Abstinence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder


     I thought I was a minimalist, totally opposed to the gluttony of empty consumerism. I’d strut through America’s cavalcade of commercial excess, my nose held high above the stench of my fellow K-Mart shoppers, disdainful of their impulse buys and their conspicuous Biebermania. Was I the one buying Pumpkin Spice Tylenol and Calvin Klein Cheerios? Was I loading up on 4-D smart TVs and jet ski hot tubs like the rest of the cud chewers? No. I was a celibate shopper, untainted by manufactured desire. I was in a state of Buddhist transcendence, impervious to Hollywood trailers or viral marketing for instant pudding. I lived with blissful nothingness.


Howdy Duty

      Among the phone-drone German citizens huddled on the train platform, there is the Hello Guy. He never boards the S-Bahn with the rest; he just wanders the station, grinning vacantly and greeting everyone.

     “Hallo! Guten Tag! Hallo!”


Irony Deficiency

     There’s an old joke about the citizens of Deutschland that goes like this:

          How many Germans does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

          One. They’re very efficient and they have no sense of humor.

     The problem with indulging in completely accurate bigotry of this sort is that someone always presents exceptions to this blanket condemnation and ruins our fun of concluding that all Germans are uptight assholes. Usually someone on Twitter.


Home of the Crave


     There is, as we know, an idealized vision of European life held in the imagination of the average American Chomsky reader. Suave, French and Italian intellectuals in their stylish scarves, skimming through Sartre in sun-dappled cafes, sipping espressos, their heads full of historical and cultural knowledge, smug in their easily-affordable healthcare and 16 weeks of annual vacation. Well, I hate to break it to you little Medieval Poetry majors, but this vision is entirely true. Based on my experience, just sitting among these subdued Euros can make a Portland denizen want to break down in sweet, liberal tears (like the snowflakes we are). Where do they get off, these little multi-lingual sophisticates, secure in their rich cultural history and tasteful fashions while we’ve had to endure the Disney-fied inanities and jackbooted puritanism of our 24-hour, drive-thru, infotainment, megachurch, celebrity-porn, Super Bowl lifestyles?


Sugar Lush

     Certain ideas just seem to come out of nowhere when I first wake up in the morning. I rise from the depths of slumber, rubbing my swollen eyelids, and suddenly think to myself, “Is Kitty Carlisle still alive?” And then I can’t get on with my day until I’ve Googled.


I Shutter to Think

     We weren’t going to Disney World, that’s for sure. We weren’t going to Hersheypark, Mt. Rushmore, Graceland, or that weird Flintstones village in South Dakota. We weren’t even going to the nearest Stuckey’s. There would be no road tripping. My father was agoraphobic, and travel was considered too dangerous or, at the very least, upsetting to the nervous system. There would be strange parking lots he had never negotiated before and unfamiliar financial rituals with people he didn’t recognize from church. There could be accents unfamiliar, accidental detours into the “bad part of town,” and many disorienting decisions requiring road maps and travel guides.


The Date Valentino

     Valentine’s Day, 1995. The wife and I were dining in an upscale restaurant in downtown Savannah. It was the sort of place that intimidated regular drive-thru consumers like us by presenting a variety of long-stemmed glasses on the table, subliminally suggesting that we purchase wine. We decided on the most expensive bottle so as not to look like the uncultured cretins we were. At this early stage of our lives, we were unaccustomed to food establishments that didn’t serve their poultry in nugget form. We had actually eaten at Wendy’s on our wedding day the previous year. It had been a happily lowbrow romance. But this was Valentine’s Day, after all, so splurging on the finer things was in order. What’s a little more crippling credit card debt when celebrating true love?


My Brother Went to Heaven and All I Got Were These Lousy T-Shirts

     My brother was a man of vision, a man with a plan. Before his untimely demise, David Holt had announced new get-rich-quick schemes on a weekly basis, and almost all of them involved t-shirts. This made sense, seeing as he was a graphics guy. What made even more sense for Dave was to coerce his younger brother into creating the actual t-shirt designs, seeing as I was also a graphics guy and much smaller and weaker than him. In David’s view, the t-shirt was the most dependable bait when looking to lure cash from the general public’s wallets. Sports graphics, Christmas gags, event souvenirs, or just a sly double-entendre in Futura Bold, my brother knew whatever the public found amusing or inspiring, they wanted printed on a t-shirt.  It was difficult to argue with this conclusion, but, tired of being muscled into his shirt-selling schemes, I tried anyway.


Work Geek

     I knew a girl in high school who worked a variety of mall jobs. First she worked in a chain store called The Petite Sophisticate (known in mall-shopper parlance as “The Little Bitch”), then she worked in the Spencer Gifts next door, and finally wound up down the hall at the Peanut Shack. She and I began to refer to this career maneuver as “moving left in the world.”


Old Vice

     As of this writing, I have reached the age of fifty. Old age is rapidly approaching, like the speeding of a comet destined to wipe out the woolly mammoth, which I suppose in this case is a metaphor for bone density or something. I’m too old to care if I’m writing good.


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Will Work for Fools


     During high school, in the depths of the 1980’s, my friend Gnat got a job working at the Guitar Exchange. It was a local retail establishment, a music shop about the size of a storage shed, which served as a hangout for teenage stoners with Van Halenian aspirations. Gnat being just such a guitar-shredding, heavy metal acolyte, this seemed the perfect environment for him to pretend to be gainfully employed.


The Accidental Purist

     Gnat showed up in a van he said he’d been driving for two weeks, but it looked like he’d owned it for twenty years. It was covered with dents, dirt and debris on the outside, and the interior contained fossil layers of convenience store and Burger King refuse, covering the once-pristine upholstery. He’d driven this monstrosity to visit me while I was pretending to get a college education in Savannah. In a weak moment of nostalgia for our hobo high school years, I had invited this dumpster diver to spend a few days with me in my new apartment. I was taken aback by his malodorous condition.


The Known Unknown

My math teacher, Mr. Pseudonym, gave us some fatherly advice back in 1984. He accessed the collective intelligence of the assembled hopeless in his classroom and said, “The older you get the more you realize how stupid you are.”

Thinking this might be on the test, I wrote it down next to my ballpoint drawings of exploding robots, in a notebook otherwise devoid of scholarship, and went back to my sketching. I’m sure he felt compelled to give this advice to us because we were in summer school, which, for the uninitiated, was required of students who had flunked a class or three the previous year so they and their lazy, drug-addled brains might advance to the next grade. It wasn’t exactly a think tank.


Invasion of the Body Rockers

     You missed the Eurovision Song Contest. I know you missed it because, if you’re reading this, you’re most likely an American. And last Saturday you were watching reruns of Mama’s Family or barbequing Hot Pockets or shopping for plastic tumblers at Walgreens or some other typical American activity, while all of Europe and affiliated nations were glued to their state-sponsored televisions, watching Eurovision. Shops and offices closed so they could gape at this multi-billion-Euro musical extravaganza, a cornucopia of pop music, with enough sequin-festooned glitz to make Liberace wince, and you weren’t invited.


The Cars That Go Boom

     I’ve seen my share of accidents along this dangerous stretch of I-85 in upstate South Carolina. What I wasn’t fortunate enough to witness myself has been conveniently photographed and printed on the front page of the Gaffney Ledger. I’ve seen tractor-trailers overturned, crushing unsuspecting convertibles and sporty hatchbacks. I’ve seen minivans ripped in half by trains. I’ve seen delivery trucks dislodged of their fruit pie deliveries by the sudden appearance of unlucky white-tailed bucks. But I can honestly say this was the first time I’ve seen a car entirely engulfed in flames.


Irregular Joe

     As should be obvious by my reflective bloggery and general childishness, I am of the Nostalgia Geek Generation, those early Gen Xers whose lives revolve around the pop culture they ingested as kids. I’m not proud of it. I’ve long been critical of those who overindulge in pop culture junk and fall victim to the nostalgia-based marketing of Hollywood, K-Tel, Cartoon Network and Pez. I stick my nose high in the air as they stuff their juvenile craniums with Scrappy Doo and Gilligan reruns, Transformers movies and the oxymoronic Essential Marvel Team-Up reprints. But sometimes I am weak. Sometimes those bastards hit me right where I live and recycle a favorite childhood token that I can’t resist. They did it with the Ultraman ’66 DVD set, they did it with the Captain Atom/Blue Beetle/Question Archives, and now they’ve really done it with Hasbro’s reissue of the 1974 Adventure Team GI Joes in all their kung-fu gripping glory.


A Few Beer’s Resolution

     There seems to be a psychological trifecta in the American holiday season, not unlike the Stages of Grief or the twelves steps of Hollywood networking (aka AA). On Thanksgiving, we show our gratitude for the bounty of hot tubs and elective surgeries we have available to us with a traditional feasting of the gravy-laden. Having properly thanked Papa Jehovah for our gruesome overindulgence, Christmas unleashes a bacchanal of retail consumption for which we may be thankful the following year (especially the eternal blessings of refunds and exchanges). And after all this thankfulness and further greed-a-palooza, we have New Year’s, in which we promise to never, ever do it again. 


The Music is Reversible, But Time is Not

Like so many other podunk dirt farmers of their generation, my newlywed parents were eager to leave behind their rural childhoods of chicken beheadings and outhouse hosings and embrace the dream of 1950’s suburbia. They had visions of two-door Frigidaires, multi-speed cuisinarts and full-color Philcos in a ranch-style Levittown castle. There would be backyard barbecues and baseball practice, birthday piñatas on the patio and late-night cocktail parties with boisterous neighbor couples. This last shindig would require the feature every suburban dweller knew he couldn’t live without: the hi-fi.