My daughters were trying to teach their six-year-old brother how to play truth or dare in the car tonight. They each demonstrated the protocol.
Eleven-year-old: “Truth or Dare?”
Eleven-year-old: “Eat this Jolly Rancher from Easter.”
And so on.
Simple. Simple game, simple rules.
Eventually, of course, the game will turn into a confessional/peer-pressure-fueled gauntlet of embarrassing, compromising, vaguely sexual and/or overtly sexual acts that will end in tears, rumors, and the always-fun stress-induced eating disorder (can’t wait!) but at this point it’s still pretty tame and kind of cute.
Then it’s my son’s turn.
Son: Truth or dare?
Oldest Daughter: Dare.
Son (producing a Bic pen from his booster seat): Poke your eye out.
Oldest Daughter: Wait, what?
Son: Poke out your eye. The right one.
That was the end of the game. Needless to say we had a good laugh after we coaxed the pen from my son’s hand and convinced him that his dare, while certainly falling within the parameters of a “dare” so-to-speak, was probably too intense for such a casual game, especially with siblings.
“He’d do well in a Vietnamese POW camp,” my wife said.
“Or a Turkish prison.” I agreed.
Though his approach is more pure and honest than the way most middle-schoolers play the game, using the opportunity to commit acts of emotional terrorism on the weaker members of the herd and initiate the new member of the clique in the dark arts of middle school antagonism, it does make me wonder what’s going to happen when he gets to middle school, and at a party someone introduces Truth or Dare as the game of the hour. Will he have learned the proper gaming protocol, or will he jack it to eleven again?
My son: Truth or Dare?
Middle-school jerkoff: Dare, bro.
My Son: Slam your dick in the microwave.
Middle-school jerkoff: Slam my…seriously?
My son: We’re waiting.
I kind of hope it happens.
My daughters were trying to teach their six-year-old brother how to play truth or dare in the car tonight. They each demonstrated the protocol.
I’m not ashamed to say I read most of my news off of Yahoo, which I realize is one of the shittiest places in the world from which to get your news.
I think it has to do with Yahoo’s insane need to try and take any and all possible reader-related factors into consideration when they put out a story. It has to be not-too-smart, not-too-scary, not-too-uninteresting. It has to be about what’s going on RIGHT THIS MINUTE, but it also has to be provacative enough encourage those who use message boards to post at least fifteen or twenty “useful” comments before someone throws in a homophobic or racist slur and the whole string becomes either self-righteous and unreadable or vile and unreadable.
Spoiler alert: the message boards never make it to 15 posts before this happens.
I understand that Yahoo news is crap. It’s called Yahoo News. Odds are, Bob Woodward is not champing at the bit to get a position there. But sometimes, and this is probably why I read it, there is an article that makes me wonder.
It happened again this week, in an article related to the odd story about the three women who escaped after ten years of captivity in Cleveland (actually, ten years’ captivity in a basement of some pervert’s house in Clevelend, not that ten years free in Cleveland is much better…RIMSHOT! MISTAKE BY THE LAKE! BURNING RIVER! THE INDIANS! Is this thing on?).
The article had nothing to do with the women, but about public outrage towards the psychic, Sylvia Browne, who told a mother of one of the girls that her daughter was dead. A year later the mother died, with Sylvia Browne ostensably to blame.
There are a lot of reasons to get angry at psychics: they’re con artists; they’re vultures, exploiting the grief and fear of parents and spouses for profit; they’re gadflies and pests who “volunteer” their services so vociferously when something like this happens that they can become a nuisance (the article does bring this up, albeit briefly), they usually abuse neckerchiefs are/or headscarves.
But the article, or at least the irate few the article covers, seem most upset that Silvia Browne was wrong.
That’s why they’re angry. Because she got it wrong. Are psychics ever right? I’ve never seen a psychic predict anything correctly (because I obviously have a shit-ton of experience with psychics and “their gift of second sight”…).
I told my father about the article, and he said it was like getting angry at weathermen (Weatherpeople? That sounds.like a creepy Sesame Street skit. In Dayton they call the dude who does the weather a “Storm Tracker,” which hits the holy trifecta of being pompous, buffoonish, and innacurate). I don’t completely agree. The people that predict the weather are right A LOT. Like 80% of the time I bet. They’re right so often that the public gets legitimately pissed when they are wrong. If they say sunny and eighty-five degrees, and it turns out to be forty-five and raining, that dumbass is probably fired. But getting angry at a psychic because she was wrong? That’s like becoming disillusioned with pornography.
“You’re telling me that this man and this woman do not love nor probably even have lustful feelings towards each other and are performing for the viewer’s benefit? And that the situations, positions and shall-we-say endurance of the performers is more-than-likely a performance too and not indicative of what I can look forward to in my life? Shit. Well, at least the women are so naturally beautiful and so startlingly well-endowed that it makes me believe in a just, wise, loving and charitable God who…really? Serious?..that too, huh? My life has just become smaller.”
Psychics are bullshit entertainment. Using one to find your kid or wife is like hiring Mark Harmon because he’s “so smart on NCIS.”
Call the police. Shitty police are better than really, really good psychics. But for the love of god, save your self-righteous rancor for more important things, like the Cool Ranch Dorito Taco at Taco Bell. That thing shouldn’t suck, but it so fucking does.
I went through the drive-thru (drive through?) at the bank yesterday to cash a check ($16.00—ching!) and take out $50.00 for a weekend trip to see the Reds with my dad and kids. It only took about 37 seconds to realize that I have no idea how to ask to withdraw money from an actual person at the bank. For starters, I have no clue what my savings account number is. Also, I don’t have a bank card—it was chewed up by the machine a couple of years ago after I forgot to take it out of the slot and I’ve never felt the need to replace it—so I have to use my wife’s. Finally, I’ve never really known how to fill out a withdrawal slip, which I had to do to get my money.
“I’ll need 50.00 from savings,” I said.
“I’ll put a withdrawal slip in the box,” she said, and smiled.
“Is that completely necessary?”
I actually asked that. As if she’d asked me to submit to a strip search. To her credit, she said nothing and gave no sign that she’d heard me. It was well played, one of those moments when you both know that one of you is an idiot, but the one who is not has too much class to admit it. I thought about how suspicious it would be if I just took the $16.00 from the cashed check, drove around the block, and got the money from the ATM. Maybe not suspicious, but dumb, which is even worse.
“Fine,” I said, “Give me the slip.”
“Do you know that this is your wife’s card?” She actually didn’t say “your wife” but my wife’s name. I try to leave names out of the blog but I will tell you that the fact that she just used the name and not her relation to me—even though, how could she know for sure?–made me feel like I was doing something wrong.
I said, “Yes!” and smiled like she’d asked me if I wanted a free salsa sample. She sent the slip through and I eyeballed it. It didn’t look hard to fill out, save that I didn’t know the account number. But looks are deceiving. Most things look easy when you’re new to them. You have no idea, really how shitty you’re going to be. Confidence flies, unfettered by experience. It’s why everybody things they would be good at curling.
The woman was patient, but I had the creeping sensation that she was suspicious, and why wouldn’t she be? I was using a card that wasn’t my own, sputtering on about how I didn’t know which account to withdraw money from (we apparently have two) and filling out the slip like a third-grader.
I am worthless. I am a child.
And ultimately, I probably should’ve been denied and possibly referred to the authorities for fraud. I suspect that what saved me was my cluelessness. Anyone who was truly trying to use a stolen card to get money would have a much better cover story and be far more proficient in the process of withdrawing money. The woman at the register had to know I was telling the truth, right? Thieves aren’t as dumb as I am.
I’ve been AWOL the past week or so, and my computer was in for repairs, so this is a bit late…
A couple classics. If you have a Blu-Ray player I insist that you find Jaws. It’s probably the first time I realized how different Blu-Ray looks. Even my kids noticed and remarked upon the difference. My five-year-old son says Jaws is his favorite movie now. Not bad for an almost forty-year old movie.
Born Yesterday: Judy Holliday’s career was truncated, if not destroyed, by the Red Scare. She isn’t known for much besides this movie, and it’s possible that she couldn’t play anything else, but that was enough, because she created an archetype. Everyone from Marilyn Monroe to early Julia Roberts is indebted to her performance as a not-as-dumb-as-she looks girlfriend of a magnate in D.C. William Holden and Broderick Crawford are in the movie too, but you won’t notice them.
I’ll be quick, because there’s been a bunch. Mumford and Son’s Babel is good, if predictable, and its strengths are also the harbinger of the band’s limits (quiet-LOUD dynamics, an earnestness that threatens to harden into cant).
Mirage Rock by Band of Horses is a pleasant surprise, if ultimately forgettable.
The new albums by Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective suck, because those bands suck and I hate them and even if I finally liked one of their albums I would never admit it because their earlier work sucks so hard.
Is anyone else awed and possibly dismayed that the two nineties bands that are still seemingly vital (besides Radiohead and The Foo Fighters, I guess) are Green Day and No Doubt? Did anyone see that coming?
Find and read the short stories of Brian Evenson. Fugue State and Windeye, especially. He’s been compared to Peter Straub in that he is ultimately a writer of fantasy and horror, but I think the comparisons to Robert Coover and Donald Barthelme are more apt. Funny, very readable, and scary. All the while the meta-tricks and tautological loop-di-loops are profound.
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon: One of the things I constantly knock up against in my own writing is the word-count limits imposed by most magazines, whether online or print-based. It’s frustrating, but whittling down my stories have never failed to make them tighter and better. It’s obvious from this book that no one is imposing word-limits of Michael Chabon anymore. When does that happen? After a Pulitzer? Anyway, all the eggshells that all of the critics are walking on about this book cannot hide these simple facts: there is no real propulsion driving this novel, there are no real stakes, and, most frustratingly, the combustible style Michael Chabon is known for has been used as a smokescreen for what is, simply, a collection of diffuse, fragmented, not-very-good-ideas. And here’s the worst part: the style is so in your face, so thick, that it sounds less like Michael Chabon than a bad undergraduate’s fawning impersonation of Michael Chabon.
Elementary will probably be worth watching, if only for Jonny Lee Miller. I still prefer Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes, but why not New York City, and Lucy Lui as Watson? Besides Dracula, Scrooge, and James Bond, Sherlock Holmes is probably the sturdiest character we’ve been given in the past two hundred years, and it’s nice to have himm back in two new incarnations.
Tuesday night on Fox–Ben and Kate, The Mindy Project, New Girl—is funny and makes my week better.
Librivox is a free service that gets volunteers to read books in the public domain, which I can then download and listen to while I run and clean the house. I’ve polished off a bunch of Dickens and Hardy, and now I’m listening to Middlemarch. It’s sketchy sometimes—these are not professional readers, and at times not even native English speakers, and I sometimes I wonder if they are in fact prisoners on some weird work-release program because why would you volunteer to do this?—but it’s free.
Oh, and the Reds lost to the Giants. I’ll never watch baseball again. Until next April.
The other day I went to Kroger and pulled into a space. I am not good at this, and it drives my OCD crazy. Always crooked, too close to the dividing lines, or some combination. This time I outdid myself. It looked like my five-year old son parked the van for me. I was about two inches from the Toyota Tundra opposite me, across the line that divided us, crooked—just heinous.
I didn’t feel like fixing it, so I didn’t.
When I returned to the car from the store, the guy who owned the Tundra was sitting behind the wheel of his truck. He honked his horn and did that quick upward-and-outward chop of the hand you do when you want to establish that the person you’re addressing is an asshole and the thing they did was so what-the-fuck egregious that words have escaped you.
I mouthed “I know, I’m sorry,” and gave the sorry wave that said that I acknowledge that I am an asshole and I completely and totally understand how the way I parked could rob you of the ability to speak. Then I started to get in my car.
But he did the same thing, same look, same WTF chop. And he opened his car door and got out.
And I started yelling at him, which is where things get weird.
He looked just like the realtor we used when we bought and sold our house, and who became a family friend. That guy moved to Maine, and as I was yelling “I didn’t touch you! Get back in your car, dude—I didn’t touch you! Get your ass back in your car because nothing happened!” I was thinking, that guy looks just like Ken, who moved to Maine, am I yelling at Ken? But I kept yelling.
I was also walking toward the guy, still holding the mint chocolate-chip ice cream I bought in Kroger. And I noticed that now the guy who-may-or-may-not-be-Ken was quickly retreating to the car, jumping in, and yelling, “You were over the line, that’s all. All I wanted to say.” And then he ripped out of his space and was gone.
And I got into my van, made sure my iPod was still playing the audiobook version of Middlemarch, and pulled out. It was only when I pulled out onto the main drag that I realized that I had been involved in a verbal altercation in the Kroger parking lot, possibly with Ken, my former realtor. And that I was shaking a little bit because I don’t really get into altercations and would rather avoid them.
But I just started yelling. I wasn’t even really paying that much attention to what I was doing. I was more concerned about whether or not the guy I was yelling at was someone I knew that my immediate actions were oddly removed and remote.
I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Ken by the way.
Anyway, my reaction to the situation was both automatic as well as completelyat odds with how I’d predict I would react if asked about it hypothetically.
Q: If a stranger called you out and suggested that you parked like as asshole how would you react?
A: I’d apologise and explain the situation reasonably.
I would never have answered: I would yell and scare the man, thereby proving his initial hypothesis: I am an asshole.
But that is what I did, with little-to-no effort. It was like a fight-or-flight response.
Which brings me, of course, to William James, who once asked “Does fear of a bear cause us to run, or does running from the bear cause the fear?” In other words, is it our reaction that provokes the emotional response, or our emotional response that spurs the physical reaction. Here’s my corallary: “Does being an asshole cause me to yell, or did yelling make me into an asshole?”
Asshole: state of being or mode of behavior?
Ask Ken, I guess, or whoever that asshole was who thought he was God of the Kroger parking lot.
Virginia Woolf once said, and I’m paraphrasing because I’m not looking this shit up, that simply living life, living a single day, is a risk, a violent and dangerous act. Judging from her end, it seems that, to her, the risk was too much.
This is a portentious and somber way of introducing an article about watching my eight-year-old at ice skating lessons. She wanted to try them, she asked us to try them, and without knowing anyone or anything ice-skating-related, she laces up every Wednesday and looks like a complete idiot and loves every minute of it.
I can’t even take her to the lessons without first casing the situation like Robert DeNiro in Heat. Where do I park? The garage? Do I have to pay? Who else is there? Do I have to talk to them? Where do I sit? Is it cold? Really? Fahrenheit or Celsius? Should I wear a sweater? Cardigan or pullover? Can I bring a book? A magazine? How distracted will I be and how does that relate to the difficulty of said book and/or magazine?
My daughter doesn’t even wear gloves. She has to be reminded to wear friggin’ socks.
I’ve gotten better about my reticence to try new things. I used to pray for rain so I wouldn’t have to play baseball. I’d ask my mom to give me an excuse so I wouldn’t have to go play at a friend’s house. How did I get married? How did I ever have sex?
If it was up to me, I would know, to the minute, what each day brought.
Not that I don’t do anything; I just don’t plan anything. What if it doesn’t work out? What if I make plans and they’re shot to shit? Isn’t better to just stay at home? Nothing good happens from ambition. Ambition leads to failure.
But I’ve gotten better. I was in a musical. I’m on a charity board for the local library. I sing in a community choir. Holy shit that sounds pathetic when I write it down.
Mostly, the “risks” I’ve taken have been foisted upon me by others. I became a licensed minister because a couple I knew asked me to perform their wedding, and I was drunk and figured what the hell. “What the hell” are the three scariest and most dangerous words in the English language. I’ve since learned that when I think those three words that it’s time for a bath and a nap.
I have to be comfortable in a situation before I’ll consent. I have to know I can do it. I have to know that I’ll be good. I have to know that I’ll win. I don’t even play video games lest they are set to the easiest level and I’ve jacked my abilities to a Gandalfian plateau.
But my middle daughter just does it. Looks silly. She’s running for class officer as I write this, making the posters.
I sat away from the other parents at the rink, and if at first I was impressed that they let the kids practice on the Redhawks’ ice (you’d never see a college football program allow a soccer or lacrosse camp—even a bantam football camp—on the game field) I soon realized that it was probably the only space available for the mayhem I witnessed.
At the far left, toddlers in skates better suited to dolls waddled and scooted about on their diapered asses with no real instruction. It was more like practice for being cold. On the far right, accomplished grade school hockey players skated through and around pylons while a club player shouted things like “Get your stick up!” or “Guide it, don’t slap it!”
Between the two extremes was my daughter and those at her skill level, a bunch of seven- and eight-year-olds wind-milling and sliding from board-to-board as per the instructor’s whistle. My daughter skated like she did everything else, as if she were an architect’s lamp being dragged down a rutty path by a four-wheeler. Every so often, she would look up and wave, almost fall, and in a flurry of elbows and knees, barely right herself before wiping out.
Several of her classmates did not so much as skate as tumble from one side of the ice to the other. They’d go down like their was a sniper in the eaves of the arena, or a particularly cruel god kept cranking the gravity dial to “11” and then back to normal, watching them collapse like an unused thumb puppet. They would almost reach the side, reaching for it, only three feet away, then ball up like an armadillo as the rest of the class, who’d already reached the boards, would turn and skate directly at them.
I realized that this would be the group I would be consigned to, if I signed up for skating lessons. Then I noticed that one of the skaters, a tall blond in an Alex Ovechkin jersey, was clearly two feet taller and seven years older than all the rest in the group. He’d stand with the rest like Chewbacca at the end of Star Wars, and when called upon to skate, would dutifully fishtail and spasm with the rest until completing his allotted lap.
My first instinct, as always, was to laugh and mock. What bet had he lost? He did not seem very happy to be there. Had his parents signed him up, embarrassed at his lack of grace? Was he a son of transplanted Canadian academics who were embarrassed that their progeny could not do what everyone believes Canadians should? Is that a thing? Like being from Long Beach but being afraid of the ocean? Was he in love with a figure skater?
But as I watched, the more I grew to admire the kid. Here was a boy who, forced or not, was not going to let the fear of embarrassment stop him from trying something new. I imagine he wagered that there would be kids his age. If so, good for him for keeping up with the lessons. If he knew what he was getting into, then all the more propers, because I sure as hell wouldn’t’ve been out there if I was his age.
The only time I ever took a lesson in something similar was when my mother made me take swimming classes at the local Y. She told me that if I went to every lesson for six weeks—I was terrified of water and still don’t like it much—then she would go to the Audobon Reserve and pet a snake, of which she was deathly afraid. I cried to, during, and from every lesson. I never took my feet off the pool floor. I never learned a stroke. But I went. And when we went to the Reserve, my mom took one look at the snake, dug into her purse, came out with a crisp twenty which she handed to me, and hustled me back to the car.
So maybe it runs in the family, and maybe it’s all too common. It’s been said that public speaking is a more profound fear for people than death, which I see as an outlandish assertion, even if true. I think the truth is that we fear uncertainty; we fear embarrassment. I want to know what will happen before it happens. I’d rather have done something than do something. It’s never as bad as it seems it will be.
But it could be. It damn well could be.
So as I watched little Ovechkin and my daughter skitter up and down the ice, I made it a point to try and embrace uncertainty. After all, people who are certain all the time are either buffoons or inherently dangerous, and the quest to be certain is the quest to catch your own shadow. The only guy to do that was Peter Pan, the most unquestionably certain of all fictional characters, and he was a sociopath.
So I will take risks. I will learn something from my kid rather than try to teach her something, for once. I will say “What the hell.”
But first I need a bath and a nap.
Wow—I must’ve had either the busiest or laziest week of my life last week because I can’t think of too many recommendations to share. Let’s call it the busiest and leave it at that.
We rented Snow White and Huntsman on Friday but I fell asleep (passed out, which is not the same thing, I’m told) about fifteen minutes in. We got the BluRay, and it took me a half-hour to figure out how to update the software on the Playstation 3 so it would play. After that I was exhausted. I never had to update my VCR. New tech sucks it.
The Cabin in the Woods: Cute premise, fun movie that believes itself to be a little smarter than it actually is. Richard Jenkins steals the show as one of the office drones/puppet masters. As a comment on horror and violence in cinema, the film had my attention until the last ten minutes or so.
Carnage: Cute premise, fun movie that believes itself to be a little smarter than it…actually…is. Oh. Same diff. Jodie Foster is histrionic. John C. Reilly is overmatched. The timing is stilted and it’s stagy and claustrophobic, and not in the awesome, Roman Polanski’s-early-films-like-Rosemary’s-Baby-or-Repulsion. That said–and reviewing the previous lines it looks like I hated this film—it has it’s moments. Christoph Waltz is fine, though he has a bit of trouble with the accent. Kate Winslet is given a whole lot to do, but not enough of substance with which to flex her muscles. The ending’s a bit pat. Maybe I did hate this movie…
No new music. The only chance I had to listen to any thing was when I went shopping with my kids and had my iPod on shuffle. Neil Young’s “After the Goldrush” came on and my kids asked why the Muppet singing the song was so sad.
After that, a new cut by Bob Dylan started playing and they made fun of me for having pirate music on my iPod. I felt like firing up Tom Waits and Nick Cave for the remainder of the trip, but thought better of it. Philistines.
Finished a book of poetry by Forrest Gander called Deeds of Utmost Kindness. I read ten or twelve books of poems a year. I can’t remember any of it. They go through me like lentils. I’m surprised I remember the title and author. Sorry, Mr. Gander. You’re very talented, I suspect. I am just a moron.
This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz: I have it on good authority (a colleague who spoke with Diaz for all of three minutes) that Junot Diaz is a Class-A asshole. If his stories are in any way autobiographical, it must be true. I don’t put much stock in reading an author’s life into her stories, though, if only because I’d hate to piss anyone off with my own. Stories have to be autobiographical, to a degree, right? If only emotionally or intellectually or thematically autobiographical? That said, there’s no need to get all “Dwayne-is-actually-Wayne-and-Stick-Cornhole-is-actually-Dick-Pornpole.” Anyway, the point is, that Diaz writes with electricity. He manages to combine a Dominican street patois with an earnest, over-intellectual and even geeky joy, all the while telling tales of desperation and violence and sex and especially love in all of it’s spine-curving, head-exploding power. Definitely the pop culture highlight of my week.
Wow. Literally nothing. Cincinnati Reds games, mostly. Thirty games over five-hundred. Keep rolling, Redlegs!