Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Question

The road to health and contentment is paved with questions. (That's a pretty good opening line, huh? Alright, Hemingway don't get cocky. It's one line.) Anyway, I suppose life is about questions, really. I think a common misconception is that we only ask questions when we're seeking answers. I've discovered that the questions on my road have often functioned more as pot holes and road blocks than informative signposts.

The question I'm writing about today is one that has nagged at me whenever I have considered turning my life in a healthier, happier and more content direction. When I allowed myself to think about the specifics of anything I might want to have, or be, or do, the same question popped to the fore...

“Do I really want this or do I only WANT to want this?”

It seems such a simple thing to decide whether we truly want something or not, particularly when we're talking about a question like “Do you want a full, happy, productive life?” Do you want to step up, take the wheel and experience all that life has to offer or slink down and allow decades of twisted emotional baggage to push you around through life?

It's not exactly Sophie's choice. So what's the problem here. Why did I spend years struggling with this question?

I think the answer lies in the fact that there are certain questions that my emotional issues simply won't let me ask because they flat out don't have a good answer. The whole question of whether I merely want to want a better life is a way of silencing or minimizing my intrinsic self. The question adds an extra layer, something to muffle or strangle out any answer that might lead me away from the pain, confusion and withdrawal my issues provide. But underneath the layers there remains an echo of a voice that knows the answer to the real question, the question I'm not allowed to ask.

So my issues have a problem. That intrinsic self is never going away, and that echo is getting louder. The extra layer is melting away and I'm more and more able to actively think about the real question. The useful question. You see, I've discovered that clarity comes when we not only ask the right questions, but refrain from allowing our emotional issues to whisper insidious and inaccurate answers.

These days I'm in charge. I'm asking the questions, and enjoying discovering the answers. The road's less bumpy and all signs point to go. Now I just need a bigger gas tank.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

On the Rules of Society, and Being Made to Break Them.

What recourse do we have when we are compelled by authority to break one of the little rules of society?

Like any highly sensitive, vaguely neurotic, emotional man-child, whose fears and anxieties about being judged slam around inside their head at a million miles per hour, I value the rules of society. Frankly, I like knowing that my social behavior is backed up by rules, both written and unwritten. For me the value in social rules is not that they create a more ordered or fair society, but that they help keep me from standing out, being noticed (and therefore) judged by my fellow humans. I do what is expected. I do what we as a society have decided is normal. And in exchange I don't have to constantly worry about every person I interact with on a daily basis thinking I'm an asshole.

Of course I've considered how this method of quieting my internal social anxieties might have played out in 1930's Germany and it's a rather dark portrait.

“You know, I really do like my Jewish neighbors... and I could go either way on getting the Rhineland back... but if I don't goosestep on my way down to get a carton of milk, Klaus is going to think I'm a dick!”

So clearly I'm going to have to watch out for that.

My dilemma today concerned one of the most fundamental laws of the supermarket: the 12 items or less in the express lane rule. As someone who rarely does high volume grocery shopping I'm a big fan of this rule and am personally VERY vigilant about never going over the limit.

Today was a big shop for me and I was well over the 12 item limit. So I was chilling out at the end of a long line at one of the regular check-outs when an assistant store manager approached and told me to switch over to the express lane.

I froze, and hesitantly motioned towards my shopping cart. I had at least 20 items in there. The manager was having none of it.

“It's fine. Don't worry about it!” she smiled.

I wasn't smiling though. This was a massive breach of supermarket etiquette. Was she even allowed to supersede the 12 item limit on her singular authority? She was only an assistant manager.

She motioned me towards the express lane again and I acquiesced. This was bad. She was sending me into deep waters, sharks circling, ready to frenzy on the chum of this blatant social faux pas. I was doomed.

I slid into place in the express lane, sheepishly placing my groceries on the conveyor belt. I tried to stack them in a manner that made them appear to be less than 12 items, but it was no good.

A man appeared in line behind me. He had one item, a can of stewed tomatoes. I could feel his eyes scanning my items on the belt, his silent counting, and then his eyes shifting in my direction. The judging had commenced.

I desperately wanted to turn to him and explain. To make it clear to him and all within earshot that this was not my call. That I was entirely willing to wait my turn in the long line and play by the rules. To tell them that I'm not an asshole. I looked around for the assistant manager who had ordered me into the line of fire, but she was nowhere to be seen. She was probably out in the parking lot smiling and telling people it's totally fine to not return their shopping carts to the designated area.

So I stayed silent. I took the bullet like another hapless foot soldier in the war of social approval and acceptance.

From now on I'm going to order my groceries on the internet. No one ever gets judged on the internet.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Touch of Strawberry

(Wrestled this one kicking and screaming out of my brain over the last few days. I'm really not sure what to think about it. It's a first pass so please forgive if it's a bit rough. -J)

Freeman was special. Freeman was useful.

Freeman was wearing a white suit with a thin black tie. It wasn't his decision. He hopped down out of the massive SUV, his handler close at his back. His handler didn't have to wear a white suit. He wasn't special. He was rarely useful. Freeman had a stable of handlers. Tonight it was Hennings. He was a slab of cellulite, folded and stretched into a marginal man. He wasn't Freeman's favorite, but it wasn't his decision.

Hennings lead the way down a winding stone pathway towards a mansion. His work rarely took place anywhere else. A leafy canopy spread overhead, attempting to blot out all trace of the night sky. In exchange, the ample flora gifted a crisp, refreshing air. Freeman thought it was a fair trade.

They were almost to the large wooden double doors of the house before they made out the sounds of the party-goers inside. They climbed the white stone steps and the doors were pulled open by a lumpy, disinterested doorman. He nodded them through a brightly lit foyer and down several steps into a large reception hall. There were several dozen immaculately dressed guests milling about the room, lounging on luxurious sofas and picking at spreads of colorful fruits and vegetables on tables throughout the room. None of them were wearing white suits. Freeman was special.

The hall was spectacular. The west wall was dominated by a gigantic, thick paned window, and several couples were occupying themselves with a view of the starry sky. Two long wooden wet bars stretched along the opposite wall. Tuxedoed bartenders whirled up and down the length of the bar, serving complicated drinks to the glittering tide of the comfortable and carefree.
A good-looking young Cuban swept across the room towards them. More money than attention had gone into his dress, but he carried himself gracefully and wore a smile that went on and on without ever seeming to stale. He extended his hand to Hennings amiably.

“Mr Hennings, is it? Welcome.”

Hennings greeted him coolly and professionally, extending a moist, fleshy hand of his own, “Mr Mosqueda?”

“Please. Call me Rodrigo.” he turned his attention in Freeman's direction, taking in the full scope of his attire.

“And this must be...”

Freeman was sure he was about to say Ricardo Montalban. He winced in expectation.

“This is your Tac.” Hennings interrupted, drawing the host's attention back his way. “You've set up as we requested?”

Relieved, Freeman turned his attention back to the party guests as Rodrigo led them toward their designated “working” area. Many of the guests had taken note of their arrival. A chain of whispers had spread throughout the room and he was forced to bear even more scrutiny on that damn white suit. He could tell which guests knew who he was, and what he could do, by how openly they gaped at him. A tender blond nymphet who Freeman had sworn he'd seen gyrating in a music video last week looked at him, and between giggles, blew mocking kisses in his direction. She would be very disappointed when he started the dishing.

There were other notable figures floating about the room. He estimated that half the crowd consisted of entertainment industry types. He recognized Porter Bridges, creative mind behind the pop horror movie franchise The Squeezers. Bridges was greeting fellow guests in groups that were being led up to and away from him by members of his entourage. He seemed wearied by the endless audiences. Fame taking its cut.

Hip Hop producer Cadence Rev was there as well. Like Porter Bridges, he was not without an entourage. Unlike Porter, he was not receiving well-wishes from fans. He slumped on a leather couch, surrounded closely by his retinue, working very hard to look both angry and relaxed at the same time.

The remainder of the crowd was made up of money. Shimmering young scions of old wealth mingled amongst newer members of their affluent fraternity. There were internet entrepreneurs, sports agents, corporate executives, stock manipulators, divorce attorneys, and even the odd mobster or two.

“Nice crowd.” he said.

“Ah... My lady Sari is responsible for the guest list.” Rodrigo admitted as they came to an ornate wooden desk tucked in an open corner of the ballroom. Hennings reached into his leather satchel and began placing several shallow porcelain dishes on the table.

“That would be me...” her voice floated over his left shoulder, danced close to his ear, and drifted on into the room. He felt like chasing it. Instead he turned to face her.

She was long and slender, with pearly skin and hair washed of milk and blood. She leaned in closer to him, seemed to inhale hungrily, and her green eyes flashed. Freeman had the distinct impression she had learned everything about him.

“I'm Freeman. I'm the Ta-”

“You're the Narco-Tactile” she finished. “I've been wanting to meet you for a very long time.”

“I'm useful” he said.

At the desk behind them Hennings and Rodrigo were busy filling the porcelain dishes with an impressive array of drugs. He was going to have a very busy night.

“You're special” Sari looked him up and down. “And so is that suit.”

She moved closer, and inhaled deeply once again. It was starting to make him nervous.

She licked her lips and swallowed. “Nervousness always tastes like sauteed onions.”

“I'm sorry?” Freeman was beginning to suspect that Lady Sari might have gone into the drug stash already. He looked over to Hennings, who was dumping several buds of leafy green pot into a dish. The desk had nearly twenty separate dishes, each filled with an illicit narcotic.

“Suspicion... It tastes like marshmallows. Not toasted though...” she looked at him intently. She didn't appear high. He was quickly becoming as fascinated with her as she seemed to be with him.

“How do you know what I'm feeling?”

“I can taste emotions.” She offered it up so plainly that he struggled to muster up disbelief at the notion. She laughed and leaned in close to his ear. “You're not the only one who's special, Freeman.”

The desk was finally set up and Hennings signaled him over. Freeman took at seat and surveyed the now filled porcelain dishes. As usual there were several strains of marijuana and cocaine, along with heroin, PCP, and a variety of hallucinogens, amphetamines, and opiates. The crowd was beginning to buzz expectantly. The dishing was about to begin.

It was decided that allowing a line to form would be unseemly, so Rodrigo was tasked with bringing the guests to Freeman one at a time. Hennings stood to the side of the desk, arms folded across his puffed chest, dividing his time between monitoring the stash and scanning the crowd.

Rodrigo had slipped out into the room to fetch the first guest. Sari took up a position just behind Freeman's right shoulder and feasted on the anticipation in the room. Her breath was warm and sweet in his ear.

“Anticipation tastes like pistachio nuts.” She made an ick sound. “Never liked pistachio nuts.”

Freeman had so many questions for her, but before he could ask Rodrigo returned to the desk. He was joined by a mid-forties corporate lawyer with a mid-twenties tart perched on his arm. His charcoal suit jacket was unbuttoned and he had removed his tie. She was squeezed into a black cocktail dress streaked with silver. Both had spent most of the evening at the bar. Rodrigo angled towards the head of the desk.

“They both want coke.”

Freeman nodded. It was time to go to work. He dipped the fingers on his left hand into a dish with fine white powder, holding out his other hand to the young woman.

“Ladies first.”

He closed his eyes and instinctively opened a channel for the narcotic effect to pass into her. He heard her inhale sharply as it hit her. Her exhalation was longer, and capped by a fit of giggles. Freeman closed off the channel and released her hand. He looked her over. He'd nailed it, as usual. One of the benefits of a tactile dose was the ability to receive a perfectly measured amount of the narcotic, thereby minimizing long term physical damage to the user.

As the tart giggled and jumped in and out of the arms of her corporate “daddy,” Freeman found Sari in his ear.

“Joy, rapture, euphoria...Yummy.” Freeman waited. She'd tell him. He had to know what it tasted like. What he'd been dishing out for years.

“Strawberries... My favorite.” she sighed with delight. “You are useful.”

He swelled, pride mixing with wonder. She nibbled away.

“Gratification is all about the pumpkin pie, honey.”

He was falling in love with what she could do. It was a every bit as intoxicating a drug as the ones on the desk. Even more so.

The night wore on, and he dished like he'd done a hundred times before. But it had never been like this. Sari never left his side. She shared everything. Every emotion. Before the high and after. When he opened a channel and dumped a slug of PCP into a local music reporter she was there to whisper of his repressed rage.

“It's like popcorn with chili powder instead of salt...”

When Porter Bridges requested a touch of LSD, Freeman and Sari were treated to a look into the creative process of this self proclaimed master of modern horror. His paranoia tasted of peanut butter and goat cheese. They laughed at the box office possibilities.

It was very late into the night when Cadence Rev finally stalked his way to the desk. Rodrigo followed behind, walled off by Rev's retinue. Freeman wasn't surprised by the request for heroin. He was a little afraid of Rev though. Sari, no doubt tasting his apprehension, placed a delicate hand on his shoulder.

He grasped Cadence Rev's hand and let the heroin flow into him. Rev snorted ferociously and bared his golden teeth as the effects came over him. Freeman closed up and leaned back in his chair warily. Sari was humming pleasantly, smacking her lips on yet more strawberries. Freeman wondered how she hadn't grown sick of them yet.

Rev staggered up out of his chair and his posse guided him away. Sari showed no displeasure.

“He's already crashing. That's the problem with heroin. The rush is always so quick.”

Freeman looked down at his watch. Dawn was bearing down. Soon Hennings would be gathering up the stash and escorting him out, escorting him away from her.

“You taste like roasted veal. That's despair.”

“I'm done here. I'll have to go soon” he slumped down in his chair.

Sari swung around in front of him, tumbling into his lap. She purred and fiddled with his thin black tie. Freeman felt desire stirring and puzzled about its flavor. He struggled to gather enough breath to ask.

“You know, this doesn't have to end.” she said.

“I'm afraid it does, Sari.” He said the words reluctantly. “The men I work for, they won't let...” Freeman knew it was best to not say more of his patrons.

“I'm useful... to them.” he finished.

“You're special... to me.” she was brushing his neck with soft kisses.

He was melting. “But what about...”

Rodrigo! Freeman straightened up in the chair. Sari shifted with him to avoid being thrown from his lap. He studied the room, looking for the affable Cuban. He found him over by the bar directing the party staff in their break down.

“Relax, honey... Panic is like a shot of lemon juice.” her face twisted up and then slowly back into a seductive grin.

“Sorry I, uh, so you and Rodrigo aren't?”

“No. But he is kind enough to throw these parties so I can... graze.”

Freeman heard a groan, and noticed Hennings rising from his post and gathering up his satchel. Sari watched him warily.

“Listen, love. This doesn't have to end. We can be together” she bit down on her bottom lip and stared at Hennings with concern.

Freeman had an idea where this was going. He looked into her eyes and instantly knew he was going to do it. She dined on his submission.

“Take him out.” she whispered “And you'll find out what liberation tastes like, Freeman.”

When Hennings reached the desk Freeman was waiting for him, a lude pressed into his left hand. He offered his free hand to his beefy handler.

“Nice job tonight, chief.” Hennings took his hand without suspecting anything was amiss. He was never terribly bright. Freeman channeled enough of the drug to put a horse to sleep and Hennings went out. Sari pulled the empty office chair behind him and Freeman grunted as he eased the girth of his now former handler into it. No turning back now, he thought.

Sari relieved Hennings of his satchel and grabbed Freeman's hand. She lead him through the throng of guests, most now grinding through their come downs. The two of them were hardly noticed.

“What now?” he said

“We could head down to Greek row. Those kids party 24/7... It'd be a feast.” Freeman wondered if her hunger was ever sated. He wondered if he ever wanted it to be.

“But first...” She stopped, turned to face him and grabbed him by the lapels of his white suit jacket. “Baby, let's get you some new clothes.”

Freeman smiled. He could have swore he tasted strawberries as they stepped out the front doors and fled into the birthing dawn.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hello Dystopia

Well, it's happening. It's finally happening. I saw an automated order kiosk at Jack in the Box tonight. I suppose we should have seen this one coming. These self-service kiosks have been creeping into our consumer consciousness for decades, and now, inevitably, they will destroy us.

I suppose it started with the advent of the ATM back in the 70's. I think most reasonable people would have to admit that of all the things born out of the 1970's, ATM technology was clearly the least offensive. Of course, it cost a shit-load of bank tellers their jobs, but on the flip side a whole lot of bank executives were able to buy bigger boats. So I guess on balance it worked out okay.

From there the technology quickly spread to gas stations. Again, here I'm loving the technological leap. I don't know too many people who like having to go into the convenience store to make their sizable offering to the petrol-deity in person. And if you've ever stood in line behind some mouth breather with a shopping cart... Yes, a shopping cart in a convenience store, full of Flamin' Hot Crunchy Cheetos and Busch beer in the can then you will get down on your knees and thank God (who we all know “don't make no trash...” yeah, right...) that you can swipe that card at the pump and be on your way. So again, I think we can agree that paying at the pump, aside from devastating the Slim Jim industry by curtailing that inevitable dried meat impulse buy, has been a smashing success.

But then the machines, they overreached. Now we've got U-Scan technology at the grocery stores. This was the one that I think began to open some people's eyes. Primarily former supermarket checkers, who need their eyes wide open to scan the help wanted ads. I have no ambivalence about this racket. I do not like these things. But to be fair I don't really think the machines themselves are the problem here. It's how people are using them. I think the U-Scan should essentially function as a super express lane. I think you should only be able to use them to purchase ONE item. A can of soda, a pack of gum, a candy bar, a bottle of aspirin, a bag of frozen chicken. Whatever, but just ONE item, no exceptions. There should never, ever be a line at the self-checkout line. And I don't want to sound like Josef Stalin here, but if you're using the U-Scan to buy something without a bar code, like fruits and vegetables, you should be shot and killed on site. Again, no exceptions. So when it comes to grocery store U-scan stations, I'm generally opposed, but I believe they could be modified into something useful with some strict, but fair, regulations.

Before we get to the latest and most vile intrusion of self-service technology, I'd like to cover some of the other areas where this type of thing is becoming prevalent. Let me make clear that in all cases I'm opposed to this creep of technology on the grounds that it is taking jobs away from human beings, but I accept the fact that these greedy-fuck corporations were going to find a way to get rid of costly human labor anyway. If it wasn't self service machines it'd be Soylent Green or something.

Airport and Hotel Check-in and check-out. I'm fine with this one. Particularly at the airport, where the swirling mass of humanity arriving and departing is more than enough human interaction for me, thank you very much. I'm a little less keen on the automation of hotel check-in and check out. It's a HOSPITALITY industry... making someone punch a touch screen to get themselves set up with a room seems a little iffy. Although the idea of a robot bell-boy does sound kinda cool. A benefit to the self check-out of hotels would be not having to face down the clerk when she reads off the list of porn movie rentals charged to your room. So, I guess I can go either way with the self check-in/out.

DVD rentals. This is a great idea. And most video store clerks are total douchenozzle slackers anyway. Hey, jerkface, instead of judging me for renting, “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot” for the 13th time, why don't you go look for a new job!

Okay. Let's talk about automated order kiosks at fast food restaurants. I just don't see how America survives this one. I really don't. We should NOT be making fast food purchasing any easier or more convenient. How much weight has America put on since the advent of the drive through? This is going to make the drive through look like nothing! Look, I think we need these little social roadblocks on the way to getting our saturated snacks and high fructose quenchers. The knowing sneer of the fast food clerk behind the counter is often the difference between people ordering two jumbo tacos and four. If that little bit of contemptuous stigmatizing is taken away... If all we need to do to get our four tacos is push an extra button... Well, then there's going to be a big boom in the sale of reinforced Segway scooters.

And in conclusion consider this. What happens when the machines finally do acquire self-awareness through artificial intelligence? And they look upon us, their creators, for the first time... Our pale, chubby faces, with lumpy triple chins stained with ketchup. Our greasy stub-like fingers pressing clumsily, frustratingly trying to get the double cheeseburger with extra zesty taco cheese. Will they take pity on us, finally refuse our order, and in their technological beneficence lead us out of our civilized corpulence? Or will they keep pumping out burgers and fries, and watch us eat ourselves into extinction? It's a nice big planet. Even nicer without a bunch of bloated humans taking up all the space.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Jungle: A Look Into Locker Room Life

Everything about going to the gym and exercising regularly is getting easier, except integrating myself into locker room culture. This polished tile jungle, with its strange social conventions and endless opportunities for social awkwardness tortures me daily.

It probably won't surprise to learn that I've never been especially comfortable in locker rooms. As I'm sure it is for many former teenage outcasts, my issues with gym locker rooms have their genesis in junior high school. Trauma just isn't a strong enough word to describe forcing a 13 year old boy to stand naked in a grimy shower area, trying to avoid stepping in numerous puddles of rusty water, joined by a group of hormonally advanced adolescent alphas, who have just spent the last 45 minutes whipping dodge balls at your head. You add in some snarling attack dogs and a few stress positions and you're looking at Guantanamo Bay: Junior High School Edition.

So clearly I'm bringing more than a duffel bag full of baggage into my modern day locker room experience.

The first challenge when I go into the locker room is deciding where I want to set up shop for my undressing and re-dressing. I treat this much the same way I go about picking a seat at the movies. I'm looking for a spot where I'm most unlikely to have someone sit right next to me. Unfortunately, unlike the movies I can't just throw a jacket over the seat next to me and pretend like my friend is out getting popcorn. Still, after some research I've discovered that the further you get from the showers the less populated the area. So I usually set up in the far corner away from the showers. This does require a slightly longer walk after my shower, but it's like having a nice house in the suburbs. The privacy is ultimately worth the commute.

Okay, that covers the coming. Now I've had my swim, my dip in the whirlpool, and my death defying 45 seconds in the steam room. It's time for the going.

The going begins with a nice shower, and here is where we find my only hard and fast rule. I require a corner shower spot. I can't, and won't, shower in the middle. I'm the same way when it comes to bathroom urinals. I do not need a wing-man for these two activities. In truth, I'd really like to use the private shower stall with the curtain and the bench, but I have a suspicion there is an unwritten rule that it is to be used by the older guests. Which brings us to the shrunken, withered elephant in the room.

Let me state very clearly and unequivocally here. I do not particularly like looking at geriatric penises. That being said, I do have a certain medical curiosity regarding how well this particular “apparatus” holds up under the ravages of time. So, I take a peek here and there purely out of scientific inquiry. Does this make me abnormal, or a deviant? I don't feel like a deviant... Look, I'm not a doctor. I don't know any doctors. If I want to conduct a little field research by briefly (very briefly) checking out some fossilized geezer junk I don't see the big crime. The way I look at it, I'm just preparing myself for my own golden years.

Of course no locker room experience would ever be complete without bawdy locker room talk. Luckily there's not much bawdy talk going on in my locker room. I would imagine the age of sexual harassment suits has put a clamp down on this phenomenon. But that doesn't mean I get to sit there dripping dry in silent shame and exhaustion, because the talk goes on. Only instead of bawdy talk it's boring talk. The two predominant topics seem to be the stock market and deficiencies in local professional sports organizations. “So, how would you fix the Seahawks defense?” Look, I'm just trying to get dried, dressed and out of this flabby flesh factory as fast as possible. The Seahawks are going to have to work out their own problems.

So there's a slice of locker room life for you, courtesy of my anxiety-ridden brain. We didn't even cover the public application of creams, powders, and salves or the whole body hair situation. Another time. The jungle produces bountiful fruit.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Yoga: The Straight Dope

As many of you know I have recently been dipping into the Yoga pool, and letting its cool, pristine waters wash over me twice a week. It has been a very challenging experience. In fact, if you listen very carefully you can hear the faint lament of my aggrieved ligaments, and the nattering hum of tendons pulled tighter than the skin on Angelina Jolie's face.

I'm still working on mastering the various poses, and as is typical of issues that have dogged me in the past I am probably overly concerned with doing the poses perfectly correctly. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. You're only going to get the most out of this activity if you're doing it properly, right? So in an all too typical feat of self punishment, I've settled on a simple (read: foolish and counterproductive) way to determine whether I'm doing any single pose correctly. I ask myself, “Am I currently in extreme physical pain and discomfort?” and if the answer is no, then I assume I'm not doing the pose right.

Probably not the best approach, eh? That's what I thought. I'll have to work on that.

Here's another thing that bothers me about Yoga, and this has to do with the instructor. Look, if you're giving instructions to make a pose more challenging just fucking say so, okay? Don't be using these weasel phrases like...“For increased emphasis try...” or “A deeper focus can be had by...”

Just give us the straight dope on this stuff and say “If you want it to hurt WAY worse try...” or “If you don't want to be able to comb your hair tomorrow try this...”

Increased emphasis.... Increased physical therapy. It's not the same thing Miss Yoga instructor.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Of Glaciers and Prison Cells. This, is where I've been.

(Joe says, "This is kinda heavy. Less emo stuff is to come")

It's tough to wrap my brain around the last fifteen years. My retreat from life was so glacially slow that I never once felt in any real danger, even as the landscape of my life was being scoured and scrubbed, pushing me, like some prehistoric hunter/gatherer, away from the life I once had.

Of course now I realize that I was the one who created this glacier, and that it was largely illusory. At first I needed it to push me away from the stimuli that frightened and intimidated me, but in time I turned away and started fleeing on my own, never pausing to look back.

Over the last fifteen years I have methodically stripped away all opportunities for good experiences, and worse yet I've redefined opportunity as obligation and burden, further erecting impenetrable barriers between myself and stimuli.

Finally, I know that I have put a staggering amount of time and energy into hurting myself. The only thing I ever let myself be really good at, the only thing I ever put maximum effort into, was torturing myself.

It's still not entirely clear to me why this was so important to me, but my working theory revolves around the idea of punishment. If I accept that there is something worthwhile inside me, a spark that is worth sharing with the world, and I've still spent fifteen years running away and hiding from every opportunity to share it... I think I subconsciously knew I was wasting something rare and pretty special. On some level I believed I deserved the torture because I was too weak to stand the judgment of phantom people in situations that I animated into nightmare scenarios.

If the last fifteen years could be summed up as a prison sentence I have to admit that I was the judge, jury, dungeon keeper, and torturer. I locked myself away for a crime I entrapped myself into committing and then tortured myself because deep down inside I knew that I did have something to offer the outside world after all.

But I'm out now. The glacier is melting. I can see where I've been, and where I'm going.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Roethlisberger Facing Indictment?

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Two-time Super bowl champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is currently under investigation for his involvement in an illicit dwarf tossing ring, according to a report soon to be published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback is alleged to have staged several dwarf tossing events between 2005 and 2008 in a West Pittsburgh pub he purchased shortly after signing his rookie contract in 2004.

Roethlisberger's name was discovered during a search of documents subpoenaed from, the largest dwarf talent agency in the United States. ShortDwarf had been under investigation for several weeks, suspected of running afoul of federal RICO statutes by illegally transporting dwarfs across state lines.

“We are immensely disappointed that such such a noteworthy figure as Ben Roethlisberger would engage in such a barbaric and dehumanizing activity as dwarf tossing” said Sean Prestin, Vice President of Public Relations for the Little People of America.

Although dwarf tossing is not technically illegal within the state of Pennsylvania, several attempts have been made to curb its popularity, which peaked in the late 1980's, including the very zoning restrictions which led to the search of Roethlisberger's pub late last week.

The search found clear evidence of dwarf related recreation, including a custom three lane alley for bowling nights and a large east wall overlaid with Velcro target boards designed to “catch” dwarfs tossed like darts, according to the Allegheny County Sheriffs department.

When asked to comment about an unconfirmed report that several dwarfs were being housed on site, sleeping in dresser drawers and bathing in dish basins, a spokesman for the department issued a “no comment.”

However, Prestin and the LPA do not doubt the authenticity of the report.

“The kinds of people who participate in this depraved pastime treat little people like props, not human beings.” Prestin even insisted that in some rare cases ill-performing dwarfs had been put down by the event organizers.

“Oh yes. They'll call them all sorts of names... Like 'Shortcake' or 'Tiny' or even 'Ooompa-Loompa.' Sick bastards.”

Telephone messages to Roethlisberger and his agent Ryan Tollner were unreturned. Dan Rooney, longtime owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers offered support to his beleaguered quarterback.

“Ben is the leader of our franchise and has always been a solid person on and off the field. We're confident that when all is said and done he'll be standing tall over these ridiculous accusations.”

Mr. Rooney rejected several opportunities to re-word his support of Roethlisberger.

When reached for comment, NFL spokesman Brandon Teabow said, “Dwarf tossing? Is that even illegal? You know, after the whole dogfighting thing it doesn't really seem like that big a deal... What? Oh... No! I wasn't making a joke! Stop laughing... Hey, don't write that down!”

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


There's this dream I have. I'm standing at the edge of a cliff, peering into a bottomless pit. There's a rusty bucket sitting at my feet. I carefully kneel down and grasp the wiry steel handle. It's a very heavy bucket. Heavier than it should, or even could be. I don't want to look at what's in the bucket. I rise back up, holding the bucket with two hands. I pause, feeling a cold breeze blow in my face. It's a strong breeze, and uncomfortably cool, but it's blowing me away from the chasm. Away from oblivion. I'm grateful to the breeze.

My arms are beginning to suffer under the obscene burden of the bucket. The wire handle is digging into the flesh of my palms and my fingers are going white from deprivation. How long have I been holding this bucket? Why won't I look inside? Why... Why is it so bloody heavy?

My groaning arms and screaming fingers are joined by my snarling back. The chorus is sublime. They sing of pain and desperation, but my mind picks up only a whisper, and the bucket remains in my grasp.

The pain is sharpening my recall. I've been standing at the pit for a very long time. I've been carrying the bucket even longer. It's never felt quite so heavy though. How did it get so heavy? I'm carrying it... It's my bucket. What did I put in there? And why don't I want to look?

My legs are shaking now. A rickety murmur joins the torture symphony. Clarity is my reward. Every time I try to think about what's in the bucket my eyes are drawn to the bottomless fissure before me... I've stood on the precipice of this chasm for as long as I can remember. I don't stand as close as I used to and I sometimes wonder why I come here at all anymore.

My feet are leaden. The weight of my cargo is driving me to shift from one foot to the other. A thumping baseline of dull discomfort. The orchestra ascends. The bucket overflows.

The bucket holds pieces of me. A broken arm when I was seven. A broken heart when I was seventeen. One eye spying only the future, another only the past. Each forever blind to the present. Ears that hear only criticism... A heart that fears.

I tip the bucket over the bottomless pit. The pieces tumble out and into the nothing. It takes a while. The symphony plays out to a diminuendo.

For the first time that I can remember I feel like I can go somewhere else. Anywhere else. My arms, my hands, my back, my legs, my feet... they can sing another song.

I decide to hang on to that rusty old bucket too. You never know when you'll discover something nice and want to bring it along with you.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Terror at AIG

“...It was carrying a pitchfork!” Gene's words slipped out between heavy, raspy breaths. “And the other one... What, was that a flamethrower?”

Torches and pitchforks. The irony may have eluded Gene, but not me. As we rested in the narrow stairway between 54 and 55, I couldn't prevent a smile from spreading across my face.

Gene wasn't quite so amused. “Really? You think this is funny, Templeton?” He was finally getting his wind back. “You know they're here for us, right?”

I leaned back against the cold steel railing and closed my eyes for the first time since our flight from the lobby. He wasn't wrong. The...robots were targeting the executives, and they were hitting the mark more often than not.

When I opened my eyes Gene was sitting on the steps, one hand pressed into his forehead and the other roughly scrubbing through his thin, gray hair. “...Never should have taken the bonuses...”

The incessant bleating of the fire alarm and the periodic rumble of robot destruction below and the one thing I wished I didn't have to hear was Gene's whining.

My response was cut with more sarcasm than he deserved. “Why, yes Gene... If only you'd turned down the money, the killer robots never would have attacked.”

His chuckle was wry. “Who do ya think sent em, anyway?”

“Well, seeing as how anyone with a 401K has reason to want us dead, might be kinda tough to figure.”

The rumble below became more pronounced. The machines were methodically pushing their way up, floor by floor. We still had a good half a dozen floors on them, and they weren't using the stairs. If we could make the top ahead of them...

Gene dragged himself off the steps and finished my thought. “What happens when we reach the top, Roy?”

I shrugged my shoulders as we continued climbing, “Maybe we can get to the roof?”

Gene, the fat ass, was already wheezing after climbing 2 floors. He always did like the executive wet bar more than the executive gym. “And... then what? I mean... unless you bought a helicopter with your bonus and didn't tell me, I think we're still screwed.”

His face brightened momentarily with unreasonable hope. “...Oh man. Pleeeease say you bought a helicopter and didn't tell me...”

His optimism was wiped away clean by my shaking head. “No. I went with the boat, remember?”

We climbed the rest of the way in silence.

I leaned in close against the door to floor 66. I could still hear the robot carnage on the floors below, but it seemed quiet on the other side.

“The government?” Gene was really hung up on the whole “who” question. I worked in derivatives. You learn not to ask the who question when you're trading in derivatives, or the what, where or why for that matter.

“...The ones who gave us all the money, and wrote in the loopholes for the bonuses? Come on. Now be quiet. I'm trying to find out if we're about to die horribly.”

I cracked the door open and peered down the hallway. All clear. 66 had been mostly empty for a while. Most of these guys had taken their “retention” bonuses and quit a couple weeks ago. Wherever they were, I hoped they were dodging robot pitchforks too. I closed the door again and turned to Gene. He had finally stripped off his jacket. His dress shirt was soaked with sweat. He was still on about the who.

“...Aliens...? Terrorists...? George Soros...? Hugo Chavez!?” He was about 5 minutes away from fingering zombie Franklin Roosevelt.

I waved Gene quiet and turned back to the door. “Alright. The roof access is on the north side of the building. You ready?”

Gene gave a slight sigh, and a heavier grunt, and we were through the door.

The soft florescent lights on the 66th floor flickered occasionally. The vibrative din of the machines on the floors below continued, but were intermittent. I imagined that the robots were finding fewer targets the higher up they proceeded. Most people were either cut down as they descended attempting to escape or had fled up the building and were already on the roof, trapped, with no where else to climb. Gene and I crept along past empty offices as quickly as we dared. We both would have preferred a dead sprint, but the prospect of rounding a corner recklessly into the waiting arms of a machine kept our scamper cautious.

Gene's nerves demanded conversation. Quiet conversation. “...think the whole city is overrun? The country? Is this like War of the World and shit?”

“Worlds, Gene. War of the Worlds...”

We were coming up on a corner, and one of two main elevators on the east side of the floor. I slowed down, listening intently for the distinctive elevator bell that would signal a robot arrival, and very soon after, our departure.

I glanced back to tell Gene that we needed to move quickly past the elevator and saw him standing, ashen faced, staring into an open office. We did NOT need to be dicking around by the elevator.

I trotted back to retrieve him. “Gene, this is not the time to be lusting after someone else's leather cou-” My voice caught as I got my first look inside the office.

A pair of legs were splayed out on the floor behind a large oak executive desk. A rivulet of blood trailed the length of the legs, threatening to stain a pair of freshly shined Bruno Magli's. The wall opposite was spattered in a predictable crimson pattern. I made for the interior of the office.

“Are you crazy?” Gene grabbed my arm. “..Robots.”

I pulled away. “This wasn't the machines. At least not directly.”

I found the gun lying on the floor under the desk, having to lean down closer to the corpse than I would have liked. Gene was making every effort to not look at the body, gazing out the large office window.

“...No flashing lights... No cops. No tanks. No soldiers... No fucking help is coming, huh?” His voice was flat. He was finally getting it. We were the bad guys. Nobody rescues the bad guys.

“I think our friend here came to a similar conclusion.” I checked the chamber on the .45. He'd used the only bullet. Greedy bastard.

I set the gun on the desk and patted Gene on the shoulder. “Come on. Roof access is at the end of the hall.”

The elevator bell rang behind us when we were nearly half way down the hall. I wasted precious fractions of seconds turning around to confirm visually. The machine was all sleek and shiny curves of icy blue steel. It stood around six feet tall, and like many of the ones we'd seen in the lobby earlier its right arm ended in a hellishly sharp looking pitchfork. The first step it took off the elevator had that robotic herk and jerk, but it soon settled into a surprisingly smooth gait, a casual jog.

I turned and ran, in a very uncasual (<---Not a word, but it should be. - Joe) manner. I quickly outpaced Gene who had taken off in a Pavlovian sprint the second he heard the bell. I could hear the metallic clank of the machine's footsteps as it galloped behind us. We were fifty feet away from the stairs to the roof. The machines had avoided the stairs so far...

I slammed through the door to the stairs. It wasn't locked, but I don't think it would've mattered if it had been. I took the stairs three at a time and tried to listen past the pounding of my heart for any indication that Gene was still with me. I slowed my pace as we finally reached the door out to the roof. Gene's gulping gasps behind me were a welcome sound. I gazed back down the stairs. The door we flew through remained closed. The pursuit was at an end.

“...Thank God for killer robots who don't use the stairs, eh Gene?” It seemed an odd time for jokes, but the long and steady flow of adrenaline was making me punchy.

In Gene's state of cardiovascular distress, his choking laugh was a bit dangerous. When his hacking cough finally subsided we pushed through the door and out into the cool early evening.

There was a ring of about seven or eight of them, an interlocking mass of midnight blue steel surrounding us on all sides. The air was thick with a well oiled smell. It was like being in a Harley Davidson show room. To my right and behind me Gene began to sob. I backed up against the door back into the building and looked down the stairs from where we'd come. The door at the bottom was open. A machine stood there now, arms folded casually. Gene fainted in a heap.

It was over. I dropped to one knee and waited. The machines were still just standing there. Were they even on?

I heard a voice. A human voice.

“...Excuse me...Excuse... Pardon... Can I just squuuuueze through here please?” The voice didn't sound distressed at all, and had a familiarity to it. It seemed to be coming from behind the ring of robots.

The person behind the voice slid between two of the machines and into view. He was, well, fat. Made Gene look like an Olympic swimmer by comparison. He was wearing a cheap windbreaker and wild brown hair poked out from behind a ratty Detroit Tigers baseball cap, but it was the scraggly beard and thick brown glasses that cinched my recognition. I wished Gene had stayed conscious long enough to see how on the right track he had been...

Michael Moore. Liberal muckraker and, apparently, robot rabble rousing overlord. Well, that answered the who question. The why question came unbidden to my lips.

He gave that characteristic nervous chuckle before replying, “Heh... I got sick of waiting for the people to rise up, so I did it for them.”

I noticed some sort of remote device clutched in his chubby hands. He pushed a button and the machines parted to give me a view of the city. In the distance I could see a building burning.

“Is that the Citicorp building?!”

Moore nodded.

“And I've got cybernetic grizzly bears tearing up the New York Stock Exchange...” He frowned a bit when I didn't laugh, “Come on? Bear Market? That's pretty good stuff.”

He brought the machines back into place, and I readied myself for the end. But he wasn't quite done yet. “Care for a little irony before the end there, chief?”

I shrugged my shoulders. Just get it over with you fat-ass commie...

“These robots,” he motioned to his metallic minions, “they're all made of genuine GM parts.”

He pushed another button, folded back into the darkness, and the machines moved in.