The following is an excerpt from A Load of Hooey — out one week from today!)
Do you have an amateur theatrical group? Get one! They’re a big pain in the ass and not very rewarding, but you cannot perform the following playlet all by your lonesome. At the core of dramatic mise-en-scène (spelling? meaning?) is the notion that there must be a crisis of some sort. I just made that up, but you can use it. Presented here is a dinner scene, easily produced, that features bombs and flashes of fire offstage—also easy to bring to life and supercool. More important, we have two curious couples doing a dance of sensibility and manners, quite modern in its way. Also, it’s got Hitler.
(SPOTLIGHT onstage opens on our guest couple, FRITZ and ANNETTE SCHNITZELKRANK. A Society Couple dressed for a night on the town, circa 1945, Germany. The couple speak to the audience, setting the scene.)
FRITZ AND ANNETTE: Hello/Hi/Guten Abend/Good evening/We are the Schnitzelkranks.
FRITZ: In the year 1942, my wife Annette and I were invited for a dinner party with Adolf Hitler.
ANNETTE: Over the years, we had many dinners with Herr Hitler and his beautiful Eva.
FRITZ: You see, I had the good fortune of rooming with Herr Hitler at art college. I had liked his work very much and I never hesitated to tell him so.
ANNETTE: When Adolf came to power, my dear Fritz was made top art professor at Berlin University!
FRITZ: Throughout the war we met the Hitlers at many social events. We never refused an invitation from der Führer! But as the war dragged on, our final dinner plans were postponed again and again until March of 1945. With the city surrounded and our brave troops running out of supplies and food, bombs dropping all around us—well, we found ourselves greeting darling Eva once more.
ANNETTE: Oh, she looked terrible! Before Hitler could enter the room she whispered one solemn request, which we, being two very excellent dinner guests, were determined to deliver on.
EVA BRAUN: (sotto voce) Oh, if you could do me a kindness—
FRITZ AND ANNETTE: Yes, of course! Whatever is asked, dear Eva!
EVA BRAUN: Whatever you do—
(HITLER enters! EVA finishes her request sotto voce.)
EVA BRAUN: —don’t mention the war!
(FRITZ and ANNETTE have no time to react as HITLER paces over to them. He is somber and deeply distracted. FRITZ and ANNETTE muster smiles. FRITZ begins a half-hearted Nazi salute, but EVA shakes her head “no!” and he quits it. Hitler hardly notices—)
HITLER: (weary) Ah, Fritz and… uh…
FRITZ: Annette, my wife.
(HITLER grunts. EVA steps in.)
EVA BRAUN: Well, the night has finally come. It is a real pleasure to host you both again.
(Handshakes and smiles all around until the screech of a bomb tears the moment in two. An awkward pause. HITLER breaks the tension:)
HITLER: So, are we gonna eat, or what?
EVA BRAUN: Yes, Adolfy, we shall eat.
FRITZ: I’m so hungry!!
(They cross to the table and gaze at their first course, a salad. HITLER breaks the silence, muttering.)
(HITLER starts eating; the others join in. EVA prompts her guests to say something.)
ANNETTE: We were afraid we were late. So many streets are closed—well, they’re impassable, due to—
(She stops herself.)
HITLER: Due to what?
FRITZ: Traffic. It’s backed up. Buncha weekend warriors out there.
(HITLER nods and smiles at FRITZ.)
HITLER: I wonder what I would have as a last meal. Did you ever wonder this, dear Fritz? What would your final meal be if you could choose it?
FRITZ: (Laughing nervously) Oh, I don’t know. I… I would just eat… I wouldn’t care.
HITLER: Surely you would care. If you knew you had, say, three to seven days before you would be executed, you had time to plan, and many resources at your disposal, what would you eat?
FRITZ: Well, I’m not much of a foodie myself. Annette?
ANNETTE: I don’t eat dinner. Except socially.
HITLER: Last lunch, then.
ANNETTE: I don’t know… salad. What we ’re eating right now.
(HITLER stares at his salad, then pushes it away.)
HITLER: No more for me.
(EVA scowls at FRITZ and ANNETTE — wrong answers all around.)
FRITZ: Well… well…
HITLER: Well, what?
FRITZ: Nothing. Just “well, well.” I was reading the paper… (off EVA’s scowl) Sports section! Have you ever heard about the Chicago Cubs baseball team in America? They’re really having a year, I’m told. At baseballing. (No responses.) Nobody?
(HITLER is staring off into space.)
EVA BRAUN: Perhaps our guests can tell us a bit about the small matters of daily life at university. Small, delightful matters.
FRITZ: Oh, things are good. Nothing much going on. There’s the usual infighting. Not “infighting.” Uh, what’s the word. Tiffs. People have tiffs.
HITLER: What kind of tiffs?
FRITZ: Nothing earth-shattering.
(A BOMB whistles and crashes LOUDLY, shaking the furniture.)
HITLER: What kind of tiffs?
FRITZ: “Tiffles.” Not even as big as tiffs. “Where did I put my hat?” “Are you wearing my hat?” “Haha, we mixed up our hats.” “We ’re such silly-billies!” That kind of thing. A lot of that.
HITLER: Must be nice.
(EVA smiles at Fritz… good stuff. FRITZ is energized—)
FRITZ: Oh, it is, it is. It’s wonderful! Low stakes! You should try it sometime! I mean, join us at the university, someday. Do you ever consider what you might do after… uh… later in your, uh, career?
(EVA shakes her head, staring at her plate.)
HITLER: You mean after the thousand-year Reich is up?
EVA BRAUN: I think that’s enough salad. Let’s get the main course, shall we? (She taps her glass to summon a waiter. No one comes.) Where is that staff?
HITLER: They’re in the bunker. They can’t hear you.
(HITLER grabs EVA’s fork to stop the tapping. A BOMB explodes outside.)
HITLER: I’m sorry. This is my fault. I do apologize. I think I’ve made a mistake.
ANNETTE: I hope you don’t mean that you made a mistake in having us to dinner. We do so love to dine with you and darling Eva—
HITLER: I was talking about the war. World War II.
ANNETTE: Yes… I’m familiar with it.
FRITZ: Oh, Herr Hitler, I wouldn’t call it a mistake. I think you’re being a little hard on yourself—
HITLER: What would you call it then? A boner? Did I pull a “real boner”?
(EVA tries to stop him—HITLER waves her off, turning to Fritz, raging—)
HITLER (con’td): Tell me, old friend! Say it to my face! Tell me I pulled a boner! Somebody, say it!
FRITZ (meekly): You pulled a boner.
HITLER: There! Finally. Someone said it. What a fucking relief! Jesus H. Christ. That took long enough.
FRITZ: I… still like your artwork.
HITLER: Well, you’re an idiot.
Preorder Bob Odenkirk’s
A Load of Hooey here.
Q: What do you do at work?
A: I proofread the text that is going on a tombstone before it gets made in the shop. I process bronze orders, for plaques or to put on top of a stone (often for veterans and their spouses). I also draw a lot of things that will either get engraved into the monument or etched onto it. Oh, and I just started doing sales too.
Q: What kind of things do people want you to draw for them?
A: Random things. A B-17 plane for a bench. Bowling pins. I drew a stencil of a poodle just the other day; that was fun. I can’t wait to see how it turns out on the stone.
I create emblems too, when we don’t have one in one of the example books. Recently I did one for someone who really enjoyed cooking, where I put together a pot and pan and cooking gloves…
Q: So where do you work again?
A: It’s a monument company. The way I got the job was actually kind of backwards. It’s a long story, but let’s just say they sort of created a job for me out of thin air. I did have experience in the industry, though, it wasn’t totally out of the blue that I’d approached them. In college I’d worked for my uncle etching portraits into monuments. They do that here too, but I’m not too involved with it. Still, it’s so much better than working in a cubicle. I have an office! And everyone’s really nice.
Q: What’s your day-to-day like?
A: Some days can be quite dull, just doing paperwork all day. Other days are really busy. My favorite days are the ones I get to draw stuff.
There are also strange days. Like yesterday I sent a proof back that made so little sense, I was like, “Are you sure this is right?” It was for an old woman who had died, and it said, “He paid it all.”
Q: Maybe it was a situation where the husband paid for everything?
A: That’s the only thing I could think of. Sometimes people just have to get the last word…
I had another one last week that said, “Here lies a woman who could never make up her mind.”
Q: Have you thought about what would go on your own gravestone?
A: I always tell everyone to just cremate me. It’s expensive! It can cost up to $50-60,000 for a monument. Even more.
Q: Wow, that’s a lot of money. What determines the cost?
A: It depends mostly on the size and what kind of granite you’re using. Gray is cheapest, and there are a variety of pinks that are less costly, but the prices go up and up with other colors. Also portrait etchings can add to the cost, and if you want a sculpture included. A bronze sculpture can be anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000. A bronze Jesus on the cross is usually going to cost you 10-15 grand. We get a lot of those.
A mausoleum—a small building housing a tomb or many tombs—can cost up to 100 grand. And even the plain markers that lie flat in the ground start around $1,000.
Babies have smaller markers, so they’re cheaper.
Q: That’s depressing.
A: Babies happen a lot more than I would imagine. I know I have a skewed perspective or something, but I feel like a lot of babies are dying.
Another strange thing is that people will sometimes wait to order the monument for years after the person has died. I had one recently where the person had died in 1987. Another baby, actually. There are also plenty older than that. I never know if they are replacing the monument or if they just remembered to do it.
Q: I wonder why people spend so much money on gravestones.
A: I think people just want to make sure that their family is well-represented. It’s a sign of respect. It’s also a long-lived custom. Also, like my boss once told me, it’s often the only piece of art a family will ever buy. They want to do it all the way, you know? And some of them are very cool. I spend a lot of time now in cemeteries, and you start noticing that.
Did you know that you can bury people together in a coffin? You can even bury someone in the same coffin 20 years later. They’ll dig them up so they can put the other person in there.
Q: Again, I wonder why people do that.
A: I’m not sure why. To save money, probably? In some parts of Europe you only rent a grave for twenty to thirty years, then they replace it. There’s some place, I think it was Havana, where you can only have a grave for two years. They only have one cemetery.
You can stack the caskets too—like do one on top of another.
Q: This job has a lot of variety. Anything else you have to do?
A: Sometimes I have to do a “lot check,” when someone wants to do a duplicate, like if someone wants the same headstone as their dead spouse. I always say that I have to go look for bodies—because that is actually what I’m doing.
It can sometimes be really hard to find markers. The cemeteries have really old maps; you can barely read them. Every section is divided into more and more sections, and the numbers are inscribed into rocks in the grass, but they’re so old you can hardly read those either.
Once you find the stone, you take a photo, and then get out this giant blue transfer paper and you use a rock or ball and go over the stone to get the exact design. It will make the paper white when you go over it. They call it a rubbing, but I hate that word—it sounds so dirty to me.
Q: This seems like a really interesting job.
A: It really is! As a writer, it’s almost too much material. I’ll never be able to use it all.
The Barefoot Contessa: If You Can’t Cook This Shit, You’re a Fucking Idiot
The Barefoot Contessa: Martha, Just Give Me Another Goddamn Recipe Already
The Barefoot Contessa: Shit That’ll Give You Clean Piss Even If You’ve Already Had a Blunt Today
The Barefoot Contessa: No Recipes, Just Some Fucking Barn Pictures, Assholes
The Barefoot Contessa: Check Out This Weird-Ass Shit I Found on the Beach Last Night
The Barefoot Contessa: Probation Hearings!
The Barefoot Contessa: Cooking with Wine
The Barefoot Contessa: Cooking with Whiskey
The Barefoot Contessa: No Cooking, Just Whiskey; Got A Fucking Problem With That, Narc?
The Barefoot Contessa: The Fuck is Your Problem, Fieri?
The Barefoot Contessa: Keggers!
The Barefoot Contessa: Put Some Fucking Arugala in a Goddamn Cuisinart; You Guys Love That Shit
The Barefoot Contessa: Make Your Own Fucking Pesto For Once, Jeffrey
The Barefoot Contessa: Use California-Sourced Extra-Virgin Olive Oil or Fuck Off, Dickface
The Barefoot Contessa on Parole
The Barefoot Contessa: I Live in the Motherfucking Hamptons
The Barefoot Contessa: Lobsters and Shit
The Barefoot Contessa: I Don’t Know, Basil and Edamame Salad? Christ, I’m Hammered
The Barefoot Contessa: I Used To Be a Nuclear Policy Expert in the Motherfucking White House, for Chrissakes
The Barefoot Contessa: What the Fuck are Garlic Shoots?
The Barefoot Contessa: I Bet You’d All Eat An Entire Fucking Stick of Butter If I Told You To
The Barefoot Contessa: Get a Goddamn Job, Jeffrey
The First Month
Congratulations! You and Noah had too many gluten-free beers at that music festival and accidentally conceived a child! Right now your baby is the size of the period at the end of the sentence “I raise antibiotic-free, pastured chickens on my roof.”
The Second Month
Noah may be busy as a part-time DJ, but you should find time this month to tell him that you’re pregnant and that you want to keep the baby because motherhood will bring a new perspective to your experimental collage art.
The Third Month
Your baby is now the size of the tag on your reusable hemp grocery bag. If you feel like your eyesight is getting worse, don’t worry—that’s normal during pregnancy. You may decide to get actual prescription lenses for your oversized non-prescription eyeglasses.
The Fourth Month
Your baby can make a fist now. He’s kicking and punching away—already practicing to protest social and economic inequality, greed, corruption, and undue corporate influence everywhere.
The Fifth Month
Look at that baby bump! You’re definitely starting to show this month. Choosing maternity clothes that reflect your own feminine style may mean buying slightly larger men’s flannel shirts at Goodwill.
The Sixth Month
Your baby’s ears have developed. He can hear you play that ukelele.
The Seventh Month
Your baby is swallowing amniotic fluid and tasting the food you eat. He would like you to stop eating kimchi.
The Eighth Month
If you haven’t done so already, check to see if you need a permit from the Parks Department in order to give birth in that field of wildflowers behind the abandoned glass factory in Bushwick.
The Ninth Month
Now is a good time to call your parents and confirm that they will be supporting the baby in addition to investing in Noah’s plan to sell homemade kombucha at the farmers’ market next summer.
We were blown away this year, yet again, by the quantity and quality of the submissions—over 800 of them. After much deliberation, we’re excited to announce the five winning columns. They are, in random order:
Field Notes from Gentrified Places
by Vinson Cunningham
How to Find Love: Lessons from an Old Maid
by Connie Sun
Home On the Range
by Robert Lawrence
Not So Timeless After All
by Ilana Masad
by Rachel and Nick Farrell
Each winner will receive a $500 prize. Look for these columns to launch in the coming weeks.
We are also pleased to announce our Column Contest honorable mentions. Both of these writers will be regular contributors to our virtual pages this year:
Your Prescribing Doctor: Dispatches from the Psychopharmaceutical Complex
by Rebekah Frumkin
The Hidden Rich
by Jane Dough
Thanks to all who entered! We’ll be back with the 7th Annual Column Contest around this time next year. Follow us on Twitter (@McSweeneys) for updates and alerts.
All good things come to he who waits—hold on, is it he who waits or him who waits? He sounds wrong, doesn’t it? Yet it could be the subject, in which case it’s right. But it may be one of the cases where people overcorrect, like when they say “give it to Jim or I,” trying to sound smart, but they’re actually making it worse. Even Obama messes that up—really, check out this article about him. Let’s Google it. Use quotes around the phrase. See, there are more hits for “he” than “him”—except this site says “him” is correct. So, it’s like, do you say the correct thing even though it sounds wrong, or vice versa? It’s like pronouncing a foreign word commonly employed in English in the native accent, such as angst, as ah-ngst, instead of ay-ngst. All right, let’s just forget it and do a different proverb.
The Pretend Friend But Really Just the Two Youngest People at Work Zone.
The Emotional Bully You Failed to Set Boundaries With and Now You’re In Her Wedding Zone.
The Technically Your Cousin But That Doesn’t Mean They Aren’t Technically Good Looking Zone.
The Neighbor Whose Wi-Fi (DjDaddy760) You “Share” But Have Never Met Zone.
The Matt, Your Cousin, Who You Used to Chase and Try to Kiss When You Were Little Kids But Now You Live In Different States and He Isn’t On Facebook Zone.
The Emoji Emotional Support Zone.
The Romantic Burned Bridge Who Remains Your Emergency Contact On a Truly Unknowable Number of Documents Zone.
The Little Armenia Kingpin Who Winks at You from Behind the Counter at the Deli On Your Block Zone.
The Zone Where Your Aunt Calls to Tell You That Your Cousin Matt is Moving to the City and Are You By Any Chance Available to Show Him Around a Bit and Of Course You Are and Does Matt Still Play Rugby? You Wonder.
The Anything Goes When You’re At a Music Festival! Zone.
The Total Tinder Chat Chemistry But They Live In Long Beach, Which May as Well Be Israel for How Unlikely You Are to Ever Drive There, Plus Your Cousin Matt Gets Into Town This Weekend Anyway Zone.
The Weed Dispensary Guy Who Invited You to Watch Him Play Softball and You Honestly Said Maybe Zone.
The Ex Whose Mom Still Sends You a Bible-Quoted Christmas Card Every Year, Less Because She Misses You and More Because She Still Hopes You Might Come to Know the Lord Zone.
The Technically Your Cousin Matt’s Mom is Your Mom’s Step-Sister, So You’re Really More Like Friends Who Grew Up Together and Now You Are Both Consenting Adults Who Actually, It Turns Out, Have a Lot In Common Zone.
The Anything Goes When Your Cousin Matt’s Long-Distance Girlfriend Sounds Like She’s Being Really Difficult and Un-Supportive Zone.
The Think About How Funny it Would Be to Already Have the Same Last Name, Just a Funny Thought You Were Having Zone.
The Inevitability of Two Bodies Moving Closer and Closer Until at Last You Lock Eyes and Silently Agree to Throw Caution to the Wind and Give In to Your Mutual Desires Zone.
The Matt Said He Felt Trapped (?) By You In the Uber and Wants to Make Sure You Both Know You’re Just Friends Zone.
The “Friends? You’re Not Friends, Hahahahahaha, You’re Cousins; You Can’t Friend Zone a Literal Family Member, Jesus Matt Zone.
The Anything Goes When You’re Studying Abroad! Zone.
Let us ask ourselves the difficult questions,
For this is the time for honesty.
How much time did we waste
In the year that is now past?
Did we see enough baby panda videos,
Or did we neglect them in pursuit of pointless work deadlines?
The click-bait: did we ignore it?
The snarky message board comment: Did we make it, or did we miss that precious opportunity?
Too much time was spent with our families,
While our Friends quizzes remained unanswered.
Too many hours wasted outside,
While our Crafting Table stood neglected.
Did we refrain from @replying to every tweet?
Whom did we leave unpoked?
How many bitcoins did we leave unmined?
How many candies uncrushed?
Was our caps-lock left unpressed?
Did we heedlessly spell-check?
Did we even when we literally couldn’t?
Did we leave ‘nuff unsaid?
Did we remember to reach out to friends, tagging them in photos they weren’t in?
Did we invite them to like our new home business? Share our joy in reaching 2048?
Did we Snope when we should have forwarded?
Did we selfishly refuse to reply all?
Each of us sinned productively in our own way.
We checked for viruses, we backed up, we saved early and often.
We lifehacked, we hiveminded, we Got Things Done.
We read the fucking manual, the too-long article, and our friends’ tumblr fiction, as we promised.
This Rosh Hashanah, let us do better.
We can, and we will.
Let us smugly fulfill every challenge.
Let us share more causes instead of supporting them.
In each of our profiles, a more attractive life.
In each of us, a better duckface.
Sweet Jesus, I’m still alive. Every time I think I can finally embrace the afterlife, some smartass drags me back from the brink. At this rate, I’ll still be around when you rotten humans land on Mars. At which point some funny guy will inevitably invoke Star Trek’s title sequence, which will trigger yet another mind-numbing debate about whether it’s okay to split an infinitive like to go with an adverb like boldly. And when that happens, so help me god, I’ll put a bullet through my head. Because I can’t take it any more.
Yes, I know, I’m a split infinitive. I don’t have a head. Which makes my plight all the more pathetic. I can’t even put myself out of my own misery. I have to rely on all the English-speaking people on this miserable planet to make a pact to stopping talking about me. Like that’s going to happen.
Some of you refer to me as a “zombie rule.” That’s right, I’m apparently something that should be dead, but keeps coming at you, arms outstretched, tongue lolling, ready to eat your brains.
I don’t know how much clearer to make it: The rule against me is bunk. Always been. End of story. You can go fuck yourself now.
Why am I even around? I blame a bunch of busybodies from about 150 years ago who got it into their swollen British heads that the infinitive should be treated as a single unit. This was back in Victorian England, which you may recall was a period of peace and prosperity. Which also means people were bored. And when people are bored, they say and do stupid shit. If memory serves, the conversation that led to my birth, as it were, went something like this:
BORED VICTORIAN BUSYBODY #1: Gee, there’s not much to talk about these days, what with it being so quiet and peaceful all the time.
BORED VICTORIAN BUSYBODY #2: Too right. I’ve been proper bored for longer than I can bloody remember.
BORED VICTORIAN BUSYBODY #1: Here’s a thought, let’s pen a missive against the split infinitive.
BORED VICTORIAN BUSYBODY #2: That’s the ticket! Where’s my quill?
And here we are, decades later, and legions of school children continue to be scolded for doing something that’s as natural to them as a good wank.
I’ve lost count of the times I thought I could finally call it a day, that I could gaze into the death tunnel, see the light, and drift off peacefully to the other side. All I want is to join my friends in grammar heaven, friends like It’s I and If I Were. Nobody talks about them anymore. Why can’t I be so lucky?
What is it about me that make people so crazy? I’m just a split infinitive. I don’t cause war or famine. I sometimes just make things a bit confusing.
I’m so very tired. My life feels like a run-on sentence with no end. I’m the grammar equivalent of that interminable book Ulysses, which, by the way, is total crap.
Some days, I can almost hear the rustling of papers, far off in a cluttered home office, as another closet grammarian emerges to “set the record straight” about my tortured existence. This will take the form of a blog post from someone called “The Grammar Geek.” Oh, how The Grammar Geek will amaze us with his knowledge of arcane rules long forgotten. And you may think, Wow, what pointless drivel. Or, perversely, it might tickle your brain. You’ll feel the urge to add to the comment thread. You’ll convince yourself that you, too, must weigh in. If you’re that person, I have a special request for you: Please don’t. Please stop the fucking madness. I beg you. If I had knees, I’d be on them right now, imploring you with weeping eyes, which I also don’t have.
I know you can feel my desperation. You humans are like that. You sniff out the vulnerable and put the boots to them, over and over again. You’re sickos. I also know that you’re obsessed with trends. Which is why your continued fascination with me is so puzzling. I ain’t trendy, haven’t been for years. At least not since the days when you enjoyed waging world wars and pummeling yourselves to bits on a massive scale. Again, more proof of your perverse nature. So, it’s high time you stopped blathering on about me. Trust me. It’s making you look lame. If you had any sense, you’d move on to something else. Maybe set your sights on the singular they. That twat of an upstart has had a free ride for too long and is due for your special brand of attention. I’ve certainly had my full.
To the man who, over the course of a half hour on our doorstep, persuaded my father to purchase a year’s supply of classic literature; who may or may not have had any personal interest in classic literature himself; who very well may have been in the door-to-door bookselling business purely for the money, since it was 1996, and there was still sort of money to be had in books; who may have found himself unemployed a year later, when Amazon colonized the universe, but who, that day, may have celebrated with a juicy steak dinner at a nearby supper club, congratulating himself on a home-run pitch to yet another gullible hick; but who, upon collecting Dad’s Visa card number and signature, processed the order, money-back-guaranteeing that once a month, two leather-bound volumes arrived on our doorstep in glorious, gilt-edged pairs — Pride & Prejudice and Walden, The Scarlet Letter and Great Expectations, Emma and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man — packages my dad always saved so that I could open them and order them on the bookshelf, which had previously housed several editions of the Bible and preacher autobiographies like Jim Bakker’s I Was Wrong; meanwhile, my high school English teacher assigned Agatha Christie and Louis L’Amour in College-Bound English and dreamed aloud about being rid of us, tanning and listening to Jimmy Buffet on some sunny Mexico beach, and spent an entire semester reclined with his feet on the desk, barely sentient while we took turns reading aloud a modernized version of Shakespeare (“Yo, Mercutio! What’s up, bro?”), ignoring my impassioned requests to read the original because, he said, we “just weren’t smart enough”; and so I returned home at the end of the school day filled with fire, a vindictiveness that would not be in vain, because our home now housed a small library of classic literature, built slowly over the course of that year, and I plucked a volume from the shelf in an act of private teenaged rebellion, my reactive state subdued slowly, page by page, through timeless stories; and who, for that reason, will always be my legendary white knight, my literary prince, my mythological hero forever journeying the flat, empty miles of America’s Dairyland with a sedan full of catalogs and credit card receipts to avenge the miseducation of angst-ridden youth:
Although cavemen told their histories out loud, they mostly involved hunting mammoths, eating mammoths, and getting impaled by mammoths. Not until the Greeks was there an individual who would stand as a giant in the field of oral history, the universally agreed upon finest form of history.
HOMER: I’m blind. Not everyone knows this. Sort of like Jesus being Jewish. It just flies under the radar. Anyway, I would have LOVED to have written some of my stuff down—you try memorizing 12,110 lines in The Odyssey. And Gods help you if you mess up just one syllable. The fan boys in the crowd cry bloody murder. You’d think I changed it so Melanthius shoots first. I wish I could have written some of this crap down, like Herodotus.
HERODOTUS: GREEKS SMASH PERSIANS! BOOM!
HOMER: Honestly, though—it’s not like anyone was fact checking us. Greeks invade Troy with a big horse; Greeks hold off a billion Persians with Aristotle MacGyver and a screw driver… it’s all the same quality of research.
HERODOTUS: SMASH XERXES!!!
HOMER: Which is just as well for Herodotus. Not exactly Richard Hofstadter, you know what I mean?
Sadly, reading and writing destroyed the Greek tradition of oral history, dumbing down Western Civilization. Not until the 20th and 21st centuries was there a rebirth of this ancient art, renewing our full understanding of the past.
ARTHUR SCHLESINGER, JR.: I think oral histories are wonderful—the WPA’s slave narratives are incredibly important to our understanding of that horrible institution. But no one should think that oral histories adequately replace thoroughly researched, well-written historical works.
There was a dawning realization that oral histories adequately replace thoroughly researched, well-written historical works.
ARTHUR SCHLESINGER, JR: That’s not at all what I sa–
Shut up, Arty. A young auteur began to combine oral history with pictures and ruminating period music, providing an even greater sense of historical understanding with even less work by the listener.
KEN BURNS: I like to think I combine the best parts of real historical work—the research, the meticulous attention to detail, the legitimate attempt at impartial analysis—with the best parts of oral history—its ease and convenience.
HOMER: Kenny said that?! He’s a sweet kid, but if he’s making any attempt at legitimate research, he’s not doing oral history. You think I went out and researched Odysseus’ hotel bills to confirm the years he was away from Ithaca? That’s not how we did things back then. Herodotus can’t even spell “research.”
HERODOTUS: THIS IS SPARTA!!!
HOMER: The one I worry about is Hofstadter. He takes this work seriously. The current trend in history is obviously leaving him a little unhinged.
A lone holdout against the inevitable tide of oral history’s dominance in Western Culture, historian Richard Hofstadter has made a defiant stand for his inferior form of recollecting the past.
RICHARD HOFSTADER: I don’t recollect the past—I examine, dissect, and explain it. If we don’t carefully analyze our histories, we won’t learn anything from them. For example, the best way to avoid the destructive use of paranoia in American politics is to study it in the past and use that to prevent it now and in the future. Anything important that has happened benefits from serious analysis like that.
With his backward defiance, it was only inevitable that Hofstadter would collide with the most active purveyor of oral history in the early 21st century: Jim Nelson, editor in chief of GQ.
JIM NELSON: I love oral histories. And classic entertainment like Ferris Bueller. The sitcom, not the movie. Did I mention I helped produce that… wait, what were we talking about?
JIM NELSON: I love those things! Sure, you could spend years trying to meticulously unearth and review all of the legal, internal, publicity, and formation documents surrounding something like ESPN. You could do that. OR—you could just talk with the people who did shit for the network through the years, assume they have no ulterior motives, and call it history! You tell me which is faster, easier, and more readable.
Despite Nelson’s rational articulation of a complicated argument–
JIM NELSON: Kim and Kanye rule!
Hofstadter was unmoved.
RICHARD HOFSTADER: Wait, there’s an oral history of ESPN that people are mistaking for a REAL history?! ESPN is the most influential media company of the last two decades and promises to be just as important for the next 20 years, and all we’ve got is an oral history? What is wrong with this Nelson guy?
Let’s ask him. What’s wrong with you, Jim Nelson?
JIM NELSON: What d’ya mean, ‘what’s wrong with me?’ At GQ we love oral histories. We’ve done them on Cheers, Michael Bay, and Tim Tebow.
RICHARD HOFSTADER: Why are you even calling them histories? They’re more like interviews about people and things.
Shut up, Ricky. Continue, Jim.
JIM NELSON: I’ve got three more planned between now and the end of the year: the Oral History of Kim and Kanye’s wedding, the Oral History of the First Season of Friends, and the Oral History of Frank Sinatra Getting Buried with a Flask of Jack—
[Nelson stops talking after Hofstadter knocks him out with a hardcover copy of The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It.]
HOMER: Like I said, Hofstadter is pretty high strung. The irony is GQ will probably publish this as an oral history. I bet it’ll be good, too.
A Load of Hooey, Bob Odenkirk’s debut collection of funny things in book form, is now just twelve days away — and today, to herald it, we bring you a soul-baring conversation between Mr. Odenkirk and Eric Hoffman and Gary Rudoren, the authors of the genre-defining Comedy by the Numbers. You can preorder Hooey here, and/or you can order the Load of Comedy Bundle to receive Hooey and Comedy By the Numbers. Also, in the coming weeks — if you live in Albuquerque or Seattle or LA or one of several other places — you’ll be able to catch Mr. Odenkirk on tour, as well. Don’t miss this one!
Mr. Odenkirk, you’ve put together a real pile of pages here. Professional congratulations to you! It’s rare that we see so many great Comedy Numbers in one location—everything from a #24 (Funny Cursing) to a #130 (Subtlety/Understatement). They’re all here! Is there a number you haven’t done yet?
I would say “69," but only to get a laugh from certain less-than-savory readers in attendance. I try to use all the numbers when making comic expression—after all, comedy is math, and math is one of the building blocks of numbers, and vice versa, ad infinitum, etc.
Will comedy ever make a comeback?
Comedy has had its day, and what a day it was—a taste of everything from Foster Brooks to Dean Martin! If you put all comedy end-to-end and watched it without stopping, you would find literally hundreds of things to laugh at (852, to be exact). Nowadays, though, with singing contests and modern warfare, comedy must take a “backseat” to some pretty wild “frontseat” drivers in the “car” of entertainment we all call “showbiz."
Who is your comedy muse—and do you text her often?
Frangella the Italian pimpernel. She is a talking flower I purchased from a hippie at a roadside apple stand. She won’t shut up, but she inspires my greatest comic confections.
If you were going to steal a comedy idea from someone, who would that be? (We promise not to tell.)
The Three Stooges.
Were you named after Bob Newhart or Bob of Bob & Ray?
Bob Gable, Clark Gable’s dunderheaded cousin and background artist extraordinaire.
Have you been contacted by the lawyers representing the producers of the XXX-rated film A Load of Hooey for copyright infringement?
Twice. I have been successfully sued and am no longer liquid.
Your book includes many helpful unabridged quotations that act as inspirational hors d’oeuvres to the book-meal the reader is eating. How was it working with such other esteemed authors as Thomas Aquinas, Socrates, and Coco Chanel?
Aquinas was a dream—chatty, warm, convivial (and a dainty eater). Socrates was too touchy-feely—had his hands all over me. And Coco Chanel was exactly what you’d expect—a bloated bag of poison.
You can read the first short interview with Bob here.
Joan Rivers was the first comedian I saw live on stage. Well, almost. It was the mid ’70s and I was in Las Vegas with my family. We were staying at the MGM Grand, where, as luck would have it, Joan was booked to play some shows. I had seen a few of her appearances on The Tonight Show, when my dad let me stay up to watch it. Coming from a family of brassy, salty-tongued East-Coast Jews, Rivers’ “Can we talk?” shtick resonated with me, even then. Maybe I didn’t get all the jokes, but I definitely got that she was really, really funny. So there I was, in my little blazer in the Celebrity Showroom, thrilled to see her in person.
Her opening act was Italian crooner Sergio Franchi. No disrespect to the late singer, but he bored me. I’m sure I wasn’t his target audience. I squirmed through his opera-infused set until finally I couldn’t sit still any longer. He was singing a heartfelt tribute to his mother and after what seemed to be about the 23rd utterance of “oh Mamma,” I yelled out “Mamma mia!” in a broad Italian accent at the top of my voice.
The. Crowd. Went. Nuts. Franchi stopped. The band stopped. With all eyes on me, my dad yanked me by the hand and whisked me out of the room. I knew I was in trouble, but the rush of exhilaration was intoxicating. I had gotten a huge laugh in a Vegas showroom—not some stinkin’ lounge—the MAIN room!
With that laughter still ringing in my ears, I’m pretty sure my subconscious made a decision about the rest of my life right then and there. The only bummer was that I didn’t get to see Joan perform that night. Fortunately, I did get to see her many other times in the years to come.
I met Joan in person a little while later, when I was in the 4th grade. Growing up in Los Angeles, many of my classmates were the children of some of the biggest stars of the time. Don Rickles, Bob Newhart and Carol Burnett’s kids all were in school with me. So was Joan’s daughter, Melissa. We were on the same swim team and Joan came to our first meet with a thermos of coffee, which she shared with the other parents in attendance, kibitzing with everyone. I was star struck. Soaking wet and shivering in my towel, I approached her after the meet and told her the story of my precocious heckle of her opener.
Joan’s eyes widened and she let out a squeal, “Oh my God, that was YOU?!” She threw her arms around me and gave me a long squeeze. She then told the story to every parent within earshot. My mom and dad couldn’t believe it; a beloved entertainer was rewarding me for my bad behavior. This was definitely not the message to give to a kid who had already been kicked out of one school in the third grade for being a smart ass. But at that point it was already too late; the die had been cast.
A few years ago, I took my mom backstage to visit with Joan. They were two ballsy broads—successful working mothers in an era when that was far from the norm—who didn’t let sexism stop them from achieving great things in their chosen fields, Joan in comedy and my mom in the fashion industry (where she had been the youngest buyer for the May Company and was one of the first female department store managers in the country). Mom was never one to crow about her accomplishments, but Joan, ever the talk show host, drew her out and drew her in. The connection was instant and the identification was strong.
The great thing about growing up is that you can gain so much more perspective and appreciation for your heroes and for your parents, for what they went through to accomplish all that they did. So that night I was happy to just stand back and watch with admiration as these two great women shared the stories of their respective journeys. Joan Rivers was a force to be reckoned with and her legacy is singular and without peer.
Thank you, Joan. For everything.
As Commander-In-Chief, it’s my duty to preserve national security. Unfortunately, part of my job is deciding when to initiate military involvement abroad. Not only do I have serious judgments to make, I have the difficult task of convincing my fellow leaders, the international community, and you, the people, of the necessity of intervention. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my decision to engage in conflict. And if you do believe that military intervention is unjustified now, I only challenge you to ignore the horrifying instability it’s going to cause in the future.
No one can dispute that there are volatile areas in the world that pose a serious threat to global safety. Some of them may be relatively separated from us now, but I assure you, with a focused military campaign, we can make them more dangerous to us in the coming years.
My critics believe that combative action is avoidable. This may be the case now, but I’m positive that with a concerted effort, we can soon establish an area of such unrest and violence that ignoring it would be viewed unanimously as a disastrous decision.
It is imperative we enter these already war-torn regions, armed with our guns and military expertise, to tear open the fabric of society with harebrained strategies that will only fill the place with further unrest for years to come. We know that chaotic violence is a prime breeding ground for lawlessness, vicious terrorism, and opportunistic demagogues. Addressing these deadly threats is difficult, but we will come at them with the full force of our decades-long experience in exacerbating these evils.
We will destabilize these places with a shrewd and calculated strategy. We will work with dictators and leaders whom, months before, we viewed as untrustworthy and dangerous. We will train militias with whom we have no shared goals, only a common enemy, and arm these inexperienced, unprofessional soldiers with the most sophisticated military technology. Considering the disorder that accompanies such a scenario, there is practically no way to prevent these deadly weapons from falling into the wrong hands. And if these “ally” soldiers happen to win, we can be certain they will exploit their new military capabilities for their own gain; clamoring viciously for power against any adversary trying to squeeze into the vacuum of power we’ve helped leave behind.
It is essential that we work with local authorities to hunt down terrorists in hasty, careless ways that make civilian casualties a near certainty. Our indiscriminate use of airstrikes, artillery, and military ambushes will cast a mortal paranoia in which no person feels safe in her city or home. With our innovative tactics, we can expect all doctors, engineers, and skilled professionals to flee the region, leaving behind physical and institutional damage that will take years to repair. The ravages of violence from our successful campaign will traumatize the battered region for generations—thereby producing a small, but hostile population that will thrive in a structure-less society, eventually pulling us into bloody military engagement once again.
If I could avoid this war, I would. However, the spreading unrest in the region is too great to ignore, having been copiously fueled by the policies of bold leaders before me. If it wasn’t for the meddlesome military action of my predecessors, I would not be speaking to you today. Many men have come before me to intervene in a place of which they knew very little to inflict trauma, cripple economic advancement, and uproot society as a whole. I merely continue a tradition for which numerous leaders deserve credit.
If it weren’t for these steadfast leaders, the children who endured the horrors of yesterday’s wars would never have become today’s international crises. We too must assure that today’s youth have the tools and experience necessary to become full, global threats when they grow to ripe, gun-firing age.
With your support, we can reserve our special place in history in the self-fulfilling prophecy that is interventionist violence.
Not that anyone has a choice.
It was a beautiful day in May. The kind of day when even the hopeless might imagine a glimmer of light at the end of that long, long tunnel.
There was to be a teach-in. Somebody had decided we should be educated about shit we already knew.
In order to prevent this good day from going bad, the teach-in format had to be tweaked. Instead of a series of lectures, it would be an interactive seminar. And instead of focusing on a war we had no control over, it would focus on something vitally important, something near and dear to our collective hearts: a hands-on investigation into the nature of the state of existence known as being good and fucked-up. To accomplish this, we needed drugs, all kinds of drugs, legal and extralegal, as well as everything you might expect at a stoned, motherfuckin’ barbecue.
To that end teams of hunter-gatherers were loosed upon the land. I concocted a simple, foolproof, two-part plan for Team Meat. We would first flood the supermarket with scuzzy-looking dudes. When supermarket security focused on them, we’d send in the second wave, a group of innocent-looking chicks, who would descend on the meat section like a pride of piranhas and strip it clean. Working our way from Loblaws to Loblaws, we liberated loins of pig and cow, legs of lamb and chicken, and enough hamburger to glut a stoned army, with not a single soul popped for petty theft. Other teams drifted through town boosting a lake of booze and beer, while everyone donated from their stash. In the end we had about a key of weed and a hundred or so hits of acid. You could say it was a triumph of klepto-socialism.
We reconvened at the outdoor terrace adjoining the student center lounge. As the crowd gathered, joints were rolled, pipes packed, briquets fired, spirits poured, Kool-Aid spiked; the bacchanalia was set to begin, as was the teach-in, which had, by now, been reduced to MacGuffin status.
Drone, drone, blah, blah, puff, puff, sizzle, swizzle, tick and tock.
Forty-five minutes in, the first rush came on. The crowd came alive like the hand of the Thing after absorbing the plasma on its thorns.1
And where was I in this? you ask. Right in the middle of the action, going down in flames.
Sometimes the excitement of taking action winds you up so tight, gets you going so fast, you find yourself running ahead of your self. You’re usually having too much fun to recognize what’s happening, let alone worry about it. If you do happen to notice, your reasonable expectation is that you’ll catch up with your self, no harm, no foul. However a problem can occur when you’re in such an atomic frenzy you discover you’ve lapped your self, left it in the dust, just like Wile E. Coyote, who inevitably finds himself spinning his wheels over thin air, the sickened look of recognition hitting him the split nano before gravity does its thing and he crashes and burns, our collective cartoon Icarus.
And yet he does it over and over. Porque? Because neurosis is the solution that has become the problem, this truth visualized in twenty-four hand-drawn frames per second.
The pain and anxiety generated by his Road Runner obsession remains disconnected in Wile E.’s mind from what he still thinks of as the solution—successfully catching and killing the bird. He wittingly hurls himself into the fray, gives chase, comes up short, each time genuinely expecting a different outcome. And after each painful episode Wile E. simply forgets, setting up yet another chance to bang his head against the brick wall of his own psychopathology.
After I took that first hit off that first pipe passed my way, there was, as any substance abuser in the audience will tell you, no turning back. In short order I either glugged, snorted, or inhaled whatever came my way. I even tossed off a short one from the electric Kool-Aid barrel.
By the time I dropped in to see what condition my condition was in, shit had gotten dire. I found myself stoned almost to incomprehension, having my Wile E. moment, beginning to fall, my descent getting faster and faster. All I could think of was how incredibly stupid I was. Hadn’t I already tried the too much dope, too little time method, and in so doing, hadn’t I almost killed myself? And having survived, shouldn’t I have learned my lesson? Yes and yes, and yet apparently not. It was my history and I was doomed to repeat it. Another joint was placed in my hand. I reflexively brought it to my lips and was about to take the toke, which would have definitely sent me over the line, but in that instant before I inhaled . . .
The Greeks called it self-possession and claimed it was a gift from the gods. Hemingway called it grace under pressure and that’s all I know about that. Bugs Bunny, Sgt. Bilko, and Johnny Unitas had it; Elmer Fudd, Nixon, and me, not so much. And yet in that decisive moment, the goddess of wisdom enabled me to realize that I sure as shit did not need anymore active ingredient coursing through my already vastly polluted bloodstream.
I was present enough to realize all was not yet lost. There remained the possibility, remote as it might have seemed, that I might be able to make a soft landing. I owed it to the self I had lapped and lost somewhere in the ether to at least try. I even managed this nifty bit of logic—in order to land softly, I had to have something soft to crash into. But what was soft enough? I wondered, and then it came to me like clear-eyed Athena popping out of Zeus’s forehead—women were that kind of soft, and in a good way, mostly. I should be looking for a woman to help me settle my shit down.
I put my head on a swivel, scoped around, locked on to a chick I had known since I had first gotten to this place. She was attractive in a Picasso kind of way, with a lush body and a noble, outsized, cubist schnozz Pablo would have happily painted all day long; she was a chick who had hugged me five years before in a way that even in my advanced latency I recognized as something more than a mere friendly gesture. I careened toward her, somehow managing to set myself down beside her almost gracefully or, at the least, without face-planting myself with a thud within her personal proximity.
So far, so good.
At first she was, if not happy, at least neutral about my dropping in on her like this. (Even on her best days she was not the warmest of souls.) Had I been the smooth-as-suede type, things might have proceeded to the next level. But I was one hit shy of discorporation, and coming on like a cool cat ready, willing, and, most importantly, able to go the distance was just not going to happen. I had so lost the ability to maintain that I began babbling like a roaring brook, actual tears running down my face. Before I could cry Help, I need somebody, she was gone like a cool breeze… in hell.
Under ordinary circumstances the chick’s flight would have cued the fat lady’s aria. But the miraculous synchronicity that had resulted in my fleeting moment of grace enabled me to overcome the bitter pill of rejection and renew the quest for a safe, soft landing pad for my wacked, rudderless vessel.
Once again I wobbled through the partying throng. No female I checked out fit the necessary parameters: this one hated me, that one played for the other team, the other one looked like Rosa Klepp. And then I saw her sitting by herself. I made eye contact and she smiled at me—a sweet, inviting smile.
As is often the case, a little backstory is in order.
The first time I had seen her, she was fresh off the bus from Gatsby-ville, wearing a gingham dress much like the one JoAnne Dru wore when she first hooked up with Montgomery Clift in Red River. She was like no one I had ever known; she was so . . . fucking… other, the platonic form of shiksa. I was smitten. I was on befogged autopilot that day when I walked up to her and started logorrheafying some mighty stupid shit her way, of which all I can remember saying was, Looking at you makes me want to sing Shall We Gather at the River. What the fuck? But these were strange days and shit tended to get more weird, rather than less so. She commenced to singing the hymn in a lovely soprano the likes of which I had never heard in my tribal areas. This moment, I thought to myself, could be the cute meet scene.
While I always hoped for the best, all the empirical evidence pointed to expecting the worst, and I was all about empiricism. I quickly began conjuring up what the boy-loses-girl scene would look like. This made me anxious. It was heartbreaking, really—our relationship was over before it had a chance to begin, and I was helpless to do anything about it… which didn’t keep me from trying. The self-sabotaging post-modernist in me opened up a super-sized case of crazy. I tried to explain to her that she should not see this as simply a moment shared by two carefree kids but instead view it as the beginning of a hybrid screwball dramedy, Bringing Up Baby meets Now, Voyager, and that there was nothing we could do except play it out to its logical, predetermined, sad, sad end.
That went over real well.
But she was gracious even while blowing me off. She smiled and said, It was nice meeting you, and then she said, ta-ta. I was stunned. Had she actually said ta-ta? Had she just rolled off the screen during a matinee of The Magnificent Ambersons? Or had she channeled Robert Walker’s dotty old aunt in Strangers on a Train? It didn’t make me no never mind. I wanted to marry her, on the spot. Though that proved to be a nonstarter, as she politely scurried away, her feets doing their duty as fast as they possibly could.
And who could have blamed her?
But here it was a few years later and the universe had presented me with a second chance.
I sat down by her side. She saw my agitation and began soothing me. Soon enough I was laid out in her lap, the two of us looking like a po-mo pietà, she Mary, me a messiah in my own mind, crucified on cannabis and shit. She took me home, shared her bread and her bed. That sunrise, as we lay in a spoony sleep, a billion birds began singing their morning song, the chirping so loud it woke us. I wasn’t used to waking up next to somebody without an accompanying dread washing over me, let alone waking up next to somebody who put such a sunny smile on her pretty little punim that I felt the need for sunglasses. She lost herself in this crack-of-dawn avian chorus, declaring it beautiful even while still half asleep. It was très bizarre, but in a good way. I liked the feeling it gave me. I wanted more of it.
I couldn’t have known it then, but that was the day I saved my life, or more accurately, My Future Wife the Organizing Principle saved my life. That sunrise sowed the seed that perhaps I could rewrite the end to my story; just maybe I didn’t have to be stuck with the boilerplate bummer I had already mentally settled for; maybe there was a happy ending lurking about somewhere and all it would need to come out and play was an optimistic rewrite of the second and third acts.
In the defining climactic moment of Pretty Woman, Richard Gere overcomes his vertigo and climbs the fire escape to bring a bouquet to Julia Roberts. He then asks her, So what happens after he climbs the tower and saves her? To which she rat-a-tat-tat replies, She rescues him right back. In my case it was the obverse. Organizing Principle had alighted on the tower and rescued me. It may have taken another fifteen years, but like the lady said, I rescued her right back.2
1 See Form Contra Content.
2 See The Mysterious Codex of Hollywood and Vine.
Alfred Hitchcock: 39 steps
Neil Armstrong: 1 step for man
Traditional Texas dance: 2 steps
Women’s equality: 1 step forward, 2 steps back
AA: 12 steps
Philosopher Lao Tzu: 1 step (the first of hopefully 1000 miles)
Madness: 1 step beyond
Paula Abdul: 2 steps forward, 2 steps back (because opposites attract)
[Originally published October 20, 2009.]
I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get my hands on some fucking gourds and arrange them in a horn-shaped basket on my dining room table. That shit is going to look so seasonal. I’m about to head up to the attic right now to find that wicker fucker, dust it off, and jam it with an insanely ornate assortment of shellacked vegetables. When my guests come over it’s gonna be like, BLAMMO! Check out my shellacked decorative vegetables, assholes. Guess what season it is—fucking fall. There’s a nip in the air and my house is full of mutant fucking squash.
I may even throw some multi-colored leaves into the mix, all haphazard like a crisp October breeze just blew through and fucked that shit up. Then I’m going to get to work on making a beautiful fucking gourd necklace for myself. People are going to be like, “Aren’t those gourds straining your neck?” And I’m just going to thread another gourd onto my necklace without breaking their gaze and quietly reply, “It’s fall, fuckfaces. You’re either ready to reap this freaky-assed harvest or you’re not.”
Carving orange pumpkins sounds like a pretty fitting way to ring in the season. You know what else does? Performing an all-gourd reenactment of an episode of Diff’rent Strokes—specifically the one when Arnold and Dudley experience a disturbing brush with sexual molestation. Well, this shit just got real, didn’t it? Felonies and gourds have one very important commonality: they’re both extremely fucking real. Sorry if that’s upsetting, but I’m not doing you any favors by shielding you from this anymore.
The next thing I’m going to do is carve one of the longer gourds into a perfect replica of the Mayflower as a shout-out to our Pilgrim forefathers. Then I’m going to do lines of blow off its hull with a hooker. Why? Because it’s not summer, it’s not winter, and it’s not spring. Grab a calendar and pull your fucking heads out of your asses; it’s fall, fuckers.
Have you ever been in an Italian deli with salamis hanging from their ceiling? Well then you’re going to fucking love my house. Just look where you’re walking or you’ll get KO’d by the gauntlet of misshapen, zucchini-descendant bastards swinging from above. And when you do, you’re going to hear a very loud, very stereotypical Italian laugh coming from me. Consider yourself warned.
For now, all I plan to do is to throw on a flannel shirt, some tattered overalls, and a floppy fucking hat and stand in the middle of a cornfield for a few days. The first crow that tries to land on me is going to get his avian ass bitch-slapped all the way back to summer.
Welcome to autumn, fuckheads!
In Case of Emergency, out now from McSweeney’s Books, follows rookie EMT Piper Gallagher through her first months on the job, during which “she works hard, learns the ropes, stands witness to death, deals with her eccentric family, and eventually breaks down from the constant stress of quick decisions that fail to save strangers in need” (Kirkus). Below, Erin Minnick, an ER nurse at California Hospital Medical Center, talks with Courtney about their experiences on the job (the two worked together as EMTs in Los Angeles) and what it was like portraying the realities of the work in fiction.
ERIN: One thing about your book I really appreciated was that you addressed how hard it is to be exposed to trauma so often in EMS, how so often people working in this field try to just shrug it off. I know I went through a period where I started to become a really angry person from trapping everything, and, especially working as an EMT, there’s no access to debriefing or counselors or anything like that.
COURTNEY: Right, you’re supposed to be able to just deal with everything.
ERIN: Yes, and if you can’t, then you’re the problem. My favorite part of the book is when Piper has a breakdown because I thought, wow, Moreno is not dancing around this issue at all. She’s not trying to sugarcoat it whatsoever. Was it hard to write about that?
COURTNEY: Well, I think you remember when I wrote those nonfiction stories that came out in the LA Weekly Those stories were basically about that—the kinds of calls that stay with you, the ones that get under your skin for whatever reason. Some EMTs we worked with were really excited about the stories, really related to them, but then there were other EMTs who thought there was something the matter with me. One person even started a rumor that I was having a nervous breakdown. And I was really stunned by that because I thought, why shouldn’t I be allowed to have an emotional reaction to some of the things I’ve seen? And then later, when I was working on the book, I came back around to that idea, about a breakdown. I wanted to create a main character who, in some ways, couldn’t quite handle the job. It seemed like a way to explore what EMTs are so afraid of—being vulnerable.
ERIN: Because it should be okay to not be okay with everything we see.
ERIN: Another thing I noticed was how you didn’t try to exaggerate the work at all. People so often assume that when you do this work, you’re living some glamorous, exciting, exhilarating life, like, twenty-four hours a day. Like, oh look, I just saved a life, I just saved another life… Did you ever watch that show Trauma?
COURTNEY: [Laughing] Every episode there was a boat sinking or a helicopter landing on the Golden Gate Bridge.
ERIN: Exactly. And you’re thinking, actually, the heroic thing I did today was hold my pee for five hours.
COURTNEY: Oh god, yes. Or, I just scarfed an entire burrito in less than two minutes so I could be available for calls.
ERIN: Or I didn’t shower for three days.
COURTNEY: You’re on your own there.
ERIN: There’s also this misperception people have around how you’re treated by the people you’re caring for that is so often not the case. The other day we had a guy come into the ER who, for no reason we know of, punched one of the nurses in the face.
COURTNEY: I know what you mean. There was a patient I had once who was treating everyone on scene so badly—he even threatened to piss on the gurney so I would have to clean it up. And he acted like it was some kind of huge favor that he was not pissing on the gurney. Like I should be thanking him.
ERIN: Well, and we’ve talked before about what a thankless job it is—how as an EMT especially, you’re the lowest of the low. But I noticed you didn’t put too much of that in the book.
COURTNEY: True, I left a lot of the politics out. Especially the way firefighters and ER staff will treat you so badly sometimes, because as an EMT, you’re the lowest rung in the hierarchy and therefore the easiest target.
ERIN: Why didn’t you want to put that in?
COURTNEY: Well, I think I really wanted to write a book about EMTs. You know, firefighters make decent money. They’re in parades; they get called heroes. And with ER nurses and doctors—I’m not saying it’s not a hard job. But EMTs get paid minimum wage, no one thanks them, there are so few tributes of any kind to what they do. I left a lot of the politics out so that I could focus on the EMT experience instead. I wanted them to be the stars for once. [Laughs]
ERIN: I notice you put some real calls in the book.
COURTNEY: I put a ton of real calls in the book.
ERIN: That woman who kept saying, “There’s something inside of me! There’s something inside of me!”
COURTNEY: She told us she had a penis stuck inside her for something like six years.
ERIN: Some stuff you can’t make up.
Pick up your copy of
In Case of Emergency
from the McSweeney’s store.
Nasoya Vegan Nayonaise Sandwich Spread
Submitted by Jay Zhow
In the 4th-grade class of my red-bricked and blacktopped suburban elementary school, there was a girl named Irene. She had a round, quiet, peach-freckled face, straight muddy-straw hair, aggressively neat bangs. Irene was bookish, studious, mild-mannered, kind of kept to herself in a way perhaps common to 4th-grade girls not especially high on the popularity pole and without any of the publicly noticeable qualities that would afford her such status (beautiful, witty, chatty, friendly, athletic, gamely, wealthy, savage, creative, humorous, etc.).
She played the clarinet or flute or oboe. Don’t recall which—something tooty and reedy. Whether it was due to parental pressure, early extracurricular résumé-padding, or some innate flutter that needed to find its way out in pipe-song, I couldn’t say. I know in later years, as we ascended school grades, she was not found playing among the reeds past middle school. Take that as a sign of what you will.
On this particular day, as our 4th-grade teacher conducted class, Irene occupied her usual seat in the front row that just abutted the teacher’s large desk. Her row-mates sat evenly on either side of her, she towards the middle of the row. I sat in my typical spot, somewhere off to the right towards the back with sufficient angle to survey the room with a quick pivot of the head, as was my choice and tendency. We were dutifully taking notes when mid-lesson Irene turned abruptly in her seat to face back towards the rest of the room as if intending to address us then proceeded to vomit onto the speckled sea-green public-school carpet directly before her chair. The pale muculent pile on the floor was surprisingly large, I recall thinking, especially given her tiny size: noodles—something formerly noodles. Irene sat there unsure, confused, but somehow quietly defiant even through the brimming tears. The rest of the class gasped, gaped, and moaned as only a classroom of 4th-graders can collectively do at the almost-miraculous manifestation of puke. I can remember little else of the incident. For some time after, we would know her privately among ourselves as The Girl Who Puked.
I’m not sure how much of this event The Girl Who Puked carried with her, whether it blotted her experience as an elementary school student, or if she tried to eject it as soon as possible from her mind like the puke itself, but this Nayonaise, this egg- and dairy-free doppelganger, tastes like Irene’s awkward shame.
If you want vegan mayo, try Follow Your Heart’s Vegenaise instead. It has no hint of cruel nostalgia.
Submitted by Marti Davidson Sichel
When I saw it on the menu, I only knew two things about it: It’s made out of soybeans, and the one person I’ve ever seen eating it said, and I quote, “I hate natto.” So what exactly could have persuaded me to try it? Was it simply the excitement of finding something both vegetarian and wholly unknown? Was it my youthful bravura that I could handle a flavor even a professional chef, whose palate I assumed would be remarkably diverse, couldn’t? So I ordered it, wrapped simply in nori and sticky rice.
It looked pleasant enough, like lentils spooned out of a nice bowl of soup. I took the first piece between forefinger and thumb, dipped a corner gently into the dainty little porcelain soy sauce dish, and popped it into my mouth.
To call it a taste sensation would be an understatement. The flavor and texture instantly transported me to an earlier, simpler time. Specifically, it transported me to that time in middle school, when I didn’t wash my gym socks nearly as often as I should have, and how, one day, when I plucked a particularly fetid pair off the floor, it was only to discover that the cat had vomited all over them.
Thanks for the memories, natto.
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, Dragon 2 Shapes
Submitted by Vivian Wagner
OK, a few confessions: I didn’t know this was what I bought. I thought I was buying Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, REGULAR shapes. I’m not proud of the fact that I buy Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, eat it, and love it, but it’s the truth. Another confession: I have no idea what Dragon 2 is. Or what the shapes are supposed to be, though I’m guessing dragons of some kind. And finally: I didn’t eat this. I threw it out. It was that bad.
See, I boiled the noodles like normal, without at first noticing the strange shapes. I boiled them for seven minutes, something I’ve known how to do since I was seven. In fact, I was thinking about how long I’ve known how to cook Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner while I cooked it.
After seven minutes, I poured the noodles out into the colander like normal, and that’s when I noticed the shapes. Weird shapes. Shapes that made me think of twisty worms or growths. If they had looked like dragons, that would have at least been something. And they were white and hard, not glistening with the sense of promise I’d come to expect from Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner. I poured them back into the pan and studied them. They were clearly not cooked. But I’d cooked them seven minutes! I looked at the box—the first time I’ve had to look at the box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner since I was seven—and that’s when I saw it: “Cook 11 to 12 min., or until done.”
It was too late. They were inedible. So I ran to the store and got real Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner. It made me happy. End of story.
Epic Bar: Turkey with Almonds & Cranberries
Submitted by Kelly E. Spivey
I’m a very healthy person. I drink raw juice blends every day, take blue green algae shots like a champ, and carry around an immune-boosting herbal tincture for those days when I’m feeling a little listless. That’s when I’m not devouring burgers National Geographic-style and shoving fistfuls of candy bars down my throat like some kind of post-meal chaser.
I also have a penchant for “energy bars,” or in other words, health food disguised as junk food. It is the perfect marriage of my fantasy of being a healthy person and my true desire to be a fat slob. Enter the EPIC bar. This was a departure from my usual chocolate and peanut butter laden flavors in an effort to seem diplomatic. Epically so.
Let’s begin with the Game of Thrones-esque packaging. The words EPIC are spelled out in bold underneath some sort of faux-looking tribal caveman symbol you might find tattooed on any guy in a sleeveless cut off shirt around 1999. This is next to a Thomas Kinkade-worthy illustration of whatever animal you have chosen—I went with what seemed to be the safest: turkey. Other offerings include bison, beef, and lamb. While the bar promises to be not only gluten, soy, and milk free, it also claims to be:
“. . .inspired by the simple yet highly powerful diets of our ancestors. The same diets that have driven human innovation, inspired creativity, and fueled over 100,000 years of brilliant evolution.”
I wasn’t aware that my addictions to gluten, soy, and dairy were holding me back from the Picasso-like brilliance I could have been displaying all these years. If only I had known. If you’re starting to sense a tone of anger, it could possibly be due to the fact that the word EPIC is on this package no less than nine times. No food that comes in bar form and is not made of chocolate can possibly be that epic. At least not nine times over.
I chose the Turkey flavor because I hoped the combination of turkey, almonds, and cranberry would ease me into the EPIC line of flavors to come. It would be like Thanksgiving, except I wouldn’t have to unbutton my pants immediately after (or during) eating. I hoped.
The first bar I opened was moldy. As fuck. I first thought that maybe it was supposed to be covered with a coating of white, not unlike what appears on the outside of a well-aged soft cheese. Perhaps this was a test of my mettle. Quickly, I decided this was probably not the case and went back into the sea of moms in workout gear at my local Whole Foods to exchange it for another. The second bar looked normal. If that’s what you can call a very slightly misshapen piece of meat-like substance that looks like a high quality dog treat. After two trips to Whole Foods, I was determined not to look back now.
The smell should have been my first warning. It had a subtle, oniony-garlicky smell, which immediately made me suspicious. Where was my Thanksgiving-meal-in-a-bar? I took a bite. The texture was like nothing I’ve ever tasted. And I was a vegan for three years. I had seen and tasted things most people would (and should) shy away from. There was definitely something to chew but I got the sense the texture was created in the way a three-year-old draws their family—with pride and a total lack of understanding what people really look like. If there had been a turkey involved in this monstrosity, it had been chased, caught and had the living hell beat out of it long before it was ground down to be included in this poor substitute for Thanksgiving-on-the-go. Occasionally there were what I can only describe as “meaty fibers” that appeared, which indicated meat had in fact, at one point, been added but this was just confusing and more upsetting. The only flavor I could taste was the onion and garlic. I saw the cranberries. I chewed on the cranberries. I did not taste the cranberries. Almonds seemed non-existent. I got about halfway through before finally realizing that the only thing “epic” about this bar was how bad it was.
I should have just cut my losses, owned up to my shame, and bought a Snickers at the gas station on the way home.
Camel Balls Bubble Gum (Extra Sour)
Submitted by Mara Altman
My friend’s Central Park potluck picnic was upon me. I didn’t want to bring the ordinary massaged kale or tub of hummus; I wanted to delight and fright people. So I went to a novelty shop and found the perfect item: a box of Camel Balls Bubble Gum. The packaging depicts a desert-scape with a dromedary—a one-hump camel—mischievously looking over its shoulder in the direction of its rather conspicuous scrotum. Just beneath the gonads reads the phrase, LIQUID FILLED. To the left is a drawing of the product: a brown oval with a red gooey center. It looked like a Toucan miscarriage and/or something that Marina Abramovic might use as confetti.
Buying the balls was clearly a life-of-the-party move. This was going to be legendary. The potluck goers, lauding me for bringing something edgy yet functional, would all say, “Holy crap, Mara, how’d you find something so edgy yet functional?” There would be high-fives, laughter, and a hook to enable radical and taboo discourse like vasectomy reversals, canine neutering, and whether or not polyethylene was causing boobs to grow in adolescent boys.
I arrived one-hour into the festivities and pulled the box of Camel Balls from my purse, pointed to it and shouted “Camel Balls!”
The box was not torn excitedly from my hands. I waited. Waited. Nothing. No one even mentioned jock itch. I was wondering when everyone decided to get so darn mature.
Right then, I felt a pinch in my lower abdomen. Was that the sensation of my ovaries growing crow’s feet? Whoops, silly me, I think that was just a hunger pang.
Another two hours passed and the Camel Balls remained untouched. People were busy opening up the 23rd tub of red-pepper-flavored hummus. So I brought the box to the center of the blanket and unwrapped it myself. Inside, each gumball was individually packaged. I discussed the finer points to anyone within earshot: “These balls are safe to chew.” “These balls never get blue.” “These get you pregnant with happy.”
Yes, I’ve already fully investigated it, rewinds can’t happen in real life.
One hour later, I left with all of the Camel Balls rolling around loosely at the bottom of my purse.
On the subway ride home, I had a lot of balls and nothing to lose. So I tore into one. The gumball was the size of a robin’s egg and had the glossy sheen of something 100% inedible. So I popped it in my mouth. When my teeth sunk in to it, the flavor leeched out: sweet and sour bursts that made my brows crinkle and my eyes squint. The intense artificial sugary flavor was nostalgic. It tasted a bit like being invited to a game of spin the bottle, but only to watch. The flavor dissipated rapidly. Ta-da, all of a sudden it felt like I’d attempted to snack on Elmer’s adhesive putty. I spit out the rubbery wad shortly thereafter. Overall, the gum was gross. So I put another one in my mouth. What else to do? This was clearly my karma: to wind up alone, sucking on camel balls.
번데기 (Beondegi, canned)
Submitted by Amy Wright
Silkworm pupae are not a new food in Asia. Considering the Silk Road winds back to a legend in the 27th century BC that the fourteen-year-old Empress Leizu unwound a spool of thread from a cocoon fallen into her teacup, both trade and snack may have emerged simultaneously and scented with jasmine. But I was raised on the milk of Holsteins and the beef of Black Angus, so this red-and-yellow can covered in Hangul script was new to me.
Beondegi, boiled or steamed and seasoned, are widely available from South Korean street vendors, but fresh delicacies in Nashville are as hard to come by as a record deal. The clerks in the Asian and International Markets shook their heads when we asked for them, and in one case, led us to the bait and tackle section of the store.
But we persevered.
Unafraid of cultural bifurcations wherein “me” becomes “you” and something I scrunch my nose at, I offered my best shy southern smile to the man behind the pungent counter where slabs of fresh eel were laid out like the steaks I was raised on. Over their dead bodies, Don and I asked if they sold any insects, the corners of my mouth upturned as if to say, “Friend, in every measurable way we are different, but let not that divide our mutual love of arthropods. Where do you keep the goods?”
Nothing. You’d think we were asking him for Moon Pies, which I saw in hot pink version by the door. We were on our own, white-skinned minorities in a foreign land trying to fit in.
A can, tucked between the lemongrasses and pepper pastes, bore a picture of what looked like glistening—if grayish—headless beetles. I was thrilled. Having already eaten crickets, mealworms, wax moth larvae, and cicadas, I looked forward to trying another species of amino acid-rich protein.
My foray into the world of entomophagy (the human consumption of insects) was prompted by Marcel Dicke’s TedTalk, which proposes mini-livestock as an alternative to the traditional variety that’s choking our natural resources. Encouraged by the possibility of conserving some of the waterways siphoned for corporate agriculture, I tracked down an entomologist at our local university to interview. Thanks to Don and me being single and uncommonly attracted to the cricket mushroom risotto we prepared the following evening, a relationship was born on the wings of forward-thinking culinary ventures. Our own sustainability, though, would be tested when he cracked open this odiferous can.
I will not claim silkworm pupae are unpalatable any more than I would judge pork inedible based on Scrapple, but I will say what tasted like bite-sized turkey livers steeped in formaldehyde did not lend over-easy romance to our stir fry.
“Maybe fresh with onions and butter,” I said chewing thoughtfully.
“No.” Don said, “There is no disguising this flavor.” His green eyes lost their luster. Fortunately, he recovered his wits and plucked some mint leaves from his herb garden to cleanse our palates. He also had the foresight to buy chocolate coconut milk ice cream, which he spooned into pale turquoise dishes and carried to the patio where a breeze could rinse the acrid smell from our noses.
“And I bought two cans!” he remembered. However, he didn’t risk ending our fledgling courtship; he fed the stuff to chickens. The birds scarfed up the insects, but not before nosing them in the dirt as if to let them soak up the soup of monosodium glutamate they came in. Our species had more in common than we thought. We both apparently over-process, or as my grandmother would say, “cook to death” anything.
XOJO In-Game Protein Drink
Submitted by Alison Satterlee
I don’t know if XOJO In-Game Protein Drink actually exists outside of the prototype that my copywriter girlfriend gave me to try. “The creators wanted us to use their preferred slogan, ‘smooth protein gliding down your throat,’" she said. “We told them that was a bad idea.”
I demanded she bring me a sample. With a slogan like that I just couldn’t refuse. To my delight, a couple of months later she brought home a bottle XOJO “In-Game Protein: White Grape Flavor” Drink from a work meeting.
Before I fully describe the, indeed, “smooth” texture of XOJO, let me describe the packaging. XOJO looks like your average sports drink, but it has more writing on the label than a bottle of Oxycodone. Fearing eye strain, I managed to read in ant-sized font warning not to “chug” XOJO, but rather drink about a quarter of the bottle every 15-20 minutes during your workout (that the bottle assumes will consist of “strenuous exercise”). Even though the dishwater colored liquid inside was essentially clear, further writing on the minuscule lime-colored label indicated that XOJO is derived from milk and soy, hence the slippery protein contained within. Call me old-fashioned, but I like my dairy products opaque like God intended.
I chose to take sips of XOJO as a chaser to vodka. I am clearly not XOJO’s intended consumer.
XOJO is incredibly smooth. It does not have the chalky, gritty, or otherwise previously powdered texture of other protein drinks. However, most other protein drinks manage to taste pretty convincingly like chocolate, not concentrated ball sweat, so there you go. Like a fine wine, XOJO has an evolving flavor profile. It starts off strong, sweet, and earnestly grape-flavored. Then it takes an immediate nosedive into aforementioned ball-sweat territory. There are surprisingly few ingredients in XOJO and one of them is salt. Apparently a lot of salt, which is strategically hidden behind a wave of sucralose that manages to hit your tongue first only to be followed by mighty salty backwash. XOJO has the strange effect of feeling like thick water but totally sucks all the moisture from your mouth, perhaps a test of your mettle to abide by the label and only drink a quarter of it at a time. Maybe XOJO just isn’t meant to be ingested at all. It did smell faintly rotten, like it had been blooming in the sun a few too many hours.
I can’t say the experience was a great one, though I do feel as if now I can accurately describe what drinking a bottle of post-nasal-drip would be like. And I don’t even necessarily feel lucky to taste XOJO before its somewhat inevitable demise but I definitely don’t regret the experience. I rate it somewhere between bacon-flavored jellybeans and salt-covered licorice.
Thunderbird Energetica Cacao Hemp Walnut Bar
Submitted by Stephanie Frazee
If the name of this energy bar (aka “The Ancient Champion Bar”) didn’t turn me off, the packaging should have. The list of attributes cluttering the label include:
- Certified Gluten-Free (Who certifies these things? What kind of job is that?)
- Verified Non-GMO (Do these people talk about their work on first dates? Do they get second dates?)
- Soy-free (In truth, a turn-on for me because I am allergic—fun fact!)
- Raw (I feel like this trend should have been over by 2012 at the latest.)
- No added sugar (Of course. I would expect nothing less from the weary-eyed bird flying vigil across the label.)
- All natural (No shit?!)
- Agave-free (Is this a good thing?)
- Compostable wrapper (Oops, it’s in the landfill by now.)
- Vegan (I’m starting to think the good folks at Thunderbird may take themselves a bit too seriously.)
- Shaman-blessed (Seriously.)
- With mint...
Hi guys -
I’m finally out of the hospital after spending the last three weeks in Intensive Care and, frankly, I’m contemplating de-friending all of you. I called out to you for help and not a single one of you did anything.
I was home alone that night, just browsing Facebook when, out of nowhere, it felt like someone clubbed me over the head. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground, having a seizure. My bladder evacuated spontaneously, drenching my lower half in urine. I managed to pull my laptop down from the desk and started typing in the last place I had clicked, which just happened to be below Eric’s video compilation of puppies terrified by their own farts. I typed, “Guys, I am literally peeing my pants and dying right now.” Then I had another seizure.
When I came to, I realized 20 minutes had passed and still no one had come to help me. I looked at the computer and saw that my comment had gotten eight “likes” and only one response, from Karen: “LOL, me too!!!”
I get that Karen maybe thought I said I was dying as a result of the alleged humor of Eric’s video, though I hadn’t even watched it, but Jesus Christ, guys, you should know me better than that. Have I ever used the word “literally” incorrectly before? No! Remember when I lectured Brian at dinner after he said, “That tilapia literally just blew my face off,” and you guys wrongly jumped to his defense and someone even called me a Debbie Downer and I threw a twenty on the table and said, “You can all literally fuck off ” and stormed out? Do you think I would misuse the word after that? I have principles!
After a half hour and no response, though barely conscious and mostly blind, I managed to post my second comment: “No. Seriously. Help me. Dying.” Within two minutes, it had three “likes” and a response from Eric: “Ha! Your welcome.” I can’t even begin to express my many grievances with that response. It’s like you not only didn’t care that I was dying, you were going to spit in my face as I perished, with your awful grammar. (Note I didn’t write “literally” in front of that figurative statement.)
When it was clear I was on my own, I resolved to drag my soiled body into the other room to call 911. Upon reaching my phone, I saw that Mitchell had sent a group text, saying, “If you thought Eric’s video was funny, this one will literally slay you.” And you know what, Mitchell? That video truly nearly did slay me, in the sense that every time I tried to dial 911, I was interrupted by the group’s responses to your message. The most egregious was from Megan, who simply wrote, “ZOMG,” followed by at least 30 emojis, half of which appeared to be shrimp tempura. I still don’t understand how that is a valid response to a video of an Orangutan on a ceiling fan.
Once I finally managed to dial, the ambulance arrived within five minutes, just as I slipped into a coma. The EMT said any longer and I would’ve been dead.
So thanks, guys. I almost died because of your piss-poor grasp of the English language.
P.S. I just watched the farting puppy video again. To your credit, that might literally be the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.