Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Yesterday's California Supreme Court decision on Prop 8

It seems evident to me that the "Yes on Prop 8" faction has pretty much won a Pyrrhic victory, sacrificing the war (and what shreds of credibility they may have possessed) to win the battle. I'm not saying their strategy of smokescreens, political chicanery and lies hasn't been effective in the short term, but the fact is that they shamelessly manipulated millions of people to get their way without establishing any substantial foundation for a lasting victory. Such as, you know, basing their position on facts, logic or sensible ethical standards.

Those who firmly believe that gays should have their rights stripped away over symbolism, semantics or religious doctrine will never change their minds, largely because they need an underdog to feel superior to. The gay marriage issue is the best thing that has happened to them in a long time. Their leaders know that every army needs an enemy.

However, middle-of-the-road voters who are so easily swayed by smoke and mirrors in the heat of a controversy may not remain steadfast over the long term, given that they have no well-formed opinions of their own, and the people who care about equality and justice are increasingly becoming aware of how serious this threat to everybody's freedom really is.

I may be hopelessly idealistic, but I think the net effect of Prop 8, long term, will be to illustrate the need for people to be a lot less complacent, and to actively take part in protecting their rights from vicious and unscrupulous but well-organized fanatics and their battalions of enervated stooges.

Also, I'd like to point out something that none of the articles I've been reading today really addresses: the California Supreme Court decision, although it does not repeal the amendment, really serves to define its scope and makes it all about the name.

Excerpt from pages 36-37:

Here the new constitutional provision (art. I, § 7.5) provides in full: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." By its terms, the new provision refers only to "marriage" and does not address the right to establish an officially recognized family relationship, which may bear a name or designation other than "marriage." Accordingly, although the wording of the new constitutional provision reasonably is understood as limiting use of the designation of "marriage" under California *\37 law to opposite-sex couples, and thereby modifying the decision in the Marriage Cases, supra, 43 Cal.4th 757, insofar as the majority opinion in that case holds that limiting the designation of "marriage" to the relationship entered into by opposite-sex couples constitutes an impermissible impingement upon the state constitutional rights of privacy and due process, the language of article I, section 7.5, on its face, does not purport to alter or affect the more general holding in the Marriage Cases that same-sex couples, as well as opposite-sex couples, enjoy the constitutional right, under the privacy and due process clauses of the California Constitution, to establish an officially recognized family relationship. Because, as a general matter, the repeal of constitutional provisions by implication is disfavored (see, e.g., In re Thiery S. (1979) 19 Cal.3d 727, 744; Warne v. Harkness (1963) 60 Cal.2d 579, 587-588), Proposition 8 reasonably must be interpreted in a limited fashion as eliminating only the right of same-sex couples to equal access to the designation of marriage, and as not otherwise affecting the constitutional right of those couples to establish an officially recognized family relationship.

So, if you really analyze the language of the decision, Prop 8 has been effectively reduced to a difference in terms. Of course, that doesn't mean everyone should say, "Cool! I think we're done here," but it really is kind of a setback for the "Yes" folks. Three steps forward, two steps back.

Gay Marriage - Whatta Bunch of Whiners

All this conflict over a word, wow! Why does it matter so much to gay people whether they get to call it "marriage" or not? It's just a word and some associated rights that I consider unimportant as long as nobody is trying to take them away from me! Seriously, the majority has spoken on this issue that affects me not at all and is none of my business. Don't they know that people who think like me will spend millions of dollars to prevent them from destroying the sanctity of this sacred institution by applying the word "marriage" to what I've been indoctrinated to believe are deviant and sinful relationships? I am completely unaware of the irony of what I'm saying!

It's not like they can't marry whoever they want, as long as they're of the opposite sex and therefore of no romantic interest to them. Oh, waaaaahh, they don't want to marry someone of the opposite sex? It's their choice to feel that way, and although I have absolutely no evidence to support this statement, I will repeat it over and over again. I feel comfortable saying these things because my pastor, some guys on TV, and all my friends back me up. Also, it says in the Bible that homosexuality is a sin, right next to the part where it says that cutting the hair around my temples is punishable by death. Everybody just ignores that part, though, as it clearly doesn't apply to contemporary society.

Furthermore, same-sex couples can't have children, which everyone knows is the prime purpose for a marriage. Yeah, me and my wife can't have kids for medical reasons, but that's totally different for reasons I cannot clearly articulate! And now, the gays and all their liberal, whiny friends are infringing on MY God-given right to prevent them from doing things I don't like! They keep trying to force their views down my throat by loudly refusing to let me remove their civil liberties! Talk about intolerance!

Sheesh! The nerve of these people.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Investigate Bush? I'm feeling a little defeatist about that.

As much as I'd like to hate Bush's guts, I can't seem to rouse myself to anything more than a lukewarm contempt. No matter how vile he might be personally, any president relies on the self-protective nature and expedient mechanisms of the government as a whole in order to actually do anything. The current controversy surrounding Obama's unwillingness to investigate Bush and his lackeys for possible war crimes and other political fuckery is understandable, but although I agree in principle, I think a major point is being missed. Investigate Bush? Great. But if we think that is going to solve anything in and of itself, we're fooling ourselves.

My real anger is directed at the hundreds of millions of people who think that politicians should be held to a higher standard of integrity than they themselves should be. I can't speak for citizens of other countries, but I've come to believe that the stereotypical hambeast who tries to return a DVD player they just moments ago grabbed off the shelf of the local Walmart is a pretty good representation of the average American. These are the same people who vote for presidents based on the opinions of their moms and a few articles they've read in the paper. If even a larger minority of Americans actually had any integrity, our government would reflect this, but too many of us are busy trying to get away with shit ourselves to do any more than pay lip service to the concept of accountability in our elected representatives. And they know it, too. Prevarication is a part of our cultural heritage.

For the record, I think that a serious investigation into the war in Iraq, the breakdown of the economy, etc., is the right thing to do. However, for it to be any more than a token gesture, such an investigation would have to extend to the structure and guiding philosophies of the government itself, and we as a country would have to have the courage to recognize the fundamental problems that allow these kinds of events to occur in the first place, and make sweeping and drastic changes as indicated. In the absence of a cultural imperative for accountability, honesty and the willingness to learn from past errors, that's just not going to happen.

And frankly, if it's just going to be a token gesture to salve our consciences, I think it might do more harm than good. Whatever Obama does now needs to be decisive, including his mistakes.

Despite the fact that Obama is part of exactly the same edifice of obfuscation and bullshit that I've been shrieking about, I still harbor some hope that he might be able to turn things around to some degree. I think that is going to depend more on his personal character than directly on his competence as the President (although that's certainly important as well, and is greatly dependent on his character). He has everybody's attention; anything he does now will be remembered, and maybe even emulated. A little honesty from him, especially if it means making some hard, painful, but effective choices, could go a long way towards contributing to the sea change that's needed if we're going to grow as a nation.

We're not a nation of laws and foreign policy, we're a nation of individuals, and we could seriously use some strong leadership.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Big Secret

Plans without number have been born within my cerebral cortex, that wrinkled and furrowed cradle of reason, and have begun their short and twisted lived by flowing down my spinal cord to my arms and then my fingers and the pen that they hold, only to die in the space between the page and my eyes, rejected by the very cognition that gave them birth. It is said that the thought process is incomplete without articulation, and I have left so many, oh god, so many completed loops of thought behind me: tiny, senseless zeros scattered like grains of rice on a tile floor. Like snowflakes falling from a cloudless sky, these strange ideas are spawned from the emptiness that yawns behind the veneer of my consciousness, without apparent purpose or relation to anything.

But the sense of purposelessness that crowds my mind like a gang of sly and evil mimes is there for a reason. The irony of this does not escape me. There is a rhythm to the swelling darkness in my head, a sardonic repetition of thoughts with no meaning, like the empty rhymes of a fever. This discordant jangle has become my theme song, monotonous, compelling, and somehow smug, as if it were a tuneless dirge played by a filthy violinist on a street corner, his mouth turned up at the corners in a jeering smirk. Any day now, these nonsense syllables will begin to make sense, coalescing into words and sentences.

I should probably be afraid of what they might tell me, but like the impatient reader of a paperback mystery novel, I only want to turn to the last page and see how it all turns out. I’d really like to know.

But in the cavernous, shadowy library of my soul, the last few pages have been ripped from all the books, and all the swear words in the stories are in a foreign language. I read the Tao Te Ching once, but all the mantras were limericks about ladies from Nantucket and the lotus was one of those molded plastic tulips you see on the tables of cheap Szechuan restaurants where they don’t even bother putting water in the vases.

This is the big secret: everything in the world is a cleverly contrived cardboard cutout, and when you look around the edge to make sure, the façade extends around it so you can’t see the back and thereby confirm that you’re not crazy. So then you take it apart, certain that you’ll see the seams where they’ve glued it together, but it was built by machines with robotic arms in a big room full of crafty scientists with microscopes and they made sure that it looks like it does in the commercials because they knew you would look and so no matter how closely you examine it, you’re never really going to find out for sure. They count on that, because they know you’re going to wonder about it. But everybody gets tired of looking and gives up, so that’s okay.

So you wake up and put on your clothes from your Barbie
® and Ken® wardrobe and get into your car that has a Hot Wheels® logo hidden on it somewhere and you go to work and cast surreptitious glances at people’s elbows to see if you can see the lines in their joints where they’re held together by flesh-colored plastic rivets. When you go to the grocery store, you know that the cans of spaghetti and chicken noodle soup are really all filled with the same amorphous gray jelly, but when you open it up, it looks like what it says on the label. I can almost feel it change when I open the can.

I can see the extrusion marks on the vegetables. They try to make them look natural, but I know extrusion marks when I see them.

I know better than to say anything about it. How they must laugh, watching me as I search in vain for the dangling thread which, when pulled, will unravel the fabric of the whole elaborate cocoon in which they have enshrouded me. I’m a fly caught in a spider’s web, its fangs pumping me full of poison which, if subjected to chemical analysis, would turn out to be Pepsi-Cola. But were I to panic and scream for help, they would chortle that I’m merely suffering from an anxiety disorder and write me a prescription for Prozac®, please show the receptionist your insurance card on the way out.

I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. The screams stay on the inside, where they can’t hear them.

I do have insurance, though.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Personal Ads From the Dark Side

I like writing unusual personal ads. You could say it has become sort of a hobby. My "Good Man Club" posts are examples of a serial personal ad I posted on craigslist over the course of a few days; it started out as a joke, and became sort of an ad hoc sociology experiment once the responses started pouring in. It's fascinating to see how people respond to ads that are outside the accepted pattern.

This is a selection of a few of the ones that I like the most. Keep in mind that I never post these with any personal information of any kind other than A/S/L. These are basically the entirety of the ads.



Awkward, self-conscious greeting, followed by a pointless disclaimer to the effect that I never know what to say in these things. Narrative describing what I hope are intriguing, mildly edgy but undemanding personal characteristics. Blatant attempt to create the impression that I am lovable, attentive and of generous disposition, possibly containing overly sentimental and creepy references to my mother. Rambling narrative liberally sprinkled with polysyllabic words used out of context, obviously meant to show that I am intelligent and well-educated despite numerous misspellings and the absence of any coherent ideas. Self-deprecatory comments intended to offset the possibility that the reader has perceived my disjointed self-description as arrogant or self-serving.

List of activities I enjoy, most of which are derived from other personal ads I have read, or have been directly cribbed from them. Activities I actually enjoy are downplayed if they are commonly associated with undesirable patterns of behavior, such as football, video games, watching porn, and drinking heavily. Special emphasis is placed on interests that, while pleasurable and generally considered romantic (such as long walks on the beach), will more than likely never take place, as I will always be too busy/tired/hung over to engage in them.

Optional reference to expensive personal possessions indicating a substantial income, but which are more likely to be responsible for an enormous credit card debt that I will avoid mentioning for as long as possible.

Final comments intended to be flirtatious and demonstrate my clever wit, but which are actually fairly offensive, and reveal the fact that I am completely oblivious to my total lack of sensitivity to other people's interpretations of my sad and contrived attempts at suggestive banter.

Am I doing this right?


Somewhere out there is a woman who cannot understand why she is still alone. She is smart, quirky and pretty, and her kindness and capacity for love have remained untouched, even though she knows full well how vulnerable this makes her. Although she’s been hurt, she is stronger for it. The pain she has felt as a result of her open, trusting nature, though it’s made her wary, hasn’t prevented her from being hopeful. Because she isn’t pretending to be anyone but who she really is, her first instinct is to expect anyone to be that way. She reads the personals with cautious optimism and a species of wry amusement, both because it’s come to this, and because she has learned to read the volumes written between every line. Men are so funny, she thinks. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

At this moment, her heart feels half asleep, which is good. Otherwise, she would have to confront the tiny, hollow emptiness there, a quiet ache that is not quite sadness. When she’s actively engaged in the activities of her life, it is there, an undercurrent of ambivalence so subtle and familiar that it is barely noticed. It doesn’t stop her from laughing, from being goofy and having fun, from pursuing her goals or appreciating the goodness of her life. It is just a soft voice that speaks at odd moments, whispering to her that something is missing. Sometimes, it makes her want to cry, this feeling of longing for a man she has not yet met.

Somewhere out there, she thinks, is a man who is a lot like me. A man with strength of character, who is gentle and compassionate, but who doesn’t back away from the truth, even when it hurts. He gives more than he takes, not because he is following a principle, but because that’s how he is built. He has risen to his challenges without becoming mired in bitterness or self-pity, and has not forgotten how to play and how to touch the world with the hands of a child.

The best parts of his character are easily discovered with a little curiosity; they are not flagrantly displayed. He does his best to shape his world instead of letting it shape him, and isn’t afraid of being wrong. He doesn’t try to be sexy, but just is, because he is honest and open and unafraid, and because he moves with confidence and grace… perhaps not classically handsome, but good-looking in an offbeat sort of way. He might be a musician, she thinks, or a poet or a writer. He’ll like to read.

She thinks this as she reads a book, stretched out comfortably on the couch. Suddenly, she looks up from the page, almost able to feel his leg thrown casually over hers, his bare foot resting against her hip as he reads his own book on the other end of the couch. She smiles, the corners of her mouth turning up for a bare instant.

He lives in her daydreams as a hand that reaches out to stroke her cheek, a smile from across a room, a cheerful but formidable adversary in intellectual discourse and pillow fights, a laughing voice and an expressive pair of eyes that reveal so clearly the spirit behind them. Mostly, he is a soul; the essence of a man who is her equal in every way, and whose intelligence and playful good nature act on her heart like a tuning fork resonating to its matching tone.

It is this note she is listening for, the voice of a soul that is in tune with her own. But how do you hear that voice, she wonders, in the space of a few words on a page? What he does, where he works, what music he enjoys, his pastimes, those things are important… but in another sense, they don’t really matter very much. The ads she reads say a lot about those things, but seem to say little about the substance of the men behind them. A connection between two people doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it requires a context to nurture and sustain it – but without the connection, what do the details matter? Sometimes it’s not alone what is said, but how it is said that reveals the deepest truth...


It's snowing again. I'm in my home studio adding some guitar tracks to a song I'm recording, watching through the window as the back yard turns white. I'm frustrated because the good music, the music that perfectly expresses the way I feel, can't seem to make it past some obstruction in my mind. I know what it is, this obstruction, but that doesn't make it go away. Sometimes, this thing inside helps the music come out, inspires the most poignant and expressive melodies, but tonight, it's just sitting there like a brick in the middle of my heart, plugging my creative wellspring at the source.

I'm lonely.

We're not supposed to say that, right? We're not supposed to be so honest, so vulnerable. We're supposed to say that we're completely happy with our lives, and that we just want someone to share that happiness with. I'll be the first to affirm that relationships don't make people happy. I've tried that before. But if everyone could be perfectly satisfied on their own, the race would die out within a single generation.

I would be a lot happier if I wasn't lonely.

Who am I looking for? It's so simple. Someone who knows how to live, how to love and be loved, someone with an open mind, and who doesn't just wait for life to happen to them. Someone with a sense of humor. Someone who can always appreciate the beauty in everything, even when things are so hard you just want to cry. Someone who has learned the value of simplicity. Someone who can feel so intensely that their emotions just brim over.

I'm looking out the window, and the snow falling through the darkness is beautiful. I'd love to take a walk in it, catching the flakes on my tongue. I will. And as I walk, I'll be imagining an enchantress with smiling eyes leaving her footprints alongside my own. I offer to catch her a snowflake, and she watches as I do so, opening my mouth for it to fall inside. She says, "Where's my snowflake?" and I tell her she has to kiss me to get it.

Rupert, Queen of the Space Marines

Before anyone starts castigating me for being homophobic, allow me to state that I am not. This is a work of parody, and if you take yourself seriously enough to be offended by this extremely mild, tongue-in-cheek mockery, permit me to suggest that you ease up on the coffee and indignation.

For context, this was originally a forum post intended to be framed by a larger effort in collaborative fiction. Enjoy!

He lay on the bed in his jockey shorts, watching Julie emerge from the bathroom. She wore nothing but a t-shirt, and a short one at that. Her hair was still wet from the shower, and he observed with interest the play of light reflecting off her smooth buttocks, and as she turned towards him, the soft curls of her short pubic hair outlining the mound beneath, barely hiding the top of what he knew from his Human Anatomy class (and many gigabytes of Internet porn) was the emerging cleft of her labia. Her breasts pressed against the fabric of the thin shirt, creating shadows and molding the cotton into new and intriguing shapes as she walked towards the bed in the small, cheaply decorated motel room. She observed him observing her, and smiled slowly at him from under the lock of hair that had fallen across her brow. He smiled back, feeling himself responding to the clearly seductive glance.

He had recently found himself spending a lot of time with Julie, a friend of his from a stripper bar he frequented. In his desperate need for approval and love, he had turned his considerable charm and the contents of his wallet on her and, after spending almost every evening together for the last few weeks, she had suggested that they spend the night together in a hotel.

She sat on the edge of the bed near him, half turned towards him, her cotton-lined nipples poking out invitingly. He felt himself stiffening in reaction to her closeness. He had been waiting for this moment for the last month, and he was pretty damn horny, but it felt good to hold himself in a state of anticipation now that he was certain they were finally going to do the dirty dog.

‘Mmmm,’ she sighed, closing her eyes and twisting her body back and forth a little. ‘My back hurts. I could use a massage.’

‘I think I can accommodate you,’ he said with a little smile, lifting himself into a sitting position. He reached out with one hand and touched her arm, stroking it lightly. ‘Why don’t you lie down?’

‘I think I’ll just take this off,’ she said, opening her eyes and slipping the t-shirt off over her head, dropping it to the floor in a sultry heap.

He watched her through lidded eyes as she knelt and stretched her naked body out face down on the bed, the muscles of her back rippling gently as she swept her hair to one side, turning her head and resting it on the pillow facing him. Her buttocks rose gently where they joined her legs, and he thought he could almost smell her excitement, or perhaps that smell was just the natural aroma of the room itself. Either way, his oversized, vein-enwreathed penis was becoming engorged, filling his lower belly with a warm anticipatory sensation. He leaned over and brushed the back of his hand along the ridge of her spine, and she breathed a murmur of encouragement, goose-bumps appearing on her skin in the wake of his touch.

He placed one hand on her lower back and leaned over, his lips almost touching her ear. ‘I’ll be right back,’ he said in a low voice. Eyes closed, she smiled in acknowledgement. He got up and walked over to the small backpack he carried with him everywhere, and drew out the small bottle of baby oil he had brought in anticipation of a romantic interlude, or barring that, at least maybe a handjob.

Returning to the bed, he positioned himself next to her with his legs under his body and poured a small amount of oil into his open hand. He placed the bottle on the nearby nightstand and rubbed his hands together, warming the oil between them, and then slowly began rubbing them up and down her exposed back, from her shoulders down to just above the swell of her buttocks, which began to barely clench and relax in a slow rhythm as he continued the stroking movements. He could feel her breathing, her back slowly rising and falling under the firm contact of his hands.

His palms firmly against her skin, he found the muscles beneath and carefully massaged them, first pressing gently, then moving his hands with light pressure down her sides, where they finally slid over her firm, taut ass. He was beginning to feel a little warm. Stipples of sweat stood out on his forehead like crystalline bubbles of heretofore unslaked lust, at last in sight of fruition.

He kneaded her smooth butt with his open hands, pulling her cheeks up and apart and then releasing them to circle over the soft skin, concentrating on relaxing the quivering musculature. After a few moments of this, he ran one finger down into her crevice, resting the fingertip lightly against her anus, where it pressed gently for a moment, then slipped down further to move against the opening of her moistening vagina. As his finger probed, moving back and forth against her lips, she moaned and twisted slightly on the bed, clenching the sheet in both hands, her breath coming in little sighs and gasps.

He took his hands away, eliciting a soft sound of disappointment from her partly open mouth, and reached over to the nightstand for the bottle. Pouring more baby oil into the palm of his hand, he turned back to her and slathered the lubricating oil over her butt and upper thighs, his hands briefly disappearing between them as he spread the clear liquid over the skin of her legs. He closed his eyes with pleasure as he slowly and firmly pushed his palms up over her ass and up to her shoulders, following the lines of muscle on either side of her spine, then moving down her sides and hips, repeating the motion again and again in succession, her rear end rising slightly to meet him with each gliding pass of his hands.

Then, flattening his palms against the insides of her thighs with firm pressure, he spread them apart, exposing the glistening cleft at the juncture of her long legs, the swollen labia open ever so slightly, revealing the secret folds within. He moaned softly and, the blood pooling in his lower abdomen, reached out to touch her again, sliding his finger lightly along the silken warmth of the pink opening until her lips parted and the stroking finger gently, slowly penetrated her.

Unbidden, Horace’s face arose in his mind, and he imagined his lithe body lying on the bed before him, shuddering and writhing under his touch. This is wrong, he thought. In an instant, his growing desire had turned to ashes, his firm erection wilting as his mind repeated the words over and over again, this is wrong, wrong. His heart felt leaden and heavy in his chest, and tears sprang to his eyes as he thought of Horace’s sweet face; his slender, almost completely hairless body. He shuddered and withdrew his outstretched arm, one tear spilling out over his lashes and dropping to the sheet. He struggled to prevent himself from crying, the thought of Horace no longer able to be denied.

Forehead wrinkling in consternation, Julie opened one deep brown eye and looked back at him to see why he had stopped touching her. ‘Babe, why did you stop?’ she started to say, and then she noticed the tear on his cheek and his trembling chin. She turned on her side and faced him, placing a hand on his thigh.

‘Rupert, what’s wrong?’

He met her eye, still struggling for control over the sobs that wanted to burst free from where they burned in his chest. Another tear slipped out, paused for a moment on his cheekbone, and fell like a white dove that has suddenly been teleported to the planet Jupiter. She felt him trembling under her hand.

He put his face in his hands, unable to say a word. They sat like that for some time.

Eventually, a soft snore told him that she had fallen asleep, her hand still resting on his leg. He gently removed it and stood up. He turned off the light and sat in the chair by the window, curling his legs under him. He stayed that way for the rest of the night, alternately watching the sleeping girl and looking out the window, his eyes troubled and far away, until he too finally slept, huddled in the chair like a young boy caught all unawares by the sandman after watching television long past his bedtime.

The next day, after masturbating furiously, he told his parents he was gay.

Four years had passed since Rupert had openly admitted his sexual preference, and he felt like he had lived a whole lifetime in those years. So much had changed while he performed his tour of duty with the Imperial Space Marines, good and bad, that the person he had been when this all started was nothing more than a shadow on his memory. He had been so naïve, so hopelessly idealistic; he had never before been able to understand why happiness had been so elusive. He had pursued it with incredible single-mindedness, questioning every preconception and assumption, until his head was full of the structure of belief he was slowly building from the ancient ruins of his childhood. Holding up this complex edifice was the absolute belief that happiness could be the only purpose of life.

Biological life, he reasoned, had only one fundamental mandate: to survive and propagate itself, reversing entropy in a way no other phenomena in the known universe could accomplish. Life is singular in its organized response to quality, that indefinable concept which fits into neither the subjective nor objective frame of reference but which nonetheless drives every action and desire, and indeed the forward motion of evolution itself. This idea was formulated as he swept his coherent light gun through a school during a raid on Proxima k/3, instantly incinerating hundreds of screaming children. He laughed at the irony; on Proxima, evolution had been cancelled.

But the biological mandate of survival could not explain love, ambition, beef jerky, or any other human imperative that fell outside of the emotions and instincts that could be traced back to the need for survival of the organism and its progeny. The realization of happiness, the most basic if unstated goal of each individual representative of the human race, could not be considered necessary for brute survival. Every sane decision and pursuit of every person everywhere had happiness as its final intention.

The only explanation for the existence of love was that there was a higher mandate than the purely biological one built into the human animal; a directive to pursue a condition that made of life not merely a continual attempt to escape from fear, pain and hunger, but a passionate adventure and an unyielding effort towards fulfillment and inner peace.

For Rupert, who had rarely known happiness, its realization was more than a desire, it was more like a holy war, mobilizing every aspect of his intellectual powers to capture it and embody it in complete subservience and mastery over it. He lived to take every breath in absolute joy, to make every day a celebration of existence, each moment a unique treasure to be cherished and experienced with no trace of pain or fear or guilt.

After all the cogitation, the agonized livejournal posts, it seemed incredible that it could be so simple, but Rupert could not dispute the incontrovertible fact that for him, happiness mainly consisted of sticking his penis into other men’s butts.

The Imperial Space Marines provided happiness in seemingly infinite quantities.

Half an Airplane Ride

I found this among my old sent e-mails, and decided it would be fun to add it here. This is from the summer of 2006, and I'm probably still in shock from the experience.

So, I took half an airplane ride yesterday. Yes, I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane at 14,000 feet in the air, and lived to tell about it.

Why did I do this? I don’t know that I have a satisfactory answer, other than to say that I’ve always been utterly terrified of the idea, and so I’ve felt that I could not let it remain unchallenged forever. The opportunity presented itself when my buddy Rick received a jump as a birthday present and invited me along. I couldn’t refuse without giving up some self-respect, so I ignored the loud and insistent voice screaming “NO!” in my head and signed up.

Now, as to what it was like… to borrow a phrase from Herman Wouk, it feels like starting life over again with a million dollars. The act of exercising the willpower required to leap from an open door in an airplane so high that individual landmarks on the ground below are almost indistinguishable infused me with a sense of personal power. No matter how difficult or frightening any future situation may be, I will never again have to do anything as hard as that.

The three of us, Rick, Oliver (his brother) and I, took off with a couple of other fools in a small single-prop airplane, facing backwards on two parallel benches. The plane’s angle of ascent was so steep that we had to brace ourselves against the window frames to avoid sliding backwards into the tail. Normally, the flight itself might have been scary; knowing that I would shortly be exiting the aircraft in quite an informal manner overshadowed any trepidation over actually being in the plane. Interestingly, I didn’t feel anything I could recognize as fear on the ride up. The nature of what I was actually feeling remains resistant to analysis, but I think it was simply an awareness so heightened that every single detail of every passing microsecond was noticed and marked.

Once we arrived at our ceiling, our tandem instructors (to whom our backs were tightly fastened), gave us last-minute instructions. Two solo divers went out first, casually calling out “See ya!” as they bailed out, quickly disappearing into the slipstream. Then it was Oliver’s turn. As one of the other skydivers had said earlier in the flight, his eyes were huge with some unnamable emotion as he knelt in front of the open door. The light turned green, and he was gone. It was my turn next. I felt as though my body was on autopilot as I moved towards the door and knelt at the edge. Looking out, the reality of what I was doing hit me like a sledgehammer to the face. Suppressing the panic that swelled in me then is the hardest thing I have ever done. I heard Rick shout something, but I couldn’t spare the mental resources to notice what it was. Then the moment arrived: launch.

During the next few seconds, I lost my mind. No rational thought or focus of attention was possible; my consciousness was paralyzed. I know we rolled a few times as some automatic part of my mind registered the transition between sky, ground, and sky again. Then, suddenly, I came back to myself and could think, although I could not really process anything that was happening. The plane had disappeared, and the other skydivers were nowhere in sight. I (and the instructor strapped to my back) were falling alone, with nothing between us and the ground but 14,000 feet (2.5 miles!) of air. I found that I had no mental space for fear, wonder, or any relatively trivial questions such as what would happen if our chute failed and we hit the ground at 125 MPH. The only emotion I could feel was a mad glee, the apotheosis of glee. Even my own survival was a distant, secondary consideration. There’s no way to convey the raw, overwhelming fury of sensation. I have never felt more alive, more stuffed with vitality.

65 seconds after this new existence began, the chute opened, firmly arresting our descent. The ground seemed to have grown no closer, although we had closed half the distance. The remainder of the trip down was spent swooping to and fro, occasionally cutting tight, high-g circles, and laughing crazily. The instructor pointed out some features of the view, but I really had no interest in looking at some mountains far off in the distance. I could have been over a featureless desert and the experience would have been unchanged.

Eventually, the ground swooped up and caught us, and after unhooking from the instructor, I ran over to embrace my fellow jumpers. Oliver’s wife noted that whereas we seemed like condemned men as we walked to the airplane before the jump, we were positively swaggering afterward. I wasn’t aware of this at the time, but the video evidence leaves no doubt.

We are all going to jump again soon. I’m not certain why. It’s going to be a long time before I really have a grasp on this experience.

I don’t know how intelligible this account was. I am still in shock from the experience, and possibly appear totally insane to other people. Or, rather, more insane than I normally appear. Hopefully, it was entertaining.

I was in a motorcycle accident

A couple of weeks ago, I was merrily riding along a beautiful, curvy road through the woods between Redmond and Carnation, and suddenly found myself sliding along the asphalt with my bike in a position normally associated with crashes. This condition obtained, it soon became evident, because I was, in fact, in the process of crashing.

This came as rather a surprise to me, as I had been proceeding around the corner in which I found myself crashing at a somewhat more sedate speed than is my fashion on that particular stretch of road. I must therefore attribute my abrupt transition from riding my motorcycle to sliding on my buttocks at 60 miles per hour to having slid on an enchilada, which, if you know that road, is not an uncommon hazard due to the enormous portions served at the Mexican restaurant frequented by motorcyclists traveling to and from Redmond.

(For those of you who don't know, enchiladas do not provide the same level of traction as asphalt (this is particularly true of used enchiladas). One would not, for instance, pave a race track with enchiladas, because not only would it offer poor grip, but it would be quickly eaten by hungry racing fans (not so much in the case of used enchiladas). This is a little-known fact, but it is quite true.)

I managed to emerge from the bushes at the side of the road with nothing more than a broken ankle, bruised ribs, and leaves in my helmet, the latter actually being of the most concern to me at the time because the leaves happened to be of the variety that grow on nettle bushes, and my initial efforts to remove them were hindered by the fact that they were inside my helmet, which I could not take off before removing my gloves, which I could not remove until I disentangled them from the nettle bush in which I was laying, which presented a whole separate set of difficulties.

I did eventually manage to remove my helmet, and the nettle leaves, during which process I discovered that I had broken my ankle. If you are going to discover that you have broken your ankle, I strongly suggest doing so while lying in bed or sitting in an easy chair, preferably at a hospital where attractive nurses with well-honed pillow-fluffing skills are on hand with injections of morphine, and not in a nettle bush at the bottom of a steep hill which is covered with still more nettle bushes.

I am fine, and my bike is, miraculously, only superficially damaged. I'll be on crutches for a while, which is doing my armpits no good at all, but is doing a wonderful job of toning up the muscles in my upper body and arms. So it's not all bad.

I am running out of Crayolas (#4)

Unfortunately, cumulative guilt over the failed attempt to rescue Fredo (the moose) and an unfortunate event in my childhood involving a lit candle, a banana peel, a can of hairspray and an ant farm has caused me to temporarily suffer a rare psychological condition in which I am unable to communicate in any medium other than crayons. In fact, this post was transcribed for me by a sympathetic nun who passed my table at an outdoor cafe as I was composing it with my last crayon, "Burnt Umber."

That being the case, I'm afraid I will be incommunicado until either my condition eases or I am able to replenish my supply of Crayolas, to which purpose the other nuns at the "Sisters of the Holy Shit! Is That Bishop Colson in Pantyhose?" convent have graciously offered to contribute from their mostly unused petty cash allocation for silk stockings and garters (the identity of the person who spent the missing portion of that account seems self-evident).

I have to wait for Lent, though, so it might be a while.

The Creed of the Good Man Club (#3)

I would like to thank everyone who has written in response to the “Good Man Club”. We were all talking last night at the clubhouse about how amazing it is to discover that “Good Man Club” is an anagram for “A Long Bum Cod.” We all thought that was pretty funny. Also, we were really excited that it seems there is interest in good men after all!

All these years we’ve been gathering in our bunkers under Old Navy stores, taking refuge in the company of our fellow travelers of the long and lonely trail a good man must wander, warmed by our fellowship, and only occasionally being driven out into fresh air by the consequences of group overindulgence in refried beans. We have not been in hiding – nay, for we are not cowards! – but in our anonymity, we have been hidden from the sight of those who have turned against us when we were vulnerable, those who have sought to take advantage of our good natures; those who have, through their indifference, spurned the value that might have been ours to share had they only briefly set aside their interest in utterly draining our souls and will to live, and welcomed us into their hearts.

Of course, by doing so, we have also been hidden from the sight of some damn fine women, many of whom have been doing the same thing! Like two strangers passing in the night, noticing each other, but not stopping because each has mistaken the other for one of the guests on yesterday’s Jerry Springer show. (By the way, Lucinda, that guy who was hitting the cameraman with a chair does look a little like me, but I was hosting a charity event to benefit orphaned kittens at the time that show was filmed. So, it wasn't me.)

Many of you who have written, while you have expressed your admiration for our “goodness,” have asked what it is that we call the “good.” As some have pointed out, the “good” is not an empirical absolute, and as such, our claim to the term can be considered a priori, and therefore subject to qualification. Granted, none of you put it quite that way, but you did ask what we mean by “good.” We have decided to respond to these inquiries by publishing our creed, the solemn oath every good man takes as he is inducted into the ranks of the Good Man Club. Here, then, are the words we live by, the values that frame our approach to the world; here is the very heart that beats within… *ahem* Sorry. Anyway, the following is the Creed of the Good Men, a concatenative assemblage of characteristics which, in the absence of a categorical definition, comprise the system of values we choose to consider “goodness.”

Creed of the Good Men (which is, incidentally, an anagram for 'Enforced Hog Demote')

“I do solemnly swear that:

“I will not wipe my boogers under the couch cushions at my girlfriend's parent's house, even if I see her dad doing it.
“I will not try to blame my farts on the dog, or someone who has just left the room, unless it's really, really bad.
“I will offer to wash my date's clothes when I throw up on her.
“I will not stare at the woman in the tight silk dress as she walks by the table in the restaurant where my girlfriend and I are eating, no matter how certain I am that she is not wearing any panties.
“I will form my own self-consistent moral code, independent of the mores and conventions of society, in which righteousness and honor take precedence over the dogmatic tenets of post-Victorian morality that are ingrained in our culture. Also, I will not kick puppies.
“I will do my best not to poke anybody in the eye with a sharpened pencil unless it is absolutely necessary.
“I will not lie, cheat or steal, unless I must do so to keep my children from starving. Or my girlfriend asks me if she looks fat in those pants, in which case I will not prevaricate, or tell her that it's actually her fat that makes her look fat, but will instead invoke my fifth amendment rights.
“I will leave a note when I accidentally dent someone’s car with my shopping cart, unless I am in rural Missouri and cannot tell which of the dents is mine.
“I will courteously offer my handkerchief to any man whom I have just punched in the nose for slapping my girlfriend's ass.
“Above all, I will strive to set a good example for all men everywhere by treating others with respect, tolerance and fairness, and by changing my underwear every day without fail.”

So, what happened to the moose? (#2)

First of all, several people have asked me about the moose. I’m sorry to report that the moose, whom we posthumously named “Fredo,” did not survive the accident which, incidentally, was also directly responsible for the destruction of my convertible top and a very nice fedora. The club briefly considered adopting a moose tattoo to complement existing club tattoos in honor of Fredo, but after thinking about it for a few minutes, we decided to go with something a little smaller.

Also, several women, upon learning of the existence of the "Good Man Club," have also inquired as to the availability of membership for females. Allow me to say that this fact alone contributed to the untimely ascent to the heavenly reward of two of our members. Well, former members. In the first case, the unfortunate former member happened to be playing mumblety-peg at the exact moment this exciting news was imparted to the membership at large, and in the extremity of his excitement was impaled by his own blade, which will be enshrined in the “(Used To Be A) Good Man” memorial garden in a solemn ceremony next Tuesday evening. The second member to shuffle off this mortal coil did so purposefully at the behest of his imaginary girlfriend Louise, who is thought to have been whipped into an insane jealous rage by the news that her host would soon be in contact with actual living women. This theory is unsubstantiated, and will undoubtedly remain so, as Louise is no longer available for comment.

With that sad news out of the way, it is my pleasure and privilege to announce that an affiliate organization is being chartered for the purpose of providing distaff membership privileges to the “Good Woman Club.” A committee is being formed to recruit what can only be described as a chairwoman to head the board of the new organization. This committee would actually have been formed already were it not for the fact that the majority of committee candidates are too busy shaving and bathing to actually attend the meeting. This temporary condition should be resolved as soon as Bill gets back from Walgreen’s with a fresh supply of Axe Body Wash, Gillette razors, and Edge Advanced. Applicants for the position of chairwoman should apply at the Socks & Tights department at the nearest Old Navy franchise, and will incidentally be issued 15% off coupons for all Women’s Floral Trouser Socks.

Qualifications for membership in the “Good Woman Club” include the following:
1. Candidates must be a woman.
2. Candidates must also be good, as defined by Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, i.e. morally excellent, virtuous, righteous, and generally awesome. As some of these terms are open to interpretation, it has been suggested by members of the affiliate committee who have already finished shaving that being generally awesome is sufficient qualification for membership.
3. Candidates must be willing to wear the official badge of membership. As male and female anatomies differ significantly, it is not reasonable to expect that the female equivalent of the badge location employed by members of the “Good Man Club” be used for badge display. Therefore, a separate committee is being formed to determine an alternative badge display location. This committee will convene immediately upon announcement of the winners of the arm wrestling match, and will begin examining potential badge display locations with the assistance of a group of female volunteers currently being sought for this purpose.

The "Good Man Club" (#1)

I was reading the personals the other day, and I ran across an ad entitled “Where are all the good men hiding?” I thought about writing to the woman and telling her about our secret clubhouse craftily hidden in a bunker underneath Old Navy, and that we meet there every night and talk about how lonely we are, and eventually someone says, “Hey! We should open the club to women!” This is always followed by great excitement and animated conversation with lots of sweeping hand gestures and hoots of glee, but then we remember that none of us know where the good women are, and after a long, desultory silence we all get in our cars and go home.

Day after day, our “I AM A GOOD MAN” tattoos discreetly concealed under our clothing, we practice our professions as writers, UPS drivers, organic pasta chefs, septic tank pumpers, and those guys who you always see in industrial training videos walking around clean rooms in white coats carrying clipboards. Occasionally, we raise our eyes from our work, fruitlessly scanning the area for signs of a good woman, but we all missed the day in high school Health class when they taught the guys how to recognize one, so we all wind up watching the girl in the tight slacks instead, wondering if she has “I AM A GOOD WOMAN” tattooed on her butt. There’s just no diplomatic way to ascertain this without surrendering our “good man” certification, though, so it invariably remains a mystery.

So I consider responding to this woman’s ad and telling her all this, and perhaps offering to send her a picture of my “I AM A GOOD MAN” tattoo, but then I realize that if word got out about the tattoos, pretty soon ALL the guys would get them, and there would be no way to tell us apart anymore. Then it would be like two guys, each with a Ph.D., one of them in Neurosurgery and the other in Comparative Philology. One of them is saving lives and making a million dollars a year, and the other guy is saying, “You want fries with that?” and swatting flies on the grill with a beat-up copy of “Beyond Good and Evil.” Also, part of the “G” in my tattoo has faded a little bit, so it looks like it says “I AM A COOD MAN.” I need to get that touched up.

In the end, she sounded so sweet and funny that I decided to write to her anyway, and just leave out the part about the clubhouse and the tattoos. It took me a while to write my reply because I really wanted to say something thoughtful and responsive. Also, I had to go help a friend tow his car home after he hit a moose on the freeway, and of course we couldn’t just let the moose lie there, so we strapped him to the top of my car and took him to the vet first. (I think my next car is going to be a pickup truck, because this convertible top is way too delicate for carrying huge palmate ruminants.)

In any case, I finally finished my intelligent (but not pompous), substantial (but not too long) and moderately witty (but not offensive) reply, but I still haven’t sent it. In all the time I’ve been in the “good man” club, nobody has ever written any of us back, and we’re all pretty discouraged. Except that one time that Svetlana girl wrote back to Phil, but when he called the number she gave him, he got some kind of Ukrainian sex chat line. She must have mistyped it or something.

Anyway, part of being a “good man” is overcoming the discouragement that is an occasional and unavoidable part of life, so I am going to send her the e-mail I wrote. I won’t expect a response, but I’ll be happy if I get one, even if it doesn’t turn into anything but a few exchanges of e-mail. It’s been a while since I got to know a woman well enough to trust her with the secret of my “I AM A GOOD MAN” tattoo, and I’m really looking forward to the moment when its strategic location is revealed to a new lover for the first time, and to hear the inevitable question: “Why do you have ‘IAMAN’ tattooed on your... wait... oh!”

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Happiness? What the hell is that?

Can you remember what it felt like to be a child, filled with wonder at everything you lay your eyes upon, when the sunlight was always golden and the breeze always seemed to be imported from some exotic faraway, carrying upon it the scents of freshly mown lawns and fresh-baked bread? Do you remember what it felt like to feel safe and loved, to see the world as a place so kind that you weren’t even really aware of the concept of pain and loneliness? I’ve never forgotten that sense of innocence and goodness… although I will admit that as I have grown older, that state of grace has seemed further out of reach. I know I’m luckier than most, though, because I remember… and I still occasionally glimpse that world from behind my adult eyes.

Imagine, if you can, returning there as you are today, somehow miraculously sloughing off your burden of cares and the ghosts of your losses. Imagine waking up one morning to sunlight streaming in the bedroom windows, a sunlight so radiant and golden that it makes beautiful all that it touches, and feeling that goodness irrigating your heart like a crystal stream. Imagine a smile rising unbidden to your lips, as natural and as lacking in artifice as a child’s, and feeling that everything you see is responding to you, smiling back at you with a secret warmth there for your eyes alone.

Imagine suddenly realizing that you are happy.

No, don’t think about it or try to analyze it; analysis is the trick logic uses to keep you firmly in the world according to the Wall Street Journal. The second you start using your grown-up mind to figure out why you are happy, it’s gone as suddenly as it appeared. Just breathe, and do the first thing that comes to your mind, exactly as a child would.

I sometimes think that such moments cannot last for long, that perhaps the fabric of the soul is too delicate to bear the weight of such joy for too long. Sometimes it seems that the human spirit was built for bearing an almost endless amount of pain and can hold together under the worst losses and defeats, but that joy can only be accepted in small quantities at long intervals.

Or perhaps it is we who choose it to be so. If you never truly love, you can never know real loss. We pay in advance for the happiness we find, and for some, the price simply becomes too high to pay. It is easier to learn to live with pain and loneliness, to watch it appear to recede as it slowly sinks into your being and becomes a part of it, comfortable and known, than it is to risk everything and expose your fragile and delicate soul to the agony of reaching for the stars and feeling your fingertips slide off their surface, your body falling to rest, broken and bloodied, on the hard ground below.

The secret of life is simply this: the world actually is that beautiful place inhabited by children and lovers, a gorgeous tapestry of mingled textures and colors, a world superficially identical to the one most of us live in every day… but in which each of our senses is a doorway to an endless river of emotion and awareness. It’s not the universe that is unkind; it’s we who make it so by our perception that it is that way.

Those of us who find that sweet hidden world invariably marvel at how easy it is to be there, how effortless it is to turn that corner. We only realize once we have set down our burdens how much effort we have been exerting to carry them.