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WRITE CLUB - Marriage, 2/15/11

Lot of people hear the word “marriage”, and think of weddings. Likening a wedding to a marriage is like saying that getting a blowjob on a roller coaster is the same as tearfully beating off in a hospital bed.

Marriage is not the ACT of being wed – it is everything that comes after. A wedding is an event. Marriage is a condition.

I have been married for thirteen years. I am domesticated.

[Show wedding ring]

As you see, I have been banded. So even if I’m returned to the wild, I can be identified. If I roam too far from my habitat, researchers will collect me and return me to my den.

There is a conception of marriage as a sexless grind of obligation and worry – a concoction of compromise and diminishment, spiced with acrimony and neglect.

I am not here to dispute this. In fact, I will go further:

Marriage is a kind of slaughterhouse where the blood of your initiative and drive and appeal will be drained from you the moment the meat hook of your vows pierces your ankles and the blade of consummation passes over your throat.

The balance of your life – that period spent waiting while you hang by your ankles, trussed by habit and custom and law, as the blood of your individuality and purpose drizzles congealing from your throat – this is marriage.

What swine are able to make good their escape from this abattoir report as they squint in the daylight that they are really so much happier, now. Really so much. And after these liberated pigs drink in this hard won freedom – they will wash the blood from their trotters, they will hit the gym, and they will try to attract a new mate.

By the way, I’m talking here about real marriage – I do not mean the “oh, snap. You got pregnant,” or the “we got married. It’s what people do,” or the “dear Oksana, I would be honored to pay your way from Ukraine to become my bride”. Not celebrity marriage, either – the Brad Co. and Angelina Corp. brand alliance or the Britney conspicuous international display of mental illness – I’m talking about REAL marriage.

And while it is true that marriage is the hanging of the self by a meat hook to be drained, in a REAL marriage, you then get taken down off the hook, and folded at the ankles, and rolled like a tube of toothpaste and squeezed until everything has left you. In a REAL marriage, you are extruded.

You are extruded like the Mold-O-Rama machine at the Field Museum. However, your molten fluids are not poured into a mold that is awesome, like a dinosaur or a tractor, they are poured into the mold of a featureless pear-shaped biped wearing sweats and a pair of Crocs, as if to say “You know what? Fuck it.” You emerge from your mold smooth as a Ken doll, and no matter what direction you head in, you are always in retreat.

This is not done TO you, though. In a real marriage, it is not your spouse constricting the life out of you. You are a party to your extrusion – you consent to it. You assist in it. You flatten yourself and curl into it.

Here’s why: your partner is hung from a meat hook right next to you, draining themselves into the same dish. And folding and squeezing the dregs of themselves onto your shared platter.

Here is the sad news, children: we all of us get extruded, but if you are alone in this life, your platter is that much smaller. And you must guard well your platter.

When you marry and are together extruded, this is the platter of your strength – and you will feed like Bedouins around a roasted goat, passing pieces from hand to hand, or Hawaiians scooping poi from a shared bowl.

This platter holds your supply – your lifetime’s supply – of resolve and tenacity and fortitude. Which you will need. Life being life, you will encounter death and defeat; you will know grief and perplexity; you will have loss and fear, mayhem and duress.

And when you do, you must go to the platter of strength, and dip in your fingers to eat what you need. If fortune smiles upon you, the supply of your strength will outlast the time you have left.

When your mother grows infirm and insane, you will feed; when your children are ill, you will feed; when your house is destroyed, you will feed. You will feed when the floodwaters rise and when lightning strikes. You will feed when death claims a neighbor and when the downturn swallows your job. When the pipes burst, when the truck clips your dog, when the prognosis is grim, you will feed.

THIS is REAL marriage. Food in time of greatest need.

So not only is marriage the best chance you’ve got in the trench warfare that is this life – long shot though it may be – marriage has the opposing idea of love nested inside it.

And the fact is, marriage – REAL marriage – cannot exist without love. Let’s face it: it is EASY to have love without marriage – easy and cheap. But you CANNOT have marriage without love.


WRITE CLUB - Defend, 2/5/11

To defend is primal.

To defend is more fierce than to attack.

It is tempting to suppose that the Viking, on his Berserker rampage of pillage and wreckage and harm – is the highest expression of human aggression. Or that the carnivore at the top of the food chain represents the purest form of fury and ferocity. This is not so.

It’s like they say: defense wins ball games. It is the cornered animal that is most dangerous.

The force that lays siege to a city is a lower form of Bad-Ass than the force that hunkers down to defend it. Because defenders will know starvation and disease, they will sleep on sandbags and eat what rats they can catch, but they WILL. NOT. RELENT.

Vasily Zaitsev served as a sniper in the Russian Army during World War II. He learned marksmanship hunting deer with his grandfather in Siberia. During the Nazi siege of Stalingrad, Vasily Zaitsev picked off 242 enemies, including 11 German snipers.

242. That’s like seven and a half John Wayne Gacys.

This is ferocity. To clear a patch in the rubble that remains of your city and repel an enemy. One. Bullet. At a time. And what language do they speak in Russia today? German? Guess again.

Now, superficially, I bear no resemblance to Vasily Zaisev – he was lean and hard and deadly. I work in an office. I am a complainer. I require snacks. I shrink from discomfort of the mildest sort. In the zombie apocalypse, I will be among the first to fall. I am slow-footed and easily overwhelmed. I am distractible and put-upon.

I am what sociologists call a massive pusswad.


What’s your name, please?

[REPLY] Could you stand up, please, NAME?

Now. If NAME were to pick a fight with me, I would spin on my heel and hustle out of here. My ears would burn with the molten scorn you all would heap upon me. My testicles would rightly withdraw into my abdominal cavity, for my testicles would conclude – again, rightly – that I was not worthy to own and operate such testicles.

That is who I am. I am no tough guy. A puny little hipster like NAME can send me scurrying on my quaking way. And when I got home, I’d wanna talk through my feelings about this experience. And my wife would hate me.

But. But. If you make a move to harm my children, or if I see you threatening my wife, then you better kill me right now because I will BLITHELY beat your face into paté. I will nonchalantly split your limbs like crab claws. I will stomp your fucking hands into gelatinous mittens and my heart rate wouldn’t hit 85. I will calmly crush you like an urban-legend gerbil between Richard Gere’s ass cheeks.

The number of people I love in this world is quite small, so please, for your own sake – I implore you: Do. Not. Fuck With Them.

The ONLY time I ever fought effectively was at the Ted Williams Baseball Camp in Hanson, Mass. at the age of 12. It is no exaggeration to say that I became, if only for one glorious, shining moment, a ninja.

There was this fat-ass dickface named Eric who’d been giving me shit all week. I had saved up my money for a YEAR to go this fucking camp, and this needling asshole was ruining it. But I took it. I took his shit all week, and he did not let up.

His critical error was when he went after my brother. This Eric was up on a top bunk being an abusive douche, and my brother Josh wasn’t standing for it, even though this lard-ass dickface had like 60 pounds on him. So they’re getting into it and then Eric done fucked up, son. He launched his sack of shit self off that bunk to go after Josh.

And that’s when everything went into Matrix bullet time. I slid across the room like I was on casters. With my left hand I caught Eric by his throat. In mid-air. I continued forward and SLAMMED his neck into a bedrail. I had my right fist cocked and was ready to unload on his chickenshit face. I got right up close and go: “Are you sure you wanna do that?” and I am fairly certain I was squinting like Lee Van Cleef when I said it. Eric, after being plucked in mid-flight and pinned like bug specimen, didn’t wanna.

I let him go without throwing a punch. Because his ass was preemptively kicked. He slunk off. Because I was Chuck Fucking Norris and he wanted to keep his teeth.

THAT is the only kind of fight I will ever win – when I am rising to the defense of someone else. If I’m fighting for myself, I will debate the merits of the cause and I’ll take a beating every time.

THAT is the kind of fight I’m engaged in right now. So I’m not above fighting dirty.

I’m WRITE CLUB fighting tonight on behalf of a girl named Journey Early. Journey is six. Journey is a spark plug of a kid who is awesome and appeared in a show in this year’s Rhino Fest. Her family just learned that she has a rare heart condition called Long QT. They need to buy a defibrillator, or she could die out of the blue. Her heart could just stop.

I am fighting to defend Journey Early. From her own heart. And you should, too, by granting me victory in this bout.


Essay Fiesta - 2/21/11 "I Chew-Chew-Choose You"

Anybody know why St. Valentine was imprisoned and martyred? His real name was Valentinus and he was a Roman priest who was executed for marrying people. Which is to say presiding over weddings – he was not known to be a polygamist. He was beaten, stoned, and beheaded.

There’s a part of me that wants to make a cheap joke about how this was only fair, inflicting as he did marriage upon unsuspecting Romans. I will refrain from making joke, however.

The skull of St. Valentine, which is crowned with flowers, adorns the Basilica of Santa Maria in Rome.

So the modern day holiday – the celebration of romantic love – was born in blood. If you look with enough care, you will nearly always find our occasions, our feast days, our annual observances all had a bloody beginning.

I’m not getting all Wikipedia on you to create the false impression of myself as being especially learned or smartypants. I am not.

I’m just reminding us all that things are not always as we take them to be – oftentimes the unexamined surface of the thing bears little resemblance to the origins of the thing.

St. Valentine, for instance, whom we today commemorate with cellophaned chocolates and overpriced roses, has come to be a figurehead for the superficial-expression-of-love-industry, when he was actually a thousand-year-old religious fanatic who pissed off the prevailing power structure and got his head handed to him for his trouble.

Which serves as a preface when I tell you that I proposed to my wife Hallie on Valentine’s Day, 1997.

I did not do so because the date was fitting, or because I was swept up in some crescendo of emotion arising from the bewitching elixir of the day and the elevated pheromones it carries with it.

Quite the contrary – I chose Valentine’s Day to ask my then-girlfriend-now-wife to marry me precisely because Valentine’s Day is exactly the WRONG day to do so. In fact, I’d say it’s the last day on the calendar you should propose to somebody, the VERY LAST DAY – even during a leap year.

To do so in complete seriousness would make me a chucklehead of the worst sort, a dillweed of such jaw-dropping severity, a cliché-perpetuating, orthodoxy-embracing nimrod epic proportions. I would have such a stunning lack of imagination that I would make lemmings look like paragons of initiative and individuality.

Hallie and I had long agreed that Valentine’s Day belonged in the same bucket as Secretary’s Day and the rest of the Hallmark holidays. Valentine’s Day was to be shunned. Like a leper on a lace doily.

So it was that I was able to maintain the element of surprise.

We go to dinner – all the while disparaging the strained-seeming couples around us with their mylar balloons and fur-bearing Beanie Baby cherubs. And carnations. The blossom that says “I comPLETEly forgot till the last minute and bought these off a sketchy dude on the train platform on the way over here.” And all of them murmuring along to the version of “Candle in the Wind” Sir Elton did to memorialize Lady Di that was so huge that year.

So it was, in the wake of this forced march into the gulag of warm fuzzies, that I popped the question, and in so doing, I outflanked my adversary – in effect tricking her into saying “yes”. It was, in all modesty, a masterstroke of subterfuge. Hallie has had the good sense to regret her decision ever since.

Valentine’s Day, 2003, I once again concealed myself behind the cloak of frilly and lightweight ridiculousness by giving her the… best… Valentine… ever. Our son was then just a week shy of his second birthday.

The consensus among any who met him was that our boy was the single most sweet-tempered baby ever to draw breath. And they were correct in this – our boy was a dewy-eyed and beaming little thing. He was unfailingly happy and curious and engaged, he was expansive and trusting and free, and above everything, he was at peace always.

Rather than getting a sitter and going out for a “romantic” dinner, I hatched a plot, and enlisted as my henchman my not-yet-two-year-old associate.

I dressed him in his red footie pajamas. I made a pair of cherub wings and affixed them to his back. I put shining red heart stickers on the pudge of his cheeks. I made for him a “Happy Valentine’s Day” sash we slung over his shoulder and across the roundness of his belly. I turned him into a living cherub and carried him into his mother’s office.

The other people there – not just the women, but the women in particular – lost their minds when they saw him. I had to shush them so they wouldn’t give us away before we could surprise Hallie. He was SO cute, that people bit their knuckles and drew blood. He was so adorable – so soft and sweet-smelling and happy-making – that he singlehandedly accelerated every biological clock in that place.

The moment Hallie saw him, she didn’t just SHED tears, tears SQUIRTED out her eyes. Like a Super Soaker. Or the final panel of a Cathy cartoon, where she’s going “Ack!” I was like four feet away from her and I got doused like her tear ducts had been replaced by old-timey seltzer bottles.

The onslaught of that much adorableness in so concentrated a form, was more than she could withstand. She has been powerless to leave me ever since. My victory is complete.

Valentine’s Day, 2005, wherein we return to the blood-soaked historical roots of the day.

Some background: in 1986, my dad killed himself. Sorry, there’s no genteel way to say it. So there it is. It’s a fact. I had succeeded in suppressing this fact for the better part of the next twenty years.

As the 20th anniversary of his death was approaching in 2006, I’d begun looking into this previously disregarded episode in my family history. I got the police report. Found some news clippings. Xerox of the suicide note. My mom sent me his death certificate. Tucked inside a Valentine’s card.

Now – let’s be clear. I knew she’d be sending the death certificate. I had been anticipating its arrival.

What rendered it jarring was the fact that it was inside a Valentine. I think you have to have had something like the life experience that I have in order to fully understand why this was so hilarious. I laughed like a maniac when I opened that thing.

For most people, black humor is entirely theoretical. For me, it is real and present and true. For me, having my dad’s actual death certificate unfolding like a punch line from inside a sappy-ass card not only makes the incident of my dad’s death more bearable, it makes the world a slightly less perplexing and horrible place.

For me, encountering real events that by any measure are cause for despair, and that involve real, actual human beings – myself included – flailing and failing as we all must, and responding to this confusing miasma by laughing my ass off may strike the untrained observer as me being a callous a-hole with no regard for others.

But really, what the sound of this laughter – which at first may seem vicious or fatalistic or unkind – is really the sound of the ragged and ungainly hope that has taken me this far. When I laugh at misfortune and heartache and brutality, it may not seem like it to you, but it is a love song. It’s just that melody isn’t as trite, and the rhyme scheme isn’t as stupid and crappy as “Candle In the Wind”.

The sound of this laughter is like Valentine’s Day. If Valentine’s Day was a plant, the foliage up top would be showy and dumb, insincere and pretty embarrassing, but the taproot of this plant would draw from a pool of blood deep underground.


WRITE CLUB - Chloe Johnston, Play - 9/21/10


Ian Belknap - WRITE CLUB, Work - 9/21/10