The Nu-Metal Classics

Fort Wayne’s 98.9 THE BEAR writes that it’s the city’s only ROCK station in all capital letters. Its website features a “Babe of the Day,” which doesn’t seem Indiana-specific but looks more like hastily copied-and-pasted photos from the first images in a porn set. The station’s top DJ is named “John the Mexican.” In his photo he’s wearing a sombrero, but, though I may get into hot water by determining a person’s ethnicity based purely on facial features, he sure looks like a white guy.

Hard rock is what I started listening to as soon as middle school began. I say “Hard” rock, but it’s not hard. It’s not like the suburban Midwest was playing GG Allin or Black Flag. Everything in suburbia is hard like Daughtry is hard. My mom and my after-school tutor were both American Idol fans and nearly every week had to have a short discussion about how different Daughtry was, and how they liked him despite being such a rocker! He has a wallet chain! He has a bald head (on purpose)! He has tattoos, and tattoos are crazy and different and not a thousand-year old establishment. I raised my nose at them. I did a “Nyugh!” and went back upstairs.

Even within the couple of years that I stopped listening to Suburban Dad Rock I instantly recognized my failings. Neither of my parents are musically inclined. I don’t say that to criticize or anything, they just never had music on. They had records, sure, but their latest (and, hilariously, greatest) was Bruce Willis’s The Return of Bruno. If I wanted an album to listen to as I anxiously paced in my bedroom, it was Radio Disney or Weird Al Yankovic or borrowing one of my sister’s *NSync CDs and attempting to judge the thing on its own merits. So when I learned there was music out there for adults, assumedly, and not just for kids, I eagerly downloaded every post-grunge nu-metal song from Kazaa that I could find. Yeah, Kazaa. In case I didn’t mention it, I am an exceptionally old man and this was the turn of the century.

The first thing anyone remembers about the 2000s is 9/11. I hate to bring it up, but it’s something defining and is more concrete than just a fluttery literary notion. The fall of 2000 had a silly, embarrassing presidential election, but it didn’t matter until the chickens came home to roost. A lot of music was written in the wake of the attack. Some of it was peaceful and earnest. A very tiny minority of it was thoughtful. The vast majority of it was angry at no definable source, though generally assumed to be a girl instead of rightful culprit the elimination of the Glass-Steagall Act, and hysterically patriotic. That was nu-metal in 2003. Think of a naked obese man draped in an American flag who, when sitting on his couch, smells and feels Dorito dust rising from the cushions, and loudly grunts obscenities when reaching for the remote. By 2007 he gives up, collapses, masturbates, and falls asleep. Popular music is still popular music, but I do think we’ve gotten better.

It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to the hits 98.9 THE BEAR played back in 2003 and assuredly still plays today (because the station is garbage). Maybe I’ve been too harsh. Maybe my personal life is too tied up in tastes and experiences to look at popular culture with an objective eye. Maybe “shut up and turn off your brain!” really is a legitimate response to people who pay attention to things. Maybe it’s just been eleven years and I want to see how much I’ve really changed.

Here are the number one U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks of the year of our Lord two-thousand-and-three.

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When You Stay a Christian in College

“Anybody, any denomination, it doesn’t matter if they’re a rabbi or a cleric, you know, when they tell their sermons, you know. They do one every week, and they run out of material pretty quickly. They’ve gotta fuckin’ force in that Isaiah 4:13 in there, so they’ve all got this bullshit story about…

‘You know, uh, last Wednesday I was at the mall with my young niece and some of her skateboarding friends.’

And I’m like, alright, well, alright. You know it’s bullshit. He made something up about skateboarding.

‘Um, hey father? I’m a skateboarder and stuff and I love crazy punk music, but is there a place in Heaven for me?’

You know, whatever. It’s just crap.  It’s lies. It’s just like any politician with his fake story about people you never see.

‘I was in Flint, Michigan last week and a young lady came up to me and said ‘Senator, because of your opponent’s policies, I could not afford Christmas dinner and I was forced to eat my own eyeballs.’’

-          David Cross, “If Baseballs Had AIDS on Them”, Shut Up You Fucking Baby!

“Can I be baptized?”

I asked this in the bathtub. My mother stopped washing my back to ask why, what prompted the question. I told her about the man on the TV who touched his palm to a woman’s forehead and she collapsed, and either I wanted to be baptized to avoid collapsing or I wanted to be baptized to collapse out of happiness. I was supposed to be doing homework, likely math problems, when I saw it. The early 80s-made nine-inch TV in my bedroom was mostly used to play Earthworm Jim, but when I did homework I’d turn to actual programming. Most of the time I heard Home Improvement, and sometimes I heard World Championship Wrestling, but the night before my bath I turned to the televangelists’ station.

I sat on the edge of my bottom bunk bed and peeked over the arms folded on my knees to keep watching.

“Yes, I think we can arrange that,” my mother said.

“I prophesy and know all mysteries

All hidden things are opened up to me

But I don’t know the first thing about love

I don’t know the first thing about love”

-          Thrice, “Moving Mountains, The Alchemy Index Vols. III & IV: Air & Earth

How to Stay Christian in College was given to me around my high school graduation but I didn’t read it until this summer.

From: Pastor Dale & Catherina

“With our love, prayers, and God-speed as you graduate from high school!”

June 9, 2007

Matthew 19:26

For years it was on the pile. By the time I had my own apartment, I was angry at it. It’s spent its years in the closet of the spare room on top of devotionals and old Game Informers. I knew this book was going to make me mad. It made me mad. I sat on a bench at Winthrop Lake surrounded by dragonflies and goose shit with a blue pen to annotate on my own for the first time.

J. Budziszewski is a professor of government at the University of Texas, Austin. He sells graduating high schoolers fear. There is no beautiful prose in How to Stay Christian in College. There is no heart to it, just a screaming ruleset that blares like the fake bugle from electronic speakers on the tops of buildings at boy scout camp once the camps got too big and everyone’s explorations were replaced with schedules. Every metaphor is war-like. “Under attack” and “defend yourself” and “sword and shield.” There are endless stated facts without citations, without explanation. This is the way it ought to be because I say so. We can never be sure why God wants it to be this way, He just does. No, don’t ask that. No, don’t think that. No, stop wondering. Stop being that committed. Stop sending me links to the Gospel of Judas. If you’re going to read The Da Vinci Code, make sure you read it in a church.

Budziszewski sells fear not because he profits too greatly from it, but because he himself is afraid, as I am, as we all are. Fear makes good servants to the Lord. And good servants do, sometimes, have good wisdom. I am not above complimenting the book on its truths.

“Build new interests and attachments in a careful, discerning way.” True!, I write, agreeing that a rigorous moral code avoids basic college pratfalls.

“The early Christians risked death and torture for their faith.” True!, I write, even though he didn’t provide sufficient evidence or sources. That seems to be common knowledge.

“Jesus Christ was the Son of God.” True!, I write. Budziszewski has all the answers. He knows the right interpretation in every context. He knows that Jesus was as much God as he was human, despite other theories. He knows the Bible has been perfectly translated, word-for-word, in the past two thousand years. He knows. I don’t know. I have my guesses. I don’t think any of my guesses make me damned.

“I’ll spend almost the same amount of time on general and girl myths, but on guy myths my comments will be about 50 percent longer because guys take more convincing.”

“If sex is only for marriage, sexual arousal must be too.”

“They say, ‘But what if we plan to never have children?’ Sorry, unless you’re biologically incapable, never is not an option. God commands spouses to be fruitful and multiply.”

-          J. Budziszewski, How to Stay Christian in College

Budziszewski wants control but he doesn’t know he wants it. He can’t see the world any other way. If gays can marry he sees a world similar but doomed to sin, but he can’t even perceive of a world where straight people see gay people get married and no one bats an eye. There is always a war, always a cause, always a reason to metaphorically and, eventually, literally ram a man’s head into the broad side of a tree. This isn’t for him. He loves God. I know he does! He has the most basic concept, he has the essentials. Here is the story. Here are the verses. Here is a worldview that is inclusive and universal.

Is he a cheat? Is he a liar? Is he a fraud? He probably isn’t, or at least it would surprise me. He’s not the right hand of God, the chosen one to explain everything sternly, perfectly. He’s the right hand of society. He’s the right hand of men who cheat on their wives with every secretary in the office and of men who accumulate great wealth by using churches to sell their books and of men who accumulate great wealth by using wars to sell their bombs. The poor man wrote his book with all the sincerity of his heart. He’s grown now. He probably won’t make radical lifestyle changes in the next thirty-odd years.

I can’t sleep at night because of J. Budziszewski. I am J. Budziszewski. Some part of me is still overconfident and underprepared and eager for fulfillment. Some summer nights I stay up late and whisper to myself plans on how to fix things and how to make the world right and I forget that God comforts me. Some nights verses I remind myself of help me fall asleep. Those keep me alive and nodding my head, but they don’t actively fix anything. With Jesus a believer can survive anything. That doesn’t make the world a better place.

I called a girl “bossy” at the same time I admitted to crushing on her. As a bonafide child of God in the most classically How to Stay Christian in College sense she probably expected it. But she was a person, too, and nothing about that year went well for me.

“See, war is horrible. I’m generally against war. I didn’t even really enjoy my time in service, I just did it to get by. But sometimes there’s a proper reason. I mean, Pearl Harbor…how do you not go to war over that?”

-           My dad, to me, 1-3 years ago

“They just have to understand their place.”

          My dad, to his friend, about the Iraq War, at the beach cottage around 10 years ago.

My dad is sick with a sore throat while I write this. Get well soon, Dad.

My dad laughs at me when I express a viewpoint. He giggles a little, in an arrogant way that isn’t a real belly laugh, and might snort his nose once. I stopped telling my parents these things some time ago. The serious topics, religion or politics or what to do with guys who abuse animals, illicit giggles and snorts. No one ever tries to convince me of anything. There isn’t data, no, not even rhetoric. Old Southern women who get their news from failing newspapers and AM radio but love you with all of their hearts ask questions and then get upset when you try to give them the answers you thought they were seeking.

My parents taught me to be kind to others so I try and be kind to others while they say life is actually getting the hardest for us white people. My parents taught me to never fight so I take every little beating while they point fingers at fast food restaurant employees who run out of napkins. My parents taught me to run when I fear for my own safety and might encounter bodily harm so sometimes I run out of the house and down the street and down the interstate and into a parking lot and lie face down until the hurt seems to go away while everyone still sits at the dinner table, full after their meals, and talks about the walking speed of Hispanics.

One Christmas Eve my Uncle Max left the candle lighting and singing ceremony to stand outside in the lobby until we had finished our program. I wanted to cry and hug him. He was welcome to join us, but he knew that if he opened his heart he wouldn’t be welcome any more.

“But…how does it feel? To just stop breathing?”

“Strange. You realize…just how much…effort…it has been…all along.”

-          Alan Moore, The Saga of the Swamp Thing #25

When I got baptized I was able to go into the back of the church and see the secret doors to the secret rooms. As a child you only had access to a few areas of a few buildings because everything else was an adult’s office or a closet. I remember changing clothes in a bathroom I had never been in before and being shocked, just shocked, that said bathroom had been kept secret from me for years. That is what I remember about washing away sin. I looked at piping of the sink.

When I was brought up from the water, very thankful that my pastor was right and I wouldn’t drown and die, I was told that my sins were forgiven and I could go through life as a new man. He was probably right. A little voice in my head told me that I’d never have to work hard again.

Another Weird Trigger for Insight

I was just the right age for the first Spider-Man film. I was twelve, maybe eleven, when Spider-Man was released at the end of my first day at a Star Wars convention. At the theater, my dad and my friend and I saw a lot of the same faces from the convention. The same sci-fi space opera nerds were also comic book geeks, which should be sort of obvious. Back in 2002 there was a really palpable enthusiasm for a superhero movie’s release. I saw a Stormtrooper take off his helmet and put on a Spidey mask. People cheered at the opening credits. I got goosebumps, partly because of their enthusiasm and partly because, even if I wasn’t alive for the forty years between Spider-Man’s introduction and his theatrical debut, I had gone back and loved him in my little span of time. Hollywood was filming the “unfilmable,” which is the same thing Hollywood said about the Lord of the Rings. Nothing’s unfilmable. Executives just try to suppress their imagination for as long as possible.

I went to a comic book club at the Fort Wayne public library when I was ten. The older kids were discussing the ins-and-outs (relatively, the utter minutia) of heroes. What they thought about ___ Crisis, or whatever. I asked if they knew anything about Pokemon and they laughed at me. That’s a totally fair response, especially in that environment. I’d do it now.

So my parents got me Marvel encyclopedias for one of my childhood birthdays. Hulk, Spidey, and the X-Men. I still have them. I remember poring over them, memorizing every character and their respective powers. I read every comic book I could get my hands on, but there were a lot of back-issues too expensive for my little allowance. Also, the 90s were a dark time and tried to be “gritty” and “adult” in ways that would offend my parents if they looked over my shoulder. So I read a lot about Cable without often having Cable issues in front of me. Did you know that one time Magneto ripped the adamantium out of Wolverine? Woah! The X-Force kills people! This picture of Mojo and his Mojoverse actually sort of scares the hell out of me!

The second X-Men film came out on a middle school band trip to St. Louis. It’s the best (was the best?) in that film series and definitely better than the first. I remember taking glances at my friends after the film’s best scenes, locking eyes and wordlessly asking them, “Are you seeing this? Can you believe they were paid millions of dollars to film this? This is so good – is this what we missed out on for not being alive in the 60s?” I saw X2 in the theater at least three more times.

What happened later in the decade is that the money got to be too much and the egos got to be too big. Executives wanted too many villains in Spider-Man 3 and dudebros got to direct X-Men movies and you tried to justify it, you tried to make it seem okay, you wanted that enthusiasm but it wasn’t really there. “Well, we have Venom now. That’s cool. Angel was in his movie for a total of four minutes and still got on the poster hanging outside. Better than nothing, right?” The movies started to suck and the directors and actors knew they sucked and everyone moved on. I remember remaining optimistic that 4 will turn it around! Spider-Man 4 will be great, X-Men 4….uh, clearly I hadn’t watched Superman 4: THE QUEST FOR PEACE.

It’s like I became resentful at every reboot announcement. Now Peter Parker isn’t a dorky anxious kid you can relate to, he’s handsome and hilarious to everyone and has no trouble – but he watched Star Wars once! The X-Men are attractive young hairless nobodies plucked from the Disney Channel, because we need people on the covers of teen magazines! Those movies aren’t bad. They’re okay. I just don’t care. I’m not overwhelmed and no one is cheering the opening credits. There are my favorite characters, doing what they do, as I have seen them do for the past 15 years, but this time it’s purely for money. Older kids don’t high-five each other walking out of the theater of The Amazing Spider-Man, they just walk back to their cars in silence, remembering almost nothing, and wait a month for the next shot. No one falls asleep in the backseat on the way home with a smile on their face.

The movie I saw tonight, X-Men: Days of Future Past, ends up justifying my theater experiences since 2000. It takes what I saw as the hairless tween nothings and weaves them into the “classic” (lol) series that got me so excited. It doesn’t leave me in the dust. It recognizes its own past, gives meaning to experience. Hell, to make sense of a lot of it you have to see the bad movies. To get the most you have to suffer through the past like I did. That’s all I’ve ever asked for: consequence. What I’m watching, reading, listening to should matter, it should have ramifications for the rest of the story. (As a complete aside, me saying “listening to” spawned a realization: I love mewithoutYou because their albums and songs establish continuity. Demon Hunter mostly sucks because they made one okay album they’ve been repeating for the past twelve years.) Sure, I’m not saying X-Men represents the highest caliber of art. It reestablishes my favorite parts of the series with time travel and retcons. Shoot a bit higher than X-Men, and for God’s sake don’t let Brett Ratner near a dead fish much less an important franchise, but try to give me the same feeling I had tonight: a smile on my face for the film I’m watching and for what I watched as a kid. I’m out of the 18-24 age bracket and am getting closer and closer to leaving 18-35, and Hollywood could ditch me for being old and constantly reboot in order to let new middle school kids standing outside the Smithfield Cinemas see the origin, new and cleansed and ready for accepting Teen Choice Awards. But with this one movie, one little two hours of my life that I’m never really going to expect, I knew my own childhood wasn’t totally whitewashed.

I’m not saying DoFP is this amazing, important experience to everyone. It’s a really good comic book movie, and if you don’t have my own history then that’s really it. It speaks to me – and that’s sort of wrong, because no one was thinking of me when they made it. They just did what came naturally, and I’ve been along for the ride for most of my life.

Y = Hope and N = Folly

The green Ford Explorer in front of him found a way to both drive too slow and stop too quickly. His eyes were level with the back of her SUV’s bumper and he took his sweet, endless time to view every sticker. Don’t Tread On Me. Dole/Kemp ’96. Calvin peeing on the homeless. And, to him, the most offensive sticker of all said “Pro-Life.”

Darkseid gripped his steering wheel with his bulky fingers, leaving an imprint on the rental car that he knew would get him into hot water with the dealership back on Apokolips. But he didn’t care about that in the moment. He was fixated on “Pro-Life” because the idea of his work being flushed down the toilet, blown to smithereens, tied to the Source Wall shook him. Millennia of self-funded research would mean nothing if the human public couldn’t settle their petty differences and appreciate his work. The Anti-Life Equation, Darkseid’s ultimate goal since locking his bedroom door and discovering his own Omega Force, would never be fully discovered and implemented if Southern Baptist women were so strongly against abortion.

This folly, this silliness of mankind that thought pro-choice meant anti-life would only delay the actual altruistic Anti-Life right around the corner. Hip girls with star tattoos and protest signs weren’t truly anti-life, and Darkseid let out a large sigh and began mumbling to himself due to his irritation. The politics weren’t focused correctly. His advisors were useless. No matter how many times he had to invade Earth or kill a superhero or alter reality, nothing stuck with these dimwitted rednecks. And the new god thought to himself, “How on old God’s green earth can I ever be the villain? I want to erase life, to anti its ever being. Is there nothing more dastardly? Are self-sufficient women so frightening?”

The light turned green, and Darkseid drove down the road, and he never ended up being the common enemy for the world to unite against. South Carolina was just too busy hating itself.

Stupid is a Term of Endearment

Here are a couple of pieces I wrote for the zine (‘zine?) Potato Jesus Quarterly. The first is in Vol. 2 Issue 3. The second is either in another issue or lost in the wind. I need to publish things. Here you go.

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Review: Bimini Run, for the Sega Genesis

“Kenji, come in. Kenji, come in. Come in, Kenji.”

Luka reached out for his blunt, but the waves were fierce on that Tuesday morning and his last little bit of happiness went sinking down to the sharks. He and Kenji had been traveling Northwest, past the isles and into the Atlantic, with no directive other than finding Kenji’s sister. Luka had been eyeing Kim for a long time, ever since she was only twelve years old. She had a pretty face then, he used to think, but surely I can wait until we’re both in college together. When she turned eighteen, Luka had been sleeping with his clients for years, but he never had the nerve to talk to her in a one-on-one encounter. How stupid, he used to think. As long as I was respectful, surely Kenji would approve.

Dr. Orca was a thorn in Luka and Kenji’s side ever since the boys arrived in the Bahamas to stay at Kenji’s dad’s timeshare. Kim first went to Orca’s offices due to her toe, having stubbed and split it on an ocean rock right past the shoreline. Orca took a liking to her then, a liking neither boy approved of. Kenji stormed out of the offices of the married doctor, while Luka trailed behind, a bit morose but otherwise perfectly high. Four days later, Kim was reported seen at the private second residence of Orca, out past all the resorts and into mostly uncharted territory.

Luka pulled himself up onto the closest sandbar. “Oh, God,” he muttered aloud after spitting up an ounce of mucus and blood. “Oh, God.” He was stranded on the sandbar for nine hours. By the time the sun had set, he dug four S.O.S. symbols into the sand, each of which had been washed away. In between his bouts of exercise, he sat at the shore and watched the sky turn into a brilliant array of purple and orange colors. His face became flushed with anger when he thought of Dr. Orca, but it eventually parlayed into a greater sadness as he thought of Kim.

Luka stopped his crying once he saw the water turn red. He knew that what had sank with the explosion was coming back to the surface, including his friend. The very next wave brought a slender hand accompanied by half an arm, ragged and sharp in the tears that separated flesh and bone. Luka reeled back and ran towards the other side of the sandbar, hoping to every deity he could imagine that Kenji was alive, even if that was his arm.

The last few minutes of Luka’s life involved running back and forth on the sandbar, realizing that everywhere he looked the enemy was approaching. Orca didn’t even care about them. Orca just thought they were stupid kids. An army of white sailboats, owned by every rich white male in the whole of Bimini, surrounded the boy. Luka closed his eyes when he heard the first crank of a minigun.

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  “Yes’m. I’ve known Ol’ Bill for many ayear now. Been to his place often atime. His wife cooks meaaaaaan apple mess, I tell you what. Oh. Oh, yes’m. Here’s what you do: Go down Bright Street ‘bout half-a-mile, take a left. You’ll know to take a left when ya see Chilly’s Biscuits – that’s the best eatin’ ‘round these parts. Then you’ll see one athose fancy-dancy neigh-bor-hoods called Sicklemore Grove comin’ up on your right. Take that right. Go down aways, past the pink house Miss Margareet built for her cats and then past the rainbow house us boys built when we rounded up all them gays, and eventually you’ll see Ol’ Bill’s place ‘bout a mile away on top of that there hill. At this time aday you might find yourself stuck behind a honkin’ yellow schoolbus, and they stop pretty frequently, be ferwarned. Anyway, the schoolbus’s last stop is the house right next to the wormhole we discovered with tha ancient and immortal god Nyarlathotep inside. Yes’m, Nyarlathotep. Bill’s buster Duck was diggin’ around in a haystack for a lost catcher’s mitt when he acc’dentally discovered a tear in space-time. Funny how the good Lord plans these things for us, ain’t it? Anyway, that rift which shatters sanity grew and grew ‘till it blocked the whole road up to Ol’ Bill’s place. You’ll hafta go through it if you want to get there, but it ain’t a problem. You’ll wantta do some breathin’ exercises in order to prepare yerself for the hideous monstros’ty that infests your mind and has caused many a young lady, such as yerself, to jam her windshield wipers through her own eyeballs. Heh. Funny what that Nyarlathotep can do, when e’rytime I’ve seen ‘im he just floats along in the endless void singin’ the song of unlife. There’s that chance you’ll make it through, though, and when you get to the top of that ahill, I’m sure Ol’ Bill will be waiting for ya with a nice pitcher of water to refresh your irrep’rbly-damaged psyche. An’ if yer really lucky, his wife will have some apple mess layin’ out on the window for ya. Yes’m, you’ll be fine. I’d go m’self but I can’t operate no motor vehicle no more after that wild chil’ o’ mine ran my back over with that aflaming chariot. It’s gonna be a great party, though, Ol’ Bill’s been talkin’ ‘bout it before church for weeks.”

Be Prepared to Bleed

I knew I existed. This confirmed it.

You would turn off the lights at something like 12:30 in the morning, and you would crawl your little body under a patterned quilt, a quilt with dark red colors arranged in diamond shapes, and as the rest of the darkness came you thought of me once or twice. Once or twice, sometimes.

And before that you would walk to supper. You would go down the spiral into Subway or you would brave crossing the street on chilly November nights and get bad fried chicken or neglected Chinese. You might have instinctively called a friend, a mother, a sibling and met them over the late meal. And somewhere between eight at night and twelve at night you would dutifully glance over your syllabi and quietly read in your bedroom, and your bedroom was either on the other side of campus or the other side of the state and I could never tell which.

I, being me, being the moderately gigantic husk of solipsism, sat at the table in the beating sun until you called me over to the bench in the shade. “Give me an adjectival.” I ran through the twelve sentence patterns and the test went well. I got an 82. What did you get? Do you remember what a modal is? I don’t!

And the letters here get smushed together and sound meaner than they should, but as much as you let me notice you you let me notice me. When I know no one I sit back and say nothing. I twiddle my thumbs in the row closest to the back row, I play with the pencil that rubs between my index and middle finger frequently enough to build a callus. No one minds disheveled old me playing with my hands. By the end of the year I have quipped just frequently enough, about insects or underwear or the duality of man, to build comfort but not admiration. Little girls climb onto top bunks and see strong arms and sugar plums and wake up at 8:45 and don’t look forward to anything in mathematics and sociology and grammar.

You, though, you would turn your head over your left shoulder every time the professor went to write something else on the whiteboard. For two months five foot nine looked above five foot or five foot one and paid attention to the gerunds and infinitives and a turned head was more brown hair in a sea of brown hair. But I was behind your left shoulder. Your tricks were among the least sly I’d ever seen, and your eyes were too large to keep passing them over. Milky white surrounded pretty brown. The orbs were directly on me; I merely looked out the corner. Perhaps there was something stuck on my face. Perhaps a tarantula had taken nest on my shoulder. Perhaps I had forgotten a key article of clothing, but there was no way, no conceivable realm of existence, no plane of spiritual enlightenment where I was attractive. Where you looked at me and kept looking at me, at first a few times a week and at last a few times a minute, because I was cute.

And when my own 12:30 nights ended with these suppositions, I tested the theory, I calculated the formula, I presented my thesis before an audience of two, because I stared at the back of your head for five minutes waiting for the peek around the left shoulder. It came.

But by then we were in December. And by the time my core had trembled I was following through with old promises to myself. My track’s momentum propelled me backward, just like I had promised, and big brown eyes to my forward-right and invitations to house parties and older self-employed women patting me below the thigh but above the knee had vanished from my sight. And we stood up from the bench in the shade and went back to our homes. Perhaps only four or five lines in the psychological drama were spoken. A Frenchman could make an experimental movie about us. Different actors would be used for the husk twiddling the thumbs and for whomever you saw in that.

This is one big apology. It’s not that I didn’t care.

Wear White

D.I.Y. is a joke. I think. No one does it by themselves. There is an immense, unquantifiable number of people who were able to give me roasted chicken bites at Bojangle’s this afternoon. There is a blatant lie if I tell others I really live on my own, that I wouldn’t be on the streets if it wasn’t for my parents. When all the stars are aligned and you feel like an important cog in a machine, it is easy to be taken over by feelings of communion and safety, and it’s easier to be consumed by it.

At the very same time I like adhering to the Emersonian ideal, the one of a free-thinker and a rebel by moderation. I am equal parts Southern gentleman and obnoxious punk, but I cannot commit to either side because I forget to call people “Sir” and “Ma’am” and the complete collection of Minor Threat I have is only okay. Every six months I walk into Great Clips and say “Uh, make it normal, like a men’s normal” as if there is a men’s normal, but they get what I mean. People tell me I’m a safe bet. I’m betting I’m not.

I used to get angry a lot easier than I do now. If some anonymous 4chan user didn’t like the same movie I liked, I’d fruitlessly argue about it. If my parents told me to do my homework and I refused, I’d take being locked in the guest room as a good reason to break out. If I saw someone smoking I’d “give up” on them, as if that was a tactile consequence. Because I thought I was smarter. Hell, I am smarter! What are you doing with a limited mind for film and destroying your body with cancer? Parents, you get a pass. But a lot of that has cooled as I’ve gotten older because I’ve seen more lasting change as my own peers have gotten older. Hey, I mean, I’m the one who ate Bojangle’s today, who am I to talk?

I’m the guy who gets the pats on the head by elderly women, I guess. What the hell does that mean? I was among the youngest people in my grade school graduating class, I was the youngest among school friends. At Summit Middle School they already began splitting the students between the “gifted” and the “regular.” I was regular, so I was with the Bears. The people in town said I was nice, not smart. Math made me cry and English’s open nature caused me to get experimental with my papers and fail. All I had was passion and love and the assumption that only those most rudimentary qualities would sustain me until I died. The neurotransmitters in my brain would fire all wrong (to no one’s knowledge but my own) and I couldn’t study for a test if my life depended on it, but I could hug the heck out of my cats. If being friendly to furry friends was what school graded on I’d be awarded a diploma in absentia.

So now I sit in a conference room with honors students, the ones who were recruited to the Gators. And if they weren’t recruited for the Gators, at least they did okay with the Bears. They still went and enjoyed subjects and came home and got their work done and still had enough time to watch Toonami. And when I’m told “You’re good at this,” it’s like I’m being lied to. What, I’m good at something because I held myself back long enough to suddenly be the smartest one of the bunch? The best writer of the bunch? Not even the best, the luckiest. Mature qualities. The ethereal qualities you can’t teach. Here is eight hundred dollars because you’re you, even though you are putting off an academic paper at this very moment. I have impostor syndrome, I think. My clout grows and my fingertips extend and at some point an op-ed will be written about every class I’ve failed. What a shock, we are all so shocked! The man so collected is bleeding from his forehead. He is a “writer” but not a writer, he is a child with a Xanga and an affinity for explosions and colors. He spent his youth reading Star Wars novels and playing video games, only “writing” when it was to vaguely complain about some girl he liked. It sounds nice but is not great. There is no prize, no adaptation. If you’re going to adapt stream-of-consciousness at all there has to be some sort of story, and his story is just him.

My story is just me. When I apply for The Anthology I don’t give a twenty-page fairy tale, I go “Hey, here’s a ramble of indeterminate meaning, have fun!” And that’s what I’ve been doing for a decade. When I was entering first grade, my teacher asked me to go to our books and find a word and read it aloud. She expected me to say “a” or “the,” but I said “mechanic.” So precious, so special. And when have I written about mechanics? The only time I’ve written about mechanics is when I share that story!

It was embarrassing. It is embarrassing, I don’t know. This is the heart-on-sleeve life. This is the giant bundle of nerves and the unexpected, because my only plans in life are to be myself! God knows what that means. I am infinitely more dangerous than I ever expected and the student publications board ever expected, because I’m not a contented partner in a stable relationship of half a decade, I’m not universally nice, I’m not the saint I’ve spent a quarter-century hoping I’d be. I sit in front of class breathing in and out as slowly as possible because I know that when the professor tells us we’re dismissed, I’m going to turn around to the girl sitting behind me to ask her out. And I think, you know, the worst that can happen is to be rejected and sigh and move on, but those fears from grade school are brought up all over again when with a shift of the eyes and a shift of the feet I’m suddenly labeled as the villain once more. Because I have the nerve, the gall, to reveal for a mere second that I’m not loveless and above it all. And I’m told all over again that all those pills I take, all that reading I’ve done, all that time huddled in the corner of my abandoned apartment contacting my eyes to the tile floor is for jack shit because I am not a Gator and I am a failure of a Bear. I’m not just unattractive (that’s okay!), I’m repulsive because I do not for a second fall into any appropriate camp. Who do you think I hang out with on the weekends? D.I.Y. Who do I tell secrets to? Look at this page, D.I.Y. Why am I not dead yet? D.I.Y.

I audibly sigh and silently laugh when those pictures of my aubergines show up online with the red cups and the busy hands because they think they’re different, that they’re punk by giving money to multibillion dollar conglomerations Pabst Brewing Company and Philip Morris International. Punk is always the opposite of something. The opposite of authority, of teachers, of parents. Well, ha ha ha, when every son is prodigal the actual punk is at home with his headphones on. The absence of sides. You think the opposite of left is right, the opposite of right is left, but the opposite is tearing down the fence and realizing that the universe is an ever expanding ball. This is my cake and it is delicious.

Table for one. Fettucini alfredo with Foucault and Kierkegaard. A walk around the park. One hundred and ninety items in the queue. The neighbors don’t exist. Economic control, social control. A friend thinks of a friend and wonders what he’s up to, but no reply. If that’s not rebellion, I don’t know what is.

Website of the Year, 1997

They tell you to write every day, to create some short piece of fiction scribbled down on a notepad during your lunch break, but you just won’t do it. Your writing must carry weight and value. It should be passed around circles of peers and professionals in hushed whispers; doors shut behind the friend who walked briskly into the office down the hall. You cannot compose a compendium of half-thought ideas to be released as the rarities, the B-sides, in paperback by the Penguin Group a hundred years after your death. You must write the thing. It cannot be shallow and it cannot be stress-free. It should inspire college courses that tell young women and men to sit in a circle and discuss literature and religion and sexuality and find every reference to obscure song lyrics that play into the piece in ways only known to the author. The problem is, you are twenty-four years old and have all of the time and none of the patience.

You do not want to be published in the Southern Literary Review or the Poets’ Journal of the Carolinas or the 30 Greatest Stories Written By Authors Under 30 because those imply barriers and limitations that do not speak well of you and your writing, because if you moved a few states north or sat and grew a few years older your writing would be reviewed under more legitimate scrutiny. You could start by going to the top and submitting to the New Yorker, but considering even you don’t read the New Yorker you wonder if their acceptance would mean or lead to anything. You want the work to simply exist, to have existed within the past ten years, to echo in the public consciousness like a German fairy tale but with all the proper copyrights that get you paid. The creation is enjoyable but it is not the point. The point is the body of work. The separate bibliography page on a well-maintained Wikipedia entry. The “Hey, I’m glad you liked it,” and the sense of accomplishment gained from hard work. You won’t start seriously, though, because if you want to make anything valuable it will require hundreds of hours in the library and at least hundreds of days without new material.

You’re starting to miss the sense of fulfillment you received for bad little Xanga ditties, though. When you remove ninety-five percent of your friends from Facebook and when you sit for hours in your apartment with no roommate, speaking to no one but yourself and the occasional drive-through attendant, and when you put all your eggs in one basket which snaps its bottom straws at the lightest touch you are in an isolation chamber. The desire to remove one’s self is nonexistent and the slightest reminder of the outside world (a package in the mail, a question from a stranger, a comment on a message board) feels intruding. You can play big for appearances, you can turn introversion into extroversion when leadership is needed, but what was your normal life is no longer your normal life. You are not the example any more.

Rather, you are the name in the year book, the one without a picture because you had the audacity to think you looked decent enough without digital touch-ups, the one students in the old city sit around repeating the name for over and over again, coming up with nothing and shrugging. Did you even go to the school with them? You are the formless idea of self, and when form is maintained you represent the unknown, the stranger, the other, the potential drug dealer and the potential murderer and the potential rapist because you are what they expect all others to be. You are the incongruity of peaceful meeting, and yet you were once the congruity of meetings themselves. You have eliminated want because of these supernatural theories and here you are, and you are in nature, and you should be alright with that.

The Max G. Creech Insurance Agency and ClaimsPages.com are successful enough to provide for families but they are not relevant to culture and they are not taught in college courses. They are means to ends. They are big enough to be bought out for six figures and little enough to be shuttered at the whim of seven figures. They exist as memorabilia hanging in the barn from a previous time when you did go out, you did see others, you did shake hands firmly and meant what you said. Both of them provided for those outside of the family, the patrons, but they did and will not survive the sands of time. They are the retail shoe salesmen of the higher class. All that is left is the memory of some thing that satisfied once, you’re sure of it, but there is no fame and fortune and well-maintained Wikipedia entry, and everyone who loved it is local and published in the Southern Literary Review. You are Southern, and then you go North and you are an East Coast-er, and then you go West and you are an American, and you hate the whole notion of it because you are the best in the world and only that sounds large enough to make you content.

You can’t for the life of you construct some overarching narrative of time and direct 2013 and 2014 into non-descriptive “good” and “bad” boxes because you know you are not the center of the universe and the protagonist of a story, but you also cannot excise free will and spend another weekend crumpled to the floor of the living room, whispering ugly nothings to yourself and stopping every once in a while, worried that the downstairs neighbors’ shuffling meant that they might have overheard. You will be writing something, not a story or a short story or a play or a poem but a noncommittal something, about the broadcast on WGN-TV in 1987 (a constructed narrative for an unconstructed time) and you can’t guarantee it will appear on your blog, but it will have to if the New Yorker and even the Southern Literary Review reject the piece. You are under the ridiculous impression that all will work out with sudden, rare explosions of unmitigated passion.

These Are the Riches of the Poor

I tell people that if they want to avoid drugs and alcohol, they make their abstinence a part of their selves.  You adopt the lack of substance as a part of your identity.  You weigh the pros and cons and go with what is an inherently better decision, not what makes you a better person.  You get D-R-U-G-F-R-E-E tattoos on your knuckles and force your inner-most character to adhere to the rules on your body.  You play tricks on yourself.  You’re honest, of course, but you still have to play mind games.  One of the greatest things my parents did for me was never keep alcohol around the house.  My parents aren’t teetotalers.  They never sat me down and said, “Son, we expect you to never drink alcohol or take drugs.”  They just didn’t have it there, so when the parties came into my life I did my own research and labeled them poisons.  My parents don’t care if I drink or not.  I won’t be disappointing them if I do.  They showed me that the absence of drink was just as viable a lifestyle as the one where kids take drinks from their fathers and claim moderation in high school but immediately transform into alcoholics in college and come back around to the realizations I was having at fifteen.  I’m proud of that.  I’m proud of me.

My parents used the same tactic for sexuality.  Our house was, again, pure in that regard.  I still haven’t seen The Matrix Reloaded because my dad heard there was clothed sex in it and didn’t let me go to the theater.  When I was eleven or twelve I sat in the backseat of the car and asked my mom why Bill Clinton was impeached.  She positioned her head as to not let the direction of her words hit my sister as she whispered “it had to do with sex.”  I blushed and looked away.  She thought sex embarrassed me, but she was wrong.  I was embarrassed that she thought she had to whisper.

A little baby isn’t destined to become a drug addict.  That baby, though, what parents see as that sweet infant, will probably be masturbating in its room by age fourteen.

School told me that condoms break more than companies like to admit.  That my penis would mold into a crusty husk and I’d die within a year.  True Life Choices.  They used the same acronym as Tender, Loving Care on purpose.  David Coffelt asked why it wasn’t possible to put two condoms on top of each other.  He shot me a mean glance when I bust out laughing.  Hannah Corral told me the point of dating others was to get to know them when I remarked that the whole endeavor was pointless if it wasn’t going to end in marriage and sex.  My seventh grade yearbook doesn’t have any girls’ signatures in it.  I was nervous.  Girls were around for marriage and then for sex and I was too young to want the first and too indoctrinated to want the other.  Girls weren’t my friends and I didn’t know how to talk to them.  True Life Choices told me women were vehicles to drive to the destination of doin’ it.  Smithfield, North Carolina has graveyards where the husband gets to be “Town Mayor” and the wife gets to be “His Wife.”  I expected too much.  I wanted the ending to the story when I hadn’t picked up the book yet.

Greg, an adult from youth group, told us guys that he still remembers the first picture of a naked woman he saw.  He said it wrapped itself up in his mind and he can still recall it perfectly.  That he feels guilty for looking, that it’s a disease.  That it makes his dick as crusty as a STD does.  We joked about it being a mummy.  I’ve seen a lot of mummies in the past month alone.

You don’t want to have sex this early because it’s not true happiness.  It’s not joy.  Joy only comes from a relationship with Christ.  Joy is something deeper, something more substantial and lasting, what sticks with you in the dark times and ultimately proves more beneficial than sex or drugs or getting a material object.  You have to believe in God and do your best to follow the most up-to-date ruleset.  The world is fleeting, the next world isn’t.  I wanted joy.  Hell, I still want joy.  I still won’t do something to make me happy now if it hurts me later.  I can not go to church for three years but I can not get away from Jesus.  And I like it like that.  Church told me to look for deeper meaning, to look at what makes a good life, not just a life.  I was their baby.  I still am their baby.  Christ’s Community Church brought me friendship and love and gave me experiences I’d never exchange for anything.  They taught me how to take up responsibilities and how to talk to girls and how to be interested in them and friendly with them while showing enough grace to not want too much all up front.  They served me and they served others and they also hated the shit out of homosexuals for no good reason.  Sex was fine.  It was for marriage.  I was above sex.  I spent my time thinking about deeper things.  I sure don’t do well in school but I spend free time learning about psychology and history and kindness and that all makes up for sex, which will come at some point but I shouldn’t worry myself too much with it.  And then I look at mummies and I feel awful.  Naked women are a teenage male’s weakness and I am not a teenage male I am above all of that I am a child of God and I have better things to do and maybe I’ll just abstain for good and decide to be celibate and maybe that’s best because I should be following in Jesus’ footsteps exactly and he was celibate wasn’t he well people say he was but it wasn’t explicitly stated and why am I back at this hardcore pornography site

Nick and my sister and her friend sit on my basement couch and my friend remarks “She’s hot” when an attractive lady shows up on a shampoo commercial.  I say “HELL YEAH BRO WHAT A FUCKIN HOTTIE CAN’T CONTAIN MYSELF GOTTA RAPE THAT” and go back into my bedroom to play video games.  I couldn’t say someone was attractive.  I just had to lust in my room, in secret.  My room was actually a big closet.  I’m not being metaphorical, it actually was a closet, and I’m laughing now that I think about it.

My mom wanted me to meet girls.  She was excited to see me grow up.  She would pray for me that I meet someone special.  She was praying for me that I’d get a girlfriend in high school, someone who could make me joyful.  She never prayed for me to be happy.  It was about joy.  Even now she wants me to find someone to be my partner for good.  Forever.  Wife material.  Not a nice girl, not a cute girl, not a funny girl or a smart girl.  Patrick Kay, beloved author and ______, his wife.  Only lately have I noticed the pressure.  My words must be authoritative and strong because true life is set in stone.  My darling is the kindest extrovert in youth group and then my darling is the cute and quiet girl I could talk to in study hall but not in math class and then my darling is the friend with similar taste in media.  The third was the only one I ever kissed.  Here we are.  It’s certainty, it’s got to be, it’s all been leading to here.  Her clothes came off easily and I never thought she was easy, I just thought and rejoiced in the not-going-back.

She made me chase her for five years.  When we weren’t together she was vindictive and when we were together she was confrontational.  When we first kissed I dropped the notion that I needed to wait for marriage to have sex.  I knew enough stories and enough people who were able to maintain something healthy, something not diseased physically or spiritually, and still enjoy corporeal pleasures.  They had joy and they had happiness.  And some of them still do have both of those.  And I never wanted to drink.  I wanted to have sex and I suppressed it.  For school and for church and for my parents and for me.  Because I am a good boy.  Because I want joy.  Because I don’t want to screw things up for myself.  Because I am something special and I am above it all.  I am more than the rush of blood.

I kissed her in 2008 and it’s 2014 now.  We never went all the way.  She wanted to wait, not because of any True Life Choices that affected my life but because she was nervous and because she was inexperienced and because she wanted to make sure things were right with me and because in a lot of ways she simply didn’t care about sex.  And I didn’t blame her, because for someone just as inexperienced there is plenty of trepidation.  I waited and when she didn’t want to go further I’d try to cover my selfish feeling of disappointment with a look of understanding and grace.  Because there are always other things to do.  Because we can just talk or go play something or just lay here and cuddle and that’s okay because I care about you as more than just sexuality.  And it was and is true!  I wouldn’t shower someone in such affection if I wasn’t looking for something more substantial.  I wouldn’t give advice and I wouldn’t open up and I wouldn’t take her around both states and daydream about taking her around more and I wouldn’t sit in her uncomfortable apartment feeding her soup when she’s sick and I wouldn’t wrap her dead dog in a blanket if I wasn’t looking for something more than sex.  I wouldn’t get as mad, either.  I wouldn’t have high hopes.

Now that’s over.  And that’s okay.  I’m okay, I think things are okay.  But in the dead of night and the early morning and the middle of the afternoon I remember all that I did and all the time that has passed and that we never went all the way and that it shouldn’t bother me but it kind of does.  I don’t regret being a good boyfriend.  I don’t regret being patient and understanding.  Because even if it doesn’t end in sex, was it ever supposed to?  Was I ever deserving of it, was it ever required?  No!  Of course not.  I wrapped her dead dog in a blanket because I found some joy in it, some greater reward in being a decent person.  It wasn’t for the hope of future physical pleasure.  But I am here and it is 2014 and more people are dying and I have not been laid.  I made much of time with the spiritual and it is fulfilling.  It is not the same thing as what teenage boys think about.  It’s better, it’s best, but it doesn’t take away from my biology.

Virginity is still a ridiculous concept.  We place so much emphasis on having sex for the first time that it usurps more important moments in our lives.  Virginity may as well be “until the first death of a grandparent” or “until the first trip overseas” or something that signifies a clear break from the old us into the new us.  When I first kissed, I remarked that it felt nice but didn’t feel like my world had completely changed.  Even if I loved this girl, even if it led to greater things, it didn’t break my entire worldview.  But that’s what I thought it would do.  That’s what movies and music told me it would do and that’s what a true love is supposed to do and that’s what I set myself up for thanks to school and church and my mom and all that praying.  And if you are asking if I’ve been inside of a vagina I haven’t, and if you are asking if I feel whole I do.  And if you are asking if I still want the girl of my dreams, whomever that may be, I do, and if you are asking me if I want to have fun with someone and get my rocks off regardless that person be significant to me or not, fuck, goddammit, I do.  And that is a massive change and that might be the first time I’ve said something so sexually vulgar with such sincerity in such a public place.  And I’m not saying I will and I’m not saying I know whom with and I’m not sure how to approach such a situation aside from friendly banter and I know I’m not betraying my mom or God when I say that.  I’m just a boy.  I’m just a stupid boy.  My hair is thinning and my beard is growing and the bottoms of my trousers have been rolled, but I am a boy and I am afraid.

I’m not supposed to be a boy, I’m not supposed to have a gender.  I could be an ethereal being floating in peoples’ lives to do good deeds and ask for nothing in return.  And maybe I am that and it’s in me but there’s still this damned exterior that I shouldn’t be so damned ashamed of.

I’m looking to stay away from hedonism.  I don’t need to worship physical pleasure and I don’t need to make it my primary motivator in life.  There’s already plenty.  But it took me 2300 words to write “I have sexual desires” and I knew it would.  It shouldn’t have to.  I shouldn’t be worrying now that any woman who reads this would be disgusted with my vulgarity and keep their distance, for I am a slippery slope.  But when kids were making out on my basement couch and when college partiers looked for hookups and when perfectly happy couples progressed to having sex without fear or shame I thought there was something natural within me that put me above it all.  And I’m not above it.  I’m in the gutter, too, and there are a lot healthier reasons to accept that and possibly embrace it than deluding myself into such a sense of superiority that I can’t function.  My seventh grade yearbook doesn’t have any girls’ signatures in it.

Compiling my thoughts on The Muppets (2011)

Here’s a little bit I wrote on the 2011 Muppets film immediately after watching it upon its Thanksgiving weekend release.  I think I’ve improved as a writer since then, but I find the topic close to my heart and worth sharing.  Just ignore the mistakes that have since been corrected by taking ENGL 303.

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