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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What I've Noticed Since I Quit the Daily News Cold Turkey

1. The night terrors are in gradual remission.

2. The sun.

3. I'm getting boners again.

4. Laughter is still a thing, somehow.

5. I can have a conversation just about baseball.

6. The lesions on the back of my neck are healing after week-upon-week of subconsciously clawing at my skin.

7. I have new neighbors (hi, Pam and Emmet—I’ll shovel the sidewalk soon, I promise).

8. I haven't overstepped the data limit on my cell phone plan this month.

9. Hot damn! Did I mention the awesome boner resurgence?

10. There's a knee-high pile of junk mail (mostly Comcast Triple Play deals) on the porch.

11. The tail of a dead squirrel is sticking out of my gutter.

12. Jesus, how long has the downstairs closet smelled like a tire fire?

13. Wait, what the hell are these Facebook posts referring to?

14. Why does everyone I respect intellectually look so glum?

15. I'm sorry, but did I overhear you correctly? Please tell me I didn’t just hear that Trump’s fucking budget proposal eliminates funding to…

16. AAAHHH!!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Old Stall Game

The crack of the bat, the smell of the grass…the taste of pine tar.

Baseball is back.

For those who revel in the history, strategy, and romance of America’s greatest game, springtime reigns…as does all of summer, and a hefty chunk of fall. Yes, one of baseball’s most beloved virtues is that it serves as a soundtrack to, literally, more than half a calendar year. Simply having play-by-play on the radio in the background—every single freaking night, for 182 straight nights—is a pleasure.

What’s more, the games themselves are long. Too long. Intercontinental wars have been declared and concluded before the first pitch and the final out of a twilight double header. Ideas abound about ways to shorten the length of a game, so fans can stay abreast of the unfolding on-field spectacle without sacrificing a hearty slice of their waking hours. (Ask the otherwise devoted father who lamented neglecting too much of his only son’s preteen childhood to catch a meaningless late September Mariners-Twins extra-innings affair.)

Recently, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced that intentional walks will be granted without a pitcher tossing four wide ones. Some old-schoolers have derided the decision as baseball treason. Moreover, math suggests the average length of a game would thus be lessened by a grand total of 13 blessed seconds. Surely, one might think, there must be better suggestions to truly abbreviate nine (plus) innings in a way that would enliven the drama without sacrificing baseball’s purportedly precious legacy.

There are! Behold.

-Limit batter walk-up music to the first three notes of the player’s chosen song. As is, a batter’s stroll from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box is akin to the spectacle of a WWE wrestler walking down the ramp during Wrestlemania. Do fans really need to suffer the latest Drake or Keith Urban chart topper, just because the seven-hole batter in a blowout game needs to get pumped-up enough to flail at three consecutive breaking pitches? If the batter doesn’t reach the batter’s box before the conclusion of the third note of his walk-up song, the batter is out. Furthermore, the batter’s contract is voided, and he will be deported to an undisclosed island where Godsmack’s entire music catalog will be played loudly, on repeat, 24/7, forever and ever.

The only music that should be a part of the game is chin music. 

-Brave’s pitcher Bartolo Colon—46 years old/290 pounds—must use a bullpen cart in lieu of walking a single step farther in a Major League baseball park. This includes all trips on and off the field, trips from one base to another (i.e. station-to-station), trips to the clubhouse urinal, etc. As a general rule, any major leaguer whose baseball card is both too old and too heavy to put in the spokes of a bicycle, will only be allowed mobility via bullpen cart.

-Mandatory amphetamines…for fans. Details to come.

-The pitching coach will “visit” the pitcher to discuss strategy, not in person, but via Facetime. This will eliminate the need for a pudgy, decrepit man in stirrups to shamelessly waddle from the dugout to the hill as thousands, if not millions, die of boredom. Instead, said coach will communicate with the pitcher via the most recent version of the iWatch (National League) or iPhone (American League). Caveat: Although abolishing the slow crawl of mound visits should reduce playing time by about, oh, an hour and thirty seven minutes per game, admittedly half of that time will be added back by the endless stream of plugs for Apple: official sponsor of the “Visit to the Mound.” 

-Any foul ball that reaches the second deck is an automatic out.

-Any regular season game involving the Chicago Cubs will be forfeited to whichever club that is not the Chicago Cubs. Not only will this altogether eliminate 162 games off the schedule and thwart a Cubs’ dynasty, baseball fans worldwide will be spared the vomit-inducing brutality of weathering night-after-night-after-night of Joe “faux hipster glasses” Maddon’s pretentious and insufferable postgame press conferences.

Fuck the Cubs and fuck Joe Maddon, too.

-A sharpshooter stationed in the cabin of the overhead Met Life blimp will maim the right knee cap of any fielder who commits an error. The omnipresent possibility of being forever rendered wheelchair-bound via the dreaded “MLB sky sniper” after booting a routine double play ball should limit inning-extending errors. Plus, consider the added tension…“Routine fly to left. Holt barely has to move. Can of cor…uh-oh, the balls clanks off his glove. There’s the little red light below the thigh. Holt looks up in horror as Jackson rounds second. Jesus! Holt crumples to the ground in unimaginable anguish as the Cardinals take a 3-2 lead in the fifth.”

-Clone the 2015 post All-Star break version of Jake Arrieta so that only the 2015 post All-Star break version of Jake Arrieta can pitch every inning of every game. At the conclusion of each season, all MLB position players will undergo full frontal lobotomies to avoid making future adjustments to the 2015 post All-Star Break Jake Arrieta.
-All 25 players on each MLB roster must play the field during the opposing teams’ at-bat. This will cut back on bloop hits and seeing-eye singles, while increasing the chances of rollicking/embarrassing Keystone Kops-type collisions among fielders.

-The typically longwinded National Anthem will instead consist of the singer/singers simply walking up to the mic and shouting “Make America Great Again,” punctuated by an enthusiastic fist pump. (The accompanying fighter jet flyover will be executed by a squadron of heavily-armed military aircraft en route to a classified bombing raid on a foreign state.) Furthermore, the tedious singing of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” will be replaced with “something terrific.”

-A left-handed and a right-handed batter must bat at the same time. This will allow two batters to strike out at once, and should lead to less solid contact—or, in the event of a hit, suspenseful hesitation among fielders trying to determine who hit it and where.

-Whenever a batter is hit by an errant pitch and charges the mound to confront the pitcher, a steel dome will be lowered via helicopter onto the combatants. Several weapons will be attached to the bars of the dome: oversized iron mallets, rusty chainsaws, a Berretta DT-11 shotgun, 2×4’s with a nail sticking out, Bartolo Colon’s “lucky” unwashed undies, a slingshot with a single rock blessed by God himself, a novelty boxing glove on one of those accordion springy hickeys, and a Godsmack CD in a boom box—just hit play. Ok, so, basically this is the Thunderdome. But to avoid copyright litigation, the steel cage will be called the Murder Crate, and fans, in unison, will chant “Two men enter. One man gets literally killed by the other man, and the dead man’s team forfeits the game.”

-First team to show up at the ballpark wins. Live coverage of teams roaring up to the clubhouse and charging in to register arrival will thrill millions.


Now PLAY BALL, and hurry the fuck up.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Fiddle My Piddle Pump! That Cog Noggin Boy O’ Mine Left the Door Open Again, and a Steve Bannon Slipped In Like a Lubed Cheese Wheel On a Greased Dancefloor.

Over the past few years, first-person accounts of the Great Horribleness have become a publishing staple, particularly since the re-legalization of writing and the de-criminalization of reading. But few texts can provide the visceral power, the historical authenticity, and the linguistic richness of Fiddle My Piddle Pump: That Cog Noggin Boy O’ Mine Left the Door Open Again, and a Steve Bannon Slipped In Like a Lubed Cheese Wheel On a Greased Dancefloor, by Luanne McDunkle, who writes and shoplifts under the name “The Wisecrackin’ Widow of Klutterbuck County.” The excerpt below provides a vivid example of the sensibility of the woman known to many who don’t know her as “Patient Zero of the Great Bannon Pestilence of 2017-2021.”

Dear Damn Diary:

I’m thinking on torching my homestead flat to the dirt floor. This unnerved widow, her puny son, and a feral Steve Bannon are trapped inside the house together like Tri-amese twins in a wrought iron waffle puffer. Know what I mean?

I knew sure as a bejeweled Wookie’s midriff something like this would happen eventually. “For the love of a stewed wombat, Jeffrey, close the door all the way when you come into the house after twilight weed teasin’.” I got tired of hearing my own voice repeatin’ myself. Kid would just whoosh inside like he was runnin’ from a Chattanooga pistol whip. Well, Jeffrey left the door ajar one too many times. Guess what weaselin' twat sprocket snuck into the living room? A Steve Bannon. I squealed like a hog-tied orphan! ‘Dem damn things are filthy as a naughty clergyman’s spittoon, you know.

I should’ve pummeled that lil' gnard gardner with a Deutschland donker barrage post haste. No, not Jeffery! He's only eight. I'm talkin' 'bout the Steve Bannon! I’m not one to kill pests just because they’re uninvited guests. I’ve trapped enough spiders to fill Bunyan’s trousers usin’ plastic cups and scooted ‘em to Mother Nature’s druthers, and wafted as many moths out a window, too. But I’m kickin’ myself now. This pesky Steve Bannon still scurryin’ about the place has me feelin' like I wanna’ boom-biff a Nazis square in his dangle deuce.

When a Steve Bannon first scampered inside, it stopped in the mud room beside the galoshes heap. I’d once seen a picture of a Steve Bannon in an alt-right field guide so I knew exactly what that danged shit widget was. But the thing looked as scared as a runt puppy starin' down the barrel of a well-oiled meat grinder. I think back and curse 'dem pitiful eyes behind that soused 9 o' clock chin shrub. I kinda’ felt bad for the bugger at first, but how was I supposed to know ‘dem things as wily as a friendly necromaniac?  I tried to shoo it back out the door with the McDunkle family corn broom. Five minus six plus one dice. Damn thing began inchin’ toward me. I always keep a spray bottle handy in case I need to go fisticuffs with a stuttering gout farmer. So I sprayed the foul lil’ scrotum pole but good. Barely even ruffled his teats. Then it really started to move on me like a bitch, all the while snarlin’ like a virgin albino after snortin’ a codpiece full of Baby Beluga's  fever dream at an Appalachian rave party. Got me? I began backpeddlin’ real slow. I felt helpless as a ticklish amputee. The blasted Steven Bannon inched closer, and closer, and closer. “This is it,” I thought, “it’s gonna’ gnaw my grizzle nob to the bone.” But I thought quick and grabbed the New York Times off the Poang. What? You don’t believe I read the New York Times, or shop at Ikea? Then I rolled up the newspaper and boom-biffed that fudd-muckin’ Steve Bannon straight upside his crimson pockmarked coconut. It yelped as if it’d been unceremoniously introduced to the business end of Grammie Gertrude's happy hammer. Then it went scamperin' into a load bearin’ hole in the wall.

I haven't actually seen the Steve Bannon since. Doesn't mean I still ain't hot like a skinned mongoose lathered in ghost pepper brine. I know it's still in the house…somewhere. I hear its filthy little claws tappin' against the floorboards in the middle of the night. Can't sleep sometimes. I hear him rummagin' up in the attic when I'm trying to reverse-kerplunk my badoozled jigger nozzle. Hey! How else is a homemaker like me supposed to earn a livin'? Sometimes, the Steve Bannon causes so much hullabaloo behind a closet door, or at the end of a hallway, that it makes my hounds, Sparkplug and Remus J. Smudlaugh VII (named 'em after my daddy and my daddy's daddy), go batshit crazy. Hmm. Batshit crazy? Is that something folk say or did I coin a new phrase? Sorry if I lost you. Anyway, I'm sure you know what an upper-decker pecker-checker that can be when you don't have swamp fog insurance!

Listen good as ya' should. I'm tired of cleanin' up piles of Steve Bannon mud nuggets scattered about the place. I'm tired of vacuumin' molted Steve Bannon fuzz clumps outta' the drapes. Although I can’t pinpoint the rascal, this whole house fucking smells like Steve Bannon. Olly olly oxen fee you little shit. 

I gotta' get that hideous thing outta' here. It's plottin' doom. I sense it. I don’t know how, but it’s plottin’ doom. I sense it straight to the core of a chimneysweep's crotch.

I'm a mother. I gotta' save my little boy Jeffrey, and all his unborn grandchildren, from the ravages of an unchecked Steve Bannon run amok. I don't care if I gotta' stack blast candles to Gulliver's taint and 'splode this place straight to Micky Dolenz's locker. That Steve Bannon gotta' go.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Whelp, Satire Is Dead. Might As Well Take Up F*cking Noolding

I'm a clever guy. I am. But I literally cannot invent any satirical headline, either on the spot or amid an orgy of creative epiphanies, that I cannot imagine having absolutely zero chance of appearing in tomorrow’s news headlines—or on my stupid goddamn Facebook feed—regardless of whether or not the headline is true, or truthiness.

The torrent of recent national headlines on news sites—from CNN to Breitbart to Hacksaw Biff’s Truth-Be-Told Corkboard—all serve as a death knell for satire. Satire writers, in particular, have become hamstrung by contemporary reality. The introduction of "alternative facts" into the modern lexicon not only puts the proverbial final nail in satire's proverbial coffin, it also adds profuse gobs of Liquid Nails about the seams, and a 2-ton ACME anvil on the lid. For good measure, a yuge glob of shit rests on the anvil.

If I were to be confronted with any of the following headlines, I'd simply shrug my shoulders and be all like "Huh! Well, whad'ya' know!": "Rodeo Clowns Converge On Washington To Protest Department Of Novelty Suspenders Defunding", or "Trump Secretly Breeding Chainsaw-Wielding Velociraptor Overseers To 'Carefully Yet Humanely' Monitor Middle School Journalism Club", or "Study Shows Nation's Salt Trucks Woefully Unprepared For Inevitable Nuclear Winter".  Or "Steve Bannon Actually Smiles For Once In His Life".

I'm a satire writer. Well, I was a satire writer. I have come here to do two things: announce my retirement from the craft, and present empirical evidence that contradicts the edicts of the leaders of the free world …and I'm all out of empirical evidence.

So, I quit.

There's no longer any sense in staring like a dope at the hundreds of thousands of tiny black specks in the drop ceiling above my computer desk while contorting my brain to finally (finally!) summon a seedling of a satirical premise, then to write and rework and write and rework and write and rework, and maybe—if I think the finished product is worth half-a-bag-of-moldy-turnips—submit the fruits of my labor to McSweeney's, or Sherman Oaks Review of Books, or that bastion of shrewd literary farce Fox News.

Now, though? What’s the goddamn use? My life had purpose when I’d yank my mind’s ripcord and rev the ol’ idea engine until the spewing fumes made me gradually so woozy from creative output that I’d eventually become high as a gun junkie dry-humping a never-fired Winchester 30-06 on Appalachian prom night. Good times. In today’s political climate, I’d pass out indefinitely from lack of oxygen.

Rather than piss away my life doing what the elders call THINKING, I figure I might as well take up fucking noodling instead. Yeah, that's right…noodling: fishing for catfish with bare fucking hands by sticking them in a fucking catfish hole. I briefly considered such rousing hobbies as train surfing or handcuff collecting, but I ultimately settled on noodling. Fucking noodling.

You heard it here first, from me—I am officially no longer a satirist. I'm a noodler.

Why bother employing the literary skills I paid $50k+ to learn in a society-mandated post-high school education structure, and then gradually develop said skills via the arduous slog of trial-and-error in the 16 years since graduation when I can simply plunge my fucking arm under a rock and wait for a 39 pound flathead catfish to begin to digest my fucking forearm? Why use my natural and matured academic gift to glaze a shrewd warning to mankind with a syrupy layer of wit that the lawmakers (read: white Christian men) in the high castles aim to wring you out like a dirty rag and drink whatever soiled profits drip when I can focus my efforts into bonding with a dependable lifelong noodling partner who can spot the fuck outta’ me when I attempt to surface from twenty foot depths with a fucking mammoth thrashing catfish latched on to the very fucking hand I once used to type the aforementioned syrupy layers of wit. Why mock with wry humor the authoritative establishments which seek to mercilessly shred the fabric that binds all of humanity when I can register for the fucking Annual Okie Noodling Tournament in Pauls Valley, fucking Oklahoma, and test my chops against noodling luminaries in an activity that is, essentially, slow-punching a fucking catfish in the fucking mouth and then lugging it to an alien surface for a photo-op on a stupid fucking dock. Imagine the huge dumbass smile on my fucking face. I'll be so fucking ecstatic there’s a fucking catfish dangling from my wrist. Fuck! 

Okay. Okay.

Sorry.

Perhaps you too should reconsider your profession. Are you a historian? Why waste your time scrutinizing eye witness accounts of past scholars and contemplating echoing themes of civilization to identify subtle pre-WWIII red flags when you can relive the exploits of the “face of noodling” Jerry Rider on VH fucking Sespecially such ground-breaking network TV moments as when Rider fucking manhandled a whopping bullhead on Late Night with David fucking Letterman, circa 198 fucking 9. Are you a climate scientist? Why waste your time meticulously reconstructing past climates by examining ice cores and tree rings in hopes of rescuing the vast majority of the inhabitants of Earth from an agonizing sixth extinction when you can fucking noodle the living shit out of the very aquatic habitats you have dedicated your whole fucking live to saving from the same stupid species who invented such a dumb fucking sport as NOODLING? Can you read? Why squander your pathetic useless life reading books like a fucking idiot when you can deep throat catfish up to your fucking elbow instead?

Fuck words and fuck sentences and fuck story arcs about the human condition that transcend culture and time. Fuck "Moby Dick" (unless your knuckles are blowhole deep). You're living in a noodler’s world now.

If you need me, don’t bother looking in my beloved writing den, where I once basked in inspiration opposite my Dell laptop and a half-empty Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA nearby. Nope. You can find me on the muddy banks of the Muskingum River, wearin’ my newfangled cutoff jean shorts and sportin’ a tight bushy noodler ‘stache—not like ‘dem pansy hipster ‘staches all up in that new Crazy Mocha downtown.



That’s right, I fucking noodle now. And I got four-to-eight years to perfect my craft.



FUCK! 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Something In The River

During the workweek, I park about a mile from the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas—where I'm employed—to avoid the downtown Pittsburgh parking fees. I walk to work. Along the way I pass Mercy Behavioral Health—psychiatric facility, a Salvation Army—drug and alcohol rehab, the Allegheny County Jail, the Renewal Center—halfway house, the Allegheny County Municipal Court, the Allegheny County Criminal Court, and the tent shantytown underneath the Parkway East overpass. The scenes amid the walk from the Three Rivers Heritage Trail parking lot on the South Side to Ross St. downtown are reliable landmarks. To identify a few: The two scruffy curmudgeons, wearing 1990's Starter team parkas, who perpetually antagonize the poor toothless lady, also wearing a 1990's Starter team parka, while they carouse on the street curb. "Zig-Zag Guy" who, ah, zig-zags along the sidewalk and swigs from the 16 oz. Miller Lite can fused to his palm while he mumbles either nursery rhymes or footnotes in the Necronomicon. The motley flock of desperate humanity who fritters another sunrise while wandering among the jumble of pop-up parcels that form Hobo Junction—including the tent tagged "NIGHTMARE" in black spray paint—under the 376 East traffic jam.  

***

Sometimes the Monongahela River flows upstream, as it was the crisp morning of Monday, October 24th, 2016. Okay, so the river doesn't actually flow upstream; it just looks like it is. The effect is a visual sleight of hand perpetrated by nature. Regional wind typically blows from west to east, down the Ohio River Valley and the Monongahela River Valley, thus forcing the top "layer" of the Mon River the opposite direction of the water underneath. 

The Mon River was muddy, choppy, and flowing upstream that morning; a weekend of scattered heavy rain had preceded my walk to work. I passed the first two aforementioned landmarks en route to the Tenth St. Bridge. As I began scaling the span of bridge that tops Allegheny Millwork and Lumbar Co. on the South Side, I noticed something floating, or partly submerged, near the downtown-side riverbank and not far downstream from the bridge itself. My initial conclusion was the object was a large beaver. I'd spotted beavers in the Mon River before, while kayaking. The object appeared to be a fiery orange roundish clump, attached to an elongated roundish black clump—a beaver's body and tail. However, as I gradually approached the object, its girth wasn't that of a beaver. A tree trunk perhaps? No, the color and shape didn't fit. A trash bag? Nah, a trash bag would be fluttering wildly in the choppy current.

I'm a fast walker. I pass handfuls of pedestrians amid my daily walk to work. I've only been passed by three others—each moving hurriedly, perhaps late for something—on the Tenth Street Bridge during my six years of crossing it. I sidestepped others as I approached the object. I attempted to glance into their faces and notice if they were also contemplating the object's identity. None seemed to have spotted the…eh…whatever it was. The mystery was mine to solve alone. All I needed was a closer inspection. As I approached the object, the realization rained on me in a sudden downpour—I'm staring at a body! I needed a closer look, though, so I used my IPhone camera to snap a picture. I zoomed in. Yep, that's a body, alright! I looked around again at passing pedestrians. All seemed oblivious to THE BODY in the river. Am I the only one who sees the body in the river? THERE'S A FUCKING BODY IN THE FUCKING RIVER! A man's body! Gotta' be. Looks just like one. I see defined back muscles. I see the buttocks. I see a head. I see arms, however blurry, submerged underneath the torso. Orange shirt! Blue jeans! Exposed flesh between the shirt and jeans! That's definitely a goddamn body! How can no one else notice this? Why isn't there a crowd? Why aren’t others taking pictures? Where is the Pittsburgh River Patrol? The body must've been reported by now. Right? RIGHT? I'd been standing in the same spot for five minutes now. Maybe it isn't a body. Hell, it can't be a body. Just can't be. Must be something else, and I'm the only one who can't tell a body from…a beaver? No. It DEFINITELY ain't a beaver, remember? A log? No. Already eliminated a log from possibility. Trash? No. It's isn't trash! Come on, you know it ain't trash. Wait! It must be a fake body. Eureka! It's a Halloween prank. I'm the only sucker who thinks the body is an actual corpse and not a dummy, or a prop sold in a Spirit Halloween store. Jesus, why am I even bothering with this? It's just a friggin' joke! It looks TOO MUCH like a body to be an actual body. The fake body looks ripped, like a body builder. It's probably plastic—a Tommy Hilfiger mannequin from JC Penny. Or it's rubber, like a tackling dummy. A real corpse would be round and bloated. I watched Faces Of Death in college. Hah! Good one! Can't fool me. I'm heading to work.

I kept on walking.

Minutes later, I noticed a buddy of mine walking near the Allegheny County Jail, about 40 yards ahead of me. I figured a second opinion couldn't hurt. I began sprinting toward him, cell phone in hand, and blurry picture of the body on the screen. What the hell are you doing? He's going to tell you to call 911, idiot. Of course he is. Even if that is just a hunk of plastic with a smiley face drawn on the head in Sharpie you need to call the authorities. A mother might be praying to God for news, any news, concerning the whereabouts of her missing son. A young daughter might be stapling Xeroxed photos of her father on telephone poles, believing she may never learn what became of him. Jesus, SOMEONE out there is desperately seeking closure. I slowed to a walk, winded from the dash. But still, I don’t want to waste emergency crews’ time for a sick prank. Surely, others are in more need of services. What if a house fire breaks out? What if a toddler falls into a well? What if the Fort Pitt Bridge spontaneously combusts...again? I can’t let the pranksters win. I know. I’ll call 311. That’s right. To report a possibly dead human being in the river I called The City of Pittsburgh’s 311 response line—the number one calls to report a pothole on Second Avenue, or ask what week compost pick-up is. Of course, as soon as I told the operator I wanted to report a floating carcass she told me to call 911….duh! “Yeah, I guess I kinda’ already knew that,” I told her.

I called 911. Too bad there isn't a way the dispatcher could be given a heads up concerning my emergency. Any mention of a floating corpse is a super awkward ice breaker. I wish there was a feature like "...Press 4 to report an armed bank robber. Press 5 to report a dead body in the river. Press 6 to report..." Anyway, the conversation went pretty much the way one would expect.  I laid out my case: "Maybe a dead body…in the Mon River…might not be a real body but it sure looks a helluva lot like a real body…near the shoreline on the city side...maybe just a Halloween prank…orange shirt and blue pants…sorry if it isn't actually a real dead body."

Throughout the call, what struck me most was the 911 dispatcher's nonchalant tone, as though I'd dialed the "Report-A-Corpse Hotline", and I was the 37th caller of the day. Remember that State Farm commercial? "Six dead body reports ahead of us Jimmy." 

My first errand upon arriving at work was to call my wife. "I think I just found a dead body," I told her. Seconds later, and I do mean SECONDS later, two co-workers crept into my cubicle with wide-eyed slack-jawed "holy fuckin' shit" looks on their faces. As I detailed to my wife the last 15 minutes of my life, the two "holy fuckin' shit" faces gradually bore down. I had an audience. After I hung up the phone I texted her the picture of the body. Then I detailed, again, my Monday morning escapade to my two co-workers. Their "holy fuckin' shit" looks only got "holy fuckin' shittier," as my story unfolded. They left my cube with the "holy fuckin shittiest" looks I'd ever seen.

A few minutes later my wife texted me back a keen observation. "The body looks Mr. Incredible." I studied the picture again. The reddish shirt, the blackish pants, the muscular build, the overall fake appearance—indeed, the body DID look strikingly like Mr. Incredible. I just reported to emergency responders the floating carcass of a much loved and respected computer animated Disney superhero! I'm a twisted dope! A part of me felt relieved to acknowledge "the body" was almost certainly not a body. But as morally insolvent as it sounds, an equal part of me felt duped, felt defeated.

The feeling lasted a minute, maybe two.

"Yep. It's officially a body," exclaimed my co-worker, reemerging into my cubicle, cell phone in hand. "I just got a notification from WTAE.  'Man's body discovered in Monongahela River.' "

Okay, here's the part of the story I'm most ashamed to share…my kneejerk reaction to the news was to shout "YES!" and do a fist pump. I felt vindicated. But almost immediately afterward, shame befell me. The object in the river was the mother's son, was the daughter's father…was a human being. I sat there for a few moments, staring up at the tiny black specs in the particleboard ceiling. The object in the river IS a human being.

The remainder of the work day I enjoyed a small measure of celebrity status. Co-workers approached me unsolicited: "I heard you are a hero." Emails came in: "People down here are talking about you." I became more animated upon each retelling of the story: "I thought it was a beaver…but then I was like 'holy shit, it's a body'…I called 311 like I was reporting a pothole…no wait, IT'S MR. FRIGGIN' INCREDIBLE!!!...'Hey, I got a blurb from WTAE'…sadness."  

Hell yeah, I'm a hero. Where's my key to the city, Mr. Mayor?

Furthermore, I checked local news sources throughout the day in hopes of learning details, any details, about the identity of the body or circumstances surrounding the death. But each news article was nearly identical: "A body was found in the Monongahela River after 'someone' called to report it. No further information is known."  


"Someone!?"
***


Throughout the next few weeks I continued to investigate news outlets in hopes of learning details. I wanted closure too. But there were no updates. The news blurbs that broke on the morning of October 24th were frozen in time. The headlines sunk lower with each Google search. I eventually ceased my pursuit. Admittedly, as the days passed, and my interest weened in lockstep with my 15 minutes of fame, I became increasingly relieved my daily searches yielded dead ends. I didn't want a beaming face to pair with the one I saw submerged, and lifeless. I didn't want quotes from his grieving family. I didn't want to know his hobbies. 


After recounting the discovery to family, friends, and co-workers time and again, and laughing freely and regretless at the punchlines I'd melded into each retelling (not to mention that a buddy had gag-gifted me a Rogue's Dead Guy Ale), I came to the conclusion that I didn't even want to know his name.

Why? Simply because he had a name.

***

I got a Facebook notification on November, 30th. It was a link to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article: "Body Identified of Man Found in Mon River in October"

I read the article. The deceased's name is Dwayne.

(If you are curious about details, perform a Google search, or view my Facebook page. Although the deceased's real name is public information, I choose here to refer to him using a fictional name, Dwayne.) 

Dwayne's Facebook page still exists. December 1st, the day I perused his FB page, happened to be his 33rd birthday. Jesus, only 33! More disturbingly, however, was his photograph, prominently displayed, taken from atop the Rankin Bridge, overlooking the Monongahela River. I learned a few personal intricacies about Dwayne's life, too: He doted on his young nephew. He had a thing for women with, ah, bountiful assets. And he publicly apologized for not believing in God.

Dwayne endeared himself to me.

Obviously, Dwayne's death is a great shame. I'd prefer he were playing catch in the backyard with his nephew right now. But he ain't. When heartrending things like Dwayne's death occur, people tend to say that it's unnatural that someone dies in such a manner, and so young.

No. It's rare, but it's not unnatural.

Sometimes the river flows upstream.
Credit: Dwayne

Monday, November 14, 2016

Blue Lilly Pads On The Blood Pond

In four years America awakens, shivering cold, in a bathtub. How the hell did I wind up in a tub full of ice cubes? Gotta’ get up. Gotta’ get outta’ here. A searing pain emanates from somewhere…from somewhere. Oh Christ! What is going on? What the fuck happened? Scoop up a handful of ice cubes and toss them over the side of the tube. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Wait. Oh, Jesus Christ! What is that? What the fuck is that? The stitch job on the abdomen’s nearly black lump looks like the work of a seamstress with twisted fingers. Blood seeps. A serrated steak knife may be the culprit. Rusty too, perhaps. Who did this to me?

You did it to yourself, America. You did it. Now your organ is up for bid on the dark web to the highest bidder: China, Putin, or the four-hundred-pound couch potato and hacker. And who knows which organ was reaped, anyway? Hard to tell. Doesn’t matter, really. Surely not a heart or head. Those both atrophied long ago. America, you stuffed your face with the Kardashians, tall tales of Mexican rapists clawing at the cellar door, and post cards from a new Rome. (Psst! Nero has been fiddling the whole time.) The red pills that were slipped under your tongue during the commercial break dissolved quickly. You didn't even know you were saying aah, did you?

The trip was good at first. You let loose pleasure squeals after you dropped trou in anticipation of a hand job from Ronald Reagan’s ghost. But then consciousness became gradually foggier until it flatlined. This unleashed the suppressed indoctrinated butcher lying low in the deepest reserves of the hindbrain since the 1950’s. You were alone, a defenseless and witless victim of your own worst angels of your folly. Your right hand sawed through healthy skin and muscle, despite the left hand vying to wrest control of the blade handle. Now there’s just the Frankenstein wound, and the life support of the ice cubes.

You did it to yourself, America. You did it.

***

Hunter S. Thompson’s nemesis was Richard Nixon. He wrote of Nixon in his crafty He Was a Crook obituary, “Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning.” For those of my generation, George W. Bush and his administration was our Richard Nixon and his gang of thugs; Bush’s mind was run by a solar panel on the dark side of the moon, and Dick Chaney was Cthulhu in a latex body suit.

In a 2004 pre-presidential election piece, Thompson wrote “If (Nixon) were running for president this year against the evil Bush-Cheney gang, I would happily vote for him.” Why? Because Bush was a “treacherous little freak.”

With the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States of American, I understand Thompson’s renewed sentiment, squared.

***

Elementary school teachers might as well pull down the United States 2016 post-election map over the chalk board and say, “Okay kids, the metro areas are blue, everything else red.” Truly, the big cities are lily pads in a blood pond. Zoom in on the 2016 election map of Allegheny County, in western Pennsylvania. My hometown of Pittsburgh is navy blue and (most of) the suburbs are various shades of red.

Why?

Sure, minorities and liberals are concentrated in the cities—not to mention hubs of academia—but the contrast in political preference is stark. The answer is surely so nuanced that a political psychologist typing Facebook posts for an infinite amount of time will eventually nail a thorough explanation of the dilemma.

Regardless of the urban-rural divide, which fascinates me, I’m comfortable making a few non-geographical sweeping generalizations: Too many voters dim their minds for convenience sake, and cast ballots from the gut. What a fucking stupid thing to do! Considering the recently concluded 2016 election, stupidity meant being as socially conscious as rolling a powder keg into a cigar lounge, and as safety conscious as using it as an ashtray. (Or vice versa, I suppose.)

I believe that relatively few Trump voters are truly racist/Islamophobic/misogynistic homophobic/etc. at their core. I believe that relatively few Trump voters cheer as factories continue to spew carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at the peril of their grandchildren, their children, and themselves.  I believe that almost zero Trump voters want a human roulette wheel to possess the nuclear launch code.

But guess what, Trump voter? It doesn’t matter if you don’t consider yourself a bigot, or if you don’t consider yourself environmentally unconscious, or if you don’t fancy applying for a city building permit to construct a backyard fallout shelter. You voted for Jim Crow 2.0, the gradual manslaughter of Earth, and the potential swift first degree murder of Earth. You voted this way because you choose to be stupid when the stakes were highest. You chose to be selfless and dangerous.

***

I hold that Donald Trump ran for president as a vanity project. He viewed himself as the focal character of a real-time reality show, not unlike The Apprentice.  He relished the raucous crowds at the rallies, and the omnipresent microphones and camera lens. He saw himself as Billy Mays, but instead of OxyClean he pitched a brand of retro white utopia. He was entertained by the day-to-day reaction of America, as much as America was (regretfully) entertained by him. America itself was his real-time reality show.

On November the 8th, the reality got real.

For all that makes Trump a maniacal scumbag of the highest order, the Trump voter is riper for ridicule than the president-elect. You handed the debauched king his scepter.

Trump’s position on climate change assaults my sensibility, and may provide the clearest example of the source of a pragmatist’s rage. The overwhelming consensus of the scientific community is that humans are chugging headlong toward the sixth extinction. Whatever! The man chosen by the populace to be the most powerful human on Earth actually said that he believes climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. As soon as Trump expressed his stance, the American people should’ve dismissed him out-of-hand. Boom! Off the ticket and out of mind you go. Instead, Trump's popularity skyrocketed. He was fucking elected president! As a result, the extinction of the EPA will likely slightly predate the extinction of the human race. Think about that for a second. The most perilous crisis the Earth faces will be exacerbated by the person Earthlings blessed. Forget the Mexican border wall. The landlocked states will need the bricks to keep out refugees from the American coast.

Call me smug. Call me out of out-of-touch. Call out my lack of perspective. But when the scientific community warns of a worldwide catastrophe that will eventually render all politics moot, and you vote for a leader who will clearly worsen the catastrophe…

I know. I know you want "change," whatever the fuck that means.  Name three things, specifically, you want changed? How would you orchestrate these changes? Ok, you're drooling now.

***                       

I’m afraid I’m going to begin belaboring points espoused by countless blogs and Facebook posts. Besides, I’m probably preaching to readers who already see things my way. Readers who don’t will dismiss me as whiny and go about grazing on Astro Turf. 

Also, my fingers do not possess the endurance to type enough patently obvious reasons that Donald Trump should not have been voted president. However, I do see hope

The bottom line for this patriot: I'm embarrassed to be an American today. Those feeling the same have been overrun by the other who are either too lazy to think, or too selfless to care, or too short-sighted to see more than 37 seconds into the future.

"Majority rules" sucks when the majority sucks. (Ok, I know, the majority did vote for Hillary Clinton, but it hardly seems worth another tirade). Democracy will doom us all.

***

I’ll sign off with this: Let’s say you sliced your thigh and have begun to bleed. It’s not a dire emergency yet but you need to drive to the hospital. En route, bovine are blocking the highway. You honk, but they don’t move. You politely ask that a narrow lane be cleared so you may drive through, but they don’t move. You impart the wisdom of moving to the highway’s shoulder lest a semi-truck going 75 mph comes through, but they still don’t fucking move. But you’re getting woozy from blood loss and you absolutely must get to the hospital. There’s no choice but to back up, slam down the gas pedal, and become the semi-truck.

Inertia can be a beautiful tool when it means self-preservation.