Category: The Mammoth in Crisis (page 1 of 2)

The Worst Thing You Could Possibly Imagine

You walk into a party. Seven o'clock in the evening. People mill about a cavernous, dimly lit atrium, throngs of them, neatly picking hors d'oeuvres off trays carried by arthouse hipsters, the servers, who are clad in black and topped with the sort of odd identity-defining haircuts customarily found on people with no identities. The rumble of the crowd echoes back and forth between hard walls, off of a gray concrete floor. Booze flows, mostly wine. You are on the job; and you clutch desperately to a weeping bottle of Stella Artois.

Nothing unusual at the moment. The din can be ignored, assimilated into the standard cacophony of background noise and neurotic insanity; the crowd itself simply an environmental variable—pitching and swelling, yes, but predominantly benign.

So you swallow the rest of your beer quickly and duck upstairs with a co-worker to stroll around through the exhibits. Maybe it's the light buzz, or maybe your eyesight has gotten worse than you thought, but you have to squint and lean in to view the placards. There, you get a much needed refresher: Mondrian, Picasso, Schwitters, Dali, Bréton, Van Gogh, Wyeth, Chagall, Gaughin, Modigliani, Duchamp, Léger, Ernst. You remember their art, of course, some more than others, and you have always loved much of it, but it's nice to revisit old work and receive a few surprises along the way. Thinking about them takes you back—to college, to the sensation of purpose, to pleasant dreams. The feeling is bittersweet, dishonest in the way that nostalgia tends to be, but you cling to it. You allow the illusion that you left a piece of yourself back in another time and place, none of which exist any longer, to wash over you. After all, what could you have left behind, and where could you have left it? Suddenly, you begin to feel the weight of missed opportunities, a youth squandered on worry. And you hide the subtle—what you hope are subtle—paroxysms of woe behind a distant smile and a shifting art-gallery gaze.

This is all fine. You can handle this. This is your life.

But then the elevator won't take you to the third, fourth, or sixth floors, and you realize the fifth-floor gallery you just ingested is the only one that has been rented for the evening. You will be forced to return to one of the first two levels, though forced might not be the right word. See, you've been wanting to head back into the fray. For whatever reason, you feel drawn to some vague purpose, the nature and aim of which escape you. You feel compelled.

When you reach the second floor again, you race to the drinks table and get another beer from one of the hipsters. A Heineken. You hate Heineken, but they are out of Stella, and Amstel Light seems like an ill-defined yet potent sacrilege, even to a lightweight like you. So you take a greedy swig and turn around to survey the room.

The place is more crowded than before. The din is louder, and the food lines are backed up. As you scan the seething human mass before you, a debilitating sense of dread begins to creep into your chest. There is something different about the nine o'clock crowd, and when you put your finger on it, your heart sinks; you feel your face flush—a dry feeling, like dehydration. Your knees give way. The desire to flee is overpowering. Before you, what was once a mostly harmless gathering of older professionals, is now a group two thousand strong, and trending younger.

That last one is the fatal detail, because there they are. You can see them.

Women.

And goddammit . . . most of them are beautiful.

This American Fraud: When the Gods of Pool Smile Upon You for No Good Reason Whatsoever

If you take a look at my pool league's TopGun MVP standings, you'll see me listed right there at the top of Division 423, in first place.  There's only one problem:  I don't deserve it, not one bit.

Ask my teammates, and they'll tell you I'm one of those sticky players, one of the annoying types that manages to do just enough to stay alive, to let you hang yourself on your own mistakes.  In reality, I have enjoyed a profound streak of good luck.  I haven't lost in nine weeks.

I have the privilege of enjoying such success partially because the league is handicapped.  I am ranked as a Four—a low ranking—after spending most of the season to date as a Three; the rankings go up to Seven. If I play a Seven, I need to win two games to his/her five, if I remember correctly, in order to win the match. Similar handicaps exist for each possible rating pair. Without the system, my record would hover just over .500, and I would be considered rightfully unexceptional.

Aside from the handicapping system, however, I have been bailed out a number of times.  In twelve matches, I count four in which I played well—four matches I actually deserved to win.  But my wins against both the Six and the Seven were spectacular debacles, monuments to the importance of humility against inferior players, because both of these players hung themselves.  I wasn't sticky, and I didn't hang around long enough for them to make mistakes.  They hung themselves specifically because they could see I wasn't a threat and took the game too lightly, neglecting to consider the fact that they could lose based upon their own actions without any resistance from the likes of me.

I'm not happy about the situation.  Being the current division MVP feels empty, gross.  I almost dropped a game against a Three last week, the first time this season I've played someone with a lower rank, and even then, I had to be bailed out:  I had to rely on his botching a shot on the eight ball and then simply flinging it into the corner pocket in disgust.  I would probably have made the last shot—it was an easy cut—but as it stands in my mind, I simply won the last game by default.  I've choked on too many easy game-winning shots to consider any contest a sure win.

So here I am: a fraud.  I can't give these fucking things aways, for Christ's sake.  When that Seven scratched on the eight ball and then accidentally sank it in the wrong pocket to give me the match a couple of games later, I was as angry as he was.  I slammed my pool cue against the ground and roundly rebuffed my teammates' attempts to tell me I'd somehow been successful.   Horseshit.  It was like scoring two points in a basketball game and then watching Michael Jordan put up forty on you only to miss an easy layup in the final seconds.

Sure, maybe your team won; but did they?  Did I?

Let me stress that this is not backhanded bragging.  I cannot be clear enough: I very literally, unfacetiously, and unquestionably do not deserve this standing.

What vain and horrible sacrifice I've made to the Gods of Pools, I can't fathom.  Whatever it is, let's hope it expired with this past match, because I'd like to get the feeling that it actually matters how well I play.  I'd rather lose than win like this.

 

The Despicable Friday

We are indeed drifting into the arena of the unwell. Marwood in Withnail & I

I'm sitting on a screed (saved as a draft) that I will never be able to post online because of the dastardly implications should I be so foolish.  Generally, the awareness that a disaster is preventable is not apparent to me until after the catastrophe hits, but this one, I'm fairly certain, is simply a lot of bad noise waiting to happen.

Not that I'd have to worry about much, anyway, even if I did post the thing.  As far as I can tell, readership on this worthless blog of mine has nearly hit zero; and the page visits these stats widgets do record can almost certainly be chalked up to random noise generated by spambots and the more than billion Google searches logged per day.  In fact, almost all of my traffic is generated by a single post (What Is a Vampire?) and only because the words "Robert Pattinson in Twilight" appear within it.  I doubt these visitors comprise the demographic I'm courting, nor do I believe they do much more than right-click Pattinson's picture and save it to their hard drives.

So yes.  I'll keep a lid on it for now—at least until the statute of limitations has passed.  If that means swallowing the last tiny nugget of pride I have left, so be it.

But that's no reason not to subject you all to a dose of petty blathering today, a Friday bathed in a sun we haven't seen for weeks in these parts, a Friday just as awful and horrifying as any other I've ever lived through.  My physical condition continues to deteriorate at an ever-increasing pace, and not because it has to.  The things we must do to stay alive simply require more effort than they are worth, especially eating.  Run a cost-benefit analysis on the individual consumption of food, and the inexorable truths begin to come into focus.  To fix a bagged lunch, I must rise too early in the morning.  To acquire nourishment from one of the establishments surrounding my office, I must fight through a frothing mob of motorists, not to mention a seemingly endless minefield of construction zones, potholes, witless shoppers, police officers, and airborne viruses.  The vending machine candy bars cost at least a dollar; the Cup-a-Soups are nothing more than freeze-dried lizard testicles in salt broth.  Frankly, I don't have time to deal with it.

Practical anorexia has its benefits, though I do miss the days when my pants didn't hang like Mongolian yurts over my legs, barely clinging to my waist by a belt already modified with an extra notch.  When food becomes an absolute necessity to maintain function—usually just before my eyes go suddenly dark and a tremendous, sweaty jolt of fatigue and famine courses through my withering frame—the decision is based on a rubric containing one requirement:  calories.  A Butterfinger has 240 of them, which is almost always just enough to get me home from work and onto the couch where I will spend the rest of the evening wallowing in borderline delirium and despair.  This amount of caloric energy will also allow for some ill-advised screaming at the television when the Bulls' game is on, but no more than three outbursts per quarter and none at Keith Bogans.  Hollering at him is simply too draining.

The problem tonight is that I will soon have a weekend to fill.  Perhaps it's time to default to the tactics I employed in my early twenties.  Perhaps it's finally time to dig up that old Moleskine again and hunker down at a bar to drink bitters and scribble unconscionable, libelous rants about the people around me—every once in a while raising my head to see if someone is watching, maybe the girl down at the end of the bar who, if we were in a movie, would saunter up and say something witty and literary, kicking off a lame montage backed by a bittersweet love song from whatever indie band hit it big right before the release.  But that never happens. The reserved male never gets the girl, which is a truth I used to deny with every intellectual fiber.  I said the idea was ludicrous, that we were not ruled by displays of dominance and that our mating rituals had grown far more nuanced over millions of years.  How idiotic I was those long five or six years ago.

And now, I'm practically geriatric.  At twenty-six.  You don't even want to know the extent of the truth, but you young ones should count your lucky stars, anyhow. You're not going to have to spend the next thirty odd years garnishing your oatmeal with Pepto-Bismol and cock pills.

...

Is that all I've got in me?  I suppose I did spend my reserves on the shelved post to which I referred in opening, but Jesus:  This is all I can muster for a Friday afternoon rant as the sun goes down?

Fuck it then.  My shift is over, anyway, and I've got to grab a Butterfinger if I want to avoid drifting into oncoming traffic and putting someone else's life at risk.  The way I see, there's no reason to bring collateral damage into it unless they've signed all the waivers.

 

Shredding the Male Ego: The Pool Table as Abattoir

Photo by reurinkjan.

Be thankful you weren't at 63rd Street Billiards last night to witness my return to semi-competitive pool.  The scene you would have witnessed was a bad one—one of those awful displays of human fallibility that suddenly makes hanging from a noose seem the reasonable, even proper, thing to do.  There is nothing quite so discouraging as seeing a human being consumed so fully by his basest male primate instincts over something as inane as hitting balls into pockets with sticks; but even if we can chalk my chest-beating displays and frothing, red-faced tantrums up to simple machinations of the hypothalamus and amygdala, we shouldn't be so quick to forgive such petulant outbursts.  From me or anyone else.  (And I make this assertion in the face of emerging research that seriously calls into question whether we have any free will at all.)

Losing is emasculating.

Your standard male incurs quite a severe depletion of testosterone after being bested in competition.  His shoulders sag; his chest bows inward; in all likelihood, he begins to emit chemical signals that warn potential mates away from him, the faint scent of which funnels their attention toward the more worthy triumphant alpha victor who—in contrast to the schmuck he just battered—is running on a plasmatic testosterone high.  His shoulders push backward, puffing out his chest, and he gallivants around exuding a musk designed to ramp up the hormonal engines in all of the surrounding females.

Sure, I haven't played in a pool league since 2003.  Sure, it's probably been three or four years since I played regularly.  And yes, this was the first game I'd played in maybe two months, a previous one coming six months before that.

So what?  I'm reminded of something about excuses and assholes.

Frankly, there is no excuse for dropping five games in row, no matter how highly rated your opponent is—especially when you only have to win two games to his five in order to take the match according to the league handicap, and especially when he gift-wraps two of those games only to watch gleefully as you choke on open shot after open shot.

Competition is the yardstick by which I measure my manhood.  (I'm being partially facetious.) My ego gorges itself upon stacking up wins in whatever activity, and the damn thing is never sated, a malfunction that probably stands as the major impediment to my ever dabbling in Buddhism, though I don't imagine I would ever want to anyway.  (Qi?  Really?) It's all very  juvenile and petty and utterly sad in the way that human males tend to be, I know.  But the tendency establishes itself almost automatically, as I have never believed in Playing For Fun.  The very idea is anathema to me, the concept lacking any sort of internal logic, which is not to say that people should lose gracelessly or act like rabid wolverines.  Do what I say, not what I do.  The thing that makes competition enjoyable, though, is just that: competition.

Why would I want to beat someone who isn't doing their best?

Playing For Fun invariably leads to in-game laziness.  It's boring, and nothing is at stake.  Every result from every game that has ever been played for fun is marked down as null on the Great Ledger, which, I fear, is nothing more than a glut of soporific contests, all of them cheap and dull and lifeless.  The thing should be wiped clean, and we should all resolve to play like we fucking mean it.

But no one's keeping score, you say.  We're just having fun, right?

Wrong.

I'm keeping score. And I'm losing.  And that makes me mad.

Children of the Office, I Implore You

homeoffice

Image Attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paladin27/ / CC BY-NC 2.0

I am forced to sit here and suffer through another long afternoon of pretending to work largely because I have become more efficient as a worker.  I wouldn't even go as far as to say that I've automated everything because, in truth, I haven't automated anything.  I've simply succeeded in cutting down the number of steps it takes to complete certain tasks, eliminated needless components of the job, and don't have to amass a library of printed pages to do one simple thing on the computer.  Combined with a relatively high level of aptitude for quickly executing brain-wasting computer work, my total output exceeds that of a normal worker  by High Noon.

Mind you, I'm running my own internal statistics, and it is a rare occasion indeed that such numbers should be trusted or taken at face value, but I assure you, any discrepancy between my findings and reality are not due to any nefarious deed on my part.  I'm fairly confident that any independent and unbiased panel of experts would come to similar conclusions, perhaps pushing my time-efficiency estimate back by a maximum of two hours.

The difference is largely generational.  Walk in the front door of my office, and you will find a large wall of file cabinets.  What they contain, I do not know.  I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that some of the documents contained therein are kept necessarily in print form.  There are legal entanglements I don't anticipate experiencing that might loom over those with a different job description, but regardless of this fact, I'd bet a quick combing of the archives would effectively reduce the lot by at least half.  There was a day when that sort of pack rat mentality probably served the office worker well.  A reliable filing system was tantamount to maintaining the stability of an office's everyday operations, and in many ways, it still is.  But the filing of today does not require paper.  There is virtually nothing that can't be done without the aid of a printer or even a fax machine (why we still have one of those, I can't imagine) because all paper does, except in very rare instances, is slow you down.

This is all obvious stuff, chapter headings in the Child's Office Primer, and non-adherence to a paperless office can more often than not be attributed to a lack of desire or effort to train the brain to utilize the tools available to it.  It's adherence to the Old School, the paper trail, which is no more than a crutch these days.

I don't mean to engage in a Young vs. Old argument here, though the lines do tend to fall slightly along those lines.  Hell, one of my high school English teachers was a coder and programmer at seventy-six, an age at which one surely has plenty of excuses to resist adopting new ways of doing things.  If he would have spurned everything post-dating the electric typewriter, he could have been forgiven for beholding the swelling tides with the scowl of a seasoned curmudgeon.  To this date (he, sadly, passed away a few years ago), his final knowledge of computing probably still exceeds mine, so what I'm on about here is not complicated.

Administrative tasks have been simplified to the extent that it's almost silly to rent office space anymore.  There is nothing in my job description that I couldn't do from the comfort of my own home without ever stopping to pull up my pants.  Same goes for everyone else, and since I am in a vindictive mood today, I'll just go ahead and shift the blame for my having to dance through this intricate pantomime of artificial busyness to everyone else.

If we all work together, goddammit, we'd spend less time at our jobs, get more done both professionally and personally, and save a few trees while we're at it.

Who's with me?

Correction (10/21/2009): Due to a silly grammatical oversight, the title originally read "Children of the Office, I Implore Thee".  Thanks to commenter vet's bringing the error to my attention "thee" has been changed to "you."

Human 2.0: Vague Principles of Destructive Evolution

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Image Attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eurleif/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

There are too many stimuli and no way to unhook from the Delivery System.  Every thirty seconds or so, TweetDeck chirps and notifies me that some Twitter entity or another has posted something to the web.  Facebook is running and constantly updating itself with video, status updates, and one friend who is rebuking me for becoming part of the background noise.  He doesn't know that I've downloaded the Twitter plug-in that updates my Facebook status whenever I write a tweet, nor does he know that Brief, my Firefox RSS reader, keeps flashing feed updates at me for no good reason.  If I am constantly disseminating information, it is, perhaps, only as a form of purgation lest I suffer neuronal overload and slip into a vegetative state.

I can't help it.  Neither can most of us who've fallen victim.  That we will suffer enlarged prostates and blood clots in the leg brought on by our increasingly sedentary lives is of no concern.  The needle must stay in the vein at all times.

If you asked me to trace this hideous addiction, to run all the algorithms and interpolations, I probably wouldn't be able to find the seed.  I remember the old DOS games like Castle and Mosaic that I used to play as a kid, and I have a faint recollection of being comfortable with nothing more than a command line in front of me, but that was a long time ago, and all the years of wandering around in the GUI has effectively dulled those familiarities entirely. Even if I did have a better memory of the spark that lit this obsession, I can't be sure anything worthwhile would come of the knowledge.  The age of Web 2.0 has so proven so immersive that it has inevitably catapulted us into the age of Human 2.0.  Take a lesson from Lot's wife, and don't look back.

Our transition into the next world is going to be rough.  The transcendence of the next wave of technologies will be hindered by shifting climate systems, political opposition, and religious fervor, and while that might only sound sane to someone who believes it, there is little doubt it will prove true.  Success is not guaranteed.  In truth, the next one hundred years could — and depending upon whom you ask, probably will — end badly for us and with the heinous, collective whimper of wasted opportunities.  While the Green Movement is busy plotting our next generation of energy technologies, Washington and the rest of the world are moving slowly to curb emissions and create initiatives to house our future infrastructure, opting instead to plaster their cars with the right bumper stickers and their websites with the right banner ads.  But the religious zealots and climate change naysayers will win because time is on their side.  We have a couple of decades (optimistically) to stop this runaway train, and nothing short of total commitment will do the trick.

And now that I've been using Twitter regularly for a few months, and Facebook for years, I know what I've gained by the expediency of information.  In some cases, it has been very valuable.  I grab web design tutorials and typography blogs from users who post them to Twitter, and I've got enough stored up to last me a month.  I have absorbed a tremendous amount of knowledge in a very short span of time thanks to the informational paradigms under which we operate.  I get my fun fast and the news even faster, and there is always something to read, so much, in fact, that it is difficult to concentrate on any one thing for an extended period of time.  Certainly, our attention spans have suffered en masse and to a great degree.  Information will be our downfall just as it became our apex.

Evolution has  a pretty good track record for creating efficient, sustainable organisms, but hidden in that long history, of course, are all the failures and extinctions, fossilized remains of beasts that couldn't keep pace with the paradigm shifts of our planet.  When humans finally evolved, when that ultra-logical tweak entered the primate brain, the game changed entirely.  All of a sudden, brute strength didn't hold the same currency in some circles and the increased efficiency of abstract thought put homo sapiens at the top of the heap, maybe for good.

That's not to say that animals don't possess similar abilities in some instances.  I've long thought that we as humans have been unduly deferential to the intelligence of our fellow denizens, and yes, I'll even go as far as to at least partially agree with the theory Howard Bloom espouses in Global Brain: The Evolution of the Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century that organisms exhibit a certain level of altruism.  I think this is especially true in more advanced mammals, but as Bloom argues, one can perhaps find echoes of this inherent empathy in single-celled organisms as well. [We won't get into this now.]  While we are the most advanced species on the planet and do possess certain brain powers unparalleled by other animals, the Biblical idea that provides us dominion over other creatures is both narrow-minded and selfish, not to mention fatally short-sighted.

But maybe we've gotten too smart for our own good.  Maybe we've overloaded our own brains with our technology, and yes, maybe we will eventually prove to be one of nature's mistakes — an overzealous attempt at a super-organism that went badly awry, that outgrew the planet's ability to sustain it.  Humans are nature's most astonishingly efficient virus.  We are resistant as a whole to most of it's control measures save for massive impact and our own forward progress, and after all, as our own numbers increase, so does the imminence of our demise.  The first sign of species collapse barring disease in any given ecosystem is usually overpopulation, and we might reach that point soon enough.

Until then, as the constant flow of information continues to clog our synapses, corporations and governments will continue to operate more or less nefariously, confident that their dealings will be sufficiently drowned out by the din.  They'll be right, of course, and they'll remain in charge until there is a mass extinction or another bottleneck in the human race, until the cards are reshuffled, if you'll pardon the phrase, and we'll keep running to the computer every time it chirps marveling all the while with masturbatory ecstasy at how far our technology has come since the bone knife.

If we're lucky, maybe we'll even eventually learn to use our advancements constructively and separate the notions of progress and excess from one another.  Then we can remember Human 2.0 as an upgrade instead of a fatal error.

Easter Sunday Under the Influence of Nicotine Replacement Therapy

jesusEaster isn't exactly a day I relish in any capacity, and on this Easter Sunday, I am, perhaps, more irritable than usual.  This patch on my arm is feeding nicotine into my bloodstream to the tune of 21 milligrams over a 24-hour period for the sixth day in a row with no telling how long it will be before I pass a single minute bereft of longing for a cigarette.

I am, on this day, reminded of the fervid retellings of Jesus' resurrection and ascension into Heaven that rattled down the hallways of my Catholic high school and how odd it was to be an atheist tucked in among the pious masses.  The rub is, of course, that piety is almost uniformly non-existent among teenagers.  Even the classmates of mine renowned for their adherence to the Church defied the constraints of Catholicism's unrealistic dogma, most likely by engaging in rigorous hormone-fueled masturbation on a daily basis, which is a crime according to every Pope since Peter.  If Catholics were truly serious about upholding the Old Testament virtues upon which their faith is founded, I and everyone I knew back in those days would've been publicly flogged, humiliated, and then summarily executed.  Our decapitated heads would have lined the front walkway, tongues out askew and eyes frozen in the wide, blank expression characteristic of traumatic shock to the Central Nervous System.

Somewhere along the line, the Church grew wise to the fact that their dogma would prove unsustainable in the long run.  For all I know, Christ was the first to harbor this realization and, for this reason, birthed the paradigm shift toward forgiveness in what proved to be a brilliant PR move and one altogether more appealing to the masses than the strict, violent laws of Judaism.  There is little difference between secularist Christians and Jews these days — we'll veer away from fundamentalists of both stripes — but Christ set up the base for a pure numbers victory by teaching the Good News and organizing the missionary system with which we are all familiar.

These thoughts and others were a hallmark of my entrenchment among Catholics in high school, and to some extent, my days among the Lutherans in middle school as well.  I remember two things especially from middle school.  The first is having been marched up in front of the class to recite The Lord's Prayer as well as what amounted to a Lutheran Pledge of Allegiance (not the Apostle's or Nicene Creed...that came later for all of us) because the teacher had noticed on the first day of school that I knew neither, and the second is the lesson in Religion Class when I first heard of the Christian belief that the world is but 6,000 years old.  Granted, the reason for being forced to recite excerpts of Lutheran mythology were understood.  I was on their turf, and if I expected to make it through school, I would have to comply, at least scholastically, with their demands.  Such were the consequences of proving too skittish for the droves of students packed into the public school.  However, teaching such a blatant lie as to suggest that humans and dinosaurs once shared the Earth (en masse, anyway) was something I viewed as nothing less than sadly hilarious.

Here I sat among children that didn't know any better due to no fault of their own listening to an adult devoted wholeheartedly to silly fairy tales.  If any of us wonder what ills have befallen the education of the American Youth, we need look not only at our failing public schools but at the scientific follies preached in the parochial system.  The odd thing was that the scientific curriculum at my middle school was strangely excellent if you ignore their take on evolutionary theory.  I sleepwalked throught most of the science classes — aside from AP Physics and Chemistry, the beasts — due in no small part to the extensive primers I received on the periodic table of elements, various chemical compositions, molecular structures, biological processes, and principles of electricity and motion.  By the end of eighth grade, I had dissected a frog, a fetal pig, an eyeball, and a sheep's heart, and as far as I've heard from friends, that was more than they had done in their respective public schools.

Everything I dissected during high school proved to be review save for a cat, the only notable difference of which was the opportunity to skin the thing like an orange.

I've gotten off the topic here, though.  I was talking about Easter and, in an indirect way, the Sabbath, which has proven a rough day of the week for me since my days among the Lutherans.  Every Monday, the teacher would read down the list of students and ask if they'd been to church on Sunday.  This tally would factor into the final quarterly religion grade for each student.

I knew for a fact that some of my classmates lied about attending services, and the funny thing was that I, an avowed atheist even at the time (save for a bit of dabbling in sixth grade when peer pressure proved a bit daunting), felt bad about lying, so I made my Dad take me to church on Sundays in order to avoid this "sin".  I didn't partake in the Eucharist, though I would sometimes walk up to be blessed for reasons that now escape me.  I have a memory of attending an Easter service at Peace Lutheran Church in Cincinnati while on a family visit and holding my hand up to refuse the wine offered by the pastor.  He looked taken aback and confused that I should refuse the Blood of Jesus Christ, though I should mention one marked theological difference between Catholics and Lutherans that causes some strife and bickering is the divergence of belief in Communion.  Lutherans hold the wafers and wine as symbols of the Body and Blood Jesus gave unto his disciples at the Last Supper while Catholics believe that once the food is blessed by a priest it physically becomes Jesus' actual Body and Blood.

This is the only case in which I found a Catholic belief more frightening than a Lutheran one.  For all the shit Catholics get for instilling guilt into their faithful, I have found in my experience that Lutherans are much more severe in this regard.  One should remember that Lutheranism and Protestantism in general bear as much similarity with Puritanism as they do with Catholicism.  After all, Arthur Dimmesdale could never have dreamed of being a Catholic even after he fucked Hester Prynne.  The anguish and punishment would have been grossly insufficient to assuage the burden of his transgression.

Still, I've always found it strange that the atheists and agnostics I've met along the way adhere stronger to Christian virtues than many of the Christians I've known, and perhaps it is the freedom from the yoke of religion that enables many of the to act more charitably.  I tend to trust genuine acts of kindness and unselfishness over those performed due to fear of condemnation in the afterlife.  One must be at least a mite suspicious of someone who behaves only because they are under the constant watch of an omnipotent eye.  Consequently, one must wonder what said person would do were they to think that, for a moment, that surveillance was diverted or preoccupied.

Holding people up to unrealistic and inhuman expectations not only harms the individual but carries with it an element of collateral damage that should not be overlooked.  Just ask the those who've been molested by a Catholic priest or children who've been born and abandoned, forced to bear the heinous weight of irresponsibility because spilling seed upon fallow ground is viewed as a mortal sin.

This goes for all religions, which are inherently founded upon non-existent logic, fantasy, and, in olden times, were an ingenious  method of socio-political control.  I pick on Christianity only because of my proximity to it, but religion, at its base, is base because it squelches pragmatism and the ability of the human mind to act according to its potential in instances that present a conflict with the fabricated moral codes of the devout.

Fear of Spring

I felt it last week. Spring. The temperature rocketed up into the high-50s, and the atmosphere became unstable. That night was marked by incessant thunder and lightning and a torrential rain that prompted a Flash Flood Warning form the National Weather Service in Romeoville, Illinois. As far as severe weather, there was never anything to worry about. By the time the storm hit, the temperature had fallen into the 40s, which is too cold to support any meaningful punch. Strong thundestorms, for the most part, simply can't survive in such conditions, but it was a warning of sorts. Storm season is coming.

As a Chicago suburbanite, I'm no stranger to bad thunderstorms, nor would I consider tornadoes a rarity having been relatively close to a couple of them myself. Hell, in the late summer of 2008, eight tornadoes touched down in Will County on the same day (a fact that was not lost on me considering I'm on the edge of a bordering county), the strongest of which was an EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. A couple of months later, I had to convince a house full of people to retreat to the basement when we were put on Tornado Warning. None of them listened until the transformer in the backyard blew and sprayed blue sparks in every direction.

When I was in middle school, a tornado hit one street away from me. I can't imagine it was rated higher than an EF1, but the sound of the wind whistling around the corners of our house was plenty to send all of us to the basement immediately. Ten minutes earlier, my brother, my cousins, and I had been playing Home Run Derby in the cul-de-sac across the street when my mother came out and ordered us inside. The sky was gray, but I could see nothing to indicate an impending storm. After it had passed, part of the roof at my friend's house had been pull from the frame.

My fear of these phenomena didn't start then, and in truth, I can't tamp down the exact time frame. My gut instinct is that my terrible fear of thunderstorms emanated from narrowly missing the EF2 that hit Iowa City in April 2006. By narrowly missing, I mean that my original plans would have placed me on the outskirts of Iowa City at the same time the twister tore up Iowa Avenue and dug a trench through the heart of town. I arrived a day later and spent that night exploring the rubble.

Being a man that regularly personifies inanimate objects and natural phenomena like, I suppose I assigned a vendetta to that tornado—some naricissistic thought that because it missed me, it would be back. And in some respects, I feel as if the damn thing is still trying to hunt me down. It's only a matter of time.

As much as I hate the pervasive and almost crippling cold of a Chicago Winter, at least it provides me a few months respite from looking to the West with dread in my heart. Why did I ever buy a house without a basement?

Grand Opening: The Book of Mammoth (And the Honest Scrap Award)

Hey, folks.  Just a brief message here announcing the grand opening of the Book of Mammoth.  You should see a tab linking to it at the top left of your screen.

This is a series of stories I began a couple of years ago, and to date, I've only written five of them.  These five are posted with the hopes it'll kick start some production on my part.

The second order of business tonight is to belatedly respond to Shelly Bryant's nomination for the Honest Scrap Award in which the recipient is supposed to outline ten facts regarding his/her character that are unknown to most people.  Now, I have a strident dislike for chain blogothons like these, but I've bitten a few hooks in my day.  In fact, Shelly might even recall my runaround of the "Fours Challenge" back during our WritingUp days entitled "The Sign of Four" in which I spent 1000 words or so specifically not answering the questions asked of me.

However, Shelly is a top-notch blogger and a really swell person.  I and the rest of us at Sloth Jockey are indebted to her for her consistent poetry and book review submissions as well as for her willingness to blog for us on Tai Shan.

So I'll bite on this Honest Scrap thing out of pure gratitude.  And while we're at it, if you're holding a drink in your hand, let's have a toast for Shelly.

Honest Scrap

  1. Ever since I was a child, I've had a disquietingly strong suspicion that I would die at the age of twenty-eight.  This suspicion pre-dates my awareness of Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison insofar as their dates of death are concerned.  At the time of this writing, I am twenty-four years old.
  2. I am a recovering hypochondriac, though I have not been clinically diagnosed with the disorder.  Eventually, my worries conflicted to a great enough degree with my daily life that I felt professional confirmation would prove purely semantic.
  3. Due to said hypochondria, I correctly diagnosed my own mouth lesion prior to having it biopsied.  The doctor's own intuitions were incorrect.  I have also scored an average of 85% on a series of quizzes given to graduate students from the University of Southern California's dental program.  These quizzes were, for a time, posted on their website.
  4. I have flat feet.  By flat, I mean there is literally no arch.  This has wreaked particular havoc on my lower back.
  5. I regularly personify inanimate objects and proceed to have conversations with them.
  6. Despite almost universal opposition to this viewpoint, I continue to strongly believe in the passage of laws that would grant other intelligent primates such as gorillas and chimpanzees rights akin to those humans enjoy.  I also believe it should be illegal to keep such (most) animals in any sort of captivity, zoos included.  Further rights should be given to all types of animals.
  7. Part of me remains nervous about apocalyptic theories regarding 2012.  In the interest of rational thought, I have attempted to squelch these somewhat unfounded concerns.  This becomes all the more difficult the second I open a newspaper.
  8. It takes four beers to get me drunk.  Due to this fact, I do not drink often.
  9. I have semi-secret desires to be both a world-class yodeler as well as a world class crooner.  I'm not making this up.
  10. I believe the K-T extinctions were a result of drastically increased volcanic activity (possibly even a supervolcanic eruption) as opposed to an asteroid striking earth.

On a Christmas Afternoon in Northern Illinois

And here we are again.  Christmas Day.  A low-key one now that we've all gotten older and tired of holiday ritual.  There will be presents, and the children have returned home just like every year, but the ties are purely familial.  Christmas has become joyless, though not entirely unwelcome.  Sentiments that were augmented by the season in years past are now muted with years, and we sit around reading or typing quietly, more or less content but most likely mulling over our personal nightmares.  Closeness is a valuable commodity these days and all too rare in this ailing spiritual economy—supplanted with bogus advertisements, consumer and religious alike.

I am surprisingly numb today considering the circumstances surrounding this morning, of which I will spare you the details, and in lieu of further silence in my corner of the website, I figure it's best to fire off one of these tepid personal reflections and get it out of the way.  Readership is likely down on December 25th.  This is a lucky thing.

It used to pour out of me like a mudslide.  The piss and shit.  The melancholy.  I had pages of it in my little black book and online, and everywhere I turned I saw twisted screeds about the Death of ____________ or human pestilence.  I was a prolific bitcher.

And now, I've been saving it for myself for something like a year, more or less.  The waters have built up, and this sick, familiar feeling in my chest belies the presence of unspoken regrets, a whole list of how-did-I-get-heres and what's-wrong-with-mes all waiting for their release.  If there is such an abscess, it is only because I allowed it to exist.  I invited the infection by tuning out and laying low.  I invited it by accepting defeat, perhaps even reinforcing the inevitability of what was once an eventual downfall and has quickly become a reality—a lame punchline for the even lamer joke of my early twenties.

Even if that's not entirely true—even if every half-decade seems this way in retrospectthe feeling is difficult to discard or ignore.  It must work its way into the open, whether by force or piecemeal, sneaking a hand and then a limb and then, finally, a head out the door, stilted sentence by stilted sentence until you're standing there with a three-foot gash in your ribcage and the odd feeling that this is the end of the line.

It's all too fucking familiar, like specters that never left or a recurring cancer.

I found that excerpt in my little electronic archive of unused drivel, and I'll use it as a little Christmas toast.  Here's to Bah Humbug and Ebenezer Scrooge and the pagans that started this whole shebang.  Here's to the advertisers and the Christians and anyone else who celebrates this holiday in whatever way they do.

It's just like any other day, except the Post Office is closed, and there's no place to buy beer.

BACK ISSUE: Rot

The boy's weird, Channon. You should trade him in. Or sell him for salvage. Spider Jerusalem

I awoke in a pissy mood today, and that sentiment has only been augmented since I rambled by WritingUp to pull down something like 250-pages worth of my blogs before the site went on a permanent fritz. Well, looks like I missed the boat and those lurid, depressive ramblings will be lost forever, or at least until I am able to recover what I can from the bowels of Google's HTML cache, which is a task I am not overly anxious to undertake, nor am I expecting it to yield much in the way of positive returns. If I can salvage some of the more pertinent inanities I spewed forth in those tumultuous and confused times, the whole thing might be worth the effort. Barely.

I am getting what I deserved, though. Faith in the Electronic Wilderness is usually misplaced and will, more often than not, bring about serious disappointment.

But here I am, hunkered down in this tasteless office with a film of dampness clinging desperately to my skin and the constant hum of Interstate 88 just outside my window. I can smell death as I often can on days like today, and I am usually right. About twenty minutes ago, I felt compelled to take a stroll into the mud around the side of my building despite the rain and my ambivalence at tackling mortality head-on when vibrations are sinister enough. There it was. A dead bird being picked at by a lonely ant.

I muttered words of rest and good will. Few things sadden me like the sight of a bird rendered flightless by injury or death with those large, lidless marbles that have faded into eternal blindness. It would seem to me that even the sky turns to dust.

I could list the reasons that I am in this funk, but what good would it do? My electronic ravings have gotten me in trouble before, and I have no doubt that things will turn out much the same if I am not careful. Besides, my nerves are jangled, and my thoughts are coming out stilted and in fragments. My mind is not in any condition to undergo serious soul searching at the moment, and pumping out yet another topographical analysis of my psyche would prove not only fruitless but ill-conceived in a way that might eventually necessitate a few days spent off the map somewhere, dressed in a loin cloth, sucking down booze, and filling my synapses with psilocybin.

Ah, yes.  Wrestling grizzly bears. Skinning wolverines. Getting in touch with those primal instincts we have been bred and conditioned to deny for civility's sake. Everyone needs to hit the reset button every once in a while to stay healthy.

But what the fuck am I talking about? Really?

It is easy to chalk this thing up to petty chronic whining, and yes, perhaps in memory of those old blogs that have been devoured by the Internet, I am shooting up one last Meandering Bitchfest in the style of old. And so be it. There is little reason to avoid doing so if it helps kill a little time and get these rusted-out gears of mine to start grinding again. The fucking bastards have refused to move for a few days now, and I'm getting sick of the bad reflexes and inability to defend myself against spiritual fascists.

...and that is the signal to end this thing off. No need to spout out irresponsible accusations and be labeled an intolerant goon.

I wouldn't be able to deny it, and I have a hard enough time pretending to be compassionate as it is.

Guarding the Peripheral Gloom on the Outskirts of a Party

It all happened very suddenly.  The stampede that burst through the front door would not be stopped for any reason, fueled by booze and birthday cheer, marinated in songs from an acoustic guitar commandeered against my will.

Who am I to break up a good party, though?  It is easy enough to fall back to my usual post in the corner and keep watch over the peripheral gloom while hiding from the madness on the porch.

But every now and then, the commotion spills indoors and bustles around me as I sit typing away on the couch content in my solitude, wishing audience with no one and none to request it with me.  These are distant hopes, however, and if my guts can be held to their premonitions, I can expect to be wrestled from my perch before long and whisked into the din.  Such are the hazards of being a predominantly sober person in a world carved by heavy drinkers.

This is not to say I don't enjoy many of them or count some among my close friends (though I am only passing acquaintances with most of the current crop)—morality has long represented little more than a comedic foil to sensibility in my mind—but there are certain pitfalls when all escape routes have been blocked off and one is forced to mingle in the stench of cheap beer.  So, for now, and because I've aroused some contempt, the only thing to do is go on a mean drunk and chalk up a few regrets before waking up tomorrow to tender any necessary apologies.

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