Come in, close the floating glass door behind you and take a seat on the purple mitt chair. Laugh and high-five me as I tell you this: After a period of exponential growth from a single formica table into the hall of mirrors you find before you, the company has to rightsize. Ha ha ha! Show me those veneers—all that stands between this conversation and the rest of the office is a suspended glass cube and fourteen narwhal decals.
The entire ROFL team is being cut, but that information is embargoed until tomorrow. We can’t have any ZOMGs out of the staff, and won’t have their commenting privileges disabled until midnight. We don’t intend to let a single downvote loose. I need you to wait until after the Thursday night luau, then quietly tape up the handles of the fußball table, turn off the M&M fountain, and put out the electric tiki torches. By morning, we’re going to be a subsidiary.
On Friday, you will start by packing up the ball pit. You can shove it, and any social media editors you find playing there, by the “virals incubator,” aka “copyroom,” and for fuck’s sake don’t let me catch you taking the slippery slide on the way out if you want to see this Magritte-knockoff pixel rug again. Store the giant magnets in the giant cupboard under the giant whiteboard. Come to think of it, stick the giant Sharpie in there too. Effective tomorrow, HR will no longer be issuing novelty oversized checks; you will find a direct deposit form on our new Intranet, formerly the Memery. Here’s a tip, Super Mario: You’re going to want to change your intranet avatar of Mr. Cooper to something a little more professional, like a money clip or a Kindle.
Have an intern windex the Ideas Wall clean, and rake the Digital Sandpit. I don’t want corporate getting an eyeful of our jungle gym. All Macs will be replaced with PCs, because this is a business, not a summer camp. If Russell Crowe can play Javert, you can use MS Expression to mock up your wireframes. And we’re not all “amigos” now Ben, I’m your “boss.” Nikki’s too, but there is a clanking silo wall between you and her, so if you need rescuing, you sure as hell better yell up.
You know what’s for lunch, Ben? Whatever you buy yourself. Don’t be thinking that management gives a shit about your protein intake anymore. Dusan and his omelette station are already halfway to Indiana. Ha ha ha, lulz! You can eat your food in the common area, if you want to attempt a banh mi in front of five security cameras, or at your desk, which will be reconfigured before tomorrow’s all-company jamboree from “pods” to “batteries.” There are only three other people in your battery, for a total of four nodes. You can make a battery out of a lemon, a nail, a penny and a wire, Pacman. Never forget that you are expendable, and these people aren’t your allies, although you’ll probably want to go in on Seamless orders together now you’re all treating yourselves to lunch.
Here are the next steps: I am going to take Nikki into YOLO and give her this same talk, because you’ve both done some good work here. But don’t think Tweeting is going to pay the bills. Filip is history, despite his FavStars—boy wouldn’t know a good gif if it hit him in the face every three seconds. Your new reading list is Jim Collins. All the Jim Collinses. Get rid of that Gladwell, and don’t bring up your “feels” ever again.
Now hoover up those Rick Astley videos from the LAN, get yourself a real shirt, and take those ridiculous glasses off. Fist bump.
I’m going to take off my pants now. But I’m going to keep my shirt on. Is that okay with you? Or we can turn off the lights and then I can take off my shirt. But I’d rather not do both. Fine. I’ll leave my shirt on. Can I take off your skirt? You have really smooth legs. Did you shave yours legs today? I was just asking. Leave your panties on. I like that. Just pull them to the side. That’s about as kinky as I get, I think. Whoa. That’s pretty kinky. I’ve never done that. Well, I’m kind of vanilla, I guess. What do you mean by chocolate? You just tell me what you want. I’ll do whatever you want. I can do that. I’ve never done that before. Like this? Oh, like that. Sorry. Like I said. Is that too hard? You can’t? Well, then, is that too hard? I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Maybe you should get on top. Hold on. I’ll find it. I know where it is. Sorry. Looks like you’ve had a little practice. Nothing. It just means you seem like you know what you’re doing. But I like sluts. I’m all for that. I don’t know how to do that. I mean, I know how to do that, but I don’t seem to ever do it right. But what if I hurt you? But what if I do? I’m just saying. You never know. Like this? Should I spread my fingers or keep them closed? So wind resistance isn’t an issue? That seems kind of complicated. I was never good at science. I’m afraid to ask. I’m not doing that. I told you I’m not kinky. It sure is. It sure is. That’s the very definition of kinky. Can’t you just tell me? You’re acting like I have no idea what I’m doing. It will. Well, I’m not opposed to that. I have an open mind. I’ll try it. But if it hurts I’m stopping. You brought it with you? Wow, you’re so prepared. Hey. That’s huge. Is there anything I need to do? To like, I don’t know, get myself ready? I never would have guessed you were so advanced. This reminds me of the airport. Holy shit! No, don’t stop. Kind of. If you want. I am. Don’t say that again. That really turns me on. A little too much. Are you Italian? Maybe I should take off my socks. Why are you laughing? What’s a swirlie? Okay, I think I got it. I can do this. Just like you did it. Wait. Shhh. Be quiet. It’s just, you’re going to, please, stop talking. Oh my God. I can’t. I’m sorry. I tried not to. I asked you to please be quiet. Just give me twenty minutes. I promise. Don’t leave. I told you it’s been a long time since. I’m just really sensitive right now. Can I get you a towel? I don’t have a spoon. Not on me. They’re all dirty. There’s no need to get personal. That wasn’t my fault. I told you to stop with the dirty talk and you refused. You can take a shower. Let me get you a towel. I should have a clean towel for you. Do you care if it’s a beach towel? I never go to the beach. I don’t know why I have a beach towel. Van Gogh, I think. Monet? Are you sure it’s Monet? Hey, you would know. I’m not the one who works at Pottery Barn. There might not be any more hot water. That was a mouse. I thought I killed it. You kill it. They don’t bother me. Please. Take your time. I only have that one bar of soap. That’s probably an armpit hair. I can tell the difference. The hairs in my armpit are a lot softer. Let me get rid of that for you. I got soap under my fingernails. God I hate that. There’s no lock on the door. I’ll be out here. Feel free to use my shampoo. It’s organic. I stole it. That and newspapers. But only on Sundays. I can? Like, a state penitentiary? That doesn’t sound right. You sound like you were a bad kid. Oh, yeah, I would have liked you. Why not? How do you know? I seem to be your type now. Do you like to listen to music when you’re getting all soapy? Turn on the radio. It should be right in front of you. What do you mean? Can I open the door for a second? Can I come in? Where’s my radio? I had a waterproof radio hanging from the knobs. Somebody stole my shower tunes. Who would steal a radio out of a shower? It’s not the same thing. I don’t believe in that. Maybe. I’ll get another one, I guess. Sure they do. Somewhere. That sounds right. You know, I really like watching you wash your hair. You look really classy right now. That’s the first thing I thought when I saw you. How classy you looked. Well, you’d never know. You wash your hair like you went to boarding school.
An excerpt from PGA bad boy, John Daly’s, forthcoming memoir (The Pants Make The Man, Penguin 2014) wherein he describes, in partial third person, his journey to spiritual enlightenment. Also, a mnemonic for the countries that have hosted the World Cup (Uruguay, Italy, France, Brazil, Switzerland, Sweden, Chile, England, Mexico, West Germany, Argentina, Spain, Mexico, Italy, United States, France, South Korea, Japan, Germany, South Africa).
Reference: H. Finn
Hain’t unlikely you remember me from a previous reference, in which I vouched for a Mr. Mark Twain (against the better angels of my commonest sense). Well today it’s my pleasure to recommend to you one Tom Sawyer.
Tom hooked me up with a right fine futon at Aunt Polly’s on short notice, which was a real solid, considerin’ the circumstances. After that I had the great pleasure of surfin’ and a raftin’ a whole lotta’ rivers with Tom. One time we went tubin’ on the Nam Song in Laos (which I reckon’s a mighty cool place to surf on account of tain’t too touristy yet, just keep that ol’ cash ‘n credit card in your money belt). But the best times we had were on that old Mississippi. Me, Tom, and another CSer by the name of Jim went a driftin’ downriver at night, lying on our backs just a’watching the stars.
Turned out Tom was a real fine fella’ on the surfin’ circuit. Only reason for the neutral’s on account of another CSer, Ben Rogers, claimin’ a sketchy experience with Tom and a whitewashed fence.
Reference: Sal Paradise
I first met Dean at a time in my life you could call the beginning of my life on the surf.
I hosted Dean for a week at my aunt’s place in Jersey. After that we headed west, with Dean balling that jack like no tomorrow (I had total trust in him behind the wheel). The two of us had some real gone times: dancing in the cobblestone alleys of Denver, smoking tea with hipster cats in Chi, drinking wine-spodiodi in New Orleans and digging girls fresh off the Megabus in San Fran. Dean ran around like Groucho Marx on the make, eyes flashing with a kind of holy light.
And the music! Dean had a real hot playlist: Bird, Dizzy, Monk and Miles. All the way from Reno to New York we ear bud-shared, digging those gone cats just blow, blow, blow!
Reference: John Sullivan
A rather enigmatic personage, Mr. Phileas Fogg first contacted my wife and me concerning a place to crash at the conclusion of an epic journey he’d undertaken. After perusing his profile and determining his tastes to be congenial to ours (especially in regard to the bands he’d listed as favorites) we agreed to host Mr. Fogg, upon the condition that he promise not to burn us in any way, as so many previous CSers had done.
Mr. Fogg assured us he would touch down at our place at precisely 8:45 in the evening. Imagine our delight when he not only arrived with all the punctuality befitting an Englishman, but also quite literally touched down! In a hot air balloon!
We had played host to many an adventurous CSer before, but never one with such daring! Whilst he and his buddies rested, exhausted from all their ballooning, my wife and I more closely read Mr. Fogg’s profile and noticed that, indeed, it was his stated CSing intention to circumnavigate the globe in a balloon—24,901 miles, as the crow flies!—and to do so in such a short time frame!
We fain vouch for Mr. Fogg!
Experience: Negative — “Avoid, avoid, AVOID RAOUL.”
I’m all about peace and love, man. I never thought I’d leave a negative reference, but this guy’s a total creep. Raoul contacted me claiming he was a Doctor of Journalism coming to Las Vegas to find the American Dream. His profile said he was “Up for anything: coffee, drink, friendship, hook-up; willing to share: bed, couch, uppers, downers, screamers, laughers, as long as you’re not a cop.”
The warning bells should have gone off right there, but for some reason I agreed to meet him for a drink.
First of all, DO NOT believe anything his attorney says. He’s just this big fat hairy Samoan and I really doubt he passed the bar anywhere. Raoul and his attorney claimed they didn’t need a couch, since they already had a place to stay; that much I can vouch for as true, since I saw the place for myself… after I came to in a hotel room FLOODED KNEE-HIGH WITH WATER. His attorney was naked and arguing with himself.
I hate to smear a CSer—I believe in karma and universal good vibes—but this guy threatens to destroy the balance, man.
Avoid, avoid, AVOID RAOUL!
When Texas Representative Lamar Smith released a draft bill last month calling for a drastically needed overhaul in the way that the National Science Foundation issues grants, the research community had a collective meltdown not seen since the process outlined for cloning dinosaurs in Jurassic Park was deemed “too fake.”
The issue that so upset this liberal-leaning sect? A sensible and overdue proposal that eliminates the cumbersome and costly peer-review process in favor of a new set of criteria to ensure that government funds only support high-quality, groundbreaking science that serves the national interest and does not duplicate other efforts.
The research community claims that the duplication inherent in peer review is a necessary part of the scientific process, the principal vehicle by which scientists verify that their experiments are accurate and valid. This is, at best a dubious assertion, one that rests upon the liberal presumption that science is useful in the first place.
Science is, for the most part, a waste of time. Over the past several centuries, the scientific community has wasted millions of man-hours and trillions of dollars to manufacture a false narrative counteracting a Biblical history that we already know to be true. To the propagators of science, history is not a collection of immutable facts delivered to us by God’s grace via the Bible, but a choose-your-own-adventure book whereby the reality of what has happened is ever changeable.
To take just one example of this insolence, consider the case of evolution. For the entirety of man’s existence, all of humanity had agreed1 about the origin of man. God had taken six days and created us, along with a world to live in. A perfectly rational explanation, and one accepted for millennia. Then, a publicity-hungry troublemaker by the name of Charles Darwin decided that he would make a new, fancier, and more fantastical explanation for the origin of man, called “evolution.” What was Darwin’s claim? That he had arrived at his conclusion using science, that, through “observations” and “experiments,” he had concluded that a fanciful device he termed “natural selection” was the principal agent that determined which species would survive and which would face extinction in the brutality of primeval Earth.
That Darwin had an agenda with Jesus was widely acknowledged in his day, a fact lost in the endless encomiums that have spilled from academia over the man ever since his so-called discovery. An irascible, foul-mouthed brute of a man, he was feared and reviled in equal measure by all who knew him. Just check out this page from a recently discovered diary kept by one of his servants:
This is the prevailing methodology of science and scientific research: take a thing that is plainly and logically true and spin some David Copperfield-worthy illusion to make the entire planet think it is something else entirely. Meanwhile, couch your conclusions in so-called evidence that convinces a naïve critical mass of the population that they must initiate mass action to avoid calamity.
Perhaps nowhere has this power been more abused than with the myth of global warming. For the past several decades, a coterie of closet communists bent on destroying U.S. industry has assiduously created troves of data that supposedly show the inevitable collapse of Earth’s ecosystem unless we trade in our automobiles for horses and buggies and start powering our electric grid with spinning hamster wheels.
Science would have you believe that carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere warms Earth by absorbing excess sunlight, a process that is, conveniently enough, invisible and therefore seemingly impossible to disprove. A simple high-altitude investigation, however, reveals that, rather than staking out a position in the sky as some invincible saboteur of humanity, CO2 particles, once they pass through clouds, simply transform into angels who spread rainbows over Earth. This process can be observed by studying the photograph below taken from a specially designed high-altitude hot-air balloon over Louisiana:
Even if science were useful, the peer review process is flawed. The expectation that scientists will do everything two or three times just to make sure they saw it correctly the first time is symptomatic of an out-of-control government bureaucracy, obsessed with waste and redundancy. To repeat a science experiment is an asinine waste of time and a colossal misallocation of resources. It would be as if the United States, having invaded some Middle Eastern nation and subjugated it to the point of impotence, were, just a decade later, to re-invade the same country with a titanic assault force on the grounds that it were some dire threat to humanity.
Liberals, who of course have dedicated their lives to producing just this sort of excess, defend the peer-review process, making the absurd declaration that it is somehow necessary to eliminating ineffectual research and validating those experiments already performed. But the stupidity of the peer review process is not at all difficult to demonstrate. Even a cursory search of the vast scientific archives turns up millions of pages of documents dedicated to measuring the age of Earth. To what end? This is a question, again, long settled by the Bible. Earth, quite clearly, is a bit over 6,000 years old, as demonstrated by this hilarious birthday card that God sent to the planet on its last birthday:
This is not to say that science is not useful. Indeed, we owe the development of our most advanced weapons systems to this very institution. Nor would it be possible to develop new forms of stock market manipulation, extract difficult-to-reach fossil fuels, or concoct addictive foods and drugs without our smartest scientists diligently working in the lab. As a reminder of how useful smart science is when used for the greater public good, here is a picture of a former Iraqi village that was transformed into a crater by an intercontinental ballistic missile:
The proper role of science is perhaps best demonstrated by APMAG’s long-time partners at the Jesus Institute for Science (JIFS), a respected international organization dedicated to countering the pernicious influence of the university-government research establishment with experiments proving that the Bible is right about everything.2
To return momentarily to the case of evolution, JIFS recently concluded a longitudinal observational study of chimpanzees, thought by many scientists to be man’s closest living relatives. The animals were studied from birth to natural death, at which time they were given a proper burial.3 Those acolytes at the altar of evolution may be surprised to learn that, though many of the chimps lived to be more than 60 years old, not a single one turned into a human being. In fact, not one even learned to speak English or drive a car, which we can all agree are primary characteristics of intelligent beings. We were, however, able to teach several how to operate an AR-15, as shown in this photograph of two of these war chimps fighting to the death at a research facility in North Carolina:
While the truth is increasingly muddled by the delusions of science, the way forward for the United States government is fortunately far clearer. Congress should pass Representative Smith’s aptly named High Quality Research Act of 2013 without delay.
1 Other bothersome religions have of course proven as meddlesome as the scientific community, manufacturing their own false narratives to explain the origins of Earth. We have done our best to eliminate these odious ideologues, through a variety of wars and such, to little avail.
2 Except in cases where big business is right about everything
3 Actually, they were sent to an industrial meat manufacturer in Nebraska to be turned into hotdogs, a useful repurposing of research animals that the federal government would no doubt create some regulation to destroy should it be alerted to the enterprise.
Many decades ago, racism was a huge problem in this country, but today, it hardly even exists, thanks largely to individuals like me who just don’t see race. Society has benefited from an increasing number of people who, like me, are simply race-blind and literally cannot tell a black man from a Chinese one without some kind of outside assistance. Because I see all people as having the same generic, beige-colored skin, I never have to think about race, so racism simply isn’t an issue for me.
To me, the color of someone’s skin never even crosses my mind, as long as it is white-ish. No one could ever accuse me of being racist, because I have at least one friend of every race. I think. Is Jewish a race? Anyways, what I was saying is that I have at least one friend who is Asian, and I am so color-blind that I didn’t even know he was Asian for three years until I heard him talking on the phone with his mom in a language I didn’t understand, and I was like, “What are those ridiculous sounds you are making?” When he told me he was Chinese, I was really surprised because he talks English so good. But I am glad he told me, because now that I know he is Chinese, I am able to connect with him on a more personal level by wearing my Jeremy Lin Rockets jersey when we hang out and constantly trying to set him up with my Korean neighbor whose name I forget. If he hadn’t told me he was Japanese, I would have never known and probably would have just kept treating him like any other white person, which probably would have made him feel uncomfortable.
Similarly, I did not know that a person at my office was black until I asked him, “Are you black?” I knew there was something different about him, but because I am so race-blind, I just couldn’t put my finger on it until I asked. Plus, he always wore really expensive suits to work, which I thought was something only white people did. I was thrilled to learn that he was black, because I have always wanted a black friend, so I asked him if he wanted to chillax at my cribizzle on Fridizzle, and then he reported me to HR and now I no longer work at his company.
Funny things like that are always happening to me because of my inability to see race. For instance, how I like to tell race jokes when I am with white people, but sometimes I forget that a color person is there and no one laughs. Or, how I like to tease my white friends by jokingly calling them racial slurs, but because I cannot distinguish between my white friends and my color friends, sometimes I accidentally call one of my color friends a word which sometimes is the right slur for their race but other times isn’t. But in any case it explains why I do not have many ethnicity friends.
No one can accuse me of being racist, because I have my one Asian friend and one black former coworker. Although, I am still trying to make friends with a Mexican, an Eskimo, and someone from the Middle East. It doesn’t matter where—Iraq, Iran, or Afghanistan—just so long as it is a place that Americans associate with terrorism so that I can bring him to parties and show everyone how progressive and race-blind I am that I am friends with someone from a terrorist country. I know this will make a lot of my white friends nervous, but I will put their minds at ease by loudly reassuring everyone that my friend is not a terrorist. Unless I am not sure if he is a terrorist or not, in which case I will just tell everyone to be alert.
Not only am I race-blind, I am also sex-blind, meaning that I cannot tell the difference between people of different sexes. I cannot tell men from women, which often makes dating quite confusing. Also, using public restrooms. Moreover, I am age-blind and have a hard time telling toddlers apart from elderly people. I mean, both are small and walk funny, am I right? Really, I have such a forward-thinking perspective that to me, all people are distinguishable only by height.
If everyone were as race-blind as me, racism would become a thing of the past, like Indians and unicorns. People would stop discriminating based on race and start discriminating based on more important things like disabilities and sexual orientation. Regardless of your race, we are all humans with warm blood, two legs, and three nipples. If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you pass gas, do we not gag? The answer to both is yes, because these are not rhetorical questions and I spent the past hour stabbing myself and farting to confirm. In the grand scheme of things, what matters most in life is not the color of your skin, but the color of your hair and the shape of your eyes. But it actually does help if you’re white.
Key Grip Overlord
Toll Collector Top Cat
Brad (the little fastener thingy) Boss
Cheesemonger Big Cheese
Iguana in Chief
Lie down in sit-up position. How many slices of ham do you see under your couch?
Get in position for the sit-and-reach. Can you get back up, or are you pretty much down there until the FedEx guy comes by again?
Can you drive to work without stopping at Arby’s?
Can you retweet without sweating?
Can you achieve orgasm without thinking about cake?
To your knowledge, have you ever been a major factor in a corporate-level decision about where to build a Bob Evans?
Can you have a heart attack without also having a second heart attack?
Can you sweat without smelling like maple syrup?
Are you carrying bacon on your person? You sure?
Have you ever accepted Crisco as collateral?
Could you fit into a sidecar if you had to?
Do you currently have frosting in your hair?
Is your Blood-Gravy Content lower than, say, 11%?
Have any surgeons given nicknames to your arteries?
Time yourself in a one-mile run. Kidding! What are you, some kind of superman?
Name your five closest friends. Are more than two of them types of cheese?
Have you recently thought about how you should totally sign up for that 10K, but you just got over being sick, and work is super hectic right now, but maybe in the fall?
Have you ever been identified by name in a suicide letter written by a personal trainer?
Have you ever voted for a deep fryer in any state or local election?
What is the maximum number of corndogs you have consumed in one sitting, and Jesus, really?
As you remember from our last adventure, the Hanford Site is a mostly shuttered nuclear production complex that was part of the Manhattan Project. The Hanford Site housed nine reactors. Of the nine, six have been cocooned,1 two are aging away in the Eastern Washington sunshine, and one, the B Reactor, is being preserved in its Atomic Age splendor.
The B Reactor was not the second reactor, as its name implies, but was simply built on the B Site, and get this, was the first full-scale plutonium production reactor in the world. Ever. It was built by the folks at DuPont, based on Enrico Fermi’s2 experimental design of the Chicago Pile 1 (C3PO), which was a pretty crazy reactor in its own right. C3PO was built under the bleachers of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago, which just sounds wackadoodle, along the same lines as David Hahn building the breeder reactor in a shed in his mom’s backyard. But, I guess C3PO was built at the right time and place, because it actually worked and helped birth the Atomic Age rather than create a backyard superfund site where mom’s flowers should be!
C3PO was a pretty small reactor—only 25 feet wide by 20 feet tall, and shaped like a flattened Krispy Kreme (a flattened ellipsoid for you geometry nerds). This was the world’s first foray into plutonium production so there weren’t any blueprints or instruction manuals. We essentially had to make-up the whole thing on the fly. And we were quite ingenious. I mean, as a shield, we had the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company build an enormous rubber balloon to surround the reactor; because that’s what I want between me and fission. The reactor was also built without a cooling system (okay, it was apparently “air cooled”, which, isn’t everywhere?), which, I think these guys knew that this would create a lot of heat, so… that’s an interesting choice.
Considering the crazy McGyvering of the whole affair, we’re damned lucky we didn’t end all life on earth with this little stunt, or at least incur some awful radiation burns. Instead C3PO produced 1/2 watt of power, and proved that we could probably make plutonium. To put this in prospective, LED headlamps of the strap ’em to your forehead variety, emit about the same amount of power. An incandescent light bulb in your living room puts out 120 times the power. And Doc Brown needed approximately a billion times the output of C3PO to send Marty McFly back to the future. We needed to produce plutonium on a large enough scale to power a war, not just a headlamp (I know headlamps aren’t powered by plutonium, smart guy—just a comparison of the energy.) Now remember, C3PO was built without any plans. And now we needed something much larger, that could produce a lot of plutonium. So what did we do? Take our time and meticulously plot out the new reactor? Nope. We ran headlong into the future without so much as a sketch.
Construction for the B Reactor began in earnest on June 7, 1943, and was completed in an incredible thirteen months, with the reactor going critical for the first time on September 26, 1944. Think back to your last thirteen months—what have you accomplished? When the project was in full swing, there were nearly 50,000 people working at the site, with most of the laborers housed on-site in a sort of Mad Men meets Burning Man camp, with the white-collar folks living in relative luxury in the government town of Richland. Now, 50,000 is a lot of people. And this was at the height of the war. And Lose Lips Sink Ships. So, workers were ordered not to discuss their work with anyone, and were simply told that they were doing important war work. Less than 1% of the workforce at the site knew what they were working on, and if they asked, they were relieved of their duties and transferred off the Hanford Site. Loose Lips.
What did the nearly 50,000 workers do in thirteen months, you ask? Well, they didn’t have any plans to begin with. The concepts for the B Reactor were based on very little practical experience, and were taken mainly from Fermi’s C3PO which was completed a mere six months earlier. Can you imagine? I mean, sketches and blueprints were literally being created as foundations were being poured and graphite being piled. Workers often worked with hand-written notes with drawings in-hand. This was such unknown territory that most of the tools didn’t even exist that were needed for the project, so had to be created or at least modified from existing tools. And the math! Think about the math these folks had to use? And all with nary a computer or TI graphing calculator. I mean, sometimes I have to use my iPhone to figure out tips, so…
When it was all said and done, they had created an engineering marvel. I know that sounds super cheesy, but it really is a marvel, and the reactor has the awards and plaques and designations to prove it.
We drove through the prison-style fence surrounding the B Reactor and were greeted by the site staff and led to the fanciest porta-potties I’ve ever seen. The bus docent, Ann, had even prepped us for their awesomeness by noting that we wouldn’t want to use the bus bathroom because these porta-potties simply put it to shame. And they were nice! Kind of like the ones Hollywood types use while filming on location or get to use at music festivals with their fancy VIP passes while the rest of us wait in line, hoping that the mud on the outside is actually mud, and that maybe, just maybe the entire interior doesn’t look like the Golgothan’s abode. Celebrities—they’re just like us.
After we’d all received the star treatment, we were ushered into a hallway very reminiscent of a Cold War era elementary school. The highly polished linoleum and packed bulletin boards blanketing the length of the hallway practically screamed, “The wheels on the bus…”, except nuclear. The bulletin boards contained several enlarged photographs and other graphics illustrating daily life at the site. My favorite was the much enlarged pic of the dining hall in full-meal mode. There was also an infographic (were they called that back then?) noting the food quantities consumed on-site between March 1943 and August 1944. There were staggering amounts like: 2,289,761 loaves of bread, 3,531,389 lbs of pork, and 10,785,600 eggs. Each total was accompanied by a great line-drawing of the food.
The schoolish hallway ended at a set of gray metal doors, the type with the push-bar across the front. The doors completely chameleoned the awesomeness on the other side. The doors opened to the biggest, brightest high school gym looking room I’d ever been in. This enormous space butted up against the face of the reactor core. This was very much like standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon, and I imagine what the Pevensie siblings felt when the stepped through the back of the wardrobe for the first time. It was stunningly beautiful.
Here’s an image that doesn’t really do much for the awesomeness factor, but does provide a sense of scale—the people at the bottom right of the image are normal sized people, not our third scale scientist friends from the last column.
It’s pretty damned amazing, right?
At first glance, this all looks very much like the wine wall-vault at some 2001-themed restaurant, complete with a pretty awesome bottle-retrieval scaffolding spanning the front of the core. But no—each of the 2004 “bottles” is actually an aluminum tube surrounded by a hollowed-out chunk of graphite. Uranium slugs the size of rolls of quarters were sealed in aluminum cans (do you think the Ball Blue Book has a section on this?), along with spacers of the same size, were loaded into each tube. The slugs and spacers look a lot like the radioactive glowstick thing that ends up stuck to Homer during the The Simpsons’3 intro. Except the real-life slugs aren’t glowing. Yet.
While still reeling from the overall awesomeness of the scene, the staff asked us to sit and we then listened to a presentation and watched a video about the reactor. Now, I know this sounds awful, but I was so distracted by the science not-fiction sitting right in front of me (and Tour Guide Assistant McHottypants) that I really didn’t retain much of the information being fed to me. But, fear not! There was much more awesome learning to come!
The B Reactor was a water-cooled, single pass, graphite moderated reactor. Phew. What does that mean in normal people terms? Well, the name is essentially describing how the reactor was controlled. It was cooled by water (water-cooled). Then, we know that the cooling water made one pass through the system (single-pass) before it exited to the Columbia River (at 150 degrees, by the way). We also know that graphite was used to moderate the reactions, which remember how chain reactions work? The neutrons cascade and hit other atoms and them neutrons from the new atoms cascade, and so on and so on. Well graphite is highly neutron absorbent (neutrons like graphite like pre-teen girls like Justin Bieber), and absorbs some of the neutrons allowing (some) control over the reaction. This is one of the things that ensures that the reactions don’t go all Chernobyl.
Remember, this entire project wasn’t just for funsies. We wanted plutonium. And plutonium comes from uranium, when we force it.4 Essentially, this is what happens. Uranium fuel elements are loaded into the reactor. The elements are then subjected to a nuclear reaction for about six weeks. During the six weeks, some of the uranium changes in composition into plutonium. Once this happens, the fuel elements are pushed to the back of the reactor and dumped into a pool of water for cooling and to dispel some of the radioactivity. Then, the post-reaction fuel elements are taken by train (at Hanford, anyway) to a plutonium processing plant where the plutonium was extracted and formed into hockey puck sized blobs to use in nuclear weapons. Easy, breezy, Covergirl.5
After we basked in the glow (ha!) of the reactor core’s awesomeness (including the beautiful tour guide, who’s name I really should have written down, because how else are we going to make nuclearphile babies?), we were divided into two groups and taken on a tour of the just-as-awesome other systems. Or those that were open to the public, anyway. (Some areas are not quite ready for primetime, radiation-wise.) There was so much cool stuff to see, including the kitchen sink.
I would steal this sink. I love that the basin and drainboards are one single piece of enamelly goodness. Also in the kitchen was an amazing lunchroom table, that reminded me of the metal table/chair combo outside this burger stand in Barstow that we always used to stop at on the way to my grandma’s in San Diego. One stop, I smashed my finger so smartly in the table/chair combo that I barfed up my lunch and simply wouldn’t stop crying. Anyway, I want the sink and the table. They would fit perfectly in my fallout shelter home a la Blast From the Past where I rear my nuclearphile babies with my tour guide love.
The kitchen is painted in a lovely shade known in my circles as submarine green. I love this color so much that my living room is painted this color. Really. I think it stems from dating a nuclear submariner who wouldn’t let me paint anything this color because it reminded him of being underway. Tiny rebellion.
After the lunchroom we made our way through other areas of the building, and I know we saw some awesome things, but I was already pretty overwhelmed—one can only consume so much atomic goodness in a single sitting. But, because I’d essentially spaced-out on the tour after the kitchen, I had plenty of room in my brain once we reached… The Control Room! And guys? It’s just as amazing as you’re thinking it is. More amazing than the pervious titleholder for Most Amazing Nuclear Plant Control Room, (not a real title) EBR-1. This room practically screamed, “Shall we play a game?” even though everything was disconnected. It was the coolest of the cool.
Here’s a pic of the temperature gauges for all 2004 process tubes in the core.
The control room was the brain of the reactor. In this room, Mr. Farmer and the other engineers brought up the reactor to full power for the first time on September 26, 1944, but it didn’t work extra well, and was only able to sustain a reaction for a short period. During this first powering-on, only 1500 of the process tubes were used. Because the engineers were all Mr. Smartypants, they figured out that this number of tubes couldn’t sustain a nuclear reaction because another element, Xenon, was poisoning the reaction by capturing too many neutrons (that’s graphite’s job, yo). So, through a lot of complicated, non-computer-aided math, the scientists added another 504 tubes to the reaction and overcame the Xenon poisoning. And just like that, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”6 Or almost.
After being involved in a nuclear reaction for nearly six weeks, the irradiated slugs were removed from the reactor and taken by train to the plutonium separation facility, where it underwent a series of complex chemical processes to extract the pure plutonium from all of the other crap. The refined plutonium was then sent to Los Alamos where it was used in the Trinity test on July 16, 1945. So, plutonium from the world’s first atomic detonation was created by the fine folks at the Hanford Site. Plutonium from the Hanford site was used a few weeks later in the bomb detonated above Nagasaki, and lots of other nuclear weapons.
After WWII, operations were suspended at the B Reactor until 1948. The reactor was then restarted and used to make tritium (tritium is a radioactive type of hydrogen) for use in hydrogen bombs. Tritium for the B Reactor was used in the first bomb detonated at the Bikini Atoll in 1952, and we all know what happened to the sponges, squids, starfish and squirrels living there when this happened—they were immortalized as fantastic cartoon characters.
The B Reactor continued cranking out weapons-stuffs until 1968 when it was shut down for good, and that’s exactly how it looks today—as if the controllers initiated a planned shutdown, went home for the evening, and then The Rapture happened. It looks exactly as it did when it was shutdown for that final time in 1968. I mean you can practically hear Mrs. Robinson and see the glorious facial hair. An interesting note, the green, white and wooden color scheme of the control room came along later in the reactor’s life. It was originally an all black affair. Could you imagine? Sitting in your very own version of a Bond villain’s nuclear reactor.
Until next time! Happy atom smashing!
1 In cocooning, old reactors are completely coated in cement, kind of like fondant on a wedding cake, and left to cool off for usually 75 years. Kind of like a big fat nuclear time-out. After time-out the still hottish components are moved to permanent storage. Or that’s the plan anyway, as we haven’t really gotten that far with any reactors.
2 Enrico Fermi was a badass. He and Robert Oppenheimer are both referred to as the Father of the Atomic Bomb. Fermi was an Italian scientist working with atomic chain reactions. He and his Jewish wife Laura emigrated to the US in 1938 to escape that increasingly horrific race laws. Fermi continued his work with atomic chain reactions at the University of Chicago, and eventually played a very large role in the Manhattan Project—he essentially held the keys to the nuclear kingdom for a good while. Because he was THE man when it came to the Manhattan Project, he went by the code name, Mr. Farmer, while on-site. He was also protected by a bodyguard at all times. #themoreyouknow
3 I know. I’ve made a point of saying that the image of the fuel rod from The Simpsons is not accurate. And I stand by that. However, Homer’s rod does look a whole lot like a uranium slug.
4 Mostly. There have been trace amounts of plutonium found in the wild, that have likely come from uranium too. Which makes me wonder, are there nuclear reactions happening in nature, all the time, all over the place, without our even knowing it? I mean, I know about the Oklo fossil reactors (Google it), but maybe it’s happening a lot more?
5 I know. I didn’t tell you how to extract plutonium from uranium. I don’t know how the hell it’s done, and I assume that only a handful of people in the world know the entire process. And I’m very okay with that.
6 Robert Oppenheimer reportedly thought of this line of Hindu scripture during the Trinity test, which as the first atomic weapon detonation, and powered with plutonium from the B Reactor.
Be a star!
In life you’ll go far!
At answering multiple choice standardized test questions!
Do your best!
On the test!
Your teacher’s evaluation and very likely his or her job may depend on the results!
And you’ll no longer be labeled by the state as Basic, Below Basic, or Far Below Basic!
Show what you know!
Do well enough and the Happy Hills Elementary School will avoid staff dissolution and state take-over for another year!
Do your part!
Show you’re smart!
But forget about a career that requires a knowledge of social studies, history, or art!
ACT II, SCENE II
Enter KING CLAUDIUS, QUEEN GERTRUDE, ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN, HALL, OATES, and Attendants.
Welcome, gentlemen; our urgent need did provoke
Our hasty sending.
Both your majesties
Might, by the sovereign power you have of us,
Put your dread pleasures more into command
Than to entreaty.
But we four obey,
And here give up ourselves to be commanded.
You’ve got to know
What my head overlooks
The senses will show to my heart;
When it’s watching for lies
You can’t escape my
That will be all.
Exeunt CLAUDIUS, ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN, and Attendants.
(places her hand on HALL’s chest)
Stay, you lion-maned pair, tell me
Of your distant City of Brotherly Love,
That we may, as they say, get to know
The heft and measure of each other’s thoughts.
I can’t go for that.
No can do.
I can’t go for that, can’t go for that, can’t go for that.
Enter SAXOPHONIST; QUEEN GERTRUDE flees.
ACT II, SCENE III
Enter HAMLET, ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN, HALL and OATES.
My excellent good friends! How do ye four?
As the indifferent children of the earth.
Happy, in that we are not over-happy;
On fortune’s cap we are not the very button.
Mmmm, yeah. Mmmm, yeah, hey.
There is a kind of confession in your looks
Which your modesties have not craft enough to colour:
I know the good king and queen have sent for you.
Don’t you know
That it’s wrong to take
What he’s giving you;
You can get along
If you try to be strong
But you’ll never be strong.
Now, make haste to the king’s chamber,
To his chamber, go!
Exeunt ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN and HALL.
Stay, dusky Oates, for your silence doth seem
The still surface of the deepest waters, and I lack gall
To make oppression bitter for this tyrant,
This remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!
Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell,
I fall a-cursing, like a very drab, a scullion!
A scullion, woo, scullion, whoa-oh.
Abuse me to damn me, but I’ll have grounds
More relative than this: the play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience—
Conscience, whoa, conscience, whoa-oh.
OATES vamps for eight more minutes; HAMLET waits awkwardly.
ACT III, SCENE II
Danish march. A flourish. Enter HAMLET, KING CLAUDIUS, QUEEN GERTRUDE, POLONIUS, ROSENCRANTZ, GUILDENSTERN, HALL, OATES, and others.
They are coming to the play; I must be idle:
Get you a place. Where be Ophelia? My own person,
Like the sun, doth daily rise to greet her.
I wouldn’t if I were you,
I know what she can do,
She’s deadly, man, she could really rip your world apart.
Mind over matter, ooh, the beauty is there,
But a beast is in the heart.
Go, bid the players make ready.
ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN
We will, my lord.
Exeunt ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN. Enter OPHELIA.
Whoa-oh, here she comes.
Watch out boy, she’ll chew you up.
Whoa-oh, here she comes.
She’s a maneater.
Let the show begin!
Enter a dozen SAXOPHONISTS.
Gods, no! Give me some light: away!
ACT IV, SCENE VII
HALL and OATES stand graveside. Enter LAERTES.
What news? Hast seen Ophelia this day?
Everybody’s high on consolation,
Everybody’s trying to tell me what’s right for me, yeah,
My daddy tried to bore me with a sermon,
But it’s plain to see that they can’t comfort me.
Come, what news, knave? Out with it!
Sorry, Charlie, for the imposition,
I think I’ve got it, got it, I’ve got the strength to carry on, yeah.
I need a drink and a quick decision,
Now it’s up to me, ooh, what will be.
Come, you devils! Out, out with it!
Oh, I, oh, I,
I’d better learn how to face it.
Oh, I, oh, I,
I pay the devil to replace her.
Enter SAXOPHONIST, playing.
HALL, OATES and SAXOPHONIST continue thusly for sixteen minutes; LAERTES waits awkwardly.
ACT V, SCENE II
Enter FORTINBRAS, HORATIO, ENGLISH AMBASSADORS, and others.
This quarry cries on havoc. O proud death,
What feast is toward in thine eternal cell,
That thou so many princes at a shot
So bloodily hast struck?
The sight is dismal;
And our affairs from England come too late:
The ears are senseless that should give us hearing,
To tell him his commandment is fulfill’d,
That Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Hall and Oates are dead:
Where should we have our thanks?
Not from his mouth,
Had it the ability of life to thank you:
He never gave commandment for their death.
The saxophonists, too, are rightly hanged.
Rejoice! Prepare the table for feasting!
A heavy blues-soul march. Exeunt, bearing the dead bodies.
I’ve come to realize that one of the biggest differences between a professional performer and an amateur performer is that the ability to perfectly conceal your contempt when working with less than stellar material.
Dusteroo had a very difficult time hiding his contempt for his role in The Show About the Rat.
Many of the people who work with the Touring Children’s Theatre Company are relatively young theatre school grads who are looking for some cash and an opportunity to travel. And putting on a giant animal head that gives you headaches, or sweating your ass off in a costume that is essentially a full body rug, or sitting in a cramped van with someone who’s eaten too much hummus is still better than slinging lattes at your neighbourhood Starbucks. Plus you get to see some pretty cool places.
Unlike most his colleagues in their early to mid twenties, Dusteroo was decidedly on the wrong side of forty. A few years previous he’d quit his job and, with the support of his wife, pursued his dreams of becoming an actor. The Touring Children’s Theatre Company is great because most of its tours are through the fall to early spring—when it tends to be slower for film, TV, and other theatre.
So for Dusturoo, going on tour with a kid’s show was a good way to make a few bucks doing something that was kind of like what he want to be doing, in a time when he probably wouldn’t be making any money performing anyway.
But he was getting sick of hiding behind the giant animal heads, as everyone inevitably does. But every show has a “host”—a character without an animal head who is able to improvise if something disastrous happens. Once while hosting, my wife had to play Simon Says with the audience for ten minutes while the crew madly fixed some technical problem. When you’re talking about an audience of hundreds of children, you can’t just turn on the house lights and announce that the play will resume in ten minutes without totally losing them.
So here’s this forty-something guy, who didn’t want to go out on the road anymore in a head character. But The Show About the Rat featured not one, but FIVE hosts. He jumped on the offer to play one of the host roles, in which he would portray a number of different characters(including the pseudonym I’ve been using for him, the Dusteroo). His face could be seen throughout and he would be mic’d for a live vocal. Real acting! What joy! What bliss!
But what killed the experience for poor old Dusteroo was his star costume, and the song and dance that went along with it.
The Shooting Star Song was one of the campiest, most painful things I’ve ever had to watch a grown heterosexual man perform eight to ten times a week. In it, Dusteroo was one of the backup singers/dancers to the “Shooting Star,” and was dressed in a big, puffy, shiny, bright blue fabric star that had a little hole cut out in the topmost point for his face. His arms had to be outstretched at all times to keep the two side points from drooping. His spandex clad legs stuck out the middle of the bottom of the star. It was truly a hilarious costume, provided you weren’t the poor bastard inside it.
In the twenty seven years since my first performance in a community theatre production of The King and I at the tender age of four, I have occasionally found myself involved in productions that I’ve known were not of the highest quality. As a teenager in a devout, church going family, I was constantly being roped into performing in the most ham-fisted “dramas” and the least funny “skits” the evangelical religious community could muster. In my professional career I have found myself cast in roles I was ill suited for (like when the twenty eight year old me was hired to play a fifteen year old skateboarder in a rock and roll musical—in which I actually had to skateboard1). I have thrice found myself engaged in professional revue shows that required me to rap—which means I’ve made considerably more money rapping than most people who actually consider themselves rappers ever will.2
Suffice it to say that, in the name of paying the bills, I’ve done some things on stage of which I’ve been less than proud.
I like to think that in all those circumstances I did my level best to conceal the contempt or embarrassment I felt. But to be honest, I don’t think I have what it takes to be able to make the best of having to do the Shooting Star Song, and I hope to God I’m never put to the test.
The song was about “Shooting Star” trying to figure out what kind of “star” she should be. The accompanying choreography was upbeat and cute to the point of psychosis. Imagine Zooey Deschanel on crack, LSD, and a couple martinis after suffering severe blunt head trauma. If the show weren’t targeted to three to five year-olds, you’d wonder what kind of diseased mind could come up with this stuff. After an introduction in which Shooting Star wonders about all the different kinds of stars she could be (little stars, big stars, bright stars, etc…), she has this startlingly vapid revelation (and this is verbatim from the script):
“What kind of star shall I be tonight? Well it’s simple! I will be who I am. And that’s me! Because that’s who I am!”
And then she launches into the song about being a “shooting” star.
The more you think about that line, the less sense it makes. It’s the kind of thing that sounds like it’s supposed to make sense, so you just let the sentiment wash over you. But when you really think about it, “I will be who I am. And that’s me! Because that’s who I am!” is absolutely meaningless. I’d say you can’t write this shit, but the crazy thing is, someone actually did.
And there’s poor old Dusteroo behind her, singing and dancing his little heart out, but utterly dead behind the eyes.
During rehearsals, Dusteroo asked me how a grown man was supposed to get through this song without feeling utterly humiliated. The only way I saw was to go deeper down the rabbit hole. Don’t act as big as the women smiling and singing beside you. Go further. Smile bigger. Sing louder. Don’t just grin and bear it. Don’t just accept it. Don’t even just embrace it. This is camp we’re talking about. You’ve got to lube it up and fuck its brains out.
But Dusteroo couldn’t. I don’t think camp was in his vocabulary. He just put his star costume on every day and white-knuckled it until the song was over.
One of our technicians and I used to watch from the wings to try to fill in the inner monologue that must have been going through his head as he sang and danced the Shooting Star Song. What we came up with usually involved a lot of four letter words and repeated appeals to whatever higher power might be listening to put their smiting powers to full use.
After more than hundred shows spread out over two months, it never got any easier for Dusteroo. To this day, I think I could probably bring him to tears just by singing the Shooting Star Song in his presence.
1 For anyone curious as to whether they should take up skateboarding in their late twenties, I cannot express in words how much of a bad idea this is.
2 For anyone curious as to the ethnic appropriateness of me rapping, consider that the reflected light from my naked torso in full daylight will cause your eyes to bleed. PS, why in God’s name do people insist on putting rap songs into shows when they know damn well that the people who are going to end up performing it are white musical theatre nerds?
Fortune favors the bold.
Today I want to talk about how we, as a nation, have failed our heroic drone veterans. I’m here to speak for the drones because they cannot speak for themselves, because they were not built with the hardware or software necessary to simulate speech. We ask the drones to sacrifice so much for this country, and when we’re done with them, we just throw them away. We literally throw them away.
The general public doesn’t realize that drones are not eligible for any of the benefits offered to human veterans. When drone vets come home with bent antennae and chronic engine sputtering, they have to pay for their own repairs. These costs are simply too much to bear, especially considering the high rate of drone veteran unemployment. Maybe if we gave drone vets access to job training programs, we could put them to work carrying out targeted hellfire missile strikes for the private sector. But only human veterans are allowed to take part in retraining programs. As it is, the number of homeless drone veterans is simply shocking. That drone who asked you for change on the subway this morning is probably a veteran.
Let me tell you a story about a drone named RB-347DC21. RB-347DC21 was manufactured in a small town in Arizona, and since the day his components were assembled, he wanted nothing more than to serve his country. That’s all he was programmed to do. RB-347DC21 was only two days from retirement when he suffered a rudder malfunction and was lost in the mountains on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Now RB-347DC21’s wife, a hard-working, patriotic microwave, has to support her children—a travel alarm clock and a table lamp, one of the tiny ones—without any help from the government.
There’s no support network for drones like there is for human veterans. Just try bringing a drone into a VFW hall and see what happens. I did, and people said things like, “Hey, you can’t bring that thing in here. It’s too big, it would break something." These are their fellow veterans!
The general public can be even crueler. My good friend, GL-091YM13, a Mark 4 Annihilation drone, can’t even fly down to his local supermarket without someone coming up and calling him an “unfeeling killing machine.” Well, he may be a machine, and he may have been designed specifically for killing—but unfeeling? Folks need to spend time with the drones. Look deep into their infrared cameras and you’ll understand how affected they are by the things they’ve seen and done in these wars. The data they’ve gathered with their multi-spectral targeting systems is seared into their memory banks. Drone veterans have to live with this information until the day they are decommissioned, or until their hard drives are erased as part of a weekly maintenance routine.
Someday these wars will end, and they’re going to try to make you forget about what drones like RB-347DC21 did for this country. Unless we change things, drones will never be allowed to march—well, hover—in Veterans Day parades. No drone will ever have a Medal of Honor welded to its chassis. There will be no drone memorial to record the alphanumeric designations of our fallen drone heroes. So it’s up to each and every one of us to make sure that the drones are honored. Never forget: what our drones do over there, they do for all of us.
When my oldest son was in a 2s program, he ran into a stumbling block with recess. That is, he went out to the playground just fine; the trouble was coming back in. He refused to come in, in fact, and when it was made clear to him, by the nice young women who were his teachers, that it wasn’t a choice, he would sob—an enraged, piteous wail—for much longer than anyone was happy to deal with.
“Why can’t your kid just get with the program?” was probably the real question, but that’s not the one they asked me, perched on their little chairs at our parent-teacher conference. What they asked me, their heads identically cocked, was, “Are you making sure he’s having plenty of playdates?”
I had found it a hard enough task to socialize my own small self in my lifetime, and that was with the benefit of draft beer and rock bands. How much harder it was going to be, I imagined, to socialize someone else, especially when that someone was even smaller, so small that he occasionally pooped in his pants?
Still, I made playdates. What I didn’t do at the time was examine the reasoning behind this prescription, which I think went something like this: if you put your child and another child in proximity with toys, the super glue that is human connection will manifest, and this connection will mean that compliance will emerge, and this compliance will result in your son coming in from recess more easily, and that will be nice for us.
My son was born in New York City shortly before 9/11. At this point, I think we can say that he is growing up in an age of terrorism. With Boston on my mind, I think this is why I have been remembering this nursery school experience. I have been thinking about how compliance and connection are intertwined.
I may be making this up, because people looking back always think everything was simpler, but when I was growing up in the 1970s, it seems like it wasn’t hard to tell who the bad guys were. Robbers who were robbing you had the integrity to look like robbers. The idea of someone robbing you via fakery the breadth and depth of Bernie Madoff seems like it would have been incomprehensible back then. Bernie Madoff himself probably hadn’t had the idea for “Bernie Madoff” yet.
I have not talked to my son much about terrorism. I have hosted some 50,000 playdates. And I am kind of happy to report that my son comes off the playground just fine now. And I am also kind of sad to think that this was ever made to be a worry for me. I have come to the place and time in parenting where I’ve been promoted to homework supervisor, and I now think it is an appropriate and even intelligent response to howl like a dying dog at the end of recess. The fact that recess ever ends is a tragedy.
And yet I don’t want to suggest that compliance is not important. It is, in large part because of its lovely, knotty relationship with connection. So what I think we need now—besides love, sweet love, of course—is an updated model for the compliance/connection relationship, in a democracy, in this particularly problematic age.
I have an image that may help. It is rooted in my experience living here in New York but I think it’s applicable for anywhere in the USA. It is the crosswalk.
The crosswalk, people, is amazing.
In the universe that is the crosswalk, two opposing symbols reign: the gothic, almost burlesque, Red Hand; and, as my husband likes to call him, The Dribbler. (The Dribbler is thus named because he’s depicted in the forward-leaning, long-armed stance of a man dribbling a basketball).
These, then, are our two directives as we stand poised at the edge of the sidewalk, and they circle us back to the crossroads of recess. They are: “Stop” or “Play.”
In another country, maybe, things would be different, but in ours, a beautiful little detail floats into the act now. When it comes to the real, on-the-ground experience of crossing the street, the carefully erected, precisely chosen Red Hand and Dribbler mean nothing. They are ignored. They are ignored so thoroughly that the cops ignore the ignoring. This is our country: the people have the power in the crosswalk.
This may be one reason why there are so many accidents on our street corners. The people have the power here, and people make mistakes. Yet the crosswalk, like recess, like play—which the world is, in fact, dependent on, more than homework, goddammit— can be a thrilling and liberating state.
The crosswalk is where you may find who you truly are, if only because—no matter how deeply you stare into your palm—you can’t phone it in. In the crosswalk, you are in your real body in real time, and you have to make split-second decisions, and minor calibrations, and you may listen to music or talk on the phone or be drunk or high, but you still have to be your real self moving your real self, “Bernie Madoff,” or Bernie Madoff, through space and time, and there is no work-around, no muffing through it some other, half-assed way. This is it. It’s life. Once you start, you have to keep going, one way or another, until you get to the place where “Stop” or “Play” doesn’t mean anything anymore.
Did you cross on the Hand? or Did you cross on the Dribbler? are not the best questions now. Better ones: Did you roll your double stroller over my foot? Are you blocking the box with your SUV? Were you patient while the old man with the walker with the tennis-ball feet shuffled really slowly across? Did you help the kid who dropped something?
Or: How do you treat others/yourself in this space? Do you recognize our shared purpose? Do you honor other people’s journeys? Do you see how perfect this ballet is, how we all in our various ways, contribute to arriving peacefully at the other side of the street? Do you know that this is a miracle that you contribute to everyday?
OK, good. That block is behind us. Here’s The Dribbler or the Hand, I don’t know. Let’s go forward. Let’s cross now.
OK. Now, for an extremely nice wormhole. You remember what those are, right?
This one comes from Antoine Boisvert, who is writing us from Salem, Massachusetts.
Dear “Dr.” Fusselman,
I have a wormhole for you, although I don’t know if you are still collecting them..
[It] revolves around the Long-Playing record. I was deeply invested in records, and I had my own turntable (can a Fisher-Price product be referred to as a “turntable”?) from the age of about five. Every record was a narrative. And most records, so far as I was concerned, had only one side. Side two was usually left unexplored, while I pored over Side One, determining the scenes, the characters, and their motivations. Often the story I was decoding was a story about myself, so it was deserving of very serious study. Sometimes I had to decode stories from symphonies, and sometimes from Rock & Roll Records. The most rewarding were soundtracks to films or plays that I had never seen. I listened intently to the Bedknobs and Broomsticks soundtrack for many months. It came from the library. To this day, I have no idea what it was really about.
The flip side of fascination was terror. I lived in terror of the various bad sounds, unplanned sounds, that a record can make. The sound, for instance, of an accumulated dust-bunny causing the needle to skate across the surface of the LP, or of a skip (even though some skips I was so used to that I sang along with them) or of a needle landing wrong and somehow not going down in the groove and making a hideous static squawk. I actually had nightmares, cold sweat nightmares, about records playing badly, and being neither able to intervene to make it right, nor explain to the adults in the dream what was wrong.
Then I grew up, and started having tapes, and eventually CDs, and now hard drives. I stopped looking for my own personal stories in music. I don’t know why. I still get a frisson when the music plays wrong, however.
Wasn’t that lovely? Yes, it was. Keep those coming, friends.
xx Doc Fuss
Jasper Johns Gingerbread
Cotton C’Andy Warhol
Peter Max-imum Brown Sugar Cinnamon
Billy Apple Strudel
Jim Dine(ing) on Cookies & Crème
Wild Cherry Red Grooms
INT. UPPER CLASS HOME LIVING ROOM – NIGHT
A man, BEN, wearing pajama pants and a tee shirt, is reading his newspaper. His wife, BARBRA, wears a flowered robe and is curled on the sofa, reading a book.
Do you hear that?
Ben drops his paper and tilts his head. We hear the faint sound of music coming from outside the home.
Sounds like… music.
The music is getting louder. The song is “Toot Toot Toosie Goodbye” by Al Jolson.
I guess someone is having a party.
The doorbell rings.
Who could that be at this hour?
The man gets up from his chair and walks to the window by the front door. He peeks outside.
It’s the Johnsons!
The man moves to open door. As his hand touches the doorknob, his wife leaps from the sofa.
Wait, Ben! Don’t open the door!
The Johnsons. What are they wearing?
(peeks out the window again)
She’s in a dress and he’s in a suit.
Old-timey? Well, now that you mention it, they’re both wearing hats…
I knew it! Whatever you do, don’t open that door!
Barbra, what is it?
The Johnsons… They’ve gone Gatsby!
(his face is awash with horror)
Turn off all the lights!
Ben and Barbra scurry to turn off the lights on the first floor. They meet back in the foyer, holding their breath as they stare nervously at their front door. The doorbell rings again and they jump.
(calling from outside in a sing-song voice)
We know you’re in there, sillies…
Yes, come on, old sport! Open the door!
Barbra covers her mouth, trying not to scream. There is knocking at the door and the doorbell rings again.
Do come out and have a glass of giggle water with us!
There is rapping on the window at the side of the house. Ben and Barbra whirl towards the noise. We can see a woman in flapper dress waving at the window, the large yellow feather in her headband bobbing.
They’re coming to get you, Barbra, there’s one of them now!
(calling through the closed window)
Barbra! You simply must join us! It’s the bee’s knees!
(turning to Ben, her face ashen.)
We’ll have to board up the windows.
There is shuffling on the front porch. A crowd is gathering. Gay laughter erupts. The tune ‘My Blue Heaven’ fills the night air.
My god, the movie’s just come out. This could go on for weeks! Hell, it’s DiCaprio! It could be months! Remember Titanic?
This will be worse than Mad Men. The theme parties, the costumes…
Barbara touches her head, a glazed, faraway look in her eyes.
I don’t even own a cloche hat…
(grabbing Barbra by the shoulders)
Barbra! Snap out of it! Don’t be a dumb dora!
Ben slaps his hand to his mouth, horrified.
It’s happening, Barbra. We’re doomed.
Ben turns and steps to the window. With a final glance back at Barbra, he throws open the curtains. On the porch there is a party in full swing. Men in homburg hats and women holding cocktail glasses grin and toast to them.
Join us, old sport! There’s plenty of hooch for everyone!
Everything is jake!
(her attention captured by something beyond the crowd)
My god… Ben, look! Look out at the bay!
Remember when you asked Sampson to replace the dock light bulb?
We see the light at the end of Ben and Barbra’s dock, glowing in the darkness. It shines with an eerie green hue.
(monotone, all hope lost)
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” swells, mixing with the sound of the people chattering and glasses clicking outside.
FADE TO BLACK
My husband Will suggested I start this mid-season lament with a little Tolstoy (slightly amended): Happy baseball families are all alike; every unhappy baseball family is unhappy in its own way. So I’m going with it: we’re unhappy. More precisely, I’m unhappy. What is sometimes called the Anna Karenina Principle explains a lot about the present baseball season: there are many routes to failure (or unhappiness), while there is only one route to success: avoid all of the many routes to failure. Henry’s team, the Spark Plugs, hasn’t managed to do this. I’m guessing that few teams do. Put a 3-inch diameter ball in the hands of a nine-year-old. Tell him to throw it inches from another nine-year-old wielding a 28-inch long, 2¼-inch diameter metal bat. Add running, catching, throwing, catching, stealing, throwing, sliding, tagging and a whole bunch of adults directing this snarl of traffic, and there’s no possible way to avoid one of those routes. Failure is the detour with the flashing orange arrow. Like it or not, in kid baseball, you’re going down that road a lot. Every single play offers up a dozen ways to fail, and, on some days, the boys seize them all.
When I talk with other moms, I’m reminded that mid-season malaise is everywhere. Put your kid on a travel team and wait as slow-simmering dissatisfaction thickens into unhappiness. By May, families have been with their teams long enough to wonder whether being with another team would have been better. Parents catalogue the slights suffered by their children; they re-wind and re-play certain outs and innings and games—always with different results. They blame coaches or umpires or, in their meanest, darkest hours, other kids. Run this mental exercise a few times and you’ll see why parents are already looking ahead to the next season of baseball. They’re positioning their kids for tryouts, chatting up new coaches, and putting kids in lessons at places where they hope they’ll get noticed.
It’s likely that coaches are unhappy too. By now they know what kind of team they have and how close it comes to the team they wanted or thought they were getting. They look ahead to the next season and think about which kids they want to take with them as they try out another recipe of players and families. Add more pitching. Subtract an infielder. Cut the mom with attitude.
I’m thinking about it too. How will next August’s tryout season go for Henry? Will his fastball or fast hands catch another coach’s eye? We should be enjoying these weekends of tournament baseball. And, honestly, the kid still is. He watches every Braves game, tweaks his batting stance to look like Evan Gattis, checks the tournament brackets online, and honks impatiently from the car to let me know he’s ready for the drive to Canton or Dalton or Villa Rica. He’s playing well in most areas of the game. His batting is the best it’s ever been (tip of the cap to his handsomely-paid batting coach). He’s settled in near the top of the batting order and rarely strikes out. His pitching has improved. From December to March he cut his ERA in half. His fielding, on the other hand, never looks assured. When a ball comes to him, I cross my fingers and will him not to bobble it, but he often does. So, at nine, he’s not a five-tool player. None of the boys on his team are. Some days, though, they all show up with the same wrench missing from their toolboxes. That’s what happened a few weeks ago, the day I decided—no matter what happened for the rest of the spring—Henry would never play another season of baseball for Coach Larry.
It was day two of a two-day tournament, and the boys were facing a tough team they’d lost to once already. The day before, on Saturday, the boys split their games in pool play, 1-1. The win was fairly easy, an uneven match-up. The loss was tough. For most of the game, the Spark Plugs trailed the Lightning, but the boys rallied in the bottom of the final inning with three solid hits. Then, with two outs and the bases loaded, the newest player to join the team struck out swinging, and the Spark Plugs lost, 5-6.
On Sunday, in bracket play, they faced the Lightning again. Coach saw redemption in the shuffle of lineup cards. For an inning and a half there was no score; each team’s pitcher retired the batters in order. But then a kid on the Lightning singled to centerfield. They added two runs in the bottom of the second, three in the third, and four more in the fourth. The Spark Plugs’ only run came in the top of the third when a kid who’d walked scored on a passed ball. The Lightning never pulled their starting pitcher, and, when the game ended with a score of 1-9, the kid had thrown a four-inning no-hitter with eight strikeouts. It was impressive.
Winning would have put our boys into the championship game, tantalizingly close to the piece of gold-tone plastic hardware Coach Larry had been chasing for months. But as the game’s outcome looked more and more certain, it was as if he saw his trophy snatched up and carried off by an evil-looking crow. The further away it flew, the madder he got. And when it receded to a mere speck in the sky, his temper spun him into a rage—a man-sized Rumplestiltskin robbed of his gold and tricked by a bunch of nine-year-olds. He threw down his hat. He pounded the chain-link fence with his fist. He yelled. He stormed out of the dugout and paced three times around the snack bar. An assistant took up his position as third base coach. At the post-game meeting he was still seething. A talented pitcher threw a no-hitter, and he threw accusations: “You’re all scared of the BALL.” The list of ways they’d humiliated him went on and on, and when he’d spun himself into a second rage and walked away a second time, an assistant coach stepped up to pile on, as if the boys weren’t hanging their heads low enough.
I walked away too. I thought about walking away forever because what Coach said next was just stupid. He told the boys to get some body armor because at the next practice he’d tattoo seam marks on their ribs. He was going to cure them of their fear of the ball by hitting them with the ball. It was all so rational, really. But just as the kids would miss the irony of that last sentence, they missed the manic quality of Coach’s speech. They’d never know that he’d forget his own threats and that next Wednesday’s practice would probably be just like last Wednesday’s practice. Henry’s first words to me as we walked toward the car were, “Mom, I need some protection. Coach is going to hit us with balls.” At nine, kids believe what their coaches say. But this coach must have forgotten that moms are all about the whole protection thing.
In the car after a loss, we have an unspoken rule: no discussion of the game. Will and I don’t ask leading questions, make veiled accusations, or re-hash errors. We don’t speak of the coach or the other players. We tune the radio to Q100 and sing along, even if it’s Maroon 5 for the zillionth time. On this day, apropos of nothing—or everything—Henry said from the backseat, “Mom, do you remember a few weeks ago when you interviewed me and you asked if I thought my coaches took baseball too seriously? Well, I want to change my answer. They do.”
Some unhappy families suffer silently through their own unhappiness. They endure a coach’s temper tantrums and wait for sunnier moods and a few wins to clear out the clouds. But this tantrum gave more than just our family a reason to look around. It was something of a reckoning. There are six kids, including Henry, who’ve stuck with this team and this coach since August. But there have been at least ten other kids who’ve worn the jersey for shorter periods of time—a turnover rate that could (should?) raise eyebrows. Soon, one more Mom would peel the Spark Plug jersey off her son, never to put it on him again.
As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one wondering whether it might be better just to walk away or the only one thinking about how to protect my kid from worse things than bruises. I wasn’t the only mom to email the coach that threatening to purposely hit the kids with baseballs crossed the line of responsible coaching. By the end of the week, another family said enough and pulled their son from the team. I liked this mom a lot. I sat with her sometimes. She would talk about the death of her beloved four-year-old daughter, not six months ago, and how grief was her shadowy companion now. She knew suffering in a way I won’t even allow myself to imagine. And she believed, for a while, that baseball, with its camaraderie and joy and occasional moments of sublimity, could lift up her grieving family, make her solemn son smile. Until it didn’t. She didn’t agonize or fret about quitting the team because this was an unhappiness that she didn’t have to carry with her. This—this she could fix. It looked so easy—the way she just picked up a weighty, joyless thing and tossed it out the cargo door.
Good coaches aren’t born. A booming voice, a head full of baseball, or a competitive streak don’t inevitably make someone into a leader of men. Or nine-year-old boys. Like good ballplayers, good coaches are made through practice, through trial, through their own detours into failure. This latest departure from the team was Coach’s failure, and he knew it. And he tried to learn from it.
And then things got a little better. At Wednesday’s practice, Coach apologized to the boys. Coach tried positive. He said next time and shake it off and good swing and hold your head up. The following weekend, he handed out lightning bolt helmet stickers and high-fives, even when the boys lost another tough game by one run. He told them they played with heart and that he was proud. And, the next week, the clouds parted a bit more and the boys hit better than they’d hit all year and gave him two wins in a row.
So, will our family survive the season? Of course. Will often reminds me that this is Henry’s deal; it’s what he wants to be doing. And he still loves baseball in spite of the adults who somehow manage to take the fun out of everything. I know that I’ll back off. I won’t go to every game. I won’t sit too close to the moms still plotting revolt or scripting dramatic exits. I’ll lose myself in the minutiae of scorekeeping, in the splendor of spring in the South. After a long Saturday at the ballpark, Will and I will mix a gin and tonic and head for the shade of our deep front porch. The leaves of the oaks are new and bright green. Above the neighbor’s bamboo thicket, a red-tailed hawk circles slowly, ignoring the chase of an angry crow. The Tibetan prayer flags strung between the porch columns flutter, as breezes carry away the words of their faded mantras. I imagine hundreds of prayers drifting on thermals, settling gently on a rust-red clay diamond somewhere. Turn away from unhappiness, I will tell myself. What was it the Buddha said? Happiness is learning to want what you already have.
“Lifting the stick”
“Getting good wood on it”
“Taking one in the face”
“Good bodily contact”
“Playing from behind”
“Two on one”
“Two on two”
“The third-man-in rule”
“Undressing the defenseman”
“Pulling the goalie”
“Poking it in”
“Crowding the crease”
“The reach-around play”
“Scoring on the rebound”
“The three-way passing play”
“Opening things up from the back end”
“Clearing the zone”
I waited until my first book was published to learn the genre, and when Oprah announced “It’s literary fiction!” just seconds after my pub date, I was overcome with joy. When we found out that I’d written a second book, however, we decided to find out ourselves what it was. A genre reveal party, in which we’d learn the genre of the book at the same time as one hundred of our closest friends and family seemed like a fun way to go!
We hosted the party after I turned in the second-pass proofs. As I prepared to cut into a cake that was filled with blue or red filling, I felt the same giddy anticipation I’d had the first time around. It’s a moment I treasure and I want others to have the same experience. Read on for tips about how to plan your own genre reveal party.
1. Establish your colors
Like most writers, you probably have a sense of what your book might be. You may even have a very good guess! Still, until a critic looks inside, you don’t know for sure. Here is a popular and convenient color chart of the literary possibilities:
- Literary fiction (blue)
- Upmarket women’s fiction (red)
- Chick lit (pink)
- Lad lit (dark blue)
- Historical fiction (gold)
- Thriller/mystery (black)
- Sci-fi/fantasy (orange)
- Erotica (magenta)
- YA (purple)
- Short stories (green)
- Novel-in-stories (light green)
Match cocktails, candles, plates, napkins, cups—whatever you want!—to the pairing you choose.
Set the date and invite guests
Send your invitations out at least three months before the party so there’s plenty of time to get your genre-determining pre-pub review and plan your big reveal. Some guests may not have heard of a genre reveal party—they might not even read books!—so be sure to include a brief explanation.
Schedule your pre-pub review
It’s usually clear to a skilled reviewer what you’ve written. Ask the reviewer to write the genre color code on a piece of paper and place it in a sealed envelope. If your book is written in a way that makes it impossible for the reviewer to accurately determine the genre—women’s fiction versus literary fiction can be particularly challenging; ditto short stories versus a novel-in-stories—ask about scheduling a follow-up review with a trusted book blogger.
Plan the big reveal
A lot of writers choose to announce the genre of their book at the party with a sweet treat such as a cake. To go this route, give the sealed envelope that you received from your pre-pub reviewer to a bakery and order a cake filled with the color written inside. Sheet cakes and square cakes work well because you only have to cut off a corner to reveal the big surprise. However, if your work might be “women’s fiction,” you should consider something smaller. A single cupcake will do.
For an approach that doesn’t include dessert, ask a trusted friend to put helium balloons in a box. At the party, open the box and see what color balloons float out. Alternatively, depending on budget and resources, have a friend jump out of a cake or a box wearing the mask of an author who is iconic in your book’s genre. Is it a literary novel? Try a Jennifer Egan or Jonathan Franzen mask. A thriller? Stephen King. Historical fiction? Hilary Mantel. For extra fun, have the friend wear two masks: the real one hiding beneath a mask of Jonah Lehrer. Your guests will be shocked and confused, but only for a moment!
Document the event
Have your camera ready to go. Ask a friend or family member to take pictures and videos because you’ll be busy mingling with your guests, practicing your elevator pitch. If your budget allows, hire a professional photographer or videographer who can upload images from the party to Facebook and Twitter in real time.
Thank your guests
As partygoers arrive, ask them to write their name on a slip of paper and place it in one of two jars labeled with the possible genres. Then at the end of the party, pick out a name from the “correct guess” jar and give the winning guest a small gift, a galley or two hundred bookmarks with the address of your website. Give everyone else instructions on how to write an Amazon or Goodreads review when the book is out. These can be printed ahead of time and folded into the shape of a crane.
Like any trendy celebration, however, there are those who have taken it over the top. Elaborate themed events such as “author cravings” provide stations where your friends can write glowing reviews of the book in the national newspaper font of your choice, drink “blurby” champagne, or take a turn at a Kakutani dunking booth.
It can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of impending authorhood and natural to want to share it with those closest to you. But when it comes to planning your own genre reveal party, the most important thing to remember is that the majority of authors don’t earn out their advance. Don’t worry: just start saving for your little book’s remainder party now.