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Wednesday
Apr012015

The Wisdom of Solomon

Donald and Evelyn had been affixed to one another for almost thirty-two years. To say that they loved each other would be overstating things – even calling them attached to one another by anything stronger than habit would be a stretch. Their allegiance, such as it was, consisted more of a kind of adamant fixity on the condition of being married, rather than any abiding or personal stake in each other.

Their definition of themselves as individuals, to the extent that they thought with any frequency or care about such things, was in large measure dependent upon being a married person. Golfer. Gardener. Spouse. These formless conceptions of themselves, these predigested descriptors – these provided them some minimal degree of clarity and comfort.

Donald had one time thought, to his own rueful amusement, that their marriage was like a dog turd that had spent a long winter inside a snow bank – when the spring sun melted it free, it retained something of its form, but was blanched and ghostly and odorless.

Evelyn, for her part, regarded Donald’s presence in her home as a low-level nuisance that was decades now in duration – he was an infestation, almost, of some lumpy mammalian pest that she could never bring herself to drive away.

They had raised an unspectacular child who had long since moved away, and who, if they were honest, was fading in their memory.

What passed for conflict was when they both slept, and the dog ambled off the foot of their bed – there would be a listless jockeying of feet to lay claim to the warm patch vacated by him. In the morning, in the wake of this listless maneuvering, there was a slight increase in how clipped were their exchanges.

On the whole, though, they just marked time in proximity to one another – Donald on aimless walks, leash limp in his hand, staring blankly at the dog’s asshole; Evelyn absently reading middlebrow books that never stuck in her memory. They would dine on sensible portions, stay informed about world events in a resigned and tongue-clicking way, and would gaze unblinking at their own flickering screens while seated not far from each other.

In all, theirs was a tidy and arid little life. They were both flat-footed and glassy-eyed, pear-shaped and settled, in body and mind.

But when Donald awoke with the cold ring of a gun barrel pressed into the meat of his left cheek, the way they had been was snuffed out completely.

Evelyn’s eyes flew open, as a voice – a hellish, robotic voice – said “Wakey-wakey.”

And, for the first time in long time, Donald and Evelyn were awake.

“You know who I am?” said the voice behind the mask, digging the gun barrel into Donald’s face, then lifting it and resting it on Evelyn’s forehead. There was a smell in that room, now, like cordite and something musky.

Donald and Evelyn nodded furiously, tearfully. They knew who this was.

They had fretted in their low-intensity way over reports of a string of home-invasion killings throughout the region. The press called him the Solomon Killer, after the king in that baby-splitting story. He would break into the bedroom of a sleeping couple and force them to choose which of them he would shoot in the face. He would only shoot one of them. If there were kids in the house, he would leave them alone – he would only shoot a spouse in the head while the other one watched.

Profilers claimed that it was this compound suffering – the survivor’s guilt, the traumatizing spectacle, the visions of blood-spattered pillowcases persisting long after he had committed the crime – these were the real goals of the Solomon Killer. The production of a corpse was, for him, just a means to these. On the television, on the Sunday morning programs, the profilers conjectured soberly that the Solomon Killer’s… gratification resided in this “long tail” of grief and misery.

“So,” said the voice. “Which of you is it to be?”

Without hesitation, in the span, really, of a flinch, Donald and Evelyn pointed at each other. Fiercely, and with purpose.

And, in those trembling and wide-eyed instants before the gun went off and the room filled with the ferrous smell of blood, Donald and Evelyn, their index fingers stabbing vehemently at the air between them, saw one another more clearly and understood each other more fully than they had in a long, long time.

Thursday
Oct092014

Consider the Liver Benefit

This is a thing I read at a fundraiser for friend Noelle's kid. It has, obviously, solved everything.

In a healthy adult male, the liver weighs about one thousand, five hundred grams.

And you’re probably like “GRAMS?!? What’m I? French?!? What’m I, some kind of soccer-jersey-wearing Frenchman? Fresh off his twelve months of paid paternity leave, though he is childless? And who’s just in his office to check his email before leaving on his six-week vacation. Whizzing around on a goddamn scooter with that smugly reusable mesh bag full of baguettes and those ostentatious carrots with the greens still on them?”

HEAR ME – though I speak to you in grams: I am an American.

So, listen up, Frenchy – you may have gorged your unlined face on baked cheese in some kind of cream sauce, and you retained your 31-inch waist because of some manner of fromage-based voodoo, but this is AMERICA, and we cannot countenance your socialized MERDE.

Look at me. This is an American waistline. These stress-bags under my eyes? I have EARNED these badges of depletion and diminishment by living the GREATEST COUNTRY ON THE FACE OF THE WORLD.

And, as Americans, we are CLEAR on the COST of greatness. As a matter of fact, in America, if a thing has not been assigned a dollar value, we have the good sense to find that thing suspect. And unwholesome. And unworthy. In America, we believe that the ONLY means of assessing value is to slap a price tag on it, and stick in a bin for purchase. AND WE ARE ONE THOUSAND PER CENT CORRECT. AND IF YOU QUESTION OUR METHODS – which we WILL know, because surveillance – WE WILL CALL IN THE DRONE STRIKES THAT WILL PULVERIZE YOUR CHATEAU TO POWDER.

Because listen up, Frenchy – with your B.O. and your thong underpants, your lack of riding mowers and concealed carry – we have done the math, and we have calculated the worth of everything – all of human experience, every bit of human know-how, and every cut of meat in the human body.

So while you and your misguided countrymen may feel that it’s some kind of human right to stride into a hospital and get treated, here in AMERICA, we do not have “HEALERS” who provide “CARE” for any unshod hobo who darkens their door, we have FLESH MERCHANTS who know to the penny the precise value ALL HUMAN LIFE. To call into question the judgments of the Flesh Merchant is to lack faith in the MARKET ECONOMY WHICH IS A VISTA OF LIMITLESS OPPORTUNITY THAT WOULD BE FLAWLESS WERE IT NOT FOR GOVERNMENT MEDDLING AND WEAK-WILLED HUMANS.

So, listen: when the Flesh Merchant names his price for the service he will provide you, that is the price you better be prepared to pay. And if you can’t pony up that full amount, you shut your complaint hole for a second, but the MARKET ECONOMY, IN ITS BOUNDLESS WISDOM, HAS DEVISED A SOLUTION.

The solution is that you pay some money every month BEFORE you get sick. This is called “having insurance,” and it SOLVES EVERYTHING, SO SHUT UP, WHINER-BABIES. But using it is like anything else: there’s rules – you gotta get sick within reasonable limits – ONLY GET AS SICK AS YOU CAN AFFORD, otherwise it’s “out of pocket.”

Which – shh, shh, shh – it’s just part of the Market Solution. No. No, no. Don’t examine it. Shh. The Market gets really, really mad if it feels like it’s being cross-examined. And BELIEVE me – if it feels threatened, it’ll come down on you like a two-ton sack of demon shit.

When you are crushed under this demon shit, it is called a market correction.

And listen, Frency, don’t HAND me that “the profit motive has no place in providing medical care” because then there is NO MOTIVE WHATSOEVER. And we’d be left with nothing but elective procedures – and while our lips would be full and our brows would be smooth and our asses would be taut, we would have the life expectancy of medieval peasants or unarmed black guys.

So without the MOTIVE to earn a profit, there can be no earthly reason for Flesh Merchants to employ their healing arts. This MOTIVE is understandable and natural, and any attempts to impede the march of this motive stands as an effort to impede human progress – because what will motivate a Customer – sometimes quaintly referred to as a “patient” – to become a fully vested participant in the Market Solution to the troubles they face than having to really dig deep when purchasing the services of the Flesh Merchant?

I mean, obviously, lesser motives such as “getting well” and “stopping the pain” are not sufficient – because if they were, would not the Customer have harnessed the power of their own Entrepreneurial Spirit to have relieved their symptoms by their own bootstraps. But they DIDN’T, did they? No. Because they BELIEVE in the POWER of a Market Solution, and they want to get every nickel of the Fair Market Price of their treatment to the Flesh Merchant, even if they gotta cook a little meth or rob a couple banks to do it.

That’s just the system working – everybody’s gotta grab a mitt and get in the game, a game with winners and losers, as God intended, not some weak-kneed game that can end in a tie. Such a game would be soccer, the dubious refuge of the French.

Wednesday
Jan222014

Guts & Glory - Godless 11/20/13

I don’t believe in God.

Which. Big fucking deal, right?

I live in a major urban center. I’m in the arts. Politically, I have long been agitating for a new Robespierre to start filling baskets in the center of public squares with the heads of bankers.

Furthermore, I have two kids. And I feel the world has enough gullible people ruled by their fears, and don’t wish to create any more.

Given these facts, the likelihood that I’m going to be devout is pretty slight.

So. No shock. Water is wet. Artsy egghead in city is atheist.

But. For me. This is a bit of thing, actually.

Not because my family is churchy. Not because my wife is religious. Not because I think I owe my kids some kind of relationship to the divine.

It’s because I’m an alcoholic in recovery. I’ve been going to Alcoholic’s Anonymous meetings since 1994. So if I make it to next spring without a drink, then I’ll have gone 20 years with drinking alcohol.

Outside of the meetings, I rarely talk about being sober. For a couple of reasons: main one is, like much of what is really real, it is none of your goddamn business. That’s the selfish reason. The better reason that I mostly keep it on the down-low is that if I ever start drinking again – which is always a risk, most days it’s a low-level risk, but a risk nonetheless – it could be misinterpreted as a failure of the program, rather than my personal failing, if that makes sense.

Because if somebody who’s a drunk, or a druggie needs the help of AA, like I did, but then they learn that I’m a member of the Fellowship, and they see me drunk, then they might not believe the program works, and they might give up and die a horrible, pointless death.

And maybe this sounds weird to you, but I take this obligation really, really seriously. I owe everything I have to Alcoholic’s Anonymous – I know that sounds corny as fuck, and that we’ve all been conditioned by Upworthy videos to view such a statement as hyperbolic and dopey. Or I have, anyway.

But it’s the literal truth. Everything I have, I owe to AA.

If I had not found my way to Alcoholic’s Anonymous, I would never have gotten married. I would never have had children. I would never have started writing seriously. I would never have started my show WRITE CLUB. I would never have found a way to forgive my dad for killing himself at what, for me, was an age when I could really have used a man-shaped person to help me figure shit out. I would never have made what peace I can about my grandfather’s unsolved murder.

And mostly, I would be dead. And no, I’m not exaggerating. I’d have been dead by like ’97 at the latest.

And I’d have died alone, just like my dad – a-wallow in despair and self-pity; enraged by phantom injustices; choking back the always-rising bile. The surest fucking way to become exactly like the parent you hate is to make elaborate, repeated claims that you’ll never, ever, ever be anything like them – it is the perverse joke of the human heart, which may have greatness in it, but also can be a huge dumb-ass.

But so when you are an alcoholic, and you remove the alcohol, you are left with the feelings. Which you must experience. In all their un-minimized fury.

Which, for a person like myself, is a fully horrifying prospect. Most of the time, I’d sooner pound a tent stake into my own thigh than feel the feelings. But this is not an option. The emotional life of an alcoholic without alcohol is a gunfight – either the smoke and fire and blood-letting, which at least has the a grisly kind of clarity – or the anguish of standing in the dusty street, twitching hands poised over your gun, waiting.

For the non-addicted among you – you can know repose, for you tranquility, or at least neutrality, is possible – for us, even where we may outwardly appear to be free of turmoil, likely as not, we are coiled. We are in that single breath that precedes fight or flight. We are on a rolling boil even when we don’t look like it.

So. Given that this is as you can imagine an exhausting condition, it follows that we need relief. We turn idiotically to every form of feeling-cessation there is – TV, internet, gambling, porn, food, rage, work – any substance or activity upon which it is possible to binge. Where there is no precedent for abuse, we will invent one.

But we find, inevitably, that none of these is effective for very long. We need something more – more comprehensive, more encompassing. Which is why the program of Alcoholic’s Anonymous is framed as a spiritual one. To gain relief from the unendurable tyranny of the fucking feelings that never, ever stop for even a second, no matter how desperately you might plead with them, we are advised to turn to God.

Which makes sense. Since we are under siege from inside our own skulls, there is a sound logic to seeking relief from some outside source. And God, let’s face it, is a classic.

But I find myself unable. Not unwilling – it’s not for want of effort. I have prayed. A lot, actually. AA is a temple built by “fake it till you make it,” and it is populated by people of good will who wish to help you for no other purpose than to see you get well. So I have been advised to pray even in the absence of belief. And I have.

But whether it’s my own intellectual pride, or lack of humility, or any number of deficits that plague me, I have never been able to shake the feeling as I pray that I am a fraud, and that I am talking only to myself.

When I first got sober, I was vehement in my atheism. I was strident in my certainty.

Now I have no such certainty – I am marooned, actually, by my lack of belief. I can see in other people that their belief – even if it is rooted in nothing – is effective. I have witnessed the relief, the calming, the reduction in turmoil and hate. I see it all the time.

As you probably suspect, I hate acknowledging my vulnerability. Hate it. I also hate acknowledging that I have love in my life – that I have married the girl of my dreams and have the privilege each day of living with a woman far too good for me. I hate admitting hat I am stricken by love for my kids, a love of such intensity and ferociousness, I did not think myself capable. I hate acknowledging that I am blessed and fortunate. I hate conceding that I have found the work I need to be doing, and that despite its frustrations and the fact that it is largely unpaid, it is fulfilling and constitutes a for me a sense of purpose. I hate acknowledging that people whom I respect seem not to be lying when they tell me they like my work.

I hate all these things only in part because I hate the kind of soft-headed affirmation-spew that exists as a slack shorthand for actual feeling, the kind of psychobabble boosterism that stands as a spineless substitute for actual self-examination.

But mostly, really, I hate these things because I am afraid - chronically, feverishly afraid of losing all of it. It’s not a fear you could see, probably. I’m not one of those anxiety monkey-type people.

But I am afraid. Because of the kill switch mounted on the wall of my skull. I am afraid that one day it will all prove too exhausting, too overwhelming, too impossibly large and important and confounding, and in a moment of weakness or depletion, I will abandon it all and leap into the abyss of self-immolation that always awaits me.

People – inattentive people, mostly – too readily mistake me for a cynic. Which I get. I rant. I say mean things. I adopt a tough-minded posture.

But the people willing to peer through the cracked windows into the flimsily constructed house just past that posture, though, can see that I am no cynic. I am afraid. I am badly, hopelessly afraid.

I have a heart that is warm and wounded, and I have much – so much – to lose. So in a corner of that flimsily constructed house, I crouch around it all like a cornered animal, clawing at any who draw too near.

I wish it was possible for me to invite God into this house. I actually envy those who can, because if I could, mine would become a house less lonesome. But even with its warped floors and poor layout, the rats in the walls and leaking roof, this shabby house of mine is a true house. It is real.

So even though God is not unwelcome, exactly, he seems to me to be a made-up thing, and therefore cannot stay.

Wednesday
Jan222014

WRITE CLUB, Strength - 12/9/13

Strength need never account for itself.

Strength does not explain.

Strength does not seek your counsel or your solace.

Strength is irreducible and complete. Strength is self-possessed and self-sufficient.

Or.

At least.

This is what Strength tells itself. This is what Strength would have us believe.

Strength makes a big show of… well, of strength, but secretly? Strength is actually pretty ragged and – if we’re being honest – isn’t doing so hot, actually.

To tell you the truth, Strength is pretty beat up. And has been feeling more than a little sad. I mean, it’s been getting dark so early, it’s tough on all of us, a little bit. For Strength, though? This has been a long time coming.

Not that Strength is headed for a breakdown, or whatever. But the demands. Placed on Strength. In recent years.

Have been a drain. And a hassle.

And Strength… I mean, Strength remains STRONG, obviously. I mean, it isn’t that. It’s just… Strength has wondered – in a mostly idle way, you understand – a purely, like THEORETICAL way – whether it’s even WORTH it, anymore.

The struggle.

I mean – it’s ENDURABLE, obviously. This is still STRENGTH we’re talking about, here. But, just… sometimes. To be honest. Strength would way rather be having a glass of wine in a hot bath. And a good cry. Than all this… like, stoic abiding. That is expected. From all quarters.

The thing is: Strength doesn’t want to QUIT, or whatever. Strength can HACK it – it isn’t anything like that. But Strength could sure use a break. That’s all. Just a break. Because it never lets up. Does it? No. Never does.

Strength would just like to catch a goddamn BREATH without, you know, without the constant threat of everything falling completely apart if Strength doesn’t bring the A game all the damn time.

All Strength is ASKING – which, when you think about it is totally reasonable and in no way out of bounds, or whatever – is to sit DOWN for five minutes to grab a cup of fucking COFFEE without being, like MOLESTED by whatever the latest goddamn CRISIS is.

Honest to GOD, you guys.

Strength could use a little HELP around here. You know?

Strength would really appreciate it – like a LOT – if you could just figure shit out for yourselves for like ten goddamn minutes so Strength could just, I don’t know, not have shoulder the ENTIRE BURDEN ALL THE GODDAMN TIME BECAUSE NOBODY ELSE CAN SEEM TO HOLD IT TOGETHER.

Is it so much to ASK?

Jeez, Louise!

You know what it is, you guys? Real talk. Sit down. House meeting. Strength is calling a house meeting. Right now. Drop what you’re doing and listen up. Let’s go. Circle up.

It’s the everything-ness of what you expect of Strength. The unrelenting-ness and totality, the every-moment-of-every-fucking-day-ness of it.

Look. I get it. Some stuff only Strength is gonna be able to handle well. You pull a double shift when you’re fighting a cold – that’s a Strength job, for sure. Or your sister needs a ride to chemo. And sit with her while she fights the nausea. Strength all the way.

But there’s plenty of other areas where the rest of you guys have GOTTA pick up some slack. Come on – get off the bench, you guys. Quit riding the pine.

When the fucking client makes the racist joke in the meeting – you guys all clam up and look at Strength. Convictions? Principles? Where are you guys when that shit happens?

When you turn from your mailbox to see your landlady crying, you guys all slink past her and leave Strength to ask her what’s wrong. Even though he had the same shitty day as the rest of you, and has never liked her that much. Compassion – step up. Decency? You, too. Get in there.

Or when your spouse tells the same story – badly – for the millionth time, it falls to Strength to hold the tongue, to stop the eye roll. What about you, Discretion? How about you, Simple Kindness? And Love: where the FUCK have you been all this time?

Strength feels pretty, well, strongly, you guys, that if you just pitch in a little bit, if everybody just pulls together and does their part – then maybe we can get through this. Because. You guys. Right now, it is not looking good.

And Speed – what are you even DOING here, man? You contribute nothing but hyperactivity and fidgeting and annoyance.

But if not – if you guys cannot get your shit together and do your share – if you keep over-relying on Strength to get us through every fucking situation, then we all run the risk of Strength losing it completely and turning on us.

And we do NOT wanna cross Strength.

Because I think we can agree – none of us wants to go toe-to-toe with Strength. Strength could crush us without breaking stride. Strength could snuff us out without breaking a sweat; Strength alone has the power to destroy us all. 

Saturday
Sep072013

If You're Like Me, You Find Readin' to be a TON of Work, So…

HERE's a link to the Paper Machete podcast, wherein I read my fast food essay. Which is quite good. 

Paper Machete podcast.