Ambleguity: (n.)

Noun

The bumbling, directionless gait of the lost, the elderly, and those staring into their smartphone.

///

You know when you’re walking…

Let’s say you’re at a mall or something. And you’re kinda angry to be there because malls are horrifying and gross and way too goddamn big and they smell like depression dabbed in cologne… and you’re trying to just get a goddamn pair of khaki pants (you refuse to call them chinos, because who authorized that name change?) but to do that you have to sift your way through a clot of sneering, obnoxious teenagers who slurp Orange Juliuses with the blithe indifference of a creature too blinkered and boring to be aware of its own mortality, and they’re all standing in a henge of kiosks hocking bright, cheap tchotchkes – bubblegum colored weaves! The Zero-G Yo Yo! Some crappy RC helicopter emblazoned with the Albanian flag! – and once you finally lace your way through, you’re pleased because you see the store ahead of you… but there, directly in your path, is some pocket-sized grannie with a sky blue knit cap who’s shuffling from foot to foot, not even looking where she’s going, just slowly floating along like some lost and derelict moon drifting aimlessly through space… and you try to go around her, but she oozes in your path, and so you dart a bit left, but she lurches that way too, and you find yourself on the balls of your feet, waltzing with some woman who doesn’t even know you’re there… and everything’s making you mad, but you can’t really be mad at everything so instead you just funnel all of your frustration at the back of this little old lady’s head even though you know deep down that she doesn’t deserve it, and she’s hopefully really sweet (but she’s probably a little racist) and you say, “Lady…” but not as under your breath as you had intended, and she jumps a bit and turns her head and looks at you with eyes that say, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I used to be so much faster…” and it puts a chill to all your hot blood, and you stop for a moment and think of how stupid you are to get so frustrated – to be in such a hurry all the goddamn time to get wherever it is you think it’s important to go… so you blink, and you say, “I’m sorry,” and she smiles, and then you walk into the store buy your pants…

That ever happened to you?

Indeference: (n.)

Noun

The rote and meaningless portrayal of solemnity.

///

One of the strangest things about getting older is realizing the moments that are clearest for you aren’t necessarily shared by the young. I’m always a little shocked to remember that for teenagers and even some 20-somethings, 9/11 has very little personal resonance. Or at least, an ever diminishing return on significance.

Never was this concept more clear than when I was a teacher.

Every year I’d assign my students an essay or article about 9/11 – most often Tom Junod’s heart-shattering Falling Man – then spend the entire class discussing it, their memories of the day, and what those meanings and artifacts have come to mean now. It was a hit at first… students pounced at the chance to approach an emotionally taboo moment in their lives and dig into it – get out their knives and flense a day they experienced as frightened children, armed now with the nascent sophistication of their burgeoning adulthood. But as years and semesters went on, my students’ memories and anecdotes grew fuzzier, less immediate, less distinct. The point of view in their recollections subtly shifted from a sharp, rambling first: I was in Geometry, and the vice principal came in and whispered to my teacher. She said that something happened, and we had to go home, and I knew something was wrong because there was this whole line of busses outside… to something bereft of both detail and feeling, not so much recalling their memories as reciting them as if they were read from an optometrist’s chart… I remember my parents were in the kitchen? No, the living room. My mom looked sad, I think. 

I was in bed when the first plane hit. It was right at the start of my sophomore year of college. I was living in my first apartment. Very adult. Very exciting. My roommate woke me up; there’d been some accident in New York; I should come see, it was all over the news. We spent the next thirty minutes watching the tower smolder on CNN, we hunted through our fancy new place, dropping books into our bags – we had class in an hour. When the second plane hit, we stopped. At some point we sat down. Didn’t move. I watched the towers collapse in my apartment that morning, bundled on the couch in my pjs beside an untouched bowl of cinnamon toast crunch. We watched it all with barely a word. And then we got dressed and went to class.

It’s bonkers in retrospect, but then everything is bonkers in retrospect. Absolutely nothing had prepared us for something so upending and uncanny. Indeed, when I arrived on campus I found I was not alone. Students ebbed across campus, dutifully shuffling from class to class; teachers half-taught their lessons, half-counseled their kids; classmates sat in shattered silence, entranced by the dream of it all, until their cellphones rang, and they exploded from the room desperate for news from their family. My university would cancel classes later in the day, of course. But for a few hours that morning, we all drifted together.

Eight years later, I took a job teaching at that same university… and every semester the sights and smells of campus autumn did their Proust thing. I’d walk into class on 9/11… and have to teach something. The day was normal. And that baffled me. I wanted to understand 9/11 as the evolving social metaphor it was becoming, so I started nudging my students to dig into the symbolism of it all – the remembrances, the rhetoric, the countless towers silhouetted as windshield decals, and the repeated insistence that we Never Forget.

I started assigning a short essay on the form and language of that phrase – Never Forget – “Why do we say never forget, opposed to always remember to commemorate 9/11Do the two statements convey the same sentiment? Which do you prefer? Why?” The answers I got were varied. Conversation lasted all class long. At least in the early years. Like I said… as time wore on, the farther my students got from the significance of 9/11.

I’ve always found Never Forget a troubling phrase. For one, I’m oppositionally defiant, and don’t like being told what to do. For another, I’m often skeptical and impatient of maudlin shows of dutiful remembrance. They ring hollow to me – and expect a unified response to something we all experienced, yes, together… but ultimately, terribly alone. We remember and we mourn as individuals – our experiences are ours… as are our forms of remembrance. There’s something tiresome, and to me horribly disrespectful, about how commodified our remembrances have become – bumper stickers, t-shirts, and decals, syrupy gifs and memes and schlocky slogans all insisting upon a certain tenor and tone of how we remember. Or, rather, reminding us not to forget. We’ve branded a national tragedy. And brands are ultimately empty promises, written in the language of sincerity. Invented by men like me to sell something. 

Never Forget has always been too easy to say, and too little to deliver. It requires nothing more of us than obeisance. It calls upon no action. Demands no reflection. Summons no alteration in our behavior. It urges no understanding of what caused it, nor wisdom for how best to combat another moment like it. For those who remember 9/11, Never Forget demands our static, silent, horrified appraisal. It’s a symbol now. Sacred in the public imagination. Deified by the dogma of our tweets, and shares, and likes. It’s content.   

For those too young to remember 9/11, it will doubtlessly shrink into the horizon… dwindling further into meaninglessness with every year. You can’t forget something you couldn’t remember in the first place.

9/11 makes me sad – for its own tragedies to be sure. But what saddens me most about it all is how little it means on any other day. We hurl ourselves into portrayals of mourning on 9/11. But what about 9/12? Business as usual. Two weeks from now? Three months? It’s gone. We’re back to the same blithe motions of 9/10.

We never forget. And as such, we’re never called upon to learn. We’re never expected to look at our own behavior. Demand more of our leaders.

Yesterday, John Bolton – Trump’s National Security Advisor – threatened the International Criminal Court, an organization designed to investigate and punish (among other things) those responsible for genocide and mass killings. The ICC had criticized the US military and intelligence departments for reports of torture and rape in Afghanistan. In response, our government threatened the ICC with sanctions.

I can’t help but feel that such imperious ego, such rage and indignity, such staunch refusal to observe the norms set by our neighbors, is the kind of thing we should have learned not to do by now. I can’t help but feel that we’ve learned nothing.

Always Remember.

White Wail: (n.)

Noun

White people’s obsessive persecution complex in response to multiculturalism an economic justice

///

I try to avoid extreme positions. It’s not that I don’t have extreme feelings; nearly all of my feelings are extreme. Ask anyone who’s watched me talk to or about my cat. I’d compose arias to the little goblin if I could. But in nearly everything else, I strive to stay somewhere in the middle… for perspective if no other reason. I’m a centrist in my politics. A relativist in my morals. And a moderate on nearly every subject except Shakespeare (I know), astronomy, and sandwiches.

And my cat. He’s the best. 

But there is one absolute I’ve developed over the years – something ironclad:

Rich white people need to stop complaining about their own victimization.

Immediately.

I say this as a straight, white man of the upper-middle class born in the 1980s. When it comes to the span of human history, I’ve won the goddamn lottery. Everything has been handed to me. I’ve wanted for nothing. I’ve experienced personal pain and tragedy, of course. I’m human. But in nearly every respect, life has offered to trim the crust from my sandwiches from the moment I slipped into being.

Fellow white people, dudes mostly… here’s the deal: We’re not victims. Not at the hands of racial and economic justice, anyway. We can’t be – it’s fundamentally impossible for us to be so – because the very mechanisms of victimization were built by people like us long ago, belong to us to day, and ultimately turn and churn for our benefit. We are the beneficiaries of a broken, unjust system built on denying equal access to justice, money, land, and basic human dignity. For further reference, I urge you to either consult the whole of human history, or just look around the world right now. Both the past and the present are the footnotes to this concept. I urge you to consider them.

I’m not going to say someone can’t be rich – I don’t know enough about economics to really understand the ramifications of such a concept. And I’m not saying that a white person can’t be proud of their cultural heritage. I’m an Italian-American, and I’m super happy about it. I get to wear black and be neurotic and just fundamentally make better meatballs than you do. It’s tons of fun. But here’s the thing, y’all. White people can’t claim victimhood. Ever. That’s the cost of owning pretty much everything… you don’t get to whine when your ownership is criticized. We could dismantle the mechanisms of white supremacy. We could offer reparations for what our ancestors took through force. But we don’t. And therefore we can’t claim the dignity of victimhood. It’s that simple.

So stop. Stop debasing yourselves with the term. And please bring a swift end to the theatrics of it all. We’re not benighted. We’re not beset. And we’re not at war. Not yet.

It isn’t “class warfare” until your head is in a basket.

Until then, it’s just people trying to get their share of the pie.

 

Carpe Denim (n.)

expression, Noun

Ancient Latin Expression – “Seize the jeans.”

When one finds a pair of pants that flatters the bum, buy as many pairs as possible.

///

Socrates famously stated that the only thing he truly knew for sure was that he knew nothing at all.

Well… far be it for me to claim a greater wisdom than Socrates… but there is one thing I know beyond the borders of my ignorance – and this be it:

When you’re fortunate enough to find a pair of jeans that fit well and sculpt your ass with kindness and flattery… buy two of them. Buy as many as your balance will allow.

Seize the jeans.

For who knows what spills or stains or crotch blowouts will come…

Life is short. And often ill-fitting.

So Carpe. Carpe denim.

Seize the jeans, friends.

Make your ass extraordinary.

Anathelete: (n.)

Noun

One who is forced to play a sport, regardless of their loathing for it.

///

Recently, while chatting with some guys at a party, I drifted into the dire shoals of sports-talk. The conversation had started innocently enough, reminiscing about youth and school and all of its attendant horrors. It was light, snappy party patter. Good stuff. But then a guy (who looked like a Brad but wasn’t a Brad) steered the topic toward his glory days in intramural soccer. I should have confessed my lack of interest and authority on the spot, but I was wine-soaked and foolish, and so I feigned understanding. This was an error. The more he went on, the deeper I delved for convincing lies, volleying through his remembrances with clueless chirps: Oh, totally. Tell me about it, man. Pssh, soccer… right? 

When the inevitable finally occurred, and he handed the subject back to me, I choked. Utterly.

Here’s a little free advice for you: When asked your position on the soccer field, “center-left” is not an acceptable answer.

I had outed myself as an anathelete – a tragic, grade school softboy – fellas who don’t take the field, so much as are taken by it… cajoled by well-meaning parents and concerned guidance counselors who, in my case, viewed my stubborn disinterest in group sports not so much as a personality trait, but as a problem to be cured via immersion-therapy. Despite a volley of protests, I was signed up for baseball and soccer, both the indoor and outdoor varietals. Gloves and shinguards were purchased. Ballcaps were donned. Back yard practice drills were run by my enthusiastic father, and scored to my own chorus of protracted, Victorian sighs. To this day, those temperate harbingers of Springtime – blooming dogwoods, sunparched dirt, the woody smell of fresh-cut lawns – make me anxious and itchy and inescapably sad.

For I am an anathelete. An inside cat. A scrabble player. A man more likely to attend a ball than hustle for one.

At the time I resented my parents for this – my enforced conscription into the dreaded boys of summer. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve developed enough empathy to understand how frightening it must be to raise any child – let alone a sour, solitudinous lump like me. I was an odd kid. I had friends, but not many. I lacked the easygoing nature required to play well with others. I was an only child… which is to say: a cerebral weirdo, more interested in chatting with adults over coffee than playing games with kids. It’s only natural that in their desperation they’d draw comparisons between me and the closest child they could find – which, in my family was my cousin, M.

M. is the closest thing I’ll ever have to a sibling. We were born six weeks apart, and thus our parents formed a social unit, spending weekends and vacations together, raising the two of us in tandem. There are photo albums chronicling our shared infancy – each of us strapped screaming inside our baby-carriers, beside our drowsy and exhausted mothers; M. and I as toddlers, costumed in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles regalia, our postures frozen mid-kata, our hands flattened into pasty karate chops; our fathers possess the requisite blackmail photos of us in the bath, arraying our army men in an execution line along the tub edge, plunking them one by one into the suds.

As time wore on, M. and I began to grow in different directions. I mean this literally. Come the pubescent years, M. brototroped into a more traditionally male form. (NB: By “traditionally male form” I do not mean to suggest that I condone this particular view of masculinity. I merely mean to describe the thinking of the time. Gender is a fluid concept. The patriarchy is a cancerous system of dehumanizing power which must be torn down. Black Lives Matter. All that stuff.) M. took an intense interest in sports, becoming a capable wrestler and soccer player. He had the full scope of the athletic carriage – a muscular frame, a quiet, single-minded focus and dedication to practice, and an inherent team spirit. M. had the inexhaustible desire to hustle, to score, to raise his fist in the air and hold it aloft like a torch to light the way of his own athletic excellence.

My own career as a soccer player was spent sulking. If I did run, it wasn’t so much toward the ball as it was away from a bee. At this phase of my little-league career, roles of play were still democratized; Children were rotated from position to position, outfield one game, pitcher the next. My coach – a beardy Episcopalian of inexhaustible patience – did his damndest to keep me in right field where I belonged… but the time eventually came when I was called to service amid the infield. This poor man had to dress me in my catcher’s armor… belting the plastic carapace around my myriad bruise-and-breakables… explaining to me that, should a runner attempt to take the plate, it would be my responsibility to protect it with my whole heft. I don’t recall my exact response… but it was certainly some version surely you jest, only adjusted to the 4th grade reading level.

When I finally emerged from the dugout and rattled homeward, I was met with the politely stifled hysterics of the crowd. I don’t – and didn’t – blame them. I’d have laughed too at this shambling lobsterboy. I searched the crowd through the mesh of my mask and, spotting my parents, excitedly pointed to the oversized plastic jock that had been strapped on above my pants. MomI shouted… Look at this! And then proceeded to waggle my white codpiece to and fro. My father retold this story for years… pantomiming the waggle every time I brought a girl home.

I just never cared. Not about the game. Not about the score. Not about winning. It never mattered. That has always been my the biggest issue with sports – other than, ya know… the heat, and the running, and the shouting, and the overwhelming self-seriousness. I just didn’t think it’s important. Were we playing for money, or national pride, that would be another thing altogether. But we never were. Win or lose, we all got pizza.

These days, team sports are a distant memory. I’m in my late-30s. I am no longer culturally viable. Nobody cares that I’m even alive, let alone how well I play with others. But as I shuffle ever-farther into the mire of early-middle-age, the more and more essential physical activity becomes. If not to foster a darwinian appetite for competition, then at least to stave off my physical degradation from doughy, gentleman meatstocking to bloated corpse.

I have to exercise now not so much to build character, but to forestall death. And that’s a competition I can get behind. I’ve successfully avoided athleticism for 37 years. I had a great run sit. But the time has come to hike up my sporting apparel, don some ridiculous hat, and work up a bit of a sweat. So, this week, I signed up for a kickboxing class. I put on shorts. I ran and jumped and burpeed. I punched and kicked. I sweat and cursed and flailed around. For an entire hour I pummeled a bag, and sprinted, and melted in front of a room full of lithe, be-pony-tailed women. I exercised. I hated every goddamn minute of it. But I did it.

But here’s the rub: an hour before my class, I met some chums at a bar. Turns out this gentleman can kickbox with three glasses of wine in his belly and NOT throw up on himself.

So I got that goin’ for me…

Rubble Standard: (n.)

Noun

When you blow it up, it’s evil. When we blow it up, it’s collateral damage.

///

Donald Trump (I’m sorry, I’m as tired of writing his name as you are of reading it), has launched a missile strike against Syria. This was done to punish the Assad regime (a legitimately heinous clot of horror, itself) for its use of chemical weapons against its people. For the murder of his people, the Trump Administration will send over bombs.

It will not, however, allow in refugees.

This, in essence, is the Tump Administration’s foreign policy.

He is a human cloaca.

I’ve spent my entire adult life (decades at this point) listening to corrupt, self-interested nations justify the wholesale bombing of… everything. And here’s the thing:

There isn’t a justification for any of it. Never has been. Never will be.

Because bombs don’t really distinguish factions or flags or to which unhappy fiction you pray. That’s the job of the guy who pulls the trigger. And when faced with that choice, our collective failure to make the right decision over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again makes us just as awful as the regimes we’re trying to destroy.

We’re not the good guys. We’re just another version of the bad guys.

Out with nations.

In with stars.

Netflux: (n.)

Noun

The changes to your Netflix recommendations that correspond with sharing your account password with your girlfriend.

///

There was a period of a few weeks where, no matter what I streamed, Netflix continued to offer “The Sorrow and The Pity” as my number one recommendation.

“The Sorrow and The Pity.”

A four-hour long, black and white French documentary about the holocaust.

I should have taken a screenshot and sent it to my shrink along with a demand for my money back.

That was years ago. Before I moved in with my girlfriend. A woman whose primary cinematic interests are a dead split between drag queens and sports movies.

Archipillowgo: (n.)

Noun

The cluster of throw pillows scattered across one’s bedroom floor.

///

Here’s something I don’t get: Throw pillows.

Their purpose is as bewildering as their name, because when you really think about it (as I have) each betrays its own intention…

How can something that’s designed to stay in place and impart a sense of staged and timeless perfection be given a name that essentially insists you hurl it at the nearest person’s face?

This is a linguistic fallacy. Alert the gutter press! Slate! Get started on another of your penetrating think pieces! Pillows: You’re Doing It Wrong!

NB: I, of course, mean “makes one jab a pencil into their eyes, as violent auto-enucleation is preferable to reading yet another goddamn Slate article” when I use the term “penetrating.”

Anyway.

Pillows.

Think about it. Won’t you?

MAGAlomaniac: (n.)

Noun

One who would destroy everything to prove their superiority.

///

55 years ago, we very nearly entered into nuclear war with Russia. And we avoided such calamity because the smart people in both our government and theirs outmaneuvered the crazy, stupid, and wretched ones.

And because we were lucky.

Mostly because we were lucky.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, has brought us closer to the brink of nuclear exchange than we’ve been in decades. And for no discernible reason beyond the sleazy garbage heap of his own derangement, stupidity, and ego.

He alienates our allies – insults foreign nations – categorizes whole swaths of people he does not know, lies about them, insults them, and uses the hatred he inspires against them to further whatever random, blinkered political debacle pops into his mind next.

He is the worst American. He’s the worst we have to offer. He is abject, vile, and cruel.

It boggles my mind that we’d require further reason to pull him from his highchair behind the resolute desk and banish him from office. The last year of brainless blunder and hateful pig vulgarity have been quite enough. To say nothing of Russia, his administration’s collusion, and the fact that he’s lied more times than he’s had a hot bath.

Remove him. Now.

 

Eturnity: (n.)

Noun

The endless turns one takes while searching for a parking spot in the city.

///

I spent nearly an hour trying to park my car the other night.

We’d returned from dinner with my Dad. I dropped L. off at home, chimed a sweet “love you!” and set myself to parking.

Left at the light. Nothing on this block.

Left at the next. All booked up.

Left at the light.

Maybe a right.

It went like this.

Left. Left. Right. Left. With every turn I felt more of myself slide away… my sanity fraying like a windblown flag. Left. Left. Left. On and on until the last scraps had eroded finally away.

Hope. Was there ever such a thing? Certainly not.

For the world is barren. A dead place. Bereft. A corridor of parked and empty cars. No life. Nothing stirring. Young couples loved, once. They walked their dogs and jaunted happily through the streets in well-tailored, seasonally-appropriate jackets. But that time had passed. Now dawns the age of rubber and glass.

I was born to die in that car… lost forever… left behind. Left. Left.

Left.

And then…

Abruptly, without any reason or purpose… I found a spot.

And everything was alright again.