Category Archives: More Bullshit

Happy hour

It’s 3pm and they’re on their second round of margaritas. The Mexican restaurant had lured them in with an unprecedented happy hour special. They’re holding hands at the bar, which gives her less manual control over her wedge of lime. She accidentally squirts juice into his eye when optimizing her drink order. He dabs at his face with a cocktail napkin, but still retains his focus on the bar television set that seems to be powered by decorative chili lights.

“Whoa,” he says.

“What is it?” she says. “What’s wrong?” She knows her boyfriend is watching the local news because she overheard a segment about school closings while staring at the side of his face, willing him to turn his attention back to her. They have so many urgent things to tell each other. How in love they are, for instance. Little jokes.

“A car crashed on the BQE and six people were killed, including a baby.”

“That’s terrible,” she says. She glances briefly at the TV, but decides she doesn’t want to see the footage. Instead her heart goes out to the place on the road where the figurative bomb was detonated. It really is terrible. All those people. The bartender brings them complimentary chips and salsa.

She and her boyfriend are both quiet, drinking, as he continues to watch the news anchor’s concern drift from fatalities to traffic. Maybe she can use this moment to start a conversation that will deepen their romantic bond.

“You know,” she says, “I’ve always wondered what the Dalai Lama would do if he were hanging out, enjoying a margarita, and then he was told that a baby had just been killed in a horrific car accident. Would he acknowledge the suffering, then go back to drinking his margarita? Would he get bummed out and stop drinking his margarita altogether? What’s the mechanism for going from happiness to tragedy and back to happiness, or do you just stay in an emotional place that lacks polarity, so you drink your margaritas in a mental zone that precludes any extreme feelings whatsoever about car crashes? But does that seem fair to dead babies?” Her boyfriend looks at her distastefully from the corner of his citrussed eyeball.

“You’re killing my buzz,” he says.

“Oh,” she says. “Okay.” He tunes into the weather report. Thunderstorms. She had really hoped for a different outcome to her conversation starter.

“You know,” she says, “one could argue that randomly bringing up a dead baby during happy hour is more of a buzzkill than philosophizing about how the omnipresence of suffering might coexist with inner peace.”

“I’m not going to apologize for what’s on TV,” he says. She lets go of his hand and buries it in the basket of tortilla chips.

“And I’m not going to apologize for trying to have a meaningful conversation with my boyfriend,” she says. “Who thinks I’m a buzzkill.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t overthink things so much.”

“So sorry that my reality harshes your mellow. I’ll try to keep my reality to myself next time.”

“Can’t we just have a date without you turning it into an intellectual symposium?” he says.

“Can’t we just have a date where the television isn’t more important than me?” She’s fixing to abandon her boyfriend at the restaurant when the bartender brings them two shots of top-shelf tequila.

“We didn’t order these,” she says.

“They’re from me,” says a cherubic voice to her left. She spins around to find a ghost baby nestled in a Bumbo on the neighboring bar stool.

“Wow, thanks,” she says.

“Cheers,” says her boyfriend, reaching over her to clink glasses with the ghost baby’s bottle of beer before taking his shot.

“You’re not that baby who was just killed in that awful car crash on the BQE, are you?” she says.

“I am,” says the ghost baby. She tears up.

“You must be so distraught,” she says. “Your life was just beginning.” She tries to lay her hand on the ghost baby’s chubby arm in sympathy, but his body seems to be made of a cloud.

“Here’s the thing,” says the ghost baby. “When your mind is disciplined, suffering can only disturb it superficially. Your attitude dictates how badly things will hurt, and for how long.”

“But if a person has graduated to enlightened suffering,” she says, “and his loved one is still devastated by loss because she’s not a Buddhist, can the person still extend the full range of his compassion without being able to feel the full depth of her misery?”

“Yes, because he’s been there before. Maybe even in a past life. But then he trained his mind to transcend pain.”

“Interesting,” she says. “But do I really want a hug from someone who’s better than me?”

“People cross the world to cuddle with the Pope and the Dalai Lama.”

“True,” she says. “But take my boyfriend here.” She points her plastic drink straw to her right, flinging liquid everywhere. “What if there’s a discrepancy between the amount of love I feel for him and the amount of love he feels for me? In time won’t that just increase my suffering?”

“Love is infinite,” says the ghost baby, “in any amount.”

“Well, but at least I don’t watch TV when he’s trying to talk to me about serious shit.”

“In Buddhism there are three mental poisons that lead to suffering: ignorance, attachment, and hatred.”

“No, no,” she says. “I don’t have any of those. I think I’m just a little drunk.”

“Hey babe,” says her boyfriend. “The World Cup game is about to come on. And your girl what’s-her-face is playing.”

“Sweet!” She high fives him, then swivels back around to the ghost baby. “Do you like soccer?”

“I’ve always liked balls,” he says.

“Great! Then this might be your sport.”

“Hey kid,” says her boyfriend to the ghost baby. “Chill out with us for a while. The next round is on me.” She wraps her arms around her boyfriend’s neck and kisses him on the cheek.

“What was that for?” he asks.

“For not being sad or angry anymore. For getting your buzz back.”

“My buzz has always been very resilient.”

“Just like the Dalai Lama’s,” she says.

“Exactly,” he says. She shifts around the bar stools so the ghost baby sits between them. By halftime the Bumbo is gone, and she and her boyfriend’s hands hold on for dear life in the place where the baby had been.

The Shaman of Broadway

I lie on the sofa in my ruffled bikini, crying. It’s the last weekend of summer 2014. An hour ago my best friend canceled our day trip to Coney Island while I was at the store buying us beach Doritos. Once again my life is in shambles.

I am almost 34 years old. I’ve essentially laid waste to all those years and counting. I’m broke. I miss my dad, who is dead. Cockroaches scale the kitchen cabinets. My boyfriend sometimes wants to kill himself. I sometimes want to kill myself. We take turns hiding each other’s pills. I haven’t slept for two nights because of the fighting. Alcohol is a factor. The only words I’ve produced in six months are sadsack diary entries and advertising copy for septic tank companies. I’ve eaten all the beach Doritos myself. And the beach Cheetos. And the cookies I’d baked for Coney despite knowing they’d inevitably get sand in them. The sky is cloudless but the curtains are drawn and I know my tears are the closest I’ll get to the seashore today.

I recently collaborated on a young adult novel about five teenagers with problems that far eclipse my own. After putting them through the wringer for a bit, I took pity on these disordered kids and in my infinite mercy endowed them with spiritual cores that could withstand every calamity by reshaping pain into gratitude. I felt this was the right thing to do. Helping the youth is its own reward. But I have to make a confession: I’m a phony. I never dreamt of internalizing the abundant life lessons I showered upon my characters. I wrote the book with blinders on, caring for those 16-year-old psyches while neglecting real life’s rampant dysfunction. I gave the kids souls when I was in despair about having lost my own.

On the last day of summer, after I’ve cried all the tears and put on some underwear not made out of Spandex, I have a vague notion of turning my life around. But a concrete strategy eludes me, so for the next two hours I devour inspirational quotes on the Internet. Three or four hundred inspirational quotes later, I’m finally ready to leave the apartment. “It is never too late to be what we might have been” (George Eliot). I intend to wander around, look at things, maybe buy some cheap fruit from Mr. Kiwi.

The Brooklyn sidewalks are riddled with people whose beachy dreams seem equally crushed, but I am staunchly determined to get over myself and fall madly in love with life because “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have” (Hyman Schachtel). And when an ambulance driver gives me the middle finger because I’m teetering like a drunk astronaut on the curb, I remind myself that “Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of traveling” (Margaret Runbeck). And by the way, who are these enlightened people on the Internet, and have they ever sleep walked down Broadway in the sweltering heat with a death wish and nacho cheese indigestion?

In my aforementioned novel, a spiritual healer materializes out of the New Mexico desert and sets my tormented teens on their path to enlightenment. “This is ridiculous,” I’d muttered to my computer as I brought the shaman into being. “This is so YA. This would never happen in real life, to a real grown-up.”

This intersection looks like a good one to flop myself into. Perhaps I can get run over by something official, like a police car or a fire engine. But no, that’s stinkin’ thinkin’, because “If your compassion does not include you, it’s incomplete” (Jack Kornfield). And I must recognize the beauty in every moment, because “Happiness does not depend on outward things, but on the way we see them” (Leo Tolstoy). And I need to force myself to “Enjoy the little things, for one day [I] may look back and realize they were the big things” (Robert Brault). The J train screeches on the tracks above me as if its cars are dragging the chains of hell. I take a deep breath and vow to wake up to the wonders of the world.

An elderly lady stands beside me on the curb, patiently waiting to cross the street. She’s loaded down with so many plastic shopping bags I wonder if the cement is going to fracture beneath her. I don’t want to offend her by asking if she needs help because her back is straight and she can’t have more than 70 years on her. I say something plaintive about the traffic light. The preternaturally-preserved woman studies my face for a full count of five before agreeing that yes, this intersection could use a pedestrian signal. I self-consciously overtake her when we cross, but I’m still drawn into her orbit. She walks a few paces behind me, on the same sidewalk, past the same vendors of tube socks and cell phone cases. I want to turn around and confess to her how black my heart is. I sense that she’d be down for this discussion. Maybe we could have it telepathically. The air between us is just that charged.

In my YA novel the shaman makes his grand entrance with a pet coyote. On Broadway I see nothing of the kind. Maybe a mangy dog slipping under a barbed wire fence as if he’s just been kicked.

At the next intersection the elderly woman sidles up to me. “Would you mind doing me a favor?” I’m relieved that she’s making the first move. She lacks a free hand to adjust a strap on her shoulder, but won’t permit me to carry her bags, saying that even though she has three great-grandchildren, she still plays basketball and can run a mile without breaking a sweat. She has no need for my strength. I desperately need hers.

I cannot shake the feeling that this woman is extraordinary. Being enclosed in her energy’s orb is like entering a messianic tent revival. She’s the human embodiment of an inspirational quote. And not one by Donald Trump or Tony Robbins; I mean one by Confucius or Martin Luther King. So I trot along beside her, savoring bits and pieces of her life. As a girl she wanted to be a Freudian psychoanalyst. She became a teacher.

We arrive at her destination: Fat Albert’s, a discount home goods store I know all too well. My new friend gathers that I’m loath to leave her so we continue talking on the sidewalk. We grew up in the same small town 200 miles away, 40 years apart. She wants to know my birthday. “You’re a Libra,” she says, peering into my diminished, flickering soul. “You need to meditate in order to hold your center, and you need to live near the water.” I haven’t felt my center in years and the only water I’ve known lately has been boiling.

And now I am a sniveling child, inexplicably undone by this woman and the spiritual medicine dispensed by her gaze. She’s not sentimental about the dumb heartache writ large on my face. She tells me that I’m smart and strong, like her. In front of Fat Albert’s, she matter-of-factly reveals the secret to a happy life, and I promptly forget it. Something to do with love. Though I don’t retain a word, I cling to everything she says, everything she is. Before we part I hold her hand in mine. I haven’t felt anything so soft in skin and so formidable in presence since my grandmother’s hand when she was dying. The woman gives me her number and says one of these days I should come over for pie.

Walking home, my heart wells up with the world and its magic. The second I resolved to see beauty again, I was sent this emissary from heaven who’d transformed a filthy square of Broadway sidewalk into a dropped pin on a rainbow. You can’t make this stuff up in Yeah books. I smile at everyone I pass, and they smile back. I’m having the best beach day ever. I glide across the sand dunes in front of Fat Albert’s, breathing in the sky’s salty mist. I pause next to an overflowing trashcan near Mr. Kiwi’s watermelons and feel the ocean’s ecstatic power. My eyes fill with grateful tears. I am alive I am alive I am alive. God bless America.

But no, that is not my eureka moment. That moment comes the next morning after I wake up feeling sad and dyspeptic again and am dismayed to find that yesterday’s blessed burst of enlightenment hadn’t carried over to Day 2 of the rest of my life. “WTF?” (Wistar Murray). I realize that I’ll need to restart the process from scratch, perhaps with a quiet sit or 500 more inspirational quotes. Because it’s hit me that happiness is something you must fight to inhale every second your airways are open. It’s a book you must keep writing and reading on a continuous loop, so the kids inside it won’t lose heart. Naturally the book will never be finished. It will always be in the midst of happening. In fact it’s happening right now, at this urban intersection, while we stand together in our bathing suits and wait for the light to change.

Minor improvements on the Space/Time Directory

This morning I read about the New York Public Library’s Space/Time Directory, an interactive Google map that will employ historical data to walk users through a virtual Manhattan of yore. This is a terrific idea, and I should know because I thought of it way back in 2008 when I was snorting amphetamines, day-trading away millions of dollars, and decoding the lyrics to Britney Spears’s “Womanizer.” [I was a happy housewife at the time, but my internal biography reads more like David Carr’s (RIP).]

Granted, my idea was a little more inchoate than the one with a $380,000 grant and the full support of the NYPL juggernaut behind it. Let the historical record show that I wasn’t envisioning a simulated time machine for New York City alone, which would have been a good place to start. I was thinking of one for all of human civilization (much harder to beta test). I imagined people being able to wander digitally through their neighborhoods 200 years prior to see what the land looked like back then. Or, if their homes were standing 50 years ago, they could virtually knock on doors to see who lived in them. They could look at photographs and read diary entries, birth certificates, obituaries, etc., of the people who once inhabited those domiciles. And while all this historical data was being explored, contributors would be populating the present moment with the same material, so people could rest assured that they’d exist in time and space long after they were gone, even if they hadn’t left behind a bestselling memoir or a compelling Twitter feed or something.

But this is basically what the NYPL plans to do. The Space/Time Directory is an aggregator of information, information that is then applied to an interactive atlas in limitless layers. It’s a way of taking everyone’s photos, documents, and personal histories and bringing them back to life in one interactive organism. The directory has the potential to revolutionize the entire concept of the past. I foresee people moving to the S/TD (ha) like they moved to Second Life, and watching their great-grandparents grow up as avatars.

Which is all well and good, but I have my own system-wide improvements to propose to the NYPL:

1) Once you’ve compiled the history, so the entire human journey is contained within a single computer program, hit the button that will determine whether or not any of it makes any fucking sense.

2) Let’s say it does make sense. Then you can build an algorithm! Out of math. And the algorithm will give S/TD users the option of messing things up in the past and consequently changing the future, a la Marty McFly. I imagine this will be a fun learning experience for the kids, so they’ll stop putting their grubby little fingers all over everything.

3) Include astronomical data so we can know what the moon was doing at the exact moment of our conception and we won’t have to pay our astrologers so much money.

4) Make cemeteries interactive so zombies actually pop up when you scroll over graves.

5) When your users click on a virtual movie theater in the distant past, they should be able to watch the films that were showing at the time. When your users click on a virtual bookstore that’s since gone out of business, they should be able to read digital versions of the books that sold best on the shelves. That would be the way to attract nerds, as if nerds weren’t the only people cruising the past anyway.

6) Other entities that should be in the Space/Time Directory: dogs, bugs, extinct mammals, Best Buy phone booths.

7) The S/TD as conceptualized by the NYPL has 4D but if we could step it up to at least 5D then we could see different universes that might have arisen in human history and they might be awesome and this whole project might merge into World of Warcraft oh my god.

8) I suspect that 6D might just be pornography and very few people want to see their great-grandparents having sex. But I’m not an astrophysicist. In this non-computer-generated life, anyway.

9) My head is exploding my head is exploding. The implications of this technology are infinite! If only I were a little smarter and could think of everything! But I’m all jacked up on speed (spinach frittata) and history is moving too fast into the future. I’ll come back to this later.

A word on public toilets

I once stood in a bathroom line for 25 minutes at a Starbucks near Central Park, only to have a European woman barge in front of me holding her child’s hand when I was next to go. “My little girl she has to tinkle,” the woman said. “She will wet her pants. Please can we go first?” I gave them my coveted spot, and I’m pretty sure they both used the toilet while they were in there. Or perhaps just the woman used the toilet because the kid had no bladder urgency whatsoever and had only been classically trained in the peepee dance.

Imagine giving a $5 bill to a homeless woman on the street because she’s holding a baby in her lap and the baby’s face is all grubby and sad, and you assume that your $5 will buy the baby some medicine for her drippy nose, then you find out later that the homeless woman actually lives in a penthouse apartment in Tribeca and earlier that day she’d smudged expensive chocolate into her baby’s cheeks right before bundling them both into rags for the sole purpose of extorting $5 of sympathy money out of you. Well, I would think better of that woman than someone who cuts in front of me in the bathroom line of a Manhattan Starbucks falsely using her child’s bladder as an excuse. She might as well flush all my good will down the toilet with her five lunchtime martinis.

That is a lengthy preamble to my point: anyone familiar with New York City knows how precious a commodity a commode can be when you’re walking around, which is most of the time. I have bought unnecessary cups of coffee, bottles of water, and once even a cheeseburger to earn the exalted privilege of using a Manhattan business’s restroom. There are no public johns anywhere. It really sucks. And if you do manage to find one, it’s probably disgusting because Lavatory Grinches steal the toilet paper, soap, and toilet seats. If they could steal the water out of the bowl, they’d probably do that, too. The real reason that native New Yorkers don’t watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve in Time’s Square isn’t because it’s cold outside and the whole thing is kind of dumb, but because they know that if they have to pee at any point during the evening, they will never be able to thanks to Manhattan’s egregious restroom deficit.

Which brings me to Miami. [OMG a white sailboat is passing by right now OMG] I took a jog along a beach trail this morning and counted no less than seven public restrooms. And I don’t tend to jog very far. In Miami, toilets are everywhere for the taking. They’re so prolific that not once in my first week here have I ever felt the need to urinate. It’s as if the bathrooms come to ME, saying, “In five minutes you might have to pee, so why don’t you take a load off now as a preemptive measure?” and I’m like, “Thanks, I think I’ll take you up on that,” and then it turns out I DID have to pee, but it just wasn’t urgent yet because the nerve pathways between my bladder and my brain are so retarded (until they’re not), but that’s okay because the bathrooms here totally bypass those nerve pathways and sense my body’s yearnings before cognition. And they’re really nice bathrooms! Only once have I gotten the sense that I was interrupting gay beach sex when I arrived to do my business. The hand dryers are modern, the TP is fully stocked, you look tan and beautiful in the mirror, and after you pee you kind of want to hang out until you have to pee again. But you don’t because you know that the next sunlit bathroom will be even better. I’ve never seen so many doors marked WOMEN in my entire life.

I can’t get over how different this is from New York. The palm trees and the blue-green ocean and the short pants are all wonderful, of course, but I could also see them on a Jumbotron in Times Square. If I looked hard enough, I might find an authentic Cuban sandwich in Manhattan. But the wealth of public restrooms is what distinguishes this city from its northern rivals. That and Gloria Estefan. But she has no need for brick and mortar facilities. She just uses the ocean, like a starfish.

Cooking with Butter

“Who are the real writers?” asks the author of Cooking with Butter (unpublished 2012, 2013). What are they cooking with? What superior foods lubricate their baking dishes and frying pans? How do they manage to flavor without butter, my accent ingredient?

Is it wrong to obsess about the cookbooks of other authors? What makes them so great? Maybe it’s better to stir fry with sunflower oil. Or with bacon fat. But aren’t we all driving for the same result, the same sensual pleasure? Do we even need multiple flavors in the kitchen? Our cakes will crumble like the Tower of Babel. Eventually all tastes congeal into the same sordid substance. We rarely die with a book in our hands or food on our lips.

Do I honestly think that I can churn out butter like no one before me? Is it inherently selfish to want people to handle my recipes? To desire cravenly that my dishes find a wider audience? Does my cookbook by definition make me an egomaniac? Should I just execute these recipes for my own consumption instead of writing them down and sharing them with the world? Does butter need to be at-large? Should I skip the writing process altogether and just eat this dairy product in its purest form, congealed, with a spoon, from a bowl, in the dark? After all, recipes are always one remove from real food. My cookbook is not butter. You cannot eat it. The only nourishment it may provide is in culinary translation.

I should blog more frequently about butter. I should use social media to hype this essential ingredient. I’m going to start tweeting about my recipes. They’re edible, which means they should be publicized. Butter deserves a full-time hustler. Everyone needs to see how I put food together. Everyone needs to know the taste in my mouth.

Strike that. Sadly, no one is living or dying by my pompous butter recipes. Plus, what if my readers try them out and the butter malfunctions, like the fat operates differently in their personal skillets? And then I’d have to deal with the shame, the remainders.

Oh butter, maybe it’s better we pretend you don’t exist in my refrigerator. I cannot cook you so you’re righteous and savory with every meal. Only sometimes in the dead of night, or when I’m driving alone for long stretches, becoming one with my laden arteries, do I feel that I’m doing something right in the kitchen.

Dropping the f-bomb in labor & delivery

If you are in the midst of having a baby, I am perhaps not the *best* person to accompany you into labor & delivery, but I am also not the *worst*. For instance, some people are psychotic. Some people have Ebola. When you invite me into your labor & delivery room, you can expect my behavior to be generally innocuous. I might panic and press the nurse’s call button when you stand to stretch your legs. I might be a little too interested in the snacks meant to keep your strength up. And I might keep gravitating toward your birthing jacuzzi because I’ve been under a lot of stress lately. But I am also super invested in making your birthing experience a beautiful one.

Even though the labor & delivery security band on my wrist entitles me to “free drinks” in the cafeteria upstairs, I will not start thinking of the hospital as an exclusive nightclub where “anything goes” because I have an “all-access pass.” I will not keep flashing my wristband to family members in the maternity ward lobby who are not in possession of wristbands, for I would hate for them to feel self conscious about not making the cut. I will not start thinking of the nurses as “bouncers”  who “know me.” When asked how things are going beyond the security doors, I will not insinuate that there are mysteries occurring in labor & delivery that those without wristbands could never understand, and I will not compare my birthing room privileges to being backstage at a Jay-Z concert, drinking champagne with Beyonce and Blue Ivy while everyone else is getting their flasks confiscated in the cheap seats, because childbirth is a miracle and the miracle is not how cool I am all of a sudden.

I will not swear more than 50 times in front of your newborn. I will not blog about your private parts. (Even though no one reads this blog so it might be kind of liberating to have your vagina on here.)

But I will worship the ground you walk on for a long time to come. And I will wear my all-access wristband until the nurses turn on me and insist on cutting it off. They’ll take these precautions before I get carried away with love and try to steal your baby. At this point the bouncers know me all too well.

Welcome to the world, little nephew. I hope you dig crazy aunts. xo

 

Let’s talk more science, okay

Because I went to art school, I understand how science works. When I’m zipping around Brooklyn trying to find a communal apartment so I can regress to my twenties and I walk into a duplex where a potential roommate is cooking up some body wax on the stove top because he’s about to strip off all his chest hair in order to make more money go-go dancing, I immediately recognize the chemical processes involved. And I make hypotheses.

But also there are real scientists out there doing awesome experiments like “What Would Happen if We Created a Mouse Utopia?” and “Maybe Lead Poisoning Is Responsible for Juvenile Delinquency Let’s Check That Out,” so I discard all my own research (“Do I Have Heartburn? Is This What Heartburn Feels Like?”) and just concentrate on supplementing their findings.

1) The mouse utopia/dystopia. Move a colony of mice into a “heaven” of your own manufacture and watch them breed until they refuse to breed further because they’re so depressed by overpopulation. Watch them have total meltdowns because they can’t find meaningful social roles. Watch them join OkCupid. Watch them fill scores of composition books with their jaded musings. Watch them wither and die. Watch me preside over their ornate burial services because mice are so funny and cute.

2) The lead poisoning hypothesis. Take inner-city living conditions that are already miserable and unforgiving and add neurological toxins. Watch how your children turn out. Watch how they’re hobbled by poverty, prejudice, and coordinates before they even have a chance to sample Earth’s full range of venom. Watch how they turn to a life of crime because the lead has deteriorated the myelin in their brains. Watch me chug this Big Gulp full of vintage gasoline because both of these theories are so discouraging.

On the surface the two studies have little in common–one is about mice and one is about crime–but popular science drives readers to make grandiose conclusions about the demise of humanity so we can feel smarter when we’re mingling by the cheese table at parties. Both studies want to prove (confirmation bias) that there are good reasons we’re falling apart. There are too many mice in the cage! There are too many toxic fumes in the baby’s crib! I am secretly a dolphin! Root vegetables cause blindness! Hirsute go-go dancers make twice as many tips! [It is frustrating when I can’t be serious for five goddamn minutes. My fellow scientists are trying to get me moved to another laboratory.]

And the lead poisoning article is somewhat problematic, as you might imagine. It’s just too elegant and its conclusions too costly to taxpayers. But who would dare question the study on rodent/human malaise, wherein:

Lone females retreated to isolated nesting boxes on penthouse levels. Other males, a group Calhoun termed “the beautiful ones,” never sought sex and never fought—they just ate, slept, and groomed, wrapped in narcissistic introspection.

And who, for that matter, would dare stop me from building my own rat castle, where the walls are painted in Pb(CH2CH3)4 compounds and I’ve isolated for variables such as some rats having a bigger “babe quotient” than other rats? And what about if I put a pea under every rat mattress and then the experiment was also a fairy tale? And what if we are all going to die alone and dystopic anyway so ultimately this study proves nothing? And what about that time I got kind of drunk and tried to do science? What about that? I can’t wait to replicate these results tomorrow night and the next. Sleep well, rat kingdom. Don’t eat my face.

“What Am I Thinking of?

My little brother recently came home from eight months in Australia with a new game. It’s called “What Am I Thinking of?” and it seems poised on the brink of bridging the tragic divide between human skulls. With this game you can finally penetrate the consciousness of your fellow man. It’s the most exhilarating science I’ve seen in years. The game goes like this:

Player 1: What am I thinking of?

Player 2: Seahorses.

Player 1: No, Roman columns.

Player 2: Shit.

Normally I hate games, but I had fun with this one because it was so easy to sabotage. “What Am I Thinking of?” is the sort of game that breaks down when you can’t trust your partner to tell you honestly what he’s thinking of. It also thrives on creativity and randomness, which is why the following exchanges were so enjoyable:

Me: What am I thinking of? (eating bacon)

Brother: Genghis Khan.

Me: No, bacon.

&

Me: What am I thinking of? (holding my brother’s face in my hands)

Brother: All Quiet on the Western Front.

Me: No, your face.

Brother: You suck at this game.

Keep in mind that we played “What am I thinking of?” en famille on Christmas morning, so what I was actually thinking was “I am so goddamn lonely” and “My entire life is an exercise in shame and futility.” But joke’s on them because I’m also a cheater!

My brother says the closest he’s ever come to winning this game is when he guessed “London” when his friend was thinking “Dublin.” Evidently some sort of Jungian collective unconscious was in play here. Or the boys were simultaneously reading a map of the United Kingdom. In any case I’m encouraged that two people can read each other’s minds even to this dyslexic degree. They were trying to know each other, and it’s the effort—not the science—that counts.

Me: What am I thinking of? (porn porn Roy Orbison porn dogs champagne)

You: How dark and inaccessible you are.

Me: Congratulations, you win. Game over.

Snowflake tech support

Last night my sister’s husband and I stared at a stack of white paper, trying to figure out how to turn it into snowflakes. I had folded one sheet into squares, and my very handy brother-in-law was probably a minute away from making an origami buffalo. Fortunately his mother called. In June she’d retired from a long career as an elementary schoolteacher, and on a day when elementary schools were on everyone’s mind, she’d wanted to hear her son’s voice. “Mom, I’ve got a question for you….” And so began fifteen minutes of snowflake tech support.

First off, paper snowflakes are made from circles, and not squares or triangles, which would have been my next guess. Second, they’re a pain in the ass, and the children who succeed in making attractive ones in these weeks leading up to Christmas have my boundless respect. Third, don’t eat from a gift barrel of popcorn while you’re making these snowflakes because orange fingerprints devalue the product. Fourth, find something that you’re good at, like tracing circles around a greasy bowl, and then let someone else, like maybe your brother-in-law, do the creative scissor-work.

No two snowflakes are the same, right? In last night’s case, that’s not because they were all so beautiful, but because they were all butchered in their own unique fashion. The project reminded me of the holiday season three years ago, when my siblings and their future spouses took turns chopping wood for my mom’s fireplace, one of my dad’s old jobs. (My job, of course, was and remains sitting quietly and staying well-hydrated amidst a flurry of manual labor.) And forget about snowflakes for a second: when you chop firewood, when you really hack into it, the logs are never severed in the same way. Each one splits down a different axis and forms a new carnival of splinters. It’s both random and devastatingly specific how things fall apart.

I guess it’s okay to have metaphors for things like grief and loss. But pictures and stories are also a method of being passive, which is a personal characteristic I’m ashamed of, especially when the world is in such dire need of action. When you see a fire, and it’s devouring paper and wood alike, it’s hard to think that anything you say or do is going to alter the course of the flames. You keep trying to create beauty that might be redemptive somehow, but your scissors are dull and there are three delicious kinds of popcorn in the barrel and screw snowflakes anyway because they don’t burn as long as all the dead trees.

I would’ve liked to have left the arts and crafts meditation to the little kids tonight, but I sort of know what they would say. “Keep cutting until there’s almost nothing left. Cut on all sides. Cut everywhere, until you can barely see the paper, until the snowflake is a window. When I grow up I’m going to change the world.”

This whole question of sincerity

As if sincerity is something that needs to be defended. Life is hard and sad and wonderful people die all the time. This is why we must make jokes. Like yesterday I cut open my knuckle trying to stab some ice loose with a corkscrew, and then I bled all over the baby I was playing with. The baby was laughing, and then he was soaked in my blood, and I had to go fetch a cold sponge in order to deal with the stains. And that is something we do all the time by accident—bleed on the babies—but you can either feel bad about it forever or resume singing little songs and burying your face in the baby’s warm, ticklish skin. In the back of your mind, you know that the game now smells like a slaughterhouse, but the jokes are dear. The jokes are good.