is practicing the facial expression that precedes leaving a man forever, or possibly stabbing him in his sleep. You were warned. Photo from photobucket.com.

 

My Quarter-Century of Dumb

Last week a smart woman told me to do something stupid. I said no, and she argued that even if the stupid thing didn’t help me, it wouldn’t hurt me either. I gave her reasons why I thought this thing she suggested was dumb. She huffed and said she’d been doing her job for 23 years, and she’d seen this thing work over and over. She didn’t come right out and scream at me to shut up and give in, but that may have been a matter of good breeding.

When she pulled out her 23 years experience, like Colt revolver at a gunfight, that’s when she lost me. I’d been teetering towards doing her dumb thing, but her vast experience meant nothing to me. Think about it. If I suggested that you start steering your car with your feet, would you fling off your sneakers and jump in the driver’s seat just because I’d seen it work for 23 years? If you would, please meet me at your bank with the keys to your house and a pair of fur-lined handcuffs.

Bobby Heinlein wrote, “There’s no virtue in being old, it just takes a long time.” Of course, he was an older fellow when he wrote it, but the sentiment still applies. The young may be wise and the old foolish, just as easily as the other way around. If I’ve done something for a generation, my head’s now so full of the things I know that there’s no room for the things I don’t know.

Today I found myself heaping gentle contempt on that well-meaning woman with 23 years of experience. Then I asked myself what my wife might say to me. My wife is always on my side in the ways that count. This means she is frequently not on my side when I’m behaving foolishly. Then she explains the other side, which is good for me in the end. In this case I’ll paraphrase her imaginary advice to me as, “You behave exactly the same way, dumbass.”

And of course, she is correct. She’s correct even when she’s only present in an imaginary sense, and I must say that’s a nice trick. But now that the mirror has been shoved in my face, I have to look at myself fairly hard. And that leads me to wonder about the ways in which a generation ago I was wise and today am foolish.

Buy cheap beer. My younger, wiser self ignored irrelevancies such as brand and flavor when buying beer. He only concerned himself with cost. If he could get a case of Milwaukee’s Best for $4.00, he bought a half dozen of them. Today I may pay $10.00 for a six-pack of fine, imported beer, but my young self knew that after the first three or four cans all beer tastes the same.

Don’t try to predict the future. I worry about the future these days. I think about investing for retirement, about the job market, and about home prices in my neighborhood. I even budget. If my younger self could see me, he’d snicker at the old guy wasting his time. He’d know that I can’t control any of these things, and that they’ll happen whether I worry about them or not. When they happen, that’s the time to deal with them. The young me understood this in the way that only those who drive a 15 year old Malibu that may throw a rod any day can understand it.

Don’t worry too much about having a job. My young self loved having a job, since having money let him buy cheap beer and pay rent and go out with his friends. But he didn’t fret about losing a job or finding another one. In fact, he was a lot more likely to keep his job when he didn’t act paranoid about losing it, and the job was less annoying too. My young self would be appalled to see me obsess over having a job, and young me would probably write older me off as a heart attack waiting to happen.

Buy stuff used. I admit that now I like to buy new things. There’s something about being the first person whose butt has embedded itself into that couch. But my young self knew that was nothing but conceit. Why buy a bed when you can buy your roommate’s brother’s futon for ten bucks? It’s just as good and is cheaper by two orders of magnitude. Young me would tell older me that used stuff is almost always better than new stuff, if I can just get past my big, fat ego.

Hang out with people you know, not people you look at. My young self spent a lot of time with his friends. They went to crappy bars, and to movies, and to play Frisbee golf, and to Shakespeare in the Park, and to dance clubs where the girls had fun torturing them. I can’t think of a single time that a friend called to say, “Hey, let’s go to that happy hour where the toquitos made us puke last time,” and young me replied, “Sorry, I’m watching TV tonight. Baywatch is on.” Young me knew that even puking with my friends makes a better memory than David Hasselhoff with no shirt on.

Don’t read editorials or reviews. Today I feel oppressed by the sense that there’s so much to know. Is Congress going insane, is Europe going down the toilet, will The Hobbit be any good, which news network is the biggest gang of lying bastards? It’s just too much. My young self simply assumed right out of the gate that every person older than him was lying to him about everything. If everyone says that interest rates will keep going up, just assume that rates will go down and move on. Go see whatever movies you want, even if all the reviewers say that “Caddyshack” sucks. My young self understood that there’s not too much to know. There’s just too much to worry about.

Tell people what you think. My young self rarely hid his thoughts. If he thought you were an overripe cluster of dangling camel scat, you probably knew it almost right away. People didn’t wonder what my young self thought. He sometimes earned trouble for himself, and a few people didn’t like him much, but he didn’t walk around trying to remember what not to say to dangling camel scat guy. When he said what he thought and people liked it, he knew he’d found a good place to be. He filtered the undesirable people and places out of his world by being a nasty jerk. It was a win-win.

Looking back now I see that young me was often wise, while older me has become foolish. Maybe this will help me empathize with my fellow foolish old guys, but I’m not sure I can recapture any of that youthful wisdom. I guess I can try. Come by this weekend—we’ll sit on my futon, do dumb stuff, and drink cheap beer.

The wisdom of youth. I'm the one praying for death.

The Innermost Secrets of Fear With a Side of Cheese Fries

I now know that fear of public speaking and fear of clowns are the same thing. Or they are when you look under the surface. My friend Karl helped me understand this. Karl and I sometimes go to Chili’s to hang out with our friend, Jeff. We talk about things like Napoleon’s battles and the properties of foam rubber while we drink beer and eat cheese fries. Last night I mentioned to them that I’m afraid the Christmas gift I bought for my wife sucks. Since she flat out told me she wants a squatty wooden chair for Christmas, giving her a lousy squatty wooden chair would be bad, and I fear that. I believe my fear is justified.

Cheese Fries - The Philosopher's Friend. Photo Courtesy of Laura Merrill

Karl swallowed a mouthful of fries and said, “You sure are afraid of wolves.”

I stared at Karl as if he’d said he had x-ray vision and his nipples were made of diamonds.

He went on, “Every fear can be boiled down to the fear of being eaten by wolves. For example, you’re really afraid that your wife will hate the chair, and that it will poison your marriage, and that she’ll boot you out of the house, and that you’ll wander in the snow until you’re eaten by wolves.”

“No I’m not!”

“No? Are you really this scared just because you think she’ll look at the chair and frown, or because she’ll yell at you? Nope. You’re scared of the wolves.”

“Hey, wolves don’t eat people too much. That’s a myth,” Jeff said.

“Doesn’t matter,” Karl said. “It’s a myth that most beautiful women go for fat, bald guys who play video games, but that doesn’t stop fat, bald guys from thinking it. I’ll prove this. Ask me about another fear.”

“I’m afraid of giving speeches,” Jeff said.

“Easy. You’re really afraid that when the audience hears how bad you are, they’ll hate you so much they’ll chase you out of the building, and you’ll be fired or maybe branded, and that you’ll go broke and lose your house, and that you’ll wander in the snow until you’re eaten by wolves.”

“Oh come on,” I said. “That’s dumb. That stuff won’t happen.”

“Of course it won’t happen. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t afraid of it, deep down. Ask me another one.”

I thought for a moment and grinned. “Fear of falling.”

Karl grinned back. “You’re really afraid that when you hit the ground you’ll break your legs, and that you’ll drag yourself around in the snow until you’re eaten by wolves.”

Jeff snorted and lifted his beer mug to his lips.

“Honestly,” Karl said. “You’re not as afraid of instant death as you are of a thoroughly agonizing maiming, followed by a desperate struggle and painful death. In the jaws of wolves.”

Karl stared back at us in triumph as he unconsciously played with a cheese fry, making it dance across the plate in front of him.

I squinted at Karl, hoping I looked like Clint Eastwood in Fistful of Dollars, but expecting that I probably looked like a lemur in Death Valley. “Fear of clowns.”

“Clowns riding wolves. The clowns mock you, and the wolves eat you.”

“Fear of spiders.”

“Wolf spiders.”

I raised my eyebrows at Karl.

Jeff jumped in, “No, I get what you’re saying. You look at a spider and your brain screams that some terrible thing is going to eat you. You know that little spider can’t eat you, so deep inside you’re afraid you’ll end up being eaten by wolves. In the snow.”

Karl smiled and held out his mug to toast with Jeff.

I refused to surrender. “Fear of success.”

“You’re really afraid that when you succeed you’ll change, and people won’t like you anymore, and then they’ll abandon you, and you’ll lose everything, and you’ll be alone wandering around in the snow until you’re eaten by wolves.”

This was stupid. I looked up at the ceiling and pursed my lips. Karl and Jeff began chatting about how electric socks are made. Then I set my mug down as if it were an iron glove flung at Karl’s feet. I snatched a fry and said, “Okay, if you can answer this one I’ll give. Fear of sinning and going to Hell.”

Karl leaned back in the booth. “I’ll concede that you’re not afraid of wandering in the snow. But you’re not afraid of Hell itself, either. You’re afraid of what will happen there.” Karl finished off his beer, which mainly consisted of his saliva by now. “If there are wolves in Hell, they won’t just eat you. They’ll eat you twice a day for all eternity. Now, you met my uncle Luther, right? The one that knocked over that liquor store after kicking the Salvation Army Santa in the stomach and stealing the donations? Well he died six months ago. So I guarantee that there’s at least one vicious, rabid wolf in Hell to welcome you.”

And thus Karl made his point. It’s all about the wolves.

Photo Courtesy of Laura Merrill.