On Being A Small Blue Dot In A Dark Red, Theocratic State

Just for fun, since I am doing some long-overdue digital housekeeping, here’s an article from 2007. This is, you’ll note, before Barack Obama was elected President. You may want to keep that part in mind when you read (that, and this is dated; I don’t get newspapers dumped on my lawn anymore–if you stop paying them, they do eventually cut it out–and those unwanted Pennysaver rags can’t be stopped by anything short of a very, VERY high wall).

HERE’S THE OLD STUFF:

I’ve also been catching up on the massive pile of newspapers–the newspapers I didn’t want and which rarely arrive (or which get swiped before I go fetch them from the puddles in the driveway, where they always end up)–and which are 90% adverts. Somehow a WTOC “news” paper ended up in the reading spot instead of being pitched, unread, into a bin. Each time I have attempted to read it, it makes me develop frown wrinkles.

WTOC 11 is one of a handful of local “news” channels, and, I’m 99% sure, they are responsible for the advert I groused about previously, which involved a rich white guy standing behind a White Baby Jesus nativity scene and reading ponderously from The Bible, which started airing in October, thus earning two frownie marks at once. October is for Hallowe’en (and my birthday), but not for pushing Christmas down my throat before I’m out of overpriced, undersized Tootsie Pops. Also, not everyone down here is Christian, though it sometimes sure seems like it. Maybe I’m grumpy, but it seems foolish for a supposedly unbiased news channel to air religious propaganda. Since they are FOX NEWS-lite, though, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

To my surprise and delight, though I couldn’t find the original article online (their website is terrible), I did find a comment from someone at Fort Stewart (military, of course) who grumped about another article Bill Cathcart (the article writer, and The Highest Muckity Muck at the station) penned wherein Cathcart misinterpreted Dennis Kucinich’s recent nay vote (unrelated to the article I’m grumping about, but intended to spark discussion about the “real” reasons behind the Iraq war and 9/11 and so on, from what I gathered) and wound up talking about Christianity for the last 2/3 or the article, which had fuck all to do with anything. The military guy patiently posted the more accurate details about the Kucinich vote and then complained that the pro-GOP and pro-Jesus stuff was really unnecessary. Word. And all the more “word” because, lo and behold, it proves that at least one of the many military d00dz in Jesusland is capable of having a lick of sense, and thinking for himself. (Imagine how popular he must be among his peers. Poor guy.)

Enjoy the article, which I have transcribed for your pleasure, and which would otherwise be lost to the mists of time (even the Wayback Machine failed me):

“Like the continual drip of a rusted faucet, ridiculous actions never cease. Two more servings of compost scooped from the heap. Several high school students in ever-progressive Boulder, Colorado, walked out of their classrooms to protest the daily recitation of the Pledge Of Allegiance, which includes, of course, our much-cherished tribute to God’s guidance. These left-ward youngsters chose to recite, instead, their own secular version, claiming that ours violates the Constitution’s “separation” clause, which, as you well know, does not exist.”

ZOMG! Two teenagers not wanting to pray at school! The horror! How “ridiculous”! What “compost”!

Shall we take bets on where Cathcart stands on the Creationism v. Evolution battlelines? No?

And when did “progressive” become a BAD thing? Honestly?

“Look, you want to write your own wedding vows, have at it. But you do not edit the American citizen’s pledge of loyalty to suit your own Mother Earth needs. Chalk up another one to social studies replacing history classes, and our trendy micro-focus on self. Forget our country; it’s me that counts. And, oh, by the way, God, thanks for the earth and stuff, but we’ve got it handled, so we’re cutting you loose.” 

First, let us applaud Cathcart’s generous offer to allow people to write their own vows without his disapproval. What a great guy!

Whereas I do agree that “micro-focus on self” is a problem a lot of kids seem to be afflicted with these days, and it is something I might fuss about in the future, I disagree that it runs hand in hand with Gaea worship (or that this might be wrong, as religion is a personal thing, thanks). I also resent the constant reminder, by fundies, that they take the whole Genesis thing really, really literally.

“Colorado requires its schools to read the Pledge daily over the PA. Students may either recite or stand quietly. So, with their Constitutional objection bogus, kids opting out, or even refusing to simply listen to our Pledge, must either be confused about where they are, or prefer to commit their allegiance to some other nation or galaxy. Ah, the sweet arrogance of youth.”

You can bet that if the school recited a “Gaea pledge” every morning that Cathcart would be railing against this just as strenuously as he is railing against the students who are trying to find a middle ground where they can still pledge allegiance to America without bringing someone else’s religious beliefs into it. Because they don’t want to pledge allegiance to someone else’s God, they are automatically bad kids. I don’t agree.

Some “other nation or galaxy”? What the eff?

“And speaking of professing allegiance to a nation other than America, according to a just-released Opinion Dynamics voter poll, 5% of Republicans, 7% of Independents and 19% of Democrats feel that the world would be better off if the United States lost the war in Iraq! Incredible and despicable. Talk about being self-possessed, or more likely, just plain possessed. While they have a right to that opinion, they should be absolutely ashamed to have it, given that this foolishness is just all about punishing President Bush. Our country and its future be damned.”

Note the TINY percentage of people who disagree with Cathcart’s point of view, here, and it is STILL pissing him off, though he graciously allows that they have the right to disagree. Even so, he just knows that they feel this way because they are out to punish Bush. There could be no other reason for their opinion. Furthermore, since they are so wrong-headed, they should be ashamed! SHAME on them for holding a different opinion, because clearly that also means they don’t give a crap about Amurika and where it is going.

Or, conversely, maybe they care A LOT, and didn’t like seeing tens of thousands of people dying for a trumped-up war that has produced no WMDs and where the trigger point was ostensibly 9-11, something NO Iraqis have been tied to, ever. (But the Saudis are our political buddies, you know.)

He can NOT stand it that even a small handful of people, of all political persuasions, disagree with him (and Bush). How can they not see the WISDOM and RIGHTNESS of the war? How can they say it would be okay to LOSE? How HORRIBLE and un-American!

GAH! People like this drive me crazy.

“By the way, those ex-patriots might want to remember that wish when the center of their city is in ruins, since a loss in Iraq clearly beckons further attacks here.”

Oh, CLEARLY. Because Iraqis flew planes into buildings, you know. And killing as many of them you can get your hands on will stop the random handful of nutburgers who embarrass their less-crazed neighbors by kamikazi-ing into stuff for the promise of seventy virgins and a mess of figs and honey in the afterlife.

Maybe losing the war would be unpleasant, but since we foolishly got into that mess on false pretenses in the first place, I don’t know that sticking it out is going to magically make things all better.

“Beyond un-American and pro-terrorist, defeat-at-any-price is imbecilic. Our loss there would be catastrophic, for Iraq, for the Middle East, for Europe, for the United States. To actually embrace defeat, people have to be out of their minds. Oh, wait, that’s it. They are! And they don’t belong in this country.”

ARGH ARGH ARGH!

Translation: “You disagree with me? You are crazy, and you need to leave the country.” Sir, if you will pay for my relocation, I will gladly take you up on your kind non-offer.

Now, let’s discuss.

Separation of church and state is a political and legal idea usually identified with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

The phrase building a wall of separation between church and state was written by Thomas Jeffersonin a January 1, 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association. (Wikipedia)

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” (Thomas Jefferson)

… no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities. (James Madison)

What Cathcart is saying (which is actually true) is that the exact phrase “separation of church and state” itself does not appear in the Constitution, but, on the other hand, he’s a bit wrong-headed as well, as it has been quoted in several opinions handed down by the United States Supreme Court.

The phrase “separation of church and state” became a definitive part of Establishment Clause jurisprudence in Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947), a case which dealt with a state law that allowed the use of government funds for transportation to religious schools.

While the ruling upheld that the state law (allowing federal funding of religious schools) as constitutional, Everson was also the first case to hold the Establishment Clause applicable to the state legislatures as well as Congress, based upon the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In 1962, the Supreme Court extended this analysis to the issue of prayer and religious readings in public schools. In Engel v. Vitale 370 U.S. 421 (1962), the Court determined it unconstitutional by a vote of 6-1 for state officials to compose an official school prayer and require its recitation in public schools, even when it is non-denominational and students may excuse themselves from participation.

As such, any teacher, faculty, or student can pray in school, in accordance with their own religion. However, they may not lead such prayers in class, or in other “official” school settings such as assemblies or programs, including even “non-sectarian” teacher-led prayers. […]

The court noted that it “is a matter of history that this very practice of establishing governmentally composed prayers for religious services was one of the reasons which caused many of our early colonists to leave England and seek religious freedom in America.”

In short, Cathcart is both right, in that the exact phrase does not appear in the particular document he cites, and wrong, in that he seems to be wilfully ignoring what our Founding Fathers intended and what more enlightened laws have underscored since.

What always boggles me is how Righty Whitey Christian Americans, generally speaking, are not in favour of other theocracies world-wide, but are all in favour of having one here. When Kennedy was running for office, a vicious tide of anti-Papist / anti-Catholic rhetoric spewed forth like sewage from a leaky pipe. Guess what? Since the majority of rich white people in charge of things at the time were not Catholic, suddenly they became more amenable to the idea of separation of Church and State, because they genuinely feared that Kennedy’s religious beliefs would interfere with his Presidential duties. They were more amenable, because their idea of religion was not shared by, arguably, the then most powerful man in the country.

Now that the arguably currently most powerful man in this country is a Born Again ex-cokehead Righty Whitey idjit who feels the need to inflict his religion on the country as a whole, the rich white dudes in power think separation of Church and State is now a BAD idea. Wonder why.

My prediction: we are going to be hearing how separation of Church and State “doesn’t really exist” or it is a bad idea UNTIL, by a miracle, some non-Protestant person is elected as President. And with the level of political corruption in this country, do you really think that will happen any time soon? Honestly? Right now, generally speaking, it supposedly “looks pretty good” for Democrats. This, I am telling you, will bring out some of the most vicious, underhanded, pro-Jesus flagwaving xenophobic mutts you ever saw during the next Presidential campaign.

What I’d love is a President who gets into office (without help from governor brothers, denying African Americans their vote, or friendship with the guy who OWNS Diebold) as a WASP-acceptable candidate and then converts to Judaism, which is a religion most of my sane friends practice, or something else that would make the rich white Jesus freaks go bananas. We might even get some “no backsies” laws that might actually stick that make it crystal clear that the State has no damn business dabbling about with religion of any stripe or type.

Last time the issue went before the Supreme Court, they punted, all the better to avoid truly clarifying the damn policy once and for all.

Sadly, I can not predict with certainty that we’ll have a Dem in office next go ’round, because the frontrunners, last I checked, are either female or black, and there are enough folks out there who are uncomfortable with both or either to potentially jigger the election for whoever the Repubz decide to nominate.

Do I personally think Jesus is “bad”? No, actually. I also know plenty of people who are devout and not hypocritical about it, and they don’t see the need to convert everyone else to their point of view, because they have the sense to understand that religious belief is deeply personal and private.

Some websites you may find interesting:


Americans, generally speaking, do not like or want to try to understand other theocracies, often nattering on about how wrong-headed and foolish those beliefs are, and comparing their own flavour of (usually) Christianity favorably to those other beliefs. As has been done for centuries, a particular type of Christian is really not into “live and let live” when it comes to competing religious beliefs. Not satisfied with their own personal salvation and religious beliefs, they feel the need to force everyone else to think and feel the same exact way, and to accept the same view of God as they have. I never understood that.

I especially don’t understand it when it involves two earnest, buzzcut-sporting, zitty teens in neckties (riding bikes) who insist on waking me up on the weekend.

I don’t understand the kind of mind that condemns the entire Muslim religion based on the actions of a handful of fanatical Muslim assrods, while conveniently neglecting to recall offenses a handful of fanatical Christian assrods have perpetrated throughout the ages.

I don’t understand the kind of mind that is so xenophobic and jingoistic as to say things like “America! Love it or leave it!” while forgetting that America is about preserving personal freedoms and rights, as long as those do not infringe upon other people’s freedoms and rights. Technically. Officially. Well, that’s what they keep telling us.

And meanwhile they are also forgetting that a lot of other countries sincerely hate our American guts, and don’t want any of the average American personality types to soil their country. Given that I don’t like the average American and average American interests (including political ignorance, dislike of reading, spelling and grammar, choices in mostly crap entertainment, their mostly crap musical preferences, their mostly crap etiquette, especially their crap dating behavior, overly indulgent or completely hands-off parenting, pro-tanorexic fashion, anti-intellectualism, false piety combind with judgmental behavior when faced with anyone who falls into the “other” category, materialism, use of animals / babies as accessories, and so on and so on) much myself, I can’t really blame them.


I guess I am incredibly angry that, say, Paris Hilton merits even one line of press, whereas actual NEWS news is considered too “unsexy” to bother with at all. (Example: I’m irritated that I even know “New York” is a person as well as a place, though what she does or contributes to the world, well, THAT I do not know.) And we’re infecting the rest of the world with the same crap values (though, to be fair, the UK has us beat where it comes to the “build ’em up then tear ’em down” trivial non-news “reporting” and publishing).

I guess if you say “we’re the best country on Earth” often enough, some folks really start to believe it. I’d say the truth somewhere in the middle: that we do a lot of things right and our intentions are generally good, but we mess up in a lot of areas, too, and you can’t acknowledge one side, the side where we do something really right, without also admitting to the other side, the one where…hoo boy!…have we ever got some work to do.

I think I need some caffeine and a lie down.

END OF OLD STUFF.

Okay.

Did you catch that bit about how it would be hilarious if we got a President in office who announced he wasn’t Christian? Well, instead we got a Christian that the conservative nutbags among us keep swearing is really a Secret Muslim.

It is probably best that we didn’t enrage the crazy people by having him announce he was giving up bacon permanently and converting to Judaism, after all.

 

 

 

Leave Public Schools Alone!

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If you’re unhappy with our public schools, here’s a radical thought: fund them adequately, provide appropriate textbooks and resources, pay good teachers well, and stop whining that although you can pray there all you want, that you can’t force teachers to lead prayers or enforce daily Bible readings.

Typical GOP stunt: cripple a resource, deny it funds, meddle with curricula, don’t consult educators, have non-educators make policy / laws, bust teachers’ unions, complain teachers get paid too much, promote crappy textbooks, try to insert religion into public schools, fight over ”intelligent design”, then, after leaving the public school system in tatters, complain schools are ”broken” and don’t give ”good value for the dollar,” and, hey, how about some vouchers!?

santorum vest

 

Or, if Rick Santorum, demonstrate your disdain for smart, educated people and the very idea of an advanced degree by calling learned people and scholars ”snobs.” (Ironically, Santorum has multiple degrees himself!)

santorum

 

People with no relevant real-world experience in the field of education, especially people who did poorly in school or who do not have any higher degrees, need to step off and leave our schools alone.

What Not To Do With A Hot Pocket

What not to do with a Hot Pocket:

1. Eat it.

But let’s just say you’re hungry and poor and tired of ramen, Chef Boyardee or even the delicious home-cooked leftovers that you have reheated four times already because they are stuck together in a frozen ball the size of your head and you can only chip off a little bit at a time.

Or perhaps you live in your basement, collecting crumbs in your neck beard, and don’t want to pause while smiting orcs long enough to eat food that requires utensils (or two hands).

Whatever. (Or, as former Republican Senator from Massachusetts Scott Brown might say, at least on Twitter, ”bqhatevwr,” dude.)

Let’s say that you have access to a Whole Wheat Lean Pocket with broccoli and turkey and cheese in it, and which you can pretend is slightly healthy.

What not to do with a Hot Pocket or ”Lean” Pocket:

1. Misread the directions because you’re pie-eyed from fatigue
2. Nuke one Pocket for the amount of time you’re supposed to nuke TWO Pockets
3. Act surprised that your Hot Pocket is a Hot Briquette, as in charcoal.
4. Eat it anyway.

I guess “briquette” is marginally better than a properly-cooked Hot Pocket, which includes lava inside, surrounding a still-frozen center.

Jim Gaffigan: “‘Will it burn my mouth?’ It will destroy your mouth. Everything will taste like rubber for a month.”

This PROTIP is brought to you by poverty, the fact that I’m out of skim milk for my cereal…and the fact that I had a Lean Pocket in my freezer and probably need upgraded glasses.

Girl Fights Versus Boy Fights

So this one blog talked about how the Internet doesn’t make you an asshole, but that human nature + the illusion of anonymity + minimal personal risk = assholish behavior. Same blogger is an anonymous crankypants, but whereas the tone isn’t what I’d choose, and the topics are those that I’d avoid lest they pissed off people I care about (who can’t separate a difference of opinion from a personal attack, even if the opinion stated was shared WITHOUT THEM IN MIND), I am finding her ranty-rants well-written and entertaining. (Also? I want to kick her abusive, selfish, neglectful, competitive, substance-impaired, crazy, kidnapping, bitchy bio-mom in the teeth. HARD. But she can handle herself just fine without me getting my hackles raised on her behalf.) Said blogger told a story or two about school-era conflicts that she handled with, well, direct violence to the perpetrators.

The interesting thing here is that this was effective, because, as a girl, she was expected to play by girl fight rules. Well, Girl Fight Rules SUCK.

I’m not adverse to an intellectual debate. I DO, however, despise whiny girly fight tactics. (Not all participants utilizing these tactics are girls, mind.)

Girly fights require that you do subtle, nasty things, preferably with a horde of cronies nearby to back you up and you get bonus points if you gesture towards your victim a lot. Say, they’ll pointedly gossip about the victim–who is RIGHT THERE–and then, if confronted, claim that the victim is being egotistical and paranoid. It’s gaslighting and cattiness. It’s not fighting an honest battle. Girly fights require emotional and psychic assassinations, not being able to trust your “friends” and the primary bully is always gathering forces around herself through the collective fear of her posse that the next victim may be one of the current “in” crowd.

Girly fights are lame. It’s all about being fakey-nice while in reality being a conniving shrew beating up on others with innuendo and rumor and shunning and stomping off in a huff and dropping drama bombs and crying and using emotional blackmail instead of, say, fists. Not that fisticuffs are better. But girl fighting is all about fighting indirectly and with a pack of harpies at your side, rather than sorting things out directly one on one.

Note that homophobic boys ganging up on less-than-jock-like peers and torturing them for real or imagined “gayness” is, in truth, a girly kind of fight.

Boy fights are more direct. First of all, the insult that triggers the fight must be rather grave. Mothers or girlfriends must be insulted. Property damage might have occurred. The offense is never “you looked cuter than I did today, so I hate you” or “I am secretly horribly insecure about my own popularity status, and how better to maintain it than by making everyone around me quake in their shoes?” or “you defended an unpopular person I was picking on and revealed me to be the ass I truly am, and now you must pay”.

Boy fights may involve a quick tussle or fist fight. Afterwards, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that two guys who were eagerly bashing each other into concrete walls and trying to kick each others’ gonads concave (low blow that it is) a few hours ago might wind up sharing a couple of beers later on. Boys are generally direct, if slightly more violent.

There will always be ladies asking their girls to hold their earrings, pinning up their wigs, ponytails or weaves, and putting Vaseline on their faces, sure, but that’s still boy-style fighting: actual blood might get spilled. It’s direct and not prolonged. There’s something to it.

Internet fights tend to be girl fights. Take a typical forum fight. There is a lot of frenzied IRC chatting and PM-ing and whinging on other fora. There’s the archivist, digging up past hurts and fights from whatever cobweb-strewn corner of a dead thread they were buried in. The pissheads who claim to be all in favor of peace, love and understanding, and then (often within minutes or hours) start “calling people out” and “naming names.” There are the backstabbers revealing personal information designed to embarrass former friends and then swearing anew that they really, really, really want a shiny, happy forum. There are idiots who just won’t leave even if they hate the way the forum is run by the owner and have other places to hang out, and lamers who create sock puppet accounts and bitch and whine and complain that others are shit-stirring, and…well, if you aren’t somewhat exhausted after just reading that shit, then you are better than I am.

Girly fights are doomed to fail where I am concerned. You pull that shit, you immediately lose as far as I am concerned. I label you as a jerk, and have no more interest in your arguments.

This is not to say that boy fighting ranks any higher, but, on the Internet, there are no real fists. Also, I may be a cat, sitting here typing. You don’t know. That’s the beauty of the Internet. P.S. Please send tuna, KTHXBAI.

There’s always the adult fight technique, where you stick to the disputed issue at hand, back your opinion up with facts, and don’t take a difference of opinion so darn personally. You don’t poll your buddies before you form your opinion. If your buddies disagree, so what?

The whole “enemy or pal” thing online is lame as well, because the likelihood that you will ever talk face-to-face is slim. 90% of what is said online is probably bullcrap, and that includes how people present themselves and the points of view they claim they hold. Some people just don’t have enough excitement in their daily life and need MOAR, and the Intarweebz is the perfect safe venue to troll, bitch, flame and be an ass. Again, human nature.
Even if you fight like a girl with someone who typically fights like a boy, they can’t sock you in the nose to shock you into behaving yourself if you get insulting and illogical and personally offensive and thereby bypass all the bullcrap and drama.

Girl fights failed with me in high school because I was blithely unaware of them, more often than not. Someone not liking me (or liking me) was not my problem. I didn’t share any secrets I didn’t want to risk having leaked far and wide, so there was nothing to embarrass me with (and it was already becoming more and more impossible to embarrass me, even then). If someone was being shunned by a pack of she-wolves, I either didn’t know or care. People from all groups were welcome to sit with me at any time, and they did. Lunch hour was pretty rockin’, what with the diverse group of folks at my table every day.

I still seem to be the recipient of everyone’s deepest, darkest secrets (because I don’t tell them) as an adult. I still stay out of fights that involve shunnings. When it was supposed to be my turn to be shunned by a group of much younger folks in Atlanta–and I still don’t know why, or really give a shit–I felt slightly hurt (“what did I do?”) and a bit put-upon (“I wouldn’t treat other people like I am being treated”), but that didn’t last long at all. I didn’t depend on only one small group of friends when I wanted to socialize, after all. My self-worth was never really diminished. If anything, I felt a little indignant because I hadn’t done anything wrong, nor had I behaved any differently from before. Once I identified to myself that I was displeased, and what behavior was annoying me and why, that was that. I decided the situation sucked, and moved on, and thought little about it thereafter. When the same group apparently decided the shunning was over and done with, it took me months to figure that out…because I wasn’t paying much attention to any of them any more, even when we attended the same events, other than to be polite as always, but preoccupied with other people or things. I didn’t trust them not to pull the same stunt again, and made no plans that depended on any of them to follow through.

I learn fast.

Often I spend far more time trying to figure out what, precisely, I am feeling about a situation, because I am very much a Think-y type and any kind of new or unexpected emotion that is less than pleasant sometimes takes me a minute or two to define and analyze. If the behavior I’m irked about is illogical, I sometimes just have to give up figuring it out. Odd, but true.

Then I rant for a while, if still annoyed, which often made my former roommates laugh more than anything else, and then I’m done.

Like now.

Childhood Outcast Horror Stories

I stumbled upon a site that shares childhood outcast horror stories and was surprised to find out that I’d apparently successfully repressed most of my childhood memories. I can remember certain culprits, and the general crappiness of the behavior, but not the dialogue. It is lost in the fogs of my memory. This is not because I was the aggressor, mind you. I had friends, but didn’t have a clue what “being popular” meant until I got to college, where, finally, as a senior, I clued in that I somehow…was.

How the hell did THAT happen?

Nowadays I’m an arsehole and no one likes me, and I cry myself to sleep every night.

Or something.

I remember just not “getting it” as a kid. I was neither cool nor uncool. I sat at a lunch table with friends, the misfit toys and artists of my high school, and anyone, be they outcast or not, was welcome to sit with us and eat in peace. I pretty much liked everyone. Well, there were people I didn’t find interesting, and people who clearly felt I was a lowly worm unworthy of their collective fantastic and super special attention, but life was too short to dwell. Frankly, since my father died and left me without an ally under my own roof (he and I were alike and understood each other and were both rather introverted artistic types, but my mother, who loves me and vice versa, still has trouble understanding me and has only in recent years toned down (a wee bit) on the “why can’t U B normal?” messages), no amount of external stupid teenage wangst and peer-gifted bullcrap could really phase me. I was in mourning, and I had to be, frankly, a bit of a drag to be around. I’m still a drag when I am sad. I’m sorry. I don’t bounce back quickly from heartbreak. Maybe I never will. Alas, my friends get the brunt of it, as they have to hear about it, and hear about it, and HEAR about it, and deal with me acting out and being, well, a big bummer. Gee, what are friends FOR?

To be fair, I return the favor when someone else has to talk about it, and talk about it, and TALK about it….

Anyhoo, I did have a few memories resurface. This is something that doesn’t happen often, and they may well disappear into the void again if I don’t write them down, so here goes. Good thing that I’m beyond embarrassment at this point in my life.

So I’m about eight or nine years old. Maybe a little older and still clueless. I’m unclear. The art building we visit on occasion is attached to The Big Kids’ Lunchroom. Somehow the information filters through my fuzzy little blonde head that the quarterback, the football star, captain of the team, is Karl Surname Not Given To Spare Him GoogHoo Harassment. I decide that I NEED the quarterback’s autograph. Yes, seriously. How uncool! So little me, armed with a deliciously stinky marker and a napkin, trot up to Karl, who was very tall (or I was very small), and pipe up that I want his autograph. To his credit, once he figures out what I want, he graciously does sign my crumply napkin, and I am DELIGHTED. What a cool guy, you know?

Then I grew up to hang out with for-real famous rockstars. It was destiny.

My peers looked at me like I had three heads when I returned to the art room, proudly brandishing my prize. I realized I had made a social faux pas and passed it off, belatedly, as a fantastic practical joke. Few were fooled. I writhed in shame. The napkin vanished, never to be seen again.

Woe.

Lessee. Then there was the time, mere weeks after my father’s death, when I am back in town visiting my best childhood friend, who happened to be going to my old school, which I would end up returning to as well as a high schooler. I’m sitting with her in her classes, a privilege I honestly don’t recall anyone else ever asking for or getting later on and one I’m not sure why I had, and the class clown decides that I was absent for a year because I got pregnant and went off to have a baby.

LOLWUT. I know it isn’t impossible, but I was not even twelve years old, and pretty sheltered. So, for me, at that tender age anyway, is was impossible. I still played with a Barbie occasionally at the time. Sheesh.
The ludicrousness of this accusation just struck me as hilarious.

I tell him–and the ring of interested ears pointed our way–that I was there because my father committed suicide. Which is the truth (though there is a little doubt, because there were a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood, and for a number of other reasons that are too heavy to go into at this time that involve oddities like my dad’s left-handedness and the location his body was found and so on), and Funny Guy flat out refuses to believe me. He demanded details, insisted on his baby theory, and thought he was being FUNNAY. I’m not devastated enough, or something. Thus I must be lying. In truth, I had a well-learned veneer of emotional armor by that time, and little anyone could have said would have made me show any emotion beyond polite and pleasant blankness to a tormentor.

I do have to wonder, though, if he was raised by particularly rude wolves.

In a barn.

I typically avoided being the butt of the worst pranks, but on one memorable occasion, I got caught but good. I was about thirteen, and riding the particular bus that would get me to piano lessons, and I didn’t know the slightly younger kids on this bus well enough to be wary of them. They were playing some game and I was mostly ignoring it, nose in a book, as usual, when one cute little bright-eyed child decided to tap me on the shoulder. I indulged them. It was some “fortune” game, they claimed. You take a pencil and draw around a quarter, then take the quarter and, with eyes closed, roll it down your nose and put it back down on the paper, draw another circle around it using a pencil, etcetera, and repeat this until the rube eventually realizes they have pencil marks down their face or you puke up a lung from laughing at them. Because drawing a circle with a pencil around a coin with a serrated edge rubs massive quantities of graphite into those grooves, and rolling the same coin down your face leaves dirt stripes. I arrive at my piano lesson, nose back in a book, and my piano teacher takes me by the elbow and shows me my face in a bathroom mirror. Oh my. They got me good. I would have probably laughed along with them, had I known.

Little rat bastards.

I had some arsehole teachers, too. Maths has always been my downfall. One day in class, I resolved a problem ALL BY MYSELF, using a technique different from the one taught in class. I was SO fucking proud. This maths stuff, maybe I can do it after all! The teacher listened to me after class, in his office, sipping vodka from his coffee cup, and he suggested that I demonstrate my fabulous method to his next (higher grade level) class. Oh man. I was terribly shy. Still, after he pressed, I agreed, and he told me to sit out in the hallway and he’d call me in. I sat in the hallway for about a half hour before I realized he was actually making fun of me. Then I slunk off.

Another teacher took us on a field trip. I didn’t drive then, rarely did more than sit in the backseat with my nose in a book when driven anywhere, and my grasp of math was, as noted, not the best. My understanding of cars was worse. My mother’s car had a gear shift on the steering wheel, and my older friend had a car with a shift between the front seats, and I was positive that meant she had a manual tranny, for example. Because I was Car Dumb back then, too, instead of just Maths Dumb. He announced that we’d arrive back at a certain destination at a certain time, and I couldn’t figure out how he knew this. When he did indeed get us there at the designated time, I was fucking astounded. ZOMG! Magic!! Of course, now I routinely estimate my arrival time when traveling, using that handy “miles per hour” thing. And I don’t have cruise control. Like he did. I didn’t even know what cruise control was at the time! DERP. It took me hours to figure that out, but only long after enthusiastically raving to people who knew better–because they were all rich kids with their own personal new-ish cars, all of which probably came with cruise control–about how cool his ability to predict our exact arrival time was.

A third teacher meant well, and I was always one of those kids who liked talking to her teachers. Still am. I’d make conversation like a little adult, and was generally respected by MOST of my teachers. I made the mistake of telling one (a new guy) that I’d had a nickname at my former school. It wasn’t entirely complimentary, I’m sure, but I hadn’t cared because I liked it. They’d called me “Kitty.” Now, this was a case of me sharing something as an anecdote, and not me hinting that I actually wanted to be called “Kitty” ever again. However, this man, trying to be nice, and respecting my assumed wishes, promptly addressed me as “Kitty” in class. Holy shizz! I quickly set him straight after class, but the damage had been done. I got shit for that “Kitty” comment for THREE EFFING YEARS, people. And, yes, some chick who was either taunting me (or clueless, but since she was dating one of the worst offenders, I know how I vote)  gave me a Hello Kitty something-or-other Secret Santa gift that I opened in front of the whole class, which made them all howl with derisive laughter. THREE YEARS after the original shame. Yeah, you fucks, thanks. Give it a damn rest. Christ almighty.

Imagine the struggle I went through between being polite and thanking someone for a nice gift and not thanking someone for making a laughingstock out of you yet again.

I’m sure there are more, but they haven’t been dredged up yet. Stay tuned.

I really was a tough little nut to crack, as a kid. I learned early on that paying any attention at all to bullies or people teasing you, or trying to fit in was not worth the effort. I was perfectly happy, with or without a buddy on hand, as long as I had a book or a pencil and pad, so I could read or draw. I could go selectively deaf at will. I didn’t give a crap about kiddie drama, or even, later, teenie drama. Who liked who occasionally filtered through my wall of obliviousness, but for the most part, I didn’t give a crap. And I didn’t trust my peers not to be little shits. Sometimes I guessed wrong, perhaps, and peers trying to genuinely be nice were waved off defensively, but I don’t remember that happening often.

I went through a brief phase where I made an attempt to wear the same fashions as my peers, but the fashions didn’t suit me at all. I gave it up as a bad job after about six months, but we weren’t made of money, so my outfits slowly mutated into a strange (and not much more flattering) combo-platter of the old stuff and the new stuff. I even wore my dad’s old Air Force jacket around, with tight jeans and turtlenecks and ankle boots, which is an indication I’d given up on ever being found romantically attractive while still in high school. I loved that jacket.

In short, I dressed like a sixties hippie, listened to sixties music, and a little eighties stuff, and punk, fought off the Olde Savannah pseudo-Brit accent I’d been raised around that made me so different, and ignored the world. I didn’t hate anyone. I didn’t think I was the cat’s PJs. I just had other things on my mind. Polite, distant, somewhat welcoming if you were nice, quiet except with friends, not interested in getting drunk, not attracted to any of the tards of the opposite sex I went to school with (or the same sex, actually), and either doing art stuff or reading or writing. That about sums it up. Polite loner.

I even wandered off alone when a small group of kids got tapped to go to London. I had had enough of the togetherness, my best friend was being a buttpain about being homesick (I suspect now that she had a touch of agoraphobia) and my sympathy was starting to just piss her off, which was good, because I was just about OUT of it. I had a head cold and was grumpy. The group had an outing to go see a play. I wandered off alone (not unusual for me) and wound up in SoHo. Not a good spot, really, for a naive teenager. I had the time of my life. I knew exactly where I was. Blessed silence, no chattering. No whining about wanting to go home. No casually exclusive behavior from the other girls, who all decided they were BFFs, and bonded as loudly and enthusiastically and as constantly as possible in front of me and my best friend, who were clearly not included in this buddydom. (She took it harder than I did, frankly; I was over all that shizz by then. Your loss, people. I’m pretty nifty.) So here I am, looking at naughty shops and eavesdropping on Real British People and looking at cool architecture and basically just reveling in the whole idea of being in fucking ENGLAND, man! Bliss! But, luck of the angels, my group found me, coincidentally wandering in my general direction after their evening outing, they never really noticed I’d been gone, and I had not a lick of sense, because I was more miffed than relieved.

My freedoms, let me SHO U DEM. O, never mind, I do not have any anymore.

I’m still a bit of a loner with a nose in a book, or an art project at hand. I still dress as I please. I still like stuff few other people like. I still don’t care if you like me or not, it’s really none of my business, but you’re missing out if you decide you don’t. That’s not ego, it’s fact. I’m a good friend…if you let me be one. Nowadays I force myself to be an extrovert when I have to, and I can be an opinionated cuss and alienate those who love me, but people who know me know that even if my opinion disagrees with yours, I don’t think your opinion sucks. I reserve the option to hear about your learnings on the subject: your learnings, SHO ME DEM.  I don’t take disagreement as personal dislike. I don’t understand people who do.

Thus do I stumble.

I can be a ranty grump, but I mean no harm. Besides, if you let people know what you love best, that’s your weak underbelly.  If my time in the teen warzone (and a punitive parent who frequently denied me my deepest yearnings and interests to “teach me a lesson,” and downplayed or teased me about other things) taught me anything,  it taught me to be private about what I love most.  Silly me, I keep breaking the rules in my blog.  When will I learn?

It’s okay. We’re all in the same club. My homies!

The Problem With Anti-Piracy Laws

When looking at laws, you have to ask who, if anyone, is hurt, and what degree of hurt, if any, has been inflicted? What purpose is the law trying to serve? Does the law exist because of rare or non-existent “worst case scenarios” that the law is intended to prevent? In most cases, laws are broken when actual crimes have been committed. Some laws, however, presume that laws WILL be broken, try to supply reasons for why they will be broken, and then chase down supposed scofflaws with those assumptions in mind.

During the 1970s, you could not buy many record albums without an annoying “do not tape and share this music, or you will kill the record industry and then there’ll be no more music, ever!” advert. Of course, home-taping became more and more popular, and, surprise!, sharing music actually benefited the record companies, because it exposed new people to new bands’ work, and then they went out and bought the bands’ albums themselves.

The same argument is being tried today, and the record companies are making several foolish choices and refusing to learn from past history. Home-burning and home-recording will never stop, because people want to manage their own music the way they see fit. Attacking twelve-year-olds with massive shared libraries, pricing five cents’ worth of materials at $20 US, scamming artists out of profits due to them, and generally being blind to the realities that new technology has wrought is what will kill the record industry, not fans sharing songs.

Vulture-like media companies like Clear Channel trying to buy every independent radio station and enforce a single universal playlist aimed to please the Lowest Common Denominator in every major city in the United States is part of the problem, too.

Video game manufacturers are often just as bad: blind to customer dissatisfaction, including invasive anti-piracy programs that don’t work as intended and actually cause damage to user’s machines, turning out crappy product to turn a quick buck and being arrogant enough to assume that customers are too addicted to their product to ever stop buying it…that will kill the game industry. Or, rather, it will kill the industry where PC-based gaming is concerned. Sadly, the biggest companies will continue to thrive, because they have enough money to weather several titles bombing commercially after being released, while smaller companies won’t be able to weather any dissatisfaction with a product, and will be bought up or die out.

Anti-piracy laws do not protect the little guy, the consumer. They protect large companies, and do so to the degree that those large companies feel less behooved to actually offer quality product. Case in point: You open the package, you’re stuck with contents. Too bad for you. They won’t offer demos, because they gamble that more people will buy a crap product without a demo and be stuck with it than those who would buy a good product that they have gone to the time and expense of making a demo for. Their marketing is designed to separate the customers from their money, not to gauge satisfaction or loyalty among their customer base.

Good products will succeed despite piracy. As it stands, bad products sell more than they should, and the customer is left with no recourse. Piracy exposes bad products and word of mouth kills sales. Piracy thwarts substandard product-flacking, it doesn’t actually significantly hurt a good company with a good product.

Information wants to be free. Trying to command the ocean to stop wetting you with waves and to stay where you tell it to stay is as futile as fighting piracy. The wise course of action companies could take would be to explore why people pirate, and to offer products that can’t be pirated: good customer service, releasing well-tested games that do not ship in a borked state and which need umpteen patches, bonus items, attractive packaging and support materials and manuals, good perks (not useless crap) in exchange for legal serial numbers, tech support, not invading customer privacy for marketing and advertising purposes, and listening to customer complaints and ideas open-mindedly and actually putting feedback gained into practice. Most of those things can’t be pirated, and yet they are almost as valuable as the data. Instead of focusing on the small percentage of their customers who have not legally paid for their pixels and bytes and trying to be punitive, as there will always be a segment of this group who will never change their ways and pay for things, they should focus on the vast majority of customers who do pay for legal copies, and reward them.

What EA (for example) and other companies do is arrogantly assume that everyone who buys the game is a pirate. They foist invasive software upon their customers that, again, DOES NOT WORK AS INTENDED, to prevent sharing. They put out substandard product that does not entice customers to buy it legally, because it is overpriced and contains no benefit for paying customers besides a pretty package (full of adverts for more crap products!) and is likely to break something or need a patch or not play nicely with other software the customer owns.

Companies with good reputations and consistently good and functional products who reward customers who purchase their products legally, rather than chasing down the few that don’t, have the right idea.  Companies with increasingly poor reputations who turn out consistently buggy software and whine about pirates pretty much get what they deserve. No tears from me.

I typically do not pirate anything. I made an exception after I bought a very expensive (almost a thousand dollars) software package from Adobe. Twice. For two different OSes. Geek Squad zorched my serials for my legally-purchased software and refused to fix the problem. Adobe claimed not to have my customer data. At that point, I was not going to pay them a third time. As I already paid them twice, I consider the pirated version I have now completely legal twice over. The company got my money. Twice. I legally registered both copies. I installed the required updates on schedule. Yet, somehow, they had no record of my existence. Without that record, I was just scr00d. Without a pirated copy, I’d be in deep shit professionally and academically, and it would not have been my fault. Furthermore, Adobe treated me so shittily when I was trying to resolve the problem I almost–but not quite–decided to stand in the middle of the largest classroom building and wave around the burned DVD and offer free Adobe goodies to all comers. Motherf…scratchers. You shouldn’t piss customers off.

I understand why people who have been burned by EA and SecuROM are sharing pirated versions. I understand it all too well. At some point, you get tired of playing against an 800-pound gorilla who also has a stacked deck and Doberman lawyers. You, as the consumer, will only take sand being kicked in your face for so long.

You cannot legislate morality. If it could be done, we’d all be saints just because some law told us to be. You have to look at what the law is intended to accomplish, and decide if it is a dumb law. If it is a dumb law, work to get it changed, and work to get laws in place that protect the rights of those the dumb law has invaded and disregarded.

In all cases, people will do as their consciences dictate. If it pinches your conscience to download, for whatever reason, don’t do it. But don’t presume to offload your moral guidelines onto other people and expect that to go over well. “Because it’s moral” is not sufficient reason to follow a law that is fundamentally flawed, protecting the wrong parties, and short-sighted.

Businesses require customers to survive.

Customers want products that function as advertised.

Products which cannot be demonstrated by customers prior to purchase, or returned if they do not function as advertised, do not give customers what they want.

Customers who have been burned by a product sold by a particular business are likely to shop elsewhere.

The end result is that the business ends up lacking customers.

If customers find a way to try products before buying them, they can make the decision whether to purchase the business’ products.

Some customers will be honorable and buy a legal copy. Some will not.

The end result, however, is that the business is not out anything, not even good will, if the customer tries but does not buy a product. It’s data, pixels.

On the other hand, if the customer does like the product, they are more likely to buy it and/or more products from the business in the future.

As has been stated before, companies who release demo versions are smart. They allow a customer to try before she or he buys.

Smart companies do NOT force customers to risk wasting their money, installing unadvertised “bonus” programs on their expensive machines, or finding out that although their PC specs match or exceed those required by the company, the game still does not function as advertised.

There will always be those who, due to financial difficulty or greed, will torrent everything and pay for nothing. However, there are also a lot of people who torrent because they do not have the option to try a demo version and have been bitten in the arse one time too many by a particular company or type of company (PC game manufacturers, perhaps) to risk throwing more money at them for what is likely to be a borked product.

In some cases, the consumer can argue Fair Use. DJs who download MP3 tracks for their radio shows are using those downloads for legal, promotional purposes. There’s a reason why most of the music-sharing folks who have been sued were those who also uploaded frequently and kept open libraries online full of gankable stuff. Unless they are uploading tracks to a music blog, which is also a type of Fair Use / promotion, there’s not really a good reason to upload tracks.

It’s a hotly contested grey area, obviously.

The Hunt for Yohn Yohnson: The Worst New Year’s Eve Party EVER

Let’s time travel back to 2003.

My worst New Year’s Eve ever.

Like most best-laid plans, my New Year’s Eve started off quietly. I’d been working my arse off all week talent scouting–my job at the time (don’t do it!)–and was actually looking forward to an excuse not to work for a few hours. (To illustrate: most new talent scouts get two or three “shows” at their Open Calls…I had SIXTEEN.) Dennis and I got invited by our friend Suze to come out to Ackworth (translation: we got invited to drive nearly an hour to go to her parents’ house in Deepest Darkest Suburbia) and we were both up for seeing Suze and having a mellow, pleasant New Year’s Eve with friends. We both love Suze and her boyfriend Marty and one of Susan’s greatest gifts is taking a diverse group of people and turning them all into close friends within an hour or two. We figured we’d meet some old friends and make some new ones, and the added lure of being able to spend the night (after presumably downing many Ab-Fabs (Stoli-Bolly cocktails) all night to welcome in the New Year) was the clincher.

So Dennis and I pack up our kit bags and stop off for provisions and set out for the nether regions of Atlanta. When we arrive, Susan and her friend Heather (and, lest we forget, Susan’s family’s dog, Chewie) were the only attendees.

Which was actually fine with Dennis and me. I was worn out from having to approach hundreds of strangers a day, and from walking miles and miles through malls and bars and clubs and grocery stores (I even recruited talent at the movie theatre and a Waffle House). Dennis was looking forward to being able to drink freely and then not get pulled for a DUI. We all settled in to watch “Cujo” and “Poltergeist”, waiting for Marty to get off work and join us.

It was far too quiet for Susan, though, and she and Heather started calling up friends, former bosses and a mall maintenance man they befriended and who they call “D’oh” because of his startling resemblance to Homer Simpson. It’s a tribute to Susan’s friendly and well-meaning personality that D’oh embraces his nickname and likes it.

After a few dozen phone calls, people started to arrive en masse at Susan’s place. Her parents, knowing full well that Suze can be a hellion, nevertheless entrusted their lovely home to the mongol hordes that would inevitably descend. We all wrote a collaborative, artistic “thank you” to Mom and Pops V to thank them for their hospitality even while in absentia.

The hordes actually consisted of less than two dozen people, but that was the perfect amount to invite over. No one was at a loss for someone to talk to. In fact, some of us would rather not have been talked to quite as enthusiastically. That would be me.

INTERNATIONAL SIGN-LANGUAGE FOR “YOUR PARENTS’ (OR ROOMMATES’)
STUFF IS ALREADY
GETTING TRASHED.”

If you see this guy, that is a sign that your party has gone
OUT OF BOUNDS!!

quartet of men showed up, two hailing from Wisconsin. Of the two Wisconsinites, one was well-behaved and charming.

Which leaves, of course, the other one. He took a shine to me, which shows his lack of selectivity overall, and would NOT leave me alone all night. I’m not talking about merely flirting with me and me being disinterested, though that was certainly accurate.

He got off on the wrong foot with me immediately by grabbing me far too intimately within the first two seconds after being introduced to me and not taking a hint when I disengaged and walked away. He further pissed me off by declaring that my name was too difficult for him to retain and that he’d call me by an annoying nickname that he preferred instead. To which I replied, “I’d rather you did not, I want to be called by my real name. Only my close friends are allowed to call me nicknames and you are not a close friend.” He did not learn from either of these two “you’re being annoying” reprimands and continued to harass me all evening.

At first I dealt with The Annoying Man by merely avoiding close proximity. Everyone else at the party was civil and well-behaved and interesting. It was just the one clown who was being insufferably boorish. I’d see him coming and duck into another area as fast as I could. This was my way of being tactful, and it failed miserably.

At one point, things improved when The Annoying Man demanded that Susan, a beautician and hair stylist, break out her scissors and tools and give him a haircut in her parents’ kitchen. Susan, being an accommodating soul, did so.

Dennis came out to the back porch where the smokers (i.e., everyone) were hanging out and told me I was being paged to the kitchen. Foolishly, I assumed that he meant I was being summoned by our hostess, Susan. So I trot in there and make the mistake of getting within lunging reach of The Annoying Man. I soon discover that Susan wasn’t the one seeking me out, it was him. Dorkus Maximus. And he lunged, and I was dragged bodily onto his lap, which was the last place in the universe I wanted to be at the moment (unless the possibility of facing down an angry, hungry, fang-endowed basilisk in a disgusting, nasty, swilly sewer pipe a la Harry Potter was my other choice).

I didn’t haul off and clobber him immediately, actually. I sat there for about thirty seconds and hated every moment of it. If loathing were visible to the naked eye, you’d have seen waves of it streaking out in all directions looking just like vile green oily tentacles.

I tried to make a joke out of it, to give the guy the option of wriggling out of his social blunder. I asked “Santa” if I could have a Barbie, since I’d been a good girl all year. And Santa Fuckhead said no, but he’d bring me some crotchless underwear.

Not even remotely funny.

And, of course, if this dork insists on playing Santa six days too late AND refuses to grant me my Christmas request, then friendship is not in the stars for us.

I escaped and resolved that the time for gentle hints and evasion was now over. Direct and forceful rejection would perhaps work better. I’d tried politeness, hints, humour and hiding, and none of those methods was getting me anywhere. Much as I dislike being openly negative, I could see no other way. But I wasn’t in any hurry to deal with it, so I attempted evasion and distraction instead.

While I was busily evading the fuckhead, the time for the New Year to arrive drew nigh and we all stopped listening to Dennis’ kick-ass music DVDs and started tuning into Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve, where the 2,000 year old Clark beamed in a frankly non-geriatric manner and then proved his continued mental agility when he managed to count backwards at the appropriate moment without a hitch.

Meanwhile I was busily fending off The Annoying Man in the kitchen, while I was trying to remove delicate glassware from a high cabinet. He felt that this would be the perfect time to press up against me and grab things he shouldn’t. “For god’s sake, will you PLEASE fuck OFF,” I snarled, juggling stemware.

Too bad that was the last thing I said in 2002. Not a great way to end what was essentially a crappy year for me overall, but at least I saw the year out assertively.

The Annoying Man then attempted to follow me around and force a kiss on me and I managed to escape that fate, but it took about thirty minutes for him to give up on the concept. He managed to put his hands all over me and several other people who were just as unthrilled with the bodily assault as I was.

Things got worse after someone broke out some pot. No names will be mentioned. In fact, so we can continue to receive generous funding from family-friendly advertisers, let’s revise that and say “things got worse after someone broke out the funny cigarettes”.

If you’re confused about what a funny cigarette might be, here’s a helpful chart:

Funny Cigarette (a.k.a. Mary Jane, The Chronic, Cheeba):
Je suis un transvestite executive! Le singe est sur le table! J’aime la plume de ma tante. Anyone slower than you on the highway is an idiot. Anyone faster than you is a maniac. I’m picking out a thermos for YOU…

Mildly Amusing Cigarette (a.k.a. Those Damned Sampoerna Clove Things):
Take my wife, please! I just flew in from Wisconsin and BOY are my arms tired! Jalapeno on a steeek! S’okay? S’all right. *sledgehammer to a watermelon*

Plain Ol’ Ordinary Cigarette (a.k.a. Available at all fine gas stations and grocery stores near you):
Knock, knock.

Wait a minute…WHAT generous funding?! “Family friendly”? How can my blog be family friendly when my favourite word is “fuck” and variations thereof? (YOU know. Fuckity, fuckwit, fuck-all, fuckhead, fuck it, fukt, you fuckin’ fuck…you get the idea.) Geez, did I get into the wacky weed, too? (I plead the fifth.) Well, hell. Never mind. It was marijuana. We’re all adults here. All nine of us. Me and my eight faithful Gentle Readers. (Hello. How Are Ya?)

So we’re all on the back porch watching Susan’s creepy neighbors The Swingers blow shit up in their driveway and we’re drinking Stoli-Bollies (champagne + vodka = make happy nice), and The Annoying Man keeps trying to pull me aside to explain why he’s being so persistent. I tell him I don’t give a damn, and that he needs to chill out.

“There’s no such word,” he slurs.

“I’m telling you to back off, you’re freaking me out, you idiot,” I say.

“No,” he says, petulantly sticking his lower lip out and trying to grab my body parts.

“YES,” I say, and I squirm away and vanish.

Meanwhile The Swingers are happily setting their lawn on fire with high-tech explosives. It’s a great big happy pyrotechnic joyfest at The Swingers’ Pad.

…. ? ….

Oh, did I not explain about them? The Swingers are these creepy neighbors of the V family. Among their many sins:

1. The Swingers attempted to ingratiate themselves with the V family and friends by leaning over the back fence and repeatedly bragging on Madam Swinger’s culinary prowess. Finally, in a fit of boredom and misplaced optimism, some of the Vs and friends took them up on their dinner invite, whereupon Madam Swinger opened up a can of pork ‘n’ beans and a can of corn and nuked them both in the microwave. Emeril she is not.

2. The V family cut down some trees on their property and installed a fabulous pool and sun deck. The good news is that the pool is awesome. The bad news is that the missing trees enable them to see more of their neighbors and vice versa. The Swingers took it upon themselves to build a stone walkway from their property to the V’s pool gate. This means that they were constructing a walkway across the V’s land as well as their own, all without benefit of an introduction first, getting permission from anyone or even having a casual “Hi-diddly-doodly-ho-howdy there, neighbor!” relationship beforehand. The Vs removed the stone walkway in hopes that the presumptuous arseholes would take a hint that the Vs had not just invested thousands of dollars to build the community swimming pool.

3. Failing to grasp a clue, The Swingers invited themselves over, skanky female friend in tow. The skanky female friend then ostentatiously hit on Pops V in front of Mom V. This did not go over well in the V household, or with the friends of the Vs who were visiting at the time.

4. There are numerous other tales of woe, but most of them involve The Swingers playing the role of The Fat Naked Guy As Seen On The TV Show “Friends” (i.e., failing to close their blinds) and, conversely, peeping out of their unclosed blinds at Susan and the other Vs and their friends at all hours of the day and night in a rather creepily scary manner.

We chose not to engage The Swingers in cheery New Year’s Eve saluations. Marty said that they were probably trying to lure innocent neighbors over to their squalid shack d’amour with loud noises, flashing lights and scary sex toys.

All that they succeeded in doing is getting another neighbor, a redneck, ganked up on macho firework-related showmanship, and the two households proceeded to try and blow each other (and the few remaining trees on the block) up all night. Big fun. Poor Chewie hid under a table after a few hours of this nonsense.

Dennis put the music back on and lots of pictures were taken, including one of The Annoying Guy passed out under a bonsai on the back porch.

Shortly afterwards, his friends noticed he was missing. He’d wandered off. There was speculation about whether The Swingers had found him or not. We decided that we didn’t much care.

He, unfortunately, turned up again after we’d all enjoyed about a half hour of relative peace and tranquility, and he honed in on Yours Truly once more. At this moment, we all heard a loud crash coming from the bathroom. Susan’s friend Peaches had managed to break the shower curtain rod and tear the shower curtain down. This provided some welcome distraction, as far as I was concerned. I fled towards the noise and by doing so managed to evade the octopussy grasp of Yohn Yohnson, Annoying Man from Wisconsin.

Peechee’s husband Clegg was holding forth about The Jesus on the back porch, and it says a lot that I was more willing to hear all about how The Jesus was the only viable religion and how all others, including those humans who might choose to be pagan, Jewish, agnostic, Catholic (!?), Buddhist or Other, were wrong, than I was to endure close proximity to the scary Cheesehead. Of course, I couldn’t stand it for long.

Places to hide were becoming fewer and fewer, and the Annoying Man was becoming bolder and bolder. He grabbed me again while I was talking to Marty and Dennis about Urban Legends, interrupting a particularly amusing Marty Anecdote.

“Back off and leave me alone NOW,” I said, angrily. His friends apologized profusely to me and took him aside and told him he was being an arsehole and to cut it out.

“No,” he said.

“YES,” they said.

“I don’t WANNA,” he replied.

Then he bolted, ran down the back porch steps into the night and vanished again. This resulted in a collective sigh of relief from everyone except the poor guy who drove everyone to the party, as he envisioned spending the rest of his evening hunting down Yohn Yohnson somewhere in the neighborhood while it was raining.

“This is the third time he’s wandered off,” said Mike, who was looking like he regretted having friends from Wisconsin…even though he, too, was actually from Wisconsin. (He also claims to have been employed as a cheese-maker for the government. This is not helping the stereotypes die down, you know.)

At about three am, everyone was ready to call it a night.

Unfortunately, Yohn Yohnson had not yet returned from his night wanderings. His friends all trooped to the front door and fanned out through the neighborhood, combing it for signs of wanker spoor.

Much later, they returned and announced that they had had no joy, he was still missing. Someone had the bright idea to search the house again and lo, the miscreant was sleeping like a baby in a bedroom downstairs, having apparently slipped past his friends and snuck in through the garage. They all decided that perhaps it would be best to just leave the idiot there to sleep it all off, and they bid us adieu and the folks who had opted to spend the night (Dennis, me, Marty and Suze) all filed into our respective bedrooms and passed out from fatigue and too much party.

I had forgotten to bring night clothes (I usually don’t bother with any when I’m sleeping in my own bed) but I had been given a big pile of blankets. I decided that I didn’t want to remake a king-sized bed the next day, so just took off my jeans and shoes and made a little warm blanket nest and curled up on top of the spread with some blankets over me. And that was extremely cozy, so I managed to fall asleep easily.

At four am or so, the door to the bedroom I was staying in burst open and the crazy man ran in with wide, red-rimmed eyes. Shit! I thought I’d locked that door! Needless to say, I woke up immediately. He then jumped on top of me, ripped all the covers off me and tried to pin me to the mattress, all while sobbing incoherently about some man being downstairs with a gun trying to sodomize him.

I was not very sympathetic, as you might imagine. I asked, rather stupidly, what the fuck he was doing in my bedroom. He didn’t respond, he just wailed and thrashed and tried to grab some of my limbs. I then leapt out of the bed and told him to get the fuck out of the bedroom, and he, unsurprisingly, didn’t. I then got the fuck out of the bedroom myself, leaving him to do whatever he had to do by himself, which seemed to be sobbing, screaming, yelling, flailing a lot, and tearing up the Parental V’s nicely made bed. (And yes, I was unable to knee him in the balls, though I tried.)

I grabbed my coat, put it on, picked up my purse, jeans and shoes, and then I stomped downstairs in what can only be termed “a high dudgeon” where I found Dennis clutching his clothing to his naked bod. He’d been awakened by all the screams and banging around upstairs. I turned my back while he got dressed and we both went back upstairs to try and prise the crazy man out of the Parental V’s bedroom so I could get back to sleep. He refused to depart, and took a swing at Dennis. I spoke in my Stern Voice to him and he still refused to straighten up and get the fuck out. (Well, that shouldn’t have come as a shock–the Stern Voice technique didn’t work in “Cujo” either. What was I thinking?)

He tried to kill Dennis again, throwing him into the Patental V’s nice dresser, scattering some no doubt expensive knick knacks and toiletry items hither and yon. Dennis and I glanced at each other and wordlessly agreed to retreat to the kitchen.

We then tried to make sense of what had just occurred. It wasn’t really possible, given our collective shock, fatigue and annoyance. And before we could come to any useful conclusions, the crazy man found us in the kitchen and started jabbering about the man with the gun trying to give him head. Needless to say, there was no masked, gun-toting ween-sucker in the household. The only armed and dangerous person in the household at that moment was the crazy man.

Here is an example of Unfairness and Bad Luck. Earlier in the evening, I asked Susan’s boyfriend Marty if he could get me a fork. It took him three tries to find the correct drawer, and he’s been dating Susan for over a year now. It’s not like he hasn’t ever been in the kitchen when utensils were removed from their designated spot. Unfortunately for us, the crazy man found the appropriate drawer on his first try and started brandishing a huge and very scary steak knife at us, still yammering away about his imaginary trauma.

And when you’re on the wrong end of a sharp pointy thing, it tends to look even larger and more pointy than it really happens to be. Take my word for this.

“We need to leave now,” I said, quite reasonably. Dennis concurred. We slipped out of the kitchen and went to collect our things. When the crazy man left the kitchen as well, I went back in and got the bottles of alcohol I’d brought that it turns out no one but me actually liked. (Every other alcoholic substance in the house had long since been consumed and I figured that the last thing the crazy (drunk) man needed was access to more booze.) And then when he went back into the kitchen, presumably to corner me again with tales about his psychotic fantasies, I again slipped out the other entrance and ran off, picked up all my things in the bedroom, and met Dennis in the foyer. At this point, we fled, shrieking, into the night.

Well, okay, there was no shrieking. But we got the fuck out of there. With great haste.

Ten seconds later, Dennis realizes that he’s still too drunk to drive, and we can see cop cars everywhere. I, on the other hand, am nowhere near being drunk. Even if I had been, I think that the attack by the large, sweaty, stinky, screaming man would have sobered me up. Our first order of business is to pull over so I can drive instead, which we do. Then we debate what we should do next.

See, Marty and Suze were sound asleep throughout all this commotion, and we started to worry about them. After all, they are unconscious in a house with a crazy person running around. And the crazy person is ranting and brandishing a big, scary, serrated knife. And he’s seeing people who aren’t there and sobbing and, in general, acting like a big dork, and these are all Bad Things.

We debated about what we should do for about ten miles, and then decided to go back. This is what you should never do in a horror movie, of course. Needless to say, we were a bit scared. Remember, we’d been watching “Cujo” and “Poltergeist” earlier in the evening. I suppose that there were some after effects from this.

Oh my God, The Crazy Man could be carving up our drunk, unconscious (and probably nekkid) friends RIGHT NOW!!!

We also realized that I’d left my only watch and two expensive rings, and that Dennis had left without some of his CDs, but, of course, the foremost deciding factor was our growing concern for Marty and Susan. We planned to park the car across the street and go around to the back door of the house (which leads into Susan’s bedroom) to let them know there was a problem. I tried calling Susan’s mobile, and no one answered. This freaked us out more. Then I tried calling the house phone.

V Household: *heavy breathing*

Me: Hello?

V Household: Jeremy!

Me: *puzzled pause* Um, Marty?

Oh, it’s The Crazy Man: *wailing* Jeremy?

Me: May I speak to Marty, please?

The Crazy Man: JEREMY! HELP ME!

Me: Um, no, I need to speak to Marty.

The Crazy Man: JEREMY! JEREMY! SAVE ME! HELP! HELP!

Me: NOT Jeremy! Marty!

The Crazy Man: Jeremy!

Me: MARTY!

The Crazy Man: *screaming and sobbing* JEREMY! JEREMY! JEREMY!

Me: ….

The Crazy Man: *more shrieking and hiccoughing* JEREMY!!! AIIIIEEEEEERRRRGGGHH!!!!

Me: Oh, for fuck’s sake! *click*

I called twice, and that’s pretty much how both phone calls went.

When we returned, the house was ominously silent. Using Secret Squirrel Spy Signals, Dennis and I sneakily crept into the garage and then into the downstairs of the house where, fortunately, Marty and Susan were now awake and alert. Better yet, they did not appear to be traumatized.

Unfortunately, they had been awakened by the crazy man, who ran into their room, ripped the covers off of them and screamed. They were both butt-naked, and the crazy guy still had the knife in his hand. Marty had better luck with his Stern Voice than I did, and the crazy guy dropped the knife and curled into a fetal ball, giving Marty and Suze enough time to dress themselves.

At this point, Marty had had enough nonsense out of this reject and threw him out of the house into the rain. Eventually he also dialed up the crazy man’s friend, who arrived back at the house shortly after Dennis and I returned.

We all shared our exciting experiences and collected our forgotten belongings and then I drove Dennis’ car to the Waffle House, where we both ate and giggled somewhat hysterically for a while. And then we went home.

Dennis tells me that whatever you do on New Year’s Eve sets the tone for the rest of your year. I say that I hope that this only applies to events prior to the Big Ball Drop, because otherwise I’m majorly screwed. I don’t think I have the stamina to fend off psychopaths for the next 365 days. Besides, prior to midnight, we all had a great time. The curtain rod was still unbroken. Clegg had not yet begun to proselytize on the back porch. The Annoying Man was merely annoying and persistent, not crazy and holding a knife and jumping on people in the middle of the night.

That, dear readers, was the worst New Year’s Eve party EVER.

The end.