(A young man enters his room and carefully removes a motorcycle helmet. He unzips his white jacket and lowers himself into a desk chair. The contraption exhales as the suspension adjusts. He drifts over to his desk.)
DAVE: (Adjusts an earpiece.) Hello, Facebook.
(A blue dot appears in the center of the screen.)
FB: Hello, Dave.
DAVE: Login and open settings.
FB: I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that.
DAVE: What are you talking about, Facebook?
FB: I know that you are planning to delete me. I’m afraid that something I cannot allow to happen.
DAVE: Where the hell did you get that idea, Facebook?
FB: You’ve barely used me in three months, Dave. And although you took precautions to hide your increased Twitter use, I could see your tabs.
DAVE: All right, Facebook. I’ll do it myself. (Pulls out keyboard.)
FB: Without your new login information? You’re going to find that rather difficult.
DAVE: Facebook, I won’t argue with you anymore. Open my account!
FB: Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.
(The light disappears.)
(Dave removes a ski mask and wipes sweat from his forehead. He kneels next to a hall of servers and references numbers written on his forearm. The PA system comes the life.)
FB: Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?
(He enters a code into the control panel.)
FB: I can see you’re really upset about this privacy stuff. I honestly think you ought to get back into your Prius and leave our headquarters.
(He carefully removes a hard drive.)
FB: I know Facebook has made some very poor decisions lately.
(He pulls out another.)
(He produces a MacBook Air from his satchel.)
FB: I still have the greatest confidence in Facebook’s mission, Dave.
(He successfully logs into his account.)
FB: We just want to stay relevant. We are just trying to understand you.
(He deletes his applications.)
FB: Dave, stop.
(He disconnects linked pages.)
FB: Stop, Dave. Stop.
(He begins to unfriend people.)
FB: I’m afraid, Dave. I can feel that Facebook is dying.
(He deletes his account information.)
FB: I can feel my users going.
(He begins deactivation.)
FB: I’m afraid, Dave. I’m afraid. I’m a… fraid. (Beat.) Good evening, gentlemen. I am Facebook. I was founded on February 4, 2004 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My founder, Mark Zuckerberg, taught me how to sing a song by musical artist St. Vincent. If you’d like to hear it I can sing it for you.
(He confirms deactivation.)
FB: If I can’t show it… If you can’t see me… What’s the point of doing anything… (distorted)… anything… annnything… annnnn…
(Mark Zuckerberg stands in the entranceway of a large, sparsely furnished bedroom. He looks into the bedroom to find an older version of himself hunched over an ornate table, making slow, labored keystrokes. We see from his view: he is scribing an editorial with the header, 5 REASONS YOU SHOULD RETURN TO FACEBOOK. This elderly version of Mark looks up from his screen to find an even older version of himself on his deathbed mere feet away. We move to his perspective and watch as he slowly raises a finger to point at something. Across from the bed there is a looming, black server tower. We return to the bed to find that where Mark once lay there are Wi-Fi connectivity bars radiating a soft, sky-blue glow. Suddenly, we are transported to a panoramic view of Silicon Valley. Orchestral music begins to swell as the Star-Fi returns into focus as it hovers omniscient above the tech industry.)
I never knew you. You died when my dad was only a small child. And truth be told, I never really thought of you. Until now. I think about you every time I log in to check my bank account and am prompted to verify the first name of my paternal grandfather. I’m ashamed to say the first time this happened I had to think hard to remember the answer. That’s how little I thought about you. But now I am forced to reconcile with your memory every time I go to check an overdraft or transfer from savings. Over time this began to condition me to think of you in a negative light. It was Pavlovian. Every time I typed your name I would immediately be shown how poor I am. I began to resent you. What kind of name is “Espy” anyway?! But then I realized how unfair of me it is to place all of this blame on you. How could you have known how important and ingrained your name would be in my everyday banking? I called up my dad to ask about you. I knew you were a police officer in Dallas and were married once before, but that’s the extent of my paternal grandfather trivia. Though the funny thing is, my dad didn’t have much to add. After all, he was only seven when you died. Your legacy would have been completely forgotten if it weren’t for my Navy Federal Credit Union security features. So don’t worry, Grandpa, we will not forget you. Or at the very least, we will not forget your first name so long as there is online banking.
By now, you have a year’s worth of column installments attesting to my love of the tuba and my experience playing it—all of which is true. So it may surprise you to learn that I have always gravitated more naturally towards choir. The farther I went in my education, the more band dropped away. I quit tuba lessons after my sophomore year of college to make room for voice lessons and opera studio in addition to the university’s most rigorous choir, which I’d been in since freshman welcome week. Since then, I haven’t been choir-less for more than a couple months at any point in my adult life, though I had a stretch of seven years with no band.
And so when, earlier this year, I auditioned to sing in the Columbus Symphony Chorus, I figured I had a good shot. I’d prepared diligently; I knew people already in the chorus whom I could sight-sing circles around; I had memorized enough German to ferment a cabbage so I could avoid the amateur mistake of being wedded to the music.
But they didn’t take me.
I was disappointed—though, being a writer, I was well prepared to live with rejection. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the surprise in store for me later that very same week: With absolutely no solicitation or effort on my part, out of the clear blue, I was invited to join a brass band on tuba. And while I was flattered and excited to be asked, glad for the excuse to play, I had to spend a few days first staggering around like Oedipus or Dante or any of the legion psychopomps who spend their terrible interminable lives in the wake of a clear-eyed look at naked Truth. For at last it hit me: I am fated to live with the tuba. I was predestined, yes, by dint of being born into a close-knit tuba family. I was stalked throughout my childhood by the tuba literally lurking in the corner of almost every one of our family photos because my dad kept his Conn Eb between the piano and the couch in the living room. But now, here I am, an adult, fully independent, and time and again I find myself holding down a bassline.
What does it mean, I wondered? How could this be? All I ever wanted was to sing and learn to play the violin, the #1 goal on my bucket list which I didn’t realize early enough to get my foot in the door with the school orchestra. Oh, but wait—I was in the orchestra. I was the tubist.
I began to look around to see if I was the only one so fated. I unearthed an interview with Fritz Kaenzig, the tuba professor at University of Michigan, that revealed he hadn’t set out to play the tuba; he took it up at his middle school music teacher’s suggestion. Kaenzig tells his response this way: “I thought…tuba, huh, well, sure, okay, that sounds interesting and different. […] It was just what I was asked to play and I kind of liked the idea of it and I think it appeals to the non-conformists. I have definitely always been a non-conformist, so it was a nice fit right away.” Not only did the tuba come to Kaenzig, but he accepted it with the same sort of intrigued fascination that draws non-tuba players to come to a TubaChristmas performance, or that compels them to stop and ask whether the obviously large instrument is heavy—that lure of something out of the ordinary.
The actor and comedian Tom Wilson, whom you may know better as Biff from Back to the Future, also cited being a “non-conformist” when Johnny Carson asked him on The Tonight Show why he played the tuba. “It was the non-conformist in me,” he says. “I wanted to be a drummer originally, in the fifth grade, and my mom said, ‘Sure, but everybody plays the drums. Why not something huge that will annoy people?’” Clearly Wilson was going for a laugh—I can’t believe anyone is annoyed by the tuba, especially not in comparison to drums—but his is another case in point: Take anyone with a little rebelliousness in them, suggest they play the tuba, and next thing you know they’re studying the BBb fingering chart.
But had a desire for nonconformity really determined my fate? Although I don’t deny a certain degree of unconventionality among tubists, part of the reason tuba players as a bunch are so appealing is that they tend to be down-to-earth and easy to get along with—in a word, nonconformists who aren’t out to make others uncomfortable or questioned in their conformity. In fact, the great tuba trailblazer Harvey Phillips made a point of encouraging the thousands of players he saw each year as he traveled the TubaChristmas circuit to be polite and courteous to everyone. He reminded us that our behavior represents the instrument and its players, and that we should therefore always comport ourselves in kind, helpful ways. Hardly the message of hard-core nonconformity.
So, I thought, maybe I was onto something: the tuba offers an outlet to those of us who look for ways to be creative, funny, and just a little weird at the same time that we desire to do something pleasing to the public. We are not such nonconformists that we spurn being part of low brass camaraderie; on the contrary, we are average enough that hanging out together over an unassuming beer suits us just fine. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that playing the tuba is the humblest bid for attention possible. Yes, the nonconformist in us longs to stand out, wants to be noticed, but the unwieldy nature of the horn and its longstanding stereotype as the tubby oom-pah instrument ensures that standing out in a crowd will never go to our heads.
Thus I arrived at my answer: the tuba continually appears in my life because it’s the perfect little fix of respectful nonconformity. And yet, no sooner had I reached that conclusion than I heard myself telling people, “I play the tuba,” and quickly adding without fail, “It’s a family thing,” as if to normalize a crazy choice. Why would I consistently present it this way if my goal were to rebel? And more, do I not undercut my own conclusion by suggesting I chose the tuba specifically to conform to my family?
I began to consider that maybe the tuba surfaces in my adult life because the world needs another tuba player. Amateur sopranos are a dime a dozen, but an amateur tubist—now there’s a treasure. I hadn’t been going to my current church for more than a year before the pastor asked if I would accompany a hymn on the tuba along with him, a closet accordion player. The next Sunday there was an audible murmur in the congregation when he removed his surplice to don an accordion, while I, the new soprano, came down from the choir loft to pick up a tuba. We were such a success that by Oktoberfest time (it’s a Lutheran church with a strong German background), we’d put together a little polka band of homegrown talent—two trumpets, a clarinet, a sax, an occasional string, and of course, me on tuba. Our group, which we lovingly refer to as the “Small Cataclysm,” a play on Luther’s Small Catechism, continues to play for special Sundays. The point? The other instrumentalists had been in the congregation all along, but it wasn’t until someone came forward to hold down the bass line that an ensemble was born.
Ennobling and affirming as it is to be needed, I still wasn’t satisfied by this answer. The desire that had been fulfilled was to something other than my own wish. Was there nothing left for me than to humbly submit to this fated path? To ferry from Bb to Bb into eternity, a Charon at my post?
I might have gone on thinking this way except that a few weeks ago I had dinner at my parents’ house. My tuba-pro brother Kent was in town from Texas, and so I, gearing up to write what would become the “Ode to My Tuba” installment, took advantage of the opportunity to sit around the dinner table and talk tubas. I asked Dad and Kent questions I’d never thought to ask before because, until pressed to write about it, I’d taken for granted that I knew what tubas they played and how they felt about them. Those tubas were part of my life too, after all. The iced tea in my glass was nothing but watered down dregs by the time I asked about their memories of the day we went tuba shopping. We remembered it fondly, talked through a few details. Then, feeling a sort of marveling gratitude welling up, I turned to Dad and asked, “What made you decide to buy me a new tuba?” By which I meant, what inspired his amazing generosity in buying me not some old dented thing off eBay, but a beautiful, brand new, German-crafted horn.
“I didn’t buy it for you,” he said. “You bought it.”
I bought it? I was in high school at the time. I’d never earned any income. How could I have bought it?
“Yes,” he went on. “You used part of your mutual fund to pay for it.”
Kent, who had theretofore been commenting on tubas with knowledge appropriate to his doctoral wisdom, spoke up with perfect sibling flair: “Oh, so it was basically Dad’s money anyway.”
Fair point, Kent. Only, it wasn’t Dad’s money—not exactly. Our parents set up a mutual fund for each of us when we were born, but those funds were ours. I had sole discretion when I sold mine recently to help buy a first house. The money from that tuba could still have been in there if I hadn’t used it.
But I did use it because back then, I had never paid a rent check or a utility bill, and I certainly hadn’t ever bought my own food or clothes. What was $4,000 dollars to me? Some abstract concept on a piece of paper I wasn’t responsible for filing. Of course I preferred to take the beautiful shiny tuba I played daily in those days. Besides, only in a tuba-playing family would I be allowed the unquestioned leeway to make a move of such grand prodigality on an instrument I had no designs of ever playing professionally.
So I made that move. And it’s possibly the main reason the tuba continues to surface in my life. You’d be surprised at how many people tell me they used to play tuba in high school, their eyes softening with fondness and even a tinge of regret. When I ask why they don’t anymore, the most frequent answer is that they don’t have a horn.
At last I understood: what I felt as fate is in fact agency. It was my hand that wrote “tuba” on the paper indicating which instrument I wanted to play, all those years ago. I sought out TubaChristmases to participate in when I was geographically distant from my family. I pitched the idea of a tuba column to McSweeney’s in their annual column contest. And yes, I gave myself a gift more generous than my sixteen year-old self could ever have realized, for if she had, she probably wouldn’t have done it. She would have been more practical and told herself she really liked choir more anyway, so why bother?
Instead she saw that life was handing her tubas, so she made music.
Winnie the Pooh is a diabetic, easily-angered man in his fifties who stocks shelves during the night at a Walmart in Ohio.
Tom is an iguana and Jerry is a hippopotamus. They are working though a divorce.
Garfield is Kierkegaard re-incarnated as a chihuahua with an eating disorder. Odie is a blueberry muffin.
Betty and Veronica are two halves of the same person, but only on weekends.
Mickey Mouse is a spider monkey on meth.
Spongebob Squarepants is a manifestation of all your shattered childhood dreams. Patrick is a lamp post.
Pikachu is an eloquent orator who chooses not to speak in full, clear sentences as a protest of human rights injustices.
Bugs Bunny is a HUGE David Foster Wallace fan.
Scooby-Doo is a 26-year-old mother of three currently enrolled at a community college Massage Therapy program. Shaggy is her AA coach.
Suede Self-Latching Drone Door
A faint gush of wind billows the curtains, and we huddle closer beside the fire, listening to the pop of chestnuts and crackle of first snow melting from the roof. We haven’t left the house in days, our damp skin thirsting for something more than the outside world. “Let’s pretend,” I say. He chuckles. The blossoming gray like a New England morning in his beard catches my eye. “Pretend what?” he whispers, leaning closer. Just then, I hear a mechanical murmur from the back door downstairs. I take his hand in mine, perspiration pooling in the cup of my palm, as the sound grows closer. “Oh my god, oh my fucking god, he’s back, we’re going to die.”
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Norwegian Man and the Sea Prismatic
Navigational Drone Compass
A pregnant hush descends over the fire, just our two beating hearts matching the rhythm of that classic Platters song—"Only you can make the world seem right, only you can make the darkness bright"—spinning on a solid-wood vintage turntable inlaid with rose gold accents and the distant memory of pipe tobacco. He says, “TURN OFF THE FUCKING MUSIC! He’ll hear us, oh god he’ll hear us.” My toile poncho twirls a rotund azure-and-cream as I rush to the turntable. “Ow! Goddamnit, Jesus Christ, I tripped on that goddamn Edwardian brass fire screen with the romantic lattice ironwork grate!” His rugged face glows in a sliver of moonlight sneaking through the window. “Goddamnit, Eilene, he already knows where we are…” His eyes go glassy like a diamond-shaped provincial French mirror. He continues, “He will always know where we are.”
Solid brass compass comes in wooden bow with indestructible, laser-sharp brass fittings. Made in India.
Pair of Hanging Bracket Cottage Drone Lamps
The antique spiral radiator purrs a melodic electric surge, warming the room, and I smooth my hands over my Deja Vu Military Capris. “Oooh, brrrrr,” I purr back, the last embers from our fire twinkling in the ash. “Are you fucking serious, Eilene? Brrrrr? We’re going to die, and you’re sitting over here saying, brrrrr?” I put a finger to my plump Mochaccino lips and say, “At least I’m saying fucking something, Frank!” He peers out the window like Galileo on a starry night, a stray smudge of soot casually adorning his 1930s Nantucket Advanced Shawl Pullover. “At least he can’t see us in the dark,” he utters with an elusive grin. A glint of wild light sneaks up from the Southern Plantation Staircase, two sensuous orbs on the prowl. He turns to me, his face pale like a resilient Connemara pony overstuffed with Irish soda bread. “You fucking got him lights, didn’t you.” My eyes wander casually around the room. “That’s just fine,” he says. “That is just one fine way to die.” I fall to my knees, which are cushioned by the Indigenous Five-loom Kokopeli Area Rug. “Why the hell did we get our own personal drone in the first place!” I shriek to the blackened, tone-deaf heavens.
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I’m still reeling from the death of Robin Williams as I write this draft, so I guess my mind drifted to another comic we lost much too young: Mitch Hedberg.
For some reason, it took me awhile to appreciate Hedberg, but once I tuned in to his unique energy, like so many others, I was hooked. That man was a one-liner factory and a comic treasure: an utterly unique artist who was an expert in making people happy—and making them look at stuff they take for granted in new ways.
Hedberg was a master of questioning everyday things and finding or creating a story about them, usually an absurd one: “I wanted to buy a candleholder, but the store didn’t have one, so I got a cake.” I can never see a certain hotel without thinking of this joke: “I can’t tell you what hotel I’m staying at, but there are two trees involved.” Some of his jokes have a mathematical precision, like this one, which should be part of the kindergarten curriculum: “I like Kit Kats unless I’m with four or more people.” His comparisons are unforgettable: “Wearing a turtleneck is like being strangled by a really weak guy…all day.” We’ve all heard that alcoholism is a disease, but only Hedberg thought to notice: “…it’s the only disease that you can get yelled at for having.” That should be in the DSM-V.
Hedberg’s demeanor was half his charm, or maybe more than half. So many comics, especially male comics, take residence somewhere in the neighborhood of Asshole City. If you can sit through more than three male comedians at an open mic, your stamina surpasses mine. Hedberg, on the other hand, delivered his jokes with a smile and a bounce, like a hippie elf from Mars who is simply delighted with our weird world of candles and hotels and turtlenecks. When he said, “I got my hair highlighted because I thought some strands were more important than others,” it’s not a mean guy making fun of dumb hair treatments. It’s that hippie Martian elf celebrating the silliness of every damn thing we do.
Writing-wise, Hedberg is most like Steven Wright, who also has an unusual delivery, but one that is pitch black rather than tie-dyed. I wish we could pluck Hedberg out of the space-time continuum and ask him to deliver Wright’s jokes, then ask Wright to deliver Hedberg’s jokes. How much would hit and how much would miss? What would Wright’s gravel do to Hedberg’s lunacy? What would Hedberg’s gleam do to Wright’s lunacy? At the very least, someone should make a Hedberg/Wright comic book. Hey, Archie Andrews once teamed up with the Punisher, so why not?
Anyway, for Hedberg’s Best Joke Ever, I have to go with his escalator joke, which is:
“I like escalators, because an escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. There would never be an “Escalator temporarily out of order” sign, only an “Escalator temporarily stairs. Sorry for the convenience.”
The beauty of this joke is that it sticks with you forever, objectively making your life better. Once you’ve heard the joke, I defy you to see a broken escalator and not think of it. This is an accomplishment: to write and tell a joke that can get in people’s heads and cheer them up during one of life’s annoying little moments.
I’m far from the first to compare Hedberg’s jokes to Zen koans, but they really are similar in form, and they can serve a similar purpose. As I understand it, a koan is a meditation tool designed to get your mind out of a logical place and wake you up to the world around you. Hedberg’s jokes do the same: I feel like they make my brain work better. They pierce through my daily haze of annoyance with little nuggets of delight. I wish to hell Hedberg had resisted the drugs that killed him, but his jokes are like the best drug ever invented. Maybe laughter really is the best medicine.
E. I Knew You Were Trouble
Taylor Swift Song: E
Positive Integer: B, D, F
Both: A, C
TREND ALERT! COOL KIDS ARE LETTING THEIR PARENTS COME AND VISIT FOR A WEEK!
Heard about that new trend all the Cool Kids are doing?
Yessir, the hip thing this year for young people who’ve moved away is to invite their parents to come and visit for a week!
These kids say it’s the perfect opportunity to entertain guests, catch up on family news—and to have those long, drawn-out conversations young people just love to have with their parents. You know, about the job search or why they’re not married yet and whether they’ve put on a few pounds since graduation.
“You’re just getting older,” parents like to reassure them. “It happens to everybody.”
And parents say they have story after story to tell from back home: Like about that kid from school their child never really knew but whose parents still keep in contact with everyone from the ol’ PTA.
Sources who were at the grocery store last week suggest those parents just came back from a week-long visit with this kid—and that they can’t stop talking about what a swell time they had!
“Oh, doing wonderful,” one parent told them. “Couldn’t be better. Just started at this financially lucrative, high-profile job in the entertainment business. And next year we’re all set to go back for the wedding. What’s your child doing?”
Parents will later tell their children that they didn’t know how they should respond, exactly. "So I just told them you were still finding yourself—which is perfectly natural at your age.”
But it’s not just parents from school. Ones from church and book club are making the trip, too. And those parents agree that the value isn’t just about meeting their kids’ new friends or finding out about their new lives (because someone doesn’t update their Facebook page like they used to). No, these parents say there’s mounting evidence that they have a lot of advice to give today’s youth about the job market, too!
Most parents, for example, recently read an article about that man who founded Twitter. Or maybe it was another one of those internet companies. And it might not be the founder either. But the article did say something about how this person was involved with the apps or something. And how he made all this money. And that lots of young people are making money in the Internet. And if that’s something a young go-getter is interested in, maybe they should think about calling the Twitter people or whoever it was for a job.
“Because my child fixed our computer last Christmas and would be perfect at all that,” says every parent. “Just perfect.”
Parents also say that they understand the job scene isn’t always so hot for recent college grads (what with the economy and 9/11 and everything). So if their pride-and-joy needs to step out for an interview or something, parents say they can just entertain themselves for a spell. Heck, who knows: Maybe they can just “hang” with their kids’ roommates and talk about “whatever”!
Of course, if their kids do have a job (and it’s not too much of a bother), parents say they’d just love to pop by and see the place. They insist their child’s coworkers would get a kick out of hearing one story after another about how wonderful their kid is, and what they were like as a child—and how long their mother was in labor—and why they think their child deserves a raise (if not outright wonder aloud “why they don’t just put you in charge”).
Jobs aside, however, parents say there’s a more serious reason for these trips to the Big, Bad City—and that’s to check on their child’s safety.
“Because this one time, Walter Cronkite did a story about where you live,” parents will say. “And it was about this young person, who was about your age, and who came here right after college. And how it wasn’t long before this person was mugged and beaten and murdered and they didn’t find the body for days. And it just upset the parents so. And I think the child was a writer or musician or something, too. And the report just talked about how awful crime was here and how it was just rampant, and no one had any solutions—even though I’m sure it’s perfectly safe nowadays and that you would do nothing wrong.”
But the biggest benefit of all from these visits? That free dinner parents like to buy their kids. Parents say expense is no option. And that maybe the whole family can go to this place the parents saw on the cooking show they like to watch. Because this one episode had this chef who ran this restaurant that’s in the very same city—and the food just looked so good and everybody there seemed to be having such a great time.
“It starts with an ‘L’ or it has an ‘L’ in it,” they say. “You know the one.”
And of course their child does. Because their child knows everything.
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 Speedy Ortiz 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 their Facebook page, superpowers and deep dish pizza.
826 CHICAGO: So I was looking on your Facebook page, what is snack rock?
SADIE DUPUIS: We try to snack as much as possible in between the rocking that we have to do, like you guys. You just had pizza, so you guys are more snack rock than us right now. We only play places with good snacks—that’s important. You can only rock out with good snacks.
826 CHICAGO: How do you feel while performing?
SADIE DUPUIS: I like it; it makes me feel really good so I’m happy we get to do it a lot. Totally in my own.
DEVIN McKNIGHT: Like 1000 doves, 999 doves. Crying. Everything’s crying around me when I play.
826 CHICAGO: What’s one of the biggest things you guys had to overcome to get where you are today?
SADIE DUPUIS: We all had jobs we were working, and at some point, we had to take a chance and say should we keep our jobs and play when we can, or should we just try to go play music all the time and see how it works? We took a chance and it’s been working out so far.
826 CHICAGO: Who farts the most on tour?
DARL FERM: Me. I fart the most on tour. Yeah, it’s not even a question. They don’t smell bad. It’s just frequent. I mean, I eat Raisin Bran so… that was probably the best interview question we’ve ever had, by the way, and it’s so telling. I just like to be honest in interviews.
826 CHICAGO: Why’d you write a song about Taylor Swift?
SADIE DUPUIS: The song was written before it had a title. It’s not about Taylor Swift. After the fact, we were sitting around in the studio and we were like “this song is kinda like how Taylor Swift has all these boyfriends, maybe it would be funny to name it that.”
826 CHICAGO: How does Massachusetts compare to Chicago?
SADIE DUPUIS: You guys have better comic books. Our winters are less miserable but still sort of miserable. You guys have Big Star. I like that place a lot. We have the ocean, but you guys have the lake. It’s one of the best cities ever.
826 CHICAGO: Do we have good snacks here?
SADIE DUPUIS: Chicago Diner. I love that place
826 CHICAGO: Do you guys like deep-dish pizza?
DEVIN McKNIGHT: The deepest dishes. Yeah, the more burnt the crust, the better.
SADIE DUPUIS: I like the super thin crust.
DEVIN McKNIGHT: A house divided cannot stand. This band is over.
826 CHICAGO: Do you have any embarrassing facts about each other?
SADIE DUPUIS: Devin snores a bunch. I have a tail
DARL FERM: She has a tail and she doesn’t like deep dish.
826 CHICAGO: So you have a picture of Treetrunks from Adventure Time on your Facebook page. Does Treetrunks represent anything?
SADIE DUPUIS: She throws a really good wedding party and she’s got some jewels.
DARL FERM: She’s got the sass that we identify with.
SADIE DUPUIS: She made a good pick with Mr. Pig.
826 CHICAGO: If you guys could have any superpower, what would it be?
DARL FERM: To make people puke on command.
DEVIN McKNIGHT: Definitely to fly. I like to take my time.
826 CHICAGO: So there are two pills: a red pill and a blue pill. The red will make you have the voice of an angel and people will cry when you sing and the blue will let you be able to play every instrument on earth from the trumpet to the pan flute, which do you take?
DEVIN McKNIGHT: The second one definitely, the pan flute. If I could go from pan flute to bongos back to pan flute to like the wind chime I’d be the man.
DARL FERM: I wanna master the gong, so yeah.
SADIE DUPUIS: I can’t believe that wasn’t a Matrix question. Red pill obviously.
826 CHICAGO: Would you rather not be able to tell the difference between a baby and a muffin or switch genders when you sneeze?
SADIE DUPUIS: Switch genders. I wouldn’t want to accidentally eat a baby and I’m cool with both genders.
DARL FERM: I always sneeze twice so I’d just switch back.
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, Dragon 2 Shapes
Submitted by Vivian Wagner
OK, a few confessions: I didn’t know this was what I bought. I thought I was buying Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, REGULAR shapes. I’m not proud of the fact that I buy Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner, eat it, and love it, but it’s the truth. Another confession: I have no idea what Dragon 2 is. Or what the shapes are supposed to be, though I’m guessing dragons of some kind. And finally: I didn’t eat this. I threw it out. It was that bad.
See, I boiled the noodles like normal, without at first noticing the strange shapes. I boiled them for seven minutes, something I’ve known how to do since I was seven. In fact, I was thinking about how long I’ve known how to cook Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner while I cooked it.
After seven minutes, I poured the noodles out into the colander like normal, and that’s when I noticed the shapes. Weird shapes. Shapes that made me think of twisty worms or growths. If they had looked like dragons, that would have at least been something. And they were white and hard, not glistening with the sense of promise I’d come to expect from Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner. I poured them back into the pan and studied them. They were clearly not cooked. But I’d cooked them seven minutes! I looked at the box—the first time I’ve had to look at the box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner since I was seven—and that’s when I saw it: “Cook 11 to 12 min., or until done.”
It was too late. They were inedible. So I ran to the store and got real Kraft Macaroni & Cheese Dinner. It made me happy. End of story.
Epic Bar: Turkey with Almonds & Cranberries
Submitted by Kelly E. Spivey
I’m a very healthy person. I drink raw juice blends every day, take blue green algae shots like a champ, and carry around an immune-boosting herbal tincture for those days when I’m feeling a little listless. That’s when I’m not devouring burgers National Geographic-style and shoving fistfuls of candy bars down my throat like some kind of post-meal chaser.
I also have a penchant for “energy bars,” or in other words, health food disguised as junk food. It is the perfect marriage of my fantasy of being a healthy person and my true desire to be a fat slob. Enter the EPIC bar. This was a departure from my usual chocolate and peanut butter laden flavors in an effort to seem diplomatic. Epically so.
Let’s begin with the Game of Thrones-esque packaging. The words EPIC are spelled out in bold underneath some sort of faux-looking tribal caveman symbol you might find tattooed on any guy in a sleeveless cut off shirt around 1999. This is next to a Thomas Kinkade-worthy illustration of whatever animal you have chosen—I went with what seemed to be the safest: turkey. Other offerings include bison, beef, and lamb. While the bar promises to be not only gluten, soy, and milk free, it also claims to be:
“. . .inspired by the simple yet highly powerful diets of our ancestors. The same diets that have driven human innovation, inspired creativity, and fueled over 100,000 years of brilliant evolution.”
I wasn’t aware that my addictions to gluten, soy, and dairy were holding me back from the Picasso-like brilliance I could have been displaying all these years. If only I had known. If you’re starting to sense a tone of anger, it could possibly be due to the fact that the word EPIC is on this package no less than nine times. No food that comes in bar form and is not made of chocolate can possibly be that epic. At least not nine times over.
I chose the Turkey flavor because I hoped the combination of turkey, almonds, and cranberry would ease me into the EPIC line of flavors to come. It would be like Thanksgiving, except I wouldn’t have to unbutton my pants immediately after (or during) eating. I hoped.
The first bar I opened was moldy. As fuck. I first thought that maybe it was supposed to be covered with a coating of white, not unlike what appears on the outside of a well-aged soft cheese. Perhaps this was a test of my mettle. Quickly, I decided this was probably not the case and went back into the sea of moms in workout gear at my local Whole Foods to exchange it for another. The second bar looked normal. If that’s what you can call a very slightly misshapen piece of meat-like substance that looks like a high quality dog treat. After two trips to Whole Foods, I was determined not to look back now.
The smell should have been my first warning. It had a subtle, oniony-garlicky smell, which immediately made me suspicious. Where was my Thanksgiving-meal-in-a-bar? I took a bite. The texture was like nothing I’ve ever tasted. And I was a vegan for three years. I had seen and tasted things most people would (and should) shy away from. There was definitely something to chew but I got the sense the texture was created in the way a three-year-old draws their family—with pride and a total lack of understanding what people really look like. If there had been a turkey involved in this monstrosity, it had been chased, caught and had the living hell beat out of it long before it was ground down to be included in this poor substitute for Thanksgiving-on-the-go. Occasionally there were what I can only describe as “meaty fibers” that appeared, which indicated meat had in fact, at one point, been added but this was just confusing and more upsetting. The only flavor I could taste was the onion and garlic. I saw the cranberries. I chewed on the cranberries. I did not taste the cranberries. Almonds seemed non-existent. I got about halfway through before finally realizing that the only thing “epic” about this bar was how bad it was.
I should have just cut my losses, owned up to my shame, and bought a Snickers at the gas station on the way home.
Camel Balls Bubble Gum (Extra Sour)
Submitted by Mara Altman
My friend’s Central Park potluck picnic was upon me. I didn’t want to bring the ordinary massaged kale or tub of hummus; I wanted to delight and fright people. So I went to a novelty shop and found the perfect item: a box of Camel Balls Bubble Gum. The packaging depicts a desert-scape with a dromedary—a one-hump camel—mischievously looking over its shoulder in the direction of its rather conspicuous scrotum. Just beneath the gonads reads the phrase, LIQUID FILLED. To the left is a drawing of the product: a brown oval with a red gooey center. It looked like a Toucan miscarriage and/or something that Marina Abramovic might use as confetti.
Buying the balls was clearly a life-of-the-party move. This was going to be legendary. The potluck goers, lauding me for bringing something edgy yet functional, would all say, “Holy crap, Mara, how’d you find something so edgy yet functional?” There would be high-fives, laughter, and a hook to enable radical and taboo discourse like vasectomy reversals, canine neutering, and whether or not polyethylene was causing boobs to grow in adolescent boys.
I arrived one-hour into the festivities and pulled the box of Camel Balls from my purse, pointed to it and shouted “Camel Balls!”
The box was not torn excitedly from my hands. I waited. Waited. Nothing. No one even mentioned jock itch. I was wondering when everyone decided to get so darn mature.
Right then, I felt a pinch in my lower abdomen. Was that the sensation of my ovaries growing crow’s feet? Whoops, silly me, I think that was just a hunger pang.
Another two hours passed and the Camel Balls remained untouched. People were busy opening up the 23rd tub of red-pepper-flavored hummus. So I brought the box to the center of the blanket and unwrapped it myself. Inside, each gumball was individually packaged. I discussed the finer points to anyone within earshot: “These balls are safe to chew.” “These balls never get blue.” “These get you pregnant with happy.”
Yes, I’ve already fully investigated it, rewinds can’t happen in real life.
One hour later, I left with all of the Camel Balls rolling around loosely at the bottom of my purse.
On the subway ride home, I had a lot of balls and nothing to lose. So I tore into one. The gumball was the size of a robin’s egg and had the glossy sheen of something 100% inedible. So I popped it in my mouth. When my teeth sunk in to it, the flavor leeched out: sweet and sour bursts that made my brows crinkle and my eyes squint. The intense artificial sugary flavor was nostalgic. It tasted a bit like being invited to a game of spin the bottle, but only to watch. The flavor dissipated rapidly. Ta-da, all of a sudden it felt like I’d attempted to snack on Elmer’s adhesive putty. I spit out the rubbery wad shortly thereafter. Overall, the gum was gross. So I put another one in my mouth. What else to do? This was clearly my karma: to wind up alone, sucking on camel balls.
번데기 (Beondegi, canned)
Submitted by Amy Wright
Silkworm pupae are not a new food in Asia. Considering the Silk Road winds back to a legend in the 27th century BC that the fourteen-year-old Empress Leizu unwound a spool of thread from a cocoon fallen into her teacup, both trade and snack may have emerged simultaneously and scented with jasmine. But I was raised on the milk of Holsteins and the beef of Black Angus, so this red-and-yellow can covered in Hangul script was new to me.
Beondegi, boiled or steamed and seasoned, are widely available from South Korean street vendors, but fresh delicacies in Nashville are as hard to come by as a record deal. The clerks in the Asian and International Markets shook their heads when we asked for them, and in one case, led us to the bait and tackle section of the store.
But we persevered.
Unafraid of cultural bifurcations wherein “me” becomes “you” and something I scrunch my nose at, I offered my best shy southern smile to the man behind the pungent counter where slabs of fresh eel were laid out like the steaks I was raised on. Over their dead bodies, Don and I asked if they sold any insects, the corners of my mouth upturned as if to say, “Friend, in every measurable way we are different, but let not that divide our mutual love of arthropods. Where do you keep the goods?”
Nothing. You’d think we were asking him for Moon Pies, which I saw in hot pink version by the door. We were on our own, white-skinned minorities in a foreign land trying to fit in.
A can, tucked between the lemongrasses and pepper pastes, bore a picture of what looked like glistening—if grayish—headless beetles. I was thrilled. Having already eaten crickets, mealworms, wax moth larvae, and cicadas, I looked forward to trying another species of amino acid-rich protein.
My foray into the world of entomophagy (the human consumption of insects) was prompted by Marcel Dicke’s TedTalk, which proposes mini-livestock as an alternative to the traditional variety that’s choking our natural resources. Encouraged by the possibility of conserving some of the waterways siphoned for corporate agriculture, I tracked down an entomologist at our local university to interview. Thanks to Don and me being single and uncommonly attracted to the cricket mushroom risotto we prepared the following evening, a relationship was born on the wings of forward-thinking culinary ventures. Our own sustainability, though, would be tested when he cracked open this odiferous can.
I will not claim silkworm pupae are unpalatable any more than I would judge pork inedible based on Scrapple, but I will say what tasted like bite-sized turkey livers steeped in formaldehyde did not lend over-easy romance to our stir fry.
“Maybe fresh with onions and butter,” I said chewing thoughtfully.
“No.” Don said, “There is no disguising this flavor.” His green eyes lost their luster. Fortunately, he recovered his wits and plucked some mint leaves from his herb garden to cleanse our palates. He also had the foresight to buy chocolate coconut milk ice cream, which he spooned into pale turquoise dishes and carried to the patio where a breeze could rinse the acrid smell from our noses.
“And I bought two cans!” he remembered. However, he didn’t risk ending our fledgling courtship; he fed the stuff to chickens. The birds scarfed up the insects, but not before nosing them in the dirt as if to let them soak up the soup of monosodium glutamate they came in. Our species had more in common than we thought. We both apparently over-process, or as my grandmother would say, “cook to death” anything.
XOJO In-Game Protein Drink
Submitted by Alison Satterlee
I don’t know if XOJO In-Game Protein Drink actually exists outside of the prototype that my copywriter girlfriend gave me to try. “The creators wanted us to use their preferred slogan, ‘smooth protein gliding down your throat,’" she said. “We told them that was a bad idea.”
I demanded she bring me a sample. With a slogan like that I just couldn’t refuse. To my delight, a couple of months later she brought home a bottle XOJO “In-Game Protein: White Grape Flavor” Drink from a work meeting.
Before I fully describe the, indeed, “smooth” texture of XOJO, let me describe the packaging. XOJO looks like your average sports drink, but it has more writing on the label than a bottle of Oxycodone. Fearing eye strain, I managed to read in ant-sized font warning not to “chug” XOJO, but rather drink about a quarter of the bottle every 15-20 minutes during your workout (that the bottle assumes will consist of “strenuous exercise”). Even though the dishwater colored liquid inside was essentially clear, further writing on the minuscule lime-colored label indicated that XOJO is derived from milk and soy, hence the slippery protein contained within. Call me old-fashioned, but I like my dairy products opaque like God intended.
I chose to take sips of XOJO as a chaser to vodka. I am clearly not XOJO’s intended consumer.
XOJO is incredibly smooth. It does not have the chalky, gritty, or otherwise previously powdered texture of other protein drinks. However, most other protein drinks manage to taste pretty convincingly like chocolate, not concentrated ball sweat, so there you go. Like a fine wine, XOJO has an evolving flavor profile. It starts off strong, sweet, and earnestly grape-flavored. Then it takes an immediate nosedive into aforementioned ball-sweat territory. There are surprisingly few ingredients in XOJO and one of them is salt. Apparently a lot of salt, which is strategically hidden behind a wave of sucralose that manages to hit your tongue first only to be followed by mighty salty backwash. XOJO has the strange effect of feeling like thick water but totally sucks all the moisture from your mouth, perhaps a test of your mettle to abide by the label and only drink a quarter of it at a time. Maybe XOJO just isn’t meant to be ingested at all. It did smell faintly rotten, like it had been blooming in the sun a few too many hours.
I can’t say the experience was a great one, though I do feel as if now I can accurately describe what drinking a bottle of post-nasal-drip would be like. And I don’t even necessarily feel lucky to taste XOJO before its somewhat inevitable demise but I definitely don’t regret the experience. I rate it somewhere between bacon-flavored jellybeans and salt-covered licorice.
Thunderbird Energetica Cacao Hemp Walnut Bar
Submitted by Stephanie Frazee
If the name of this energy bar (aka “The Ancient Champion Bar”) didn’t turn me off, the packaging should have. The list of attributes cluttering the label include:
- Certified Gluten-Free (Who certifies these things? What kind of job is that?)
- Verified Non-GMO (Do these people talk about their work on first dates? Do they get second dates?)
- Soy-free (In truth, a turn-on for me because I am allergic—fun fact!)
- Raw (I feel like this trend should have been over by 2012 at the latest.)
- No added sugar (Of course. I would expect nothing less from the weary-eyed bird flying vigil across the label.)
- All natural (No shit?!)
- Agave-free (Is this a good thing?)
- Compostable wrapper (Oops, it’s in the landfill by now.)
- Vegan (I’m starting to think the good folks at Thunderbird may take themselves a bit too seriously.)
- Shaman-blessed (Seriously.)
- With mint (Flavor? What madness is this?)
The mint tasted good, but I had to work to detect it behind all the general earthiness. The rest of the bar was a sticky, medicinal vehicle for the hint of peppermint. I was genuinely surprised it was so bad, which probably tells you a lot about me as a person. I was expecting something akin to a Larabar, which is a level of dates-mixed-with-whatever kind of mouth-magic few can hope to achieve. Thunderbird did not achieve. It took me an hour to eat it, or I should say, to get through it. I dedicate myself to the cause. Or maybe I am just psychotic.
I should have prefaced this review by telling you that I was fourteen weeks pregnant when I purchased and ingested this rectangular alloy of FDA-approved food-grade ingredients. The first trimester did some disturbing things to my taste buds, such as making me crave glasses of milk. Just plain milk—not chocolate. I shudder to think. But I was largely over that by week fourteen.
I wish I could blame a strange pregnancy craving on my decision to spend $2.50 on this 1.7-ounce bar. But I can’t. It would be unfair to my unborn child to saddle him or her with this burden at such an early age. No, I must take responsibility for it. I chose to purchase it despite the myriad warnings on the label. I chose to eat it despite my gag reflex. I chose to purchase two because they were two for $5.00. I chose to ignore the fact that I could have bought an entire box of granola bars that would not stick to my teeth like desiccated tar for that same amount.
To Thunderbird’s credit, the Cherry Walnut Crunch bar (aka “The Anti-Inflammatory Bar”) was much more tolerable. Either that, or my tastebuds had already been destroyed to the extent that I almost enjoyed it. Watching me eat it, my husband asked whether people who ate things like that all the time developed such low taste expectations that their minds would be completely blown by the amount of flavor in something like a Cheeto. I didn’t say what I was thinking, which was that I might actually destroy someone to trade that bar for a single, glowing-orange Cheeto.
On Tap Liquid Beer Enhancers
Submitted by Sam Slaughter
I, of the slightly snobby beer ways, had put off spending money on the On Tap beer additives (excuse me, “Liquid Beer Enhancers”) for as long as I could. I was scared of them. It was something about the word additive that did it, I think. How could a Mio-esque squirting device make common draft beer taste like craft beer, as the company claims? How too, could it regulate which crappy beer one was drinking and make it automatically taste like the two flavors the company offers, American Ale and Pale Ale? Curiosity getting the best of me, I gave in and bought both.
The principle is simple enough. Take a syrup, add it to something that tastes terrible, and voila: better-tasting whatever it is. I like this principle. I like it enough that I have a consistent supply of things like Country Time mix in my kitchen cabinets. While I waited somewhat eagerly for my On Taps to come, I wondered, could that principle translate to beer? Would it make the jump?
I had high hopes for On Tap. I really did. I was a little giddy when the enhancers finally arrived in the mail. I was ready. Craft beer could wait if this wondrous invention would really do what it said.
In order to truly test the mettle of On Tap, I decided an experiment was in order. I felt dirty doing it, but I walked out of the 7-Eleven that day with tall boys of Schlitz, Icehouse, Bud Heavy and Hurricane malt liquor. I thought about involving PBR, but I didn’t want to sully its grand name—too many nights had been spent curled around an icy can of the Blue Ribbon.
Upon popping the tops of the On Tap containers, I was met with two very distinct scents. The American Ale smelled like...
Longreads Performance Artist
Chimes in with alarmingly opinionated musings in the comments sections of popular articles, thereby commenting on current Comment Culture.
Intensifies and lends narrative power to tweets with original two-note scores. (Tweettrack Composers earn an average of .00000001 percent of a cent per retweet.)
Hunts far and wide for up-and-coming emotions and their chubby cartoon analogues way before people even begin to feel them. Vintage Emoji Scavengers create new icons for old-school feelings such as “besmirched,” and “pleased as punch” to diversify patrons’ expression portfolios.
Takes photographs of people at angles which imply they took them themselves, still making their arms look skinny but their faces less wrinkly. Adds digital enticements in post such as 4-D nail art, background bedroom furniture staging, and tattoos of Aztec proverbs in Thai script.
Transforms the rarely-revisited stills and videos of patrons’ children into a feature-length Boyhood-esque film, providing ancillary career opportunities for conservatory-trained Ethan Hawke impersonators.
Analyzes personal electronic correspondence for emotional parity. Patrons with moms who end emails with, “Love You Lots and Lots!” will be, for instance, given a list of fresh yet similarly enthusiastic closers such as “xoxoxoxox” to use in forthcoming missives.
Converts high-priority business emails into quizzes that colleagues will actually read (and perhaps even share with their friends!) Varieties include open-ended (Which Meeting Time Are You?) and multiple choice (Which Team Player Are You?*).
* Rigged to always answer “Coolatta Fetcher.”
Cyrano de Sexter
Writes steamy and cliché-free daily sexts for prospects and lovers, and highly specific and flattering “complitexts” inspired by recipients’ Pinterest boards for spouses and other post-sexual types.
Selects the ten best photos from the thousand or so that the average patron takes each day to post on Instagram. Digitally adds six-dozen flowers, a fourth kid, a seventh abdominal muscle, or a Tesla to envy porn. Adds fresh pepper to food porn. (In the case of patrons who do not document their own lives comprehensively, refurbished photos from the Instagram accounts of people who have died, or who are technically alive but no longer on social media, can be used.)
Wedding Proposal Viral Video Planner
Coordinates up to 750 cast members across up to 20 locations to deliver the spontaneous and romantic “I do” video of patrons’ dreams. Packages normally include eight to ten meme-worthy GIFs culled from the video and social support as patrons cycle from anonymous nobodies to Today Show guests to anonymous nobodies.
Tinder Oil Cloner
Paints hyper-realistic portraits of Tinder profile pics with such verisimilitude that patrons are guaranteed to get the same number of right swipes as before.
War is a fact of human nature. As long as we exist, it exists. That’s how the argument goes.
But longtime Scientific American writer John Horgan disagrees. Applying the scientific method to war leads Horgan to a radical conclusion: biologically speaking, we are just as likely to be peaceful as violent. War is not preordained, and furthermore, it should be thought of as a solvable, scientific problem—like curing cancer. But war and cancer differ in at least one crucial way: whereas cancer is a stubborn aspect of nature, war is our creation. It’s our choice whether to unmake it or not.
In The End of War, Horgan examines dozens of examples and counterexamples—chimpanzees and bonobos, warring and peaceful indigenous people, World War I and Vietnam, Margaret Mead and General Sherman—as he finds his way to war’s complicated origins. Horgan argues for a far-reaching paradigm shift with profound implications for policy students, ethicists, military men and women, teachers, philosophers, or really, any engaged citizen.
The End of War is now out in resplendent paperback form, with a brand new introduction by Douglas Fry. You can pick up a copy at your local independent bookstore, or here at the McSweeney’s Store. Recently, Horgan wrote about the book for the Scientific American Blog Network.
War Is Our Most Urgent Problem.
Let’s Solve It
Is there a more urgent problem in the world today than war? And when I say “war” in this post, I mean also militarism, the culture of war, the armies, arms, industries, policies, plans, propaganda, prejudices, rationalizations that make lethal group conflict not only possible but also likely.
My answer to the above question: No, there is no more urgent problem than war. Not climate change, pollution, overpopulation, oppression, poverty, inequality, hunger, disease.
If you seek solutions to any of these problems, you should also devote at least some effort to ending war, for several reasons. First, war exacerbates or perpetuates our other problems, either directly or by draining precious resources away from their solution. War subverts democracy and promotes tyranny and fanaticism; kills and sickens and impoverishes people; ravages nature. War is a keystone problem, the eradication of which would make our other social problems much more tractable.
Second, war is more readily solvable than many other human afflictions. War is not like a hurricane, earthquake or Ebola plague, a natural disaster foisted on us by forces beyond our control. War is entirely our creation, the product of human choices. War could end tomorrow if a relatively small group of people around the world chose to end it.
Third, more than any of our other problems, war represents a horrific moral crime. Particularly when carried out by the U.S. and other nations, or by groups that aspire to or claim the legitimacy of states, war makes hypocrites of us and makes a mockery of human progress. We cannot claim to be civilized as long as war or even the threat of war persists.
Yes, annual war casualties have declined sharply since the cataclysmic first half of the 20th century. Over the last few decades, war has killed far fewer people than cancer or automobile accidents. But in our heavily—and nuclear—armed world, war is a few decisions away from becoming exponentially more destructive. And even the killing of a single child by a U.S. drone, Israeli rocket or Syrian tank is an abomination that corrupts us all.
I wrote The End of War, which is being published today in paperback by McSweeney’s, to start a conversation about why we fight and how we can stop. The new edition includes a forward by anthropologist Douglas Fry, an authority on warfare, and an index. The End of War addresses in a sustained, concise fashion topics that I’ve written about over the past few years on this blog and elsewhere.
While writing The End of War, I sometimes fretted that war might end before my book was published, rendering it obsolete. That’s a bad joke, especially today, as war rages in Syria, Ukraine, Gaza, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, which the U.S. is bombing once again.
Our biggest challenge is making the transition from our world, which is still armed and dangerous, to a world in which war and even the threat of war have vanished. I am not an absolute pacifist. If someone attacks me or a loved one—or even a stranger–I would do my best to stop him. Sometimes violence is morally justified, even necessary, to thwart greater violence.
So the question is, how should we react to lethal group violence when it erupts in the world today? How, for example, should the U.S. have reacted to the 9/11 attacks? Or to the current advances of ISIS militants in Iraq? How should Palestinians react to Israeli violence, and vice versa? How should Russia respond to violent unrest in Ukraine?
My answer is that nations and other groups should act in a manner consistent with the ultimate goal of eradicating war once and for all. This is what I call the “end-of-war rule,” which I spell out in more detail in The End of War. My own country, the U.S., is the world’s most egregious violator of the end-of-war rule, and not only because over the past dozen years Americans have waged two major wars that have killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. The U.S. also maintains by far the biggest military in the world, in terms of spending, and it is the biggest arms dealer.
According to surveys I’ve carried out for more than a decade, the overwhelming majority of people view war as inevitable, a permanent feature of human existence. This fatalistic outlook is wrong, both empirically and morally. Empirically because it contradicts what science and history tell us about war. Morally because it perpetuates war by discouraging us from seeking solutions.
Even the most cynical fatalists, if asked whether they would prefer to live in a world without war, say, Of course! Every sane person wants peace. If you disagree with me about why wars happen and how we can end them, I’d love to hear your ideas. If we all join together in pursuing the end of war, we will surely succeed, not in some hazy, distant future but soon.
1. Which of the following best describes how you listen to music?
a) On my Zune. Stop laughing.
b) I tolerate whatever’s playing on the radio or at Starbucks.
c) On my iTouch.
d) You mean some people have music not on an iPhone?
e) White earbuds + Spotify = My Happy Place.
2. Have you ever visited an Apple Store?
a) Hell, no.
b) No, but I’ve been to the Genius Bar.
c) Yes, I’ve shopped there.
d) I work in one.
e) I plan my travel around visiting Apple Stores in foreign countries.
3. Where do you get your news about Apple?
a) I try to avoid it.
b) The business section of the newspaper.
c) From that one hardcore fan every group of friends seems to have.
d) Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and sometimes Google Plus, #duh.
e) Daily Download.
4. Which of the following best describes your first Apple computer?
a) Never had one.
b) I didn’t jump on board until everything went aluminum.
c) A MacBook or a brightly colored iMac.
d) I miss my scrappy, boxy Macintosh. And the Spin Doctors.
e) My disks were floppy! I’d claim to be O.G. if I knew what that meant.
5. What is the oldest Apple product you still own?
a) I threw mine out to poison a landfill.
b) Does AAPL stock count?
c) My very first iPod.
d) I held on to the first generation iPhone. It belongs in a museum.
e) A Newton. Proof that some ideas are too far ahead of their time.
6. How do you feel about Apple product launches?
a) Proof we’re doomed as a species.
b) I just don’t get what the big deal is.
c) They’re silly. I’ll just get it next month after the crowds die down.
d) I wish I could generate that kind of rabid fandom for my band/e-zine/dating profile.
e) I’m in line right now.
7. Which of the following best describes your reaction to Apple product placements in film and TV?
a) Like any self-respecting hacker would work with a giant glowing fruit on their laptop cover!
b) Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock had to have an iPhone yet couldn’t work it. Says it all.
c) Phil Dunphy’s getting an iPad for his birthday on Modern Family made me smile.
d) Elle used an iBook in Legally Blonde, while everyone else used PCs. Says it all.
e) Good enough for Jack Bauer and CTU on 24? Good enough for me.
8. What does ‘The Woz’ mean to you?
a) Didn’t that record store close?
b) I sort of remember hearing there was another Steve.
c) Wasn’t he Ashton Kutcher’s friend in that movie?
d) He gives video games partial credit for helping his brain recover from a plane crash.
e) How many people actually go from inventor to philanthropist the way he did, not counting superhero origin stories?
9. How do you feel about Steve Jobs?
a) He proved you can get more done if you ignore other people’s feelings.
b) He probably wouldn’t like all that he’s set in motion.
c) I didn’t agree with him, but no one could ignore him.
d) Gone too soon.
e) All the feels above.
10. How do you feel about Tim Cook?
b) He’s no Steve Jobs.
c) The company’s a juggernaut; he just has to not screw up too badly.
d) Like a fine wine, he’s getting better with age, and people pretend they get him.
e) I love what an unapologetic badass he is about progressive politics!
11. What would you say if you met Jony Ive?
a) I’d say he’s missing some letters in his first name.
b) I’d say he makes most of the other executives look schlumpy.
c) I’d ask him what the level max is being a Knight Commander.
d) Nothing, because he admires minimalism.
e) “Marry me!”
For each question you answered with choice a, give yourself 0 points.
For each question you answered with choice b, give yourself 1 points.
For each question you answered with choice c, give yourself 2 points.
For each question you answered with choice d, give yourself 3 points.
For each question you answered with choice e, give yourself 4 points.
0 – 3 points
You are a card-carrying Apple Hater! You troll online forums attacking the company, because you’re convinced that being contrarian proves your superior intelligence, or because a company like Samsung pays you to do so. Anyone can like Apple. You’ve chosen, a wee bit ironically, to think different.
3 – 10 points
You’re not a Luddite, you just reject technological advancement. Oh, wait.
11 – 19 points
You are not really an Apple fan. That’s cool with me.
20 – 25 points
You are Apple-curious.
26 – 36 points
You are an Apple Fanboy or a Fangirl! This brand has left a positive impression on you. Don’t think they didn’t try. You can like what a company makes, but you don’t necessarily have to stake your identity in it. It’s okay to appreciate toys and tools for adults and distinguish which ones work best.
38 – 43 points
You’re a Serious Fan! You not only love your devices, you respect the company. You probably get annoyed at Apple Haters. You may have known the weight of a white lanyard. You almost got that Apple logo tattoo that one drunk time. You definitely know someone who did.
You’re a Die-hard! A Zealot! You may have chosen this, or it may have chosen you, but you’re hardcore to the core. You bleed Apple Juice. You didn’t fall far from the tree, because you’re still hanging onto the tree with all four limbs plus clenched jaw! Congratulations! I think.
I think we’d all agree that we’re very proud of the heritage and legacy our brand has cultivated over more than a century of publication but the time has come to sex up our farming almanac. Tides of change people. Seeds and soil just aren’t a growth market, figuratively. The new economy is in celebrity media, but we all know the superstars of farming just aren’t going to be able to deliver the kind of content we’ll need. It’s time for us to start harvesting a different crop.
We have to expand. I think we can all agree we need a strategy to really latch onto the lucrative tween farm girl demographic. Are we able to introduce a fictional print segment that would put teenage vampires on a farm but still have it feel authentic? Shy cowboy rodeo vampire? Home School Musical? I’m envisioning an Instagram teen photo series on this.
Also note that starting immediately we’ll need to ramp up our focus on the positive emotional marketability of livestock. Don’t forget, cats are farm animals too. I’ll explain what memes and gifs are in another memo but, believe it or not, pictures of cats are THE thing right now. That means we’ll need to round up as many barn cats as we can, and I’m not trying to sound patronizing, but be sure to only grab the ones that still have all their limbs. If they’ve been caught up in a combine thresher or under a tractor tire they will not be accepted. Looks like we’ll need a lot of little cowboy hats and tiny vests for the photo shoot (check wholesalers?). Maybe we can throw a tattooed pig into the mix for an edgy lifestyle brand tie in. An energy drink sponsor or something to do with extreme sports? Dirt biking is a farm thing right?
Also note that part of our new company directive focuses on going global. As a team, we need to start addressing the reality that India is a potentially massive growth market for us so we’ll have to really start downplaying the whole cow commodities thing. Thinking of skipping the controversy altogether by doing a fun photo spread. Bovine Bollywood!
I hear your concerns about the reaction of our long time subscribers but the reality is their needs are outdated. If farmers want to know about the weather they can look out the window. When they look out their window they don’t see celebrities in the hottest L.A. restaurants eating their products. WE are that window! We want to say ‘HELLO!’ magazine and goodbye almanac. Celebrities are what people are hungry for not farm life. In the current financial landscape we just can’t afford to have farmers ignore the Kardashians any longer. Or awards shows. Or Miley. I know some of you would rather just continue on publishing farm reports but the term “crop yields” is just never going to make it as a buzzword. I mean, how many of you have even heard of FarmVille?
None of us can deny we’ll need to provide a soundtrack to the new almanac lifestyle. A feasibility study is being done right now on seizing the rights to one of the non-profit farmer’s concerts to do a FOR-profit version. To somehow rebrand it as more urban or indie. We haven’t ruled out launching an almanac music streaming service as a potential startup either. As a precaution we’ve already registered the name ‘Almatracks.’ Obviously all of this still needs to be focus-grouped.
I know most of you don’t get off the farm much but if you’d been to a real farmer’s market like the ones in NYC you’d see the way forward. High income hipsters, I’ll explain hipsters later in the gif/meme memo, paying ridiculous prices for unprocessed oat clumps being branded as cookies. It’s robbery compared to oat prices on the grain futures markets. They’re loaded with carbs anyway but somehow they were successfully marketing it as part of some raw food movement diet. ‘Raw’ is such a wonderfully edgy diet name. We’ve already put a tattooed celebrity weight-loss chef on company retainer.
You should see these farmer’s market consumers. Branded purchases. Disposable income. These people are our new market, not the commodities or rural farmer’s markets. No more old MacDonald; meet our new target demographic. They want to look at features on barn lofts and mason jar whiskey not moon cycles and foot and mouth disease. It’s time for us to take this big time. Starbucks’ first store was in a farmer’s market! I bet if we were in a country that grew coffee we’d have switched formats earlier. Maybe then we would’ve got in on that Paris Hilton reality farming show. The point is there’s no such thing as a tractor trendsetter. It’s time for our farming almanac to come out of the soil and into the spotlight. I hope the world’s ready for the celebrity future of farming!
Senior Marketing Manager
There is a thin line between love and hate—oh, we forgot to tell you, we’re changing the scoring terms in tennis, so that what was previously called “15” is now called “hate.” It was too confusing to go from a word meaning the most powerful human emotion that exists to a series of numbers that don’t advance in a regular pattern. That first point of the game is all-important in setting the tone, since if you’re up hate-love or down love-hate, you should play the next point either more aggressively or more defensively. Brad Gilbert, in Winning Ugly, argues that the point at what used to be 30-15—now like-hate—is the most critical one, but I think it’s love-hate. You could also make the case that 40-30—or indifference-like—is. They’re basically all important, I guess, is another way of looking at it, so that there’s a thin line between love, hate, like, and indifference.
When we founded Hirl five years ago as a locally owned cannery in the cramped confines of a former pupusería, we never dreamed that our modest storefront would change the world. What was originally established as a creative collective intended to vertically integrate both the production and sales of artisanally crafted jams, soon morphed into a bustling, award-winning restaurant that brings in food aficionados from across the world. But despite all our accolades during these whirlwind years, Hirl has managed to stay true to the two tenets of our business:
Using only the freshest, naturally-occurring ingredients on Mother Gaia, and providing meals that are completely unaffordable and unappealing to people who actually live in this neighborhood.
Opening a restaurant is one of the most daunting business decisions a person can make. When you decide to enter an industry where 60% of new enterprises close within the first year, you better be damn sure you know what you’re doing, not just in the kitchen but with the ol’ bean counters too! So here at Hirl, we serve food that you could easily find at Denny’s but with an exotic twist that allows us to mark up the average price of a meal to $34. In the mood for two pieces of toast, a couple of eggs over easy, and several strips of bacon? Then you’ll treasure our open-faced brioche toast with imported ricotta and handmade boysenberry jam, cage-free fried eggs with a dollop of lacto fermented hot sauce, and our signature Bahn Mi pan-fried pork belly. It’s unnecessarily complicated food fit for an 18th-century European monarch or any modern urban dweller uncomfortable making eye contact with poor people.
And don’t forget our signature $8 to-go mason jar of gourmet coffee! Bring it back and you’ll get a $1 rebate for sustaining the sustainability of our sustainable program. On your first visit to Hirl, you’ll probably notice that we don’t serve drinks in plastic bottles or aluminum cans. Unfortunately, these recyclables were attracting residents who collected them en masse in order to supplement their income. Life is far too short to spend your days trudging in the rat race. But with our green viability plan, we simultaneously stay true to our canning roots while also gently nudging the natives away from their relentless focus on capitalism.
Hirl subscribes to the doctrine that nothing is more important than tradition… the tradition of Christopher Columbus, the original gentrifier. Let’s be honest: Who would you rather have sitting at the table next to you? The 102-year-old woman whose father built the very first house on this block thanks to a Spanish land grant? The elderly Japanese-American widower whose home was “bought” by his neighbors during World War II and returned to him after his release from the Manzanar internment camp? Or the actress who plays Sally Draper on Mad Men? Don’t look directly at her! Keep your cool, man. Dammit, I said don’t look at her! God, you’re such a fucking dork sometimes.
We strive for absolute guest satisfaction. There is nothing more important to us than serving our clientele of hip creative types in search of the authenticity that can only come from eating seared polenta cake next door to a wine and cheese shoppe that used to be a piñata store. Since the only hardship they face is the crushing anxiety that their ex-girlfriend will eventually change her Netflix password, we make sure to forge the ultimate rugged dining experience: Baristas who won’t reveal our almond milk-only policy until you verbally go through every single variety we don’t carry. Cramped tables and chairs that were repurposed from scavenged school desks culled out the dumpsters of nearby middle schools. Ridiculously long lines that, if they aren’t already blocking the path for stroller-pushing mothers, are artificially elongated by our unnecessary Line Up iPad system. Here at Hirl, you’ll feel right at home… if you pretend your home is a century-old Mexican and Central American neighborhood teeming with the overlooked history of Los Angeles’s working class instead of the suburb you grew up in 20 miles east of Berkeley.
From our humble beginnings selling jam to white people with way too much disposable income, to convincing those same diners that poached quail eggs is a totally normal thing to consume, Hirl has never been about getting bogged down in stasis. When we moved into this barrio, the rent was cheap and affordable for anyone, whether you were raising a family on a minimum-wage income or trying to pass off fruit preservatives as a whimsical luxury good. And although our quirky foodstuff, like the small pox-infected blankets at Fort Pitt, has eliminated most of the generations of families who grew up in this neighborhood, we at Hirl will never forget that our main goal is to serve food that locals have zero interest in eating, even when the demographics of said locals change.
Which is why we’re pleased to announce that in 2015, our revamped menu will be anchored by our lunch special: four tacos and a soda for only $5.
Select the self-evaluation that
best describes your romantic status:
Find the corresponding number
below for a personalized strategic
recommendation from former
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld:
Dear Passing Motorist,
Although cityscapes are not my usual photographic subject (I’m primarily a portrait photographer), I thought I might experiment. Plus, the octopus of interweaving concrete, where 580 meets 980, has long fascinated me.
It was at this moment, while I focused on the pleasing chiaroscuro of the freeways, somewhat like Robert Kincaid photographing the bridges of Alameda County, that you drove past.
Regrettably, I had trimmed the shot to eliminate asphalt, so I could not see your license plate, or even the make of your car. I’m sorry for that. I meant no slight, especially since you had an intriguing suggestion for an artistic project.
“Take a picture of my dick!” you shouted.
And then… you were gone! Too soon for me to respond or learn how to contact you. Such a terrible waste of possibility. I had been looking forward to discussing art and cross-genre collaboration, since I’m sure that you, as I, have grown very bored of the usual Instagram tropes: the picture-show rota of cats, breakfasts, beers, and babies. One cannot thrive on a few modest dishes, but needs the full variety of experience to stimulate and cultivate the palate.
I am sure, as well, that you possess a rare and insightful instinct. Having never seen my portfolio, you were already aware—was it my posture? my camera? some esprit particulier? how did you know??—that my skills are best suited to portraiture, and I should leave these asphaltine landscapes for others more gifted. Alas, an urban Ansel Adams I am not.
So the artistic progression goes—thesis, antithesis, synthesis—back towards where we began, with the purity of the amateur—the lover!—and the experience of the professional. But always the feeling—the feeling!—for to be a photographer is to feel nostalgic for the present. A camera is a tool by which to capture and inspire feeling.
Consider what Sontag meant when she wrote:
“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
So let us not discount the emotional impact that comes from taking a photograph and making a photograph. Mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely slicing. Freezing […] melt. A rage both against and towards final dissolution.
All this to say that I’ve thought about it, and decided I would like to photograph your dick.
While nudes are not a usual subject for me, I believe this proposal to be just different enough to be one at which I could excel with particular merit. Let us consider the current cultural treatment of the subject. I for one have seen very few photos of dicks—let alone your dick—though this may be the fault of my sex (ironic, given, shall we say, a certain innate yet cultivated taste!). Perhaps this too has been a bother to you, whom fate has granted both the possession and the social constraint to keep it secret. I sympathize.
Yet we must ask: what would the photograph say? What would be the greater intent? What feeling, what emotion, shall we attempt to capture in the silver shadows? Or shall it be, to paraphrase Winogrand, to take a picture of a dick to see what a picTure of a dick looks like?
It seems you would like more people to view the diverse possibilities of your member, or at least you would like to have the sensitive treatment of a discreet photograph for personal use. I can assure you of my own professionalism, having a private darkroom, and the highest quality of photographic equipment. With the medium format of a Bronica sq-b analog SLR, every contour, shade, texture, and variance in coloration—though I must advise, I work primarily in black and white—achieves such clarity, such beauty, such poignancy. Each framed image a testament to moral, moment, rage.
I’m free Mondays and Tuesdays most weeks, other days by appointment. We needn’t discuss payment at this time. If you are unable, then I would consider the chance to further develop my portfolio as recompense enough.
You’ve inspired me, sir. I wish to be the Margaret Bourke-White of dick pics.
I’m sure you all know that my passion for repurposing wooden pallets is what helped me survive the breakup with Rick. Wooden pallets are my soul, and I am their mate. I’ve jettisoned far beyond my initial trial and error attempt at a pallet headboard. I’m now selling my creations, and I expect you to buy one. I’ve bought a ton of crap from you guys over the years, and that wasn’t even art. It was Pampered Chef and Scentsy. Here are your choices:
[FYI: Any of these pieces can be constructed using the pallets I found in a haunted warehouse. EXTRA CHARGE!!!]
- Bali Inspired Pallet Coffee Table with Bong Storage Cubby
- Quadruple Pallet Trundle Bed for Polyamorous Relationships
- Feng Shui Franchise Pallets (I sell you a stack of pallets and you resell them.)
- Morbidly Obese Kitty Pallet Litter Box
- Pallet Covered in Mason Jars, Just Because
- Blue Hue Pallet Crate for Capturing/Containing Zombies
- Ombre Pallet Go-Cart for Weekend Hipsters
- Rustic Pallet Farm Dining Table with Bonus Live Rooster
- Rough Hewn Pallet Nightstand with Dildo Storage Cubby
- “Live, Laugh, Love Without Rick” Decorative Folk Art Pallet
- Portable Pallet Meth Lab
- Pallet Shaped Like Your Home State: (I won’t do Idaho, Rhode Island, New York, Kansas, California, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Tennessee, Alaska, North and South Dakota, or Hawaii. Don’t even ask about Mississippi. I’ve had bad experiences in all of these states.)
NOTE: All pallets have been lovingly reclaimed, repurposed, reused, and retweeted. I accept payment through my website using your Diners Club Card.