That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

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Posts Tagged ‘things that are not awesome’

Dad, they come in through the doors.

Posted by kozemp on June 16, 2017

I’ve been having trouble getting out of bed lately.

Not trouble sleeping, mind. I’ve never been good in the mornings, but for at least the last god knows how many years that’s been mostly because I was never really sleeping. Since the nice doctors gave me the kickass CPAP machine at the end of last year, oh baby have I been sleeping.

But the last few months I’ve been having the damnedest time in the morning when I wake up. Before, my trouble in the morning was that I was always moving through quicksand. I’d get out of bed at 530 and I wouldn’t really even be awake until almost an hour later. That’s what happens when you haven’t slept for more than 8 or 10 minutes at a time in years.

That isn’t what’s happening now, though.

Now my alarm goes off at 530 – the opening song from La La Land – I wake up and turn it off, and then I just lay there. I’m not asleep, really. It’s not “oh, I’ll hit snooze and stay here for ten more minutes.” I don’t set a snooze on my morning alarm anymore. I turn it off and I just lay in bed awake. Sometimes for ten minutes. Sometimes for almost an hour. It’s not that I’m still asleep. It’s not that I want to go back to sleep. It’s not that my back hurts too much to get out of bed.

I just lie there, awake, not wanting to get up. I lie there until the thought of getting showered and dressed and making breakfast in time to leave for work would mean rushing more than I want to in the morning, and that’s the thing that jolts me out of bed. Having a leisurely morning is why I started getting up that early in the first place, and on days when I have to go to work it’s basically the only thing that gets me out of bed.

On weekends, when I need to be somewhere in the morning I’ll lie there until the last possible second before I’ll be late to wherever I’m going.

On weekend days when I don’t have to be anywhere…

On days like that I will stay in bed until I have to go to the bathroom so badly I can’t take it anymore.

The third or fourth time that happened I started to realize I had a problem.

********

Almost a year ago – in actual fact very close to exactly a year ago – we got the news that my father was sick. Really sick. Stage III peripheral T-Cell lymphoma.

That is one of those moments you wish you could say “I don’t remember much from those days.” I remember exactly which empty office I sat in at work to talk to my mother. I remember sitting there at the unused desk with my head in my hands for almost a half an hour, wondering what to do. I called Regina. I talked to my boss. I booked a ticket to Florida on the first flight I could afford. Then Florida in June – seven hells, Florida in June. The hospital. Back and forth the 24 miles from my parents’ to the hospital, sitting with my dad in shifts. Watching the Bridgestone and the Euros with my dad while my mom slept at home. Talking about treatment and prognosis with my father’s doctor, who annoyingly insisted on being called “Tim.” Exaggeratingly pronouncing “TIM” like John Cleese as soon as he left the room.

One night back at the house, laying out for my mother, talking nonstop for almost an hour in the coldest monotone I have ever managed, my detailed analysis of what an absolute failure I’d been as a son and a person. The feeling, when I left several days later, that I was inhuman for going back home and leaving them on their own.

I remember that week with perfect, excruciating clarity.

After that week came six months of treatment, which was somehow worse. I don’t want to go into too much direct technical detail here – I lived it for months and don’t want to spend so much as five seconds reliving it again – but basically the way we treat cancer, the way we stop this thing from killing you, is to do everything BUT kill you. The idea of the chemotherapy regimens is to get you as close to death as you can tolerate, and I don’t mean tolerate the way you gimp around on a sore ankle for a few weeks until you can see the orthopedist. I mean tolerate as in “not actually die.”  Once they find that level, they hit you with it over and over and over again. Then, for my father at least, at the end they perform a stem cell transplant, basically a complete teardown and rebuild of your immune system, a remarkable procedure with truly horrific side effects which in my dad’s case involved weeks living in a clean room and being ACTUALLY dead for a few seconds.

For six months there was this thing there, hanging over me, that no matter how much good news we got from doctors, no matter how well my father handled the chemo (which turned out to be very well), for six straight months I spent every second convinced that my father was going to die at any moment. Not just any moment, in the next moment. Every second of every day, waiting for the axe to fall.

It was not a good way to live. It wasn’t even the only one; over those six months I came up with any number of very innovative ways to live that were not good.

People were telling me from the start, “take care of yourself.” Tons of people reached out to me with offers of help, and good wishes, and the outpouring of support blew my mind more than a little, but people kept saying that to me and I really didn’t know what to make of it. “Take care of myself.” Of course I’m going to take care of myself. How can I not take care of myself?

Turns out, not taking care of yourself is a lot easier than you’d believe. Step 1: spend all your time worrying about someone else. Step 2: don’t do anything else. I’m not sure what happens after that for anyone else, but for me it involved losing a night of my life.

I’ve talked occasionally about the very few times I’ve straight-up hallucinated – brought on by my purposeful and idiotic choices to stay awake for days at a stretch – and how the real problem with, say, seeing trees in the middle of Roosevelt Boulevard is not “oh my, there’s a tree in the middle of the road that wasn’t there before,” but instead “there’s a tree in the middle of the road and I KNOW there isn’t a tree in the middle of the road so OH MAN MY BRAIN ISN’T WORKING RIGHT.” The problem isn’t bad input. The problem is the epistemological fear reaction it produces.

The very bottom of me ignoring the advice I got to take care of myself came on a Friday night in October, when I got home from work and stepped out of my car, and the next thing I knew after that I was lying in bed, in the middle of the night, in different clothes than I had worn to work that day. I had no memory of the previous six hours, but at some point I had, at the very least, changed clothes and gone to bed.

I made some very quick checks – I hadn’t blackout-dialed any of my exes. My car was still where I parked it. My bag was where I leave it when I walk in the door. I hadn’t done anything crazy. Near as I could figure, it appeared that once I had gotten home the conscious part of my brain simply shut down entirely.

The fact that I had managed to get myself inside, and changed and – damp towel, taken a goddamn shower! – and put myself to bed without any sort of higher brain functioning, all of that worried me less than the fact that it had happened in the first place. Just like that first drive back from New York in the middle of the night when I saw trees in the middle of the Boulevard, my reaction was not “oh my god I can’t remember the last six hours.” It was “how did I get myself to a place where it was possible for me to black out for six hours?”

Even at the time the answer was fairly obvious. I had been living on a ragged emotional edge for months at that point, and was now apparently doing considerable physical harm to myself as well, but what was I supposed to do? My father was sick. As far as I was concerned my father was going to die in the next five seconds. It wasn’t something that could be ignored. You might as well ask someone to ignore air, or the sun.

The part of my brain that still works through situations like this, that always seems to find some sliver to function rationally even when things have gone completely pear-shaped, reasoned that if I started blacking out regularly, or got myself sick or messed up, I wouldn’t be able to help my parents. That was what finally motivated me to actually make an effort to do what people had been telling me from the start and take care of myself through all this. That was what got me going. Not listening to those friends, or any sort of instinct for self-preservation. Just pure guilt. Straight up, end of Last Crusade, you can’t save him when you’re dead, guilt.

So I called some of the friends whose advice I had been ignoring, expressed my alarm that, Fox Mulder-style, I had lost time, and asked for help. My friends, being far better than I deserved, gave it and then some. I didn’t make any sort of real move to be actively healthy in any way – not then, at least – but I did start taking rudimentary precautions to make sure I didn’t black out again.

And then… not to make a long story too short, but: my dad got better. He tolerated the chemotherapy and his test results were positive. I went down to Florida a bunch more times. We did Hospital Thanksgiving the day after he was admitted to the transplant unit. We managed to have Christmas at their house when he demanded to be discharged from the transplant unit the first day it was humanly possible for him to leave. (He was in there a shade over three weeks.) Then, in January, we got word that his scans came back clean. There was no detectable cancer.

It was early yet, but by all indications the treatments had worked. My dad was fine.

The thing no one tells you, and I’m not sure if they don’t tell you because it only happened to me or because it’s too awful to talk about, is that the news that my dad was fine made things infinitely, almost indescribably worse.

I had spent more or less every second of the previous six months worrying about my father, but in an “is he okay RIGHT NOW” sense, and not in an “is he going to be okay in the indeterminate future” sense. That second thing was there, yes. In some way it was always there, but it was always a teeny tiny little process lurking in the background. 1 percent, 2 tops, and you’re not going to pay attention to that itty bitty thing when CANCER.EXE is up there at the top of the list crushing your CPU for every scrap of spare resources it can find.

My parents were young when they had me. I objectively know how young but it’s hard for me to understand, to really grasp just how young. I’m going to turn 40 later this year. When my father turned 40 I was finishing my FRESHMAN YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL. The thought of having a kid that old is legitimately terrifying to me, let alone having TWO like my parents did. They both just turned 65 and aside from the occasional minor health scare – there were a few years there when I was a teenager when we thought my dad had prostate cancer, thank you useless PSA testing, but it never turned into anything so it was never real for me – my parents have been basically chugging along nicely my entire life.

Stage III lymphoma, though, that’s a big flashing neon sign the size of Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas that says, “hey, guess what, Sparky? Your father is mortal and you might want to get used to the idea.” The trouble was that while he was actually sick I was so entirely consumed by the “is he okay right now” question that the notion of my father’s mortality had never crossed my mind.

I’ve lost people over the years. I’ve lost a lot of people. The part of me that is a bad card player – a very small part, admittedly – sometimes likes to think that I’ve lost more than my fair share of people. The rest of me, the vast majority that is a good card player, that part remembers an old man in a robe telling me there’s no such thing as luck and a cute goth girl with an ankh necklace reminding me that I get what anybody gets. And that’s… in a weird way, that’s okay? We all lose people, and you go through it, and it’s awful and sad, and eventually you come out on the other side.

None of those people are my parents, though. None of them are my father. I tried to think about the possibility of my father actually dying and I just couldn’t do it. It wasn’t there; I couldn’t conceive of a world where that had happened. I’ve spent a lot of my life living in the future, in a future that was admittedly almost always incorrect but no less vivid for that, but no matter how hard I tried, and I tried very hard, I couldn’t see that particular future.

I’ve said before, here and other places, that I am loathe to assign meaning to things I cannot accurately describe, but this is one of those things that if I were pressed to say how it’s different I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything more than “it just is.”

So for six months I had sublimated – or, possibly more accurately, outright ignored – this giant reminder of my father’s mortality. (My mother’s as well, of course, but if there’s anything in heredity my mother will live well into her two thousands.)

And then came the news that my father was well. He was not going to die.

He was not going to die RIGHT NOW.

It was at this point that six months of not confronting my father’s mortality hit me all at once, and the force of it dislodged this thing inside me like an iceberg breaking off from the polar ice cap, and my entire brain was suddenly consumed by pure, atavistic terror.

Much like the feeling of worry that consumed me when my dad was sick, I’ve been experiencing that terror almost every waking moment since I got the phone call in January that he was fine.

You know what I hate more than anything in the world right now? My phone. Jesus puppyfucking Christ, how I hate my phone.

I had my first phone-related panic attack when my mother called a few weeks after we got the good news. My phone rang – the fanfare from the Indiana Jones theme – I saw “Mom” at the top of the screen, and the entire 68-piece panic attack orchestra broke into the opening bars of the 1812 Overture.

This was it. This was the call. The scans were wrong. The doctors fucked it up. The cancer is back. The cancer never left.

My mother was calling to tell me my father was dying again.

Now, of course, my mother was actually calling to tell me that my sister would be leaving their place soon and heading back up here, and she was sending some stuff for me with her, and when she came by to drop it off would I mind giving her the old vacuum cleaner?

I am reasonably sure my mom didn’t know that for the first 30 seconds of our conversation I was a hairsbreadth away from needing to be hospitalized. I think I covered it up pretty well.

My mother and I don’t talk on the phone all that often. She took to technology with much more ease than a lot of people her age so most of our communication is digital. She texts me about Doctor Who. She emails me stories about new attractions at Disney World and questions about whether or not she should upgrade her iMac. (The apple, and indeed the Apple, doesn’t fall far from the tree.) Honest to goodness voice calls, though, they’re pretty rare.

It’s a good thing they’re rare, because this panic attack happens every time she calls now.

Every time my phone rings and I see “Mom” at the top I get that feeling, that pressure in my chest, the world spinning around my head, that inability to catch a breath once I answer. Now, months later, it’s over almost before I know it, it’s over as soon as I hear that impossibly cheery “Hell-LO!” she always starts phone calls with, but even still, imagine that: even for a second, not being able to breathe when your mother calls.

This insane, impossible little box that connects me to the rest of the world has become this thing that I hate. I hate having it on me, I hate carrying it around, I hate needing it, because every time the fanfare from Raiders plays and I see “Mom” I am convinced that this time is it, this is the one I’ve been dreading, my father is sick again and the giant mass of atavistic terror is sharpened down to a dagger that gets driven into my chest.

One time she called me a few months ago I just sat there for a little bit, staring at my phone, wondering if this was the ballgame. Am I always going to panic when my mother calls? Am I ever going to be able to actually talk to her on the phone without feeling like I’m dying?

Am I going to spend the rest of my life terrified that this is the call telling me the world is ending?

The part of my brain that always functions rationally no matter what quietly said, “no, not for the rest of your life. Just for the rest of HIS.”

I put my elbows on the table and my head in my hands the same way I did that day last June when she called and said aloud to my empty dining room, “that’s not helpful.”

********

My dad and I were never really shy about communicating – well, not about talking at least, actual COMMUNICATING may be another story – but we talk a lot more now than we ever did. When my father was sick I made it a point to talk to him every day, even if it was just a text message to see how he was feeling. (The answer was usually “crappy.”) I still try to touch base every day, although most days if nothing else we end up texting the weather where we are to each other, as though the cursed smartphones we’re texting through don’t also tell us the weather where the other is.

So we talk about weather. We live-text each other the golf. We argue about movies. I text him the puns from the opening credits of Bob’s Burgers every week. He texts me what he did in physical therapy that day and how good he feels. We argue about their itinerary for when they drive north for the summer in a few weeks.

If I think about all of it too much it still feels just as bad, but it doesn’t feel as bad for as long, and I take my small victories where I can find them.

I woke up this morning and went down to the kitchen to make my breakfast. As I was getting ready to toss the butter for my egg in the pan, in my dreary pre-coffee shuffle I slowly noticed that I smelled gas, which should not happen. I realized, even through my stupor, that I never heard the click-click-click of the igniter on the burner.

I looked down: no flames.

I looked at the control panel for the range: no clock.

I muttered, “shit,” and was instantly, completely awake.

A minute later as I was sitting at my computer googling my electrician’s number I texted my mother “no power in oven. Weird. Calling the guy.” My parents are in Disney World, which I knew was the only thing on earth that would get my mother out of bed before 8AM.

Before I could finish finding the number my mother texted me “hang on.”

I saw that and thought “NO DON’T – !”

My phone rang.

Indiana Jones theme. “Mom.”

I gripped the edge of the dining room table so hard my nails would have snapped off, if I had any.

As my mother started talking about the GFCI and testing the outlet behind the dish rack, that rational part of my brain quietly slid up next to me and said, “it’s time we fixed this.”

I pushed the tiny red button on the outlet.

JLK

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You don’t need a crystal ball to predict the obvious.

Posted by kozemp on July 12, 2013

Studio brass at 20th Century Fox are taking meetings with possible directors for their upcoming X-Force movie.

What follows is a transcript of every one of those meetings.

Director: So, I had some questions.

Fox: Sure, go ahead.

Director: This “Cable” person, who is he?

Fox: Ah, sure. See, Cable is Cyclops’ son.

Director: But he’s an old man.

Fox: Yes.

Director: And Cyclops isn’t in this movie.

Fox: No.

Director: So…

Fox: What happens is, Jean Grey dies. Kinda like she did in X-Men 2. Like that only, you know, again.

Director: Wait, she’s not in this either. Are we going to reuse the footage, or…

Fox: So Jean Grey dies. And then Mister Sinister –

Director: Who is THAT?

Fox: Mister Sinister creates a clone of Jean Grey called Maddie Pryor. And Scott falls in love with her. Maddie, I mean. For some reason.

Director: Again, none of this happens in this script –

Fox: Scott abandons Maddie and their baby to go off and form X-Factor –

Director: What the hell is X-Factor?!

Fox: And in her depressive state Maddie becomes possessed by a demon.

Director: <silence>

Fox: So when Jean Grey and the Phoenix Force finally manage to kill Maddie –

Director: But Jean Grey is dead. She died TWICE in the other movies! Never mind whatever the hell a Phoenix Force is.

Fox: Jean absorbs Maddie’s memories, or something.

Director: I can’t believe what I’m hearing.

Fox: And once Apocalypse learns that Cyclops and a clone of Jean Grey had a son –

Director: How does the apocalypse learn something? It’s a biblical event.

Fox: No, Apocalypse. With a capital “A.” The first mutant.

Director: With a captial “A.”

Fox: After Apocalypse lears about Scott and Maddie’s half-clone son, he infects it with the techno-organic virus –

Director: WHAT IS A TECHNO-ORGANIC VIRUS? WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

Fox: And then Askani shows up.

Director: I don’t even care who that is.

Fox: Askani is Cyclops and Jean Grey’s daughter from an alternate dimension who lives 2,000 years in the future of THIS dimension.

Director: <begins loading handgun>

Fox: Askani shows up and says she can cure the baby by taking him into the future, only Scott and Jean will never see the baby again.

Director: Why would Jean, who is somehow alive, care about never seeing her clone’s baby?

Fox: So Askani takes the baby into the future, and then even though she said they’d never see it again, she takes Scott and Jean’s minds into the future and they raise the baby for twelve years under assumed names.

Director: I – I don’t –

Fox: And the baby grows up to be Cable. Who then travels BACK in time to kill Apocalypse, who rules the world 2,000 years in the future.

Director: Please stop.

Fox: Which, the whole traveling back to the present from the future to kill Apocalypse, who is 3,000 years old now and rules the world 2,000 years in the future, was why Mister Sinister –

Director: Still don’t know who that is.

Fox: Which is why Mister Sinister created Maddie Pryor in the first place. So she’d give birth to Cable. Who is an old man who leads a group of teenage mutant terrorists. Oh, and half of his body is made of metal and one of his eyes is a flashlight.

Director: Don’t ever fucking call me again.

 

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We know that come tomorrow, none of this will be here.

Posted by kozemp on February 13, 2013

The first DC Comic I ever bought was Batman 500, back in the fall of 1993.

Yes, that issue with the hideous gatefold, die-cut, foil cover. That cover was like a summation of everything that was wrong with 90s comics. I bought it at a shop called 4Cs, which was really more of a baseball card joint, but back in the day when I could walk to four different comic shops it was the closest. I bought it on a lark – I mean, at the time, as far as I thought, DC sucked. However, possibly because I was 15 years old, I fell totally in love with it, and essentially doubled my comic reading workload.

The last DC Comic I ever bought was a hardcover collection of The Black Mirror, a Batman story by Scott Snyder, a few weeks ago.

I read, I suppose it was last week, the announcement that DC was hiring Orson Scott Card to write Superman and my initial reaction was, “are they out of their fucking minds?”

The funny thing about it is that that was a showbiz reaction. It came from the same sort of place as when I said “are they out of their fucking minds?” 6 or 7 years ago when it was announced that Robert Downey was going to play Tony Stark. It’s ludicrous! He’s damaged goods! What a stupid decision! This will doom the project before it begins!

Don’t get me wrong, I still found (and find) Orson Scott Card to be a repulsive, evil excuse for a human being, but I didn’t think about it in moral terms until this morning.

This morning I saw two things.

One was an announcement that a comic shop in Dallas said that they would not sell a Superman book written by Orson Scott Card because of his repulsive, evil depictions of gay people.

The other was DC’s response to the (heretofore unknown to me) outcry about hiring Card. A response in which they actually defend their decision to hire this repulsive, evil excuse for a human being. A response in which they not only have the appalling nerve to claim that the people they choose to hire do not represent them, a logical fallacy that will make your eyes bleed if you think too long about it, but which they had the astronomically more appalling nerve to release to precisely two outlets: The Advocate, and Fox Business Radio.

I read those two things, and something in my head snapped.

Something in my head snapped, and for a little while I had trouble accurately pinning down precisely what I was feeling. I was hurt by it, deeply and profoundly hurt, and I was incredibly, powerfully angry that not only had DC done such a thing, but when presented with the loud cry of outrage that followed it, they chose to double down on it and act as though they were somehow doing something admirable. I was hurt at the fact that DC doesn’t care about people’s feelings or how what they do looks. I was angry that DC could be so reckless and cavalier with their duty of care towards such an important icon of American culture.

But there was a third feeling in there, one I couldn’t pin down for a while until I talked to a friend of mine about it. It was in the course of that conversation I recognized what I was feeling:

Shame.

I have said before, many times: in whatever that special place is, be it over their bed, or at their desk, or in the kitchen, or over the front door, lots of people keep a picture of Jesus as a reminder of what they aspire to, and the kind of person they want to be. Or a picture of Albert Einstein. Or Martin Luther King. Or the Dalai Lama. Or whoever.

Over my desk, there is a picture of Superman.

There is a picture of Superman over my desk because Superman is my barometer, my yardstick for measuring right and wrong. Superman is that for me because, setting aside silly temporal considerations of story or plot or whatever, Superman is a god walking the earth, an omnipotent being who can do and have anything he wants, and he chooses to devote his life to helping other people. He chooses to always do the right thing. And when he’s done he puts on a pair of glasses and goes home and doesn’t ask for credit, or recognition, or thanks. He is the perfect representation of human altruism, the very best of us given form.

Superman is my barometer because he can do and have anything he wants, and he chooses to be Superman.

And I felt shame about it.

I felt shame because having grown up with all of that as such an important part of my life, having this now be part of it made me feel as though I was somehow complicit in it. As though, because he was now one of the people guiding it, the hateful, evil things Card represents are also part of me as well. I recognize that is irrational, yes, but it doesn’t change the fact that I felt it all the same.

I’ll tell you something: I can deal with hurt feelings. I can deal with anger. By this point in my life, having come out on the other side of all the crazy that’s happened over the years, I can deal with anger and hurt feelings like a fucking champ. But shame doesn’t go away so easily, and that anger – not the initial anger at the act itself, but the deep, soul anger caused by someone you trusted making you ashamed – that dies even harder. I’m not an angry guy, not anymore, even though it takes a lot of work for me to be that, but when Bruce teaches us “hold tight to your anger,” I think maybe this is what he was talking about, that breaking the covenant we have to take care of one another is the only thing worth getting angry about.

So, yeah, I’m there.

And before we unilaterally reject anger and conflict in all its forms – which I wholly endorse 99.99% of the time – let’s not forget, this isn’t the first time we’ve gone round and round with DC on this. Recall last year, when DC made the announcement that one of their “major” characters was going to come out as gay, and when the time came it turned out to be Alan Scott. You almost have to give them credit, since for however reprehensible the move was they managed to pull it off while giving themselves perfect political cover from both sides: the fans and media who rightfully ask why there aren’t any major gay characters at DC get their “Green Lantern is gay” headline, but DC can still turn to the repulsive, evil excuses for human beings who would be outraged by that and whisper, “don’t worry, the REAL Green Lantern isn’t gay.”

If you think for even one second that isn’t what DC was doing, just remember they released their response to two places: The Advocate, and Fox.

Their CYA used to be subtle, at least.

It was when I was wrestling with all this hurt and anger and shame that I realized I just couldn’t be a part of it anymore.

My friend put it best: they gave a purveyor of hate speech the keys to Superman. And, yes, I could just as easily not buy the book. Hell, there was no way I could buy the book. The problem is that the book isn’t the disease; the book is a symptom. The disease is that there are people running DC Comics who thought this was okay. Who thought this was a good idea. Who thought they should give a purveyor of hate speech the keys to Superman. That is so fundamentally and intrinsically WRONG that if I think too much about it I physically shudder and twitch, as though by body is trying to wrench the idea out of itself.

I’m not going to pretend that having a conscience – or at least one that I listen to – isn’t still a bit of a new thing for me, relatively speaking, but as the saying goes: I cannot, in good conscience, give money to people who think that. And no matter how hard I try I can’t shake this anger. I’m not sure I should.

So after almost 20 years, me and DC Comics are done. And, yeah, for me, that kinda sucks. Admittedly I don’t think I’ve ever read less DC in the last 20 years than I do now, but still. No Night of Owls. No Death of the Family. No Snyder/Lee Superman. No Rotworld. No Aquaman, no Flash, no Green Lantern, none of it. Not until this gets fixed. Not until something is done about this.

DC and I are done until this is fixed, and until someone apologizes for the shame, and the anger. Because for however much I want to do both, the leadership at DC Comics is so venal, so corrupt, so degenerate, they thought that given the choice between reading their books and looking in the mirror, I would choose the books.

You don’t have to be Superman to choose the mirror.

JLK

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Ah, distinctly I remember.

Posted by kozemp on July 19, 2012

Remember Muzzy Izzet?

He was a Turkish international who played for Chelsea way back in the day and spent most of his career at Leicester City. After Leicester he spent three injury-wracked years at Birmingham where by all accounts he produced nothing particularly noteworthy, except for what I still remember eight years later as the single greatest handball in the history of soccer.

I have tried and failed to find video of this play but believe me when I tell you: it was truly, truly spectacular. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was in November, I was at the Dark Horse, and I was walking out of the Rigger Bar past the brand-new big-screen television that had been installed the month before for an England-Wales World Cup qualifier. (My attendance at the Dark Horse for that specific game, I recall, was required by certain parties as a shibboleth to prove that I “actually” liked soccer.)

I was walking out of the bar when I glanced at the television. Everton had a free kick maybe 25 yards from the Birmingham goal. Thomas Gravesen – sweet zombie Jesus, I can’t believe I still remember it was Thomas Gravesen – lined up over the ball and took a very nice free kick that looked to sail over the heads of the wall and slightly trouble the Birmingham goalkeeper (whose name, sadly, I cannot remember). It looked like it was going to do this until, possibly entering a dissociative state and believing he was playing some other sport, Muzzy shoved his arms up in the air, hit the ball square with the heels of both hands, and pushed it over the crossbar.

It was as perfect a set as you would see on any volleyball court. Unfortunately, it happened in a soccer game.

Everyone in the bar stared at the television. Everyone in the stands stared at the pitch. It was a moment of perfect, stunned silence on two continents. The ref walked over to Muzzy, pointed to the spot, and showed him a red card with a bewildered look on his face that clearly said, “what the fuck were you doing?”

It is, to this day, still one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen in sports, and it takes the cake from Luis Suarez as the Greatest Handball Ever because while Suarez was simply cheating, Muzzy Izzet genuinely appeared to lose his mind for a second there.

I am reminded tonight of Muzzy because walking back to my car from PPL Park tonight, between the corner at the stadium road and the church where I park, I sent a message on Twitter to a friend of mine.

I wrote, “Has there been a change to the Laws of the Game that visiting players at PPL Park can use their hands?!”

This is twice in a week now and it’s starting to get really, really irritating.

I’m not going to say that the handball witnessed in the closing stages of tonight’s friendly with Aston Villa was close to as bad as Muzzy’s famous set, but is the second time in seven days I’m sitting here talking about a Union game and the most important part of it was a terrible refereeing decision.

The Union won a free kick on the edge of the Villa penalty area in… late in the game, I want to say maybe the 82nd minute or so. I’m not entirely sure how the Union actually won the free kick – we were on a careening late run towards the Villa goal, because as we know the the Union’s new MO is to only actually play soccer in the last 10 minutes of the game – but there it was all the same. The free kick right on the edge of the area, just inside the post.

Part of the reason my memory of this free kick is somewhat distorted (i.e., I cannot remember when it happened, who won the foul, or who took the kick) is what happened ON the free kick.

The ball was kicked.

The ball flew at the wall.

One of the Villa players in the wall flung his arm at the ball and knocked it away from the play.

It was a clear, deliberate, obvious handball by defending player in his own box. It may not have been as spectacular or ridiculous as Muzzy’s handball against Everton, but it was no less blatant. This should have been the easiest red card and penalty the referee had ever issued.

Play continued.

Sitting in our seats more than 120 yards away, Nick and I saw this clear as day and both screamed simultaneously, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!” Tom, in his Aston Villa shirt, more demurely muttered, “wow.”

Now, again, don’t get me wrong. Just like the Cup semifinal against Sporting last week, the Union did not lose because of a poor refereeing decision. Well, bad refereeing decision. Well, atrocious refereeing decision. It may not necessarily have been the worst soccer game I’ve ever seen, but it was definitely flirting with the top 10. We put out what was mostly a youth side, Lambert rotated his squad players and his youngsters in and out as well, and the quality of play on both sides could generally best be described as “terrible.” And that’s fine. It was a mid-season friendly for us. It was a preseason tour game for Villa. No one is expecting an all-time classic. And we lost because Nathan Delfouneso scored a really, really good goal.

It does rankle, though, that our undefeated run in exhibitions against foreign sides ended this way, where by rights we should have had a chance to at least tie it up late in the game and keep our unblemished record. Yeah, it’s just a friendly but… pride, you know? It’s not just a terrible U2 song.

JLK

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I believe you will find it is you who are mistaken. About a great many things.

Posted by kozemp on July 12, 2012

We learned three very important things at PPL Park last night.

1) There is, in fact, a level of officiating that is worse than what is commonly found in MLS.

2) The Philadelphia Union still have quite a long ways to go before all of their problems are solved.

3) I am not very good at kicking a soccer ball.

So, a rundown.

It’s an article of faith among MLS fans that the officiating in the league hovers just above abysmal. This is hardly surprising. USSF refs don’t exactly get the best training in the world so one can’t be too surprised when they go to a game and fuck it up on a scale normally used by people like Charles Richter.

I’ve spent a good portion of the last three years at PPL Park and while the MLS officials have not been out-and-out terrible every week, poor officiating seems to be the norm rather than the exception. After a while you just get sort of… I don’t know… inured to it, I guess. You go to the games, you root for your team, the official makes a shitload of mistakes, there are no peanuts in your goddamn Cracker Jack, everybody goes home, and on and on it goes, till death do us part, amen.

Occasionally you’ll get egregiously bad refs whose intent, it seems, is to elevate bad officiating into some sort of hideous performance art, as though their desire were to go in front of 18,000 people and put on a terrible show so as to purposely draw the audience’s ire, as some sort of bizarre commentary on the American need for a villain. This, frankly, is pretty rare. Most the time you get garden-variety terrible refs who simply don’t know what they’re doing, or aren’t fit enough to keep up with the game, or hate Peter Nowak because of that time he told the ref’s mother go fuck herself.

Last night, though, at the US Open Cup semifinal against Sporting Kansas City, officiating in American soccer reached a new, previously unthought-of nadir. Like I said, I’ve been at PPL Park for the better part of the last three years and last night was, without a doubt, the single worst officiated soccer game I have ever seen in my entire life. The sheer number of things the referee “let go” in this game was STAGGERING. Hand balls, lunges from behind, players kicking the ball away from the team that won a free kick – that last one of at least three things in this game I counted that are supposed to be an automatic yellow card where none was issued – the official no-called every one of these things, multiple times. Oh man, the hand balls. So, so many.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We did not lose BECAUSE of the ref. I’m not even sure how much the ref directly contributed to the Union’s loss. Having the worst official of the history of soccer – that’s right, you heard me, worst official in 2400 years – certainly didn’t help the cause, but any reasonably fair assessment would show that the Union lost because Zac MacMath lost his mind on a free kick in the middle of the second half, flailing at it like a seven-year-old trying to return his father’s serve in beach volleyball.

Which, conveniently, nicely segues into the next thing we learned, which is that for all the recent turnaround under John Hackworth, the Union still have a long way to go to get back to where they were, say, a year ago.

There is a fine line between playing badly and simply not playing well, and the Union flip-flopped back and forth over it all night. I still say they spent more time on the “not playing well” side, and that overall the game had the feel more of a dire and dreary cup final than of a usually-more-interesting semifinal. I can’t even say one of the usual platitudes like, “this wasn’t the same team that won their last three games, including beating this Sporting team 4-0.”

This was, in fact, very MUCH the same team that rattled off those three wins in a row, and that was part of the problem.

Around the middle of the first half (just before a Union free kick where our slam-bag official would wrongly rule him offside) I turned to Tim and Nick and said, “Jack McInerney has got to get out of there.” In the buildup to the kick, which like almost every other free taken this game seemed to go on forever, Jack wandered around the Sporting penalty area seemingly tired, beaten down, barely there.

Tim said, “he looks gassed.”

I said, “he looks dead.”

And he did. Jack looked terrible the entire game. I get that the Union are trying to put on a new face in the Hackworth era, and that in order to restore the fan’s trust in the team they need to go out there and win as many games as possible. I agree; these are things they have to do. But the simple fact of the matter is that three days ago this team was playing Toronto FC at home, and even though in our previous meeting this season we lost to The Worst Soccer Team In The World, if Hackworth had put out a slightly reduced side this past Sunday to save up players like McInerney I don’t think anyone would’ve complained too much with the far more important US Open Cup semifinal coming – a game where a fully-fit, fully-charged McInerney would have been much more useful than a game against the absolute dregs of professional soccer.

As it was, with McInerney a pale shadow of himself, and Pajoy performing his usual shtick of “running around on a soccer field with no one really knowing what he’s doing,” the Union attack basically had no teeth the entire evening.

And let’s not even go into SKC’s second goal, which was the first hockey-style empty-netter I’ve ever seen in soccer.

I’m still inclined to give Hackworth a significant benefit of the doubt – the league results are good and at this point almost any sort of positive outcome is a major uplift for the team and the fans – but the roster selections last night and over the last week were pretty egregious mistakes. Hackworth’s mistake compounded with MacMath’s mistake and left the Union crashing out of the Cup, but, well… live and learn, I suppose. It’s early days for both of them and last night’s result aside, the future still looks a hell of a lot brighter than it did six weeks ago.

And, finally, I kicked an actual soccer ball with my actual foot for the first time since approximately 1986. It was a very nice evening weather-wise, and after the game we found ourselves in the parking lot waiting for the line of cars to reduce to a point where we could conceivably leave sometime that night, and Nick had a ball, so I ended up occasionally joining the kick-around.

To say it not go well would give poetic license a bad name, and on at least two occasions my attempt to hit the ball with my foot failed entirely and I was forced to defend myself with my hands and arms, and I’m still not 100% certain that on that last free kick, in which I tried to knock over a 64 ounce soda mug on the lip of a trunk, I didn’t break five or six bones in my right foot. Still, though, a good time was had and I wouldn’t mind doing it again. Provided I can get myself better shoes. And better feet. And better coordination.

Or, at the least, I could simply stop telling everyone how badly I do at it.

JLK

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CLASSIC: How is this MY fault?

Posted by kozemp on November 22, 2011

On my way to work every morning there is a light – at Ryan Avenue and the Boulevard, for those inexplicably keeping track of my route to work – that I have actually successfully driven through without stopping I believe four times in my entire life. It’s one of those weird things. It’s an intersection I end up at approximately 800 times a week, since you have to go through it to go essentially anywhere that isn’t Center City. And I always get stuck at it. It’s one of those things you get used to.

This morning, for whatever reason – Monday is usually the lightest traffic day of the week – the wait at the light was much, much longer than usual, stretching back a solid three blocks. While I was sitting there, for some reason, I had a flashback to another time I was sitting in traffic, although that one was much more weird and scary.

Many years ago me and a friend of mine, let’s call him… say… “Patrick” decided to go to Boston for a long weekend to visit a friend of ours who had recently moved there. For some reason – this part is hazy, it may have possibly been because I didn’t have a car at the time – Patrick was going to drive us up there on a Friday afternoon. This was a spectacularly bad idea for any number of reasons, the foremost among which is that Patrick was (and to an extent still is) completely incapable of successfully driving anywhere without laser-guided telemetry to get him there. The first time he tried to go to my house when we were in college he ended up at a bowling alley 21 miles past my house. TWENTY ONE MILES.

Boston, if you’ve never driven it, is roughly a six hour drive from here. Patrick picked me up at noon. We arrived at our friend’s apartment on Beacon Hill at 10:30PM.

Here’s how you make it take ten and a half hours to get to Boston:

First, you have someone drive you who, I am fairly certain, cannot always discern their right from their left. Then you have this person make only a cursory glance at a road atlas and think that this road here, yeah, 95, sure, that can take us the whole way, right?

So, instead of taking (if I’m remembering correctly) the New Jersey Turnpike up PAST New York City to… the Merritt Parkway? I honestly forget… you take the Turnpike INTO New York City and try to cross the GW and hack your way through the Bronx and suburban Connecticut on 95. Now years before we had them here they had those giant LCD signs on 95 in Connecticut, and once we get across the GW (elapsed bridge time: 45 minutes) and finally get moving, the sign says “HEAVY TRAFFIC APPROACHING DARIEN, CT”

When we see that sign Patrick begins rummaging in the space behind the seats with his right hand. Eventually he pulls out a map and says words that, to this day, echo in my nightmares:

“Find us a better way.”

I find what I think is a way for us to get to the Merritt Parkway without undue distress. This, of course, does not happen. After taking the first exit we can, Patrick first turns west, i.e. AWAY from Boston, and after much screaming we finally make it onto this OTHER highway which is, of course, at a dead stop.

“This is all your fault,” Patrick says.

“How is this MY fault?” I neglect to mention that the actual route entirely is my fault, but it’s inconsiderate to distract the driver.

“We were MOVING on 95,” Patrick says.

“Fucking turkeys,” I say.

“I, ah… I’ve never heard traffic described that way.” Patrick sounds confused.

“No,” I say, pointing at a flock of wild turkeys on the highway embankment. “Turkeys. Over there.” Like 20 turkeys just sitting around watching the traffic. This is my first ever exposure to the state of Connecticut and between turkeys and traffic I am unthrilled to say the least.

“That’s something you don’t see every day.”

“I don’t get stuck on a random highway in the middle of Connecticut every day either.”

“Shut up.”

At this point we’ve been in the car for maybe three hours. Eventually we get to a point where what we’re on is moving and it is determined -rightly or wrongly – that we need to get back onto 95. There is some kind of highway spur that goes to 95 through New Haven, which at that point I understood to be a slightly dingier place than Hell.

Traffic has been moving for a while and we’re on this spur back to 95 when Patrick turns to me and says – I swear to God these were his exact words because they will be burned into my brain until the day I die – “I don’t want to alarm anyone, but we don’t have any brakes.”

Despite Patrick’s attempts to the contrary I am considerably alarmed.

We manage to limp off the highway and into a Pep Boys that was INCREDIBLY conveniently located right off the exit. It is now 5:30 in the afternoon on a Friday (5 and a half hours to New Haven, BTW). The mechanics have all gone home. The people working at the Pep Boys are telling us that we can leave the Jeep there and someone could possibly look at it Saturday morning, but that it’s also possible the sun could explode on Saturday morning and the two things are about AS possible, and more than likely it will be Monday before someone looks at the brakes.

My vacation weekend in Boston is rapidly turning into my weekend sitting in a motel across the street from a Pep Boys in New Haven (which, until I would go to Los Angeles a few months later, was at that point the Worst Place On Earth I Had Ever Seen). Patrick is talking to the people at the service desk – god knows what he’s talking about – and they’re firmly saying no sir, we can’t call in one of our mechanics, but there’s a lovely Motel 6 just down the block when I notice a guy leaving the store with like 4 bags of auto parts.

I run outside and stop him in the parking lot. “Are you a mechanic?” I ask, desperate. He is. I ask him if he would PLEASE PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE OH GOD HELP US I’M GOING TO DIE IN NEW HAVEN just look under the hood of Patrick’s jeep and let us know if there’s something immediate we can do.

This is how much I know about cars. I think the brakes are under the hood.

The guy actually agrees, opens the hood , and after approximately four and a half seconds says “you’re out of brake fluid.”

“That’s it?” I ask.

“That’s it. Cost you five bucks and you’re back on the road.”

“Wow. Thanks.”

The mechanic – aka The Nicest Man I Have Ever Met – walks away smiling. I go back into the Pep Boys to find Patrick now with approximately half of his upper body leaning across the counter, his feet now barely touching the floor, pleading with the person at the service counter. I consider letting him debase himself a little further before I remember that he is actually my friend and could, were he so inclined, leave me in New Haven.

“Come on,” I say, grabbing his arm and pulling him away from the service desk. “I took care of it. We need brake fluid.”

“You TOOK CARE OF IT? What does that MEAN?” he asks.

“Just find a couple bottles of brake fluid and let’s get the fuck out of here.”

“What does TOOK CARE OF IT mean? What did you DO?”

Knowing him and knowing me I imagine Patrick assumes I, Jack Bauer-like, tortured a perfect stranger into diagnosing the car. I tell him what actually did happen.

“Brake fluid? That’s it?” he asks.

“That’s it.”

He pauses, then says, “we’re really fucking stupid.”

“No,” I say, “we’re smart, we just don’t know anything about cars. There is no shame in that.”

I resist the urge to tell the story of the first time I tried to put motor oil in my car and put it in the transmission.

“We know what BRAKE FLUID is, for god’s sake. I mean, we’ve HEARD of it.”

This argument essentially went on for the remaining five hours it took to get from New Haven to our friends apartment, 90 minutes of it spent actually IN Boston looking for it. Because calling someone from the Virgin Islands to help you navigate around a city he’s lived in for like 3 months and never actually driven a car in – that, my friends, is intelligent behavior at its best.

As for what happened in Boston, well, that’s another story, innit? Another long, sad story…

JLK

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An Open Letter to International Business Times Editor Shawn Moynihan

Posted by kozemp on September 2, 2011

Dear Shawn:

I read your letter, and in the spirit of the times – open letters are all the rage now, apparently – I thought I would respond in kind.

You and I have been friends for no small number of years, thanks in part to our mutual love of Star Wars. You’re the biggest Star Wars fan I know, and I mean that as an honest and great compliment. You and I both travel in social circles where being a big fan is pretty common, but out of everyone I know who loves Star Wars, I’ve always felt that you were one of the few who “got it.”

You were the guy who, like me, loved Star Wars not just for special effects or its place in filmmaking history or as fuel for an obsessive need to collect things (though you and I both indulge in all of those). You were the guy who connected with the weight behind the hype, who realized that the important thing about Star Wars wasn’t sound design or toys or editing.

You recognized that Star Wars is the quintessential modern myth in the quintessentially ancient sense. You recognized that Star Wars is a story designed to teach lessons, and fundamentally important lessons at that: Star Wars is the simplest, easiest way to teach children why it’s important to be good, to stand up for what’s right, and to help people in need.

Yes, there are other vehicles for those lessons as we get older. Tolkein does most of the heavy lifting once we hit the teenage years. In college and beyond we can literalize the subject by studying Kant or Aquinas or stick with pop culture and drink deeply from A Song of Ice and Fire or the adventures of The Doctor.

But if you want to teach a 7-year-old kid the difference between right and wrong and why it’s important to do right, and have that lesson stick with him his entire life, letting him watch Star Wars to his heart’s content is more effective than a thousand sermons. And you, Shawn, understand that better than anyone I know.

So yesterday, when I saw on my Twitter feed a post from @ShawnMoyn that read “Dear Mr. Lucas: Are These Blu-Ray Tweaks Really Necessary?” I thought, oh dear, I hope Shawn hasn’t abused his position at the IBT to launch a public broadside against George Lucas.

I clicked the link, and four seconds later I thought, oh dear, he has.

Most of the points you make in your letter – almost all of them, really – are spot-on. There can be precious little argument that, in a purely objective sense, George Lucas is a terrible, terrible filmmaker, or that his continued depredations upon the Original Trilogy are precisely that: depredations. I didn’t need to read your letter to know that you feel the same way (though in your letter you articulate those thoughts in your usual excellent manner).

I got a little worried when you flirted with the demonstrably idiotic (and distressingly prevalent) notion that fans “own” Star Wars in some way, but I thought you nicely redeemed that misstep by making the point that part of being an artist is knowing when to stop working, and that Lucas is risking severe fan alienation by not realizing that.

But George Lucas isn’t the problem, Shawn.

You are.

You close your letter by saying that despite the fact that you hate what Lucas is doing to the Original Trilogy, you are going to buy the Blu-Ray boxed set anyway.

My friend, as a wise man once said, “that… is why you fail.”

I’m not certain I buy the other distressingly prevalent notion that Lucas keeps tinkering with the Original Trilogy because he wants to suck money directly from fans’ wallets. There surely comes a point where even someone like George Lucas has enough money, and after making 1.4 gajillion dollars from Star Wars (that is an exact figure, I looked it up) I’m pretty sure Lucas is past that point.

No, Shawn, the reason Lucas keeps changing the films is because Star Wars fans like you KEEP BUYING THEM. At the end of the day, my friend, this is still showbusiness – you of all people know that – and there’s no booth at the local high school here: you vote with your wallet, and for going on 15 years now Star Wars fans like you and me and countless others have overwhelmingly voted again and again to let George Lucas keep making changes to the films we love so much.

This time, though, I’m voting no. I’m pulling the other lever for once. I’m cancelling my pre-order of the Blu Ray set. Yes, it’s true that I am in a small minority, and that my un-purchase won’t actually accomplish anything. My protest vote is, in the end, a futile gesture.

But these movies I watched as a kid taught me that you have to do the right thing no matter what.

I hope, Shawn, that you are strong enough in the Force to do the right thing as well.

K’oyacyi, ner vod,

JLK

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Downwards is the only way forwards.

Posted by kozemp on August 15, 2011

Last night I was at this girl’s house, a friend of mine.

Nothing serious, nothing fancy. Simply that, after 8,000 tries, I had finally convinced her to sit down and watch Doctor Who. We made some popcorn, sat on the couch, and watched The Eleventh Hour. It was great, of course, but The Eleventh Hour is always great. After the show was over she got up to take the popcorn stuff out into the kitchen.

“Admit I was right!” I shouted after her. “You loved it!”

“It was pretty good,” she said from the other room.

I muttered to myself, “that’s not exactly what I asked for.”

I twisted around to my right and leaned over the arm of the couch to look at the pile of books stacked up on the end table. What I saw there shocked me – I owned EVERY SINGLE BOOK sitting on that table. The first three Game of Thrones books. A couple of the recent Star Wars releases. Gatsby. Dune. Jurassic Park. Even, most unbelievably, a copy of Queen and Country Volume 3 – Operation Crystal Ball, and the red leather hardcover to boot – a book that until last night I was fairly certain I was the only person anywhere to actually buy.

How did I never know she read this stuff? Queen and Country? How has THAT never come up in conversation? We’re the only two people on earth who read this.

I spent some time doing some quick mental calculations – it felt like minutes but it was only probably a few seconds, she was still in the kitchen and how long can it take to toss a popcorn bowl in the sink – and came to the rough conclusion that the odds of me owning every single one of the motley collection of books that happened to be on her end table the night I stopped by was something like one in nine hundred billion; the odds of me never knowing that our reading habits were almost exactly similar was just as unlikely.

The fact that the odds were so far against it didn’t really trouble me – last month when I had my wisdom teeth out, the oral surgeon was describing “dry socket,” a particularly heinous side effect of tooth extraction that involves a lot of pain and gunk and going back to the oral surgeon every day for ten straight days.

“Jesus,” I said, “what are the odds of me getting that?”

The doc waved his hand dismissively. “One, maybe two percent. I wouldn’t worry.”

I snorted. “You know how much money I’ve lost to one or two percent?”

Three days later I was back at the oral surgeon’s, and I was back again every day for the next week and a half.

So I didn’t think much about the ridiculously long odds. I have more experience with ridiculous odds than a normal person could possibly believe.

Still, all the same books. Fucking wild.

I turned back around and my feet got tangled up in something. I felt a sharp stab of pain in my knee and heard someone say “waaaaaaah!” and suddenly I was stuck on the couch and my friend was sprawled out on top of me.

I muttered to myself, “gah, fucking knee.”

More conversationally, I said, “what the hell?”

She smiled at me. “You turned around the EXACT second I was right behind you and you kicked my legs out from under me. I tried to keep my balance, but…” She looked at the coffee table. “It was either fall on you or the coffee table.” She smiled again.

I looked at the table, which was very nice. “Probably the smart play.” I looked back at her and realized that the result of my clumsiness and her nice furniture could be interpreted in a fairly lascivious manner. “It wasn’t intentional, I swear. I can barely see out the eyes in the front of my head, the ones in the back are total shit.”

She said, “it’s okay.”

And she smiled at me again, only this time it was different.

Again, I couldn’t tell you if it took a second or a minute, but eventually I realized, oh, I think we’re supposed to kiss now.

My brain went into warp speed overdrive.

“SEE!” It said. “You don’t have to always think and analyze and plan this shit and obsess about EVERY SINGLE DETAIL and bore everyone you know to death with this crap for months on end. Sometimes, good things just HAPPEN. Did you even think this was possible tonight? Hell, you didn’t even PLAN tonight!”

No, I said back. I did not plan this. Hell, I’ve never even thought about this.

As her and I leaned toward each other my brain quietly said:

“Liar…”

The picosecond before we kissed, my phone rang.

Since 2004, the ringtone on my various cellphones has been the theme song to the BBC show Hustle. It is, honestly, a remnant of an earlier, darker time in my life. I had no job, no prospects at a job, I hadn’t founded The Pros From Dover or discovered the Dark Horse yet, and I was generally and thoroughly an angry, miserable bastard. One night, though, I discovered Hustle on the internet and was instantly hooked on it, staying up until 4 or 5AM to download new episodes as they came out, and when I got a phone that could make a ringtone out of any mp3 on earth, I chose the theme music to a show about con men.

I would say it is a wonder that I ever escaped the sea of horrific negativity I lived in back then, but that last paragraph puts the lie to that: later that very year I started the theater company and found the DH, and like almost everything I’ve ever done that was worthwhile, other people did a lot of the work.

Still, in the last couple weeks I’ve been thinking I need to change my ringtone. I still love the show, dont get me wrong, but high-class British con artists just, I dunno, it isn’t me anymore. I’ve pretty much got it narrowed down to two choices, and for a while now I’ve said to myself, eh, one of these days I’ll get past the inertia of all these years and finally change it.

As my phone rang last night, that picosecond stretched out and I thought, god I wish I’d changed that stupid ringtone. Talk about bad timing. And it’s so fucking LOUD.

But then, the picosecond stretched out even further when I thought, wait a minute. My phone isn’t THAT loud. It sounds like it’s coming from all over the place. And, what the fuck, didn’t I put my phone on vibrate when I got here?

The picosecond stretched out some more and I thought, hang on, when did I get here?

My spine turned to ice.

HOW did I get here?

The theme song from Hustle blaring around me from the entire world, the picosecond refused to end and I realized my phone wasn’t going off because someone was calling.

It wasn’t a ringtone.

It was the music warning me to be ready for the kick.

I looked up at her, desperate for the magic picosecond to last a little longer.

She just smiled again, and the picosecond snapped.

I lashed my arm out at the phone, sitting on top of a stack of books next to my bed. I pressed the button on the side with my thumb to turn off the alarm. I held the phone up an inch in front of my face – my glasses were on the other side of the room – so I could read the message box. “7:13. ALARM.

It might as well have said, “HA HA, JOKE’S ON YOU.

Eventually, via a complex system of grabbing the door frame and slowly pulling with various major muscle groups – getting up in the morning with a bad back is always a challenge – I managed to haul myself upright and sit on the edge of my bed.  I sat there for a second, then looked at the phone again.

7:13. ALARM.

I muttered to myself, “just a dream. Doesn’t mean anything.”

I looked down, and the phone said:

LIAR…

I got up to get in the shower, tossed my phone on the bed and thought, the ringtone is getting changed today. That thing is never playing that goddamned theme song ever again.

JLK

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CLASSIC: The next time we hang out, I will redeem myself.

Posted by kozemp on August 8, 2011

A little while back I was walking past a bar in a casino after a mildly disappointing round of Texas-style Hold’em when a cocktail waitress I knew from another casino came by. We headed in, I bought some drinks, we got to talking, and at one point she looked at me like I had three heads.

“Are you actually enjoying this song?” she asked. Apparently I had been lightly bopping my head to the techno song that was playing over the bar speakers.

It is important to note that I cannot discern the words of this song, merely that I can hear the backing tracks and that I am aware of vocals which I cannot make out.

“Yeah, it’s not bad,” I said. “It’s well-put-together.”

She gave me an indulgent smile. “Are you sure?”

“Yes I’m sure,” I said, and I began to launch into an exegesis on how to construct a good techno track.

She interrupted me about halfway into my second sentence and said, still smiling, “this is Miley Cyrus.”

I said, “it’s wha?”

“Miley Cyrus,” she said. “You know, from Hannah Montana? On the Disney Channel? My niece loves it. She’s eight.”

I opened and closed my mouth a few times, trying to say something. What eventually came out was: “Yes. I see. Well.” (pause) “Yes.” (longer pause) “It’s still put together pretty well.” (pause) “Yes.” (pause) “Fucking hell.”

Flash forward a couple weeks after that. I’m on vacation at Disney World, it’s our last day, and my family and I are at Epcot. They tell me repeatedly that I should do the Test Track ride while they go get lunch – there’s no FastPasses left, but the wait for a single person is only 30 minutes (as opposed to 130 minutes for a group), and that gives them time to go eat in the restaurant in Mexico (which I do not want to go to) while I wait.

“It’s worth half an hour,” my father says. When we used to go when I was a kid I thought my Dad was something of a wuss when it came to rides, but after a) aging 15 years since my last trip, and b) riding Mission Space a few days before that and wishing afterwards that Poseidon would impale me on his trident and end my misery, my views on rides have gotten a lot closer to his. So on his advice I get in line for Test Track. This is actually going to be the only line I will have waited in the entire trip, so before they go to lunch I fish my iPod out of my bag.

Apparently the volume on my iPod is far too loud, since a few minutes later while I’m standing in line, a little girl in front of me who might have been 10 or 11 pokes me in the arm. I reach into my pocket to pause the iPod and say, “yes?”

She says, “are you listening to Miley Cyrus?”

“No,” I say, far too quickly to fool anyone over the age of 13.

She actually looks at me with suspicion – her brow furrows and she squints at me – and says, “it sure SOUNDS like Miley Cyrus.”

“No, no, no,” I again say way too quickly, giving a laugh that, again, only a child of this age wouldn’t recognize as pathetically fake. I reach into my pocket to pull out the iPod and surreptitiously hit the “Track Forward” button as many times as I can before pulling it out. “It’s…” I look at the screen to see what’s come up. “Motorhead.”

Fuck.

“What’s Motorhead?” the little girl asks.

FUCK!

“It’s, er…” How to explain this to a ten-year-old girl? “Well, they’re a band.”

“Oh,” she says. She pauses for a moment. “Do they listen to Miley Cyrus? They sound a lot like her.”

I say, “I doubt very much that they do.”

“Are you SURE you weren’t listening to Miley Cyrus?” she asks me again, clearly not sold on the idea.

“Nope,” I say. “Motorhead, baby!”

Weakly, I put up the horns.

The doors to the ride mercifully open at this point – the wait ended up being more like three minutes, though the longest three minutes of my life – and that disappointed voice in the back of my brain says, “you have sunk to a new low.”

JLK

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Fear is for the long night, when the snows fall one hundred feet deep.

Posted by kozemp on January 13, 2011

Snow is here again, and this time, in what I am absolutely sure is a surprise to absolutely no one, my official position is:

Fuck snow.

You said you were going to try and be less profane.

I never said that.

Well, you thought about trying to be less profane.

I never thought that!

Would it kill you to give it a go?

Oh, fine.

So, snow is here again and… er… snow… is really… bad. Yeah. Snow is really bad.

I have mellowed out considerably in recent years. Eminent proof of that is, Love Actually style, all around us. No, I’m not exactly the happy-go-lucky type. I do not go googly-eyed at puppies and kittens and mermaids and rainbows. I will never be described as “perky” or “bubbly,” thank the Emperor of Man. But I am a significantly more positive person than before. The items on the List Of Things I Hate, which were essentially everything in the universe save rolled up aces, Farscape and Cafe Esperanto orange juice, have for the most part been shifted onto the List Things I Merely Dislike or the List Of Things I Am Somewhat Ambivalent About. There is now, even, a List Of Things I Love, which is large and growing.

The List Of Things I Hate has been reduced to a barren, uninhabited wasteland. Well, near-uninhabited, as there is one thing still on it, one thing that I will always hate, now and forever, until the entropic heat death of the universe:

Snow.

Oh, how I hate it.

Snow wasn’t ALWAYS really bad. Back when I was a kid and it snowed 2 or 3 inches maybe once or twice a year snow was great. You got a tiny bit of snow, you got a day off from school, everything was fantastic. Snow was awesome. Hooray snow.

Then came the winter of 1994.

March of 1993 had brought with it the so-called “Storm of the Century.” That was bad. That was mondo-bad. But it was one, isolated event. In the winter of my junior year of high school we got pounded again and again and again and again and again. The first was an ice storm in January. And this wasn’t “oh, hm, some parts of things are a little icy.” Oh hells no.

I’ve spoken to people who were not here for it about this ice storm, and they don’t believe me when I describe what it was like. It’s hard to blame them. I was here for it and I could hardly believe it myself. What hit us in January of 1994 wasn’t an ice storm like we think of today, where we get sleet for a few hours and the roads are slick overnight until the salt trucks get through. Through some strange meteorological alchemy we had honest to goodness freezing rain – liquid water in the sky that turns to ice when it hits the ground – for two days, and the temperature never got out of the 20s for four solid days after that.

The entire world was encased in an inch of ice.

It was on everything – roads, sidewalks, cars, fences, powerlines, EVERYTHING. The whole world preserved in freezing, clear amber. Schools were closed for an entire week, Monday to Friday. You couldn’t drive to work or to get groceries. Hell, you couldn’t walk out your own front door. Your front steps were a skating rink. You couldn’t salt your sidewalk because rock salt is useless against a solid inch of ice. To go anywhere, just to get out of your house, you had to go outside in the sub-zero temperatures and CUT the ice off your sidewalk. People were out there, banging on these massive ice sheets with the sharp end of plastic shovels, trying to break it up into huge pieces you would pick up with your hands and toss onto your lawn, which was also under a giant sheet of inch-thick ice. My dad found some kind of flat spade thing in our basement, basically a 5-inch wide metal chisel attached to a broomstick. Working in shifts during daylight hours it took my father and I two full days to clear all our sidewalk, just standing out there smacking this thing onto the ice over and over and over again.

Now, here’s the funny thing about this storm, for me: school was closed for an entire week. But, and here’s the funny part, I had actually missed the entire week of school BEFORE that. I had pneumonia. To this day I have a tiny scar in my lung from it. I don’t remember how I got pneumonia, but I missed a whole week of school for it, Monday to Friday. I missed that week, and then school was closed the entire next, so when I got back the Monday after the ice had subsided, I got a ton of “who are you?” jokes.

(Ah, the wit of high school students.)

Then, a week and a half later, it happened AGAIN.

It wasn’t as bad the second time – the ice was much thinner and as I recall we only missed two days of school – but two ice storms in as many weeks was pushing the boundaries of good taste. Again me and my dad had to chop and hack our sidewalks clear. Again we had to go down to my grandmother’s – who also lived on a corner – and chop HER sidewalk clear. It’s backbreaking work. I’ve broken up concrete with a sledgehammer, and that wasn’t as awful as trying to clear these sidewalks of ice.

Then, in February, we got hit again. Snow, this time, but enough to grind everything to a halt and make you have to dig out your parking space, all that crap. Then AGAIN this happened later in February. More snow, more digging.

Finally, in March, during what was supposed to be “Spring Break,” we got another blizzard that dropped 18 inches of snow on the city. When I had to go to crew practice and, with my teammates, shovel more than 5,000 cubic feet of snow into the Schuylkill River I finally said, “okay, I have had it up to here, fuck this snow thing.”

Hey, what happened to…?

That was a direct quote.

Oh, sorry, continue.

It was like a drug user finally ODing – yeah, heroin is nice and all, but that one time you overdo it and end up in the hospital you never want to even look at the stuff again. When I was a kid and you got a little bit of snow and a day or two off from school it was great. When you’re older and ice (which is just overachieving snow) keeps you stuck in your house for two weeks at a time, and makes you miss so much school you have to add a week on to the end of the year, snow sucks. When you then have to spend a day of your spring break, which was already kind of ruined by having crew practice to begin with, pushing more than TWENTY-FIVE TONS of snow off a dock into a river, it becomes the worst thing in the world.

A year and a half later I would find myself taking my freshman year of college at Lehigh University, where there was snow on the ground every day from November 8 to Easter Sunday. After dinner on Easter – which in 1996 was on April 7, thank you very much – I drove back to school in near blizzard conditions.

That prolonged exposure to snow, which I was already very much not a fan of, basically turned me into a bit of a crazy person on the subject.

Many years later, herniating a disc in my back while shoveling snow was basically the end of the fight, and I lost. Though I am willing to admit defeat I’m certainly not about to call snow a “worthy opponent” – I am a complex lifeform with the ability to peform calculus in my head and recite the entire screenplay of The Big Lebowski from memory, and snow is frozen water – and while the few amusing things that came out of my back injury provided a nice laugh, and thanks to said back injury I have a lifetime pass on shoveling the sidewalk, it’s tough to look at snow anymore and feel anything other than an intense, burning anger. Snow is the only thing that still gets me that way anymore, and while a total Zen-like oneness with everything in the universe might be pretty neat, I’ll settle for being a mostly happy person who really hates snow.

The problem, you see, is that even with my lifetime shoveling pass, when we are set upon by the White Death there is still one task I still have to perform on my own: cleaning off my car. And today, I think, might have been the worst car-cleaning snow day in history.

The trouble was the amount of snow we got. There was too much for me to just turn my car on, jack up the defroster, and let it idle for half an hour to melt everything on the car. Conversely, there wasn’t ENOUGH snow that I needed to dig out a path to and from my parking space, but just pushing all the snow off my car onto the snow in front of my car would create enough snow to make that necessary. You can’t push the snow into the street, and pushing it onto an already-shoveled sidewalk is just stupid.

The solution, then, was to push the snow off my car in such a way that it landed either a) in between my car and the ridge of snow in the street pushed up by passing cars, or b)  on the spot of lawn between my sidewalk and the curb. Which, as you might guess, was ALREADY holding up the snow from the sidewalk, and thus was pretty deep. I was going to have to clear the snow off my car in an extraordinarily precise way, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but pushing large swaths of snow off a car isn’t exactly spinal surgery. Pinpoint accuracy is harder than you think.

Also, by the time I went out to clean off my car, the wind had picked up to approximately 900 miles per hour. This caused snow to blow pretty much everywhere, an effect which is most similar to having someone jab a thousand tiny needles into your face every second. The wind also makes removing the snow off the car far more interesting than it really needs to be – it’s bad enough when you’re trying to push the snow off in such a way that it lands in a target area the size of a small shoe. Try that when large portions of what you push off immediately blow directly into your face the second they leave the car.

Fun, no?

The final, crushing indignity came with the actual cleaning implement itself. I was standing on the sidewalk, staring at my car, formulating a plan of attack for how to remove the snow, when I thought, “wait, I don’t have a snow brush in my car anymore. Drat.” (That’s not an edit, I actually thought “drat.”)

I went back inside to get the brush my father had used to clear off his car several hours earlier. I quickly realized this was a fool’s errand. The brush was nowhere to be found. My father, in what we will call his “infinite wisdom” in deference to filial propriety, after cleaning off HIS car decided, while looking directly at the two snow-covered cars his family members owned, that his best course of action was to take the snow-clearing brush, toss it into his already-clear car, and drive away.

After searching in vain for the snow brush I went back outside. I stood on the sidewalk, staring at my car, snow blowing all around me, freezing, and said to myself, “what the hell am I going to use to clear off this stupid car? Where’s a wampa when I need one?”

I had a brainstorm.

A terrible brainstorm, as it turned out, since my brainstorm meant that cleaning off my car would be an ordeal far longer than it would have been normally had my father not been a careless jackass, but a brainstorm nonetheless.

This is why, if you were driving down Crispin Street this afternoon – and I can’t imagine why you would have been, but in an infinite universe anything is possible – you would have come across a man shivering in a leather coat, muttering “fucking snow” over and over again, clearing off a 2006 Cobalt with a dustbrush.

God I hate snow.

JLK

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