Getting Better At Profanity

Today is Friday, the day I talk about the issues and completely ignore that I didn’t post anything on Monday.  Today’s issue is: Using Bad Words.  A lot of people do it, but I find that hardly anyone does it correctly.  There is a certain art-form that effective swearing requires that seems to be lost on most of the populace, and I aim to correct that.  I want to live in a world where people swear and cuss and curse to their fullest potential!  No one teaches people how to swear, and that’s a shame.  It’s a great part of the human experience that all people are left to find out themselves.  So if you have children, make sure you pull up this article for them to read (and don’t let them click on any of the links).

DISCLAIMER:  It’s not often I’ll have to do this, but today’s post is SFW (Safe For Work).  I don’t swear in my posts or use overly graphic language.  Usually the links are safe to go visit, but today that will not be the case.  These kinds of clips are used in film school all the time (its where I got most of these clips), but usually when the professor is trying to talk about censorship and profanity.  I’m not taking any responsibility for any offense you take because of the links I’ve provided.  You’re a grown up, clicking those links is your decision.  You’ve been fairly warned.

Now don’t feel bad if you don’t swear well.  I didn’t realize it about myself for the longest time.  It took meeting a good friend of mine named Zed for me to realize this fault about myself.  Zed swears amazingly well.  Out of all the people in the world, Zed swears the best.  Swearing is Zed’s super power that he used to stop Loki from taking over New York.  Being friends with Zed was like being at the Buddhist temple for foul language enlightenment.  I thought I was swearing well, but Zed showed me what it was like to be one with the swearing.

Lesson 1: We need to analyze swear words.  My mother, who is probably horrified that I’d be talking about such a foul subject, draws the line of swear words very low.  It’s been hard to pinpoint because the bar goes lower every day, but I think the bar is currently set 8 words below the word “Silly”.  The FCC, a government agency mind you, thinks there are only 7 words in the English language that shouldn’t be said on the nation’s airwaves.  The range for folks does fluctuate a lot.  I’m going to use the word “Fart” for every swear word in this post, because it’s mostly neutral, is low on everyone’s list of possible swear words, but still has the shock value of legitimate swear words.  That’s the first lesson: you can’t really tell what your audience will consider to be a swear word.

Lesson 2: Swear words are completely unnecessary.  They are.  They distract from what one is trying to say.  Swear words can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb.  (He is a _____.  He is going to _____.  That guy is a ____ clown.  That guy is ______ dishonorable.  [I noticed that some of you filled in those blanks while reading this, and not all of you used the word ‘fart’.  The sentences do become funny when you fill in the word ‘fart’ in each blank, but I’m sure you see how it distracts from the original intent.])  Still, swear words are completely unnecessary.  With a decent thesaurus, you can see that swear words are lazy words.  Swear words are generally words that one with a poor vocabulary has to use in order to add emphasis to whatever it is one is saying.  When one lacks a verbose lexicon to impact communication in a fetching way, one can lazily concede to using foul language for its shock value as opposed to a better word’s gravitas.

Lesson 2, Example:
My best friend betrayed me by embarrassing me in front of all of the popular kids to become popular himself.  He is a _____.
He is a fart.                         VS                         He is a quisling.

Lesson 3: There are generally two reasons to swear:
•to communicate a feeling of anger/disappointment
•humor

A lot of people just throw bunches of swear words around ineffectively.  The reason is that swear words are generally used to communicate two ideas, and overusing them dulls their edge.  By overusing swear words to communicate an intense idea, you’re basically making everything you intend to be intense boring.  (You know that guy that describes everything as “epic”?  Yeah, don’t be that guy.)  By overusing swear words for humor, you’re basically repeating the punchline in hopes that other people will find it funny a second time around.

The greatest offenders of this are middle school boys to college boys.  While jogging at the YMCA, I often hear the high schoolers below me swearing in every single sentence they utter.  Sometimes it is the only word in the sentence.  It is to the point that their swearing is just extra white noise, just there to be there.  It becomes boring, trite, sophomoric, useless, and dumb.  I think of their language the same way I think of high school boys.

Swearing is a lot like makeup.  Less is more.  One can use makeup to add emphasis to something one wants people to see (eyelashes, lips, ect).  If one uses too much makeup, they look like a clown.  Same goes for swearing.  The trick to swearing effectively is that it needs to be a rare event.  Swearing all the time makes one look like a clown.

Swearing has a certain power to it.  If every time you use a profanity, your language loses some of its power.  A speaker that abuses vocabulary loses all of their power.  People that overuse profanities are seen as vulgar, stupid, and crass.  Seems accurate.  These folks don’t realize that they are being overly offensive for no reason (vulgar), they don’t have the vocabulary to express themselves meaningfully (stupid), and they lack the social skills necessary to talk with intelligent and refined people (crass).

So how often should you be swearing?  The answer is always the same: Less.

Reserved swearing will actually increase your swearing effectiveness.  If my mother were to suddenly drop a profanity into one of her sentences after 60 years of not swearing, I’d know that she was EXTREMELY angry at a situation.  Her profanity would catch my attention, I’d know the severity of the situation, and I’d legitmently be shocked by it.  It’d be such a landmark occurrence that I’d call my sister to let her know that it’s happened.  Meanwhile, if Snoop Dog were to swear in a sentence, we’d all know that his heart is still beating.

Lesson 4:  Rarely use a swear word as an adverb.  It’s the equivalent of using the words “very” or “really”.  Both of these words are similar to swear words in that they are lazy ways of adding emphasis.  I’m really sure some very well planned abuse of these words will really show you how very little they really add to any sentence.  ‘The man is very stupid’ is not a better sentence than ‘the man is stupid’.  The idea is to add emphasis to the insult ‘stupid’.  This is how I hear most people insert their swear words because it is easy.  An adverb can go almost anywhere in a sentence, and yet, folks tend to place their swear word right before the word they are trying to emphasize, which completely negates what they are trying to do.  Also, most swear words, when converted into adverbs, will get an ‘-ing’ ending.  This makes swear words look like verbs, and can change the entire meaning of your sentence.

Lesson 4, Example:
The man is stupid.
The man is farting stupid.

The swear word in this case was meant to emphasize how stupid the man is.  Instead, the audience is wondering how one farts stupidly.  The swear word had so much emphasis that it took over the entire sentence, graduating from an adverb to a verb.  All meaning was lost.  Even if we did away with the ‘-ing’ ending, the sentence becomes ‘The man is fart stupid’.  Now it’s just an awkward sentence.  The word ‘stupid’ is now describing the word ‘fart’.  The sentence has been ruined by adding swear words into it.

Lesson 5:  Rarely use swear words as adjectives, for the same reasons as rarely using them as adverbs. They become boring.  They change the meaning of the sentences.  They aren’t effective.  It’s easy to insert a swear word before the noun you are trying to describe, but don’t.  Any swear word used as an adjective can be replaced by the word ‘big’.

LESSON 5, Example:
The man is an idiot.
The man is a farting idiot.
The man is a big idiot.

Nothing was added with the expletive except confusion.  The man is farting in addition to being an idiot?

Lesson 6:  The F-Word has become trite.  It really has.  The moment that “WTF” became something normally said on prime time television during a news cycle, the F-Word was done.  It’s over.  The reign of the F-Word has collapsed.  Now it is only offensive for the sake of being offensive.  It’s why I’m not spelling the word out despite it being a vapid profanity.  It’s overused.  True, it is a versatile word with fitting usage as a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb.  It’s just not effective anymore.  The F-Word is so 1990’s.  There are better words now, and 99% of those are not profanities.  The F-Word has become so pathetic that most readers here think that writing “F-Word” is a good enough censorship of it.  So the F-Word shouldn’t be used unless it’s being added to be offensive just for the sake of being offensive.  Don’t use it.

Lesson 7: Never ever use a slur against someone!  This one is always a no-no.  In the digital age where everything is recorded, you don’t ever want to be caught using a slur.  This is a career ending move, and rightly so.  Wielding a swear word to hurt people will say a lot more about you than it will ever say about them, and it’ll speak volumes about you that you don’t want spoken..  The N-Word is nuclear.  If you feel the compulsion to use the N-Word, you might want to do some deep soul searching and find what you hate so much about a disenfranchised minority class in the United States.  This is one of those personal flaws that one should work out on their own time in private, not air for everyone to hear.  It’s not just racial slurs you should stay away from.  Stay away from gay/lesbian slurs, religious slurs, slurs against women, slurs against men, slurs against the disabled (physically and mentally), and whatever other bad term that can be applied to a group of people.  Even if someone uses a slur against you, don’t ever use a slur back against them (we’ll get to that in lesson 8).

You don’t want to get labeled as a bigot, and that’s exactly where using slurs will land you, because those are the kinds of words that bigots say.  Even if you are a bigot, which is a terrible thing to be, you don’t want to be exposed as one.  You keep those locked up tight, because there is a difference between offending someone with a profanity and inspiring righteous furry in someone by exposing your prejudiced hatred for a group they belong to.

Lesson 8:  Don’t swear in a fight or an argument.  In order for an argument to be constructive on your end, you have got to retain control of yourself.  Arguing is a complicated thing that requires a bunch of social manuvers and “one-up-manship”.  You’ve got to continually present you and your case better than the other person presents their case.  If you start swearing all over the place, you’ve started to present yourself poorly.  One swear will get their attention and show that you care deeply and passionately about the topic being argued over.  Persistent swearing will make you look like an out of control, vulgar, stupid, crass, and out of touch.  If you present yourself poorly, your position in the argument gets reviewed poorly, even if it is the right position.  At maximum, you get 1 swear word per argument, and even that seems high.

Lesson 9:  Despite all of my insistence to not swear in all of the previous lessons, it can still be done effectively.  Swearing is a lot like a semicolon; a person can use it to create beauty and new meaning for the sake of clarity, humor, and expressing one’s self.  Used incorrectly; and the semicolon quickly shows how bad one is at using semicolons and everyone questions their intelligence.  You have to know what you are doing in order to swear effectively.  There are times when it can be done to humorous effect.  There are times it can be done to really show upset someone is.  It’s an artform, and part of the art form is the rarity.  When done correctly it is brilliant.  When done incorrectly it makes the speaker look bad.

The Ultimate Lesson:  If you want to swear effectively, don’t.  Don’t swear at all.  Keep those profanities locked up behind your tongue.  Don’t dare utter them.  Let them sit.  Let them wait.  Let them ferment.  A person who doesn’t swear is the best at it, because the one day that you need a swear word’s power, it’ll be there for you.  Everyone will fall at your feet, because you waited, and your saved up profanities will pay exponential interest.  It’s the build up of a conservative tongue that makes a constructive swear word.

That’s the secret I learned from Zed.  Zed swears once every three years, and every time he does, the full weight of what he’s done registers to his audience.  His profanities are a thing of intense beauty because they are so farting rare.

We can only hope that my mom never decides to swear, for we would all perish in the flames of the magnificence.

The Albany Walking Suicide Brigade

Today is Friday, the day I write about The Issues.  Today’s issue is: pedestrians are dumb.  I live in New York, in an armpit of a city called “Albany”.  You may have been taught that Albany is the capital of New York, but it is not.  The Governor has fled Albany in favor of New York City.  I drive past his mansion frequently and he is never there.  The reason the Governor has fled is that Albany is home to many stupid pedestrians.

Most people are taught at a young age that they need to look both ways before crossing the street.  Even though cars are expected to be in control at all times and avoid all threats to people and property, they still have “right-of-mass”, so you make sure none are going to hit you while you borrow their street.  Sometimes there are slight variants on that advice.  When I lived in North Dakota, I’d not only look both ways while crossing at an intersection, but I’d also look for ice, because a car intending to stop at a red light might not be able to.  Albany, New York seems to have its own slight variation on crossing-the-street advice which goes something like: launch yourself into traffic until you are in the middle of the only lane, and only then do you turn and glare at whoever it is that dared to squeal their breaks at you while invading your personal space.

I don’t get it.  It’s like they have a death wish.  I actually think a lot of people in Albany want to die.  While driving in downtown Albany, folks will dart out into traffic and only then wonder if a ton of metal is about to hit them at about 40 mph.  Folks are just flinging themselves at the hood of my car.  They are sneaky about it, too.  Albany is a big fan of parallel parking, so what the pedestrians do to increase their likelihood of being hit is jump out from behind a great big van so drivers have no warning that a pedestrian is trying to commit suicide by car.  It happens at least three times per trip I take into downtown (a drive lasting only fifteen minutes [1 suicide attempt per 5 minutes]).  I wish that I could get across to you that this figure is not an exaggeration.  I sometimes think it is like the M. Night Shyamalan movie “The Happening”, where millions of movie goers wanted to commit suicide in mass because Shyamalan makes terrible movies.

The folks here in Albany are also passing it down to the next generation.  I was driving down the road, on the verge of a heart attack because killing someone is something I honestly worry about while driving in Albany, when a little girl literally leapt in front of my car.  Literally.  Not figuratively-but-I-want-to-give-it-more-credit-so-I’m-using-the-wrong-word-like-a-moron. I mean literally.  One leg outstretched fully in front of her, one fully outstretched behind her.  Her arms matched in a parallel kind of beauty that would make for a great final pose before being mangled beyond recognition.  I was going 35 mph (10 below the speed limit) when this darling little lemming leapt in front of my car.  I didn’t see her because she was small, and had picked a nice little blind spot behind a parked car to be her diving board into the afterlife.  I slammed on the breaks and smashed my fist onto my horn.  The little idiot landed and turned to see a car screech to a halt two feet from her.  She screamed and almost fell backwards from the shock of almost being made into road kill.  I’m pretty sure she peed herself.  I know I did.

This is when I lost hope, dear reader.  The girl was an idiot, sure, but all children are.  It was her mother that drove me over the edge.  This lady starts to yell at me for almost smashing her stupid child.  She launched into a tirade of verbal assaults against me that made me think I should pack up the child with me in my car and just drive straight off to social services.  “Why you honkin’ at my baby?”

“Why haven’t you taught your daughter to not play in the street?  She jumped in front of my car, and any parent worth their weight would be explaining to their kid that the street is dangerous, not yelling at the person who is actually looking out for your kid!”

“Ain’t none yo’ business how I raise my kids!”

At this point I was evaluating whether or not my car could hop the curb so I could run this mother over.  Not out of malice, mind you, this was in the best interest of the child.  Second degree murder was a sacrifice I was willing to make on the little girl’s behalf, as well as her siblings.  Besides, this is New York, no jury would ever convict me.  A jury of my peers would just shrug their shoulders and say “What did she expect?  She lived in Albany.  She was going to get run over sooner or later.”

My wife has had a similar experience, only in her case it was a kid on a bicycle that careened into traffic right in front of her.  The mother was right there with the excuse “He’s just learning”.  I’m not sure why this mother thinks that lessons are best learned in the hospital.  Maybe it’s because she is from Albany and she wants to die and she wants her kids to die because all of their friends have already died from being run over.  I don’t want anyone to die, but dear reader, these folks are wearing me down.

I think it is the glare that gets to me the most.  Pedestrians here have a glare they use when they see you screeching to a halt.  Sometimes it is a tough look that says “What are you going to do about it?  That’s right, nothing!”  Sometimes it is a dead-eyed thousand yard stare where I can’t tell if they see me at all or if they are silently pleading for this driver to have the courage it takes to end their suffering.  With so many people wanting to be run over, I’m surprised that someone hasn’t cracked under the pressure already.  It would only take one fed up road-rager who decided to once and for all grant everyone in Albany their death wish.  Someone could easily run over at least one hundred people in one night while still following all of the traffic laws including speed limits, stop signs, using turn signals, and staying in their lane.  Albany, New York is the reason why automated cars will never work, because an automated car would follow all of the laws and still manage to murder half the population.

This brings me to my next point: drivers in Albany, New York are the worst drivers I have ever seen in my life.  This could be a post all on its own so I won’t go into detail here.  I have lived in Iowa, Colorado, North Dakota, and Texas.  I have roadtripped through nearly every state in the nation.  Albany, New York has the worst drivers. (Los Angles comes in second).  Firstly, their brake pads are all worn thin from slamming on them to avoid hitting pedestrians.  Secondly, they don’t seem to know any traffic laws at all.  Thirdly, I’m convinced none of them can see over the hood of their cars because painted lines on the road mean nothing to them.  Fourthly, they seem to be under the impression that either the accelerator or the brake must be fully applied.  The list could go on and on, including the special U-turn that I’ve dubbed “The Albany” which will take you across 4 lanes of traffic, two of which are oncoming traffic, and it’ll usually involve an intersection.  These drivers are the people that these pedestrians are leaping out in front of.  There is only one conclusion:

Pedestrians in Albany want to die.

It may be time for Albany to adopt a law from Sarasota, Florida, where it is a $78 fine for hitting a pedestrian.

That One Time I Was In A Boy Band

This is a story about the best decision I ever made in my entire life.  The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

The plan was to impress all of the girls, because impressing the girls was a thing that we were very bad at, and to have any hope of pulling it off we’d need a plan.  Since we were making a plan, we decided to go big.  Huge even.  We were going to impress all the girls so much that they were going to scream out our names with excitement when we were done.  We were five of the best friends a Middle School had ever seen, and for one night we were going to be a Boy Band.

The venue was the Iowa Show Choir Festival.  It was some competition between all of the High Schools in the area for some trophy I didn’t fully understand.  All of the schools performed in the day, and four were selected to go again for a championship round.  Between the two rounds there were exhibition acts to keep the crowd excited, and that’s what I signed us up for.  It was the perfect venue, because all of the girls from school were going to be there.  Half of them were in the choir, and the other half wanted to be supportive of their friends.  It was also the perfect venue because every guy that would make fun of us for being in a Boy Band was going to miss it, because they weren’t going to show up to a Show Choir Festival.  This was the pinnacle of directed advertising.

We’d never been a Boy Band before, so it was going to take some effort.  I was in it, of course, and I had most of the ideas to get the ball rolling.  We had Braum, a six-foot giant of a lanky kid who was shy but was willing to try anything once (especially after I peer pressured him into it).  I sold him the concept by telling him that he’d be the tall, dark, and mysterious member of the band.  There was Shannon, a really good singer who loved to ham it up and be the center of attention.  He was going to be the hype man, the guy just behind the lead singer that was going to get everyone to their feet (Justin Timberlake).  There was Randel, another soft-spoken guy who was far more attractive than anyone in Middle School had the right to be.  He was going to be the loveable cute one.  Finally, there was Drew, the popular guy who could sing, dance, and make the ladies swoon.  He was going to be the highlight, the main guy.  I’m not sure what I brought to all of this.  Maybe I was the manager.

The plan was simple.  We were going to do an *NSYNC song because they were way more popular than anyone else.  Also, their music videos provided all of the choreography we’d ever need.  We were going to record MTV all day with one of those 8 hour VHS tapes and hit the two times that they showed music videos.  When we got back from school, we were going to fast forward to the song of choice and learn that choreography.  Drew’s uncle had a karaoke side business, and with a quick drive over we had the background music to whatever we needed on cassette tape.  After much deliberation, we decided on the perfect song: Dirty Pop.

Dirty Pop was ideal for a few reasons.  The video had the most choreography, it was the shortest of their songs, and for an event like this it was the second best *NSYNC song, only behind Tearin’ Up My Heart.  It was fast, it was catchy, it had plenty of room to let us goof around, and it was perfect.  Tearin’ Up My Heart didn’t have all those things.  It was slightly longer, it didn’t show much choreography at all, and even though it was the better song to show off to, we didn’t have the tools between the five of us to choreograph anything or make up another gimmick.  It was beyond our grasp, so we went with Dirty Pop and set to it.

We had three weeks to get ready, and maybe with more effort we could have had a better looking product going into the concert.  Braum was about a beat late with every motion and would forget unless he was directly watching Shannon that we placed directly in front of him.  Shannon was a great dancer, but he liked to improvise between beats sometimes, which was gawkily echoed by Braum a half second later.  Shannon also forgot to put the pretend microphone (a naked Barbie doll) in front of his face about half of the time.  I thought I was doing amazingly well, but had a habit of frowning, furrowing my brow, and concentrating way too hard on the motions.  It gave the impression that I was constipated and being tortured to dance.  Randel was perfect.  He and Braum had agreed to participate as long as they didn’t have to really sing.  This left Shannon and I to be backup singers, or Drew and I while Shannon was doing his part.  Drew was great, but would often stop dancing in order to sing, breaking our symmetry and causing some infighting within the group.  Drew ultimately won out because he couldn’t breathe enough while doing the dance moves to his full ability.

On a good run through, three of us would do the choreography passably well and only one singer would forget that it’s their turn to shine.  So we kept practicing.  What did it matter if we were perfect?  The fact that we did it would be the talk of the town, and it would be so surprising that we’d do ‘well’ no matter the level or our performance.  We were going to hit them with Shock and Awe, and the rest really didn’t matter as long as we kept up the act for 3 minutes.

Three weeks we worked.  We’d gotten *NSYNC looking outfits (Good Will versions of what they wore in the Dirty Pop video).  We had the song down as good as it was going to get, which might as well have been perfect as far as we cared.  We’d adopted the motto “Sloppy is our style!”

The day of the concert arrived.  We’d watched all of the schools go, including ours.  We hadn’t told anyone about what we were going to do.  We didn’t want to build it up at all, because shock was going to carry us a long way, or at least that was the plan.  During lunch, the runners of this festival got us up on stage while the auditorium was cleared out.  We did a full run-through.  We learned that monitors are speakers on the ground that let you hear yourself (we decided that full singing volume was the right choice), and that headset microphones were a thing (we’ll take three for our five man band, please).  Naked Barbie was on the sideline cheering us on.  We felt really really really good about it.

The afternoon went by and it was time for the exhibition songs.  We all went up to stage left where the master of ceremonies was.  He gave us a few words of encouragement before we went on.  The air was electric, my hands were shaking with nerves.  We all couldn’t believe what was about to happen.  Out in the crowd were at least 10 different schools worth of choirs and choir fans.  Our school was front stage left, and we were going to pander to those girls like crazy.  Our spirits couldn’t have been higher.

And then we all heard an electric synthesizer on some kind of weird organ setting.  We looked on stage and there was a High School senior, smiling at the crowd and playing an introduction to a song we knew all too well.  It was the introduction to Tearing Up My Heart, the *NSYNC song that we had agreed would be perfect if it wasn’t impossible.  Another High School senior hopped on stage behind a xylophone, and another hopped into a drum kit.  They played an instrumental round of the introduction as the last two members of their band moseyed and then in perfect 5-man harmony the High School senior group launched into the lyrics, still playing their instruments.  When they got to the end of the introduction with a resounding, “With or without you”, the group all muted their instruments and vocals.  Each snagged the nearest carry microphone from the closest stand and they all swaggered into the famous ‘*NSYNC 5’ formation.  Despite their being no sound coming from the stage, the auditorium was thunderous.  Every last middle and high school girl in the county was on their feet and shrieking at the top of their lungs.  The five seniors just looked at each other smiling.  One looked at his watch, a funny gag about how long the screaming went.  It didn’t die down, it just kept going.  I couldn’t believe it.  That was OUR screaming!

They didn’t bother to wait for the cacophony to die.  One hit a button on a nearby tech device and the karaoke version of the song launched over the house speakers at full intensity.  The five of them launched into the choreography of the video without a hitch, five mirrored figures in perfect unison.  The screaming raised in pitch and intensity.  One of them stepped forward and launched into the first solo.  The rest all pandered to the crowd valiantly, and then the five were back in unison while in five note harmony.  One mind in five bodies.  They pointed at the girls. They winked.  They did their choreography.  The two main singers did a great job hyping up everyone as they played the entire room, bounding over the stage like they owned the entire room.  The other three started to do a series of flips during the instrumental bridges, the most intense being a guy jumping off his friend’s knee, doing a backflip, and landing before sinking into the splits.  Out in the auditorium, the mob was melting into Chernobyl.

I looked at my squad.  We were deflated and defeated.  They were so much better.  They looked better. They sounded better.  They did flips.  Most importantly, their performance caught the audience with complete shock and awe.  It was the perfect setup, and we had to follow it.  It was going to be a disaster.

I felt bereaved.  Braum was visually pale.  Drew looked conquered and upset.  Shannon took turns saying to each of us “That’s just not fair”, repeating it to our squad members a second time each.  Randel didn’t say anything.  He was so nervous coming up here that I’m not sure that it was registering to him that another group had just beaten us to the punch.

The music cut out before the song was done, right before the last chorus refrain.  Exclamations of “What?!” and other shouted disappointment bellowed from the auditorium.  The five seniors looked at each other confused, and then they all smiled and pointed at each other as if some unspoken idea had occurred to them all simultaneously.  This was my cue, my chance to save everything.  I huddled up my group and told them the one thing we could do to fix everything.

On stage, the five seniors had all taken spots behind various instruments (electric piano/organ, xylophone, drums, bass guitar, and tambourine), and they played the song live on their instruments while singing.  Ear piercing shrill echoed through the building to the point it was hard to hear the band.  They finished, they bowed, and the auditorium was a cannonade of excitement.

Before the screaming could die down, the master of ceremonies went and congratulated the seniors.  Then announced our group.

“Okay everybody, let’s hear it for N*Posters!”  Clapping erupted, but no one walked on stage.  “I said, ‘up next we have N*Posters!’”  The master of ceremonies looked confused, and pointedly looked to stage left.  He found us all sitting in the bleachers, blending in with crowd.  He made eye contact with me.  I simply folded my hands in mock prayer and shook my head back in forth, a look of pure fear on my face.

“I guess that was them, well done N*Posters, let’s give them another hand!”

It is the best decision I ever made in my entire life.

Ice Bucket Killjoys

Today is Friday, the day I talk about the issues.  Today’s issue is that there are people out there being killjoys about the Ice Bucket Challenge.  In case you’ve been living in such a way that you could find this obscure blog but miss the social phenomenon that has taken over every form of social media and the news, the Ice Bucket Challenge was a fun publicity stunt designed to raise a lot of money and awareness about ALS research.  The idea is that if you get challenged by someone, you have to send $100 to ALS research.  If you don’t have $100 or don’t want to send $100, you can instead dump a bucket of ice water on your head and send only $10 instead.  Then you chain letter 3 other folks and make them do it.  It seems that most folks opted for the ice bucket and then sent the $100 anyway.  As a publicity stunt it worked wonders!  Celebrities got involved, the public got involved, and for the month of August it was all the rage.  There were more than 739,000 new charitable donors and raised $41.8 million dollars in the space of one month (double what they got last year).

Of course, we can’t have a giant phenomenon where millions have a good time, lots of disposable income is pushed to a good cause, awareness of the terrible disease is increased, a readily replenishable resource is used, and people are temporarily discomforted for the amusement of others without the killjoys raising their voices in protest.  The killjoys are a group of folks that have to be outrageously upset about something that doesn’t impact their lives in the slightest bit.  They are obstinate gadflies who just want to poo-poo whatever it is that their pretentious ire is aimed at.  I’m not sure if it is out of spite, out of jealousy, out of a need for attention, or out of a dark soul that bemoans goodness and joy in any form, but the killjoys are here to talk bad about the Ice Bucket Challenge (IBC).  It’s just so easy to sit there, doing nothing, and complain about something while other people are out doing something.

The first thing that the killjoys latch onto is that the IBC is “wasting water”.  I’m not sure what to say about that, because the idea is really stupid.  These folks are acting as if the Conservation of Mass was not in effect, that once the water is dumped out it is gone forever.  The Earth has 321 million cubic miles of water, and even if the water from these IBCs did disappear from the universe, we’d be fine.  Of course, the water does not disappear, it rejoins the water cycle.

Maybe these folks aren’t scientifically illiterate and are more concerned that we are taking water and dumping it on the ground.  The USGA predicts that 2.08 billion gallons of water are used to irrigate all the golf courses in the US every day.  To put that in perspective, that is everyone in the United States doing the IBC with a 6 gallon bucket every single day.  Not for charity, but so that a few well-off suburban dads (mostly) can enjoy their really green playground that poor people aren’t welcome to.  Granted, most of that water for the nation’s golf courses is pulled from ponds, lakes, and it isn’t sanitized.  But that doesn’t stop Americans from dumping sanitized water on the ground all the time.  The typical American household has a sprinkler system that uses 265 gallons of water per hour.  They should only go for 15 minutes, which is literally taking sanitized drinking water and dumping it on the ground at the rate of 66 gallons every day, about 200 every week with 3 days of sprinkling.  That is, if they aren’t overwatering (which is a widespread practice).  If wasting water really offends you, start the campaign for outlawing lawn watering.

How about just dumping water down the drain?  A typical load of dishes uses 20 gallons of water if you do the dishes by hand and leave that pesky faucet on, 10 gallons of water if you are using a modern dishwasher.  3-ish gallons per toilet flush if your toilet isn’t new, 1.6 gallons per flush if it is.  A full bath can be about 40 gallons of water, a shower is 5-ish gallons per minute (Americans average a 50 gallon shower).  I haven’t even talked about washing the car, cooking food, actually drinking water, laundry, or many other water intensive activities.  A nice little water-conservative family of 4 living in suburbia USA uses about 280 gallons of water a day, 1,960 a week, and 8.4K gallons a month.  It’d be such a shame if 6 gallons of water went to a charity event.

Really, if ‘wasting’ water bothers you that much, you could instead do a charity of your own where you donate $88 dollars to buy someone with an older toilet (3-5 gallons per flush) a high efficiency toilet and another $29 on a WaterSense shower head (2 gallons per minute as opposed to the average of 8).  You’ll save about 42 gallons of water per person that uses that bathroom exclusively.  It would require effort, though, and that’s why I don’t expect the killjoys to take this idea and run with it.  It’s a shame, because I’ve got a great plan to kick-start this charity.  Let’s have folks dump 42 gallons of ice water on their heads to show how much water could be saved a day with just a donation of $117 dollars.  That’d definitely raise awareness!  Or have an Office Space moment where people take baseball bats to the old toilet.  I bet all sorts of people would watch toilet destruction videos.  Of course…then the killjoys will say that everyone is being wasteful and over-burdening already full landfills.  They just have to be offended by something.

Drinking water isn’t a precious resource in the United States.  At my current rate in New York, where everything is expensive, I can get a gallon of water out of my tap for less than a penny.  We have plenty of infrastructure that lets us convert absurd amounts of water to be safe enough to drink.  6 gallons here or there doesn’t really matter.  That’s 6 cents worth of water.  The ice costs 25 times more than the water.

The second complaint I keep seeing is that there are lots of people without drinking water, and the IBC is affecting them in some way that…um… well the killjoys never seem to finish their thought.  It’s the same thinking that an American child needs to finish their vegetables because there are starving children in China.  The thoughts aren’t related.  I’m not sure why this complaint is a thing.  Are they mad because we dumped that readily accessible resource on the ground rather than boxing it up and sending it UPS over to some unspecified thirsty individual?  Are the killjoys mad that thirsty people without access to drinking water weren’t given a plane ticket so they could come over to participate in the fun?  What is the complaint?  You might as well get mad at those kids in Alaska for throwing snowballs at each other and wasting the snow when there are kids in Hawaii that have never even seen a snowflake.  One place has the resource in droves and the other doesn’t.

I can tell you what the complaint is: Inequality exists in the world.  Inequality in the world is a very serious topic and one that troubles me often, but saying that the IBC is making it worse isn’t valid in the slightest.  It’s tragic that people don’t have access to clean drinking water, but that isn’t affected by the IBC.  Wasting water here won’t hurt or help folks over there.  Preserving water over here won’t hurt or help folks over there.  Locking up 6 gallons of water in a shrine to be revered and honored for generations to come won’t hurt or help folks over there.  Really, the “we’re wasting water when there are people that don’t have water” argument is really dumb because any resource could be used here.  If it was the “Eat 5 Poptarts” challenge, killjoys would be mad about wasting food from a place with an overabundant supply of food.  If we did a “stay awake all night” challenge, folks would be mad because insomniacs everywhere can’t get enough sleep.  Some people just refuse to let a good thing go by uncriticized because they have to be offended.  They need to be offended.

Yes, inequality exists in the world, and one of the best ways to combat that is through charityCharities like the IBC are great to combat inequality.  If you want to talk about inequality, let’s talk about the tens of thousands of individuals suffering from ALS that could greatly benefit from some very expensive research.  If you want to talk about inequality, let’s talk about people in the richest nation on earth using their iPhones and internet connections to help redistribute $41,000,000 of their throw-away change to help people that have it worse off than themselves.

Are there valid criticism of the IBC?  Actually…yes there are.  Some folks don’t like it because ALS research is sometimes done with detriment to animals.  Some folks question where the money would be going to (does it go to actual research or some CEO of a research lab?).  Some folks think that ALS is hogging all of the charitable giving (the numbers haven’t come in on this yet, so I can’t say if it is true or not, but my feeling is that the IBC generated extra giving without cannibalizing a large percentage of donations).  These folks I can tolerate, because they’ve put thought into what they are doing as opposed to throwing an immature hissy fit/temper tantrum in order to gain attention for themselves (my favorite one so far calling the IBC a Satanic Ritual).

What has the Ice Bucket Challenge done right?  More than raising $41 million for charity, it briefly made charity cool again.  For a while, people were talking about charity and giving.  They were excited about giving.  That hasn’t been a common conversation in years.  My wife and I talked about how we’d been slacking off on our giving to our charities of choice and how it would be nice to start that up again (my favorite is Heifer Project International).  The IBC brought with it a spirit of generosity that’s been sorely lacking.  It showed that we are very capable of addressing social issues if we want to.

Final thoughts?  I have a few.  I don’t have any data to back this up other than my gut feeling, but charitable people tend to be really excited about folks being generous.  It doesn’t really matter what the good cause is, charitable people are excited that other people are putting their money into the cause they care about.  If you ever find a charitable person, ask them, and they will tell you all about their charity of choice because it matters to them.  That’s why I think the killjoys really don’t have a leg to stand on, because I don’t think they give to any charities.  They don’t have a dog in this fight.  I have trouble seeing someone with a charitable heart donating hundreds of dollars to one charity and mocking and jeering someone else for donating to something else they care about.  I have trouble seeing a charitable someone missing the point so completely while saying “you’re giving to ALS?  Well I give to cancer research, and they didn’t need a stupid gimmick, so I’m better than you.”  Charitable people don’t talk like that.  Killjoys do…except for that part where they give to something else.  It really just sounds like an excuse to remain selfish.

So to you killjoys of the world, I offer you your own challenge.  You don’t have to dump water on your head or anything.  Just give a little bit of your spending cash to any charity you think is worthy.  $50 should do it.  If you are so offended by the inequality in the world that the IBC highlighted for you, I suggest giving to Heifer Project International.  If you were made aware of people without clean drinking water because of the IBC, I suggest giving to water.org.  I think the simple act of giving will change your heart a bit.  I wouldn’t put your money where your mouth is because I think that bragging about your charity is really just a self-promotional bit of advertising that still helps the cause but robs you of any personal growth you could have enjoyed.  It’s the difference between saying you care about something and proving it.  What will the challenge prove?  Not a whole lot, no one will really know that you did it, but I think it’ll change you for the better.  And if it doesn’t, you can tell me all about it and I’ll apologize to you personally for ruining the good name of killjoys everywhere.

Green Chip

I live in a more run down part of New York.  Maybe back in the 1940’s it was a captain of industry and commerce, but now it is more of a run-down neighborhood bordering “slum” status.  The largest buildings in the area are all condemned, the houses could all use a fresh coat of paint, and about every eighth building has been vacated and boarded up.  Albany has its rich spots and its poor spots, and the YMCA that I go swimming at is in one of the poor spots.  It’s smashed together up against a school, library, and municipal building of some sort.  It’s across the street from a fenced in garage/shipping complex and a house that I simply refer to as “The Dispensary”.  The Dispensary is a large yellow house that reeks of pot.  It has a drive-thru of sorts, as folks will pull up, walk onto the porch, do a series of high-fives and then they’ll walk away stuffing something suspiciously into their pockets.  Not my business, so I leave it alone.

I generally don’t like the people in the area of my YMCA.  I come here to use the pool, and more people means that there are less swimming lanes available.  While driving in, there were three kids spread out evenly across the road so I couldn’t get passed them.  They were shuffling along to the YMCA, and after ten seconds I honked so they’d get out of the road like a normal person.  They turned around, gave me nasty looks that were supposed to be nasty, but I interpreted it more as a clueless idiocy.  Pre-teens with attitudes don’t scare me, but god are they stupid.  It’s common around here for kids to be biking/skateboarding/walking down the middle of the street and blocking traffic when they have two perfectly good sidewalks on either side.  Again, I didn’t say anything.  If it doesn’t bother me, I leave it alone.

In the parking lot I saw my second exhibition of hopeless humanity.  There was some guy shout/talking with some lady.  The guy was wearing blue shorts, a blue shirt, and a baseball cap probably three sizes too big for his head cocked off to the left.  His shoes looked to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 dollars, but the rest of the outfit could be purchased with a $20.  I wasn’t sure if this is how he normally dressed or if this was his workout outfit, it’s how the kids in this neighborhood usually dress.  I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation as I crossed the parking lot.

“Come on Misha!  It’s been 3 months!”
“I don’t care if it’s been 3 years!  You ain’t getting any time with those kids!”
“Come on!  I got a part-time at the station.”
“Ain’t none of mine.”
“They are my kids too!”
“Yo kids?”  Misha launched into a very lengthy list of reasons why Misha’s kids were not the same thing as What’s-His-Face’s kids.

He stood there looking tough and frustrated as the conversation progressed.  What struck me is his left hand kept reaching forward at belt level, palm up.  It was an unconscious tick he did whenever he was trying to make a point to “Misha”.  It looked like he was giving a handout, maybe offering an invisible olive branch.  Maybe he was offering his hand for his small children to hold.  I don’t know.  It looked silly.  Misha turned in a huff towards the door, which I was by at the time.  She said some things designed to dig into What’s-His-Face’s soul and burrow there.  I opened the door and held it for her, taking a look at What’s-His-Face to see what he would do next.  I didn’t trust him.  He had one prominent cheap tattoo on his outstretched forearm, his facial hair was patchy and unkempt, he smelled something like the homeless men at the soup kitchen I used to volunteer at, and he was way too young to be a father of multiple kids.  Misha power walked into the YMCA, leaving me there holding the door, watching What’s-His-Face.  He swore once, looked at me uncaring, and then stormed off in the direction of The Dispensary.  Figures.  But again, it didn’t bother me, so I left it alone.

I did have a good swim.  It was a glorious swim.  I had the pool to myself, mostly.  The lifeguard kept changing the music on the radio whenever a bad song came on, and life was grand in that pool.  That pool is what makes this place glorious.  I did a full half hour in there, free-style the whole time.  I was refreshed, a new man, heading back into the locker room.  The only worry on my mind was that there are windows from the pool to the lobby where folks can see me parade my plus-sized self along the edge of the pool to the locker room.

In the locker room I rinsed off.  While in the shower, I heard someone trying really hard not to cry.  Another example of hopeless humanity, probably.  I ignored it and did my best to get the chlorine scent out of my beard, because it’s awful smelling that for the rest of the day.  The crying was still going on when I finished.  Not my business, so I tried to ignore it while I walked over to my locker, but I snuck a glance that I shouldn’t have.

There he was, What’s-His-Face.  The tough looking punk kid I saw a half hour ago had melted.  His hat was on backwards, now looking six sizes too big.  His eyes were red and tear stained.  His power-stance earlier had devolved into a heap of a person barely maintaining balance on a changing bench.  Everything noble, if there was anything noble about him, had gone out completely.  His spirit had left him.  Except his right hand.  His right hand was clutching something in front of his face.  Fiercely.  His arm was red from the strain of clutching it, shaking in front of his face.  His eyes stared into his fist at the object he was holding.

It’s something I haven’t seen for a long time.

A series of colored poker chips dangled from a chain he was holding.  He probably had a dozen silver chips and two red chips hanging from that chain, spinning in the air, their plastic ‘ticking’ against each other.  The chain hung from the chip he was clutching with all of his desperation, a single solitary green chip.  His eyes glued to it with unbelieving shame as tears unacknowledged trickled down his cheeks.

“Hey.”

I wasn’t sure who had spoken, until I realized I was the only other person in the locker room.  It was the green chip.  That worthless piece of plastic bought him membership into a very expansive and resolute club.

“Hey.   Guy.  I know it’s none of my business, but from where I’m standing, it looks like that green chip is the only thing you’ve got going for you in the entire world.”  I took a few steps toward the corner he was hiding in, well aware that I was going way out of my comfort zone in nothing but a towel and flip-flops.  The guy turned his blood-shot eyes over to me.  I wasn’t sure if he was hearing me or not, his eyes looked so dead.

I recalled an old and dusty memory off of the shelves.  “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  That seemed to get his attention, one line of poetry that let him know that he was dealing with alumni from his personal school of hard knocks.  It’s our school fight song.

“I know that this also isn’t any of my business, but you’re holding onto that coin as if you’re about to lose it, and I think I know how you’re about to lose that.  Kid, this is one of those low points.  It’s one of those things you cannot change.  But I’ve got the suspicion that you gave into your darker demons and did something foolish that you regret.  More than that, I’m pretty sure that you’ve got that darker demon in your pocket right or your gym bag right now.  That’s something, that if you really want to, you can change.”

The kid was frozen.  Other than his thumb absently rubbing against the back of his green coin, he sat stock-still.  The golden lettering had rubbed off the front of his coin and coated his thumb instead.  I’m not sure how long he’d been in this locker room.

“This moment right here…” I said, pointing at the floor as if to pin his rock bottom to the floor so that it couldn’t get him again, “…is step one.  ‘We admit we are powerless over our addictions’.  I’m seeing that right now, kid.  So how about we do something about it.  How about you give whatever it is you’ve got over to me.  I’ll carry this burden for you, because it looks like you aren’t going to get very far with it.  Let’s beat step one.”

What’s-His-Face broke down then, sobbing into the crook of his right arm, still clutching the green chip.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  He cried for a while, and I just stood there dripping dry.  I felt exposed.  I don’t like giving speeches.  I don’t fancy myself as a motivational speaker.  Monologue-ing to a stranger about their innermost demons while naked is a nightmare scenario most people only dream of.  I wanted to leave, but this moment right here was critical for What’s-His-Face, and my own personal key-ring of plastic chips demanded I see this through.  Besides, I wanted to see if he could succeed

What’s-His-Face continued to sob there, until finally his left hand thrust into his pocket and pulled out a plastic bag.  Rock bottom could be a painting of that moment.  His head hung in deepest shame, his hands both held above his head to me in complete surrender.  In his right hand was his collection of silver chips, evidence of at least a dozen attempts to restart sobriety, along with his greatest success of 90 days sober, the green chip.  In his left hand was a bag of drugs so illegal that I didn’t even know what they were, or the delivery systems that were also included.

I couldn’t see into his mind then, but I wish I could.  I wanted to dive in there and pull him back from whatever despair he’d covered himself in.  Here were both offerings.  I could take the green chip away from him, or I could take his demons.  Both hands were outstretched, palm up.  It’d looked pathetic before, but now, during the bravest moment of his past three months, he was truly offering something that’d make him a better person.

I grabbed the bag from his left hand and went straight to my locker with it.  I didn’t want him to try and take it back, and I didn’t want to be caught holding it in case someone came in.  I went straight back to him, though.  He was pressing the green coin against his head.  I crouched down with careful towel placement next to him.  “You get to keep this.  Alright?  You keep this going.  A month from now, you’re going to show me that purple chip and I’m going to be proud of you.  Okay?”

And What’s-His-Face finally broke.  We talked.  We talked for a long time.  When I was confident he was off the dark path, I went and got dressed.  As I left the locker room I just said “it works if you work it.  I want to see that purple chip.”  He smiled, and I left.  One unspecified trip to a garbage dumpster, well out of the reach of What’s-His-Face, and the demons were gone.

Someone Is Wrong On The Internet: Batman’s Top 3 Nemeses

(On Monday I wrote a setup to this piece, and you can find that here.)

 

The worst kind of fights are Batman fights.  The guy is a nightmare.  He is unbeatable.  I’ve seen him clobber a guy so hard that the universe stopped for a moment and God Himself wrote the word “SCHAAAA-MACK” over the act so that people wouldn’t lose their sanity over the spectacle of it all.  The second worst kinds of fights are nerd fights.  Nerds will throw down in a debate unlike anything you’ve ever seen.  Combining the two makes a new kind of hybrid awful.  Today we’re tackling it.  We’re answering “Who Is Batman’s Greatest Nemesis?”

 

Batman has a long list of foes, and I group them into a pyramid tier structure.  There’s one spot for the Tier 1 nemesis, two spots for the Tier 2 villains, three spots for the Tier 3 bad guys, and so on.  Generally, folks can agree on what Tier 3 and below look like.  Tier 3 villains are Riddler, Catwoman, and Two-Face [debating here is perfectly acceptable].  They are the villains that show up often (every iteration of Batman has these), they are memorable, their characters have a definite psychosis that plays a major part of their personality, and most importantly they challenge the idea of Batman in a very real way.  Riddler is constantly trying to tackle Batman’s intelligence and knock him off the platform of “World’s Greatest Detective”.  Catwoman manages to capture Batman’s heart, despite his hatred of all things defined as “crime” in his head.  It’s a weird relationship between those two because Batman hates crime but many of his own actions (assault, breaking and entering, destruction of property, lacking vehicle registration/insurance, and loitering) are not crimes in his head.  Taking a string of pearls is a crime, and that has to be punished…sometimes.  Two-Face is a reflection of Batman’s dual nature: Two-Face’s lawful code that he lives by is perverse, but it is also a reflection of Batman’s own lawful code which could be described as equally perverse.  Great villains.

 

A Tier 4 villain looks like Harley Quinn or Scarecrow.  Tier 5 looks like Mr. Freeze, Carmine Falcone, or the Penguin.  Tier 6 has your Deadshot and Clayface types.  Tier 7 has your Mad Hatter and Rupert Thorne.  Tier 8 is your Red Hood kind of rarity.  Tier 9 are your absurd Gentleman Ghost types.  Tier 10 are the named villains that probably rank below “Random Thug With A Pipe Wrench” such as Calendar Man, Egghead, and Clock King.

What’s that?  You think the Penguin should be ranked higher?  Have you seen Danny Devito play him?  It’s like Mac and Charlie were the directors of Batman Returns; that ending is terrible.  No, the only redeeming Penguin was played by Burgess Meredith in the Adam West series.  That Penguin representation had some class!  No, other than the Adam West series, he’s just a fat midget whose super power is that he has a lot of money.  He’s annoying, and presents no real threat himself, it is the thugs he hires that are troublesome.  He’s so pathetic that video games don’t give him a fight sequence (unless he has found some super weapon that his thugs stole for him, the kind that even a child could use to be a threat to society).  I’d rank him lower if it wasn’t for Mr. Meredith (I wouldn’t want to fist-fight Rocky’s boxing coach).

 

So with those out of the way, we’re left with what most people would agree are the top 3 contenders for Batman’s Greatest Nemesis: Bane, Ra’s Al Ghul, and The Joker.  These are the three names that come up time and time again by Batman fans.  Bane, a calm and methodical planner with the objective of conquering Batman.  Ra’s Al Ghul, the fire that forged Batman, a shadowy figure with his own ideology of what fate corrupt cities should suffer in order to serve the greater good. The Joker, the antithesis of Batman, a chaotic maniac bent on trying to destroy Gotham.  Each has their own list of reasons of why they could be the top contender, but there can be only one.

Bane’s major campaigning claims for why he is the A-1 badguy is that he has broken Batman’s backSeveral times.  It first happened in the comic book series “Knightfall”, where Bane was the main brooding bad guy who kept plotting and plotting until finally he picked up Batman and dropped him on his knee.  It happened again in the Chris Nolan movie.  It happens in the Arkham video games whenever you have a Game Over screen.  It’s Bane’s signature move.  The reason why Bane should be the A-1 badguy is that he has broken Batman’s body.

Ra’s Al Ghul is a bit more complex.  Mr. Ghul made Batman, trained him, gave him a code, instilled a passion for justice, and turned Bruce’s life around when he was wasting it away.  Sure, Batman later decided to change a bit of Ra’s Al Ghul’s input, but that’s what a son always does with his father.  What makes Ra’s Al Ghul truly sinister is that he fills the void left behind by Batman’s dead father, and while the two see eye-to-eye about the generic picture of a better world, they clash violently about the means to achieve that better world.  Batman clashes to stop whatever threat Ra’s Al Ghul presents to Gotham fighting tooth and nail.  Ra’s seem to bring out the training wheels during the fight, trying to teach Batman lessons, challenging him, coaching him, and letting him reach his full potential.  Just like an evil father would.  The reason why Ra’s Al Ghul should be the greatest nemesis is that he was portrayed on film by Liam Neeson.  Also, he doesn’t want to destroy Batman, he wants to change him into something else, a slight push from the fanatic he is to the fanatic that the League of Shadows needs him to be.

The Joker is what most people would go with, but nerds rarely care what is ‘popular’ and care more about what is ‘right’.  The Joker has been paired against Batman since the earliest of days, starting in 1940, and has been in every version of Batman that has come out.  The Wikipedia pages I looked at for research flatly state that he is Batman’s greatest nemesis (so it must be true).  What sets him apart from every other villain is that he understands who Batman is at his core.  He sees Batman’s insanity, his moral code, his embodiment of a greater symbol, the whole package.  The Joker is Batman’s polar opposite in most regards.  Batman is Lawful; Joker is Chaotic.  Batman is reserved; Joker is flamboyant.  Batman wants justice for the city; Joker wants to watch the city burn.  Batman wants to protect people; Joker wants to expose people to their true selves.  Batman wants to give the city hope; the Joker wants to destroy all of the illusions people live their lives under, including Batman’s protection.  Now the Joker has had plenty of opportunities to kill Batman, he captures him every other week, but he knows that killing the actual man doesn’t destroy the Batman symbol.  This is why the Joker always stresses Batman’s moral code to the extreme.  He wants to break Batman as a symbol.  Even if no one else sees it, Batman will.  It’ll destroy him.  It’s why the Joker keeps pressing his forehead up against gun barrels, it’s because he wants Gotham’s symbols to break, even if he has to martyr himself to do so.

 

So the question is “Who Is Batman’s Greatest Nemesis.”  We’ll have to define what “Greatest” means, and in order to do that, we need to smash 7 Batmen and their identities together.  So I’m going to go through the various Batmen, show who they are at their core, and then show which of these three villains threatens that core identity the most.

 

ADAM WEST – Adam West portrayed a Batman who was mostly concerned about Truth, Justice, Manners, and the “American Way”.  It’s hard to define what the “American Way” is, but whenever someone says “the good ol’ days”, they are referring to a heavily edited past (probably their childhood) where nothing was ever wrong and some things were just better than they are now.  That Batman was campy, entertaining, and not in the least bit threatening to the establishment of America.  Batman could walk down the street in broad daylight and everyone would just wave and smile.  He could scale their building and everyone thought that was a hoot.  He could walk into the police station and no one tried to arrest him.  He was an unquestioningly good guy.  Always.  So which of our three villains was his arch nemesis?  The Joker.  The Joker (Cesar Romero) was the only one that actually existed in that Batman franchise, he fought Batman 22 times (and in a movie).  On top of that, Bane and Ra’s Al Ghul couldn’t exist in the Adam West Batman.  Ra’s Al Ghul would taint the Batman image, which at the time of Adam West was the embodiment of Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economics illusion (the insanely wealthy just go to such lengths for those poor folks).  It wouldn’t work for Ra’s or for Bane.  I have a difficult time seeing Adam West writhing on the floor beneath Bane’s boot heel, his back freshly broken, and the ever so cheerful announcer ending the episode with “Broken Batman!  Can Batman show some spine in a less literal sense than he is doing now?  Will he ever walk again?  Find out tomorrow if he’ll receive some much kneeded physical therapy!  Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel!”

Video Game Batman – Before the Arkham series, Batman video games were the Wild West.  Besides there being a guy in a Batman outfit, the games had little to do with whatever else Batman had going on in the comics, TV shows, or movies.  One game was literally putting together a hovercraft and nothing else.  Batman was a lot more lethal in these games, he punched bad guys out of existence, often killed the Joker at the end, used machine guns against criminals from the Bat Mobile, and knocked guys into bottomless pits where they presumably starved to death before hitting anything that could be considered ‘the bottom’.  This Batman didn’t have much of an identity, usually just a side-scrolling generic hero that fought generic villains.  I had to use video game logic to see who the nemesis was.  I tallied up how often Bane, Ra’s, and The Joker showed up in these games.  Joker was in 16 (the end villain in 12), Ra’s Al Ghul was in 3 (end villain in 2), and Bane was in 3 (always under someone else’s direction).  As far as the early video games go, The Joker is 8-Bit Batman’s worst nemesis.

The First 4 Batman Movies –  Not including the first Adam West movie, I’m bringing up the original attempt at a Batman series of movies.  These were awful.  Tim Burton is to blame.  When he was given the go ahead to make the first Batman movie, he didn’t.  Instead, he made an homage to the movie Metropolis.  Seriously, watch the end of Metropolis, and then watch the end of Batman.  Put the characters in Batman themed costumes and you have the exact same movie, even some of the exact same shots.  In these movies, Batman is a dull and two-dimensional hero stereotype.  His alter ego of Bruce Wayne is just a detail that the audience is expected to accept, not something to be explored.  The dialogue is dull and unbelievable, and often said in a voice that screams “I’m acting in front of a camera!”  Bruce Wayne always seems to be suffering from an unhealthy dose of valium.  The Joker is obviously the nemesis in these films, he gets his own movie all to himself.  Ra’s Al Ghul is never mentioned.  Bane…oh dear.  The reason why Bane can never be Batman’s greatest nemesis is the movie Batman and Robin.  Bane, the criminal mastermind that everyone wants to put up there with the great Joker, is a turd of a villain in this film.  He’s a henchman, for starters, a giant yellow man who only talks in one noun phrases.  He’s a dumb-dumb with no real impact on the plot.  Ultimately, he’s defeated by batgirl kicking off his rather obvious tube weakness.  The only way you could argue that Bane almost killed Batman is that Warner Brothers stopped the movies after the movie Bane showed up in because it was so bad.  I’m going to give Joker a point here, and Bane gets a negative point.

Cartoon Batmen –   So much is going on here, smashing them all into one is hard.  The primary focus of all the cartoons is the Batman side of the persona, Bruce Wayne is just a problematic side effect.  The thing they all seem to have in common is that their goal is to stop the badguy and protect Gotham.  Beyond that they don’t care.  They aren’t interested in being role models, symbols of hope, or leaders of a movement of change for the better.  They just want to beat up the bad guy and stop them from whatever it is they were trying to accomplish.  I’ve tallied up appearances in animated Batman shows.  Bane shows up 5 times, Ra’s Al Ghul shows up 11 times, and the Joker shows up 60 times.  The Joker wins, because cartoon Batman had to stop him more times than he had to stop the rest.

The Arkham Batman Video Games – Joker is always the end badguy in these.  In video game logic, that makes him the nemesis.  Bane, the criminal mastermind, is defeated by throwing boomerangs at him and then jumping out of his way so he’ll smash himself into a wall.  Ra’s Al Ghul shows up in one…and he does a great job, but I can’t give him the nemesis spot.  I’m giving Joker another point and taking another away from Bane.

 

Chris Nolan Movies – Nolan understood who the Big 3 were, and dedicated a movie to each.  I won’t go with what awards each movie got, because acting isn’t what Batman is scared of, so the Joker’s Oscar doesn’t really count.  We need to know who Batman is, and the Nolan movies does a good job of exploring that.  Bruce Wayne makes Batman to be a symbol of hope and change.  Batman is the constant force for good who does not kill.  He is the guardian of the city and will protect it no matter the cost, as long as he doesn’t have to break his code.  Ra’s Al Ghul wants to destroy the city, but doesn’t necessarily want to destroy Batman.  Ra’s Al Ghul’s actions are to make Gotham so bad that it will destroy itself, but this is what creates Batman.  I’m going to say that Ra’s Al Ghul doesn’t get a point, because when there were 0 Batmen, Ra’s actions caused there to be 1 Batman.  Bane is more successful, taking over Gotham for several months.  He breaks Batman’s body and spirit.  Still, Batman comes back after a prolonged stay in a pit, so his spirits and body must have been not entirely broken.  The Joker is what wins this round.  Ra’s wanted to destroy the city.  Bane wanted to destroy the city and Batman’s body.  The Joker wanted to break the symbols, which is what Batman was in the mind of Bruce Wayne.  Joker wanted to free everyone from the illusions they held, and one of those was Batman.  He put himself in harm’s way just to keep digging his clutches further into Batman to rip him apart.  He had already tainted the symbol of Harvey Dent, now he just needed to destroy Batman.  And he did.  Despite Joker failing to perform ‘Suicide by Batman’, he destroyed Batman’s spirit for 8 entire years.  During that time, Bruce Wayne’s body wasted away.  The Joker did more to break Batman than Bane ever did.  I’m giving this point to The Joker.

 

Comic Book Batman – This one is the hardest of all to have a decided winner.  Joker was earliest, appears the most often, but Bane and Ra’s Al Ghul show up often and with significant story arcs.  Batman’s personality changes a lot, as well as his priorities.  It’s almost impossible to say what Batman would consider his greatest threat, because DC Comics keeps amping up the hype machine so that the next comic villain is better than the last.  I’m going to call this one a wash.

 

The Joker wins, and there really shouldn’t have been any doubt.  When Batman is Adam West and stands for Justice and the American Way, Joker stands for crime and a communistic redistribution of capitalism.  When Batman is in a side scrolling video game walking to the right, the Joker is facing to the left.   He’s always the opposite.

Bane couldn’t be the nemesis.  He’s credited as being a criminal mastermind in the Knightfall series, but he just isn’t.  When you look at Bane’s plan to defeat batman, it really just boils down to “make Batman tired, and then fight him when he’s really tired”.  Other than Knightfall, he’s portrayed as a really strong dude who can be defeated as long as you don’t stand between him and the wall he’s running at face first.

Ra’s Al Ghul couldn’t be the nemesis either.  While I think he ranks higher than Bane (because apparently he also made Bane), I don’t think he beats the Joker.  He’s just not around long enough, and he doesn’t try to break the symbol of Batman, which would be a worse tragedy than death in the mind of Bruce Wayne.

Thanks for reading.  This one has been heavily researched and ran a bit long.  I’ll now be watching my email for hate-mail from Bane and Ra’s Al Ghul fans.

Someone Is Wrong On The Internet: Batman’s Greatest Nemesis

(This post is to set-up the greatest debate the Internet has ever seen, coming out on Friday.)

 

Alright internet, we are settling this once and for all, because I was looking around and saw that some of you had an opinion different than mine, and that makes it wrong!  It’s time to clean up this mess and set the record straight on the most important of topics: who is Batman’s greatest nemesis?

 

I thought the answer was obvious, so did my wife, but when we shared our very obvious answers with each other, they were different.  She looked at me with wretched disbelief and I looked at her with abject horror.  Everything we’d built our marriage upon was a lie!  How….how could she not plainly see that I was right about Batman’s most obvious nemesis?  A schism shattered through our social sphere that instant.  Some folks took her side and others took mine.  Shouting matches erupted in the grocery store.  Someone drew on my windshield, in permanent marker, a portrait of the Riddler to tell me that I was wrong (the Riddler?  Really?  A guy with a question mark for a theme????  ¿Other than making sentences hard to read, is that really so bad?).  Things started getting scary when a family that supported Bane went to pick up their kids at day-care to find that someone had changed their shirts to Joker shirts.  Not even kids were safe from this, and that was the breaking point.  We had to come to a peace about this or be destroyed.  My friends all nominated me to do the necessary research because I was intelligent, smart, brilliant, a little bit redundant, and unbiased.  Actually they picked me because I have a blog, which we all know are the most successful and speedy catalysts for change and social improvement.

 

So a couple of things need to be established, because not getting the words of the challenge will cause problems.  “Who is Batman’s greatest nemesis?”  We’re taking this one word at a time:

WHO
– This must be a person.  Injustice, mental psychosis, Tim Burton, Gotham’s underworld, the Comics Code Authority, rubber nipple suits, and different personal horrors dealing with dead parents are all things that Batman fights, but none of them are a WHO.  These abstract nouns can’t answer this question.

IS
– I figured that if Bill Clinton can argue what this word means, it needs to be addressed.  Batman’s greatest nemesis is an ongoing thing, but Batman only lives in various texts.  If you haven’t read or watched a specific instance of Batman, certain events haven’t happened for you, whereas your buddy who has already seen the specific Batman source has already had the events happen.  Batman exists in a weird type of 6th dimensional reality where his timeline starts, stops, restarts, changes, jumps ahead, jumps back, and is a very odd mismatch.  The word “is” is a difficult thing to really grasp. So despite many of the villains dying (sometimes repeatedly), they still are alive in other forms so they still exist.  But we’re ruling out Dead Parents as a nemesis, because those parents are a “was” in nearly every iteration of Batman.

EITMLI5  –  Batman Beyond, a Batman cartoon where Bruce Wayne is a nearly enfeebled old man, was created before the movie Batman Begins.  Batman is a timeless thing where all events are happening at once.  If you put all of the Batman resources on a library shelf, just imagine that all of them are happening now.

All this to say: I’m smart and I know some string theory and I want you to be impressed by that.

BATMAN’S
– This word provides three clues.  1.) We’re looking for Batman’s nemesis, not our own personal favorite villain.  I’d pick Harley Quinn as my favorite.  She’s adorable, funny, mentally unstable, and wonderfully voice-acted.  I doubt Batman would pick her as his top notch worst foe.

2.)  What is Batman?  Again, we’ve got this strange entity person that exists in many iterations at once.  We’ve got to somehow smash all of these different Batmen into the same person despite their differences.  For the sake of making it simple (I’m only writing 3 pages here), we’re smashing 7 different Batmen into one Batman.  Those 7 Batmen are: Adam West, the Arkham Batman video games, the comic books, the first 4 awful Batmen movies, the various cartoon Batmen, The Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batmen movies, all of the really bad Batmen videos games before the Arkham series.

Now some of you are going to get all mad because the comics books have all been smashed into one source.  You’re thinking something along the lines of “you can’t do that!”  You’re welcome to think that, but you’re wrong.  I just did it.  I’m making things easier.  Smashing 50+ different comic book identities into this equation makes it harder, and no one would read the mind-numbingly boring post that would result from recapping all of those comic books.  Some folks got mad that I’ve smashed the terrible Tim Burton movies into the same category as the slightly less terrible Joel Schumacher movies.  We’re just going to have to deal with it.

3.)  We’re talking about Batman’s worst nemesis, not Bruce Wayne’s.  The duality of Bruce Wayne/Batman is a big component of what makes this person interesting.  Batman depends on a lot of Bruce Wayne’s inner demons.  So even though Bruce Wayne might consider a nebulous idea like “Dead Parents” to be his worst nemesis, Batman’s existence depends on those dead parents.

 

 GREATEST – This one is going to take some explaining.  “Great” doesn’t mean the same thing to the same people.  It could mean “the most threatening to Batman physically”, “most consistent”, “most detrimental to Batman’s ideal Gotham”, “most entertaining”, “most shocking”, “most attractive”, or a whole host of other subjective reasons as to what makes a ‘great’ villain.  I’ll cover my definition in Friday’s post and explain why I chose that definition.  Keep in mind, I’m going to try to use Batman’s criteria for what makes a ‘great’ nemesis.

 

NEMESIS – We’re looking for the most anti-Batman villain out there.  This is who Batman considers to be his worst possible foe.  Batman fights a lot of friends along the way like Superman, Catwoman, and the occasional side-kick gone rogue.  Superman might be a terrible force of nature to reckon with, but he isn’t Batman’s nemesis.  We’re looking for the baddest bad guy Batman knows.

So on Friday, I’m releasing my research into the subject.  We’re looking at the top 3 contenders, and I’m going to grade them as fairly as I can.  However, I want to say that unlike certain bloggers (like Matt Walsh), I’m okay with people disagreeing with me.  I don’t narcissistically label my opinion to be “absolute truth”, and I’m open to being proven wrong.  Much like other scientific papers, this scientific paper is open for peer review.  I’m putting down the facts I find, I’m open to other folks doing the same.  (This is for fun, after all.)  So leave your own opinions in the comments section about who you think Batman’s greatest nemesis is, no matter how wrong you are!  For those of you that don’t have a Word Press account and get this from Facebook, leave a comment there.  I’ll transpose them all here once the comments stop.  We’ll all have a great time.

Falling In Love: an 8-year old does his research

Today is Friday, the day I talk about the issues.  Today’s issue is that I feel that I was lied to as a child about what falling in Love would be like.  I knew folks who were in Love, but I didn’t know how they got there.  There were very limited resources to find out.  Asking mom and dad always brought about some weird story about storks, other birds, and bees.  This was nothing I cared about because that was about creating another human, not falling in Love.  The cartoons I watched were not helpful either.  Jeanine might as well have been invisible to the ghost busters, April O’Neil was the wrong species for the Ninja Turtles, Fred and Daphne were always strangely absent during the solving of a mystery, and Wolverine and Gambit just seemed to be annoying the ladies they claimed to Love who obviously didn’t Love them back.  The video games I played didn’t help either, because Mario, Link, and Earthworm Jim were already in Love with their respective princesses before the game started (and their princess only got a few seconds of screen time).

 

I needed texts where people fell in Love, so I gathered the entirety of my family’s meager movie collection to conduct some research.  In our collection of 20 VHS tapes (most of which were recordings of TV broadcast movies) I had picked out 3 movies that dealt with the subject matter:  Aladdin, Star Wars IV & VI, and Top Gun.

 

Here is what all 3 sources had in common about falling in Love:
1.) There will be only 1 girl to consider.  It’s pretty obvious who it is.  That’s the girl you have to go for.
2.) At some point before being in Love, you’ll see the girl without all her clothes on.  Her bellybutton will be visible and she’ll have on little more than a glorified swimsuit.
3.) There will be very obvious musical cues as you fall in Love.
4.) The girl needs to be useful to your job in some capacity (street rat & street rat, prince and princess, rebel pilot and rebel princess, pilot and lady who teaches pilots).
5.)  At some point you’ll have to kiss her to find out if you are in Love with her.  All of the guys seemed to be surprised that they were in Love.

 

Each of the movies had some unique notes about falling in Love.  Aladdin had a few points you had to find between the lines.
A1.) Girls might like you for rescuing them (a lot), but they won’t Love you and marry you until you stop lying.
A2.) It’s okay to see if the cute girl on the street is likable.  No shame in shallow interest.
A3.) Girls always know when you are lying.  Even if you fool them, they know.  And they’ll remember it forever.  Forever.
A4.) No matter what, even if you just need to hand her the lamp at the end of the movie so she can wish you into being a prince so that you can keep your word and wish a genie free, NEVER share your toys with her.

 

Top Gun was more confusing to me as a child (it’s confusing to me 22 years later).
TG1.) Falling in Love seems to be achieved by a lot of yelling and apologizing, until you are so angry with each other that you are in Love.
TG2.) Despite being strangers as far as I could tell, they could still fall in Love.
TG3.) Right before you fall in Love, you have to lick each other in the mouth whether you want to or not.  [This last one was heavily contested by the other kids in the neighborhood.  No one had ever seen actual people in Love do this, so maybe it was just a movie stunt.  It was enough to make me question Top Gun as a resource for what Love should be like, even at the age of 8.  Which leads to the real lesson of Top Gun…]
TG4.) Not everyone falls in Love in a healthy way.  Even Tom Cruise gets it wrong sometimes.

 

Star Wars was the best resource.  My parents had recorded A New Hope and Return of the Jedi on VHS.  Empire Strikes Back had been deemed too scary by my mother, so it was not in the rotation and my Star Wars knowledge was thrown a bit off as a kid.
SW1.) Rescuing a girl does not win her heart.  She’ll be very bossy after a rescue.  The most you can expect is a medal.
SW2.) If another guy is after your girl, he’ll back off if he finds out she is a sibling.
SW3.) Maybe some girls are just hard to get.  Rescuing Leia on the Death Star jail, then from the Death Star laser, then off of Hoth, then from an Imperial manhunt through an asteroid field, then out of an asteroid with a giant worm, then out of Cloud City, and finally from Jabba’s palace where she had dabbled in rescuing also, Han slowly wore down her steely heart.  Some girls just need more rescuing.
SW4.) This is the most important:  Don’t fall in Love just because you rescued someone.  See if they are a good match.  Han Solo did not rush into Love.  He waited and watched to see if Leia was any good, and she was.  She came up with the garbage chute escape plan, shot thousands of storm troopers, gave him a medal, tried to rescue Han, strangled Jabba the Hut with her own hands, did some really cool stuff with a speeder bike, and saved Han’s life after being shot by outdrawing a bunch of storm troopers.  He waited an entire (presumable) three movies before falling in Love with Leia at the end.  Leia might be pretty and all, but she seemed to Love Luke.  Han wasn’t going to put up with a two-timer.
SW5.) Falling in Love is about making someone else happy because they make you very happy.  Han was willing to give Leia up at the end so that she could be happy with Luke.  Leia fell in Love with Han because he made her happy.
SW6.)  Even after falling in Love, Han still had to kiss Leia to be sure that he was in Love.  Turns out he was, and it surprised him very much.

 

 

 

Turns out my research into falling in Love was mostly wrong.

The Next Dimension

There were many bikini-clad college ladies at the lake that day, and they had their choices of many muscled, intelligent, and dangerous college men.  We all knew what was at stake.  We were at a private lake about a half hour away from the nearest town, and we were there for the entire weekend.  It was a summer bash where everyone was expected to make poor decisions and the probability of winding up with a girlfriend/boyfriend was pretty high.  It was a very exclusive party; the organizers only invited the social elite.  Everyone there was beautiful and well connected.  I’m not sure how I was invited; perhaps the Post Office got their Steve’s mixed up.  I was a Freshman in college, socially awkward, and I only knew three of the other guys at the party.  I was out of my element, sure, but I had a few things going for me: I looked good in a swimsuit, I had a good sense of humor, and I was a great story-teller with a fresh audience.  Still, the guys outnumbered the girls about 2 to 1, so I had to play this right.

 

I knew I had stiff competition from Al.  Al was a beautiful man, a lumberjack with bronzed muscles shining like Adonis in the sun.  He was extremely charming, quick to joke, amazing conversationalist, had a contagious laugh, knew everything about popular music and culture, and was dressed like he belonged in a Sexy Fireman Calendar.  But on top of all that, the thing that made Al irresistible is that he was a bad boy.  He rode a motorcycle, smoked cigarettes, had a reputation of sweeping ladies of their feet, and rebelled against authority at every turn.  The man was charisma incarnate.  I once saw Al walk into a liquor store with no money, charm the lady behind the counter to loan him $10, and then walk out of the liquor store with a six-pack and two dollars.    That was normal for Al.  (He did go back the next day to give her $10.  She gave him her number.)

 

The parents were all at the lake before we arrived.  It was normal for them to get the party started and then leave before sunset.  They acted as a social catalyst, getting all of their children talking to each other before they gracefully bowed out and left us to our own devices.  We were young, scantily clad, well aware of the desirability of those around us, guaranteed privacy late into the night, and we had enough beer to float a boat.

This probably sounds like a stupid idea to you, because you are intelligent.  This sounds like lighting a flare over a powder keg.  I didn’t understand why they did it at the time, but a couple of theories have surfaced.  My best theory is that this is how the powerful and wealthy elite of the county kept their circle small.  By throwing all of their children into this Petri Dish and adding significant stimulant, the rich and powerful were guaranteeing that their sons and daughters would wind up with someone else that was the offspring of someone rich and powerful. They kept all of the undesirables out of the genetic pool while exposing their offspring to the best breeding the county had to offer.  We’d all form the tightest of social bonds.  Their daughters would inspire desire, upon which I’d develop friendship that could never be betrayed because my heart would always remember that it desired them at one point.  Their sons I’d learn to respect and admire as we all competed for the affections of the same women.  We’d all be a group, our own society, and no outsider could break in because we were already so close.  We were the up-and-coming elite.  Our parents’ legacy would continue through us, but only if our parents thrust us into the fire to forge these kinds of alliances.

 

That’s just a theory.  Maybe our parents were stupid.

 

I arrived late, because I didn’t know where the location was.  This story happened before smart phones, before GPS, and before any kind of printable internet map.  I was given directions such as “go to the Smith’s old place, take a left, past the tracks, right after the Barn House (you’ll know the one I’m talking about), keep going, and then left on the dirt road before the cow fields.”  It’s a skill that MidWesterners have, giving directions using no street names, and I’m decent at finding my way around, even when I don’t know who the Smith’s are, but I needed a guide this time, and that guide was Al.  Al rode his motorcycle, and as we came onto the property he revved his engine and nodded at the ladies.  He wore gigantic sunglasses (very stylish in the 90’s), so every single one of the girls thought he was nodding at them.  He then popped a wheelie and stood on his bike, balancing it perfectly, and slowly wheeled toward where the girls were stationed.  It was a great move signifying his mastery over the motorcycle, control, care, grace, and he had to flex his arms to maintain the wheelie.  I drove to where the cars were parked and gave myself a pep speech, because I was obviously outmatched.

 

Al’s parents were not the social elite.  His father worked developing construction equipment and his mother was big into New Age trends.  Despite his pedigree, the designers of this experiment understood what Al was: an unstoppable charisma.  Al would become something big in this county with or without the help of the “Old Money”.  They needed to draft him to their side to ensure that Al would stand with their children as opposed to against them.  Al was critical to their children’s success.

 

I wound my way down to the party, which was in full swing.  I maintained a constant flex of my abs while walking; it’s something I used to do when I was younger, shallower, and much better looking.  It may sound desperate, but I knew what I was up against.  I was up against Al.  Al already knew everyone here.  I sort of knew everyone here, I went to elementary school with some of these kids, and I knew their parents from long ago, but I hadn’t kept in touch.  The girls I knew in elementary school were now women.  Beautiful women.  Some of them sort of remembered me (I was a rather boisterous class clown, hard to miss), but I was never really close friends with any of them…

 

… except Gabrielle.  While walking to the beach where everyone was gathering, I got my first good look at the ladies.  One stood out in particular.  Tan, thin, the scoliosis stance that super-swimsuit models tend to favor, designer flip flops, freshly painted pink finger and toenails, impractical sunglasses, radiant smile, calculated hair that looks like she put in three hours of effort to make it look like she put in no effort, tactical make-up, and she was very good looking.  It took me about ten seconds of absent-minded staring to finally pull myself together and wonder, is that Gabrielle?  Gabrielle was a girl who liked soccer, could run decently fast, had a list of funny jokes, and enjoyed the same games I did.  We spent many hours together when our parents had parties, and I considered her a good friend.  She was pretty much everything I was looking for as a 2nd grader.  Now that I was older and much more shallow, she was ‘interesting’.  Love-at-first-sight isn’t something I believe in.  I actually preferred ladies to be witty, snarky, intelligent, able to navigate an interesting conversation, able to tell a story, full of new and brilliant ideas, hopes, dreams, and determination.  That isn’t something you can tell by first-sight.  So maybe what I was looking for wasn’t so shallow, but that doesn’t mean that “keen-interest-at-first-sight” wasn’t a factor for me in my college days.  There was only one problem with Gabrielle standing there on the beach, and that was how she was making googily eyes at Al while casually touching his bicep.

 

The party got underway.  I introduced myself to all of the parents, giving the fathers a firm handshake and nodding respectfully at the mothers.  Word had gotten around that I taught ball-room dance, and so many of them demanded a demonstration.  I was happy to oblige, knowing that treating the mothers to a quick dance was high-elite diplomacy.  The mothers would then introduce me to their daughters, or if I miscalculated whose mother they were, I’d get introduced to their son.  The sons weren’t ever impressed by the dance, but the ladies saw from afar.  They saw that I knew how to dance, that I could make their mothers laugh and smile, and that wherever I went people were happy.

 

It’s important to note that I wasn’t letting on with my internal rivalry with Al.  Al was my friend, after all.  It’s just that I didn’t like feeling inferior to him.  I was here because Al invited me, not because I belonged.  The ladies flocked around Al as their knees became weak and their eyes became soft.  The “Old Money” all complimented Al on his start-up business and were impressed by his decision to skip college and just start being successful by owning a company that employed fifty men.  A deep and dark part of me just wanted to show that I was on the same tier as Al.  For once I wouldn’t be known as “Al’s friend”, but as “Steve, the guy worth knowing on his own”.  So the performance there on the beach was not an act to fool people into thinking I was a fun person.  That was the genuine me.  I just always felt in the back of my head that I was losing some unspoken popularity contest.

 

The party migrated into the lake.  I had formed a conversation with Al, Gabrielle, and two other gals, and three other guys.  We kind of drifted about the pond the way that MidWesterners tend to do on summer days.  The unnamed folks in our group were all interested in each other, but Al was clearly interested in Gabrielle, and she was clearly interested in him.  I just did my best to be friendly and interesting, waiting my time.  I was evaluating Gabrielle, seeing if she was any fun to be around.  She was, and it turns outs that I was to.  I could make Gabrielle laugh, smile, and most importantly, engage with the conversation.  Maybe I had a chance out here, however slim it may be.

 

We drifted to the far side of the lake, and that’s when things changed.  Al nodded to the trees and said “hey, check this out.”  We all started to swim over to the bank.  A steep hill went straight into the lake at this spot.  It was a thirty-foot incline with a flat spot at the top.  Trees were everywhere, but I saw what Al was up to.  A single rope hung down from one of the taller trees.  It was a thick hemp rope, long enough to barely grab from the shore.  It had a small circular wooden platform at the bottom where a person could sit.  This was a rope-swing.

 

The group each took a turn, except for Al.  We would climb the hill, do our best to line up a path that would avoid any trees (not easily done), and then jump.  The swing would go down 30 feet, up thirty feet, and then you had to let go and drop into the water.  Riding the swing back wasn’t a choice, as it would invariably crash a rider into the trees.  I went first, and other folks followed.  Al stayed behind, helping folks onto the swing.  After all, he had built the rope swing.

 

Conversation between the guys shifted to “The Next Dimension”.  Should we show them “The Next Dimension”?  Will the parents get mad if we pull out “The Next Dimension”?  Are we too drunk to pull off “The Next Dimension”?  This unexplained event was generating a lot of hype, until Gabrielle finally asked “What is ‘The Next Dimension’?”

 

That is what Al had been waiting for.  “Here Steve, hold this.”  At the top of this thirty foot hill, there was a tree.  Al monkey-ed his way up the tree quickly and effortlessly, his lumberjack skills displayed for all to see.  He climbed to a rather sturdy branch about fifteen feet off the ground, and walked across it, balancing with his arms outstretched.   He then turned and faced the rope I was holding.

 

No way.

 

I looked down the hill.  Directly below was a very steep drop off, and at the bottom was a collection of sharp pointed sticks and jagged rocks.  If Al missed this, he’d fall about thirty-five feet and then die.  I looked up at Al, holding the edge of the rope.  “Watch this” is all he said, winking at Gabrielle.

 

Al jumped into the air, hands stretched out above his head, thirty-five feet above certain doom.  His body completely horizontal as he crossed the necessary seven feet to even have a chance at grabbing the rope.  His hands grabbed it with ease, his feet planted squarely on the seat.  The rope snapped out of my hand, and I saw Al go.  Careening through the trees faster than I’ve ever seen a swing go, Al was a streak of brilliance.  The swing crested on the other side over the lake just as Al let go.  His feet stayed on the platform as he backflipped off the platform with practiced ease, his arms stretched out to the sides at full length, his legs fully extended with pointed diver’s toes.   At least fifty feet in the air, he rotated backwards once, twice, three times before he slowly raised his arms above his head in a perfect swan dive.

 

The other lake goers didn’t know about this.  They just saw Al comet out of the forest like some kind of aerial champion.  Everyone cheered and yelled.  The swing came all the way back to the top of the hill where I caught it.  That was incredible.

 

I looked over at Gabrielle, to find her already looking at me.  Her breath had been taken away, clearly, it was the hottest thing ever done.  But her eyes were interrogating and playful, her bottom jaw flirtatiously quirked to the side, her smile devious.  “Think you could do that?”  And with her challenge, she took one finger and stroked it alongside my arm.

 

The next thing I knew, I was struggling up a wet tree.  Al had the advantage of two years Lumberjacking and a dry tree.  I had sure determination and ego, and both were wearing out.  I managed it, but it wasn’t graceful.  It was described as “climb-humping” the tree.  I had tree bark stuck on my chest and scratches everywhere.  Gabrielle stood at the top of the cliff of certain death, holding the swing for me, smiling sweetly.  I stood on the sturdy branch, still braced up against the trunk of the tree.

 

This is where I did some thoughtful introspection of the situation.  Gabrielle clearly knew that I liked her.  Despite my clever plan of trying to remain friendly and unflirty, she knew that I was interested.  She pulled one string and I performed masterfully as her puppet.  She wasn’t being cruel though.  She was clearly enjoying that I was going to such lengths to impress her.  She was open to flirtation.  Maybe she was into me.  Maybe she was just caught in that both Al and I were interested in her.  Maybe she was just naturally flirty.  Maybe she was toying with my heart and was ready to crush it at a moment’s notice.  It was hard to tell.  Climbing the tree was probably a bad decision, and I wasn’t thinking straight, but standing on the Branch of Fate (as it was called) did clear my head a bit.

 

I took a breather because climbing the tree was hard.  From the Branch of Fate, the collection of sharp sticks and rocks looks more like a churning meat grinder.  To successfully grab that swing, I’d have to fully commit to jumping over certain doom.  Folks in the water were splashing and clapping now.  Some had started chanting “Next Dimension”.  I had somehow become the center of attention for the entire party.  They weren’t taking any more stalling.  One of the guys said to Gabrielle “Do you think he’s going to chicken out?”

And before he had finished the question, I had leapt.

 

I remember the jump very well.  In order to make it to the rope, I had to clear seven feet horizontally, and had about fifteen feet vertically to do that in.    In the air, there was no time to look at the certain doom beneath me, as all five of my senses were focused on that rope swing.  The air was electrically cool against my wet skin as I flew through it.  My muscles were all tense.  My face had the calm of Buddha, with a slight smirk that sparked when I snuck a quick peek at Gabrielle.  My hands brushed against the rope.

 

That’s when everything went horribly wrong.  Gabrielle let go of the swing early, my hands were touching the rope, but I didn’t have a grip.  I didn’t get my hand placement as high on the rope as I wanted.  Al’s previous attempt at ‘The Next Dimension’ had left the rope wet.  The platform for my feet had already started to move away and I could not wrestle my feet onto it.  Instead I just slid down about four feet of rope, my hands clutching for dear life despite the sudden rendering of flesh on my palms.  I looked panicked at the collection of death spears and rock macerators below me when suddenly my view was blocked.  The foot platform had snapped back like a whip and clobbered me in the face.  I was knocked senseless.  All thoughts of death below, the Branch of Fate, my stupid unspoken competition with Al, even thoughts of Gabrielle had been shattered by the platform collision.  Only one thought remained.  “HOLD!”

 

My hands cinched onto the ropeswing.  The foot platform stopped my slide to certain doom, and I choked the ever-loving salvation out of the rope.  My vision had tunneled to mostly stars and black, but I could still barely see, and the moment I knew that I was over water I let go.

 

I did not gracefully soar high into the clouds like Al did.  I looked more like a cat shot out of a canon.  My legs were both higher than my head in some kind of uncontrolled karate kick.  My arms flailed about, all control lost after using every last bit of strength to keep me from dying.  I rotated on three axes like a rag doll, completely out of control.  Where Al had pulled an Olympic 3-rotation swan dive, I had achieved a hideous monkey roll.  My horizontal momentum was impressive; I remember seeing the lake water flashing past as the rotation slowed.  I saw my reflection, as if I was standing in the air horizontally, my arms casually at my side.  And then I fell into my reflection face and belly first.  An audible crack reverberated through the party as I rebounded off of the water tension, which sent me hurtling through the air again spinning like a top.  CRACK!  That time my back had bounced off the water tension, and again I was sent toppling over in a flurried ball of arms and legs.  Another loud crack sounded, but this time the lake had mercy.  The water tension let me in, ending my experiment as a human skipping stone.

 

Under the water I heard laughter.  Maybe it wasn’t real, just some delusional hallucination brought about by facial bludgeoning, but I still heard it.  I remembered thinking “You know, rather than face Gabrielle, you could just die here.  It might be easier.”  I stayed for a good ten seconds to regain my composure, and then kicked to the surface. 

 

I had decided that I wasn’t beaten.

 

I broke through the surface with my hands raised in triumph.  I had succeeded!  I had survived.  I acted like this is what I meant to do.  Clapping erupted, punctuated with the staccato of cheers and laughter.  I looked up the hill and smiled.  Gabrielle was there, holding her hands over her face in a bit of horrified shock.  Her eyes were large and guilty.  I called out to her “you let go a bit early.”

 

I managed to swim to shore.  My face was covered in blood and so were my hands.  I kept my hands and face out of the water to avoid getting any more lake water into my blood stream.  Profuse bleeding was not a good way to impress any of the ladies.

 

I did not end up getting a girlfriend that trip.  At one point, Gabrielle and Al disappeared off into the woods together and I sort of gave up.  Come to think of it, Al disappeared off into the woods with a lot of the girls, which made a lot of the fellas give up.  I still had a lot of fun.