Gather ‘round, everyone. Thanks for coming—try your best to pack in here. I know the room is small and your time is valuable, so I’ll be brief. Help yourself to a scone.
Settled? OK. I’ll come right out with it: you’ve been slacking lately. And not just one or two of you, but all of you. Performance across the board has been lackluster. Maybe you didn’t notice, but we’ve had several spot checks along the coastline in the past few months, and the investigators couldn’t find any traces of wood or human remains. Any.
And you call yourself “Sirens.” C’mon, girls, you’re giving us a bad name!
I have the data, and it’s not pretty. If you look at this bar graph, you’ll see a noticeable decline in total shipwrecks in the past quarter. The Y-axis is shipwrecks. The X-axis is time. I could sled down the hill this graph makes, and that’s not good.
Don’t you remember anything from our team-building workshops? Where are your harmonies? Where’s your sense of spirit? Your passion? There’s no “I” in “ομάδα.” We need to work together to meet our revenue goals. That new Keurig in the break room isn’t going to pay for itself, and you know how cranky I get when we can’t fill the K-Cup carousel.
I know you’re the best out there. I’ve seen you in action, singing so damn prettily, luring those men in and eating their faces. I’ve heard seven-part harmonies so wonderful that I wanted to literally kill myself out of joy. You’re better than these dismal stats.
So what’s been going on? Do you want longer lunch breaks? I can make that happen. We can be friends, you know. There are mariners who are crossing the sea unharmed, sailing home to the loving embraces of their families. That’s fucked up. We can’t allow that.
You all remember our motto. Say it with me: “He who listens will go on his way not only charmed, but wiser.”
Again, but this time I want you to mean it.
Still not convinced? I’d like to tell you all a story about a young siren. Growing up, she wasn’t the prettiest. She didn’t have the best voice. But she was able to overcome that. She worked day and night. She missed meals. Was she hungry? Sure she was. But she knew that her work would one day pay off, and she’d become one of the deadliest creatures out there. Guess what? She did. Guess what else? That siren was me.
We have quotas to meet. If the sailors bring flutes to drown you out, I want you to sing louder! If they stuff their ears with beeswax, I want you to sing louder! Debbie, would it kill you to preen your feathers once in a while? Cheryl, have you ever met a scone you haven’t eaten?
Let’s try this again: “He who listens will go on his way not only charmed, but wiser.”
Better. One more time, but louder.
I like that! There we go! Now let’s get out there and devour some humans!
From: Daniel O’Malley
Date: Thu, March 6, 2014
Not sure how much time has passed, but I’m in Africa now, studying the hippopotamus, whose name is a combination of the Greek words hippos and potamos, which the dictionary tells me means “horse of the river.” Indeed, these animals spend much of their time lolling in rivers and lakes, but their body shape more closely resembles that of a rhinoceros, or a big potbellied cow, than a horse. Their snouts are bulbous and their undersides appear taut to the point of rupture. They have tough-looking skin that bunches at the neck like a thick gray sweater they can’t quite fit into.
Their eyes, ears and nostrils are located high on their heads, and they can stay submerged for five minutes at a time. Even mating occurs beneath the water, with the female’s head occasionally bobbing up for breath.
To mark their territory, males defecate underwater and spin their short, rope-like tails to spread their waste over the widest possible area. We saw a display of this once, at the zoo in St. Louis—perhaps you remember? There was a cartoon hippo painted on the wall with a plastic propeller pinned on for a tail, and we were sharing a snow-cone, and I kept spinning the propeller, and you said it made you sick. Remember?
Anyway, it’s because they spend so much time submerged, letting the water support their bulk, that hippos have such puny-looking legs. They’re deceptive though, those legs. Around dusk, when the temperature finally drops a few degrees, the hippos come lumbering out on land to graze, and they can walk around just fine. They can even run for short distances, when they want to.
Against the advice of my guide, R.J., I stepped out of our jeep and attempted to follow the animals on their evening feeding. I will admit that R.J.’s warning was well-founded—the hippopotamus being, despite its appearance, generally considered the most deadly animal in Africa. Earlier in the afternoon, we actually witnessed a display of their power when a crocodile lunged at a young hippo wading in the shallows, oblivious, and in a matter of seconds two adult females were powering through the water, bellowing, mouths open nearly 180 degrees, flaunting those ivory canines poachers so prize, and sending the crocodile scrabbling back up the bank. It was awesome.
Now, following the evening migration on foot, I picked out what I believed to be a juvenile female near the back of the herd. She was shorter at the shoulder than the others, and so seemed easier to mount. I stalked slowly, breathlessly, lasso in hand, but the animal’s hearing was acute and the crackle of reeds under my feet must have been enough to startle her. She took off at a gallop, triggering panic in the rest of the herd, and they all thundered away in a cloud of dust. It felt the way I imagine a small earthquake might feel. R.J. refused to give chase in the Jeep.
From: Jason Cromwell
Date: Sun, Feb 23, 2014
Subject: Content Ideas You’d Like
My name is Jason Cromwell and I run a swimming pool supplies business. Writing is as much a passion of mine, as my business is, and the two often cross paths. I have ghost written a number of articles and have been published in reputed home improvement journals.
I am keen to feature a guest post on your blog as it would do wonders for my portfolio as a writer. I realized it was time I stopped ghostwriting for others and built an online reputation for myself. Here are a few ideas that I feel you will like:
1) 10 Great Tips to Take Care of Your Swimming Pool
2) How to Set Up a Spa at Home Without Spending Much
3) Things to Keep in Mind When Building Yourself a Swimming Pool
4) Keeping Your Swimming Pool Water Clean Without Using Harmful Chemicals
5) Easy and Economical Ways to Protect Yourself from Swimming Pool Chemicals
6) How You Can Make Your Swimming Pool More Fun for Your Kids
7) Tips on Looking After Your Outdoor Swimming Pool During Winter
8) How Do You Decide On the Kind of Swimming Pool You Want In Your Home?
9) Things to Remember When Buying a Pump and a Filter for Your Pool
10) What Every Potential Pool Owner Must Know
11) Factors You Need to Consider When Buying Yourself a Hot Tub
12) Useful Tips for Removing Brown Stains From Your Pool Liner, Walls and Stairs
I would be glad to write an article on any of the above topics and am open to any ideas or suggestions that you might have. Lastly, I am willing to part with $30 for you efforts in publishing my article, as I think it would be a sound investment.
I hope your reply is in the positive, so your readers get the opportunity to benefit from what I have to say.
From: Vashthi Nepaul
Date: Sat, Feb 22, 2014
Subject: On Bream Gives Me Hiccups
Dear nice people at McSweeney’s,
Even though “hiccup” is not a recognized spelling for anything in my country, I love this column. I assume that, because he occasionally moonlights as a famous person, the author cannot receive feedback directly. Please pass on my thanks for the continued story of Bream Gives Me Hiccups boy. I am always horrified by my inevitable amusement at his sad childhood. How this is accomplished is beyond me, but I hope it does not stop soon.
From: Daniel O’Malley
Date: Thu, Feb 20, 2014
Emus are large flightless birds with long legs and long necks native to the Australian continent. Their plumage is thick and shaggy and brownish gray, a shade sort of like chocolate milk, with streaks of black. They have eyes the size of ping pong balls situated on the sides of their heads and their pupils skew to the center, so that when you see one up-close it has a natural cross-eyed, crazy kind of stare, as if it’s being hypnotized by the tip of its own beak. And though the emu’s size and its long, flat back may seem to indicate a suitability for riding, actually mounting one, I found, can prove quite tricky.
Having located a lone bird scratching in the dirt not far off the road, I attempted mounting it dozens of times, approaching slowly, inch by inch, then extending my hand and holding it steady while the bird gently pecked at the sunflower seeds I held in my palm. It actually hurt quite a bit, this pecking, but I still say “gently” because there was a tentativeness about all of the bird’s movements. It seemed more puzzled than aggressive. Even when it grunted—at a register much louder and deeper than I’d previously thought possible for a bird—it seemed more curious than threatening.
When I finally managed to convince the animal that my intentions were pure, I was still only able to get one leg up over its back before it bolted for good, vanishing into the bush. Later, at a tavern on the outskirts of Kalgoorlie, where I’d made camp, I met an old man who knew a thing or two about these birds. I believe the man was of Aboriginal descent, though I can’t confirm this. “You’re lucky,” he told me. “How so?” I asked. I thought he meant I was lucky to have spotted an emu in the field, which didn’t make sense, considering how common they are here in the western part of the country. “I’ve seen one could kick through a fence post thicker than your leg,” he said. “Oh,” I said, “I see,” and then he went on to detail the damage the birds can inflict with their feet, which—something I failed to notice earlier—have three toes sharp as spear points. The old man claimed to have seen a cow disemboweled by an emu on a farm operated by his former brother-in-law five, maybe six years ago.
These days the old man works as a safety inspector at one of the smaller gold mines here, but I told him I wasn’t really interested in that. Of course, he wanted to know what I was doing here, but I spoke carefully, telling him nothing. I said I was just a curious traveler, killing time in “the Outback.” I didn’t say a word about you. Instead I flagged down a waitress and ordered another round of beers for the old man and me, and he told me about the emu’s place in Aboriginal mythology. What he said sounded reminiscent of what I’ve heard American Indians say about the buffalo, but when I pointed out this parallel, the old man said he didn’t know anything about any buffalo.
From: Gianluca Daniela d’Errico
Date: Tue, Feb 11, 2014
Hello people there! I appreciated Observer interview with P.S. Hoffman. He was one of those actors, but I want to say persons, that when you have met them, in his case when you see him in a film, you feel something beautiful in your mind although you can’t tell the reason why immediately. Ok, I’m saying some bullshit that probably is only in my stupid head.
Anyway I want to tell that I studied literature together with languages, I had a “tesi,” I don’t know how you call it in English, about David Foster Wallace, and after graduation I started to think that literature is not profitable (and this is the time I finally open my heavy dictionary), especially in south of Italy etc. I worked as receptionist, shipping agent for seven years, and after dismissal (another short visit to dear old dictionary), I started to plan in order of appearance: country life, agriculture, b&b, English school for children, and so on.
OK, that’s the point, these days I realized that my life is in “sottosuolo” like Dostoevsky’s Memorie del Sottosuolo, (in English: Memories from the Underground?) It’s not only this book, it’s the way people who live in this kind of world, that is the world of literature that I want to call “sottosuolo” (that in English is underground but haven’t same semantic burden)—that is your world, P.S. Hoffman—people that do not necessarily have to live their life personally, searching for money, for family, for oldness… Hoffman said, “It’s pleasurable, like smoking, it’s not a duty.”
OK, don’t care, regards from Italy.
From: Abiodun Osho
Date: Wed, Feb 5, 2014
Subject: Join a cult
Please I want to be member of a cult. How do I do?
From: Chelsea Lewis
Date: Wed, Jan 29, 2014 at 12:53 PM
Subject: Katelyn Sack’s wonderful borscht recipe
I’ve liked a lot of McSweeney’s columns, but never enough that I felt a burning need to get in touch with the author to tell her how wonderful it was, until Katelyn Sacks’ borscht recipe in “The Twelfth Batch” of Reviews of New Food. I loved her voice and her recipe. Thanks for publishing the column!
— Chelsea Lewis
From: Ryan Jacobs
Date: Thu, Jan 23, 2014
Subject: Death Star Garbage Disposal
I recently read the article about the Death Star’s trash disposal problem when it was retweeted by the Star Wars twitter page. I have some possible counter-arguments:
1. The only vent we know of that leads to the disposal unit is in the prison block. Is it unreasonable to suggest the empire did this on purpose to torment its prisoners? Taking this into account, it would make sense Leia knew where to shoot as she had been there for some time.
2. Perhaps the reason the walls both move isn’t to crush trash, but to guide it to one area prior to flushing. Imagine the size of the door mechanism required to expel trash from that area. Who’s to say the walls move all the way in at all? Maybe they stop short and a third wall (the camera wall) has a part that pushes the trash through the gap created by the other two walls out of the room? Or maybe there’s an opening in the floor there.
3. My question is this: If you are expelling trash from a space station, doesn’t there have to be an airlock so as not to jeopardize the lives of the crew? That’s where my theory in number 2 comes in. Trash gets semi-compacted and pushed or dropped into a trash airlock and expelled.
4. I have no answer for the organic creature in the trash. There is literally no explanation for why it is there unless put there as it is in space. The only thing I can come up with is maybe it stowed away on a cargo ship and death star personnel shot it and, thinking it was dead, tossed it into the trash.
Date: Sat, Jan 19, 2014
Subject: This Is My Day
My name is Miranda.
At 10:30 am, yesterday morning, I rode for five hours on a bus from Chefchaouen, I slept on a midnight train in a light-bulb-less compartment (like a downgraded version of the Darjeeling Limited compartment) for the worst part of seven hours, then dragged myself to a sticky toffee taxi, and walked, waddled even, to a hostel that “had no room at the inn.” I slept, in triumphant glory, on a makeshift bed in the hostel, and was woken up to leave IMMEDIATELY.
The next day went as so: a waddled walk to a taxi; a less stick-stuck taxi ride to the airport; arriving earlier than an early bird as a consequence of unwelcome presence in hostel; a flight to the UK; and a subsequent and currently current five-hour wait in a flat-packed faux-cozy glorified coffee-making capitalist money-munching café. All this occurred just before London trains yawned into action.
I am bathing in the brilliant horror of a two-day traveling stint. My armpits have not seen this much natural living. Ever. Nor have my trousers—which are also my pajama bottoms—that I wear at present.
I have no money and four jobs. I am 22. I graduated in July 2013 from King’s College in London. The month before I finished my degree, I was taken to hospital and diagnosed with Sepsis: multiple organ dysfunction. I wrote my dissertation from a hospital bed. Five days after leaving the hospital, I was mugged with a knife and forced onto live train tracks, missing them by a few inches. These two days of traveling, and the five days of preceding merriment, was my gift-wrapped, prepared and planned reward for living still. And graduating.
And I have read AHWOSG, and read it again. And maybe again. It is my perspective, it offers me the perspective none of us ever really possess. Because I am often trapped in the monotony of trauma, the boring monopoly game in which ivory cells toy with a daily game of heaven or hell. Something objectively menial—being ill, we’ve all been ill, and being mugged; come on, shit happens—has played master and beat-maker to my humdrum life for most of this year, and only this great swathe of physically draining and mentally stimulating travel has altered this, facilitated by Dave Eggers’ first book. I look at McSweeney’s, like a personalized Eggers etymology, and see that it gives me the opportunity for influenced hope in hopelessness.
So I am grateful. That’s what I’m saying; I am ever so grateful. For the book, of course. And McSweeney’s, I follow from afar, in England, queue-loving, pub punting England.
I am grateful.
That is my day in my mind mapped out, and I wanted to pointlessly share it with you.
From: Mary Alice Wilson
Date: Tue, Jan 7, 2014
Subject: The Circle
Finished reading The Circle. Felt very awkward accessing Google. Set up a monthly Paypal donation to Wikipedia.
Mary Alice Wilson
From: Kevin Voll
Date: Sun, Jan 5, 2013
Are you any relation Rev. Msgr. John J. McSweeney St Matthews Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC?
— Kevin J. Voll
Morgan + Jeff
Kindly Request Your Presence
At a Party to Celebrate
Their Upcoming Divorce
Or, Extreme Makeover: Our Entire Life and All Our Choices Edition
Taking Place at
What is Now Morgan’s Home
On Friday, February 21, 8 pm.
The Party Will Include Dancing, Photos,
Memories, Drinks, and Snacks.
Because Who Needs a Sustained and Loving Relationship
Based on Mutual Admiration and Support
When You Can Have Mini Franks!!
The Party Will Also Include Games Such as:
“Match the Annoying Quality to Morgan or Jeff,”
“Talk About the Early Days and Try to Pinpoint
Precisely When Things Started Going Wrong,”
“Wonder if Marriage is Even a Viable Institution
Or if it is a Construction of the Patriarchy.”
And We Got a Fire Pit.
To ‘Wink’ at the Differences
That Slowly Pulled Morgan + Jeff Apart
There Will Be “Morgan”- and “Jeff”-Themed Areas
To Represent Their Separate Interests.
Morgan’s Theme Celebrates Her Interest in
Reading, Movies, and Learning About Other People.
Jeff’s Celebrates His Interest in
Staring at His Phone 24/7
And Ignoring Morgan’s Basic Human Need
This is Only for
Close Personal Friends And Family
So Please No Plus-Ones.
And No One Invite Tom
Who, as You All Knew Before Jeff Did,
Morgan Has Been Having an Affair With
For Over a Year.
And Please, No Kids!
Though Morgan + Jeff Have Chosen To Separate
They Still Love Each Other Very Much
So Please No Bad-Mouthing
One to the Other
Or Asking Morgan to Detail
All the Weird Sex Stuff Jeff is Into.
Please Help Us Celebrate
The Making and Breaking
Of the Sacred Vow of Marriage.
And Time That Morgan + Jeff Spent Loving Each Other
That They Will Never Get Back.
Years Which, if We are Being Totally Honest,
Saw the Peak of Their Physical Attractiveness
And Sexual Virility.
We So Look Forward To Seeing You
And as They Say:
‘Thank God There Were No Children Involved!’
Except of Course Little Dylan.
Monday – Your Online Identity
Foursquare? For Shame!: The Joy of Privacy
Oh Snap!(chat): The Tragic Consequences of Social Media
Confronting the Friend Who Tags You in Everything
Why YOU Should Shelfie the Selfie
Tuesday – Your Relationships
“I’m Going to Spring Bible Camp!”: Mistruths Parents Recognize
He’s NOT Just Hangin’ With His Bros: Decoding Your Boyfriend
“I’m Not Religious, But I Am Spiritual” and Other Common Courtship Lies
How to Identify a REAL Movie Producer
Wednesday – Your Dignity
How to Keep Your Shirt Dry
Hands-Off Ways to “Get Jiggy”
No One is the “Ugly Friend”
Why Your “Number” Matters
Thursday – Your Health
Kool-Aid Keg Stands, Root Beer Pong, and Other Nifty Alternatives
Eco-Friendly Spray Tans: Healthy, Sustainable Color
“Does This Look Infected?”: Seaside Tattoo Shacks and You
Contraceptives: From Plan A to Plan B
Friday – Your Future
“Spring Break Travel Debt Doesn’t Count, Right?”: Understanding Your FICO Score
“Bosses Can’t Google Search”: Misconceptions About Employers
“Should I Add My Illegitimate Baby to My LinkedIn Profile?": Preventable Career Concerns
“My Kids Found ‘Those’ Pictures”: A Panel of Parental Perspectives
To get to the Westfjords—one of the wildest and most beautiful regions in Iceland—Scott and I would take the sea route, a smooth and easy passage across Breidafjordur (Broad Fjord), with views of Snæfellsnes and its great glacier, Snæfellsjokull, the famed setting of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. Breidafjordur is jam-packed with little islands, uncountable according to local legend, and the ferry stops at one of them, Flatey, where you can camp or rent a room for the night. As Scott and I were headed into the Hornstrandir, the most northerly and remote peninsula of the northerly and remote Westfjords (the Hornstrandir is to the Westfjords what the Westfjords is to Iceland) we made our innocent way to the port town of Stykkisholmur, where, little did we know, we would break our virgin knot eating the best wieners in all-the-world.
Iceland is known for its hot dogs, or pylsur, as they are called, and how could we resist when walking the good road into town from our campsite, we passed a little hot dog stand on the left. If you want to get technical, the hot dog stand everyone is talking about is in Reykjavik, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur. Translation: “The Best Hot Dog in Town.” Its fame has traveled farther though, as it was voted the best hot dog in Europe. Before that, Bill Clinton gave it a try on his 2004 visit, ordering a dog with brown mustard only, so plain and laughable by Icelandic standards that they made “Clinton Style” part of the menu. It is said Madonna, too, snacked on a wiener here, and a member of the band, Metallica. A line snakes out from the window of this little red kiosk near the waterfront, pretty much always, even at 2:00 am.
But that place is that place. The place Scott and I were going in Stykkisholmur—Meistarapylsur, or “Master Sausages”—is out of the way, little known, and with no long wait, a better place altogether.
We walked right up to read the menu and felt the surprising heat and glory of a ray of light emanating from the serving window, apparently cast from the young Icelandic beauty slinging dogs. She leaned out to look us in the eyes, her smile so comely and inviting, her long, darkened hair falling torrent-like over her bare arms. She didn’t speak at all, but rather offered a kind of hot dog telepathy, the sanctum of her deepest pleasures open to the sanctum of her patrons.
“I’ll have the Jóakim,” Scott said, so sure of himself it made me feel a little dwarfish.
The Jóakim was not an ordinary hot dog, but “a deep fried hot dog,” the menu told us, “with cheese sauce, salsa sauce and Doritos chips, melted cheese and spice.” And when you read “Doritos chips,” dear American, do not think Scott would be handed a little bag as a side. No. The chips are hand-broken into small pieces and spread across the landscape of the saucy bun, giving every bite a delicate crunch that can drive even the steadiest man wild.
That done, the hot dog girl now turned to me, and with her radiant gaze, made a slow, soft invitation of her eyes: What do you want? What will satisfy your desire?
“Hmm,” I said to the hot dog girl, so nearly bursting with pleasurable grief, “May I please have the 14-2?”
The 14-2 was not an ordinary dog either, but a “hot dog grilled in a special way. With baked beans, sauces, melted cheese and spice.” I knew not what special way the hot dog was to be grilled, but I knew I had to have it.
At this, the girl’s eyes opened wider still, her beam warming me from the center up. She smiled, and opened her ruby lips to speak in a voice so clear and ethereal I thought I heard nightingales.
“Would you like the baked beans on that?” she asked.
“Yes, I would,” I said, now so certain of myself, I could rule a nation.
“Ooh,” Scott said, nearly fainting with jealousy. “That would have been my next choice.”
Iceland, like every region of the world, has its adventures in food. Beyond the hot dog, try puffin, that cute little marine bird, often served smoked, in a little stack of purply lumps. (Later, Scott and I would try it in a blueberry Brennivin sauce, Brennivin being that famed Icelandic schnapps, also known as “Black Death.”) Skyr is a thousand-year old tradition, a cultured milk dish, like yogurt. And minke whale is still available on restaurant menus, accompanied by canvassers on the street calling for a ban on eating whale. But Iceland is mostly famous for its fish, an island nation graced by the world-class fishery of the North Atlantic. Fish soup is a restaurant standard, a big bowl of which, with a hearty bread, is inexpensive and satisfying. Hardfiskur, or wind-dried haddock, a fish jerky eaten with butter, is available everywhere as an anytime snack. Cod cheeks, sautéed in butter, or beer battered and fried, are fabulous. And the fish dish that every traveler hears about, but avoids, is hakarl, or putrified shark meat. Basking shark is the preferred species, the second largest fish in the world, a slow-moving and generally unaggressive beast, killed and buried, then exhumed and hung in an old barn for months until it rots into a white, pasty, cheese-like goo. It tastes of ammonia, so I have read, or as one traveler is said to have said, like eating “the gangrenous, blackened toes of a long-dead polar explorer which have been defrosted and left behind a radiator for a few days.” Hakarl is primarily made at Bjarnarhofn, a farm on Snæfellsnes, not far from where Scott and I were now.
And being where we were now, the warm sun falling over us, we returned to our lovely hot dogs. We took up a seat at the outdoor table, and without ceremony, tucked right in. The experience is mostly a long distortion of zip and whirr, so measureless as to nearly escape description. What so vividly returns to my memory is the loud snap at the teeth, so crisp and tight was that wiener, and then a taste explosion ominously beautiful, the beans and spice coming together so completely the sense aches at it.
One difference between an Icelandic hot dog, and the dogs from everywhere else, is that instead of a combination of beef and pork, you get beef and pork and lamb. Lamb, Icelanders boast, unrivaled by any on earth. “You see,” Scott and I were told later by a woman who gave us a ride, “the lambs of Iceland are free to roam where they please. They can eat the grass on the hills, or the seaweed by the sea. This is why they are the best in the world.”
The hot dog went down far too rapidly, and for a moment I felt like Joey Chestnut, who holds the world’s record in hot dog eating, 69 with buns in ten minutes. I wanted another and another, but I lifted my eyes to the blue skies of Iceland, the warmth natural light returning me to my senses. Scott and I tossed away our wrappers and walked the road to the ferry terminal to arrange the next day’s passage to the Westfjords.
Two young women were working the ferry counter, and Scott asked about the schedule. In order to catch the bus to Isafjordur on the other side, we’d have to take the morning ferry, not the afternoon ferry, and in order to do that, we’d have to stay tomorrow night on Flatey Island, because tomorrow was Sunday, and the bus doesn’t run on Sundays. Our plan: take the afternoon ferry tomorrow, camp on Flatey, and catch the morning ferry on Monday to the terminal at Brjanslækur to catch the bus to Isafjordur. We started in on the arrangements.
“Where are you from?” one of the girls asked.
“From the States,” Scott said. “Oregon. He’s from Texas.”
“I’m from Oregon,” I said. “I live in Texas.”
“An important distinction,” Scott said.
“Well I’m from Reykjavik,” the girl said. “But I live in Stykkisholmur. Just for the summer.”
“Summer job?” Scott asked.
“That’s right,” she said. “I’m at university. I came here for a summer job for one reason only.”
“What’s that?” Scott said.
“The hot dogs here are fantastic,” she said. “I love them.”
“You’re kidding,” Scott said.
“No. I’m not kidding. Even better than Reykjavik.”
“We just tried the hot dogs at that little stand out near the grocery,” I said.
“The best,” she said. “I love them so much. I can’t get enough. Did you have the one with baked beans?” she asked.
“I did,” I said.
“To die for,” she said.
“We’ll have to go again,” Scott said. “I need to try that one.”
Hot dogs really are the national food, come to find out, and like so many other foods, they were born of a need for preservation. Cheese and yogurt and Icelandic skyr are all methods for preserving milk. Jams and jellies and pies are methods for preserving fruit. And sausages are for preserving meat, and making them is an ancient art. Homer (not to be confused with Hormel) mentions blood sausage in The Odyssey, and the Apicius, that famed 4th century book of Roman cookery, includes a recipe for smoked sausage. Preserving meat this way is even older still, as Paleo Indians boiled meat and carried and stored it in the stomachs and intestines of animals, 20,000 years ago. Modern sausages owe much to the Germanic peoples, among the greatest sausage makers in the world. The term “frankfurter” comes from that sausage town, Frankfurt, Germany, and “wiener” from Vienna, Austria, which is “Wien” in German. A German immigrant brought the hot dog to America in the late 19th century. The origin of that term, “hot dog,” is hard to trace. A number of tales are circulating, many false, and one even accuses hot dog makers of using dog meat, which, in the late 19th century, might have been sometimes true.
After a beer or two harbor-side, Scott and I made our way up the hill to the Library of Water. This rounded building with its bank of windows looking onto the fjord really was a library, but the books are gone now, replaced by a permanent installation by artist Roni Horn. Positioned throughout the space are 24 glass columns, each filled with water from one of Iceland’s 24 major glaciers. It’s an archive, as much as it is art. All but one of Iceland’s major glaciers are receding, and when they are all gone—the unavoidable death knell of climate change—the Library of Water will be both monument and memorial. A light illuminates the columns from within, and sunlight streaming in through the windows illuminates from without. You walk among them, these columns of watery light, like a faun in a forest of fantastical trees, light bending images, some of which are you. On the floor are words offered in place of weather: hot, dry, nice, destructive. I paused at one column with no interior light, and inquired of the attendant.
“You know,” she said. “That light just went out one day. It’s the glacier called “Ok”—pronounced “Ahk”—from the interior, a smaller glacier. So I called up Roni to let her know we would replace the bulb. Then we found out that of the 24 glaciers, Ok is the only one that is gone. It’s gone. Completely melted due to our warming planet. So we just left it.”
After dinner, Scott and I made the steep but short walk to the top of Sugandisey, a basalt island approachable by land across the harbor causeway. We stood at the lighthouse overlooking Breidafjordur, our next day’s ferry route. From here we could see the waters shimmering off the evening polar sun, and the many islands spreading out over that blue distance. The fjord, its islands, and the surrounding shoreline have been an important food-producing region since the settlement of Iceland, about a thousand years ago. The fjord is rich in fish and marine mammals, as well as marine birds, and the islands and shoreline are rich in fine soils, suitable for grazing and haymaking. Most of Iceland’s iconic foods can be found here, and a look into the past can offer an understanding of how these foods came to augment Icelandic culture.
When the first settlers arrived in Iceland, the Arctic fox was the only endemic mammal. It was hunted, but not eaten, to protect the livestock people brought with them—mostly sheep and horses, some cows. Other than these imports, marine birds were a fine source of food (puffins were easy to catch in nets like butterflies); fish, of various sorts; and marine mammals, mostly whale and seal. Whaling required resources most people didn’t have, and so a beached whale offered a protein jackpot that fed a lot of people for a long time. If you are hungry, and you find a beached whale that has gone a bit off, you eat it anyway. Now you can understand the tolerance of hakarl in the Icelandic diet. Skyr is the product of efficient use of precious milk. First you remove the cream to make butter. With the remaining skim milk, you remove the whey to make skyr. And the whey may then be used to culture fresh milk, or drunk as is.
Looking into the distance from the lighthouse, I thought then of the great appetites of nations, the appetites of human beings, and the relationship of our appetites to those melting glaciers. What Freud knew, and what we all know at our core, is that we are driven by unconscious desires, desires that bubble up from the center of our passions. We do not control them so much as manage them, and mostly we fail at that. I wasn’t sure about Icelandic culture, but American culture is a long slog through the darkness of denial, a Janus-like tension between Puritanism and hedonism. Just ask any undergraduate at a conservative university: wild abandon on Saturday night, followed by ardent repentance on Sunday morning. If you repress powerful desires, they will finally burst forth with greater fury and destructive power. I thought of the fierce Norse warriors known as Bezerkers, tasters of blood, who fought in a trance-like state, so powerful that fire and iron could not harm them.
Deep in the night, Scott and I were violently plucked from sleep by three drunk men shouting and raging and shaking tents in the campground. I peered out through the tent door. Two of them wore those iconic Icelandic sweaters, all three carried beers. They raged and yelled in their drunkenness, howled and laughed like hyenas killing babies.
“They’re Bezerkers,” Scott said. “I should get out my mace and go after them.”
“Yeah,” I said. “You should, but that stuff would really mess them up.”
“You can kill a man with bear spray,” Scott said, “but this mace is for dogs.”
I watched through the zippered door of the tent as the Bezerkers faded into the illuminated night.
Day arrived, and on our way into town to catch the ferry, we stopped again at Meistarapylsur. Scott ordered the 14-2, and I went for the Henrik: a “deep fried hot dog with garlic sauce, Doritos chips, sauces, melted cheese, and spice.” The hot dog girl was beautiful, as before, but this time she was also human.
It looked to me like it was going to be a pretty good day.
Monsanto does not condone cannibalism. We do not endorse the systematic harvesting of mortal flesh for mass consumption. We do not drool at the thought of rendering a bountiful population of citizens into edible chunks of protein. None of us here fantasize about a future in which the farming of our fellow man is a viable practice.
I just want to get that out in the open.
Take it from me. I am one of thousands of Monsanto employees not brainstorming concepts for packaged foodstuffs made from human body parts. Like my colleagues, I did not sign an NDA which prohibits me from sharing information regarding tests that will not be performed on live adult subjects we have not collected in a heavily-guarded research lab that is not just outside Creve Coeur, Missouri. We have not been tasked with the challenge of creating innovative strategies for marketing meals made of our own species. As such, I can confirm that there is no product in development known as “Nippleroni Pizza” (patent not pending).
Our whiteboards are not filled with butcher charts diagramming potential cuts of homo sapiens meat. These charts do not have clearly labeled sections for things like “chuck,” “flank,” and “round” mapped with dotted lines drawn inside the shape of a human’s body. We do not consider Hannibal Lecter or certain members of the Donner Party as personal heroes. We do not refer to the general public as “advanced livestock” or view them as commodities simply waiting to be exploited. To this point, there is not an internal email thread currently making the rounds with the subject “EATING PEOPLE IS THE FUTURE.” And we certainly don’t all file into the company’s auditorium every week to whet our appetites by watching new episodes of The Walking Dead.
Monsanto does not condone cannibalism. We have no recommended cooking times for brains. We have not published pamphlets touting the nutritional benefits of organs plucked from erect bipedal mammals. None of us are wondering even a little bit, you know, what it might taste like. We did not turn Dwayne the intern into a bologna prototype. He is working at VH1 now, not working through our digestive tracts. Dwayne was a good, hardworking, succulent intern. His presence will be missed on a project we are not working on to classify every living man and woman based on a proprietary flavor score we have not created.
Let me be perfectly clear. We do not have a detailed roadmap outlining the steps needed to turn a dream we don’t have into a reality we’re not hoping will materialize. Our computer desktops are not Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son. Conference rooms are not being booked for meetings about the process of femur deboning. Discussions about which part of the human body would taste the best are not happening in the Xerox alcove, office kitchen, and restrooms. “Do you think the forearm is tender?” “Are calves chewy?” “What if you deep-fried an earlobe?” These are not the type of questions we are all asking each other in the elevator every morning.
I told you. Monsanto does not condone cannibalism.
So sit down, shut up, and keep eating.
The Winner Within:
A Life Plan for Team Players
by Pat Riley
(1993, Berkley Books, 270 pages)
It’s a bit difficult to compute that NBA executive Pat Riley is a real, 24-hours-a-day human being, seeing as he so uncannily resembles the antagonist in a kids’ basketball movie, a cuff-linked, slick-haired Mafioso who plots barely-legal basketballing deviancy from the baddie team’s bench.
As the NBA’s best-ever approximation of a Brando mob boss, Riley has been fortuitously present at many of basketball’s biggest moments throughout the last half-century. In the sixties he appeared in the NCAA Championship Game as a player for the University of Kentucky; in the seventies he won an NBA Championship while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers; he won five as a Lakers coach in the eighties; coached the Miami Heat to another championship in the aughts; and orchestrated perhaps his greatest-ever achievement in this decade, signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh to play alongside Dwyane Wade, an arrangement that has yielded, so far, two more championships.
The Winner Within was written and published during the nineties, a decade that was influential if not fruit-bearing for Riley. He spent the time coaching both sides of the New York Knicks-Miami Heat rivalry—a matchup known for games that transpired with the grace and physicality of a prison mutiny—blocked from access to yet more championships by the transcendent reign of Michael Jordan. I will nonetheless assume that The Winner Within’s teaching truths are timeless, even though Riley boldly writes, “We live in a VCR world.”
The yin to Riley’s yang—probably the lovable-oaf, comedic-relief coach in this PG-rated b-ball movie—is clearly Phil Jackson, the Zen Master, Michael Jordan’s coach, the owner of the most championship rings in the NBA’s history, beating Riley 13-9 even though Jackson sauntered off into retirement three years ago. Relentlessly positive and almost totally unflappable, Jackson’s first self-help book was called Sacred Hoops, an appropriately mystic title, in which he chronicled his methods of leading team meditation sessions to unify his NBA rosters. Jackson spent his off-seasons and currently spends his retirement on his spacious and secluded Montana ranch, a necessary detox and commune with the elements after so much time spent in urban (in the strictest, population-density meaning of the term) gyms.
By way of contrast, here is how Riley sets up an anecdote about a river-rafting trip that he and his wife took with friends, their collective paddling held up for us readers as a sterling example of positive teamwork:
Some of the group—us included—probably hadn’t packed our own suitcase, washed our own dishes, or turned on our own bathwater in years.
Inordinate wealth is simply a fact of the modern NBA. Usually we can rely on the NBA players to smack us over our poor plebian heads with their wealth, either importing camels for their birthday party (as Bosh did last year) or opening up their dedicated walk-in sneaker closet for a television segment, or never appearing off-court in the same, GQ-ready outfit twice.
But Riley only played in the league for a few years and, in that day, the player salaries were sustainable but far from lavish. He’s earned all of his cash as a coach and executive. And still he crouches primed and waiting for you to walk into this book so he can bonk your noggin with his briefcases of money, and papercut the webbings between your fingers with Black Gold Exclusive Membership credit cards. Whether it’s anecdotes about his motivational speeches to an “agricultural commodities” manufacturer in the Midwest or the mental image of him verbally chastising a maid as she fails to achieve the optimal hot/cold warmth combo for his bubble bath or that doggone gel-sticky hair staring back at me from the cover, reading The Winner Within requires acknowledging and submitting to Riley’s wealth, wealth, wealth.
The structure and syntax of The Winner Within was clearly born and raised to be effortlessly transported from Riley’s word processor to presentation slides projected in the front of hotel ballrooms; a publisher’s-advance/speaking-fee double-whammy. When Riley really taps into his self-constructed lingo, when he dives deep into a buzzword pile of his own making, the end result has the same disjointed non sequitur-ness of an Internet comment dropped like a turd from behind a SpamBot:
After being hammered by Thunderbolts, the team feels both discouraged and victimized, while it hungers to recapture the solidity of the Covenant and the success rush it once knew in its Innocent Climb.
One can basically see Riley gesticulating across the stage in Fresno, Tucson, Fort Lauderdale, really getting into the rhythm of his pitch in front of a room full of business-y aspirants all eagerly scribbling down the key phrases with a complimentary, conference-logoed ballpoint pen.
Riley and Jackson are living, breathing antitheses of each other’s proven winning formulas. (The two have never worked for the same team because, let’s be honest, what town could really be big enough for the two of them?) Jackson gently conjured a deep personal best out of each of his players by creating a supportive and nurturing environment, conducive to self-expansion. Riley wrung his teams out like a towel, white-knuckling every last drop of talent and effort out of his teams, whether they wanted to do so or not.
The world’s foremost authority on the rival Jackson v. Riley schools of thought is, blessedly, Shaquille O’Neal, who won championships under the direction of both coaches. In his authoritative, career-spanning memoir, Shaq Uncut: My Story (2011, Grand Central Publishing), Shaq does not hesitate to make clear whose methods he preferred, referring to his favored coach as “the great Phil Jackson” and calling Riley’s (in-demand!) motivational speaking “all BS.” Shaq shares some uncomfortable details from Riley’s time as a Heat executive:
Even when Pat wasn’t coaching, it was definitely his team. He was there, all the time, probably drawing up plays in his office. His office overlooked the court.
He had cameras everywhere. Cameras on the practice court, cameras in the locker room, probably even cameras in the bathroom. He wanted to know everything.
Riley is dealing with grown adults here, adults who have spent a disproportionate amount of their lives getting yelled at by other power-hungry coaches. The starkly dystopian vibes had to wear transparently thin in a hurry. Shaq continues by dishing dirt on Riley’s motivational techniques. Phrases like “Innocent Climb” might go over well with a crowd already willing to sit themselves down and listen to a motivational speaker, but what about in a room full of giant men making millions of dollars a year?
One day he gave us a speech on how no team can truly succeed unless people are willing to sacrifice. He walked into the locker room with a freezing bucket of water. He put his head in the freezing water for something like two minutes. Everyone was trying not to laugh.
The real power in that illustration, though, if Shaq had been paying just a little bit closer attention, was that Riley was willing to humble himself in front of the team, for the sake of winning, by intentionally messing that most elite and gentrified of symbols: his slick, immobile hair. Riley’s question, the one he asks now across the negotiation table just as he did when he stuck his head in a bucket, to everyone around him and also to himself, is: do you want to have fun, or do you want to win?
Never eat an oyster unless there’s an r in the month, except if Labor Day falls at the very beginning of September so the weekend begins at the end of August, and you’re renting a seaside house with a group of friends, though you’re not really that close to them, they’re more Laura’s friends than yours, but you’ve hung out with them a lot in the past so it’s not so uncomfortable—except why is it you’re always the interloper? How come you never have your own group, but are always tagging along with someone else and their perfectly cohesive clique?—and so when you’re all having oysters the first night, you don’t want to be the one person who’s like, “Oh, it’s still August, it doesn’t have an r in the name, we shouldn’t be eating oysters yet,” because you’ll come off as a prude who’s afraid to eat oysters just because of some old saying, and everyone else will think, “Why is he even here, he’s not even friends with us, Laura always brings these weirdos along,” and they’ll get angry at Laura even, and she’ll pick up on this since she’s pretty emotionally intelligent, and then she’ll resent you, and so now your one real friend in the house is also against you, and you’ve got two more full nights and days after this with these people before you can leave.
You’d think it’d be enough that we have to pay for car insurance, life insurance, pet insurance, and homeowner’s insurance. But I refuse to pay one penny for your civil liberties insurance.
Where is it mandated that everyone has to have civil liberties? This sounds unconstitutional.
I’m not even sure I’m eligible for civil liberties. The government’s website, Constitution.gov, which is a partisan name, didn’t help. It was really complicated, and took four seconds to load on my phone and didn’t have a single animated GIF. Even worse, the language was confusing. What’s “protection from habeas corpus suspension”? With names like that, it’s like you’re trying to protect me from things I might want later. President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and he rocked an awesome beard—long before Movember.
My generation doesn’t need civil liberties insurance. I’m young, white, college educated, and healthy. The biggest reason I don’t need it is because I haven’t done anything wrong. And I’m not planning on doing anything wrong, now or at any time in the future.
You almost had me with your “accidental imprisonment” clause, but how could I possibly end up in an Uzbek prison, or making license plates at a CIA black site? There’s no possible way anyone could ever confuse me with a lawbreaker. Lawbreakers don’t live in Brooklyn and work as graphic novelists. That’s common knowledge, people.
Your policy suggests I need to be protected from “incorrect interpretation of internet activity.” I have nothing to hide! That tweet about “Freedom from tyrants”? I was arguing about a Nicolas Cage movie. Then there’s my search history. It was nothing more than an innocent search for a bomba, which is a delicious Italian dessert. It’s not my fault the search engine autocorrected it to “bomb.” And my cell phone metadata? I don’t even know what that is. What’s the likelihood that the government, which can’t send my tax refund on time, knows what metadata is, either?
Your coverage on “government data collection” sounds like a scam. My data goes everywhere. My bank has it, my accountant has it, and I’m sure my therapist has it. I’d prefer it if the government had my data—it would be so much easier to back things up that way.
Besides, my data is already being collected by businesses. They use it to personalize and improve my online experience. I’m sure that the video game company needs to collect my latitude and longitude when I’m playing Angry Birds. If pinpointing my location enhances my pig smashing, I’m all for it. Plus, the government is keeping me safe from terrorists who play Angry Birds, which is probably a lot of them, because of the Muslim anti-pork thing.
They say that young people need to get insurance to protect everyone, so that costs stay low. Since when is it my responsibility to make sure my neighbors have affordable civil liberties? When the thugs in jack boots kick down their doors, I’ll be sleeping safely in the house next door with the American flag in the window, a house that will in no way be targeted in the future because of some poorly designed proximity algorithms.
Seriously, this is a government with a drone program that’s so broken it doesn’t target the right people. And look at the disaster with the health care site? What’s the likelihood they could intercept my private data and do anything with it? The civil liberties insurance website uses an example of an Oregon man who was arrested and held illegally by the FBI for a terrorist plot because he was Muslim and his fingerprints were a shaky match to ones that had been sent from Europe by fax. That could never happen.
What? That already happened? It’s not like it’s going to happen again.
So what if somebody happened to misconstrue that my girlfriend and I enjoy running around the house with other couples, wearing nothing but lucha libre masks, attempting to smother each other with Hostess baked goods? That happens in my home, in my personal space, shared only with a few close couples on our private Facebook page.
What could go wrong with that? I mean, it’s a free country, right?
In Which King Gylfi of Sweden Learns That Loki is a Very, Very Bad God.
Shit, I really fuckin’ hope we don’t blow it tahnight. I mean, me pehrsonally, I nevah really cah’d all that much one way anothah ‘bout the Blackhawks but now that we’re on the vehrge’ah elimination I’m stahtin’ tah fuckin’ hate those pricks. N’ yah know, aftah comin’ back ‘gainst the Maple Leafs like we did, it’d be a real fuckin’ shame tah choke right now.
Hey, you saw game 7’ah the Maple Leaf sehries, right? That shit was fuckin’ insane.
Yeah—no sehriously. Yeah, I had a hangovah the next mohrnin’.
But yeah, gettin’ back tah the Nahse gods, let’s see. Well, there’s really only a few’ah ‘em left at this point, n’ most’ah ‘em ahr pretty fuckin’ bohrin’. So fah stahtahs there’s this one guy Vali who’s supposed to be a real shahp 3-point shootah but no one really gives a shit ‘bout him. Basketball’s not that big in Scandinavia, yah know, n’ they’re mohr intah hockey n’ soccah up there which sucks fah him, ‘cause he’s a good playah.
Then there’s alsah this othah guy Ull who’s such a wicked good skiah that he pry couldah taken gold in evuhry fuckin’ ski event at Sochi if only they’d’ah just let the fuckin’ guy compete. Yah know, seriously, I’d like tah see this Ull guy compete in the men’s aerials competition. Like yah think those Belarussians ahr good at aerials? They’d look like a bunchah fuckin’ pahrapalegics belly-floppin’ intah the foot-deep kiddie pool compahr’d tah this guy. I mean, this guy, he’d back-flippin’ like fuckin’ Spidahman off the Hancock Towah n’ floatin’ down like a delicate crimson red fall fuckin’ leaf through the cool wintah aihr befohr finally gently landin’ in the watah’ah the reflectin’ pool n’ skimmin’ its suhrface like a graceful fuckin’ dove on a beautiful Christmas mohrnin’. It’d be a fuckin’ legendahry event, yah know, like the kind they’d show on all the sponsah commercials fah the next 100 fuckin’ years regahdless’ah whatevah country he played fah, ‘ren it’d be fuckin’ intahnational too unlike any othah Olympic victahry evah befohr ah aftah. But like I said, he didn’t qualify. Maybe bein’ imaginahry has somethin’ tah do with that, I don’t know. It doesn’t fuckin’ mattah at this point now anyway.
So besides those guys we alsah got Bragi who’s the god’ah poetry n’ Heimdall who’s the guy who watches ovah the rainbow bridge, n’ then there’s this guy Hod who’s basic’ly just a dumb blind fuck, n’ fuckin’ Vidar who I don’t even know what that fuck tah say ‘bout him.
… n’… uh, shit… who the fuck am I fahgettin’? Fuck. I always do this. Evuhry fuckin’ time I fuckin’ fahget somebody n’ drives me fuckin’ nuts. I don’t know why I can’t evah fuckin’ remembah ‘em all at once. Who the fuck is it? Shit…
But, hey, hey, yah know—it’s not like I’m a real prahfessional Nahse mythology stahry tellah here like that bahtendah ovah at Asgard is who’s still dealin’ with fuckin’ O’Malley. I mean in all honesty, I feel sahrry fah that poohr bahtendah. I mean he can’t get rid’ah this O’Malley son’ah-a-bitch. He’s just sittin’ there gettin’ drilled by this guy with question aftah question n’ the guy gives no considahration tah anyone but himself. I bet he don’t even fuckin’ tip well eithah. What a fuckin’ prick.
Shit, now I remembah! It’s fuckin’ Forseti! That guy’s a fuckin’ lawyah.
Yeah, no wondah I fahgot ‘bout him.
N’ then last’ah all we got Loki n’ he’s a real deceitful, lyin’ son of a fuckin’ bitch. I sweahr tah fuckin’ god, that guy is nevah up tah any good. He’s a fuckin’ liability n’ I don’t even know why Odin n’ the rest’ah his boys don’t just go n’ fuckin’ kill this guy befohr he can do anymohr damage. I mean, it’s not like Odin’s evah had any hesitation ‘bout committin’ muhrdah befohr, yah know? I mean, it’s how even he fuckin’ created all’ah Middle-Earth in the fihrst place, like I was tellin’ yah ‘bout couple months ago in paht 2.
But gettin’ back tah Loki, so his fathah was a fuckin’ giant, n’ so yah know it’s like, what do yah fuckin’ expect? Evil’s just in his genes; tryin’ tah make a good guy outtah him’s gonnah be like tryin’ tah make some poohr white ass Irish bastahd tan like a fuckin’ Italian, yah know it just ain’t gonnah fuckin’ wohrk n’ so what yah end up with is a real bitch’ah a fuckin’ sun-buhrn, only in this case it’s the entiyah fuckin’ wohrld that burhns n’ evuhryone fuckin’ dies in the end, which is actually wohrse ‘en skin cancah if yah ask me.
Now Loki though, he’s got a wife Sigyn n’ I guess she’s alright, just bad taste in men, which is nothin’ new, n’ tahgethah they had this kid Nari ah Narfi ah somethin’ which I haven’t even evah fuckin’ heahrd anyone say out-loud since Pinky n’ the fuckin’ Brain but whatevah.
But Loki, he alsah went n’ fucked this ogress who was livin’ out in the sticks n’ I don’t know why the fuck anyone would actually wannah fuck an ogress, I mean the worhd just kindah implies she’s gonnah be hideous, right? Ogress? I mean I’ve seen some fuckin’ ogress’ ridin’ on the T n’ ain’t evah a single time I thought tah myself, “Oh hey, yeah, check out that ogress. I can’t even tell which end is up n’ which end is down but her wahrts ahr fuckin’ gahgeous, yah know, n’ just look at how the light shines on her double chin…” n’ fuckin’ shit man I’ve kindah gone n’ made myself sick right now. I’ll be back in a minute. I need tah take a fuckin’ walk tah the men’s room anyway…
Hey man, sahhry ‘bout that. Shit, looks like we could both use anothah drink—Hey, Chelsea—Chelsea! Hey, yeah, me n’ this guy here we each need anothah ‘Gansett. Yeah, yeah just put it on my tab.
Hey, don’t wohry ‘bout it man.
So now where the fuck was I? Oh yeah, yeah, so Loki, so he goes n’ fucks this ogress n’ he knocks her up with triplets n’ those triplets, they’re fuckin’ monstahs, n’ not in the good way like at the ballpahk, but real mean monstahs who’ll eventually take paht in destroyin’ the entiyah fuckin’ univehrse. But that’s not till latah. Fah now it’s just good ‘nough tah know that one’ah the kids is a wolf, the othah is a snake, n’ the othah is some sorht’ah fuckin’ demon woman.
So now the rest’ah the gods, they find out ‘bout these ugly bastahds n’ the prophecies ‘bout how their gonnah tuhrn out tah be wohrse ‘en a couple’ah Chechan pricks from Cambridge—whose souls I shit on, by the way, n’ I fuckin’ hope they spend the rest’ah etuhrnity bein’ ass-raped by a 6-foot fuckin’ syphillic cactus—n’ so Odin, he sends his guys tah go n’ get these bastahds n’ bring ‘em on back tah Asgard.
So then Odin, he takes the snake, which is alsah known as the Middle-Earth Sehrpent, ah Midgard Sehrpent if yah wannah get all technical, n’ he throws the fuckin’ thing out intah the middle’ah the ocean tah try n’ drown it but instead it just stahts tah grow biggah n’ biggah n’ biggah ‘till finally it encihrcles the whole wide wohrld n’ it has tah bite itself on its own fuckin’ tail just tah keep from fuckin’ trippin’ on itself.
N’ then next up yah got this demon woman who evuhyrone’s callin’ Hel n’ I don’t know why but she’s a real fuckin’ bitch n’ her skin colah’s ‘bout as segregated as our own damn town ‘cause half her body’s blackah ‘en fuckin’ Roxbuhry n’ the othah half, it’s as white as Southie on a Januahry day, n’ these two halves, they just don’t fuckin’ mix n’ so as yah can imagine, this is one real volatile bitch. So yeah, if yah don’t die in battle n’ get tah go up tah Odin’s hall in the sky where yah get feast n’ fight till the end’ah time, then yah have go straight tah Hel, which fuckin’ sucks but it explains a lot ‘bout why Vikings loved fightin’ so fuckin’ much.
But as fah that fuckin’ wolf—his name’s Fenrir ah sometimes yah hear people call him the Fenriswolf—the gods didn’t think he was so bad at first. Hell, they even let him stay at Asgard fah ‘ra’while n’ yah know he was kindah like their pet dog. N’ Tyr in pahticular, yah know, he got tah be real fond’ah Fenrir. He’d go n’ he’d feed Fenrir on a regulah basis ‘cause they were buddies back then. Fuck, he’d even take the top off’ah his Jeep n’ he’d put Fenrir up in the front seat n’ then they’d go fah ‘ra ride up ‘long the Kancamangus Highway just tah check out the leaves in the fall; it was just real nahmal stuff that they’d do tahgethah like that, n’ Tyr, he didn’t even have tah wahrry ‘bout Fenrir jumpin’ outtah the cah n’ losin’ a fuckin’ leg ah anything ‘cause Fenrir, yah know, he had human intelligence n’ so he could even talk n’ shit n’ so they’d just be cruisin’ ‘long ‘round the backroad’s blastin’ classic songs like Mohr ‘en a Feelin’ n’ chlllin’ with the bikahs at some roadside bah befohr headin’ back intah town at the end’ah the day. Which sounds like a pretty good fuckin’ time right?
Well it’s all ‘bout to tah change real fuckin’ fast.
Submitted by Bob Geary
We fly Delta a lot. We used to fly Northwest a lot, because all our miles were there, and when Delta absorbed Northwest, they absorbed us, too. Like Northwest before it, Delta’s pretty much never gotten top marks for anything—customer service, seat roominess, on-time arrivals, what have you—but they’re not the worst either, and they seem to be trying to improve, which is admirable.
Two things they have going for them are the flashes of humor and style in their pre-flight instruction video (not the new “jokey” one that’s apparently being test-marketed on some of the hipper routes, but the classic one with the heart-stoppingly beautiful “flight attendant” with the million-watt smile), and their Biscoff cookies. The cookies were reported on by Jack Pendarvis in Batch #5 of New Food, and everything said about them there is true—they’re delicious, but more importantly, they’re crunchy/crisp in a special and maybe unique way. When you bite into a more pedestrian “crunchy” snack—say a corn or a potato chip—you get a brief audio-tactile nano-pleasure or two, and then it’s gone. But when you bite into a Biscoff, it seems to shatter into several more Biscoffs, each of which offers the same crunch experience as its parent—it’s recursively crunchy, but somehow it never devolves into unpleasant grittiness. “How far down can this go?” you wonder.
“Biscoff Spread” is how far down it can go. Biscoff Spread is literally actual Biscoff cookies, ground to a consistency somewhere between coarse cornmeal and couscous, then blended with oil and probably more sugar, to form a thick paste—about the viscosity of freshly-ground almond butter. But almond butter can be gritty; and even “crunchy” peanut butter is only intermittently and unsatisfyingly crunchy. Biscoff Spread feels crunchy at a molecular level—each bite offers hundreds, maybe thousands, of tiny discrete crispy-pleasure moments.
I sneered at Sandra Lee that one time on her Food Network show when she mashed up an entire store-bought apple pie and used it as a component in an ice-cream cake. I rolled my eyes at Rice Krispies Treats Cereal when I first saw it on the grocery shelf. But last night I put Biscoff Spread on a Biscoff cookie, and I never wanted it to end.
Grace Cock Flavored Soup
Submitted by Devi Snively
When you go to the store and see a package of “Cock Flavored Soup Mix,” you buy it. You assume it will be a gag gift but you’re not yet sure for whom. While you weigh your options, you leave it on the coffee table and point it out to visiting friends. Everybody has a good laugh. When the joke grows old, the packet finds its way to the shelf of misfit novelty foods—wedged behind the bag of BBQ Larvet Worm Snax and your once prized collector’s box of KFC Kentucky Fried Cereal—where you promptly forget about it.
You might never see it again if not for that night you smoke a bowl and run out of munchies. You scour the pantry desperate to find a stray bag of microwave popcorn when you see the Cock Flavored Soup for the first time in years. It stares back at you, defiant. It gets inside your head. What exactly is cock flavored soup? Does it hold the secrets to the universe? Who makes it? And is it really made from cock?
A week later the big storm hits and the power outage catches you ill prepared. You have no canned foods nor bread nor peanut butter. All the stores are closed. The time has come. You will eat Cock Flavored Soup.
You fire up the gas stove and pour water into a big pot. You add the mix. It’s a jaundiced, chunky, powdery substance. You bring it to a boil then let it simmer for five minutes. You pour it into a giant mug and raise it to your mouth. You feel a sense of foreboding. You swallow anyway, too hungry to care. It’s hot and salty and perturbingly pungent. It burns the back of your throat like syphilitic piss. You feel dirty. Violated. You run to the bathroom and take a shower. You will mention this to no one.
Submitted by Katelyn Sack
Because I am part Russian, I am always part sad. Because my father abandoned my family when I was six, my Eastern-European culinary knowledge comes predominantly from Tolstoy and that hot Anya Marina song that is either about binge drinking or anal sex. (“We can pop bottles all night, baby you can have whatever you like… Late night sex so wet, so tight… Baby, you can go wherever you like.”) Being industrious, I have learned about all these things myself.
Most borscht recipes call for beef or chicken stock as a base, boiled with beets, onions, and potatoes. Those recipes, I decide after having a lovely dinner with a Belarusian beauty, her Israeli husband, and my boyfriend who is old enough to be my deadbeat dad, are for losers.
Although I may not be innately valuable enough to be loved by my family, or productive enough to have completed my dissertation, I do have one outstanding native advantage in this boiling stew of life. And that is a willingness to do whatever it takes to be better than everybody else, even though that will never make me good enough. So if you strive to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, I will laugh in your face and make it ten. And I will do it without using animal products, because that’s just the kind of ruthlessly ethical bitch I am. I do not mean this in a meta way that suggests I am laughing at myself. Because I am laughing at myself, but I am also dead serious about kicking your ass in vegetable consumption. Nevertheless, being a nice if tragically flawed person, I will tell you how to make better borscht—sweeter borscht—more ethical, nutrient-rich borscht than anyone has ever made before.
Sauté a few purple onions with garlic cloves in olive oil, steam a bunch of carrots and turnips, and blend them together in the blender because, look, I’m not lazy, but why chop carefully if you don’t have to? It doesn’t make sense. Scrub, dice, and steam a few turnips. Blend and set aside. Then do the same with a few dozen beets. Blend and set aside. By now you may have realized you need a really freaking humongous bowl in which to be setting stuff aside. That is a true fact. You need that to make serious borscht, and more importantly to do so in an efficient way – so that you can continue kicking other people’s vegetable-consumption asses even during busy weeks and months in which you have no time to make borscht. Now man up and get a huge pot in addition to this huge bowl. Put another dozen or so beets in the pot, scrubbed and diced, along with washed and chunked celery and an ungodly amount of parsley. (Russians don’t believe in god, so we can use as much parsley as we damn well please.)
While that simmers, boil a few cups of water and pour over a cup of shredded coconut. Blend for a few minutes before straining through a wire mesh. This makes cheap coconut milk without the nasty chemicals in the lining of the expensive canned stuff. Set aside in the humongous bowl. Then blend the final pot of beets and parsley, and mix it with all the other stuff.
Now you have a humongous bowl of sweet, delicious soup with eight obscenely healthy vegetables, if you count coconut and parsley. You don’t have to worry about running out of food for weeks. You can feel secure that you are, in at least one way, not just as good as everybody else, but better in your own, colorful way. Other people will drink V8 and think they are as good as you, and maybe it is true after all. Maybe everything you have tried so much harder than everyone else to achieve is, at some basic level, no better than something they can buy at the grocery store and pop open like a Coke, as if the universe is mocking you because innate worth is not something you can work for and earn any more than happiness is something you can cook on the stove. But it sure is pretty, the spirals of bright orange carrot and deep purple beet, the spatter on the floor from the boiling, the warmth of the effort, of trying this hard even though you are not sure anything you can do will make a difference in the end.
Me? Oh, I’m just a normal guy. 38. Average height, average weight. Loves animals. Enjoys casseroles. But where I go to work each day just might surprise you…
Sorry. Didn’t mean to do that. It’s one of the risks of the trade, I guess. I write headlines for Upworthy.
People ask me how I got here, but the job just kind of came naturally. I remember in kindergarten, during show and tell, all the other kids whipped out their action figures, but what’s the fun of that? Where’s the showmanship? See, I made sure I had everyone’s attention first. I’d start with a grabber: “Who here hates homework?” or “Does anyone here like Star Wars?” Y’know, something everyone feels the same way about. Then I’d be like, “Well, I brought something from home, and I think you’ll really enjoy it!” And then I’d take out a spatula or some Band-Aids, whatever I could find, because neither toys nor joy were allowed in my home. Often, one of the bigger kids, feeling tricked, would find me at recess and beat the stuffing out of me, but it was too late by then. The lesson had been learned: silly promises get you noticed.
That carried over to dating, but with mixed results. I’d go up to a girl at a keg party and narrate my experiences in the third person: “Horny college student sees stunning girl at keg party. You won’t believe what he does next.” That would usually get her attention, but then I’d just say hi or something. There’d be a lot of confusion about why I thought she wouldn’t believe I’d say hi, and I’d have a hard time explaining. Personally, I think that sort of misses the point, which is that she was interested in what I was going to say. I mean, until I said it, but still. Whatever. It still worked better than my other lead-in: “I’m going to drop my pants. What happens next might be the most inspiring thing you’ve seen all month.”
I didn’t get into internet publishing right away. After school, I sold insurance for a spell, but that didn’t work out. Apparently, it’s not enough to sell a policy. The policy you sell actually has to provide for the things the policyholder expects. Personally, the whole thing seems a little pedantic to me. But the point is, if some dude asks, “Will this cover me in case of flood?” and I reply, "Sign right here—when the flood waters hit, you’ll see how Allstate responds,” that’s misleading. No wait, what did the state’s attorney general call it? Oh, right. “Fraud.” That’s fraud. Whatever. I’ve seen California’s consumer fraud statutes online. Let me ask you this: how many hits does that site get a day?
So yeah, I work at Upworthy, watching content, selecting content, and, most importantly, titling content. My ex-wife used to say I took my work home with me, but in my line of work you have to stay sharp. I’m not the kind of husband who’s gonna say, “Honey, you wanna order a pizza?” No, instead I’ll jump out with, “You’ll never guess what this husband does after feeling a hunger pain.” And if she’s not delighted by me following up with, “He ordered a pizza. I mean, I ordered a pizza. We’re getting pizza. Feel like pizza?”—then I’m sorry, I can’t help her. Let her marry an editor for Slate or something.
I guess it all came crashing down the last time we made love. I was doing all my best tricks (not to brag, but I’m pretty good at figuring out what people like), and she was close to climaxing. And guess what she did? She said, “Oh, I’m going to come.” And then she climaxed. Just like she said she was going to. Where’s the excitement in that? That was it for us.
Oh, she also said something about me actually doing something with my life instead of just, y’know, click-baiting what others have done. But, like, what? Write something? Who would be interested in that?
Wait. Let me fix that: “Upworthy Editor Actually Writes Something and You Won’t Believe Who Takes Notice!”
Wayne Gladstone’s new novel
Notes from the Internet Apocalypse
is available in all bookstores.
His name was Yuba. He was homely, he was dumb…he wouldn’t do-a so much as chew a piece of gum. What happens next? Conveniently named Yuba buys a tuba, bums his way to Cuba where he plays the rumba on the tuba and is such a smash hit and financial success that every peanut vendor’s jealous. After all, the crowds prefer Yuba’s oom-pah oom-pah oom-pah to the boopa-doopa-doopa (whatever that means). Why, all Havana loves this funny looking boob-a, who plays the rumba on the tuba down in Cuba.
If you were alive in America in 1931, you probably heard this song on the radio—a lot. Or, if you grew up in a household with a tuba enthusiast for a patriarch as I did, “When Yuba Plays the Rumba on the Tuba” seems like a perfectly normal ditty that you assume the rest of the world knows too. The assumption is not as outlandish as it might seem; the tune has been used over the years as a generic tuba lick. Even Bugs Bunny discovered its usefulness in the cartoon “Long-Haired Hare” when he whipped out a sousaphone and began playing “Yuba” loudly to annoy a rehearsing opera singer.
Here in the days of Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, it’s funny to think about a pop song featuring the tuba, and funny, too, to think of the song’s composer, Herman “Dodo” Hupfeld churning out novelties like “Yuba” alongside pieces for Broadway shows, like “As Time Goes By.” In other words, the same mind that dreamed up the romantic “You must remember this / A kiss is just a kiss / A sigh is just a sigh” tinkling away in Casablanca also concocted “With his oom-pah, oom-pah, oom-pah / He can knock eleven ladies for a loop-a.”
“When Yuba Plays the Rumba on the Tuba” seems, on the surface, all goofy charm. But it got me thinking: just when and how has the tuba been represented in pop culture? Those of us inside the tuba world aren’t insensible to the humor of our instrument, but that’s not foremost on our minds. To us, the tuba is a perfectly viable instrument—why else would we spend hours practicing and sitting through rehearsal with our tubas on our laps? So then, what does the rest of the world see when they look at a tuba, and more specifically, what have they been taught to see? Is “Yuba” an example of tuba praise, or was it the start of what has become nearly a century of portraying the tuba as a misfit instrument, the antihero of the musical world, or, worst of all, the literal butt of the joke?
With its 1931 date, “Yuba” is the earliest mass pop culture phenomenon featuring the tuba that I’m aware of, and although the tuba’s oom-pah triumphs as a lovable craze, its player—besides being dumb, homely, and a funny lookin’ boob-a—is, according to the lyrics, “getting wealthy, strong, and hearty / Thanks to plenty of good Bacardi.” I decline to comment on how faithful a portrayal of tubists this latter point is, but my English literature background is screaming for me to consider the postcolonial subtext of the song. It seems that Yuba’s tuba was not successful until he took it to an exotic land where he outshines the “peanut vendors” and provides music for a sexually-charged rumba quite outside the well-dressed ballroom of American big bands.
A similar sort of removal from cultured environs is necessary for Tubby to find himself in Tubby the Tuba, a novelty song of a different sort that yet manages a charmingly bizarre quality. In this piece, written for orchestra with narration, Tubby leaves the auditorium after the orchestra makes fun of him for trying to play the melody. Tubby comes across as a sort of wounded innocent, pleading with the conductor in a waifish Oliver Twist manner, “Please, sir, I thought it would be so nice to dance with the pretty little tune instead of going oom-pah oom-pah all the time.” Laughed out of the orchestra, a rather existential Tubby goes to the river and stares moodily at his reflection, singing “Alone am I, me and I together.” Enter a friendly bullfrog who bids Tubby a good evening and commiserates with him: “No one pays any attention to me either… Every night I sit here and sing my heart out, but does anyone listen? (Ribbit.) No.” So the frog teaches Tubby a tune to play with the orchestra; Tubby returns to the orchestra, plays the frog’s song, and is instantly popular, the violins and piccolo now eager to take up the melody themselves.
Tubby was made into an animated short in 1947 and again in 1975, has been performed countless times by orchestras including the New York Phil and the Boston Pops (with Julia Child narrating in an early 1970s performance), and is even available as a picture book with accompanying CD. It’s a fun tale with a by now familiar and well-loved tuba melody. And yet, when I listened again recently, I realized that no sooner does Tubby play through the melody once than the violins do indeed take it, relegating the tuba to the usual slow accompanying notes. Sweet and endearing as Tubby is, he hardly comes across as a hero. He’s much more the underdog who stumbles into a single moment in the limelight, goaded there by not a lion nor a stallion but a lowly, unheeded bullfrog. And even if the whole piece ends with the bullfrog saying, “We’ve done it, haven’t we, Tubby?” and Tubby sighing “Oh, how happy I am,” the orchestration proves the pecking order has not been permanently altered.
Still, both Tubby and “Yuba,” creations of the first half of the twentieth century, go to some length to portray the tuba’s psyche and others’ reactions to tuba music. Novelty songs of the second half of the century, however, cut straight to the “it’s funny because it’s a tuba” humor. There are two I know of: “Dueling Tubas,” the #92 hit on Billboard’s Top 100 in 1973, and “Play that Country Tuba, Cowboy,” a 1990s song by The Vandals. “Dueling Tubas,” created by comedian Martin Mull, is a spoof on the dueling banjos scene from Deliverance and is simply that same banjo tune played on tuba and echoed on trombone. The whole gag hinges on the fact that it’s a tuba playing what people are used to hearing on the nimble banjo. “Play that Country Tuba, Cowboy” tends closer to the old model of a story told through clever lyrics: A tuba player encounters a mean-looking man who asks, “What is that, a garbage can?” Learning that the ‘garbage can’ is a tuba, the man demands that the tubist play some country music. In a moment of pure realism, the tubist says he can’t—all he plays are orchestral works. But when the man draws a gun, the tuba player lets out “some country licks I never thought I’d hear my tuba play.” Clearly a take-off of “Play that Funky Music, White Boy,” The Vandals’ version is funny because it replaces the rock n’ roll musician turning to funk with a tuba player turning to country—an unlikely pairing that draws its humor in large part from the involvement of the tuba.
So the tuba itself becomes a sort of joke. Things get a little stickier, however, when we consider other pop tuba appearances. If you visit www.sadtuba.com and hit the play button, you’ll hear a clip that’s familiar to most Americans: the theme for losing on The Price is Right. Oh, the looks of disappointment and despair those four tuba notes have accompanied over the years! I don’t know about you, but when something really upsets me, I occasionally surf to Merriam-Webster’s website, crank the volume on my computer, and make the pronunciation tool say “poop.” Since I discovered sadtuba.com, I have several times realized its potential for filling the same role. But doesn’t it break a little piece of my tuba-player heart that my own dear instrument’s sound has been made so synonymous with losing that it can substitute for a gentle bathroom curse?
That’s tame compared to the connection made in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Bathrobe-clad Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid’s character) is out by the curb with a beer and a cigar, emptying sewage from his RV down the storm drain because, as he so eloquently puts it, “the shitter was full.” As the camera shows a close-up of the brown liquid sloshing down the drain, the music starts “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” played on solo tuba. Eddie belches. The tuba plays on.
Which brings us to another major arena in which the general public encounters the tuba: movie soundtracks. Here too, a less-than-stellar pattern emerges—the times you can hear the tuba soloing almost always accompany the most bumbling of idiots, the fatso, screw-up, villain, or, in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the alien. In the 1978 Superman, the tuba accompanies not Christopher Reeves but Ned Beatty’s character, Otis, Lex Luthor’s blundering, overweight assistant. An extensive tuba solo accompanies corpulent Jabba the Hutt in Star Wars. Even one of my all-time favorite flicks, Jesus Christ Superstar, gives the tuba a prominent part only in muffin-topped Herod’s song as he jeers at Christ.
Jaws offers a more interesting spin on the tuba-villain connection. It’s not what you’re thinking: that two-note, lurking, bah-dum… bah-dum …is played by string basses, not tuba. But composer John Williams did give the tuba the melody in the shark’s theme. You have to listen for it, and it may not immediately strike you as a tuba because it’s written in a very high register. In fact, Tommy Johnson, the tubist who played for Jaws and many Hollywood soundtracks (and also played those four losing notes on The Price is Right), asked John Williams why he didn’t write the part for French horn. Williams answered that he wanted a “more threatening” sound. So there you have it—one of the most popularly recognized composers today hears menace in the tuba.
The tuba fares a little better in non-novelty pop music where there aren’t character associations to be made, but only a tiny portion of mainstream pop songs have used tuba. Of this miniscule number, most give the tuba typical accompaniment parts, as in The Beatles’ “Martha My Dear” or Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk.” There is the very rare exception, like Blood, Sweat & Tears’s “Go Down Gamblin’,” and rarer still, the pop euphonium solo, such as in “What the World Needs Now Is Love.” Interestingly, that one sparked some debate on the Tubenet forum as to whether the opening sound is a tuba or a euphonium, with the consensus being euphonium.
Back in October, when this column was in its infancy, I awoke one morning to find an email from the BBC, asking if they could interview me for a segment on appreciating the tuba for their Radio 4 Today show. I agreed, and before long I was doing a preliminary interview over the phone. I was just starting to explain that I enjoy tuba culture as much as the instrument itself when I mentioned that tuba players tend to have a sense of humor, intending the observation as a small detail in my larger point. But the interviewer stopped me right there. “Why?” the very BBC-sounding woman wanted to know. “What makes the tuba funny?” It just is, I wanted to say, but that didn’t quite seem to plumb sufficient depths, so I began to tell her about Mr. Deeds, Gary Cooper’s quirky tuba-playing character in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. “Good. Perfect,” she said, and before I could say another word, she’d expertly crafted the angle of the story: why doesn’t the tuba get the respect it deserves?
I suppose I’ve just given a whole heap of evidence proving that’s a valid question. But in the end, we tuba-players have as much fun exclaiming, “Hey! It’s a tuba!” as the rest of the world. That’s why the Tubenet has an entire section of the forum devoted to “Who played the tuba in that recording?” where many of the brief and obscure appearances of tubas get discussed and analyzed and treated with real interest. That’s why my dad used to spin “Yuba” on the old turntable until his little daughter knew “Any sap can sell an apple / but this chap would rather grapple / with his oom-pah oom-pah oom-pah” as well as she knew “Hickory Dickory Dock.” That’s why my high school tuba line convinced the conductor to let them come out on center stage and play the piccolo descant during “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” The spotlight is a rarity for us, and so when we have it, we milk it. We make it silly and memorable, fun and accessible, and the audience usually indulges us with the same excitement underdog sports teams inspire. And maybe, just maybe, we like occupying the margins for the freedom it gives us to rumba, duel, reflect, intimidate, or just bumble along with all the flexibility our secretly awesome instrument affords.
Your first plan of action will be to black out.
Against your better judgment you’ll regain consciousness and find yourself in the daedal foliage of a spider plant. From here, sink slowly into the maw of your own private inferno. Your own private inferno is on the floor between a jumbo calculator, a nonworking fax machine and an unread copy of Excel for Dummies. Maneuver yourself prostrate. Unhinge your jaw. Scream silently into the polypropylene carpet.
So many things could have made this better.
For starters, it could have been a more expensive-looking dildo. It could have looked less like it came from Big Lots. It could have been embossed with something dignified like a mallard or tucked away in a lockbox with fingerprint-recognition technology and alarm-triggered fog. It could’ve had a note stuck to it, explaining that it was actually the dildo of a neighbor or friend, and thanks for holding onto it.
Not your parents’ dildo.
Your parents’ dildo is inexplicably stashed in a TJ Maxx tote bag on the floor of the upstairs closet, which begs the following questions: (1) Why was it not displayed on the credenza next to the Lladró and war-time photographs of your grandfather? (2) Why was it not suctioned to the refrigerator?
Again, so many things could have made this better.
If your parents were cultural anthropologists or decadent sophisticates, this would be better. If they were deinstitutionalized, sodium-depleted, insulin-crazed geriatric delinquents, this would be better. Alas, your parents are none of these things.
They are Harvey and Gayle.
They are a retired tax accountant and a hospital administrator. They are short-limbed and, according to empirically-backed research, shrinking. They are nice. They are lovers of Grape-Nuts and haters of unknown dogs crapping in their yard. One of them enjoys the soundtrack to Les Misérables so much she will silently mouth its lyrics until climaxing emotionally and then crying. They once favored Buddy’s Pizza but are now of the opinion that Pizza Papalis is superior. They see nothing wrong with ending phone calls like this:
YOU: I don’t know, it’s kind of liberating to be this broke, but the fact is I don’t even have enough money to get a job, Mom, and honestly I’d be happier chewing glass than engaging in some bullshit marketing cauldron of lies and you know how––
GAYLE (gasping): Harvey! Oh my God Harvey! Woodchuck on the deck! HELLO! EARTH TO HARVEY! Sorry, Hon, woodchuck over here. Gotta go.
They are Harvey and Gayle.
They obtained a dildo and stashed it in the bottom of the upstairs closet.
But enough about them.
What about you?
You’re no conservative mossback—you’ve been to an orgy! Surely your legs aren’t welded at the knee. You lived in Berlin! You fucked a dentist. Whatever mindless gorging and fumbling your parents choose to engage in should be of no emotional consequence to you, right?
You are 29 years old. Denying the hormonal wiring of your parents was a necessary suspension for your formative years, but that time has sadly passed. You are basically formed. You cannot tell yourself this dildo was purchased accidentally, mistaken for an oversize marker pen. You cannot tell yourself this dildo was acquired on the assumption that it was a very special kind of flashlight. Even the most docile of explanations holds that this acquisition was, in fact, born of erotic spontaneity. Oh dear sweet child, you’re too old for mythical parents. Steel yourself with fact: Your parents bought a sex apparatus and they probably used it.
Time to stare that dildo in the eye, kiddo.
So your parents use synthetic genitals to have sex—big deal. Their sex organs didn’t atrophy into squiggly black cankers of disappointment like you’d hoped—so what. Take a deep breath. Relax. Remind yourself that a number of upstanding humans exchange love via coital appliance, and that you once read an article about dildos reducing the risk of cervical cancer. Consider what you already know about humans and dildos, which is that you have to possess at least some base level of interest in making another person happy to stick with a partner or spouse, let alone to stick that partner or spouse with a dildo. And that’s good, right?
It’s just a regular old dildo, after all. It could have been worse.
It could have been double-ended.
Score one point for answering “yes” to each question.
1. Sometimes I have an itch, and then I scratch it, but a little while later I have an itch again.
2. At the end of the day, I get pretty tired.
3. Sometimes I eat something and then it’s like, ew.
4. I know someone who has a ton of allergies.
5. More than three members of my extended family are occasionally very irritating.
6. I sometimes have trouble sleeping several hours after seeing a scary movie.
7. Does this milk smell funny? Never mind, I already drank some.
8. The other day I swallowed and I felt my throat just kind of click, do you know what I mean? Like a clicking thing. It didn’t hurt, but still.
9. When I was young, some other kids got to go to the circus but I didn’t.
10. Once I wanted to tell somebody something and I couldn’t remember what it was and then I remembered and it was kind of boring and so I couldn’t decide whether it was even worth it to tell them.
11. I saw part of a movie that everyone thought was really great but I didn’t get it at all.
12. Mushrooms, never really liked them.
13. Toast with jam at someone else’s house doesn’t taste as good as toast with jam at my house.
14. My mom yelled at me a couple times.
15. When someone sings that song, “It’s A Small World,” I don’t like that at all.
16. A few birthday presents in my life have turned out to be pretty awful.
17. Same thing with Hanukkah.
18. Same thing with Christmas.
19. In fact, come to think of it I’ve really gotten quite a few lousy presents.
20. The ancient Egyptians were sure doing something right.
21. Sometimes when someone talks to me it sounds like all they’re saying is JIBBERISH.
23. Chicken is more delicious than fish.
24. Well, it really depends on how the chicken is prepared.
25. Pizza obviously is even better.
26. A robust foreign policy should be guided by basic moral principles.
27. Nobody likes clowns.
28. When this event is over, we should go someplace where they serve cookies.
29. You know what? I don’t think this quiz actually has any scientific or medical benefit of any kind.
0-9: You are in perfect health, which most people around you probably find off-putting. Comfort them with a gift of Lemony Snicket’s new book, 29 Myths On the Swinster Pharmacy, with illustrations by Lisa Brown.
10-19: You probably need what in the pharmaceutical business is called “a little boost.” Please see your local bookseller or nurse’s aid for a copy of 29 Myths On the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket with illustrations by Lisa Brown, out now with McSweeneys publishers.
20-29: You are a very sick woman, or perhaps man. Make a pledge now to turn your life around with 29 Myths On the Swinster Pharmacy, a book by Lemony Snicket with illustrations by Lisa Brown.
30-47: You cheated on the test. Why would someone do that? What is wrong with the world? Find out by reading 29 Myths On the Swinster Pharmacy by Lemony Snicket with illustrations by Lisa Brown, in libraries and bookstores now.
I’m not especially good with children—just ask mine—but I sympathize with them. I know how kids feel when I talk to them, because I feel the same way whenever I talk to anyone: petrified and resentful and certain that nothing good will come of the conversation. Being an anxious, hyper-critical adult allows me the pleasure of reliving the mute frustration of childhood and the ache of the please-may-I-go-now smile on a regular basis.
So the Esquire Network’s new documentary show Friday Night Tykes contains much that is deeply familiar to me. There are a lot of frightened, angry children on the show. And the most furious and bewildered of them are in their 30s and 40s.
“I could care less if they cry.”
“Emotion is a female trait; don’t bring that out here.”
“Rip their freaking head off and make them bleed.”
Thus speak the coaches of the Texas Youth Football Association, teaching their waist-high platoons of 8- and 9-year-olds valuable life lessons like how to spear tackle and intimidate through intentional fouls. In the weeks since the show’s premiere, the coaches, league officials, and parents of the TYFA have been roundly condemned by such disparate cultural arbiters as Gawker, ESPN, the NFL, the Daily Beast, and neuropsychologist Dr. Rosemarie Scolaro Moser, director of the Sports Concussion Center of New Jersey. Everyone agrees that the behavior depicted on the show is “depraved.” It’s child abuse. The coaches are monsters (at least two of them have been suspended since the series began airing). The kids are victims. The parents are enablers.
Even I find the show painful to watch. Most of the kids’ bodies still look fragile and undeveloped, their arms and legs resembling temporary scaffolding. When they collide with the hollow crunch of pint-sized mountain goats, any normal person would wince. The helmet-to-helmet and helmet-to-ground collisions are especially hard to witness. Childhood is painful enough without head trauma.
On the other hand, I’ve known plenty of kids who honestly enjoyed running into each other full tilt, and didn’t seem to suffer much harm from it. I also know how hard it can be to keep kids like that entertained. If they can’t play football, they’re likely to load each other into a wheeled recycling bin and crash it into a concrete retaining wall for hours on end (don’t ask me how I know this).
Apart from the potential for catastrophic injury, what seems to disturb critics of the show most is the belief, voiced by TYFA parents and coaches, that the punishing hits, brutal workouts, and stress of competition are good for the kids; that this teaches them how to succeed in life. I heard that message a lot as a child. I discounted 90% of it (that’s how you survive a Texas childhood), but I remember finding some value in it too; the value of that rare adult who for once wasn’t bullshitting you about what life held; the value of an honest answer that let you at least get on with the task of whatever suffering you were going to have to endure that day, whether it was running laps or being hit by dodge balls hurled with devastating accuracy by kids twice your size.
“You can’t do what you want to do on this field,” Outlaws coach Tony Coley tells a sniffling player. “You can’t do what you want to do in life.” Yes: What an asshole. But also: Is he lying?
Perhaps my memories of childhood are skewed by nostalgia, or Stockholm Syndrome, but I oscillate between adult and kid perspectives when I watch Friday Night Tykes. I’m not sure what to think about it. My friend Carmel, a therapist with two sons of her own, has no such doubts. She was appalled by the coaches’ repeated exhortations to ignore pain and obtain goals by force. “Telling an eight-year-old boy ‘I don’t care how much pain you’re in’ is a terrible lesson,” she pointed out. “Teaching him that he shouldn’t care about other people’s pain and suffering is just as bad.”
Developmentally, she tells me, eight-year-old kids are not well equipped to filter out adult hyperbole. They’re going to take much of what they hear at face value. And eight- and nine-year-olds are at a critical age for learning empathy. If they don’t build an empathetic awareness of other’s feelings by that age—or if their developing empathy is squelched by the adults around them—they may lack that trait their entire lives. If you have any doubt how assault and rape are normalized in our culture, Carmel said, look no further. This is where we’re teaching it to them.
I see her point. “I don’t care how much pain you’re in, you don’t quit!” bellows Charles Chavarria, the former Marine who coaches the Junior Broncos. He is a man fighting numerous demons; his marriage is shaky and his players’ parents develop a mutinous attitude as the season progresses with no victories.
“If you don’t push your kids, you’re accepting failure,” Chavarria maintains. “You’re enabling your kid to fail.” This is the assumption underlying his coaching strategy and, it appears, his entire life. “If you allow them to quit on the football field, it’s gonna be OK to quit in the classroom, to quit on jobs, to quit on life.” Letting a player stop training just because he’s projectile vomiting through his facemask would “weaken the kid,” a cardinal sin in Chavarria’s ethos.
It’s an extreme attitude, even by the standards of Texas and cable television. And yet, empathy isn’t wholly absent from the show. One episode features a touching moment where Colts head coach Marecus Goodloe helps an autistic player score a touchdown. “I’m going out there with you so I can protect you,” he tells the boy, who is daunted by the prospect of being tackled. “I promise they’re not going to touch you.” Goodloe runs next to the boy all the way down the field while the opposing team’s players (who have just been trounced 50-zip by Goodloe’s Colts) obligingly tumble to the ground to simulate a goal line pile-up.
Another scene follows Outlaws’ assistant coach Eric Nolden to his mentoring program, where he and a group of teenagers talk about bullying and leadership and the “things they need to be successful.” Mentoring the boys, Nolden says, “keeps me from going back to the kind of person I used to be”— one who, among other failings, spent some time in jail (in this context, the irony of his football team’s name appears to be lost on everyone).
Nolden is the same coach who says, in the show’s first episode, “We may be the most hated team in the league. We’re also the most feared team.” He is manifestly proud of this statement.
Be a leader, not a bully—but make the other teams fear you. Ignore your pain, because if you quit, it’s all over. To understand why the coaches of Friday Night Tykes would say these things, why they believe them, I think it helps to consider the opportunities available today for children and adults from a low-income background. Talk to anyone who grew up poor in San Antonio, where the series is filmed. There are lots; currently, almost one-quarter of the city’s residents under age 18 live below the poverty line. True, many of the families featured in Friday Night Tykes appear to lead comfortable suburban lives. But such comfort is often illusory. Those parents who manage to stake a claim in the increasingly hardscrabble lands of the middle class today face nail-biting anxiety about mortgages and jobs and retirement and college funds and healthcare. Their families’ security is precarious at best.
The coaches of Friday Night Tykes, and the parents who entrust their kids to them, aren’t just imagining a world where one failure can ruin your life. They’re tuned in to the reality of adulthood in 21st century America. Their experience tells them that there is no “real” world where you can rely on fair treatment. That world has largely vanished, though we still pay it lip service when there isn’t much money at stake.
Thus, while the activity on the show appears to focus on winning, that’s only a proximate goal. The life lessons being imparted have more to do with ruthlessness, endurance, sacrifice, power and submission. Depending on how you see the world, that could be entirely appropriate. Winning, after all, requires skill deployed within a set of rules. And rules don’t apply much in daily life any more. “Do well in school and you’ll get a job”? Sure, if by “job” you mean an unpaid internship. “Don’t cause trouble and you won’t get hurt”? Maybe, unless you’re a person of color who happens to anger a man with a gun.
Successful people no longer “win” anything in our culture. They take it. Take it, steal it, hack it, fuck it, pink slip it, bury it, break it, throw it away and buy another. You can’t afford another one? Steal it, dumbass. No one’s going to give it to you. Like Coach said: If you want it, you have to take it.
That attitude isn’t just guiding some out-of-control youth football program in Texas. It’s guiding our government, our financial institutions, and our corporations. It’s cutting funding for our schools. It’s trying to gut food stamps, unemployment, and Social Security. It’s letting our infrastructure rot. It’s minting money on charter schools and private prisons.
Which is why it’s now virtually impossible to make a living doing anything that involves caring—for people, or for the environment, or about things like art or culture. My friend Carmel is a good example, an experienced therapist who works with survivors of torture and other trauma—very specialized work of incalculable value to society. You might think work like that involves some measure of job security, or health insurance, or a retirement plan. You’d be wrong. Because who cares about torture victims? Torture victims don’t buy iPhones or triple lattes. They don’t lease luxury cars or take packaged vacation tours. It’s hard to make a dollar off a torture victim.
Or consider my friend Amy, who recently completed her Master’s degree in Social Work. For her senior field placement, she worked at an organization that counsels former violent offenders on anger management and other issues that make it difficult for them to stay out of prison. She’s good at this work; she knows a lot about it and is an endlessly compassionate and thoughtful person. But she could not, when she graduated, find a full-time job as a social worker that paid a living wage. This despite living in Chicago, a city of 2.7 million which has, as you may have heard, a non-trivial problem with violent crime.
The reason Amy is now working for a software company, rather than helping to keep ex-offenders from harming the citizens of Chicago, is the same reason ex-offender Eric Nolden and the other coaches on Friday Night Tykes are teaching 8-year-olds to intimidate their peers in a recreational sports league: There is no money in compassion. Keeping people out of prison is volunteer work—that is, it’s work for chumps. Reducing crime in our communities may benefit society, but no venture capitalist or corporation makes a measureable profit off of it. Putting people into prison—that’s where the money’s at.
So if you want to get a degree in Social Work? Fine, whatever. Plenty of schools will take your tuition money; hell, we’ll even lend it to you, and you can spend a couple of decades paying it back with interest. You want to make a living wage after you graduate? Fuck you, loser. Go back and get an MBA. If you can help a global corporation sell more burgers, you might be worthy of a decent living. Otherwise, you flip burgers for minimum wage, and raise your kids in poverty.
The coaches on Friday Night Tykes are undeniably dedicated; some of them have real talent, and a lot of them seem, to me anyway, positively warmhearted. (Granted, your ability to detect this quality may depend on how much practice you’ve had tuning out profanity and casual whacks on the head. I’ve had lots.)
So why are they doing this? Why would a coach claim that “this organization is pretty much everything I have”? Or break up his family over a perceived moral obligation to triumph at peewee football? Why would they arrange their lives around the opportunity to drill complicated plays into the minds of 2nd graders, a frustrating endeavor at best? Why put up with the demands and complaints of the parents? Are these men really just petty tyrants basking in the low-wattage admiration of youth sports?
Before we write off Charles Chavarria and Marecus Goodloe and the other coaches of Friday Night Tykes as monsters and abusers, we might ask: If they didn’t do this, what else could they do? There aren’t a whole lot of ways for men to gain respect and status these days, or to see their work result in something rewarding. We don’t provide many opportunities, outside the military, for people to lead, or teach, or mentor. There’s plenty of work like that that needs doing, but it doesn’t line anyone’s pockets. So to hell with it.
The culture documented on Friday Night Tykes is distressing to viewers because it reflects the conflict between basic survival instincts that our lives are now reduced to. The urge to care, to empathize, to help and nurture, is being ground into the dirt by the fear of failure and poverty and meaninglessness.
A lot of adults these days are privately terrified of the cruelty out there. We recognize that there’s no margin for error. No safety net; no one who cares; no one who will help us ward off the hostile forces we face. It’s like being a helpless child all over again—only now, we’re trying to equip our own kids to succeed, somehow, in this mean and sleazy game. Is teaching them to care really the responsible thing to do, under those circumstances? Teaching them to shake off pain and to seize every advantage might give them a better chance.
“We pray before every single game, " says Outlaws coach Fred Davis, “that no players will be hurt. You know, we don’t want any hurt, harm or danger to come to any of those kids. But we’re gonna bust their damn heads as much as we can during the game to let them know, that this is football.”
This is football. And yet it would be a shame if football took all the blame here. Because I disagree with Carmel on this: The valorization of force and the drive to dominate at all costs don’t start on the youth football fields of America. That’s just where everything ends, as those values descend with crushing force on the helmets of the next generation. The football field is where the final deed is done, but it’s premeditated in legislative chambers and boardrooms, and the warrant is signed by men with much, much more power than mere coaches.
It’s disturbing to think that the kids on Friday Night Tykes are being abused by a bunch of deluded adults who believe their sadistic treatment prepares the kids to succeed in life. It’s even more disturbing to consider that they may be right.
SOCRATES: Welcome to the 86th Academy Awards. We are live here on the red carpet at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater, and the stars are out tonight. Like the lovely and talented fan favorite approaching now, a lady who just might take home her second Best Actress Oscar, Sandra Bullock. Good evening, Sandra. You look stunning, as always. Who are you wearing?
SANDRA: And? There’s no “and.” I’m wearing Valentino.
SOCRATES: Yes, obviously, your trainer-hewn physical form is draped in tangible designer fashions but, in a more essential, holistic sense, are you not also wearing, or, to be less metaphorical, bearing, the values, the views, the emotional residue of all—father, mother, siblings, peers, teachers, The Ex Who Must Not Be Named, et cetera—who have figured significantly in your life? Shouldn’t one’s emotional couturiers receive equal acknowledgement on this night?
SANDRA: Well, Socrates, I would argue countless influences, some knowable, others not, have acted, are still acting, on my innate, individual psyche to produce a wholly singular amalgam—me, my me-ness—which is an entity altogether separate and distinct from any affecting personalities. Such an inimitable creation needs make no attribution beyond her provider of free custom gowns.
SOCRATES: And yet isn’t it also true, according to your own words, as recounted in People magazine, you first resolved to enter the performing arts after seeing Susan Hayward in I Want to Live—ergo, your appearance here, impossible without your career as the performer you, indeed, became, is directly attributable to that epiphany and, thus, the 1958 Oscar winner is essential to this evening and, by extension, your strapless, bubble-skirted splendor here on the red carpet?
SANDRA: Why yes, that’s true, Socrates. Your logic is indisputable. I was foolish to have believed otherwise.
SOCRATES: Thank you, Sandra. Good luck tonight. And I’m now delighted to welcome Matthew McConaughey, nominee for Best Actor in Dallas Buyers Club. Congratulations, Matthew. Feeling good about your chances tonight?
MATTHEW: I know I’m not the first to say it, Socrates, but looking at the other actors in my category, it really is an honor just to be nominated.
SOCRATES: But, Matthew, consider: if, as you claim, it’s an honor just to be nominated, does that not render the remainder of the contest—the outcome!—superfluous, meaningless?
MATTHEW: Perhaps, but…
SOCRATES: And if winning is meaningless, is not the presence of said nominees extraneous?
MATTHEW: Well, it does seem…
SOCRATES: Thus rendering the entire process, event and evening moot, consigning this conversation to the realm of the absurd?
MATTHEW: Put that way, yes it…
SOCRATES: And must you not agree that a man engaged in the absurd is a fool?
MATTHEW: Yes, Socrates, I suppose I must.
SOCRATES: Then be on your way, I have no time for fools. But I do have time for this man: Director Martin Scorsese.
MARTIN: Always good to see you, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Tell me, Marty, you produce, direct and write many of your films. In other words, you have firm control over all major aspects of your art. Yet you’re creating product for Hollywood’s large studios, which are, in turn, owned by even larger multinational conglomerates, making you a contributor to the profits and power of a soulless, dehumanizing, commercial force. Tell me, does this make you, ultimately, an artist, a slave or an oligarch?
MARTIN: I’m afraid I cannot accept your premise, Socrates. Does the poor screenwriter who, to feed his family, sells his words to a studio executive necessarily become a tool of the studio? Furthermore, is he in some way responsible for all subsequent prequels, sequels, reboots and bastardizations produced by the studio based on his original script? What of studio rewrites or directors’ cuts? I contend if the screenwriter has created his work out of passion and honest intent, without pandering to the perceived tastes of a patron, he is not culpable for a royalty on, say, Mean Streets II: The Meanering.
SOCRATES: But, using your example, no screenwriter writes in a vacuum. If his family lacks food and his wife will not take a second job to see that said foods are purchased, providing him the freedom to go to Starbucks and write, isn’t it likely he’ll reframe his ominous drama about South Sudanese genocide as a more salable, star-driven, special-effects-packed action picture about a white superhero who can solve First World problems without fear of residual consequences or repercussions? And won’t the film’s profits—or huge losses—help determine what the studio will green-light for future production and release?
MARTIN: Perhaps. But as regards my work, specifically, I’ve followed only my passions, and neither the consequent box office revenue nor the prevailing power structure determines if or what I’ll create next. So, while I still reject your original premise, I can tell you unambiguously: art is my only pursuit.
SOCRATES: Marty. Friend. You’re. At. The. Oscars.
MARTIN: Touché, Socrates, touché.
SOCRATES: Thank you, Marty. You better head inside. Now, I see Robert Redford has just arrived. Bob! Bob! Over here! Loved your work in All Is Lost, and now we’re all dying to know whether you regard the transitory nature of physical beauty as cruel fate or futile struggle?
I know you think it’s funny when you double book two people for one shitty reception job, but it’s actually super annoying. Especially when you’re the one who has to go home and not earn money because you turned up 30 seconds later then the other girl, who was only faster than you because she wasn’t wearing inappropriately high receptionist heels, like some fucking amateur.
You guys get a third of what I earn for every hour I scan, file, or pretend to know how to use Microsoft Excel, and I don’t understand why. You never pay me on time, you always pawn the worst jobs off on me because you know I’m needy and eager to please, and you act like two weeks of database entry will be some sort of exciting challenge. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but let’s not pretend it’s like summiting Everest or, for that matter, what I actually want to do with my life.
And don’t think I haven’t cracked your special temp agency code. When you say “the people at this company will call a spade a spade,” you actually mean “these people are all dumb racists.” And when you say “they will expect a fast work pace,” you really mean, “no one will have the time to show you how to actually do your job, and will resent you for asking.”
I began to get suspicious of how much you cared about me after Truck Gate. You remember Truck Gate? When you put me in the admin department of a truck logistics company, and I called you from a service station crying because I started having panic attacks in the bathroom and couldn’t cope? You told me they might use blue language, but otherwise they were “nice people.” They were NOT nice people. Everyone hated each other, and when people left the room their co-workers would talk about how they were really fat and/or stupid and/or had ugly children. I soon developed a fear of leaving rooms. Plus they made fun of my photocopying, would not teach me how to speak truck, and made me drive a car I was not insured or able to drive. The blue language was the least of my worries. And when I left, one of you, in your singsong voice, confessed that your stepbrother had worked there and had said it was the worst time of his life. OF HIS LIFE.
You also don’t seem to give a shit about my human rights. You did nothing when I complained about that ridiculous toilet rule at that architecture firm. Every time I needed to use the toilet, I had to email some woman named Patsy, who would cover the reception area for me. Sometimes Patsy ignored me for hours. I would just sit there waiting for my bladder to explode, knowing Patsy was being paid for every minute of my discomfort.
And you could have warned me about the pro fucking bono counseling I would end up doing. I have had it up to here with senior staff confessing their deepest darkest secrets to me, and I have to show interest SO I AM NOT FIRED. They think because I am transitory they can tell me anything, like some talking garbage bin to dump their deep-seated regrets into. Do you know what these people do? They get out their poetry, they play me their music demos, they insist I feel how big their left boob is compared to their right and ask whether I think they should give it all up to become a lingerie model.
I long for temp work where I don’t start off thinking I could write a sitcom about it, but then decide I can’t because the sitcom would just be too sad. And the rate you pay is not only minimal, but it makes no sense! I received the same shitty hourly wage for copying numbers onto a spreadsheet and talking on Gchat as I did for holiday cover for a client service manager who brings in millions of revenue. Please don’t “challenge” me and make me earn the same as I did when I was hiding behind a computer and writing a film script, as when I was working through my lunch hour and convincing some woman named Louise that her 2.6 tons of steel would be in Scotland by Friday.
My time with you has sucked. I am now going to find another temp agency that will suck the lifeblood from me, but will hopefully at least be more upfront about it.