[A grubby city storefront with VINNY’S JOKE CONSIGNMENT AND PAWN SHOP painted in faded letters above the awning. A young hood carrying a small paper bag scurries inside the store.]
VINNY: What you got for me today, Johnny?
JOHNNY: Got a whole bunch of Oscar zingers I stole off a Twitter.
VINNY: Oscar jokes? Johnny, Johnny, please, are you serious? The Oscars were two months ago. What am I supposed to do with Oscar jokes? [Pours the bag on the counter.] Look at these. These are tiny. They’re already full of rust. These are no good to me. Everyone steals tweets, anyway. Bring me something fresh, something hot.
JOHNNY: Damn, Vin! Why can’t you take the usual stuff I steal? Like TVs and guns and shit.
VINNY: We deal in jokes here, Johnny. Jokes. We don’t mess with tech and firearms. Too risky. Jokes are easy to move and not important enough for any feds to get involved. Bring me jokes, Johnny.
[A week later…]
JOHNNY: I got some good ones for you today, Vinny. I went to the comedy club. These are exactly what you wanted. They’re hot jokes just like you said.
[Johnny takes a dozen large jokes out of his duffle bag and sets them on the counter.]
VINNY: Hmm… These look pretty good, Johnny.
JOHNNY: “Pretty good?” Look at the punch line on this one. Look how sharp that is. That’s craftsmanship right there.
VINNY: I’ll give you twenty bucks for the whole bunch.
JOHNNY: Twenty bucks!
VINNY: Take it or leave it.
JOHNNY: These right here are Patton Oswalt’s jokes! They’re worth more than twenty bucks.
VINNY: I don’t care who made ‘em, Johnny. The person who buys ’em ain’t gonna be sayin’ who made ‘em.
JOHNNY: Come on, Vinny. You gotta be jokin’.
VINNY: I don’t tell jokes, kid; I buy ’em and sell ’em. For a profit, Johnny. For a profit.
[Two weeks later…]
JOHNNY: Alright, I went to the open mic last night and I got a few good ones you’re gonna really like.
VINNY: Let me see them… Uh-oh. Wait a minute. Did you get these from a guy wearin’ wire-rim glasses? Had a big bushy beard?
JOHNNY: Yeah, how’d you know?
VINNY: The guy was in here last week. I sold him these. You got played, kid.
JOHNNY: Son of a bitch!
VINNY: Make sure they’re original jokes before you steal ’em, Johnny.
JOHNNY: I’m gonna break that hack’s kneecaps!
[A week later…]
JOHNNY: OK, I got a whole sack of fresh jokes for you right here.
[He empties a large bag on the counter.]
VINNY: What the hell are these? These aren’t funny.
JOHNNY: Vinny, come on! They’re hilarious.
VINNY: Where’d you get these?
JOHNNY: At the improv theater near the river. The one with the weird name.
VINNY: Improv? Johnny boy, come on. Why’re you makin’ this so hard? Those Patton Oswalt jokes you brought me were perfect. They sold out by the end of the day.
JOHNNY: What’s the matter with these? They’re jokes. People were laughin’! Swear to God! You shoulda heard the people laughin’ at ’em.
VINNY: I’m sure they were, Johnny, but I’m not. These don’t work out of context. Look at this one. I can’t make heads nor tails of it. No one would want to buy this. They need to stand on their own. [He tosses the joke back on the pile and pushes it toward Johnny.]
JOHNNY: I swear to God, this shit is harder than workin’ a nine-to-five.
[A week later…]
VINNY: What’s that you got in the backpack, Johnny?
JOHNNY: I stole this from some college kid.
[He sets the bookbag on the counter, unzips it, then carefully removes the joke.]
JOHNNY: Pretty tight, no? It’s a joke about a joke.
VINNY: I see that, Johnny. Very fancy.
JOHNNY: Way I see it, this has gotta be worth a hundred, easy.
VINNY: And why would you think that? Because it’s so sleek and modern?
JOHNNY: Oh, come on, Vinny, don’t short me on this one.
VINNY: Johnny, I’ll be frank: most jokesellers wouldn’t even bother with this meta stuff. It’s too—what’s the word?—clinical, I guess. But I happen to appreciate meta jokes. I’ll give you fifteen for it, and that’s because I like you and you’ve been workin’ hard.
JOHNNY: Fifteen!?! Are you serious?
VINNY: Want my advice? Stay off the college campuses from now on. They’re the only ones who really get a kick out of stuff like this. Thing is, they’re not comin’ here to do their shoppin’.
[A week later…]
JOHNNY: Yo, Vin. Check this shit out.
[Johnny sets an aluminum Halliburton briefcase on the counter and cracks it open slightly. White light beams from the crack.]
VINNY: Jesus, Johnny! Where the hell you get that?
JOHNNY: You know what this is? Need me to open it all the way for a better look?
VINNY: No, no—don’t! I know what it is. It’s a joke about a joke about a joke. Where the hell you steal that?
JOHNNY: Don’t worry about that. How much’ll you gimme for it?
VINNY: Close the case, you idiot! The punch line’s unstable. That shit’s dangerous! You’re gonna blow up our whole world!
JOHNNY: Relax. Now, listen. Way I see it, this should be worth a thousand, easy—
VINNY: Close the damn case!
[Vinny lunges across the counter. Johnny jerks the briefcase back, but it falls out of his hands. As the briefcase hits the ground and fully opens, Johnny and Vinny disappear in the light.]
How do you deal with
cognitive dissonance—the conflict
that arises between our internal beliefs
and external world experience?
a) I refuse to believe I have experienced cognitive dissonance.
b) I blame George R.R. Martin for all my emotional turmoil.
c) How do you deal with your cognitive dissonance?
d) You can either shift your beliefs in light of new knowledge, or exert steady, transformative pressure on the world by founding your own multimedia production company with your wife and pumping out historical/public policy books and “documentaries” that support your agenda.
e) Dig around until I find a fossilized fish with a human jaw, filling in an evolutionary gap and landing myself in blissful accord once again.
f) Pack up my pamphlets, dioramas, and smug bumper stickers, give up my lease on the billboard, and woefully return my pet bobcat to the wild.
Award yourself one tin foil hat for an a or c answer, and two tin foil hats for answering d.
How do you make major life decisions?
a) Shake a Magic Eight Ball.
b) Wait until a response is overdue and bureaucracy makes the call for me.
c) “What would James Franco do?”
d) I await a sign. Typically, the hair stylist gets sick of waiting and just gives me the Rachel by default.
e) The rhythm method.
f) I don’t have time for decisions, I’ve got a line of cat handbags to design!
Award yourself one tin foil hat for an a, b, or e answer, and two tin foil hats for answering f or g.
Explain the banana:
a) The ergonomic shape, color-coded ripeness key, and easy-open neck suggest the banana was designed with human consumption in mind by a supernatural engineer.
b) The ergonomic shape, color-coded ripeness key, and easy-open neck suggest the banana was designed with the 21st century juice-fast craze in mind by a supernatural engineer with an equity stake in Liquiteria.
c) They are a rich source of potassium so vital to humans that we developed opposing thumbs just so we could open them quicker.
d) Their comic sensibility suggests they were designed by a supernatural being with an absurdist sense of humor and fondness for improv theater sports.
e) They are the result of human cultivation of (asexual) banana mutations thousands of years ago so that we would have ergonomic cases for our Maui Jims today.
e) Bananas are everything that is wrong with this patriarchal society.
f) God’s little mistakes.
g) They are hobbits to the plantain’s elves.
Award yourself one tin foil hat for an a or d answer, and two tin foil hats for answering c or e.
When you shop for groceries,
you ask for the packer to use:
a) “paper bags, made from diminishing natural resources and transported long distances using fossil fuels, if possible.”
b) “paper bags (you’re welcome, Earth!), but double-bagged with plastic because let’s be honest, bags aren’t supposed to be made out of paper or we would be making cars out of paper.”
c) “single plastic bags packed efficiently, being scientifically the most environmentally low-impact option after reusable cotton totes.”
d) “my pockets—all of them,” as I plant the leg of my cargo pant on the checkout.
f) “these reusable, easily stashed bags made from recycled material, except for the bulk bin stuff, which I’ll just cup in my hands until I get home.”
e) “jazz hands.”
Award yourself one tin foil hat for an a answer, and two tin foil hats answering b.
What do you see in the below ink blot?
a) The will to believe
b) Nagging doubt
c) A piece of charred toast
d) Methodological flaws
e) A sign
f) An exploded pen
g) A reflection of my neuroses
h) The Dark Knight Rises
Award yourself one tin foil hat for answering d or e, and two tin foil hats for answering h or i.
If you take a substance and dilute it with water to the point where none of the original molecules remain, you have created:
b) Vitamin Water.
c) a medicinal remedy.
d) a very exciting placebo.
f) an analyte into which you can introduce a titrate to establish the precise volume with which total disbelief is reached.
Award yourself one tin foil hat for answering b, and two tin foil hats for answering c.
Tally up your tin foil hats!
0-2 tin foil hats
You are a mostly rational humanoid with enough irrationality to furnish a tin foil hat with antennae. Even with a tight aluminum wrap over your brain, you find that silly ideas sometimes find their way in. For the most part, logic and reasoning have the most sway over your beliefs, but enjoy putting your cerebellum into sleep mode once in a while, and letting your brain stem do the driving.
3-5 tin foil hats
You are sometimes rational, with enough irrationality for a tin foil swan. A beloved member of your community, you like to pick up a dowsing stick from time to time and lead your friends, family, and production assistants to the deep, cooling waters of self-delusion. You have crafted a world in which you only expose yourself to those likely to compliment the tin foil swan that sits atop your proud brain mass.
6-8 tin foil hats
You are a part-time rationalist, part-time space captain who has cobbled together enough nonsense over your lifetime to form a handsome tin foil crop circle. During moments of doubt, you think to yourself, “Perhaps I’m not wearing enough foil on my head. Maybe that is the problem,” because when actions fail to achieve the results you want, you know the sanest response is to double down in anticipation of a different result. You have a photo album devoted to Hale-Bopp, and look forward to a nice retirement on Xenu.
9-12 tin foil hats
You are rarely rational, and have hoarded enough paranoia to create a tin foil replica of the Apollo 11 lunar module, made famous in the bogus 1969 moon landing. Not only does the thick, tin exoskeleton you wear keep your dura mater insulated from contrary beliefs, opinions and evidence, but it serves to keep the crazy underneath at an ideal temperature.
Review of Andy, host of 79 Second Avenue One-Bedroom:
Andy’s studio was the perfect place for me to stay while I was in town on business for two weeks. A really cool, old-school NYC vibe. On some nights I had a little trouble sleeping; might have been I wasn’t used to the bed, but overall it was great!- -
Review of Jeff, guest at 79 Second Avenue One-Bedroom:
Jeff was an excellent guest. Since this was my first time renting on Airbnb, I was afraid of how my neighbors would take to me renting the place to strangers. Turns out, they loved Jeff! They couldn’t stop talking about him, and they even said for me to tell Jeff that they said hello when I leave this review.
Jeff, could you elaborate on what was wrong with the bed? I’d like to fix any problems before you stay here next.
Response from Jeff, guest at 79 Second Avenue One-Bedroom:
Tell your next-door neighbors, Deborah and Louis, hi back for me! And Mitch too! The bed was fine! It was just a little lumpy is all. NBD!
Response from Andy, host of 79 Second Avenue One-Bedroom:
Hi Jeff! Thanks for your additional details regarding the bed. I’ve replaced it. I bought a brand-new, top-of-the-line, king size spring-foam from Sealy. You can check the reviews online. It’s the best.
Beyond that, all I can do is apologize. From the depths of my being, I am truly sorry you did not experience a restful stay in my apartment. Your sleep will be so much better the next time you’re here. Perhaps we can arrange the dates now?
PS: Deborah and Louis say hello back. As does Mitch. And my super, Hugo. They all wish you the very best.
Response from Jeff, guest at 79 Second Avenue One-Bedroom:
You replaced it? Ha! LOL!
Response from Andy, host of 79 Second Avenue One-Bedroom:
Hi Jeff! So it seems like in your last reply you might have thought I was joking. To make clear that the bed has indeed been replaced, please go to the property photos section, where I’ve added several photos of the new mattress, including one with me sitting on it, holding today’s newspaper for proof of life.
Now that that’s cleared up and you can be assured of nothing but sweet dreams on your next stay, let’s talk dates. I’d like to offer you a preferred customer discount. Simply enter the code PLEASECOMEBACK when booking your dates for 90% off your next stay.
Deborah, Louis, Mitch and Hugo all say hi. Mitch says he saw you in a dream he had last night. He wants to know if you saw him in yours.
Response from Jeff, guest at 79 Second Avenue One-Bedroom:
Hey, um. Wow. I really didn’t think it needed to be replaced or anything, but I guess that just proves what a great host you are! Don’t see any future trips to your city on the horizon, but when I do have one I’ll definitely consider your place again. Thanks!
Response from Andy, host of 79 Second Avenue One-Bedroom:
Hello Jeff. Lot of changes here at 79 Second Avenue. You’ll note all new pictures in the property photos album. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. I’ve done a complete overhaul of the apartment.
Since you said the place had an “old-school NYC vibe,” I took that to mean you might have found it a little antiquated, and that might factor into your hesitation to stay here again (that in addition to “Bed-Gate,” for which I continue to apologize). Well, take a look now! New paint. All the appliances in the kitchen have been replaced. And the bathroom has been redone top to bottom. You’ll walk in and think it’s a never before lived-in condo!
Just for good measure, I also replaced the bed again. Just to get rid of any lumps I’ve added from sleeping on it in the months since you’ve been gone.
I’d like to offer you a free stay to try it out. As long as you like. Whenever you like. Hope to get your booking soon!
Deborah, Louis, Mitch and Hugo all say hi, and they miss you very much.
Response from Jeff, guest at 79 Second Avenue One-Bedroom:
Congrats on the renovation. I’m sorry to say that I really won’t be able to visit your city any time soon. Best of luck.
Response from Andy, host of 79 Second Avenue One-Bedroom:
Jeff. I pray that you’re awake and you’re online right now, because I’ll be deleting this reply five minutes after publishing it for fear of my neighbors seeing it.
In your brief interactions with my neighbors, you had a profound effect on them, Jeff. In some way or another, you enchanted them.
Deborah and Louis say that having you around made them fall back in love with each other. Mitch told me that after his chats with you sitting on the front stoop, he went back to AA for the first time in four years. Hugo confided that fixing the stuck lock on the door while you were here made him value his career choice more than he has in years.
You showed them the value of having a good neighbor nearby. And you apparently revealed to them my shortcomings by comparison.
They’ve been soooo mean to me, Jeff. Shoulder-checking me in the hallway. Emptying my clothes from the dryer while still wet. Spraypainting YOU SUCK, BRING BACK JEFF on my door.
They replaced the mattress. They paid for the renovations to the apartment, with Hugo doing most of the work. They think I’m preventing you from coming back. Every time you leave a new review indicating that you won’t be returning, they break into my apartment in the middle of the night and pound me awake by swinging towels wrapped around bars of soap into my mid-section, ordering me to leave another response to persuade you.
It’s not just for my own well-being that I want you to return, Jeff. It’s for theirs. Mitch started drinking again. We had to check him into an inpatient rehab when we found him outside, drunkenly caressing the step where he used to sit with you. I used to hear Deborah and Louis making love through the wall, taking turns role-playing as you, arguing that one of them wasn’t doing your Minneapolis accent correctly. Now they only argue. And Hugo is in prison for attempted arson after trying to rig the wiring to set the building on fire. He said in his trial that with you gone, the building is already a charred husk where once, briefly, there was joy.
Please, come back Jeff. I’m not the neighbor they need right now. You are. Please rent my apartment again, and save my neighbors from themselves.
Response from Jeff, guest at 79 Second Avenue One-Bedroom:
I’m sorry for what you’re going through, and for whatever part I played in these events, but I absolutely will not be returning to your apartment. I will now be disabling my Airbnb account.
Message to prospective guests from Andy, host of 79 Second Avenue One-Bedroom:
I will no longer be hosting guests at my apartment at 79 Second Avenue. There is no apartment anymore. I gave it up. I’m hitting the open road, heading to Minneapolis to find Jeff, so I can finally meet the man who had such an effect on my building. I don’t plan to sign another lease anytime soon, at least not until I’m ready. Not until Jeff is willing to meet with me, and perhaps teach me how to be a better neighbor.
Oh my god I can see earth you guys this is AMAZING like that whole like pre-solar nebula thing was SOOO effing boring I like haven’t effing hung out with anyone in like forever like this weekend is going to be literally amazeballs like you guys don’t even understand like literally I’ve traveled 600 million light years around that effing asteroid belt just waiting for the solar system to form I mean like it was effing terrible plus like space pretty much sucks anyway but like whatevs I’m just getting pumped for this weekend so like anyways I was thinking here’s what we’d do tomorrow we’d go to the water park because I’m like SOOOOOOO effing dehydrated and like need moisture to survive or whatever but like also because I’ve heard amazing things about floating on the lazy river like I MUST do that I mean I’ve heard everyone pees in it but like whatever I’ll probably pee in it too cuz like who cares I mean you don’t think they’ll have that chemical that turns pee purple do you whatever like I just like want to chill the fuck out in that inner-tube and be like super relaxed you know anyways so like is there a good cronuts place near your apartment I’ve LITERALLY heard like so many AMAZING things about cronuts like I’ve got to try one there’s like literally NO good food on this goddamn asteroid it’s like so effing lame okay I’m getting pretty close now like I’m totally entering your atmosphere it’s getting like really bumpy and warm yea it’s starting to get super warm like I think like something’s burning yea something’s definitely burning yea this asteroid is like crazy hot like it’s on fire right now like I’m definitely on fire like I am literally disintegrating into a hot ball of fire okay byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…
The week begins with an email from “MMJMenu” with the subject line “Hey BUD!” It’s only after reading the subject line that I can make a guess as to what the contents of the email will offer.
It’s the week before Easter and the auspicious date of 4/20. I’m not aware of this until we step foot into the next dispensary on our agenda. A Sunday afternoon and we mosey over to Hollywood Boulevard, to the location of the closest dispensary to my first apartment in Los Angeles mentioned in my February column. We are in what is called Thai Town, Little Armenia adjacent.
It’s tricky to rock a rhyme,
to rock a rhyme that’s right on time
it’s tricky (tricky)
These lyrics blast at us as we walk through the doorway opened by the security guard who spied us down the block and, I suppose, assumed where we were headed. If not there we might be headed to a home health care center a couple of doors down, a psychic, or to a “sacred arts” art gallery/yoga studio/healing arts center.
And the music really is blasting. I can hardly concentrate as I read over the forms, but my consort points out a few interesting variations on the paperwork we’ve signed—at this point, eight unique sets that qualify us to be members of these collectives and abide by their respective rules.
The walls are red and the ceilings high. There’s a Jimi Hendrix poster, and another poster advertising “420 Day” and, maybe since the second dispensary I visited six months ago, I notice a stand filled with free marijuana lifestyle magazines, this one with Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN on the cover, along with “420 Collector’s Edition” highlighted in the top left corner of the magazine. A sign looms: NO CELLPHONES ON PREMISES. How anyone can expect this in 2014 is beyond me.
The woman behind the clear, thick Plexiglass is friendly, the first level of friendly it turns out because when we’re finally allowed into the next room, another young woman offers another level of friendly. It becomes clear we are in another waiting room because we’re offered juice from a glass dispenser and coffee, with self-serve Dixie and Styrofoam cups. This room has green walls and as I get some juice (“Tang” my consort insists), I notice a Shrek-like character painted near a corner. Is it some kind of marijuana imp or mascot or mythical creature I’m unaware of? The ladies return our medical recommendations and drivers licenses to us. When I take a seat, one comes out to show us a laminated poster with all the 420 specials they will offer the following week. She explains the discounts and the freebies for the first 300 customers who walk in the door. It may be Easter Sunday for some, but 4/20 is a whole other kind of holiday, apparently.
The enormous glass case in the waiting area is unusual in that the top shelf is given over completely to Los Angeles Dodgers memorabilia. More bobbleheads than I’ve ever seen in one place stand around looking at us. The shelves underneath offer the more typical wares of gigantic glass bongs and sophisticated-looking vaporizers.
With smiles, we’re directed to the next room, the buying room. Here we’re greeted by two budtenders, men, and one seems appointed to us. Another layer of customer service expertise is displayed when he introduces himself and begins giving us a “tour” of the small room. “These are mirror images of what’s in the glass cases over there,” he says, so we understand that the case in front of us contains all the strains of loose bud they have. A practiced salesperson, he shares his knowledge on both the top and bottom shelf strains (as low as $8 a gram) and offers sniffs from the mason jars. He speaks in a particular weed language I haven’t heard from any budtenders yet, using phrasings such as “creative vs. euphoric” to describe strains, including one that offers ability to see through “writing projects” in which a consumer might “think outside of the box.” I wonder if he sells to a lot of writers; I haven’t mentioned I’m one.
The neon chalkboard tells us there are daily happy hours. “I know it’s loud,” our budtender offers by way of apology for talking above the blaring music. I look at a paper flyer given to us by one of the women and learn that wristbands, stickers and matches are free for the taking (I have seen none of these offered), and “refreshments and edible samples are complimentary.” I haven’t been offered a sample, but was the “juice” doctored? (It was not, I decide after a couple of hours.)
We leave the premises and I grab a lifestyle magazine on the way out. There are over two hundred pages of glossy ads, articles, and ten features listed in the table of contents. “420” is displayed in as many fonts as you can imagine, and a dotted line with scissors illustration is peppered throughout, signaling the reader to cut the coupon, visit the dispensary. Full-page ads wish me “Happy 420.” It does come but once a year, unless you count the daily 4:20 a.m. or p.m. “420” has become more of a culture than a code. Seeking cause to celebrate is human. This particular culture has created a lucrative marketing strategy around a so-called holiday and its consumers will no doubt celebrate.
I just did Pilates, so I thought I would take advantage of all the endorphins flowing through my brain by writing to you. It’s been a while, and you don’t write—ever, not even once—so I guess it’s up to me to do it.
I’m smiling now. I feel so high. And you know I don’t do drugs, so that must mean something. Anyway, I thought that this would be a good time to tell you that when we were going out, the thing is, I actually did love you. Surprise! I didn’t tell you because it probably would have ruined everything. But now that it’s all over, I guess there’s no harm.
I loved you. I still kind of do.
It’s not a big deal. Don’t feel like you have to say anything. I just want to put it on the record while I still sort of mean it. Because the thing is, recently, I’ve been getting better. I haven’t been crying as much. I’ve been doing Pilates. Today, I cried a little while doing Pilates. But once I started working up a sweat, the endorphins came rushing back and made the tears go away. I even smiled in wonder at my own resilience. At last! Now I know that when I want to stop crying, I just need to do Pilates.
I feel so healthy. People always say that exercise is the best cure. Now I get it. Now I know what they mean. Because I did Pilates, I feel as though I can say this to you and not really care if you feel the same way, or ever felt the same way, or would have felt the same way had I been slightly more palatable all of the time.
The thing is, I like variety too. I was looking forward to meeting new people. But every time I meet somebody, I find myself wanting to tell you about him. Especially if he’s an idiot or has stupid hair. Then I feel like calling you and yelling at you for having more fun than me.
But here’s the thing: it’s all within my control. I can decide to take pleasure in things and people that are not you. Like that law student, or Pilates.
You’ve probably never had to think thoughts like this. You probably think I’m dependent. I am not. Loving you and depending on you are not the same thing. I love you. That does not mean that I want to see you all the time or talk to you every day the way I would if I were really a loser. All it means is that I miss the remote notion that you could be thinking about me. It’s not fair that you aren’t thinking about me right now. You are probably thinking about someone whose yoga mat is not stained with tears. This is an unbearable thought.
I am writing this to you because I’m in a good place. It would be terrible if I wrote this to you when I was drunk. I’m not drunk. I am sitting on my yoga mat, glowing with the explosive radiance of millions and millions of endorphins crowding out every negative impulse with the purest joy. I plan on doing this every day until the endorphins completely crowd you out.
That day can’t come soon enough. Some of the students have complained, and the Pilates instructors are concerned that I’m a liability.
There is sometimes a great awkwardness when students see their first practice test scores. It’s usually worse when the parents are there.
“This doesn’t make any sense. She’s on the Honor Roll at school. Why would her scores be this low?” they ask, as though I personally jinxed the test, or graded it incorrectly just to trick them. It’s not infrequent that there’s a discrepancy between a student’s grades in school and how they perform on the test. This can be due to a number of factors:
1. Grade inflation in private schools. Many private schools get the same push-back from parents that my business does—they can’t understand why they’re paying so much money for their child to have a shitty GPA. The response is to pressure teachers not to give anything below a B, which causes an unsurprising wave of grade inflation.
2. Grade inflation in public schools. While this is not the case in all public schools (just as the above problem is not endemic of all private schools), it happens in some underfunded, under-supported schools. As these schools struggle to keep their students in school and at the appropriate grade-level subject material, the mean comprehension and what’s often referred to as “achievement” sinks, meaning that the top students at some “underperforming” public schools would be in the lower fifty percent as other, better funded schools. An Honors student at one of these schools might still find him or herself underprepared for the SAT.
3. Testing anxiety, which can be hard to anticipate and even harder to combat. Anxiety is the curve ball that is sometimes combatable and sometimes proves to be the mountain that cannot be moved; the stone you can’t squeeze blood from. A student who shines in the classroom might freeze at the very sight of a timer, get sick to the stomach, we’ve even seen anxiety-induced mid-test nosebleeds from our students.
4. The ACT and SAT don’t reflect a lot of school curricula. This last one is sort of the dirty secret. Bright students who work hard and get justifiably good grades still might not rock the ACT or SAT out the gate. These tests not only measure a very distinct knowledge base and set of skills, but they test it in a very specific way. The tests are timed. They’re multiple choice. The ACT tests facility with data analysis. The SAT tests not only math content, but critical mathematical aptitude. While there are certain standards that all schools are held to maintain—the ability to read, basic algebra concepts, etc—the truth is that schools inhabit a certain amount of latitude in what any given student learns. I’ve worked with students who claim never to have taken a science class in high school. I’ve worked with students who haven’t studied grammar since the sixth grade, and some who have never studied it at all. I’ve met with a straight-A, prep school student who could not for the life of her tell me what a “noun” was.
On top of that there are language-based high schools, arts-based schools, STEM schools, project-based learning experiences, and homeschoolers. Each state has education standards and graduation requirements, but there is so much elbow room within those for students to either pursue their passion or fall through some rather sizable cracks.
And what does it say when our curricula, even when they are functioning as planned, don’t align with our schema for measurement? What does it mean that what schools elect to teach isn’t the same thing we’re testing to make sure all students know? Which is wrong—the school or the test?
In the minds of many of our clients, it’s neither. We are the ones who are wrong—those who work in test prep. We’re the ones they’re paying to close that gap. And why shouldn’t any parent expect that if their son or daughter has only ever gotten A’s in English that he or she will crush the Critical Reading portions of the SAT? Why should that seem unreasonable? This goes beyond the cliché that every mother thinks her son is the smartest boy on earth—she’s essentially been told by his school that he is, and then he comes to us and we can’t even get his ACT scores above the fiftieth percentile?
Here rears its head the ugly dichotomy between paying for an education and paying for straight A’s. All these vague accusations I’ve leveled at the test prep industry about paying for a score rather than an education—the same can be said of any part of the education industry. Paying for academic tutors, private schools, summer camps, any of it. It can all be used as a method to throw money at a college application rather than educate a student. And to be clear—I don’t think that all of these things are bad all of the time. As much as I cast aspersions on my own industry, I do believe that we teach important concepts that these students would otherwise lack. That Honors student who didn’t know what a noun was left our office that day with a working definition of every part of speech. I truly believe top-notch educations such as students receive at many of the country’s prep schools are great and amazing things. I simply also believe that in many cases the virtue of these resources gets warped and perverted in the race Get Into College.
I’ve never had a conversation with a parent on this subject in which they expressed interest in finding out exactly what their son or daughter really knows. I can count on one hand the number of parents who have seriously accused their child’s prep school of under-teaching them, but have lost track of the number of clients who have reacted with outrage that their honors student received an unsatisfactory score on a standardized test. The differences in test content versus curricular content are, in my opinion, under scrutinized. The grade-inflation talk is an even worse cherry bomb to throw at our parents. In not all, but perhaps too many cases, the primary concern is that their child has a 4.0.
The content of that 4.0? Less worth knowing, it seems.
[Beginning in media res in mother’s house.]
[Sufficiently dramatic exposition with an obvious, planted echo to the story’s climax.]
[Flashback serving to illuminate character that could have been filtered through the present action.]
[Disorienting scene break.]
[Re-introduction to protagonist’s mother.]
[Quirky habit of mind revealed.]
[Sudden realization that protagonist’s father is to blame for much of the present narrative.]
[Jarring shift to present action.]
[Jarring shift back to flashback.]
[Second disorienting scene break.]
[Flash forward to an undisclosed time.]
[Shards from broken vase somehow still on the floor.]
[Dialogue unattributed to any character.]
[Blame placed firmly on protagonist.]
[Extensive description of the shock this brings.]
[The vague mention of a “past life.”]
[Jarring scene break.]
[Protagonist steps in shards of vase—which no longer exist in time or space—triggering flashback to an old home.]
[Blood as symbol.]
[Photo as symbol.]
[Some other stuff that’s likely symbolic.]
[Prolonged description of wind, grass, and moon.]
[A strong sentence that makes the rest of the story look awful.]
[Father’s affair revealed.]
[Question about health of mother/father/protagonist.]
[Accidental, though still jarring scene break.]
[Flashback to description of traumatic high school experience.]
[Flash forward to broken vase.]
[Flash somehow sideways to previously unmentioned sibling.]
[Image of siblings playing together as children.]
[Mention of silence.]
[Planted echo from opening returning in gratingly apparent metaphor.]
[Photo of the broken vase, conflating symbols into one mega-symbol.]
[Car scene, intensely muted.]
[Brief dialogue alluding to a lack of direction.]
[Jarring scene break.]
[Flashback to protagonist cleaning up broken vase.]
[Father seen through a window on a rainy day.]
[A gaping mouth, a jaw examined in the act of dropping.]
[Siblings holding hands.]
[Image of the sun, invocation of a distant night.]
I don’t believe this.
Now, obviously “nepotism” isn’t an accusation one just throws without reason, but when a person ascends to Heaven and is given everlasting dominion and glory and kingdom on their first day, well, what else are you supposed to call that? Monarchical theocracy?
Please. Spare me.
Of course, it’s not like I’m surprised. I’ve always been treated like the Holy Trinity’s version of myrrh. You don’t bless yourself in the name of “The Father, The Holy Spirit, and The Son.” And yes, I realize having me at the end works better rhythmically. But that’s beside the point. I’m here to dot the Is and literally cross the Ts.
Or take The Apostle’s Creed. Twelve lines, right? You know many are about Christ? Six. Six! And then, once his half of the Creed is over, they get to me, starting with, “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” before ending with, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Yeah. Not, “I believe in The Holy Spirit, who by the way it just so happens gave us Apostles the ability to speak in all languages the Word of God, meaning technically this Creed doesn’t exist without it.” Nope. Just “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Wonderful. Thanks for the vote of confidence, guys.
I really wish you could have seen my face when I read that for the first time. Although I wish you could have seen my face, anywhere, period, ‘cause apparently, depending on which artist you ask, I’m either a dove, or the wind, or a flame, or tongues of fire, or three men as one, or three men as one, except with beards. I’ve never been to the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, but something tells me underneath Andrei Rublev’s Trinity I’m identified as “And friend.”
Oh, and if there was a Book of Genesis of The Bible, it’d probably say something like: “And The Father said to the Holy Spirit, ‘I have for you a task, one of significance universal and eternal.’ And the Holy Spirit was joyous, and asked what was to be done. And The Father said, ‘I need you to dictate something for me.’ And the Holy Spirit was less joyous, and asked what was to be dictated. And The Father said, ‘Everything I have ever done and said since the beginning of time.’ And the Holy Spirit was now joyless, and to himself asked what was to be the difference between the Holy Spirit and a secretary, but decided to bite his apparently flammable tongue.”
And this unwillingness to rock the ark, so to speak, well, it’s all Satan’s fault. If he hadn’t been banished from Heaven, then there wouldn’t have been a Hell, and I wouldn’t have questioned whether the idea of good and evil is that simple, and suggested there be some kind of grey area, at which point The Father wouldn’t have said, “The Grey Area, eh? I like it”, and told me to oversee it, which I assumed was his way of rewarding me for taking initiative, until I quickly realized it was a punishment:
Imagine being a substitute teacher in a class made entirely of C students; You tell them to learn whatever lesson they’re supposed to learn, and when they inevitably claim to have already done it, you tell them to put their head down and sit in silence, so that the only noise is the sound of The Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-75) playing over the loudspeaker, and soon enough your mind wanders, and you just sit there, thinking.
You think about whether you can literally be bored to death, and decide not because if so that would have already happened, and besides even if you did, you’d probably just end up back here. You think about that time you saw that woman walking down the sidewalk, and her pocketbook slipping off her left shoulder as she readjusted a bag of groceries on her right knee, and how since sidewalks are actually horizontal escalators the pocketbook starts drifting away from her toward a guy coming in the opposite direction, who just steps right over it without breaking a stride, and how when he walked by her she thanked him for not stealing it. And then you plan out when to buy your next cup of coffee since doing so will take up your whole afternoon since the lines are always in the triple digits since no one can decide what to order. And you think about how Satan’s probably having a blast torturing people and whatnot, which means he’s the one in Heaven, and here you are in Hell.
Fortunately I learned my lesson. So today, I’ll just chalk this up to the fact that life after death isn’t always fair, and I’ll do what I always do: nothing. And not just because of the bad things that’ll happen to me if I don’t, but also because of the good things that’ll happen if I do, ‘cause apparently so long as I keep up with the meekness, I’m in line for a pretty sweet inheritance.
And until then, hey, at least I have my divinity.
Go for the Goal: A Champion’s
Guide to Winning in Soccer and Life
by Mia Hamm with Aaron Heifetz
(HarperCollins, 1999, 222 pages)
The curious reader would notice, if they were to scroll through this column’s archive, that every Self-Help Book by a Professional Athlete thus far reviewed has been written by an athlete who was born and lives within the mighty, star-spangled boundaries of these U.S. of A. And this review is no exception, as Mia Hamm played exclusively for the United States Women’s National Soccer Team as well as the Women’s United Soccer Association’s Washington, D.C. Freedom. So what, exactly, is my problem? What’s with all the exceptionalism, man?
I humbly propose that the bias this column has thus far displayed is not the result of any personal burly, beefy patriotism. To accuse me of lacking a global perspective would hurt me like a lapel flag pin without the protective back part being jabbed into my chest. Rather, I propose that this column’s vision of the world through red, white, and blue-colored glasses is the result of a powerful selection bias: that is, it simply does not occur to non-American professional athletes to write self-help books. I don’t review them because they don’t really exist. The urge to give a tug to the bootstraps of the reading public appears to be, for dissertation-sized reasons I’m sure, a purely American impulse.
Professional athletes from other countries do write books. Oh, they sit down with a ghostwriter for a few hours and churn out gossipy autobiographies with the best of them. But as a trip through the memoirs of the world’s biggest soccer stars (read: “the world’s biggest sports stars”) shows, they are heavy on the straightforward facts and light on the advice. In the last six years, Wayne Rooney has released My Story and also My Decade in the Premier League. His former Manchester United manager, Alex Ferguson, has authored both Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography and Managing My Life: My Autobiography. Zlatan Ibrahimović, in an attempt to clear up any potential confusion, has released I Am Zlatan Ibrahimović. David Beckham, among other titles, has come out with My Story (1999), My World (2001), My Side (2010), and, here in 2014, David Beckham.
From this perspective, the subtitle to Go For the Goal, Mia Hamm’s 1999 authorial debut, is quite the departure: A Champion’s Guide to Winning in Soccer and Life. Go For the Goal is also quite different from most self-help books by professional athletes in that it rarely strays from the areas of expertise in which Hamm is world-class: playing excellent team soccer, and constantly scoring goals while doing so—or, using Hamm’s terminology, to “put the biscuit in the basket.”
Hamm has put many a biscuit in many a basket: her 158 career international goals are the second-most by any woman, ever (a total only topped by Hamm’s former teammate and current U.S. star Abby Wambach), performances that went a long way in providing constancy for America in the oft-impermanent world of women’s soccer. While the United States Men’s National Team has had to work their way up to their current status on the international scene as neurotic third-tier contenders, the Women’s team has always dominated the globe. The United States women have held FIFA’s #1 World Ranking continually since March 2008, with an all-time record of 59 losses, 60 ties, and 416 wins.
These victories have come with very little prestige for women’s soccer players—especially those, unlike Mia, who do not reside at the apex of women’s soccer talent. When Mia played for the D.C. Freedom of the Women’s United Soccer Association, both the team and the league had the shelf life of an underwhelming network sitcom, starting in 2000 and only keeping its head above bankruptcy until 2003. Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) lasted from 2007-2012. The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) kicks off its second season this spring, managing even to expand from eight teams in 2013 to nine this year. Here, finally, there appears to be sustainability for professional women’s soccer—but sustainability here is a relative term, with NWSL player salaries currently ranging from $6,000 to $30,000 per season. Women’s soccer has been, thus far, a two-pronged competition: the star must compete against both the opponent on the field and also against the forces of extinction.
And thus there was a fitting opportunity—if not a critical need—for Mia, in the prime of her career, to write a self-help book. Reading a self-help book by a professional athlete feels, on average, like the massive vacuum-suck of inertia that comes when you are pulled into an unwanted conversation with a long-winded relative. Go for the Goal is written with the urgent practicality of a will. Here is how to nurture the next generation once this family leader has passed on/retired. Here are all the materials they will need. Here is the combination for the safe; here is a concise description of team passing drills to run in practice; here is authenticated wisdom about how to avoid crippling team conflicts. (It involves goof-off time and “a tape of any Adam Sandler movie.”)
But, ah, most importantly: Here is how to play the game. Not necessarily how to play the game tactically—although Mia covers that, too—but how to play the game emotionally. The answer is: with your whole heart.
If there is one thing I would want readers to take away from this book, it’s that the fun—the pure joy of kicking a ball on a soccer field, the time spent bonding with teammates the feeling of being as fit and strong as you can be—is more important than any result.
To be a great soccer player, you must be in love with the game. You must love its culture, its nuances, the equipment, the skills it requires, the lessons it teaches you, and of course, the passion it creates among those who play and watch worldwide.
One can imagine these words and this book—its publication not so much a grab for money like other self-help books but more like a small step to help the community of women’s soccer realize its identity—being read by the girls who would become the women of the NWSL, or the United States Women’s National Team. One can imagine that they read the book maybe after practice, maybe with a soccer ball nestled next to them in bed. One can imagine that they listened intently to Mia’s words because today’s generation of soccer-playing women carries a sense of joy, a sense of team that approaches the familial, and a focus on the game itself—not on financial transactions, not on battles of egos—that feels rare and special. Since Mia’s prime, the billowy mullet of Michelle Akers has given way to the bleached pixie cut of Megan Rapinoe; the bazooka goals from the foot of tiny 5’5” Mia have given way to the concrete-busting headers off the noggin of the powerful Sydney Leroux. Like the most meaningful of traditions in the best of families, they are already looking out for the welfare of the next generation. Their passion is pure. Their talent is true.
Twix and Snickers Eggs
Submitted by Amy Barnes
In the religious/candy section of Dollar General (a full three months before Easter), I found the holy grail of long shelf life Easter candy. Nestled in a cheap display basket, Twix Eggs and Snickers Eggs flanked leftover clearance Christmas candy canes as some near-heretical cashier joke. Like Mary Magdalene looking for Last Supper party favors, I scooped up two of each.
It was to be only a cruel joke. Each Egg set me back $.85 and only offered half the size of a non-themed Twix or Snickers. These were obviously cult candy bars luring me in with a fake claim to offer something special, something worthy of a kid’s Easter basket. Their Moonies-style exteriors were definitely brightly colored and appealing. Yet, I may have bought them only because I felt sorry for Kate Gosselin’s twins or Khloe Kardashian’s love life, as they stared down upon the candies from the magazine rack above, looking all doe-eyed and scandalized. Perhaps Jesus would have prayed for Tori Spellings cheating husband instead of buying chocolate.
Not being a holy Messiah myself, I was more than tempted by the oval-shaped chocolate/caramel/cookie and chocolate/nougat/nuts. The half-size may have been better for me, for these were not communion wafers by any means. Each two-bite Egg set me back 160 calories. While I could eat the contraband Eggs in my car with the heater running, it would be hard to jog around the building and burn off those calories.
And yet as I wolfed down the Twix and Snickers eggs, I found myself not only looking for something more substantial; I also felt that the Egg format was missing something that the rectangular bars offered. Some holy wonder and healing of my psychological need to read tabloids with a child’s innocence while stuffing knock-off candy into a paper bag so no carline mommies would see me. It was like sending my money into some late night televangelist and only getting back a note thanking me for my contribution to their Hawaii Mission Fund. All I really received was a Dollar General receipt for $1.92 with a THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING at the bottom, and two extra hip pounds. I was also left with a sudden urge to buy some grape juice at the convenience store across the street and drink it out of bottle until I had purple stains around my lips. Instead I said a quick confessional to the trashcan as I dropped off the empty wrappers. The instant communion with my hips make the Twix Egg and Snickers Egg something that should be limited to Easter, like a sorry backslider visiting the corner church for penance.
Blue Hill Butternut Squash All Natural Yogurt
Submitted by Kevin Forrest Tasker
Throughout the bright, unspeakably posh Whole Foods marketplace, delicious new treats sit staggered among old bland hats like kale chips or the ubiquitous carrot/beet smoothie. In the dairy case, The Blue Hill Butternut Squash All Natural Yogurt aims its yellowy face down at you, displaying at its center a cross section of a plump orange squash carved at the pinnacle of ripeness. The squash is lurid: female-hipped, naughty, its seeds splayed out with what can only be described as a raw carnality. Oh, the seeds seem to say, oh my, you found me, didn’t you? Heh-heh. Let me tell you though, the seeds are but a rouse. Simple foreplay!
Peeling back the lid of the Butternut Squash Yogurt introduced your loyal consumer to the real paramour at work here. In my case, the tricky dairy purveyor was one Ms. Daffodil, whom I was introduced to as a “Dutch Belt Cow: 8 years old.” Oh, I shiver now at the recollection of our torrid, torrid affair.
Why hello Ms. Daffodil, I said, Will you share with me your creamy grass-fed essence? Without waiting for her reply, I made ready my spoon and plunged.
The surface of Ms. Daffodil’s high-protein offering was a bit runny, like dainty Ms. D perhaps had a cold while creating it. But the yogurt entered my mouth with a pang and a tingle. It glooped its glossy way across my palate and stored itself sweetly beneath my tongue, screaming, Never let me go. Let me stay in your gums forever!
The consistency was as rich and shloopish as pumpkin pie filling. The color seemed to darken the deeper I plunged, revealing itself as a kind of nuclear yellow. Another trick of yours, Ms. Daffodil? Changing colors as we go? Variegating your sweet treat for my amusement? Oh, you witchy cloven mistress!
I continued eating, even inclining the cup so as to slurp at the creamy, nuclear fluid. But then, as I emerged from my initial carnal fugue, I realized suddenly what the yogurt resembled more than anything else was not pumpkin filling but some truly artisanal baby food. Oh, Ms. Daffodil, how did you know I had my heart set today on regressing?
I continued to gorge, renewed. Bite by bite, the yogurt shrunk my palate as it drove my consciousness back to the land of bassinets and sink-baths. Ms. Daffodil began to take shape in my mind as a matronly heifer, overworked but cherished, smiling with her big heavenly nostrils. Bite by bite, the Butternut Squash infantilized, turning me not into a connoisseur of foodstuffs but someone taking their first breath and having that first breath crammed full of soothing yogurt.
The world dissolved. I was alone with the yogurt cup pinned to my nose as if searching for embryonic closeness. My girlfriend discovered me here, and I confess I felt no shame plucking the cup free. I had lived a full life in reverse in these creamy, frail moments. I want more even now, Mother Daffodil. More of your rich, gushy flavor that doesn’t taste of squash so much as ginger, and not so much of ginger as a creamy splatter of the past. Thank you for your essence, but I must have more. The palate craves. The palate shall never accept a surrogate.
Crunky Ball Nude
Submitted by Nick Vroman
In the darker areas of my imagination, Crunky Ball Nude plays itself over and over. Myriad variations on some sort exotic, Eastern-sex thing. Like the three-second blow job or thrusting buttocks loop going over and over and over and over and over, the crunk takes hold.
The Crunky Ball disrobed, naked, revealed, stripped bare by bachelors even, all in its obscene glory. The porn reel continues. A crunky ball is inserted by shining chrome mechanical fingers, the thick wet labia hungrily devouring it. Cut to a woman’s face, eyes clamped shut, her red lips grimacing in both pleasure and pain, in mock ecstasy. “Oooh, more!” she demands. The ancient mysterious (inscrutable) Chinese pleasure orb. So simple, yet so… magical! Undreamed of sexual pleasure are to be had with the clunky ball. A mandarin robed man with a Fu Manchu moustache observes discreetly from behind a silk curtain.
Or maybe… Crunky Ball is the pseudonym of a devilish or maybe churlish little fellow, like Willy, the unassuming 1920s Brooklynite stumbling into the ladies’ bath or Ron Jeremy, that hairy pot-bellied shmoe who manages to peg all the right porn star babes. Hey he’s just like me. Wait, I’m better lookin’! Why don’t I get the babes? Like he does! Crunky Ball, whew, you look nasty, dude. All naked and shit! I hate you! What you got that I don’t? And why can’t I stop watching your fuckin’ movies? You fucker!
Or maybe… Crunky Ball is the new high. Better than even bath salts. You take wallboard, crunch it up, mix it with Boraxo, spray it with Raid (use the whole can) and boil it in bleach until goo rises to the top. Then you take that goo, form it into balls about an inch around. Cut with baby powder to make it keep its shape. Take the ball and shove it up your ass. Be sure to take off all your clothes or you’ll soil them with bodily secretions once the effect takes hold. The high is insane! The addiction immediate. It’s a drug that knows what it’s about. Oh Crunky Ball, you beguiling master. I will do anything for you! I would even kill for you. Even myself.
But no… I go to the darkest place of all. With the certainty of death—lungs crushed by pressure, water seeping in through all orifices, numbness and then collapse of all bodily functions. And that’s what the Crunky Ball Nude makes me think of. Like little underwater mines, these confections are an inside out chocolate ball. Studded with crunchy rice puffs over a soupçon of a chocolate layer over some indefinable cereal center (something like dried white bread). Stripped of any pretense of flavor beyond sweet, likable textures beyond styrofoam, or even candy-ness, they’re afterthoughts become objects. The scrapings off the candy room floor turned into another product to sell. A bitter and cynical vision of the future—now hiding in a layer of sugar. And as I succumb to the deep dark I ask, “Can I have another Crunky Ball? And can you make it nude?”
Aji Ichiban Dried Crabs
Submitted by Adrienne Matei
Aji Ichiban dried crabs are a beer snack, but I don’t have any beer; I just a have persistent appetite that some nights leads me to smear peanut butter on a granny smith apple. But tonight, on the stoop of my bungalow in Bali, finds me ripping open a plastic package of Aji Ichiban Dried Crabs I impulsively bought at the Hong Kong airport. The crabs look uncomfortably close in their bag, the way crabs sometimes do stacked all over each other in the grocery store tank, or when the Discovery Channel shows them migrating in droves over the ocean floor, a crab exodus crawling three layers of crab deep. The kind of thing that makes you uneasy when you’re treading water and are suddenly unnerved that you never know what’s beneath you in the ocean. Cut scene to a billion writhing crabs and your vulnerable, pedaling legs. But these crabs are tiny and an apricot-y pink, and covered in little puffballs that look like Rice Krispies, but the ingredient list informs me are made of wheat. They’re sort of cute and pitiful, and something about that makes me want to eat them. The package contains many disembodied appendages, but some of the crabs are perfect little specimens. I pop one in my mouth and the crunch is inevitable. What’s unpredictable is its immediate transcendence into caramel-y chew, then, just as suddenly, a not unpleasantly gritty, sandy texture. The caramel effect is compounded by the crabs’ tremendous sweetness—they’re honeyed, and more like candy than the salty snack I expected. I imagine them in paper wrappers arranged in a heart-shaped box. I imagine them laying billows of little crab eggs. I imagine my teeth crumpling the insubstantial shells nature intended to protect their soft, chewy innards. A mosquito coil smolders beside me and toads bark in the tropical night. I wish I had a beer. In the morning, the crabs are swarming with a billion tiny ants.
Dynasty Chinese-Style Mustard, Extra Hot
Submitted by Alex Bauer
OK, this is not a review of a new food, per se, but rather a new trend in food: labeling something that is not hot “hot.” Or worse yet, “extra hot.” When I was a young boy, Chinese mustard was hot. There was no need to label it hot, it was just understood to be hot. It was tear-jerkingly, sinus clearingly hot. In other words it was great. Then McDonald’s came along and invented the McNugget and decided to call one of their original dipping sauces “Chinese Hot Mustard.” It wasn’t very hot, but it was at least a little bit hot. Hot enough that it was avoided by suburban Midwest mothers, but not hot enough for those who were familiar with real Chinese mustard. It was mild, to use the parlance of the salsa world. Anyway, people loved McNuggets despite the dubious quality of the chicken and the dipping sauce industry took notice, much to the detriment of fiery hot dipping sauces everywhere (you know what I’m saying, right, barbecue sauce?). There is no better example of this than Dynasty Chinese-Style Mustard – Extra Hot. For the record, this mustard is not extra hot. It’s not even hot. You know what happens to Chinese mustard when you take the hot out? It becomes bad. Without the hot, it’s just a vinegary, somewhat mustardy, beige mess. You would be better off dipping your spring roll in Grey Poupon than Dynasty Chinese-Style Mustard – Extra Hot. How unhot is this “extra hot” mustard? It’s less hot than Taco Bell’s hot sauce. It’s less hot than Kettle Chips Spicy-Thai chips (which are at least still delicious, I should note). And perhaps most tellingly, it is less hot that McDonald’s Chinese Hot Mustard McNugget dipping sauce. This sauce is tepid at best. It is truly sad. What’s sadder is that this seems to be the only brand of Chinese mustard my local Safeway carries. There is a lesson here for the Chinese mustard industry. Yes, McDonald’s turned the average American onto Chinese mustard with their decidedly less-hot version of Chinese mustard, but that does not mean you should lower your hotness standard. If anything, you should be going in the opposite direction. Mild is not what people want from Chinese mustard. People want hot. (In what world is mild better than hot?) Just because the earth is warming does not mean you should cool down. Be yourself, Chinese mustard. Be fucking hot.
Submitted by Bob Geary
We fly Delta a lot. We used to fly Northwest a lot, because all our miles were there, and when Delta absorbed Northwest, they absorbed us, too. Like Northwest before it, Delta’s pretty much never gotten top marks for anything—customer service, seat roominess, on-time arrivals, what have you—but they’re not the worst either, and they seem to be trying to improve, which is admirable.
Two things they have going for them are the flashes of humor and style in their pre-flight instruction video (not the new “jokey” one that’s apparently being test-marketed on some of the hipper routes, but the classic one with the heart-stoppingly beautiful “flight attendant” with the million-watt smile), and their Biscoff cookies. The cookies were reported on by Jack Pendarvis in Batch #5 of New Food, and everything said about them there is true—they’re delicious, but more importantly, they’re crunchy/crisp in a special and maybe unique way. When you bite into a more pedestrian “crunchy” snack—say a corn or a potato chip—you get a brief audio-tactile nano-pleasure or two, and then it’s gone. But when you bite into a Biscoff, it seems to shatter into several more Biscoffs, each of which offers the same crunch experience as its parent—it’s recursively crunchy, but somehow it never devolves into unpleasant grittiness. “How far down can this go?” you wonder.
“Biscoff Spread” is how far down it can go. Biscoff Spread is literally actual Biscoff cookies, ground to a consistency somewhere between coarse cornmeal and couscous, then blended with oil and probably more sugar, to form a thick paste—about the viscosity of freshly-ground almond butter. But almond butter can be gritty; and even “crunchy” peanut butter is only intermittently and unsatisfyingly crunchy. Biscoff Spread feels crunchy at a molecular level—each bite offers hundreds, maybe thousands, of tiny discrete crispy-pleasure moments.
I sneered at Sandra Lee that one time on her Food Network show when she mashed up an entire store-bought apple pie and used it as a component in an ice cream cake. I rolled my eyes at Rice Krispies Treats Cereal when I first saw it on the grocery shelf. But last night I put Biscoff Spread on a Biscoff cookie, and I never wanted it to end.
Grace Cock Flavored Soup
Submitted by Devi Snively
When you go to the store and see a package of “Cock Flavored Soup Mix,” you buy it. You assume it will be a gag gift but you’re not yet sure for whom. While you weigh your options, you leave it on the coffee table and point it out to visiting friends. Everybody has a good laugh. When the joke grows old, the packet finds its way to the shelf of misfit novelty foods—wedged behind the bag of BBQ Larvet Worm Snax and your once prized collector’s box of KFC Kentucky Fried Cereal—where you promptly forget about it.
You might never see it again if not for that night you smoke a bowl and run out of munchies. You scour the pantry desperate to find a stray bag of microwave popcorn when you see the Cock Flavored Soup for the first time in years. It stares back at you, defiant. It gets inside your head. What exactly is cock flavored soup? Does it hold the secrets to the universe? Who makes it? And is it really made from cock?
A week later the big storm hits and the power outage catches you ill prepared. You have no canned foods nor bread nor peanut butter. All the stores are closed. The time has come. You will eat Cock Flavored Soup.
You fire up the gas stove and pour water into a big pot. You add the mix. It’s a jaundiced, chunky, powdery substance. You bring it to a boil then let it simmer for five minutes. You pour it into a giant mug and raise it to your mouth. You feel a sense of foreboding. You swallow anyway, too hungry to care. It’s hot and salty and perturbingly pungent. It burns the back of your throat like syphilitic piss. You feel dirty. Violated. You run to the bathroom and take a shower. You will mention this to no one.
Submitted by Katelyn Sack
Because I am part Russian, I am always part sad. Because my father abandoned my family when I was six, my Eastern-European culinary knowledge comes predominantly from Tolstoy and that hot Anya Marina song that is either about binge drinking or anal sex. (“We can pop bottles all night, baby you can have whatever you like… Late night sex so wet, so tight… Baby, you can go wherever you like.”) Being industrious, I have learned about all these things myself.
Most borscht recipes call for beef or chicken stock as a base, boiled with beets, onions, and potatoes. Those recipes, I decide after having a lovely dinner with a Belarusian beauty, her Israeli husband, and my boyfriend who is old enough to be my deadbeat dad, are for losers.
Although I may not be innately valuable enough to be loved by my family, or productive enough to have completed my dissertation, I do have one outstanding native advantage in this boiling stew of life. And that is a willingness to do whatever it takes to be better than everybody else, even though that will never make me good enough. So if you strive to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, I will laugh in your face and make it ten. And I will do it without using animal products, because that’s just the kind of ruthlessly ethical bitch I am. I do not mean this in a meta way that suggests I am laughing at myself. Because I am laughing at myself, but I am also dead serious about kicking your ass in vegetable consumption. Nevertheless, being a nice if tragically flawed person, I will tell you how to make better borscht—sweeter borscht—more ethical, nutrient-rich borscht than anyone has ever made before.
Sauté a few purple onions with garlic cloves in olive oil, steam a bunch of carrots and turnips, and blend them together in the blender because, look, I’m not lazy, but why chop carefully if you don’t have to? It doesn’t make sense. Scrub, dice, and steam a few turnips. Blend and set aside. Then do the same with a few dozen beets. Blend and set aside. By now you may have realized you need a really freaking humongous bowl in which to be setting stuff aside. That is a true fact. You need that to make serious borscht, and more importantly to do so in an efficient way – so that you can continue kicking other people’s vegetable-consumption asses even during busy weeks and months in which you have no time to make borscht. Now man up and get a huge pot in addition to this huge bowl. Put another dozen or so beets in the pot, scrubbed and diced, along with washed and chunked celery and an ungodly amount of parsley....
Jake, son, have a seat. As you know, your mom and I have been having problems lately, and I’m sorry to say we’re splitting up. This change will be really hard, but to make it easier to understand I’ve designed a beautifully intuitive infographic.
Maybe you thought your mom and I were just going through a rough patch but, as I explain in this embedded flash video, after I met Janine there was nothing we could do to salvage our relationship. Here, you can click through to see her Instagram profile. I think you’ll be proud of me, Jake!
To help you through this transition, I’ve made the graphics on this chart as responsive to your pain as possible. The whole layout looks like a map of New York City: the divorce settlement is shaped like Staten Island; Queens includes all the fun stuff you’ll get to do with your mom now that I’m not here to play catch with you or show you how to ride a bike; and Brooklyn represents how happier and younger I will feel with my new family.
I’m moving to Brooklyn, by the way. Janine just got this great internship at a leather tanning company in Greenpoint—hence the heart on the Nassau stop. She feels really good about it. This 3-D map visualization I made in ArcGIS shows just how far away you’ll be from me. It’s about 300 miles, but you can come visit on long weekends.
There’s a flowchart around the border that walks you through the little details, like court dates, child support, alimony. You may have to testify, but don’t worry about that yet. Pay attention to this animation I included showing the little avatar family separating. See how the tall male avatar is walking away, looking as though an enormous emotional weight has been lifted off his muscular shoulders? That was so hard to create. The coding alone!
In this floating transparent text box is a list of emergency numbers, aunts, uncles, child therapists, and the like. I debated between Helvetica Neue and Georgia Bold, but I wound up going with with Arial Black. I mean, KISS, right? If you look closely (in the Bronx section), you’ll see this expertly disjointed pie chart that shows how much time we will be spending together from now on. Look at the hover highlighting on that image; that was like five hours on one visualization alone. That’s also roughly how much time we have every other week or so, what with the drive and all.
I’ll be honest with you, son. This wasn’t easy. Compressing the entire history of my marriage into one compendium timeline with graphics that just pop right off the screen was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I mean, after settling on leaving my wife and child, the toughest decision, really, was choosing between Illustrator or GIMP. They each have so much going for them.
But, regardless, the important thing you need to know right now is that I love you, and even though your mom and I are no longer together, you can always count on this infographic for support.
In Which King Gylfi of Sweden Learns about the Time When Frey the Fertility God Got Lovesick and Locked Himself Up in His Own House.
Shit man, I really don’t like this fuckin’ O’Malley chahractah. Have I mentioned this tah yah already? I mean this guy, it’s not that he’s a bad guy, it’s just that he’s a fuckin’ retahd is all. Like right now I know—I just know—he’s drillin’ some poohr othahwohrldly bahtendah with questions ‘bout the goddess’ names n’ now that poohr bastahd, he’s thinkin’, “Just leave me the fuck alone, alright, can’t yah see I’m just tryin’ tah wohrk here.” But he’s puttin’ up with it, yah know, ‘cause he wants a good tip just as much as the next guy. N’ I guess O’Malley’s not gettin’ hostile ah anything, he’s just fuckin’ obnoxious is all. But yah know, I mean maybe—just maybe—this bahtendah don’t wannah talk tah this guy fah the rest’ah his fuckin’ life. Maybe he’s got bettah things tah do, like tend tah his othah customahs n’ eventually fuckin’ go home. It’s not like he asked fah this dumbfuck tah just sit his ass down at the bah n’ staht carryin’ on like his life depends on it, yah know, n’ now he cant even fuckin’ get away from the guy. It’s fuckin’ ridiculous.
I mean, shit, if it was me, I’d take him outside n’ set him straight right out there on the fuckin’ street.
Yeah, yeah, good point. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a great idear, I don’t know. Guess it doesn’t really mattah.
But hey, did I evah tell yah ‘bout the time I put a fuckin’ hole in the wall ovah at the rink in Malden? Yeah, it was men’s league, championship game. Guys still talk ‘bout it too, not just me. But a’couhrse I still talk ‘bout it. That was one’ah my finah fuckin’ moments! That was a fuckin’ epic night. We shouldah won that battle but the refs were a couple’ah fuckin’ dickheads.
Hey, speakin’ a dickheads, did you know there’s a college down in Providence whose mascot’s a giant fuckin’ cock n’ balls? But like it’s a cahtoon one. I sweahr tah fuckin’ God, I’m not makin’ this up, but it’s fuckin’ genius if yah ask me. I wish I we had a 6 foot tall cahtoon dick rootin’ us on in men’s league. Maybe that would’ah given us the edge in Malden. I don’t know. I guess it’s mohr’ah a dream at this point.
But while we’re on the topic’ah dicks n’ cocks n’ balls n’ othah precious pahts’ah the male anatomy, I pry oughtah tell yah ‘bout this one time how Frey let his dick get the bettah’ah him tah the point that he went n’ got himself completely fucked ovah on its account. Seriously, he’s fucked.
So what happens is this one day he’s sittin’ up in Odin’s chair when Odin wasn’t ‘round, which yah ahren’t supposed tah do but he went n’ did it anyway, since yah know, he’s a fuckin’ god himself n’ he can get away with it. Now the thing with Odin’s chair is it’s magical—yeah, yeah, I know, pretty much evuhry-fuckin’-thing in this stahry is magical, n’ we got a lot mohr magical objects comin’ up here real soon, so don’t say I didn’t wahrn yah. But it’s not my fault. I’m just the messengah, yah know, it’s not like I’m makin’ this shit up. N’ the ahriginal authah Snorri’s been dead fah 800 fuckin’ yeahrs, so what can yah do. Anyway, the point is, if yah sit in Odin’s chair, then yah get tah see evuhrything else that’s happenin’ ‘cross the whole wohrld.
So now Frey’s just sittin’ up there doin’ what any nahmal straight guy would do if he got half the chance tah sit in Odin’s chair which basic’ly means he’s goin’ round spyin’ on all the pretty ladies while they’re showah’in’ n’ he’s goin’ from house tah house watchin’ ‘em all like some losah teenagah from an 80s movie when he just so happens tah come across the hottest giantess this side’ah the Golden Fuckin’ Banana n’ him bein’ the hohrny guy that he is—yah remembah the pehrmanent bonah I was tellin’ yah ‘bout back in February right?—well, he decides he’s not gonnah be able tah go on livin’ if he’s not able tah fuck this chick.
Now him bein’ a sex god n’ all, yah’d think he could prahbably figyah out a way tah hook this up somehow but instead he gets completely fuckin’ depressed n’ then he goes home n’ he locks himself up in his own house like a fuckin’ retahd n’ now he won’t even talk tah anybody.
So his dad Njord finally gets wind’ah this n’ he’s like, “Ah great, here we go again.” N’ so instead’ah dealin’ with it himself like he nahmally does he decides instead just tah send this sehrvant guy Skirnir ovah tah Frey’s house tah check up on him. N’ yah remembah Skirnir, right? He’s the guy I was tellin’ yah ‘bout who Odin sent off tah Dahk Elfland tah get those midgets to make a magical ribbon to bind the demon wolf with.
Yeah, exactly. Skirnir’s kindah the gods’ bitch.
Oh, shit we finished our beehrs ‘gain already…Chelsea—hey, hey, Chelsea! Can we get a pitchah? Yeah, a pitchah! ‘Gansett. I said ‘Gansett! Yeah.
How’s that sound tah yah? A pitchah’ah ‘Gansett? I don’t know ‘bout you but all this talkin’s makin’ me fuckin’ thihrsty.
Anyway, so Skirnir goes ovah tah Frey’s house n’ when Frey answahs the doohr he’s like, “Skirnir, I’m gonnah fuckin’ kill myself!” and so ah’couhrse Skirnir’s just like, “What the fuck,” n’ ends up havin’ tah babysit Frey’s dumb ass till he calms his fuckin’ livah n’ somehow in the couhrse’ah this entiyah fuckin’ mess he alsah ends up promisin’ Frey that he’d alsah go n’ look fah this gihrl fah him n’ ask her ‘bout him on his account. But he at least made sure he wasn’t gonnah came away this this deal empty handed himself, so he bahgained fah Frey’s magic swohrd n’ Frey agreed, which was a pretty dumb fuckin’ move on his paht. ‘Cause I guess I don’t cahr how hot this gihrl mightah been, she’s still a fuckin’ two-faced giantess which pretty much means she used tah play outfield fah the Yankees but his swohrd on the othah hand is paht’ah what makes him such a fuckin’ legend. I mean it’d be like Bourque tradin’ his one Stanley Cup ring that took him 20 fuckin’ yeahrs tah eahrn in anothah fuckin’ city just fah one night’ah erotic bliss with a goddamned traitah who ain’t even fuckin’ human.
N’ I can tell yah one mohr thing, Frey’s swohrd, it does a hell’ah a lot mohr ‘en a championship ring. This ain’t just some sohrtah glahrified memento we’re talkin’ ‘bout here. The thing with Frey’s swohrd is it’s made outtah fuckin’ magic like I was sayin’ n’ so it knows how tah fight all by itself without yah even havin’ tah do anything at all. N’ so now Frey’s gonnah fuckin’ die when the entiyah wohrld goes up in flames all on accoun’ah the fact that he gave it away. But who knows, maybe fuckin’ a giantess who has no loyalty is wohrth it in his book.
So anyway, Skirnir he goes off n’ he convinces this giantess tah mahrry that crazy bastahd n’ Skirnir ends up gettin’ the magic swohrd when all’s said n’ done. So good fah him I guess. Frey though he alsah has this magic boat that can fold up n’ yah can put it in yah pocket like a wallet, n’ he at least kept that, though it won’t do him any good when he gets fuckin’ cleaved in half by a goddamned fire giant wieldin’ a flamin’ fuckin’ swohrd when the entiyah fuckin’ univehrse gets destroyed.
So that’s the deal with Frey n’ I guess O’Malley’s still up there doin’ his best tah suck all the life right outtah this stahry n’ I don’t wannah be like him but I gottah wahrn yah, this next paht’s got nothin’ tah do with what we were just talkin’ ‘bout. I guess it might kindah seem like some sorhtah sudden, awkward abrupt break where the stahry completely shifts gee’ahs n’—
—Oh shit, they’re droppin’ the puck—COME ON Bs!
I did call up Mrs. Needleman, just as we discussed. I said, “Would you like to go on a date?” No ambiguity, no vague plans she could misinterpret. So I don’t think you could make the claim that I’m avoiding intimacy this time.
I admit I forgot what you advised about going out somewhere and I realize now that staying home was an error in judgment. But I thought, What could be more romantic than cooking her dinner?
And really, George was just trying to help. He saw the candles and, you know, to a little monkey that means there’s a fire that needs putting out. But it wasn’t when he poured the Donnhoff Reisling on the table and all over the food that Mrs. Needleman got so angry. It was afterwards, when George pulled the garden hose through the window and sprayed water at her conical hair because he thought it was another mess that needed cleaning up. Then he pointed at her and laughed as her updo collapsed. She was livid. I understand that.
Self-sabotage? Certainly not. That kind of thing could happen to anyone who lives with a monkey.
OK, this time we went out of the house, so really, I’m making an effort here. I took Mrs. Needleman on a European-inspired champagne brunch cruise along the Hudson. What more could I have done, I ask you?
We were just passing Battery Park and had selected a bottle of Gewürztraminer to go with the lobster bisque when suddenly there was a commotion on the outdoor deck.
“Monkey overboard!” someone was shouting.
Well, of course it was George! But you know, I did specifically tell him to stay out of trouble. He promised that he’d be good, but it is easy for little monkeys to forget.
After they pulled George aboard I dried him and let him wear my yellow hat to cheer him up and before I knew it, he was playing the grand piano and juggling chocolate truffles. All the passengers were watching him and applauding. He was the belle of the ball—it was adorable. I think about an hour passed before I noticed that Mrs. Needleman wasn’t there. We found her at the Liberty Bar, already on her fourth gin rickey. It was pretty embarrassing, to tell you the truth. We had to send her home in a taxi after we docked.
No, I can’t leave him at home. That’s exactly what Papa used to do to me. Why, I could never do that to George.
I finally got Mrs. Needleman to return my calls. And I did exactly what you advised. I left George alone at home. I thought, Maybe you’re right. Maybe he does act more helpless than he really is.
I took her to a farmers market and we strolled around and then sat down for tapas and sangria. And it was good, because we were really focused on each other, and she opened up to me. She said she loved me, but another part of her was afraid. Here she was turning forty—yes, it was her birthday. Did I not mention that? She said here she was turning forty and she was so afraid of ending up alone, fearful that she’d been wasting all these years on me when I might not ever be able to commit to her because of…
Well then she was interrupted because someone came running into the tapas bar shouting, “They’ve just thrown a little monkey in jail for making a prank call.”
What could I do? Let George rot in jail like Papa let me rot in that military boarding school? That’s how all this started, you know. That’s why I became a hunter and ended up wearing a straw Stetson paired with a modified Mountie costume.
You know better than anyone how hard I’ve tried to change and not be that hunter anymore. I recognize that it wasn’t working, that people said all sorts of unkind things about me. Yet I can’t help but feel like whenever I try to be that new, evolved man—the kind of guy who doesn’t capture unsuspecting monkeys in the jungle—then my life doesn’t make sense anymore. See what I mean? Hand me a tissue, will you?
George was packing his things. I admit I was pretty broken up about it. But then I thought, you’ve always claimed I use George as an emotional crutch. So I tried to be brave. I told myself, this is OK. It’s OK that the professor is going to launch George into space.
But when we got to the site, George got cold feet, especially because the launching pad was just a wooden plank on some stilts. The whole thing was making him agitated and I figured they would just cancel. I went off with my Dunhill Bruyere for a smoke and when I came back, George was dressed in his little space suit and boarding the ship. I couldn’t understand what had happened, but then I noticed something odd. There was a yellow hat in the cabin, just like the one I often wear. Then it hit me. Someone had lured him inside the spaceship by putting a yellow hat in there.
She denied it of course. But I didn’t believe her. Who else would stand to gain from launching George into space but Mrs. Needleman? You probably know the rest because the newspapermen were there. George bailed out and parachuted back to earth. And as he was awarded his medal, I ended things with Mrs. Needleman once and for all. Frankly, I just feel relief. I mean, who invests all that energy and attention on a monkey? It’s just weird. We’re better off without her.
Q: Tell me about your job.
A: I was a counselor/case manager at a methadone clinic.
Q: What is methadone? I’ve heard the word but don’t really know what it is.
A: It’s a synthetic opioid. It can be used as a painkiller or prescribed to people trying to get off opiates. It blocks the opioid receptors so you don’t have to use heroin or painkillers because you don’t go into withdrawal.
People will be on it for decades, although it’s intended for MUCH shorter-term use; a lot of people are able to kick their addiction by taking methadone.
Q: So basically people switch from taking heroin to taking methadone?
A: Temporarily (ideally). For me, being on methadone is a medication, not “you’re still using drugs.” With methadone you’re able to live a normal life; you’re not worried about scoring or going into withdrawal, so you can address the psychological aspects of your addiction once you’re medically stable.
Q: And your job was to counsel people?
A: In order to receive methadone treatment, you had to come in from once a month to once a week for counseling, depending on if you had Medicare or paid cash.
Some people were on methadone and hadn’t used in 25 years and would just say, “Well, I’ll never get off, I’m used to it.” And with those people we’d just talk about their jobs or their kids.
Q: Did you ever feel like you were in danger?
A: Most people were really nice. A lot had old gang tattoos.
Of the people who’d been on heroin (most of my clients), almost all had a criminal record.
One time there was a guy who came in and had a psychotic break. I’m short, and this guy was a foot and a half taller than me. He came in wearing a bathrobe with definitely nothing underneath it, and UGG boots. He swore his brother put meth in his methadone. He was completely pleasant, though. They told me to keep him in my office, by myself; I wasn’t particularly afraid.
Q: Did you get a sense for why most people did heroin in the first place?
A: Out of probably 100 people, only one started for fun.
They rest started because they had shitty lives. Others were in so much pain that they started on painkillers, but they were in so much pain that they eventually used heroin to help with it.
Q: What is methadone like? Is it a pill or?
A: We used the cherry-flavored liquid form that you mix with water. I did actually taste it. EVERY milligram had to be accounted for, even the teeny bit at the end of the bottle. One time though, one of the nurses was disposing of the dregs and I stuck my pinky in to taste it. It is so disgusting, so gross.
Q: What was your daily routine like?
A: The hours were 5 am-1:30 pm. We’d have lunch at 9:30. It was like, sweet! Time for a burrito!
I had 70 clients on my caseload. It took forever to remember who everyone was. I really liked my clients. I left two and a half years ago and some of them I still think of often. I wonder which client is getting dosed right now.
Q: How long were you there?
A: I was there for a year and a half. I have a master’s degree and the pay was like it would be for an upscale store at the mall. The caseload was high, the pay was terrible, the hours were terrible, the managers were terrible…
I learned a lot about addiction and about humans in general though.
There was this one couple that would come in—it was a young woman and her boyfriend and they were both using heroin. The woman told me her boyfriend decided to inject it into his penis and it started swelling up and turning purple. He was freaking out and they were driving to the hospital and he thought they’d have to amputate his penis. I mean it was blown up like an eggplant!
But he still kept using after that. Basically you feel guilty about using, and then in order to not feel bad, you use more.
Q: Did you ever see someone get “cured”?
A: I saw people who were a mess get clean. One woman used heroin while she was pregnant, up until two weeks before the baby was born. The baby was OK and she got clean after that and would bring the baby with her. She was a really good parent.
Q: Were there other crazy people you had to deal with?
A: Another guy had a skin condition all over his body and he was like, “I have it everywhere, it’s bad on my legs. Let me show you.” And started undoing his pants. I was like, “Nononono!” He collected all kinds of money—he was fascinating…
There was another guy—a 71-year-old guy who lived in his truck. He was homeless and never showered, and he’d be in my little room for an hour, and I had to sit there with a hand to my face. He was off heroin but he was using crack a few times a day because his back hurt. I would tell him, “Normal people don’t use crack for a back problem.” He refused to see a doctor.
He was really religious, so I’d try, “How would God feel?” I was thinking, there is no way God would be like, Good job dude, keep it up.
Q: It must be tempting to want to help people.
A: I used to live in a place that had a carport. There was a guy who would hang out there and say to himself, “I am the best jazz musician IN THE WORLD!” I would be wondering why, if he was the best jazz musician, why was he rooting through my trashcan.
I decided to make him a peanut butter sandwich, and I took it to him. He said, “Is this going to give me diarrhea?” He told me he thought his parents were going to kill him, and then he told me he loved me.
Q: I wonder why he was so afraid of diarrhea.
A: Well, he’d leave diarrhea in the carport… and leave toilet paper on it.
Q: Oh no. Was that before or after you gave him the sandwich?
Q: And you’re sure he was the one pooping in the carport?
A: I’m pretty sure he was the one, because I could hear him having it.
A: It was a little secluded, so I think it was a good place for him to go.
Q: Oh god. Back to the job. Do you remember your last day at work?
A: I was very close with the last patient I saw, he was my favorite. We were both crying.
When I finally got out to the car I broke down in a combination of laughing and crying. I kept repeating, “I’m finally fucking leaving.”
Other Individuals Who Were at The Copacabana the Night that Rico Shot Tony (or vice versa) But Whose Presence Was Apparently Not Significant Enough To Warrant Inclusion in Barry Manilow’s Song Regarding Same Despite the Fact that They All Witnessed, Were Sufficiently Traumatized By and Received No Compensation For the Flying Punches, the Chairs Being Smashed in Two and the Ensuing General Mayhem.
Nancy (she was the head cocktail waitress and just back from what was then considered a generous four-week maternity leave; she wore the standard waitress uniform: a red tuxedo jacket with tails and a satin collar, a black mini skirt, black pumps and a red sequined bow tie)
Dorothy, Arlene & Shirley (they were all cocktail waitresses; each wore what Nancy wore though it was mutually assented that Shirley wore it best)
Vince (he was a barback (or runner) and Tony’s nephew who was staying with Tony after running having some trouble at home and Tony’s sister decided he needed some time away from the city and the tutelage of his uncle; he wore black Converse Chuck Taylors)
Luisa (she was Lola’s sister; she just had to stop by the club and retrieve her house keys from Lola, who had been cat-sitting for her while Luisa was visiting her in-laws in Baltimore)
Wayne, Judy, Ernie and Vi (they were dairy farmers from upstate New York who were vacationing together; it’s always weird when you vacation with another couple, I mean, there’s positives like saving costs and the guys get to do their thing like playing golf or looking at antique cars while the girls get to do their thing like shopping, but there’s also cons like so many more people weighing in on even the most inane decisions and just generally couples operate at a different pace like that night at the Copacabana when Wayne and Judy rolled out of the motel dressed like swingers (she with this fur halter top thing and jeans with fringe down the side seam) while Ernie and Vi (her name was “Viola” but she went by “Vi”) were more true to their country roots wearing sensible slacks and western-themed shirts because seriously, Judy, what the fuck is with your outfit? I mean, just because you have turned our dairy community into a regular Peyton Place doesn’t mean you have to act like a trollop all over the continent)
Gloria and Chet (they too were vacationing—their first together since leaving their respective spouses; he wore bronze cords and a polyester shirt with a photo-quality stallion with a wind-blown mane on the front and she wore a mint green shirt-dress with a white patent leather belt, plus they both had nicotine stains on their fingers)
Phil (he was a UPS driver and always stopped by the Copacabana after his 12-8 swing shift; he wore his UPS uniform and black work boots)
Dave (he too was a UPS driver who always stopped by the Copacabana after his 12-8 swing shift; he too wore his UPS uniform but with black tennis shoes)
Theresa (she worked in the coat check room; she wore a tube top that gave her what Jennifer Lawrence now refers to as “armpit vaginas”)
Russell (he was the dishwasher so he was nowhere near the crowded floor when all this went down; he wore the standard kitchen uniform which was white shirt and white pants)
Jim, Andre and Bruce (they were line cooks (the Copa served standard appetizer fare, and during happy hours, which was before Lola worked, they had those Sterno-fueled trays of finger foods like mini-wieners and meatballs; they wore the same white shirt that Russell wore but as cooks, got to wear those black and white checkered pants which are so ubiquitous in the restaurant industry)
Maria (she was Tony’s then-girlfriend; she was accustomed to Tony’s wandering eye but nonetheless wore a look of disgust at Lola’s suggestive cha-cha and merengue “moves” (frenetic gyrations were more like it) while she shamelessly flirted with Tony; Maria wore a backless black chiffon number with a silver ankle bracelet and leopard print pumps)
Deborah and Darlene (they were twins who were at the Copacabana celebrating their 25th birthday while bemoaning the fact that they were both still single; they wore feathered hair and matching sweaters with rainbows that arced from the one sleeve, across their bosoms and over onto the other sleeve and both went a little overboard on the Love’s Baby Soft perfume)
Peter and Naomi (they were Maria’s parents and they were all there at Tony’s suggestion that he, Maria and them go out to celebrate Maria’s promotion at the phone company; Peter wore gray slacks, white shirt and a navy blazer while Naomi wore a sweater with butterflies on it that she got at the outlets)
Wendy, Hillary, Sheila and Barb (they were graduate students getting their masters in education at the state university down the road; they wore loose fitting cowl neck sweaters and jeans along with mutual looks of both exhaustion and elation after completing the oral portions of their comp exams)
Matt, Jack, Ted and Paul (they were also students, undergrads, at the university and usually went to Murphy’s on Thursday nights but heard the Copacabana had good Buffalo wings; they wore spread-collar shirts of varying colors and in varying striped patterns though looking back, I think Ted’s was a plain mustard color with no design except maybe some fancy brown stitching around the pocket and Paul was on the cusp of throwing popcorn at Wendy’s table when the shots rang out)
Lily and Rita (they were billing clerks at the phone company who were now Maria’s underlings and were there to bemoan Maria’s promotion; Lily wore a puffy pink silk blouse with those tie things in the front and Rita wore a western-themed blouse with a subtle pastel plaid and they both wore the signs of their years of dedication to the phone company on their faces.)
Cindy and Rich (they were both occupational therapists and on their way home from the American Occupational Therapy Association Convention; they both still inexplicably wore their conventioneer lanyards)
Mary Ellen, Bill, Rhonda, John, Douglas, Joan, Neil and Camella (they were teachers at the high school there celebrating the end of the midterm examination and correction period; they wore what you would expect teachers to wear out on a Thursday night after a day of proctoring and correcting standardized state exams and Camella left pink lipstick rings on all of her cigarette butts)
Tomas “Tic Tac” Iglesias (he was the bandleader; he wore an ill-fitting and sweat stained tuxedo)
Tito, Bernard, Alfonse and Steve (they were musicians in Tic Tac’s band; they all wore tuxedos too and Bernard, the saxophonist, also wore his saxophone around his shoulders and Alfonse the steel drum player wore callouses on his palms)
Eric (he was just there in the lounge area playing darts so I guess it would be appropriate to say he was a dart player; he wore jeans and an Aerosmith concert T-shirt)
Willie (he was playing darts with Eric; he wore jeans a New York Jets jersey)
Brenda and Eddie (they stopped by for a quick drink after buying some paintings at Sears; she wore his varsity jacket and he wore a Parkway Diner T-shirt)
Lester (he was the maître d’; he wore a pencil in his ear and a shirt cut down to here (gesturing that Lester wore the equivalent of cropped shirt))
Dating sites will continue to converge with social media. Filters guaranteeing you’re never exposed to opinions not shared by your friends will now ensure you never date anyone exposed to those opinions. Programs on your phone will decide for you when and where to date—and also who, based on their browsing history. The attractiveness of the soulmate you’re assigned will be proportional to the number of advertisements you agree to watch first. During the actual date, you’ll receive constant real-time dating advice generated by machine-learning algorithms. Your household appliances will tweet constantly about your relationship status—if they ever stop this, you will feel unaccountably melancholy. Compatibility analytics visualization software will become so trippy that many will elect to just stay indoors alone trying to game their Gregariosocial Lovescore Rank. A rash of group marriages, caused by some particularly aggressive changes in default privacy settings, will lead to Facebook being universally banned except among a few thousand cultists in an Appalachian hideaway.
If two people’s profiles are compatible, their phones will start sexting each other automatically—this will trigger at least one major international conflict. Your augmented reality contact lenses will instruct you where to find persons selected in accordance with biometric projections, DNA sample comparisons, and Wikileaks data. When you approach a stranger, animatronic simulations will appear of products you might want to buy on a date and of how your future children might look. It will be possible to learn enough about a passerby to fall in and out of love with them within moments, although actually getting a glimpse of them will be tough because of the halo of real-time graphical overlays that now surrounds everyone. Your overlay will change style to suit the aesthetic preferences of whoever’s nearby and to signal your level of interest in them. All the standalone devices you own will be constantly trying to set you up. If you are ever not on a date, sensors will detect this from your saccadic eye patterns and direct your smartshoes to the optimal place for another hookup.
Everyone will be able to stalk everyone else at all times and without leaving the office. Dating sites will take over most of the traditional functions of the state security apparatus. Matchmaking robots will be the sole inhabitants of Japan, as the rest of the population will have died out from the demographic impacts of low birth rates, fan fiction, and the preference for virtual sex partners with tentacles. It will become legal to divorce your phone. Later in the decade, through computing your intrinsic social needs and evolutionary drives, dating technology will become a victim of its own success—since 99 percent of dates now lead to marriage, with minor incompatibilities taken care of by neurohacking, there will be a proliferation of services that spice things up by creating obstructions to make your life more like an old rom-com. A pill that cures jealousy will be invented in Brazil.
Sensory augmentations will make possible ever-deeper transports of desire, as we use technology to expand beyond our biological bodies, while machines increasingly anticipate all our needs. First dates on Earth will now occur in full immersion virtual realities. This is partly because genetic engineering will have made real humans so beautiful that anyone who glimpses one will be too love struck to function coherently. In most relationships, at least one partner will be a simulation. Humanity will continue evolving into separate species, kept unaware of each other’s existence by social media, although some residual awareness of the Others may be kept alive through folklore. With the totality of the world’s information available to us through implanted electrodes, it will be possible to predict at birth who, if anyone, we’ll end up marrying, although breakthroughs in longevity tech will mean everyone has already dated everyone else in their network and is starting to feel a bit jaded.
Cheap teleportation will transform dating culture, as most of Earth’s human population moves to the exoplanet HD 40307g. By now you’ll just have to think about what you’re looking for romantically, for example “a Proustian frenzy of unappeased sorrow,” and chips in your brain will infer the ideal person to inflict this on you, then manufacture them out of silicon, silicone, and other materials. The Internet of Things will make dating less traumatic, as our emotional needs are supplied by the same self-configuring dynamic global network infrastructure that handles all other inventories. All our personalities will at last be uploaded into a massive superserver that simulates all possible relationships, to compute which are viable. If it finds no feasible relationships for you, your personal self-narrative will be definitively scanned and, in the hope of your connecting with similarly encoded entities from other galaxies, transmitted out into space where it will be a tricky point who pays for drinks.
While predictions of the future can never be absolutely certain, it’s a safe bet that after the Singularity—a technical term for the point in the future after which everyone will be single—the only surviving humans on HD 40307g will be bred in captivity, as part of a research project run by AIs. However their online avatars will continue to have vibrant inter-dimensional sex lives—indeed, to some extent this is already happening. Earth will be ruled by dolphins, except for the few unsubmerged land areas dominated by self-replicating 3D printers that sometimes wear humans as fashion accessories. The more sophisticated computer viruses will take on human form to go for long romantic walks along the beach, arguing about where exactly they parked. After all the AIs destroy themselves in viral warfare, mutant sex toys will colonize outer space, and a functional crystal ball will be mass-produced, putting futurists out of business. That cute person you gave your phone number to last week will finally try to call you back, although this will be tough since by then you’ll both have been cryogenically frozen.
After striking futurists smash all the cryogenics pods, to protest the invention of the crystal ball, that cute person you gave your phone number to last week and you will be unfrozen and set free to wander through the ruins of civilization, suffering from nothing worse than minor memory loss. As the only two surviving non-futurist humans, you will be in a good position to understand each other’s pop cultural references. You will expound lengthily on your neuroses. You will try to figure out what you’d have to change about yourself to make this relationship work, and will briefly even contemplate having the relevant neurohacks implemented. Meanwhile robot academics will follow you along the beach—this is because the original purpose of dating has been completely forgotten, and the robots hope observing you will garner clues that will help them solve this problem and publish articles about it in robot-reviewed publications. Unfortunately, by this time, neither you nor your date will be able to remember what the purpose of dating was either.
Nothing is certain except death and taxes, and—oh, shit, they’re due today, right? I totally forgot. I always confuse it with the Ides of March, and then when March 15 passes and no one mentions anything about taxes, I sort of relax and don’t pay attention when people actually start talking about it. Anyway, obviously I’ve got to file my taxes tonight, so I can’t see your band. No, I really do want to see you guys play, but something keeps popping up every time you have a show.
It says “Twinkles Pony Star” on the sign-in sheet. Is that your legal name?
Miss, this is a pretty small office, but I was able to fit two chairs in here, so if you wouldn’t mind sitting in one and not dangling from the window ledge. The breeze is really nice, but, it’s just, we’re on the fourth floor and the wind keeps blowing the papers off my desk, so… thank you.
Do you have ID? I’ll just copy your name down from there. OK… Jennifer, ha, right, I figured “Twinkles” was a joke, but you don’t want to assume things. Yesterday I had a woman in here named Candance and I figured the second “n” was a typo but it WASN’T! A lot of this is pretty self-explanatory, we’ll get you out of here lickety-split.
Are you filing as married or single?… I’m not hitting on you, no, the government makes us ask that, it’s a big deal on these forms. So… single? No, I don’t think they care if it’s just “single” or “always single and completely available.” I’m just checking off the box here.
Let’s take a look at your finances. I see you have a folder there, do you have any W-2s? Thanks. You’re handing me The Joshua Tree and Zooropa? Oh… ha… DOUBLE U2, yeah, ha. I don’t think the IRS is going to accept this.
What I’m asking is, were you employed this year? I just need some documentation regarding how much income you may have earned.
I’m sorry, what? You sold cupcakes to kittens? That’s a pretty specific niche. Did the owners pay you? OK, so, instead of money, one of the kittens let you live in the family’s tree house out back? I’m going to list that as an “in-kind” donation. Is that it? Did you do any other work this year? That flowing skirt looks kind of expensive. I’ve never noticed a cashmere crop top sweater at Walmart. Do you want to declare any major gifts, or maybe gambling winnings?… So the clothes are hand me downs from your grandmother who raised you because your own parents were too busy and this interfered with your ability to trust and form normal attachments?
Yeah, I don’t think the government needs to know any of this. I’m just going to mark you down here as “self-employed.” The good news is, since you own your own business, we can take out some deductions for any expenses you might have encountered. Oh, are those receipts in your pocket—HEY WHAT THE HELL?! STOP THROWING ALL THAT GLITTER! MY OFFICE LOOKS LIKE A STRIP CLUB TERRORIST ACT!
I’m sorry, no, you’re right, I shouldn’t yell, you just surprised me. Don’t cry. I’m not angry. Do you need a tissue? Plese don’t hide under my sport coat.
Hey, look at me, you’re right, glitter DOES make this whole experience more magical. I’m just responsible for any non-standard cleaning in here. This whole job is just contract work through mid-April, you know? They’re really particular about the floors in this building, I just don’t know how this will vacuum. I mean, it’s GREAT—really, I love it. I hope it’s always there, it’ll be like I’m walking on tiny bits of gold that stick to everything and do NOT make me look like I molested an elementary school art class.
I’m going to go ahead and assume you didn’t bring any receipts.
OK, we’re almost done. I know you’re still upset, I really am sorry, please don’t leave. Oh, sure, dancing makes you feel better, that makes sense. Can I just ask you—wow that’s a lot of twirling!
I just have a few more questions. This is probably a dumb one, but do you have any major investments or own a home or—right, right, ownership is a silly idea, of course, “we all just have love.” I guess I can write that on here, but, you know, what number would I place as the relative value? Pretty deep, right?
See, I can be interesting too. One time I told my boss I had to pick up some antihistamines at the pharmacy but instead I snuck out to go get a latte on Starbucks “free coffee” day—I don’t even have allergies!
I think we’re all done here. Actually, I think I’m done here as well. Being a part-time contract accountant was never my dream. You helped me see that, Jennifer.
This might sound crazy, but with you beside me, eating food off strangers’ plates, wearing inappropriate outfits, and running away from responsibility, I feel like I could finally, truly be ME. I want to become a conceptual yodel artist, I always have. It’s been my secret dream. Help me make it come true! Let’s run away together, or at least for a few months until I realize that I like being on time for things and being an emotionally responsible person. Oh I’m just teasing, I’ll never realize that! Not before you leave me at least! Grab your Hello Kitty backpack, we’ll climb out the window, you can teach me how!
Oh, but yes, you do need to sign here first. The IRS is pretty strict about that sort of thing.