Since the beginning of time, bullshit, flowery overgeneralization with at least one thesaurus’d vocabulary word. In addition, irrelevant and misleading personal anecdote. However, oversimplification of first Googled author (citation: p. 37). Thesis statement which doesn’t follow whatsoever from the previous.
Utterly contrived topic sentence revealing pretty much every flaw of structured essay writing. Therefore, supporting sentence invoking source that exists only in the bibliographies of other cited material (pp. arbitrary to arbitrary + 5). Contemplative question? Definitive refutation paraphrased from a blog found at 2AM:
“Massive block text to lend legitimacy to this sorry endeavor.”
— Legitimate-sounding Anglo Saxon name (year between 1859 and 1967)
Obviously, non-sequitur segue. Utter misinterpretation of the only other author researched for this paper. Blind search for evidence reflecting increasing desperation (authors 4, 5, and 6). Moreover, loose observation to try to force coherence. Indeed, an attempt at humor!
Hence, statement violating every principle of syllogism followed by unnecessary semi-colon; forgettable punch line. Open-ended question undoing what little intellectual progress has been made? Filler sentence, which breaks entire flow of argument, specifically designed with maximum complexity in mind so as to solve lingering word minimum concerns.
Unconvincing conclusion statement. Empty belief that prompt has been answered sufficiently and requires no further investigation by anyone, ever. Last sentence, which consumed approximately 95% of the total mental effort dedicated—still reads clunky.
In Which King Gylfi of Sweden
Learns about Thor’s Ineptitude
at Giant Murder.
So thing ‘bout Giant Land is it’s full’ah a bunch’ah fuckin’ retahds. Yah know, it’s like, soon as yah walk through the doohr, it’s—BAM! Fuckin’ retahd right in yah fuckin’ face. Ah mohr like retahd crotch right in yah face since they’re bunch’ah fuckin’ giants but, yah know, whatevah.
Nah, I mean if yah’d evah been there then yah’d know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout…
NO! That’s not what I’m fuckin’ talkin’ ‘bout. What the fuck is wrong with yah?
Yah hee’ah this guy? This guy thinks Giant Land’s in fuckin’ New Jehsey! Come on man, what the fuck?
Look, the only reason I brought this up is ‘cause it’s where Thor n’ Loki ahr goin’ with those two child-slaves I was tellin’ yah ‘bout, okay. So what happens is they sail off tah fuckin’ Giant Land n’ then when they get there they pahk their boat somewhere off the coast n’ then they wade tah sho’ah n’ they staht walkin’ through the woods like a bunch’ah fuckin’ through-hikahs who know the place. But then it stahts gettin’ dahk out right, n’ so now they’re out there in the middle’ah fuckin’ nowhere in a shithole country that’s ovahrun with a bunch’ah fuckin’ mutant retahds, n’ so they see this cabin out there in the woods n’ it’s empty n’ so they figyah yah know, why not just go on in n’ settle in fah the night n’ get some fuckin’ sleep ‘cause it’s late out n’ the T don’t run ‘round the fuckin’ clock.
So they’re lyin’ there now in their bunks when the whole fuckin’ cabin stahts shakin’ like a goddamned epileptic havin’ a seizuah at a fuckin’ lazah show. So they hang on fah dea’ah life n’ they manage tah tough the night out n’ then in the mohrnin’ Thor gets up n’ he goes tah take a look outside tah see what’s goin’ on n’ he sees this fuckin’ giant sleepin’ on the ground right next tah the house that they had somehow missed the day befohr n’ this giant, he’s snahrin’ like a fohrty-foot-long chainsaw on fuckin’ ovahdrive. So now the giant wakes up n’ he looks at Thor n’ he’s like, “Hey Thor, what the fuck’d yah do tah my glove, man?”
Now, I don’t know if he thinks Thor took a shit in his glove ah what, but basic’ly they all slept in his glove, n’ I mean don’t get how anyone’d evah even confuse a giant’s glove fah a cabin but sometimes the Nahse gods, they ain’t too bright yah know. Maybe they just thought it was anothah one’ah Frankie’s cracked out buildings like they got ovah at MIT ah somethin’. I don’t know, n’ it doesn’t even fuckin’ mattah anyway.
Oh good, good, good. Look at that. Chicago just got a penalty. Fuckin’ Oduya, that Swedish prick. Man advantage…man advantage…come on guys…
…but gettin’ back tah the stahry, so this giant’s name’s Skrymir n’ so now he asks Thor if he n’ Loki n’ the two kids wannah join up with him since they’re all goin’ in the same dihrection, n’ Thor’s like, yeah sure, yah know, why not, n’ so they all set off n’ Skrymir offahs tah cahrry all their combined food in one bag, which I guess is kindah nice’ah him but sounds fuckin’ weih’d tah me.
So they hike the whole day n’ then when they get tah where they decide tah stop fah the night tah sleep, Skrymir passes right the fuck out, but Thor gets hungry n’ so he tries to open the food bag but can’t fuckin’ do it, n’ yah know, Thor, he’s supposed tah be like the strongest fuckin’ guy ‘round. N’ bein’ that Thor’s tempah’s ‘bout as stable as a lit fuse on the 4th’ah July, he goes n’ he grabs his hammah n’ he fuckin’ smashes Skrymir’s face with it, only Skrymir hahdly even notices, he’s just like, “What was that, a fuckin’ leaf fall on my face ah somethin’?” N’ then he rolls ovah n’ goes right on back tah sleep.
But now that he got that outtah his system Thor decides he’s gonnah try gettin’ some sleep himself, only the giant’s fuckin’ snahrin’ keeps wakin’ him up n’ so he goes n’ he grabs his hammah ‘gain n’ he takes anothah shot at smashin’ Skrymir’s face with it, n’ now this time Skrymir’s just like, “What the fuck was that? Ahr acohrns fallin’ off the oaks now?”
N’ now Thor’s gettin’ real fuckin’ pissed n’ so he decides that next chance he gets, he’s gonnah just fuckin’ straight up kill Skrymir, yah know, no mohr’ah this weak-assed bullshit…
N’…ah…fuck…speakin’ah’ weak-ass, they just wasted the whole entiy’ah fuckin’ powah play. It’s okay though, we’re still up…
Yeah, so anyway though, so Thor gets his ass up just befohr dawn n’ this time he takes a runnin’ head staht straight tahwahds Skyrmir’s face with his hammah held high up ovah his head n’ he just fuckin’ clocks that guy hahd as fuckin’ he can, but Skrymir’s just like, “Now what the fuck’s goin’ on? Bihrds knockin’ twigs n’ shit outtah the trees?” N’ then he sees tiny little Thor just standin’ their fumin’ like an old fuckin’ smokestack in Salem n’ he’s like, “Oh hey Thor, man what’s up?”
N’ Thor’s just fuckin’ speechless. Yah know, I mean Thor’s gen’rally real good at killin’ people, n’ so he just doesn’t get what the fuck happened just now. So he’s just standin’ there like a dumb, deaf, n’ blind kid n’ Skrymir’s just like, “So I guess this is where we paht ways ‘cause I’m goin’ this way, n’ yah guys ahr all goin’ that way.” N’ he goes on tah advise ‘em not tah go that way cause there’s some guy out there who’s name is Utgarda-Loki n’ he fucks up anyone who messes with him.
N’ then Skrymir sets off fah the mountains n’ Thor n’ Loki bein’ the genuises that they ahr staht thinkin’, “Ah, fuck what Skrymir says. Let’s go mess with that Utgarda-Loki guy, that’ll be wicked fun.”
You Raped My Sister and Killed My Family When I Was Just a Small Boy Hiding Behind a Table—And I Will Not Rest Until I Have My Revenge
That Prostitute Would Never Have Been a Prostitute If Bandits Hadn’t Burned Her Family’s Barn to the Ground and Stolen All Their Live Stock While She Was Forced to Watch
You Saved My Life From Those Bounty Hunters And Now I’m Indebted to You Except That You Bear the Same Scar Over Your Eyebrow as the Murderer of My Slain Family Whom I Have Sworn to Avenge, Which Puts Me In a Real Conundrum
That Stranger Who Showed Up In Town Sure Looks a Lot Like My Dead Father Who Was Murdered Years Ago When I Was Just a Kid But It Couldn’t Be Because I Saw Pa Killed With My Own Eyes Though Looks Can Be Deceiving, Especially Since I Lost My Eyesight In That Horrible Fire Last June
You Might Be a Prostitute But Beneath That Corset and Your Hardened Ways I Know You Are a Woman With a Pure Heart and I’m Not Just Saying This Because I Want a Freebie
You Cheated When You Dealt That Last Hand of Cards and I Flipped the Table Onto Your Lap But You Took My Sister, Who Is Also a Prostitute, Hostage in Your Hideout in the Italian Hills That Are Supposed to Look Like Texas, Where Everyone Speaks to Me in Italian But I Speak English Back to Then and They Seem to Understand Just Fine
The Mysterious Stranger Is Incredibly Good Looking and His Blue Blue Eyes Really Stand Out Against All the Grime On His Face, But He Is Dragging A Coffin Through the Mud of Our Main Street and Folks Say He’s Been Dragging It for the Last 60 Miles Since Amarillo and I Just Don’t Have A Good Feeling About That, Son
How Dare You Insult That Kind-Hearted Prostitute—Even Though There Is A Bounty On My Head I Will Break This Bottle of Whiskey Over Your Head and Kill You In Front of All These Witnesses In Defense of Her Honor (You Would Do All That For Me, Kind Stranger? Yes, Ma’am. I Might Even Want to Make You My Bride)
1. Skill and proficiency in carrying out assignments
Inconsistent. When asked to come sit on the couch or get down off of the kitchen table, Stereo’s performance is uneven at best. I’ve also met resistance when assigning her to wear a homemade snowflake hat for our yearly Christmas card and when asking her to stop backing into me, butthole first.
Additionally, while I know that she is able to do a backflip onto the floor, she consistently refuses to perform on command so that I can create a Vine.
2. Possesses skills and knowledge
to perform the job competently
Proficient. Stereo is very cute. She doesn’t shy away from attention and will allow occasional petting in a well-received manner. Unfortunately her attitude comes off as if she just doesn’t care. For example, if I say “Stereo come here” or rapidly pat the couch to indicate next steps, she fails to follow through on a regular basis. This lack of respect is embarrassing for management and guests.
3. Skill at planning, organizing,
and prioritizing workload
Highly Effective. I would categorize Stereo’s workload as light. She moves effortlessly between eating, sleeping, and staring blankly at the Boston fern. Her grooming seems to be taking a back seat to eating, and I would like to see her pay as much attention to cleaning the middle of her lower back as she does to the bag of treats we keep beneath the sink.
4. Holds self accountable for assigned responsibilities;
sees tasks through to completion in a timely manner
Proficient. Stereo sets high standards for herself, consistently finishing any bowl of food put in front of her (her pace is of some concern, as guests have commented that her consumption levels may border on unhealthy at times.)
With that said, there have been a few embarrassing episodes coming out of the litter box, where performance is stuck in media res. When this occurs, Stereo takes immediate action, dragging the bottom of the problem area on the floor until the transaction has been severed appropriately. On these occasions, management (me) has not minded picking up what she left off because of the effort Stereo put forth.
5. Communicates effectively with supervisor and peers
Inconsistent. Too often, Stereo chooses to vocalize her concerns at inconvenient times in a baffling manner (i.e. yowling). Paired with inconsistent behavior, such as marching back and forth on management’s head at night, this communication is far from effective, as management has no fucking clue what she wants.
6. Ability to work cooperatively
with supervision or as part of a team
Inconsistent. Her peers, primarily our tuxedoed intern, have expressed questions about Stereo’s passion for existence, in some cases trailing her through the home to try and spark collaboration. In these instances, Stereo has reacted defensively, a troubling pattern that ends up affecting everyone’s ability to follow the plot lines of Game of Thrones.
However, Stereo has also inherited some rather messy situations from the intern. When this occurs, she has uses tact and directness to cover them with litter and complete her own work.
7. Adeptness at analyzing facts, problem solving,
decision-making, and demonstrating good judgment
Unsatisfactory. Stereo’s judgment is questionable on occasion. For example, despite having two carpet-covered poles at her disposal, Stereo has continued to liaison with the side of the couch. While some of this may be chalked up to habit, there is no discernible reason that Stereo should continue to make this poor choice, as it has been clearly stated to her that destroying the furniture is not cost-effective.
While she displays quick reaction times and a surprising amount of physical grace for her bulk when playing with toys on a string, she remains consistently fooled by a simple laser pointer. Although amusing for management, this is a troubling inability to discern between illusion and reality, and a blow to her professionalism.
While Stereo’s presence is quite divisive around the office—some have even gone so far as to note an “allergic” reaction to her presence—her strengths in cuteness and companionship continue to outweigh her weaknesses in communication and collaboration. With more individualized attention from management, I see Stereo going as far as the apartment will allow.
Our crack team of aspiring high school-aged music journalists—for this interview, that included Adam Ciurus, Mileena Rosa, Michel Quiles, Jacob Kayser, Katie Treskow and Amelia Curry—met with Twin Peaks on Sunday afternoon. These creative writing students channeled their musical knowledge and interviewing skills during the following on-the-spot Q&A with the band, discussing how guitarist/frontman Cadien broke his leg (he performed Saturday in a wheelchair), discovering the famous TV after they chose their name, and the best time for rock ‘n’ roll.
826 CHICAGO: How did you hurt your leg?
CADIEN LAKE JAMES: We were on tour with the Orwells in March, a band from Chicago, and I was really juiced up and acting a fool and at some point, I picked up the lead singer Mario and just collapsed under his weight and fractured it and didn’t get surgery like I should have because we were on tour.
826 CHICAGO: What are your favorite places to hang out in the city?
CLAY FRANKEL: I love taking the train in general, it’s one of my favorite places to be.
CONNOR BRODNER: Lakeview, the north side of Rogers Park, Ravenswood
826 CHICAGO: Are there any artists from Chicago who influence your sound?
CLAY FRANKEL: Yeah. Smith Westerns, I like them a lot. I used to listen to this band called the Yolks a lot when I was younger. Kanye West. There are a lot of bands that influenced our attitude more than our sound. There are a lot of bands that influence our perspective and philosophy.
826 CHICAGO:Do you have any advice for future musicians?
CONNOR BRODNER: Yeah man, just pick some good friends and make some sounds.
CADIEN LAKE JAMES: Don’t get anyone pregnant, try not to break your leg but when you do, go to the hospital.
826 CHICAGO: How’d you come up with the name Twin Peaks?
CADIEN LAKE JAMES: We were in-between names and my brother was watching the show. We knew nothing about the show but I thought it was a cool name.
826 CHICAGO: You guys big fans of the show now?
CADIEN LAKE JAMES:I think it’s a genius show. I’m excited for the Blu-ray to come out. It’s got deleted scenes. It’s called “The Entire Mystery”; it’s supposed to connect the movie to the show and if you’re a fan of the show, you’re probably as excited as I am because that’s pretty juicy.
826 CHICAGO: Where did you play your first gig?
JACK DOLAN: First gig was a battle of the bands at an open mic in like 6th grade. We played together in middle school. We’re fortunate to come from a school that encouraged art and gave us a lot of opportunities to do that.
826 CHICAGO: When do you think the best time for rock n roll was?
CADIEN LAKE JAMES: Every day is the better than the last one cuz you have all the stuff from before and whatever from If I coulda seen some shows from like early CBGB’s that would be awesome.
826 CHICAGO: Do you guys have any embarrassing facts about each other?
CADIEN LAKE JAMES: I snore all the time; it’s how I sing at night. Actually, an interesting fact is you don’t dream if you’re snoring.
826 CHICAGO: If you could pick one superpower, which would it be?
JACK DOLAN: The power to control time. Tight now I could pause time and take all your money.
CLAY FRANKEL: You’re gonna rob a bunch of kids?
JACK DOLAN: Well, maybe I’d pause time and put a bunch of money in all your pockets.
CLAY FRANKEL: I’d pick invisibility, that’d be cool. I’d be sneakin’ in and out of all sorts of places.
CADIEN LAKE JAMES: I’d have to go with the Flash, super speed. I could run from my house to your house in like 10 seconds. That would be awesome. I don’t know, I’d take any superpower. Really, you can’t be picky. If I had a superpower I’d be killin’ it.
826 CHICAGO: You either switch genders each time you sneeze or you can’t tell the difference between a baby and a muffin: Which would you pick?
CLAY FRANKEL: Probably the muffin thing. It would be much too confusing and uncontrollable to change genders all the time. My perspective would probably get messed up and I would be a confused person.
CADIEN LAKE JAMES: I would do the sneeze thing, because I think I always sneeze twice, so I’d be a chick for like 30 seconds and one guy would see it and be like “Whoa!”
CONNOR BRODNER: What if you just carried around some pepper?
We’re here to help you with your periodicals crisis. You know the one, the question that hangs over your head like a dark cloud: which literary quarterly is most deserving of my readership this year? Friend, be burdened by this crisis no longer. Sign up for the McSweeney’s and Cabinet Combo Subscription and you can have your cake, eat it too, and then eat even more cake. There are only a couple more days to get on board! To celebrate these last beautiful moments of this momentous deal, we’re featuring an exclusive excerpt from Cabinet right here on the Tendency. This is one of the many gems you’ll find in Cabinet 53, which is the inaugural installment of the Combo Subscription, along with our very own Issue 47.
Enjoy! And nab a Cabinet/McSweeney’s Combo Subscription this week!
by Katherine Hunt
In an article in the Spectator in July 1711, Joseph Addison—one of the magazine’s founders, writing as the eponymous character Mr. Spectator—described his exercise routine. When in town, and therefore not able to go out riding, “I exercise myself an Hour every Morning upon a dumb Bell that is placed in a Corner of my Room, and pleases me the more because it does every thing I require of it in the most profound Silence.” We know dumbbells now as handy at-home pieces of gym equipment—free weights that have been around, in some form, at least since ancient Greek athletes used halters to increase the length of their long jumps. But the dumbbell that Mr. Spectator refers to, and from which the heavy gym weights borrow their name, is something different. An illustration of a similar piece of equipment, published in the Gentleman’s Magazine in 1746, shows a wooden contraption in which two crossed bars with weights on the ends are mounted on an axle, around which is wound a length of rope. This mechanism would be elevated within a room, or placed in a garret, with the rope hanging down for a person standing below to pull. It mimics the apparatus used for ringing church bells—but the bell itself has been replaced with the two weighted bars (and it’s these that resemble the dumbbells of today).
Bell-ringing as exercise. By replacing the noisy bell with two weighted bars, the apparatus could provide a silent workout. From The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1746. Courtesy Houghton Library, Harvard University.
Ringing a bell, in private apartments, is here a form of quiet exercise; a church bell—a clanging, public, noisy thing—becomes, in the dumbbell, an object whose silence is its greatest asset. How did something as loud as a bell—something which is experienced so much more often, and more powerfully, by hearing than by sight—become dumb? The answer lies in the extraordinary fate of English church bells in the century before Addison was writing and, in particular, in the invention of change-ringing: a technically and intellectually demanding new way of ringing bells, based on the principle of constant but controlled change. Change-ringing, known (from the nineteenth century onward) as campanology, is still practiced in England: it makes that pleasing jumble of pealing sound often used in films as an easy aural symbol of a wedding, a noise so ubiquitous that its underlying form is easily missed. In the second half of the seventeenth century, this new kind of ringing was a major craze in England, and the possibilities of its complicated system made people think about bells in a way that detached them from their older, and other, functions.
Until the middle of the sixteenth century, English church bells, like other European bells, had a variety of uses: some sacred, some secular, and many that were both. Bells called congregations to church, and told them to flee if there was a fire; they rang to signal a death in the parish, and they rang to help the passage of the souls of the dead through purgatory; other bells, or other ways of ringing the same bells, commanded people to say a particular prayer. Bells were incredibly well-loved by their parishes and were often baptized and given godparents; their individual tones were voices which spoke to the communities over which they rang. They were among the loudest sounds in the soundscape, and a church’s bells made up a language that its parishioners, within earshot, would understand.
In the Injunctions issued by the ten-year-old king Edward VI in 1547, these many and varied uses for bells were drastically reduced. Only one bell was now allowed “in convenient time to be rung or knelled before the sermon.” Bells were so useful that a single one was still to be used to call the godly to church, but in this new post-Reformation England, their other uses were no longer officially approved. The dead didn’t need help through purgatory, because it no longer existed; there was no need to command anyone to say popish prayers such as the Ave Maria by ringing the Angelus bell, because these prayers were now deemed useless. In fact, however, there was such affection for church bells that this particular injunction was never seriously enforced. Parishioners went to great lengths to keep their bells, sometimes by burying them until the zealous storm had passed.
What all this meant was that, despite the curtailing of their liturgical uses, at the beginning of the seventeenth century a lot of church bells remained hanging in church towers. Ringing them was an activity pursued with great enthusiasm, often by groups of boozy young men. Paul Hentzner, a German lawyer who travelled through England in the final years of the sixteenth century, wrote that the English were “vastly fond of great noises that fill the ear, such as the firing of cannon, drums, and the ringing of bells, so that it is common for a number of them, that have got a glass in their heads, to go up into the belfry, and ring the bells for hours together for the sake of exercise.” It was in these long, beer-fuelled ringing sessions that change-ringing was invented, as a codification of the disorganized ringing that Hentzner describes. It seems to have started in London and south-east England in the early seventeenth century; it spread, and by the 1660s was a fashionable recreation, with societies springing up all over south, central, and eastern England to further the practice. Bells were still useful as signals, gathering and scattering the communities over which they rang; they still operated as important symbols, too. But change-ringing was an innovation which overlaid, and operated in parallel with, the other signals and symbols that the bells rang out. Whereas other Protestant countries repurposed their bells to play musical tunes, as in the carillon popular in the Netherlands, change-ringing was the English answer to the question of what to do with these leftover Catholic objects.
“The strange operation & mistery of numbers.” Peter’s Mundy’s notation of all possible changes on three, four, five, and six bells in his travel journal “Itinerarium Mundi.” Entry made after Mundy’s visit to London in 1654. Courtesy Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.
Change-ringing operates on a simple but strict system of permutations. All the bells in a church tower are rung in rounds; each ringer rings a single bell, and the bells are hung such that the ringer is able to control the sound, making the bell strike once and only once per pull. Every bell must be rung once in each round, and the order in which the bells are rung (that is, the order of the round) may never be repeated. Change-ringing notation uses numbers, with each number standing for a bell. If a ring of five bells starts ringing from highest bell to lowest, with 1 representing the highest bell and 5 the lowest, the first, orderly round can be written as 12345. The following round might be 21345, then 23145, and so on; each new round is known as a change. The aim is, in theory at least, to exhaust all the possible orders in which the bells can be rung, without ever repeating a round; different ways of exhausting all the possible orders are known as “methods.” Strict rules govern which bells can swap places with which, and ringers developed a terminology—words all full of motion: bobs and dodges, hunts and “extream” changes—to describe the various swaps in the order that the bells need to make so that they successfully exhaust the circuit and return to the original round, 12345.
The number of the possible orders is given by the factorial, a calculation now expressed in mathematical notation by an exclamation mark. For five bells, the possible number of orders is 5!, or (5 × 4 × 3 x 2 × 1) = 120. The factorial increases at a dramatic rate, and really merits its hysterical punctuation when it reaches 12!, or the number of orders possible on twelve bells: 479,001,600. The size of the numbers generated by the factorial fascinated early writers on change-ringing.
“By the furnaces of Los! So mightily driven was that sphere that it made war on Heaven, Joe! But Bonifacio, lover of both Heaven & Hell, and eager to bring them into harmony, rose on beating wings into the starry bosom of Albion for a splendid catch! Attaboy Emilio!”
“The water that would bring instruction to the devouring blade of grass—that demon who cuts us off from the love of our children and fills our old age with deep sighs—has failed to do so, thanks to the quick work of Ed Mangan and his ground crew, who got that tarp out on the field lickety-split.”
“How did Jason Heyward miss that bunt sign, Joe? Was he slumbering like Satan in Udan-Adan? Were his eyes bedimmed by the false sun of Urizen himself? The nakedness of his folly is both terrible and sublime, as it leaves Teheran forsaken on first, but may yet reveal to both pitiable beings that the fruits of forgiveness taste sweetest beneath the tents of despair. First beer’s on you, Jason.”
“Nice play! There’s a reason Freeman and La Stella have turned the most double plays in the National League this season Tommy, and that’s because their formless emanations, united as both male and female, have descended from their slumber in Beulah to be made flesh in Ulro. And good fundamentals like those are what’s gonna win you ball games.”
“B.J. Upton’s bat lies hid, dark, and obscure! The slugger’s real and immortal self has been annihilated, Joe! Only the shadow remains! See how he writhes at the plate like one who has embraced death, and twists his mournful form away from the hurler, getting out in front of the sphere when Heaven demands that he keep his left shoulder back!”
“Fredi Gonzalez has prophesied a victory tonight, after waking from a dream in which he beheld Jerusalem plowed under a fallow earth, and Justin Upton moving from the fifth slot to cleanup.”
The United States has long prided itself on its exceptional higher education, leading the world in students spelling out words and pictures on football fields, crushing the competition in numbers of students wearing sweaters with university logos on them, and, without challenge, winning the largest pool of valedictorians, beating out the UK (0) and Australia (0). Further, the U.S. has more universities than France, which has a terrible case of Grand Ecoles, aside some terrifically cheap universities (how good could they be, so cheap?). In short, if you got your degree at one of the U.S.’s 4,599 colleges and universities, you likely attended a very good school – perhaps the best.
If you’re wondering how your school fares against the world’s top few, or are looking to make a choice that will define the rest of your life and permanent social ranking, we have produced a World Schools Rankings Reports for around 50 of the colleges currently ranked in the world’s top ten.
Alabama State University
Rank: Definitely a “10”
Big Al says this is a legit top tenner, and an excellent incubator for character, with excellent gym equipment and a good cut in its jib.
Arizona State University
Bring your sunglasses, because this school can be Fulbright(!). ASU is perhaps number one in the world for Sandra Day O’Connor School of Laws.
Rank: Has Boston in the title
Although demands on students are stringent, there is still plenty of time to lay prone on plush lawns, writing screenplays about the other Boston school.
Rank: Has university in the title
BU outperforms in instances where people think that you’re trying to convey descriptively that you attend Harvard, without saying “Harvard.”
Rank: How YOU doin?
Are there polar bears in Maine? No, but who needs them when your endowment is $1.04 billion? This liberal arts college is New Ivy all the way.
Rank: Rankings are a philosophy that Brown does not concern itself with.
This form is too linear.
They may not be in space, but they’re studying the fuck out of aerospace.
Rank: If anyone knows how to rig the algorithm it’s the world’s leading computer scientists, housed at CM
This illustrious school is located in Pittsburgh so you’re not distracted and can focus on studying at one of the best schools in the world.
The number one school in the world if you aspire to be a Founding Father or sit unhappily on the Supreme Court. If you wish to become a billionaire, have your millionaire dad wave you through. Students must purchase a laptop and scepter prior to commencement. Makes and distributes its own Pulitzers.
Cornell has the smartest people in the world, but they’re not too cool for slope day. One of the hottest Ivies, but chill enough to play beer pong with the guys.
There may not be a Dartmouth in Qatar (yet) but world is just realizing how great Dartmouth is – it sure looks great on a sweater. Please leave your football affiliations at the door.
Rank: Aristocratic title
You probably know the old chestnut, “You must be smart if you went to Duke.” This is the New York Yankees of schools, which is why other people resent it.
Florida State University
Rank: Selective graduation
FSU’s biochem program is perhaps tougher than the leading med programs in the country, and certainly more trouble to pronounce. Socially speaking, has been on a hot streak since the 1970s.
University of Central Florida
Rank: You don’t rank your friends
Can you buy values? You don’t have to if you’re in-state. UCF is the most selective medical school in the country, and has the tiniest beakers.
Rank: A tuppence
A great school if you like to be taught by Madeline Albright, but bad if you care that Madeline can only work part-time. It takes GUTS to get into Georgetown.
Rank: Forged with blood
Begun as a sweatshop in post-Civil War Georgia, GTech has grown large enough to pay other people to make its machines, and is known for its fierce work ethic.
Rank: “A rank in Boston”
Harvard doesn’t care about your 1400 SAT score, administrators only want to know one thing: do you own a spotted leopard? “A school in Boston” is the number one school in the world for aspiring oligarchs.
Indiana State University
Rank: Division 1
Far superior to Indiana State University, Terre Neuve, the Indiana, U.S., campus provides an outstanding mid-education, according to the Princeton Review. If you don’t like Indiana, you probably haven’t stayed long enough. For a doctorate. That’s when it gets good.
Iowa State University of Science and Technology
Rank: 1st to poll
A charter member of the Big 12 and the nation’s most student-centered public research university, Iowa is constantly asking students, “Are you mad at me? Say something. Anything.” It boasts one of the most illustrious homecoming celebrations for people who never left. Don’t worry, they got rid of the nuclear reactor.
James Madison University
Charming hole-in-the-wall university James Madison has some killer Mexican wings. This top school is as hard to get into as Virginia Tech, and far superior to Alexander Hamilton University, that jerk.
Johns Hopkins is very hards to gets into. Founded by a quaker, JH’s various business, medicine, nursing and international studies schools are well regarded the world over, with Nobel prize winners among alums. Indeed, the faculty are world class when they feel like speaking.
Kent is the fourth best school in Ohio, and therefore one of the best in the world.
Michigan State University
Rank: On a diet
This spirited beacon for higher education and football doesn’t have any U.S. presidents on its alum list, unless you count PRESIDENT MAGIC JOHNSON.
Rank: Please, give us a harder equation
Girls want to be M.I.T., Harvard wants to be with M.I.T. Often invoked in stories about alienated geniuses, it is the best college in the world, and not in any of those soft, pussy subjects like history or medicine.
The leading school for students who want to complete their studies somewhere else, perhaps overseas, Northeastern started out in Boston as a YMCA and enjoyed a brief boom period after it figured out how to shorten “The Center for the Study of Sport in Society.” The lack of an article hasn’t stopped Sport in Society from making its mark.
The “Cornell of the Great Lakes” has huge endowments and massive research grants, which it hides under a puffer jacket and loose-fitting blue jeans. Concerned it wasn’t receiving enough media attention for its integrated sciences, Northwestern founded a journalism school to rectify the problem.
New York University
Rank: If you can make it here, you can tell everyone you made it here
The cultural capital of the educational world, NYU enjoys close proximity to parks, people with those loops that make gigantic bubbles, and Citibike stations. It is considered a pre-eminent place of learning, and has nice banners that look a bit like what you’d see at Hogwarts.
The Ohio State University
Rank: The north, south and west of higher learning
Known colloquially as “The better than Michigan university,” Ohio State has been up-and-coming since 1916. Aside from a solid academic program, OSU is known for its second-to-none cheering, and is available for weddings.
Pennsylvania State University
Rank: You have an A+ chance of getting in
Penn State saw its first graduates matriculate in 1862, and in 1863 closed enrollment to horses, embarking on its journey to become of the leading human universities in the world. Indeed, Main Campus is a top ten school for sure.
Rank: Princeton doesn’t advertise
Founded in Elizabeth and today located in the fiefdom of Princeton, the school is bordered on all sides by New Jersey. The wealthiest school in terms of endowment per student, Princeton has world class alums and recruits a narrow slice of applicants who have demonstrated requisite enthusiasm for dining clubs and dressing like it’s Halloween year-round.
Rank: One of the best schools in the galaxy
Purdue is its own flagship. Among its alums, the university counts Gus Grissom, the first vertically launched man into space, as well as Bill Bobs, the first (unsuccessfully) horizontally launched man into space.
Rice has a 5:1 student to faculty ratio, and has provided its alums with one of the best Murder She Wrote plots in modern history in the death of founder William Marsh Rice, who was chloroformed to death by his butler and attorney, the latter who made out a check to himself, but misspelled his own name.
Rank: Do not wave your patriarchal numbers in my face
Leading the way for recruitment of women into STEM subjects, Smith lures them in with a molasses cookie. The school started out as seven sisters and now has around 2600. In 2006, Smith installed Kurt Vonnegut as writer-in-residence, an honor that killed him the following year.
Southern Methodist University
Rank: Some firsts
SMU is proud home to the George W. Bush Presidential Library, a vast resource of paint-by-numbers instructional guides, and is noted for its potential for networking, perhaps over a copy of Painting for Dummies.
A finishing school for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Stanford isn’t an Ivy, because there isn’t a varsity Halo league. It remains the biggest kombucha party school, year after year.
One fifth of the student body lives on campus (the head), at this tech school turned PhD powerhouse. When not pursuing leading-edge research in the aeronautical and marine fields, A&M likes to prune the shrubs on its ranch.
The only Boston school to be located in the French Alps, Tufts is considered one of the Little Ivies, which is only the tiniest bit insulting.
University at Albany, State University of New York
Rank: Number one in the world for concrete per square foot.
SUNY Albany is still riding high from besting the British at their own game in 1777.
University of Colorado, Boulder
Rank: 5 finger shoes
UC Boulder is the most and least diverse campus perhaps in the world, with every color of townie bike in the rainbow, and some of the top white varsity skiers in attendance.
University of California, Berkeley
Rank: 2 good
Berkeley stands out as a world-class university that actually takes its star professors down from the walls and puts them to work. Berkeley is renowned for its brave student activists standing up to take a hose of pepper spray to the face.
Rank: 73 degrees
This exceptional state school far outperforms Berkeley on the James Franco/student ratio, and boasts the best weather in the world, until Earth warms another three degrees.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Rank: 2nd place in the Civil War
The focal point of this public Ivy is the Old Well, located between Old West and Old East in the Old South, where old Confederate paraphernalia lies here and there.
University of Chicago
Known as the Stanford of Lake Michigan, Chicago is culturally rich, but doesn’t rub it in the faces of poorer universities. The university boasts top-tier graduate schools and its own Plaisance.
University of Evansville
Rank: There is a state called Evansville?
Unlike WalMart colleges like Yale and Harvard, UE has low admissions to provide one on one teaching, making it an ace place to learn.
University of Idaho, Moscow
Rank: Right on the border of one
In the same realm as Yale or the University of Oregon, the University of Idaho, Moscow has talented faculty, a beer hall and a tire shop that will give you a good deal.
University of Illinois
If Abraham Lincoln hadn’t self-educated, he would have chosen U. Ill. to lay down his briefcase. The school is famed for incubating President Barack Obama’s patented “uhhhh” with vocal frye.
University of Maryland, College Park
Rank: DC plus representation
M.I.T. might sound fancier, but UM is neighbors with NASA and the Department of Homeland Security, and doing world-class research into good Ethiopian food.
University of Minnesota
Strewn between the Twin Cities, U of M is one of the safest campuses around, and will remain so, unless someone makes off with Minneapolis or St. Paul, rupturing the crucial balance. Though it’s difficult to get into Minnesota, it’s only 112th in Natural Sciences, so you could try for that.
University of Notre Dame
Rank: The holy trinity
Notre Dame is Catholic, but, like, a Catholic that drinks. Notre Dame has all four seasons, including two that are football, and has a business program that shits on Kellogg.
University of Oregon
Rank: 30 degree vert
Smart people are active people, and Oregon has 10 Pulitzer Prize winners, 19 Rhodes scholars, 129 Fulbright scholars, and seriously hundreds of parkour champions among its alumni. Lots of gravity research going on here.
University of Oxford
Where is it? Do they sell merchandise?
University of Pennsylvania
Rank: The rank goes on and on
This tough school grades on a curve. After every curve comes a Waffle House. Penn is the number two school in the world for likelihood graduates will be driving a BMW in ten years time, behind Michigan State University in Dubai.
University of Rhode Island
Rank: 2 if by land, 1 by sea
URI specializes in watersheds, marine ecosystems, water tables, and aquaculture, all bars in Providence.
University of Washington
Rank: The other Washington
If Harvard and the University of San Diego had a baby, it would be UW.
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Proof that sausage-loving Americans aren’t all red-blooded, Wisconsin has a history of progressive activism and has kept its land grant through vigorous games of corn hole on campus lawns. The school is home to a famously long-running student paper, The Daily Cardinal, which its staff prioritize over their actual coursework. Thousands-of-years-old effigy mounds around the campus show that earlier inhabitants also sat around in sweat pants a lot.
University of Texas
Rank: Buy stock in UT now to make bank when it hits #1
Located in Silicon Hills, UT provides a safe environment for aspiring techies to ride their Segways and auto-unicycles far from the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean.
University of Vermont
Rank: Rich before you
FACT: Vanderbilt is better than NYU, but because it’s in the South, people overlook it. p.s. no one cares about state schools.
If you’re not up to scratch you might not clear the hard cutoffs. Cutoff SLEEVES.
Yale has seen more than one U.S. president pass through its halls, though one of them was #43, which actually counts as two negs. Wanting to go to Yale, and having good enough scores to go to Yale are very different things, because Yale is probably the best university in the world.
McSweeney’s Internet Tendency editor-at-large, John Warner, has a new collection out this week from LSU Press, Tough Day for the Army, which includes “Notes from a Neighborhood War” previously published on the site, and the story below, debuting today.
Tough Day for the Army is available now at the bookseller of your choice.
Here we are in the house weight room, though it is not really the weight room because it is the boiler room, the place where the boiler is, the boiler that heats the house we live in together as brothers.
It is an old house. And at night, in the cold months, the boiler clangs and clanks, which tells us that it is working at least.
It is a fraternity house, not a frat house. Do you call your mother a “mutt?” Your country a… you get the idea.
Everyone who has ever lived in the house, living or dead, is a brother. This is how it has worked, always.
The boiler room is where we also decided to lift weights because there was room for benches and barbells and it’s important to exercise so we look good. We don’t say virile because if we said that word it would sound gay, but that’s essentially what’s going on. We have an image to maintain, after all, a good one. Masculine virtue, emphasis on the masculine. When you say our letters there are associations, positive ones, and there’s a certain duty to nurture what our other brothers before us have built.
Schmitty is the obvious choice for what we have planned, the reason we are in the weight room/boiler room. And what we have planned is to waterboard Schmitty.
We can’t remember whose idea it was. Inside the house we are either alone or in packs of three or more, never two, because if two of us are seen coming out of a room together, we will say something like, What were you two faggots up to in there?
We always laugh at that. To react otherwise means we were definitely up to some shit, because why would we be so pissed if we weren’t 69-ing each other like a couple of complete homos? Which is to say we were in a group of at least three and more likely five or more when we said, You know what we should do? We should do that waterboarding shit. To the pledges.
And then, after a couple seconds’ thought, we replied, That really would be badass, waterboarding our pledges.
We shared a chorus of yeah and totally, and we took out our phones and googled waterboarding videos, and as we watched them we realized that this idea was even better than first thought because that shit is really badass. We wouldn’t even need to have rush anymore because waterboarding sells itself. Everyone will know that we are the fraternity so badass that people are willing to be waterboarded to belong.
That is so fucked up, we said. And also fuckingtabulously badass.
We knew that someone had to try it first, to make sure we knew how to do it, because experience tells us the quickest way to shut down a chapter is to kill a pledge.
We decided on Schmitty, who is just now complaining a little about the ropes lashing him to the decline weight bench being too tight. We decided on Schmitty because Schmitty is tough, and also loves the house. Schmitty already has our letters branded on his ass, which is cool, not faggoty, even though all of us were staring at Schmitty’s naked, rather muscular butt when it happened.
The branding was way badass. It was the kind of thing we talked about doing all the time, but Schmitty was the only one who agreed to it, and not only did Schmitty go through with it, but even as a couple of us blew chunks at the smell of Schmitty’s ass flesh burning, Schmitty just growled like a motherfucking animal until it was done, and sometimes during chapter meetings—which are secret, so we’re not supposed to tell this—when we say something that Schmitty agrees with, he drops his pants and flashes the brand and the debate is ended.
Schmitty was the obvious choice for those reasons, and also because he was already in the weight room on the very decline bench to which he is now strapped. The bench is in the decline position in order for Schmitty to work the lower portion of his pectoral muscles, and also because when you waterboard someone you place a cloth over their nose and mouth and then pour water over them to simulate drowning, and if you don’t place them in a decline position, the water does not run over the nostrils in sufficient volume to simulate drowning.
This is what we emphasize to Schmitty, that the drowning is simulated, not actual, because he’s starting to alternate between looking anxious and angry, pulling harder and harder on the ropes as we drape an old gym towel over his face. We’re not really going to kill you, dumbass, we say. We’re pretty sure Schmitty agreed to this, but in the end it doesn’t matter, because we’ve decided that this is what needs doing.
There is very little light in the weight/boiler room, just a sixty-watt bulb dangling from a single fixture. The sweat on Schmitty’s pectorals shines in this light. Schmitty can bench 305 for 12 reps, which is impressive. The floor is concrete slab with long cracks running through it, some of them patched. Schmitty is trying to blow the towel off his face, thrashing his head around, but we remedy this by grabbing the towel ends and pinning Schmitty’s head to the bench. The tendons in his neck flex memorably.
It is hot in the boiler room because it is the boiler room. Generations of water stains that look like Rorschach blots mar the brick walls.
We only have enough rope to tie Schmitty’s arms, so we decide to sit on his legs, which had been thrashing around like he is treading water, which we recognize is not an example of irony.
Schmitty is making noises underneath the towel.
Is that crying? we ask, and then decide no way because Schmitty would not cry.
We ask ourselves How much water? We shrug because we figure that Schmitty’s reaction will tell us how much is enough, and how much is too much.
It’s important to note that in this moment, we love Schmitty. We love each other. We love ourselves, but most of all we love Schmitty because he is one of us. We are brothers, all. We would never do anything to hurt Schmitty because that would be like cutting off our own legs. In fact, we maybe have never loved each other more. That we are
waterboarding Schmitty is the proof.
Under the cloth held over his face, Schmitty gags and retches. We pour the water in intervals, five seconds on, five seconds off. This, says the Internet, is how it must be done to avoid consequences like the subject being waterboarded passing out, which defeats the purpose of waterboarding them. Soon, Schmitty stops trying to kick us off his legs and no longer pulls at the ropes. He’s only gurgling now. His limbs are slack. The towel, taut over his face, is sucked into his mouth with his breath. His wrists are raw. They may scar, but no worse than a brand, for sure.
We waterboard Schmitty until it is no longer interesting to waterboard Schmitty, until we know what there is to know about waterboarding, which is astoundingly simple and doesn’t take all that much time, it turns out. We remove the towel from Schmitty’s face, and for a moment we worry that maybe we did it wrong, that we killed Schmitty, because his eyes are—how can we put this?—absent. They are open, but no one is present, like this is a life-sized Schmitty doll in front of us, eyes black and staring and lifeless, except we know Schmitty is not dead because his chest rises and falls.
We say his name, Schmitty! Schmitty! We slap his cheeks and say his name, Schmitty! Schmitty! Some of us in the back giggle nervously. Holy fuck, we say.
And then Schmitty returns, except that clearly it is Not Schmitty. It is Schmitty’s body and Schmitty’s face, but we know it is Not Schmitty because Not Schmitty raises his head up and looks us in the eyes and says: You motherfuckers better leave me tied up because if I ever get loose I’m going to kill every single one of you.
Schmitty would never say that.
We do the smart thing, the only thing, and leave Not Schmitty in the boiler room, lashed to the bench. We turn off the lights and shut the door and we go upstairs to our rooms; we brace a chair under the knob and we listen hard for the approach of Not Schmitty, because we’re assuming that like Schmitty, Not Schmitty can also bench 305 pounds for 12 reps, and unlike Schmitty, Not Schmitty has vowed to kill every one of us.
We sit upright in our beds and consider how Not Schmitty might kill us. Bare hands is an option, Not Schmitty gripping our throats, squeezing. Or the ropes we used to tether him to the decline weight bench wound around our necks until our heads practically pop off our bodies. That’s a possibility. Not Schmitty could knock on our doors, and when we answer, he could bring a twenty-five-pound barbell down on our heads. He could get one of the large butcher’s knives from the kitchen and he could slip up behind us and ram the blade between our ribs into an organ like the spleen that will let loose our blood inside our bodies until there is not enough blood left for our hearts to continue pumping. We have one sleepless night, then another. When the boiler kicks in we listen for the clanks and clangs in the radiators and wonder if there is a rhythm to them, if Not Schmitty is tapping out a message of our dooms. We stop thinking about Not Schmitty so we can think more about ourselves, our vulnerable selves.
Eventually, life has to go on. We emerge from our rooms, blinking, seeing everything as it was, and we wonder if maybe it was a dream, if maybe we never decided to waterboard Schmitty, and therefore there is no Not Schmitty still tied to the decline bench in the weight/boiler room.
We do not go to look for ourselves, no. We put up plastic sheeting in front of the stairwell, and a sign warning of asbestos.
We do not go to look because it is easier to move forward rather than to examine the past, if indeed the past even happened. We miss Schmitty for sure, but Schmitty remains in our hearts, so it is not like Schmitty is entirely gone. Remember that time Schmitty bet us he could gain twenty pounds in a day and he ate and ate and ate, spaghetti and stir-fry and chocolate pudding, and he actually did it, and we said, How about that fucking Schmitty?
Of course we remember.
But we move on. We go to class. We party. We go to more class. We wear shirts with the collars popped and boat shoes even though we don’t have boats, yet. We party. We graduate. We party. We get jobs. We start lives in apartments. We go to work. We participate in March Madness pools. We meet girls, whom we know enough to call women to their faces. We fall in love. We deny falling in love because being in love is kind of gay, even if it’s with a girl (woman). We know we are in love because when we say disgusting things about our girlfriends to our brothers, we feel regret. We go to work. We save money for a ring. We go to work. We propose. We have weddings at which we deny crying during the ceremony, after which we get shitty via open bars.
We have families. We buy homes. We buy homes and have families of tiny, vulnerable children who grow into small, vulnerable children, and then slightly less small, but still vulnerable children. With the children, we fear Not Schmitty is everywhere, for example driving the car in front of us, waiting for an opportunity to stop short, causing us to rear-end him, which will launch our small, vulnerable children in their improperly secured car seats through the windshield.
Not Schmitty could be anywhere. When we are in the office bathroom, solo in a stall taking a dump, and the bathroom door swings open and we hear footsteps, we think of Not Schmitty and his doll’s eyes and we wait for a shotgun blast through the stall door that will splatter us across the tile.
After we make love to the girl (woman) we love and fall asleep—because the lovemaking is like a very strenuous sport—we awake with a start, thrashing our arms, certain Not Schmitty has come with a pillow meant for our faces. Even as we draw back our titanium driver, ready to send a laser down the fairway, we are certain that Not Schmitty is behind us with a nine iron, waiting to cave in our skulls.
We miss the days we lived with our brothers, when we were young and strong and not vulnerable, but invulnerable.
We grow older. We buy boats. We buy boats we don’t use all that often, and we complain that boats are just bottomless holes you pour money into, which tells people that we not only own boats, but also have wealth enough not to worry about pouring money into them. Our guts grow past our ability to suck them in. Our bench press maxes drop toward the double digits. The more money we make, the less work we seem to do. Sixty-five percent of us vote Republican; the rest of us must be gay or poor or something. Recessions happen in which we’re barely touched. We see our children graduate high school and then college, things they achieve despite our suspicion that some of them are dumb or defective, though we love them anyway, which is an astounding thing. Our wives spread in places we wish they wouldn’t. We achieve all the trappings of success. We are helpful to each other in innumerable ways at this, business referrals, stock tips, sales leads, stock tips, football tickets, stock tips. This is what we were promised so many years ago by the brotherhood, and it has come true.
When the kids leave the house for good we go to Europe.
Why Europe? We don’t know. It’s just something we’re supposed to do. Some people it is Disneyland, others go to all-inclusive resorts in the Bahamas, we are supposed to go to Europe. It is as though we are trapped by this need, even though we have limited desire to go to Europe and are even a little afraid to go to Europe, the language barrier and all. When we go to Europe, in Europe in those European eyes we become what we know ourselves to be: rich, tacky, successful, fat.
We have the trips of our lives, obviously, but are nonetheless happy to come home. It is evening, and the motion sensor snaps the light on as we approach, which always makes us freeze for a moment, like we are stealing our own luggage. There are ten steps from the flagstone walk to the portico, so that the house may loom over the yard, making its statement. Once inside, we have that sensation that someone has been here in our absence. The air-conditioning is too high. We smell popcorn. We whistle for the dog and then remember he is at the kennel until morning. Our wives go upstairs for a bath and we consider the possibility of joining them, something done in the past, but that past is awfully distant, and there is the matter of logistics in terms of fitting inside the tub, and so we discard the notion and feel sad that we can’t figure out how to make it work.
We drink a whisky. It is expensive and bitter. The house is large, so our bathing wives can’t even be heard. These are the times when we listen to the creak of the wood floors for Not Schmitty’s approach. We hold ourselves upright, hands pressed to the kitchen granite and refuse to turn around. Perhaps Not Schmitty has already made short work of our wives, their blood pinking the bath mat, which is what we would do if we were Not Schmitty, if we wanted to deliver maximum hurt. Once we picture our wives’ blood swirling through the bath water we can’t stop this vision, but we resist rushing upstairs because what if Not Schmitty is there, waiting? What if he is waitwaiting, holding an ax with a chip in the blade from use?
What if he holds an ax above his head, an ax that glints in the blue light through the parted curtains and he will use it to smite us in two and there’s nothing we can do about it?
But he’s not here, is he?
1. Who are you?
A. A newly minted, crazy-brilliant college grad who’s been working on a wild and rowdy, 4,000-page (so far!) pseudo-philosophical postmodern tome about a bunch of friends who read Lacan’s Écrits and then decide to (road) trip along New America’s Old West Coast while under the influences of LSD and Special K in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment.
B. A former doctor/lawyer/investment banker who’s always had a talent for tale-spinning—some people are just too gifted for their own good—and has already drafted a collection of finely polished and carefully observed short stories about the insight a professional degree affords one into the lives of other, lesser people.
C. New York City New York City New York City New York City New York City New York City New York City.
D. A dude who majored in the humanities and is pretty good at this writing thing, but also isn’t some kind of balls-less pussy freak. You like Maker’s Mark, quoting Henry Miller, and literary ladies (layyydeees) with big glasses who obviously do not grasp the concept you’re talking about, so you’ll explain it again to them.
E. Someone who has always loved writing and reading, would like to get better at both, and holds no illusions about the measure of your talent vs. that of your peers, because is talent really “measurable” in that way? And if so, why should it matter?
F. You have sublimated your terminal self-hatred into something resembling creative productivity for long enough to generate a semi-coherent writing sample to submit to an MFA program. As a result, you sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a sound in your ears like a million voices screaming out in pain and being suddenly silenced (i.e. you can answer “yes” to one or all of the above options).
You’ve answered “F”. Congratulations! You may proceed to the next question.
2. Your writing process most closely
resembles which of the following?
A. Recording the damage to your impressive, liberal arts-educated sensibilities wrought by the 21st century’s unchecked materialistic narcissism. This is not only how you write, but how you’ve become the Voice of Your Generation.
B. You listen to Mozart, put on a loose fitting button-down, reread your favorite three pages of The Razor’s Edge, and then forge in the smithy of your soul the uncreated conscience of the upper middle class.
C. You think about New York City and then write about things that could happen in New York City.
D. You pound PBRs, masturbate nearly to the point of climax, and then stop (you’ve told all the literary layyyydees that this was how Anthony Trollope used to do it, and it’s a thing you said so it’s probably true), write the sentence “He both hated it and loved it,” delete the sentence, and finish masturbating.
E. You open a blank document, write a paragraph, delete it, take a break, rewrite the paragraph, keep it because it feels right now, write a few more lines, delete them, etc.
F. You cannot leave your bed. You’ve forgotten how to move. Your vision is blurred but beautifully kaleidoscopic, like the vision of a spider or an ant. Everyone around you operates with a bewildering sense of purpose that seems to bring them a strange and shallow pleasure. Breakfast time becomes lunch time becomes dinner time, and by then you’re barely hungry. You should call your mother, but you doubt she’d like to hear from you now (i.e. you can answer “yes” to one or all of the above options).
You’ve answered “F”. Congratulations! You may proceed to the next question.
3. On a Friday night, you are most likely to be…
A. High on some premium-grade, sativa-strain marijuana, lecturing those eagerly assembled in your apartment-cum-lyceum on William Gaddis, the political situation in Hyderabad, and a third thing you’re trying to explain, which is really just a summary of a poorly written New York Times article you read on quantum physics and the illusion of happiness.
B. Making love to your spouse of eight years shortly after entering the room where she/he was just finishing bathing/reading/drinking an oaky Cab, sighing softly, and announcing: “We haven’t made love in over a week. We used to make love every other day. I want to make love to you now.”
C. In New York City.
D. Wasted in a roadside bar with your best friend, worried about the two of you being perceived as gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that or anything), introducing yourself as a writer to a superfoxy laayyydee, and fighting back alcohol-induced hallucinations that the one-eyed bartender is actually your father giving you a sternly disapproving look.
E. Having dinner with some college friends who’ve driven out to visit you and telling them about your successes and struggles as an aspiring writer.
F. Terrified of being exposed as the fraud you know you really are (i.e. you can answer “yes” to one or all of the above options).
You’ve answered “F”. Congratulations! You are fit for entry into an MFA program! I’ll add you to the listserv now!
What do you do when you can’t function? After rookie EMT Piper Gallagher responds to a call outside a Los Angeles shopping mall for a man who can only tell her, “I can’t function,” the question begins to haunt her. Piper’s experiences as a rookie break her down and open her up as her genuine urge to help patients confronts the daily realities of life in the back of an ambulance and a hospital’s hallways. McSweeney’s Books is proud to present an excerpt from Courtney Moreno’s vivid and visceral debut, out now and available here.
Ruth says I need to see South Central. She throws Carl and me in the rig and drives around 710’s district. “We’re first up for all calls,” she says. “And we’re not going back until you’re better at mapping.”
She and Carl point out landmarks. The pale pink church at the corner of Van Ness and Arbor Vitae, where you sometimes respond to congregation members who’ve fainted. The crack house at 92nd and Dalton, a dark green shoebox whose color contrasts sharply with the straw-colored weeds. It has a BEWARE OF DOG sign but no dog, the empty leash drooping from a wrought-iron fence. Carl tells me everyone wants to run a call on that place, to see what the inside looks like, but no one has.
I learn about the dive bars, the convalescent homes, the elementary schools. Which restaurants get people sick. Which intersection has the highest homicide rate. Carl points out two small parks within a mile radius of each other, explaining that the men who ride their bicycles in circles, ringing the little metal bells on their handlebars, are actually drug dealers, the ringing sound an advertisement. We pass another landmark, the abandoned warehouse on the corner of 112th Street and Normandie Avenue with its tilted rusty sign and mural of gang tags, the remaining shards of glass hanging in the frames like an ever-shrinking jigsaw puzzle. The deserted Buick on Central Avenue could almost serve as a landmark, too, covered in parking tickets like feathers, at least until they tow it away. I wonder if Ruth and Carl are as familiar with their own neighborhoods as they are with these streets. Their attitude toward South Central falls somewhere between resident and tourist.
Looping through the neighborhood, Ruth explains which avenues and boulevards are the easiest to oppose traffic on, and Carl warns against a convenience store that’s had three robberies in the last month. I look at the piles of trash on the sidewalk, the crumpled shapes and decay-coated buildings, the way the early morning light casts quiet over everything. There’s something here I hadn’t expected, a deeply rooted sense of community in this wrecked and broken place; it’s apparent in the way everyone yells their hellos and seems to know each other.
Ruth and Carl wave their own hellos at a trio of transients standing in an alley. “I’ll bet you lunch we pick up Sadie before eleven,” Carl says.
“By nine,” says Ruth.
Our first call comes in at 0816. I’m beginning to recognize my pager’s language: “57/ M ALOC” means a fifty-seven-year-old man has an altered level of consciousness. Ruth pronounces every acronym as if she were reading off the letters of an eye exam, but Carl refers to this one as “A-lock.”
Ruth hits the gas as she flips on the lights and sirens. “Map me to my call!” she yells. “If I make it before you’ve mapped me there, you’re going to polish our boots.”
I open my Thomas Guide and quickly reel off directions to 134 Kansas Avenue, but Ruth shows no sign of approval. She switches to quizzing me as she swerves around cars, her aggression clearly habitual. “What are possible reasons a person might be altered?”
It’s shocking to witness how many drivers refuse to pull over to the right.
“They could be hypo- or hyperglycemic, or it could be a drug overdose or a stroke. They could be in shock, maybe from trauma. Like a blunt force injury to the head?”
“Normal range for blood sugar?”
“Between 70 and 140.”
“Hypoxia. Hypoxia. That’s when brain cells are deprived of oxygen…”
My brain is being rattled for loose change. “Oh, right! If a person has a seizure, there’s the post-ictal phase afterward, when they’re disoriented.”
“How do you treat a seizure?”
“Turn them onto their side so they can’t choke on their tongue, give them oxygen, do a rapid trauma assessment for injuries.”
“Check eyes, motor, verbal, try to get onset and duration from witnesses.”
Carl adds playfully, “I’m usually ALOC on my days off. Due to EtOH.”
“What is that?”
Ruth uses even Carl’s sense of humor as a means to quiz me. “We talked about this.”
Other drivers’ faces are a blur as they ignore the emergency vehicle’s howl and flash. People talk on the phone and sing along to music. One guy is picking his nose and looks up, caught, as we fly past. I remember the jaundiced patient the other day, the way he had reeked of booze and his eyes had lolled.
“Alcohol? You say that if someone has been drinking?”
“Correct. EtOH is the chemical abbreviation for ethanol. It’s a way of saying your patient is drunk without them knowing what you’re talking about.”
She slows and parks, aligning the rig with 134 Kansas Avenue. Leaving the emergency lights on, she uses the radio to tell Dispatch we’re on scene. In front of the leaning one-story, a rusted Chevy sits on blocks in the oil-stained driveway, and a couple of stray cats clean themselves amid the tall weeds of the front yard.
Carl puts on a pair of gloves with a loud snap. “Let’s go say hello to Teddy boy.”
We fall in line with the firefighters, who arrived moments before us, moving up the driveway, the gurney bouncing along in concert with the gaping cracks in the pavement. One of the firefighters, who looks as though he is never not in uniform, thrusts his chin in my direction.
“Who’s the boot?”
“They treating you okay, Piper?”
“Don’t call me ‘sir,’ it makes me feel old. I’m Vick.”
“Hi, Vick.” I smile at him and turn my head just in time to see Ruth glowering at me.The front door is ajar and leaning off its hinges; we lift the gurney inside. Vick is in charge. He calls out and there’s no answer. We walk into the next dimly lit room and see a shape sprawled on the couch. One of the firefighters searches for a light switch with his flashlight. I can just make out his reflective yellow pants moving around the room, the glow of the flashlight’s halo swiveling above.
When weak light spills from an overhead lamp, I see Vick already kneeling by the couch, briskly rubbing the man’s chest with his knuckles. The whole place smells dank, stale.
“Theodore? Come on, Teddy, talk to us.”
The man doesn’t respond. Seizure? Drug use? EtOH?
Ruth nudges me. “Go.”
I stare blankly at her and then spring into action. I don’t yet have the confidence they do, that unique assumption that I can just stroll into a stranger’s home and start touching and talking to him. But I rush to get a blood pressure and a D-stick with my shaking hands; Carl hooks him up to the EKG monitor and the pulse oximeter.
“His sugar’s 33!” I call out as the glucometer accepts the drop of blood and a number flashes on the small screen. I am at war with a Band-Aid: I am losing. One of the adhesive ends clings to my gloves. If he’s in this kind of shape, who called 911?
But then she appears, an unconcerned woman holding a cup of coffee and a pack of cigarettes, her belly pushing out against her tank top and pajama bottoms. She tells us that he hasn’t eaten since yesterday, but she gave him his insulin as usual this morning.
As if that’s his cue, Teddy turns into a monster. A swinging, grunting, drool-slinging brute who would’ve clocked me in the face if I hadn’t leaned back just in time—and yet even after this transformation, his expression remains oddly relaxed, childlike.
This is what it looks like when someone’s brain is dying.
Courtney Moreno’s award-winning writing has been published in LA Weekly and Best American Non-Required Reading. She received a B.S. in molecular biology from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of San Francisco. During the ten years in between, she worked as an entomologist’s assistant, lab technician, clinical research coordinator, stagehand, set carpenter, modern and aerial dancer, EMT, and field training officer. She lives in San Francisco. Purchase In Case of Emergency here.
What the fuck are you looking at? Fuck you. Do you know who I am? Let me ask you a question, are you an inventor? Do you like to invent things?
Well, you don’t invent things anymore, asshole. You know why? Because all I’ve got to do is make one fucking call and you’re done, no one funds your work ever again. That’s all it would take. One fucking call, and the closest you come to an invention is when your frying pan has to double as a bedpan ‘cause you can’t afford both. One fucking call. That’s it.
Oh, you’re not an inventor? More of a scientist then? Not anymore you’re not. ‘Cause all I have to do is make one fucking call and your science days are over. I just pick up the phone, “Hello, President of the National Academy of Science? Former president Alex Bell here.”
Bam! Just like that, one fucking call, and the next time you set foot in the Academy of Science is in a fucking jar. That’s right, when they literally set your foot in a jar as an exhibit because of the crazy warts you develop when you can’t afford shoes anymore ‘cause no one will hire you as a scientist. And all it would take, is one fucking call.
What’s that? Not a scientist either? More into forensics? Fascinating. I’ve actually got a forensics related question for you: how many fucking calls would I need to make to end your career in forensics?
Would it be just one fucking call? That’s what I think. I think it would go like this, “Hello FBI? This is the guy who invented the metal detector in order to find the bullet in US President James Garfield’s body. Yeah, no sweat, anyway I got this asshole here, and I need you to make sure that the next time he’s allowed inside a crime scene, is when he’s wearing a fucking body bag.” Click. How many fucking calls was that? One? That’s what I fucking thought.
Not into forensics either, huh? You know what, it doesn’t matter. You should just leave the country ‘cause here’s the deal, everybody knows me here, EVERYBODY, and I could just make one fucking call, and you’d be finished. Canada, same fucking thing, one fucking call. And it wouldn’t even have to be long distance either, ‘cause they wave phone charges for national treasures like myself.
Yep, you’re gonna have to go somewhere else, and wherever you do go don’t plan on taking a boat, ‘cause you see this device over here? Well, all I have to do is pick up this cone thing, put it to my ear, turn this wheel a few times, speak into this other cone thing, and those sound waves will be converted to electrical signals, which will be transmitted across a wire to a similar device and converted back to sound, and that sound, will sound something like this, “Hello operator? Could you connect me to every port in North America? Just tell them it’s the inventor of the hydroplane. Oh, and while you’re at it, please connect me to every airport too. Just mention my design for a manned tetrahedral kite, which was essential to the invention of the airplane. Thanks, sweetheart.” And voila. That’s all it would take. One fucking call, and you’re swimming to Europe.
And when you get there, here’s the thing, I hate to sound like a broken record—by the way the record player, not invented by me, just vastly improved by me—but when you get to Europe, don’t even think about starting a fucking family. ‘Cause I all I have to do is make one fucking call, real simple, just say “Hey Europe, this is Alex Bell, the former president of the American Eugenics Institute and architect of America’s forced sterilization campaigns of the 1930s.
Yeah. Annnyway, there’s this fucking asshole who’s swimming over there right now, and I’ve determined him to be a defective variety of the human race. So, yeah, if you could just cut his fucking nuts off. Thanks.” And there you go. One fucking call and you’re a eunuch.
One. Fucking. Call.
Hey there, remember me? I think we met at a potluck once. That’s okay if you don’t remember. The only thing you need to know is that I never wash my hands. Anyway, your baby is so cute. Can I hold him?
He’s so precious! I just want to pinch his chubby little cheeks with my wet, drippy fingers.
Oh, come on, I’m harmless—I took a massive bowel movement in a gas station restroom today—I’m totally harmless!
Why are you covering him up? Is he cold? Here, use this damp towel I found on the floor of the men’s locker room at the Y. Throw that over his poor, exposed face. Or maybe he’d like this second-hand gauze I peeled off an elderly woman’s forehead in the emergency room yesterday. We can wrap him up tightly in that and he’ll be super-cozy, I’m sure. Or, okay, forget the towel and the gauze—I’ll just give him a big hug. He’ll be as warm as that raccoon with whooping cough I was petting the other day at the infected animal sanctuary.
Why are you moving away from me? I am just trying to be friendly—and what is friendlier than a virtual stranger licking his fingers and putting them inside your baby’s mouth?
Look at him: he’s reaching out for me. Clearly he’s attracted to the scent of the dumpster I was diving in this morning. Pulled out quite a loot, too. Found some day-old calamari, a pair of barely-worn underwear, and a flip phone. I bet your baby loves phones, right? They all do! Here, let him chew on it, it’s fine, I don’t mind.
Hey now, there’s no reason to hide your baby under your shirt—oh, wait, is that his itty-bitty foot sticking out? What a perfect, tiny little foot. I just have to touch—AHHH-CHOOOO!!!
Whoosh. Pardon me. No, I’m fine. Doctor said I have the flu, but he’s bonkers. I was like, “Forget my 104-degree fever and focus on my pink eye, Doc.” Anyway, kids need to be exposed to germs or they’ll never develop immunity. Here, put him on my lap. We’ll immune him up something fierce.
No? Well, at least let me wipe off him with this used handkerchief a wheezing man with lice gave me at a strip club last night. His name was Ron. Good people.
Wow. You’re being ridiculously overprotective. I mean, so what if my parents didn’t believe in vaccination? So what if I have this mysterious rash all over my hands? So what if I have no idea why my fingernails are bleeding? So what if my face is covered in oozing, festering sores? It’s not like I have leprosy or something.
[His flip phone rings.]
One second… let me just take this call from my doctor.
. . .
[He hangs up.]
Okay, it turns out I do have leprosy and something else. They’re not sure what disease it is. They’ve never seen anything like it before. Oh well, at least that explains where my ear went. Anyway where were we? Oh, right: your baby and my hands. Let’s do this!
There is a bookshelf in my Barnes & Noble.1 The shelf is about five feet high and another three feet wide, made of some polished, non-descript wood. On the shelf sit a hundred or so white women, their faces gracing the covers of small, paperback books, their hair in half-hidden curls, their eyes on the horizon. Behind them stand fields and forests and barns of red, resting in the muted green and gold light of the sun. Occasionally a strong and handsome man hovers in the background as well, watching in worn blue overalls, dimly seen. And taking center stage, in pastel blues and bleached-bone whites, are a few hundred bonnets of cotton and lace, gracing every female head, their tassels hanging shyly down across a field of soft-hued chins. Above this delicate horde of bonneted women, stamped in black and white, is a sign that reads CHRISTIAN ROMANCE.
I think about this shelf a lot. Sometimes I just stand in the store and wonder who all of these women are. There must be some special contingent of them out there, some unique modeling subgroup that continually dons turn of the century clothing and stares wistfully off into the distance. I wish I could talk to one. I have so many questions.2 Surely there are not enough of these books made for the models to earn a living off of them. So what else do they do, when they are between covers? Do they also sell lace gloves, or let their hair down occasionally for a Land’s End catalog? Do they have an ongoing, bitter rivalry with the milk-skinned, red-lipped army of brunettes that leer out of the vampire romance novels two shelves over? Do the two groups have crazy brawls at modeling conventions, Anchorman-style, aiming only at legs and torsos to avoid damaging each other’s faces? Or are they, perhaps, actually the same group of women, just done up in different colors?
I know very little about the books themselves. I have never read any of them,3 so I will not pretend to know what stories they tell, whether for good or ill. But the shelf itself tells a story, and that is the one follows:
Once upon a time, about two thousand years ago, a young Hebrew woman gave birth to a baby boy. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn. Her husband was a maker of head coverings, and as the boy grew up, he learned his father’s trade, making keffiyehs and sudras and taqiyahs, working in loving obedience to his parents.4
When he had grown, he went walking throughout the land of Israel, making and selling head coverings of his own. And all who met him fell into awe, for he came proclaiming a new hat, one that no one had ever seen before. “Repent and be bonneted!” he said. “For the kingdom of love is at hand!” And he showed them many signs and wonders, hats that tied under the chin with strings, lace done up in crocuses and lilies, cotton white as winter snow.
The new bonnet took off so quickly that it soon ran afoul of the established hat makers of the time, who conspired together with the federal government to execute the man for unlicensed manufacture and distribution of consumer goods. Base lies were told about him, false witnesses came forward, claiming that the strings had gotten caught in saddles and farm equipment, leaving them with nasty rope burns on their chins and necks.
“Guilty!” the judge cried, and the man was beaten and mocked and hung on a tree. And, worst of all, they fashioned a hat of thorns and put it on his head, so that all might see his shame. “He made hats for others,” they laughed. “Let him make a hat for himself.” And when he had died, his customers took him down from the tree and put his body in a tomb. Yet he did not stay dead. For his life, his memory, his teachings—all of them live on in the bonneted heroines who sit on the small shelf in my Barnes & Noble, the shelf that is labeled, very appropriately, CHRISTIAN ROMANCE.
Or so the story5 always plays out in my head, as I stand there and think and people give me blank, nervous looks, wondering why I’ve been staring at this bookshelf for several hours. It’s that sign at the top that really gets me. In other bookstores I’ve seen it say AMISH ROMANCE instead, which I can only assume annoys Amish people as much as the Christian one annoys me. I suspect there is a Jacob Yoder or Abram Miller out there on some farm in Indiana right now, scribbling sarcastic, cutting takedowns of Amish fiction book covers by candlelight.
It’s the monotony of it all that really gets to me, the way every single cover looks exactly the same as every other, like a horde of beautiful, bonneted zombies. For the last five years or so, we’ve sort of culturally had a strange fascination with zombies. I’m not the first to have written this, I’m sure, but our dread of them seems rooted in our fear of the mass, our fear of losing our individuality, of having our personality and will swept aside by some sinister outside force, leaving us dull, stupid, and dead, unable to make choices, driven only by some insatiable, inexplicable alien force.6
There is a similar fear (among Christians and non-Christians alike) about Christianity, that to become a Christian is to become a zombie. A zombie in a bonnet, perhaps—but a zombie nonetheless. That all Christians should act the same way, say the same things, live in the same neighborhoods, not watch the same TV shows, and eat the same tender, scrumptious brains.
There is a story that Mark tells, about how Jesus, Peter, James, and John went up a mountain to pray.
And Jesus was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.7 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
There are two things I want to point out about this. One, Peter has a uniquely weird way of dealing with terror. Really, let’s not gloss over this point. He wants to make tents. You may want to spend a minute just dwelling on the absurdity of that.
Two, notice how Peter calls Moses and Elijah by name, even though he has never met them before. How does he know who they are?
It’s possible, I suppose, that they simply introduced themselves. Peeeeeter, I am Mooooooses. Build me a tent, or I will haunt you fooooreeeeever… Mark is not interested in giving us every detail of every scene he records. Yet I think there is something deeper going on here: that who you are, your personhood, your freedom, is only fully to be found in union with God. That the closer you draw near to him, the more you come to know who you really are. And the further you are away, the more you lose everything that makes you unique, the more you begin to fade into the gray, featureless mass of the crowd. Peter recognized Moses because Moses was so much himself that his name was apparent as his face.
This is the sixth column I’ve written for McSweeney’s. I may squeeze in one more before my time is done, though I’m a horribly slow writer and often start columns that I end up hating and never finishing. Usually, I get three or four emails from people for each column that does make its way to this digital print, and for the most part the people who write me are kind, thoughtful, and Christian. But they seem to be the kind of Christians who feel estranged at times from their own religion, people who feel a steady, invisible pressure to look a certain way, act a certain way, and generally conform to the image of the woman in the bonnet, and the man in the background. And their relief is quite apparent at hearing another story being told, however small and occasionally stupid.
The title of this column, Speaking for All Christians Exactly Like Me8, is sort of a disclaimer and sort of a joke. But it’s also proven to be sort of true. There are Christians out there like me. And hopefully someday one of them will write a romance book, and slap a cover on it that tells the right story.
1 Well, it’s not my Barnes & Noble. Somebody else owns it, and I happen to live nearby. Also, there’s a fifty to sixty percent chance that someone reading this in three to thirty years will have no idea what a Barnes & Noble is. So if you are reading this, future person, just send a beam message or whatever to my brain implants and I’ll explain it. Or you could Google it. Either way.
2 I do not have the same questions about the men on the covers. Because I know there is only one man, and he appears on every cover. His name is Collin MacGowan, the seventh son of a seventh son, born of an Irish ironworker. He lives on an isolated farm in southern Canada, and he is brought out once a year to stand somewhere and look bulky. The rest of his time is spent chopping wood, playing with small, adorable children, and restoring the walls of old stone churches.
3 Well, I’ve never finished any of them. I started a couple times, with a couple books. Never got past the third or fourth chapter. Mostly out of boredom.
4 Yes, I looked up all of those names on Wikipedia.
6 That and our fear of being eaten.
7 Suck it Clorox.
8 Just in case the eight minutes that it took you to read this caused you to forget the name.
- Sample bites of EVERYTHING when he and Sheena are at Costco
- A contextual approach to understanding scripture
- Way more than 12 items through the express lane at the grocery store
- Pride in his special knowledge of crochet, knitting and the needle arts in general
- Sheena’s phone when she’s in the shower or out walking the dog. Then he surreptitiously sets it to ring with an embarrassing novelty ring tone; like last week when he made Chumbawumba’s “Tubthumping” her ring tone and it went off during a meeting with some record executives
- Liberties with his portrayal of Nicky Arnstein in their community playhouse theater group’s production of Funny Girl
- Kindly to criticism so long as it’s fruitful
- Matters into his own hands whenever his daughter gets kidnapped
- A hard line when it comes to his NFL players involved in criminal activity
- Smoke breaks too near the designated non-smoking area outside the court house where he works from 9-5
- Boundaries very seriously—almost to the point of being territorial—which used to make Sheena feel safe but now makes Sheena feel like she’s in a subordinate position, like she needs permission to get close to him
- Fantasy football way too seriously
- Forever to reply to one of Sheena’s texts regarding what to do for dinner
Dear Wealthy White Lady Named Jessah, Olive, or Khethany —
My name is Max Bisantz and I am applying for the position of ghostwriter at your lifestyle blog. As lead copywriter of an e-commerce website, I understand the importance of alienating your consumer. My knowledge of SEO, metadata, and refurbished drawer-pulls enables me to pad your daddy’s offshore investments while maintaining a net worth of flax seeds. I exhibit a liberal understanding of the English language and use the following words interchangeably:
- fair trade
I also know twelve cute ways to rock a denim romper.
Prior to my work as a corporate bullshitter, I attended Sarah Lawrence College with a double major in Creative Writing and Taking the Time to Watch the Sun Rise. An internship with Catcher PR readied me for the global marketplace, including Ibiza, which you simply must visit this time of year. I participated in a study abroad program consisting of holistic yoga and cherishing the friendships in my life. I understand the link between gluten and childhood autism.
Attached I have included four samples of my product copy, each representing a top-selling item for basic bitches aged 18-40. They are as follows:
- “Mason Jar”
- “Miniature Mason Jar”
- “Refurbished Mason Jar”
- “Jar for a man named Mason and/or affiliates of the Masonic Temple”
I have also taken the time to brainstorm a few name suggestions for your currently untitled website. They include:
- Helter Skelter
Please feel free to contact me day or night on my new iPhone 6 with brushed leather carrying case (priced $399 at Neiman Marcus or available for purchase at neimanmarcus.com). I look forward to speaking with you further about the “job.” Until then, I will be wrapped demurely in a cashmere sweater staring at the shoreline and focusing on my breath.
No offense to firefighters and doctors, but I probably have the toughest job in the world: trying to decide on Louis C.K.’s best joke—or bit or episode of Louie—ever. Talk about an impossible task. Even Batman couldn’t solve that riddle.
In a short amount of time, Louis has produced a body of comedy that is staggeringly good and original and diverse and enjoyable. Louis isn’t much for jokey jokes, but his 9/11 masturbation joke (look it up) is one for the ages. One-liners are definitely in his wheelhouse: “I’m 45 now, so I’m either halfway through a healthy life or almost done with a not-so-healthy life.” Young Louis pales before the awesomeness of middle-aged Louis, but he still had some gems. For example, his bit about how you’re better off being thought as crazy than stupid is timeless and true. His great bits are too numerous to mention, but I’m a fan of “duck vagina” and “suck a bag of dicks,” plus anything about his children or the joy of divorce. The masturbation episode of Louie is a clinic in how to combine crass humor with real insight into people (in this case, religious people) who are usually stereotyped. Real insight is kind of Louis’ thing.
There’s not much insight in this joke from the stand-up of portion Louie, but I love it dearly: “If I found myself alone on planet Earth, no other humans, I would have sex with a monkey in like two minutes.” Louis then chuckles to himself, repeating “Two minutes,” before adding: “That’s really not long enough to be sure you’re alone on the Earth.” Those are words to live by for anyone living in a post-human, monkey-filled, apocalyptic wasteland.
But for Louis’ Best Bit Ever, I’m going with a thing from Oh My God I was lucky enough to hear in person last year in Chicago. In contrast to his poor childhood—when his mother bought salt-less Saltines—Louis’ current building is ritzy, with “a pretty courtyard with flowers and a fountain with little marble boys pissing.” After an aside about pedophile fountain sculptors, Louis describes hanging out in his courtyard soon after moving in the building—and not looking very presentable. A spiffy-looking neighbor gave Louis the stink eye, suggesting he was some sort of wandering hobo or other filthy interloper. Then the neighbor came over, as Louis felt glee at the prospect of being in “a confrontation where I’m not wrong at all.”
As the accusatory neighbor confronted Louis, our hero tortured the perky neighbor in various ways, denying his residence and capitalism itself, before the neighbor turned to the doorman for help in kicking out this trespasser. Then the neighbor/jerk learned the truth—Louis really lived there—and his face contorted into “a cocktail of anger and confusion.” At that moment, Louis achieved a moment of true, orgasmic, spiteful, Larry Davidian bliss. After a final smackdown of the neighbor, Louis summed up the story: “He didn’t say anything after that, because, uh, well, the whole thing didn’t really happen.”
Wow. Now that’s a punch line.
It turns out the story was true as far as sloppy Louis hanging out in his courtyard and getting the evil eye from a posh neighbor—but our unreliable narrator made the rest up in his head. Louis claims, interestingly, that, “It’s not true, but it’s as true as anything that does happen.” And he makes a classic admission: “It’s hard to lose an argument when you’re both people, and it’s taking place in your brain.” The final punch line to the bit is that the neighbor ended up welcoming Louis to the building and is now his friend George, underling the absurdity of the fake confrontation and the jerkishness of Louis’ brain.
I wish to hell I didn’t relate to this bit so much, but I can’t tell you how many times a day I imagine a similar circumstance in which I am the brave, witty hero who vanquishes the barely human sociopaths littering my world. For example, I was recently walking my dog, and he was sniffing a building. Some guy on the porch was looking at me for a second before saying, “Please don’t let your dog pee there.” Then I said, “Oh, this building is off-limits for pooch pee? But not every other building? OK. I’ll make a note and let the rest of the dog community know.” Of course, none of that happened, and my dog didn’t even pee, but just like Louis, I wrote an entire mean-spirited scene in my head where I could be the hero. Ugh.
Louis’ routine was a mind-blower to me, because it showed me: 1) Lots of people probably spin the same kind of crap in their heads; 2) Such self-aggrandizing nonsense is sort of hilarious; and 3) I’d probably be a lot happier if I focused on what’s actually happening and stopped fighting stupid imaginary battles in my brain. Also, why am I assuming the worst of absolutely everyone? What the hell is wrong with me?
This is an impressive bit. It not only makes me laugh; it makes me re-examine my entire essence, particularly the non-mindful, petty, crappy state of my mind. Louis makes me laugh at my stupid brain and want to improve it at the same time. Thanks, Louis. You’re a helluva life coach.
All of you slack-jawed looky-loos make me long for the days when 15th-century Christian religious zealots wanted to toss my pagan goddess ass into a bonfire. Demise by flame would have been quick and a bit spectacular. Instead I am slowly roasting to death from the body heat generated by record numbers of you Uffizi Gallery visitors metabolizing your gelato and agonizing over your bucket lists.
I, the early Italian Renaissance’s most exquisite representation of womanhood, am cooking like a plucked duck on a spit in some middling Dutch still life.
The once-cool waves from which I rise now simmer like a pasta pot in a cheap tourist trattoria. The zephyr that has been refreshing me for more than four centuries emits only the weak exhalation of a table fan in a budget hotel. My shell is hotter than the Piazza del Duomo pavement in August.
I want to strangle each and every one of you with my hair ribbon.
And all of my suffering is for what? It isn’t as if you love art. You come to gaze at me only because I am famous from greeting cards and coffee mugs and (shudder) posters. I am a must-see before you die or a just-do-it before you can live or a what-the-hell-our-tour-bus-stopped-here-let’s-go-see-that-naked-lady-from-the-shampoo-bottle.
Even when the rare appreciative visitor who truly understands Botticelli’s artistic genius weeps over my beauty, the tears do not move me. They just shorten my lifespan. They create heat, you know.
Where is a good bubonic plague outbreak when you need one?
I haven’t always hated human company. Before I began my career as an object of public gawking under the gaze of the growing global middle class, I adorned a bedroom in a villa belonging to a decadent Medici duke. There was much sweating there, too. Sometimes there were just three people but usually at least five and up to 17. (The Medici liked odd numbers.) Like you, the Medici guests jostled and twisted and breathed heavily. Unlike you, they were doing something interesting.
Wake up! You are in the presence of the goddess of love! Have an orgy! Don’t just stand there perspiring in your nearly identical mass-produced summer clothing, creating heat as I deteriorate bit by bit like one of those lepers who used to sleep by the Arno. Why are you not like Lord Byron and his girlfriend, who took each other right behind the potted palm that used to stand in that corner?
As a goddess, I command you! Go! Worship me in your cheap hotel rooms with their lump-filled beds; your package tour busses with their crumb-filled seats; your bargain ferries with their chum-scented berths. Make offerings to me at overrun beaches and abandoned monuments. Do it with your spouse or the person or people you met yesterday at the gelateria. Fornicate! Copulate! Alleviate my suffering! Make mad passionate love to each other. Just get out of here before you kill me.
Carver sits on an organic bamboo bench outside the tea atelier. A chalkboard sign advertises a grassy green-black blend from the Zhejiang Province. He was certain the store was a front, but an investigation earlier that morning turned up nothing but a newfound love for white oolong, harvested by monks in Kathmandu.
A girl with a turquoise yoga mat exits the shop. The faint smell of peppermint emanates from her recycled BPA-free mug. He watches her amble down the cobblestone street, and he knows that her sweat-wicking tank top and crop pants are probably from Lululemon. A baby blue pamphlet catches his eye—he realizes she’s dropped it: DENNIS’ YOGA—HATHA, VINYASA, IYENGAR, BIKRAM, ASHTANGA. IYENGAR has been circled in purple. In fine print, it says: BOXING ALSO OFFERED.
“Miss!” he calls after her, but she has already turned the corner, by the fixed-gear bicycle shop.
Early afternoon. Bearded men gather in a beer garden.
Walon sips a smooth oatmeal stout in which he can detect a slight note of toffee. His dog, a rescue from the no-kill shelter housed in the space of a former strip club, laps up water from a bowl the waitress has brought him.
Across the street Bubbles pushes an ice cream cart: EARL GREY ICE CREAM WITH GINGER TONES AND SOURDOUGH CHUNKS, $6 PER CUP. He spies Walon—his NA sponsor—drinking, and darts across the street.
“Walon, how’s it going? You okay?”
Walon ignores Bubbles and asks the waitress to recommend a dry honey ale with a citrus nose. He motions that he’d like to purchase an ice cream.
Bubs notices a familiar face across the patio: round, smiling, her hair pulled into a loose bun. Kima. Her fork lifts a bite of omelet to her mouth, and Bubs knows the eggs are probably from free-range hens. She is with her wife and child and she looks happy. What has happened to Kima? He shudders.
McNulty’s Tinder date goes bad after he pretends to forget his wallet. After his date leaves he downs eighteen shots of vodka imported from a village in the Russian tundra. Struggling to stand, he leans against a Super Mario Bros. machine. A pretty, tattooed twentysomething punches buttons with her index finger.
“Less go home,” he says and she gives a nod to Marlo, who owns the bar—it’s full of Ms. Pac-Man and Centipede and other video games from the ’80s and ’90s. A doorman with suspenders and a handlebar mustache escorts McNulty out. McNulty thinks he’s a ghost and doesn’t resist.
Legs dangling from a barstool, the girl thanks Marlo. He tells her that McNulty’s a drunk who lives in West-West Baltimore, an area that may never gentrify.
“That’s so sad,” she says later, in bed in Marlo’s loft—a gut-renovated former typewriter factory with eco-friendly bamboo floors. He won’t call after that but she can’t blame him. He owns three video-game bars in a three-block radius. He’s a busy man. And she doesn’t, like, need to be tied down, anyway.
Every year, we wonder what might be appropriate on this day, and we can never think of anything more appropriate than this piece, which Mr. Hodgman originally delivered at a literary reading shortly after September 11, 2001.
My name is John Hodgman. I am a former professional literary agent, which on a good day is a pretty small thing to be, and these days feels rather microscopic. Before I was a professional literary agent, I thought it would be a good idea to be a teacher of fiction in a college MFA program because it is easy and you are adored all the time and of course it pays a lot of money.
I used to have a lot of bright ideas.
I even had two lessons planned out, which by all accounts from MFA programs that I’ve heard, is one more than you need. The first would address the comfort of storytelling. I would explain to my adoring students that stories hold power because they convey the illusion that life has purpose and direction. Where God is absent from the lives of all but the most blessed, the writer, of all people, replaces that ordering principle. Stories make sense when so much around us is senseless, and perhaps what makes them most comforting is that while life goes on and pain goes on, stories do us the favor of ending.
Not a very original idea, but one that seemed more or less reasonable before something happened that showed us how perversely powerful stories can be when told into the ears of desperate and evil men, and showed as well how sadly challenged stories are in providing comfort now. What happened on Tuesday was enormous, sublime in the darkest sense of the word, so large as to overwhelm our ability to describe it, to sense it except in parts, and certainly to order it and make it make sense. In the immediate aftermath, we have only our very personal flash memories, but personalizing an event that has touched so many and so cruelly, announcing by byline our own survival, feels shamefully self-involved. To convert this experience into metaphor, into symbolic gesture feels almost offensive when we are still pressed by such an urgent reality that is ongoing and uncontainable by words.
I have heard a lot recently about the role of writing, song, music, painting, in the tragic blank space in our souls that this event has left behind. Of course, this preoccupation is largely a result of an unconscious bias of the media. If pig farmers had as much currency with NPR as literary novelists, we would be hearing just as much about the healing power of bacon. And knowing that power well, I can say that it is certainly comparable to the reading of a sensitive short story as far as comfort goes; and yet both fall far below the direct aid that is being passed from person to person, below Chambers Street, in our homes, on the phone with strangers, with a actual touch, in the actual, non-symbolic, un-annotated world of grief in which we live. The great temptation is to be silent, forever, in sympathy.
The second lesson plan that I had in those days was a very lazy assessment of storytelling’s function, beginning in the oral tradition, when it served a civic purpose aside from getting you invited to cocktail parties. As I would explain to my adoring students, storytelling served initially in every culture three purposes: to inform, as in relay news and record history, to instruct, as in pass down a set of moral guidelines, and to entertain. We are, as regards this event and its unfolding, all too well informed. And as for entertainment: when I thought this was a bright idea, it was when I was younger and war seemed so far away. But I realize now that those in history whose lives were short and mean and threatened by sword and disease gathered and told stories not as leisure, but as desperately needed distraction, and reassurance that they were not alone.
So if art cannot contain or describe this event, and if for now the suffering is too keen to be alleviated by parable… if stories are for the moment not as critically needed, as courage, as medicine, as blood, as bacon, they can at least revert to this social function. As time goes on, this will all pass away into memory, into a story with a beginning and a middle and finally an end. And that transition from the real into fable will bring its own kind of comfort and pain. Now, though, we may gather and distract one another, take comfort in our proximity, and know that we are, at this moment, safe.
Not many of my ideas seem bright anymore, and I am not a teacher. I am only humbled: to be here, to be alive.
That is all.