Friday, August 7, 2009

On the practicalities of the search in infinite possibilities for true love, and on farts

I was sitting in the Library yesterday, reading, quiet. The woman sitting to my left was not as quiet. I don't know what she was doing; I wasn't ballsy enough to look over (Zounds!), but I do remember thinking, right at that moment, that she and I could never be happy together. That struck me as sad. Sure it's only one person, but still, to say that a human being that God made, loved by her friends and family, could never make me happy - that's a little sad, isn't it?

It was because she was doing this weird snerking thing, like she was sort of trying to clear her sinuses but then also her throat at the same time. And I was sitting there, trying to focus on my book, rereading a longish periodic sentence to find an especially tricky antecedent and- SNERRK! That did it for me.

But I don't give up hope (who am I kidding, of course I do); I know that it is possible to find the perfect someone, because my brother just did. The day after tomorrow, my family and I leave for his wedding in California. And we're driving, which is equal parts exciting, daunting, and gastrointestinally intimidating. Snakes on a Plane haven't got jack on Farts in a Car.

That reminds me of another long family roadtrip, ten years or so back, to Denver, I think, when we passed through Nebraska. Have you ever been to Nebraska? The whole state smells. It's really unbelievable. It's marvelous. Seriously, from border to border, the state of Nebraska is covered by a blanket of dry fart. It's like South Dakota just gave it a Dutch oven. We got out in some podunk town to hit up bathrooms, and for the first five minutes, I was convinced that everyone else in my family was emitting a constant stream of flatus - I think we all thought that. But as the time dragged on and we realized that no one can fart for twelve minutes straight, the sad truth soaked into our consciousness like the butt-dust into our clothes and hair: this town always smelled like doody.

Back in the car, on the highway, with the air on recycle, we tried to shake fart smell out of our shirts and wondered what it would be like for someone who grew up in a town like that. What happens when Charlie Jim ships off to college, opens his suitcase and pollutes his dorm with the stored smell of dry shucked taint? And does Charlie Jim ever come back once he's gotten a whiff of the outside world?

But I guess there are some things that just don't bother some people as much as they bother other people (me). That's why there can be towns and states full of Charlie Jims and why even though I could never bear to love the woman at the library, maybe there's someone out there who can. Still though, dude, yuck.

Monday, March 30, 2009

It's the attitude

I’m always interested to hear from or read stories of the Free Spirits. There are people whose MO is to bounce around through life, from job to job, relationship to relationship, sometimes family to family. And with the bolstering provided by 20th century art from Kerouac to Bridget Jones, the Free Spirit attitude is becoming more and more popular.

I have considered myself to have something of a Free Spirit streak for a long time. It’s a secret pride of mine that gives me a special balanced feeling in the face of my orthodox convictions and traditionalist bent. It’s something I can grab onto where no one else can see, whenever the dull, hard, traditional life becomes more than I think I can handle. And when my fingers touch it, the Free Spirit streak that I carry at the small of my back, I become part of a special club that no one around me knows about, a club to which no one I love belongs.

That’s why I have long hair and smoke cigarettes, and why loneliness gives me a secret melancholy delight. It’s a much more sophisticated attitude, of course, than that of a teenager who says no one understands him; it says, “some people understand me – you’re just not one of them.” Then it blows a confident thin stream of smoke and turns away, bored.

It whispers to you about long road trips with the sunroof rolled back and the music playing, about the big beauty of mountains and the crisp glitz of cities, New York and Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles. You listen with a heartbeat only slightly elevated and then whisper back about sitting on a park bench watching people and feeling like yourself, and about standing on a bridge watching the water twist beneath you. It pulls your eyes to the stars, clashing splashed in the dark, ventures on the potential of sound in space. You spin around with your arms extended, dizzy, seize its hand and walk through crowds where the women’s eyes are dark and their teeth are white, where your old best friend’s favorite song plays and one girl you thought you’d never see again presses against your side.

That glamor diffuses the feeling of uselessness that smacks most people in the face from time to time. It makes it possible to take on life all at once, every moment from now until forever, planned in various vaguenesses with the overarching security of having no limits, no boundaries. It encourages you to jump at life and swallow it whole, promises you that you are bigger than the world. It transcends the day-to-day and moment-to-moment modes of living and supplants the ordinary with the promise of guaranteed extraordinariness. And all you have to do is believe. All you have to do is tell yourself that you are a Free Spirit and the universe opens in front of you like a flower.

When I’m walking down the street and I remember that feeling, I have to straighten my shoulders, smile then frown for appearance’s sake, and pat myself on the back, the small of my back.

It loves when you pat yourself on the back.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

25 Questions

I saw this going around with a few mothers of young children, and thought a new perspective might be interesting. So I asked the 25 questions to my brother Ed, who is 20, but sometimes acts like he's two (who doesn't?). The answers:

1. What is something mom always says to you?
Get a job.
2. What makes mom happy?
When I do my chores
3. What makes mom sad?
When I sleep in too late
4. How does your mom make you laugh?
When she's sassy
5. What did your mom like to do when she was a child?
Ride her bike
6. How old is your mom?
7. How tall is your mom?
5'8" 5'6" I dunno, 5'10" ... 5'9"!
8. What is her favorite thing to watch on TV?
Biggest Fattest
9. What does your mom do when you’re not around?
take a nap
10. What is your mom really good at?
Spider solitaire
11. What is your mom not very good at?
12. What does your mom do for her job?
Takes care of the family
13. What is your mom favorite food?
Roasted beast
14. What makes you proud of your mom?
Her smarts
15. If your mom were a cartoon character, who would she be?
Fiona's mom
16. What do you and your mom do together?
Make dinner and eat dinner
17. How are you and your mom the same?
We're both smart
18. How are you and your mom different?
She has more common sense
19. How do you know your mom loves you?
She helps me with stuff
20. What does your mom like most about your dad?
His hard-workingness, his hard work, his work habits
21. Where is your mom’s favorite place to go?
22. What is one thing you wish you could change about your mom?
Her computer-savviness
23. What would your mom do with a million dollars?
Help pay off her kids' student loans
24. What do you wish you could go and do with your mom?
Go shopping
25. What is one thing you hope never changes about your mom?
Her awareness of human nature.

A charming mix of childishness and childishness, I thought.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My dream

"Wouldn't it be neat if your life had a soundtrack?" That's what people say.

I respond, "yeah, it would be ok. Although I think my soundtrack would consist of Funky Cold Medina on repeat."

I had a dream that I was the featured entertainment at by older sister's graduation party - doing stand-up comedy, which of course I've never done. I remember I got up in front of the twenty-or-so people there, inconveniently gathered in front of my garage, and started into my prepared beginning.

"What's up dudes?" I said, and then closer to the mic so it crackled loud with reverb. "What's up dudes?"

I put my hands on the podium and leaned close, close to the mic. "I'm going to do my best Dane Cook impression... and get saliva ALL OVER this podium," I said. Scattered laughs.

"People told me I was going to be nervous, and they were right. They told me I'd freeze like a deer in the headlights up here. So seriously, all you, and especially the people in the front couple rows... please don't point a car at me."

And that's all I remember of my monologue. But I made that shit up in my sleep. That's the funniest thing I've done while unconscious since I peed in this girl's bed in college. Just kidding, sort of.

But seriously, do you ever remember making up an original joke in a dream? Am I special? Please God, let me be special.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Pregnant Moments

There are moments when everything comes together, and there are moments when everything, it seems, falls apart. And the two develop with such similarity that sometimes you can’t tell which one it is until it has passed. You have a vague feeling that this is important, that what happens next will make a difference, and an image comes to mind of a pot boiling over. There was no way to keep a slow explosion like this from happening, only, maybe, to determine whether this will be a moment when everything comes together or when everything falls apart. But it’s usually too late to make that difference. You just watch it happen. Times like these give new meaning to the word momentous.

The world is a stage, and all men are players on it. In other words, life is very shallow. That shallowness is often captured in the moments that turn worse, the moments when everything falls apart. We had ourselves a play within the play, and it was fun, maybe because we could hide our shallowness by making fun of it, the way junior high kids in the locker room act about modesty. It was a theme party that we had in our room, and the theme was “Thank God I’m not...” Everyone came dressed up as something he was glad not to be. By consensus, the best costume was the girl’s who came dressed up as pregnant. It was a pretty simple costume, just a blanket stuffed under her shirt. We had fun, we played cards, we drank Peroni and Prinz beer from Leon. We listened to music, and sang some, but nobody danced.

Hamlet was there, dressed as Claudius. We all thought that was pretty clever. Claudius was the one who killed his dad. Ha ha. He played cards some of the time, but he didn’t talk much, just sat there with a beer. But he was cool. We were like him. But later on, as we were playing quarters (my team won – I’m pretty good at quarters), I noticed that Hamlet was killing Claudius. I hadn’t even noticed when Claudius came in, dressed up as the older Hamlet. That was pretty clever, too. It looked like a re-enactment of the first murder. And Hamlet was stronger, too; he had Claudius down, pinned with a green chair we had borrowed from another room. He was strangling his step-father. I was shocked, but I couldn’t look away.

And then, he reached up to the shelf above his head and grabbed Jake’s butterfly knife from Athens. I tried to breathe in, but I couldn’t. My stomach felt like I was on a roller coaster, but I couldn’t speak. No one else noticed; they were playing quarters, Then Hamlet stabbed Claudius in the side of the head, right through the ear. Claudius screamed. I have never heard a noise like that, low and long and cracking. And Hamlet cut his throat – I was surprised that the knife didn’t go very deep. But there was so much blood. It leaked out of his old, wrinkled neck, and got all over the floor. At least we had a towel that we used for spilled beer from the drinking games. Hamlet was playing the part he was dressed for, killing Claudius like Claudius had killed his father.

By this time of night (the murder had somehow taken about two hours), the quarters were done (did I mention that I’m good at quarters?). Look at the costumes around me. Fill your eyes. Thank God I’m not pregnant. Thank God I’m not suicidal. Thank God I’m not retarded. Each person is a horrible image, a reminder of sin. Our sin. The whole point is that we’re glad not to be any of these things. It would be a bad thing if we looked like this. So let’s look like this.

She still has a blanket under her shirt. But is the slight imperfection in her makeup intentional? She has just a little too much lipstick on the top left part of her mouth. And her ponytail is not well held together; there are wisps of hair falling around her face. And it strikes me, hard, that she looks tired. There are huge bags under her eyes, and her back slumps, but she is always trying to smile, or at least showing her teeth, trying to please and to look very pleased. She looks like an unwed mother. And she’s wearing a tube top. A smallish tube top. This girl, who has made herself pregnant, either by her lust or by her dressing up, still thinks it’s important to look sexy. Sexy?

“I have a major crush on that guy,” this girl tells me, in honest confidence. You have too much makeup on, you’re wearing a slutty little shirt, and you’re pregnant. I guess that fits. Are these costumes. The suicidal guy is trying to play chess drunk. And it really is an exercise in self-destruction. He loses twice, then quits.

Hamlet killed Claudius. I guess I’ll have to clean that up tomorrow. And I am dressed up as “Thank God I’m not retarded.” But I am. I have too much to drink. Again.

The pregnant girl tries to kiss “that guy” while they’re “wrestling.” It doesn’t happen. She picks a fight with her roommate. I didn’t see it happen, but her roommate, dressed up as “Thank God I don’t give a shit,” is screaming and crying pretty soon. “Thank God I’m not turns into “No, I actually am” one more time.

I meet the pregnant girl on her way out of my room. She is on the verge of tears, and I comfort her. She gives me a hug, which is rather awkward because of her distended belly, and says, “Thank you, Joe.” And I am not revolted by everything about this situation for the same reason I don’t really mind that “Don’t give a shit” is breaking open house hours in my room. Because I’m retarded.

The girl in my room will be led away soon, and offered a place to sleep in another guy’s room. He thanks God he’s not still in high school. I don’t know. Find the poetry in that.

The night is over, and more than over. Over the course of the party, the only people who danced were two girls on their way in from Rome. They were dressed up as themselves, but they weren’t themselves. They were horribly drunk.

I don’t even know where the girl dressed up as the “baby’s father” went. She took off when all the drama started, and no one’s seen her since.

When I wake up the next morning, Claudius’s body is gone. There is no blood, just a lot of empty bottles, and quarters glued to the table with dried up excess. The two girls remember that they had a fight the night before, but they honestly cannot remember what it was about. I am not retarded any more. Or maybe I am... I don’t know.

Hamlet had one of those turning point moments when he decided to kill Claudius. And his, like ours, was one where everything falls apart. He had a play within the play, like us, and became his enemy... when to create the moments when everything comes together, all you have to do is tell the truth. Because being pregnant, being retarded, are occasions for grace, calls to special sainthood. But not like that.

So the world is a stage, and all men players on it. In other words, drama is very deep. And in the same way that the shallowness of life can be captured in the moments when everything falls apart, the depth of drama can be captured in a moment when everything comes together. Like this moment.

Just like the party, the play, was a moment when everything fell apart, remembering the party was when everything came together, like an examination of conscience. Before the party, it seemed like everything was set up right, like things made sense, but it was the opposite. And before remembering the party, it seemed like all there was to realize was failure. But in one long, slow explosion, all the failure boiled over, to reveal what really was. And that must be encouraging.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Today I saw a post by the vibrant and witty Chelsea of Chelsea Talks Smack that really summarized the attitudes of most (or at least many) "twenty-somethings" toward Catholicism. I'd encourage you to read it; it gives a good sense of the overwhelming mindset of our demographic - how we relate to orthodoxy, and what we mean by tolerance.

Liberal-minded young people take great satisfaction in the virtue of their own tolerance: they accept anyone and everyone for who they are, no matter what they do, accept an infinite plurality of separate but equal truths, and in short, strive to annihilate a system of values which could hurt someone's feelings - which could, God forbid, judge someone. Whether this is primarily a self-defense mechanism, to protect themselves from judgment, especially self-judgment, is a good question for another time.

Instead, I'd like to focus on the prevalent attitude among these twenty-something liberals toward those people who disagree, those people who subscribe to (the liberals would say manufacture) the system of absolute values. Like Catholics.

Chelsea mocked the Catholic practice of praying for God's mercy on the soul of the deceased at a funeral.

Now let's forget the question of whether they're right - we'd be here all day. Instead let's just imagine that some people, doddering old fools though they may be, believe in praying for God's mercy - believe all the Catholic hocus-pocus and mumbo jumbo. Let's imagine they believe that God is all-powerful and all-loving, and that one's relationship with him is all that matters. Won't those poor old fools want to pray to him? Want to pray for his mercy, and pray that their recently deceased loved one can enjoy the glory of his presence forever?

And won't an open-minded, tolerant, compassionate soul, even one who knows the old farts are way off-base, allow them the measure of comfort they gain from their silly rituals? Won't the tolerant, fresh-faced, future of America allow them unbegrudgingly the practice of their separate but equal beliefs?

Because if the young liberal refuses such magnanimity, which I find to be the case more often than not, he or she should take a closer look at the mantle of all-inclusive pan-religious tolerant peaceability he or she is wearing. And he or she might find that it's actually a mask and cape of militant atheism.

In which case, the escape from self-judgment has led to self-delusion, and the courage to face down tradition has led to cowardice which perverts good, tolerant intentions against themselves.

Friday, February 6, 2009

25 Things

1. When this note-writing frenzy started two weeks ago, I thought it was stupid and lame with a capital A. But then no one tagged me. And no one continued to tag me. And I started thinking... "anybody?" It was like sour grapes in reverse.

2. I think chick music can be angry sometimes, like Kelly Clarkson or Alanis Morissette, and it's just kinda cute, like "ooh, you're angry, arentcha? grrrr!" and you kind of pat their head and laugh and then dance your butt off. But when guys sing angry music, it inevitably comes off whiny. Even when they think it's shouty, it's still actually whiny.

3. I used to hate Brussels sprouts, asparagus, wine and spaghetti, but now I love them. I used to hate eggplant too, but I don't know if I like it, because who ever eats eggplant?

4. Studying many diverse subjects in college helped my Trivial Pursuit game.

5. After my baseball coach caught me climbing from balcony to balcony outside the third floor of our hotel rooms in California at 3:00 am in my underwear, he still let me pitch the next day.

6. When I was three years old or so, I sometimes ate sticks of butter, and once, confused, I took a bite of a bar of soap.

7. When I started school, I prided myself on knowing every single swear word. I guess the soap didn't take.

8. Books are good, except Pulitzer prize winners, which suck a surprising amount of the time - like that "Guns, Germs and Steel" book: utter hogwash.

9. I haven't thrown up from the flu since I was five.

10. I was 5'6" as a freshman in high school, and made money by betting several classmates (who were all of 5'10") that I would be taller by graduation. I grew a foot, cashed in, and then tried the same thing in college, except I bet that I would have more chest hair than my opponents by graduation. No one ever tells you this, but chest hair takes a looooong time to grow.

11. When someone tells me, "space and time are the same thing," or "God is three persons in one being," and I say, "oh, ok, yeah I can kinda see how that makes sense," am I faking it? Those things are supposed to be impossible to understand, so I guess I must be. Then again, if someone told me, "the square root of epic poetry is a bologna sandwich," I wouldn't say "yeah, that makes sense to me." Or I would, but I would say it while I was slowly backing away.

12. I think people take themselves too seriously. Like me, when I pester Ed, "should I shave my goatee or keep it? What do you think? Shave it or keep it? Do you think it makes me look older?" What a queer.

13. My mom and sister Cathy still like the show, "The Biggest Loser," but by means of constant subliminal repetition, we have trained them to call it "The Biggest Fattest" like the rest of us.

14. Whenever someone mentions the drink named a "hairy navel," I am quietly amused. And when someone mentions a "buttery nipple," I am quietly uncomfortable.

15. I am glad that the phrase "anal-retentive" can be shortened to "anal," with no loss of meaning, but sometimes it makes me think that "penal" is a dirty word, too. Like "fiduciary," and Uncle Joe's favorite swear, "Shih Tzu."

16. You know how a human being would explode in the vacuum of space because of the body's internal pressure? What if a human just pooped into space? Would it explode? No one can answer this to my satisfaction, and my mom won't let me poop in the vacuum cleaner to test my theory. I guess it's just one of life's mysteries, like why people like Shia LaBeouf.

17. Little Jackie "The Stoop" is my new favorite song. Or something.

18. My sister Julie was surprised that I could make gravy, and I was like bitch please, this is child's play and then my dad told me to watch my mouth and that only part of this story was true.

19. I can sympathize with masochism when I'm on the toilet. Anyone? Anyone? No?

20. Call me crazy, but I believe it is possible to love an ugly person. It requires intense concentration, and can only be achieved for brief intervals, but it is possible. But that's just my opinion. You could be right.

21. I think Ryan Seacrest, while a shade on the smarmy side, is vastly underrated and unappreciated. Boy can host a damn show.

22. Always remember that you are unique. Just like everybody else.

23. I could write in cursive when I was four years old. Or at least I used to think that I remembered that. I used to say I remembered being in the womb, too, but so many people have told me that's impossible that I don't know if I really remember it, or if it's a fake memory I've fabricated. They ask me what it was like and I say, "Umm... warm... dark," and I think I must be making it up. But then later, I remember that the most noticeable thing about it was there was no sense of up and down, or any direction, and hardly any sense of space at all. But then I don't know if I just made that up too.

24. I love chocolate milk and I love alcohol, but my attempts at a chocolate milk drink have invariably been disappointing. I guess a White Russian is as close as the human race can come to that particular perfection.

25. I don't know what to put for 25. Something about how I love my family because they're the best and pizza is my favorite food and baseball is the best sport and I get a kick out of you.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I believe that the second syllable of "buttock" should rhyme with "luck" not "lock"

"We live in uncertain times," I said to my brother tonight, and I think it's true enough as far as it goes. Barack Obama is our president, which some students of history are calling another step in the slide toward socialism. (As a quick aside, did you know that Obama's tax cut plan calls for more than 50% of the populace to pay no taxes (or less). Do you know what that means? That means that beginning with the advent of graduated income tax (thanks to the Progressive movement of the early 20th Century), and through the governmental gluttony of Wilson, FDR and LBJ, we have now created a voting majority who pay no taxes. Or are on welfare. Guess whether those folks are going to vote for Obama, who pays their bills (with our money), or some Republican. It's easy to say, "stick it to the fat cats," but what we're talking about here is the brink of class warfare, when the many can become a mob and take from the few... and, call me George Orwell, totalitarianism.

Yes, it's years away, certainly. But it's over 200 years closer than when Tocqueville saw the same thing coming.

I'm afraid that was a bit of a tangent, when I promised you a brief aside. These are uncertain times. I'm in a bit of a maelstrom myself, and a few of the people around me are paddling gamely through their own, and sometimes it seems like the Bermuda triangle because it's so marvelous.

How fast can you run?

How well can you spell?

If the meteor hits tomorrow, whose bra will you grab?

Do you know how to dance?

Can you explain how calculus curves define the economic balance of the last thirty years?

Those are the questions that I'm interested in. And none of them are easier to answer than the next.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

30-second video spot

If you've got the time, I'd love to hear what you think of this. Love it? Hate it? Disrespectful? Ingenious? Misleading?

Don't be afraid to ruffle feathers.