In May of 2004, You Learned:
HOW TO HONOR YOUR COUNTRY.
I don't care if I did very little today aside from watching the last half-hour of Scarface and re-hanging a few prints in my stunning, New York Times Style Section-worthy remodeled apartment. It's funny, because I usually spend a great deal of time self-flagellating if I don't write for at least an hour or two each day. It's sort of an insane thing I do, knocking myself around like that, BUT ALL OF THAT REGRET, GUILT AND PUNISHMENT WILL MAKE ME WIN. (only if, by "win," i mean "die of lower g.i. cancer.")
Anyway, I wasn't bothered by my lack of discipline today, and not just because rehanging pictures can be forced into the "doing something" box if you're really cheating. Instead, I feel like I still came out on top solely because of an amazing ice cream choice I made yesterday and for which I reaped the benefits just a few minutes ago.
Uncle Louie G's is a local ice cream chain with franchise locations bookending my neighborhood from its northeast and southwest corners. They've other locations in Brooklyn, Manhattan and beyond, but I've always considered Brooklyn their home. In fact, the first time I enjoyed their ice cream was from one of their original (i think) locations far out on Coney Island Avenue. Horrible spot for ice cream. Really, it's a horrible spot for anything except perhaps vehicular manslaughter or O.D.ing on Dran-O. My optometrist took me there one night and, as we were licking the frost off a pair of fruit ices, he pointed to a spot across the street and said, "that's the police precinct where Abner Louima was sodomized." Delicious.
I love this franchise, mostly because it's not Haagen-Dazs. I would bet a lot of people would agree on this point, and favor its "little guy made good" flavor and relatively inexpensive portions. (I say relatively, because I just found out a fresh-packed pint is $4.75. New York City!) It's strange, because I really find myself wanting Uncle Louie G to win for self-imagined altruistic reasons – as if as an independent business owner he isn't going to let his profits go to his head. Like, somehow, because Louie G's employees are all teenaged around-the-way girls and his brand's edges are a little rougher than the typical multi-national ice cream chain, it makes him a local hero instead of a textbook capitalist. This belief, however, is difficult to reconcile with the giant yellow Humvee Uncle Louie G parks outside his Union Street franchise location. That Humvee says, "Guess what? I'm not exactly selling this ice cream at cost. Now get back on the curb, fat man." It's especially sorrowful since he clearly isn't really reinvesting his profits back into his brand. He's been making all sorts of sad and temporary business mistakes – Now Serving Hot Soups in the Winter! – and his logo (and brand identity) is still a piece of royalty-free clip-art from Microsoft. Others would argue that all of these sharply cut corners and short-sighted profit models are part of the brand's charms, but I can't help looking at that Humvee and thinking, Man, I know a lot of great illustrators who could freshen up your logo for a fraction of the $115,000 you spent on that urban military vehicle.
But I digress. Bottom line: Uncle Louie G fucks shit up ice cream style. He carries a great selection of flavors, and they all equally promote the production of thick, creamy mucous. I love it up. Plus, they allow you to mix flavors in a cup, cone, or pint at no extra cost. And yesterday I made a completely inspired choice: Banana Fudge Swirl COMBINED WITH Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch. As I announced my flavor combination, I saw the expression of young girl behind the counter shift dramatically. She became blanched, and looked not at me, but past me, as if at a vision of the Virgin Mother. When she was scooping the flavors I saw the pint bucket trembling in her hands.
Banana + Chocolate + Peanut Butter is unbeatable ice cream kung fu. And today, as I dug into it, the first few spoonfuls were sweet and rich, but also strangely salty. At first I naturally assumed it was the peanut butter, but this was a different kind of salt. It was almost a brine. I dragged a few more scoops up from the bottom of the container and held each taste on my tongue, feeling out the salt, trying to separate it from the other flavors. Suddenly, my muscles locked and the gigantic ice cream ladle dropped from my mouth. "The salt," I cried. "It's my own tears, my tears of joy." I was crying, and it was beautiful. So today I didn't write, but I remain completely satisfied.
HOW TO LOSE YOUR FLOW.
When I first heard the new Beastie Boys single, "Ch-Check It Out," I was unmoved. I think it's because I was focusing on their lyrical flow which was, as always, stank. I now realize it is the most important song ever written.
Of course, that's not true. But it has crept beneath my skin and nestled there. With every repeated listen, its hook makes me more and more stupid and glad for it. Damn them, because they're too old to be fresh, too cool to be cool. But bless them, too.
I have to admit I've got some issues with Adam Yauch aka MCA this time around. Yauch has officially forgotten how to write raps. Forget that the rhymes contain ideas no more complex than, "Rapping and rapping and rapping all the TIME/Trying to write the dopest RHYME/You like beer, I like WINE/I'm a PhD Dr. Rappenstein." I've come to expect that in their songs. But Yauch has fallen off. On this track he seems incapable of even adhering to the Beasties' simple rhyme flow formula: da da da da da da da da DA, and repeat. He's adding extra syllables, rushing off-beat, incapable of keeping pace. I guess it's hard to rap from the lotus position, or whatever crazy Buddhist shit he's gotten into.
Also, Adam Horowitz is eternally youthful. And also, Mike Diamond is not. Eat a cupcake, man. Mike D is looking Kafkaesque these days.
HOW TO PREPARE A NICE, TALL GLASS OF HATER-ADE.
People act surprised when they learn that I occasionally receive hate email. I am sure they are acting, because when I tell them about the hate email, they gasp and cup their hands to their mouths, whispering the word "watermelon" over and over again. Some of them faint on masking tape "X"s I've placed on the floor. Others drop to their knees, clutching their recently murdered fiancée, and scream, "Why, God? Why? Nietzsche was right!!!!" It's maybe a little over the top.
I would love to say the hate email never bothers me, and it shouldn't be hard to let it roll off, since most of the sentiments are laced with profanity, deliberately anonymous (no return email address) or just obviously sub-literate. (Coincidentally, that last sentence is straight out of the press release for tremble.com.) I mean, how do you respond to an email like "you [sic] sight [sic] sux. to [sic] much scrolling. fuck u forever please OK."?
Anyhow, I'm not writing this to show everyone how sensitive I am to your slings and arrows. I'm not seated at my desk in the inky blackness of the night, tugging my sweater sleeves way past my fingertips, stroking my beautiful gossamer wings. I'm not looking for positive reinforcement, or some kind of understanding about what personality flaw causes someone to just fire off a random piece of hatemail without making delineating the hatred in a way that can be easily scanned and comprehended. Instead, I'd like to take this opportunity to help you write better hate emails so next time I get one from you I won't just think, "what a retard." I'll think, "Say, this retard has a point! A+!!"
The Personal Touch
I realize the Internet has made it effortless to fire off sentiments, "Your [sic] a dochebag [sic]." And I think that's great! It's wonderful to express yourself with words you accidentally made by banging on your keyboard with an empty Coors Light can. However, ambiguous name-calling doesn't go very far to correct behavior and, as far as hurting feelings goes, your message is going to be diluted if it's not focused and targeted.
For instance, try to roll something personal into the statement – something that tells the recipient of that email, "Hey, this isn't just some form letter I sent to all Internet-based dochebags [sic]. I thought enough to send a personalized attack. Hope you like it." So, instead of calling someone a dochebag [sic], why not call him a "bald dochebag [sic]" or an "inadequate father/dochebag [sic]?" See the difference a few minutes of extra care can make in hurting a complete stranger's feelings from thousands of miles away?
It's not the 'What' but the 'Why'
This section could just as easily be called "Know Your Imagined Enemy." My point is, do a little research and make sure it shows. What caused you to click that "contact" link in the first place? Was it a specific phrase? An ideology expressed somewhere online? A general feeling of displeasure at reading something? A smug contributor photograph? Whatever it was, make that part of your correspondence. Include a quoted passage. Compare their journal writing to Hitler's Mein Kampf. Describe the expression in that contributor photograph that set you off. Tell them exactly why you're sure they think they're better than you. It's great for your credibility, and it's guaranteed to make them lose a couple of extra nights of sleep. Hey, it might even result in an edit or a deleted blog entry. My point is, if people just let television shows like Designing Women get canceled without airing their opinions, we never would have had two excellent additional seasons. This is democracy, working!
What Color is Your Machine Gun
A good piece of hatemail, like a good résumé, is all about differentiating you from the competition. Being an above average passive-aggressive. Now I'm going to use myself as a case study, just for illustration. I should point out that I don't get a ton of hatemail (brag), but I'm pretty certain that's only because tremble is a relatively unknown online entity. If my name started appearing in press, or people started behaving as if I were precious, I am quite certain it would have a directly positive effect on the volume of hatemail I receive. Why? Because it raises the perceived You Think You're Better Than Me factor. And if I openly promoted all of the ways I've been given attention, adding yet another layer of context to that attention, the hatemail would be even more impressive. And rightly so!
So…imagine your hatemail is sitting in an inbox with another 30 or 40 pieces of anonymous vitriol. What's going to make someone click on your email? And, more importantly, what's going to make the recipient read it and think, "Oh no. Finally, the day I've always feared would come has finally arrived. Some insightful soul has seen me for the phony I truly am. I will now have to post one of those cryptic, 'Sorry, but I just don't feel like posting anything this month' entries on my blog until a enough sympathetic email streams in to completely camouflage the bad feelings caused by this trenchant, painful observation." Wouldn't you like to be that person? WOULDN'T YOU? Well, you can.
For example, if you choose to write me hatemail, there are a few topics that are obvious choices. In fact, they're so obvious that they don't really get under my skin anymore. They're just too easy to dismiss. It's like calling Cyrano de Bergerac "big nose" or calling West Egg "a symbolic stand-in for the Upper West Side." Here are some criticisms I've received so often that they almost never make an impression:
- Not funny
- You think you're funny
- Gay Jew
- Ugly site design
When I receive criticisms like these in an email, they barely merit a response, partly because they're just too easy to answer. You see, I've already obsessed on most, if not all of these items, probably much longer than you ever could. I know them like a second language. However, if you spend just a little longer on tremble.com, you can probably find some great, horrible things to say without much effort. Here are some ways to take those "generic" criticisms above and turn them into something really pointedly hateful:
- Your comedic rhythms are totally predictable
- You often use a "wacky" pop cultural reference in place of a creative punch line
- Penis jokes are great, if you're 15 years old and you didn't spend $80,000 on an English B.A.
- You end too many outwardly critical entries with a self-hating remark because you're afraid of being seen as unknowingly self-righteous
- You skirt too many issues in your personal life
- Writing lists is like saying, "my attention span isn't even long enough to write a 300 word entry today"
- You have a blog
- You have a blog that reminds me of [PERSON A]'s blog, but I think [PERSON A] has been writing his blog longer, and better
- That reminds me of this awesome Dave Barry column
- More stuff about cats, please!
- You think having a publicly humorous, self-effacing persona makes you cute
- You think having a publicly humorous, self-effacing persona distracts people from how truly horrible you really are
- You think having a publicly humorous, self-effacing persona distracts people from how truly and pathologically self-effacing you really are
- I just attended one of your shows. Those other performers were AWESOME!
- You're balding
Save the Best Swearing for Last
Finally, swearing always works in a hatemail, and is almost a necessary ingredient. Unfortunately, if you don't mete it out carefully you will end up compromising its potency. Avoid the temptation to front-load your email with swears because it might just mean your email will go unread. More sensitive egos hit the 'delete' button in a hurry. If you save the best swears for the end, you're increasing their chance of being digested and you're reserving greater respect for their sentiment.
Here's a great example, received recently, after reminding my mailing list about an upcoming show. (a mailing list that has a voluntary subscription base, by the way – that means people sign themselves up for it. crazy.) Please note where the swears fall:
"Buddy, I'm drunk and your email was extremely unimportant. I hope you choke on a cock someday for being such a ugly whore."
Wow. See the way the email teases the reader in by addressing him as "Buddy" and then proclaiming the writer's own state of inebriation? That's smart, because A) it sends out the message that the following thoughts are totally uninhibited and B) can be written off as a "joke" or a drunken mistake if the reader takes particular umbrage to the sentiments contained within.
And look at those swears! They're all relegated to the second sentence, and they have a nice kick to them. If the email began with that sentence, I might not have made it all the way to the end. (I probably would have, though. Even when I pretend to not read other's thoughts about me, I still find that I Google the shit out of myself every six months or so, during an especially difficult existential crisis.)
If you find it's difficult to control your swears, try this. Write a first draft, sprinkling swears wherever and as liberally as you like. Then read your email over before sending it – I know this part is hard because it requires "consideration" – and eliminate at least half the swears. If the email still holds up, send it. You've probably improved it in the process.
Good luck, haters! I look forward to hearing from you. We all do.
[personal item excised for personal reasons i.e. this is no place to get personal.]
HOW TO CHANGE YOUR ENTIRE WAY OF LIVING.
After a full week of repainting, and two more weeks of fussing, moving furniture, drilling, buying, failing, respackling, sweating, crying, cursing, self-medicating, sitting in garbage, consolidating, reconsolidating, discarding, and deep breathing, my apartment has finally been made-over to my satisfaction.
Check out a "before" picture of my living room:
It's crowded, mismatched, and dour. Now, feast your eyes on the results of my intensive makeover. Huh? Huh?
(i haven't had this much fun with something this stupid since i did this.)
HOW TO PLAY BY "OUR" RULES, WHICH IS "NO" RULES.
The medium of the weblog has finally reached its potential in Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst. I cannot stop reading his blog. (or, as the other kids who read it may call it, his "xanga.") I've found that each day I wait impatiently, hoping he will update it again with his "feelings." Fred Durst is a grown (fat, balding) man who, given the freedom to write without an editor or team of record executives, has all of the restraint and finesse of a high school boy with bad skin and a 330 verbal on his SATs. Fred's feelings are raw, and sort of stupid. He articulates emotions like he memorized them from watching season one of Dawson's Creek on DVD. I savor each awkward turn of phrase and find, more often than I could have imagined, that, upon finishing most entries, I place my fingers to my mouth and blossom-kiss them in that "abondanza" pizza-for-one gesture. It's perfection.
Here are a couple of wonderful jewels from the Thinkpad of Fred Durst. All spelling and grammar choices are his, not mine:
(on the current "situation" in the world)
"having a somewhat normal day or what may seem as a normal day is something i don't want to take for granite anymore. simple things like sitting in the sun and hearing birds, cars, airplanes, and voices filling the air while your whole world revolves around that particular moment. the frustrations and troubles we weigh ourselves down with can become transparent in such a simple moment. to think that this could no longer exist for me and doesn't exist anymore for so many people in the world is absolutely horrifying. maybe i am being sensitive, something i have always been, but i am sitting here in one of the moments in my backyard watching my son run around in diapers and little itty bitty sneakers. he is so innocent. he didn't ask to be brought into the world. it happened because it was meant to be."
(and later in the same entry)
"BTW- we rocked CBS last night on Pepsi Smash."
(from his May 6th entry, apropos of nothing)
"what i want right now is to be touched."
(a little later in this entry)
"when i listen to mazzy star all i can think about is the way we could lye in bed for hours without speaking one word or doing anything sexual and just fit perfectly together without wanting anything in the world but to be together. there are so many things i miss about her. could it be the same again or was that a moment in time that will live forever in a place inside my mind where my most precious treasures are kept?"
(from May 5th, after discussing some of the negative postings – dozens of them – left in his comments section)
"they say negative opinions are like ass holes right? everybody's got one."
Fred Durst's weblog is like Las Vegas, to me. It's so overwhelmingly pure and earnest in its own tongue-wagging stupidity that it sort of defies one's ability to analyze it, or critique it. It's like trying to put the ocean in a headlock. I apologize pre-emptively for writing about some damn blog in that "Oh my God it's so shitty it's GREAT!" kind of way, but I truly am amazed whenever I read Durst's thoughts. I've always argued that he was a dangerous character because it's very destructive for a band's spokesperson to be dumber than his dumbest fan, and Durst is possibly just that. But that's the old Durst, with something to prove. The new Durst has another generation of Bizkits to raise.
Wait. Who am I kidding. Durst still has a ton to prove, and he thinks by proving it to us he's proving it to himself. Plus, even better, his new prove-y stuff isn't all rageful and "smell my finger" -oriented. It's full of flowers and drawings of nuclear mushrooms reflected in the eye of a naked baby riding a kitten. And as such, the weblog has a delight around every corner.
Plus, if you're patient enough, the comments section is comparably enjoyable. You will have to suffer through many back-and-forths that go something like this...
Poster A: "Fred Durst is a faggot!"
Poster B: "No, YOU'RE the faggot, faggot."
Poster A: "At least I don't brush my teeth with Colgate Sperm Gel."
...etc. But occasionally you will run across an amazing entry, like the one that begins:
"Fred I'm the girl that gave you the PAPER ROSE Tuesday night at the Pepsi Smash."
By the way, why haven't any of you given me a PAPER ROSE yet? When will I make it? Haven't I brought you enough joy to warrant one PAPER ROSE? Seriously, what gives? What do I have to do for a PAPER ROSE? One goddamn PAPER ROSE!!!! I'm sorry. I feel too much sometimes. Sometimes my brain boils and all my secret thoughts that are trapped inside me are too much, and they strain the hinges on my heartbox, and crack its locks. My blood is my toner. My passion is my postcript font.
HOW TO KEEP YOUR PHONE FROM RINGING.
I saw a man and woman struggling on the downtown F train subway platform this evening. It seems the gentleman was trying to push the woman on to the tracks.
A couple of young Puerto Rican teenagers intervened and restrained the perpetrator, while several nerdy and unrelated white kids, and one young Korean woman with iPod earbuds, stood back and announced, completely inside their heads, "I'm totally blogging this!"
HOW TO SURROUND YOURSELF WITH TOTE BAGS.
Went to a screening of Jim Jarmusch's film, Coffee and Cigarettes, which opens this weekend. The +1 was thanks to my friend, Neille, and her tenacious support of WNYC-sponsored promotions. Because free tickets were available through this public radio station, the theater was practically overrun with canvas tote bags and thin, pale legs.
As we proceeded slowly toward the actual theater, we were subjected to, in my experience, an unprecedented level of security measures. Our bags were inspected for recording devices and then, at a second security station, we were electronically wanded, just in case one of the WNYC fans secreted a shiv in his or her ziploc bag of home-popped popcorn. This seemed especially ridiculous to me for a couple of reasons. First, I have serious doubts about Jim Jarmusch's appeal on the bootleg DVD market. Second, the movie itself was so low budget it would probably be more cost-effective for a would-be bootlegger to just grab a camera and shoot the movie himself, scene by scene, and then distribute it legally under a slightly modified name, like Caffeine and Nicotine. Chances are, even a bootlegger with no formal directing experience would still find better performances than the ones Jarmusch got from Meg White and Iggy Pop.
The film was OK, and then very good. My understanding is that it was the product of a series of short films Jarmusch has been making over the last 15 years or so. The first three or four attempts were interesting only for their pairings. Apart from that, they remained parked in their seated position, and went absolutely nowhere. As the film progresses, the quality of the vignettes thankfully improves. The Cate Blanchett vs. Cate Blanchett film was especially inspired, as was the Steve Coogan and Alfred/Albert Molina encounter. And I really loved the final short film, starring Bill Rice and Taylor Mead, whose face has gained even more expression since the damage of what I can only imagine was a difficult stroke.
I look forward to reading the self-congratulatory, pithy reviews of this film that will surely be published in The New York Post and Entertainment Weekly. Here is my prediction for a few:
"Half and Half." - The Daily News
"Completely decaffeinated." - The New York Post
"Coffee and Cigarettes was sweet and light, but occasionally dragged." - Entertainment Weekly
"OK-chino." - Buzz Magazine
"A great example for today's youth." - Tobacco Growers Illustrated Monthly
"Not enough panda-related stuff here to hold my attention." - Panda Enthusiast Post
"Iggy RULEZ!" - Ethan
"OK, Jim, we get it. Bill Murray. The White Stripes. Tom Waits. The GZA. I guess you're the cool kid now. Sorry for calling you an ' albino faggot' all those years." --Montclair High School Reunion Committee Newsletter
HOW TO HELP THOSE WHO CANNOT HELP THEMSELVES.
Park Slope is a very wealthy, and very liberal neighborhood. Lots of community gardens. Lots of Bring Your Own Compost parties. And it's not uncommon to chance upon a middle-aged post-hippie wearing a t-shirt that says, "DON'T BLAME ME – I VOTED FOR WAVY GRAVY." [if you just heard a whooping siren sound, it's because that commemorates my one millionth wavy gravy joke since the inception of this web site.]
With the neighborhood's reputation comes an unfortunate scourge of non-profit charities canvassing the streets for cash. I have nothing against charity, primarily because I am not a tremendous asshole, but I take exception to the strategic tactics of charitable organizations. They set up a gauntlet of volunteers on both sides of the sidewalk, forcing you to pass through it like some kind of non-profit spanking machine. And it's impossible to even perform a passive-aggressive coward's dodge by crossing the street to avoid them because THEY SET UP ANOTHER PAIR OF VOLUNTEERS ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE STREET. I think they've trained their volunteers according to the teachings of Sun Tzu's Art of War.
Additionally, charities have seen a dark change in the way they solicit donations. They used to give you an easy out, by asking, "Would you care to make a donation to help cure feline AIDS?" to which it was fairly easy to respond "yes" or "not today, thanks." Today, charities do not simply ask you for money; they present you with an ethical conundrum that plays directly into your guilty conscience. You are asked more complicated questions, like, "Do you have a minute for world hunger?" or "Would you like to prevent babies from being eaten alive by Nazis?" Your rejection of their solicitation, in effect, makes you directly complicit in the problem they're trying to solve. What are you going to say? "No. No I would not like to prevent babies from being eaten. Frankly, it sounds like a good plan to me. I can hardly hear myself thinking over all that confounded baby noise. Sir, babies are rude and, as such, deserve to be eaten. I say, good for those Nazis! I raise a glass to their noise-eliminating, baby-eating ways. To their health!"
And it does not make matters any better that the canvassers usually catch you on your way to or from spending money, talking on your cell phone, with a solid gold yoga mat hitched to your back. It takes tremendous resolve to avoid these guys – NOT THAT YOU SHOULD! – and I usually do, preferring to give my money directly to homeless people, and taking their word that the money will be spent on Trapper Keepers and low-fat GORP. However, last weekend, someone volunteering for "Save the Children" stepped in front of me on my way to the Doughnut Plant, and I stopped, intrigued. Why did I stop, you may wonder, especially when I was in a tremendous hurry – doughnuts don't stay warm forever. Truthfully, I had not special interest in this charity. It's just that the volunteer was a young, cool black guy named Eric and, well, I wanted him to like me.
So I treated it like we were hanging out, as pals. I tried to make small talk with Eric, saying things like, "Man, solving world hunger is the shit – wouldn't you agree?" and tried to teach him the handshake I learned from a retarded teenager in Vancouver – grab, slide, snap-snap, pound. Then he pitches me on the organization...and I'm very interested...and he flips open a binder and asks, "So, where do you want to sponsor a kid?" The binder was filled with laminted pages outlining the world's poorest countries, with color-coded "Starvation Zones." At this point it occurred to me that perhaps I should ask why choosing a country even mattered at this point. Hunger is hunger, and it seems like it misses the point when you decide to be picky about your altruism. For instance, is it really OK, as someone in the position to give money to a charitable organization, for you to say, "I'd love to sponsor an impoverished child. Just no Pakis, OK? I don't just throw my damn money around, after all."
I just looked absent-mindedly at his starving country maps, shrugged my shoulders, and said, "I dunno. I guess just pick the country where kids are hungriest? Like, whatever country doesn't have brunch?" I figured that was the most fair way of going about it, and the best value for my dollar. Eric, detecting my lack of preference, flips the binder forward to their starving child profiles – sort of like the all-stars of abject poverty. Then he assures me, "don't worry. I'll pick you out a hottie." I was taken aback, and tried to grab the binder and pick a child at random, in order to curtail this line of thinking. I pointed to a kid with flies on her face and Eric just shook his head and said, "Nah, check it out. She's got a flat ass. You don't need that aggravation, son."
I wanted less and less for Eric to like me, as black and cool as he was. In fact, I just wanted to get out of there. So I flipped a few pages forward and my finger landed on a five year-old Nicaraguan girl who looked sufficiently desperate. "How about her?" I suggested.
"Hell no!" Eric shouted back. "Are you crazy, man? You can tell just by looking at her, she's gonna be fat when she grows up." And I explained I was pretty confident that, even with my generous assistance, none of these starving kids was in any danger of growing up to be morbidly obese, though that would certainly be a bittersweet outcome.
For the next few minutes, Eric and I went back and forth like this. I would arbitrarily choose a child and he would shoot them down, making assessments like, "too cross-eyed," "gold digger," and "straight-up skeezer." Finally, exasperated, I pulled out my wallet and said, "Look, E. (he said I could call him "E" when I asked a bit earlier) I've got fifty dollars in cash. Just show me the hottest starving kid I can sponsor for that kind of money." And that's how I met your mother.
HOW TO RESPECT YOUR ELDERS.
A little while ago, I was complaining about the whereabouts of my time machine. Update: still no time machine. (WTF? LOL!) When most people wonder what the future holds, they think of one of maybe three or four things:
- oral sex robots
- horny radioactive mutants
- solar-powered flying automobiles with vagina and anus holes
- jet packs
All of those things are fine, but I was thinking it would be nice if Jet Packs were available only to the elderly. I am not interested in putting them in peril; I just think it would provide senior citizens with a newfound respect. Old people are treated horribly – just this morning, I saw a group of rabbis pushing an old couple into a mud puddle. They are made to feel small and weak and without value in contemporary society. And they are all of these things, of course, but we sometimes forget how adorable they are, what with their cellophane wrapped sucking candies and their loose neck skin. And seeing old people zooming around on jet packs would be extraordinarily cute. Even a rainy day would feel like sunshine if you could see your grandmother flying around, feeding squirrels from up above.
Giving jet pack ownership rights exclusively to the elderly would also encourage more inter-generational communication. People would surely be more patient with senior citizens, and treat them with more kindness, if only to improve their own chances of getting a ride on the jet pack for a little bit. "Hey, Miss Rosenberg, I have this extra package of Stella Doro breakfast treats and I can't eat them all by myself. Maybe you'd like them? Here, I'll hold your jet pack while you fumble with the crinkly packaging." Hey, it worked with dorks and Segways. If it weren't for Segway scooters, you would never get to see cool kids with low-ride jeans and chain wallets talking to grown men wearing monogrammed fanny packs, fedoras, "Intel Inside™" sunglasses straps, and cargo vests.
p.s. Yesterday, I heard a Park Slope dad trying to explain a children's song to his 3 year-old son. He concluded his argument by saying, "Hence, no more monkeys jumping on the bed." It is in this moment that I wish his Future Son could slip a note to his Present Son that says, "learn kung-fu now, because you're going to need to physically defend yourself every single day from the age of 12 onward."
HOW TO KEEP YOUR HANDS AT YOUR SIDES, AND MAKE SURE NO ONE SEES YOU DANCE.
While lying in Prospect Park, praying a flying frisbee would not land at my feet and force me into the embarrassing position of having to toss it to its original owner, I saw a guy jog across the long meadow. He was shirtless and jabbed at the air vigorously as he traveled. I watched him go and thought to myself, I could never learn to box if it required me to jog around punching at the air. I would simply never relax enough to be that person. This meant an entire form of physical fitness was now off-limits to me. It was a disappointing conclusion, and as I reached it I began making a mental list of other activities I could probably never handle due to the potential risk of feeling some measure of public humiliation. These included, but were not limited to: Tai'Chi, trampolines, Red Rover, Guiness Book of World's Records-sized Simon Says, Moonie wedding, pie eating contest, Twizzler eating contest, cup-stacking race, and the weird outdoor Pac-Man thing that, really, no one should be doing anyway.
In terms of self-consciousness, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the kind of person to dance on the bar at Hogs and Heiffers while the bartenders spray club soda on you, and 10 being someone in a complete state of living rigor mortis where only your eyes dart around occasionally to judge other people, I would say I rate about a 7. This is an average rating. I have moments that rise above and dip below this figure depending on circumstance. For instance, when I'm onstage my self-consciousness rating drops to about a 3 or 4. When I'm reading, it's at about 5. And when I'm standing next to someone cute who I wish I could french, it spikes to about 9.3.
I used to be better. I think, as a child, my self-consciousness rating was 1-2. I didn't care about much of anything, and that includes hygiene. I would take my glass eye out for a nickel, and remove my wooden leg for a Little Debbie Swiss Roll. In third grade, I would write and stage sketches in front of my entire class, totally unsolicited. And once, as a birthday present for an English teacher, I dressed up as Debbie Boone and burst into her classroom unannounced, singing "You Light Up My Life" because I knew it to be her favorite song. (i was 9 years old, i think. whenever i remember doing that, i'm so mortified that my current self-consciousness rating jumps a point or two retroactively.)
Obviously, through adolescence, I could not maintain that kind of care-free attitude. I was preoccupied with trying to stop perspiring uncontrollably, and by age 15 I completely lost track of what to do with my hands. I couldn't even recall what I'd been doing with them for the previous 15 years. I just knew they were suddenly a plague on my conscience, hanging there from my shoulders like heavy cuts of meat, accumulating clammy sweat. Occasionally, I would swing one of them upward to open my gym locker, by twisting my shoulder forward. However, for the most part my hands remained stuffed in my pockets. Here they would stand watch and, as the situation required, be employed to wipe sweat on my pocket linings or reposition my penis when it became stuck at an uncomfortable angle during an inappropriately and inexplicably erect state.
I think you're supposed to become less self-conscious after your teenage years, but I made the mistake of moving to New York City, where acute self-consciousness is rewarded with gallery openings, $2 Rheingolds, articles about you in the New York Times Style section, and snit-inflected backlash to those articles on Gawker.com and other outside-looking-in weblogs. In a city where everyone's and no one's eyes are on you at all times, I began to wage a long battle with my own sense of comfort in public, and I've never stopped losing it.
My therapist sometimes asks me, "Todd, what provides you with great joy? Totally unbridled pleasure?" If I were to answer her honestly, I'd say that being around comedians often makes me really happy. I enjoy a strong perspective. (i guess this is different than a strong opinion, which is something i only enjoy if there's a joke at the end of it.) But I know that's not the answer my therapist is seeking. She wants me to offer up something less intellectually pleasing, like rolling in a somersault down a grassy hill or one of those other "ha ha I'm still a kid let's read Harry Potter books and smell Play-Doh" kinds of activities.
Whenever I try to remember the last time I experienced that kind of joy, my mind has to stretch back several years, when I was visiting a friend after her particularly difficult break-up. It was August, and very hot outside. I remember her sprawled across her couch, with the lights dimmed. Her depression had dried up her appetite and she looked like a refugee: her cheeks were hollowed-out, and her limbs, which were occupying very little real estate inside a tank top and cotton skirt, seemed too brittle to touch. I was nearly afraid of her, and seeing her like that reminded that love can do amazing things to your body. I tried my best to make her laugh and, when it started working, I insisted we leave her apartment so I could buy her some food.
We walked across East 9th Street and, as we did, I could see some of her energy return. As we crossed the Avenue B block, some kids had cracked open a fire hydrant and, using a plastic bowl, diverted its water into a thick arc stretching across the street. The street was crowded with children slapping their frog-feet against the wet asphalt. As we continued toward the hydrant we had two choices. We could cut left to the sidewalk and avoid the stream, or we could proceed directly through it. It was New York Hot and we were experiencing a high point in our friendship at the moment, so I grabbed her hand and we ran directly into the hydrant fountain. It felt excellent, especially since it jolted some life back into my friend's corpse, and I think we both screamed a little because the water was so cold.
Just as we did, and my self-consciousness rating bottomed out, a hip-looking guy on a mountain bike cruised by us and yelled, "Wheeee!!" And I promise, you've never heard the word "whee" invoked with such angry sarcasm. It completely shut down my joy and replaced it with shame. Shame for acting so foolish in public, and shame because I wished I had a cool bike. And maybe that guy had some beers with friends later that night and told them, "Holy shit, I saw these two losers running through a fucking sprinkler. It was awesome. I can't wait to write about it in my zine, TAKE THAT YOU FUCKERS." And maybe if I thought about that a little more I'd realize how totally sad it is for him.
Unfortunately, rather than make me glad for living my stupid life instead of commenting others, It made me an audience to myself and a part of me has been watching, and disapproving just slightly, ever since. And that's why I'm speechless when my therapist asks me, "Todd, what makes you really happy? I mean really, really giddy?" And that's why I don't box. And that's why I'm worried that you're reading this right now, cracking a Rheingold, and giving your Powerbook screen the finger.