BothersomeThings

It’s not even the end of August, and I’m depressed about the onset of winter, and seasonal depression.

I agonize over every dollar I spend.

I feel poor, and I feel guilty for feeling poor, because I have a lot more than a lot of other people.

I always donate a dollar at registers if they are collecting for a cause and they ask me; I don’t donate if they don’t ask.

I tell myself I shouldn’t worry about what other people think of me, and I act like I don’t.

I worry about what other people think of me.

I think the people I work with think I don’t like them, because I come home for lunch instead of spending money on takeout.

I’m worried that one day they will stop asking me if I want to order anything, because I never do.

I have anxiety about silly things; I have a hard time ordering at a drive-thru if I’m not very familiar with the menu.

I’m anxious about meeting expectations; I worry a lot about “performance metrics.”

I’m going on a cruise and I’m more anxious about money than I am excited about going; I’m worried I won’t enjoy myself.

I worry about the cost of alcohol on the ship. I’m worried I won’t be able to drink what I want; I’m worried I’ll drink too much.

I’m on the nicotine patch again.

I’m afraid I won’t be able to quit smoking; I’m afraid of continuing to smoke.

I’m afraid of cancer.

I’m anxious that nobody will read this.

I’m anxious that someone will read this.

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Rest in Peace, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter

Rest in Peace, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.

 

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Bigotry and the Free Speech Smokescreen

In the wake of this Duck Dynasty debacle, a lot of people are coming out of the woodwork in support of free speech. Interestingly, the actual story that everyone is up in arms about has nothing to do with anyone’s first amendment rights being violated. In fact, this outpouring of support has nothing to do with championing constitutional rights at all, and everything to do with a tacit, if not overt, support of bigotry.

Recent public opinion polling regarding same-sex marriage and homosexual equality have put people who share Phil Robertson’s beliefs in an awkward position: while they are in the majority when it comes to religious identity, their bigoted opinions about homosexuality are becoming increasingly marginal and less socially acceptable. I’d be willing to bet that the majority of those clamoring in support of Phil Robertson would never say the things he did publicly, at least not in mixed company. More than a few of these people probably even have a gay friend or relative. If pressed on the issue, a lot of these people would probably give something akin to the morally ambiguous “love the sinner, hate the sin” response that I’ve heard more than a few times.

But when the chance arises to put another face on what amounts to an open support of bigotry, these people come out in droves. The straw man that this crowd rallies behind is almost always “Freedom of Speech.” They obfuscate what they really support by making the issue look as if it is about anyone’s right to say whatever they want.  As another blogger succinctly said:

“You are not some sort of “Patriot, fighting for the First Amendment rights of all Americans” if the only time you get upset about a person’s “rights being trampled” is when it happens to people who think exactly like you.”

Where is the outrage from these champions of free speech when arsonists attempt to burn down an atheist billboard in New Jersey? I read stories like this every year, and I have yet to see the same crowd championing Phil Robertson’s first amendment rights raise their voice in outrage over this sort of thing.

Let’s be honest here. This has nothing to do with “Free Speech” and everyone knows it. It has everything to do with showing support for a belief that is offensive and unpopular, a belief that most people don’t have the courage to express out loud themselves. You people who are hiding behind the smokescreen of free speech to show your support for a bigoted view of homosexuality are no better than clansmen, hiding under hoods while espousing racist propaganda.

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5 Things To Remember When Discussing This Duck Dynasty Mess

I’ve been thinking most of this all day. Well said.

The Boeskool

“Just when I thought I was out…. They pull me back in.” ~ Michael Corleone

If you haven’t already heard, you will shortly: A&E has suspended some dude (I don’t know what his name is, and I really don’t even care enough to Google it) from the show Duck Dynasty for some offensive comments he made about homosexuals in an interview with GQ. I’m not going to focus on what was said in the interview…. If you care, you can read the whole interview HERE, or you can read some of the homophobic highlights HERE. Myself? I really don’t care what he said. There is absolutely nothing surprising or noteworthy about an old, white, southern, Christian hunter being grossed out about gay sex or believing that all the gays are going straight to Hell. There is nothing rare about this.

There is also nothing surprising or noteworthy about…

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Buy our product to keep this non-existent problem from happening to you (most of the time).

How many times has this happened to you: after finishing your business in the washroom, you look down and find to your dismay that little pieces charmin-bearsof the off-brand toilet paper you are using are stuck all over your ass. If you answered “never; this has never happened to me,” well then you and I have something in common. If this is a real problem and I’m in the minority  here, then I guess I should be thankful that I’ve somehow dodged this bullet with my bottom-shelf toilet paper.

Regardless of my own experiences, these Charmin Ultra commercials, with their creepy, toilet-paper-using bears, insist that this is in fact a very real problem. However, they don’t make a very compelling argument for me to switch to their product, because they don’t even claim that their over-priced product eliminates this issue that I suspect they made up just to sell toilet paper. Their ad only guarantees that this product will leave fewer pieces behind than some other brand, not the absolutely no pieces left behind that I already enjoy with my current, and considerably cheaper, brand.

I guess the guys over at Charmin are just trying to cover their asses (see what I did there?), not wanting to make some outrageous “no pieces left behind” claim and then later face litigation from irate consumers with little pieces of toilet paper stuck to their bums. You may be thinking, “That’s crazy. Who would sue over such a thing?” It turns out that the makers of Cottonelle would sue over such a thing. In fact, they “challenged [Procter & Gamble] to prove that the cartoon bears’ experience with Charmin was realistic.” I can see why the Cottonelle folks are up in arms about this, since their R&D department have apparently given up on the notion of “fewer pieces left behind” toilet paper as a scientific impossibility. Which of course explains why recent Cottonelle ads are all about selling us on a two part, baby wipe and toilet paper solution to this non-existent problem.  

And don’t even get me started on the latest Quilted Northern commercials, where the little girl is giving her younger sibling a lecture about the virtues of Quilted Northern, complete with a compression strength demonstration. If I walked into my daughter’s room and saw this happening, I would wonder where we went wrong as parents. I’m sure at that point how many Lego bricks my toilet paper could hold before ripping wouldn’t even be on my radar. 

I don’t know where I was going with all of this. I guess I’m just frustrated by advertising that invents a problem and then provides me with a solution. I’m frustrated that it apparently works too,  since someone somewhere has a job spending money inventing these issues that none of us should even give a shit about.

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Haunted Houses, Then and Now.

It’s that time of year when signs for ‘haunted houses’ and ‘haunted trails’ start popping up all over the place. There are dozens of these things nowadays. There were a lot fewer options in the haunted house/trail department when I was a kid, but I think there is a quality over quantity argument to be made as well.

Maybe I’ve just had the wrong haunted house experiences of late, but in recent years the few haunted houses and haunted trails I have been to have been sorely lacking. It seems like the majority of these things consist of nothing more than people in masks jumping out from behind obstacles and yelling at you. Furthermore, it seems like this is all arbitrary, with no theme (other than jumping out from behind things) tying anything together.

When I was younger, I can remember the best haunted houses being more theatrical than this. There were rooms with themes, and the people in masks had dialogue and acted out scenes. There was a tour guide who set the stage with a spooky narrative. A lot of the time there were people jumping out from behind things as well, but at least there was some kind of story behind the jumping.

When I was in Junior High, I went to the best haunted house I have ever been through. It was called “The House of Michael Myers.” It was based on the “Halloween” movies, obviously (not Shrek or Wayne’s World). This particular haunted house was rather unique, because it was set up in an old abandoned house that use to sit along the main street of my home town. This was perfect, because anyone who lived there already considered this house to be haunted.  The tour guide was “Dr. Loomis,” and he set the stage before the tour by reciting creepy dialogue from the movie: “I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes.”

It was terrifying.

The tour itself consisted mainly of our group being placed in a scene – a girl is babysitting some children watching a movie with some popcorn Dr. Loomisor talking to a friend on the phone when it suddenly goes dead – and then Michael Myers busting in wielding a butcher knife as we ran to the next room. The tour ended with the group descending a flight of stairs that led to a small foyer, near the exit (which happened to be the same door the tour started at). At this point Michael Myers comes down a hallway, and after a few moments of trying to reason with him Dr. Loomis fires a cap gun at him several times before opening the door and imploring everyone to flee.

One time when I went on this tour – I must have went through this house a dozen times – I was with my friend Marky. Marky was tall and stout; you might say he was portly, meaning he was fat. He was a big kid, that’s what I’m getting at. Emotions were still running pretty high when we reached the bottom of that stairwell, and freedom was right behind that door – which was right behind Dr. Loomis. Marky wasn’t much of a gambling man, so when he saw ole’ Michael Myers coming down that hallway he wasn’t interested in taking any chances with Dr. Loomis and his questionable sidearm, no sir. Marky shoved poor Loomis straight at Michael mid-monologue and frantically threw open the door, freeing our tour group in a hysteric stampede. And even though Michael Meyers dropped his butcher knife so he could help keep a staggering Dr. Loomis from crashing headlong into the floor (what a nice guy after all!) the whole experience was still scary as hell.

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Shit Happens

I’m firing on all cylinders right now. I feel like I need to create things. To make things, with my brain.

And, it’s gone. 

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Creative Writing: The Storm

I started this piece a few years ago, but left it unfinished. I had a good idea of how I wanted it to begin and end, it was just that pesky middle part that I could never sort out. I still feel like this is a work in progress, but now it has a beginning, a middle, and an end, so I thought I would share it. Feel free to leave any constructive criticisms you have in the comments section.

The Storm

Jesse could see the squall line approaching.  It was about two miles away; the dark thunderheads looming over Spencer’s Ridge.  He could see thin tendrils reaching down from the clouds, threatening to churn themselves into twisters.  Overhead the sky was still clear and blue, but the wind was gusting.  Miniature cyclones of dust twisted across the farm, and Jesse had to shield his eyes.  The last of the animals were now sheltered in the barn, but Jesse lingered before returning to the farmhouse.  He stood mesmerized by the maelstrom in the distance, where blue sky gave way to blackness.

He stared out at Spencer’s Ridge.  It was ironic that the ridge still bore the family name, even though his family hadn’t owned that land in his lifetime.  Some seventy years ago, the Spencer’s had owned practically all he could see from where he now stood.  Now all that was left were the few acres that the banks and the gas company hadn’t been able to pry away from Jesse’s father.

“Jesse! Jesse, hurry!”

Jesse turned and looked to where Maggie stood, her figure a dark silhouette in the screen door, obscuring the small kitchen beyond.  Jesse looked at her and imagined her as the young girl she had been fifteen years ago, before they were married.

“Jesse, please hurry!”

Jesse looked towards the approaching storm one last time before making his way back to the house.  “I’m coming,” he shouted.

Inside, a small weather radio sat on the counter near the door, broadcasting weather bulletins with monotone indifference. Two flashlights, an old Coleman lantern, a first aid kit, and a jug of water were arrayed on the kitchen table.  Jesse chuckled a little when he saw these last two items.

“Hush you,” Maggie said. “You know how I hate these storms.”

“Never hurts to be prepared, I suppose,” Jesse said, though he wondered what use a first aid kit would be in a tornado.        “Bet you wish you were already down your mother’s place,” Jesse said.

“Not now, Jesse. Let’s not do that now.”

“Just sayin, sounds like the storm’ll miss them completely.”

Maggie studied him for a moment.  “Take these down to the cellar; I’m gonna go fetch some blankets.”

Jesse gathered the supplies and stepped back outside.  The storm was closer now, and fast approaching.  Jesse could hear the wind-chimes out front clashing angrily, and the tiny windmill by Maggie’s flower garden looked as if it were about to take flight.  This really could be a bad one, he thought as he made his way to the cellar.

The left door to the storm cellar was newer than the right, Jesse knew, although both were now weathered almost identically.  He could remember helping his father replace it when a storm had torn it from its hinges years ago.  He remembered his father had smashed his thumb with the hammer.  That was the first time he had heard anyone say “fuck,” and he had been startled by the power and emotion of the exclamation.  A week later, Jesse used the new word after accidentally smashing a plate on the floor.  Jesse’s mother looked at him as if she had been struck dumb.  Without a word she hauled him into the bathroom and shoved a bar of soap into his mouth.  Later that night, Jesse remembered his parents fighting, and knew it had all started because of that word.

Setting down the supplies, Jesse pulled on the cellar door.  It resisted at first, and then threatened to throw him to the ground as the wind grabbed it.  Jesse grabbed his load and descended the stairs, pulling the chain to turn on the light as he went.  He could hear Maggie on the stairs behind him.

“Hurry, Jesse,” Maggie said over the sound of the wind and the weather radio she now carried, along with the blankets.

Outside, the sky was now dark and fierce.  Thunder boomed in the distance and cracks of lightning split the sky on the horizon. Rain began to fall as Jesse struggled with the cellar door, soaking him in seconds. With a final heave Jesse closed the door with a crash, and barred it behind him.

“This place is a mess,” Maggie said.  And then, looking at Jesse: “You’re soaked.”

“I’ll dry,” he said.

Jesse looked around the cellar.  It was untidy, sure, but hardly what he would call a mess.  Several tools hung from nails and pegs along one wall, while the opposite wall held shelves lined with jars and containers. A workbench dominated the back wall, and an old sofa sat in one corner.  Many of the items here had once been his father’s, a few his grandfather’s.

“It smells musty down here.”

“I like the smell,” Jesse said.

Maggie was arranging the blankets she had brought on the old sofa. She had placed the weather radio on the workbench.

“You can turn that off now, you know, the storm’s already here,” said Jesse.

“It makes me feel safe.”

“Sure bet you wish you were down your mother’s,” Jesse said again.

“Do we have to do this again? I wish you’d quit sayin that.”

“What else we s’pose ta do,” Jesse asked, less casually than he would have liked.  “Besides, we may not get another chance,” Jesse said, looking at the ceiling as a peel of thunder shook the joists.

“God damn it, don’t say that shit.”

“I’m sorry,” said Jesse.

He looked at her in the harsh light of the hanging bulb. He could still see the young girl he had married, but he could also see the tell-tale crow’s feet and laugh lines that had begun to crease her soft features.  Jesse took a step forward, and then hesitated.

“I’m sorry,” he said again, giving the words all the weight he could muster, “for everything.”

“Nuthin your fault,” Maggie said, busying herself with the blankets.

“Ain’t it, though?” Jesse asked.

Jesse turned and began fiddling with an old carburetor that was lying on his workbench.  The radio droned out another severe weather advisory.

“I could go down to the community college, take some courses,” Jesse said.

“In what?” Maggie asked. “What are you gonna do?”

“I reckon whatever it is that folks do in the cities.”

“Don’t even start, Jesse. You know it’s too late for that.”

Outside the wind howled, and rain battered against the cellar window. Lightning flashed.

Jesse tossed the carburetor aside. “Well what the fuck do you want me to do,” he yelled, surprised by the sudden onrush of anger. Maggie began to cry.

“I don’t want you to do nuthin, Jesse. Not anymore.”

“Well what in the hell did you want me to do then?” Jesse yelled, wishing he weren’t yelling but unable to stop.

“Anything. Something. I don’t know. But we use to talk about doing things. Leavin’ this place, headin’ west, openin’ a diner; we use to talk about doin’ lots of things. Now we barely talk at all.”

“You know I couldn’t leave, not after dad got sick.”

“Maybe not right then, but he’s been dead nearly fifteen years and you still haven’t left.”

“So I’m just supposed to leave? Just let the banks have the farm?” Jesse paced the floor with nervous energy. He probably would have gone out to the barn, if he weren’t trapped by the storm.

“Yes, damn it! You shoulda sold this place years ago, when it was still worth somethin. This farm was your father’s passion, not yours. It’s just been an excuse for you all these years, a responsibility you gave yourself to hide behind.”

“I guess I just go comfortable. Thought you would too.”

“I never forgot about our plans, our dreams.”

“We were young, that was just talk.”

“Not to me!” Maggie shouted. Lightening flashed outside, and thunder shook the joists again. “Not to me,” Maggie said again, softly.

Jesse sighed. He gathered up the pieces of the carburetor he had scattered earlier, still unsure what to do with himself. The cellar felt like it was closing in around him.

“I love you,” Jesse said.

“Do ya? More’n you love that carburetor you’re fiddlin with?”

Jesse looked down at the carburetor, and at his grimy fingernails. He didn’t know what to say. He looked at Maggie. “I do love you,” he said weakly.

Lightning split the sky again, and the light bulb flickered overhead.  Maggie drew closer as the storm raged above them. “We been through this, an you know I can’t stay here no more,” she said.

“We could go on vacation, back to the grand canyon if you wanted,” Jesse said. The words were frail and hollow sounding.

“That’s just more dirt and rocks,” Maggie said.  “I’m not gonna stay here and watch this place kill you. I just-”

Thunder shook the house, and Maggie shrieked. The electricity went out. Jesse grabbed a flashlight and handed it to Maggie, who was now clutching his arm. He then set to work getting the old lantern to light.

“Jesse, I’m scared.”

“Lantern will be on in just a second…”

Maggie pushed in close to Jesse, holding onto his shoulder while shining light onto the lantern. Jesse gave the reservoir a few pumps and then lit the mantels; soft light flooded the cellar. Jesse turned and pulled Maggie close, and she nestled her head into his shoulder.

“I do love you,” Maggie said.

“I know,” said Jesse.

Lightning flashed. Rain battered the window.

“I’m still leaving tomorrow,” Maggie said.

“I know,” said Jesse.

As the storm raged outside, Jesse and Maggie held each other in silence. There was nothing left to say. They held each other, and they waited for the storm to pass.

 

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Cigarettes: A Love Story

Ahh, cigarettes.

Ours was a classic high school romance. We met one another at a young age and I was smitten. Cigarettes made me feel cool, like I belonged to an elite and discriminating club. We were inseparable; we went everywhere and did everything together. There was never any doubt that cigarettes and I would grow old together (probably not as old as non-smokers would grow, but relatively old). Then, a few years ago, cigarettes became abusive. I suppose it was easy to ignore at first because I loved cigarettes so much. I started to get winded after climbing a flight of stairs, I started coughing in the morning. This is just a phase, I thought. Cigarettes might not even be at fault! I would tell myself, “you don’t exercise regularly and you don’t have the healthiest of diets, right?”

But when I started wheezing at night, and needing my wife’s asthma inhaler, I couldn’t ignore the problem anymore. Unfortunately, you can’t just change your phone number or get a restraining order against cigarettes. And so, for about a year now, I’ve had a rocky, on-again-off-again relationship with cigarettes. For awhile I experimented with everyone’s newest darling, the e-cigarette, and found that while it helped me cut down on smoking real cigarettes, it was an inferior replacement and did nothing to break that hand to mouth habit that comes with a lifelong addiction to smoking. After I fell off that wagon I turned to the nicotine patch, and after a couple of months I was completely nicotine free. I stayed that way for a few more months, and was finally starting to feel like I was done with cigarettes for good. I was wrong.

I would still see cigarettes often, of course: they were hanging out at parties, having a good time with my friends. Eventually I decided to give one a try, for old time’s sake, and we had a wonderful time. The next day I was back to being a non-smoker. No harm done, right? I managed to convince myself that I could just see cigarettes on the weekends, while I was out having a few beers. We didn’t have to “go steady” or anything; we could just keep it casual. I should have known that a relationship like this with an old lover like cigarettes wouldn’t work out, and it didn’t. I was back to smoking full-time again after a few weeks of one night stands. The abuse started up again almost immediately. I couldn’t breathe at night; I couldn’t stop coughing in the morning.

Now I’m in a kind of “holding pattern.” I started the patches again, but I’ve still been seeing cigarettes on the weekends. There is a rational voice in my head that knows cigarettes will kill me if I let them, but often that voice is frail and feeble in the face of my addiction. I don’t think that using nicotine patches most of the time and smoking occasionally is a viable long-term plan, but it’s the best I’ve been able to manage so far with this cessation attempt. That has to change, so I’ve told myself that I’m not going to smoke this weekend.

Wish me luck.

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Red Herrings and Sweeping Generalizations

“Funny thing about weekends when you’re unemployed, they don’t mean quite so much. Except you get to see your workin’ friends” – Les Claypool

 

I feel like I see things differently than most people, and I blame this on my English Degree. When I see the new sign at the mall that reads “Wifi Now Available in Every Corner of the Mall,” I picture crowds of people congregating wherever two walls meet, trying to harness the new “corner wifi” signal. I’m incapable of reading a sign or an advertisement or a potato chip bag without dissecting and analyzing it (What does the author mean when he says: “Now with more flavor in every bite!” Did they originally try putting more flavor in only a few bites? How would that work? Also, did I just refer to the person who wrote the text for this potato chip bag as an author?). I’m pretty sure that this is a terminal condition, and that one day I’ll see a billboard like the one below and my belt will snap off its flywheel for good:

il·lit·er·ate  adj. 1. Unable to read and write.

il·lit·er·ate
adj.
1. Unable to read and write.

 

But, I suppose I have to take the good with the bad. Being an English Major also taught me a great deal about thinking critically, citing sources, and avoiding logical fallacies. Basically, I feel smarter, just not in a way that can immediately and obviously be linked to a source of potential employment. A lot of other college graduates have the advantage of getting an education in a field that has a career named after it, which in hindsight seems like a solid strategy. If anyone reading this is contemplating a major right now, forget all of this nonsense about “English” or “Cultural Studies” and go for something less abstract, like “architect” or “zip line tour guide.” The truth is that most of us English Majors have no idea what we want to do after college, we just know we like to read books and that we’re terrible at math. Psychology Majors are the same way; They don’t have a clear idea of what they want to do either, but they also have a nagging suspicion that they may be crazy, so psychology sounds like a good way to maybe tackle two issues at once. Us English Majors, by contrast, didn’t have to do any upper level coursework to find out if we were crazy or not – we knew the answer to that question a long time ago.

Yes: we’re crazy.

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