Sorry we couldn’t meet face-to-face on this. But I did take a few seconds to power through ’em and now I’m off to Banff to ski and jumpstart my marriage. Some great writing here. A few lines that will do a lot of heavy lifting in banner ads and maybe some shelf-talkers. Take a look at my feedback. Keep revving on this continually throughout the weekend. We’ll touch base when I get back.
GREAT. MORE LIKE THESE, PLEASE:
- “Click to continue the Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes journey.”
- “Follow Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipeson Twitter.”
- “Friend Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes on Facebook.”
THIS IS COOL:
- “Friend Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes in real life.”
GOOD, BUT NOT NEEDED AT THIS TIME. REALLY COOL TO SEE YOU TRY TO MAKE IT MORE ACTIVE, AND I BET THOSE BALL HOLES ARE FILTHY:
- “Go bowling with Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes.”
- “Vacation with Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes.”
MAYBE WOULD WORK FOLLOWING CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES, BUT THIS IS AN IRRESPONSIBLE MESSAGE NONETHELESS:
- “Go out and get plastered with Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes.”
- “Wait, don’t take that tone with Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes.”
- “Put yourself in Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes’ shoes.”
NICE. BRAND NOT INTO LOOKING BACKWARDS THOUGH:
- “Think back on your time with Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes.”
- “Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes did more for you than you care to admit.”
- “Snap a photo of this Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes QR code to unlock the full experience.”
- “Sorry. Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes knows there’s no going back to how it was.”
- “Answer one of Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes’ texts. Just one of them.”
- “Show Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes you are still alive.”
NICE. AGAIN, BRAND NOT INTO LOOKING BACKWARDS THOUGH:
- “Remember what Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes meant to you.”
- “Tell a friend about Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes.”
GENE, THIS IS THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF WHAT WE WANT TO SAY:
- “Understand that Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes doesn’t care anymore.”
MEDICATED WIPES ALWAYS HAS TIME, GENE:
- “Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes doesn’t have time for your ass right now.”
NEEDS TO BE MORE POSITIVE:
- “Know that Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes tried as hard as Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes could.”
- “Move on from Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes.”
- “Speculate to a stranger as to Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes’ whereabouts.”
GREAT BUT CHANGE OPENING:
- “Bump into Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes at your local drugstore.”
OKAY, GOOD FOR RETARGETING EFFORT:
- “Reconnect with Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes online.”
- “Try Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes again for 50% off.”
GREAT, BUT THIS IS FOR WIPES 2.0, GENE:
- “Share your Smythe-Logan Medicated Wipes story.”
Whom god wishes to destroy, he first makes mad.
— Euripides by way of Samuel Fuller
After dropping acid, the committed psychonaut sits in quiet contemplation, slows his heartbeat, steadies his breathing, calmly waits for the rush. Unlike the tripster who can’t hardly wait — he shakes his legs, paces, races about, quickens his heart, which increases arterial flow and speeds the alkaloid toward the 5-HT2 serotonin receptors in both the locus ceruleus and the cerebral cortex, with hallucinations, awe, and laughter the result. But the neuron, he for whom the solution has become the problem,1 compulsively sucks on the sugar cube even though some part of him (the vector of the unconscious where important messages are stored so that they can languish and die) knows it’s really a psychic cyanide pill.
Guess which one of that trio I was.
Once upon a time, way down in the alley, when the Age of Aquarius had morphed (seemingly overnight) into the Eve of Destruction,2 I did what any post-adolescent, Mensa-minded, slavo-jewo depressive would do — I self-medicated and slid all the way down the rabbit hole into bizarro Wonderland. I was lost and could not be found; I was also emaciated and probably dehydrated from snorting too much speed in too little time. Then one day, in my weakened state, foolishly believing I had docked in a safe harbor, I dropped 200 mikes of Sandoz3 with three reivers in rainbow tie-dyes, one of whom was the sociopath-snitch who once, when popped for possession with intent, had given my name to the authorities, looking to trade me in, like an old cell phone, for his freedom.
It was my Humpty Dumpty moment, the night I shattered into a million pieces.
The background music for our liftoff was Cream, “Strange Brew.” Coinciding with Clapton’s first cautionary chorus — kills what’s inside of you — I felt the first tingle, the first hint of weightlessness that for some signals the exciting freedom to float along gusts of psychotomimetic wind, but to me . . .
I closed my eyes. I quickly found myself floating, la-dee-dah, through a vertigo-inducing, Oskar Fischinger–inspired,4 day-glo galaxy of pulsating circles, blinking rectangles, spinning globes — a phantasmagoria of Colorform abstraction, flaring incandescence, chromatic intensity.
It was psychedelic, man.
But I was dancing on the knife’s edge and as the Azerbaijani say, Dance on a dagger’s edge, shred your soul. After a century or two, this galactic vortex I was aglide in took on the appearance of a gaping, febrile, hyper-colorful, festered wound. As it did, I began to sense a loss of control. It is a mere hop, skip, and an uh-oh for exhilaration to transform into abject terror. Soon I found myself in free fall — The Neuron Who Fell to Earth.
Newton’s Third Law of Thermodynamics defines the binary universe: To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. Therein lies the beauty of binaries — their absolute, oppositional nature: on or off, alive or dead, win or lose, true or false, black and white, war and peace, self and other, open and shut . . . to be or not to be.
Thanks to my early training as an acolyte in the cult of the volcano god Jehovah, I have always been a binary kind of guy. So in this instance, as with most others, I reduced the set of variables to the simplest of equations: if I were freaked with my eyes closed, when I opened them, I would surely calm my shit down.
Unfortunately, as soon as I opened my eyes, the oozing, throbbing horror of it all streamed seamlessly from my mind’s eye into the phenomenal world. The walls, the rugs, the floors, the furniture, the windows and shades, the lamps and sconces, the sockets and switches all appeared to be breathing and pulsing in tandem, morphing and blending into one another, as if everything had become part of an immense and singular living organism.
I should have been ecstatic, but being at one with the universe launched me into a terror-filled maelstrom — ego death seemed to me to be only the beginning of a slippery slope that would inevitably lead to a more all-inclusive kind of death.
I was tripping out of my skull, trapped in the bummer equivalent of Defcon 1. I had to do something, and pronto.
Faced with what I perceived to be an extinction-level dilemma, I had a go-to strategy I had fooled myself into believing would someday yield a different outcome. And so . . .
Determined to think myself out of trouble, I threw myself into the abyss of reason.
My mind commenced to race — a mile a minute the operative cliche, but only if you plugged in parsec for mile, nano for minute. The stream of my cinematic consciousness became a Class VI rapids, superfluming me past a specific set of memorialized texts, which I sluiced by in ascending order — Attack of the Crab Monsters, Invaders from Mars, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. As I flumed, I grokked why I had had such a violent reaction to such a commonplace, purple haze hallucination — the Persian rug doing the psychedelic slither before my eyes. (Colonel Panic, in the living room, with an icepick.)
The dialectic made perfect sense, too. Attack of the Crab Monsters is a poverty-row meditation on the downside of collective consciousness: in order to be assimilated, the brains of the chosen ones must first be chowed down by a mutant giant crab on a totally fucked and irradiated atoll. What could be more straightforward?
Invaders from Mars portrays the horrors of the hive-mind from the POV of a kid. Little Davy’s parentals have extraterrestrial hatpins inserted into the base of their skulls, which puts them in thrall to a macrocephalic bronze brain under glass who sports a pair of fiercely bloodshot eyes, as well as several sets of T Rex-ish atrophied arms — he’s a thoroughly stoned, alien avatar of the Hindu god Krishna . . . and no adult believes the kid.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the cherry atop this hive-mind shit sundae. Pod People take you over atom for atom, cell for cell, absorb your mind and your memories, all this while you sleep. The invasion is fronted by the holy trinity of Amurrican trust — your best friend, the avuncular sheriff, and the town shrink. Suburban Freud dismisses the growing paranoia (the boy says his father isn’t his father and the woman says her sister isn’t her sister) as merely an epidemic of mass hysteria. Let your guard down for an instant, forget to pop that extra pep pill you’ve copped from your stash, and you might just come back to your squeeze and experience The Naked Kiss,5 the horrific reveal that while you were gone, the love of your life has gone pod on you. Since the body snatchers are all connected through a uni-mind, all she has to do is think it and the pod volk come running. With them hot on your heels, you run and run and run, winding up on a freeway jammed with SoCal commuters and pod-filled trucks, screaming for anyone to listen: They’re here, they’re here!
And if it weren’t for the moral bankruptcy and marketing mandates of the Hollywood hive-mind, the story would have ended right there. And what a bummer that would have been.
Or in my case — was.
Tempus was fugit-ing, and I was bumming like a motherfucker. I needed to slow my roll. I had to speak my mind.In tonight’s performance the part of the Jabberwocky will be played by Bob.
Brainiac scout troop . . . collective crab consciousness . . . once they were men, now they are land crabs . . . parents from space . . . mom and dad down to kill — me! . . . epidemic mass hysteria . . . you fools, you’re in danger . . . she loves me, she loves me not . . . ’cause she’s one of them, one of them, gooble gobble . . . make me a sergeant in charge of the booze, make me a sergeant in charge of the booze —
Wait a second, I said to myself, those last two — they’re from Freaks6 and from Them.7 Mutants and giant ants have nothing to do with this. How the fuck did they get in here? . . . How the fuck did I get in here!
Even more to the point, How the fuck was I going to survive this trip?
The answer came in the form of a vision: Skeeter Davis8 — a mieskeit mirage wavering before me, serenading me:
Why does the sun go on shining
Why does the sea rush to shore
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world
’Cause you don’t love me anymore?
Who was it who didn’t love me anymore?
I didn’t love me anymore.
It was then I had my epiphany (I was tripping after all): I needed the end of the world. I scrunched my eyes and held my breath; I was fixin’ to die. Which I couldn’t, because, as we all know, the autonomic nervous system has no override switch. Spent and spooked, I stopped trying and opened my eyes. I saw my fellow tripsters staring at me. They looked like three grinning gargoyles. They exchanged glances, then burst into what was clearly an at-you rather than a with-you cascade of laughter — cruel and resonant.
I was sure some telepathic shit was going down.
I was certain the Crab Monster with the collectivized consciousness would round the figurative corner any second, perambulate toward me, reach out to me with its claw; it would use every trick in the giant crab ventriloquist manual to get me to give up, give in, to join the new crab order: Once they were men, now they are gargoyles.
I was equally certain that if I sneaked a peek at the back of a gargoyle neck, I would see the telltale hatpin — proof positive that he and his gang were in thrall to the rheumy-eyed Martian puppetmaster.
I urged myself to think good thoughts.
I thought and thought and thought, but all I could come up with was the creepy notion that if I opened the door to the hall closet, I would see my pod replacement in medias snatch, waiting only for me to gey schluffen in order to finish the job — my nightmare scenario made flesh.
The walls felt like they were moving in on me.
What choice did I have? I screamed.
I stood up; I ran; I took refuge in the john, took a leak. I flushed. I stared at the swirling, rainbow water. It was hypnotic. The toilet began to serenade me — the first chorus of “Tales of the Brave Ulysses”:
You thought the leaden winter would bring you down forever,
But you rode upon a steamer to the violence of the sun.
And the colors of the sea bind your eyes with trembling mermaids,
As toilet Cream sang, the water became kaleidoscopic, alive with tiny purple fishes and trembling mermaids, choreographed by the invisible, hallucinogenic hand of my Busby Berkeley9 introject — synchronized swimming while circling the drain.
All, in the end, sucked down the abyssal sewer.
The light in the bathroom was blinding; the noise of the toilet recycling deafening. And yet I couldn’t stand, couldn’t even move. It was as if I had no will. I was lost in space; I was in a state of waxy flexibility.
Dr. Cristo, bull goose shrink of Shock Corridor, said it best: A man can’t tamper with the mind, and subject himself to all kinds of tests, and expect to come out of it sane.
After my Waterloo in the loo, it was retreat and surrender, as well as grievous humiliation, all the way home.
The gargoyles, having tired of me — I was less entertaining, more of an annoyance now that I was bogarting the bathroom — called My Friend the Bear to come and get me, which he dutifully did. As he led me down the stairs, he handed me a brownish pill (Thorazine: ensuring that children are seen and not heard since 1952; for prompt control of senile agitation; helps keep the real in reality). I dry-mouthed it without question, the Bear being one of the few creatures on the blue planet I almost trusted.
The dopamine antagonist kicked in. I stopped bumming but I couldn’t stop thinking about how badly I had disintegrated. I felt burned out — like I had run out of fuel, like my core had collapsed, like I had formed my own black hole hell.
As if that wasn’t enough, while I was trying to gain some traction in order to tread lightly back into the real world, there came a knock on the door of my coffin-like crib. Before I could plead with whoever it was to just please leave me the fuck alone, in floated My Friend the Bear’s Old Lady wearing nothing but a tattered tee, her eyes bloodshot, practically twirling in their lids, her smile bursting with bravado, offering to laugh with me10 like she was an Eskimo wife in The Savage Innocents.
Would that the wonders of the day cease and desist already. On my best days this kind of sexual adventurism would not have been my strongest suit. And this was not one of my better days. The Bear’s impulse was surely generous in nature, but it was also the Platonic form of projection. A pity fuck pimped his way is how he believed the healing should begin. And while I had no clue what was good for me — if I did I would never have dropped acid with Brain Eating Cannibals From the Planet Pitiless — I just knew as I stared at the Bear’s main squeeze in all her good sport willingness, that accepting her vulvaric gift11 would send my careening spin on the karmic wheel of desire ever more out of control, and would be certain to bring on yet more pain to both spirit and flesh.
And I told the Bear’s Old Lady so.
I felt unbounded relief when she slammed the door on me on her way out, even as I knew that I had just offended one of the few people who, until that moment, had borne me no ill-will.
This last straw broke my mental back and I then went into hermit mode — snorting meth and brooding. As I focused inward, the Jehovah judgment thing I was raised on did not serve me well. I was on trial, yet I was also judge, jury, and prosecutor. An optimist might have noted that no matter what the outcome, I couldn’t lose. But I was no optimist.
One morning, a week after my mondo megabummer, seven days into my meth bender, I looked in the mirror. Staring back at me was a gaunt, unshaven wraith with a cigarette dangling from its lips, tough-guy style. Its eyes were bugging out, nearly pinwheeling; this specter was way tweaked. Some part of me was able to see through the dissociative mist and understand that the thing in the mirror needed quality, structured chill time, and that if the wraith didn’t get to chill, and quickly, it would be curtains for the kid.
The next day I went back to the city and within a week I was crashing in the psych ward of the Klingenstein Pavilion of Mount Sinai Hospital. What better place for a lost yid to wander?
1 With a tip of Da Schneidz hat to My Friend the Cartoonist’s shrink.
2 The western world it is exploding was the message Barry McGuire laid down in his unpolished and straightforward rendition of “Eve of Destruction,” a 1965 protest song that had been passed on by the Byrds and, according to the google, recorded by the Turtles, who often recorded the Byrds’ discarded or rejected material. The song was what creative executives would dismiss as on-the-nose (appropriate for the protest genre) and (tortured metaphor alert) was one of the primary agaric cultures used to breed the bacterium ironica in the petri dish experiment known as the baby boom. The song’s title also inspired a film of the same name, which is perfectly summed up in IMDB: A terrorist hunter is hired by a scientist to deactivate her android double, a walking, talking, murderous nuclear bomb which has gone amok in the big city and is about to explode — keeping in mind that both scientist and doppelgänger are named Eve.
3 When research chemist Dr. Albert Hoffman unknowingly absorbed a molecule of the chemical he had newly synthesized, he described the feelings he had when he got home and got prone: I . . . sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away. Three days later, on April 19, 1943 (now known as Bike Day among the initiates), Hoffman deliberately dropped 250 mikes of the new compound—lysergic acid diethylamide-25—hopped on his bike, and pedaled home, getting off on the way. This auto-administered dose of LSD was mankind’s first intentional acid trip and even though it happened during wartime, thanks to Swiss neutrality, all of Switzerland had been declared a no-bummer zone. The pharmaceutical company Hoffman worked for was Sandoz, which therefore had exclusive rights to space you out. In the ’60s at the beginning of the tripping frenzy that followed, anyone lucky enough to get his paws on some pharmaceutical-grade acid would brag to his bros that it was the real deal Sandoz shit that had fueled his journey to the inside of his mind.
4 Fischinger was an experimental animator and artist. Had he remained in the Reich, he would have undoubtedly been designated a member of the degenerate art tribe, with all the perks that went along with that tag, so that when Paramount came calling in ’36 and offered him an office and 250 samolians per, he hopped aboard the first dirigible out of Hitlerville and landed in Lotusland, where he ran head-on into the art v. commerce dialectic, quit Paramount, and moved over to Mauschwitz, where he produced some of the more far-out shit in Fantasia. When Tio Walt had his work redrawn to satisfy Disney’s more Mickey Mouse aesthetic, he split from there as well. He then divided his creative time between personal and commercial projects, one of the sprightlier examples of the latter being his animated promo for Muntz TV. Its theme song begins There’s something about a Muntz TV. The vid box was the brainchild of the great American huckster Madman Earl Muntz, who sold factory-direct to idiots. (A YouTube commentator describes a Muntz TV as having about half the parts in it of any other TV. . . Muntz took an RCA set and removed as many parts as he could and still have the set work negligibly.) Muntz manufactured the first car tape deck, a four-track sold under the brand name Muntz Stereo-Pak, as well as a shitty sports car, commercially fueled by its futuristic name — the Muntz Jet. Muntz was a visionary capitalist con man who, in the case of Fischinger’s kicky commercial, seduced the public with snazzy abstraction in order to more easily separate the marks from their moolah.
5 According to the hooker heroine in the movie of the same name it is the smooch that signifies perv.
6 The original ninety-minute cut of Freaks Tod Browning turned in to Paramount had the guys in the bespoke schmattas so whimmy-whammed they took it out of his hands and had it trimmed down to a sixty-four minute programmer. This truncated version jettisoned the horrifying details of the mud-dripping freaks [on their rain-soaked, midnight crawl led by Prince Randian the human torso, biting down on his knife as he wiggles his way forward before finally] swarming over the tree-pinned Olga Baclanova. The crawl climaxed in House of Pain surgery that transforms Cleopatra from beautiful trapeze artist and gold digger into the latest pledge to the Freaks fraternity—the Chicken Lady. But what elevated Freaks from precode curiosity to world-historical film is the initiation ceremony during the wedding feast: A tabletop dwarf enthusiastically announces We’ll make her one of us. A loving cup, a loving cup. The rest of the table begins to chant We accept her, one of us, we accept her/Gooble gobble, gooble gobble, at first individually, but, as the dwarf walks the table passing around an outsized goblet filled with bubbly for all the Freaks to sip from, the recitative becomes louder, more somberific as all the Freaks chant in unison We accept her, one of us, we accept her/Gooble gobble, gooble gobble. This psalm of acceptance, this ritual of welcome, is poignantly moving and horrifyingly hilarious. It underscores the righteousness of this congregation—the mutant and deformed celebrating themselves as they sanctify acceptance of the other into their tribe movingly demonstrates the noblest aspect of what it is to be human.
1. “I knew I shouldn’t go/and get another tattoo/of you on my arm/but what do I go and do.”
2. “I wish I were dead/When she left, she wept.”
3. “A woman broke my heart/I say heart/she ripped it in two parts.”
4. “Thought we shared a covenant/I even held your hand in public.”
5. “No one writes a lyric on a battlefield/on a map stuck with arrows/but I think I can do it if I just lurk.”
6. “An ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge/some words live in my throat.”
7. “Now only words in a rhyme/no more than a name/on a stone/and that well overgrown.”
8. “Sometimes it feels like the world’s almost over/but then she comes back to me.”
9. “All that time alone/kinda taught me how to cope/so I shaved my head/and made me a rope.”
Eminem Lyric: 1, 3, 4, 8
Lesbian Poetry: 2 (Sappho), 5 (Adrienne Rich), 6 (Audre Lorde), 7 (Carol Ann Duffy), 9 (Alix Olsen)
Oh man, there’s nothing like summer in the office! When the air conditioner buzzes on and frigid air chills me to my core, I know it’s somewhere between 70 and 109 outside. I don’t know for sure because I only am outside for two fifteen-minute intervals per day, once early in the morning and once after the sun goes down, but man, it sure looks hot out there!
And when it’s summer in the office, I get to break out all my favorite summer clothes: my lighter-weight wool pants, conservative button-up shirts with cap sleeves instead of long sleeves, and my sandals. Well, they are technically the same sensible pumps I wear from September through May, but during the summer months, I call them my sandals and BOY does it feel good.
But my summer wardrobe staple has to be my black cardigan. I think every girl can agree: nothing says summer in the office like a black cardigan. When I feel my black cardigan blowing behind me as I race from meeting to meeting, up and down the same bland halls that I have been trudging down for the past five years, I feel like a Native American princess! (I say that because Native Americans were downtrodden people and I feel like I have a lot in common with your Pocahontases of the world, emotionally speaking.)
The best part about summer in the office is the summer schedule! I work just as much as I do in the fall and winter, but it feels different. Cause everyone’s a-buzz about their weekend plans: coming in to work on Saturday, firing up the old desktop, and ordering Thai food to their desk.
Oh and in the summer, there are so many free summer concerts and movies in the park to miss! It’s summertime, baby!!
Everyone has their own favorite activities, but my girlfriends and I like to spend the summer months just lounging individually in our windowless cubicles, reading whatever pertains to the work we do, and staying at our desks until the sun goes down. It’s crazy!
OH! And don’t forget about the picnics! Please, don’t forget about the picnics. I almost did once. I was like, “Picnic… what is that, when everyone brings a dish to a party?” And my therapist was like “No, that’s a potluck. A picnic is eating in a park on a blanket.” And then she warned me that I was under too much stress and likely to have some kind of breakdown because I had lost word retrieval for anything not pertaining to my soulless corporate job. So please! Don’t forget about the picnics, people! It’s a really bad sign if you do!
Anyway, I’m just really glad it’s finally summertime in the office. Because I’m definitely ready for some fun in the sun! (“The Sun” is the name of the conference room on the east side of the office. It gets a lot of light, which makes it hard to do audio-visual presentations or to even read your laptop, so we have to keep the light-canceling blinds all the way closed.)
You Won’t Believe What God Said to This Man…
- What You Need to Know Now About the Lord Totally Being God
- At the Beginning He Had Me Confused, But by Minute Two I Knew That I Shouldn’t Have Other Gods.
- Are You Making This Common Mistake with Graven Images?
- How I Work: Read This Life Hack from God Your Only Creator.
- She Admitted to Doing What Every Sunday?
- Seven Morning Habits of People Holier Than You: #7 No Killing Before Lunch.
- 37 Things in Your Bedroom That You Need to Get Rid of Right Now, Like Adulteresses.
- What the Government Doesn’t Want You to Know About Stealing Your Neighbors Servants.
- This Little Girl Bore False Witness and the Results Will Shock You.
- Doctors Hate Her But You Shouldn’t Covet Her.
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 strong, burnt coffee. At first I was okay with this. Maybe, I reasoned, the nose would mellow once it hit the beer. The Pale Ale, on the other hand, I immediately deemed hopeless; it smelled like soap, straight-up Catholic-school bathroom soap, the kind a nun would use as a threat.
The directions said to put only a few drops into a full glass of beer for the maximum effect. My roommate and I lined up all of our pint glasses and distributed the beers, one can per four glasses. I decided I would go light in one and heavy in the other, just in case.
First up was the Bud Heavy with two drops of the American Ale additive. Figured I might as well go with what the majority of the population has been swilling for decades. The American Ale turned it a little darker color—it looked like it could pass for a craft beer—but aside from that, everything else was off. The nose on it was a mix of that burnt coffee and the regret that accompanies the morning after making your way through a six-pack of Bud, something reminiscent of moldy carpet and vomit. As I raised my glass, I reminded myself that cheese also smells bad and tastes good. But this concoction from hell was not cheese and had all the pleasantness of being beaten with a baseball bat. I would’ve rather shotgunned the entire can of Bud than have to drink any more of the stuff.
I would not give up, however. Well, not completely. I tried the same two-drop American Ale method in the Hurricane and got a similar result. I considered ripping the taste buds out of my mouth and dropping them in a deep fryer. I also questioned the existence of God. If this was supposed to make crappy beer taste like craft beer, I felt terrible for the producers of On Tap. Was this what they thought craft beer tasted like? Seriously?
I moved on to the
soap Pale Ale flavor. The smell of soap and sheer misery did not dissipate in the beer, but instead intensified. I was not-so-fondly reminded of when classmates vomited and it was covered with sawdust and newspaper. It also tasted like soap. There was nothing redeemable. I gave up on experimenting shortly thereafter.
Could I have done it wrong? Maybe. Could I have not put enough in? Perhaps. Could I have put too much in? Doubtful. If you really want to drink craft beer, and you think this is the option for you, just don’t. Roll up a newspaper and bop yourself on the nose, then go back to the store for a case of Natty. You may not be drinking craft beer, but you’ll be better off in the end.
Submitted by Jonathan Schwartz
Hi. I’m from Canada.
I know this because I laugh at American food habits: the massive portions, the reliance on industrial chain restaurants, the use of cheese and bacon as condiments.
Yet I think nothing of drowning French fries in brown gravy and cheese curds, and inhaling the results before they cool into a singly sludgy mass.
Especially when I’m in a drunken stupor.
It’s a cultural tradition up here, like ice hockey, Céline Dion, and the seal hunt.
(I apologize for the Céline Dion reference).
Each bite brings me closer to chest-crumpling pain and death, but it’s part of my heritage so I celebrate. Valhalla, I’m coming.
What happens when my Hudson Bay-Blanket-wrapped national pride conflicts with the latest chain restaurant offering (and a passing need to stave off a hangover)? Worlds Collide.
Recently, American chain restaurant McDonalds introduced poutine to its menu.
By way of background, the website www.montrealpoutine.com states that the first poutines were invented in Quebec circa 1950-1970, outside of Montreal. Legend has it a local restaurateur, when passing a customer a takeout bag filled with the requested french fries and cheese, stated “ça va faire une maudite poutine” (”That’s going to make a damn mess”). Sauce (originally a sweeter, more barbecue-ish version than the current standard gravy) came later.
Like Seth Rogen, Justin Bieber or Rob Ford, Americans have made this Canadian icon their own. Swap in shredded cheddar for the curds and you have New Jersey Disco Fries. On the West Coast, you can order the same thing off-menu at In-n-Out Burger as “Animal Fries” (fittingly, we Canucks have stolen this one back; a mustard-fried “Animal-Style” hamburger may be ordered as a “Jarsch” at our vastly superior Burger’s Priest). But I digress.
So here we are, re-introduced to a Canadian staple by an American fast food conglomerate. My heart swells with national pride and saturated fat. My heart falls at the thought of yet another piece of Canadian cultural identity being syphoned off (and with saturated fat).
I order. I wait. I receive. I sit.
I open the cardboard box, greeted with a puff of steam and an approximation of the real thing.
The fries are familiar golden straws; neatly crisp and aggressively salty. The gravy is either surprisingly good and beefy in flavor, or I have grown completely acclimated to fake dreck.
The cheese curds resist a full melt, but don’t maintain their desired squeakiness between the teeth.
The French fries are the biggest disappointment. Made with hearty, thick-cut fresh chips, poutine fries maintain their crunch at least halfway through the box. These fries go limp too quickly, and wind up twirled around my fork like Bizarro spaghetti.
Were I to happen upon this poutine anywhere else, I’d be pleased; a little guy using ingredients at hand to make a tasty, ubiquitously Canadian snack. In Ronald McDonald’s gloved hands, the whole production feels like a slick imitation of local flavor.
I can buy McDonald’s Saimin in Hawaii, or curry in India (and England, I’m told). In France, I can order a Royale with Cheese, mayo with my frites and a beer to wash it all down.
But please, hands off my Canadian junk food.
Flying Fish Flavored Beer
Pressed Orange and Crushed Lemon
Submitted by Nick Mulgrew
A gaggle of twenty-somethings jive on a beach. There are kites, cerulean skies, DJ booths made of coral. Women with elaborate earrings sip daintily from green-glass bottles. Men play volleyball over a sand sculpture. The crush of ice.
Suddenly, a gravelly voiceover asks: “Who says beer can’t be flavored?” Dubstep. Sarongs. The camera pans: the beach is on a rooftop in the middle of a giant, unspecified Afropolitan city. Twist! Beaches are social constructs; summer is a state of mind.
The TV spots for Flying Fish are confusing, mostly because it’s currently winter in Cape Town, and the prospect of going outside is as attractive as drowning. Something bothers me, though: is the gravelly voice’s question rhetorical, or are there people who insist that, no, absolutely not, beer must not be flavored? Aren’t hops technically a flavor? What about malt? These are questions that have to be answered.
I walk through the sideways-blowing rain to my local bottle store and buy a can each of both varieties of Flying Fish. There’s one called “Pressed Orange” and one called “Crushed Lemon.” They’re worryingly cheap. I leave the bottle store, half-expecting to somehow conjure back the summer with the power of my purchases, to see the clouds part and to hear strains of reggae lilting somewhere not too far away.
Instead it begins to hail.
I take shelter under the wooden balcony of a Mexican-Italian pub. I take the cans of Flying Fish out of the packet and read the ingredients. Both kinds are flavored with “at least 2%” fruit juice, as well as “flavorants” and rosemary extract. The hail eventually slows, but the rain replacing it is torrential, ferrying clumps of ice down the gutters and into the storm drains.
Trapped, I crack open both cans and sit on the sidewalk. I immediately half-drain the can of Pressed Orange in more or less the same manner as one of the wholesomely sexy women in the commercial. It tastes like a lager shandy, if a lager shandy was made with Orangina. I then sip the Crushed Lemon. The lemon flavor is the sort that one usually smells lingering in expensive dishwashing liquids.
Disappointingly, I do not taste rosemary. At this point I would like to taste rosemary. I would like to taste anything other than these watery, citrus-y simulacra of the warmth of the sun.
A few people in the coffee shop directly across the street are looking at me through the window. They wear scarves and drink coffee.
I weave my fingers into a basket. I place my head into the basket. Three more months of winter. I burp.
Kite Hill’s White Alder nut-based, dairy-free cheese
Submitted by Gina Cocchiaro
Allow this gentle warning, reader, that while I consider myself an otherwise tolerant individual, you shall soon experience my unmistakable prejudice against vegans. I do not actively hold them in contempt, but it may be revealing that I have exactly one vegan friend. She wasn’t always vegan, but now that she is, I am convinced one is all I can handle. She works at Whole Foods, and her birthday fell over Employee Appreciation Week. She got 40% off a wheel of Kite Hill’s White Alder, a nut-based dairy-free cheese. I’m game for any kind of cheese anytime, but soft cheese has it out for me. The air could be three parts per million oozing triple cream nasty and I’d find it blindfolded. There it was, cozying up to some deep red jam on a white plate while I, unaware of its masquerade, cut what I believed to be some off-color Brie. As I dropped the slice into my mouth, she said, “it’s nut milk cheese,” I, quickly masticating and clearing my mouth to speak, replied, “It’s NOT dick cheese?!” Because A) that is what I heard, and B) I suppose I needed the reassurance.
“We believe the best part of eating is inviting everyone to the table for a convivial meal…[our] products had to entice the full range of food lovers: omnivores, vegetarians and vegans alike.” — Kite Hill
Go ’head, Kite Hill. Warriors of food justice, transcending dietary restrictions in a quest for a truly harmonic, egalitarian meal. I like the golden-rule quality of this mission. Showing painfully exclusive eaters the courtesy of inclusion. Offering them a treat for being royal pains in the patoot while omnivores are dealt a compromise. Everybody… wins?
Sad news is we cannot unite all diets around a ruse (especially if the best draw is an opioid-free stand-in for dairy’s holy grail) much less quell vegan FOMO through creation of “cheeze” that, despite Kite Hill’s best efforts, boasts the barely-there taste and mushy texture of semi-firm tofu. Though its taste is inoffensive, its lack of distinction raises my hackles. I am all at once disappointed, hoodwinked, and seriously troubled. Is the fuzzy rind impressive? Certainly. I would consider it a frontrunner in the category of culinary costume design, because honestly until that bitch was cut into it could have passed for some REAL soft-ripened goodness.
While nut milk cheese is an intriguing concept, I can only assume those shmeg-mongers at Kite Hill have lost their damn minds. I imagine late-night recipe development sessions: them snacking furiously on quinoa crackers while snorting line after line of cocaine. They do a lot of backslapping and circle-jerking and inhaling whole blocks of real cheese before gagging themselves with their fists. This team possesses a flair for getting-it-not-quite-right, a mastery of fanciful ideation, a knack for making the unimaginable both extant and terrible.
Of course this is all speculation. Who are these people, really? Shock yourself—as I did—with a visit to the Kite Hill website to find that these four co-founding gentlemen are well-established scientists, chefs, educators, and magician/businessmen. You can shock yourself in another way too—as I did in the early stages of my research—if you google image search “nut cheese.” I think on some level I knew what I was getting into with that one… but if I’ve peaked your sick curiosities then be my guest and search away.
Anyway, the takeaway from the website: these are not strung-out vegan radicals hell-bent on legitimizing the name of gourmet veganism. Their qualifications are irrefutable; these are men of reputable scientific and culinary backgrounds. As far as all-access cheese substitutes go, this is probably close to the best we can do. They’re grabbing an oxymoron by the horns. They’re birthing a mutant with no...
Simone caressed Cynthia’s hair, only to get her hand tangled up in her earbuds, pulling both out of her ears. They could no longer hear Foster the People through the splitter but they didn’t care. The speakers dangled helplessly at their sides, forgotten.
Jumping on top of his Tesla, Theo yelled her name into the crowd. “ALICE!” he cried, willing time to stop, willing the world to come to halt, desperately trying to find her before she slipped through his fingers forever. For he knew one thing in that moment, and that thing was that Alice was the love of his life. Alice, who had introduced him to Malort. Alice, who had bought him those super neat biking pants with the reflector on the ankle that he could also wear to pitch meetings. Alice, who had told him about that bomb-ass brunch spot, who had recommended he read BoingBoing, who signed him up on Twitter. Alice, the one that sent him that great Someecard five days ago with the horse on it, five days before he knew that he needed Alice so desperately, five days before he realized what excellent taste Alice had in local organic meats, five days after he dumped Claire via iMessage.
“I don’t have a TV,” Carla murmured into the nape of Nate’s neck.
“At long last the council has finally passed city ordinance HB 1644, outlawing plastic bags,” Logan said into the microphone as he looked up and saw Shelby walking down the center aisle of City Hall, carrying seventeen cloth bags filled with cats, tears in her eyes. He liked cats.
The Stop Gentrification Now! rally was crowded, but Natasha expertly maneuvered through the crowd on her fixed gear. She locked up and bought a tamale from a vendor. As she approached the group, listening to the protesters’ cries, she heard a voice. She stopped. He was behind her, it was him. She knew that voice anywhere. It was Thaddy P, who had rescued her when she lost a hiking boot off a cliff on the Pacific Crest Trail 5 years earlier. She turned around as he said her name and she saw that he was wearing the same flannel shirt he’d had on the day they met. “The shirt,” she whispered, “you’re wearing the shirt.” “I’ve never taken it off,” he said, as his dreads quivered with surprise. He smelled like really terrible body odor and ramen noodles, and he took her in his arms, promising never to leave her again. She mouth-breathed emotionally.
“Non-celiac gluten sensitivity may be a sham, baby, but our open relationship means the world to me,” said Mark. To both Toni and Ruby. Several days apart. Also Ashley.
The doorbell rang basically right as Lane placed the order. Goosebumps erupted across her arms. Heart pounding, she made her way to the door. “That was… freakishly fast” she said, signing the receipt.
Greg came home to find his Dollar Shave Club order on the steps, delivered by UPS earlier that day, same as always. What wasn’t the same as always was that the box was the size of a refrigerator and was humming the theme song to Juno. Greg sat down and put his head in his hands, listening to his wife sing. Fatherhood. He took a selfie.
“I’ve waited for you for so long” Chad whispered into the dark, sliding his hand over her smooth curves, her beautiful face, his new iPad.
“WHAT IS THIS LIFE” Alyssa shouted, her heart melting. As she walked from room to room, every surface in her home was covered, just like, covered, with candles made out of yarn. They were all on fire. Sam waited behind the door, with a tiny knit ring in a tiny knit box, trying to find her in the smoke.
“YOLO,” he texted. Her pulse quickened.
Anyone you pass on the street will tell you that CDs are becoming a rare beast these days. But if you ask that same joe what he thinks of tuba CDs, he will look at you with puzzlement and declare that here is a beast so rare, he’s never heard of one, let alone heard one—though perhaps he had somehow vaguely assumed that tuba CDs must exist.
Tuba CDs do exist and in such numbers that one tuba player describes them as “expensive business cards.” Luckily for those of us who are not in the fray of competition, this range of tuba CDs means a wealth of creativity as varied and quirky as the artists behind them (we’re talking tuba players here; oh yes, and euphoniumists, too). But one thing unites them: no one is making a fortune off his or her tuba CD. In fact, the tubist contemplating making a recording must ask himself not “how much will I make?” but “how much can I avoid going in the hole on this one?”
At least, that’s what I heard from the 2014 winner of the prestigious Roger Bobo Award for Excellence in Recording, an award open to international entries of tuba CDs and given only every other year. That winner happens also to be my brother Kent Eshelman with his CD Flavors.
Thanks to Kent, I witnessed a little slice of the labor of love it is for a tubist to create an album. Most of my glamorous tuba sister roles involved babysitting while Kent and his accompanist wife, In-Ja, were making the recording; looking through endless online art galleries to try to help him pick cover art (he ultimately didn’t listen to me); and making both large-scale and minute edits to his grant proposal (successful; he listened to me). But all my efforts do not represent a fraction of what Kent put into it.
In the first place, a tubist has to choose whether to go with a label or to go it alone—and when we say “label” in this context, we’re not talking about Columbia or Sony or Deutsche Grammophon. No solo tuba albums exist on those labels. The better-known labels in this context are ones like Crystal Records or Summit Records, small labels devoted to quality solo and chamber music. To be on a label, one must get approval and then pay a fee for the label’s services. Booking the studio and making the recording are still up to the tubist and his own wallet; the label clears permissions, produces the CD and cover, and modestly helps to market it. The DIY route means you send a master copy of your recording to a company that makes a bunch of copies of it and sends them back to you. In the tuba world, there is no stigma to “self-publishing” as there is in the literary establishment, although labels like Crystal and Summit do carry a measure of prestige.
No doubt you can already sense the mounting costs—permissions fees, label fees, booking a studio, hiring an accompanist and a sound engineer. Kent recorded at Oberlin College in Ohio, whose conservatory of music boasts recording equipment of the highest quality. Their Director of Conservatory Audio Services, Paul Eachus, is also formerly a professional bass trombonist, a fact for which Kent was grateful in that Eachus is particularly attuned to optimal low brass sound.
But here’s what happens when you get a bass-trombonist-turned-sound-engineer trying to record a persnickety tubist: they spend the first hour and a half positioning the microphones! Tubas are tricky like that; they do not sound their best in a studio, which can deaden the full bloom of sound. Larger rooms and halls provide better alternatives—in Kent’s case, a room. For however much his little sister might laugh over the perfectionism involved in tiny physical adjustments of microphones, Kent cited that initial set-up as one of the most stressful parts of the recording. If they couldn’t get the sound right, it would mar the entire result.
Luckily they achieved a sound that Kent and In-Ja both liked, and the recording commenced. Generally, after recording an entire piece, additional takes were made section by section. A difficult spot might require a dozen or so takes that Kent and the sound engineer could later use to make edits. Still, whether playing whole pieces or smaller parts, a tubist’s endurance is limited, which adds to the player’s stress: not only are you recording yourself for posterity, but you have a limited number of tries to nail it. Kent gave me the example of two loud, high Es that he plays at the end of an extended high section in Schubert’s “Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel” (at 2:39, if you want to give it a listen). For demanding elements like that, he has only a few stellar attempts per day in him, which means, in his words, “each one is really precious.”
When the first solo tuba album, Bill Bell and His Tuba, was recorded in 1957, this kind of recording process was unheard of. Back then, the tubist went into the studio or hall, and whatever he played in a whole take went on the recording. In this way, recordings of early masters like Bill Bell are extra impressive. But on the other hand, a little listening to those early recordings reveals how far tuba solo work has come in everything from the expressiveness of the playing to the types of music selected.
What amazes me about all of the good contemporary tuba CDs is how easy they make difficult feats sound. And while some of the overall polish is attributable to editing, the meat of the playing is still the impressive part. So with that in mind, I’d like to give you a little survey of some tracks from tuba albums so that you know what to listen for, what not to take for granted, and what sorts of recordings are out there for you to discover. I can’t begin to cover everything, so these highlights are limited to songs available for free listening on Spotify. If you’re a member of Spotify, you should be able to hear these selections by clicking the links I’ve provided.
We’ll begin with one of my favorite tracks from Flavors, “Burlesque” composed by Eugène Bozza for bassoon. The opening measures begin with a series of rapid jumps from pedal tones—notes below the lowest official written note—up into a more normal range, and then one more leap into a high register. This skipping around from low to high is always difficult on the tuba, and it’s compounded here by the need to execute those jumps rapidly and cleanly. I guarantee if I tried to play this, two disasters would occur in this leap-frogging: the low pedal notes would not be in tune at such a fast tempo (good pedal notes take A LOT of air), and I would chip the higher of the two notes in each pair, rather than land on them fully and deftly. Tough stuff—not to mention the rapidity of the scales that follow the jumping intro.
You can hear another remarkable feat of range from tubist Patrick Sheridan on his CD Bon Bons, with the song “Estrellita”. (One look at the CD cover, on which Sheridan has transformed his bald head into a confection of maraschino cherries and chocolate frosting, will tell you tuba CDs aren’t all about the seriousness of the recital hall.) Just as the Bozza piece that Kent plays is a transcription from bassoon, Sheridan’s “Estrellita” is a transcription from a violin solo, and so what might lend itself to well to a concert violinist becomes an extra challenge to produce with one’s breath sent through lengths of brass tubing. What’s impressive here isn’t simply that Sheridan can hit the high notes—it’s how he hits the high notes with a beautifully singing tone. Listen for how he makes a big, lumbering bass instrument sound as delicate, breezy, and flirty as the ablest violin.
By contrast, tubist Sèrgio Carolino’s rendition of “Black Dog” (Led Zepplin fans, this one’s for you!) on the CD TGB begins with a ridiculously high, though hardly cantabile, statement of the melody. Who cares if it’s cantabile? This is classic rock played on the tuba, and Carolino has just the right groove in his playing to make it convincing. Entirely composed of jazz, funk, and classic rock selections, TGB is a good example of tuba solo work coming a long way since 1957. (If you get into it, don’t miss the track “Só”; something about the laid-back sound hits me just right.)
Speaking of fun repertoire, check out “The Simpsons” theme song played by euphonium virtuoso Steven Mead on Euphonium Magic Vol. 2. The three CDs in the Euphonium Magic series all feature Mead multi-tracking himself. In other words, it sounds like a whole ensemble of euphoniums is playing when in fact Mead records each part and then puts them all together. As with most tuba and euphonium recordings, Mead mixes up his selections so that on the same CD with “The Simpsons,” you also get heartbreakingly beautiful classical selections like “Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral” by Wagner.
If one person multi-tracking himself doesn’t do it for you, there are CDs by tuba/euphonium ensembles such as Sotto Voce, a group of two tubas and two euphs—the low brass equivalent of a string quartet, if you want to think of it that way. Their selections also range from jazz and Latin-inspired pieces to chorales. The third movement of “Diversions” on the album Viva Voce! showcases the group as well as individual creativity with a mind-bending tuba solo that occurs from 3:30-4:30.
I can hardly send you off into the vast world of tuba recordings without a mention of my personal favorites, some of which I’ve touched on in previous installments. I love the creative vision of Norwegian tubist Oystein Baadsvik, whose piece “Fnugg” I’ve linked you to before. Many of his selections have a more popular appeal to them and are therefore very listener-friendly and addictive. His Christmas CD Snowflakes features great arrangements that go beyond the typical Nativity fare (see especially “Christmas Draws Nigh” and “Fairest Lord Jesus” in which the tuba’s part is purely rhythmic mouthpiece slapping to provide a beat for a tribal-sounding choir). Ferry Tales, another album of Baadsvik’s, includes a version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that makes me actually like an otherwise maudlin song. In terms of euphonium, my favorites include Brian Bowman’s The Sacred Euphonium and Benjamin Pierce’s gorgeous renderings of Bach cello suites on Pierce Plays Bach. Ensemble-wise, the Tennessee Tech Tuba Studio’s album Christmas Tubas (yes, another Christmas album) can’t be beat.
But my #1 favorite is none of the cleverly named albums like Tuba Tracks or Tubas From Hell (though those are both great), nor am I seduced by clever cover art like Jim Self’s My America on which his face is interposed on the American Gothic painting where he holds a tuba instead of a pitchfork. No, my favorite tuba CD is a jazz album of tuba and B-3 organ quartet with selections that are both easy enough for a jazz dilettante like me to enjoy but substantial enough to be musically and creatively interesting. In short, it’s the perfect album to play when you’re sitting around with a cocktail, especially if you have folks with you, in which case the CD becomes a conversation piece (“Tuba? Jazz?”). The title is Life is Good—not the best, not the worst, but the cover—well, you’ll have to excuse the cover. It’s the all-time dorkiest, featuring two guys in beach chairs next to a tuba in a third beach chair—cute enough until you look closely and realize the guys are wearing tube socks and tennis shoes. On the beach. I hold nothing back in making fun of it because those guys are my big brothers, Kent on tuba, Jon on B-3 organ, a recording they made ten years ago. At the time, I suggested they put a picture of me in a bathing suit on the cover, but they didn’t listen (some things never change). Shame; there’s no telling but that it might have gone platinum.
McSweeney’s is on the road! Not the actual road, we lost our license a long time ago, but The Road to 50—our very own midcentury mark is now just one subscription’s worth of issues away. We have squeegeed the windows, we have topped off the tank, our bellies are full of Doritos and we’ve had at least three or four Wild Berry Five-Hour Energies in the last twenty minutes—now we’re just waiting for you!
(Get on board now! And if you dig it,
continue on to read what lies ahead.)
Where will this gleaming, chromed-out extended metaphor of a minivan take us, should you choose to climb in? Our first stop, this September, will be Issue 47, a mountain village full of fiction from writers new and old—two never-before-seen stories from “Lottery” author Shirley Jackson, a portrait of a celebrity interview gone terribly wrong from Thomas McGuane, dark reflections from Lynn Coady and Mona Simpson, an excerpt from Bill Cotter’s latest novel, new work from Bob Odenkirk, and much, much more. It’s beautiful there! Early editions of Rick Steves’ Guide to 50 described the inveterate traveller falling to his knees upon his arrival, tearfully wishing to never have to leave again. Local legend describes the landscape as “ten separate booklets bedecked with one panoramic mega-illustration.” What does this mean? Will they sell us more Five-Hour Energy? We will find out! This is why we are on the Road to 50.
(Subscribe to the McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern now, and turn to page 50. Or buy a gift subscription and turn to page 10! Just kidding! There is only one adventure to be chosen here. Keep reading to find out what’s coming up in the Quarterly world.)
From the glorious peaks of Issue 47, it’s on to Issue 48—Siri tells us we’ll arrive just in time for Christmas. A picturesque, two-book hamlet, situated in a gorgeous redwood grove, 48 boasts some sixteen new stories, as well as a full-length screenplay and the world’s largest ball of imaginary yarn—there is no better year-end destination. On our first day we’ll pass through Book One, which features the script-writing debut of Boots Riley, the fearsomely talented frontman of The Coup; on day two we’ll move on to the second volume, where we’ll spelunk through a remarkable collection of freshly translated stories from Croatia, alongside new work from Kelly Link, Etgar Keret, Rebecca Curtis, Ismet Prcic, and many more. Rick Steves’ Guide to 50 ruefully relates how Mr. Steves forgot all about Issue 47 once he saw the bounties available here; he’s believed to have spent some years running the quaint riverside tavern. Can’t wait!
What’s next? Come next spring, we’ll be racing toward Music City—bypassing Nashville and Austin and heading straight to the highly anticipated, LP-inspired Issue 49, guest-designed by the legendary Gary Burden and featuring our finest writers covering, American Recordings–style, their favorite classic stories. We’ll watch Jess Walter channel James Joyce, see Meg Wolitzer embody J.D. Salinger, and witness T.C. Boyle take on Italo Calvino—we’ll sing along, we’ll stage dive, we may drag you into some kind of dancing competition in the middle of the floor, and late at night we’ll probably get a drum circle going with Emily Raboteau, Chris Abani, Tom Drury, Anthony Marra, and local travel-guide-turned-harmonica-player Rick Steves, if we can find him. If only we had more time to spend there!
(If you’ve made it this far, you should probably keep reading.
Also, don’t forget to subscribe.)
And what then? Could one single magazine subscription take you still further? The route checks out, and we think it can—if you sign up today, you’ll follow us all the way to our fiftieth issue. What will we find, in that undiscovered country? Fifty writers, bringing with them fifty distinct stories? A vast literary metropolis, pulsing with life and diversity? Our greatest issue yet?
You’re going to have to sign up to find out—and with the sort of year we have ahead, there’s never been a better time to do it. As Rick Steves once said:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
I signed up for the Road to 50
And that has made all the difference.
Will you follow him, and us? We hope you will—as always, we can’t get there without you, and it wouldn’t even be fun to try. Don’t delay!
I’m thinking about launching my podcast pretty soon. You’re going to want to hear this one—guaranteed.
Granted, I don’t totally know what it’s going to be yet, my podcast. Probably something funny, that’s for sure. Or… where I, like, interview funny people, but we get serious about comedy. Has that been done? Or maybe I’ll get a co-host and we’ll do some classic Regis & Kelly-style banter about current events or what we did last night, what movie we saw, what book we’re reading, or whatever. And we’d have a will-they-or-won’t-they? sorta vibe floating around. People dig that dynamic.
Ultimately, this is going to be a top-notch podcast, whatever form it assumes. Sure, it’ll probably take a little while to attract a giant audience, but we’ll definitely be available on iTunes immediately, I think… and maybe my friend Alan will make a website, which will have an archive of the shows, which I’ll be recording, like, every single day, or one-to-three three times per week. And it’ll be completely free to start, for six months or so, but then I’ll charge $2.99 for a subscription. I know what you’re thinking—$2.99 doesn’t sound like much. But trust me, it’ll add up quickly. What’s $2.99 times a thousand? I rest my case.
How will we build that audience? Easy. For instance… um…
OK, how about a podcast where I play different characters? Right? Like Saturday Night Live, only I’m everybody in every sketch. The only problem is that I don’t really do voices or anything, except for an impression of Johnny Carson, which doesn’t come in handy too often these days, and a pretty stellar, “Hi-ho, Kermit the Frog here!” which loses steam after that one line, if I’m being totally honest. And I rock a decent Chandler Bing, too. But Johnny Carson and Kermit and Chandler Bing do not a podcast make, as the old saying goes.
In any case, you’re going to want to experience this podcast on a regular basis—and I genuinely don’t think “experience” is too strong of a word—once I figure out how to record the thingy. I mean, I obviously know you use your computer, duh, but is there a program for recording podcasts, specifically? Is Garage Band only for music, or can you just talk into it?
Oh, that reminds me: What if I did a music show, where I chat with musicians after they play their hits? Exclusive concerts and such. That could be amazing. I’d get Jeff Tweedy to start us off on the right note, so to speak. Or Glen Hansard. I know that’s aiming pretty high, but those fellas seem like they’d want to do something cool, just for the street cred. Maybe I’ll snag them both for the first episode. Can you imagine? Jeff and Glen do a duet and then I come in when they’re done and I’m like, “WELCOME to the SHOW!” Or I could play it cool, like, “Welcome to the show.”
Sheesh, it’s going to be so great when folks start coming up to me and they’re like, “Are you that podcast guy?” Or, “Helen, get over here, it’s the host of our favorite podcast!” That kind of interaction. I feel like my listeners will be from all over the country and beyond, but we’ll have a connection where they feel like they know me, personally. OK? That’s the beauty of podcasts, the connection you can make in this day and age. People say technology is isolating, but it’s really intimate if you do it right, which I will.
I’ve been trying to figure out a good name for my show, but how do you pick just one? It’s nearly impossible. Maybe I’ll just call it The Connection. Get straight to the point. Or a musical pun, like The Right Note. Or something absurdist and catchy, like, Poddy Casty.
I don’t know. The name will come, probably organically. I’m not going to force it. But what do you think of Pod Stewart? Like Rod Stewart, the singer? But then we’d have to stick to Rod Stewart-themed stuff, which is probably limiting, so forget it.
I have so many other ideas, though! Good ones! Like an entire show where we just whisper. Or an episode where some random dude hosts, maybe my cousin, Anthony… and we see how long it takes for the audience to figure out that it’s not me. Or, listen to this one: How about a show where I’m underwater and it’s all just scuba gear and shit. You can only hear my breathing apparatus. For, like, sixty full minutes. Right? Or… uh… maybe we make the podcast sound like a sitcom, complete with a laugh track, and I bust out my Chandler Bing. I’d be all, “Could this podcast BE any better?”
You probably sense my enthusiasm for the podcast that I’m launching pretty soon. Obviously, I’m excited to bring my patented brand of… whatever… to the world, one computer at a time, once I figure a few things out, including how to record stuff and what, exactly, I’m going to say. But, I’ll probably start the thing early next year, or thereabouts. And I’ll definitely send you the link when it goes live, you can count on that. And maybe you help get me to No. 1 in the ratings, or whatever they’re called!
My point? My point is that podcasters everywhere should watch their backs. There’s a brand new show on the Internet, just about.
Tap Dat Apse
Groin Vault IV
Two Girls, One Cupola
Barely Legal: Plasticized Load-Bearing Bolts
Gables Gone Wild
Thrust & Splay
Doric Does Dallas
Entering the Opisthodomos
Vladimir Nabokov’s “Signs and Symbols,” originally published in the New Yorker in 1948, is about the mental illness of a young man who is caught between reality and illusion, and the ways in which his immigrant parents, caught between new and old worlds, try to deal with it. In my revision, the young man’s “referential mania” is updated, brought into the Internet era by raising questions about the signs and symbols of our digital world.
For the fourth time in as many years, they were confronted with the problem of what birthday present to take to a young man who was incurably deranged in his mind. Desires he had none. Man-made objects were to him either hives of evil, vibrant with a malignant activity that he alone could perceive, or gross comforts for which no use could be found in his abstract world. After eliminating a number of articles that might offend him or frighten him (anything in the gadget line, for instance, was taboo), his parents chose a dainty and innocent trifle—a basket with ten different fruit jellies in ten little jars.
At the time of his birth, they had already been married for a long time; a score of years had elapsed, and now they were quite old. Her drab gray hair was pinned up carelessly. She wore cheap black dresses. Unlike other women of her age (such as Mrs. Sol, their next-door neighbor, whose face was all pink and mauve with paint and whose hat was a cluster of brookside flowers), she presented a naked white countenance to the faultfinding light of spring. Her husband, who in the old country had been a fairly successful businessman, was now, in New York, wholly dependent on his brother Isaac, a real American of almost forty years’ standing. They seldom saw Isaac and had nicknamed him the Prince.
That Friday, their son’s birthday, everything went wrong. The subway train lost its electronic connection between two stations and for a quarter of an hour they could hear nothing but the dutiful beating of their hearts and the tapping of phones. The bus they had to take next was late and kept them waiting a long time on a street corner, and when it did come, it was crammed with high-schoolers, yelling over their earbuds. It began to rain as they walked up the brown path leading to the sanitarium. There they waited again, and instead of their boy, shuffling into the room, as he usually did (his poor face sullen, confused, ill-shaven, and blotched with acne), a nurse they knew and did not care for appeared at last and brightly explained that he had again attempted to take his life. He was all right, she said, but a visit from his parents might disturb him. The place was so miserably understaffed, and things got mislaid or mixed up so easily, that they decided not to leave their present in the office but to bring it to him next time they came.
Outside the building, she waited for her husband to open his umbrella and then took his arm. He kept clearing his throat, as he always did when he was upset. They reached the bus-stop shelter on the other side of the street and he closed his umbrella. A few feet away, under a swaying and dripping tree, a tiny unfledged bird was helplessly twitching in a puddle.
During the long ride to the subway station, she and her husband did not exchange a word, and every time she glanced at his old hands, clasped and twitching upon the handle of his umbrella, and saw their swollen veins and brown-spotted skin, she felt the mounting pressure of tears. As she looked around, trying to hook her mind onto something, it gave her a kind of soft shock, a mixture of compassion and wonder, to notice that one of the passengers—a girl with dark hair and grubby red toenails—was weeping as she furiously texted. Whom did that woman resemble? She resembled Rebecca Borisovna, whose daughter had married one of the Soloveichiks—in Minsk, years ago.
The last time the boy had tried to do it, his method had been, in the doctor’s words, a masterpiece of inventiveness; he would have succeeded had not an envious fellow-patient thought he was learning to fly and stopped him just in time. What he had really wanted to do was to tear a hole in his world and escape.
The system of his delusions had been the subject of an elaborate paper in a scientific monthly; a bowdlerized version went viral on the ‘net, adducing, for some, its darker corners. (Long before this, she and her husband had puzzled it out for themselves.) “Referential mania,” the article had called it. In these cases, the patient (or commenter), imagines that everything happening around him is a veiled reference to his personality and existence. He includes real people in the “conspiracy,” because he considers himself to be so much more intelligent than other men. Phenomenal reality shadows him wherever he goes. The cloud stares down, via Skype, via our email transmissions to each other, via memes, collating incredibly detailed information regarding him. His in-most thoughts are downloaded at nightfall, by remote use of the onscreen phone keyboard, by darkly giggling analysts. Crashes or hourglasses or error messages form patterns representing, in some awful way, messages that are being intercepted. Everything is a cipher and of everything, he is the theme. All around him, there are (NSA,CIA, DIA) spies. Some of them are detached observers, watching his life on Google glasses; others, such as cell towers, are prejudiced witnesses, lynchers at heart; others, like security cameras, induce hysteria to the point of insanity; they have a distorted opinion of him, and grotesquely misinterpret his actions.
He must be always on his guard and devote every minute and module of life to the decoding of the undulation of things. The very air he exhales is indexed and filed away. If only the interest he provokes were limited to his immediate surroundings, but, alas, it is not! With distance, in the server farms, torrents of wild scandal increase in volume and volubility. The JPGs of his blood corpuscles, magnified a million times, flit over vast fiber optic cables; and still farther away, great mountains of data mining sum up, in zeroes and ones, the ultimate truth of his being.
When they emerged from the thunder and foul air of the subway, the last dregs of the day were mixed with the street lights. She wanted to buy some fish for supper, so she handed him the basket of jelly jars, telling him to go home. Accordingly, he returned to their apartment, walked up to the third floor, and then remembered he had given her his keys earlier in the day. (He refused to carry a cell phone.)
In silence he sat down on the steps and in silence rose when, some ten minutes later, she came trudging heavily up the stairs, smiling wanly and shaking her head in deprecation of her silliness and his stubborness. They entered their two bedroom flat and he at once went to the mirror. Straining the corners of his mouth apart by means of his thumbs, with a horrible, mask-like grimace, he removed his new, hopelessly uncomfortable dental plate. He read his Russian-language ebook, while she laid the table. Still reading, he ate the pale victuals that needed no teeth. She knew his moods and was also silent.
When he had gone to bed, she remained in the living room with iPad, playing Candy Crush and looking at pics. Across the narrow courtyard, where the rain tinkled in the dark against some ash cans, windows were blandly alight, and in one of them a black-trousered man, with his hands clasped under his head and his elbows raised, could he seen lying supine on an untidy bed. She pulled the blind down and went back to the pics. Years before, in electronic thrall, her son had digitized everything.
She scrolled. As a baby, he looked more surprised than most babies. She clicked, bringing up a pic of a German maid they’d had had in Leipzig and her fat-faced fiancé. She clicked and clicked: Minsk, the Revolution, Leipzig, Berlin, Leipzig again, a slanting house front, badly out of focus. Here was the boy when he was four years old, in a park, shyly, with puckered forehead, looking away from an eager squirrel, as he would have from any other stranger. Here was Aunt Rosa, a fussy, angular, wild-eyed old lady, who had lived in a tremulous world of bad news, bankruptcies, train accidents, and cancerous growths until the Germans put her to death, together with all the people she had worried about. The boy, aged six—that was when he drew wonderful birds with human hands and feet, and suffered from insomnia like a grown-up man. His cousin, now a famous chess player. The boy again, aged about eight, already hard to understand, afraid of the wallpaper in the passage, afraid of a certain picture in a book, which merely showed an idyllic landscape with rocks on a hillside and an old cart wheel hanging from the one branch of a leafless tree. Here he was at ten—the year they left Europe. She remembered the shame, the pity, the humiliating difficulties of the journey, and the ugly, vicious, backward children he was with in the special school where he had been placed after they arrived in America. And then came a time in his life, coinciding with a long convalescence after pneumonia, when those little phobias of his, which his parents had stubbornly regarded as the eccentricities of a prodigiously gifted child, hardened, as it were, into a dense tangle of logically interacting illusions, making them totally inaccessible to normal minds.
All this, and much more, she had accepted, for, after all, living does mean accepting the loss of one joy after another, not even joys in her case, mere possibilities of improvement. She thought of the recurrent waves of pain that for some reason or other she and her husband had had to endure; of the invisible giants hurting her boy in some unimaginable fashion; of the incalculable amount of tenderness contained in the world; of the fate of this tenderness, which is either crushed or wasted, or transformed into madness; of neglected children humming to themselves in unswept corners; of beautiful weeds that cannot hide from the farmer.
It was nearly midnight when, from the living room, she heard her husband moan, and presently he staggered in, wearing over his pajamas the old overcoat that he much preferred to his nice blue bathrobe.
“I can’t sleep!” he cried.
“Why can’t you sleep?” she asked. “You were so tired.”
“I can’t sleep because I am dying,” he said, and lay down on the couch.
“Is it your stomach? Do you need to go the ER?”
“No doctors, no doctors,” he moaned. “We must get him out of there quick. Otherwise, we’ll be responsible…. Responsible!” He hurled himself into a sitting position, both feet on the floor, thumping his forehead with his clenched fist.
“All right,” she said quietly. “We will bring him home tomorrow morning.”
“I would like some tea,” said her husband and went out to the bathroom.
Bending with difficulty, she retrieved the iPad, from where she’d pushed it down the side of the chair. He didn’t need to see those pics.
He returned in high spirits, saying in a loud voice, “I have it all figured out. We will give him the bedroom. Each of us will spend part of the night near him and the other part on this couch. We will have the doctor see him at least twice a week. It does not matter what the Prince says. He won’t have much to say anyway, because it will come out cheaper.”
Her telephone buzzed. It was an unusual hour for it to buzz. He stood in the middle of the room, groping with his foot for one slipper that had come off, and childishly, toothlessly, gaped at his wife. Since she knew more English than he, she had the phone.
“S’up Charlie,” the message read.
“No Charlie here,” she texted back. “U have wrong number.” She put the phone down gently and her hand went to her heart. “That frightened me,” she said.
He smiled a quick smile and immediately resumed his excited monologue. They would fetch him as soon as it was day. For his own protection, they would keep all the electronics in a locked closet. Even at his worst, he presented no danger to other people.
The phone buzzed again.
“Charlie r u there?”
“You have the incorrect number,” she texted. “Delete this number please.”
They sat down to their unexpected, festive midnight tea. He sipped noisily; his face was flushed; every now and then he raised his glass with a circular motion, so as to make the sugar dissolve more thoroughly. The vein on the side of his bald head stood out conspicuously, and silvery bristles showed on his chin. The birthday present stood on the table. While she poured him another glass of tea, he put on his spectacles and reëxamined with pleasure the luminous yellow, green, and red little jars. His clumsy, moist lips spelled out their eloquent labels—apricot, grape, beach plum, quince. He had got to crab apple when the phone buzzed again.
Laura is devastated to find her beloved dog dead in the barn. Charles brings home a stray named Bandit to curb his daughter’s pain, but Laura refuses to bond with the new dog. Meanwhile, the Walnut Grove townspeople have mixed reactions to the idea of welcoming an eccentric new woman into their community. Meanwhile, Caroline takes several baskets of strawberries to Starbucks and attempts to barter with them in exchange for a year’s supply of espresso beans. They offer her a month’s supply of Strawberries and Cream Frappuccinos instead. Dejected but not defeated, she takes the strawberries home and bakes a pie.
Laura and Andy come across an injured female wolf and her pups. When they bring them back to the Garveys’ barn, Jonathan reluctantly agrees to let them stay until Doc Baker nurses the mother back to health. As the town gradually finds out what’s going on, they are concerned that more wolves will show up, threatening their families and livestock. Meanwhile, on a family visit to Starbucks, Laura gets angry when a barista spells her name “Lora” on her grande Pike’s Place Roast, Carrie gets locked in the bathroom and Mary talks to Reverend Alden about coveting the new sinfully delicious Raspberry Swirl Pound Cake.
“The Creeper of Walnut Grove”
Laura and Andy are determined to find out who has been robbing the mercantile and stealing food from people. The “Garvey and Ingalls Detective Agency” is officially in business, but it ultimately causes more harm than good. Willie Oleson and the Tompkins boy surreptitiously smoke a pipe in the ice house and leave the ice house door open and all the ice melts. Subsequently, Starbucks puts a moratorium on Frappuccinos.
“The High Cost of Being Right”
Jonathan Garvey is convinced that he has a great crop coming up, but as he is celebrating with his family at the dinner table, a fateful fire burns their entire barn down. With all their plans destroyed, Alice has a plan to help them get back on their feet, but Jonathan’s pride threatens their marriage. Jonathan has a change of heart when their son Andrew gets a job as a barista and gets to take home the leftover scones and coffee cake muffins after his 3 – 11 shift. Meanwhile, Starbucks’ fall flavors are delayed when the stagecoach bringing the pumpkin spice syrup from Mankato goes down a cliff.
“Here Come The Brides”
Adam Simms and his son Luke move into town. Adam and Miss Beadle quickly fall in love, while Luke and Nellie develop a whirlwind romance of their own. Luke is a decent young man and very loyal to Nellie, but when Harriet does not approve of his “farm boy” status, the young couple makes secret plans to elope. Laura sells her beloved horse “Bunny” so she can buy Ma an espresso machine.
“I Remember, I Remember”
On the cold, rainy evening of his wedding anniversary, Charles is stuck in the middle of nowhere with a broken wagon wheel. While Caroline and the girls wait at home—with a special celebration dinner all prepared—Caroline passes the time by reminiscing with her daughters about her youthful beginnings with Charles. The stories revolve around young Caroline’s efforts to woo the socially inept Charles, who initially didn’t know quite how to express his romantic feelings. Meanwhile, Doc Baker has to perform the Heimlich maneuver on Lars Hanson when he chokes on a chocolate covered espresso bean.
Charles inherits the entire estate of a wealthy uncle. Within 24 hours, the Ingallses, who are seemingly rich, suddenly become Harriet Oleson’s best pals. They are pressured to make various contributions throughout the community, and they even receive newspaper article offers to chronicle this tremendous change in their lives. Things get even worse when this newfound fortune threatens the family’s relationships with their real friends. Meanwhile, Nellie Oleson, to avenge a barista who broke Nellie’s doll, replaces the cinnamon at the Starbucks condiments bar with cayenne pepper while Mr. Edwards finally accepts the idea that coffee can be iced.
“I’ll Be Waving As You Drive Away”
Charles brings a sullen Mary to Iowa so that she can study at a school for the blind. In Walnut Grove, financial crisis has come upon the town. The Ingalls and the Olesons and other families are preparing for the possibility that they will have to start a new life elsewhere. Laura and Andrew Garvey visit Starbucks for one last communal Frappy Hour. They ask for extra java chips on their java chip blended Frappuccino and are dismayed to discover the java chip crop was destroyed by locusts.
Dear Me When I Used to Have Seven Cats,
I know you didn’t mean for this to happen. The cats were incremental. First the two kittens you actually meant to adopt. Then a year later, the tiny female kitten you found yowling in the alley on the coldest day of the year, the one you loved the most. Two years after that, three kittens from the pregnant barn cat you fostered, which put you at six. And not long before you moved into your house, the alley cat showed up at your apartment. You didn’t want another cat, but he sheltered on your back porch from time to time, exhausted and dirty. It was a safe spot and his sleep was so deep. He’d start awake when you walked out the door on your way to work, purring audibly, and clenching his paws in pleasure when you stroked him. He wasn’t meant to live on his own. Then you saw the mangled body of a cat that looked just like him smeared into the street. Your heart jumped when he showed up alive; you added him to the last load of stuff you took from that apartment.
Five of them named out of books, because why not be that person?
A salute to the moment when you recognized that you must not adopt another cat. That the ones you had were are all you could care for and even that was a stretch. Maybe you thought about it while you were scooping out one of the seven litter boxes in your basement. Like an automaton, you did it twice a day. At any rate, you realized you were basically a butler for cats. That even though you loved every cat, the interactions had become sharp transactional jabs. There, I pet you for the day, pat-pat. Here’s your food, pour. How long before you would have more cats than you could care for? Did you already have more cats than you could care for?
One day a young and hopeful ginger cat wandered up while you were turning on the water in the side yard and you turned away, walked back inside, and shut the door. That was the moment. A sad one for that cat, but a healthy one for you.
When you were a kid, your mom acquired and discarded pets as if they were furniture. Mostly, she found another place for them, but there was a little streak where three pets were taken off to the vet and killed. It was after your sister was born, after you moved back from your dad’s, after your mom married Earl. In hindsight, you can see that she had taken on so much more than she could handle.
One husband. Two kids. Three cats. Two dogs. A house the size of a postage stamp. Something had to give.
The first time it happened while you were gone. It was somewhere around ninth grade; maybe the summer before? You came home from your yearly visit to your aunt. Your oldest cat, Planet (who was around 6), was put down while you were away. Something was wrong with her. Something that was never explained to you or else you forget the explanation. But you will later suspect the death wasn’t necessary. That it was carried out in your absence so you couldn’t beg a reprieve that would have cost money and time.
When you asked why you didn’t get to say goodbye, your Mom told you she did it to spare you, to make it easier. Maybe. Or maybe she was just trying to shut you up, to stifle that hurt in you that flashed in the back bedroom of the house, in sync with everyone else’s pain in that little family of damaged lightning bugs.
When you got the news, you went to your bed to cry. But your mom had arranged a visit from some girl you didn’t know very well. The stepdaughter of one of your stepfather’s friends. Nothing like that had ever happened before because your mom didn’t make plans to comfort you. Usually she’d just buy you something to make up for things that sucked even though she didn’t have very much money, and so many things sucked.
You were so numb that day. Your mother came in to the bedroom to tell you to get up for your visitor. She stood there next to the bed and said how embarrassing it would be if you didn’t make an effort.
You got up. You rode out to Lake Michigan in the backseat of the car with that girl beside you and both of your stepfathers up front. Past Mount Baldy, out to the National Lakeshore. There was a sign explaining that the sand was moving inland, shifting, destroying trees, engulfing houses. You could see half-buried trees rising up out of the sand. They looked like charcoal, is what you remember. Maybe there had been a fire.
At some point after that (probably within a year?), two more of your pets—a dog and a cat with behavioral problems—were dropped off at the vet together to be killed. Your mom came home fuming because the vet’s office treated her like she was doing something wrong. You probably didn’t say anything in support or denial because by that point, you didn’t feel much of anything except a roaring emptiness. The final cat would be given away because of your sister’s allergies. The only pet that weathered the purge was your stepfather’s German shepherd.
So now you have seven cats. It won’t last forever. You’re going to meet a guy soon and he is going to move in with you. You are going to love him, but the two of you will never really work and he will leave. One of the cats will have died by then and the guy will take his dog and two of the cats. Even though you miss all of them, even though you cry on the drive home from work every day for six months, you still sigh with relief at the extra space in your life. Four cats are left. They’re so much easier to cherish.
Don’t ever have that many cats again, okay? And work on that fucking anger. Work on all that wild space inside you. Something is going to grow there.
The other day I was interviewing an applicant who wanted to tutor with my company. She had a strong résumé, and I was interested in hiring her, but I noticed she mentioned in her cover letter previously teaching in an inner-city public school, and in her interview, had expressed several times her commitment to helping those students get to college.
I have a certain policy when I interview anyone who’s worked with TFA, AmeriCorps, or any state-funded teaching program that’s led them to work in lower-income public schools; essentially anyone who’s chosen to work specifically with kids who aren’t rich. My policy is to warn them. I figure the fairest thing is devote thirty seconds of the interview to checking in with these applicants, and making sure that they have accounted for the fact that this is a very different environment with very different students: namely, the super-rich. The kids who are definitely going to college. I check that their mission is one that includes our demographic, or if their mission is to serve the underserved, that they understand that this simply has to be their day job. I do this quickly and only in so many words. Not only does it seem right to make sure our applicants understand this before they dive in, but it’s a good way for me to gauge whether or not they understand our business and still think it isn’t evil.
Most candidates nod knowingly, visibly relaxing when I make clear that I understand the distinction between their past work and ours. “I get that,” they tell me. “But everyone deserves an education, right? Everyone needs to be taught,” the most self-possessed applicants tell me. It’s a small moment of honesty in which, ideally, I can get the sense from a candidate that they know this isn’t the work they want to spend their lives doing, but that it can be good in its way. Good for now.
The applicant the other day, though, interrupted me. “I really admire the work you’ve done in the past,” I told her. “I just want to be honest about the fact that this is a somewhat different demographic of students—"
“No, I know,” she cut in. “They’re driven. Don’t worry, I’ve worked with highly intelligent students in the past who wanted to really push themselves.” She went on to describe some of the extremely competitive students she’d worked with in the past, and how hard they were to please until their scores were perfect.
I kept trying to back track and make her understand what I meant in vague, vanilla terms. “Well, not that, exactly… I mean to say that these students come from an entirely different background, and that our clients tend to be fairly demanding…” But, no matter how I tried to phrase it, she still seemed to think I was speaking only in terms of academics, not economic ethics.
I know you’ve been trying to save the world, I wanted to say, but I need to make sure you understand that this is as FOR-PROFIT as companies get.
But I balk, and back down, feeling sort of dirty and not knowing why.
Thinking about it later, I realized what had bothered me so much about the moment. I withered at the idea that anyone could leave my office thinking that I’d made the point that the major difference between our students and the ones in inner-city public schools was that ours are smarter. That ours want it more. That our rich kids from the right part of town are simply the ones willing to do the work. It felt like even allowing that notion to go uncorrected was a slap in my own face. That maybe I don’t have 100% of the self-righteous self-awareness I love to feel anointed with.
My direct colleagues at work (i.e. the people I don’t report to) and I don’t crunch the numbers much—it isn’t part of our jobs. Whenever we’re made to deal with them, though, it’s pretty unanimously everyone’s least favorite part of the work. “Who can afford all this?” is a commonly asked question among us whenever we look closely at bills or revenues. Seeing as most of us come from education, as a group we keep fairly up- to-date with news about our city’s school system, the failure and poverty it’s becoming famous for in the state. “We’re part of the problem, aren’t we?” a colleague once asked me in her car as we listened to a story on the radio about high school drop out rates.
“Yes and no, I guess,” I responded.
It’s that age-old question of whether or not it’s better to know you’re doing wrong, or act in ignorance. Which, to be fair, I think everyone pretty much answers ignorance. But I look around and see my colleagues spending their free time volunteering at after-school literacy programs, college-readiness classes for the underserved, free summer camps for kids from dangerous parts of town. It’s not as though they’re sealing themselves in a vacuum where they can pretend their not bending their own ethics. But one can’t shake the feeling that we’re all trying to undo the damage we feel inextricably a part of. And what’s there to say about an educational business at which a critical mass of the employees feel a debt to society for the work that they do?
To my knowledge, we’ve never had a new employee quit because they found our business distasteful. The rude awakening has never been such that someone has left the job altogether; we are, after all, still teaching young people, not feeding them arsenic. And there are definitely instructors in our employ who care, who are talented, who are “teachers” more than “tutors.” But the number of conversations I’ve had with tutors and managers and employees at my company where one or the other of us has said “I can’t imagine doing this work alone—it’s just funding what I really care about.”
When else have you ever heard a teacher say that?
Sorry I’ve been so hard to track down lately—I’ve been crazy busy! We’re in the middle of three new business pitches at work right now. And when I’m not at work, I’m running around with the kids, from soccer practice, to ballet lessons, to piano recitals. And of course when I’m not with the kids, I’m at the beck and call of the parasitic life form that has taken hold of my body. It’s really been non-stop!
You wouldn’t believe the number of emails I get in a day. In just the time we’ve been talking, I’ve already received 300 new emails. My boss, vendors, clients, direct reports, account managers and brand managers clamor for my digital attention all day long. I also get thousands of emails every day from the mother species. Email seems to be the easiest way for her to communicate with the nightmarish entity growing inside of me.
I know it sounds selfish, but sometimes I wish I could have just a few moments alone with my thoughts, with no kids, no deadlines, and no parasitic tentacles worming their way through my brain. I don’t even know what I’d do. Maybe get some reading done, maybe exercise, or maybe just tool around in my old shed, where I could relax and build a birdhouse or something instead of this strange metal machine covered in lasers and knives I’m being forced to build. What a relief it would be to break free from the shackles of the stressful modern world, just for a moment. It would also be great to break free from the heavy metal shackles that prevent me from escaping the shed.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s all worth it. What am I even doing this for? Some behemoth holding company? Some even more behemoth alien being? To be honest, there are times when I feel like I’m a slave to The Man, just another meaningless cog in the wheel of big business. In a much less metaphorical way, I also feel like a slave to the parasite that has taken over my body and free will.
It’s an exhausting life, and it never stops, even after sundown. In fact, night is often the only time I’m able to focus and get any real work done. So I end up burning the midnight oil, reformatting PowerPoint presentations, planning sales meetings, catching up on email and, of course, every night before I can go to sleep I’m compelled by some unknown presence to spend at least six hours in the corner, slowly rocking back and forth while making Morse-code ticking noises into the cell phone-like receiver that’s growing out of my wrist. Most nights it’s usually nearing dawn before I’m finally able to settle into my mucous-lined cocoon for some much needed shut-eye.
Also, lately I’ve found myself spending a great deal of my “free time” attached to a breast pump, milking. I keep all the milk stored in our basement fridge, in bottles clearly labeled “do not drink” (Trust me, you don’t want to, it tastes like mucous.) I’m not sure what’s it’s for exactly, but I’m guessing it’s somehow related to the nodules the parasite forced me to implant in my husband a few weeks ago. I’ll admit that even though it adds to my already busy schedule, this isn’t the worst part of my day. I know my husband and I are nothing more than reproductive shells to the parasite, and that it will eat both of us once the nodules have matured, but I just can’t help but feel comforted by the maternal chemicals the parasite is releasing into my body. In fact, the last time it used my hand to touch Brad’s lower abdomen, we felt the nodules start to throb. It was kind of cute.
Despite that, I do sometimes wish I could just leave it all behind, take a break and just breathe, through my own lungs, instead of these weird mucous-covered gills I seem to have now. But from what I’ve been able to glean from the mother species’ plan for the human race, and from looks of the murder machine I’ve been building in the shed, it seems like things are just going to get busier and busier around here!
But you’re right, I guess when it comes down to it, I can’t complain. I’m really busy, but being too busy is always better than the alternative, right?
1. pregnant with [something non-baby] — i.e. pregnant with understanding, rain, possibility, kittens, you name it.
2. empty womb — nice complement to pregnancy (see above); readers don’t need to be female to feel the pain of one of these suckers, or see them everywhere there’s something hollow.
3. dead deer — hit one of these with your poetic car; nothing like roadkill to make your readers think about humanity/global warming/art/artifice/etc. etc. … the list is as endless as the entrails of that deer.
4. ennui — Killer word. Killer spelling. Enough said.
5. rhizomatic — this one’s more to describe your ars poetica. Feed it to the critics to sound swanky.
6. miasma — this guy’s for any time there’s a smell/odor in your poetry; ditto fog, steam, ghostly aura, and especially cigarette smoke.
7. punctuation marks — use these handy shapes to describe anything but themselves: comma of her lips, parentheses of her hips … you get the idea.
8. birds — overhear them outside your window and/or use to describe actual punctuation marks.
9. divine muse — always a good idea to credit your sources.
Remember Me Like This
by Bret Anthony Johnston
Here’s the deal: Bret Anthony Johnston is the single most distinguished literary figure ever associated with the skateboarding realm—the historically anti-establishment/loner/nonconformist sport where visual content reigns supreme—and certainly the only winner of a Pushcart Prize1 who can 360 flip.
And look O Gentle Reader, this isn’t someone who skated for a few years and now occasionally dusts off the memories, drags them down from the attic, only to place them back in a cabinet cluttered with adolescent curios.
To this day, Mr. Johnston — director of Harvard’s creative writing program, author of the critically acclaimed short story collection Corpus Christi, editor of Naming the World and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, author of the Danny Way documentary Waiting for Lightning — skates2 with evangelical fervor.
He’s a skater.
And that’s what’s great about this impeccably credentialed author. Trite as it sounds, Mr. Johnston is living proof that skaters—still freighted with the “slacker” image—can do any darn thing they please, even ride first class to the literary establishment’s innermost sanctums.
Hemingway had bullfights.
George Plimpton had football.
Bret has the board.
So for observers of the skateboarding literary scene, such as it is, the publication of Mr. Johnston’s first novel, Remember Me Like This, is a cause for three cheers, a bunch of “woo-hoos,” and a passel of “yippees.”
In skateboarding, instantly obsolete “web clips” are all too common; 365 pages of well-wrought fiction are not.
A stirring portrait of a family’s emotional life, Remember Me Like This tells the story of Eric and Laura Campbell and their 11-year-old son Justin’s haunting disappearance. What fate ultimately befell him? How do they swim against a riptide of grief? Is true reunion even possible after the passage of so much time, so shattering a psychic injury?
These are but a few questions besieging the Campbells as they struggle with the sense that one day a loved one simply fell into a black hole—the void violence carves daily into the American mind, body, and soul.
Indeed, a soggy corpse sets the plot in motion. But far from being a stagy whodunit crowded with chintzy cliffhangers, dark and stormy nights and mustache-twirling villains, Remember Me Like This is a finely etched study of trauma’s long half-life and the way it seeps into the soil of communities, in this case fictional Southport, Texas, the Campbells’ Gulf Coast town.
Publically there are the search parties, and the billboards plastered with the names of the missing. Privately there are self-recriminations, the endless, all-consuming cycles of “what-if?” “if-only…” and “why?”
By the same token, the tragic subject matter grants Johnston ample opportunity to thread the narrative with moments of credible redemption. Laura Campbell volunteers at a dolphin sanctuary, a moody atmosphere evoked with precision and care. (One realizes this is as much her refuge as it is theirs.)
And of course, one would be mildly disappointed if skateboarding did not furnish Remember Me Like This with a few motifs. Sure enough, Griffin, Justin Campbell’s thoughtful younger sibling, is a devotee, and Johnston has clearly taken great pains to depict how this four-wheeled wooden plank can offer unique solace to an adolescent cut adrift.
There are many reasons to read Remember Me Like This.
Its loving evocations of a Texas town’s skate spots is certainly one of them.
However, something else, something beyond skateboarding, is also going on here: a storyteller grappling with fiction’s eternal tasks.
Fiction—as no other creation quite can—opens other lives: the grieving parent, the bereft brother, the missing son.
Without fiction’s truth, the stranger at the stoplight, the co-worker quietly crying in the next cubicle, or that family the neighborhood over—the one you heard something crazy, something horrible happened to—stays shrouded in mystery, hidden in plain sight. You wonder how they pulled through, question what you would do, and have no answers.
Until a book like Remember Me Like This rises from the mist.
by John Beckman
“America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy,” John Updike alleged. John Beckman’s immensely charming history often reads as an untangling of this theory. Since America’s inception, he argues, there have been forces arrayed for and against fun. (The opening chapter recounts the epic battle between grouchy William Bradford, of Plymouth Colony, and fun-loving Thomas Morton, of Merry Mount.) A professor of English at the U.S. Naval Academy, Mr. Beckman explores cultural moments that were pure fun (proto-jazz musician Buddy Bolden scores an early hit with “Funky Butt”) and when capitalistic calculations supplant true joy (P.T. Barnum, etc.).
But no history of American fun would be complete without remarks on our country’s singular contribution to fun: skateboarding. Never fear, Mr. Beckman gives the Dogtown and Z-Boys era its due and ponders why skateboarding, like so many American sports, loses touch with its roots in pure play.
Truly epic in scope, American Fun is amazing, and you should purchase it from your local independent bookseller and blah, blah, blah would you mind if I asked you a personal question? Yeah, you, O Gentle Reader! Are you currently taking any medications? Adderall3 or other stimulant? Because here’s the thing: Book reviews are generally kinda boring, and if you have read this far, congratulations on your tenacity. Why you’re here when you could be watching “Otters holding hands” or “Husky Dog Talking – ‘I love you’” on the Net is beyond this reviewer, but your commitment to this relationship is touching/you have dependency issues and you look so beautiful and vulnerable and I love you woof woof woof!
Hence, in gratitude for your doggedness, we’re going to shake up, disrupt, and radically transform the (skateboarding-themed) capsule book review industry! You ready, dog?
Since Professor Beckman literally WROTE THE BOOK ON FUN, the royal we called him ON THE TELEPHONE. Oh yeah, that’s right. And we explained that since Mr. Beckman was in some sense A PROFESSOR OF FUN, we thought it would be SUPER FUN4 if we watched a new skateboard video together and, like, deconstructed it or whatever.
directed by William Strobeck
“How did you get this number?” Professor Beckman said frostily.
In point of fact, the even-keeled scholar was perfectly amenable to dissecting cherry—the first full-length video released by Supreme, storied skate shop and clothier.
The countercultural equivalent of an event film, cherry features legends and decorated veterans (Mark Gonzales, Paulo Diaz, Jason Dill, etc.), reigning cult figures (Alex Olson, Dylan Rieder, etc.), recent initiates (Sage Elsesser, Sean Pablo, Tyshawn Jones, etc.),5 and the experimental jet set (Chloë Sevigny etc.). As this mélange suggests, cherry is as much a bleary-eyed love letter to the downtown demimonde—a deliberate provocation rife with “adult content”—as it is a skate video. To those who say skateboarding has become too sterile, cherry says, “Not so fast.” Here is a NSFW film that would make its parents and eccentric relatives—Larry Clark and Harmony Korine, Nan Goldin and Diane Arbus, Jim Goldberg and Martin Bell—proud.
And where did Mr. Beckman stand6 on the film’s rougher edges? Was it all in good fun?
“[The film] almost makes an argument about street skating,” Mr. Beckman said. “A certain element of flaunting transgression.”
“Raw ‘folk’ fun often happens in rough, often abject conditions,” he mused. “Merry Mount was no walk in the park. The Gold Rush, the American Revolution. These were really intense environments, but fun often arises out of them. [cherry] celebrates that aspect of street skating. These kids find these crappy corners of the city, just this piece of metal sticking out that no one would think to notice, and they turn it into this playground. They just have so much fun with a derelict corner of the cityscape… It’s really respectful of what street skating is about. ”
by Seb Caryoal
Introduction by Dave Chappelle
You’re still here? You know what your problem is? You’re needy. That’s your problem. Now I’m rolling my eyes to express condescension laced with thinly veiled contempt even as I invite you up for coffee, slip into something a little more comfortable, light some candles knowing all too well that this dysfunctional, increasingly toxic relationship with you O Gentle Reader will yet again sway-lurch toward another ill-advised intimacy for reasons I can’t fully explain, and don’t really want to, but whatever. You apparently need an explanation. Why you have this pathological need to label everything instead of just letting things be is something you should really think about and work on. Seriously. That’s what is so amazing about skateboarding. It is beyond words. Words can’t explain. But then you do have books that start to limn the edges of what skateboarding really is, like this book which is a book of photographs and interviews and yarns about storied San Francisco skate shop FTC and to turn its pages is to turn back time to the little store off Van Ness that was this warm little world of stickers burning-bright behind glass and new decks clicking and clacking onto the counter with a thwap and to the Embarcadero Plaza—the plaza in that picture up there—when it was all that it was, the dreamscape that it was. (It was Hollywood, baby.) And if you went into FTC in those days, or heard the bricks clattering under your board or even saw the dude in that picture up there, you just felt like you were, as Baudelaire once said of his walks through Paris, “wading into a vast reservoir of electricity.” Do you see that dude in that picture? That dude was the dude that every dude wanted to be. That’s Mike Carroll. He used to skate with the most insolent expression on his face. And when you saw him skate you either got it instantly, knew you’d seen a glimpse of something outside time, or you were an idiot, a “T-Dog.”(Slang. A fake skater.) There he is: king and crown, throne and scepter. And I don’t care if you’re William Friggin Faulkner no one will ever be able to do it justice though this book comes close. In certain sports media circles you regularly hear the term “endemic audience” thrown around and yeah, okay, that’s probably a relevant term. It would be technically accurate to say this book appeals to “the endemic audience.” But then maybe you believe there is a way to “bridge the gap”—make things a little more legible for the “mainstream” or “non-endemic audience” without sacrificing the essentials or resorting to footnote7 upon footnote. All you have to do is try to explain. Try to explain that FTC presided over skateboarding’s most influential era and, just like in the movies, it was the place that a rag-tag band of misfits, many lacking any real home life to speak of, called home. Try to explain why these guys were personal faves: Jovontae Turner, Drake Jones, Shamil Randle and Lavar McBride etc. Try to explain that Shamil Randle skated with an afro pick in his hair, that Drake Jones had a little light bulb tattooed on his wrist, that Lavar McBride was a child star and, as he relays in the book, became homeless and this is baffling because this was the KID THAT HAD IT ALL. But doing so feels so cheap, quick, and dirty because you really did want to linger on the afro pick and say THIS IS NOT JUST A CULTURAL NUANCE, THIS IS SKATEBOARDING and anything less than rhapsodic, overwrought language feels like a disservice, especially to this era that so reliably makes skaters of a certain age go gaga, this reviewer included for sure, for sure. So much depends on an afro pick. You either get it or you don’t. And anyway, aren’t you over it—sick and tired of explanations? Explanations are risky. They have this weird way of ruining the moment. “We murder to dissect,” William Wordsworth said. Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle: The act of observation changes the thing observed. So shut your mouth O Gentle Reader! Silence is golden! Hit the lights! Don’t say another word.
THE AWESOME GUIDE TO LIFE
by Jason Ellis with Mike Tully
Last but not least, this bad mama jamma.
The Awesome Guide to Life: Get Fit, Get Laid, Get Your Sh*t Together needs no introduction because, jeez, just look at the cover.
Here is Mr. Ellis, a retired pro skater, periodic MMA fighter and Sirius XM radio host, on courtship: “One time, when I was on a skate tour in my early thirties, I managed to have sex with a giant lady.”
Bad book. Down boy.
And here is the eponymous host of the Jason Ellis Show analyzing why, in the wake of Romanticism, the mimetic theory of art began to wane: “I look sweet. But if you try and look like me you’ll probably look like a jackass.”
Drop it. No.
(The Awesome Guide to Life is, in fact, a follow up to Mr. Ellis’s wry, wistful memoir I’m Awesome.)
And yet, inviting target though Mr. Ellis’s foray into self-help literature may be, there is something oddly agreeable about his voice. One suspects he is actually a bit of a satirist, if not a subtle one. In other words: Mr. Ellis is indeed a self-exalting individual hell-bent on turning his narcissistic delusions into a cottage industry, but he is also a send-up of this sort of guy and he sort of knows it and, God help you, at times you can’t help but laugh at/with the man.
A guilty pleasure/“brain break” if there ever was one, you like it even if you don’t necessarily like that you like it.
Or, in Mr. Ellis’s immortal words, “Finally, there is crack. There is no right way to do crack. End of story.”
When I was in college, David Foster Wallace gave a reading. As a joke I asked him to fill out a dining hall comment card. I also asked what, if anything, he thought of skateboarding, thinking that this distinguished author might have something profound to say. “The little fuckers run into me in front of the library,” he said.
1 The Pushcart was awarded for the short story “Soldier of Fortune.” But run don’t walk to “The Gift of Fear,” Johnston’s masterly Men’s Journal article on skateboarding legend Danny Way which was included in 2012’s Best American Sports Writing.
2 Full disclosure: Please note that Mr. Johnston is a longtime friend/idol of this reviewer and that Mr. Johnston is also a better skater than this reviewer and this reviewer is totally at peace with that and is not being defensive at all.
3 What was the name/number of the physician that you saw? It’s for a friend.
4 Fun is an all-important aesthetic criterion in skateboarding.
5 All of whom have recently joined Mr. Dill’s latest venture, a board company called Fucking Awesome.
6 For example, in time-honored skate video tradition, cherry documents altercations with security guards. “Maybe this is where I find myself getting a little older and moralizing,” Mr. Beckman said. “That’s clearly not a ‘fun’ opinion on my own part I’m sure, but whatever.”
7 Okay, now you’re hovering. Please stop hovering.
While pussy is still the artist’s primary objective in this song, the aggression traditionally associated with obtaining it is notably absent. The rapper’s apparent diversity of interests outside of pussy could very well explain his diminished intensity toward it, as he appears to enjoy travel and cooking quite a bit, and is also an avid golfer.
In contrast to the majority of rap lyrics that express an artist’s flagrant possessiveness over pussy, here the rapper begins by making a clear distinction that any man who claims ownership over a woman’s vagina, even in a metaphoric sense, is no man at all.
As the song progresses, the listener gains a further understanding that it is not, in fact, pussy that the artist is truly after, but rather a deeper human connection. Pussy, we learn, is merely the conduit to a more fulfilling and substantive relationship for him.
Throughout the song, he wrestles with his inability to separate the ideal of love from the pussy itself. They are inextricably linked in his heart—a reality that makes him virtually incapable of hitting it and quitting it, as his peers so readily do. He makes efforts to follow suit and to conceal the emptiness he feels after meaningless encounters with various female genitalia, but when he’s alone, his “mask of arrogant disregard,” as he calls it, is streaming with very real tears.
In an industry where there is no shortage of confidence with regards to one’s ability to acquire pussy, these lyrics provide us with a window into one artist’s vulnerabilities. An intimate glimpse inside his rare pattern of self-doubt and years of therapy, through which he questions his most basic motivations in procuring pussy, and more profoundly, his larger role as a man in modern society.
He finds himself living a paradox; he is part of a hip-hop culture that celebrates those who garner the finest and largest quantities of pussy, and yet he is compelled to focus his attention and devotion upon just one. In a particularly poignant verse he expresses his reaction to the ridicule from fellow rappers for his fervent monogamy. Despite their caustic jabs, he remains steadfast in his belief that there is one pussy out there for every man, and if it’s the right pussy, it can last a lifetime.
In the song’s final verse, the artist elegantly shifts the entire conversation on pussy, no longer depicting it in a sexual context at all, but rather as a reproductive vessel, a miraculous gateway to new life. He describes, in great detail, his most intimate and transformative moments witnessing the birth of his first child—a beautiful baby girl who squeezed right out of the most beautiful pussy he’s ever seen.