Sunday, September 19, 2010

Shoot the Hostage*

During my first semester in college, I had a calculus instructor who began every class by writing a problem on the board and then flipping a coin. If it came up heads, the problem on the board became our quiz. If it came up tails, no quiz for the day. It made Tuesdays and Thursdays extremely stressful, especially since the class started at 8:00 a.m., and I was usually hungover until 10. Probably why I stopped going after the third week.

Me, I’m just going to give you the quiz straight up. No coins. That’s because my son commandeers all my spare change and deposits it in his piggybank. On a side note, it's a freaking miracle I passed that calculus class. Word to the wise -- unless you plan on calculating the trajectory for NASA's first manned mission to Mars, or, I don't know, teaching math, you're probably safe skipping calculus in college. I wish I could go back in time 19 years and sit with 1991 Me while that moron selected his classes for the first time.

OK, then, I hope you’ve been paying attention to current events. Let's get it on.

1. Where was President Obama born?

a. Hawaii. I may not like him, but I am not certifiably insane.
b. Kenya. I firmly believe that 49 years ago, the Hawaii Department of Vital Records joined forces with the Democratic Party and then-19-year-old Nancy Pelosi to begin laying the groundwork to groom a randomly selected toddler born in a tiny African village to become President of the United States. I mean, that TOTALLY makes sense.
c. 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey, England. Wait, maybe that was Harry Potter.
d. Venusville, the red-light district on Mars from the movie Total Recall. "Quaaaaaid. Start the reactor. Free Mars."

2. Where is the controversial so-called “Ground Zero” mosque being built? 

a. On Ground Zero. Inside that big hole. Those sons of bitches. 

b. Two blocks away, a bit farther away from Ground Zero than a mosque that is already there.
c. I’m not sure. I move my lips when I read.

3. How many colleges did Sarah Palin attend before earning her bachelor’s degree?

a. One 

b. Two 

c. Three 

d. Eleventy billion

4. Who would win in a fight to the death between Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann? 

a. Keith 

b. Glenn 

c. America

5. Do you accept Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as indisputable scientific fact?

a. Yes. 

b. No. I’ve got a better handle on this thing than scientists who are way, way, way smarter than me. Get me another Coors.
c. Do you like my new Calvin Peeing on Jeff Gordon sticker?

6. Do you pay too much in taxes?

a. Yes. I believe that roads, bridges and sewer pipes will fix themselves. 

b. Yes. I have never used any government service or government commodity in my life. I am 100 percent self-reliant. Glenn Beck says I am a real American.
c. Yes. I work 20 hours a week at Jiffy Lube, but I strenuously object to any tax increase on people making more than $250,000 a year.

7. (DEMOCRATS ONLY) Are you a vegetarian?

a. Yes. I went to Berkeley and listen to Annie Lenox and don’t accept my biologically assigned role on the food chain. I believe in evolution, I just choose not to help mankind evolve.
b. No. I’ve got these effing teeth for a reason.

8. (REPUBLICANS ONLY) Assuming you oppose a woman’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy, do you also oppose the death penalty?

a. Hal? Hal?
b. You’re trying to trick me. When I said “all human life is sacred,” I didn’t mean garbage like murderers. I meant babies.

9. What is Afghanistan?

a. The capital of Iraq 

b. A small, unstable nation in Asia where the September 11 plot was hatched and planned and where, and I know this sounds crazy, but maybe, just maybe, we should have been focusing our military efforts for the last nine years.
c. President Obama’s middle name

10. (ONLY IF YOU VOTED FOR OBAMA) What grade would you give President Obama for his first two years in office?

a. A (I think he’s doing a fantastic job) 

b. B (Making some progress. Once we get these midterms behind us, he can really focus on the work of America).
c. C (Starting to get annoyed)
d. D (Can I change my vote to Hillary?) 

e. F (We’re screwed in 2012)

11. (ONLY IF YOU DIDN’T VOTE FOR OBAMA) What grade would you give President Obama for his first two years in office?

a. F: (Told you so!)
b. H: (Apocalypse is at hand!) 

c. Double Q: (For Christ’s sake, I’m actually thinking Palin might do a better job).
d. Z (I saw something on the Internets that says he helped plot the 9/11 attacks)

12. Do you believe in the phenomenon of climate change?

a. No. It’s like totally ludicrous to think that burning fossil fuels and pumping out a jllion cubic tons of carbon monoxide every single day for the last 100 years would have any effect on our planet. Did you see how much snow we got last winter? We’ll be fine.
b. No. Those e-mails from Switzerland prove it’s a gigantic hoax! So what if the polar icecaps are melting faster than a McDonald’s soft-serve cone?
c. Yes. I think Al Gore is sexy. I hear he’s single. And “handsy.”

13. (True or False) Vaccines cause autism.

a. True. Jenny McCarthy says so. 

b. True. I believe this even though the chief author of the study, Andrew Wakefield, M.D., has had his medical license revoked, the study linking vaccines and autism has been retracted, the authors of the report have withdrawn their support for it, and multiple studies have proven that there is no link between vaccines and autism. Oh, and Wakefield’s study was funded in part by an autism drug manufacturer. But whatever.
c. True. Despite having no medical training whatsoever, I am suspicious of vaccines even though their development constitutes one of mankind’s crowning achievements. I also enjoy watching deadly childhood diseases stage a comeback.
d. False. I’m pretty sure it’s false. Like 90 percent sure. Maybe I should space out the kids’ vaccine schedule just to be sure. F**king Internet.

14. (FOR DEMOCRATS ONLY) Do you think Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is doing a good job?

a. Shaking my head sadly, looking around in case any Republicans are pointing and laughing.
b. How the eff did we get stuck with her again?
c. So let me get this straight. The Presidential line of succession is currently (1) Biden and (2) Pelosi? Oh, my God, I just soiled myself.
d. All of the above

15. (FOR REPUBLICANS ONLY) Do you think Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is doing a good job? 

a. Giggle.
b. Pop quiz high-five! 

c. Seriously, I don’t know what we’re gonna do without her. 

d. I mean, really, she’s their Sarah Palin minus the charm and awesome hair

16. (FOR DEMOCRATS ONLY) The most embarrassing thing about the Democratic Party is:

a. Nancy Pelosi 

b. Vegetarianism 

c. The federal budget deficit

17. (FOR REPUBLICANS ONLY) The most embarrassing thing about the Republican Party is: 

a. August 29, 2008, the date the Palin machine was unleashed upon us like one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
b. The fact that every single hate group in America votes Republican
c. That when we win back Congress in November, we’re going to eff things up just as badly because we haven’t got the first effing clue on how to fix things.

18. The immediate aftermath of another Islamic terrorist attack against the United States would be:

a. Palin 2012 bumper stickers
b. All of us suddenly realizing we’re living in one of those near-future science-fiction movies on Sy-Fy where America has become a police state.
c. Having to buy my hummus in the Arab-American Relocation Zone (Mid-Atlantic)
d. All of the above

19. What is the primary reason that the U.S. economy continues to struggle?

a. My cable company charges $200 a month for service for a bunch of channels I’ve never watched, leaving me little money to spend in the marketplace. FIOS actually stands for F*ck, I Owe a Sh*tload
b. No one knows what’s really wrong, but I saw my college economics professor hoarding canned spaghetti and bottled water and muttering to himself.
c. Paris Hilton keeps getting arrested and doesn’t have time to inject capital into the gross domestic product.

20. How often do you check your e-mail?

a. Once or twice a day.
b. So often that I sometimes check it while I’m checking it.
c. What up, Gramps? You still use e-mail?

1. The primary cause of the American Civil War was: 

a. The debate over slavery 

b. The debate over states’ rights vs. the power of the federal government 

c. The collapse of the two-party political system.

Hang on, let me count up the political parties in America right now. Democrats, one. Republicans, two. 

[Phone rings]
Hello? Oh, hey. Really? A third party? Growing stronger? A little militant? Awesome.

Update on Facebook Status Updates

In light of last week’s column, I’ve implemented a moratorium on using Facebook. Other than the five or so minutes it took to post the link to this week’s column, I haven’t been on Facebook since last Monday afternoon. Lest you think I have superhuman willpower, I am not gonna lie to you. I had Mrs. Corner change the password for me, in essence locking me out of my own account. In my defense, I could request a new password, but I haven’t done that.

If any combat veterans are reading this, they’re thinking, “My eight-man squadron held off 300 Taliban soldiers for fourteen hours in Kandahar and you’re proud of yourself for not logging onto Facebook? I just threw up in my mouth.”

Aaaaanyway… some astute readers have identified a few additional Facebook status update categories worthy of derision. Let’s make fun of them (the categories, not the readers), shall we?

The Weather Observation
Here’s the deal. If I live in the same city as you, then I know what the weather is like. If I don’t, well, your weather situation is pretty low on my priority list.

The One-Worder
So-and-so is pondering.... Thinking… Worrying…
Hey, here’s a two-word update for all your friends who’ve been subjected to your update. “Not caring.”

The Wednesday’s Child is Full of Woe
Not real woe, like illness or foreclosure or anything like that. Just your basic FML woe that happens to everyone, except that most everyone else just shuts their pie hole and moves on. Except you. Because you’re special. Look, I’m sorry your dream of becoming an astronaut fizzled out when you got a D in high school physics, but as Drew Carey said: “You hate your job? There’s a support group for that. It’s called ‘everybody.’ They meet every day at a bar."

*This week's title is taken from Keanu Reeves' 1994 movie Speed. As you may recall, there's a scene early on in which Keanu's partner (played by Jeff Daniels) tests him with a pop quiz about the best way to save a hostage from a terrorist who's using him for cover to make his escape. Ten minutes later, Keanu puts a bullet into his partner's upper thigh to save him from Dennis Hopper's mad bomber. One of my many problems with that movie is the scene where the bus crashes into the unoccupied cargo jet and explodes into a huge fireball -- what if it had been a loaded passenger jet taxiing out onto the runway? Now that would have been a dark ending.

Looking back, Speed was an average movie at best and pales in comparison to the brilliant Point Break. Don't tell me Ben Affleck didn't come up with The Town without a few late-night viewings of that revolutionary piece of filmmaking. Hey, guess who directed Point Break? Kathryn Bigelow, who won Best Director for The Hurt Locker. It's OK. You don't need to be ashamed anymore. I get it. I love Point Break too.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Biting the Hand That Feeds Me

Look, I’m the first to admit that I probably spend too much time on Facebook. I’m not sure why I do, but there you go. On the one hand, I can rationalize and say that for a fiction writer, Facebook provides tremendous insight into people’s quirks and personalities, which I can then use to help develop richer, more three-dimensional characters in my work. On the other hand, I can admit that that is a steaming load of crap. Virtually every one of my status updates has been a throwaway thought, and I’d say that description applies to approximately 99 percent of all Facebook updates that have ever been posted.

Collectively, there is comfort in seeing tangible evidence that your friends’ lives are not all that different than yours. But is that really all that surprising? That’s probably why you were friends (in the real world, that is) with them in the first place -- you had stuff in common with them. That must be the draw – a constant reminder that familiar life is buzzing around you, even when you’re just sitting in bed, your laptop slowly roasting your thighs like a county fair turkey leg.

Granted, I suppose it’s nice to catch up with people you haven’t seen in years, but truthfully, once that initial high of reconnecting wears off, how much more Facebook contact are you going to have with that person, let alone face-to-face contact?

Anyway, in my two years since joining the site, I have noticed certain patterns emerging, namely that most status updates fall into one of approximately twelve neatly defined categories. Even more interesting is that each of these categories provides surprising insights into the author’s state of mind. Let’s take a look inside our collective psyche and find out what posting in a particular category says about us, shall we?

Full disclosure No. 1: I’m guilty of writing posts that fall into at least four of these categories.

Full disclosure No. 2: I’m aware I use Facebook to draw readers to The Corner.

The Song Quote
You are hip and trendy because you know this really obscure lyric from a really obscure song from a really obscure band no one else has ever heard of. You’ve heard of them because you are really, really cool, and you wish it was still 1990 because nobody made mix tapes like you. YOU HEAR ME? NO ONE!!

Do people pass around iTunes playlists the way my generation did mixes? Was there anything sadder than using a mix tape to woo a member of the opposite sex?

The Cheesy Inspirational Quote
You’re rapidly approaching 40, and you have serious self-esteem issues. Despite the plans you scribbled in your BFF’s yearbook in 1992, things haven’t gone exactly like you envisioned way back when. Look, just because you’re addicted to Vicodin and your visits with your kids are supervised doesn’t mean you’re a failure! You’re desperately hoping someone will click Like so you’ll get a quick rush of dopamine that will make you feel better for a little while until you can get your next dose of Wellbutrin.

The Announcement of Minutiae
Really? You’re going to bed? How novel. Thanks for sharing.

You’ve just spent about 30 seconds crafting an announcement that, on a Reasonable Person Would Be Interested In This scale of 1 to 10, registers a minus-26. You’re one Pabst Blue Ribbon away from making your status: is getting ready to go poop and two away from announcing that you are watching Internet porn.

If there were no Facebook, can you imagine calling 253 friends to tell them you were going to bed? I think that would be a spectacular development in personal human interaction. Probably the end of your friendships, too.

The Facebook Game Achievement
You have a GED and you like Fox News. You lack the mental firepower to play video games on an actual video game system or, you know, to maybe read a book. Level 1 of Tetris continues to confound you.

You want everyone to think you are a loser.

Former President George W. Bush says: “Mission Accomplished.”

The Personal Conversation
You are enjoying this very arm’s length conversation with this person but deep down, you don’t want things to get any closer. You don’t think they’re good enough to warrant a private conversation via e-mail. Finally, you like to talk loudly on your cell phone while in line at the grocery store.

The Big Announcement
You have become too lazy to actually tell people important to you about significant moments in your life, and so you’ve taken to the social networking equivalent of dropping propaganda leaflets over Baghdad.

The Religious Text Quotation
You’re positive that everyone who doesn’t agree with you 100 percent is going to hell. You know, because you’re perfect and everything, and so your interpretation of said quote is undoubtedly flawless. No, no, the guy who taught you the interpretation -- his interpretation is flawless, and you’ve interpreted his interpretation correctly. No, no… you know what, screw it. America kicks ass!

The Breaking News
Your desire to have people respect you is inversely proportional to how much people actually respect you. It has apparently slipped your limited intellect that virtually everyone else owns a smartphone, and they probably checked an actual news site before they read your Facebook post, so take it easy, Walter Cronkite.

The Facebook Status Copy and Paste Repost
You believe everything you read on the Internet. You have no interest in distractions like “facts” and “evidence.” You frequently use “your” when you should be using “you’re.” You are incapable of forming a coherent independent thought, but you don’t care, because you love America.

The Vacation Announcement (complete with profile pic of your flip-flop covered feet)
You are mean-spirited and kind of a dick. It’s not enough for you to finally take some well-deserved time off with your friends and family. Oh, no, you’ve got to rub it in to everyone you know, including your former high school basketball teammate who can’t take a vacation this year because he lost his job. You are secretly hoping someone breaks into your house and steals all your stuff so you can file a large insurance claim and get the LCD television instead of the plasma this time. Effing Circuit City salesman didn’t say anything about this freaking glare on the screen.

The Foursquare Check-In
You rooted for Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984. The Ministry of Magic, too. Fourth Amendment, Schmourth Amendment! You recently ordered a new comforter, imprinted with the complete text of the PATRIOT Act, and you simply cannot wait to sleep under the secure warmth it provides. That you don’t find it creepy that your whereabouts are being constantly monitored and recorded is creepy for the rest of us.

The Like
You’re not sure who clicking Like is for. Is it for you, so you can reveal, a layer at a time, the dark mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma that is … you? You’re so complex. You like Arrested Development and Darjeeling tea! Or maybe Like is for the Like-ee? Gives you the chance to see what life is like for an insecure teenage girl.

This paragraph is really close to my own Like option over on the right side of the page, isn’t it?

So … this is awkward.

Look! A new iPhone!

The Happy Birthday
You mechanically and ritualistically wish all of your friends a very happy birthday. You give this person’s birthday approximately 3.4 seconds of thought, the time it takes to tap out happy birthday! The truth is that you barely give your own birthday much thought. You know, because you’re not 7 anymore.

The Sunday Morning Link to Your Own Blog
You are a desperately unpublished writer, and the crisp musk of your Old Spice deodorant is failing under the crushing stench of failure. You unashamedly use the word blog, despite the fact that it’s one of the worst words in the history of vocabulary. You will toil away in obscurity for the rest of your life. Your kids will beg you to stop writing it when they get older.

So there it is. I still can’t figure out the mystery behind Facebook’s siren song, but I guess 500 million people can’t be wrong.

The Corner is ready for a snack and a beer.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

You Are Here.

The die is cast.

Roughly 48 hours from now, my son will board a school bus and head to his first day of kindergarten. That means that whatever preparation for kid-dom and formal schooling my wife and I were going to do is now complete. He seems really bright, but naturally, part of me wonders whether I think that because he’s my kid. For all I know, his 17 new classmates can all perform basic calculus. Either way, we’re at the gates, and, as the Violent Femmes once crooned, “I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record.”

Which brings me to the point of this week’s column. According to author Robert Fulghum, my son is about to learn all he really needs to know. You know, because he wrote a book called All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (named for the first of many essays that comprise the book), first published in 1986. As I recall, it was a colossal bestseller, a journey that began when, as he describes it, his famous kindergarten essay made its way into the backpack of a kid whose mother was a literary agent.

I first read this book when I was about 16, back when I was still hammering out my special brand of cynicism and I was 15 years away from having kids, closer, actually, to being a kindergartner than having one. It seemed awfully sappy at the time, written by an aw-shucks kind of guy that you’d want to smack around a little if you ended up sitting next to him on an airplane. Still, It’s one of those books you read and end up liking largely because it’s pretty soothing and you think, “man, I wish my life was this peaceful and easy.” I bet Fulghum wears sweaters and has a beard and lives in a house with a woodstove.

Personally, I have very little recollection of kindergarten. I vividly remember my first day of first grade and the fact that I spent much of the following nine months in the corner for running my mouth too much. My memories of kindergarten, on the other hand, are an amorphous stew, many of which I may well have imagined.

Now that I’m about to dispatch my offspring to his kindergarten, I find myself thinking about that book again. Do you, in fact, learn all you really need to know in kindergarten? If so, I’m not going to be happy because that means I could’ve saved myself about $80,000 in law school tuition. So let’s take a look at each of the lessons and find out if I could’ve ceased my formal education in 1978.

Share everything.

I’m guessing he probably didn’t mean needles. Now that I think about it, there’s a whole bunch of stuff you don’t want to share. In fact, the list of things you don’t want to share is probably longer than the list of things you do. This one probably needs a little more in-depth study than what you’re likely to accomplish before you turn six.

Don’t hit people.

Unless they make fun of you because you’re short. Then you have to do something to save your street cred. Otherwise, elementary school is going to be a long haul. If I ever go to prison, I’m going to try to beat the crap out of someone the first night.

Put things back where you found them.

Especially if it’s a troubling bit of information about someone you (thought you) knew pretty well. There are so many things I wish I could un-hear or un-see. Being an adult sucks sometimes.

Clean up your own mess.

And make sure you have the rights to the oil underneath 56 other rigs, so it doesn’t sting too badly when you have to pay $8 billion to clean one of them up after it explodes in the Gulf.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

Basically, this rule applies to you and it always will. However, in certain circumstances, this rule doesn’t apply to everyone. Here is a list of exceptions, not intended to be exhaustive.

Internal Revenue Service

Your money

The Tea Party

Your intelligence

Cleveland Indians

Your dignity

Lebron James

Cleveland’s heart


First your sadness, then your judgment


Every last effing thing

Say sorry when you hurt somebody.

Unless you’re a police sharpshooter. Then I guess it’s OK. It must be a hell of a thing to blow out the back of someone’s head for a living. Just think. All those snipers were kindergartners once, too.

Wash your hands before you eat.

First though, make sure there are clean paper towels. Use one of them to turn off the water. Second, use another paper towel to open the door before leaving the bathroom. Don’t even think about touching the trashcan … on second thought, screw it. Use the sanitizer in Mom’s purse back at the table.


And then run like hell, because when you’re five, you’re pretty sure one of two things is going to happen: either the toilet is going to overflow, or you’re going to be sucked down into a swirling vortex of poop.

Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Just make sure you bake the cookies all the way so you don’t get salmonella poisoning from the eggs. And milk is delicious, as long as you’re OK with the growth hormone added to it, triggering puberty in your kids at the age of seven. And don’t eat too many, because you’ll become the “1” in the 1-in-3 American children who's obese and become a staggering drain on the health care system for the rest of your natural life.

That said, I could go for a cookie right now.

Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

Some call it balanced. Others call it a psychotic break. You say tomato. I say to-mah-to. Better get the drawing and painting and dancing out of the way now, because unless you’re really effing good at these activities, doing them past the age of, say, nine, is going to cause people to think their is something (I got you again, you grammar ninjas!) wrong with you.

Take a nap every afternoon.

I was initially going to write: Like I have a choice in the matter. However, I sit under an air-conditioning vent at work that keeps the temperature at a comfortable 48 degrees. I’m afraid that if I fall asleep, I’ll freeze to death like I was trapped in a storm on Mount Everest and just wanted to lie down and rest for a minute.

As for your basic kindergartner, I’m pretty sure you’ve lost them at this point. Given the choice between taking a nap and having all his toys vaporized in the incinerator from Toy Story 3, my son would have to think about it.

When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.

In this post-9/11 world, you pull a stunt like this in Times Square, and you and your fellow hand-holders are going to be shot dead by an undercover CIA agent, who will later claim that he thought you were a group of suicide bombers.

Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Nobody really knows how or why? Come on, Bobby! I’m pretty sure we had scientists and everything that figured this stuff out by 1986! Hell, by then, we’d put men on the moon! It’s this kind of attitude that keeps the U.S. ranked so low in science education.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.

Great, thanks, Bob. Wanna come over and tell my kids about Santa Claus, too? Jerk.

This reminds me of a joke Dennis Miller told many years ago. It went something like this: little boy and his mother are doing bedtime prayers, and they recite, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake…” Kid looks up, terrified: “IF I SHOULD DIE BEFORE I WAKE? Mom. Get cable. I’m up.”

The goldfish, hamsters and white mice are pretty pissed, too.

And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.

Wait a minute. EL. OH. OH. KAY. That’s four letters. I know a bunch of words bigger than that! Like sarcasm. Or cynicism.

So there you have it. A bunch of rules that your basic kindergartner would stop listening to after about three seconds.

Really, all he needs to know is this. And he will never believe me, until it’s much too late.

It doesn’t get much better than kindergarten.

(And if there happens to be a bully on the bus, kick his ass the first week. You’ll be a folk hero).