Y Marks the Spot: Turd Ferguson

My new neighborhood is very cat friendly, to the point where gangs of the mild mannered beasts roam its narrow streets with impunity.  They sit around on the sidewalks, gazing at human pedestrians, and if you walk up to one of these furry loiterers, it won’t mind a gentle scratch on the neck.

So I wasn’t surprised when, a few weeks back, I noticed a cat slinking into my secluded backyard, making its way into my moss-covered and dilapidated shed where it made camp and stared at me through my back room window.  The unusual part happened when the cat stuck around.

It was a bit too easy to befriend this animal, even for our neighborhood.  The first time my girlfriend went outside and held out her hand, the cat ran right over and they were instantly friends.  Seconds later, I made my first formal acquaintance with the creature, and we were all pals.

We named the cat Ferguson, because it was, while a handsome creature, also a matted-fur longhair with turds hanging off its ass.  This led to a lot of awkward dodgings when the cat did what normal cats do and obsessively tried to rub itself against our legs.

But the desperation in the animal was radioactive.  From the point of introduction, Ferguson slept in our backyard under a far off tree at the corner of our fence, and it didn’t leave.  Any time he saw motion in our back room and any time we went outside, he would rush out from the shadows and rasp at us for attention until his voice grew hoarse.  Ferguson sounded like a cross between a chain-smoker and the annoying fairy from Ocarina of Time.  Hey!  Hey!  Listen!

Ferguson wanted in our house because it was obviously a housecat that had been abandoned.  The facts that he was declawed and extremely comfortable with humans as well as his refusal to leave our backyard once he set up base were strong proof that Ferguson once had an owner who didn’t deserve him, and he wanted us to fill that space.

If my girlfriend and I didn’t already have two spoiled, absurdist kittens, we’d have taken Ferguson in following the quickest of groomings.  But that wouldn’t have been fair to the beasts we were already responsible for.  After we brought them to our new sanctuary they were just as shell-shocked over the new solitude as we were.  A new cat would have wrecked them, so that wasn’t going to happen.

We did what we could to help him out: scooping food out onto the grass, filling up a can with drinking water, coming out to be around this sweet, neglected creature.  But we couldn’t give him what he wanted, and there was a lot of guilt that followed each time we went back inside and shut the door on him, leaving him to stare through our blinds at an impossible safety.

We wouldn’t have let this situation stand under normal circumstances, but being that the weather was getting colder we decided that we had to find Ferguson a home as soon as possible.  I put up a few feeble posts on Facebook to little avail, but my girlfriend had better luck.  A coworker of hers was an established adopter and rehabilitator of strays, and she was looking for a second cat.  After a few text conversations, the coworker walked into our backyard with her family and was immediately love-mugged by our feline hobo.

And that was that.  The family returned the next day and took Ferguson off to the vet, after which he was taken to a home where I’m told he’s very comfortable and happy.

Once all the turds were snipped away, Ferguson ended up being a girl.

Y Marks the Spot: I’m Lying. Honest.

There was something I recently read that depressed the shit out of me.  I found this treasure of doublespeak in the customer service section (go figure) of the Burger World supervisor study guide which I am currently ignoring in my inertia toward the illusion of power.  It made me want to ram my head through a wall.

The line is exact, (with the exception of the fact that only Beavis and Butt-head work at Burger World): “The person working the register should always greet the customer in a non mechanical greeting, such as ‘Hi, welcome to Burger World’”.

Do you see how a reasonably sentient creature such as myself might have a problem with this?  The statement red-handedly contradicts itself.  It advocates individuality, so long as it’s the company’s individuality.  It tells you to use your own words and then feeds you an acceptable line.  The line encourages acting mechanical; it just expects you to be good at faking enthusiasm.  Like a stripper.

I get that a person unfortunate enough to have a job involving customer service is like a housewife with a thousand different husbands, living in terror that any one of them will stumble home drunk and beat the shit out of her and then she’ll be blamed by the neighborhood for being a bitch who doesn’t listen.  I hate that thought, as well as the thought that the rules of customer service are written by assholes who don’t have to live with them.  But I think there’s a greater problem suggested by that logic-raping symptom statement, and that is that maybe people don’t really want honesty.  Maybe we’d rather be comfortable.  If that squares with the truth, so much the better.  If not, comfort is the trump.

You don’t see many people telling the rampaging idiots in their lives what they really think of them, do you?  I don’t do it.  I’m too polite, which translates into realspeak as cowardly.

I’ve most noticed my own lapse between ideals and action in friendship and romance, in which “tell me the truth” quickly devolves into “you son of a bitch.”  (The Burger World words of wisdom were referenced in one of my most recent mutual explosions.)  I’m usually a pretty blunt person when I’m visible (for the idiots, I vanish), and my growing disillusionment with the sacred power of truth hasn’t turned me into a pathological liar.  (If anything, I’ll be an in the moment hypocrite, the truth of now contradicting all my prior in the moment convictions.  I’m completely fine with this.)  But I have learned to tell when a person doesn’t really want the truth one howls for, and so with silence and misdirection I’ll sometimes keep that person safe.  I’ve gotten somewhat good at this.

There’s another example in my current life that further illustrates my skepticism of truth.  Once again, it involves my wonderful work.  While it’s a better job than McDonald’s or my late, lamented Old Country Buffet, Burger World is a world in perpetual crisis, and as all the smoke blown up my ass has led me to believe, only I can save the day.  What I’m saying, in so many words, is that I get called in a lot.

In the past I’ve compared my time at Burger World to my best friend’s misadventures within a creepy Christian youth group he went to in order to hook up with a devout teenage girl whom we both liked.  As he told it, the congregation got in full recruitment mode whenever he’d arrive, staring at him in unison and praying for his immortal soul in the hope that he’d join their team and reinforce their existences.  (Thankfully, he got over the girl and married a well-adjusted brainiac whom we both liked.)  Now I feel like I’m in the youth group, and the further up the ladder I’m lured, the further into the trap I go.

It’s been an absolute bitch to beat back my clutching, disastrous source of income into its proper place in my life.  My job is a stupid, tentacled beast that doesn’t think twice about scheduling me six days a week and then trying to call me in on my day off.  It doesn’t blink when it tries to tack on an additional four hours to my shift for no good reason.  It could care less that it’s only one of many things I do, including this and including the occasional day off to relax like a normal person.  And working ten hours on Labor Day was also fun.

But how to tell such a stupid creature, when it grasps for the miles beyond its given inches, the selfish truth?  You can’t.  It’ll just cry until you give in to shut it up.  So I lie, just a little bit.  Inflate the truth.  Make myself seem a hair busier than I actually am.  Just like I did yesterday, a day off the creature tried to steal back with emergencies and sweet nothings whispered into my voicemail (I’ve long since learned to silence my phone on days off).  I didn’t answer, sending a noncommittal text to my boss saying that I had to get my newspaper work done and that it would take all evening.  It only took a few hours, but you can’t give the creature any leeway at all, not if you want your own life.  And I do.

Deceit is a tool, just like any other tool.  Just like truth.  All that matters is how, and why, you use it.

Y Marks the Spot: The Big, Terrible Silence

A whole lot of awesome nothing.

I don’t adapt quickly, but I do adapt brilliantly.  I act with the speed of an ice age.  My process of learning involves a lot of trial and error, a lot of intellectual probing and catastrophic screwing up before I figure out the scheme, and then, poof, I’m a half-assed expert.  I come into the game with everyone around me convinced that I’m the dumbest creature to ever evolve thumbs, but when I’ve hit my stride I suddenly become a sullen, sarcastic, shambling shade of gold.

So it’s not surprising to me that, one month to the day since I traded in extreme social claustrophobia for wonderful, titanic freedom, I still haven’t adjusted.

The night that I moved into my new place and joined Clarence Clemons’ band, I was too overwhelmed to think.  I paced around the planks of my big, beautiful, empty rooms, amazed that things had worked out so wonderfully.  But I couldn’t sit down.  I couldn’t stop thinking about things I wanted to get for the place and how I wanted to arrange the furniture.  The past year of living in paranoia without any sort of permanent, sealable sanctuary had wound me up to the point where, once a place of silence finally swooped in and presented itself, I reacted with something resembling horror, becoming a poster boy for antisocial shell shock.

The plan on that first night was that my girlfriend and I would eat pizza and get drunk on screwdrivers – a luxury that I now, in all my total heavenly glory, can once more afford.  Only the food happened, and then we sat, both stunned by the new, scary quiet.  Sleep – another luxury that I can once again afford – happened, eventually, but we did not ride in triumph to it like Wagnerian Valkyries.  Instead, we slithered into it like sluggish mud men.  Anticipation, as usual, disappointed.

A month later, I still feel like I’m living in a state of shock.  The big spaces are being filled out; the place feels less like a void and more like a nouveau riche dwelling of some insipid Ikea socialite or Wal-Martian dignitary.  I live like a normal person.  I have the den I’ve always wanted, my folding card table desk and lawn chair recliner ready to accommodate my every bargain basement philosopher-king whim.  Yet I feel like I’m still waiting for some big fireworks display to happen before I crank the bolt off the fire hydrant in my brain and let the brain-kids dance around in its street corner flood.  There’s still terror, and indecision, and intimidation, and solitary agoraphobia.  I’m still waiting, and the time for waiting has passed.

In the meantime, I’ve been junkie-devouring all the meager distractions that I’ve brought into this Spartan villa.  There’s no more cable TV.  No internet.  No friends.  We watch cartoons on my girlfriend’s computer and, on a future day when we’re not too burned out from and/or pissed off about our respective jobs, we have a mountain of board games to fulfill our senses of communal distraction.  But, in the meantime, I’ve used some of my new disposable income to acquire and consume – in my usual hyper-obsessive style – a few video games for my portable systems.  They’re games consciously chosen, instead of like back when I used to have one night stands with any random stimuli with 16 bits and a boner, but it still adds up to time that could be better spent.  It still adds up to more waiting.

Yet I also feel like there are cracks in the old wall.  Evidence?  Well, this, kind of.  In my last place, and even back when I lived alone in La Crosse’s Stately Y Manor, I’d get so freaked out – in my usual hyper-obsessive style – over the minutiae of every sentence of even the most inconsequential things I’d ever written that it would take me a day to creak out something that could have taken an hour’s time.  Which is how long this has taken, thus far.  Thanks, improv.

But this column is something structured, something needed from me, requested from an external source, an editor needing material to fill a newspaper.  The true test of success in my new, voided ecosystem is whether I start writing things unasked for, works that nobody but me has any vested interest in the completion of.  I have a bizarrely reliable work ethic, despite my tendencies to despise the expectations of others.  I do what’s needed.  The problem is that, for all my narcissism and megalomania, I haven’t yet adapted to the idea that it’s even more important for me to be brilliant when I’m the person who needs something from me.  Instead, my earth-shattering ambitions remain optional.  That is bullshit.  That must change.

We’ll see how that goes.  I did buy a lamp for my den tonight.  Perhaps it will illuminate something.

Y Marks the Spot: The Staged Chaos

I can’t say that in the past year I’ve spent nigh-homeless – sleeping on an air mattress in a flea-ridden house on the verge of collapse, getting rejected for jobs I’m grossly overqualified for, and counting my comatose life by the week instead of by the day – I’ve never considered moving back to La Crosse.  Sure, I would have been really unhappy and felt really defeated, but every so often it felt like defeat, at the very least, would bring a little stability and familiarity.  As much as I find a great deal of fault with it, La Crosse is my home.

Yet there was one point which I reminded myself of every time these regressive thoughts crept into my depressed brain.  It pretty much became the last line of defense that kept me out here in Washington even in my most frustrated lows.

La Crosse doesn’t have improv.  So I can’t go back.

I found improv on the day after I arrived in Bellingham, though it would be a month before its importance to me took shape.  On the second day, my new roommates showed me around my new city’s fantastic downtown, where I wandered around a bit wide-eyed.  We drifted into a small coffee shop, and everyone else in my group ordered things.  Since I don’t drink coffee and don’t care about measly café food, I lingered off near the wall, thumbs in pockets, and I stared at the giant block of fliers upon it.

There was one poster which I gravitated toward, a mockery of Pulp Fiction’s cover art in which Uma Thurman’s hip sneer replaced by another girl’s silly smirk.  Clearly the show it was hyping seemed like something that I’d be into (especially if they brought out the Gimp), but as I was still overwhelmed from crossing half the country it flew over my head.  We left the café and wandered across the street to a record store, where I found a Wesley Willis album for sale – a clear and time-honored indication that good things were in store for me.

A few weeks later, the poster and I would again cross paths.  One thing I’ve long wanted to start doing is performing stand-up comedy, but I hadn’t been able to find a consistent open mic in La Crosse to work on it.  One of my goals in coming to Washington was to find a comedy venue and start performing, and a quick Google search in this pursuit brought me to the place advertised by Fake Uma.  This would turn out to be the best Google search I’ve ever done.

Discovering improv at the Upfront Theatre was the same sort of lightning bolt to the brain that happened to me when I started writing these sorts of things and seeing them in print in the Second Supper.  Like, Jesus, I didn’t have my entire life and the rest of the world figured out after college, and there were still plenty of amazing things about myself and said world to find.  I found one such game changer during the Upfront show on the Thursday before my improv education began.  The hour and a half of people on stage, just making shit up, was both hilarious and a serious revelation.

I’ve described the way I felt watching that show the same way to a few people, and a year into improv hasn’t dulled the feeling at all.  It felt as though I had found my tribe.

I’m big into chaos and goofing off and making things and the eastern religion stripes of nihilism, and improv satisfies all of these sensibilities.  It’s something that I both knew from the start I’d be great at, and it’s a process which has made me get over myself and work really hard to get better.  Improv has made me proud of failure.  It makes me less paranoid and insular and frustrated.  It makes me a far better writer (when I stop being lazy or depressed and actually write).  It taught me to get over my own agendas.  It has made me far more brilliant.

Improv has been the one consistently good thing I’ve had going in the past year.  Sometimes, it was the only good thing.

After a year of classes, I now perform about once every other week in the Upfront’s student portion of its Thursday shows.  A group of six of us will go out, get about a half hour of time, and go berserk making shit up.  Sometimes we screw up, sometimes we’ll say horrible things that derail the scenes, but mostly we destroy the crowd.  After just about every show I leave feeling as though I’ve helped to accomplish something amazing.  I feel like an architect who makes skyscrapers out of the sky.

This is something I want to keep doing.  I don’t care how, or where, or with whom.  The Staged Chaos is in my blood and in my future, and that alone has made my adventure worth it.

Y Marks the Spot: What’s Old Is Crue Again

Not the danger I was looking for.

The message, forwarded to me by Captain Adam Bissen of the USS Second Supper, contained the typical chummy form letter used by music publicists since music publicists emerged from the oceans.  Hey, super-cool people of [insert publication], just wanted to let you know about [insert band], who are coming through [insert town] on [insert date].  Would you be cool with inserting a little publicity for the show into your fine publication?  We can set up an interview if you’re interested.  You rawk!

The only difference between this message and every other one I’ve received since I emerged from the music journalism oceans was that [insert band] was Motley Crue.

“You interested?” Bissen asked.  Shit yes, says I.

Yet what would probably have been the biggest music interview of my phony career in music journalism was not to be.  As it turns out, I don’t feel that bad about missing out.

The next message I received from Captain Bissen cast doubt upon the interview’s likelihood.  It included another forwarded message, this one a response from Admiral Roger Bartel of the USS Second Supper to Motley Crue’s publicist.  I’m pretty sure Roger wasn’t using a form letter.

The summary of it is that while there are a lot of local venues and businesses that support the Second Supper, Fort McCoy has not been one of them, so there’s not much reason for the Supper to promote its shows.  After giving a shoutout to more symbiotic venues like Freedom Fest, the Kickapoo County Fair, and the Eau Claire Jazz Festival, he closes with this awesome line: “for some reason Fort McCoy is not interested in reaching audiences under 50, which is exactly our audience. Sorry we can’t be of more help.”

Shit yes, says I.

Here’s something I’ve felt for years which may not make me popular among certain people of my hometown: I don’t think that most people in La Crosse give a shit about anything that isn’t safe, simple, and right in front of them.  La Crosse has no sense of creative community beyond a few freaks who all get ignored because beer is cheaper and more readily procured.  Major bands play major shows at the Warehouse all the time and the Root Note has thrown together some sweet performances and Jammin’ George is one of the funniest bastards I’ve ever met and I’ve heard word about a bunch of Noise City schmucks sowing discord at the Cavalier and there have been loads of amazing musicians in town scraping by doing shows in the dirtiest corners of bars and basements and Chris Zobin puts bologna on his face and croons about the dangers of shaking babies and La Crosse as a whole simply cannot be bothered to give the slightest subatomic particle of a fuck about any of it.

But Motley Crue?  A band as old as I am?  Golden.  Hordes of my fellow Midwesterners will show up at Fort McCoy, probably ignore any song that isn’t “Dr. Feelgood,” “Kickstart My Heart,” or “Girls, Girls, Girls,” go nuts for those songs, fart, and go home.  La Crosse’s other newspaper will cover the show with its typical bland tripe, and the radio stations will fawn.  Fists will be pumped, heads will be banged, rebellion will be faked, and what I’m assuming will be a fine, high-production show will go off without a hitch or the faintest sense of danger.  I doubt anybody will go home afterwards and write a song.

This void is a big reason why I left La Crosse, and why I don’t ever expect to live there again.

Bissen told me that if I really wanted to, I could pursue the Motley Crue interview, but after reading Roger’s letter (and being really, really proud of it) I lost all interest.  Ultimately, my decision not to go for the interview was based less on giving the finger to La Crosse’s smug and sedate victory lap rock concert scene than it was on my complete disinterest in interviewing a band that has been around since the 80s and has had its dirt splashed across a vast product line of books and VH1 specials.  What the hell am I, or anybody, going to add to the story?  I’m assuming it would end up being the whole prerecorded “this is our best album/tour ever” bullshit hype that makes reading most Q&As with major musicians pointless.

Besides, if you’re a fan of Motley Crue, you don’t really need a prick like me to convince you to go, do you?

So Motley Crue is playing this Friday at Fort McCoy.  You’re welcome, [insert publicist].  The show will probably be pretty good.  Go if you want.  Or don’t.  I don’t give a shit.

Y Marks the Spot: Farewell, Tent City

I really, really hate retroactive justification, the self-delusions that state that all the crap you’ve gone through has led to the amazement and satisfaction you currently feel.  To me this “everything happens for a reason” bullshit is little more than rationalizing laziness and/or masochism, and it isn’t much different than pissing away one’s life in waiting for a glorious Rapture.

That said, all of my current problems ended in the span of a single day.  They didn’t end in the best of all possible ways, but the normality that is finally about to return is a very good one.  While I won’t say that this single day’s payoff was worth the previous year’s cost, I once more feel like my life is running with a heightened sense of appropriateness, or at least narrative.

The day was the first day of summer, a good friend’s birthday, and I had no expectations that it would be anything but the usual timeless time wasting that characterized my year of ungainful employment.  I was sleeping in my bedroom tent that once was a dining room when my phone, a new one that recently replaced the old wreck I finally euthanized with a washer ride in garbage-covered jeans, blared out the triumphant theme to the NES game, M.U.L.E.

It was the manager of an upscale fast food joint I halfheartedly applied to and interviewed for weeks before, someone I hadn’t expected to hear from again.  He wanted me to drop by for another interview.  After wiping the crap out of my eyes and putting on some less-wrinkled clothes, I walked into his place and was immediately given a job.  Poof.  Done.  In the blink of an eye, I was once again gainfully employed.

I didn’t really know how to react.

I texted my friend and let her know that my birthday present to her was me getting a job.  I’d have called it a cheap gift if I hadn’t been living below cheap for the past year.  After that I went home and surprised my girlfriend (and tentmate) with the news.  Maybe an hour later, she got a phone call of her own, and we had more surprising news.  Her friends were moving out of their stately apartment, and they were wondering if we wanted to take it.  This Friday, we move in.

All of this happened in one day.

I’ve lived in far worse situations than the one I’m about to leave.  The tiny two bedroom drug den packed with five people, bongwater carpets, and shotguns sitting out in the open comes to mind.  As does the place where people slashed each other for fun, ripped each other off for cheap profit, and attempted suicide from time to time.  The apartment I lived in eight years ago in which people were too busy buying weed and pizza to pay our bills still casts a long shadow over my destroyed credit.

In contrast, the people who live in the house that houses Tent City are upstanding, beer-soaked Wisconsin transplants who (eventually) pay their bills and aren’t unduly dramatic or self-destructive.  It’s bizarre and uncharacteristic that I’ve been the one who hasn’t been able to pull my financial weight and have been dependent on their charity.  I’m excited to come back here and hang out once hanging out become a choice and not an enforced default.

So what follows isn’t about burning bridges.  That said, I cannot wait to get out.

At first, Tent City wasn’t even a tent.  After we cleared out everyone else’s stuff, what was left was a dining room with no walls or doors, indiscriminately letting in light and sound.  After being sent my old curtains and tenting up the place, only the sound remained a problem.

My tentmate and I spent the first four months out here sleeping on a dimpled air mattress which made obnoxious fart noises any time someone moved on it.  The acquisition of the simple, single queen mattress we finally replaced it with was celebrated with alcohol and chocolate cake.

There are rats in the basement of this house, massive gopher holes have ruined its yard, and the trashman eventually stopped collecting our garbage.  Beer bottles breed like rabbits on the furniture.  The television is never off, even if nobody is watching.  If anything was ever cleaned in this house, it was usually due to me or my girlfriend, and we also had to be permanently on guard to make sure our baby cats didn’t get outside from the many ways out of this dilapidated wreck.

But the worst thing about living here has always been the lack of walls.  With all my previous bad situations, no matter how bad things got, I always had a room to retreat to, a place to filter out all the noise and damage.  In Tent City, that safety doesn’t exist.  I hear everything.  It got worse once it started getting cold and everyone started coming inside, worse still once my roommate who was living in the basement got flooded out and moved into the living room next to Tent City.  Some of us have rooms, but none of us really have any space.

Along with the massive sense of paranoia I developed from not having a place of my own, I’ve pretty much abandoned hopes of normal sleep, and for the time being I’ve all but abandoned writing.  Every word written has become a battle held between my brain and every outside noise and distraction, and fighting hasn’t been worth it.  I admitted defeat while plotting my way out, and I saved myself further implosion and frustration.

But that’s about to end.  I’m about to move into a place with no noise and no distraction.  My own safe place.  A place to get things done.  I’m about to become myself again.  I’m about to obtain the potential to become better than I’ve ever been.

Tent City, I’m pulling up your stakes.

Y Marks the Spot: Choke Back

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, and his bitch-chokin' hand.


I don’t really care who David Prosser is as a person, any more than I have any concern over who any public figure is in real life.  Being that Prosser is a politician affiliated with one of the big two political parties in America, his identity is even less relevant.  I know that America pushes its ideals of individualism to ridiculous heights (see: giving corporations the rights of people), but its citizens are fantastically deluded in thinking that candidates matter.  If there’s a D and an R on the ballot, you’re voting for a party and not a person.

Justice Prosser, recently reelected (in theory) to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, is an R, and he’s jumped right into line with the rest of the Rs who have lost their minds and are dead set on imposing Dark Ages corporate Sharia law upon all us unworthy plebeians.  The Republican Party hates the Taliban for its freedom.

I’m no fan of violence in the workplace, but if Justice Prosser wasn’t one of those hard Rs the recent allegations of him choking his fellow justice would have flown past all of our radars and remained a quiet matter for the authorities to deal with.  As it stands, Prosser is a key part of the Republican Party’s attempt to create a one-party system in Wisconsin, which is a key part of the Republican Party’s attempt to create a one-party system in the United States, and so on.

So I’m going to say something that goes against the spirit of American justice: whether Prosser choked his colleague or not, I hope the allegations ruin his career.  I hope David Prosser becomes the O.J. Simpson of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  Because as a judge, he’s not a person, but an R, and right now the Rs are the arrogant, entitled, aristocratic, authoritarian enemies of freedom, and their rampage must be stopped.

In one thing, all the right wing hate speech is absolutely correct: at the moment, we’re living in a culture war, and there are only two, individual-less, sides to the conflict.  There are the Republicans, fueled by aristocrats, zealots, and lackeys – and there is everyone else.

Everyone else, this is a fight, so fight to win.

You know who’s doing it right?  Minnesota.  Instead of doing the time-honored Democrat Kowtow, Governor Mark Dayton stuck to his guns, refused to budge on taxing the rich, and let the Republicans shoot their hostage.  And good for him.  Let the Republicans expose themselves as bastards so fixated on giving the rich a free ride that they’re willing to destroy the entire Minnesota government to get their way.  Shit, the national government almost went into the same hole because the Republican Party hates women (see: Planned Parenthood).  Why not defuse the Republican bomb by calling its bluff and blowing it up?  What leverage does shrapnel have?

(Update: Never mind.)

Still, I hate placing my faith in any person in any position of power.  So you know who else is doing it right?  Every person who is still sufficiently pissed off in Wisconsin to keep fighting Scott Walker’s hostile takeover of the state.  It’s goddamn disheartening to see that the Governor is so callous and programmed that the shouting of hundreds of thousands of angry protesters has rolled off his back like oil off a BP duck.  It’s infuriating to see the Wisconsin R continue its unlubed gangbang of the state’s civil liberties and its citizens’ way of life (see: proposed redistricting, concealed carry).  But getting infuriated has led to the people of Wisconsin standing up, getting awesome, and becoming the pinnacle of today’s American Dream.

By the way: hey, James Smith, you fucking scumbag, how’d sabotaging La Crosse’s recall election work out for you?

But here’s the problem: all of us in the way of right wing treads are facing some seriously crooked opposition who will destroy anyone in their way (see: Andrew Breitbart vs. Anthony Weiner).  Against such ruthless assholes, we kind of have to take our victories where we can get them.

So when the swing vote in the Wisconsin Supreme Court goes to a dubiously-elected R who immediately smacks down a good chunk of the protesters’ progress, a well-timed story about said Justice Prosser, as the slang goes, choking a bitch provides great ammo that we’d be fools not to use.

Am I wrong for hoping that he actually did it?

My fellow Anti-Republicans, whatever you do, don’t quit.  Don’t stop fighting.  Fight clean if you can, but don’t be afraid to fight dirty if you must.

Y Marks the Spot: I’ve come to Loathe You, Music



There was one lucid moment in the past year of my musical breakdown which sums up the silliness and absurdity of music as culture.  It happened around the time of Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” a fantastically brainless musing about partying and the days of the week that, with the help of the internet, turned one hapless teenage girl into the Antichrist.

Maybe it’s because I’ve come to cherish the weird and terrible instead of condemning them; maybe it’s just because I’ve stopped defining myself by what I’m entertained by.  In any case, I didn’t get the outrage against “Friday.”  If I was 16, still awash in brand name rebellion and mass marketed introspection, I’d probably have gotten offended and howled for her head with the rest of the uppity jackasses.  So here’s one more reason why I’m glad I’m no longer 16.  It’s a dumb song.  The end.  Get over it.

It was while I was in this line of thinking that I was treated to a performance of late 90s pop classics sung by a room full of girls drunk with nostalgia and beer.  So many songs that I actually did rail against back in the day, songs I was sure would bring about the downfall of civilization, were being sung in earnest by people who this night acted like this music was civilization’s apex.  I’ll admit that I had to get out of there after the third Spice Girls song, but I also realized that someday Rebecca Black, Justin Bieber, and the next test tube babies from the Disney Channel and American Idol will be the elder statesmen of all music.  “Mmmbop” by Hanson is no less absurd than “Friday,” but it’s more tolerable because it’s not happening now.  Because it’s history, and thus safe.

Beyond this moment and a few others, my past year has been spent loathing the grand idea of music.  This isn’t to say that I’ve spent that time in silence; in fact, I’ve often clung to music as a means of evasion and inspiration.  But any and all moments when music went beyond my headphones and me and became social in any way drove me nuts.

The earliest break was a continuation of a problem I’ve had since I began reviewing albums four years ago.  Essentially, I think music journalism is bullshit.  I knew it was bullshit when I started doing it, and I think it’s bullshit now, and there has never been a period when I didn’t believe this.  Even more than any other form of media, music works on a visceral, personal level.  Attempting to foist your tastes upon someone else, especially in the impersonal realm of media propaganda, is as illogical as it is invasive.

The last year has seen long stretches of time when I threw up my hands and stopped being a music journalist, but I’ve never quit for good.  The question arises: if I hate music journalism so much, why am I still doing it?

The first and easiest answer is that I don’t write about music for music’s sake but for writing’s sake.  I don’t want to be some desperately hip tastemaker.  I’m fine with giving my opinions on a thing, but I don’t have the attitude that my opinions are law.  In fact, I don’t really care if anyone picks up an album at my suggestion.  I write to write, and I write for myself.  Reviewing albums is good, constant exercise.

More importantly, I also review for myself.  I’ve found quite a few really good albums that I wouldn’t have discovered had I not been reviewing music on a semi-regular basis.  Even as I loathe the telemarketing aspect of music journalism, I’ve personally benefited, learned, and grown as a result of pursuing it.

My final point on why I write about music is that I’ve found that I really like interviewing people.  A review is black or white, life-changing or total shit, but talking with people about what they do provides a lot of context to the work that is sometimes wonderful to discover.  I did have a bit of a meltdown in the past when I realized that, with the possible exception of David Bowie, every musician in the world is going to answer the question of what sets them apart with the cliché that they’re honest and real.  Nonetheless, I get much more out of interviewing than being a product shill (and in media, even when you’re savaging a product, you’re shilling it).

The other big reason behind my break with music comes back to age.  Just as I no longer take music I dislike as heralding the apocalypse, so too do I no longer tie my identity to music I do like.  I have favorite bands, I suppose, but my sense of brand loyalty is gone.

Furthermore, I’m falling out of the target audience.  Pop music is a teenager’s game, and I’m a decade past the expiration date.  I’ve heard the same lyrical themes of phony, desperate romance and phony, triumphant rebellion for my whole life.  With every repetitive sentiment music becomes more pointless.  I’m kind of over it, which means that music is kind of over me.  It’s a strange and occasionally alienating feeling, but one I can live with.

Music, I still like you, even if you do sometimes act like an obnoxious twit who doesn’t realize that you’re wallpaper, not religion.  We’ll be friends for life, and nothing will change that, but the time has come for a little clarity between us.  It might help our relationship if you occasionally shut the fuck up.

Y Marks the Spot: The Bullshit Addict

When I came up with a new personal code of conduct this past January, I placed the most value not on what I wanted to accomplish, but how.  As such, the most important rule I set for myself was to not be frustrated when (not if) I failed to immediately live up to all my expectations.  Having been fueled by frustration for most of my life, I have an annoying and highly self-destructive tendency to throw all my hopes and plans into the dumpster at the first setback.  Usually this comes about because I become willingly distracted by some stimulus and forget about all the big things I want to accomplish.  The stupidity comes about when this sloth frustrates me into giving up and engaging in further, more depressed sloth.  The result of this cycle often becomes that I get so spun around that, when the distractions are all conquered, I’m left with no idea of what to do next.  This is where I’m currently at.

I am a junkie, not for alcohol or drugs, but for bullshit.  I’m not being melodramatic or romanticizing the situation at all.  My sense of obsession is titanic, and rather than use that potentially wonderful quality to fulfill all the big goals I want to accomplish, I derail myself at any given distraction.  The title of my stimulus review column, The Designer’s Drugs, is not so much a clever, rebellious name as it is an admission that entertainment can – and often does – become an addiction.

Even now, even as I’ve outgrown a lot of my past stupidity, I’m fantastically addicted to addiction.  If I’m playing a video game, I tend to complete every side quest and every achievement.  I loathe watching television shows because watching every episode in a series takes too much time and effort, and with TV shows, if I’m in for a penny I’m in for a pound.  I spend hours, days, weeks, and months on the internet doing little more than absorbing trivia, yet I find that I don’t know how to turn off the switch.  I’m brilliant, in all the wrong ways.

My current theory is that all of this comes from a feeling that all stimulus is there to be consumed or conquered, which isn’t surprising considering that I was raised by video arcades and Nintendo.  It’s this line of thought that justifies why I stopped buying cigarettes, as I’d go through a pack a day simply because it was there.  It makes much more sense for me to pace myself and steal cigarettes from my friends.

So if I can view every aspect of my life in gaming terms – winning, losing, high scores – is it possible for me to enjoy life as it is?  Whether won or lost, a game is over.  Life isn’t really like that, as I’m coming to realize.

But strangely, awkwardly, and full of failure, I’m getting better.  Sometimes.

My only rationalized consolation for the time I wasted between January and now is that most of the wasting went according to plan.  During that period, a few video games came out that I knew would be awesome, including a remake of one of my favorite games ever, Final Fantasy IV.  I consciously decided to get these games, and didn’t feel bad about it at all.

Perversely, this is a drastic improvement over the days when I would buy crappy entertainment of any kind simply to get new things.  At least I wasn’t wasting my time on consuming something I didn’t even really like.  This is me maturing.

Unfortunately, my taste in games runs toward epic strategy games that take weeks to complete, so even my reasoned decision ended up with me playing these games from waking to sleep, for days at a time.  I wasn’t frustrated by this, but I sure wasn’t being fulfilled, either.

Equally unfortunate was what happened once I emerged victorious and had no more worlds to conquer.  When the last game was finished, I had no desire to get another throwaway game, to watch throwaway television, to drown in the throwaway internet.  I was done being entertained, and I had no idea what to do next.  Victory had crippled me.

I’ve spent the time since reading, in my conquering junkie style, but I’m not reading mindlessly or gluttonously.  Soon the books I’m working on at the moment will run out, and I’ll be in the same position I’m in with all the other forms of entertainment, not knowing how to flip the switch from mindless reception to brilliant transmission.

I’ve spent a month trying to figure out the answer, but in that time I feel like something might be building, if I allow it to.  The temporary breakdown of my brain I’ve been slogging through has sucked, no doubt.  But it may have been necessary.  I’ve always been kind of an idealist nihilist in that I feel that I’m at my best when I have nothing.  Maybe this is the nothing I’ve been waiting for.

Y Marks the Spot: Conservatives, Heal Thyselves

Only this man is exempt from what I'm about to say.

Any group of any kind is only as legitimate as its loudest, dumbest, most destructive member.  When this rule is applied to today’s Republican Party, well, shit.  America’s doomed.  Let’s call a spade a spade: the official party of the right wing has become the party for ignorance, the party for imposed desperation, the party for small affluence and widespread poverty, the party for theocracy, the party for serfhood and feudalism, and most importantly the party that cannot exist without an ocean of second-class citizens.  It’s not even that good at enacting its much-professed ideals of fiscal responsibility and anti-bureaucracy anymore.  And somehow, this party tends to get its way.

What pisses me off most about all this is that the Republican Party is now the party of the insane.  The political buzzword used to be the naïve, idealistic Bleeding Heart Liberal, but with the infestation of the Tea Party into Republican politics, today’s political jackasses tend to be Heart Attack Conservatives, people who care less about facts and self-interest than they do about having a platform to screech and hate.

The worst thing about the real life internet trolls of the Tea Party is that they’ve become a black hole in the public discourse.  They’re the loud, disruptive kids in class who derail the teacher and prevent everyone else from learning.  Scratch that; they’re the loud, disruptive kids in class who infect everyone else in class until all that’s left is a classroom full of shrieking idiots drawing dicks on the blackboard.  And like all things zombie-related, there’s a huge audience that hangs on their every act of faux-rebellious douchebaggery.

The obvious victims of this outbreak are gays, Mexicans, Muslims, women, the poor, the compassionate, and the sane.  But I’m wondering if an equally important victim of the unhinging of the right wing is the right wing itself.

I’ve been watching the looming embarrassment that is the 2012 presidential election cycle, in which the few Republicans who are gearing up to run against Obama are doing their best to out-crazy one another.  It’s awful.  Only in a politically retarded landscape as ours could a batshit vampire lady like Michelle Bachmann gain any sort of credence among those who don’t sleep in padded cells.  Worse still, we have one of the richest men in the world, Donald Trump, running on a platform of lowest common denominator and howling about Obama’s birth certificate in a thin attempt to slum with the crazies.  At the moment, these people are the front-runners, which to me speaks ill of America on the whole, not just the Republicans.

It might be satisfying to anticipate the Wagnerian spanking the Republicans will receive in 2012 if these candidates are the best it has to offer, but I can’t shake this sense of something approaching disgusted pity for them.  (The image in my head is of how I’d react to a shit-covered schizophrenic who just punched me in the mouth, if that helps.)  I’ve never, ever liked the Republicans, but when there’s an election, I expect each party to put forth the most competent candidate they have to offer.  I demand real Republican candidates, not crackheads who would have been laughed out of any other race in history.

The problem is ultimately larger than the right wing.  The public doesn’t want competence or ability; they want elected officials whom they can have a beer with, representatives who are just folks, rulers who are just like them.  Let me say, at the top of my text lungs, that the Beer Standard is the most bullshit criteria in politics (and not just because I’m a vodka drinker).  I don’t want elected officials to be just as good as everyone else.  I’d like them to be a damn sight better.

I never believe that a political pundit is as nuts as he or she appears to be.  I guarantee that if the Beer Standard wasn’t the law of the land, most of our Republican candidates for president wouldn’t be locked in this quagmire of Tea Party-calculated psychosis.  Our country might have a good deal more self-respect.

I might be wrong, though.  Maybe it is a good thing that the worst of the right wingers have gained the overconfidence to expose themselves as the repressive cavemen they are.  I know that time gives things that were intolerable in the present a sort of respectability in the past (see: George W. Bush, the Backstreet Boys), but the McCarthy, Goldwater, and Reagan Republicans weren’t any more saintly for not having to appease all the raving lunatics.  It’s not as though most of the Tea Party’s cells, despite their claims to be grassroots movements, aren’t corporate funded screechshows.  The tactics may have changed, but maybe the right wing is running the same plan as ever.

Yet assuming that the madness of the last decade isn’t an insidious Republican conspiracy to keep people angry and distracted, it’s not the liberals who must be the key players in curbing the Tea Party.  In his conflicts with the wild and populist movements during his presidency, Nixon appealed to a “silent majority” of sober, conservative Americans to stand up and be heard.  That’s precisely what is called for in this moment – a real conservative movement, comprised of people more concerned with policy over polarization, which will stand up and put the Tea Party infants (and, ideally, the Republicans they rose up against) back in their cribs.  The liberals can laugh and mock and loathe all they want, but ultimately it is the right wing which is responsible for cleaning up its own mess.

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